FILM 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.

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BOOK REVIEW: Jennifer the Damned

Jennifer the DamnedAuthor: Karen Ullo

Publisher: Wiseblood Books

Publication Date: 31st October

This is a really difficult review to write. I finished the book several days ago and I’m still not quite sure what to say about it. It was a book I really wanted to like, for two reasons. Firstly, the author gave me the ebook in return for an honest review, and she seems nice so obviously I wanted to be able to be positive about it. Secondly, I have several sets of notes for ‘Vampire Redemption’ type novels waiting to perhaps one day make it to the top of the list and be written, so I was excited to read something similar—Ullo described the book as a ‘Catholic Vampire Novel’.

Unfortunately I just plain did not like it. Okay, so it’s possible in a vampire novel that some innocent people will die—because the pesky bloodsuckers can’t always control themselves, especially at first. That’s often what a ‘redemption’ type novel is about, after all: the vampire finding some way to control his/herself/be redeemed/reach heaven. Though to be honest, I always much prefer the ones where the vampire manages not to kill anyone. But no such luck in JENNIFER THE DAMNED. People begin to be killed quite soon and they go on being killed for practically the whole book. On the first couple of occasions it is clear that the young vampire truly cannot help it—but by the third murder it is wholly premeditated. Even worse, the descriptions of the murders would be more appropriate as descriptions of the mystical union of a saint with God. I understand that what Ullo is really trying to show is the awesomeness of the immortal soul and the human being’s heavenly potential, but it’s still very unpleasant to read a murder written in such terms.

Murder after murder takes place, each a bit worse than the last, until just after half way through, the protagonist commits a murder that is so horrible, so not ‘necessary’, so wholly committed simply because she was jealous and she felt like it, that there is no doubt whatsoever that if I hadn’t promised a review I would have put the book aside and never opened it again. As it was, I had actually resolved to do so and to review just the first half when I decided, no, I really did have to finish the thing, it wasn’t fair otherwise. So I read on. And shortly afterwards the protagonist commits another, double act of pure evil! But I made it to the end.

You’ll be glad to hear, there is some redemption eventually, and redemption that doesn’t shrink from just punishment (though it’s all left a bit vague exactly what will transpire), but it was too little too late as far as I’m concerned. It didn’t make it worth ploughing through the rest. The first half was blighted by the horribly described murders; the second half dragged a bit, partly because I didn’t find the love interest a wholly appealing or convincing character.

There was also a moment in the climax when I thought blood was coming from a crucifix, miracle-style, and once I’d finished I thought back and wondered if, and then became fairly sure that, it was supposed to be the protagonist’s blood. A relatively small point, but the wrong time to have any confusion.

A large part of what made it so unappealing to me was the lack of any true remorse. Yes, Jennifer is often sorry about what she’s done, and yes, she is supposed to be conflicted about things, but for most of the book, even after the very first killing, she never once resolves not to do it again (not even while knowing that she’s unlikely to manage to hold to it). Genuine sorrow for one’s sin requires a firm purpose of amendment, i.e. the resolution not only not to do it again, but to try to avoid things that will lead us to do it. I’m sure we’ve all made such a resolution knowing we’re likely to fail to keep it, but we’ve still made it because we want to keep to it. Not Jennifer. She just wrings her hands briefly and starts planning her next kill.

In a way, this problem, along with the vicious killings in the middle of the book, really move the genre of the book from redemption of a vampire (who really can’t help it or at least not very easily) to bog standard redemption of a serial killer (who chooses to kill). I’m not a fan of serial killer books, so that’s probably why I disliked this so much. I don’t for a moment dispute that a serial killer can repent and be forgiven, nor that it may be a long time coming. In fact I absolutely love books or films with a bad character who is redeemed (hence why I had such high hopes for this). But something about this totally failed to do it for me. I just don’t like to read all about crimes in detail. It’s not necessary. The writer can convey plenty about what they did in ways that move us without making us endure murders in loving detail, let alone murders described as raptures.

So although the redemption at the end is quite satisfying, I’m afraid my overall reaction was overwhelmingly negative. But that’s only my opinion, so if you’ve got a higher tolerance for serial killer stuff, do give it a try, don’t let me put you off. According to Ullo, Wiseblood is a Catholic publisher, although it doesn’t state this explicitly on the website. So maybe other people will read this and explain to me that there were deep meanings and amazing metaphors all the way through that I totally missed. In all seriousness, I do feel like there actually is quite a lot there and that if I read it again I might be able to write about the themes and the meanings of this and that in the book. But seeing that I finished reading it only under the deepest compulsion to give it a fair review, a second read just isn’t going to happen. 😦

To be quite honest I could go on and say quite a bit more, but this is too long already! But for the more squeamish, I should mention that the disposal of a couple of the bodies is described in quite considerable detail.

The Blurb:

When a sixteen-year-old orphan vampire adopted by an order of nuns matures into her immortal, blood-sucking glory, all hell literally breaks loose.  Yet with every rapturous taste of blood, Jennifer Carshaw cannot help but long for something even more exquisite: the capacity to experience true love.  As she struggles to balance her murderous secret life with homework, cross-country practice, and her first boyfriend, Jennifer delves into the terrifying questions surrounding her inhuman existence, driven by the unexpectedly human need to understand why she is doomed to a life she never chose.

Bridging the gap between the literary tradition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the modern teen vampire romance made popular by the Twilight series, Jennifer the Damned reexamines the legendary monster as a conflicted and complex being.  Jennifer is at once the quintessential vampire, embodying an unholy union of life and death; yet she is also a sympathetic young woman full of spiritual anxieties, gifted with a limitless sense of ironic humor, and possessed of a beautifully persistent hope in the love she yearns for.