REVIEW: Schindler’s List

Schindler's ListHow I reached the age I am now without ever seeing the whole of this film has long been a mystery. However, for National Holocaust Memorial Day they screened it at my local cinema so I gritted my teeth, packed my hankies, and went along. Not to have taken the trouble to go would have felt like ignoring one of the worst atrocities of recent history.

It’s just as good as everyone has always told me. Harrowing, but excellent. Though, unexpectedly, less harrowing than ‘The Pianist’–it actually brings the full horror of the Holocaust home in a way that’s a little easier to handle.

The famous use of black & white vs. colour is indeed highly effective, and the scene where the train is misrouted redefines ‘edge of the seat moment’. Particularly satisfying is the character arch of the main character, with the real character growth he experiences throughout, which gives the film added depth and makes it very satisfying as a film, as well as a fictionalisation of real events.

Incredibly moving, especially the final few scenes, but not one I could watch regularly because it’s just too intense. However, essential viewing for absolutely anyone old enough to handle it.

Get it HERE.

Contains all sorts of violence, murders, horrible situations, and some nudity. Mature viewers only.

REVIEW: Flight

Whip is an alcoholic, and a drug user. He’s also, heaven help us, an airline pilot, and a very good one. When things go wrong at 30,000 feet, over a densely populated area, he performs an exceptional manoeuvre and keeps the plane aloft long enough to crash land into an empty field. He’s a hero. But as the investigation digs deeper, it threatens to uncover the truth: that Whip was both drunk, and high, (medically as well as literally) at the time of the crash. With six fatalities, if they can prove that his condition, not structural failure, caused the crash, he will go to prison for the rest of his life.

Firstly, I should note that this should not be a 15, but an 18. The first ten minutes contain considerable—and wholly unnecessary—female full frontal nudity. The film as a whole contains several scenes of detailed drug use. Viewers will therefore need to exercise their discretion as to whether they watch it or not.

It’s a slightly frustrating film because the overall plot structure and message are very good. The ending is somewhat unexpected, and both positive and uplifting—which comes as something of a surprise at the end of a film which is in all other ways like watching a slow motion human train crash. (Or perhaps I should say plane crash.) But the ending redeems much about the film, not least—if you’re paying attention—the previous anti-Christian attitude. There’s a bit of a Paradise Lost thing going on with this film. For most of the film, you’re looking through Whip’s eyes, and the eyes of people like Whip—just as at the beginning of Paradise Lost, you’re seeing everything from Satan’s perspective. At the end of the film, Whip is finally seeing clearly—just as, once Paradise Lost ‘pans out’, we see from the heavenly perspective.

However, there are some serious flaws. For one thing, you have to be watching quite closely to pick up on the shift at the end, so there’s a serious possibility of coming away from the film with only the irreligious attitudes having registered. Secondly, despite the overall positive message about the fight against addiction, some of the drug use scenes—and one in particular—present drug use in such a ‘cool’ way that the film shoots its own foot off, metaphorically. Thirdly, the early nudity in particular, and detailed shots of drug use just aren’t necessary for the story or the point the film is trying to tell/make, and mar the overall effect quite badly.

So, is it worth watching? The plane crash itself is exceptionally gripping and well done. But, if I had realised how bad some of the issues were, I might not have exposed myself to the film. I watched it to the end on the grounds that it’s sometimes good to see other people’s realities—both the reality of drug users and alcoholics, which is depicted so graphically in the film, and the reality of the filmmakers, who think that such detail is acceptable to screen. BUT, I don’t think it’s necessary to ‘see other people’s realities’ in this way very often. At all. So if you’re due your once in a blue moon dose of grounding gritty graphicness, do ahead and watch it. Otherwise, you’d probably be best to give it a miss.

Shame. With better editing, it could have been a very strong morality/conversion tale.

CONTAINS: Nudity, premarital sex, drug use, some gore, intense scenes.

REVIEW: God’s Not Dead

God's_Not_DeadRelease Date: 2014

Director: Harold Cronk

Genre: Christian, drama, apologetics

Starring:   Kevin SorboShane HarperDavid A. R. White and Dean Cain

Well, I enjoyed this a lot more than I expected to. I’d read a decidedly mediocre review of the film when it came out, so wasn’t hoping for much. One thing the review had right was that this is not, regardless of what the filmmakers may or may not have intended, a film that is likely to convert many non-Christians. Certainly it’s unlikely to have much impact on committed Atheists. Instead, it’s wholesome feed for faithful Christians.

It’s not that such arguments for the existence of God as are included are bad. It’s more the rest of the set-up. All the Christian characters (with the exception of a girlfriend whom it’s never made clear is actually Christian) are extremely nice, brave and good. All the non-Christians are in various degrees of dire straits, in terms of both their lives and their characters. The main atheist ‘bad guy’ is really quite unpleasant. Christian viewers, able to identify thoroughly with the ‘good’ characters, will enjoy it. But the characters offered up for non-Christians to identify with just aren’t appealing, and will act as a turn-off.

As you may have gathered from my previous paragraph, subtlety is not the film’s strong point. Although the film does a reasonable job of displaying the various gut-wrenching predicaments of life which are hard enough to get through with God, and even harder without him, everything is presented in nice, clear extremes. It’s all ever so nice and clear, in fact, enjoyable to watch if you’re already convinced of the film’s central message (which is that ‘God’s not Dead’, in case you were in any doubt) but probably rather off-putting—and liable to provoke a dismissive stance—in anyone who isn’t.

One of things I enjoyed was the way the lives of all the various characters interlink and intersect. It showcases the way God works through a web of subtle influence (okay, not so very subtle in this film, but anyway) to bring about good from evil. But non-Christian viewers in particular may be frustrated by the fact that virtually every non-Christian character has had some kind of conversion by the end. That’s just so in-credible, I can hear them moaning.

I can see why they might feel that way, though the argument doesn’t entirely hold up. After all, filmmakers tell stories about the people something actually happens to. A film about someone nothing happened to would be extremely dull. A faith-based film is therefore going to follow the people something faith-related actually happened to, not the several thousand characters seen moving around in the background, to whom, presumably, nothing happened. But to really satisfy a non-faith audience, the film should probably have left a bit more irresolution with regard to some of the non-Christian characters, rather than giving in to the temptation to wrap up the ending ever so pristinely, with scarcely a messy loose end in sight.

The film clearly takes the Evangelical stance—which may well seem extreme to Catholics and more moderate Protestants—that if you haven’t absolutely 100% explicitly acknowledged Jesus as Lord and Saviour, you’re going straight to hell, but the attitude is not obtrusive enough to seriously mar viewing enjoyment. I think I was supposed to have heard of/recognise some of those famous Evangelical figures & pop groups who made cameos, but I’m afraid it was lost on me!

One thing that struck me was right at the end. After the end credits, the film states that it was inspired by and based on all the cases where individuals and college groups have had to go to court to defend their right to their beliefs. And then there’s a list. And it’s a long list. Quite sobering.

Overall: I did enjoy this film much more than I expected, and may well watch it again, however, I think even I, as a committed Christian, would have much preferred it—and enjoyed it more—if characters and events had been more balanced, and less ‘cardboard’.

Sex/Violence/Profanity: None at all, that I can recall.

REVIEW: Wind River (2017)

Wind RiverUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 8th September 2017

Running Time: 107 mins

Director: Taylor Sheridan

Genre: Thriller, drama, crime

Starring: Jeremy Renner, Elizabeth Olsen, Kelsey Asbille, Apesanahkwat, Graham Greene

Finally, another film review! Sorry it’s been so long. Just a quick one:

Haunting and beautifully filmed, I thought Wind River was just a fairly normal (albeit very good and unusually interesting) sort of crime thriller until this pre-credit information flashed up on screen at the end: ‘The US keeps records of missing women for all groups—except Native Americans. No one knows how many Native American women are missing.’ Coming after the film I had just watched, that struck hard. For this reason alone, I hope people will see the film.

From a non-social justice point of view, it’s also well worth watching. Although there are a few caveats. Firstly, it’s not for sensitive viewers. Despite what I’ve just said, there is one scene during which a group of supposedly respectable men act like a pack of animals that I could happily delete from my memory, if such a thing were only possible.

Secondly, though riveting and far from predictable, the film ultimately left this Christian viewer feeling like something was missing. As it was. Without meaning to give too much away, certain events, although feeling more like rigid ‘an eye for an eye’ justice than revenge, were completely lacking in any notion of forgiveness or redemption, or even the possibility of such. As for the need for such? That gets no look in at all.

Overall: A powerful indictment of the lack of interest in the fate of Native American women, and a gripping crime thriller, well worth watching both by those wishing to broaden their awareness of this issue and by those simply wanting a cracking good film. But it is flawed in crucial ways that leave this Christian viewer unlikely to be buying it for her shelf.


Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc: Premarital sex/sexual activity implied. Rape (on screen). Considerable violence, with both gunfights and fistfights, with injury detail. Plenty of profanity.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?



REVIEW: Hacksaw Ridge (2017)

hacksaw_ridge_posterUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 26th January 2017

Running Time: 139 minutes

Director: Mel Gibson

Genre:  War, Action, Biography, Period

Starring: Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn

SYNOPSIS: Mel Gibson directs Andrew Garfield in the visceral true story of a war hero who didn’t fire a single shot. Scarred by childhood experiences with his alcoholic WWI veteran father (Hugo Weaving), devout Seventh Day Adventist Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) resolves never to touch a gun. This proves something of a challenge when he enlists in the army to fight in WWII. As a conscientious objector, Desmond insists on his right to serve as a medic. But he’s bullied by his unsympathetic comrades, who consider him to be a coward.

His greatest test comes during the notoriously bloody Battle of Okinawa. Returning to the director’s chair for the first time in a decade, Mel Gibson celebrates a very different kind of hero in this intense, blood-soaked true-life tale of faith, courage and patriotism. Andrew Garfield is on outstanding form as the pacifist whose single-handed acts of bravery saved 75 lives.

(Synopsis from Cineworld.)


So, this is the second of a pair of linked film reviews, the first being a review of ‘Amish Grace’. I’d suggest you read it first it you haven’t already.

So, the second review, about ‘Hacksaw Ridge’. I thought this was a superb film. An inspiring story of a pacifist staying true to his conscience and religious convictions, and an unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war, handled in such a way that the courage and sacrifice of the soldiers who do fight and kill is never denigrated. The latter on its own is quite an impressive film-making achievement.

The film could be said to take place in three acts. Act one, formative moments from childhood, leading into a satisfying and wholesome romance, as Doss courts Dorothy (who slaps him for kissing her without asking her permission first!).

Act two is a boot camp adventure cum courtroom drama, as Doss resists the army’s attempts to break him and force him to carry a weapon. It is refreshing to see a Hollywood film in which there is no apology for, or concealment of, the character’s Christian faith, and this is so all the way through the film.

Act three is a war film. A bloody, brutally honest war film, but like none I’ve ever seen, since it revolves around a hero who never fires a single shot or takes a single life. Interestingly, Mel Gibson actually left out at least two significant heroic actions on Doss’s part, feeling that the audience simply wouldn’t be able to credit it, and would assume he was making it up. (To read what these incidents were, scroll down to below the trailer, but they include SPOILERS.)

So, how come I’ve just recommended ‘Amish Grace’ for its extreme discretion in depicting violence, but am now praising ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ (because ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is a very graphic film, and will certainly not be for all viewers, even among the adults).

Well, I watched ‘Amish Grace’ just the weekend before ‘Hacksaw Ridge’, and as I mentioned in the review, I was bowled away by how well they managed to handle such a horrible crime without showing one shred of violence on screen. Then I watched ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ and came out thinking what a superb film it was, partly because of its utter refusal to hide, glamorise, romanticise, or in any other way conceal the full horror of war. Needless to say, the contradiction struck me. Which approach is correct? Graphic violence, or nongraphic violence, that is the question…

Of course, the answer is that neither approach is ‘correct’; it depends entirely on how it is done, and why. (And indeed, what is being shown. It’s hard to conceive how anyone can benefit from watching ten little girls shot, for any reason.) Such a lot of films featuring graphic violence are simply violence-porn. There’s no reason for the gore other than to titillate and provide pleasure to the (surely perverse) viewers. Or the other category of ‘bad’ graphic films, into which Brad Pitt’s recent film ‘Fury’, a thoroughly unpleasant work in so many ways, surely falls, where the violence seems deliberately gratuitous, with absolutely no goal other than to push the boundaries and shock the viewer.

But sometimes—and perhaps especially with war films—there is a good reason for showing a lot of graphic violence: simply in order to show the pure unvarnished truth. So many war films glamorise combat, romanticise it, conceal the full horror of the battlefield. Sometimes it’s good to have a film that shines the light of truth on war, and the truth is graphic, and horrific. Throughout the film, it always feels as though this is what ‘Hacksaw Ridge’ is seeking to do. The battle scenes aren’t pleasant to watch, but if they strip away people’s illusions about war, they’re serving a good purpose.

My one criticism would be that I felt some of them went on a trifle longer than was strictly necessary, but on the other hand, if you’re in a battle it probably feels like forever, so you could say there is realism in having a bit of length to them!

According to Desmond Doss Jr. (Doss’s only child): “The reason he [Doss] declined [to have his story filmed] is that none of them [those seeking to film it] adhered to his one requirement: that it be accurate. And I find it remarkable, the level of accuracy in adhering to the principal of the story in this movie.” And it does seem, as films go, to be a very accurate one, although the filmmakers have made a few small alterations in the early section, sometimes to heighten tension and drama, and other times to streamline and more simply convey background.

For example, Doss’s convictions about killing stemmed from a combination of a childhood fascination with Cain and Abel and the commandment ‘Though Shalt Not Kill’, and a violent confrontation involving his father, uncle, mother and a gun. All these influences are portrayed in the film, but in ways slightly altered from reality. However, the only significant change to the key battle scenes seems to be the leaving out some of the heroism! Which is a shame, but reading the IMDB discussion boards, Mel Gibson’s fear was clearly well justified!

Overall: A great film that satisfies on many levels. One for the shelf.

Sex/Violence/Profanity: Brief honeymoon scene, not very graphic. CONSIDERABLE graphic war violence. Sensitive viewers strongly cautioned. Considerable crude language.

Heroism Mel Gibson left out [SPOILERS]:

1) In reality, the cargo nets weren’t already fixed to the cliff when Doss’s battalion arrived. Doss was one of three volunteers who scaled the cliffs to fix the nets in place under the guns of the Japanese defenders.

2) After being wounded by the grenade at the end (17 pieces of shrapnel stuck in him) Doss treated himself, then waited for 5 hours before soldiers could get to him to evacuate him. As they headed for safety he saw a badly wounded man. He insisted they stop so he could try to patch him up, then gave up his place on the stretcher to the other man. Whilst waiting for the return of the stretcher, a sniper shot him, shattering his arm. So he fashioned himself a splint out of a discarded rifle stock and crawled 300 yards to safety, under enemy fire.

3) And lastly, not specifically heroism on Doss’s part, but fascinating all the same: a Japanese soldier had Doss in his sights, but every time he went to fire, his rifle jammed!

Information from The article goes into greater detail about the changes made by the filmmakers.

REVIEW: Amish Grace (2010)

amish_grace_posterUK Rating: None

Release Date: 28th March 2010

Running Time: 88 minutes

Director: Gregg Champion

Genre:  Biography, Drama

Starring: Kimberly Williams-Paisley, Tammy Blanchard, Matt Letscher

SYNOPSIS: A grieving Amish mother struggles to forgive the woman whose husband killed her daughter and four other schoolchildren in this movie inspired by the true-life events that unfolded in a Nickel Mines schoolhouse on October 2, 2006.

This is the first of a pair of linked reviews about ‘Amish Grace’ and ‘Hacksaw Ridge’. If you happen to know of both of the films, you’ll think it an odd pairing indeed, but read on!

First, in this review, ‘Amish Grace’. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting that much from this film. I feared it would either be appallingly sentimental and/or unbearable to watch because of the central tragedy that occurs. I was very favourably surprised.

There is plenty of hugging and praying (as one can well imagine) but it doesn’t tip over into cloying sentimentalism. But I was particularly impressed by the way they handled the shooting itself, which I was dreading. It is portrayed with extraordinary discretion and sensitivity. There is no Hollywood-style blow-by-blow recreation of the events inside the school. In fact, once the killer has entered the schoolhouse, the camera never goes inside again. There is no blood. There is nothing graphic at all. Everything is shown entirely through the reactions of those outside, the 991 call, the frightened—then grief-stricken—parents. It is very well done, and extremely moving, but totally non-graphic. Considering that the only real fictional aspect of this film is the insertion of an invented family as the main characters, this can only be a good thing.

This film is a compelling look at the consequences—and difficulties—of forgiveness and of not-forgiving. My main criticism would be that the main Amish character, the bereaved mother, Ida, reacts too consistently in the way a non-Amish person would be likely to react. This is somewhat ‘explained away’ in the film by the fact that her sister has left the faith and is living in the modern world, and that she has been coming somewhat under her influence.

But it’s clear enough that Ida’s attitude really has a more practical explanation: the film makers felt it necessary for her to react in such a way in order for the (exclusively non-Amish) viewers to identify with her plight and thus be invested in her spiritual and emotional journey. So although the inaccuracy chafes slightly, it’s a justifiable inaccuracy. After all, even many Christians may find the Amish’s ability to react so instantly to the tragedy with such forgiveness awe-inspiring—and perhaps even hard to comprehend.

Overall: A surprisingly uplifting story about an outstanding real life example of grace, forgiveness, and the authentic living out of the Christian faith, suitable for all but the youngest and/or most sensitive of viewers. One for the shelf.

This has not been classified for UK release and can be bought on Amazon. In terms of on-screen violence, this could be a U. However, due to the subject matter, obviously it would really classify as a PG (or higher depending on your children’s sensitivity).

Sex/Violence/Profanity: Pretty much none of any of the three. Subject matter deals with a vicious shooting attack that caused the deaths of five girls and injured five others.

REVIEW: Silence

silence_2016_filmUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 1st January 2017

Running Time: 161 minutes

Director: Martin Scorsese

Genre:  Period

Starring:  Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Liam Neeson

(This review contains Spoilers)

Scorsese’s ‘Silence’ is a ‘Marmite movie’. You love it or you hate it. Tim Hanley, writing for the Catholic Herald, describes it as, “the most profound piece of Catholic art produced in recent years”, whilst Monica Miller in Crisis magazine considers that although, “This movie seriously examines Christian themes and ideas” it is not in fact a Christian film. I would have to agree with the latter statement. ‘Silence’ is that most dangerous of things, a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

It is not the main character’s apostasy itself that is so problematic. None of us know if we would stand or fall. This beautifully filmed and acted piece could easily have been a sensitive portrayal of human weakness. But it’s not. Rodrigues isn’t shown as apostatising from simple weakness, unable to bear the emotional torment or to withstand the voice of the devil (so loud and clear through the coaxing authorities). Instead, he hears—or thinks he hears—the voice of Jesus telling him that apostasy is okay. Clearly Our Lord forgot to mention that in the Bible.

Rodrigues lives out his life spiritually dead, only, the film hints, it’s all okay really, because deep, deep down, he still believes—even though he obediently writes books ‘disproving’ the Christian faith. Even though he never again gives even the tiniest public sign of his faith. Even though he apostatises over and over again. Even though he appears to refuse absolution to someone begging on their knees. This is all okay, because he’s doing it to save the lives of the Japanese believers. Their lives, note. He—and the film—seem to have forgotten the existence of souls.

So what is the final message of ‘Silence’? That staying alive and avoiding suffering are far more important than keeping the faith. That the importance of our mortal life here far outweighs that of our eternal destiny.

This film is poison. Beautiful, well-acted, compelling… and spiritual cyanide.

Overall: I suggest you avoid. With a barge pole. Preferably a blessed one.

Sex/Violence/Nudity: No sexual content. Scenes of torture and execution, quite graphic. No graphic nudity.

MINI REVIEW: A United Kingdom (2016)


a-united-kingdomUK Rating: 12A

Release Date: 25th November 2016

Running Time: 111 minutes

Director: Amma Asante

Genre:  Biography, Drama, Romance, Period

Starring: David Oyelowo, Rosamund Pike, Jack Davenport, Tom Felton, Laura Carmichael, Terry Pheto, Jessica Oyelowo

Synopsis: Prince Seretse Khama of Botswana causes an international stir when he marries a white woman from London in the late 1940s.

A well-made, well-acted and satisfying tale of love across a racial divide and in the face of strong political opposition. Some events in it reminded me of ‘The Lady’ though with a happier conclusion. It never quite takes flight in quite the way Amma Asanti’s previous film, ‘Belle,’ does, but it never drags either and is very well worth watching. I was deeply shocked by what Winston Churchill does in the film, though. 😦

Sex/Violence/Profanity: Marital sex only, non-graphic. Moderate violence (a fistfight, primarily). Racist language.

REVIEW: Rogue One (2016)

 rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterUK Rating: 12A

Release Date: 15th December 2016

Running Time: 134 minutes

Director: Gareth Edwards

Genre:  Sci-fi, Action

Starring: Felicity Jones, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alan Tudyk, Ben Mendelsohn

So, I was quite sceptical about this when I first heard about it. For one thing, the posters and trailers brought the expression, ‘Star Wars does The Hunger Games,’ inescapably to mind. But I was still excited to see it.

I was very favourably surprised. Last Christmas, I enjoyed watching ‘The Force Awakens’ in the cinema with my family, but I couldn’t honestly say I thought it was a terribly good film. In fact, I have to admit that one year on, I can’t remember most of it, which is never a good sign. ‘Rogue One’ is very much the better film, in my opinion. In fact, Rogue One is a pretty good film.

Although it has over eight stars on IMDB (so most people agree with me) some people do seem to be hating it. They seem to be divided into three groups:

  • People who hate it because the heroine is… well, a heroine, not a hero.
  • People who hate the fact that there aren’t any American white male protagonists in the film. Which I have to say I totally failed to notice whilst watching. I mean, why does it matter?
  • People who hate the ending.

Now, the third category have a more valid point. I don’t agree, but I can understand why some people may not like it. I really can’t specify what it is about the ending without giving a total spoiler, so I’ll just say I found it refreshing, and realistic, and felt it fits with and flows very well into the next (chronological) film, ‘A New Hope’ (the very first film to be made).

There is also a moment of absolutely wonderful poetic justice at the end, in the way in which the main villain receives his come-uppance. Obviously, I’d rather he’d repented, but all the same… 🙂

The film has a large and diverse cast of characters, including a blind man who is some kind of former Jedi/monk. The Force stuff takes on somewhat Buddhist overtones in this film, sadly, but it’s not particularly overt. There is a lot of fighting, but it’s bloodless.

However, the male protagonist, Cassian, commits a terrible crime in the very first scene in which we see him. This was important when it came to my reaction to the ending but I think it was actually potentially easy to miss, or to misunderstand what happened. So if you’re thinking, ‘Who shot the guy?’ yes, I’m afraid it was Cassian. And that’s shocking. Why will be clear if you see the film. There’s a tendency in films—and life—nowadays, to think that in a good cause, evil actions are okay. It’s a grave ethical error and the proliferation of this idea is deeply harmful to our society. Fortunately, in this film, although the fact that it is not morally permissible to commit an evil action even to attain a good result is not made as explicit as it should be, overall there is at least an emphasis on redemption, which carries the implicit message that what has been done is wrong, no matter what it was done for.

I would hesitate to say there is a full-out ‘romance’ in the film, but there is a very satisfying thread of refreshingly pure romantic feeling which is nice to see.

On a more technical note, the benefits of CGI are very visible in this film. First film made in the 70s, want to have the same character but, uh-oh, the actor’s now dead? No problem. Just CGI the character in. If I hadn’t known it couldn’t be the actor in question, I might not even have noticed! (I’ll leave the ethical discussion of this to someone else!) Anyway, Princess Leia even makes a brief appearance right at the close—and the audience clapped as the film ended. Because of Leia, or because they just really liked the film? Not sure, but it was charming!

Overall: I think this may well be one for my shelf.

Sex/Violence/Profanity: No sexual content. Lots of bloodless violence. No profanities. Probably not for younger children, though.