Monthly Archives: March 2016

Hail, Caesar – he is Risen

This week I saw two new films, each featuring a Fiennes brother, about a Roman tribune (senior soldier) who encounters Jesus at the end of his life.

I bet I’m one of few to have seen both, because Risen, starring Joseph Fiennes, hardly got any theatrical release. In my city, only one cinema had it, for one week, only twice a day at awkward times, pulling it before the Easter weekend it is all about. Thus its low audience numbers were self fulfilled. And it’s gone before, like the disciples at the tomb, I could go and tell anyone else to come and see it.

I am also one of the few drawing a comparison between these films, because the subtitle of the film within film, Hail Caesar, is not mentioned in any cinema brochure I’ve read. Along with other inaccuracies, it is called “a sword and sandal” epic. But there’s no sword fights and no George Clooney is not Caesar – he encounters a more paradoxical alien leader. There’s a scene where the religious leaders whom the studio is trying to placate discuss the nature of the incarnation (interesting for Jewish film makers), a beautiful closing speech at the foot of the cross (for which scene the crucified actors received “hardship pay”) and confusingly, a section featuring Saul of Tarsus with a title card “Divine Intervention to Be Inserted”.

Risen also consulted with Christians to avoid upsets, and likewise, found them happy – though I was not at the depiction of Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. This is not in the Bible and even Catholics – who pretended she was – have officially un-tarted her now. Hasn’t the writers heard of even the Di Vinci Code and who Mary is believed to be by many? She’s Jesus’ no 2, covered up by Peter ‘I want the Keys just for Me’ and friends.

Both films had powerful and profound moments, but the tones were very different. Hail Caesar was often funny, though most of my laughs were at the points described above; the studio debacles often did little for me. I am not a proponent of the multiple storyline and so I wished we spent more time with Rome and Jerusalem, and less (or none) in aquariums, deserts, drawing rooms and bars filled with sailors who sang about the lack of dames at sea, by by their antics (some dance moves were suggestive of a number just before 70) they were not sorry. Not all the characters really fitted together, and I found were by some rather conspicuous sewing.

Risen had no humour and was for the first part often brutal, opening as a high budget and adrenaline thriller, just incase you thought this was for church halls. I think it is a film for church halls, though not for families or sensitive people of any age. The usually doe eyed, gentle and sensitive Joseph Fiennes is harsh, interrogative and even murderous as Tribune Clavius. I found it hard to watch him being so unjust and bullying. He is one of a few well known actors in the film, such as Peter Firth from Spooks as Pilate, who pushes Clavius to find Jesus’ missing body because Pilate fears the next tier of the chain – his emperor.

The brutality in the Coen’s film – some of which was verbal threat – was from film studio producer Eddie Mannix, fixer of any legal and publicity embarrassments. I hated Eddie (Josh Brolin) for hitting Baird (that’s Clooney) and silencing his communist sympathies. Eddie becomes the tribune, the old kind of God – telling people what to do, what to think, and what they can know; judging by narrow standards, being non-negotiable and using perceived virtue to guide those in his care; and of course, money.

Both tribunes alter at the experience of Jesus, yet Joseph’s conversion feels more like a Christian Union mission film. I am trying to work out why. Did I feel the disciples too spacey and squeaky good? Was I angry that they never fought back? Was it the snippets of their sermons on the beach? But wouldn’t frightened, crushed followers feel exonerated and empowered and impervious to threat if they thought their leader was truly alive again?

The Coen brothers leave us, as so many Jesus films and plays, with him on the cross – yet for George’s tribune, even then, it is enough to change him. The makers of Risen (and Waterworld) let us see Jesus to the end of his earthly life (I was going to say, off the premises), but the ascension is more of a disappearance into the sunset – ET had a more memorable and convincing take off. They obviously didn’t have the budget to show us what the guards at the tomb saw either – shame as modern film is wonderful for bringing such stories to us visually.

The Coen’s Jesus is a back of a rather strawberry blond head and a pair of feet on a maximum comfort cross. Risen features Cliff Curtis – is this the first Maori Christ? – whose face has have the expected unnerving quality, but his less conventional Messiah looks and Tears For Fears hairstyle also slightly beguile and unsettle. However, he behaved like we like to think of Jesus – in the imaginary last miracle where he truly saw and loved the person he healed.

What was hardest for me was reconciling the kind of Jesus we want to believe in – like this – to the one who actually appears to be in the gospel. I’ve been at a study group where we heard that one writer thinks that Jesus snorts in fury at his healees; a Jesus whose first line in John’s gospel is a snap at would-be followers; a Jesus who is incredibly rude to that Gentile lady seeking healing for her son… Commentators let him off by saying, he must have meant…ah, but really he knew…   Is this disciples and early church fathers scribbling in, or…? I’ve written an article on this before. I nearly entitled it “Going off Jesus.” It doesn’t affect my relationship with God, but this is the central person who makes Christians distinct. So where does that take me…?

It’s a search I continue. Meanwhile, I found these films as worthwhile as any church service and yet not exclusive of those not seeking a spiritual message this Easter.

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Aberdon’t – Marischal Square

This is to stop that awful development in Aberdeen going ahead.

The two buildings that strike most about Aberdeen are Provost Skene’s House and Marischal College.

The first is a free museum in a former mayoral residence (provost in Scotland) which is SHUT to allow this monstrous development round it, even though it’s not touched by it. Skene’s House is one of the best museums of its kind in the country, with plastered and painted ceilings and recreated rooms of different periods.

When I last came to Aberdeen, I was gutted that this turreted stone building was obscured by a dreadful office block which the Queen had to open. I hoped she’d soon be pushing the first swing of the wrecking ball.

The ball has done its work, but instead, something equally as grievous is planned in its place.

Opposite is the second largest granite edifice in the world, the most arresting landmark in Scotland’s third city, a sort of Houses of Parliament rival. It went from being the University’s second college to being leased to the city council – pictures of the interior changes have caused many squawks! There is a by appointment collection within that used to be a free museum.

I’d like to emphasise that I’m a visitor, not a local – we care too about Aberdeen and these special buildings.

The development is just what everyone else is getting – Edinburgh, Leeds, Cambridge… the dumpy new 1960s boxes, which will equally be regretted immediately and get worse with each decade.

The developer’s website is dreadful. It uses not even very buzzy buzz words. There’s nothing different, exciting, unique, quality about this mixed use site – it’s what you expect. Go on – try to name four things this might be. Yeah, you got them all. Not, there’s not anything cultural in there. Just a lump in the heart of a perhaps overlooked interesting city.

As a petition to reject this proposal said, it takes business away from the long established classical shopping street which views gardens and domes, churches and theatres. Yes, like its big sister below, Aberdeen has an old and new town, a one sided street overlooking the distinct skyline – Marischal college being the apogee. Like the capital in the lowlands, Aberdeen’s got several museums, a waterfront and shoreline, all built in a particular colour of stone – this one is light silver.

I felt that Aberdeen was missing something last time I was there. It wasn’t this.

I found several thousand supporters who feel the same, and the matter regularly features in local press.

Why are developers Muse allowed to go ahead, presumably putting profit before the wishes of the people and what the city needs?

There is much anger and backlash about this, and belief that illegal and unfair practices have been involved. The claims over bankrupting the city if it were stopped are manipulation.

Why should Aberdeen have this enforced on the – or Edinburgh the new St James, which equally upsets me with its Ribbon at the heart? (And why can’t I find a campaign on that?)

Muse may think that this creates a monumental lasting testament to themselves, but Muse will just be the shameful name of who spoiled a city. Or tried to.

I support those who say the building should cease and something that is more popular and suitable is put forward instead, which doesn’t obscure these buildings or desecrate the heart of the city.

I’d like Aberdeen to have more independent, special shops and cafes, more arts – not more of the usual chains, something akin tot he atmosphere of Belmont Street – and that will never look like Muse’s vision.

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The Pursuit of Happyness

My thoughts on the 2007 film

Will Smith is very engaging and sympathetic, but my critique is of the world he enters – and that it is never really critiqued by the film.

In passing, it does throw up that a homeless woman has more chance of getting a bed for the night, though I’d like to add that both men and women need shelter, whether or not they have a child with them.

I thought that the way the church he slept at handled the “we’re full” tonight was about as tactful as the end of Bugs Bunny cartoons – that’s all folks. No more, you need to leave. And yet the real Chris Gardner, whose story this is, is grateful and asked that the real pastor re-enact his role.

The US tax system is disgusting: that money can be taken without notice or discussion direct from your bank if they believe that you have underpaid. The IRS seem to have no thought for what money they leave you with. This was directly responsible for putting Chris and son on the streets.

The carparking fine system is likewise a disgrace, that holds you in prison overnight, jeopardising job and the safety of children. Is this person dangerous? Is this money so urgently and truly needed? And then to threaten social services on you for being a bad parent!!

The behaviour of landlords was also abysmal. I wish in the film that Chris had tried to explain his circs to his, rather than just fob off yet another rent request and keep walking. But twice he is without home and without notice: he finds a new lock and his things outside, not even a letter. That is illegal – you have to serve notice and go through the courts where I live. Their lack of compassion from landlords shows why so many face homelessness.

It also shows why you need to keep railway stations open at night, and how all night trains also serve a purpose. And it shows that all kinds of people can face homelessness, in case one has a stereotype and belief about who’s deserving of help (an attitude I reject).

It shows how some people make a living through selling unnecessary objects, and how that selling enough of something to live off can be very hard.

But then Chris graduates to more selling of unnecessary objects – financial packages. I was saddened that his impetus to join the world of stockbrokers was seeing a flash car. As a poor person, I could understand his thinking – what would it take to stop this struggle, and what do people who don’t struggle do for a job? But the car lure felt shallow, and stock brokerage not the aspiration that his partner assumes— “Why didn’t you just say astronaut?” she sneers when she hears.

I thought that the film would criticise the stock brokerage entry scheme – that a ‘lucky’ handful of hopefuls work 6 months unpaid, but only one gets a job at the end of it. They’re abused – being asked to lend to (and sometimes pay for) their overpaid superiors, run errands they daren’t say no to, work ridiculously stressful days, always trying to increase productivity and beat their colleagues. I did not admire Chris for saying that he worked out that not drinking water and hanging up the phone between calls gave him an advantage. All jobs need breaks – yes to the bathroom, and to drink. It should never be an advantage to overwork, go without, to be pressed to maximum.

I really wanted Chris to be offered the position at the end, but I also really wanted him to say no. I wanted him to have learned that happyness is not found managing fiscal portfolios, nor in the harsh competitive and abusive world of glass towers. It’s not even just found in family bonds.

The title cards at the end disappointed me – for this was not my idea of reaching happyness, and I’d like to think, not the sort that Lincoln meant when he wrote the quote that the film’s title comes from.

I watched the extras to see if the real Chris had anything better to say. He did say that though the world presented this as a rags to riches tale, he saw it as one of parental love, but even that didn’t entirely endear and soften me. Making it in the financial world wasn’t my idea of achievement. Although I was glad to see that he uses his wealth to help others, I am unsure of the true worthiness of spreading capitalist ideas to new counties and generations.

It felt a little like the oft mentioned Rubik’s Cube (there’s a whole featurette on it) and those medical instruments Chris sells – not that useful, just an end in itself. And whereas those cube competitions don’t harm anyone, the economic markets do, and so does the unspoken message from the film that success in them is something to aspire to.

I would be more concerned about reforming the tax office, night shelters, parking fees procedures, landlords, and the abuses of internships than linking this story to the American dream. I am all for coming through, overcoming odds, seeing determination rewarded, supporting love – all things I hoped for when I chose the film. But I want to see more Lincoln, less Lehman in the outcome.

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You thought I’d forgotten? It took a while to read the book and to view it a couple of times. As the Oscars have just happened and it’s doing the rounds in 35mm at the moment in Britain’s cinemas, I thought I would post my long-planned article.




This other Cate is also important to me. I was intrigued to read in Empire that Rooney Mara saw Elizabeth in 1998 and wanted to be an actress because of Cate Blanchett. I even think the article said that Rooney fell in love – perhaps not romantically but in one of those fascinating other ways. Elizabeth was a hugely important film to me and remains my favourite of all time. It began career related aspirations for me too, though it wasn’t the first time I’d seen Cate Blanchett – that was earlier that year in Oscar and Lucinda.


Carol was keenly anticipated, but not the film nor book I hoped for. I saw the film on its opening night – but was one of 3 people! Elsewhere, it sold out. So I went looking for the experience I expected for the first time – a packed room, the buzz that Star Wars was about to enjoy. Carol was arthouse Star Wars – its trailer started months before the release date; she was on backs of buses and on covers of even the most blockbuster of film magazines.


I saw Carol again in a provincial indepedent during the day, which was far better attended. I discovered that much of the audience had been before – the usher had seen it almost every day, and Cate was special for her too.


Carol is very cinematic, and also that quite wordless sort of film that critics enjoy but that I rarely do. It changes much from the novel but both oscillate in their quality. The moments when Carol and Therese meet and become lovers are brilliantly written, and I was excited on the last page as I realised that Patricia Highsmith could end her story quite differently from the film – would she? But there seemed much bagginess in both media: asides that didn’t really go anywhere, and once again, too much exaggerated drama for the film adaptations. In the book, Carol doesn’t shoot at the detective, there’s no row in the solicitor’s office (though I loved her speech about not being ugly people), no irritant minor characters pushing in on Carol and Therese’s drinks.


Abby is underdeveloped in the film so her role when Carol leaves Therese is too much. Therese is often annoyingly weak and Carol is not nice to her. And the age gap is larger in life – instead of a decade, it’s 25 years.


One should want the couple to work – despite the men in their lives, the social and age difference, and the lesbian taboo of the 1950s – but I often wanted better for Therese and both women often gnarked me. I was fixated by Therese’s fringe and Alice band – odd ways of trying to make her look longer and not yet arrived – but I kept thinking, if you were trying to pull Cate Blanchett, wouldn’t you doff the schoolgirl look?


I wanted Carol to be one of those powerful, memorable films. It took up much of my time, seeing it thrice and reading the screenplay as well as the novel, but it wasn’t the story I hoped for. It seemed to set up the far too common lesbian story formula: at least one of you has a nice man who you’re not quite married to him who’s not quite right, but then you meet this wonderful woman… This is a bit more complicated with a child custody case and a best friend/former lover, but perhaps its classic status comes from being one of the earliest love between women stories rather than the best. And in the film, I didn’t believe that there was love, hence I struggled to rally for the leads and was busy getting needled by dreadful bit parts which detracted and made me squirm.

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Glasgow Film Festival and Being Watched


I wanted to come back to report excitedly about my experience. I say on my other blog how I rate the Glasgow Film Theatre – which I chose to start that blog off – which is the chief venue and organising body for the festival.


What I’m most left with is not the films I saw, which I will review below. I was only able to see a couple, but I was annoyed by a woman in the queue who chastised my effort for not seeing more – like her, who’d come to something each day. I told her I’d travelled 500 miles (like the native Proclaimers) so I’d made a considerable commitment.


The aspect I remember most was two informational statements, not mentioned previously, so I’d travelled my 500 miles and bought my tickets BEFORE seeing this.


The brochure – which didn’t arrive in the post – warns you that there’ll be promotional photography. It doesn’t say what the posters in the cinema do – that it’s assumed you give you consent for your face to be used publicly by being there.


This happens too often – from campaign meetings to concerts, the intrusive camera appears. Did I sign up for this? And you should never do so by default, or by tiny small print that you have to chase round the website for but isn’t on printed materials.


With the prevalence of social media, we can feel compromised. The right not to appear on a photo and the right to know where and how it’ll be used are common courtesy and ethics of photography. I attended a wedding where the invitations asked that we didn’t put photos on social media. I admired my friends and gladly complied – I’ve made a decision to stop using those sites (I share why on this blog). We’re obsessed with gaining permission for children’s photos, but it seems that adults are the reverse.


Well, I do control my image and have the right to know where it is – as well as the sound of my voice. Asking a question shouldn’t mean I am being recorded and pasted on YouTube.


You can see how this can be misused – the violent ex partner, the unscrupulous debt collector (that’s most of them in my view, by essence), the nosy and the creepy in your life. And it makes our government’s spying easier. They can see who speaks out at conferences, who supports subversively political films, and who on benefits seems to have the money for things they consider frivoloous.


The other part is related and is even worse. We’re used to seeing warnings as a film starts regarding people filming for piracy. We’re used to those long adverts at the start of DVDs – preaching to the converted, we’re already watching a legit copy!


Those of us attending cinema and especially film festivals are supporting the industry and care about it. Like music, I abhor rip off copies. I want the artists to get their rightful dues (not the fat cat companies so much). I am an artist myself. I know that living from your craft is often difficult and that you want fair remuneration and control over your long labours.


But I don’t need to be filmed in the cinema on low light cameras whose red eyes like a malevolent spider utterly spoiled the film felt . An arts cinema too – ‘cinema for all’, a well loved community cinema. A cinema that represents and proud and free thinking city.


We’re sick too of searches – hence I didn’t pop in the BBC/Concert Halls on Candleriggs due to a sign “In the interests of security, we carry out searches on our visitors – thank your for your patience.” But it’s not [just] the waste of my time, it’s the intrusion that I mind. Why, from going to the Olympics to airports, parliaments and national museums (happily not Edinburgh’s) and clubbing do we get subjected to this – and why should we? The assumption that a few bad people have made us all suffer, that we won’t mind if we’re not up to anything, that it’s good that the people are being caught….

NO, none of that works. I am sick of the ugly cameras – cf the indie film Crimefighters, set in York – peering out, recording my image, detailing where I’ve been, what I wore, who I was with.

No nose scratches or pulling up your tights, no fumbles with your partner in film festivals.

And no, GFT, these cameras were not in any of the other many film festivals I have been to.

They say take piracy incredibly seriously. I take violations of my basic human rights incredibly seriously.

Worse than claims over preventing crime and terrorism (often which are political as much as for our safety), this is about money and property.

Ironically, there was a Surveillance strand at this year’s festival. The organisers don’t seem to see that irony. Arts are there for questioning as well as enjoyment. Why are you perpetrators of what you are exposing?


Oh, and the films. They are secondary now. Winter was about a Scottish drunkard with mental health issues – the lead actor was far better than those playing his “We’ve got special English theatre accent” sons, their lover and irritating psychiatrist mum. It showed how patronising and ineffectual mental health services can be, but then the outcome seemed to support the procedures. Starting late didn’t help my enjoyment either. The last time I came to GFF, a film was 40 mins longer than advertised and really messed up my day.


I saw a largely excellent film called The All/Brand New Testament. God is living in Belgium with his wife and daughter. Jesus is a statue who talks to his sister – the actual Jesus seems to be missing, from the family table at least. God is a bully, working in a huge secret office on a computer, creating suffering and enjoying doing so. When his daughter finds out, she confronts him and he beats her, and she breaks into the computer again and does something that starts the world changing… She calls her own disciples and writes their stories. Meanwhile, God is giving chase via the magic washing machine she escaped out of, but he doesn’t do too well in the real world. And Mrs God is having a spring clean – which will change the universe as we know it. Sometimes facetious, very European, often funny, sometimes profound (though not as often as it might have been) and with an excellent ending.


I’d like to see some spring cleaning and a new computer program regarding our search and watch culture. How far do we let it go? When would we speak out? It’s already too far. GFT claimed that all this isn’t an issue with their audience. It ought to be – and if you mind about something, do say, and don’t let them be able to pretend that those who speak out are a minority.




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