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Padre Pio

Director – Abel Ferrara – 2023 – Germany, Italy – Cert. 15 – 104m

***1/2

Post-WW1, In San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy, a Catholic mystic undergoes temptation while down in the village, armed landowners and military officers attempt to halt the rising tide of socialism – out in UK cinemas on Friday, January 26th

Ferrara has long been something of an outsider, working with small budgets. This current offering is highly uneven, very strong and moving in places, betrayed by a lack of planning and resources in others. Perhaps its besetting sin (to use Christian religious parlance) is that it doesn’t deliver exactly what it sets out to: this is not exactly a portrait of early 20th Century, Catholic mystic Pio (Shia LaBeouf). The friar really only forms half of the film – arguably its weaker half – dealing only intermittently with his life from arrival in the impoverished Italian village of San Giovanni Rotondo in 1916 through to his visitation by Jesus and first manifestation of stigmata some years later.

The other half of the film, running in parallel to this, deals with the aftermath of World War One in that same village, as men return from the Front to be reunited with wives and mothers.… Read the rest

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Silence

Director – Martin Scorsese – 2016 – US – Cert. 15 – 161m

*****

Scorsese questions and tests the unwavering faith of the hidden Christians of Japan, and our allegiance to the director remains just as steadfast – read our verdict on the director’s latest movie, out on New Year’s Day

Religion is a subject capable of arousing great emotion among both believers and non-believers. Martin Scorsese’s Silence is essentially concerned with adherents of one religion attempting to proselytise in a foreign land where the predominant religious system is so utterly alien as to be almost unassailable. To the point where even the incoming missionaries might have to abandon the faith which they seek to spread.

That land is 17th century Japan, where Christianity has been outlawed and believers practise their faith in secret as Kakure Kirishitan (“hidden” Christians). Two Jesuit priests, Father Garupe (Adam Driver) and Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) are smuggled into the country in order to find the older Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who is rumoured to have denounced his faith. After spending time with local believers, they are captured by the authorities who proceed to torture the Japanese Christians and make the priests watch, thereby encouraging them to renounce the Jesus they adore and serve.… Read the rest

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The Wicker Man:
The Final Cut

Director – Robin Hardy – 1973 – UK – Cert. 15 – 94m

*****

A Christian police sergeant investigating a missing child on a remote Scottish island meets a terrible fateout as a Collector’s Edition UHD / Blu-ray /DVD from Monday, September 25th following its release in UK cinemas in a 4K restoration from Wednesday, June 21st, 2023

(Originally reviewed for cinema release in a 2K restoration on Friday, September 27th, 2013)

Originally released forty years ago in the UK in a cut down version its director disliked, The Wicker Man now reaches our cinema screens in a longer, restored version which he says fulfils his original vision. Its plot is deceptively simple. A Christian police sergeant flies to a remote Scottish island in response to a letter about a missing child. But when he arrives on Summerisle, no-one seems to have heard of that child. It gradually emerges that the policeman has stumbled into an intricate web of lies and deceit wherein a terrible fate awaits him….

Using material from a recently discovered, longer US release print – rechristened The Final Cut by Hardy who assembled this cut in 1979 – it’s a provocative work on a number of levels.… Read the rest

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Joy Ride

Director – Adele Lim – 2023 – US – Cert. 15 – 95m

***1/2

A Chinese-American corporate lawyer visiting China to close a business deal for her boss finds herself on a road trip with three friends which turns into a search for her birth mother – raunchy, gross-out comedy is out in UK cinemas on Friday, August 4th

TL;DR: good fun and occasionally hilarious – provided you don’t watch the trailer first.

White Hills, Seattle. Little girl Audrey Sullivan (Lennon Yee), a Chinese adoptee with white parents, hits it off with new girl in town of the same age Lolo Chen (Chloe Pun) when at a local playground, the latter sees off a white racist boy bully on her behalf. Growing up, the pair become inseparable, yet they are very different characters, with Audrey being the school yearbook’s “most likely to succeed” while Lolo is “most likely to be arrested”. Five minutes into the film, Audrey (Ashley Park) is a highly regarded and highly paid corporate lawyer on the verge of being while Lolo (Sherry Cola) is a struggling artist making sex-positive art (i.e. it centres around representations of male and female genitalia). Audrey is letting the impoverished Lolo stay at her upmarket house.… Read the rest

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Are You
There God?
It’s Me,
Margaret.

Director – Kelly Fremon Craig – 2023 – US – Cert. PG – 105m

****

An 11-year-old girl navigates the difficult waters of religion and womanhood, talking privately to God as she does so – bestselling novel adaptation is out on digital Tuesday, July 18th and on Blu-ray & DVD Monday, August 7th

Is God there, can you talk to God, and does doing so make any difference? 11-year-old Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson) talks to God, beginning with the “Are You There?” question and then continuing to talk to God as if God’s presence were real. Whether God is real or not, the practice of talking with God has a history in certain Christian traditions, and probably in other religious traditions with which I’m less familiar too. It does not, of itself, prove the existence or non-existence of God one way or the other.

In terms of organised religion, Margaret finds herself in a confusing place. She is the sole child of Jewish father Herb (Benny Safdie) and Christian mother Barbara (Rachel McAdams) Simon. It’s a good marriage and the Simons are a very happy family, living in a cramped New York apartment with his Jewish mother Sylvia Simon (an hilariously dour yet joyous Kathy Bates).… Read the rest

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Medusa
(Medusa)

Director – Anita Rocha de Silveira – 2021 – Brazil – Cert. 15 – 127m

***

Pro-purity, fundamentalist, Christian church girl band singer indoors by day; slut-shaming, Evangelical, vigilante group member outdoors by night… a woman is haunted by a facially disfigured figure from the past – out in UK cinemas also available on PVOD and ESVOD on Friday, July 14th, and to rent on BFI Player from Friday, July 21st

Night. An exotic dancer, bent over backwards so both hands and feet touch the floor. Writhing.

A young woman, watching this on her smartphone on the bus at night. She reaches her stop, gets off and starts walking. A gang of white masked, female vigilantes on the prowl, suddenly, behind her. She walks faster, they catch her, surround her, slut-shame her, call her a homewrecker, threaten her into “serving the Lord”. Afterwards, the female vigilantes walk off in a line across the road. On the wall, posters depicting a fist and a snake.

To better herself, another young woman Clarissa (Bruna G.) is taken our of an ordinary school and sent by her aunt to an up-market, fundamentalist, evangelical Christian church school where she’s quite nervous about fitting in: but Clarissa needn’t worry – she’s soon befriended by Mariana aka Mari (Mariana Oliveira) who takes the newcomer under her wing.… Read the rest

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Plan 75

Director – Chie Hayakawa – 2022 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 113m

**1/2

Dystopian drama Plan 75 posits a plan whereby Japanese people can voluntarily have themselves terminated after age 75 and examines some of the resultant social fallout – out in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema from Friday, May 12th

Sedate classical piano music is playing on the soundtrack. The image – out of focus, could be looking down a corridor. After a long wait, a man in a T-shirt and jeans walks, in focus, into picture foreground. There appears to be blood on his arm and he is carrying a shotgun. Ahead of him, as it now comes into focus, the corridor floor is sparsely scattered with objects: a cup and a bowl, an old person’s walking stick with four legs, something else which we can’t quite make out. He washes at the sink. Another corridor – a fallen walking stick, a pair of slippers, an abandoned bathrobe or perhaps a towel, a collapsed, half-folded wheelchair, wheel still spinning. T-shirt and jeans with shotgun descends the stairs. After a contentious voice over, T-shirt and jeans waits a long while, then points the barrel of the shotgun at his head and uses his feet to pull the trigger.… Read the rest

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How To
Blow Up
A Pipeline

Combatting spiritual wickedness

How to Blow Up a Pipeline
Film by

Daniel Goldhaber, Ariela Barer, Jordan Sjol, Daniel Garber
Certificate 15, 103 minutes
Released 21 April

A radical film whose four makers eschew the widespread film industry notion of the film director as sole author, film production being a collaborative process. It follows a group of young eco-terrorists pursuing their eponymous goal. That title is taken from Andreas Malm’s book, which argues that the fossil fuel industry’s ‘business as usual’ approach to global warming dictates that the only effective way to fight climate change is via property destruction and sabotage.

If this sounds a long way from any concept of non-violent Christian protest, bear in mind the biblical mandate of good stewardship over God’s creation. Here lies a challenging tension. At the present time, these ideas appear to be in conflict and different believers may come to very different conclusions. The apostle Paul tells us, ‘If it is possible … live at peace with everyone.’ But has the fossil fuel industry made it impossible?… [Read the rest at Reform magazine]

This review originally appeared in Reform magazine.

Read my longer, alternative review on this site.

Trailer:

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Women Talking

Director – Sarah Polley – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 104m

*****

Should we stay or should we go? Following an incident of mass sexual abuse in an isolated religious community, its women debate the question, stay and fight – or leave? – out in UK cinemas on Friday, February 10th

Here’s a film that defies the rule that, by rights, a bunch of people talking to one another in one location ought to make for tedious cinema. (Such outings usually work very well on the stage, a medium about a bunch of people talking in one location.) Yet Sarah Polley’s adaptation of the novel Women Talking proves electrifying. It’s based on a novel by Canadian author Miriam Toews which is in turn based on horrifying real life events (although the book is “an imagined response to real events”, rather than an attempt to actually conjure or describe those events).

Between 2005 and 2009, in an isolated Mennonite community in Bolivia, over a hundred girls and women were raped in their sleep. Their discoveries were initially dismissed by the community’s menfolk until it came to light that a small group of men had sprayed the interiors of the victims’ houses with animal anaesthetic to render them and their families unconscious.… Read the rest

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Donna

Director – Jay Bedwani – 2022 – UK – Cert. 15 – 75m

***1/2

A look at the everyday life of Donna Personna, a trans activist from a Baptist background living in San Francisco – released in cinemas and on Bohemia Euphoria on Friday, July 15th

This threw me at first because it appears to be partly Welsh funded yet it’s about someone living in San Francisco. No matter. The seventysomething Donna Personna is first seen powdering her face and telling a story from her youth about getting her sister’s boyfriend to kiss him when she wasn’t around. She seems a genial person, who I would imagine is a lot of fun to be around in real life and a perfect subject for the camera who lights up the screen whenever she’s on it (which is most of the time).

What’s great about this film, for a non-trans viewer, is that it gives an idea of what it‘s like to be trans, both in terms of day to day living and upbringing. It doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind, rather it just wants to show how life is for someone like Donna. Her father was a Christian minister and her mother (not surprisingly) a minister’s wife who between them had a total of 15 kids!… Read the rest