Tuesday, April 14, 2009

seen-it: Control

Being a child of the Madchester music scene, viewing Control seemed almost essential. Never did 'get into' Joy Division, but New Order were my introduction to all things Madchester, so the legends & legacy of all things Joy Division/Ian Curtis/Factory Records always have some fascination for me.

Dead rockstars instantly get Legendary status. Ian Curtis is one of them but I actually knew very little about him. Two hours of "Control" and you still don't really feel you know him particularly any better, except to say that he seemed incredibly self-centred & immature. Maybe we don't know him better because if the portrayal is accurate he was incredibly withdrawn and insular. He was obviously a 'tortured soul' but if the film is at all an accurate reflection then he doesn't really illicit much sympathy. Most of the torture is self-inflicted. The only thing in his defense was that he was incredibly young with some of the additional pressures of fame - so no surprise that he was a bit stupid & selfish. Real sympathy must go to his wife and fellow band mates. Though the credits reveal that the film is based on the memoirs of his widow so maybe a little jaundiced.

The film itself is over-long ... lots of long, arty scenes of Ian smoking! Lots of swearing which maybe accurate [... though reading a review by his daughter reveals that at least one fo the characters never swears so profusely in real life!] but still grates. But the outstanding thing has got to be the performances of the band characters - seem to have got all the mannerisms & nuances down to a tee. And the music itself is a treat.

Sad to discover that Tony Wilson died just days after the film was completed. What an interesting character Tony was!

seen-it: Miracle Maker

Easter family film night - the obvious choice really.

Still remains the best adaptation of the Gospels if you ask me. Highly accurate, and the characterisations & the narrative blank filling are all plausibly done. Even the reference to Sepphoris at the beginning is an interesting inclusion ... I never realised it's existence til one of my college lecturers asked the question "Could Jesus have been alluding to Sepphoris when he talked about a city on a hill?"

JE, AJ & EJ all had lots of relevant questions which showed they were comprehending what was going on and attempting to make it relate to what they already know. And the crucial Passion week events are all done superbly for a child audience.

Still kind of amazing that film 4 were involved with this production - can't imagine them doing such a straight Biblical interprtation now. Proved it's weight in gold for use in children's work of course!

Monday, April 13, 2009

seen-it: The Passion of the Christ

Seemed like an appropriate film to watch once again over the Easter weekend. Had invited a few people unacquainted with it to view it for the 1st time too.

My 3rd viewing of the film now. It's naturally lost some of the impact of the very first viewing but still incredibly powerful. The brutality of the events still made me flinch and look-away on several occasions, though it was actually the events leading up to the more graphic scenes which made me well up a little.

Interestingly - and I don't know if this reflects on my spiritual state at the moment or not - but saw it through more 'human' eyes this time as opposed to a more theological viewing. By that I mean I was viewing it more as "how can anyone treat someone else so brutally ... how can people turn so insensitive so quickly". It's kind of a classic case of the "Stansford Prison Experiment". And I guess I'm thinking that because of the increasingly fractured social situation that seems to be emerging at the moment ... lots of groups all decamping into "them & us", and some with more power than others. Aware that I could probably easily slip into either role - either as Christian 'prisoner' to 'militant muslim/secularist/atheist guards', or as a right-wing nationalist 'guard' with 'muslim/immigrant/multi-culturist prisoners'. Hmmm. Deep!

Anyhow, the film does a superb job of accurately bringing the scriptures off the page - though obviously for the narrative gaps the Catholic influence is very evident. I think the portrayal of Satan and his subtle, sinister background appearances throughout give a really good portrayal of the fact that this wasn't just a Stansford Prison scenario but a real spiritual battle too. If nothing else then the film should at least be capable of dispelling the "Jesus the meek & mild hippy" image.

Wonder what it would have been like to be in Jerusalem that day?

Hope that familiarity never breeds contempt with this one.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

seen-it: Slumdog Millionaire

Circumstances mean I actually got a rare night out at the cinema with just MA.

What an awesome film - definitely worthy of all it's accolades. Hard hitting, challenging, poignant, entertaining, uplifting all at the same time.

Really don't understand the BBFC ratings though. This was a 15, but trailers beforehand were for films rated 12 which seemed to focus exclusively on guns, violence & menace. Yet here's a film which contained very little bad language, violence but not in the least bit gratuitous or gory (it was nice to be left to use our imagination on some of the scenes), a love interest with NO sex what-so-ever!, and a message where honesty, integrity, faithfulness & hope prevail - yet this is a 15! Go figure.

The scenes of slum life were thoroughly sobering & depressing. They certainly give an appreciation of the rule of law and of economic justice & fair play that we have as our cultural foundation and our inheritance. Got me thinking how would you ever lift a country out of such a malaise, and also how quickly/easily it would be to sink into one. It does get you wondering where God's grace & mercy are in such circumstances.

This is cinema at it's best. Both MA & I enjoyed it - harrowing & uplifting. What more could you want?!

seen-it: Mamma Mia!

Well it's been the film sensation of the last year so had to watch it!

We'd actually seen the Comic Relief parody of it first, and watching the film it was hard not to believe we still weren't watching the parody! After we'd realised we weren't meant to be taking it too seriously the shock at it's crassness passed. Basically, lots of fantastic ABBA songs joined together by tenuous links. But hey, great music, big name and lots of silliness. Harmless entertainment - though even in 'harmless' entertainment it's amazing how many insidious messages come across ... inconsequential casual sex, marriage redundant, gay equality etc.

Couldn't help thinking of Spice World. Interesting that Spice World is in the IMDB bottom 100 of all time, yet Mamma Mia! is up there with the best but the only differences are the high profile of the cast and the music. Both light hearted, self parodying entertainment. Maybe Spice World is worth another view to see if my memory isn't serving me justice!

Monday, April 06, 2009

seen-it: Indianna Jones & the Raiders of the Lost Ark

Finally got round to letting JE view this after he won the box set a year ago.

Must be my 4th or 5th viewing at least and it's still entertaining. It's also amazing just how much of the plot I seem to have forgot each time!

Our hesitation in letting JE watch it any sooner was because on vetting it we'd forgotten just how much shocking content there was and feared nightmares. Well, despite shielding him from the final face-melting scene, he still had nightmares that night! And the plot was just a little too complex for him to follow un-aided. [Also forgot about the couple of swearing incidents ... not picked up on thankfully].

He's seen "Last Crusade" already (least gruesome) and he won't be watching "Temple of Doom" at all - a bad film and far too dark/scary. Don't think he'll be too bothered about seeing "Raiders" again for quite a while. But thankfully, it's not a chore even after so many times.

Friday, April 03, 2009

seen-it: Outnumbered (Series 1)

What a great find this program was (though a referral more than a find to be honest). And it's a great present to have received on my birthday! We were very disciplined at only watching one episode a week rather than having a gluttonous "Outnumbered" fest!

Having seen series 2 first didn't spoil anything. And one of the great things about the program is how well each episode stands alone.

Plenty of laugh out louds - the particular outstanding favourite has got to be the family day out to the farm! The correspondence between the mini-me's and the characters is almost uncanny - but shows what a good job the writes have done with getting the empathy level spot on.

Don't feel it was quite as good as series 2, but it's marginal. And it's a bit of a shame it tried to be quite so poignant at the end ... bit like when boy bands go for their ballad stage!

Not sure it's destined to be get as many repeat showings as "Alan Partridge" & "Fawlty Towers" but it's definitely not a single watch series either.

seen-it: West Wing (Season 2)

There were some pretty weak episodes near the beginning with some pretty implausible & out of character stories, plus a few highly contrived events. But things get redeemed again - including the unlikely Ainsley Hayes character.

Danny - the reporter, and the annoying political consultant whose name escapes me, both disappear without a trace!

Think I'm getting to recognise which writers do the best episodes and seems they let some fresh blood have a go at writing some. But Aaron Sorkin seems to be the key name to look for. The best episodes are definitely those revolving around political drama rather than personal interest storylines.

It was great to see the 4 episodes we must have missed out when we rented it last year - made lots of the later storylines make much more sense. Which serves to highlight how hard it is to 'dip into' ... it would be almost impossible to start watching WW mid-series or mid-season.

The climax is good though nowhere near as dramatic as the first season's. And it'll be interesting to see how they write themselves out of the kind of plot 'black hole' they seem to have concluded themselves with [who is possibly going to vote for him now?!]

seen-it: West Wing (Season 1)

Definitely made more sense 2nd time around! A very good choice of Christmas present by me I think.

The characters get really well established and the storylines are all pretty much top class. Sam & the call girl is the one that always seems the most implausible. And the end of season climax was just as gripping 2nd time around which says something.

It's definitely worth all the accolades it. Good, thought provoking, adult drama. What TV was meant for really. It's only weakness is that the characterisations are so strong and the storylines so interwoven that I can understand why I was turned off by it when I did see some of it on TV - unless you watch it all, it's hard to watch each episode as a stand alone (it can be hard enough when you have watched them all!).

There's still quite a few episodes where chunks of dialogue make no sense to us either - coz of jargon or US specific politics.

seen-it: Monsters Inc

This is one from our Pixar boxset which gets a regular viewing - the latest just the other week for film night.

That says it all really - brood and MA & me still not tired of it yet. And still keep noticing lots of subtle background details. EJ also puts it on fairly regular during the daytime so there's a draw for even the littlest.

And the 'laughter greater than fear' message is pitched well enough not to have become wearisome - and is actually worth reminding myself of to!

seen-it: Kung Fu Panda

Originally saw it at the iMax with responsibility for about 30 kids so was familiar with it. But my overall memory was of trying to keep one of our more 'special' children quiet & entertained! Watching it again in the more relaxed setting and greatly reduced screen size was far more pleasurable.

A great film, enjoyed by both me & MA. All the brood enjoyed it on an action level but not entirely convinced that they got any of the nuances beyond "they're the goodies, he's the baddy". But even enjoying it simply on an action level gave plenty of interest. And quite a few laughs for brood and parents. Jack Black is the perfect casting for the main character.

Animation is superb - and watching the "making of" on the extras gives an incredible insight into the high production standards of these animations (can't say I'd even noticed the length of the Panda's fur!). The technical benchmark for these big release animations is now incredibly high.

The "you can be a hero if you believe you can be" message is not laid on too thick and so is quite palatable.

JE tried the wushu finger hold on me the other day - so it's made an impression on him! There's not be any demands for a re-screening yet - though I wouldn't mind if there were.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

seen-it: The Grinch

Bad memories! Saw this originally at the cinema with MA and another couple. None of us were parents at the time. Think the choice was this or "Unbreakable" or something similar. MA persuaded us all to see this and then felt terribly guilty afterwards! If I recall correctly both males fell asleep whilst females nattered!

Thought it would be interesting to see if 8 years, 4 children & lots of Dr Seuss books later would change perspectives!

Thankfully it did.

Firstly, don't think the children appreciated it that much. The Grinch himself is probably a little to menacing for our sensitive brood. JE had lots of questions about the plot and the incredibly well-done cartoonesque sets & costumes were obviously a fascination. All-in-all though, the Grinch himself was just too effective at being repellent and the plot just a little too incomprehensible for it to be appreciated by the brood.

Re-watching it with my new perspective gave me a much greater appreciation though. Jim Carey is superb doing all the things he does so well! And the set design, costumes & props are incredibly well done. It's hard to imagine how you could bring the worlds of Dr Seuss to the screen - but this is exactly how it would look & sound to my mind.

There are lots of nice touches (but can't remember them now several weeks later!) and quite a few bits that made us laugh out loud - mainly thanks to the talent of Mr Carey.

Not a superb film. Too cheesey a plot for us adults. Too convoluted for the little ones. But very well done cheese. And wouldn't even mind seeing again in a few Christmasses down the line.

seen-it: WALL-E

Got mixed reviews from people I know so didn't really have much in the way of expectations. I was left disappointed by "Cars" so was keen to see what they did with this.

Anyhow, turns out to be a real crowd pleaser in our household - JE & AJ are re-watching it pretty regularly. And even I wouldn't mind watching it again. Which is always a sign of success for a family film.

The graphics are as astounding as ever but don't get the feeling they've put in lots of superfluous scenes simply to showcase the graphics (ala "Cars"). The environmental message is overt but not overly patronising or nauseating. Lots of great little subtleties for us grown-ups.

It was interesting too how they built up the story. When you've got almost no dialogue, to keep the attention for 100mins is quite a tall order, but they got it just right - introducing a new layers & scenarios at regular intervals. The 100 mins whizzed by, whereas Cars 118 mins felt much longer. Another Pixar household hit!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

seen-it: Hancock

Hmmm ... should have been suspicious from the reviews on the box: "Will Smith's best blockbuster since MiB" (News of the World); and, most telling of all, "Jaw Dropping special effects" (Nuts)!

Good concept I s'pose ... a superhero who needs some PR. Lots of potential. Could have been quite a good family film, instead a not very good 'adult' film. Shocked by the language that's acceptable in a '12' rating.

I had no idea what was going on at the end, with the whole "super hero life force" thing - a bit like the ET & Elliot relationship? And who was the baddy ... presumably some other semi-immortal ... or was he. I don't know.

And I always find the "don't call me 'asshole/crazy/babe/shirley'" dialogue device really rather lame.

The special effects are good. There are a couple of good scenes. But on the whole, waste of time. No wonder I always find non-fiction better. Let's see how much I get for it on ebay!

Saturday, January 31, 2009

seen-it: Kite Runner

Well, not a barrel of laughs!

A real choker of a film. I know the book had received loads of accolades but had no idea what the plot was at all.

A real emotional account of friendship, redemption & honour. Shows quite vividly the starkness and soullessness of life under the Taliban. If the depictions of life in Afghanistan before & after the Taliban are at all accurate then it shows just how low they have brought the country.

But it's not mainly about the country of Afghanistan but about the relationships between the main characters. Had very little sympathy for the main character - Amir - at first. He was as weak and cowardly as they intended to portray him, and his behaviour towards his friend compounded the shame he was rightly feeling. But the unfolding redemption story is very powerful & moving ... and the whole notion of honour & duty that undergirds it all is very challenging. His father's act of courage at the border crossing was particulaly powerful.

Glad I watched it. Inspiring and thought provoking. And a happy ending of sorts!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

seen-it: 21

Don't know where I heard about this film. I don't recall hearing much about (if anything) about it in the MSM.

It's based on the book "Bringing Down the House" - the story of the MIT black jack team which took Las Vegas for millions of dollars when they developed a highly successful card counting team. (I'm sure there was an article about poker and in last Christmas edition of the Economist which had a similar story to this - but about poker obviously. Maybe that's where I first heard about the film).

Good drama. Admittedly with lots of standard Hollywood plot features [love interest, 'mafia mob' baddy, faithful friend etc], but all done with reasonable credulity and to good effect. And I didn't see the little twist til it happened!

Watching the development of the corrupting effect of the money and the power upon the main character, Ben, was quite thought provoking & challenging. It wasn't all bad - it gave him lots of confidence, brought him out of his shell etc. But ultimately he lost more than he gained - and he realised it. Definitely got me thinking about how money / power effects me. Also made me wonder if there's any way of actually producing that sort of confidence without the money!

Interestingly(?), even in a film such as this where a love angle is just an aside ultimately, it's interesting that a full-sexual encounter always takes place on the very first 'date'. Not explicit or tastelessly done, but definitely a reflection of the mindset they try to inculcate. It's almost like it's not possible for them to demonstrate anything romantic - or even sexual - without the resorting to the 'bottom line'.

I always think a film like this has done a good job if it makes me want to go and read more / research more about the characters and events behind the film. I'll probably add "Bringing Down the House" to my reading list, but it won't be a massive priority. Only done a bare minimum of subsequent internet reading on them. So guess it can't have had the impact of some of the others I've enjoyed. But still, as a stimulating bit of entertainment & thought provoking bit of bit of commentary - I'm glad I watched it.

Monday, January 05, 2009

read-it: Animal Farm

After finding myself answering some quite involved political discussion with JE (6), promised I'd read Animal Farm with him over Christmas. Finished today.

A great book. Sobering & depressing but thoroughly insightful. Amazing how such a simple allegory (...'allegory' is the right word isn't it?!) can pack so much depth. Bit like the parables I suppose.

Whilst specifically an allegory of the Soviet regime, it was interesting reading it this time for me (aprox 20 years after the first time) how much of it was simply about the corrupting influence of any power - not just communism. The danger of becoming the thing we set out to change.

JE grasped more than I thought but it was interesting how his innate trust of authority kept blinding him to some of the deviousness of the pigs. He believed the pigs explanation that Boxer was taken to the vets in a knackers van! He did pick up on how they kept changing the rules and breaking them. He enjoyed it as an animal story and hopefully the allegorical stuff will dawn on him in years to come.

seen it: Goldfinger

First film of 2009. Promised JE I'd introduce him to James Bond over the Christmas break, so thought I'd start with a classic.

JE, AJ & EJ all watched quite attentively much to my surprise, and actually comprehended far more than I thought. Quite easy to explain in terms of 'goodies & baddies'.

Having watched Quantom of Solace just a month ago, re-watching this classic made me realise how far they'd left the James Bond trademarks behind (gadgets, puns, womanising!). And I could comprehend the plot of this one too.

Obviously there was a lot of stuff that seemed incredibly dated. But the innocence and simplicity of it all was enjoyable. Interestingly, the scene of James forcing himself on Pussy Galore(!) was something that seemed quite shocking now.

The appearance of the 'shooting woman' half-way is all a bit random. Other than the fact that she is the sister of 'Jill' (I think that was her name ... the iconic 'gold woman' on the bed), the scenes with her in are completely superfluous to the plot & a bit incongruous.