Thursday, 30 December 2010

Tron: Legacy

As you can see, Tron: Legacy has much to commend it! The only option on offer was a 3D screening and I remain unconvinced about the supposed benefits of this viewing format. It definitely helps to have seen the original as this film very tightly follows on - and has left the door wide open for the franchise to go on earning dollars for Disney.

The harmony between the two films in terms of story and conceptualisation is spot on - the continuity is excellent. The original set has been believably updated and the design of the new film is a classy progression from what went before. It is good to see the same two main older actors/characters as well as some from the next generation. The visuals are stunning - Star Wars meets The Matrix kind of stuff. The sets are vast open CG spaces echoing the hangars full of Star Wars droid armies. The fight, race and chase sequences are very well done both within 'The Grid' and in the real world. The transitions between the two worlds are quick and convenient which is just as well as this film makes no attempt to explain the 'science' behind what we see.

I am happy to report that the dialogue has also been updated and that a budding love interest for young Sam Flynn is presented in the persona of Quorra (see above). The character Zuse [sic] is an interesting introduction - reminiscent of the Merovingian from The Matrix saga. One disappointment is the way the story engages with the central plot - that Clu was tasked with creating the perfect world - a virtual utopia. Clearly Clu and Flynn interpreted this goal in different ways but I feel much more could have been made of the Paradise Lost/Paradise Won plot.

I won't spoil the story - such as it predictably is. This is however good viewing - but I remain unconvinced about the 3D. Do catch it while it's on. I'll give it 8/10.

Of Gods and Men

Most films that set themselves within the context of a living and worshipping Christian community fail to capture the nuances and struggles of what it means to be in Community. This film succeeds.

Based on real events, Xavier Beauvois Directs a film of subtlety and sensitivity that explores the impossibility of tension created when vocational vows are confronted by an opposing fundamentalist ideology. Set in Algeria in 1996 at the monastery of Tibhirine in the Atlas Mountains, the community of the Cistercian monks are faced with a deep challenge as the legacy of French colonial rule sees the country descend into civil war. As fundamentalist Mujahideen move into the area and take control in a guerilla-style insurgency, the Community struggle to maintain their integrity.

Over the decades, a village has grown up around the monastery and the two enjoy a symbiotic relationship. The Brothers cultivate their land and sell and barter their spare produce in the village market. The leaders of the local community enjoy a mutually respectful relationship with the monastery and benevolent Islam is seen to find meaningful expression alongside the Christian faith of the Cistercians. The Brothers operate a clinic for local people where Frere Luc dispenses dispenses basic remedies, good advice and second-hand shoes to those in need.

When one of the Mujahideen is wounded, the group's leader storms into the monastery seeking medical supplies. The leader, Frere Christian, asks the armed militants to leave the monastery as it is a place of peace. He also explains that what little they have by way of medicine is for the local Moslem population and not for them. In diffusing the tension, Frere Christian quotes an apt verse from the Koran thereby demonstrating the brotherhood of a shared life of faith.  The Mujahideen leave empty handed but respect has been earned.

The arrival of the armed conflict within the monastery propels the community into disarray. None of the monks seek martyrdom yet some feel a pressing need to move to a safer place elsewhere in Africa or back to France. Frere Christian having been elected leader by the Community now has his leadership tested. What will the community decide? How will Christian exercise leadership? How does the daily rhythm of prayer and work dialogue with the developing and pressing situation? How will Frere Christian deal with the local official who suggests the Monastery might be seen as collaborating with terrorists? What will the outcome be?

It is in exploring these questions and the relational tensions they create within Community that the film delivers an insightful and intimate exploration of the internal and external conflicts that ebb and flow. Beauvois may be guilty of ramping up the tug on the heart strings as the film reaches its climax, but you will never listen to Swan Lake in quite the same way ever again!

This is an excellent film - please do go and see it. I'll give it 8.5/10.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Books - I've been reading again!

Just finished a couple of movie related books.

The first one is another in the BFI Film Classics series on Blade Runner by Scott Bukatman. It is a thorough exploration of the themes of the film and touches on story, cinematography, philosophy and metaphysics to name but a few - an excellent read.

The style is quite academic - it has 103 footnotes in its 86 pages - which renders it a slow read if the contents are to be absorbed (at least this was my experience!). However, the wide range of references to other films and to books was invaluable and I have purchased some of them to help me deepen my understanding of what Ridley Scott was aiming for when he made this iconic film. I now want to watch the film again. For me, one of the deepest questions the book raised, was when it compared Asimov's notion of what is to be human with that offered by Philip K Dick who wrote the book Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? on which the film is based. For Asimov it is the capacity to learn, develop and evolve - Artificial Intelligence, whereas for Dick an android is incapable of displaying empathy as this is the most definingly human of characteristics. What do you think?

The second book I concluded (for the second time) was Neuromancer by William Gibson which was in large part the inspiration for much of The Matrix. So much of the world Gibson constructed was translated to The Matrix.

I never need an excuse for watching this film - but if I felt I did, I just got one!

Reading about films can be fun too - try it.

Shrek Forever After

In what is reputed to be the final outing for Shrek and his friends we have perhaps the best of the four-movie franchise. All the favourite characters are there as Shrek confronts his own mid-life crisis - yes this is another film about existential angst!

The graphics in this DreamWorks produced film are simply stunning. The smoothness of movement, rendering and transition are simply amazing and take the game to a new level. I know that technology and software are evolving rapidly, but with the way Hollywood is going, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish the real world from the dream world. There aren't any seven-foot ogres in the village I live in, but you know what I mean.

The story is more than good enough and again here we have a film that delights in ripping off/paying homage to nursery rhymes and movies throughout - only in this film it's done with a whole lot more panache and style. Rumplestiltskin is cast as the villain as he entraps Shrek who is going through his own personal mid-life crisis. Cameron Diaz, I mean Fiona, becomes ever more the wonderful wife by the way that she so lovingly demonstrates understanding and doesn't use the opportunity for trying to deploy a 'two wrongs make a right' response. In his own characteristic blundering well-intentioned way, Shrek works out a solution and in the end everyone lives happily ever after - or at least we'll have to assume that, if this is the last in the series.

As with all films exploring this kind of material, it comes with an invitation to examine our own vulnerabilities and weaknesses - the vanities that might just collude with our ego to push us into unhelpful behaviour. We are all of us prone to this from time-to-time, relationally, professionally and vocationally. The need for a regular check-up in the 'how am I doing' stakes may help prevent most outbreaks - as will the attendance of a faithful and loving companion - if we are blessed enough to have one or more.

Alternatively you can watch this film and laugh - especially as Puss in Boots does a wonderful impersonation of Garfield!

It is in the cinemas this Christmas and available on DVD/Blu-ray. Well worth adding to your collection - go and see it. I'll give it 8/10.

Last Action Hero

I know there are glaring holes in my viewing history, but I have only just caught up with this - nearly 20 years on! (I will never be classed a movie-buff - not that I am seeking that accolade.) Well, where to start with this? I guess any film that falls into the genre categories of Action/Adventure, Comedy and Sci-Fi/Fantasy is spreading itself pretty thin. As the art-work above demonstrates, this film pays homage to the burgeoning Hollywood Action Hero with none other than the Governor playing the title role. It is a pastiche of clichés and is so formulaic in terms of plot, script and setting that it requires no imagination at all to watch. Given the type of film I usually watch and blog about, that's a welcome change!

I think this film's intentional tongue-in-cheek approach sends itself up very well and with Schwarzenegger complicit with the scam, it becomes all the more effective. Is he acting extra-hammy in this or is it natural Austrian hamminess? Either way it fits the context.

Perhaps the game to play whilst watching this is to see how many film scenes you can identify that are copied/ripped off/paid homage to in the movie. I guess it's healthy that Hollywood can fund and produce this kind of introspective hero-fest movie. Perhaps today, more than ever, America - and the rest of us for that matter - need a real hero to save us all. Away in a manger, no crib....

I'll give it 6/10.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Tron [The original]

Before I go to see Tron:Legacy, I thought I would remind myself of the original. After 28 years it can hold it's head high - in terms of conceptualisation and state-of-the-art CG (for 1982!). The script on the other hand is from the top drawer of Disney mushiness and is less than state-of-the-art.

The concept of someone (a user) becoming digitised and ending up within a computer programme itself was far-fetched for the time - today it is commonplace. The idea of Artificial Intelligence possessing the ability to grow, evolve and develop has long been championed by Isaac Asimov and others, but here it is given a persona that makes it feel more than real. This film really was ahead of its time.

Tron:Legacy is being well received and may well give Harry and the Potters a run for their money this holiday period at the box office. There are at least three films I want to see at Harbour Lights this coming week - how many will I make?

This is still worth the investment of time and energy to watch. The outcome is pure Disney, the romance triangle is clumsy and the dialogue is clunky and at times sentimental which does not fit with this type of film.

I'll give it 7/10.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Virgin Media and Volkswagen - seeing film differently

A regular feature of the pre movie ads and trailers these days are offerings from VW and Virgin Media.

VW pay homage to iconic films - The Great Lebowski, and currently When Harry Met Sally  and Ghostbusters with their own humorous presentations. I presume somewhere within VW's corporate tax efficiency are grants to support film-making. Well done to them if that's the case.

Virgin Media are busy championing new film-making talent and give the opportunity for short films to be shown in cinemas. There have been some excellent offerings but I must celebrate From The Cellar by Tito Saachi currently on screen which can be found here. A first class production in terms of conception, execution, acting and overall quality. Well done Tito.


Another day, another film about existential angst - not the usual fare in the run up to Christmas. This film explores the existential angst of celebrity nihilism. The clue to the subject matter comes right at the beginning as the fixed camera shows the central portion of a circular race track with a black Ferrari driving circuits. As the car moves in and out of frame, the only thing holding the attention is the beautiful symphony of Maranello's orchestral Ferrari 360. Throughout the film sound is noticeably important rather than the usual 'invisible' support to the pictures. It is though the microphones have been sewn into the very fabric of the actors clothing as we hear every last little sound. The Ferrari's throbbing V8 even crackles and ticks as it cools after being turned off. We spend a lot of time in the movie cruising the cool neighbourhoods of Hollywood in the 360 but it is as though it never reaches second gear just so that we can hear that beautiful engineering harmoniously grunting and groaning. Perhaps this is a metaphor for the life of the film's central character?

Stephen Dorff plays jaded actor Johnny Marco who exists in the hotel Château Mormont on Sunset Boulevard recovering from a broken arm. His life is filled with pills, parties a pole-dancing twins, but he is a passenger drifting in and out of consciousness between movies. Everybody loves Johnny and his easy and amiable personality makes him likeable. However complicit you feel Johnny Marco is for his predicament, his genuine likeability will provoke feelings of sympathy in you - particularly through the way he tenderly interacts with his daughter Cleo (played by Elle Fanning). There is more than a hint of re-run and re-contextualisation of Lost in Translation here - but that was an awesome film, so no real problem.

It soon becomes clear that Johnny's life is empty. Johnny Marco is a world famous actor dutifully attending photo shoots and news conferences at the bidding Marge whom we never see but only hear on the phone. He has everything he could seemingly want - except purpose and intimacy. Both turn up in the shape of his 11 year-old daughter Cleo whom his ex-wife dumps on him as she goes through her own episode of angst and the need to get away. Johnny appears to be an excellent father. he takes his daughter skating, although he didn't know she'd been doing it for 3 years! He takes her to Milan for the launch of his latest film in Italy where he receives an award - a kind of Italian Oscar. In the limelight of the stage he slips into role and presents a coherent and together persona. The next day he and Cleo escape the celebrity cocoon and head for the airport taking another celeb's car to escape the attention.

As the film progresses, a press conference delivers a metaphor for Marco's life. He is unable to answer a series of innocuous questions about the meaning and content of what he does and the roles of his characters. His life is empty and meaningless. After having spent a few weeks with Cleo as mum sorts herself out, Cleo goes off to camp in Nevada. The only thing more pretentious that driving from LA to Las Vegas in a black Ferrari 360 would be to fly across the city in a helicopter to rendezvous with the camp taxi - this Johnny and Cleo do for some undisclosed reason. Her departure to summer camp precipitates Johnny's slide into angst ridden insecurity. He calls his ex and begs her to visit him to talk - she declines. The next morning he resolves to move out of the hotel and he drives off into the Californian desert. In an isolated spot he pulls to the side of the road, gets out of the car and walks off with the hint of a smile on his lips. Perhaps he has had an epiphany and come to his senses. We don't know because the music changes and the credits roll.

The soundtrack is excellent with the usual choice of good mood music and songs. As I mentioned, the way the sound is recorded is with maximum detail and brightness which reinforces Johnny's sense of isolation. Furthermore, in addition to the long opening shot of the circling 360, there are two other long held shots - one is a very gentle zoom in to Johnny's head as he sits sleeping as a head cast is taken for SFX for an upcoming movie, the only sound is his heavy nasal breathing - the only holes in the plaster cast that encases his head - another cocoon metaphor? The third long held shot is of Johnny and Cleo sunbathing on loungers at the hotel pool after enjoying a playful swim together. The length of the shot emphasised for me the nothingness of their existence - I have never been one to waste time sunbathing when the sun can be enjoyed in so many more active ways!

Much of the footage of this film is recorded on hand-held cameras giving a reportage rather than dramatic feel to the film. It could be a documentary about the emptiness of this kind of lifestyle. Being part of the Coppola dynasty I'm sure it is familiar to the Director, Sofia. This film demonstrates the maturing of her style. It's muted palette is handled creatively and with sensitivity. There are no bad guys in the film only good guys - it's just that they need help to discover themselves. But then don't we all?

This story is timely as the cult of celebrity is increasingly coming under the spotlight and we are even seeing the rise of anti-celebrity in some corners of our media infested world. We have too many people enjoying celebrity for no good reason. The worlds of music and drama have very few stars these days and far too many celebrities. The likes of Youtube and other social networking sites means that everyone now has the facility to be famous - exposure and celebrity with no responsibility. Even bloggers like me! Another post-modern malaise?

A worthy film - I'll give it 7.5/10.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

The American

Clooney's latest introspective angstfest is a poor film - it could have been so much more. It is cool, but beyond that it is confused. Is it an action film? Not enough action. Is it a love film? Maybe, but the ending will leave you unfulfilled. Is it a film that explores ghosts from the past and the pricking of conscience? No, the intervention of the priest is too heavy and direct for that.

What is certain is that the backdrop could be from a travelogue - the snowy expanses of Sweden, the bustle of Rome, the remote and tranquil beauty of the hillside village in Abruzzo. The visual quality of the cinematography is at times stunning. As an Assassin and gun maker on the run, Clooney's character wants out, but his handler has one last job for him. This time all he has to do is make a gun for another assassin - Mathilda. You might think that someone trying to lay low would not go as an American outsider to a small rural village where they would undoubtedly attract attention. Furthermore, you would not expect someone craving anonymity to strike up a friendship with the village priest and a romance with one of the village prostitutes - both people who circulate widely within the local population. It is of little surprise that his past catches up with him and in the cobbled streets of Castel del Monte chases ensue where assassin's bulletts are exchanged and innocent bystanders killed - none of which seems to attract the attention of the police or turn the locals against The American.

The film leaves a lot unsaid - too much in my mind. At other times it is in your face as the priest confronts The American about his sins and offers confession - but it is the priest who ends up confessing to the assassin. At best the plot and dialogue are clunky. There is no back story and everything that happens in the film that clearly has a reference to things outside the village is left to hang in mid air. The ending is similarly inconclusive.

The Clooney character is clearly going through a mid-life crisis. However, it appears not to be one of regret for what he has done. If there is any regret, it is over how hard it is to retire gracefully from the world of the global assassin club. He knows too much. He has seen too much. He knows too many contacts. He no longer serves a useful purpose for those who would hire him and has become a liability. Therefore, like those whom he used to hunt down and kill, the hunter now becomes the hunted. The plot is clichéd and unremarkable. It's like a low-budget Bourne film in that respect!

This is the extent of the moral insight offered by the film. It fails as an action movie. It is unsatisfactory as spy movie. Its conclusion spoils it as love story. It appears that this film is useful as a vehicle for the muscular Clooney and beautiful Abruzzo.

If it's a rainy afternoon and you've nothing better to do, go and see it - if only for the beauty of Castel del Monte. I'll give it 6/10.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010


I was reading this month's Empire and was intrigued to find a piece from 13 year-old Chloe Moretz who played Hit-Girl/Mindy Macready in Kick-Ass. When I reviewed the film, I was critical of the level of violence her character perpetrated - it made me feel uneasy and I still don't want to see the film a second time because of it.

In the piece in Empire (January 2011 page 125) Ms Moretz says what an awesome year it has been for her and how she loves making movies - and that 'it's always going to be that way'. It's good that youngsters have aspirations and are able to fulfil dreams, but to me it reveals the same naivety with which a 13 year-old is cast as a vengeful and violent super hero (or should that be heroine?). For me this is further underlined by her remark in the piece "It's a film - it's fun. You're not supposed to go in wondering what its moral standards are." If film-makers and actors have no moral responsibility for their creative product, who does? Precisely where does Ms Moretz draw the line?

It is understandable that one so young can so easily get caught up in the whole Hollywood thing. She claims that her family help her keep her feet on the ground and that she is a 'normal 13 year-old girl'. She also quotes a congratulatory tweet from Kylie Minogue and says "After Kick-Ass, adult actors really respect me for being an actor, not just a kid actor".

I am in no way casting doubts about her acting abilities - although her role in Kick-Ass was not a stern test of these. What I do want to question is her lack of seeing where moral responsibility lies.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Two to look out for

Amongst the trailers and advertisements at the cinema yesterday, two upcoming titles caught my eye and I hope to get to see them.

The first is Sophia Coppola's Somewhere starring Elle Fanning and Stephen Dorff. I like the way Coppola treats her themes and although this looks like another epiphany and  transformation movie, it promises to be worth seeing. Catch the Time Out  review here.

This film from Artificial Eye seems to be exceptional. The reviews already have it riding high - find a BBC review here. Based on a true story - frightening stuff.

My Afternoons with Margueritte

How can someone who has been loved so little, love so much? This film is a gift - a kind of French Forrest Gump.

Germain was an unwanted child - the product of a fling at a dance between his mother and and an American GI. In a relentless series of flashbacks, Germain is told of his uselessness, his clumsiness, his stupidity and reminded that his arrival in this world was both unintended and unwelcome. His mother treats him harshly and undermines any self-confidence he may have had. His teacher at school does the same in a series of ritual humiliations. His drinking 'buddies' at Francine's Cafe also endlessly rib him. Germain is lacking in sophistication, social graces and an ability to understand the full impact of what he says. A bumbling simpleton.

His mother is now portrayed as a deranged and drunken chain-smoking sot. Germain has a series of odd jobs which gives him an income, he also tends a productive vegetable garden at his mother's home where he lives outside in a caravan. Germain's only warmth comes from his loving relationship with Annette, the local bus driver. All of which contribute to an unlikely pretext for a movie - that is until Germain encounters Margueritte one afternoon in the local park. Margueritte has recently moved into a local retirement home. She is 95, has travelled the world and is very well read. Rather than frustration, she finds Germain's simple and uncultured demeanour something that engenders affection and she sees in him something of a kindred spirit. A friendship begins.

The in's and out's of the film explore the territory you would expect from such a plot - there is nothing new here. What is noteworthy is the powerful simplicity with which the exploration is undertaken and the strength of the performances from the whole cast. The final words of the film are a voice over by Germain where he says something like, 'it is unusual for a love story to be written and not contain the word love'.

This is a film about hope. This is a film with a powerful message about the human condition. The story of this film shows that our ability to love is innate and will find ways of expressing itself given the right circumstances. Annette and Margueritte allow Germain to express his love and so to give voice through his actions to his sense of self. The vegetable garden and Germain's understanding of what makes a good growing medium are a clever metaphor.

Germain could so easily have become an embittered victim. Instead his good-natured capacity to look for the best and help people where possible demonstrate that love has the power to transform. If we are to understand that we are made in the image of God and that the most intimate expression of God is the Trinity - a relational communion, then acting on love would seem to be very much a part of what it means to be human - to be made in the image of God and to spend our afternoons with Margueritte.

As I said, this film is a gift. Go and see it now! I'll give it 8.5/10.

Monday, 6 December 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest

The third instalment from Steig Larson's Milennium Trilogy. I found this to be a very good film and a fitting climax to the trilogy. Tension and action are well balanced and paced throughout. Having set the context in the first film and given the back-story in the second, this one nicely brings it together. You know what the hoped for outcome is, but will they be able to achieve it?

The plot is complex with at least three arms of Government and private security involved. There is also Lisbeth's half-brother Niedermann running around trying to kill her, not to mention a gang of bikers and a bent and abusive Psychiatrist caught up in the whole saga. Characters who have previously only been peripheral come much more to the fore and the Milennium quartet find their relationship pushed to the limit. The pivot around which all this revolves is Blomkvist - who's pursuit of truth in the face of a cover-up started the whole saga off. It is fitting then, that the trilogy concludes with the Swedish authorities on trial as well as Lisbeth Salander and it isn't right until the end that you find out which way the scales of justice will tip.

This trilogy has launched Noomi Rapace onto the world stage - and deservedly so. She delivers a consistently intense characterisation of the abused and damaged Salander who struggles to express her humanity and who seeks a sense of self that has integrity within a system that has abused and violated her for most of her life. Rapace manages to span the spectrum by delivering a performance that is filled with brutal power one moment and child-like vulnerability the next. Her method-acting style will have seared Lisbeth Salander into the movie-going public's corporate mind. She cuts a striking image as the defiant Gothic-punk striding through the prison corridor on the way to court:

It is good to see from that she has indeed been busy since this trilogy

Interesting to see that she has been confirmed as having a role in the Alien prequel - she'll give Ripley a run for her money - never mind the slobbering beast itself!

I also hope that these films give Michael Nyqvist (Blomkvist) greater exposure - although his range (from what I've seen) is limited, the roles he has delivered are all strong performances.

This third film of the trilogy looks even more like being part of the six-part TV series it is. It will be interesting to see what the Hollywood treatment brings to the party when it is released. Nevertheless this remains a solid trilogy, that dips in the middle but finishes strongly. For those who found the inclusion of the graphic scene of sexual violence in the first film to be questionable, its inclusion in the plot is justified by the way in which it is referred to in this film. I am not condoning what was portrayed, but it is a central a defining plot device.

With the seed of the plot centred on the defection of a Cold War Russian spy and covert Government organisations colluding in cover-up to commit Salander to a Psychiatric Hospital for her entire life, it does feel like a work of fiction. Sadly, events of the last decade have shown all too graphically that when Governments feel a pressing need to protect their citizens, they are able to blur the boundaries between what is lawful and just and what is considered to be expedient and reasonable to deliver 'security' in a way that becomes indefensible. Sweden is usually upheld as a model of how nations should behave with its strong tradition of liberal socialism. For me this made the story harder to buy into.

With the DVD and Bluray already available on the continent, UK viewers will have to wait until 04 April 2011 before they can get their hands on an English language sub-titled edition! But don't wait until then - get yourself off to the cinema and see it now while you can.

I'll give it 7.5/10.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Films of Faith and Doubt

I have just had the privilege of leading a three day course with a group of lay and ordained folk from the Diocese where we explored together what God might be saying in and through five films which probed various aspects of faith and doubt. In a sense the format and content presented nothing new. What was new and unique was the intentionality of bringing together that group of (self-selecting) people in that place at that time to watch, reflect on and interact on these films. Again and again reactions centred on the power of narrative to engage and transport us - something to be aware of as we communicate the Gospel message today in a world hungry for a good story.

There were many occasions where people's emotions were engaged - rage, anger, pity, pain, sorrow, loss, love, regret, hope, grace, blessing, gift and bewilderment all played their part. The course was well received and all participants contributed significantly to our shared learning together. Thanks to those who were there.

We kicked off with Bergman's Winter Light made in 1962. Bergman's then wife agreed that it was a masterpiece - but a dreary masterpiece. Exploring existential angst in the midst of the bleakness of a flatly lit Swedish November, a Lutheran Pastor, widowed, grieving and feeling inadequate, wrestles with the realities of life and death - and doesn't always get it right. Not a cheery film to watch but a good one to open with.

This was followed by Angel-A from Luc Besson. If all Angel's look like Rie Rasmussen bring heaven on! A powerful exploration of self-image where the central character, Andre, is helped to gain sufficient self-confidence to adopt a persona that is more integrated with his charcter and as it happens one which makes him more attractive as an individual. It is a film about hope and transformation. It is shot in black and white and dramatically exploits the backdrop of Paris in all its splendour and seediness.

After a night's sleep, we steeled ourselves for Jesus of Montreal - surely one of the best re-tellings of the Passion there is. Too many Passion Plays are set in ancient times or in contexts that are so unfamiliar that the focus is on the story. But this film is set in contemporary Montreal - a modern, throbbing, thriving metropolis - a context that a large proportion of us find familiar. This recontextualisation forces the viewer to appropriate the Passion story in a way that makes it very much of the here and now and not simply a distant misty image engaged with in Passion Week each year.

Being a kind soul, we had some free time in the afternoon before watching As it is in Heaven in the evening. This Swedish film is hard to get hold of. It has not been distributed in the UK or USA and as far as I'm aware there is no English language version available - which is good as the Swedish language is so expressive. I managed to get hold of an Australian (Region 4) disc through ebay which had English sub-titles (most European versions have only German sub-titles). This is a powerful film about the transformation of a community. If the final scenes give us a glimpse of what Heaven may be like, sign me up now. Powerful.

I then offered a late-night optional seasonal viewing of The Flint Street Nativity which was well received and a welcome antidote to all the existential angst that was in the other films. Strong performances from a great cast.

We rounded the whole thing off on the final morning by watching Keeping the Faith which I have now seen a number of times. With each viewing the issues it deals with grow in complexity and depth and I really do commend this as a challenging film - especially for anyone in ministry. A great performance from the leading trio ably supported by Eli Wallach and Anne Bancroft. This is not a 'piff and bubble' film. It was directed by and stars Ed Norton who dedicated it his late mother - Robin Norton. It has a powerful message that Norton obviously felt he had to communicate. I for one, am grateful that he did.

Interspersed between the viewings were sessions reflecting on what we'd seen, some general stuff on how we might approach theological reflection in the context of films, an exploration of some of the resources out there to help us with that and a series of papers that I had prepared on a range of issues related to films of faith and doubt.

My thanks to all who contributed.