Review: The Green Knight

Visually impressive and very weird, David Lowery’s film is set in the time of Arthurian legend and it is very atmospheric and heavy with symbolism. I enjoyed it, though it is slow and parts of it were fairly inscrutable.

Dev Patel plays young Sir Gawain, who stands out from the court of King Arthur when he accepts the challenge of the Green Knight, a supernatural entity brought to marvelous life by Ralph Ineson under a ton of make-up and aided by a soundtrack of rustling trees and creaking bark marking every move. He arrives one Christmas to find a challenger who can land a strike on him and then receive back the same strike one year later. Gawain succeeds, and when the time comes, he goes to confront the Green Knight at the behest of an aging King Arthur (Sean Harris).

What follows is a weird journey through a medieval countryside where the theme seems to be the never-ending struggle by civilization to stamp out nature, yet the green always comes back. Gawain encounters highwaymen, ghosts and a couple who seem to symbolize the coming enlightenment. The visuals are always great, heavy with foreboding and gloom, which reflect the turmoil in Gawain as he confronts his own cowardice time and again.

It’s not a perfect movie and it is perhaps a bit too slow in some places and a bit too on-the-nose in others, but for an atmospheric piece it succeeds brilliantly. The cinematography and the art direction, the costumes, the music, the score and sound are all very evocative of a dark, creepy world of weirdness that isn’t always explained. It doesn’t have very compelling characters, everyone seems to serve a function more than existing organically, but I believe the whole film exists largely on an allegorical plane. Your enjoyment will depends on how well you tolerate ambiguity.

The Green Knight is a creepy, weird dark fantasy film which I enjoyed very much.

(516) The Green Knight | Official Trailer HD | A24 – YouTube

Review: Promising Young Woman

Revenge is an interesting subject. We’ve all felt wronged or angered by someone else’s suffering and it is cathartic to see revenge exacted upon parties responsible for injustice, but the dark side of revenge is that it destroys the avenger as much as anyone. This idea is cunningly brought forward in Promising Young Woman, an exceptional film written and directed by Emerald Fennel.

In the film, Carrie Mulligan plays a woman consumed by revenge for the loss of a dear friend who was raped and subsequently lost the will to live, destroyed by the event. As Cassandra, she goes out clubbing, pretending to get drunk in order to trick men into revealing their predatory intentions when pretending to look out for the defenseless maiden and then dealing out some sort of punishment.

It’s a great hook and the film plays things with a great sense of ickiness at the creep factor on display. These guys always imagine themselves as nice guys and the casting of familiar faces known for nice guy roles, such as Adam Brody, goes a long way. Cassandra does develop a relationship with a pediatric surgeon played by Bo Burnham but the film is ultimately nihilistic and love cannot last. The most tragic figures in the movie are Cassandra’s parents, played with wonderful empathy and love by Jennifer Coolidge and Clancy Brown, long-suffering to see their daughter’s listlessness ever since the loss of her friend.

The film is really good. It moves along at a good pace, never lingering too long on the unpleasantries. It’s very funny but icky and dark at the same time, which is a really interesting blend, and ultimately tragic for all parties. I found all of the characters relatable and I really liked the unexpected turn of Alfred Molina as a lawyer facing a crisis. Carey Mulligan is fantastic as the central character, carrying the film very ably with a haunted confidence as she slowly exacts revenge after years of plotting, someone whose motivations you can understand but is told again and again by those around her, including the victim’s mother (an understated Molly Shannon) to move on.

I really like Promising Young Woman. I think it is a smart, funny yet tragic movie that is more than just a revenge film. I loved how it challenged me and made me squirm while also kind of giggling at the same time, not a lot of movies can do that to me. I highly recommend it.

Review: Hamilton

I finally had a chance to see Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton by way of the Disney+ presentation. I went in fairly indifferent, being suspicious of hype, but I quickly became impressed, then engrossed and then astounded. Hamilton is even better than they hype.

I know very little about the early days of the United States beyond the broad strokes of history and a slightly more than passing familiarity with the names involved. However, the last place I go to for an accurate history lesson is entertainment. I approached Hamilton as a work of fiction with some basis in fact. That doesn’t lessen its impact for me in the slightest.

I found in Hamilton that perfect balance of a simultaneously simple story with a lot of complex subtext that touches upon our modern world. It is as much about now as it is about then. The writing is wonderful, eliciting sympathy and admiration for characters like Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and others without being fawning. The music is great, the cast is great and the stagecraft is wonderful, with a revolving floor and fly-away sections that only reinforce the action with spectacle that never distracts from the story or the emotions.

Most of all, however, I felt inspired by the show. It was electrifying in its optimism and love. It was as if I was witnessing a sea-change. The show has so much more going on besides the simple biography it presents. It’s expansive and inspiring and I am so, so happy I watched it. Absolutely astounding.

Retro-Review: Hook (1991)

A few weeks ago, I heard by chance the music from Steven Spielberg’s Hook playing on the radio which brought back warm feelings, as I owned the soundtrack on CD back in the 90s and listened to it over and over. I think it’s one of John Williams’ greatest scores and I put it in heavy rotation again.

A little while later, I saw a thread on Reddit discussing the film and how everyone commenting had such positive memories of it which don’t seem to jibe with the film’s reputation. At about the same time I heard that Spielberg himself has never been particularly happy with how it turned out, and, as someone who loved the movie when it came out, I thought it might be time for a re-evaluation. So, I watched again for the first time in over 25 years.

Robin Williams plays Peter Banning, a workaholic lawyer out of touch with his family and largely amnesiac about his life before the age of twelve. On a trip to London, Peter’s children are kidnapped and he is visited by the glowing pixie Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts) who tells him Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) is behind it, wishing to provoke his old foe Peter Pan into a final fight to the death. Peter Banning is Peter Pan, only he has forgotten, and it is up to Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys to help him unlock his memories and take up the battle to rescue his kids.

First of all, I think the movie is still great, though not Spielberg’s best. It suffers from over-sentimentality at times and some of the special effects are dated and not as convincing as today’s fare. It’s also very long, well over two hours, and could have been tighter in places (getting to Neverland could have been quicker, for instance). All that being said, the set-design, costumes and make-up are really amazing in scope and the action is typical top-notch Spielberg. Special mention goes out to the fact that Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman appear to have done almost all of their own sword-fighting, and they look very impressive.

Speaking of the cast, everyone is great but the real stand-outs are Dustin Hoffman as Hook and Bob Hoskins as Smee. Hoffman really has fun with his part, dominating every scene he’s in as the cartoonishly psychotic Hook, all the while underscored by his capable henchman. They are such a fun duo to watch, much like Gene Hackman and Ned Beatty in Superman, and every scene they are in is a joy. Robin Williams is so right for the role of a grown up Peter Pan who has forgotten who he is but still shines when his inner Pan returns that I can’t imagine anyone else in the part.

The film’s themes of maturity and responsibility are well-handled, I think, for a blockbuster family film. In fact, as a 44 year-old who has friends and family with kids of their own, I found a special resonance in some scenes that hadn’t rung so strongly for me when I watched it 25 years or more ago. For all its excesses, the film still stirred some powerful feelings in me which I didn’t expect, due in no small part to the music which is powerful, sweet, melancholy, mirthful, epic and just plain beautiful. This is among the best John Williams has ever done, in my opinion.

Nearly thirty years have passed since Hook was released and it has aged well, though it has aged. Even though some parts of it are a little long and it sometimes suffers from over-sentimentality, I still had a fun time watching the cast, the art direction and the stunt-work. I think it’s very good, and that’s not rose-tinted spectacles talking.

The trailer

I also found this video essay about re-examining Hook and I think it’s worth a watch.

FAVOURITE MOVIES OF 2019 AND THE DECADE

Here is my list of my favourite movies of 2019, now that I have caught up with the late releases of December. And, while we’re at it, I feel I should list my favourite movies of the past decade as an addendum, so keep scrolling.

#1: 1917

I saw some good ones this year, but for me Sam Mendes’ 1917 was jaw-dropping in its execution of a seemingly single-take narrative of two soldiers tasked with delivering orders across No Man’s Land. The imagery is powerful and evocative, the cinematography astonishing (especially the city in ruins at night lit by rising and descending flares) and the performances by everyone are beautifully understated. I’ve seen it twice and the second time was even more powerful than the first. Truly awesome.

Trailer

#2: Toy Story 4

When I first heard they were making a fourth installment in a series that ended over a decade before on an impossible-to-beat note, I thought it was a terrible idea. Never in a million years would I have expected the filmmakers to top the untoppable, but I was wrong. Toy Story 4 did it with such heart and sincerity and empathy that I was completely floored. Whereas the third film saves all of its emotional power for the finale, this one is an emotional roller coaster from start to end that had me in tears as often as laughter. I adore this movie.

Trailer

#3: The Lighthouse

As much as I love traditional glossy Hollywod product, I love the other end of the spectrum at least as much. The Lighthouse is a dark, weird and minimal story about two men trapped together in a lighthouse, slowly descending into madness. The black-and-white cinematography and the square aspect ratio lend a lot to the oppressive atmosphere and Willem DaFoe is mesmerizing.

Trailer

#4: Parasite

This Korean film is a wicked satire about class antagonism which I loved. The tone is light until it starts twisting in truly unexpected ways as it progresses. I loved the dark sense of humour that toyed with my sympathies at first playfully, then more conflictingly as everything unravels toward the end. What I love most about it is how multi-faceted it is; there are a lot of ways to look at it and pick it apart which, to me, is the sign of real art.

Trailer

#5: Joker

Another film I thought was a bad idea from the outset but turned out to be just right. Humanizing a psychopath like the Joker is very dangerous, in my opinion, but the brilliance of the film is in the ways that it tests your sympathy. Initially, you feel sorry for the guy, but at a certain point he crosses a line. Where that line is for different audiences is interesting to note, but I do think the movie is good as an overall look at the narcissism and lack of empathy that poisons society. Also, after Heath Ledger, I didn’t think there was anywhere left to go with the character, but Joaquin Phoenix proved me wrong.

Trailer

BEST OF THE DECADE

This is not a list that can easily be arranged in any kind of order. Looking back at the movies that came out in the past ten years, it has been a truly astonishing decade for film. I could have simply put the movies from previous years’ favourites list, but instead I chose movies that have stuck with me for one reason or another since I saw them. Here they are chronologically.

  • Inception (2010) – What a way to start the decade! Inverted heist movie with a star-studded cast under Christopher Nolan’s masterful direction.
  • Bridesmaids (2011) – Great comedy, gut-bustingly funny stuff with a really sweet heart at its center.
  • Cloud Atlas (2012) – Unbelievably ambitious narrative, packing six stories spanning several centuries into a single movie that I found to be so compelling I had to put it on my top ten all-time favourites list.
  • Gravity (2013) – The most thrilling ride I’ve ever had in a cinema, I had to see this one five times and it is one of only two movies I believe are enhanced by the 3D experience.
  • 12 Years A Slave (2013) – Quiet, understated but tremendously moving for all its subtlety. The poetry of its images is still strongly in my mind.
  • The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Absolutely delightful comedy that balances whimsy and tragedy like no other. And what a cast!
  • X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) – The best X-Men movie, in my opinion, with character motivations as compelling as the plot is complex.
  • Birdman (2014) – Wonderful characters and hilarious situations are everywhere in this story of showbiz madness, ego and death told in a single take.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Phenomenal. Wall-to-wall action, mind-blowing production design and eye-popping stunts combine to make this quite possibly the greatest action movie ever made.
  • Arrival (2016) – It’s hard to think of another sci-fi film that approaches alien contact so intelligently, but the real power in this movie is its emotional core which squeezes tears out of me every single time I watch it. Absolutely beautiful.
  • Moonlight (2016) – One of a handful of movies I’ve seen that truly made me feel transported into another person’s life, this is one of the most amazing exercises in empathy I’ve ever seen.
  • La La Land (2016) – A really sweet story of love and respect that swept me away with its charming leads and the most surprising and satisfying ending of any rom-com ever.
  • Toni Erdmann (2016) – This German film about a practical-joking father trying to reconnect with his estranged daughter swings the pendulum from the ultimate in cringe-humour to the most heart-breaking empathy. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed and cried so hard in one movie.
  • mother! (2017) – This movie is black as pitch in its scathing portrayal of humanity’s confused struggle with nature and religion. At least, that’s what I got out of this surreal, oppressive, incredibly dark fever dream that is unlike any other movie I’ve ever seen. Intense.
  • Blade Runner 2049 (2017) – That rare beast of cinema, a sequel that improves upon the original. Tonally consistent with its predecessor but with a far more satisfying emotional payoff.
  • Sorry to Bother You (2018) – This movie is full of surprises and is a wonderful example of scrappy indie spirit making the most of meager resources to create something really different, funny and smart.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018) – The best Spider-Man movie ever, in my opinion, told with a really fresh and dynamic animation style.
  • Eighth Grade (2018) – Simultaneously hilarious and heart-breaking, I was amazed at the universality of the story: no matter the era, being 13 is the worst time of your life.
  • Hereditary (2018) – The most fascinating horror movie I’ve seen in a very long time, this movie has a terrific story with some truly shocking turns, but it’s Toni Collette’s performance that is really something to behold.
  • 1917 (2019) – Single-take journey across the war-torn fields of Europe in World War I, this movie shows you things you’ve never seen before and has some of the most rousing moments in any war film.

And those are just twenty examples of the amazing movies of the past decade. Here’s hoping the next decade is as exciting!

Review: Joker

Great movie. It is complex, operating on a lot of levels, but also quite emotionally powerful and very, very mature. It is possibly the most grounded and realistic interpretation of a DC comics character yet and Joaquin Phonex is phenomenal as the central character. I loved the way it was shot and the tone of it, so much like Taxi Driver that it felt like it was made around the same time. I think Joker is a really great movie, among the best of 2019.

Joaquin Phoenix plays Arthur Fleck, a clown-for-hire with aspirations of being a stand-up comedian but plagued by mental illness of which one of the symptoms is uncontrollable laughter at inappropriate times. He lives with his mother, Penny (Frances Conroy) a shut-in who idolizes Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) and writes letters to him from a very run-down apartment in a rough part of town. Arthur makes a bid for comedy at an open-mic night but bombs so badly, Gotham’s top-rated talk show host Murray Franklin (Robert DeNiro) puts the clip on the air as an object of ridicule. After being assaulted on the job, Arthur is given a gun for protection which he uses to shoot three Wall Street bullies who assault him on the subway. This sets off a city-wide class conflict when the “vigilante clown” is taken up as a hero by the resentful poor of the city who all don clown masks to descend on city hall at the climax of the film, which coincides with Arthur’s appearance as a guest on the Murray Franklin show, booked after the unexpected hit episode where he was made fun of. I won’t spoil the ending, but it is perfect, given the character and his questionable mental state.

It’s really a story about denial and narcissism

First of all, the story is excellent, with Arthur’s struggles front and center but writ large on the canvas of the city around him. The time is roughly 1981 and the world we see is truly the world he inhabits. The bleakness of Raegan-era recession is presented in piled-up garbage everywhere symbolizing societal decay, an outward reflection of Arthur’s social decay and illness which only gets worse when cutbacks to social programs force him off his medication. The influence of films like Taxi Driver and King of Comedy are as strong as the character’s comic book lore and I found lots of Easter eggs for fans of both sources. The script (by director Todd Phillip and Scott Silver) and Phoenix’s performance generate empathy for the character on the one hand but also revulsion at the heinous acts he commits. What you end up with is not so much sympathy as understanding and, I think, a positive sense that facts have to be faced and the need for empathy and kindness in our world. It’s really a story about denial and narcissism, of seeing only what we want to see and shutting out everything and everyone else. It felt to me as much a story about the breakdown of society as much as the breakdown of a man. Very compelling.

Joaquin Phoenix is amazing in this movie. I thought, after what Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger each achieved, followed by Jared Letos’ failure to measure up, there was nothing left in the character, but I was very wrong. Phoenix brings a powerful, repressed intensity to it that is new and sad and scary. His physicality is astounding, from his wiry physique and clownish dancing to what he does with his eyes while laughing to convey that there’s really nothing funny about the situation. It’s an absolutely fascinating performance and he dominates you attention every second he’s on screen. The rest of the cast is great too, everyone inhabiting their roles authentically, but nobody comes close to what Phoenix does here.

We don’t need more insanity

The cinematography and production design are all terrific. The movie feels as if it was made in the time it was set. There are some very interesting design choices as well, such as the use of simple Halloween clown masks echoing the Joker’s gang of bank robbers from the opening sequence of The Dark Knight as well as mirroring the use of the Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta as a symbol for global protest. There is violence, for sure, though not as much as you might think. I felt it was at a totally appropriate level, harsh enough for you to feel the brutality but not gratuitous. The soundtrack is great, filled with weirdly nostalgic music which further makes it feel from another time. Despite all of its trappings and mood, however, I found it also feels very contemporary and cautionary for today. I don’t think Joker is political so much as it is apolitical, pointing out hypocrisy on every side. I think what it says is more along the lines of “we don’t need more insanity.”

I loved Joker. I think it’s intelligent, complex, fascinating and darkly funny. There is a lot to chew on and it is worth seeing more than once. Joaquin Phoenix is amazing to watch and the story gives him a lot to work with while also being a cautionary tale about social breakdown. It is certainly the most mature treatment of comic book superhero material I’ve ever seen on screen.

I also think Mark Kermode’s review is on-target.

Mark Kermode’s review
Official trailer

Review: GLOW – Season 3

I have been a big fan of this show since I started watching it because of its recurring themes of friendship and kindness and season three has delivered on the promise of the first two. I adore GLOW, I think it’s a wonderful series about empowerment and support that covers a wide range of emotions.

This season is all about Vegas, where the GLOW was headed at the end of season two. There are major character developments for just about everyone and some really moving moments. My favourite aspect of the show is how funny it can be while also being heartbreaking and touching. I find myself in tears almost as often as I’m laughing at the things going on.

Season three expands the characters by adding Geena Davis as hotel manager Sandy Devereaux St. Clair and Kevin Cahoon as drag performer Bobby Barnes. There are hair-raising moments and big developments for many of the major characters, especially Bash Howard (Chris Lowell). Betty Gilpin and Alison Brie lead the show with aplomb and Marc Maron is great as always. The great cast of fun and diverse characters is without a doubt the attraction, but the series writing really is its best aspect.

GLOW Season 3 is on Netflix now and I highly recommend it.

Film Review – Toy Story 4

Achieves the impossible by topping the third film.

I went into this movie with a lot of trepidation because I love Toy Story 3 so deeply that I was sure any further entry was bound to fail. I was wrong. Toy Story 4 achieves the impossible by topping what was already a perfect ending to a trilogy as well as a perfect film in and of itself. I laughed and I cried more than I have at any other movie that I can remember and I adored the themes and reversals of expectation the film constantly hit me with. I don’t think I’ll see a better movie this year.

In this entry, Bonnie (the child owner of the toys) builds a new toy made out of trash in arts and crafts at kindergarten. Forky (voiced by Tony Hale) suffers an identity crisis, thinking himself trash, and Woody (Tom Hanks) takes it on as his mission to help Forky understand his importance to Bonnie as her new favourite toy. The family goes on a road trip and Forky jumps out the window of the moving RV, followed by Woody who will not let Bonnie down, determined to find Forky and bring him back to her. The two end up in an antique store where old toys nobody wants have turned somewhat sinister. Woody escapes and runs into Bo Peep (Annie Potts) who was absent from the last film for reasons explained in this film’s prologue. Since then she has become a Lost Toy with a fiercely independent streak and helps Woody rescue Forky, with the rest of the gang pitching in.

I found the movie to be an emotional roller-coaster. It starts innocuously enough with a heart-warming montage of Woody’s life but then begins to tread on some existential territory with Forky’s difficulty in accepting what he is, which is like an external metaphor for the issues Woody has to face. There are even questions asked like “what does it mean to be a toy” and “why are we alive?” which took me by surprise, being in a family film, and I really liked the positive theme of compassion running throughout, especially where it concerned the supposed villain of the film, Gabby Gabby (voiced by Christina Hendricks), who wants to replace her defective talk-box with Woody’s. Some of her scenes were the heaviest, emotionally.

The real stand-out for me is Bo Peep’s character. Her agency and her independence reminded me a lot of Charlize Theron’s Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road, including such details as having a detachable right arm and driving a vaguely Max-universe vehicle. She’s amazing, especially with Annie Potts’ great self-assurance in her delivery, just a beautifully realized character.

The other winner of my admiration is Duke Kaboom (Keanu Reeves), Canada’s Greatest Stuntman, a vainglorious motorcycle stunt-toy in the mold of Evil Kenevil, but wearing a white cape and jumpsuit emblazoned with a red maple leaf. I adore good-hearted glory hounds who lack self-awareness and every scene he was in was a ton of fun. I particularly loved his catch-phrase, “Yes, I Can-ada!”

The visuals in the movie are tremendously sophisticated and treading on photo-real at times with things like the storm sequence in the prologue. There’s no question Pixar renders amazing images, but there are so many wonderfully framed shots and visual metaphors laced throughout the movie that it makes you marvel at the amount of thought and care that had to have gone into everything, which is always in support of that theme of compassion that elevates the movie to astounding heights.

I really, really loved Toy Story 4 and I think it is even better than the third because, whereas the third saved all of its heart and brains for the payoff, this movie keeps on surprising you with the twists and turns of the plot as much as its emotional ups-and-downs. All of the characters have wonderful depth and agency, with Woody and Bo Peep forming the best on-screen couple since Max and Furiosa, or Ripley and Hicks before them. The themes of compassion and responsibility are really powerful and balanced marvelously by the humour and visual gags. It’s an amazingly well-made movie and probably my favourite film of 2019.

Review: Black Mirror – Season 5

I love Black Mirror and have been a fan ever since discovering it around season 3. The show is dark and twisted but also has its lighter moments and the three new episodes that constitute season 5 are exemplary of the show’s varied imagination.

Striking Vipers is a story about two friends (Anthony Mackie and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who reunite after years apart and bond over a sophisticated VR fighting game which soon becomes a conduit for unrequited feelings the two friends have. I was genuinely surprised by the early twist in the storyline and I really appreciated its maturity and sensitivity in dealing with the subject matter. I also loved the ending.

In Smithereens, Andrew Scott plays a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown who takes hostage an employee of the tech giant behind Persona, a Facebook-like social media platform, demanding to have a phone call with its Zuckerberg-esque creator. I found it struck an astounding balance between tragedy and comedy, making me laugh out loud several times as well as shed a tear at one point.

Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too features Miley Cyrus as a pop sensation whose new AI doll becomes the prized possession of Angourie Rice’s Rachel, but her sister Jack (Madison Davenport) has concerns about its influence. This episode is much more light-hearted in its execution, even if it has some dark material, striking and almost Scooby-Doo vibe at times, but I found it quite fun and well-earned after the seriousness of the previous two episodes. Plus, it gave me a new respect for Miley Cyrus.

Black Mirror is probably my favourite TV show. I love how intelligent and mature it is and how the series is more about quality than quantity, as each season is pretty short. The best thing about the show, in my opinion, is its anthology nature. Every episode is its own self-contained story and you can start anywhere; the quality is such that you will know in one or two episodes if this show is for you or not. Personally, I love it.

Film Review: Jesus Christ Superstar (1973)

This Easter Sunday, I went to the Rio to see Norman Jewison’s film adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar and it was one of the most memorable movie-going experiences of my life. It’s a movie that, much like Star Wars, has been part of my life for as long as I can remember and viewed countless times, but seeing it for the first time on a big screen with an audience of enthusiastic fans was electrifying.

First and foremost, the music is awesome. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s melodies and Tim Rice’s lyrics are epic, intimate, haunting, joyful, fascinating and forever singable, all of which are in service to a slightly strange movie with very impressive visuals. It seems predicated upon the idea that a bunch of theatrical performers decide to stage the rock opera in the middle of the Israeli desert using a funny mix of props and costumes that range from period-accurate rough cloth robes and sandals to chrome-helmeted, tank-top wearing, Uzi-carrying Roman soldiers, and all of the sets are either ruins, landscapes or caves.

Amazingly ahead of its time in casting

The imagery in the film is really terrific, as shot by Douglas Slocombe who went on to do the first three Indiana Jones films, among others. The composition, the framing and the camera movement are all wonderfully conceived and executed, which is to say nothing of the amazing choreography on display. The performers in this film are incredible athletes when you look at the kinds of moves they are doing in the hot desert conditions. Most impressive of all is the diversity of players on display, with a white Jesus (Ted Neely), black Judas (Carl Anderson) and Hawaiian Mary (Yvonne Elliman) surrounded by a rainbow of supporting cast. For a movie made over 40 years ago, it is amazingly ahead of its time in casting and it’s stunning that it has taken the rest of Hollywood this long to catch up.

My favourite sequence of all is, of course, the title number, which they save for the end. Carl Anderson coming down from heaven dressed in tassled whites on a crane to be joined by a host of dancing angels is something indescribably fun, especially with the accompanying track. I love the joyful playfulness of the lyrics “Buddha, was he where it’s at, is he where you are?/Could Mohammed move a mountain or was that just P.R.?” presented with a huge production number. It may appear to be superficially irreverent, but I think Jesus Christ Superstar is closer to the humanity and the truth of the story than any stuffy Sunday school sermon.

Sympathetic portrayal of Judas

I am not a christian, but I am a humanist, and this particular rendition of the Jesus story is the most humanistic and the only one I can really enjoy. I’m not sure why, but I think it’s the humility of each character, how everyone seems to have flaws in some way or another, even Jesus whose doubts about his fate ironically coming out of a kind of determined fatalism. It’s really the story’s sympathetic portrayal of Judas that has always stood out to me, and I think that’s why I’ve always had a hard time with the traditional image of him as the worst of humanity. I think maybe even at a very young age I could smell how judgemental organized religion tends to be.

In any case, Jesus Christ Superstar is one of my favourite films of all-time and seeing it on a big screen with an audience made seeing it at the Rio one of the best experiences I’ve ever had at the movies. I loved every minute of it.