When Marnie Was There – Think Theology

I wrote about the latest film from Studio Ghibli from a Christian perspective, for Think Theology.

When Marnie Was There - Review image

When Marnie Was there is an adaptation of a British children’s novel from the ‘60s and lands towards the gently fantastical side of their canon. For fans, watching it comes with the bittersweet sensation of knowing that this is the last film you will see by such a consistently brilliant studio. The studio has wrapped up production for the foreseeable future and one of the last great bastions of hand-drawn animation has fallen. For those previously unaware of the film-makers, this could be the perfect introduction to their work. Whether you are a novice or a merch-wearing devotee, it’s a stunning piece of storytelling that proves the studio never lost its power, even at the very end.

Glasgow Film Theatre Programme Notes

I’ve been writing some of the programme notes for Glasgow Film Theatre, including this essay on Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship.

“For almost as long as cinema has been around, people have been adapting Jane Austen novels for film and TV. There have been the big hits – think Colin Firth in a wet shirt or Alan Rickman’s soulful portrayal of Colonel Brandon. Then, there have been the more obscure retellings, films such as From Prada to Nada, a Latina version of Sense and Sensibility. Laurence Olivier even starred in an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, although arguably that hasn’t really entered the Austen canon for devotees of the author. Then there are spin-offs, reimaginings and films about the lady herself such as Becoming Jane, Lost in Austen, The Jane Austen Book Club. Culture has become saturated with all things Jane. As a result, her razor-sharp writing and incisive cultural commentary – the reason she has attracted so many fans – becomes somewhat lost or sanitised.”

Miguel Gomes Interview

One of my recent posts for VODzilla was an interview with Miguel Gomes, director of the Arabian Nights trilogy.

Interview: Miguel Gomes talks Arabian Nights

What was the inspiration behind adapting a Middle Eastern set of stories to comment on modern day Portugal?

Well, it was the idea that I should show things about what was happening in my country, the social and economic crises. But I also like to tell stories, not only show things but also tell stories. For me, Arabian Nights is like the Bible of storytelling. So, it’s a very particular kind of storytelling. Arabian Nights is pretty wild and what was happening in Portuguese society was also very extreme. The real stories that people were living, the situations they were facing, were also very extreme. And so both things came together and I thought I would need the help of Queen Scheherazade to help me to tell the stories about my country.

VODzilla

Recently I’ve been writing more for VODzilla, an online magazine dedicated to all things you can stream online. Click below for TV recaps of Shadowhunters, reviews of some terrible Christmas films and a column dedicated to Netflix’s notorious kid’s films. In the meantime, here is a section of my review of Aloha.

The critical hammering and box office disappearance of Cameron Crowe’s latest film in the US meant that Aloha never made it to UK cinemas. In the UK, it’s now furtively appearing on streaming services for fans of Bradley Cooper or Emma Stone.

The US critics were right about this one: Aloha is a dud of such tonal awkwardness that Stone’s infamous ethnically mixed character is the least of the film’s problems. The story, as such, is about Cooper’s pilot, Brian Gilcrest, who worked for NASA before returning to a sleepy post on Hawaii. While there, he reconnects with his old flame, played by Rachel McAdams, and sparks fly with his fellow officer, Allison Ng (Stone). Gilcrest’s job is to try and persuade Hawaii’s indigenous population to let them send a rocket into space, or something. Bill Murray potters in and out spouting something about the future and Danny McBride substitutes moving his hands around a lot for a real character.

Youth Programme Notes – Glasgow Film Theatre

I wrote about the symbolism of the hotel in Paolo Sorrentino’s Youth, for Glasgow Film Theatre.

Not unlike the recent surreal comedy The Lobster, Youthtakes place in a hotel where life moves at its own rhythms. Here, communication is stilted, patrons watch others with keen interest and this one luxury resort in the mountains becomes a microcosm of life itself. Or, at least, life for the world’s supposed geniuses. An aging, celebrated composer (played with wit and delicacy by Michael Caine), a disillusioned actor (Paul Dano), a fading director (Harvey Keitel) and an eclectic selection of the rich and famous (including Diego Maradona) all linger in this mountainside retreat, wandering in and out of each others’ lives.

As far as the narrative of the film goes, this is, to all intents and purposes simply a hotel. People come and go as they please, with regular trips into the nearby town to buy medication for their aging bodies. The simplest explanation of this film is that the hotel is merely an escape for the world’s richest people in a beautiful part of the Europe, and everyone acts a little oddly while they are there. This would placeYouth firmly in the realm of a comic drama, mining the intergenerational interaction for the meat of the story. To an extent, that’s exactly what Youth is, and it does this marvellously. However, dig a little deeper and it seems as though this hotel may be more than that, as elements of fantasy gently worm their way into the otherwise real-world story.

A War Programme Notes

I wrote about the changing attitudes to war in cinema for Glasgow Film Theatre’s screenings of A War, by Tobias Lindholm.

Cinema is often a mirror to cultural preoccupations; cinema about war doubly so.

After World War I, the big screen was an outlet for a collective horror at the worst conflict on a global scale the planet had ever seen. Films like La Grande Illusion, A Farewell to Armsand All Quiet on the Western Front looked at this evil wrought upon the world and showed the human impact in heart-wrenching detail. However, after World War II the tone of war cinema shifted with more films acting as a celebration of heroism and an honouring of the people who fought. John Wayne made a conscious pro-war effort, appearing as a noble patriot fighting for his country in lively films with titles like The Green Berets and Flying Tigers. Anti-war films made it into cinemas, too, in the shape of Gregory Peck in Pork Chop Hill and David Lean’s phenomenal Bridge on the River Kwai. In both kinds of film, the audience response to the war was dictated by the tone of the film.

This tone turned to anger in the aftermath of the Vietnam war, when a disillusioned generation had to wrestle with the concept of a ‘just’ war; nobody disagreed that America should have been in World War II, but Vietnam was a disaster. Platoon seethed with anger at the corruption of innocence and the violence rent upon a nation, while Apocalypse Now, one of the finest war films ever made, turned the jungle into a psychological hellscape where people disappeared into madness. Full Metal Jacket, The Deer Hunter and even MASH lampooned American involvement in a messy, brutal war.

Best Films of 2015

I wrote a fairly theology-free summary of the year in cinema for Think Theology. 

The best performance I saw this year was Saoirse Ronan in Brooklyn, a film that sets itself up as a melodrama – love triangles and long-distance relationships form crucial plot points – but undercuts it with a subtlety that makes every development seem very real and credible. Ronan is mesmerising in the central role and the camera knows it, lingering on her face as she conveys a wealth of emotions using only the smallest gestures. The rest of the ensemble is equally strong, and it is rare film that manages to be funny, sad and romantic in equal measure without any one of the elements undermining the other.

I was also moved by the study of Martin Luther King in Selma, a film anchored by David Oyelowo’s phenomenal central performance, and Italian beekeeping drama The Wonders. This one is perhaps a little more niche, but fans of slower paced dramas, Victor Erice’s films and coming-of-age tales will undoubtedly fall for its hazy, sun-baked charms. Finally, little-seen World War I drama Testament of Youth has lingered long in my memory since I first saw it in February. It’s a war film that never shows a single shot fired, instead depicting the aftermath with heart wrenching detail. It’s a film that captures the monumental loss wreaked upon Europe in the Great War with subtlety and grace.