Monday, October 13, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
BOOK DESCRIPTION: For the millions of people who want spirituality without religion, Sam Harris’s new book is a guide to meditation as a rational spiritual practice informed by neuroscience and psychology.
From bestselling author, neuroscientist, and “new atheist” Sam Harris, Waking Up is for the increasingly large numbers of people who follow no religion, but who suspect that Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Rumi, and the other saints and sages of history could not have all been epileptics, schizophrenics, or frauds. Throughout the book, Harris argues that there are important truths to be found in the experiences of such contemplatives—and, therefore, that there is more to understanding reality than science and secular culture generally allow.
Waking Up is part seeker’s memoir and part exploration of the scientific underpinnings of spirituality. No other book marries contemplative wisdom and modern science in this way, and no author other than Sam Harris—a scientist, philosopher, and famous sceptic—could write it. -- AMAZON
MY REVIEW: I enjoyed reading this book despite its obvious flaws. The chapters seem disconnected from each other as if the connecting thread has broken. About half way through I started wondering whether I was reading a different book. And, near the end, it seemed that Harris had moved a long way from his emphasis on scientific evidence to support claims that are made about spirituality. But there's lots of ideas to think about. Harris communicates clearly (mostly) with wit and incisive critique of that with which he disagrees. I particularly appreciated his debunking of so-called near death experiences (NDEs) and charlatan gurus. Definitely worth a read.
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Friday, September 12, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
BOOK DESCRIPTION: Atheism, once a minority view, is now openly embraced by an increasing number of scientists, philosophers, politicians, and celebrities. How did this formerly closeted secular perspective gain its current prominence as a philosophically viable and challenging worldview? In this succinct history of modern atheism, a prolific author, editor, and scholar traces the development of atheist, agnostic, and secularist thought over the past century and a half. Beginning in the nineteenth century, when intellectuals first openly voiced skepticism about long-standing Christian beliefs, Joshi considers the impact of several leading thinkers: Thomas Henry Huxley ("Darwin’s Bulldog"), Leslie Stephen, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Mark Twain. Each of these writers, in different ways, made searing criticisms of such religious conceptions as the immortality of the soul, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy, and the existence of God, at a time when such notions were largely taken for granted. Next, the author examines prominent atheist thinkers of the early twentieth century: attorney Clarence Darrow, journalist H. L. Mencken, philosopher Bertrand Russell, and horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Around the same time as Darrow and Mencken were involved in the celebrated Scopes trial in America, which resulted in a triumph for the theory of evolution, Bertrand Russell in England was becoming well known as a forthright atheist. And Lovecraft was championing atheism in his novels and tales. Turning to recent decades, the author considers the uproar caused by outspoken atheist Madalyn Murray O’Hair and the controversial 1962 "school prayer" Supreme Court decision. Finally, he evaluates the work of best-selling authors Gore Vidal, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. In each case, he carefully dissects the views of the writers in question and points out both the strengths and fallacies or ambiguities in their arguments. This excellent intellectual history will be a welcome addition to the libraries of readers of both secular and religious orientations seeking a greater understanding of contemporary atheism.
MY REVIEW: A very informative, mostly fair-minded, enjoyable read. First time I've read about some of these famous atheists. Great to read about their ideas within their historical and cultural contexts. Becomes a bit unnecessarily derogatory of Christians at the end but, overall, a good overview. I can't assess the historical accuracy of the information. But author comes across as very knowledgable and credible. Definitely worth a read.
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Sunday, August 31, 2014
A brilliant new Australian crime drama. Joel Edgerton is excellent as Malcolm Toohey, as the cop who knocks a child off his bike and doesn't admit to it. Jai Courtney (Jim Melic) is also good as the colleague who is troubled by what's happening and is disturbed by the coverup. But Tom Wilkinson as the experienced and worn-out detective who pressures Malcolm to persevere with the cover up is incredible and steals most of the scenes he is in. The story is excellent with more of a focus on the internal struggles of the protagonists resulting from guilt and ethical dilemmas than on the crime itself. It's a refreshing take on the crime drama which is directed well and is tightly woven, keeping us on the emotional edge until the end. This is a morally complex story that is intellectually and emotionally rewarding. Make sure you see it!
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
I was privileged to see a pre-screening of PREDESTINATION which opens in cinemas on 28 August. It's excellent! There have been lots of time travel movies made - and this one adds a brand new layer of complexity and intrigue to the genre. Sarah Snook (Not Suitable for Children) is brilliant - as always - in a breakout performance. Add Ethan Hawke as co-star and the cast is great. The movie is very dialogue-driven, cerebral, and intellectually engaging. This one's for those viewers who want something to think about rather than just special effects and action. The first 1/3 was a touch slow, but necessary in the context of the whole narrative arc. Watch out for this one when it arrives in cinemas! And, by the way, try to see it without knowing anything much about it... One of the best sci-fi movies this year!
Saturday, August 23, 2014
Average. Has a very strong (and sometimes very heavy handed) religious flavour with the song, Amazing Grace, by John Newton, providing the organising theme. True freedom is presented as that which comes from trust in the Christian God. The story did not have the power I thought it should have. The acting was adequate and the musical element undermined the emotional potency - although viewers who like musicals may experience it differently to me. The whole movie seems restrained - pulling back form the harsh realities of the slave trade. I suspect that it may be that way to ensure a broad audience. It is consistent with the distributors, Heritage Films International, which has a faith focus, according to its website. Movies supported by faith-based organisations tend, in my opinion, to promote somewhat sterile versions of reality - and I think that FREEDOM suffers from this. The most frightening aspect of the movie is the declaration at the end, just before the titles, that there are more people in slavery today than ever before in human history. While reminding ourselves of the past history of slavery is essential, I'd like to see more contemporary movies addressing what is happening today. It's a travesty that slavery hasn't yet been eradicated.
Friday, August 22, 2014
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Book description: Brennan Manning has spent the past forty years helping others experience the reality of God’s love and grace. It’s at the heart of everything he’s written and done. A recovering alcoholic and former Franciscan priest, his spiritual journey has taken him down a variety of paths. He has taught seminarians, spoken to packed arenas, lived in a cave and labored with the poor in Spain, and ministered to shrimpers in Alabama. Brennan is best known as the author of the contemporary classics, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Abba’s Child, Ruthless Trust, The Importance of Being Foolish, Patched Together, and The Furious Longing of God.
My review: I read Brennan Manning's The Ragamuffin Gospel some years ago and really appreciated it. I didn't know much about his life other than the hints he revealed in that book. After reading this memoir, it is easy to see why grace is so important to Manning - and why every human is a ragamuffin in need of grace. So I appreciated Manning's honesty and the confessional tone of the book. But, for me, there was something missing - there didn't seem to be the depth that I'd expect from someone reflecting on such an incredible life of grace. Maybe I was expecting too much. Manning is now obviously very dependent on assistance from a carer and I was saddened to hear of his Wernickes disease as a result of his alcoholism. Whatever the deficiencies, this is a moving book from a man who truly lived and breathed grace.
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Thursday, August 21, 2014
SNOWPIECER is a very fresh, innovative take on the post apocalyptic genre. While there is lots of spectacular action, there is a solid foundation of social commentary - and asks the question, how far would we be prepared to go for the greater good? The ideas are not new, but the story conveys these old ideas in a stunning new way. The whole movie takes place on a train that travels once around the earth every year. Having all the action take place in a long, narrow space brings a trapped claustrophobic feel to the events. The cinematography is excellent - as the revolutionaries move from the back of the train to the front, the various sections of the train convey the variations in lifestyle of the inhabitants. There is a strange quirkiness to the script with elements of oddball humour that reinforces the peculiarity of the events. The characters are carefully drawn, the cast is outstanding, and we, as the audience, are respected as intelligent viewers. If you are put off by violence, then you might want to avoid this one. For the rest of us, this is a movie not to miss. It's a real roller coaster ride (well - a train ride, actually). I loved it.
Monday, August 18, 2014
Evangelical Christian cinema hits a new low with this propaganda movie designed to convince the viewer that atheism (and science) is irrational and provides an inadequate world view for modern society. Now, there is nothing wrong with literature that engages in the contemporary debate about the existence of [the Christian] God. My gripes with this movie have nothing to do with the differences in belief between the characters. There is some outstanding material on both sides of the debate worthy of consideration. But GOD'S NOT DEAD is most assuredly not one of them. It is superficial, predictable, contrived, emotionally manipulative, and misrepresentative of atheism and, in particular, science. Just about every character in the movie is converted (what did you expect?!). The arguments offered by the main character are simplistic and, frequently, caricatures of what science actually says or the best atheist thinkers actually believe. Most of them could be effectively critiqued by any thinking school-kid. The movie's explorations of physics and philosophy demonstrate almost no actual engagement with the ideas and are reductionistic and ill-informed. Any intelligent non-Christian would, in my opinion, be quite offended by the way in which it portrays them - and any intelligent Christian would probably despair of the ridiculous, narrow-minded Christianity that the makers so obviously believe is true. The film essentially demonises atheists, scientists, and Muslims. Just about every distorted stereotype is paraded in this travesty of a movie. Fundamentalist Christians will probably lap it up and will have reinforced the prejudices already held against science, philosophy, and other people who differ from them. Give it a wide berth!
Sunday, August 17, 2014
A beautiful movie - beautiful food, beautiful people, beautiful scenery. It's a "nice" movie - gentle, romantic, nothing offensive, just a quietly satisfying entree. But that's also its weakness. THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY is predictable and undemanding. But sometimes it's nice to relax into a film and be entertained. The cast do a good job of the straightforward script with Helen Mirren putting on a reasonably authentic French accent. The developing relationship between her character (Madame Mellory) and that of Papa (Om Puri) is amusing and is a mirror of that between the other younger stars played by Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon. For a lay-back couple of hours of light entertainment, check it out.
Sunday, August 10, 2014
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
BOOK DESCRIPTION: Science and faith should be allies, not opponents, in the search for truth. But when it comes to understanding the very beginnings of life, it is no easy task to reconcile the history taught in the Bible with the discoveries of the scientific community. Author Tim Stafford watched the tension between the beliefs of Darwin and the teaching of Genesis shake the faith of his family, ruin friendships, and leave Christians in the field of science feeling as though the doors of the church were closed to their profession. He believes this civil war can stop. The scientific record and the truth of the Bible aren’t mutually exclusive. The Adam Quest offers a compelling new look at the beginnings of life as Stafford puts questions of dinosaurs, genealogy, and the age of the earth to eleven world-class scientists. A sweeping book — touching everything from advances in genetics to a particle physicist striving to become Anglican priest — Stafford uses the stories and journeys of these remarkable men and women to provide a new diversity of answers. Scientific progress is carefully detailed, while the struggle toward truth and toward God is humanized. A deeply informative look at Christians working in science, this book is for both believers and those who harbor doubts — an intersection of faith and science, and a safe place for questions. Whether you believe in a young earth, intelligent design, evolutionary creationism, or something else, The Adam Quest offers a chance to strengthen your faith, deepen your knowledge, and bring science back into the church.
MY REVIEW: One of the most helpful and engaging books I have read on the debate between young earth creationism (YEC), intelligent design (ID), and evolutionary creationism (EC) I have read. The author has interviewed eleven scientists and allowed their perspectives to stand as they are. The interviews are presented in the order from YEC -> ID -> EC. Each view is presented respectfully and intelligently. It is fascinating to hear how these scientists have arrived at their perspectives and the humility they convey about what they believe and know. The author, Tim Stafford, concludes the book by sharing his own position and, in the process, describing the strengths and weaknesses of each perspective. The book includes a comprehensive index making it even more useful. The writing is engaging, clear, courteous and thoroughly constructive. I highly recommend it every Christian, of whatever persuasion on the issue, and anyone else interested in the contemporary debates raging within evangelical Christianity (in particular) on creationism/evolution.
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Tuesday, July 15, 2014
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.
**WARNING: THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SOME COARSE LANGUAGE**
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!
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Sunday, July 06, 2014
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.
Saturday, May 31, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
An excellent biography of C S Lewis. Brings lots of new insights to a complex man who has contributed so much to society - secular and religious. The best biographies, in my opinion, describe a picture of a person that is nuanced and fearless in presenting some of our "heroes" as genuine, flawed human beings. McGrath has done just this and, as a result, increases the respect we have for someone like Lewis. The book is well written and easy to read. The author tells the story in a way that moves along well and balances a discussion of bigger themes with the detail of Lewis's life. If you've read any of C S Lewis's writings you'll want to read this very comprehensive, respectful, and honest biography.
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Thursday, May 15, 2014
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Book Description: What does it mean to know something? Can we have confidence in our knowledge? Epistemology, the study of knowledge, can often seem like a daunting subject. And yet few topics are more basic to human life. We are inquisitive creatures by nature, and the unending quest for truth leads us to raise difficult questions about the quest itself. What are the conditions, sources and limits of our knowledge? Do our beliefs need to be rationally justified? Can we have certainty? In this primer on epistemology, James Dew and Mark Foreman guide students through this discipline in philosophy. By asking basic questions and using clear, jargon-free language, they provide an entry into some of the most important issues in contemporary philosophy.My Review: Well... I'm going against the trend to score this book high because, while it's a reasonable introduction to epistemology, the authors' self-confessed Christian bias is its greatest weakness. When the authors stay away from areas not particularly contentious from a Christian perspective (whatever that is, given the diversity of Christian perspectives) it's reasonably balanced in presenting various options in response to the questions the book addresses. And the authors definitely try to be fair. However, when the book gets to the question of divine revelation, it is inadequate in my opinion. The authors briefly touch on the issue of other religions claiming to have supernatural revelation, but they very quickly move to a narrow Christian focus which describes a common apologetic argument in defence of the authority of the Christian scriptures. There are very significant and contentious issues around a claim that one religion has direct knowledge from “God”. Maybe I'm asking too much of an essentially Evangelical survey of epistemology. My hope is that any reader, including Christian readers, will also explore some of these issues by seeking out introductory texts on epistemology that come from a variety of views.
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Friday, April 04, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book description: Two Americans are presumed dead and nine people are trapped in a cabin after an avalanche falls in the remote Andes...
Told from five points of view, What the Ground Can't Hold follows:
- Emma, an Australian faced with an impossible decision that could see her parents jailed.
- Jack, a teenager obsessed with Jack Kerouac, anti-globalism and sex.
- Carmen, a tango dancer whose estranged father is dying of cancer.
- Pedro, the cabin manager, who's in hiding from his ex-wife.
- And Wolfe, an American on a deadly family quest.
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Saturday, March 15, 2014
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Book description: What is the nature of reality?At the root of our society's deepest political and cultural divisions are the conflicting principles of four global worldviews. While each of us holds to some version of one of these worldviews, we are often unconscious of their differences as well as their underlying assumptions.
Mary Poplin argues that the ultimate test of a worldview, philosophy or ideology is whether it corresponds with reality. Since different perspectives conflict with each other, how do we make sense of the differences? And if a worldview system accurately reflects reality, what implications does that have for our thinking and living?
In this wide-ranging and perceptive study, Poplin examines four major worldviews: naturalism, humanism, pantheism and Judeo-Christian theism. She explores the fundamental assumptions of each, pressing for limitations. Ultimately she puts each perspective to the test, asking, what if this worldview is true?
If reality is secular, that means something for how we orient our lives. But if reality is not best explained by secular perspectives, that would mean something quite different. Consider for yourself what is the fundamental substance of reality.
My review: A fresh read best when the author is surveying and commenting on the various world views. The task of the author is to evaluate the different world views against "reality" to see which is the most consistent with "reality". The conclusion is that Christianity contains all the truth there is in other world views but goes beyond them to more comprehensive truth. The last section of the book explores the implications of Christianity being true. The book is essentially an apologetic for Christianity. But it takes a fresh approach and is engagingly written. If someone wants an intelligent introduction to the major themes of Christian thought preceded by a good survey of major world views (material naturalism, secular humanism, pantheism) then it's worth a read. I didn't agree with everything the author says (I rarely do!) but it's an interesting approach from someone who has lived on both sides of religion. An enjoyable and informative read that will, perhaps, be most appreciated by intelligent Christians.
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Saturday, January 25, 2014
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Book description: A Faithful Guide to Philosophy is the only British Christian introduction to Philosophy, a book that will be used as a course textbook and by church study groups and individual readers alike. It covers subjects of central importance to the Christian worldview - the relationship between faith and reason, the objective reality or truth, goodness and beauty, the existence and nature of God, the existence of the human soul and of free will, and so on - from a philosophical viewpoint. This is the broadest range of topics covered by any Christian introduction to Philosophy and will be prized by many.
My review: This is an excellent introduction to some philosophical questions from a Christian perspective. The first section of the book discusses what philosophy is, its relationship to faith, and how to make good and bad arguments. Following sections examine some arguments for God; explore the philosophy of mind (one of the most intractable problems in philosophy!); the objectivity (or otherwise) of beauty and its relationship to divinity; the relationship between science and theology; and the problem of evil.
While the book comes from a Christian perspective, it's a must-read for anyone interested in the above topics. Williams engages in a scholarly way with the so-called 'new atheists' along with other scholars - both atheist and theist and draws on a wide range of literature in discussing all the issues in the book. He is an expert on logical argumentation and, all the way through the book, maps out and explores arguments for and against various positions with the ability to critique arguments on both sides of debate for their validity and soundness.
The recommended resources in the book are astounding. For each chapter there are online videos, articles, and books to follow up if you're interested. In addition to the chapter-by-chapter resources there is a section at the back of the book recommending material on philosophy, religion including websites, video, audio. The endnotes for each chapter are remarkably detailed.
Williams is completely transparent about where he is coming from. In the first paragraph of the Introduction Williams states that the:
... book offers a 'faithful guide to philosophy' both in the sense that I seek to present my subject accurately and that I write as a philosopher who follows Jesus of Nazareth.
In my opinion both of these objectives are achieved. It's a rigorous, respectful, engaging, and scholarly approach to the questions it covers. An excellent book!
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The Wolf of Wall Street is a stunning portrayal of a man who is so rich that he can live in any way he wishes - sex, drugs, boats, drugs, cars, drugs, houses - did I mention drugs? For three hours we are taken on the frenetic, mesmerising journey of a horrible but extremely persuasive man that sucked thousands of poor people dry of their money and spent it on himself. It is difficult to describe the absolute decadence of the lifestyle of this self-centred, hedonistic, true-life stockbroker who defrauded countless victims and lived to get away with it (he served only nearly two years in prison after providing the names of many of his associates to the FBI). Leonardo DiCaprio is riveting as Jordan Belfort. His presence on the screen is awesome from the opening scene (which I won't describe here). The story of Belfort (based on his own memoir) ploughs on like an unstoppable train and is completely over the top in its excess and debauchery. There are some very funny moments which catch you by surprise - surprise that you can be laughing at such outrageous and antisocial behaviour. The cinematography is brilliant and emulates the dizzying frenzy of people out of control.
But what does all this mean? Why tell this story? It's hard to know. There has been considerable controversy surrounding this movie. Some have argued that the movie is essentially promoting rather than criticising the lifestyle of Belfort - glorifying excess, greed, the objectification of women, drug use. Belfort never suffers any serious consequences for his crimes or his lifestyle. According to some, the movie seems to celebrate rather than condemn.
However, by the end of the movie we feel as though we have vicariously experienced the gluttony and excessive that it raises serious questions about the ethics of such a lifestyle. There's a powerful scene near the beginning of the movie where an employee of Belfort's brokering company humiliates herself by allowing her head to be shaved just to get $10,000. Money is everything and the vulnerable are abused and trampled on as if they are mere objects in the pursuit of riches.
Another telling moment is when Jordan Belfort's life is threatened during a storm while he's travelling on his yacht. He is desperate to find drugs to deaden the reality of what is happening and shouts, ’I am not gonna die sober!’ There seems to be a frantic panic underneath this exclamation as if, in that moment, the vacuity of his life becomes evident - at least that's my reading of the moment. It's as if a glimmer of reality broke through even if it was extinguished immediately.
Finally, throughout the movie, we never see any of the victims. It's as if they don't exist. And clearly, for Belfort, they don't. Humans are merely a means to an end. There are clearly some people who practice unethically, engage in criminal activity, all with impunity and without consequences. Belfort was obviously one of these.
But there's something fundamentally uncomfortable about all this. And that discomfort rescues this film from being a celebration of Belfort's life. Instead it's like those parents who taught the horror of smoking by forcing their kids to smoke a whole cigar until they were sick; or like chocolate factories who let their employees gorge themselves on chocolate until they can't eat anymore and they stop. Consuming this movie will make you feel bloated with excess and you'll recognise that ancient saying that the love of money is the root of all evil.
WARNING: This movie is R rated in Australia and the US. Believe the rating! There is explicit sex, drug use, and adult themes - and lots of them.
overall=**** ; acting=***** ; story=**** ; humour=**** ; soundtrack=*** ; cinematography=****
Wednesday, January 01, 2014
PRISONERSAbsolutely brilliant! The best crime drama this year. It's very intense and totally engaging. Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal are excellent with complex performances of complex characters. In fact, one of the great things about this movie is that the effects of the two girls' kidnapping on the community, and these two main characters in particular, are just as significant as the solving of the crime. The story is superbly told and, while it's a long film, it grips and won't let go. It's disturbing and and pulls no punches - it's not for the squeamish! The script is superb and avoids outlandish tricks. The case unfolds naturally and inexorably. There's also a complex ethical layer to the story that deepens the fascination. THE PRISONERS is at times very hard to watch. But it's extremely compelling. True adult drama that is intelligent and satisfying. A much watch movie!
THESE FINAL HOURSOne of the best end-of-the-world movies I've ever seen! It packs a real emotional punch. I saw it at the Adelaide Film Festival and there was complete silence as the credits started to roll. What makes this new Australian movie so good is its focus on real people and how they might choose to use their last remaining hours alive. We see these final events through the eyes of an adult and a child (played by Nathan Philips and brilliant newcomer child-actor Angourie Rice). It's a deeply humanising script that stares in the face of finality without flinching. The movie is painted on a large apocalyptic canvas that recedes into the background as our attention is focused where it should be - on real people and their relationships. The movie grapples with universal issues of life and death, love, meaning and what we value when everything is about to cease existing. Very thought-provoking and emotionally moving. The movie will be released in the first half of 2014. Don't miss it when it hits a screen near you!
WORLD WAR ZI loved this movie! Very very entertaining. The start of the movie had me on the edge of my seat almost immediately and didn't let up for the full two hours. Great story, amazing cinematography, special effects are top-notch, 3D excellent, direction spot on, and the zombies are very believable. While not quite up there with District 9 it comes close. Some good character development, brilliant suspense - just all round great movie. Go see it!
unpredictable. The cinematography and special effects are outstanding and Sandra Bullock and George Clooney bring great characters to the terrifying possibility of bring stranded in space completely alone. My only criticism is that the use of such well known celebrity actors undermines the "reality" of the situation. It would have had greater authenticity with unknowns. Otherwise this is an excellent 90 mins of tense entertainment. I predict some awards for this one. Make sure you see it in 3D!
FROZENA very good message about the power of love to thaw frozen hearts. In the style of the great Disney classics - great animation, enjoyable songs and music, great humour and a wonderful reindeer who steals the scenes he's in. thoroughly enjoyable and heart warming. One for the whole family.
HOW I LIVE NOWThis was surprisingly good. It's set in some unspecified period during a developing World War III in Britain and focuses around a group of children surviving without their adult guardians. Saoirse Ronan is captivating as the surly cousin from America who is visiting under protest. In fact, most of the movie has no adults on screen and the kids really hold their own with natural acting. There are some strong themes here and no punches are pulled as the plot twists and turns. It's an adaptation of a young adult novel but rewards the adult viewer as well.
THE HUNGER GAMES: CATCHING FIREI loved it. Gave 3 stars for acting overall but Jennifer Lawrence is my top most favorite actor at the moment. She is so good!
MYSTERY ROADAn excellent, intelligent crime story set in a small country town where an Aboriginal detective pursues a case against a hostile community - his own.
FRUITVALE STATIONThis is a shocking story of an unnecessary act of brutality by police on a young 22 year old black man in 2008 at Fruitvale Station - hence the name of the movie. The story follows him on the last day of 2008 - his family, people he meets, his struggle to survive. The disturbing aspect of the story is the lack of true justice done in dealing with the police following the violence.The acting is excellent - natural and moving. It's only 90 minutes long - which is good - as it moves quickly and inexorably to it tragic conclusion. If you are looking for something with depth and significance check this out.
THOR: THE DARK WORLDThoroughly entertaining with a reasonable story. Acting is adequate - I particularly like Tom Hiddleston as Loki who brings a sinister flavour to the whole movie. More than anything, though, it's the special 3D effects that engross with plenty of action and some cliffhanging suspense. Not sure how it will go on the small screen so check it out in the cinema if you can. Don't expect anything too deep and escape for a couple of hours.
CAPTAIN PHILLIPSTom Hanks and Barkhad are excellent as captain and modern-day pirate in this satisfyingly tense thriller based on a true story. The narrative is simple with the depth of the movie around the characters and the choices they have to face. One good thing about the story is that the complex reasons for the piracy are presented - not as an excuse but as a way to understand why the crime of piracy is still committed today. The photography and direction are excellent - but be warned that a lot of the movie uses handheld cameras to increase the effect of the events being on the ocean. The person seeing it with me had to leave half way through due to motion sickness! It's a great story of human drama with a thrilling ending. Go see it on the big screen!
BLANCANIEVESExquisite black and white silent movie (made in 2012) that revisions the Snow White story. Set in 1920 Seville and constructed around bullfighting, it's an absolute delight to watch. The soundtrack is excellent and the cinematography is very modern while still retaining the style of the old classic black and white era. The actors do a great job emulating the old style acting but the movie doesn't feel old. It's a Spanish movie but, because it is a silent movie it doesn't matter - and the title cards are all in English. If you are looking for something "classical", a bit different, and thoroughly entertaining, check this one out.
THANKS FOR SHARINGTo call this movie a romantic comedy (as I have seen done) is to completely misrepresent this movie. While it has some romance and some humorous moments, this is a long way from romantic comedy. It is a quite remarkable story primarily of a number of men who are all struggling with some form of addiction. The majority of the film focuses on sexual addiction but some of the subplots deal with women and other forms of addiction - including those of us who think we don't have any addictions and look judgementally on those who do. It's a powerful exploration that is honest and complex. At times, there are moments of unbelievability but with
Ruffalo and Paltrow teaming up for the central storyline, that doesn't seem to matter. The acting is good and the supporting staff, including an ageing Tim Robbins playing a self-righteous father dealing with a previously difficult son, are great. There is some pretty confronting material here, but it's reassuring to see stories of vulnerable, struggling men balancing out the constant macho images we often see in cinema. I highly recommend this movie and perhaps we can all improve our understanding of those who secretly struggle with potent forces in our psyches and, more than that, acknowledge that we are all flawed - even though we might not find it easy to admit it.
RUSHThere are three really good things about this movie. Firstly, the cinematography is excellent. To recreate Formula 1 races on the screen that are representative real historical races would be very challenging and it's pulled off in a way which is completely authentic and totally engaging. Secondly, Ron Howard's direction is brilliant. And thirdly, Daniel Bruhl and Chris Hemsworth deliver nuanced performances as the relationship between James Hunt and Niki Lauder develops over the years. If you are a "petrol head" you will love this movie. And even if you are not, the story is interesting as we see two very different personalities deal with each other and the challenges of high speed car racing. A very enjoyable piece of entertainment that has quite a bit to say about to essentially different ways of living life - lessons we can all reflect on.
BLUE JASMINETypical Woody Allen film - very dialogue driven which if fast and witty. The narrative takes place as we jump from the present to flash backs leading up to the present. Cate Blanchett is absolutely brilliant - this is possibly the best performance of her career so far - and she is onscreen in almost every scene. It's really her movie! The story of how Jasmine becomes who she is is intriguing as it unfolds. It's actually a very serious story but infused with a wry humour that we have come to expect from Woody Allen. I'll be seeing it again because there is so much in the multi-layered events and dialogue. One of the best Woody Allen movies for some time.
WHITE HOUSE DOWNApart from a couple of cheesy moments and some excessive patriotism, a thoroughly enjoyable action movie. Make sure you see it on the big screen!
THE BEST OFFERAn intriguing story with an air of mystery. If you love antiques and paintings you'll like all the sets and artwork. At times the story didn't quite ring true but overall was engaging and just good old-fashioned story-telling. Geoffrey Rush is always good value and doesn't fail to deliver. He's got a good supporting cast. If you like some of the old Hitchcock films you'll like this. Good, clean mystery drama.
PACIFIC RIMAn amazing action movie. The story is a typical alien invading earth but whatever weaknesses there are in the some-times cheesy story is made up for the absolutely stunning action. And in 3D it's absolutely awesome! You've never seen battles between humans and aliens like this before. The special effects are incredible - and they start from the very first frame. If you want action then make sure you see this on the big screen in 3D!
DEAD MAN DOWNThe critics have been harsh on this one but I think they've got it wrong. I really enjoyed it. The central theme is revenge - its nature, its consequences, and the power of love to change everything. Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace are excellent and, while there is some action, it is their performances that make this movie so good. It has the feel of a European movie at times (the director gave us the Swedish GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO) - it takes the time to develop characters and the power of the narrative slowly emerges as more and more is revealed. If you want an intelligent thriller then check this one out.
THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINESAn intriguing, complex story of fatherhood, friendship, consequences of choices, and masculine emotion. The narrative structure is fresh and ironic taking the viewer in unexpected directions. Gosling and Cooper are excellent as is all the supporting cast. A richly satisfying story that does the rare thing of focusing on male experience with depth and substance. One of the best movies so far this year.
IRON MAN 3Great entertainment! Robert Downey Jr is excellent as Tony Stark with superb delivery of his humour. The story is reasonable with a very funny surprise twist with one of the characters as everything unfolds. It's great the way the Iron Man series doesn't take itself too seriously and the humour is genuinely witty. There's some great action sequences with stunning special effects and the 3D is top-notch. A pleasure to watch - highly recommended!
OBLIVIONAn intelligent sci-fi that is visually very pleasing to the eye. Maybe a touch too long but the story is intriguing with some genuine surprises. The acting is pretty average and Tom Cruise is his usual self. But the narrative and cinematography definitely make up for any of his inadequacies. Supporting cast was strong. Plays around with memory and identity which I like. Good on the big screen so worth heading to the cinema to watch it.
WARM BODIESA great take on the zombie genre with a life affirming message and the healing power of love and acceptance. Very enjoyable.
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