Once a month on a Friday on Inspirational Breakfast the Rev Simon Carver takes a look at the latest films hitting the cinemas. Find out what's worth a bucket of popcorn and a big screen.
Love is All You Need Rating 8/10 15 116 mins
The trailers for Love is All You Need showing a smiling Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm in a paradisiacal setting are misguiding. The Danish title – The Bald Hairdresser – more accurately prepares the viewer for the tone of this unusual love story. Ida and Philip are the mother of the bride and father of the bridegroom for the wedding of their children that is going to take place on Italy’s idyllic Amalfi peninsula. Ida is in an unhappy marriage and has just finished a cycle of chemotherapy – hence the Danish title. Philip is just plain unhappy. He is a widower and has a successful business in Denmark as well as the estate in Italy. What we get is a very international story – English, Italian and Danish are all spoken – set in beautiful surroundings. It could be likened to Mamma Mia! …but with a heavy dose of reality thrown in, because in real life people generally don’t burst into song in the ladies' loos.
Oblivion Rating 7/10
12A 125 mins
Oblivion, shall I compare thee to Mad Max, Planet of the Apes or Moon? Tom Cruise stars as Jack Parker, a repair man, left on earth with Victoria (Andrea Riseborough), his companion/assistant, to maintain the flying robots that protect the planet 60 years after an alien invasion was successfully repelled. ‘Successfully’ is debatable, as all humans, with the expectation of Jack and Victoria had been sent to live on Titan, one of the moons of Saturn, as the earth is no longer viable for human life. Tom Cruise is in action hero mould – running, riding a motorbike, running, flying a futuristic helicopter and running again. The post-apocalyptic landscape has been beautifully created with more than a nod towards Planet of the Apes, with its partially buried NY landmarks. There are plenty of twists and turns to be enjoyed and the story offers some suggestions regarding the nature of the human soul. However, it has all been done before, albeit in not in the same film.
The Odd Life of Timothy Green Rating 7½/10
U 125 mins
This might have been called An Odd Film About the Life of Timothy Green. Cindy and Jim Green live in Stanleyville, North Carolina, where Jim works at the town’s historic pencil factory and Cindy is the curator of the town’s historic pencil museum. Jim and Cindy are unable to have children and one evening, having been told that they have reached the end of the road for any medical help, they reflect on what might have been. They place in a box pieces of paper on which they had written their hopes for their child and they bury it in the garden. During the night a little boy appears in their home and calls them Mom and Dad. The film follows what happens as Timothy becomes part of their family in this small US town. Their ‘odd’ story – and it gets more bizarre – is told by Cindy and Jim as they are interviewed some months later by an adoption agency – not the sort of thing that would make them ideal adoptive parents, one might think. This is a strange, whimsical story and you may shed the odd tear. While it deals with the issue of childlessness, it rather glosses over the pain. The film has been certificated as U and is a Disney production. However, it shouldn’t be considered a young children’s film – it is just over two hours long and when this reviewer saw it, a number of parents with small children left before the end. At least they didn’t see a grown man cry.
Oz – The Great and Powerful Rating 7½/10 PG 130 mins
If you have ever wondered how the Great Oz came to be behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, Sam Raimi’s film gives the answer. Just as in Judy Garland’s 1939 version of Frank Baum’s novel, the action begins in black and white in Kansas, before moving, via a tornado to the colourful Land of Oz. However, in 2013 it is not young Dorothy who is transported. Instead it is Oz – The Great and Powerful, a carnival conjuror of dubious integrity (James Franco), who makes the journey to where the witches, munchkins and flying monkeys live. Dorothy’s tale was one of encouraging people with apparently limited gifts to ‘grow’. While this prequel includes a similar message – people working together to overcome an apparently stronger foe – the end is achieved by trickery and so the moral message is weaker. There are also issues over who the film is for. Children will enjoy some aspects, but it lacks the magic of the earlier, more musical, version. There are some interesting conversations to be had around the subject of faith as presented in the film.
Side Effects Rating 8/10
15 106 mins
Emily’s husband (Channing Tatum) has been released from prison after serving a sentence for insider trading. As they try to re-establish their life together, Emily (Rooney Mara) shows signs of suffering from depression and is treated by Dr Banks (Jude Law). Steven Soderbergh’s final film – his words – has quite a few gasp-out-loud moments and a plot with several twists and turns. At times it can seem like an extended episode of Law and Order, but by and large it is a clever and interesting thriller.
The Guilt Trip Rating 7½/10
12A 95 mins
Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogan star in a road trip comedy as widowed mother and son Joyce and Andy Brewster. Seth Rogan is one of Judd Apatow’s ‘repertory company’, but The Guilt Trip is not a bloke-ish comedy like Knocked Up and - in Anne Fletcher’s hands - Rogan and Streisand make a likeable bickering pair. Perhaps it is because of Miss Streisand’s presence, but The Guilt Trip has the feel of an old-fashioned Jewish comedy. A number of critics have been less than enthusiastic about The Guilt Trip, but it is a gentle comedy with a good number of laughs and it has its heart in the right place.
Flight Rating 8½/10 15 139 mins
“Whip” Whitaker (Denzel Washington) is an experienced airline pilot who becomes a hero when he lands his stricken plane with the loss of just two passengers and two crew members. However, before the flight Whip had consumed liberal quantities of cocaine and alcohol and when this comes to light after the crash, his life begins to unravel. Don Cheadle puts in a restrained performance as Whip’s lawyer and British actress Kelly Reilly plays Whip’s girlfriend. John Goodman threatens to steal the show in a small supporting role as Whip’s friend and supplier, but this is Washington’s film and his performance has received a deserved Oscar nomination. There are a number of points in the film when the idea of God’s plan is addressed in an interesting fashion. Fairly obviously, Flight also tackles dealing with addiction. Some viewers might have misgivings about what could be seen to be the message that drug-taking has positive effects.
Hitchcock Rating 7½/10
12A 98 mins
When Alfred Hitchcock made Psycho it was quite a departure for a director who had built his reputation on making suspense thrillers rather than horror films. Hitchcock tells the story of how the director’s most famous film came to be made, but more importantly it is the story of the unconventional love between Hitchcock (Anthony Hopkins), and his film editor wife, Alma Reville (Helen Mirren). Anthony Hopkins never quite ceases to be Anthony Hopkins, but ‘his’ Hitchcock comes over as a rather likeable oddball. He and Mirren share some chemistry, although this is a rather a sanitised version of the life and loves of a man with a strange attitude towards women.
Warm Bodies Rating 8/10
12A 98 mins
The RomZomCom was previously a genre with just one member – Shaun of the Dead – but SOFTD need feel lonely no longer as there’s a new kid on the block. Where Warm Bodies differs from most Zombie movies is that we get to hear the thoughts of one of the risen dead. In the interests of avoiding spoilers, viewers will need to see the film for themselves to learn about another interesting development in the genre, although there is a clue in the title. This is a love story between R (Nicholas Hoult) – a zombie – and Julia (Teresa Palmer) – a Colonel’s daughter. It has overtones of Romeo and Juliet in its story of love across a divide – the living and the dead. Zombie fans – and there are many – will enjoy this new spin on the genre, but Warm Bodies also has something to say about human identity and its loss through degenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease. Above all it is an unusual love story – ideal for Valentine’s Day!
Gangster Squad Rating 7/10 15 112 mins
Los Angeles 1949 and Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is attempting to become the city’s crime lord. The Chief of Police is fighting a losing battle to maintain law and order and so appoints a tough WWII veteran (Josh Brolin) and the most honest cop on the force to form a task force that will fight fire with fire. This is a classic scenario in which differing people are blended into an accomplished unit – think The Magnificent Seven or The A Team. However, its well done with plenty of period detail. The violence is not for the faint-hearted and the language is consistent with the film’s 15 certificate. Gangster Squad doesn’t ask too many questions of its audience although there is a passing nod to whether or not the end always justifies the means.
Les Miserables Rating 8½/10
12A 158 mins
In 1980 Victor Hugo’s sprawling story set in 19th century France spluttered into life as a musical when produced in a sports hall in Paris. It was another five years before Cameron Mackintosh brought Les Mis to the West End where it’s been ever since. And now, one of the most successful musicals of all time is an Oscar-nominated film. It is a brave production in that the principals are not known for their singing and with Russell Crowe, that will continue to be the case. However, Anne Hathaway, Eddie Redmayne and Hugh Jackman all acquit themselves well. In most films, dialogue and music is post-recorded, but director Tom Hopper had his cast sing live on set which helps to remind the audience of the musical’s stage origins. This was also particularly effective when Hathaway sang Fantine’s I Dreamed a Dream. Sacha Baron Cohen’s and Helena Bonham Carter’s comic turn as Cosette’s foster parents, while amusing, seems more at home in a pantomime. However, this is nit-picking in the context of a film that tells a powerful tale of redemption, forgiveness and grace.
Quartet Rating 7½/10
12A 98 mins
Dustin Hoffman, in is first directorial role at the age of 75 has brought together three of our best acting pensioners and comedian Billy Connolly in this story of elderly artistes in a retirement home for professional musicians. Maggie Smith, Pauline Collins and Tom Courtenay play the other three members of the Quartet who once sang Bella figlia dell'amore from Rigoletto. The plot is slight and never less than predictable, but Hoffman gives us the opportunity to see these more mature actors strut their stuff and show us that love is not just for the young.
The Sessions Rating 9/10
15 95 mins
Mark O’Brien was an American poet who died just short of his 50th birthday. O’Brien was paralysed after contracting polio in childhood and needed to spend much of each on an iron lung in order to breathe. The Sessions is based on O’Brien’s own essay about his experience with a sex surrogate to deal with his sexual frustration. A committed Roman Catholic, O’Brien received counsel from his priest, played in the film by William H Macy who gave O’Brien (John Hawkes) his blessing for the sessions he spent with the surrogate (Helen Hunt). This film’s subject matter makes it controversial, but it is a thought-provoking insight into sexuality and disability. It is also very funny and heart-warming.
Nativity!: Danger in the Manger Rating 7/10 U 105 mins
Released three years ago, Nativity! was a rather charming family film and so it isn’t surprising that writer/director Debbie Issit has made a sequel. The basic story is the same – an ordinary primary school is pitted against a posh school in a singing competition – although there is an added even-posher school in the competition this year. Martin Freeman was otherwise engaged (see next review) and so David Tennant has taken on the role of the naïve substitute teacher...and his twin brother who leads the choir at the even-posher school. Marc Wooton has reprised his role as Mr Poppy, the teaching assistant who is an overgrown child himself. And here lies the problem. Mr Poppy shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a classroom. Once it was funny. A second time it is becoming annoying. This reviewer was rooting for the posh school to win the competition. There were some good lines – a teacher from another school said “I feel sorry for you. Not only are you thick and poor, but you’re also taught by these people”. My favourite was, “Christmas is the time when we start to think about the real meaning of Advent”.
The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Rating 8/10
12A 169 mins
The story begins with Bilbo Baggins – Martin Freeman – being persuaded to go on an adventure with some dwarves by Gandalf – Ian McKellen again. The dwarves take over Bilbo’s house when they arrive. Think Boozy, Greedy and Rowdy, rather than Sneezy, Dopey and Sleepy. They say they want to take a Hobbit with them because he could sneak into places as he is so small – a bit of a cheek coming from dwarves. This is very much a film – the first part of a three part series – to set the scene for the adventures to come. If there are moments that match the spine-tingling scene between Bilbo and Gollum, they will be worth waiting for. The film is beautiful to look at and there are a number of memorable lines that will stay with you: I found it is the small things, everyday deeds of ordinary folk, that keeps the darkness at bay. Simple acts of kindness and love. [Gandalf]
But be warned. The Hobbit was the children’s story that Tolkien wrote before his adult fantasy novel The Lord of the Rings. Many children have read The Hobbit or had it read to them and there is much in this film that will delight children. However, this is not a children’s film. The advice is that this film contains ‘moderate violence’, but there were a few decapitations and amputations, but maybe because they were dwarves or Orcs, it doesn’t matter.
Pitch Perfect Rating 7½/10
12A 107 mins
Glee brought close harmony a cappella singing to a wide audience. It is a very popular pastime in American universities where this film is set. Beca is an indie girl who wants to leave uni and become a DJ in LA. Her father insists she stays at college for a year and joins in. Beca decides that she will join 'The Bellas' - an all-girl group and, after clashing with the leader, she and they find that she has much to contribute. It’s hardly a ground-breaking plot but there are sufficient surprises and comic moments to make it a worthwhile trip to the cinema. Rebel Wilson is terrific fun as a student with, as the Americans might say, a considerable amount of 'junk in the trunk'.
The Hunt Rating 8/10 15 115 mins
Lucas is a teacher in a nursery school in a small town and trying to rebuild his life following a divorce and separation from his teenage son. Things are starting to work out for Lucas, who enjoys his work and has a good rapport with the children. A little girl with a vivid imagination makes a false accusation of sexually inappropriate behaviour against Lucas and from that point his life begins to unravel as the school, his friends – with one or two exceptions – and the townspeople all turn against him. Lucas got to experience what Job experienced. Coming hot on the heels of the mistaken accusation against Lord McAlpine, The Hunt is a disturbing film that reminds us the children do not always tell the truth and an innocent person’s life can come close to being destroyed. The Hunt, in Danish, with English sub-titles, has a number of instances of bad language and a sex scene.
Argo Rating 8/10
15 120 mins
On 4th November 1979 a large group of militants, including students, invaded the US Embassy in Tehran. 52 employees were held hostage with their captors demanding the return of the overthrown Shah of Iran in exchange for their release. However, six people escaped at the last minute and found sanctuary in the Canadian Embassy. Argo, directed by and starring Ben Affleck, tells the story of the CIA’s remarkable plan to rescue them. Argo is the name of the fictitious sci-fi film that was used as a cover by CIA operative Tony Lopes so that he could be their ‘Moses’ and lead them out of captivity. It is an extraordinary story that could not be fully told until the US Government declassified what happened 15 years ago and more than 17 years after the event. The ending is not a surprise, but it is to the film-makers’ credit that the suspense is held to the end.
The Sapphires Rating 8½/10
PG 103 mins
Australia in the 1960s was not a great place to be part of the Aboriginal community. Three sisters sang Country songs in a harmony group, but their attempts at winning a prize in the local talent competition was thwarted by the bigoted judges who voted for the much less talented but whiter eventual winner. Dave (Chris O’Dowd), their accompanist in the competition eventually agrees to support their audition to travel to Vietnam and entertain the troops. Having been joined by a cousin, the four girls succeed and the rest of the film tells of their adventures in the war zone of South-East Asia. The treatment of black people in 1960s Australia has not been covered in the cinema in the way that the American Civil Rights movement has and so the story of The Sapphires will be one that will be fresh to many of us. Chris O’Dowd was born to play the down-at-heel Irish manager and anyone who loves 1960s Soul will enjoy The Sapphires.
Liberal Arts Rating 7½/10 12A 97 mins
Liberal Arts colleges exist in the United States to educate young men and women in all that they need to know to be useful members of society. The film Liberal Arts – a labour of love by director, writer and leading actor Josh Radnor – tells the story of Jesse Fisher a 35 year old graduate who returns to his alma mater and Zibby, a 19 year old student, who fall in love with one another. Jesse's relationship with Zibby is complicated by the age difference between them. While there are periods where one might wish for the story to be pushed along a little more quickly, this is an intelligent film that takes relationships and life in general seriously. The film has a strong moral pulse running through it and is certainly worth a look.
Ruby Sparks Rating 8/10
15 104 mins
Calvin Weir-Fields wrote a great teen novel...ten years ago. While he lives off the back of that success, he is now suffering writer’s block and hasn’t written anything of note since. His psychiatrist suggests that as therapy he writes about someone whom he meets while walking his dog. He writes about a young woman, Ruby Sparks, and then finds that the woman is real and will do anything – including become French-speaking on one occasion – if he writes it. This sounds like one of those teenage boys wish-fulfillment films from the 80s, like Weird Science, but its actually more interesting than that. It owes something to Stranger than Fiction from a few years ago, but it delves more deeply into how human relationships work. For those who like to look for these things, it also suggests why freewill is an important part of our relationship with God.
Untouchable Rating 9/10
15 112 mins
The premise of this film – rich quadriplegic meets poor black ex-con – might not sound like it has the makings of a feelgood film, but Untouchable or Intouchables, to give it its original title is just that – a terrifically inspirational tale. Philippe, a rich aristocrat, played by Francois Cluzet, has been paralysed in a hang-gliding accident and he interviews a variety of worthy souls for the position of his carer, when Driss, a black immigrant from a Parisian ghetto comes along. Driss is there just to get his form signed so he can get his benefit having recently come out of prison. Philippe warms to Driss’s straightforward manner and they form an unlikely relationship. Most of the film is in flashback and the action begins almost where it ends with Driss driving Philippe in his Maserati through Paris chased by police. How Philippe gets Driss off the hook is very funny and sets the scene for what follows. The English title rather misses the point that both characters are in some way ‘untouchable’ and if this story of how two outsiders help each other doesn’t warm the cockles of your heart, then I fear for your cockles.
Hope Springs Rating 7/10 12A 99 mins
Great Hope Springs is a small town in Maine where Dr Feld practises ‘couples therapy’. Arnold and Kay have been married 31 years and Kay feels that they would benefit from a week of Dr Feld’s intensive counselling, although Arnold is not so sure. Kay’s ultimatum that she is going whether he comes or not persuades Arnold that he should go too. The majority of the film is spent seeing how the couple react to Dr Feld’s probing and his suggestions for ‘homework’ to help them rediscover intimacy. Tommy Lee Jones and Meryl Streep are terrific as Arnold and Kay, but this emphasised our position as voyeurs witnessing a fairly accurate portrayal of a marriage with the fire having gone out. This is intended to be a romcom, but how ‘com’ you find it may depend on how long you have been married.
ParaNorman Rating 8/10
PG 93 mins
An animated filmed aimed at children with a storyline featuring ghosts, zombies and a witch? Surely not! Well, before you throw up hands in shock, look a little closer at ParaNorman. It is no different from most family films in that it gives a good moral lead to young people. Norman is a boy who sees dead people which makes him the school weirdo. He and his fat friend, who also happens to be pretty dim, are the heroes who dig into their New England town’s history and put to rights the sins of their forefathers. ParaNorman won’t terrify children who enjoy The Horrible History series. They will enjoy being scared and might learn something about exclusion and redemption.
The Sweeney Rating 7/10
15 113 mins
Ray Winstone and Ben Drew (rapper Plan B) play Jack Reagan and George Carter, the roles played by John Thaw and Dennis Waterman in this spin-off from the 1970s TV cop show. Life on Mars has parodied those no-nonsense thief-catchers of a by-gone era and so perhaps that’s why this version of The Sweeney – rhyming slang for Scotland Yard’s Flying Squad – is set in the present day. This is not an altogether comfortable fit as it’s hard to imagine what today’s bloggers would make of cops and robbers shooting at each other across Trafalgar Square. Ray Winstone was made for the role of a nastier Reagan than John Thaw ever was. Moral ambiguity is also added to the story of basically decent cops in the 1970s series. In looking for biblical parallels one might want to check out the parable of the Dishonest Steward and ask whether two wrongs sometimes really do make a right.
Ice Age 4: Continental Drift Rating 7/10 U 93 mins
Not having seen Ice Ages 1-3, I came to the latest instalment with a complete lack of knowledge of the back story of these prehistoric scamps and their adventures. This was not a great drawback as the story had moved on and new characters were introduced alongside some of those who returned from the previous films. Part of the fun for an adult watching these animated films is trying to identify the voice actors involved. Ray Romano from the US sitcom Everybody loves Raymond was obvious, but I’m not sure I would have noticed Jennifer Lopez as a feisty sabre toothed tiger. The story is not overly complicated, although, I’m guessing, geologically dubious. It will amuse children and adults and it also gives some strong moral guidance about family relationships and loyalty to friends that young minds might well take on board.
Salute: The Movie Rating 8/10 PG 92 mins
1968 was a year in which many of the tensions that had arisen in the 1960s bubbled over into violence. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were both assassinated. There were uprisings in France and Czechoslovakia. The Cultural Revolution continued in China as did the war in Vietnam. In October of that year, the Olympics took place in Mexico City, which also had its political tensions. It was at that Olympics that Tommie Smith, John Carlos and Peter Norman won medals in the 200m. On the medal rostrum, Smith and Carlos both raised black gloved fists as the US anthem was played and Norman wore a badge supporting civil rights. This documentary film, made by Norman’s nephew, tells the story of how these three Christian men from different sides of the world made a stand for what they believed to be right. They deserve to stand alongside Eric Liddell as witnesses to Christ who were prepared to suffer the consequences.
The Dark Knight Rises Rating 8/10 12A 165 mins
It is hard to think of the third in the latest series of Batman films without remembering those who died or were injured in the attack on the Denver cinema when this film was showing. While it is a violent film, guns are infrequently seen and most of the fighting is of the old-fashioned punch-up kind. However, it is sobering when life intrudes on fantasy in such a direct fashion. TDKR is a long film – 2¾ hours – and there are times when one might have wished for the Dark Knight to have risen a little more quickly. Having said that, it is a terrific action film, with good, but not over-used effects. Anne Hathaway makes a worthy foil to Christian Bale’s Batman and British actors Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman all do their stuff. There were some interesting Biblical allusions. One expects redeemer/saviour motifs in superhero films, but alongside these – with a nod towards substitutionary atonement – there was also an unusual take on the Old Testament idea of divine punishment, the siege of Jerusalem and exile in Babylon…but maybe that was just my imagination.
Joyful Noise Rating 8½/10 PG 118 mins
The plot of Joyful Noise seems familiar perhaps because it has elements of old favourites like Sister Act and Footloose mixed in with a dollop of the TV cult show Glee. In an uncomfortably realistic portrayal of church life we meet the members of a Gospel Choir in a small-town church that is beset with big egos and squabbles. They still believe that God is real, but in their depressed town he ain’t doing much for them. Joyful Noise has more cheese than a four cheese pizza and a story arc that it fairly predictable, but it also has considerable charm, an uplifting spirit and some enjoyable set-piece musical numbers. It would be a good outing for a church group to go and recognise themselves and come away smiling.
Red Tails Rating 7½/10 12A 124 mins
Red Tails is a standard Second World War film that tells of an Air Force squadron in much the way that 633 Squadron portrayed a similar group of flyers 48 years ago. The most significant difference is that Red Tails tells the story of Black American pilots rather than middle-class Englishmen who’ve just left public school. Based on the true story of the 332nd Fighter Group known as the Tuskegee Airmen, Red Tails reminds us that even in times of war, black people were segregated from their white brothers-in-arms and were given less responsible jobs because it was believed that ‘negroes’ didn’t have the brains to fly in the front line. It is an extraordinary story that will probably be unfamiliar to audiences on this side of the Atlantic and worth seeing to help us understand why the battle against racism continues to be worth fighting.
Prometheus Rating 8/10 15 123 mins
Directed by Ridley Scott, Prometheus has been linked to the Alien series and there are certainly some connections. However, there is more to it than that. Prometheus is the name of the space ship which has been sent to a moon in a distant star system that appears to have been the home of aliens who have been involved in ‘seeding’ human life on earth. The plot twists and turns and this prevents a fuller explanation of how the story develops. The 15 certificate confirms that it is not for the faint-hearted and there are some tense edge-of-seat moments. There are a number of good performances, but Michael Fassbender as David, the ship’s android stands out and Scott asks some interesting questions about the origins of human life.
Dark Shadows Rating 8/10 12 113 mins
Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins - an English settler in 1770s New England - who is cursed by a witch to be a vampire and immortal. The witch has him buried, but he is dug up by accident in the 1970s to find a lot has changed. This is a fish-out-of-water comedy that some – like me – will find hilarious, while others – like my wife – will find it ridiculous in the extreme...and not in a good way. The story does have enormous holes in it but Johnny Depp is a brilliant comic actor and the clash of the 18th century world with the 1970s is often hilarious. His comment on seeing The Carpenters perform on the black and white TV – "Reveal yourself, tiny songstress!" – was a particular favourite. Some viewers may find that the subject matter – witchcraft and vampires – makes this a no-go area. However, the tongue is firmly in the cheek, which may make this less of an issue.
Safe Rating 7/10 15 94 mins
You know what you’re going to get in a Jason Statham film – lots of fighting and killing. What you also get from him in Safe is some acting, although Lord Olivier can rest easy in his grave. Statham plays Luke Wright, an ex-undercover police officer turned cage fighter whose wife is killed by the Russian Mafia in New York. A parallel story is that Mei, a brilliant young Chinese mathematician, is brought from China to New York by a Chinese gang to act as a human computer. All these threads cross when the Russians try to get the girl from the Chinese. She escapes and runs into Wright who keeps her safe so that she and he can get into a safe with millions of dollars inside. The cleverest thing is the play on words in the title, but it is undeniably exciting as the body count rises and Jason Statham defeats the Russians, the Chinese and a corrupt NYPD. Underlying all this is the idea of mutual salvation – Wright has saved Mei, but in so-doing she has saved him from the life of a hopeless down-and-out.
The Lucky One Rating 6/10 12A 101 mins
An American soldier serving in Iraq finds a photograph of a young woman. When he gets home he hunts her down by identifying a landmark in the photograph and then asks in bars and shops to finds out where she lives. Having found her, he gets a job at the kennels she runs, although doesn’t tell her he has a photograph of her. Now, this could make this soldier sound like a creepy stalker, but Logan Thibault is played by Zac Efron, who made his name as the heart throb in the High School Musical films. Efron and the female leads, Taylor Schilling as the young woman and Blythe Danner as her mother, do their best with a fairly predictable story, but it barely rises above the level of an afternoon TV movie. The most interesting element is the way some of the characters wrestle with the idea destiny and fate.
Albert Nobbs Rating 7/10 15 114 mins
“I don't know why everyone has to have such miserable lives,” exclaims a character in this strange story, and this is one of the reasons that Glenn Close’s labour of love can be hard to endure. Ms Close played Albert on stage off-Broadway thirty years ago and it has been her ambition to get 19th century Irish writer George Moore’s short story on to the big screen in the years since. While Ms Close was Oscar-nominated for her role as the woman who passed herself off as a man – she missed out to Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher – there is something that doesn’t quite work about her portraying a man. The story is deeply sad – a woman so traumatised by her childhood experiences that she chose to live the rest of her life as a man – which makes it hard to watch, but it reminds us that many people, for different reasons do lead miserable lives.
Avengers Assemble Rating 8/10 12A 142 mins
Marvel Comics have produced another high octane, edge-of-the-seat action film based on characters whom they have already brought to the big screen. Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor and Captain America join forces with Black Widow and Hawkeye to fight Thor’s evil brother’s plan to conquer the world. This latest adventure has been directed by Joss Whedon, best known for TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Whedon’s trademark wit once again raises a fairly workaday story into a genuinely funny, thrill-a-minute rollercoaster ride. Robert Downey Jr’s Iron Man steals the show and the other superheroes might hope for a bit more screen time and some snappy dialogue of their own next time.
Salmon Fishing in the Yemen Rating 8/10 12A 107 mins
Based on a popular novel, SFITY tells the story of a British Civil Service official who is engaged by a Yemeni sheik to introduce salmon fishing into his country. Of course the idea is ridiculous, but slowly the official, played by Ewan McGregor, is seduced by the sheik’s enthusiasm and by his pretty liaison woman (Emily Blunt) into buying into the scheme. In many ways this gentle romantic comedy is Local Hero for the 21st century, although there is also something of TV’s The Thick of It in the political manoeuvring led by an uncharacteristically foul-mouthed Kristin Scott-Thomas as No 10’s Press Secretary. A film that could be too whimsical for its own good, is actually surprisingly enjoyable and the two leads make an unlikely, but charming couple.
All three films this month have something to say about the inclusion or otherwise of outsiders – an idea at the heart of the Gospel, but something with which the world and the Church still struggle.
John Carter Rating 6/10 12A 131 mins
It seems that John Carter will be remembered in the future as the Disney Studio’s entry on the ‘most expensive flop list’. It certainly bears some of the hallmarks of Waterworld, an earlier entry on that list – a sprawling epic, but not in a good way, and the strange combination of old technology with a futuristic world. John Carter is an American Civil War veteran who finds himself on Mars, although the inhabitants call it Barsoom. A bit like we called Germany ‘Germany’ and the people who live there call it ‘Deutchland’. There are three sets of inhabitants on Barsoom: two lots of humanoids, who can be distinguished because, rather helpfully, one lot like to wear red and the others blue, and tall green creatures a bit like the inhabitants in Avatar. The plot is the fairly simple story of someone trying to stop a ruinous wedding, although it is made more complicated than it need be. Having said all this, there is a certain charm in a story written nearly 100 years ago by Edgar Rice Burroughs, having been adapted for the screen in such a barmy fashion.
The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists Rating 8/10 U 88 mins
The Pirates! are a series of books for adults that children are likely to find amusing. The film’s publicity suggests that Aardman and Sony hope that the reverse will be true of the film. They might be right, because The Pirates! does have the look and feel of a children’s film, although many of the jokes will definitely – including one about the Elephant Man – sail over the heads of all bar the most precocious kids. The plot concerns a particularly inept pirate captain and his motley crew as the captain tries to win the ‘Pirate of the Year’ competition. The stop-motion animated characters are voiced by a cast of well-known actors including Hugh Grant at his most diffident as the Captain, and Brian Blessed - in a part he was born to play - as the Pirate King. Quite surreal at times, but great fun.
We Bought a Zoo Rating 8/10 PG 124 mins
Based on a true story, although moved from Dartmoor to California, the clue to what happens is in the title. Benjamin Mee is a widower with two children who has worked in journalism, but decides that he and his family need a new start. His seven-year old daughter is delighted, but his teenage son is less pleased. It’s not hard to see where all this is going to go, but surely it’s a good thing to know where a journey is going to finish? The zoo is in a terrible state and is limping along under the care of a bunch of characters who could have been the model for the motley crew in The Pirates! Two of ‘the crew’ are female and provide love interest for the dad and his son and they are all working to get the zoo ready for its grand re-opening. I wonder if they’ll make it? The story is predictable, but it’s lifted above an afternoon made-for-TV movie by the cast – including Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson and Elle Fanning, the super-cute moppet who steals the film.
Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseRating 7/10 12A 130 mins
Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock star as a couple who are bringing up their son in New York City. Oskar (Thomas Horn) suffers from a mild form of Asberger Syndrome and his father’s way of socialising him is to send him out on tasks which involve the boy engaging with other people. Then Oskar’s father is one of those who were in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and failed to come home. Oskar is bereft, but through a new task which he believes has been set for him by his father, he meets many more people, including an elderly man (Max von Sydow) who cannot speak and who joins him on his quest. Adapted from a novel, this has the rambling and random feel of a true-life story and this is part of its charm, although it might also be an irritation to some viewers.
The Muppets Rating 8/10 U 109 mins
We all remember the Muppets, don’t we? Well, the premise of this film is that we don’t. They have fallen on hard-times – got involved in tribute acts (Fozzie), running a plumbing business (Gonzo) and running Vogue (Miss Piggy) – but when they need to raise £10 million to save the Muppet Theater from a ruthless Oil Baron, they all get back together and put on a show. That’s the plot, but there’s more to it than that, because this hackneyed show-biz story is played out knowingly although not in a self-parodying fashion. The story also involves an ordinary human couple – except that Gary’s brother Walter is a Muppet(!) – who go to L.A. and get roped in to help save the day. This will appeal to adults who remember the Muppets from 30+ years ago and who will enjoy spotting famous stars in cameo roles. Younger viewers will also enjoy seeing the Muppets do what they do best.
The Vow Rating 6/10 12A 104 mins
Based on a true story...but you wouldn’t necessarily know it as The Vow is barely above the standard of a workmanlike afternoon TV romance. Real-life Krickitt Carpenter was in a car crash just weeks after her wedding to husband Kim, but woke from a coma having forgotten the last couple of years – including meeting and marrying Kim. The real-life Christian couple remembered the vows they had made and worked at starting their romance all over again. In the film, the ‘vow’ of the title seems to have little bearing on fictional Paige and Leo’s decision to start over. The subject matter is good, but this story has been done with more wit in 'While You Were Sleeping'. If you can get hold of a copy, have a look at Random Harvest, a similar story of amnesia, which has a powerful allusion to Jesus calling Mary by name in the Garden.
Top 10 Biographical Films
10) Coal Miner’s Daughter
What could have been fodder for one of the day-time cable channels was turned into something special not least because of Sissy Spacek’s Oscar-winning performance. Spacek was helped by the great material she was given as she played Country Music star, Loretta Lynn: dirt poor up-bringing, married at 13, mother of four at 19 and a grandmother at 29 before, having been encouraged by her husband (Tommy Lee Jones), she became a successful recording artist. A terrific rags to riches story.
9) The Blind Side
One of three films in this list set in the same part of the world – the American South – The Blind Side tells the story of a family on the other side of the tracks from Loretta Lynn. Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy (Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw), a wealthy white family in Tennessee take into their a home Michael Oher, a homeless black teenager. From an unhopeful beginning, Michael begins a journey that leads him to a successful athletic career. Based on a true story, this is a funny, heart-warming, yet largely unsentimental film. The Tuohy’s motivation is their Christian faith, although this is hardly mentioned in the film, but it is an inspirational story about ‘doing the right thing’.
8) Lady Sings the Blues
Diana Ross plays Billie Holiday in a biopic with a pleasantly old-fashioned feel. Ross’s voice is nothing like Holiday’s, but she brought the older singer’s songs to a new audience. Last year’s death of Amy Winehouse – whose voice shared something of the same soulfulness as Billy Holiday’s – was a reminder of the price of fame and the early deaths of a number of the more fragile female singers such as Judy Garland and Edith Piaf.
7) Good Night and Good Luck
A much less dramatic film than numbers 10-8, Good Night and Good Luck was shot in black and white and tells the story of broadcaster Ed Murrow’s conflict with Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1950s America. Directed by George Clooney, it takes its title from Murrow’s catch-phrase with which he signed off every show. Murrow and his crew bravely withstood McCarthy’s bullying and pressure from their network and struck a blow for freedom of speech.
6) The Gospel According to St Matthew
Also filmed in black and white and with English sub-titles to translate the Italian dialogue, this is a very straight forward retelling of the story of Jesus as told by Matthew. Pier Paolo Pasolini, an atheist communist, directed and used unknown actors from southern Italy where he filmed. The story is completely unadorned by Pasolini’s film-making which makes this one of the most vivid portrayals of the life of Jesus.
5) The Queen
Before there was The Iron Lady there was The Queen. Helen Mirren’s portrayal of Queen Elizabeth is not as uncannily accurate as Meryl Streep’s is of Baroness Thatcher, but this is a different film covering just the days after the death of the Princess of Wales. Michael Sheen is good as Tony Blair, a role he has played more than once. This may or may not have been a turning point in British life, but it was certainly an interesting time.
4) Walk the Line
This biographical account of the life of Johnny Cash takes us back across the Atlantic and to the South. Typical of a certain type of biographical film, this is a somewhat sanitised version of Cash’s life and certainly of his marriage to his first wife. However, unlike The Blind Side, it takes seriously the Christian world-view of this part of America and addresses the effect that faith can have upon how a person lives their life.
3) Henry V
Britain’s own Orson Welles – or perhaps a second Lord Olivier – Kenneth Branagh, directed and starred in his interpretation of Shakespeare’s tale of King Hal and his fight against the French. Branagh, just 28 when he made Henry V, was nominated for best actor and best director and the score was also widely acclaimed. If Shakespeare’s not for you try to find just the scene in which Henry rallies his men with his St Crispin’s Day speech and you will not fail to be moved.
Great music is guaranteed in Milos Forman’s film of Peter Shaffer’s play as it tells the story of Mozart. However, Shaffer’s interest in writing his screenplay for the film is the way that Mozart’s genius affected his less talented rival Salieri. Salieri was a devout Christian who inferred that his talent was a reward for his faith and so seeing the success of the much more gifted, but morally delinquent Mozart, caused him great distress leading to madness. A serious and beautiful study of genius and ambition that won 8 Oscars.
1) Schindler's List
Stephen Spielberg broke his Oscar ‘duck’ when he won Best Director and Schindler’s List won Best Film in 1994. Spielberg’s filming of Thomas Kenneally’s original account of Oskar Schindler’s part in saving the lives of more than 1000 mostly Polish Jews by employing them in his factories, brought the story of the Holocaust to a new audience. Spielberg showed, once again, the importance of a good score – John Williams’ main theme, played by violinist Itzhak Perlman, is an especially haunting melody. Perhaps the film’s most moving moment is at its end when we see a procession of now elderly Jewish men and women who had worked in Schindler’s factories walking past the camera and laying stones on Schindler’s grave in gratitude for what he did for them.
Top 10 Christmas Films
10) The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
The first in the Narnia series of stories that have been filmed with Liam Neeson voicing the character of Aslan. This is not a conventional Christmas film – having possibly more in common with the message of Easter. However, it is a thoroughly Christian story with a plot that involves the White Witch keeping Narnia in a state of perpetual winter without Christmas.
9) The Snowman
Raymond Briggs’s cartoon is brought to life in a charming short film that evokes the wonder of a child in the midst of a snowy winter’s landscape. The film is perhaps most notable for its association with the song Walking in the Air.
8) Miracle on 34th Street
If Bill Murray was born to play Scrooge, Richard Attenborough was born to be Santa Claus. Originally produced in 1947 and frequently remade, this 1994 version is set in New York’s fictitious Cole’s department store. (Macy’s was used in the original, but chose not to be involved this time.) The plot is about whether or not Kris Kringle (Attenborough) is the real Santa Claus, with the outcome hinging on the US Government’s Treasury Department printing ‘In God we trust’.
7) The Muppets' Christmas Carol
A musical remake of the famous story with all your favourite Muppets. Scrooge is not a Muppet and is played by Sir Michael Caine. It’s a straightforward re-telling of Dickens – if having a green frog and a pink pig playing Bob and Emily Cratchit can be consider straightforward.
6) Love Actually
10 interlinked stories of different types of love. Some funny and some sad and all set over a few days before Christmas. Hugh Grant does a great turn as a very Blair-esque Prime Minister, but it’s hard to criticise anyone in a great ensemble cast
5) Die Hard
Christmas Eve is a time for getting home to see your family and so the last thing you want to see is a bunch of ruthless terrorists hold you captive in a Los Angeles office block. Still, with John McLean, played by Bruce Willis, around to save you, it’s not so bad.
Frank Cross is a modern day Scrooge in this re-working of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Bill Murray, born to play the part, is Frank who has found great success and accumulated much wealth but at he expense of his relationships with his girlfriend and his family. It’s less saccharine-sweet than many versions and all the better for that.
3) Arthur Christmas
Surely destined to be a future Christmas Children’s Classic, Arthur Christmas echoes the story of the lost sheep as Santa’s army of elves is mobilized to ensure that the one child who was missed gets her present before waking up on Christmas morning.
2) White Christmas
One of my earliest TV memories of Christmas is of watching White Christmas. While Bing Crosby’s double act with Bob Hope was his most famous collaboration, Crosby and Danny Kaye made a great pairing – and Kaye is a better singer than Hope. The ending can be seen a mile away, but it still brings a tear to the eyes.
1) It's Wonderful Life
A Christmas classic about the difference our lives can make to the world. It’s shown on TV every Christmas and deservedly so as, while not overtly Christian, it catches much of the spirit of God’s plan for humanity.
Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Rating 7/10 PG 107 mins
People of a certain age will have grown up on the Tintin comic strips and the animated TV series. How many middle-aged people on the mention of Tintin can avoid saying in that portentous voice: Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin! Perhaps that’s part of the problem with this film. The story is filmed using ‘motion capture’, a technique which fits somewhere between live-action and traditional animation. This gives the characters a somewhat sinister ‘are-they-really-human’ look. It’s been put together with Steven Spielberg’s characteristic feel for an adventure story, but there’s something missing. Perhaps it’s the wit that was certainly there in the Hergé drawings and stories and is in many modern animations. Or maybe those of us of a certain age want to remember their childhood heroes as they were.
Machine Gun Preacher Rating 8/10 15 129 mins
Sam Childers was a Hells Angel, drug addict and petty criminal until, through the influence of his wife, he became a Christian. He cleaned up his act, got a job and then moved from Pennsylvania to work in Northern Uganda. This statement is one of the less remarkable features of what is a true-life story. Childers – played with great gusto by Scottish actor Gerard Butler – also built a church in which, by default, he became the preacher. Out in Uganda Childers learned of the affect that the Lord’s Resistance Army was having on people in Southern Sudan and so he went north and built an orphanage for the children who had been made homeless. More worryingly, he led a band of armed fighters against the LRA – Rambo meets Africa United. The film never shies away from the dark side of the story – Childers’s treatment of his own family, his violent nature and the ethics of killing to save lives. Ghandi he ain’t, but he asks some interesting questions
Arthur Christmas Rating 9/10 U 97 mins
From the Aardman Studios – the people who brought us Wallace and Grommit – comes a charming animated story for Christmas. Father Christmas is close to retirement and the ‘business’ is being run by oldest son Steve, who has mechanised the toy distribution business so that it is, quite literally, run like a military operation with elves behaving as commandos and suspended from wires à la Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. The toy distribution is all controlled from a gigantic sleigh-shaped spacecraft owing quite a lot in its design to the USS Enterprise. Meanwhile, Arthur, the clumsy younger son, is left back at the North Pole answering children’s letters. However, it is Arthur who takes it upon himself to deliver a bike – in a traditional reindeer powered sleigh – to the one child that was missed on Christmas Eve. James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy and Ashley Jensen, as a rather charming ‘wrapping elf’, add their voices and make this a real Christmas treat.
Footloose Rating 7/10 12A 113 mins
I defy anyone not to tap their feet to the theme tune of this lovingly remade version of the Kevin Bacon and John Lithgow original made in 1984. All the well-known scenes are there as Kenny Wormald takes the Bacon role(!) and dances his socks off alongside Julianne Hough – a star in the Country Music world as well as the winner of the American version of Strictly Come Dancing. The story – boy from the city stirs up a small country town where dancing has been banned – seems a little dated 27 years after the original, but the reasons for the town elders’ decision – the deaths in a car crash of five of the towns brightest and best – is treated sensitively. The church, its minister and his family are also treated with understanding, rather than made into caricatures. If you loved the original, this may make you nostalgic for that version, but I defy you not to tap your feet.
The Help Rating 8/10 12A 146 mins
While Mad Men, the American TV show set in New York’s advertising industry in the 1960s, shows the liberal face of the America of that era, The Help shows the unpleasant underside of American life less than 50 years ago. Based on a very successful novel, The Help tells the story of a white college graduate who enables the black maids in her town to write their stories so that the more cosmopolitan American public can read about the daily indignities they have to endure. Faith is an important element in these women’s lives and while they may not have much, their faith helps them to endure. This is a sobering film in that it tells us something about the way in which one section of a community treated another as less than human within the life time of many of us.
Contagion Rating 7.5/10 12A 106 mins
The influenza pandemic of 1918 caused by the H1N1 virus – the one that came back in 2009 – infected one quarter of the world’s population and killed between 50 and 100 million people: between 3-6% of the world’s population at that time. To put this in context, 10 million people died in the World War that finished that same year. Contagion asks the question, what would happen if such a virus spread to day? The answer is partly worrying and partly reassuring and the heroes and the villains are not necessarily the people one might expect. The cast list is starry, but the director has taken a lead from TV’s Spooks, as just because a character is played by a big name, it doesn’t ensure that they will still be around by the end credits. Contagion has a quasi-documentary feel to it which increases the ‘fear-factor’ as it asks questions over who tells the truth in our world and it suggests that society is more fragile than it sometimes appears.
Jane Eyre Rating 8/10 PG 121 mins
Derbyshire and Yorkshire, where this adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel was filmed, create a wonderfully moody backdrop to the story of the governess and her ‘master with a secret’. Mia Wasikowska, the Australian actor, seen most recently in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, is a sparky Jane, while Michael Fassbender brings just the right blend of charm and haughtiness to his Mr Rochester. How faith impacts on Jane’s life and on the lives of other characters is an important aspect of Bronte’s novel. Director Cary Fukunaga’s film version doesn’t spend much time on Jane’s inner piety, but Christianity remains an important element in the story. Adaptations of 19th century novels are popular TV fayre, but this Jane Eyre is a cut above most.
Soul Surfer Rating 8/10 PG 106 mins
Bethany Hamilton, a 13 year-old Hawaiian girl, was an aspiring junior surfer when a 14 feet tiger shark attacked her while she rested on her board on an otherwise calm Pacific Ocean. That was 8 years ago and this film tells the truth-life story of how Bethany overcame the loss of her left arm to get back on the path to become a top-rated professional surfer. AnnaSophia Robb plays Bethany, while Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid are her parents. Carrie Underwood, one of the top female Country Music artists, begins her acting career as Bethany’s youth leader. This is convenient casting as early in the film we see the Hamilton family in church, where the youth leader and her group are singing “Blesséd be your name”. Presumably, Matt Redman’s song, based on Job 1:21, was chosen deliberately and it sets the scene for a story of a young person who shows both great faith and great courage. A great film for a church group to see.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy Rating 8/10 15 127 mins
People of a certain age will remember the TV versions of John le Carré’s George Smiley novels and Alec Guinness’s portrayal of the ‘mole-hunter’ at MI6. In this new adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, by Swedish director Tomas Alfredson, we have a new Smiley, played by Gary Oldman, and a ‘who’s who’ of British acting talent in supporting roles. Le Carré’s master spy is not a Bourne or a Bond and there are no car chases and little action. However, Alfredson builds the tension in masterly fashion and the Cold War climate is lovingly recreated, especially in one of the film’s earliest sequences set in Budapest. The story is told with the liberal use of flashbacks, one scene that is frequently revisited is an MI6 Christmas Party. Well, they should be pretty good at Secret Santa. This is not an overtly violent film, but there are some particularly gruesome scenes that are certainly not for the squeamish.
Cars 2 Rating 7/10 U 112 mins
Coming five years after Cars, Cars 2 brings more of the same, although with an international espionage twist. Lightning McQueen and his supporting team, including Mater, the two truck and Sally Carrera, McQueen’s love interest. ‘Love interest’ might seem strange, when all the characters are vehicles, but these cars and trucks really do have personalities. It helps that the vehicles are voiced by well-known actors. The espionage angle allows for Michael Caine and Emily Mortimer to be added to the original cast as a Bond-like agent and his accomplice. There are some nice parodies of classic spy films and also a nod to The Thirty-Nine Steps! As it’s a Pixar film, it espouses good moral values and promotes the value of wisdom the least among us. A good summer holiday film for children and adults.
The Tree of Life Rating 4/10 12A 138 mins
The Tree of Life looks good and has good music, but in all other respects has the feel, as one of our listeners suggests – of a PC screensaver. And this lady was being positive about the film! There is little in the way of plot and this was interrupted by space scenes that could have come from a Brian Cox documentary – but without the explanation of why space is ‘amazing’. There was also a section that looked like an excerpt from Walking with Dinosaurs. Terence Malick – who directs and who has writing Dirty Harry among his credits – clearly wanted to say something with this film and it has an air of spirituality about it, but it had the feel of ‘The King’s New Clothes’ about it.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Rating 8/10 12A 130 mins
The story ends as ‘the boy who lived, comes to die’. Harry Potter can be a controversial subject in Christian circles, but the books and films had been extraordinarily popular amongst a generation of young people who have grown up with Harry, Hermione and Ron. The final instalment brought the story to its conclusion and while what happened will not have been a surprise to fans of the series, it was executed well and stands up on it’s own as a cracking adventure film. The special effects are impressive as is the acting from the older British cast. I still wonder what will become of the child actors who have grown up with their characters.
Ultimately, JK Rowling has told a story of the battle between good and evil and any Christian apologist worth his or her salt will be able to mine the Harry Potter series as Paul used the pagan poets of his day in Athens (Acts 17).
Kung Fu Panda 2 Rating 7/10 PG 90 mins
The first Kung Fu Panda film, in which Po, an aspiring but unlikely kung fu warrior, finds himself named as the Chosen One who will bring peace to his land, was a great success. Jack Black, who voiced the part last time and in the sequel, seems to have been born to play this part and he is joined by a number of A-list Hollywood actors. This sequel’s story is not dissimilar from the original – Po has to save China from Lord Shen – an evil peacock. One striking Biblical allusion is Shen’s wiping out of all Giant Pandas in response to a prophecy that something black and white would destroy him. Something of a theme in this month’s featured films is how a person’s past affects their present – in Po’s case, he rises above it, but that’s not how it is for all this month’s characters.
X-Men: First Class Rating 8/10 12A 132 mins
Yet another Marvel Comics franchise hits the big screen. This time it is an ‘origins’ story – à la Batman Begins. Prior knowledge of the X-Men films is not necessary and it might even add an extra element of surprise as this film tells how the sides were drawn up between Professor X and Magneto in the previous stories. It could be something akin to reading the Gospel accounts and getting to the Last Supper only to be surprised that Judas was the betrayer. Unlike Po, in Kung Fu Panda 2, there is one character in this film that is equally damaged by his past, but is unable to deal with what happened to him. A young cast of good actors, and Kevin Bacon as the arch villain, lift this above being a run-of-the-mill superhero story.
The Beaver Rating 7/10 12A 91 mins
Jodie Foster stars in, and directs, this story about a severely depressed man who begins to communicate only through a hand puppet – the eponymous beaver. What do we make of this? Is it a comedy? Is it a drama? In some hands – Jim Carrey and Steve Carrell were suggested for the role – it would have been a lighter film, but casting Mel Gibson – a man who has had his fair share of meltdowns, if not breakdowns, has turned it into something darker. It is an uncomfortable film, although there’s nothing wrong with that. I had some concerns about whether the puppet was part of the cure or part of the problem, but perhaps that ambivalence was intended. The puppet’s voice was at times chirpy and encouraging and at other times menacing and malevolent. Mel Gibson shows quite a talent for mimicry in that the beaver sounds remarkably similar to Ray Winstone’s ‘geezer’ voice. The Beaver demonstrates how people are affected by what happens in their past and to those around them, but I’m not sure that it tells us much about how people recover from clinical depression.
Rio Rating 8/10 U 95 mins
Rio is an animated film about two macaws – Blu and Jewel – voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway. Set in Brazil’s famous carnival city, Rio is a charming, witty and, at times, rather moving film aimed at children, but with adults in mind. Unsurprisingly, there is a Latin musical pulse throughout and will.i.am from the Black Eyed Peas voices one of the characters. There is even a ‘Nasty Nigel’, the bird-smuggling baddie’s ‘enforcer’ who provides sufficient menace to make younger children squeal! If there is a message in the film, it is that obstacles can be overcome and a person – or rather a bird – can change.
Thor Rating 7/10 12A 114 mins
Marvel Comics has moved into the film-making business and now has its own studios. Expect, therefore, to see a stream of comic book characters translated to the big screen in the months ahead. In Marvel’s version of the story, Thor is the tale of the Norse god, who finds his way to earth, having been banished for bad behaviour by his father. Odin is played by Sir Anthony Hopkins, in a headdress remarkably similar to the one worn by Princess Beatrice at the recent Royal Wedding. Thor is set in two realms – Asgard and Earth – each having a distinctive feel. Asgard has a ‘Lord of the Rings’-type air, while the scenes on Earth were more like a ‘fish-out-of-water’ teen film. The latter worked better for this reviewer, but this will depend upon taste. Chris Hemsworth makes for a handsome, dashing Thor, with signs of a developing sense of self-awareness. An enjoyable romp, but, like it or not, you better get used to it because they’ll be lots more of the same at a cinema near you soon.
The Way Rating 8/10 12A 128 mins
Martin Sheen stars in a film directed by his son, Emilio Estevez, who also plays his father’s son in the story. So, you see that this is very much a family affair and a labour of love. Sheen plays Tom, an American doctor who receives a ‘phone call from France that delivers bad news about his son, from whom he has become estranged. Tom travels to the French Pyrenees where he soon begins to take the Camino de Santiago, the historic pilgrim route that runs for 800km across northern Spain. Along the way he meets three other pilgrims: an Irish writer, played by James Nesbit, a Dutchman and a Canadian woman. All four people are damaged in some way and, whether they know it or not, they are all looking to find themselves along the Way. This is an unusual ‘road movie’ in that the road is walked on foot rather than driven on wheels. It is also unusual in that it takes religious practice seriously. It would be well worth taking a church group to see this film and it could introduce a new audience to the value of Contemplative Spirituality and Practice.
True Grit Rating 9/10 15 110 mins
The Coen Brothers claim that they have gone back to Charles Portis's 1968 book, rather than John Wayne's 1969 film, for their inspiration for this film and they tell a tale that is appropriately gritty. Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) is a 14 year old girl who hires the meanest US Marshall (Jeff Bridges) she can find to track down the man (Josh Brolin) who murdered her father. It sounds like your typical cowboy film, but there’s more to it than that and there is a greater depth than one might imagine. It is a story that echoes the Psalmist’s plea for justice for the downtrodden and it begins with a quotation from Psalm 28:1 and ends with Iris DeMent singing ‘Leaning on the everlasting arms’. Wonderful!
The Rite Rating 6/10 15 113 mins
Michael Kovak (Colin O'Donoghue) is a sceptical American Catholic seminary student who is sent on a course at the Vatican to learn about exorcism. There he expresses this scepticism again to the course tutor, Father Xavier (Ciaran Hinds), who sends him off to get some hands on work experience alongside Father Lucas (Anthony Hopkins), a maverick Welsh priest. The plot then follows Lucas’s treatment of a possessed pregnant teenager. This is a dark film – quite literally for much of its running time – that deals with the spiritual battle between good and evil. What might be of more interest is that it is also a study of how a person moves from doubt to faith.
Justin Bieber: Never Say Never Rating 7/10 U 105 mins
Justin Bieber is a 17 year-old Canadian pop star, discovered by the man who became his manager when he saw a clip of him singing on Youtube. This documentary film looks at Justin’s life to date and how he came to fame together with concert footage of his My World Tour. Justin comes across as a talented and likeable kid who has been raised in a loving Christian home. He is also a phenomenon of his generation in that he has not been manufactured by a Svengali-like manager, but rather he already had a significant fan-base from posting videos of him singing in his bedroom. You may not have succumbed to Bieber-fever, but this film is still an interesting insight into how social networking affects modern living.
Top 10 Films
10: Love Actually
Ten interlinked stories of different types of love. Some funny and some sad, including the briefest: Sarah attempts at a romantic liaison with Karl are constantly interrupted by Sarah's mentally ill brother, Michael and this effectively ends their relationship.
9: The Shawshank Redemption
One of the modern cinema classics. A great feel-good movie.
8: Heaven can Wait
A silly story about heaven and earth, but it has a great idea at the end which might help us understand what human relationships might be like in heaven.
7: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
First film that made me realize that God can speak through these stories. Speaks about a sacrifice that leads to freedom.
6: It's a Wonderful Life
A Christmas Classic about the difference our lives can make to the world.
5: The Bridges of Madison County
Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep star in a love story with an un-Hollywood outcome. Love is not an excuse for doing what you want whatever the consequences.
4: Bruce Almighty
A very funny film asks some interesting theological questions regarding the mechanics of prayer, freewill etc.
3: Babette’s Feast
A subtitled film set in a remote part of Denmark tells a wonderful parable about extravagant giving.
An animated film from Pixar which has a middle that entertains children, but a beginning and end that moves adults to tears.
1: Chariots of Fire
The true story of Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell who both ran for Britain and won gold medals at the 1924 Olympics. Liddell was the son of Christian missionaries in China and believed that this was his own destiny, but before then he declared, “I believe God made me for a purpose. But he also made me fast and when I run I also feel His pleasure.”
Megamind Rating 8/10 PG 95 mins
Voiced by Will Ferrell, Tina Fey and … Brad Pitt(!), Megamind covers much the same ground as did Despicable Me earlier this autumn. Once again an unhappy childhood has led to the creation of a supervillain who is challenged by another super character. The difference is that Megamind’s nemesis is a superhero, rather than a competing supervillain. The animation of Megamind is more in the mould of Toy Story than Despicable Me and was better for that. It also offers more wit than its predecessor and an amusing spin on the Superman genre, although that is surely aimed more at adults than children. A fun film for children and grown-ups over the school holiday.
The American Rating 8/10 15 105 mins
George Clooney stars as a mysterious American assassin and gun mechanic – and no, I didn’t know they existed either. Clooney’s character – we’re not sure of his real name – is holed up in a small Italian village when he is given orders to meet a mysterious woman, by a mysterious man. The woman wants a gun for a mysterious purpose – are you getting the idea that this is a mysterious film? As the film unfolded I had a feeling of not quite knowing what was happening, but also of knowing what it all meant. Here was a man whose life was empty and he was beginning to find a purpose – helped by a mysterious priest. There are moments that are extremely brutal and others that are sexually explicit, however this is a grown-up tale of a man finding meaning in his life and worth the effort.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader Rating 8/10 PG 115 mins
The third film in the Narnia trilogy has arrived and it is something of a return to form after a slightly disappointing Prince Caspian. With Susan and Peter Pevensie now too old to travel to Narnia, Edmund and Lucy, their younger brother and sister, are joined in the new adventure by the Dickensianly-named Eustace Scrubb, their obnoxious cousin. The three children are soon transported from Eustace’s bedroom to The Dawn Treader, with Caspian onboard, and become involved in a quest to free slaves and find seven Narnian lords who are missing. There’s hardly a moment to draw breath as the action races along. The spiritual messages in the film are clearer than in Prince Caspian. Once again, Ben Barnes is a wonderfully square-jawed Caspian and Georgie Henley’s now more grown-up Lucy is still a delight.
Despicable Me Rating 7/10 U 95 mins
Despicable Me is an animated story that uses the voices of Steve Carrell and our own Russell Brand. The main character is Gru a rather grumpy man who wants to be the world’s most evil genius. When a rival steals a pyramid, he decides to steal the moon. The obvious way to do this is to shrink it and put it in your pocket, but to do this Gru needs a shrink ray and therefore he needs the services of three orphaned children. Grumpy adult + three orphaned children = happy ending, and that’s what we get. Along the way there are enough thought-provoking suggestions about the effects of childhood discouragement, clever one-liners to keep the grown-ups happy and slapstick fun for children.
The Social Network Rating 8/10 12A 120 mins
From the director of Seven, Fight Club and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button comes a slice of very modern history. Just seven year ago, if a person had said ‘Facebook me’ it would have been greeted with a blank expression, but since Steve Zuckerberg, a Harvard student, created the most famous online social network, it is now part of our language. Aaron Sorkin, who brought us The West Wing scripted the film’s witty, machine-gun-paced dialogue and this is certainly a brilliant depiction of people who have still to reach their 30s. How accurate it is might become a test for the lawyers, and the animosity between the story’s characters has fuelled a long-lasting legal battle. It’s not a fun-packed 2 hours, but I wouldn’t have missed it and it reminds us that love of money is the root of all evil.
Africa United Rating 8½ /10 12A 88 mins
Africa United is a rare find – a positive portrayal of Africa. It tells the story of five children who make their way from Rwanda to Jo’berg, South Africa, for the World Cup this past summer. One of the number is a talented player and wants to become one of the children involved in the opening ceremony. The others, including Dudu, his 15-year-old manager, are his ‘team’. This is a different sort of road movie and along the way we encounter with them many of the problems that beset Africa – AIDS, child prostitution, child soldiers and refugees – but these are not used to define Africa. None of the child actors in the film has acted in a film before and they pull of the task of holding our attention and telling a charming story of hope and possibilities.
Tooth Fairy [DVD] Rating 7/10 PG 97 mins
The ‘Tooth Fairy’ is Derek Thompson, an ice hockey player who has made a career out of knocking out his opponents’ teeth. However, as punishment for doubting the existence of tooth fairies, Derek becomes one – complete with wings and pink tights – for a fortnight, a sort of Midsummer Night’s Community Service. There are some darkly funny moments that will amuse adults, such as when Derek warns a young fan that he might as well give up his dream of becoming a professional hockey player, as so few ever succeed. Ultimately, Derek learns that it’s not too late for him to follow his own dreams. Dwayne Johnson has come a long way since, as a WWE wrestler, he was known as ‘The Rock’. In Tooth Fairy, he shows himself to be an actor who is quite at home as the star in a comic ‘story with a moral’ that is aimed at children.
Eat Pray Love Rating 7/10 PG 140 mins
Elizabeth Gilbert’s autobiographical account of her journey of self-discovery was a phenomenal success as a book. Gilbert, a successful journalist, told the story of her refusal to accept second-best in her marriage and subsequent (or perhaps concurrent) affair. ‘Discovering herself’ meant going to Italy to discover that people wave their hands when speaking and eat pasta, to an Ashram in India, where she finds that meditation is hard and finally, Bali, where she falls in love, but finds that love leads to commitment and she doesn’t want to be tied down. Julia Roberts, is a charming lead as Liz Gilbert, but it does seem all a little self-indulgent and it’s hard to express finding oneself on film – even in a film lasting 2 hours and 20 minutes. From a Christian perspective, some interesting ideas are expressed about opening oneself to God, although Gilbert doesn’t bother to explore any of the wide range of Christian spiritualities.
Made in Dagenham Rating 8/10 15 113 mins
In 1968, an industrial dispute in a small Dagenham factory had an effect far beyond the factory gates or beyond the Ford Motor Company who owned it. This is because the employees were all women and their strike was significant in the move towards equal pay for women. The director is Nigel Cole, who made Calendar Girls, and Made in Dagenham shares that film’s portrayal of strong women ‘doing it for themselves’. There are strong performances from Bob Hoskins, as the factory foreman and shop steward, Sally Hawkins, as the strike leader and Rosamund Pike, as the strikers’ unlikely ally - the middle-class Oxbridge-educated boss’s wife. Sally Hawkins is Audrey Hepburn, dressed at C&A, and Bob Hoskins is gruff and loveably avuncular to the girls in the factory. This is another film that tells the story of people who are not willing to accept second-best and one might be more sympathetic to poorly paid factory workers than wealthy New York journalists. Viewers are advised that the film contains frequent strong language.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid 7/10 (8/10 if you’re under 16!) PG 93 mins
Adapted by Jeff Kinney from his book series of the same name, DOAWK stars Zachary Gordon (Greg) and Robert Capron (Rowley) as life-long friends (well, they’re only 12) who are just starting Middle School. Greg expects to be the coolest boy in class, but fears that his friendship with Rowley will hold him back. At home, Greg is the middle son, coming between a slacker teenager who bullies him and a toddler who embarrasses him by using a cute nickname at inappropriate times. Greg isn’t as popular as he thought he would be and Rowley … well you can probably work it out. It’s a film that has strong messages about friendship and being yourself. It’s flaws lie in some ambiguity over whether Greg is a likeable scamp or just plain mean and in this being territory that has been covered as well if not better before – Malcolm in the Middle and The Wonder Years on TV. Having said that, it makes a good end of school holiday outing for kids that adults will find easy to sit through.
Knight and Day 7/10 12A 109 mins
Tom Cruise is a secret agent and Cameron Diaz comes across as a ditzy blonde – so what’s new? Well, there is a chemistry between the two stars that lifts this film above the humdrum quality of Cruise’s recent work. It is also good to see actors in their late 40s and 30s respectively who are still able to play both action and romantic roles credibly. The story is the familiar tale of an innocent (Diaz) getting mixed up in espionage and having to trust the renegade spy (Cruise) in order to survive. This is a caper movie that harks back to Cary Grant and Eve Marie Saint in North by Northwest in the 1950s and it’s not a bad effort. Explicit violence was not Hitchcock’s thing unlike the norm today, but this film has some interesting things to say about trust and friendship.
Salt 7/10 12A 100 mins
Salt is Evelyn Salt, played by Angelina Jolie. Salt is a CIA operative who interviews a Russian defector who announces that a Russian ‘sleeper’ is going to assassinate the Russian President on a trip to New York and the name of that sleeper is...Evelyn Salt. From that moment Salt is on the run, while trying to save the Russian and American Presidents and the world from global nuclear war and clear her name. This was a role that had been intended for Tom Cruise – who would have been Edwin Salt – and it’s easy to see how that would have worked. Now, having a female secret agent is an interesting twist, but does it work? If you’ve ever imagined what fictional secret agents played by Kylie and Dannii Minogue would look like, then look no further. In her blonde and brunette guises, running in a business suit and stockinged feet, it was hard not to wonder whether the rest of the CIA were holding back in trying to catch Salt. Despite these reservations, it remains fun, if a little predictable and, surely, there aren’t enough female secret agents with pouty lips. Although open to children of 12 and over, or younger with a parent, this is not a children’s film. Parents should be aware that there are a number of violent deaths, some portrayed graphically, and violence permeates the story.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time 8/10 12A 116 mins
In most people’s minds, ‘adapted from a video game’ doesn’t raise great expectations for a film. So maybe this is a clever publicity ploy, for having gone to see Mike Newell’s Prince of Persia not expecting much, I came away pleasantly surprised that I had spent an enjoyable couple of hours. Knowing its video game origins, it’s easy to see how the various challenges the hero faces could have been different levels on a games console. The thing is, Prince of Persia is successful, because it makes no pretence at being more than an action story and is well told and well acted. There are a lot of funny moments – most often when Alfred Molina is on screen – but it is not ironic humour and all the parts are played straight. Jake Gyllenhaal and Gemma Arterton make an attractive couple as the Prince and the Princess of a rival tribe. For some reason all the characters have English accents and Gyllenhaal’s is perfect, demonstrating that not all action heroes find it hard to play British. With school holidays coming this film has something for adults and children, although parents with younger children should note that there are a number of realistic fight scenes.
Robin Hood 7/10 12A 140 mins
Much has been made of the variations in the accent that Russell Crowe uses to play Robin, but it would be a shame if this overshadowed what is an interesting reworking of the traditional story. Director Sir Ridley Scott has ensured that the late 12th century setting for his version of the oft-filmed tale is as accurate as possible and so King Richard dies early on as he and his army are storming a French castle on the way home from the Crusades. Robin is one of his archers who returns home with news of the King’s death. Some of the other familiar characters are here – Prince, later King, John, Maid Marian and the Sherriff of Nottingham, although his is a small part. The main baddie, played well and with considerable menace by Mark Strong, is Sir Godfrey. There are some interesting political analogies being made about fighting unnecessary and expensive foreign wars and the rights of the common man, but, over all, there was a sense of it all being rather worthy and not sufficiently exciting. Again, the fight scenes are very realistic and might be unsuitable for younger children.
Sex and the City 2 5/10 15 146 mins
The girls are back! Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte and Miranda pick up where they left off two years ago in their last big screen outing. Samantha is the only one still single and Charlotte and Miranda both have children – although obviously they have both have nannies and wealthy husbands. The ‘story’ of this sequel is that the girls go off for a week’s spree in Abu Dhabi – so that’s massages, shopping in souks and cocktails in their private bar – but underneath there is trouble in paradise. The girls all have their problems – Charlotte thinks her husband might be tempted to have an affair, Samantha faces the menopause, Miranda’s boss doesn’t listen to her and Carrie’s husband only wants to cuddle up on the sofa and watch old films rather than go to film premieres. It must be tough being her! There were some interesting points being made about problems related to middle-age, but it also portrayed women in a bad light and was pretty offensive towards Muslims. Potential viewers should note the frequent use of bad language, sex scenes and nudity.
The Joneses 8/10 15 96 mins
Written, directed and produced by former advertising artist Derrick Borte, The Joneses tells the story of a family with whom everyone wants to keep up. However, like many families, the Joneses have some secrets. This is a well-written, stylish film which attacks consumerism. Borte has given his cast - Demi Moore and David Duchovny star - some great lines. How about this for a contemporary re-telling of the rich man who stored up treasure on earth? “Whoever dies with the most toys, wins.” In the right context it would also be an excellent tool for discussing evangelism. Be aware that this film, like all those we review this month, is certificate 15 and it contains bad language and sexual situations.
Kick-Ass 7/10 15 117 mins
Matthew Vaughn’s screen interpretation of Mark Millar’s comic novel has not been short on controversy since its release. It tells the story of a teenage boy who decides he wants to be a superhero, whom he calls Kick-Ass. His problem is that unlike Superman he has no superpowers, unlike Spiderman, he’s not been bitten by a radioactive spider and unlike Batman, he’s not a millionaire. But what he does have is a green superhero suit and a heroic innocence that gets him into danger. Nicholas Cage stars as a Big Daddy, a Bruce Wayne/Batman parody role and he and his daughter, Hit Girl (Chloë Grace Moretz) join forces with Kick-Ass to fight crime. There is very strong language and violence in this film, but the controversy has centred upon the swearing and violence used by the eleven-year-old assasin, Hit Girl. It is difficult to recommend this film, but people who are used to the often graphic comic book genre and familiar with the stories it parodies, will enjoy Kick-Ass.
Date Night 5/10 15 88 mins
Date Night stars Steve (Bruce and Evan Almighty) Carrell and Tina (30 Rock) Fey as Phil and Clare Foster, a husband and wife who make it their practice once a week to book a babysitter and go out for a meal together. The story takes place over the course of one of these evenings when Phil decides to push the boat out and take Clare to a swanky new Manhattan restaurant. When they get there, there are no tables free. So, when another couple, the Tripplehorns, name is called with no response, Phil decides that they will be the Tripplehorns. Unfortunately, the Tripplehorns are petty crooks who have upset a Mafia boss and following a case of mistaken identity, the Fosters find themselves on the run for the night and hilarity ensues ... or rather it ought to, but doesn’t. Tina Fey is always watchable, but apart from one or two running gags - everyone they meet is horrified that they have taken someone else’s dinner reservation - it was a disappointment.
Cemetery Junction 6/10 15 95 mins
Cemetery Junction is a real area in Reading: it's Ricky Gervais’s home town and he has used it as the basis for his and Stephen Merchant’s debut as writer- producer-directors. Set in 1973, it is a coming-of-age story in which three young men are looking to break out of their humdrum lives. One wants to leave town, another wants a white collar job and a third wants a girlfriend. Ricky Gervais plays the father of one of the boys and the scenes set in this family were the funniest. However, Gervais and Merchant also show their talent for story-telling and a scene in Ralph Fiennes makes a retirement presentation speech will be enjoyed and recognised by fans of The Office and Extras. Perhaps expectations of Ricky Gervais are now too high, but there was an air of predictability about the story. There is also the unnecessary repetition of a joke that revels in the use of particularly bad language.
Alice in Wonderland Rating 7/10 PG 108 mins
Director Tim Burton takes Lewis Carroll’s story and Alice, now a rather knowing teenager, back down the rabbit hole. All the familiar characters are there in various blends of real-life and CGI animation. Johnny Depp is brilliant as the Mad Hatter – using a variety of different voices – all of which are convincing. Helen Bonham Carter is a Queen of Hearts with a very large head – presumably computer-added, or she needs to see a doctor. The PG rating suggests a family film, but there were one or two very violent moments and a general air of darkness pervades the story. So be warned if you are thinking of taking children.
Legion Rating 6/10 15 100 mins
Legion, starring Paul Bettany is a story about the end of the world. It tells of a child who will be born and will save the world and it features angels Gabriel and Michael, but any similarity with anything that Christians believe – although one can never be sure about that – is purely coincidental. God has decided to destroy humanity – like he did with the flood – but this time he is doing it by having angels possess human beings to kill other human beings and especially the Special Child. The child is to be born to a waitress in a diner in the desert and that’s where this cataclysmic battle takes place. There are too many mad moments to mention and I’m not sure whether it’s so bad it’s good or just plain bad! This is the way the world ends: not with a bang but in a Wimpy. T S Eliot – almost! There is some very strong language and violence in this film.
The Blind Side Rating 8/10 12A 128 mins
The ‘Blind Side’ refers to the left side of a right-handed Quarterback, the most important player in an American Football team. The position of Left Tackle is the second most important position in the team, because he protects the Quarterback’s blind side. Michael Oher is a Left Tackle, but we first meet him as a huge, homeless, black teenager. He is taken in by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy (Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw), a wealthy white family in Tennessee. From an unhopeful beginning, Michael begins a journey that leads him to a successful athletic career. Based on a true story, this is a funny, heart-warming, yet largely unsentimental film. The Tuohys’ motivation is in their Christian faith, although this is hardly mentioned in the film, but it is an inspirational story about ‘doing the right thing’.
The Lovely Bones Rating 6/10 12A 135 mins
Alice Sebold’s story is one of the most read novels of the last ten years, but filming it was always going to be a difficult task. Peter (Lord of the Rings) Jackson has taken it on, but he may wish he hadn’t. The story is narrated by Susie Salmon, a fourteen-year-old girl living in a heavenly limbo from where she watches her parents deal with her murder. Heaven – godless in this story and re-created using CGI, is a place full of garish colours, but strangely empty. While the book was able to hold together the murder, catching the killer, ‘closure’ for her parents and Susie’s coming to terms with her own death, the film struggles to do so. The murder is not graphically portrayed, but some viewers might find it disturbing.
Invictus Rating 7/10 12A 133 mins
Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon play Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar in Clint Eastwood’s recreation of the moment when President Mandela, dressed in a Springbok rugby shirt, presented the Rugby World Cup to Pienaar, the South African captain. This was an iconic moment in South African and modern world history, but this is not a terribly dramatic film. Freeman and Damon do as much as they can with their roles, but we learn little new about Mandela, nor does the film address the on-going lack of involvement of blacks in South African rugby. However, it remains a stirring encounter between these two men, who represent the two main tribes of South Africa.
The Princess and the Frog Rating 8/10 U 97 mins
Set in and around New Orleans, this is a traditional Disney ‘hand-drawn’ animated film. It has all one could wish for in a Disney film: good songs – drawing on the jazz and Cajun music of the region, beautifully drawn colourful – in both senses – characters and humour suitable for adults and children. There are also a number of truly moving moments as well as some scary parts to the story. Some viewers may wish to note that voodoo and evil spirits are part of the story.
The Book of Eli Rating 7/10 15 118 mins
Just when you’re waiting for one post-apocalyptic film, two come along at once. The Road was released in the UK just before The Book of Eli, but it is this second film that may be of most interest to a Christian filmgoer. The Book of Eli tells of a mysterious loner who is travelling west through deserted landscapes and towns with shops and bars more familiar in the Wild West. All the while Eli is protecting the book that will save humanity. There are a number of plot-twists along the way and to say more would spoil the surprises. It is a very violent film and it’s certainly not for the squeamish.
Up in the Air Rating 8/10 15 109 mins
George Clooney stars in this romantic comedy in which the romance as is a dry as the comedy. Clooney plays Ryan Bingham, a ‘hired gun’ executive who helps people deal with career changes. In other words, people hire him to fire their employees. He spends all except 6 weeks in every year away from home - a sparse one bedroom apartment - and he enjoys his life zigzagging across America, travelling Business Class and staying in hotels. Bingham then meets a female executive with the same outlook on life. The story is broken up by apparently real-life people expressing their feelings about being made redundant. This is a quiet, intelligent film that is both dryly funny and thoughtful. The film has been given a 15 certificate for its frequent bad language.
It’s Complicated Rating 6/10 15 121 mins
Alec Baldwin, Steve Martin and Meryl Streep star in an old-fashioned screwball comedy - 21st century-style. The banter and setting offer no surprised, but the ‘complication’ is very much 21st century in that the love triangle involves a couple (Streep and Baldwin) who are divorced and one of whom (Baldwin) is also remarried to someone else. In the context of a romantic comedy It’s Complicated addresses a world in which lives are complicated and in which love is not just for the young. This film has been given a 15 certificate for some sexual content but mainly for scenes in which the main characters smoke cannabis.
2012 Rating 6/10
12A 158 mins
In 2012, director Roland Emmerich has come up with The Day After Tomorrow Part II and if you enjoyed the first film - I did - you'll probably enjoy this. Rather than freeze up, this time, the earth overheats and, unusually in such a story, humanity is not to blame. This is not the end of the world, but global flooding kills off most of humanity. However, a number of arks are built in which the brightest and best are selected to re-boot humanity. It is interesting to note that fortunes are reversed in that Africa is the only land-mass that survives. It was also good to see that it was a scientist in the developing world who first discovered the problem. It's cliché-ridden, but not short on thrills.
A Serious Man Rating 8/10
15 105 mins
The latest Coen Brothers film has strong parallels with the story told in the Old Testament Book of Job. It begins with a prologue that tells a folk tale set in an eastern European village and it ends without answers to the question posed by human suffering - just like Job. In between we are presented with the story of Larry Gopnik, a Professor in a suburb of Minneapolis. Larry is part of the Jewish community and seeks help from his Rabbis when his world begins to unravel. None is able to give him the answers he seeks, but one at least gives advice that has echoes of the message of Book of Ecclesiastes. This is an unusual, quirky, but an often funny and wise story.
Harry Brown 5/10
18 104 mins
Harry Brown, played by Michael Caine is an ex-Marine, but now a pensioner living on a lawless London council estate, in which 'hoodies' and drug-dealers rule. When his friend is murdered, and the police appear ineffectual, Harry takes matters into his own hands. Michael Caine plays his part well, and while we all like to see the bad guys get their come-uppance, there is a nasty streak in this film. This is a violent revenge story, in which Harry Brown is portrayed as a hero, but violence only breeds violence.
U 102 mins
From the Pixar Studios comes an animated adventure about an old man and a young boy in South America. However, it is much more than this. A prologue tells how Carl Fredricksen, met his wife Ellie when they were children. A section without dialogue - one of the most moving sequences in any film, let alone an animated children's film - then tells of their experiencing childlessness and become elderly. Then the adventure starts as Carl launches his house off to follow his dreams, supported by hundreds of helium filled balloons, not realising that a young boy has stowed away. The one fault of this film might be that its various components are unlikely to appeal to both child and adult. However, it remains a delight!