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.

45 Years Programme Notes

I wrote about 45 Years as a kind of horror film for Glasgow Film Theatre’s programme notes.

‘I always hoped that it would feel like some kind of strange existential horror movie except in a mundane, ordinary setting.’ Andrew Haigh’s description of his film might not be what you were expecting from a drama about a middle-aged couple going through some marital difficulties, yet as the week of their life progresses with escalating tension, it’s easy to see where he’s coming from – 45 Years might just be the most unexpected horror film of the year. The terror, here, is made up of figurative, not literal, ghosts. Trust and contentment are slowly worn away as a couple are haunted by memories and, most poignantly, regret.

Steve Jobs Review

I wrote about the new drama for my Think Theology column.

Sorkin’s film, directed by Danny Boyle, is a league ahead of most biopics. Where many try to plod through the events of a man’s life, this condenses conflicts with fellow Apple staff-members, the progress of technology over 14 years and Jobs’ role as a father into three acts, each set before a product launch. The idea that all of the people who have serious issues with Jobs would turn up at the same time before the next leap in technology is announced is, evidently, a fanciful one. This, however, is a drama, not a documentary, andSteve Jobs is theatrical and grandstanding without ever claiming to tell the whole story. We learn everything we need to without actually having to see many of the events play out, and the result is something far leaner and with a much greater dramatic impact than many a biopic.

‘Captive’ and the Christian Film Industry

I wrote about the Christian film industry for theology site ThinkTheology.

No non-Christian is going to see one of these films and think ‘hey, I should follow Jesus now.’ They will watch them and either laugh, or nod off. I’m yet to see a ‘Christian film’ that isn’t creatively bankrupt. I was provoked to think more about the relationship between God and suffering – the kind of honest discourse that you see in Job and Ecclesiastes – from a film like A Serious Man. I engaged more with doubt, faith and the place of the church in Calvary. I thought more about God as our creator in The Tree of Life and Noah. These films aren’t made as ‘Christian’ films, although some of the directors may have faith. They are made by directors who want to make good films with interesting themes.

Down the Rabbit Hole

My animation column at Product Magazine continues. This one was about Disney’s live action updates. Disney’s live action update of Cinderella has recently been released on home entertainment, the latest film in a long line from the House of Mouse where they update their animated classics to live action versions. A lot of people forget […]

I reviewed David Mitchell’s new novel, Slade House, for fun.

Slade House // David Mitchell // Review | Smithellania

Mitchell’s signature style – weaving multiple narratives into one arc – is at its most coherent here, each section recognisably building on the last. The author’s trick in Slade House, however, is to seemingly repeat the same plot beats each time, only with different characters. He creates rules within his worlds, everything has to follow these patterns he creates. Such rules are, as per usual, drip-fed to the reader, so what starts as obscure and alienating soon emerges into clarity – think of how The Bone Clocks didn’t make total sense until the penultimate section. As Slade House is a horror novella, the more you find out, the more horrifying the world and its rules become. The reader ends up in the same position as the characters, trapped in the vicious cycles of Slade House, desperately seeking some kind of escape.