Friday, 15 February 2008

A Great Start to 2008

Having recently discovered that there are in fact people out there who regularly read this blog, I felt compelled to write mini-reviews of the last four films I have seen, all of which were excellent. But if you are looking to find out what the first three of these films are about, you’ll have to look elsewhere. This is for Miriam.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a unique and beautiful emotionally-powerful film with a brilliant screenplay, great acting and great directing (Julian Schnabel). It is also one of the most inspiring films I have ever seen. To say more would require me to tell you the plot of the film. Perhaps most people who go to see it will already know the plot, but for those who don’t, there is a special experience waiting for you as you enter the film along with the protagonist and experience the film through him. That special experience is worth keeping the few of you who know nothing about the film in the dark. I think the film is longer than it needs to be, but that’s my only complaint. A very solid ***+

Juno (directed by Jason Reitman) has had the critics raving for months, making it one of my most eagerly-anticipated films. I was therefore slightly disappointed in the ordinariness of the film, though my expectations were so high that a slight disappointment was almost inevitable. Ellen Page is truly magnificent in the title role and her performance alone makes the film well above average. There is a realness (ordinariness) to the film and to the family life depicted in the film that is incredibly rare in critically-acclaimed films, which is another reason to cheer. It does beg the question of why the critics like the film so much, since critics frequently pan family films with similar values. Is it just because this film is so smart (great screenplay) and well-acted? If that’s all it takes, then I hope we can see more films like it, films that can provide positive role models instead of the usual dark and dirty drug-filled dysfunction of critically-acclaimed films. This is an excellent film but not as great (in my opinion) as some critics would suggest (Walter, it sounds like you and I are on the same wavelength here). Another very solid ***+

In the Valley of Elah (directed by Paul Haggis), on the other hand, verges on greatness. This is a subtle quiet thriller (by now you know that I am a big fan of subtle quiet thrillers and have little use for fast and flashy noisy ones) with an outstanding performance by Tommy Lee Jones and wonderful understated performances by Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon. The film could have gone for the big drama, the big action, or the big romance, and it could have beat us over the head with its message about what it’s like to be an American soldier in Iraq (and, indeed, what it’s like to be an American in 2007). Instead, it went for soft and slow intelligence and tension, along with its moving natural performances. I loved it. ****

But my favourite film of the year, so far, is a very different kind of film. U23D is a pure concert film, combining footage from various stops along a U2 South American tour in 2006. I have been a big U2 fan since the mid-eighties and this brilliantly-made (the use of 3D is terrific – I frequently felt that I was standing in the crowd, right there in Buenos Aires) concert film contains most of my favourite U2 songs, as if they had made the film for me. It also has important things to say about the great religions of the world needing to learn to coexist and help create a peaceful world. Watching this film on what is said to be the largest screen in the world (London IMAX) was an awesome and mind-blowing experience that I will never forget. If you like U2 at all, do not (DO NOT!) miss the chance to see this at your local digital cinema. ****


  1. Hey! You can add me to your list of regular readers. I'm not sure if I've ever actually commented, but I've been reading both of your reviews ever since Cara told me about the site, which was late last Spring, I think. You can see a couple of my movie reviews at I've been meaning to put more up since, but haven't gotten around to it yet.

  2. Great to hear from you, Ben. Giving sermons and cleaning theatres sounds like an interesting combination.

  3. Miriam here!!!! Enjoyed your reviews immensely. Naomi saw "Juno" and loved it. One local Sheffielder had trouble understanding the fast-paced American English, which I find ironic!!! And as a fellow U2 fan, I can't wait to see U23D!

  4. Just saw U23D in Montreal at the IMAX and it is nothing less than spectacular.