Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Category: Movies (page 1 of 2)

Movie review – Churchill

Here’s my review of the movie, Churchill, which I saw last week. 


Churchill (M) In a Word: Flat MOMENT OF DECISION: Brian Cox stars as the British PM in the film Churchill. “This is a story of courage in the midst of personal despair, of perseverance when you are at the very edge of giving up and being given up on.

Movie review – Hidden Figures

If you have nothing else on this weekend, go and see Hidden Figures. It’s a brilliant movie. Here’s my review of it for Sight Magazine…


In a word: Confronting “I found myself quite choked up most of the way through this movie, as it highlighted the cruel injustice that so many went through back then and that so many still go through today just because of the colour of their skin or their gender or their sexual orientation.

Jason Bourne and violence

Ok, here I go…I have to confess, Matt Damon is my man-crush. I love his movies and he comes across like a genuinely good bloke. So here is my review of his latest Bourne movie, Jason Bourne. It might not be what you expect…


In a word: Illuminating The Bourne franchise is back with this new instalment of the heroics of the maverick former CIA operative. This time Matt Damon is back as the title character, and he comes across as somewhat more world-weary than in previous Bourne movies.

Movie review – Money Monster


A movie which has the calibre of actors like George Clooney and Julia Roberts is one that usually gets my attention. And the fact that I am writing a review of it means that my hunches about the quality of this movie were not unfounded.

[pullquote]Money Monster is a critique of a society that has become numb to the influences of social media and a culture of violence as entertainment.[/pullquote]

Money Monster is a critique of a society that has become numb to the influences of social media and a culture of violence as entertainment. Clooney plays TV personality, Lee Gates, the host of a tabloid-style financial advice cum game show called Money Monster.

Gates has recently given advice to his millions of viewers to buy shares in a company called IBIS Clear Capital, whose share price subsequently tanks. As a result, the people who took the advice of the popular Gates lose millions of dollars. One of those people is Kyle Budwell (Jack O’Connell), who lost his life savings of $60,000 after listening to Gates.

Distraught and seeking answers, Budwell infiltrates the show as it goes live to air, pulling a gun on Gates and holding him and his crew hostage, as millions of viewers around the country watch on.

Stories like this have a tendency to follow a certain script. Generally, the loner feels ripped off, takes someone hostage, and the plot goes back and forth until the “lone nut” is taken out by authorities and normality is restored.

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The Big Short is long on the human predicament

Left to right: Tracy Letts plays Lawrence Fields, Wayne Pere plays Martin Blaine and Christian Bale plays Michael Burry in The Big Short from Paramount Pictures and Regency Enterprises

We all remember the Global Financial Crisis, or GFC, as it was called. It was a time when the world stood on the brink of economic catastrophe, to the point that it was being talked about as leading to another Great Depression such as the world suffered in the 1930s.

The Big Short is the story of why the GFC happened, and how a few people saw it coming but no one listened to them.

The movie is based on the 2010 book of the same name by Michael Lewis. It stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, and Brad Pitt. 

What this movie highlights is the problem of human greed at its worst, and the evil which is unleashed when people simply don’t care about anyone else but themselves.

The housing bubble of 2007/08, which led to the GFC, highlighted the problems of an economic system that is unregulated and doesn’t take into account human nature. The problem with unfettered market capitalism is that some people have to remain poor for others to get rich. It is an amoral system, which, when left to its own devices, produces unprecedented greed the likes of which took the world to the edge of the economic cliff just those few years ago.

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The redemptive oddity of Alan Turing

Enigma-plugboard“Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things no one can imagine.”

And so – as this tagline of the brilliant movie, The Imitation Game, describes – it was with Alan Turing, the man who was abnormal, who was different, who no one imagined anything of.

This man, it turns out, was responsible for shortening the Second World War by two years and for the saving of 14 million lives. How’s that for a boast when you get to the Pearly Gates?! (never mind some suspect theology behind that last statement, but I think you get what I’m trying to say).

The Imitation Game is the story of this man who did what no one thought was possible; breaking the Nazis’ Enigma code during World War Two. Brilliantly played by Benedict Cumberbatch, Turing’s social awkwardness is revealed during his school years as he is bullied by his peers. It is during these years that he also strikes up a close friendship with fellow student, Christopher, a friendship that also reveals Turing’s homosexual orientation.

The team of codebreakers at Bletchley Park (where Turing built his magnificent machine) have become famous in the last decade or so for their contribution to winning the war, but it is Turing himself who is the hero of this story. This is a wonderful tale of how it is not always those who we think will be the heroes who actually are. The heroes are often those considered most unlikely by the majority.

The wisdom of the world is often foolishness to those who live in reality. And so it is that Turing, with all his social awkwardness, his arrogance and his stubbornness, is the one who is – quite literally – the mastermind behind the shortening of the war.

This movie also highlights many ethical dilemmas for those who fight the good fight. Just after Turing breaks the Enigma code, he and his cohorts realise that there is a ship that is about to be bombed by the Germans in a matter of about 30 minutes. It turns out that that very ship has, as one of its passengers, the brother of one of the Turing’s colleagues who helped break the Enigma code.

The obvious solution is to notify the Allied authorities to get the ship out of the danger area so it will not be sunk. Turing though thinks otherwise. The reason becomes clear in the movie, but it is a poignant moment which highlights the fact that issues of morality and ethics become much more than mere issues when someone we know is right in the centre. When they become personal, then principles suddenly seem a bit cold.

It is this very problem that occurs with the revelation of Turing’s homosexuality. Whatever our views on homosexuality, they seem to change when there are people we know who have a homosexual orientation. If we have any compassion, it is then no longer merely an issue. It is no longer distant; it hits much closer to home because it is now about someone’s life. It is in situations like this that we see that Christian faith is not about principles but about love.

And so it is that this movie highlights the tragedy of Alan Turing’s life. Forced to go onto hormonal therapy to “cure” his homosexuality, the full extent of the inner torment that Turing faced is distressingly revealed at the end of the movie. The man who saved 14 million lives and shortened the war by two years ends up taking his own life at the tender age of 41 because he can no longer cope with the demonisation he is forced to endure because of his sexual orientation.

Sadly there are Christians today who will still demonise the Alan Turings of this world over their sexual orientation, while conveniently overlooking the fact that he saved the lives of 14 million people.

It is those who are not considered normal by the world who God uses to perform the greatest acts of love. As Turing’s close friend Joan Clarke (played elegantly by Keira Knightley) affirms towards the end of this excellent movie,

“No one normal could have done that [broken the Enigma code]. Do you know, this morning… I was on a train that went through a city that wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up on my work… a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. Now, if you wish you could have been normal… I can promise you I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.”

And, as St Paul so brilliantly says, “now these three remain: faith, hope and love. And the greatest of these is love”. When we see love in the Alan Turings of this world, rather than abnormality and oddness, we will all better reflect the image of God in which he was made.

Engaging the flood of controversy over Noah

NoahThere has been a lot of controversy over the Noah movie, mainly from Christians. The controversy has been around the fact that the movie doesn’t follow the biblical story in many ways. In fact it has a bit of a Lord of the Rings feel to it, particularly with the inclusion of the rock-like creatures called the Watchers.

In a post-Christian culture like ours, do we as believers really have a right to expect that a movie about a biblical character be accurate? How can we talk about movies like this in a way that best promotes the Gospel?

About 20 years ago there was a major controversy in Australia when a piece of art called Piss Christ was put on public display. Specifically designed to shock, the artwork had the desired effect. Christians across the country were horrified by this piece that showed a crucifix submerged in a vat of urine.

How dare this person who calls himself an artist offend the biggest religion in the world by depicting Jesus like this? The outrage reached the media as people debated whether or not Piss Christ should be banned.

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The engaging intensity of Captain Phillips

This movie surprised me. I didn’t think it would be as good as it was. When I saw what it was about I thought it might be interesting to go and see, but I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to do so.

Coming out of the movie, the reason I found myself surprised was because of the intensity of how the story was told. Captain Phillips is highly engaging from start to finish. Even though you know how it’s going to end (based on the fact that it’s a true story), you’re never quite sure what is going to happen next.

The story starts out with Captain Rich Phillips (played by Tom Hanks in a masterful performance) flying to Salalah in Oman for his next assignment as captain of the ship, Maersk Alabama. This next trip will be to Mombasa in Kenya, traveling around the Horn of Africa, an area notorious for raids on ships by Somali pirates.

In the meantime we are taken to the desperate lives of would-be Somali pirates, impressionable young men willing to do anything to get in on the mega-cash on offer from their bosses. I have learned from those who have experienced poverty that it makes you do things you wouldn’t do in your right mind. It is said that desperate times produce desperate measures. These young Somalis, easily seduced by the promise of big dollars, will kill to get the money they want to get them out of the miserable existence.

The selection of the team of pirates to do the next job seemed almost farcical. It reminded me of the way you used to pick teams for a game of footy at lunchtime in primary school. People were basically shouting, “pick me, pick me!” as the captain moved amongst them seeing if they were up to the task.

The suspense in this movie really starts when the four pirates chosen for the task make their way out to the Maersk Alabama, traveling as it is like a black sheep away from the rest of the flock, away from other ships in the area, and therefore vulnerable to attack. Phillips soon realises that the four people coming out to him are pirates, and starts using his considerable guile to outwit the potential attackers. Knowing his ship hasn’t got the speed to outpace the pirates, we soon see that Phillips is not naïve about what he needs to do in this situation. Cunning as a serpent, he eventually tricks the pirates into giving up the chase. The battle has been won…for now.

Phillips’ crew soon remind him though that the pirates will be back, and sure enough, they are. And this time they don’t back off. Thus starts the life and death game of how to survive four men with machine guns taking over your cargo ship. This is where Captain Phillips and the crew of the Maersk Alabama realise that this is for keeps.

As the movie takes its twists and turns, with Phillips using more cunning to communicate with his hidden crew to outwit the pirates, the suspense grows as we cannot be sure how this is going to end. Soon though we see the US Navy get involved, and as with many things American, this is where it gets bigger than Texas. Continue reading

Movie Review – Les Miserables


If you wanted to find an illustration of what the Gospel is, you couldn’t do much better than going to see the latest film version of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. As old as this story is, this is the first time I’ve ever been through it. I have never finished reading the book, nor have I ever seen a film or performance of this most incredible of stories.

The Gospel comes out in this story as powerfully (perhaps even moreso) as it does in C.S. Lewis’Chronicles of Narnia. The overarching storyline is one of grace compared to law. The first clear sign we see of this is when the convict Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman) is caught stealing a whole lot of silverware from a priest who has given him lodging. Dragged back in disgrace to the priest’s house by the police, the priest remarkably says to Valjean that he forgot to take the fine candle holders, and gives them to him as well. Struck by the unfathomable mercy and forgiveness shown him by the priest. Valjean becomes a changed man, rebuilding his life to eventually become mayor of a small town. From petty thief to an honest and good man, Valjean begins to love because he is first shown love (1 John 4:19).

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The Way of meaning

My wife and I saw the movie The Way last night. It’s a wonderful story that portrays the unbreakable fatherly love of Tom (Martin Sheen) for his estranged and just deceased son, Daniel. In learning that his son has just been killed on his first day on the Camino de Santiago (The Way of St James) in France, Tom travels over to collect Daniel’s body. While there though, he is suddenly hit by the magnitude of his loss and decides to make the trek himself that his son had set out to do.

This is a story of redemption and the search for meaning. Richard Rohr says that the soul can live without success but it cannot live without meaning. This is something I have been thinking about a bit recently. If we spend our lives dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, or money, or status, we will be forever coming up short. We will remain in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction and never be happy, or else we will become satisfied with a life of mediocrity and never reach the potential we all have.

As Tom goes on his journey he comes across some characters that he would never choose to have as friends in his cosy Californian lifestyle back home. There is Joost from Amsterdam, Sarah from Canada, and the stereotypically Irishman, Jack. What we don’t see so much of in this story is the change in these latter three characters, but we see it in spades in Tom. Older than the others, he gradually thaws from a frozen, aloof and even arrogant man to learning to enjoy the company and care of his three new travelling companions. His journey reveals that he is not only deeply affected by the loss of his son, but also by the love and warmth of these three strangers in his midst.

Meaning is something we all strive for, whether we realise it or not. Most of the time though, we are so satiated by the entertainment saturation of our culture that we don’t recognise the void within our souls. Walter Brueggemann explains this eloquently in his book The Prophetic Imagination. It is often only when we are confronted with the type of terrible loss that Tom is faced with that we see our need for change. As Tom continues on his pilgrimage, the frown on his face softens, and he learns to get into life and smile more often. The real change though comes after an encounter with a gypsy family, one of whom runs off with Tom’s backpack (which contains the ashes of his son). The much-maligned gypsies, defined stereotypically by theft and deceit, show Tom what community and relationship is about. In one revealing conversation between Tom and the father of the boy who stole Tom’s pack, the father explains that up to 2,000 people attend gyspy weddings. Surprised, Tom points out that they couldn’t all be close family or friends. He is shocked however when the father explains to him that they are indeed all close. These gypsies know what community is all about.

As Tom continues on the way, he is occasionally struck with images of his deceased son, and reminded of the admonition his son once gave to him, that you don’t choose a life, you live it. We only get one chance at this thing called life; this is not a dress rehearsal. We are thrown into it at birth and expected to make the best of it, hopefully with all the love and support we need. As my wife pointed out to me, choosing our life is a very Western idea. Most people in the world don’t get to choose their life, and many don’t even get to live it. But our attitudes towards life are something that no one can take from us. It is amazing what those who have been through the most immense suffering can teach us in the West about how to live our lives. I think of people like Viktor Frankl, stuck for years in a Nazi concentration camp during the Second World War. Frankl of course didn’t choose that life, but he has much to say to us about it , especially in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

One of my greatest fears in life is that I will end up like Tom’s three new friends at the end of The Way. In the end, they didn’t change. Joost decided he wasn’t going to lose weight after all, Sarah was never going to give up her cancer sticks, and Jack seems to remain stuck in his mediocre life. We are too comfortable here. Australia is the second most wealthy country in the world, yet we seem to have the least in terms of meaning to our lives. Many would dispute this of course, as many find their meaning in their devotion to daily and friends. But beneath all of that we are sold the lie that life is found in more stuff. Advertisers deliberately create a dissatisfaction within us by telling us that we will never be happy until we buy their products. So we walk through life perpetually unhappy and comparing ourselves to others. The sin of covetousness is alive and well in 21st century Australia. That is not an indictment on the Australian public, but I think of Jesus’ warning: “woe to those who cause others to sin.” Advertisers, hear the warning.

The human soul cannot function without something to live for. And as John Mellencamp sang so many years ago, if we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything. Our life needs to mean something, and if we are constantly entertained, if we constantly live for the weekends or for the next holiday (as legitimate as these are in themselves), we will remain forever dissatisfied. For real change to take place, we need to be aware of the dissatisfaction in our souls with the way things are. We also need to have a vision for a better alternative, and to have people around us who are yearning for the same thing. This is what Jesus meant when he said that “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions” (Mark 10:29-30). Contrary to what prosperity ‘gospel’ preachers may say, this passage is not at all about Jesus saying that we will gain a fortune in houses for ourselves when we follow Jesus. That is a purely individualistic way of looking at it. Jesus was talking about community. When we follow him, we gain the hospitality of other pilgrims on the way, as the first Christians showed.

Tom found meaning on The Way of St James (interestingly, it is James who has the most dire warnings to those who want to be rich in the early church). He began to know again what life was about. He could relate to the God of Jesus in knowing what it was like to lose a son. His pain drove him to become a better person. He didn’t push it down or try to drown it in short-term pleasures which would only leave him more unsatisfied later on. He found a deeper magic, found the things that really matter like relationship, community, and the joys that come from sharing life and its struggles in true intimacy with others on the rough road that is often life. There is a revealing scene in another poignant movie, Up in the Air, when George Clooney’s character is trying to talk his future brother-in-law out of bailing out of his upcoming wedding. He asks his future brother-in-law to think about the fondest memories of his life, and then points out that the are always ones that were spent with others. Our fondest memories are rarely ones we experienced alone. Our best times are with loved ones, as they would be for a species like us that is wired for relationship. It just makes sense that our most enjoyable moments are the ones for which we were made.

The Way probably wasn’t the best movie I have ever seen, but it definitely had an emotional impact on me. It touched something deeper, something raw, something which we all know deep down is what we are really about. Relationship does that; it resonates with everyone. The saying certainly is true that while we can live without success, we cannot live without meaning. May I further realise that on my continuing journey on the way.

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