Passchendaele

Passchendaele reminded me that war is organized murder and nothing else. It also illustrates the beneficent role Canada had in WWI.

My Rating: 6/10 – This is a good film that lacks in its script and there is no clearly discernable message. I think great war movies have that. It’s meant to show the passion of a country for its cause, namely Canada in WWI.

Passchendaele (2008)
Cast
Paul Gross

as Michael Dunne

Caroline Dhavernas

as Sarah Mann

Joe Dinicol

as David Mann

Directed by
Paul Gross
Written by
Paul Gross
Other Info

Drama, History, Romance
Rated R
1h 54min

A war film should have a tangible, good story woven throughout and I didn’t feel like one existed here. We see the empty eyes of a woman bereft of her lover. We also see a man who survives war and loves the best way he knows how. The road to these conclusions is peppered with war violence and reverie of a war long past and I wasn’t really into it.

This film is a pride to the Canadians. It shows the role Canada played in the war. That was an important factor of this film and I liked it for that. Did I mention Canadian pride in war is rampant here? If you’re Canadian or you treasure grim war scenes, you will like it for that reason. Otherwise, you might agree with me that the writing was thin and there was no universal, apart from Canada, message being put forth in the story.

I don’t normally put a caveat on my reviews but in this case I think it’s appropriate to inform the reader that I am a pacifist. I try to discourage my kids from joining any military system.

I do think that my global view on war affects my interpretation of war movies so, there’s my caveat.

I do enjoy some war movies when their message is clear and well delivered. I don’t like being among the bombs and bayonets when I see no real purpose. An example of a war film that gets its message out clearly is “Apocalypse Now.” This is no “Apocalypse Now.” People talk quickly and there were no real memorable dialogs or monologues in my opinion. Stabs with a bayonet don’t count as intriguing moments for me.

There is excellent cinematography and the wardrobe is all retro and in sync with the time being portrayed. There is a romance, it’s not thrilling.

War is hell and this film takes you there.

I did get some positive messages from it but overall I found it to be a dismal account with no apparent purpose or moral at the end. For that reason along with poor acting and script, I took away a few stars. Some may like it but this is definitely not a pacifist’s film. I am glad I saw it for the historical aspects and the cinematography. I never knew Canada had such a role in the war, I didn’t need a two hour History Channel TV movie to understand that though.

‘Ben Hur’ (2016)

Ben Hur is effective for bringing up the topic of the historical figure of Jesus because the film is not about Jesus, he is only background. There is no Jesus-subtlety in this reboot.

*This review contains spoilers.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting this film’s release and now, after watching it am suffering extreme let down. Hopefully you don’t like sermons or preaching, if that’s the case you may agree that this film misses the mark by a mile. If you liked this film, read on with caution, especially if you liked the enhanced evangelical aspect.

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Ben Hur (2016)
Cast

Jack Huston, Toby Kebbell, Rodrigo Santoro

Directed by

Timur Bekmambetov (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter)

Written by

Keith R. Clarke
John Ridley
Based on the novel by: Lew Wallace

Other Info

Adventure, Drama, History
Rated PG-13
124min

For many this can be a fun afternoon at the movies, don’t let me ruin it for you but this is after all, my blog so here goes.

From Ben-Hur to Jesus’ words and back again … repeat. That’s pretty much the formula of this Ben-Hur reboot. This is quite different globally from the 1959 subtle presentation of religion. We rarely see Jesus in the original, he is a suggestion, a sideline, a background to be accessed and made sense of only by the individual. That’s what makes the original a more powerful movie. What little religion is there, you can take or leave it. It’s not preached but rather suggested.

The story is more or less the same, though certain parts were left out of the reboot: A Jewish prince must suffer to make it back to his rightful freedom. Along the way, he has battles with his adopted brother. It turns out the best way to defeat him is in a chariot race. There are periodic appearances of Jesus speaking scripture and acting out Bible stories in parallel time to Ben-Hur’s life. In the end, it is revealed that this Jesus guy/god was telling the truth and everyone gets a healing of sorts.

The original Ben-Hur is a beloved film made in 1959 starring Charlton Heston and a cast of thousands. It is as epic a film as one can imagine. Looking at it even on a surface level shows what is really happening here. This is a movie for evangelicals first. So why is it in theaters? That’s my biggest question. Producer Mark Burnett who is known for the Bible miniseries and the religious film Son of Man, secured the rights to re-do the 1959 film that won 11 Oscars. I have always seen the original as a secular movie to be enjoyed by all religions or by those who practice none.

Why pick a film to reboot that was so popular in its time as it was? Why not pick a film that did poorly and improve upon it? The answer is this: The name Ben-Hur is already established and therefore easier for evangelicals to force an agenda and a reading into a film.

Jesus appears a few times in the original Ben-Hur but in the reboot, he pops up a lot more. When he does, we see his face, hear extended monolog, and we even hear him tell Ben-Hur “I have a plan for your life.” Sounds like youth group at the local evangelical church “movie night.” The original Ben-Hur can be seen as pro-Christian but it is subtle and doesn’t over shadow the whole movie (especially the last 1/4). I honestly thought Greg Laurie or Billy Graham was going to appear during the credits and ask people to come forward to make a decision for Christ. Honestly people, there is a time and a place for this. Stealing the influence of Ben-Hur is not a cool move for the faithful. It’s already blowing up in their faces being a 30% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 4/10 on IMDB. I predict it will not be in theaters long.

But let’s get to the actual movie instead of going on and on about the philosophy of the producer: Is this a quality film apart from the preachy religious stuff? Apart from two segments, this is a nothing more than a Hallmark tv movie. It’s hard to believe it made it to theaters. The two segments that made it worth watching fo me are: 1) The galley slave/boat scenes and 2) The chariot race. Everything else is like witnessing a dud firework not go off.

I should say a quick word about Morgan Freeman. All the acting is bad in this film. It’s like watching a long-haired 13 year old play Spartacus after oiling up his arms. Freeman is comatose. It’s as if he was paid a ridiculous sum out of the 100 million spent on the film and is thinking about all his relatives private school tuitions as his lines are delivered. I hope people reading this who disagree with me will get a chance to see the original Ben-Hur. This is nothing like it in any way. I had a similar criticism of Pete’s Dragon recently. I will actually praise Pete’s Dragon over this because Pete’s Dragon can stand on its own without preaching religion. There are parts that are neutral and enjoyable but due to its preachy side, this film should be playing in churches, not secular theaters.

In conclusion, I have no problem with a movie having religious overtones, many humans have religion and movies are for people. The problem here is that this reboot is preaching. Secular movies should be adventures anyone can get on board. I’ll forget this film in a couple of days and I do not recommend it. If you liked it, I’d like to hear why in the comments. To me, this is a made for church, church movie. I’m looking forward to putting my dashed hopes aside and getting on to the next film I want to see.

‘Colonia’ (The Colony)

Life in a cult, specifically in a commune sounds horrible to most people. This film shows the worst of the worst in history that eventually fell when its leader was captured.

*This review contains spoilers.

Emma Watson ladles through this historical drama, “inspired by true events.” There are elements of cults and what they do to their members in this but it’s really about one in particular that had a truly evil leader and was eventually tried and convicted as such.

Colonia-poster-1

Colonia
Cast

Emma Watson, Daniel Brühl, Michael Nyqvist

Directed by

Florian Gallenberger

Written by

Torsten Wenzel, Florian Gallenberger

Other Info

Drama, History, Romance
Rated R
1h 50min

I often wonder in my life’s travels how many people know what a cult is? I do. I had experience with one in college that I’ll never forget. It started with me attending their little “bible talk” and before too long they were pressuring me to move into a “shepherd” brothers house and pay part of the rent. For God, nonetheless. Before I got too involved, my Dad got wise to what I told him and explained they were a cult on campus for years. That’s when I quit going to meetings. Colonia is a true story about a cult in Chile. I think it has existed up until the early 2000’s. In the film, once you enter you can never leave. In fact, up to the time the story takes place, no one had ever escaped the cult. That’s what makes this story interesting.

Emma Waston and Daniel Bruhl play Lena and Daniel, a Chilean Professor/activist and his English stewardess girlfriend. When a coup erupts in Chile, Daniel is captured. The activists tell her he has been exiled to the Colonia Dignidad, a world-famous frightening place where the members stay for life in a brutally neo Christian environment. Sins are punished by group slapping, to name one torture. When Lena hears her love has been taken there, she realizes her only chance to save him is to enter the cult voluntarily. She does, and a large segment of the film shows the torture she endures at the hands of this sick cult. Michael Nyqvist plays Paul Schäfer, the charismatic and frightening leader of the cult. We learn later he has impregnated, raped, and tortured thousands of members in the cult. He does a great job playing the part. I always wonder what the actor’s motivation could be for playing the part of a cult rapist. No matter, he finds it and he ends up playing this role quite well.

thecolony2It’s interesting watching Watson adopt the tenets of the cult. Several times, he tests her. It takes many days before she sees Daniel alive there. She has to go on faith that he is there and that she has done the right thing coming to the site. Daniel has to pretend he’s retarded as a result of a terrible beating he receives. It’s smart because they send him to the commune since they feel every person has a purpose. There are some terrible scenes of abuse. When Lena is working in the fields the first day she says she is thirsty. One of the leaders, an especially evil one, brings her a bucket of water telling her to not drink it but rather carry it with her all day. In another case, a woman shares she is to be married. This is forbidden in the commune so the leaders subject her to a public “slapping” or beating session to the point to where she must be hospitalized. Even the man who she was supposed to be married to must deal blows on her face. It is a barbaric scene and apparently the kid of thing that went on in Colonia.

Emma Watson plays the role barely well. I find her a little too unaffected by everything. I think she plays sheltered roles well but when it all comes down to her and her agony, she falls short. In this role, she is a bit weak that way. In a similar fashion, Daniel Bruhl is hard to relate with. I found both of their faces and delivery of dialog vanilla. These roles call for a dynamic set of emotions and neither seems to exude that. But, at the end of the day, the story itself is not all that engaging either. It was not promoted well and there is a bit of false advertising in it. You can watch the trailer or read the ads and then later in the film think to yourself, “I’ve been duped, this is not what I thought.” I like historical films and this is based on a story but it didn’t play out like a movie about cults. Instead, it was about torture and evil people. It would have been nice to see a little more on the psychology of cults and communes and a lot less of the coup material.

paul-schafer-colonia-movie

Years ago I had a college writing teacher who would tell the class “Focus on one thing.” I think Colonia focuses on too many things. Occasionally a film can get away with multiple items to focus on but usually, the good ones I remember have that overall focus. The one in this film should have been the Colony because that was the title. It should have started at the gate going in. The coup in Chile really has little to do with the cult stuff. It could have been portrayed quickly in the introduction. As it is you have to wait almost 1/3 of the film to get into the commune and even then, they are still building up to what’s really going on in there. The final scenes are great. You feel elated as they escape to the airport and somehow convince the pilot to fly them away, even with Chileans with assault rifle banging on the door. It’s a great ending to a so/so movie. It lost points with me in its story because it wasn’t focused enough. Furthermore, I thought Emma Watson was miscast. This role needs someone who wears their emotion on her face, blood sweat, and tears. Maybe in 20 years we’ll see that from Emma but she’s not showing it enough in this film.

Empire of the Sun

The journey of young Jim and there are many hurdles along the way. John Malkovich is a street savvy white man who sort of takes Jim in. This adds a compelling acting set to an already alluring introduction.

Wealth set against a background of poverty is an excellent canvas for a coming of age movie. Our protagonist, Jim, loses his parents, their money and his “way.” What follows from there is a magical journey of fighting, surviving, and ultimately surrendering. The transformation teaches us something about our own lives.

eots-poster

Empire of the Sun (1987)
Cast

Christian Bale, John Malkovich, Miranda Richardson

Directed by

Steven Spielberg

Written by

J.G. Ballard (novel), Tom Stoppard (screenplay)

Other Info

Drama, History, War
Rated PG
2h 33min

Spielberg made this film true to the time and to the international conflict of that time. Still, it’s a universal coming-of-age journey. Jim is the young English boy who is living in Shanghai, China in the lap of luxury. His parents pay a servant to look after him and feed him since they are often gone. We hear a little from the father about the situation and the mother is close-lipped. When WWII begins, tables are turned on Jim. The whites are being forced out of Shanghai after Pearl Harbor set the war in motion.

From there the movie starts speeding up. It becomes the journey of young Jim and there are many hurdles along the way. John Malkovich is a street savvy white man who sort of takes Jim in. This adds a compelling acting set to an already alluring introduction.

Jim is verifiably bratty. In the early scenes he bosses his nanny around and reminds here that she “must do what [he] says.” When the reversal of fortune occurs, he tries ordering her around again and she surprises him with an act of disrespect. He is blown away.

The separation from his parents and the complete lack of money brings Jim to his knees. With a sullen, oil stained face, we staggers around looking for his parents. HE reveals what a spoiled kid he is through these scenes. He even tries to surrender at one point but the soldiers just laugh at him.

My word to the wise: This film is about Jim’s journey. It’s an everyman journey to be sure. I feel Spielberg used his common approach which is using metaphor to illustrate the human journey we are all on. It could be a war zone in China or a backyard with an alien in it. There are always personal human conclusions to draw from his film. Yes, Jim is a brat, we are meant to hate him in the beginning. But is he so different from us? As you watch this movie, ask yourself if you could have been the same way without the same advantages we have. This is not a movie you merely watch, you feel it. Jim undergoes a telling transformation. In fact, there is a lot being taught to us my Steven Spielberg Because it’s an artful film that speaks eloquently to the human condition, I highly recommend it to you.