Friday, 26 September 2014

God/Christianity In Film Project

So since I've finished watching all the Best Picture winners, I've been trying to think of a new project to start. I've tossed a few things around, none of which really stuck, but this one did. If you didn't know already, I'm a Christian. I love God, and try to love and serve him in all areas of my life. One interesting aspect of my life has been film. And sometimes I've struggled as to where God fits into that passion and how I can use it. So I've decided to watch various films that depict God and/or Christianity, and discuss them. I'm trying not to limit my list to just Christian made films, though they will be somewhat the bulk of it.

I have watched some of the films of this tentative list, and have even reviewed some of them. However, it'll be less of a review and more a discussion of the content. With each film, I'll focus on talking about how God is depicted and whether I feel this is reflective of the true God. I'll comment on societies comments on God and how they seem to view both Him and the people who serve him. Media has had an interesting relationship with God, so I thought I would specifically focus my mind on how He is treated and whether I feel this is an accurate or an unfair depiction.

My list has not been officially finalized. However, all mentioned on the list I will be watching. Feel free to comment and suggest films that aren't included on my list, or any thoughts you have about my reviews.

Official List of Films (updated 10/19/14)
  • Bruce Almighty
  • Saved
  • Noah
  • The Ten Commandments
  • The Last Temptation Of Christ
  • Fireproof
  • Life of Pi
  • The Tree of Life
  • The Robe
  • The Passion Of the Christ

I'm excited about this project. I love film and it will be interesting to do a study on the focus of God and the Christian religion in film and how the world views it. Some of these films are "Christian made" while others are "secular" films. Some of straight Bible stories, while others deal with Christianity and God in today's world. I'd love to get feedback on this list, and feedback once the project has started. As well, I'll also be posting my email address at the end of each review. If you have any questions, or want to discuss further, feel free to leave comments or send me an email! I definitely don't know 100% of everything there is to know about God or the Bible, but I thought I would use something else I'm passionate about (film) to broaden my views and to learn more about what I believe and how others view it.  

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

The Amazing Spider-Man 2

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, 2014
Directed by Marc Webb

I'm just going to put it out there that I very much enjoyed the first Amazing Spider-man movie. I thought Andrew Garfield was pitch-perfect casting (even though I think he can (and should) do a lot better than a superhero film) and I kind of love Emma Stone as well, so it went over pretty well with me. The love story and the story of Peter finding himself as Spider-Man is what worked the best (it almost felt like the villain was an after-thought, to an extent). However, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seemed to just throw everything that worked about the first film out the window.

The second film starts off with a huge car chase. In the midst of saving the day, he saves the life of a random civilian. He's an employee of OsCorp and his name is Max. After arriving late to graduation, he decides (again) to break up with Gwen, later that evening. He's still haunted by her father who made him swear to stay away from her. Meanwhile, old best friend Harry Osbourne arrives back in town. His father died shortly after he came back and he is now President of OsCorp. He finds out he's dying, and, after looking into what OsCorp has done with all it's research, he realizes Spider-Man is the single human trial of radioactive spiders and that he can self-heal. He begs Peter to bring Spider-Man to him, since he thinks Peter knows him (because Peter has been "photographing" him). Meanwhile, Max, our saved civilian from the beginning is obsessed with Spider-Man but soon has his own accident. Being electrocuted and then falling into a tank of electric eels, he becomes a being of electricity. Things get covered up, and whatever, but everyone just becomes bad guys and they all hate Spider-Man or whatever.

This movie was just not good. Like I mentioned, everything that worked well in the first film seemed to just not be included here. The opening fight scene (both of them) were riddled with ridiculousness, corny lines and stupid resolutions. As well, Peter and Gwen are too on-again, off-again to really connect, so there was basically no chemistry between them. Peter just couldn't make up his mind, which was also frustrating. However, the sarcasm and jabs Peter uses while fighting as Spider-Man make a lot more sense this time around. Last movie, he seemed a little insecure as Peter to be that confident as Spider-Man, but this time around it came off perfectly, and it brought something fun to the fight scenes.

As other people have mentioned, the appearance of Harry is incredibly random, and the film has so much other stuff going on that essentially no relationship is built between them to make it believable that they were best friends when they were younger, or that they're even friends now. Though I will say that the casting of Dane DeHaan was about one of the only good things this film did. DeHaan just always pulls off the bad boy so well, and this part was really great for him. Too bad the movie didn't give him enough time to develop or for us to really care about him at all.

All in all, this film had too much going on to really be anything. This film left me feeling blah and it really didn't go anything good or original. Even the score I found to be uninteresting and cliche. The Spider-Man theme was a little too "hero-y", and while I did enjoy the more electronic (almost dubstep) feel to the music when Electro came on screen, it was still an obvious choice. The visual effects were also very sub par and were definitely over-animated (especially Spider-Man swinging around the city. It's very obvious that Andrew Garfield is not actually in that suit). And so many of the lines were just plain corny, just so they can get their point across.

Everything felt like it was done half-heartedly, and everyone was just kind of sleepwalking through it. Everyone involved has a lot of potential as individual people, but I felt no one really brought their A-game here (from director to writers to score to actors) so the movie just suffered. I felt if they had limited the storyline to just involving Harry, this would've been a much better film. Cut out Electro entirely, and do what the first movie did and have Peter build a relationship with Harry, only to have it come crashing down. Had this been fleshed out and made into the main storyline (and the only villain), I feel like this would've actually been a really good film. The relationship building and fleshing out was what made the first film good, and it was what would've made this film really good. But sadly, the opportunity was missed.

I just wanted to keep this brief. Overall, the movie was one I felt like I've seen before, many times over. It was filled with things over superhero movies have done before it, and have mostly done better (with the exception of Spider-Man 3). It did manage to do a few things right (casting Dane DeHaan, the fun use of the Spider-Man theme song, and Spidey's wit and jokes) but it just wasn't enough to make the movie that worthwhile. It will suffice, I think, for fanboys/girls, but as a casual viewer, it just wasn't worth it. (And seriously, Andrew Garfield, please stop doing Spider-Man movies because you are fantastic and could be do way more amazing movies and please just do some other movies, I beg of you)


Tuesday, 9 September 2014

TIFF Review: The Theory Of Everything

The Theory Of Everything, 2014
Directed by James Marsh

I've been wanting to go to TIFF for a few years now. Living just outside Toronto, it's not a big deal to get down there to see a movie. However, this is finally my first year! And while I was only able to see this one film, I was very pleased that this was my choice.

Stephen Hawking is working on his PhD at Cambridge University in 1963. At a party, he meets arts student, Jane Wild. They talk all night and, at the end, she gives him her phone number and they begin to fall in love. Stephen is passionate about his work in cosmology. He's naturally gifted and, while often disorganized, is completely brilliant. He has a new theory, something that would change the way we look at the universe and starts to work on it for his PhD thesis. However, he takes a bad fall while running through the university courtyard and knocks himself out. Upon waking up in the hospital, he is told he has Motor Neuron Disease, and the timeline is about 2 years left to live before his body deteriorates. At least, almost everything except his mind. Encouraged by the fact his mind will stay in tact, but terrified of everything else, Stephen pushes everyone out, only to find Jane pushing her way back in, agreeing to be with him for whatever time they have left, and for encouraging him to keep study and working. And while his condition does get worse and worse, we all know he surpassed the 2 year timeline.

Both Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones completely soar in the roles of Stephen and Jane, and are destined to be regarded as two of the year’s best. Redmayne perfects the progress and deterioration of Stephen throughout the years. The change is gradual, and Redmayne never brings it too quickly. He captures the little things incredibly well; the crooked hands, the inward turned feet, the lolling head and difficult speech. Credit must be given, not only to Eddie Redmayne, but to the director and screenwriter for the first 30 minutes of the film. Not yet diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease, Stephen is brilliant, somewhat disorganized and has great dry wit. We get to know him, his personality, and his love for Jane. After he is diagnosed and his situation becomes worse, they never let Stephen become just his disease. This is so important to the rest of the film. We never lose who Stephen is and what his personality is. Redmayne is able to let this still shine through all the other layers of disability that he is portraying, and the ability to keep Stephen’s personality throughout is what makes the film as powerful as it is.  Redmayne could not have been a better choice for the role (and not just because he looks so much like a young Stephen Hawking) but because he gives it his all. He has an exceptional shot at scoring his first Oscar Nomination.  

As well, Felicity Jones brings a masterful performances as Jane. As the emotional backbone of the film, she may seem delicate, but Jones gives her strength and complexity that you initially wouldn’t have guessed when looking at Jane. Jones gives a brilliant performance as the brave woman who stood behind her husband, dressing him, feeding him, looking after their children and working on her own PhD. She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders, and Jones brings a weariness that we understand, and are still able to sympathize with. It’s a performance that absolutely can’t be ignored.

As you can imagine, the marriage between Jane and Stephen is not an easy one. Jane is a Christian who firmly believes in God, whereas Stephen feels mixing in a Creator to science throws off any calculations and they find themselves asking whether religion and science can be mixed. But not only that, it’s about their ultimate happiness as individuals. Stephen loves his work, but is constantly trying to overcome his phsycal limits. Jane, too, is seeking happiness, and is unsure where that is found. When she becomes close with the choir director from church who helps with her and Stephen, she must make choices. Not only were Felicity Jones and Eddie Redmayne cast so well individually, their innate chemistry is what brings their relationship truly to life, both in the happy parts and the difficult ones.

The performances are not the only stand out of the film. The cinematography by Benoit Delhomme is absolutely stunning. Everything from the classrooms of Cambridge, Stephen and Jane’s home, the landscape of Bordeaux or the inside of a theatre is captured in such brilliant vivacity and colour. Everything is made beautiful and brilliant. As well, the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson is beautiful and really captures Stephen and Jane and everything about their life. There is preciseness in it that reflects with the science themes. It is completely atmospheric and was a joy to listen to.

However, the film as a whole did not completely reach the potential it could’ve. It only seldom stooped to inserting saccharine lines and moments, but it never really inserted truly original or daring ones either. It is fairly standard for a biopic and doesn't do much out of the ordinary. While slightly formulaic, and definitely reminiscent of A Beautiful Mind, the film still does please and comes into its own. It still touches on all the hard subjects that I wasn’t sure the film would, but it softened the blows and while no one is painted perfect, the treatment is not as negative as it could've been. It treads lightly through the difficult portions, but the fact that they are there is still a bonus, and gives the film more of an authentic feel. As well, there were many heartbreaking moments, and I know I definitely welled up and almost full out cried in a couple scenes, but never felt like that was being forced on me. While there are definitely emotional and sad scenes, they are never forced or strung with music for a 'lets make the audience cry now' moment, which makes the connection with those scenes much stronger.

The film is not a perfect one, though it has enough things it does well to make it a worthwhile watch and one that is a definite crowd pleaser. It’s a film that is ultimately inspirational and uplifting. And while much of the complicated science and theories of Stephen are not really explained or included, it always ties back to where Stephen is, who he and Jane are, and what they believe. This movie, while formulaic, has a lot of heart and charm, and has a lot of technicals that are done exceptionally well, that it just might be the crowd-please, feel-good of the year. 

This is definitely a movie to keep an eye out for this Awards Season. As mentioned, Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones are forces to contend with. While no one is ever guaranteed nominations at this point, I’d say they are very safe bets at this point. As well, don’t rule out a cinematography, Original Score or Hair and Makeup nominations. While a nomination for Best Picture is less likely, it’s enough of a crowd please and ticks enough Academy boxes (Period Piece, Biopic, Someone Overcoming Disabilities, etc) that it could sneak in.


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The F Word

The F Word
Directed by Michael Dowse

Romantic comedies have been going down a different sort of path in recent years. Maybe it's because 'everything has been done before' or because people are tired of unrealistic situations and beautiful people falling in love. Whatever it is, our romantic comedies have become more quirky and less conventional. In this sense, The F Word succeeds.

On paper, Daniel Radcliffe seems an odd choice as a romantic lead. He's more defined as cute or adorable as opposed to Sexiest Man Alive. He's not that tall and is known to most of the world as Harry Potter and is still trying to prove his career outside of it. However, Radcliffe plays Wallace to a tee. A med school drop out and seems to be wandering aimlessly, especially when it comes to his relationships. He's living in the attic of his sister and her sons attic in Toronto. He meets Chantry, a cute and funny girl, at a party, while arranging worded fridge magnets into odd and depressing poems. He quickly falls for her charm and wit.

On the other hand, the role of Chantry seemed to be right up Zoe Kazan's alley. While not the typical leading lady look, this is not unlike the casting of hipster Zooey Deschanel in (500) Days of Summer, there is a point to this quirky, atypical beauty. As Chantry, she is quick-witted and quirky, but but her adorableness is what draws Wallace in. Too bad she's in a serious relationship. However, she's tired of guys not wanting to be friends with girls in relationships (it makes her feel like the only interesting thing about her is how she looks with her clothes off). She proposes friendship to Wallace, and, though Wallace is disappointed she's taken, he accepts defeat and they agree to be friends.

The plot, from here, is quite predictable. Wallace and Chantry become best friends. They have lunches together, go shopping together and email and call each other. And Chantry's boyfriend is even a pretty good guy. He works for the UN while she's an illustrator. They live together and seem very happy. However, Wallace's friend definitely ship him with Chantry, whereas Chantry's friends are asking why she's never introduced him to her single friends.

Not only were Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan great casting as separate entities, the reason the movie works as well as it does is because of the immaculate chemistry between Radcliffe and Kazan. It was so realistic and organic. Both Radcliffe and Kazan are naturally funny people, and they really bring that across together, while on screen. It felt like I was truly watching best friends up on screen. The laughter and the jokes felt natural and so much of the conversation felt real, and almost improv. They meshed so well, and I can see exactly why the casting directors made the choices they did. They have some of the best chemistry I've seen in a full-out romantic comedy in a while.

As well, the supporting characters are also well cast. Adam Driver as Wallace's best friend and as Chantry's cousin Allan is another unexpected casting, but again, works out incredibly. I remember feeling almost awkward just seeing the immense height different between Radcliffe and Driver in the trailer, but they have another interestingly, quirky bond that leaves that behind. Rafe Spall as Ben was another interesting choice. While it didn't seem work as well as Radcliffe, Kazan or Driver, Spall was much more calm and much less quirky. He seemed much older than Chantry and seemed a little out of place amongst everyone else. (Perhaps this is on purpose, I haven't decided). These 4 are the main players, though we do have an array of smaller, fun parts (including Allan's wonky girlfriend, Wallace's sister and her son, and Chantry's sister).

The movie, while much smarter than the average romantic comedy, does often pull cliche scenes and utter oft-used lines. We have Allan giving Wallace bad advice on how to deal with the Chantry situation, Chantry's sister is much different and much more sex driven (and tries it out on Wallace), and Wallace and Chantry too, find themselves in situations we've seen very similar versions of in other films (one standout being the dress-shopping scene). However, every so often it proves it's slightly above the average and responds to these cliche instances in different ways. I won't spoil anything for you, but Allan and Nicole pull a prank on Wallace and Chantry that is meant to push Wallace and Chantry together. It's not unlike those romcoms where the pair show up at a hotel and 'oops- we only have 1 bed, sorry!' and forces the pair to share, awkwardly. However, this time Chantry and Wallace respond with anger at their friends, and feel betrayed. It's not a cute moment, and you feel awkward with the characters.

To say The F Word is in any way ground-breaking would be utterly untrue. Most romantic comedies like smart people now, with smart language. And this movie is no different. Even the ending you can gather right from the beginning. But this film works because the characters are believable. To me, they never felt like unreal people. As well, it's always nice to see Toronto playing Toronto. It gives a different feel from your typical New York or LA film. To me, it had the right atmosphere and has enough artsy and hip locations that it makes sense with it's characters. While predictable, the film works and is definitely one I'd like to revisit several times.