DARKMATTERS - The Mind of Matt

You met me at a very strange time in my life...

Monday, August 06, 2018

Ant Matt meets The Wasp (review)


Ant-Man and the Wasp (12a)

Dir. Peyton Reed

Reviewed by Matt (@Cleric20) Adcock

“Nothing can prepare you for what's coming.”

They say it’s not the size that matters but this sequel is a medium sized follow up that brings some light-hearted super fun in the wake of the epic Infinity War. Don’t come here for ‘what happens next to the Avengers’ though as the events occur at about the same time as the huge battle against Thanos (although that is never actually acknowledged unless you stay for the after the credit scene).

The big addition here is the Wasp (Evangeline “The Hurt Locker’ Lilly) who steals the show as the newest mini super-hero on the block. The Wasp packs an upgraded suit with wings and blasters – at one point Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) asks the suit creator Dr Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) ‘So I take it you didn't have that tech available for me?’ to which he gets the reply ‘No, I did’…

"perfect partners"

Director Peyton Reed aims to keep the comedy knockabout feel from the first film and this is helped through Scott's efforts to avoid breaking his house arrest FBI curfew imposed on him after the events of Civil War. Alas, the writing whilst funny does miss even the remnants of Edgar Wright’s input to the first film and although amusing there is little that feels iconic.

Everything bounces along in fine style though packing in a new threat from a quantum shifting / walk-through-walls ‘ghost’ (Hannah ‘Ready Player One’ John-Kamen) which adds a fun dynamic to some of the fight scenes.

"new threats"

The main plot thread sees Hank’s desperate mission to attempt to save his wife from the trippy quantum realm. This is handled well as it’s pretty ‘out there’ kind of stuff for a mainstream Marvel action-comedy.

The set pieces mostly involve the size changing Ant-Man not having full control of his experimental new suit and they are often played for laughs. Watching Scott grow and shrink at the most inopportune times is comedy gold. One stand out scene sees him stuck at dwarf sized whilst attempting to steal something from his daughters’ school.

'mini teamwork'

Paul Rudd is so likeable that he helps carry the feel-good factor of the film and he’s helped by the return of bumbling thief-turned businessman Luis (Michael Peña) who has a blast – especially in a funny ‘truth serum’ scene.

Overall Ant-Man and the Wasp is a perfect throwaway fun summer superhero romp which will make you smile and engage you with its medium-sized action….

Out of a potential 5 you have to go with a Darkmatters:

ööö1/2

(3.5 - Fun super action for all sizes)

Awesomeness öööö – Some great action set pieces

Laughs öööö – Lots of funnies

Horror öö –  Nothing too grim but some violence

Spiritual Enlightenment öö - Teamwork FTW


Friday, August 03, 2018

Matt commits an Apostasy review


Apostasy (PG)

Dir. Daniel Kokotajlo

Reviewed by Matt (@Cleric20) Adcock

“Throw your burden on Jehovah and he will sustain you.”


All along the Watchtower – the faithful gather in Kingdom Halls striving to do the will of their maker. In this hard-hitting drama from ex-Jehovah’s Witness Daniel Kokotailo lifts the lid on what happens when real life situations fall outside those prescribed as ‘acceptable’ by their religion.

"Acceptable R n R"

Does an almighty God really want to see people struggle and be ‘disfellowshipped — the Jehovah’s Witness’ equivalent of excommunication - for not adhering to what seems to be arbitrary small print of not attending meetings or a point of disagreement with the leadership? What if a family member makes poor life decisions? Should they be cut off and treated like a stranger? How does a devout mother deal with being forbidden from supporting her wayward offspring?

If you don’t know much about Jehovah’s Witnesses this film gives an insiders insight – they don’t celebrate birthdays, also off the menu are Easter or Christmas which they view as ‘pagan’, oh and feminism is frowned upon as it is almost entirely controlled by male elders. There are currently some 8 million JWs worldwide with close to 130,000 in the UK and they are convinced that the world as we know it will end in ‘this generation’.

"Powerful emotions"

Director Kokotailo in an interview with The Guardian talked about some of the unrest that follows when a prophecy gives a date they believe Armageddon will occur doesn’t pan out - there was a big one in 1975 when people were so convinced that they sold their houses. He said ‘When we joined, they’d removed it [deleted it from the record] so we had no idea it had even happened.’

Apostasy is a fascinating study in dogmatic belief and the fallout it can bring when the teachings start to bear little consideration for the needs and lives of those who follow the faith or those they live alongside. The plot focuses on working mother Ivanna (Siobhan ‘Downton Abbey’ Finneran) who is a firm Witness, she faithfully attends the meetings at her local Kingdom Hall along with her daughters Luisa (Sacha Parkinson) and Alex (Molly Wright).

"We're sorry - you didn't get the job this time"

Things begin to get strained when older daughter Luisa, starts questioning the strict rules about choosing meetings over her college lectures, hanging out with non-Witness – and not being keen to do her duty standing offering Watchtower magazines to strangers on the street.

Younger daughter Alex is much more on message, enthusiastically evangelising her friends, learning Urdu to help reach out to the local non-English speaking community and willingly entertaining the notion of being paired off with an older and deeply uncool JW elder when he takes a shine to her. And this despite having had a blood transfusion at birth for her anaemia which is a ‘sin’ to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

"Inside the Kingdom Hall"

The family drama plotline is framed against talk of how Armageddon is imminent, and that things might be difficult not but soon all will be well when the ‘New System’ comes heralding a heaven on earth for those who have secured their place through works. At one point a big deal is made of how the meetings must be attended and duties fulfilled because ‘God’s love is conditional and must be earnt’…

It comes to a head when Luisa gets serious about a boy outside the faith and ending up pregnant. This leads to a brutal disfellowshipping where she is no longer allowed to mix with the JWs or have anything other than minimal contact with her family.

With Ivanna in a painful position – the rules dictate she can have only minimal contact with her distraught daughter – it’s a compelling build up to a ‘will she / won’t she’ do the right thing by her daughter climax…

"Heavy tensions"

The film is really well made with exceptionally real and raw performances from the three female leads. And whilst it is glumly shot and feels at points like a real-life documentary it also employs haunting and unnerving cinematic shots at the same time.

The writers might expose a lot of what appears to be negative about the JWs but Apostasy takes care to be somewhat balanced and doesn’t mock Jehovah's Witness beliefs. Rather it leaves the viewer to make up their own mind about the faith.

The powerful underlying message, however, is that any form of fundamentalism which removes an individual’s free will to care for those deemed ‘lesser’ or ‘sinful’ doesn’t feel much like the service of a loving God.

It seems that the road to hell truly can be paved with good intentions and build collateral damage along the way…

Out of a potential 5 you have to go with a Darkmatters:

öööö

(4 - Powerful and heartbreaking - this needs to be 'witness'ed)

Awesomeness öööö – The inner struggles of a devout person writ large

Laughs öö – Limited mirth at points

Horror ööö –  Quitely harrowing

Spiritual Enlightenment ööö - Is God love?

Friday, July 27, 2018

Matt goes on a Mission Impossible: Fallout



Mission Impossible: Fallout (12a)

Dir. Christopher McQuarrie

Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20)

“The end you've always feared is coming. And the blood will be on your hands. The fallout of all your good intentions…”

Here we go then for the sixth instalment of the Mission Impossible franchise which has banked almost $3billion so far. And the good news is that director McQuarrie (who helmed the last MI film too) smashes it here and delivers possibly the strongest Mission yet.

"easy rider"

Following on from the events of Rogue Nation, we find Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise – who I am strongly starting to suspect is lying about his age because he is just incredible for ‘56’) and his team up to their necks in strife. It seems that a botched mission leaves nuclear materials about to fall into the hands of an evil genius looking to bring suffering to the world. So the fearless IMF agents who include Simon Pegg’s comedy sidekick Benji and Ving Rhames’ Luther must face try to track down and acquire the warhead before millions die.

Along on the mission, at the insistence of the CIA, is agent August Walker (Henry ‘Man of Steel Cavill) – a one-man wrecking machine who oozes threat. Then there is also disavowed MI6 operative Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) who returns with a personal objective that could put her in conflict with Hunt.

"argument over the paper towels in the men's room got a bit out of hand"

From the second the pre-credits action starts this movie grips and thrills in equal measure – the stunts and set pieces are jaw-dropping and the adrenalin rush that it takes you on is liable to leave you exhausted after this 147 mins ride.

Boasting possibly not only one of the best car chases ever but also the best helicopter action sequence and a crunching fight in a men’s bathroom that must push the 12a rating. It’s high praise though the director manages to deliver such high octane and ‘just brutal enough’ thrills without having to resort to graphic violence.

"helicopter hi-jinks"

Everything is machine tooled and slick and refreshingly free of shoddy CGI. The chemistry is enhanced with a richness and intensity that comes from the characterisations, if you’ve been following the film series you’ll already be invested in many of these folks so the jeopardy feels real.

Fallout is the film of the franchise that stands as an almost perfect state-of-the-art espionage masterpiece – out ‘Bond-ing’ James Bond and kicking Bourne into touch.
Action blockbusters really don’t come much better than this!!

"this is going to hurt"

Out of a potential 5 you have to go with a Darkmatters:

ööööö

(5 - High octane Impossible Mission creep that needs to be witnessed!)

Awesomeness ööööö – Off-the-scale-cool action scenes

Laughs ööö – Pegg brings quality fun

Horror öö –  crunching but not overly violence

Spiritual Enlightenment ööö - one life is still worth saving



Darkmatters review of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation




Monday, July 23, 2018

Matt Checks in to Hotel Artemis


Hotel Artemis (15)

Dir. Drew Pearce

Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20)


“Work with what you got, not what you hope for…”

Welcome to the near future and things have got a little bleak. Water has been privatised which means only the well-off can afford drinking water. Cue riots that threaten to encompass the whole of this dystopian Los Angeles as angry, thirsty people air their anger by wrecking everything. Taking advantage of the distraction the riot provides, a four-man crew, led by brothers Waikiki (Sterling K Brow) and Honolulu (Brian Tyree Henry), try to rob a bank.

"first aid kits at the ready"

Things go wrong, and the brothers end up in need of medical attention – luckily there is Hotel Artemis – a secret hospital that exists to patch up bad guys. Run by The Nurse (Jodie Foster who is on incredible form here) backed up by muscle-with-a-heart Everest (Dave Bautista).

So far so mildly interesting but writer/director Drew Pearce (who wrote Iron Man 3) ups the ante by adding a weird and wonderful mix of wounded criminals to the mix. Also in the Artemis is unlikeable arms dealer Acapulco (Charlie Day) and Nice (Sofia Boutella) an unstoppable assassin.

"Nice by name, naughty by nature"

Tensions arise between the guests and it transpires one of them is there with the express intent to break the first rule of the hotel: ‘no killing the other guests’. It all builds up nicely to when owner of the Artemis - who glories in the nickname ‘The Wolf King’ (Jeff Goldblum) requires urgent treatment himself and arrives with a small army of goons.

The ambience of the film is very John Wick and the hotel itself is an incredible place designed by Ramsey Avery who makes the cyberpunk art deco hotel virtually a character in its own right.

"what big eyes you have Wolf King"

Star of this show is two-time Oscar winner Jodie Foster who is the emotional beating heart of the film. Eschewing the action, The Nurse is rather a troubled woman almost crippled by anxiety and guilt – it’s an incredible performance which you might not expect in an action/thriller like this.

When the violence kicks off it is strong and satisfying with one absolutely jaw-dropping scene involving Boutella’s Nice who surely deserves her own spin-off film (or a cameo crossover with a certain Mr Wick perhaps?).

"boo"

Director Pierce delivers a fun and thoughtful thriller/caper that invests in its characters rather than non-stop action and is stronger as a result.

Out of a potential 5, you have to go with a Darkmatters:

öööö

(4 - Heavy duty think-em-up with super stylish visuals)

Awesomeness öööö  – Rocks some iconic scenes

Laughs öö  – Small doses of dark humour

Horror ööö – Gets violent

Spiritual Enlightenment ööö - Honour among thieves? Who's have thought?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Darkmatters Review: Hereditary





Hereditary (15)

Dir. Ari Aster

Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@cleric20)

“You didn't kill her. She isn't gone...”

Kiss goodbye to your nerves, Hereditary is the new horror movie on the block that brings classy and truly unsettling viewing back with a bang. This might only be rated 15 but do not underestimate the sheer evil contained and the mind-bending freakery it unleashed.

"Not a feel good experience"

Refreshingly well-acted – the entire cast are terrific - but Toni Collette absolutely owns this slow burning spook-em-up which rarely resorts to jump scares. First time director Ari Aster ratchets up the tension and paranoia, taking mental illness and mixing it with the paranormal occult world.

This isn’t a film for the faint heart – decapitations, human sacrifice and horrific mutilations are weaved into a grieve laden tale of a dysfunctional family that is being torn apart by forces beyond their control.

By the time the end credits roll it’s likely you won’t even know quite how you actually feel about the film. It’s certainly really well made, the cinematography is gorgeous even when the subject matter is grim. What sets Hereditary apart from the quick jump standard horror efforts is the voodoo like creeping dread that it builds up. The scenery plays a part – in almost every shot there are things half seen, like the woods that surround the family home the shadows look sinister, the dark corners of the rooms hide possible specters. Even the strong gross out moments which are likely to burn into your mind are handled well.


As the plot get more grim, the subtlety starts to slip and so by the end we’re in full on Rosemary’s Baby 2.0 territory. Sure Hereditary references many other horror movies such as The Exorcist, Lake Mungo and The Last Exorcism but it does manage to carve out its own niche.

Everything is machine tooled to unnerve, even the architecture is purposefully ‘wrong’ – which reminded me somewhat of The Shining. There is a haunting score and an effectively upsetting use of sounds such as a once innocent clicking of the tongue.

Circling around troubled mother Annie (Collette) are her family who include long suffering husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne), Eldest son Peter (Alex Wolff), young daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro) and recently deceased grandma Ellen who doesn’t seem to want to rest in peace.


As a Christian I found the occult theology interesting in it’s anti-religious messaging, the plot of Hereditary fully encompasses spiritualism and doesn’t seem interested in providing a force of good to balance the scales.

Hereditary is a remarkable debut horror film from an obviously talented director but it might just be too disturbing for many.

Out of a potential 5, you have to go with a Darkmatters:

öööö

(4 - Stunningly evil masterclass in horrror)

Awesomeness öööö  – Deep set chills

Laughs öö  – A little dark humour

Horror ööööö – Very grim and upsetting

Spiritual Enlightenment NONE - Negatives vibes only

Friday, June 01, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story


Solo: A Star Wars Story (12a)

Dir. Ron Howard

Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20)


“Never tell me the odds…”


I was going to start this review with a pun but I thought about it and just couldn’t bring myself to stoop Solo…

*dust weeds tumble past*


"Inter-species bromance"

So – here it is then, another spin-off prequel from the Star Wars universe. Telling the tale of young Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), years before the scruffy nerf-herder / smuggler helped a young Jedi and the rebellion take on the Empire.

After a troubled gestation, with directors changing and rumours of on-set dissatisfaction – the result is actually a fun heist romp, albeit a lesser ‘Star Wars’ film.

The Disney approved team certainly work hard to tick all the fanboy requirements… Ever wondered why Han shot first in A New Hope? Did he really make the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs? How did he meet his furry pal Chewbacca? All these and more are answered which helps make up for the fact that there’s no real peril due to it not being a spoiler to know that Han doesn’t die in this one!?

"someone call for baddies?"

Star of the film though is the young Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) who is superb in channelling the cheeky swagger that Billy Dee Williams rocked in The Empire Strikes Back. There are some fin new characters on hand too such as Han’s childhood sweetheart, Qi'Ra (Emilia ‘Game of Thrones’ Clarke), shady leader of a thief gang Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) and his crew who include four armed alien Rio (Jon Favreau), and tough gal Val (Thandie Newton).

The big baddies here though are the crime syndicate Crimson Dawn whose boss is Dryden Vos (a nicely creepy turn from Paul Bettany). Along the way there are some exciting heists but very little actual plot so it leaves you feeling a little short changed and wondering why it played it all so safe.


"She'll make mark 2 past lightspeed" 


The special effects are up to scratch which is a bonus, especially cool is Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s L3-37 robot co-pilot who hangs out with Lando. She brings both humour and a fun spin on feminist rights transposed to droids – who she battles to free from oppression.

In the end the Solo should please Star Wars aficionados – and I count myself in that group as I sleep with a model of the Millennium Falcon on my bedside table and called my firstborn son Luke so every night I can say 'LUKE, I AM YOUR FATHER' – but it doesn’t do much for the next ‘main’ entry in the franchise.... so let's see where they go next with the whole spin off thing.

"A new form of girl power"

Overall though about his own film Han himself might be tempted to say: “I have an good feeling about this.”

Out of a potential 5, you have to go with a Darkmatters:

ööö1/2

(3.5 - Star Wars'y fun that ticks the boxes)

Awesomeness öööö  – Gets good in places

Laughs ööö  – Intergalactic mirth

Horror öö – Not too grim

Spiritual Enlightenment ööö - Be careful of who you trust

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Darkmatters Review: Avengers Infinity War



Avengers: Infinity War (12a)

Dir. Anthony Russo, Joe Russo

Reviewed by Matt Adcock

“ Fun isn't something one considers when balancing the universe. But this...
... does put a smile on my face.”                                                                        THANOS

Nothing can fully prepare you for this most epic of superhero showdowns. Over ten years Marvel have brought the Avengers and their allies from their comic books to impressive big screen life. Infinity War though, is the first time pretty much all of them have been together and even throws the Guardians of the Galaxy into the action too.

"I'm bringing the party to you"

We’ve seen the heroic Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk and friends protecting the world before but they’ve never faced a threat as huge as this. You see there’s an unstoppable mad titan named Thanos who is collecting six ‘Infinity Stones’ - artefacts of unimaginable power – with the plan to kill half of all beings in the universe.

Plot wise you don’t need to know much more, except that everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment - the fate of Earth and existence itself has never been more uncertain.

"Avengers and pals assemble"

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is potentially the first all CGI baddie to really have a soul, he’s an incredible creation evoking fear and grudging admiration for his sheer iron will. Our heroes are in disarray after the costly their civil war, so with the Avengers scattered it falls to Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) to convince Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) to join the fight. It is a lot of fun to see the various alpha males bantering with each other – a highlight is watching Star Lord (Chris Pratt) get all defensive when his ship is gate-crashed by Thor (Chris Hemsworth).

As the various groups divide to take on various perilous quests in a bid to try and stop Thanos and his minions – the huge arcing narrative holds together by the scale of the common threat. From the first scene, there are no guarantees as to who will survive – so be prepared to swallow hard as it does get emotional.

"It's war"

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo craft the huge action scenes with a deft touch, each fight has resonance and cost – this is by far the most satisfying super hero film for years. The special effects are simply jaw-dropping (which you’d expect from the massive budget and resources Disney can throw at such a huge project) but this sets the bar very high for anything following.

For once you can believe the hype, Avengers: Infinity War is an epic cinematic event not to be missed!!

"even dastardly baddies do some parenting"


Out of a potential 5, you have to go with a Darkmatters:

ööööö

(5 - Infinite fun and quality next level super action)

Awesomeness ööööö  – The awesome is strong in this one

Laughs öööö  – Lots of quality funnies

Horror öö – Death and destruction but not gratuitous

Spiritual Enlightenment ööö - We don't trade lives

"Thanos Smash"



Saturday, March 24, 2018

Darkmatters Review: Ready Player One


Ready Player One (12a)

Dir. Steven Spielberg

Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20)

“In 2045 there’s nowhere left to go, nowhere, except The Oasis…”

In the year 2045, the real world has become such a harsh place that most of humanity choose to spend their time in a virtual reality called ‘Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation’ or OASIS.

"Wade is online"

Socially awkward teenage Wade Watts (Tye ‘Cyclops from X-Men’ Sheridan) only truly feels alive is when he jacks into the OASIS – where he is known as his avatar ‘Parzival’.

When eccentric tech whizz James Halliday (Mark Rylance), who created the OASIS dies, he leaves a legacy challenge – all his immense fortune and total control of the OASIS will pass to the winner of a three-part video game contest designed to find a truly worthy heir. Cue a battle royale between the gamers of the world and the sinister IOI corporation for control.
"see that A-Team van, and Christine from Steven King?"

Based on the geek-tastic novel by Ernest Cline, Ready Player One see Steven Spielberg set a high score for video game / film crossover movies. It’s a total joy watching such a wealth of references collide in one film. From the moment Parzival jumps into the Back To The Future DeLorean in order to race against Lara Croft driving the A-Team van, Batman in his classic series Batmobile and the enigmatically cool Art3mis (Olivia ‘Bates Motel’ Cooke) riding Kaneda's motorbike from Akria, anyone with even a passing love of films will break into a smile...

There are just too many to list, with blink and you’ll miss them visual ‘Easter Eggs’ in virtually every scene. I loved the extended The Shining sequence from the book too (which might scare / go over the head of younger viewers) as Parzival and his ‘High Five’ crew must battle through the horrors of The Overlook Hotel to win one of the contest levels.

"Gamers unite - and fight!"

I don’t think there have ever been so many 80's pop culture references packed into a movie – from the soundtrack that uses classics like Van Halen’s ‘Jump’ and New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’, through to quoting dialogue from John Hughes films and more… This is a film that demands repeat watching in order to appreciate everything going on.

The nerd-em-up story moves at breakneck speed and the climactic showdown is the stuff of legend, liable to discussed for years to come. The scene stealing star of the film is a superb cameo by the Iron Giant which should make people want to revisit the excellent Brad Bird film from 1999.



With unmatched use of CGI to create something truly incredible, Ready Player One will scorch your endorphin sensors as pop-culture eats itself in a most delicious way. Essential viewing.

Out of a potential 5, you have to go with a Darkmatters:

ööööö

(5 - Reality isn't what it used to be!)

Awesomeness ööööö  – Will potentially blow minds

Laughs öööö  – Some good laughs

Horror ööö –  Liable to scare in places

Spiritual Enlightenment ööö - Who are you online?

Monday, March 19, 2018

Darkmatters Review: Tomb Raider


Tomb Raider (12a)

Dir. Roar Uthaug

Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20)

“If you’re listening to this then I must be dead. I found something, a tomb called the Mother of Death…”

Ready Viewer One for an origin story of how the iconic video games character Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) develops a taste for saving the world. We join her as a fiercely independent young woman who refuses to believe her eccentric adventurer father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) is dead, even though he’s been missing for seven years.

When the Croft company’s Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), persuades Lara to come in and sign her right to her massive inheritance – she is gifted a Japanese puzzle box from her father. And before you can say ‘this might be some kind of clue that will lead to a sub-Indiana Jones adventure tomb raiding’, that’s exactly what transpires.

"driftwood challenge"

Having a series of video games to crib from gives the filmmakers a blueprint to make a stunning, pulse pounding cinematic experience. Alas Director Roar Uthaug makes this new version of this videogame-em-up adventure as safe and by-the-numbers as possible which makes for a strangely dull viewing experience. Vikander looks the part but she’s never fully believable when the ass kicking begins. The plot is horrifically predictable and everyone else in the movie suffers from ‘expendable extra’ syndrome.

Mathias Vogel (Walter Goggins) is the villain of the piece – a megalomaniac mercenary archaeologist - leading an expedition to find the ominous Mother of Death tomb for the sinister Trinity organization.

"rent a baddie"

In the blink of a pixelated eye, Lara embraces her role as killer of bad guys like she’d been doing it all her life, taking down tooled up, highly-trained mercs with a handily found bow n arrows. Nothing can stop this woman on a mission – handily picking up an immediately loyal sidekick Lu Ren ( Daniel Wu) whose boat and services she hires to get her to the deeply generic jungle adventure that awaits.

Everything ticks along in a fairly inoffensive manner – daring escape / mystery reunion / raiding of tomb complete with all manner of deadly traps… It’s hard to put your finger on quite why it all isn’t more exciting but as one film goer I overheard on the way out said: “I think I’d rather had stayed at home and played the game on my PS4” – I think I have to agree.

"hot shot"

Out of a potential 5, you have to go with a Darkmatters:

öö1/2

(2.5 - No high scores here…)

Awesomeness ööö  – Some video game levels work

Laughs öö  – Limited humour (best laugh is after the credits)

Horror ööö –  Some violent deaths n stuff

Spiritual Enlightenment öö - Saving the world shouldn't be dull


Thursday, March 15, 2018

Darkmatters Review: Mary Magdalene (with bonus theological input)


Mary Magdalene (12a)

Dir. Garth Davis

Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20)

“The world will only change as we change. I will not be silent. I will be heard.”

The enduring image of Mary Magdalene has had a tough reputation both in the Church and popular culture – thanks in no small part to Pope Gregory the Great who in the 6th Century proclaimed that she was a prostitute and a sinner. This is despite none of the four gospels saying as much. The name Magdalene is thought to come from the Aramaic word "Magdala" which means "tower" or "elevated” and now, thanks to this new screen adaptation of Christ’s life through her eyes she may finally get some wider redemption.

"Don't mess with the Messiah"

The writing team of Helen Edmundson and Philippa Goslett along with director Garth ‘Lion’ Davis present Mary Magdalene as an intelligent, resourceful woman, misunderstood because she refused to conform to the strict male orders in matters like who she was to be married off to. When she decides to leave her family, and follow Jesus, a huge societal ‘no-no’ at the time, some claim that she is possessed by demons. But in a key personal scene with Jesus (which she gets several of), she questions whether there is something truly amiss within her, telling him that if there is it “must have always been in me”, he simply looks at her and assures that “there are no demons here.”

Rooney ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ Mara brings Mary to life with an intensity and respect that shows her as an intimate witness to many of the biblically recorded events. Jesus (Joaquin ‘You Were Never Really Here’ Phoenix) is presented as thoughtful, just-charismatic-enough and fully human in a restrained performance, a million miles away from the Jesus Christ Superstar persona.

"Baptism ready"

The plot of this Apostle-em-up certainly ticks off many of the well-worn Biblical narrative beats including Christ’s interaction with Lazarus, the money lenders in the temple and his teaching the crowds. Phoenix depicts Jesus as having moments of very human exhaustion after his miracles which shows how his disciples had practical roles in supporting him.

Speaking of disciples there are strong turns from Chiwetel Ejiofor as Peter who often bumps heads with Mary and Tahar Rahim brings a fascinating motivation to his Judas who is painted in a less damning – more misguided light.

Some may baulk at the film’s somewhat sombre tone, find the leisurely pace too slow or the plot overly introspective but this Mary’s tale makes for a thought-provoking experience which is worth soaking up on the big screen.

"The original fishnet look"

Mary Magdalene is a film that empowers its female lead character and at the screening I attended some of the theologians from Kings College were there to explain the authenticity. I got the chance to ask New Testament expert Michelle Fletcher for her thoughts and she explained:

“We know women were disciples, on the road, in crowds, following Jesus. But seldom do we see this. As a New Testament scholar, I spend my time re-inscribing these women and their experiences back into the biblical text. Finally, here is a film that does the same. And refreshingly, this Mary Magdalene is not a post-feminist product for us to consume, but rather a window into another world. She allows us to experience what it would have been like to be a female follower of Jesus in a way that previous bro-fest productions have not. Stunning cinematography and subtle scripting go a long way to facilitate this. Indeed, it is such a visceral production, during which I could almost feel the water on my skin and the damp mist on the ground. And on top of this, it presents a figure who somehow manages to hold in tension the complications of feminist dialogues. That’s a rare thing in cinema, and for a Bible film? Well, it’s definitely something to see, and to celebrate.”

This is certainly Mary’s film and it is her piercing gaze that will stay with you long after the credits roll. I fully enjoyed seeing Mary restored to a position of authority as a key apostle of Jesus and an important element of the early church in her own standing.

Out of a potential 5, you have to go with a Darkmatters:

ööö

(3 - Her story has been re-told …)

Awesomeness ööö  – Biblically interesting stuff

Laughs öö  – Not very fun

Horror öö –  Some grim bits but not too strong

Spiritual Enlightenment öööö - Gnostic thinking can still warm the soul



Alternative View - from Phil Macaulay (LST Theological Student)

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene has been a character of mystery and intrigue throughout the history of the Christian church. One of the group of Jesus’ women followers, she often takes precedent because of John’s Gospel and its beautiful framing of her confused yet touching discovery of Jesus’ Resurrection.

The new film brings her into the forefront of the gospel story, showing her background, perspective and involvement to Jesus’ ministry and passion. The excellence of the film comes early, where the Jewish community of Magdala is given exposure rich in detail and relationships. Within this culture that focuses on faith and family, Mary is throttled by the expectations enforced on her life because of her womanhood. At one point the question is asked what God made her to be, is she limited to the roles of wife and mother? In Mary we see the challenge and persecution that women have suffered because of religious expectation, and the pain of seeking to genuinely seek to follow a God in whose name their identity is limited to utility. The script and direction give great patience and opportunity for the audience to believe Rooney Mara’s abilities, often conveying depth with the slightest of movements and the intensity of her gaze.

However, the portrayal is not happy enough to bring Mary into a place of acceptance and equality amongst Jesus’ followers after his embrace of her faith and personhood. It goes further, with Mary becoming Jesus’ closest confidant, encourager and intended heir. The militant disciples appear cartoonishly foolish and insecure next to Mary’s natural wisdom and self-assurance, growing jealously hostile to the primacy given to her by the Lord. Only she really understands Jesus’ message and role, only she really cares for the feelings of the Messiah, only she displays the inner forgiveness that will become so fundamental to their beliefs. She is the only female follower portrayed to us, and making her character an archetype for all women in this supremacy. Why not bring her into a place of mutual respect with the disciples, why not have her alongside different women following Jesus together with diverse personalities, why feel the next to exalt her at the detriment of every other character?

Which leads to the portrayal of Jesus by Joaquin Phoenix, who seems to be inspired by his infamous interview with David Letterman just as much as the gospels. Jesus dresses poor, speaks humbly, and uses physical embrace in the healings all brings commendable authenticity and power to his performance. Yet to have Jesus repeatedly coming across as a bit of a madman not only jars, why does this seemingly all-wise Mary continue to have faith in him? There is no avoiding the biggest spoiler of the film, Jesus’ resurrection, and it does spoil so much of the good in the film just before the end. Instead of using any of one the most treasured passages in Scripture (John 20), the film gives a Bultmann-esqe re-imagining of the risen Christ. Not only is Mary the only one to witness him in risen form, the reality of his physicality is in no way assured. The disciples, upon hearing Mary’s news do not show any interest in investigating, but predictably hijack the belief into a malleable myth for their own means. This stinks of ignoring contemporary biblical scholarship, and re-enforces a believable fiction for those looking to excuse the likely historical events.

What this film does do right is the wonderful locations used, giving great character to the locations of the story and helping to believe the world that is being reflected. The first glimpse of 1st Century Jerusalem was breath-taking and perhaps worth the ticket price alone. Commendation too must be given to Tahar Rahim, who brings a unique Judas to the screen. He manages to show a complexity to the character’s faith, expectation and inner turmoil that is relatable to present day religious fundamentalists; so full of hope and passion it brings them away from the basic grounding of faith in trust.

In summary, much as the disciples hijack the gospel in the final scene, this film feels like a great message taken too far. A powerful narrative of equality, respect and love could have been shown in the new humanity Jesus is trying to bring through the amazing character of Mary. Yet we are left with a message of men’s inadequacy contrasted by Mary’s angelic infallibility. In the history of the church, leaders have been repeatedly guilty of suppressing and even abusing women in a perversion of the original fellowship women shared following Jesus. Sadly, this decent film will not help as much as it could to address these crimes by answering them with fiction and reverse sexism.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Darkmatters Review: Red Sparrow




Red Sparrow (15)

Dir. Francis Lawrence

Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20)

“Every human being is a puzzle of need. You must become the missing piece and they will tell you anything.”

Sex is a weapon in this brutal espionage-em-up which sees Jennifer Lawrence star as Dominika Egorova, a prima ballerina, who becomes coerced into a dangerous high-level intelligence operation.

Forced into an abrupt career change, Dominika becomes a ‘Sparrow’ a secret branch of the Russian intelligence network where the recruits were trained in a depersonalized type of manipulative sexual training to seduce targets and extract information.

Training

What follows is a kind of slow burn cat-and-mouse game of intrigue as she stalks her prey - CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) - with a view to winning his trust and finding the name of the high level Russian mole he is in contact with.

As the two collide, things get muddled as Dominika employs her ‘special skills’ on Nate and in the charged atmosphere of trade-craft, deception, and forbidden passion the only question is who is playing who?

Sink or swim...

Director Francis Lawrence (no relation), reunites with Jennifer Lawrence after working together on several Hunger Games films and the reward is one of J-L’s bravest performances to date. Red Sparrow isn’t really an action film even though it covers similar ground to last year’s Atomic Blonde or the classic La Femme Nikita but it does feature some crunching violence and much sexualised nudity.

Charlotte Rampling and Jeremy Irons are on hand to offer some classy support on the Russian side and Douglas Hodge gives good sleaze as Dominika’s Budapest Bureau chief. Speaking of sleaze, Red Sparrow is not a feminist friendly film – whilst based on an actual and disturbing use of women to wield their bodies as tool for the Motherland, it does feel exploitative at times.

Bar work

The plot is engaging in a nasty way but the film reaches for wannabe ‘epic’ status with an unnecessarily bloated running time of well over two hours. Red Sparrow pushes the limits for a 15 rating with very strong violence and torture as well as the sexual content. It certainly makes for uncomfortable watching at points and isn’t a feel good popcorn flick by any means.

So this Sparrow isn’t for everyone and won’t be remembered as a classic but it does effectively capture the paranoid feel of not being able to trust anyone and atmosphere of just how depressed life in Russia was.

Specialist skills

Out of a potential 5, you have to go with a Darkmatters:

ööö1/2

(3.5 - Be careful who you fall for…)

Awesomeness ööö  – Some very strong scenes

Laughs öö  – Some dark humour

Horror öööö –  Gets very nasty in places

Spiritual Enlightenment öö - Seduction should be for love 



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