A new term in film

I like to think of September as the start of a new year when it comes to films. the summer blockbuster season has finished, the Oscar contenders are lining themselves up and we know what we have to look forward to with regards to Christmas and next years franchise installments. So, I’m going to do a quick recap of last year and list some highlights that I’m looking forward to.

RECAP

The best film of the last 12 months I’ve seen has got to be Moonlight. I came out of the cinema after seeing it feeling fairly unimpressed. However I couldn’t shake it from my head and it persisted. The cinematography is beautiful, the storytelling simple and direct. It is one of the most beautiful, delicate pieces of cinema I have ever seen and a worthy Oscar winner.

I watched quite a few of the Oscar nominees and liked Jackie, Hidden Figures and Arrival. Each of those are worth seeing, as is La La Land, though that has been over-hyped whereas the other three have been tossed aside.

I’m a big fan of superhero films and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has been my highlight. Wonder Woman was a very good film, but sadly it’s ending let the whole film down in my opinion. With GOTG2, the ending gives the whole film (if not the two films) purpose. The sequel is definitely darker, but that’s because it explores the characters deep emotional scars. It is at times a difficult watch (something which should not be a surprise if you’ve seen James Gunn’s Super) but I found such a strong character piece that for me it surpasses the first Guardians. Also, the film is really colourful, like Wonder Woman, making it a lot of fun and a joy to behold. Below is a clip from the opening, so minor spoilers.

The biggest disappointment for me was Rogue One. I never expected much from it, but it was barely a competent film, with so many plot holes. The characters were unengaging, the story dull and the action boring. Characters from a New Hope were forced into a story they didn’t belong in and so it had the feeling of bad fan fiction.

Finally, I have to mention the only film that I saw twice at the cinema; Baby Driver. I love Edgar Wright as a filmmaker and his latest is more of a straight action film. It has comedic beats, but it is mainly about the car chases and gangster drama. The flaws are common to other films of the same genre, in that some of the supporting characters are subservient to the story. However, given the convention’s limitations, the film is masterful. His commitment to directing in time to the music is phenomenal and makes for a really intense ride. After each viewing I left so pumped on adrenaline that I struggled to sleep.

HEADS UP

For those who liked Arrival, Blade Runner 2049 looks set to be gorgeous. The original was a stylistic landmark and the sequel will try to modernise that style. The trailer looks beautiful, not long till it arrives at the beginning of October.

The other major blockbuster I’m looking forward to is Ready Player One. Steven Spielberg adapts the book whose mix of geek fandom and critique I enjoyed thoroughly. The Bridge of Spies and the BFG were both good films, so I know it’s in good hands.

As far as superhero films are concerned, Ant Man & the Wasp will be the first Marvel film with an eponymous heroine. Ant Man was fun, so it will be interesting to see what they can do with a second one. (See below for 2017’s body shrinking comedy film.) The Incredibles 2 will finally arrive, which should be great. Black Panther looks interesting, but Thor Ragnorok looks the best of the bunch. If you haven’t seen director Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople or What We Do in the Shadows, then watch those now. He has such a comedic light touch and looks set to reboot the Thor franchise in style.

While on the subject of blockbusters, I have a couple worth mentioning which could do really well. The Jumanji reboot looks like it will be a lot of fun. My hopes are high for that, as they are for a Wrinkle in Time. I’ve not read the book, but the trailer intrigues me. It’s the first film with a budget over $100 million to be directed by a woman of colour, so for that reason alone, its worth a watch.

The Oscar contenders seem to cover a mix of tastes. There are two tennis drama’s coming out, and the Battle of the Sexes looks the much more interesting. I don’t understand why you’d want to watch actors play a sport they’re not very good at, so any sports film has to be about the drama off the pitch affecting their game. This looks like it will be a decent heart warming drama.

The Shape of Water looks like a beautiful cold war version of Pan’s Labyrinth. I love the idea of having a deaf lead character and this period romance looks stunning.

Aardman studios are giants in their field and their next film looks set to be a claymation classic. The original story of stone age community versus iron age looks set to be a lot of fun.

My top pick, for just sheer nuttiness is Downsizing. If you’ve seen the Descendants or Sideways, you know to expect a dry comedy. This looks intriguing as there are so many places that it could go with such a ridiculous concept.

Here are a few more that on my radar that haven’t got a trailer yet:

  • Pacific Rim Uprising, for more giant robot v giant monster mayhem.
  • Mission Impossible 6, as that series is far above Bond in my eyes.
  • Mortal Engines, the next Peter Jackson vehicle based on the popular books.
  • Holmes & Watson, a Will Ferrell comedy that should fill the hole until Robert Downey Junior makes another one.
  • Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson’s next feature, a stop animation project set on a island populated solely by canines.

All in all, it looks set to be another good year.

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Review: Noah

Before I get to my review, I think it is best to add some context. As you can see from my previous posts, I’m a guy who likes the story of Noah. Genesis is without doubt my favourite book in the Bible and Noah is one of my favourite stories in that. It’s very short I know, but it has such an epic scope. I have had thoughts about adapting it as a science fiction film myself, with the ark being a spaceship and our planet being completely destroyed.

When it was announced that there was to be a film based on the character, naturally I was curious. I followed production eagerly, fully aware that the man creating it was not a christian. His first comments on the news was that he saw Noah as a great environmentalist, which I couldn’t quite understand. Having seen it, I now get his point (and agree with it), but from the very start I knew that this was going to be someone’s reaction to Noah, not a traditional adaptation. I was still curious though, and wanted to see what makes someone who questions the Bible want to make a film about it. I kept updated with news, laughed when filming was halted by flooding and was wowed by the first trailer.

When it eventually came out (I heard of it being an option back in 2007) I was too busy to see it immediately. I therefore saw the reviews before I got to see it myself. To put it simply, they are mixed. Some love it, singing its praising for acting, scope and bold scriptwriting, while others criticised all of those things and more. Christians too were divided on what they thought of it, with some praising it, others condemning it as evil. I asked my friends on facebook, and all were negative, some of whom hadn’t even seen it. I’ve made that mistake before (see Sucker Punch here) but in short, the reactions were overwhelmingly hostile.

There have been a lot of claims that this film is unbiblical. That is a big claim, especially since the bible passage is very short. For example, in the film fallen angels help Noah build the ark.  This is not mentioned in the Bible at all, so does that make it unbiblical? I suppose it depends on your definition on what that word means. It is as unbiblical as dinosaurs are I guess, which in my opinion is not at all; they have just been left out for some reason.

After doing more research, I have found out that this is following the Jewish tradition of midrash, where they use their imaginations to fill in the blanks from stories in scripture. This is not done to set the record straight on what actually happened but to give flesh to the bones provided and see what holds up in context of the details we know.

In this light, I think the film makes a lot more sense. The director has a strong emotional resonance with the story, there is no doubt about that. He wants more than the Bible says and has spent years imagining what those look like. Coming from a Jewish background, now being an atheist, his view is not fully formed, but it has a lot of interesting questions. This is what frame of mind you should see it in. This is a film of one man’s reactions to the story which has been told as a sweet story to children in churches but when thought about as an adult has a lot more depth than simply getting all the animals onto a boat.

With the parts he has imagined, there are details which contradict the Bible but I believe the film’s core holds true to the story. Aronofsky employed someone to ensure that he did just that. The contradictions to the text are always used to illustrate a point, either about humanity or about God. The story speaks of judgement and mercy, two things that are rarely covered by Hollywood.

So what did I think of it? In short, I loved it. It was simply superb and while I can see people’s objections, I thought that it was excellent filmmaking and a must watch. The acting is for the most part very good with each character coming across as fully formed, complex and believable. The story is grand in scope and mainly serves to highlight the theological ideas and questions that Aronofsky has.

What I particularly loved about it was that Noah was a real person. He has very big character flaws, something which many people have found difficult. All that we know about Noah from the Bible is that he was a man of faith, deemed righteous among his generation. This film focuses on the first part, showing a man who did amazing things without ever seeing clearly. The latter is harder to explain, as he most definitely sins. This is shown in the Bible though, when he gets drunk and naked in Genesis 9. This is shown in the closing moments of the film and it’s clear that the director has extrapolated backwards to try and explain why Noah would have turned to drink after leaving the ark.

I know that some people fear that because Noah is a more unconventional film it will turn people away from God or confuse them. I would disagree for several reasons. At the core, it is the same God being presented and I truly believe that only a few details have been changed. Secondly, this film is not intended to replace the Bible; only that is the word of God. Also, I believe that God can use a negative reaction, one of repulsion, to the parts which are not of Him to drive people away from what is wrong and closer to Him. And finally, I think that people with questions are likely to ask people about them and that conversation will have greater impact than a blockbuster ever could.

I know of another christian film released at the same time, the Son of God, an adaptation of the Bible television series for cinematic release. I’ve heard nobody talk about this, know nobody who’s seen it and only one person, a christian, who wanted to. That I imagine would most definitely falls into the safe conservative film category, something Noah would not do. This is a risky, controversial film that definitely leads to a reaction. It does not present a God that most people know, but shows them another side to the God called Creator.

I would highly recommend this film.  It is worthwhile film making that made me spend 2 hours engaging with big questions and with God. A film studio have never spent as much (a reported $125 million) on adapting a biblical story before. Even though the director was not a christian, there would have been many working on it, praying for it and hoping that this would be a success.

Please, if nothing else, give it a chance. Don’t write it off without having seen it; God can work miracles. If you’d like to watch it and live in the UK, you can currently get a 2 for 1 offer all this week if enter the code NOAH at this website and is accepted at most major cinema chains.

 

Doctor Who Series 6 Part 1: A fan’s reaction

Well, the series has just finished its first part and Matt Smith is due to appear in twenty one more episodes at least, so I thought that as an avid watcher of the Doctor ever since its revival with Christopher Eccleston that I’d share my thoughts on the latest run. Firstly, I will go over every episode in order, as this seems the most logical approach and then any remaining thoughts will be discussed. Of course, I highly recommend you actually watch the episodes first as they are far more enjoyable when approached fresh.

——BEWARE, HERE BE SPOILERS DEARIE——–

The series couldn’t really have started with a bigger bang, as the first thing we see is the Doctor dead. Shot by an unknown assailant, I initially hoped this mystery would be solved in the first two parter. What it did, however, was set an overall ark for the series, with a genuine problem to be solved. That is one of the genuine joys of a time travelling narrative, the ability to show an event that will happen and have everyone work to prevent it, even though it seems certain. This episode also had the introduction of the Silence, a monster hinted at in the previous series. They are quite frankly a wonderful but terrifying idea that ironically is unforgettable, the second episode’s moments with the tallying and the blinking palms were beautifully executed storytelling and really drew you in. My only faults with this episode were the moon landing they chose to shoe horn in (though I imagine a reason will be provided later) and the cliff hanger which was followed by a three month gap. Those thing aside though, this was a good start to the series and made me hungry for more.

The third episode was the weakest in this series by quite a long way and was a very typical stand alone episode where all threads would be wrapped up after the allotted forty five minutes. The main appeal of this episode seemed to be the celebrities and the story suffered because of this I think. The idea is a good one, that of a medical drone being forced to help those who can recover on their own, but the tired ghost story aspect of it was not well done. This was a mostly boring episode with a few moments that were quite good, but overall, very weak.

I was having my doubts about the series at this point and a lot of my hopes rested on the next episode. I had heard beforehand that it was written by Neil Gaiman and the title was The Doctor’s Wife. I had thought through a few theories of my own, but none of them were right and how glad I was. This episode was an absolute joy and is almost certainly my favourite ever Doctor Who episode. The idea of making the Tardis speak and flirt with the Doctor was a joy to watch and allowed Smith to give an outstanding almost straight performance to her mad woman. I also thoroughly enjoyed the extra scenes within the Tardis and House was a great villain. It was funny, frightening, finely executed and fantastic, the fourth episode was a perfect fit for the middle of a series. My hopes and expectations peaked and while I didn’t expect this to be beaten, I did now have faith in Moffat, after having my doubts and was willing to go with him on the journey.

The next pair were again founded on a great idea but not as well executed as the latter. I really enjoyed the idea of having exact copies of yourself, a subject that the fiction book I was reading at the time was also concerned with, but there was a lot of trimming that could have been perfected. The characters in the factory were all fairly stereotypical and it was only Jennifer who had any depth. The men of the facility were very flat and completely uninteresting, making their deaths just part of the plot. It was left to Smith with his duplicate Doctor to take control and steer the episode. I must confess however that I did not see the end coming, though did predict early on that she was pregnant somewhere.

The final episode, while flawed, was very enjoyable. The fast pace kept you from caring too much about the plot holes and I just had fun on the ride. It was very weak in places, with the war being too short with some characters being almost non entities. I was glad that Rory got his moment to shine though and the final twist was a relief. I must admit to not being a big fan of River Song, so to know that the relationship with the Doctor is merely paternal is a relief, as I always thought he could do better. I did think she played the reveal moment very well and I’m now excited for what the four of them will do next.

The Doctor is fast becoming one of the best I’ve seen. At the start of the series I was worried that the catchphrases would continue without end, as there were a lot of references to things being cool. This was just a first lesson reminder however, and although other reminders were made, there were no further hats and not many cool references. The emotional side was seen far more and Smith did it very well, making us really get to grips with the Doctor. Though this series has been really quite dark, the Doctor has not been and this iteration is far lighter. He has moments of weakness, but underneath it all you can tell he’s a madman in a box who wants to help people get along.

The companions as well, as there are two this series, have also been fantastic. Amy started off a bit weak but became stronger as she was thrown into more difficulty. Rory however has been a great and consistent character, one I shall miss when his time to move on ends. Having a married couple on board has come as a relief from the problems that Martha’s pining for the Doctor brought. It has meant we still have all the romantic moments, with the rescue of Amy at the end being a great one, but do not have the Doctor being liked by someone we feel is less than deserving.

Despite some weak moments and a few plot holes, this has been one of the most enjoyable series so far. The driving narrative has led to a different feel to the show and its more intelligent approach has paid off. The cast have performed well and Moffat has proven that he’s a far better lead writer than Davies ever was. If the second half matches this, then I will be completely satisfied.

What do you think, what did you like, hate and what do you think is to come? Leave your comments below.