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.

BOOK REVIEW: The Mermaid and the Unicorn

31377411Author: Elizabeth Amy Hayek

Publisher: Geek Haus Press

Publication Date: 7th August, 2016

Oh dear, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted a film review! Sorry about that, I must try to write one soon.

Today, though, it’s another book review. This book is written by someone I know, but I bought a copy myself and wouldn’t be bothering to review it if I didn’t think it was good! So here goes:

This is a lovely, gentle read, in the best sense. But exciting too! It starts off at a steady pace and builds up to a thrilling climax with some very precious things at stake, through which another problem is very satisfyingly resolved.

The existence of the magical beings is smoothly reconciled with Christianity in a credible and inoffensive way and I liked the role played by the rich Christian symbolism of the Middle Ages.

I was particularly impressed by the subtle skill with which certain characters were depicted (with the exception of one small wobble). Also, although there were reasonably large groups of similar characters – a group of college girls, a group of nuns, etc.—by and large I was able to keep track of who was who, so this was handled well (I’m terrible at keeping track of large numbers of characters, so most readers probably won’t have the slightest problem at all).

The ending for the main character was, on a personal level, extremely satisfying, although unusual. The author mentions in the afterword that she considered changing this, but I’m very glad she stuck with it, seeing the whole book was working up to it, especially in terms of the MC’s character growth.

Fans of Regina Doman’s ‘Fairytale Novels’ will love this, or indeed, anyone wanting something gentler to read after my ‘I Am Margaret’ series! And the good news: there is not one, but two more books in this series already in the pipeline! Enjoy!

SOMEDAY Out Now!

Adobe Photoshop PDFOh yes, and my new novella is out! SOMEDAY (A prequel to the YESTERDAY & TOMORROW series) launched on Friday and is available now in paperback and ebook. US edition available from Chesterton Press or from Amazon.

A retelling of the kidnapping of the Nigerian Schoolgirls… with a twist.

“IF YOU WANT TO DIE, SIT DOWN HERE. 
WE WILL KILL YOU. 
IF YOU DON’T WANT TO DIE, YOU WILL ENTER THE TRUCK.”

Ruth and Gemma have a Physics exam in the morning. 
Becky and Alleluia are revising for their A Levels. 
So it’s an absolute nightmare to be woken by the fire alarm in dead of the night. 
But for them, and for 272 other girls from Chisbrook Hall girls boarding school, the real nightmare is just beginning. 
Because ‘al-Qabda’ are taking them all away. 
Whether they want to go or not.

 
All proceeds go the charity ‘Aid to the Church in Need’.

 “The kidnapping of the Nigerian girls should never be
written off merely as an unpleasant historical event,
about which we can no longer do anything …
This book leaves you wanting to know more, wanting
the girls to be rescued, wanting a happy ending.
Alas, real life is different.”
The Right Honourable ANN WIDDECOMBE, DSG

 

“I hope that SOMEDAY will help people living
in a different culture, in a security most Christians, and indeed
Muslims, in north-eastern Nigeria can scarcely imagine,
to better understand what people are suffering here.”
IGNATIUS A. KAIGAMA, Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria.

 

“SOMEDAY is an important novella that highlights the largely
unsung heroism of persecuted Christians, and should
make those of us in ‘safe’ countries consider:
are we ready to count the cost?”
REGINA DOMAN, author of THE FAIRYTALE NOVELS

RISEN: Out Now in the UK

This is not actually a review since I haven’t seen RISEN yet, but I wanted to make people in the UK aware that this new film about the Resurrection is coming out tomorrow. It looks quite promising, as far as one can judge from a trailer!

It is only showing once a day at my local cinema which means it will probably only be on for one single week–so everyone who wants to see it needs to go at once!

The US have loads of Christian films but most of them never come out here due to lack of market, so it would be great if everyone supported this one. Hopefully it would encourage future releases.

Fun fact: The cast met Pope Francis during a General Audience at the Vatican.

More information below. Do share this to your friends.

Risen

  • Release date: 18/03/2016
  • Rating: 12A
  • Running time: 107 mins

Synopsis: Peter Firth stars as Pontius Pilate in this unofficial follow-up to The Passion of the Christ.


In 33AD, Christ has already resurrected from his death on the crucifix. Now, in order to quell an imminent uprising, a member of the Roman army, Clavius, is charged by Roman prefect Pontius Pilate to locate the missing body of Jesus. It is Pilate’s job to not only locate the corpse of Christ but to arrest those disciples who snatched his body. The mission becomes a learning experience for Pilate as his discovers who Jesus really was… Kevin Reynolds (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Waterworld) returns to the director’s chair after an absence of ten years with this unique take on the Greatest Story Ever Told.

Spooks star Peter Firth takes on the role of Pontius Pilate, with Tom Felton (Harry Potter) as Lucius and Joseph Fiennes as Clavius.

REVIEW: The Revenant (2016)

The_Revenant_2015_film_posterUK Rating: 15

Release Date: 15th January 2016

Running Time: 156 minutes

Director: Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Genre: Thriller, drama, action

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy

 

So this one was a big disappointment, I’m afraid. Of the most frustrating kind: the ‘could have been so good’ kind. When I first saw the trailer I thought it looked so utterly miserable I had no intention to see it, but I kept hearing good reviews and always the reviews seemed to hint that actually there was redemption at the end, rather than it being about straight up revenge, the way the trailer suggested. Well, I’m a sucker for a redemption plotline, and so is my friend, so we decided to give it a chance.

Most of the film is excellent, with a great soundtrack. It’s a gritty survival tale with great performances. Probably a little too graphic for some people’s taste, but realistic rather than gratuitous in its portrayal of wounds and violence. It is also a hugely more realistic portrayal of the ‘wild west’ than most westerns. There was a time when the Native Americans were always the villains in westerns, now for a long time, they’ve almost always been portrayed as the good guys, or at least the oppressed. Which is fair enough and an improvement on the former representation, but still rather incomplete. ‘Revenant’ tells it much more true to life. Some Native American tribes are peaceful, others are busy slaughtering every other tribe or white person they can lay their hands on. Some of the white people are peaceful, some are quite happy to kill a Native American simply for being a Native American. It all makes for grim viewing, but it’s definitely more accurate than most westerns.

The film falls apart at the end, at least for the Christian viewer who’s been promised redemption. (I can’t completely avoid spoilers, so stop reading if you definitely plan to see it, regardless of what I say.)

There is, at the end, a tiny shred of redemption. But it’s just that. A tiny, feeble shred. In practical terms, it comes too late to make any difference whatsoever to the physical outcome. It’s probably fractionally better for one character’s soul than the alternative, but just barely. It’s a huge damp squib, and makes one feel like reporting the film to the Office of Fair Trading for false advertising (that’s a joke, but you get the idea!).

If this isn’t bad enough, the very, very final moments are hugely unsatisfactory as an ending. My friend and I both felt while watching the film (despite what the trailer implied) that we were really watching a film about the strength of the human spirit, and the human will to survive. It felt more like this was driving the main character than the need for revenge. This is perhaps a failure on the film’s part, though I’d be interested to know how it came across other people. At the close of the film, however, it takes great delight in making it abundantly clear that despite what it felt like throughout, the protagonist’s struggle really was just about revenge, not about the triumph of the human spirit. And so it ends. I can’t be more specific without huge spoilers.

There is also an ambiguity raised during the final encounter between the two main characters relating to a pivotal moment earlier in the film, and the lack of clarity one is left with is an additional annoying niggle.

Overall: So close: but no cigar. It could have been a great film, but the ending ruins it, ironically, beyond all redemption.

 

Sex/Violence/Profanity/etc: A sexual assault followed by an implied castration. Brief nudity. Frequent strong violence. Violence realistic rather than gratuitous, but graphic at times. Some disturbing images. Frequent rough, crude and profane language.

Have you seen this film? What did you think?

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.