Monday, July 26, 2010

Rev'ing up the engine




Did you hear the story about the well meaning vicar who was put in charge of a city centre church? Not a great start to a joke, but a brilliant premise for a new series blazing a trail on BBC Two at the moment.   Starring an eclectic mix of characters alongside enjoyably stereotypical (without being predictable) church workers this should be recommended viewing for all.

The central plot is simple.  The Reverend, played by Adam Smallbone, is a quasi innocent man trying to find his way in a central london parish.  Problems faced have included a popular CofE school swelling attendance (episode 1), a young 'n funky church filling the church but bringing attitude problems (episode 2), interfaith challenges as a local muslim group wishes to pray in the church building (episode 3) and most recently a wish for a media profile to outshine a compatriot from college (episode 4). Don't think though his innocence is all meek and mild. No no, he faces his problems via drink, smoking and a fascinating array of characters.  Instead, his innocence is more akin to someone who just wishes to do the right thing, share the gospel of Christ, and serve his fellow humans. 

The plot though wouldn't work without the other characters.  They are a wide mix including a geekish organist(?), overly amorous congregation member, an arch-deacon more like Peter Mandleson than anything human, a wife who is a high-powered lawyer and...well....

A fascinating list of regular outsiders.  A touching side of the vicar is his inability to say no and this is shown via a stream of people knocking on his door. Unlike the start of a simpsons cartoon - this isn't an ever changing gag - instead it is the same range of people all wishing to get money out of him for a more obvious fake reason than the last.  While sometimes the door is shut in the face of the hungry/tired/person needing the clue, if that is the case it sometimes comes back to haunt him as he goes back to basics of what his ministry is for - rather than 

Outside the comedy moments is one constant.  Prayer.  The rapid plot line is stopped by the Rev going to pray and asking for help and guidance.  Instead of being a twee, feeble attempt to forward the plot it comes over as a real example of how prayer truly, and naturally, flows.  This was certainly a surprising twist to the plot!

To finish though I would wish to quote from two people far better placed to pass comment than I...

" At last the BBC has moved beyond The Vicar of Dibley. She engaged millions with woolly jumpers and chocolate silliness, with a good humoured take on life, the Universe and everything. Rev. is engaging in a very different way, much closer to where many urban vicars are, in fact" Bishop Alan
I worked as a vicar in one of London's poorest parishes for 28 years. Many of the incidents in BBC2's Rev are true to life. We allowed a Muslim group to meet in our church. I do not remember cassock-chasers. I remember the knock at the door and someone asking for money. I remember the symbols for money or drugs. I remember parents wanting a good reference to get their children into the best school: I always gave them a good reference. There was even a Colin character (or two). One issue, however, is different from what I remember. I did not remove my clerical collar when I told someone to "fuck off".  Rev Michael Land (retired) (The Guardian, letters)
 While it may not fill the churches with converts, I think it definatly moves the church on from Vicar of Dibley to grappling with substantial issues with dignity, hope and nnnnnnnot a catchphrase in sight...well bar 'hello vicarage'

So go on, find yourself a drink, a cosy chair and load up BBC 2 at 10pm tonight and we'll see how the Rev cops with a new friend who (shock horror) has nothing to do with the church.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Toy Story 3 - The end of a new beginning?

I ain't afraid of no Ghosts
Today I visited a brave new future, joined by friends made when they were the future.  Donning a fine pair of spectacles (pictured) I ventured out and watched the latest instalment in the computer generated feast that is the Toy Story Trilogy.

The final film, imaginatively called Toy Story 3, is one about farewells, equality, workplace rights and the truth of happy ever after.  It's box office potential was clear from the start (5 out of the 8 adverts prior to the screening included T.Story characters endorsing products) but what I wanted to know was if this was the film that would launch 3D in the way it launched computer animation over a decade ago.

*PLOT SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED FROM HERE ONWARDS*

The plot of the film is relatively simple.   Andy, owner of the toys, has grown up and is now packing his bags ready for college.  In among the hustle and bustle of tidying he is faced with the question over what to do with his toys.

The film then switches to the perspective of the toys as they face repeated life or death questions, alongside wanting affirmation and love from 'their andy'.  Their exploits include discovering Barbie, finding out how 'flowery' Ken really is, realising that first impressions can deceive - and in that bosses can surpress the workforce - that expectations aren't always the same as reality and finally what happens when Buzz Lightyear is re-set for more than 5 seconds....

While an overall assessment would place the 2hr film as holding a snazzy pace, it drags at points. The drag is more from a re-hash of techniques and styles which the initial films (a decade ago) created but have become stock marks of CGI films.  We find human emotion in non-human objects, large CGI eyes looking sad and good becoming evil and throwing doubt and forgiveness up in the air.  
Toys old and new plot an escape

Highlight of the film would have to be the transformation that occurs with Buzz Lightyear when re-set for more than 5 seconds. His support of a new regime was a fascinating example of what happens when brains shut down or shut off memories, actions or just accept the new status quo.  In the week that Nick Griffin was excluded from the Queens Garden Party, I found the militaristic state the toys find themselves in, with supposed good guy Buzz as the new bad guy, a healthy reminded of all our capabilities for evil.

Overall though it is impossible to cover a 2hr film in a short blogpost. Do go and see it, but make sure you pre-load by watching an older film.  Stocked up with knowledge of a deep and meaningful story you'll be ready for this latest film which is less toy story, more top gear but overall still top class.

Sunday Song - Everybody's Changing

This week, I want to hand over and say read the blog of current Methodist Youth President Pete Brady who neatly sum's up a challenging few months for people interested in Youth Work provided through the Methodist Church.

Where next then? We'll I'm soon off on Holiday then helping shape the Methodist presence at the Greenbelt Festival over the (English!) August Bank holiday w/end.

The world keeps changing and we must all change with it. But change for changes sake is useless. Sometimes it's worth sitting back and thinking what is the one big thing you'd like to achieve then start taking step towards it .... one bite out of the elephant at a time.

Take Care Y'All

John