Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Loss, dying and death in film



Today this blog went through the 100,000 page view barrier - thanks for your interest and comments.

Today was also a day I led a day's training exploring themes of loss, death and dying and we enjoyed some laughs amongst the tears! To begin with I gave a presentation surveying the territory - a copy of my paper is here - see the pages section on the right. Yes, I know it's subjective, but I wanted to stay with films I knew that would illustrate the points I was trying to get across. Then we watched A Short Stay in Switzerland (reviewed here) followed by Monsieur Lazhar (reviewed here) with plenty of discussion and reflection. We shared in some deep experiences together and learned much from one another.

A good day - thanks to those who shared in it.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Zero Dark Thirty


Another day, another movie based on 'true' events - and with this one you know the outcome! This film opens with a dark screen and voices from emergency centres receiving calls from people caught up in the horror of the 9/11 attacks in 2001. It therefore starts by placing a large amount of emotional capital in the bank and the film uses this leverage throughout to justify the unfolding story.

The narrative runs in strict chronological sequence from September 11th 2001 through to May 2nd 2011. The story is told through the experiences of Maya (Jessica Chastain) a CIA operative recruited directly from High School. Initially she clearly feels uncomfortable about the methods employed by colleagues as they interrogate terrorist suspects. The action jumps around from Afghanistan to Poland, to Saudi, to America, to Pakistan and London. CIA and MI6 agents move through international borders like shadows as they seek their prize - Bin Laden, or UBL as they call him.

The intelligence gathering is slow and suffers many set backs. Dead ends frustrate and sometimes double and triple crosses lead to suicide bombings and deaths on both 'sides'. The hustle and bustle of Pakistan is portrayed with a vibrant dynamism (although for political reasons it was filmed in India). The interwoven network of families and Al Qaida members stretches from Arabia to the Punjab. The might of America's intelligence community is deployed against them, but with so many leads and so little to really go on, it is like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Maya's driven-ness becomes an increasingly stronger force as the story gathers pace. Her 12 year quest to find UBL consumes her. She has no social life, no friends, no life beyond her work. She is as fanatical as the man she is hunting. When she finally manages to get resources to gather intelligence it produces a lead which she is certain has disclosed UBL's location. Her frustration grows as the politicians, wary of another spectacular failure, procrastinate as they demand greater proof.

Finally the order is given and the operation begins. The operation is shown in great detail as a team of US Navy S.E.A.L.S. stealthily and systematically work their way through the compound using a shoot first, ask questions later, methodology. Mercifully most of the children are spared (though traumatised). As an action sequence it is masterfully shot and the tension and suspense are maintained at a high level. Maya is finally vindicated and she gets her man. Movie over.

Well, the action/spy movie might be over - but there is another movie that plays alongside it. Director Kathryn Bigelow chose to open the film with the eerie and haunting emergency messages from people trapped in burning buildings and hijacked planes. The frustrations of the CIA, and Maya in particular, are explored as they walk the tightrope between the Geneva Convention and doing what is necessary 'because we are at war'. The film openly shows suspects being tortured. Water-boarding is common practice and suspects are flown around the world to different rendition facilities in an attempt to break them and extract vital information. The story depicts the quest as a reaction to 9/11. Bin Laden always maintained that 9/11 was itself a response to Western imperialism's attack on Muslim values, practices and lands. And so the tit-for-tat goes on. As the stakes get bigger the justification for bending the rules becomes stronger. This story is told in a very one-sided way and there is no attempt to analyse what is going on - it is simply portrayed.

Let me make it clear that I am in no way seeking to justify 9/11 or 7/7 or any of the other acts of terror. I am simply commenting on the way this film tells its story. It feels like it takes upon itself the mantle of trying to offer the American people a cathartic attempt through the watching of this movie, to sigh a collective sigh of relief and say 'that chapter is now over'. But of course it is not over as too many families are still living with the consequences of the fateful attacks in New York, Washington DC, a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, Madrid, London and Abbattabad.

It made me feel uneasy - that men and women are doing such things on my behalf. Living in a democracy, the Secret Intelligence Service in the UK and the CIA in America would claim to be acting on behalf of the people. This isn't some small-scale benevolent James Bond-like set up. This is war on a truly global scale. I am one of the people and I am naive enough to want to believe in a different way of doing business. Clearly Bigelow and Co pay respect to Muslim sensibilities. But the way in which we never quite see the face of the executed UBL and the respect with which his body is treated, contrast sharply with the jingoistic celebrations of the S.E.A.L.S. and the sense of  a job well done.

We live in a screwed up world and screwed up people will continue to do screwed up things. As an action film this had me gripped. As an account of the moral state of the world, it leaves me longing for the promise of the time when all tears will be wiped away, death will be no more and mourning, crying and pain will cease. I'll give it 5/10.


Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Impossible


The challenge for this kind of film, which is almost a docudrama - with the heavy emphasis on the drama - is to re-present an event that became so familiar through extensive media coverage that we see it in a fresh and engaging way. This film succeeds. The camera action and acting deliver an engaging and compelling story of human struggle against the brutal forces of nature. It is well paced and maintains a high degree of suspense throughout as each successive part of the journey of struggle unfolds.

The story centres on a family arriving at a Thailand beach resort on Christmas Eve to enjoy a luxury Christmas in an exotic paradise. On Boxing Day the paradise becomes a living and watery hell as the tsunami inundates the low-lying coastline. For too many it became their watery grave.

In the opening moments, viewers are told that this is a true story. How much this purely documents their story, perhaps only the family can say. There are passages of the story telling which are 'arty' and very creative. The actors must have spent a significant amount of time in the water tanks and the camera work of swirling debris and bodies under the water are innovative and strangely captivating. With any film like this there will always be questions about how 'true' it is and how much artistic licence has been taken.

Mum, dad and their three young sons get separated in the devastation and the question that is  exquisitely maintained through tension and suspense is, whether or not they will all be reunited and will they survive? Dad, portrayed by Ewan McGregor manages to capture the sense of helpless desperation and despair felt by someone who is usually at the top of their game in the professional and family spheres and who suddenly finds themselves not in control. A tsunami has the effect of levelling everyone and the basic need for survival kicks in - that and the need to find the missing members of your family.

Naomi Watts turns in a stunning performance, worthy of an awards nomination. The eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) also turns in a strong performance but his younger siblings don't quite match up - which is perfectly understandable given the heavy-duty nature of the story.

In the midst of the desperation and seeming hopelessness there are chinks of light that restore faith in human nature. Whether it be the self-sacrifice and hard work of local villagers helping injured tourists get medical attention or the over-worked and under-resourced medical staff performing miracle after miracle, the heart is well and truly tugged. The biggest tugs come when children are reunited with a parent after days of separation. The sense of lost-ness and sheer shock are caught wonderfully by the other actors and hundreds of extras. Often young children encounter and are forced to glimpse things that not even adults should have to face. The aftermath of such a disaster is truly harrowing.

I found this to be a gripping and compelling film. It is not easy viewing but ultimately I found it to be uplifting. It is almost a film of two halves. The first belongs to mum and is totally gripping and graphic. The second half belongs to dad and is less dramatic, although no less well acted or shot. I wonder if the film might have been stronger had the two stories been more intertwined and edited together? With strong acting and great Direction and camera work, this film deserves to be seen. It stands as a triumph to those who survived and as a memorial to those who didn't. I'll give it 8/10.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Into The Abyss


This documentary from legendary film-maker Werner Herzog, explores the crime that led Michael Perry to be sentenced to death in the US State of Texas. Herzog interviews Perry who is, as you can see, remarkably upbeat for a man who is only eight days away from execution by lethal injection. As well as interviewing the prime felon, Herzog also interviews his accomplices, members of the victims family, prison and police officials and a wider circle of people.

The film starts most promisingly with an interview with the Death Row Chaplain, Revd Richard Lopez. His angst-ridden expression perfectly captures the irreconcilable tension between the pain of the loss of a loved one through murder, the seeming contrition and rehabilitation of the offender, and the requirement of a 'civilised society' to execute the perpetrator.

As the interviews progress, the editing of them is masterful as Herzog weaves his tale. The story exposes how being part of a dysfunctional family begets dysfunctional behaviour. It weaves a web of people who had too little hope as they entered their teens and so dropped out of school, some of them illiterate, most of them drug users and petty criminals. One of Perry's accomplices - Jason Burkett a man of the same age - will not see release from prison until he is nearly 60. This accomplice's father was in gaol when the crime was committed and is since back in gaol serving his own life sentence for a different crime. And so the story goes on.

For me the two most shocking elements were firstly an interview with the former Captain of Execution Wing who was responsible for overseeing on average two executions a week for a number of years. For him, the turning point came when the first woman was executed in the faciltity. He suffered a moral and emotional breakdown and had to resign his post and is so doing lost all pension benefits for a lifetime or service to the prison - a public servant, morally, emotionally and financially violated. This act of violence went unpunished. The second shocking disclosure was from Melyssa Burkett who corresponded with Jason when he was an inmate and at the time was unknown to her. They fell in love  and married!


In the ceremony conducted in gaol with guards present, they were only allowed to hold hands yet miraculously a few days later she fell pregnant with his child (so we are told) having been artificially inseminated. In the picture above Melyssa displays on her phone an ultrasound picture of the child she is carrying.

It seems totally baffling to me that a society can allow deprivation and poor social provision to conspire and allow people such as Burkett and Perry to emerge as criminals and then collude in the 'smuggling' of inmate sperm to impregnate a woman. It seems to me that this is a system designed to perpetuate dysfunctionality! Perhaps I am being politically incorrect but no-one seems to be taking any responsibility for what has gone on here - except to put Perry and Burkett before a jury and then to execute one - 10 years after the trial, and lock the other up for most of his life. I am not advocating being soft on criminals and I am certainly not trying to ignore or play down the loss suffered by those who had loved ones murdered. What I am crying out for is some common sense and the chance for societies to be given the resources and encouragement to offer the possibility of transformation taking place, to give people a chance in life and find ways of offering restitution that does not mean the loss of yet another life.

As a piece of cinema, this film had wonderful editing, some very good cinematography and the always entertaining intonation of Bavaria's finest film-maker. Perhaps because it has moved me to rant, it is very good documentary film-making - although I'm not sure that was what Herzog intended necessarily. This film would be an excellent way of setting up a discussion and exploration of the themes it presents - I know that other opinions are available. However, as a viewing spectacle it left me frustrated and given the hyperbole surrounding it's release I am going to award it only 6/10.


Monday, 14 January 2013

Bucket List



This is a gentle and heart-warming film that forces viewers to consider their own mortality. If you knew the date you would die, would you live your remaining days any differently? Sadly, each day for many people and families, the news they receive is bad news about a loved ones' prognosis. This film explores two unlikely characters thrown together in the shared experience of being diagnosed with cancer and given only months to live.

Edward (Jack Nicholson) and Carter (Morgan Freeman), both in their 60's share the same hospital room as they face surgery and chemotherapy. Both are trapped men. Edward is trapped by the need to go on making money. He is a self-made billionaire, married and divorced four times, used to getting his own way and not afraid to trample on people to get it. Carter married young and was forced to pull out of University to find work to support his wife with a baby on the way - as he says, black young and poor - not much of a start in life. He worked at the same job for 45 years to ensure his children didn't suffer the same challenges and he is still married to the same wife - and in fact discloses that he has never been with another woman. Edward is lonely and he mocks Carter as he receives a constant stream of 'interruptions' as members of his extended family visit. Edward has one daughter from whom he has been estranged for many years. The stark contrast between the two men is plainly set out - perhaps a little too artificially.

Carter remembers back to a philosophy class he took where the Professor set the students the task of writing a 'Bucket List' - a list of things to do before you 'kick the bucket' - die. Carter's list of 45 years earlier was filled with ideological and idealised things. Now, as he lies in his bed with IV chemo, he writes a new list which is more realistic and pragmatic - but no less meaningful. Edward gets hold of it and decides to use his wealth to make it happen for the both of them before they die. Buoyed by the medication they set off and enjoy a range of activities and locations.

However, as their relationship deepens, so do the things that separate them. Carter wants to have some time for himself when his family want him at home so that they can enjoy his last months with him. Edward puts on a brave face and enjoys the finest things in life - including Kopi Luwak coffee - "the finest beverage in the world". (If you want to find out more about it, click here.) He also refuses to discuss his daughter with Carter.

In a way this is very much a road movie. The journey is towards an earlier than hoped for death and it visits the cruel, painful and at times hilarious twists and turns such a journey takes you on. At times the storyline is a little wallowy but is carried by the immense acting ability of Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. But at the hour and half mark, it is a story well worth engaging with - however uncomfortable it may make you feel and even if it does generate unwelcome memories.

So, what would be on your bucket list? Would you want to know the probable time of your death? Who would matter more, and who less, to you then? Would you think of God any differently? I think this is a delightful and appropriately funny way to deal with a heavy and all-too-real subject. Get the disc and watch the film. I'll give it 7.5/10.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Les Miserables


If nothing else the arrival of this film has given us a masterclass in marketing and promotion. The level of expectation that surrounds this film's release is massive - but does it deliver?

I need to say that I am not a fan of musicals - they always seem so contrived and unnatural to me. However, that aside, this film is a visual, musical and acting tour-de-force. It is not without its flaws though. As compelling as the two male leads (Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe) are, there are times when their vocal performances lack the usual sparkle. Some of the CGI looks wonderful whilst some of it looks a little odd. In this film all of the dialogue is sung which makes telling the story a slow and sometimes tortuous affair. I imagine that the film is very close to the stage play but at 2:37 with periods where the pace slows to a crawl, I felt it could have lost half and hour and been better for it.

The story is a well known one and does not need to be rehearsed here. This is a morality tale (of a different kind to that of Jack Reacher!). It is a story that trades in a currency of strong emotions and feelings - hope, love, betrayal, sacrifice, disappointment and faith. It is a story of oppression and betrayal, of abject poverty and opulent excess - a story of the haves and have nots. These emotions and privations are portrayed with such tangible veracity by the cast that at times watching the film becomes emotionally draining - and of course these feelings are perfectly orchestrated by the score and powerful lyrics. I managed to hold it together until the appearance of Fantine's ghost!

The scale of the sets and visualisation of the set pieces are stunning as are the vivid colours. The opening scene in the dry dock at Portsmouth and the ways in which Greenwich Naval College are transformed into Bourbon Paris are breath-taking. Much of the camera work is hand-held and has a fluid intimacy about it. Some of the songs, particularly the solos, are quite long and while that may work fine on stage there were quite a few times when it looked as though the Director didn't quite know what to do visually to allow the story to be told. Consequently there was a lot of vertical panning to pass the time!

All of the performers give strong performances. Anne Hathaway's Fantine and Samantha Barks'  Ă‰ponine are particularly convincing. Eddie Redmayne acts and sings convincingly and the child performances from Isabelle Allen as the young Cossette and Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche are also noteworthy - but why Gavroche should sound as cockney as someone from the cast of Oliver is a mystery! Comic relief is provided by the double-act of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the inn keepers M. et Mme. ThĂ©nardier who were both wonderful.

So, does it deliver? I am sure that this film will draw huge crowds (60+ million have seen the stage play) and the DVD sales will be immense. Its revenues have already repaid the production costs of $61m and it's only just opened. I wish it well, as good as it was I'm not in a hurry to see it again but I'll give it 8/10.


Saturday, 12 January 2013

Jack Reacher


I've not read any of Lee Child's 17 Reacher novels so I came to this with an open mind. The title character (Tom Cruise) is as enigmatic as he is consistently dispassionate. I can't remember if I've ever seen Cruise in a film where no-one so much as kissed! This is a film about weapons, fists and fast cars - and little else. In some ways it's as though Sherlock Holmes has been dragged into the 21st Century.

There are echoes of films like Bullitt, French Connection and Dirty Harry as Reacher thinks and fights his way through the story. Essentially this is an organised crime thriller with the chief villain played by Werner Herzog - almost playing himself, except he's bitten his fingers off in this film! The way the plot unfolds and the way in which Reacher thinks his way through the problems are both incredible. He becomes the lead investigator for attorney Helen Rodin (Rosamund Pike) as she defends what seems like a hopeless case where the defendant is being prosecuted by her father the DA - who never takes on a case he can't win. Reacher likes a challenge and this time it's not a challenge of the heart.

If I were being cynical, I might suggest that this film and the lead character are propaganda intended to keep alive the myth of the American dream. Reacher is prepared to allow two wrongs to make a right - on more than one occasion. He is quick to employ a self-referencing moral code that is outside the laws others live by and to do so by calling it justice. In a film where use of weapons is commonplace,  violence prolific and odd balls are addicted to the shooting range, should Hollywood be perpetuating the myth of this kind of hero? Oh I forgot, Reacher's not a hero and he tells us so in the film "You think I'm a hero? I am not a hero. And if you're smart, that scares you. Because I have nothing to lose." I can imagine that being said by the kind of loner with a love of weapons who goes on the rampage in a school. Is this film simply an observation of how dark our world can be or is it something that may for some encourage them further along their own dark journey?

And the whole thing is packaged as entertainment - that I colluded with and bought into. On one level the intellectual crime fighting was entertaining as was the constant question of whether or not the lead couple would get it together. It was also refreshing to see an urban landscape that wasn't New York, LA or Toronto. Overall the lone vigilante operating outside the law left me very uneasy. As an essay in ethics I wouldn't score this very highly. As a film I'll give it 7/10.


Friday, 11 January 2013

Synecdoche New York


The title of the film is a play on Schenectady, New York, where much of the film is set. Synecdoche means where a part of something represents the whole or vice-a-versa which comes to the fore as the film progresses and reality and fantasy blur as the lead character's work becomes a self-fulfilling nihilistic autobiography.

This is at the same time both a simple and yet complex film. It has been called the archetypal post-modern story (oxymoron?) that nods in the direction of Baudrillard's seminal Simulacra and Simulation. It is a play within a play and borrows motifs and artistic references from Jungian Psychology, Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams and psychiatry. There is a very useful analysis of the film on Wikipedia.

If in viewing this film you want to fully engage with all that it has to offer, you will need to make a significant investment and stick with a film that is hard work. At the same time you will be rewarded with a very cleverly conceived and executed story which is a vehicle for some excellent acting from a heavyweight cast headed by Phillip Seymour Hoffman supported by Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Hope Davies, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Emily Watson.

As the ailing director Cotard slides deeper into physical and relational malfunction so his marriage with his wife disintegrates as she goes to Berlin with their daughter to exhibit her artwork. So successful is the exhibition that she decides to stay there and bask in the glory of the adulation that her work has attracted. At the same time Cotard wins an award that allows him to stage his magnum opus in a huge warehouse in Manhattan's Theatre District. As Cotard's art gets bigger so his wife's art get smaller - she paints in miniature.

As his relationship with his wife becomes increasingly separated by distance and coolness, so Cotard pursues a number of women. One them Hazel, who works the theatre box office, buys a house that is perpetually on fire without being consumed by it. The dialogue with the Realtor is bizarre but indicative of how the story moves along in its synecdoche mode: "I like it, I do. But I'm really concerned about dying in the fire," and the Realtor responds "It's a big decision, how one prefers to die.".

This film received polarised but generally positive reviews. It is a Marmite film - you'll either love it or hate it. I'm prepared to work at films but for me this was too much hard work! Overall I felt it was too introspective, too clever and tried too hard to say too much. Viewing it felt like wallowing in a miry clay - which is of course the description of nihilistic dysfunctionality the story attempts to deliver. The conceptualisation and delivery in this film would score somewhere around an 8/10, however the enjoyment factor, even for a difficult film, would only register a 3/10 for me. I'll be charitable and round up the average to 6/10.




Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Life of Pi


I am told by those who know about such things that this film is a faithful retelling of Yann Martel's 2001 novel. I had seen the trailer and read some of the blurb, but was still unsure of what to expect from a film that centres on the 14 year-old Pi marooned in a lifeboat on the Pacific for 227 days with a Bengal Tiger called Richard Parker!

In one sense this is a straightforward biography - albeit a work of fiction. Indeed it would be possible to view the film as a factual and bizarre account as so much of it is firmly rooted in a recognisable reality. However, so much of it is rooted elsewhere that this seems a very unsatisfying option. Much is made of the origins of Pi - Pondicherry, a former French colony in Southern India. Religions play an important part as Pi embraces Hinduism and then adds Christianity and finally Islam to his repertoire of faith. On top of this is a blending of cultures - French, Indian, Japanese, and Canadian and their respective languages. There are also many strands of science - zoology in particular, which beg questions of an evolutionary nature. the ethics of survival are explored when cannibalism is mentioned! All of this is wrapped in a covering of philosophising which prompts a steady stream of questions - at least it did for me. This multi-layering of story-telling vehicles, demands that Life of Pi should be read more as a allegory than as a straightforward biography. It invites reflection, interpretation and conversation. What did you see?

First and foremost the film is about the journey of life and our search for a sense of meaning in both the journey and our intended destination. The Eastern openness to a multiplicity of deities which frustrates so much Western evangelism is beautifully portrayed. Pi's father's commitment to rationalism and scientific method is a bold vote in favour for the Enlightenment Project. The physical arc of Pi's journey from India via a Japanese freighter, the Pacific Ocean and Mexico could emphasise the global village in which we all live -  particularly as Pi ends up in ethnically and culturally diverse Canada.

The central question for me was one of self-identity in the face of metaphysical enquiry - if God is God, who am I? If we are to understand Pi's original travelling companions of the Hyena, Orangutan, Zebra and Tiger metaphorically, then great significance must be placed on the process by which Pi first confronts and then tames the Tiger so that he and it, can peacefully co-exist.

The Eastern world has a much thinner divide between the physical reality and non-physical 'unreality' - to such an extent that they intermingle and can easily look one like the other. This blurring of reality with unreality - or fantasy - is the central mode of story-telling that Martel employs. Or was it all a device invented by Pi to maintain his sanity for 227 days which for him became a reality?

Ang Lee's Direction is masterful as is his deployment of animatronics and CGI. Yes, you can see a mechanical Tiger lurching unconvincingly at times and yes the CGI waves sometimes don't rise and fall naturally - but in a way I didn't mind as that simply added to the fantasy dimension. The acting is very good and Suraj Sharma turns in a great performance as the teenage Pi.

As you may have gathered, I rather liked this film - pure escapism - but in an engaging way. Very clever story-telling and very artistic film-making. After Pi has told his different versions of what happens he asks his listener which version he prefers. When the listener offers his view, Pi responds "and so it goes with God" which for me confirmed that this is first and foremost a theological film! I'll give it 8/10.


Monday, 7 January 2013

Quartet



This is the fourth film within a year to tackle the subject of ageing (Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, Hope Springs, Amour) and as a Directorial debut from Dustin Hoffman it is a tour-de-force. This is a film with a simple story and four main characters ably supported by a large ensemble cast. The way in which the characters and story sensitively handle the nuanced and multi-faceted complexities of growing old is both stunning and breath-taking. The vehicle for this story is a home for retired musicians and singers - most of whom are classically trained and were at the peak of their game earlier in life. What adds the icing to this cake is the gentle and self-deprecating humour that flows throughout the film.

The four main actors are Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins. They are supported by a host of familiar faces (Michael Gambon, Trevor Peacock and Andrew Sachs to name but three) many of whom appear to be playing themselves - which of course is the epitome of good acting - or is it just good casting? Each one of them not only turns in a performance worthy of a nomination but they do so in a way that ages their familair-to-us personas so effectively - Maggie Smith has a gaze into eternity that so perfectly depicts how for some, ageing is seen as an empty and futile decline into oblivion. "I used to be someone" she repeatedly tells everyone whilst Billy Connolly's character embraces who he is now, recognising the limitations that age has brought but getting away with continual and direct flirtation on account of his charm.

The premise of the story is quite simple and the interest is maintained by seeing if the characters will allow the central problem to be resolved satisfactorily or not. The way in which the characters' professional and private pasts intertwine and so impact their need of one another (or not) within the community always provides interest and intrigue. Some hang on to old and bitter rivalries whilst others are content to let bygones be bygones.The richness of the musical landscape of this film is astounding and demonstrates what retirement with purpose and passion can bring to (gifted) older folk.

This film had me crying at several stages - but afterwards it was a full two hours before I felt I might not burst into tears at the slightest provocation, such was its power to evoke an affective response within me. Maybe I was caught on a bad day (I don't think so) or maybe we have here a film that has captured a slice of life that is so often ignored and treated it with full-on respect, dignity and humour, to deliver not only a lesson of great encouragement but a piece of entertainment that is first class in every respect.

I would urge you to go and see this film. I'm awarding it the rare score of 9.5/10!


Friday, 4 January 2013

Man Dancin'


I had no idea what to expect from this film which was loaned to me by a colleague. The story has a very strong narrative arc. It is possible to view it as simply a drama. It could easily be seen as a gangster movie - which seems to be how most people interpret it. In essence it is a 'Christ movie".

It is about transformation of communities and individuals, self sacrifice and holding out for a better deal in the world to come. This comes as no surprise when you consider some of the street theatre scenes were Directed by Murray Watts.

There are echoes of Jesus of Montreal in this film - but it lacks the finesse and subtlety of Arcand's masterpiece. The visceral setting of Govan and the bleaker side of Glasgow give this film an edginess that is built on by the acting performances which are all strong. The whole cast of the Passion are present and we even have the throwing down of the thirty pieces of silver! Annas and Caiaphas are beautifully portrayed as the local gangster and the bent senior policeman. Judas, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Peter are all present in an interesting way.

This film unravels a multiplicity of layers. As I said, many read it as a straight drama whilst some see it purely as a gangster movie. Add in the overtones of Catholic/Protestant sectarianism and the mix gets a whole lot more intriguing. The enforced ecumenism is a master-stroke! If ever there was a social setting in need of the transforming words and actions of the Gospel, this is it - but then the people portrayed on screen are in reality types of us, people we would see, meet and be every day.

Whether the Gospel is articulated in Palestine, Beverly Hills, Govan or wherever you happen to be reading this, only serves to demonstrate our universal need of a Saviour and the universality of the effectiveness of salvation on offer. If you enjoy a good drama - watch this film. If you want a Glaswegian gangster movie - watch this film. If you want to see how Jesus Christ can be made real in your community - watch this film. But be warned - transformation sometimes exacts a high price.

Although this film is in many ways original, it is also derivative. I'm glad I watched it but I will reach for Jesus of Montreal in preference every time - unless I'm in Glasgow. I'll give it 6.5/10.