Jesus Camp (2006)

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I objected to so much in Jesus Camp that it’s hard to know where to begin.

Jesus Camp follows a group of children as they’re indoctrinated by fundamentalist Christians at a summer camp;  it is a documentary that leaves one both angry and incredulous.

At the centre of it is Becky Fischer, a fat, obnoxious egotist who serves as the main speaker at the camp. We see Fischer preaching emphatically to these young minds, permeating their innocence with fear and guilt until they cry hysterically. So ridiculous and damn risible is her fanaticism that she even lambasts Harry Potter, spouting that ‘Warlocks are enemies of God! Had it been in the Old Testament Harry Potter would have been put to death! You don’t make heroes out of warlocks!’ – clearly, a religion of peace.

What is happening here is not religion, it’s child abuse. The children aren’t given the opportunity to think for themselves, they are inundated and imbued with bigotry, absurd reactionary values and a completely zealous devotion to God. Fischer and her creepy minions are quite open about what they’re doing, she even refers to it as ‘indoctrination’ in one instance, but they see nothing wrong in it, in fact she even says – ‘I would like to see more children indoctrinated!’ When asked why she targets children, Fischer replies candidly and without shame – ‘The reason that we target kids is that whatever they learn by the time they’re 7, 8, 9 years old is pretty much there for the rest of their lives.’ 

Much of what you see is deplorable, however it truly passes a boundary when the indoctrinators use the language of violence, speaking of things such as ‘God’s army’, ‘fighting’ and ‘war’. After many children have been driven slightly mad by the suffocating mania of Fischer and her misfits, they are encouraged to manifest their religious zeal into violence by smashing mugs that represent all things satanic with a claw-hammer.

It’s this ‘God’s army’ mentality that produces the most disconcerting behaviour amongst the children. One child speaks of how she feels like a ‘warrior’ and that she’s at ‘peace’ with death; children should not be forced to contemplate their mortality like this. Her point is expanded upon by 12-year-old Levi – ‘you know a lot of people die for God and stuff and they’re not even afraid.’ If the political landscape of the United States was to descend somehow into bedlam, I could see this pernicious, extreme devotion to God becoming very violent indeed. They claim that their cause is purely spiritual, but that is nonsense, the real purpose of their dogma is to create a Evangelical overhaul of the government.

All of this incessant madness and irrationality is interrupted sporadically by Mike Papantino, the Christian co-host of radio programme Ring of Fire. The camera captures Papantino in his studio as he articulately despairs of these people, highlighting the alarming scale of the Evangelical movement and how this affects the democracy of the United States. Although I disagree with his religious views, Papantino reminds the viewer that there are normal people of faith out there that believe in the separation of church and state just like the founding fathers of their country.

Despite the input of Papantino, the documentary is, to its credit, largely impartial; directors Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady just let the cameras roll on their unhinged subjects. To insert their presence into the documentary and make any judgement would be unnecessary. Ewing and Grady’s documentary offers an important insight that effortlessly captures the unnerving and dangerous Evangelical underbelly of the United States.

 79%

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The Prestige (2006)

The Prestige

The conclusion is comically implausible, but the preceding two hours are thoroughly engaging.

Ultimately, like so many of Christopher Nolan’s films, ‘The Prestige’ is ridiculous and far-fetched. The story twists in a way that beggars belief, in a way that’s so desperately lacking in plausibility that one asks themselves ‘Did I hear that correctly? Has it really just gone in that direction?’ Thankfully, this occurs at the end of the film, the preceding two hours produce, generally speaking, a delightfully realistic, taut and human period drama that engrosses far more than I expected.

The film follows two magicians Roger Angier (Hugh Jackman) and Alfred Borden (Christian Bale) whose rivalry becomes so bitter and intense that it escalates to deception and violence. Their desperate attempts to exceed each other are genuinely engrossing, especially when Borden first develops ‘The Transported Man’. Angier and Borden’s romantic partners, Olivia Wenscombe (Scarlett Johansson) and Sarah Borden (Rebecca Hall) respectively, are dragged into the acerbic rivalry, resulting in betrayal, adultery and depression.

Indeed, the aforementioned twist is a vital device that makes the film, in the writers’ minds at least, ‘work’, which means the film is rather flawed. The climax undermines everything that made the film good, but those two hours soften the blow considerably. All performances are solid, particularly Rebecca Hall’s, who has a real, sweet naturalness about her that struck me as soon as she graced the screen.

Christian Bale’s accent takes at least 40 minutes to get accustomed to, it has an odd, contrived strain to it that normally only appears in interviews. As everyone knows, he’s British, but I think his true accent was lost in Hollywood a long time ago, I’m no longer sure what his real accent is, and I don’t think he does either.

The film becomes increasingly overwrought as it approaches its risibly stupid climax, however I think the film’s merits overpower this, making it an enjoyable but not great film.

72%

Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

law abiding citizen

Above: during his arrest, Gerard Butler strips naked for no apparent reason.

This film is silly, and not in a good way. Any film you have criticised in the past for farfetchedness or implausibility will be put into perspective by this truly ludicrous film.

Firstly, all characters are wholly flat and featureless; there is no depth or anything of interest in any of them, the film comprises only stock characters. Gerard Butler co-stars as ‘Clyde Shelton’, a seemingly omnipotent God-like figure who appears to be stronger and more capable than the FBI, the Philadelphia Police Department and various other judicial bodies combined. There’s a line of dialogue that acknowledges this absurdity, but that doesn’t make it okay. Shelton is on a mission to correct the judicial system, which he deems to have failed him after the murder of his wife and child. His extraordinary tactility and expertise are tenuously explained in a scene in which a back story is given to Shelton, a naturally clichéd tale of how he was a human disposal expert, the character predictably saying “He was the best”.

His superhuman capabilities are all very convenient, but I don’t think he’s all that bright, because he clearly makes everything much harder for himself. Once the credits roll, it becomes apparent that the plot has one gaping hole, there was no reason for Clyde Shelton to want to be in prison, it would be completely illogical for him to want to be there; you’ll know what I’m talking about if you decide to see it. Besides this fatal flaw, there are also the ways in which he exacts revenge, which become increasingly nonsensical and boring as the film progresses.

All of this absurdity is fatally compounded by the fact it takes itself seriously. I expected to enjoy this film in a similar way I enjoyed ‘Commando’, a film which is implausible too, but works through caricatures, hilariously bad acting and fantastically corny one-liners. In ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ however, there was barely a grain of humour. Despite this, the film gave me one laugh, a scene in which a particularly irritating character is inexplicably killed by means of a maliciously modified mobile phone.

This juvenile, unbelievably far-fetched narrative means ‘Law Abiding Citizen’ is boring. It makes the mistake of taking seriously a script that appears to have been written by an eleven year-old; but even with humour and interesting performances, I doubt this film could be salvaged. The film is just a brain dead heap of cheap viscera manufactured for the multiplexes; its hugely generous IMDb score speaks volumes for people’s taste.

30%