DARKMATTERS - The Mind of Matt

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

Read my novel: Complete Darkness

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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:


(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:


(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:


(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.


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:


(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