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Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, A Journey, A Song

Directors – Daniel Geller, Dayna Goldfine – 2021 – UK – Cert. 12 – 118m

***

The career of writer-turned-singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen, with particular emphasis on his best known song Hallelujah – out in UK cinemas on Friday, September 16th

There have been films about Leonard Cohen before, hardly surprising given his status as one of the major singer / songwriters of the twentieth century. This one falls between two stools.

Leonard Cohen

On the one hand, it’s an attempt to document his career, and as such comes across as another Leonard Cohen movie which is fine as an introduction if you don’t know his career and music and I suspect fine for Leonard completists. As someone in the middle, this aspect seemed to be all talking heads treading mostly predictable ground.

On the other, it explores Cohen’s best known song Hallelujah, his struggles in writing it and how the piece ultimately took on a life of its own. This second aspect hasn’t been explored that widely to the best of my knowledge and proves a far richer seam into the mind, workings, practices and artistry of Cohen, making you wish the filmmakers had dumped much of the other material and explored this area at greater length.… 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 fate – out in UK cinemas from 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. Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward)’s Christian values comprise dogma about Christ being the Resurrection and the Life plus traditional sexual mores: he’s engaged to be married and does not believe in sex before marriage.… Read the rest

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Father Stu

Director – Rosalind Ross – 2022 – US – Cert. 15 – 124m

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A boxer turned actor who fancies a Catholic girl is drawn into first the church and then the priesthood – out in cinemas Friday, May 13th

Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg) is stuck. His career as a boxer has been going nowhere for three years, then comes the news from his doctor that he needs to pack it in. That’s okay, though – he always wanted to be an actor, so he moves to LA and lands himself a job serving on a supermarket meat counter. This seems to him as good a place as any to get discovered. That doesn’t go anywhere, but what DOES happen is that he sees a girl he likes, Carmen (Teresa Ruiz).

However, Carmen is a Catholic and won’t date anyone who isn’t. So, to make something happen, he first of all finds her church and attends services there just to see her, then pretty soon he’s signing up to classes to get baptised into the faith. This seems to have the desired effect and they become a couple with marriage on the horizon sometime in the future. It has a further effect on Stuart that he didn’t bargain for: being around religious people and studying what Catholics believe, he starts to become one himself and develop a genuine faith.… Read the rest

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By the Grace of God (Grâce à Dieu)

Abuse in church

By the Grace of God (Grâce à Dieu)
Directed by François Ozon
Certificate 15, 137 minutes
London Film Festival, 5 and 6 October
Released 25 October

First published in Reform magazine. Now on Amazon and Curzon Home Cinema.

Over two hours long, this gripping and hugely topical affair dramatises the scandal of child abuse at Catholic summer camps over 20 years ago in the diocese of Lyon, France. The case has shaken the Church there since it became public in recent years. Despite Father Bernard Preynat (Bernard Verley) admitting his guilt, his superior, Cardinal Barbarin (François Marthouret) failed to curtail Preynat’s access to children thereby enabling his abuse of more victims in the ensuing years.

At a press conference, the cardinal uses the phrase ‘by the grace of God’ about the statute of limitations on many of the abuse cases. He is immediately criticised for the comment but it reveals how Barbarin is concerned more with protecting the institution of the Catholic Church than in caring for his flock.

Writer-director François Ozon constructs his narrative around three survivors… Read the rest

First published in Reform magazine. Now on Amazon and Curzon Home Cinema.

Trailer:

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Wings Of Eagles

Serving the true God

Wings Of Eagles
Directed by Stephen Shin, Michael Parker
Certificate 12, 108 minutes
Released 12 March 2018

A sequel of sorts to Chariots of Fire, Wings Of Eagles tells the story of Eric Liddell’s missionary years in China. He’s played here by Joseph Fiennes, an actor who has grappled with one aspect or another of Christianity in several stories (Risen, The Handmaid’s Tale, Luther) and seems to thrive on roles like this. The film’s focus on British missionary work in China evokes The Inn of the Sixth Happiness about Gladys Aylward.

Liddell famously refused to run an Olympic race on Sunday, believing that no work should be done on the Lord’s Day. Later, he went to China with the London Missionary Society, taking his family with him, then sending them home after the Japanese invaded… [Read the rest]

Trailer:

Review originally published in Reform, March 2018.

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A Quiet Passion

Nonconformist poet

A Quiet Passion
Directed by Terence Davies
Certificate 12a, 126 minutes
Released 7 April 2017

A stern matriarch divides a school room of young women into those who are saved on one side and those who hope to be saved on the other. This leaves Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon) in the middle because she hasn’t got as far as that yet. Rescued from the seminary by her father Edward (Keith Carradine), Emily confesses that she was suffering from ‘evangelism’.

Thus begins the latest film from the British, Catholic director Terence Davies – a biopic of the 19th-century, US poet Emily Dickinson, from her leaving school, through her life as a single woman in an era when women were supposed to marry and have children, to her death. Directed with Davies’ usual visual, cinematic rigour and punctuated by large chunks of Dickinson’s poetry in voice-over, the film also drips Christianity. It never attempts to convert anyone, but neither does it shy away from portraying a household in the southern states where faith and theology are everyday discussion topics. [Read more…]

Full review in Reform magazine, April 2017.

Trailer:

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Witness

UK PAL laserdisc review.

Originally published on London Calling Internet.

Distributor Pioneer LDCE

£19.99

BBFC Certificate 15

Director Peter Weir (1985)

Starring Harrison Ford, Kelly McGillis, Lukas Haas, Danny Glover

Running Time 108 min

Dolby Surround

Widescreen: 1.85:1

Chaptered? Yes

CLV

2 Sides

First American movie by Australian director Weir was also Ford’s first attempt at serious acting (for all those who think the star didn’t have his work cut out on the Indiana Jones or Star Wars films which previously made his name). The piece shifts constantly between a generally unremarkable gun-laden, American cop thriller on the one hand and an utterly unique portrait of Amish life on the other – so unique, in fact, that most people who have heard of the Amish have done so through this film.

The simple respect afforded the Amish – an extreme post-Anabaptist, post-Mennonite Christian tradition that abhors post-industrial material in favour of a pre-industrial community lifestyle – is quite extraordinary given Hollywood’s usual smack-in-the-face / pat-on-the-head attitude towards Christianity. Here, Weir just notes and observes, making no judgements one way or the other, leaving us rather to make up our own minds.

What Weir does do, though – and to remarkable effect – is juxtapose this clean and idealistic world with a foul-mouthed, urban universe of corrupt cops.… Read the rest