Saturday, 27 December 2014

Mini film reviews

I’ve watched an odd collection of films over Christmas which is a period of semi-hibernation for me.  Some are strong: some are weak. As a Christian watching secular films, one can be neutral about the themes but ask oneself “What is the director/author trying to say? Does he or she succeed?”

The Impossible: (2012) my personal rating *****: The director is trying to convey the horror of being caught in a tsunami and to commend heroic and selfless actions as being positive, even in such a situation. This film works well, except as a feel-good story that not sit comfortably with an immense tragedy which killed a quarter of a million people. Actress Naomi Watts gives an award- winning performance of a mother struggling to live through the 2004 tsunami in Thailand with her family intact. Impeccable effects using real water, perfect editing and timing,  it engages powerful emotions from the first moment, leaving one internally shaking and shocked.  Not recommended to anyone who has ever experienced a near drowning (and some 2004 tsunami survivors wanted a warning attached).  

The Invisible Woman: (2013) my rating ****
The director is trying to convey something of the hidden darker side of the character of Charles Dickens set out in Claire Tomalin’s book of the same name. The film tells the story of Charles Dickens’ secret affair with Ellen Ternan, but sadly stops short before his death. Like “Diana” below, it is a film about how the public can misconceive the character of a public figure which turns out to be almost entirely wrong, particularly if the celebrity has a gift for public relations, as Dickens had. The film, though very well acted (Kristin Scott Thomas is among the cast and Ralph Fiennes is a good Dickens, though lacking some of his speech patterns) cannot compare with the riveting book by Claire Tomalin "The Invisible Woman". I feel the film suggests too much that Ellen Ternan was repentant of her affair, before and after Dickens’ death. in fact, at the start she was exhilarated by his attentions. I have reservations about her levels of honesty in relation to the devastating effect on her son, when all was uncovered about who she was (about which he had no idea) after she died.

Merchant of Venice: (2004) my personal rating ***:
This film is trying to set this famous story its true historical and natural setting. Excellent performance by Al Pacino, as Shylock.  One would have thought that setting the play in real Venice would bring out hidden richness, but it failed to convince me that Shakespeare ever visited Venice. Belmont, Portia’s home is some island on the lagoon. Where? As a result of this film, I shall never try to imagine the scenes in the play in Venice, again.  The stage is best for this great play, which examines grace, as opposed to law.

Diana: (2013) my personal rating ***: Another film about an misleading and incomplete perception by the public of a famous person. Naomi Watts who also starred in “The Impossible” (above) covered in blood is completely unrecognisable in this biopic as the world’s best known princess. I found myself irritated by the cheap-looking blonde wig that Watts wears. This is the story that friends put forward after Diana died, about Dr Hasnat Khan’s determination to carry on with his medical vocation (which he continues in England, today) in spite of his love affair with Diana and her (possible) desire to marry him and live with him in Pakistan. It brings out what these two had in common i.e. a strong feeling for the suffering, his healing abilities and her admirable campaigning against landmines. It gives quite another viewpoint on the story that Al Fayad promoted.

The Way: (2010) my personal rating ***: More of a travelogue than a narrative for a film, about a truculent American father (Martin Sheen) fulfilling his deceased son’s dream of getting to Santiago di Compostella, after the son dies on “Il Camino” (800km walk east to west across northern Spain) after exposure on his first night.  I will never do this walk, so worth watching for the scenery and for its sense of the community that can emerge among walkers on a long, somewhat pastoral walk, interrupted by nights in uncomfortable-looking hostels.  My opinion based on this film is “Never attempt this walk - it is too long and strenuous but a shorter trek with others staying in B&Bs might be fun”.

Divergent: (2014) my personal rating ***: A science fiction film about a futuristic society in Chicago surrounded by a mile high electric fence which cannot tolerate people who do not fit into five clear categories or think for themselves. One never finds out what the wire fence is holding out. There might have been a deeper examination of the theme of divergence in our politically-correct age.

The Awakening: (2011) my personal rating*: Ghost story in boy’s public school which I found too slow to watch.  Horror is not my first choice of film.

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