Thursday, 31 July 2014

THE DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD: SCIENCE AS A CANDLE IN THE DARK

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the DarkThe Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: How can we make intelligent decisions about our increasingly technology-driven lives if we don't understand the difference between the myths of pseudoscience and the testable hypotheses of science? Pulitzer Prize-winning author and distinguished astronomer Carl Sagan argues that scientific thinking is critical not only to the pursuit of truth but to the very well-being of our democratic institutions.


Casting a wide net through history and culture, Sagan examines and authoritatively debunks such celebrated fallacies of the past as witchcraft, faith healing, demons, and UFOs. And yet, disturbingly, in today's so-called information age, pseudoscience is burgeoning with stories of alien abduction, channeling past lives, and communal hallucinations commanding growing attention and respect. As Sagan demonstrates with lucid eloquence, the siren song of unreason is not just a cultural wrong turn but a dangerous plunge into darkness that threatens our most basic freedoms.

MY REVIEW: There is no doubt that Carl Sagan knew what he was talking about (sadly, he is no longer with us). And what he shares with us about the gullibility of humanity is pretty depressing. This catalog of nonsense that humans have believed (and still believe, in many cases) makes one wonder why we trust our capacity to think well. And, of course, because we know that we tend to think poorly, we have developed principles of critical thinking to compensate for that tendency. And science, which is firmly grounded in principles of careful, critical thinking. Sagan ruthlessly debunks all of these bizarre beliefs, repeatedly illustrating in clear, eloquent language what it means to think carefully about these and other issues in everyday life and society. He also surveys various tools for evaluating the legitimacy of ideas and beliefs.

I do have a couple of minor criticism of the book. I did get a bit tired, after about 3/4 of the book of the constant rehearsal of some issues. I understand that the chapters of the book are actually essays Sagan wrote (some with his wife). It may be possible to enjoy this book by dipping into chapters at random rather than reading straight through from cover to cover. Am I was really irritated by his capitalisation of the word Nature - as if it was being constructed as an intelligent entity worth worshiping in some new-agey way. I'm not saying that is what Sagan intended. But it didn't come across as consistent with his generally rational approach.

THE DEMON-HAUNTED WORLD is a good read. The biggest problem, of course, is that those who most need to read it probably won't. But at least the rest of us can arm ourselves with good thinking skills to protect ourselves from the nonsense so often foisted upon us - and to help us scrutinise our own beliefs before we base our decisions about life on them.

View all my reviews

Monday, 28 July 2014

STILL LIFE

A council case worker looks for the relatives of those found dead and alone.

What a strange little movie this one is! John May (Eddie Marsan) is a council worker who spends his time investigating people who have died all alone - he finds relatives if he can. If he can’t, writes their eulogies, attends their funerals, and spreads their ashes. He is the only person in the world that seems to care for these people. He even keeps photograph albums of the cases he ‘solves’. We watch John May do the same things day after day until, one day, he starts to get caught up in one particular case that captures his attention.

It’s a very slow, melancholy, but intriguing, story. Pretty depressing, actually - and even more depressing when the ‘climax’ of the movie arrives, leaving one with a deep sadness that people have to die alone. Eddie Marson is quite remarkable in his role - he is in every scene and carries the movie. A poignant, touching, contemplative exploration of death.


***

Friday, 25 July 2014

DVD RECOMMENDATION: A SEPARATION

Looking for a DVD for the weekend? Check out...

A SEPARATION

A married couple are faced with a difficult decision - to improve the life of their child by moving to another country or to stay in Iran and look after a deteriorating parent who has Alzheimer's disease.

A great movie with nuanced performances from all cast. Superb story telling on multiple levels, cultural, social, family - the fabric of ordinary people's lives unravelling. Great to see a movie based in modern Iran and makes one realise that relationships suffer from similar strains whatever the culture.

****1/2


Thursday, 24 July 2014

MOVIE NEWS: 50 SHADES OF GREY

For those of us wondering what the movie version of 50 SHADES OF GREY is going to be like, here's the first trailer - follow the link to IMDB and check it out - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2322441/

<< THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES >>

Ready for the new cinema release run-down this week? You'll be disappointed because there is more to avoid than worth seeing!

MY TOP PICK TO SEE


Top pick to see this week is STILL LIFE, a comedy in which a council case worker looks for the relatives of those found dead and alone. General public seems to be enjoying this.

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


DELIVER US FROM EVIL, starring Eric Bana, who plays a NY police officer, Ralph Sarchie, who investigates a series of crimes. He joins forces with an unconventional priest, schooled in the rituals of exorcism, to combat the possessions that are terrorizing their city. General public are rating it as average but critics, generally, are not so happy with this one. USA Today's Scott Bowles rather amusingly suggests that 'Even horror neophytes won't be spooked by a film that looks as if it were shot with a smartphone and an Itty Bitty Booklight.' I'll be giving this one a miss.

ONES TO AVOID


We start off the list of movies to avoid this week with DEVIL'S KNOT. Colin Firth and Reese Witherspoon star in this tale of the savage murders of three young children which sparks a controversial trial of three teenagers accused of killing the kids as part of a satanic ritual. Good actors but ... here's what New York Daily News's Elizabeth Weitzman says: 'This stilted crime drama from Atom Egoyan feels misguided from the start. He's attempting to fictionalize a true story that has already been told better, several times over.'

I've already reviewed HERCULES (see my previous post) and is also worth avoiding. Having endured his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord. Time Out London's Tom Huddleston says it well: 'Strap on your swordbelt, buckle your sandals and oil up your rippling six-pack, because here comes yet another interminable, CGI-drenched mythic mish-mash with far more money than brain cells.' Check out my review too!

Finally, and disappointingly, MRS BROWN'S BOYS D'MOVIE is not being received well at all. Averaging * to ** stars from the general public, it doesn't sound like it's worth the money. If any of you are brave enough to check it out, let us know what you think.

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

NB: synopses of movies are adapted from IMDB. Opinions are mine unless quoted from cited sources.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

3D HERCULES

Having endured his legendary twelve labors, Hercules, the Greek demigod, has his life as a sword-for-hire tested when the King of Thrace and his daughter seek his aid in defeating a tyrannical warlord.

HERCULES opens in our cinemas tomorrow and I've just been to a pre-screening. Don't bother. It is cheesy with rare occasions of humour mostly from Ian McShane (Aphiaraus) and Rufus Sewell (Autolycus). The main character, Hercules, is played by Dwayne Johnson who is all wrinkly braun but little acting ability. HERCULES is mostly a flat, boring story with lots of 3D tricks (like spear heads coming out into the audience) and tons of explicit violence that just doesn't make up for the simplistic narrative and totally absent character development. Really... don't waste your money.

**1/2

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

WORDS AND PICTURES

An art instructor and an English teacher form a rivalry that ends up with a competition at their school in which students decide whether words or pictures are more important.

Very uneven and, at times, very contrived. The two main stars (Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche) do an adequate job but the dialogue is frequently forced and artificial. The overall message of the movie is pretty obvious - but even that is presented with such a lack of subtlety that its power is completely undermined. Overall lame and unbelievable. Wait for the DVD if you feel you must see it.

**1/2

 

 

Sunday, 20 July 2014

BELLE AND SEBASTIAN (Belle et Sébastien)

A six-year-old boy and his dog look to foil a Nazi effort to capture French Resistance fighters.

A delightful family movie (although kids will need to be old enough to read subtitles). Dogs in movies are always a winner and, along with a cute boy who befriends the dog, the story is engaging with a good message. Some elements of the story don't come off as quite authentic but it's good to see something for the school holidays that isn't animated or commercialised. BELLE AND SEBASTIAN has won a couple of awards, one of which is the Films4Families Youth Jury Award ’For its realistic characters, beautiful scenery and cinematography, and strong, touching theme of friendship through hard times.’ Well-deserved.

***1/2

 

 

Friday, 18 July 2014

<< THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES >>

Always good when new movie release day comes around - let's check out what is one this week.

MY TOP PICK TO SEE


Top of the list to head to the cinema for this week is VENUS IN FUR (La Vénus à la fourrure). It's a new movie from Roman Polanski (The Pianist) in which an actress attempts to convince a director how she's perfect for a role in his upcoming production. Doesn't sound much. But Variety's Scott Foundas sees it as A delightfully intricate battle of wits and wills in which the question of who's directing/seducing/torturing whom remains constantly shifting open to interpretation.

OTHERS TO SEE


From the Australian director, Rolf De Heer (Ten Canoes), comes CHARLIE'S COUNTRY. 'Blackfella Charlie is out of sorts. The intervention is making life more difficult on his remote community, what with the proper policing of whitefella laws now. So Charlie takes off, to live the old way, but in so doing sets off a chain of events in his life that has him return to his community chastened, and somewhat the wiser.' - written by Cannes Film Festival

THE FRENCH MINISTER (Quai d'Orsay) is all about Alexandre Taillard de Vorms [who] is tall and impressive, a man with style, attractive to women. He also happens to be the Minister of Foreign Affairs for the land of enlightenment: France. With his silver mane and tanned, athletic body, he stalks the world stage, from the floor of the United Nations in New York to the powder keg of Oubanga. There, he calls on the powerful and invokes the mighty to bring peace, to calm the trigger-happy, and to cement his aura of Nobel Peace Prize winner-in-waiting. Alexandre Taillard de Vorms is a force to be reckoned with, waging his own war backed up by the holy trinity of diplomatic concepts: legitimacy, lucidity and efficacy. He takes on American neo-cons, corrupt Russians and money-grabbing Chinese. Perhaps the world doesn't deserve France's magnanimousness, but his art would be wasted if just restricted to home turf. Enter the young Arthur Vlaminck, graduate of the elite National School of Administration, who is hired as head of "language" at the foreign ministry. In other words, he is to write the minister's speeches. But he also has to learn to deal with the sensibilities of the boss and his entourage, and find his way between the private secretary and the special advisers who stalk the corridors of the Quai d'Orsay - the ministry's home - where stress, ambition and dirty dealing are the daily currency. But just as he thinks he can influence the fate of the world, everything seems threatened by the inertia of the technocrats.
- Written by Sundance Selects

MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


Looking for some drama and romance? REACHING FOR THE MOON might fit the bill. A chronicle of the tragic love affair between American poet Elizabeth Bishop and Brazilian architect Lota de Macedo Soares. Critics are, on the average, less enthusiastic about this than the general public. For example, this is what Los Angeles Times's Robert Abele thinks: Everything ultimately gives way to the stately, simplistic, inevitable pace of by-the-numbers biopics, from some woefully tinny, hit-and-run screenwriting to the usual difficulties surrounding the dramatization of an author's craft.

WORDS AND PICTURES brings two interesting actors together - Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche - but has a strange premise for a plot. An art instructor and an English teacher form a rivalry that ends up with a competition at their school in which students decide whether words or pictures are more important. Not sure about this one. Movie Nation'a Roger Moore suggests that Words and Pictures is the cloying title of a cloying little comedy made by talented people who, not that long ago, deserved better than this, and knew it. General public are averaging just above 3 stars so who knows?!

ONE TO AVOID


And, finally, one to avoid - SEX TAPE with Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel. A married couple wake up to discover that the sex tape they made the evening before has gone missing, leading to a frantic search for its whereabouts. According to the trailers, it ends up on the internet. A very contemporary premise, I suppose. Hard to tell at the moment but average critic score is *1/2 stars! Give it a miss!

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

NB: synopses of movies are adapted from IMDB. Opinions are mine unless quoted from cited sources.

Monday, 14 July 2014

UNAPOLOGETIC (book)

Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising emotional senseUnapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising emotional sense by Francis Spufford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


BOOK DESCRIPTION: But it isn't an argument that Christianity is true - because how could anyone know that (or indeed its opposite)? It's an argument that Christianity is recognisable, drawing on the deep and deeply ordinary vocabulary of human feeling, satisfying those who believe in it by offering a ruthlessly realistic account of the bits of our lives advertising agencies prefer to ignore. It's a book for believers who are fed up with being patronised, for non-believers curious about how faith can possibly work in the twenty-first century, and for anyone who feels there is something indefinably wrong, literalistic, anti-imaginative and intolerant about the way the atheist case is now being made. Fresh, provoking and unhampered by niceness, this is the long-awaited riposte to the smug emissaries of New Atheism.

MY REVIEW: You’ve heard of something being a breath of fresh air. Well... this book is like standing in the middle of a thunderstorm, wind trying to push you over, rain slamming into your face. It’s stunning. The author, Francis Spufford, pulls no punches and rips through the bullshit that often attends the debates around the Christianity/atheist divide. I love the fact that the author is raw and earthy, using language that’s right on the edge of decency to get his point across. For example, he defines sin as ‘The human potential to fuck things up’. Haven’t heard it defined in quite that way before - but it certainly expresses the point articulately. Spufford does not, of course, use coarse language like this all the time. That would just make the language bland and superficial. Even when he is using ‘normal’ language, his descriptions, turns of phrases, alternative perspectives, analogies, metaphors are surprising, refreshing, and often confronting. This book is not for the fluffy, rigid, fundamentalist - Christian or atheist. It’s for those who are pissed off with the run-of-the-mill, intellectualised, defensive, avoiding, unrealistic, detached-from-reality inanity the plagues debates around religion. I loved it and am now cleaning up after the brain-cleansing storm!

View all my reviews

Saturday, 12 July 2014

THE LUNCHBOX (DABBA)

A mistaken delivery in Mumbai's famously efficient lunchbox delivery system connects a young housewife to an older man in the dusk of his life as they build a fantasy world together through notes in the lunchbox.

A sweet, feel-good movie that is pleasant on the eye. The whole story is very gentle and quite constrained with the focus primarily on the relationships between the two protagonists but some focus on their secondary ones. The shots of Mumbai are just what you'd expect - I'd like to visit it one day and travel on the public transport system. Seems like an adventure in itself! The movie seemed a touch long.

***

Friday, 11 July 2014

EXODUS 2022 (book)

Exodus 2022Exodus 2022 by Kenneth G. Bennett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

BOOK DESCRIPTION: IS HE LOSING HIS MIND-- OR HIS WORLD?
Joe Stanton is in agony. Out of his mind over the death of his young daughter. Unable to contain his grief, Joe loses control in public, screaming his daughter's name and causing a huge scene at a hotel on San Juan Island in Washington State.
Thing is, Joe Stanton doesn't have a daughter. Never did. And when the authorities arrive they blame the 28-year-old's outburst on drugs. What they don't yet know is that others up and down the Pacific coast-- from the Bering Sea to the Puget Sound-- are suffering identical, always fatal mental breakdowns.
With the help of his girlfriend, Joe struggles to unravel the meaning of the hallucination destroying his mind. As the couple begins to perceive its significance-- and Joe's role in a looming global calamity-- they must also outwit a billionaire weapons contractor bent on exploiting Joe's newfound understanding of the cosmos, and outlast the time bomb ticking in Joe's brain.

MY REVIEW: Really enjoyed this intriguing eco, sci-fi thriller. The premise is original and contemporary. Lost a touch of its tension during the latter part of the book but, overall, a page-turner. Lots of twists and turns, a great cast of characters, and well plotted. Even if you are not into sci-fi, give this one a go...

View all my reviews

THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

One brilliant movie to see amongst the very few cinema releases this week! Read on to find out which one it is ...

MY TOP PICK TO SEE

If you've read my review earlier this week about DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, you won't be surprised that I've chosen it as my top pick to see this week. A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species. HitFix's Drew McWeeny says that '"Dawn" is not just a good genre movie or a good summer movie. It's a great science-fiction film, full-stop, and one of the year's very best movies so far.' I totally agree. Check out my review in an earlier post.

OTHERS TO SEE

From India comes THE LUNCHBOX. In this drama romance, a mistaken delivery in Mumbai's famously efficient lunchbox delivery system connects a young housewife to an older man in the dusk of his life as they build a fantasy world together through notes in the lunchbox. According to The Playlist's Kevin Jagernauth,
'Batra's film is ultimately less about love than about the vulnerability relationships place us in emotionally, and courage required to move past pain, and experience life again after we've been hurt.' It's on my list to see.

Finally, a documentary on how water shapes humanity, WATERMARK. On average, critics are rating this about average with general viewers pretty much agreeing. The Dissolve's Mike D'Angelo suggests 'There's a difference between an exhibition of one photographer's work and a speedy tour of a museum's entire photography wing, and Watermark feels more like the latter, despite Burtynsky's involvement.' Might wait for this one to come out on DVD.

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

NB: synopses of movies are adapted from IMDB. Opinions are mine unless quoted from cited sources.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

A growing nation of genetically evolved apes led by Caesar is threatened by a band of human survivors of the devastating virus unleashed a decade earlier. They reach a fragile peace, but it proves short-lived, as both sides are brought to the brink of a war that will determine who will emerge as Earth's dominant species.

A brilliant sequel! Great science fiction story, fantastic 3D and the apes are totally believable. The movie manages to keep the tension ramped up for two hours which is no mean feat. And how often do you get a sequel that is as good, if not better, than the first episode?! The technical quality is amazing. On top of all that, it makes a significant statement about humanity. One of the best movies so far this year. Go see it!

*****

Saturday, 5 July 2014

CALVARY

The name Calvary is derived from a Latin word meaning 'skull'. Christians believe that Jesus was crucified at a place called The Skull, which is often translated in modern versions of the Bible as Calvary. The essence of the Christian story about Jesus is that he was an innocent man who suffered and died for the suffering and sins of humanity. The new movie from director John Michael McDonagh, who gave us The Guard in 2011, draws on this theme in CALVARY, starring Brendan Gleeson, who we have most recently seen as General Brigham in Edge of Tomorrow. Gleeson is sensational.

Calvary tells the story of a good-natured priest who, after he is threatened during a confession, must battle the dark forces closing in around him. Set in a small Irish village where the residents are all flawed humans experiencing immeasurable depths of emotional suffering and pain, Father James Lavelle spends his time travelling around his community trying to pastor his parishioners in what seems like an impossible project. His daughter (played by Kelly Reilly) also comes to visit and she adds to the emotional strain with her own troubled past. The whole story takes place during one week with the backdrop of Father Lavelle’s anxiety at the serious threat which opens the film on the first Sunday of the story.

The first line in the movie, spoken by a parishioner (unknown to us) is shocking and is the start of the pealing back of the layers of evil and suffering in this intimate community. The parishioner who threatens the priest makes the point that killing a bad priest wouldn't have any impact. Killing a good priest will draw the required attention. And Father Lavelle is considered a good priest - despite his obvious flawed humanity.

For anyone who knows the Christian story of Jesus Christ and his taking on the suffering of humanity, CALVARY will communicate its striking story with emotional power. For those who don't, there will perhaps be less direct association of the two stories, but every one of us cannot help seeing in this movie a powerful statement of so much apparently in resolvable suffering in our world.

The choice of an "innocent" Catholic priest as the main protagonist of this story is filled with deep irony given what we now know of the evil perpetrated by some priests on young children. As Father Lavelle interacts with his parishioners over the seven days of the story, themes of life, death, suffering, evil, despair are all explored - not always in great depth, but perfused with gallows humour that, paradoxically, while we are laughing, sends an arrow of recognition straight to the heart that proves that humour can deal with the most serious of issues.

The best thing about CALVARY is the dialogue which is sharp, penetrating, and astute. This is no action movie and does, in fact, feel a little slow at times. It won't be to everyone's taste, but, in my opinion, is destined to become a classic.

****

 

 

Friday, 4 July 2014

JERSEY BOYS

The story of four young men from the wrong side of the tracks in New Jersey who came together to form the iconic 1960s rock group The Four Seasons.

Turned out to be better than I thought it would be. But still not a great movie. Enjoyable and entertaining but felt a bit bogged down in the middle. I've been told that this version of the Four Seasons' story is better than the stage play on which it is based. I was initially a bit irritated by the moments when characters directly addressed the audience, but at times these were quite amusing. It was fascinating to see how the characters developed from childhood through the journey of becoming famous musicians - along with all the issues that seem to plague celebrities. The music, of course, is great and the four stars of the film do a great job of pulling off the sound of the original group. It's very evocative of foot tapping! Worth a look if you love the music of the era and, while there is frequent coarse language, it's not too bad in the context of the story - definitely not gratuitous. It's possible that this is its biggest flaw. It's too "clean" for what was, in reality, a very gritty, raw rise from rags to riches.

***

THIS WEEK'S NEW CINEMA RELEASES

Slim pickings this week for new release movies... but one of them is definitely worth seeing!


MY TOP PICK TO SEE


Top of my list (even more so now I have seen it!) is CALVARY. After he is threatened during a confession, a good-natured priest must battle the dark forces closing in around him. indieWIRE says that Even as it delivers an emotional wallop, not every moment of "Calvary" goes down smoothly, as comedic scenes transition somewhat abruptly to tragic moments and the final reveal never reaches the heights of its Hitchockian inspirations. True, but check out my review coming shortly.


OTHERS TO SEE


The French movie BELLE and SEBASTION looks like an adventure story for the whole family. A six-year-old boy and his dog look to foil a Nazi effort to capture French Resistance fighters.


MAYBE/MAYBE NOT


The sequel to Rio, the animated adventure comedy RIO 2, has arrived. It's a jungle out there for Blu, Jewel and their three kids after they're hurtled from Rio de Janeiro to the wilds of the Amazon. As Blu tries to fit in, he goes beak-to-beak with the vengeful Nigel, and meets his father-in-law. General public are rating as average but, overall, critics don't like it. Film.com describes it as A strange combination of mental exhaustion and boredom. You'll have to decide if you risk it!

That's it for this week. See you at the movies!

NB: synopses of movies are adapted from IMDB.