Silence (*****) victory in defeat

silence

Silence – 2016

Director Martin Scorsese
Screenplay by Jay Cocks and Scorsese based on the novel by Shūsaku Endō
Starring  Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver, Tadanobu Asano, Ciarán Hinds, Liam Neeson, Issey Ogata, Shinya Tsukamoto

Silence is a powerful story that will evoke strong feelings for those who absorb its message. What that message is can depend on what you bring to the film. Most people like Scorsese for the bigger films he’s made. Many who love The Wolf of Wall Street have never even heard of Kundun. All this tells us is that Scorsese has to make a lot of garbage to get the freedom to do passion projects.

For me Martin Scorsese is an amazing worker. His skill is extraordinary no matter what he does. When it is matched by inspiration, like he does in Goodfellas, The Aviator, Hugo and here, the effect is stunning. That it won no extraordinary amount of notice is not much of a surprise, though.

Silence measures the meaning of its title very carefully. The story starts with two Jesuit priests, Garupe and Rodrigues (Driver and Garfield) on a quest to find Father Ferreira (Neeson). Ferreira had gone to Japan years earlier on a mission to convert Japanese people from Buddhism to Catholic Christianity. No one has heard from him in years. News returns that he has renounced the faith. Due to their special relationship with Ferreira, it is important to the young men that their hero in the faith be either found a martyr for the faith or alive and well, preaching the Gospel.

When they arrive in Japan, they are greeted by a translator  / guide named Kichijiro (Asano) who leads them to a village filled with people worshipping in secret who are overjoyed to finally see representatives of the church who can now give blessings and hear confession.Kichijiro lingers in the background, seemingly faithless.

There are many periods of daily silence for our priests as they wait for news in hiding. After the wait becomes unbearable, they decided to take a chance. To say that it backfires is an understatement. The result is not without its own form of stumbling progress. The meaning of the word silence takes a different form now with Rodrigues.

Discovering that Kichijiro has a secret past brings a new form of hope that – like everything in this film – is mixed with despair. Rodrigues is on the run from the Japanese shogunate but still seeking to find converts and therein the possibility of news of Ferreira. He also wants to hear from God.

After enjoying Garfield’s performance in Hacksaw Ridge, it is quite possible indeed he exceeds that performance here. The passion he pours into the performance is a remarkable raft in a story that is deliberately slow at times in an effort to show the hopes of communing with the Lord in the most desperate circumstances. His efforts to understand the meaning of suffering and the silence match ours. He is the best possible performer for his ability to make us feel the experience for ourselves.

His performance by no means the only great one in the film. Asano is remarkable in his ability to evoke repulsion and sympathy at once. In his face we see the true impossibility of those to be saved. His is truly a journey of Job, much more akin to the way some of us might falter along the way and shine at other times.

For his limited role in the film, this may be Neeson’s finest work. The nuance of his positions and whether they are the result of his condition or the architect of those conditions is an incredible intricacy that should stop most viewers in their tracks with passionate internal debate.

Driver  gives great, if limited performance of one who is allowed a sort of cruel mercy, when taken in the context of the other characters.

The last act of the film gives us a grueling sort of hope in the appearance of comfort. We see the final meaning of the titular silence and we hold out that somehow there will be a ray of light. Whether there is or not depends on one’s viewpoint.

And that is the pleasure and pain of watching Scorsese at his best. He lays it out there, with an abundance of passionate footage. Somehow, he is able to take a step back and let the viewer figure out how they feel about what they are seeing.

This film will be quite boring to some viewers who don’t have the requisite patience to understand why they are being subjected to the slow scenes. It’s a journey inward as much as it is outside in a foreign land.

The cruelty of the overlords is quite shocking as well. It’s not as simple as martyrdom, and that makes it impossible to endure quite intentionally. It is obvious to most viewers that oppression of another faith is by no means a ringing endorsement of the power of your own. This is about as close as we get to a statement. Where you go beyond this is up to you.

There is much to appreciate in the career of Martin Scorsese. His enthusiasm for the message medium of celluloid is unparalleled. I hope he has many more years of making movies like this. If it means I have to wade through commercial dreck every few years, it’s worth it.

(***** out of *****)

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I Don’t Have A Vote: The 89th Annual Oscars – You are ruining Everything

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89th Annual Oscars – You’re Ruining Everything

Save us, Jimmy Kimmel. Save us.

This year, with all that’s going on in the rest of the world, we need movies more than ever as a distraction. Awards shows in the modern era normally have a certain amount of politics thrown in, but Meryl Streep’s  flatulent performance at the Globes really ruined it for a lot of people, including our entire house. One can hope they don’t hand her a microphone this year, but this is unlikely.

My heart was set even further asunder when I saw how good a speech can be. George Kennedy is not everyone’s first thought as an Oscar winner. And that also included George Kennedy.

Could you imagine anyone winning the award Post Halle Berry handling it with such grace? It beats talking about saving the planet from climate change and then flying off in a lear jet to go spend time on one’s yacht any day.

My wife wants to skip it. My youngest daughter wants to watch Jimmy. So do I. Looks like we’re going to have to rely on our DVR so we can cut the crap and enjoy the crappy spectacle.

As a result of that one complete overindulgence, I nearly lost the will to tell you what I liked best this year. This is as close to forcing it as writing comes for me. There was some good things in the movies this year though, and I think we need to talk about it.

My pick for the best in film this year is a lot closer to what the Academy picked this year. I can almost see it from here when there are no clouds at night. It’s somewhere behind Pluto.

So I will give everyone my take on who I would have won the awards. Often it’s someone who isn’t on the board, and that is okay. This follows with who I think should win of the nominees. I hope you find some way to enjoy some movies that may not be mentioned at all tonight.

Best Film:

I gave my highest rating to Hacksaw Ridge, Fences,  The Girl With All The Gifts, Loving and Captain America: Civil WarArrival and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story almost got there, too. That’s a pretty good year. Of these films, the one that I think accomplished the most is McCarthy’s take on an apocalyptic vision. In under two hours we see one of the most brilliant philosophical musings about moving forward as a species ever placed in such a humble package. If you haven’t seen it and you can stomach a zombie film that discusses and understands Schrödinger’s Cat, you should.

Of the nominees:

I need to go with Fences. It’s the best of those films. La La Land will likely win. Most winners for best picture ended up being just above average (at ***1/2 stars) for me.

Best Director: 

Arrival accomplished the most amazing thing this year in its approach to sci-fi. We have as many heady subjects going on as are occurring in The Girl With All The Gifts, and most importantly, Villeneuve works carefully with his team to avoid any of the tropes that we see in even the best sci-fi. It’s lone weakness of circular logic is insignificant when one considers we are going back to the most basic form of communication to ponder some of the deepest philosophical and heart-wrenching truths of human existence. His work here, along with an incredibly dense (if short) career’s worth of work places him just above McCarthy.

Of the nominees: 

Villeneuve. Gibson has created a powerful film that seems at once of its time and timeless, but I have to defer to the power of Villeneuve’s simple choices.

Best Actor:

Andrew Garfield has a great performance as a man driven by impulses that many can’t understand. Denzel Washington has the kind of vulnerable performance that he’s never done before. My favorite performance of the year is Ryan Gosling in…The Nice Guys. I spent much of La La Land realizing how good he had been and subsequently went home and watched it again. His range therein moves from incomparable weenie, to overwrought widower, horrible father to great father. If there were ever a performer that completely absorbed Shane Black’s vision, this is it.

Of the nominees:

Garfield may never be nominated again, and it would be nice to see him win. But there is no way he was better than Washington.

Best Actress:

Sennia Nanua has what I consider the most memorable and poignant performance of the year. Her journey from complete innocence to an understanding of her role in the advancement of humanity is one that I will not forget.

Of the nominees:

I am so hopeful that Ruth Negga wins this category for Loving. Her performance is the best of those that I saw. What I have seen of Huppert’s performance in Elle intrigues me. WeMissE has me thinking I need to watch this film today. But dear God, whatever you do, don’t give this to Streep.

Best Supporting Actor: 

Russell Hornsby and Stephen Henderson keep coming to my mind for their divergent takes on the sons of Troy Maxson in Fences. Both present incredibly resonant reactions to a father who is different to both of them and continues to change. I didn’t expect to be so enamored with their bit roles, but they really help to bring the story into focus with their performances. No one can take this award from Mahershala Ali, though.

Of the nominees: 

Ali.I love Shannon. He really made chicken salad here. Bridges is great here, too. But he’s done this guy before, even if the ending of this film pushes him to another level.

Best Supporting Actress:

There really can be no other discussion beyond who is second best. Davis has this award locked and she deserves it. This is a performance of the ages.

Of the nominees:

Davis. Just don’t thank Meryl Streep.

Best Original Screenplay:

Hell or High Water has about the best ending of any film this year. The only one that was better is Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s Rogue One A Star Wars Story. It’s remarkable achievements include creating a cast of original characters, making A New Hope‘s weaknesses disappear, and adding to the mythology while detracting the dorkiness factor. It’s truly a remarkable achievement in a series I had given up on seeing a good script from.

Of the nominees:

La La Land has a good script, but of this group, the best one I have seen is Hell or High Water. Sheridan is on a roll.

Best Adapted Screenplay:

This truly is a race between Fences, The Girl with All the Gifts and Arrival. The difference here is that the former is almost entirely word for word from the original. There is no real adapting, because it is perfect the way it is. Arrival is has had some work done, but then there is that circular logic thing. I enjoy both of them so much, it’s literally a tossup. Either of them will not be forgotten. My pick is The Girl with All the Gifts. It’s an extraordinary story that could be understood by kids as well as adults, even if the subject matter can be gruesome.

Of the nominees: 

Same here, though I give Arrival a slight edge since Wilson has already taken home some pretty impressive accolades (including 2 Pulitzer Prizes, one for this) and he would not be around to pick up the trophy, since he passed 12 years ago.

Best Cinematography:

Arrival and La La Land are both fantastic in this category. Simon Duggan’s work in Hacksaw Ridge is extraordinary. The work that stands out for me is Ben Davis’ seamless blend of effects and imagery in Doctor Strange. It’s one thing to push forward the incredible work done in dimensional photography in Inception. It’s quite another to completely replicate the remarkable comic book look shot for shot.

Of the nominees: 

This is one category I think La La Land should win.

Best Animated Film:

Moana is another in the long line of Disney Princess films that will resonate for generations. Sure it misunderstands the purpose of promoting a woman is to make her look good without denigrating men, but damn the visuals are exquisite and the songs are catchy. Zootopia is a really good movie too, but it’s preaching so much, the good stuff is harder to detect while trying to weave out the bad. For this reason, I have to go with the art of Kubo and the 2 Strings.

Of the nominees:

Kubo

I don’t know if I will ever stop watching this celebration of movies. As bad as it usually is each year, it’s still the best thing we have to mark the passage of a year in the age of film. It really helps if Jimmy Kimmel is on his game, though. We need him more than ever this year.

 

 

Hacksaw Ridge (*****) So many ways to serve

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Hacksaw Ridge – 2016

Director Mel Gibson
Screenplay by Andrew Knight, Robert Schenkkan
Starring Andrew Garfield, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Vince Vaughn

There are very few war films I have seen that are this violent: the opening of Saving Private Ryan comes to mind. If ever one wanted to show the horror and glory in war, Mel Gibson has done it. In telling the story of Desmond Doss, a 7th Day Adventist who served with distinction in the Second World War, we see a glorious example of serving God and man without short shifting either.

Gibson’s style is at once simple and grand, gentle and wretched. I can’t recall the last time I saw such straightforward characterizations. The men on the screen are at once distinct and of their time.They border on parody when we first meet them, until one realizes that Americans in World War II has considerably less comfortable cynicism than we enjoy today.

Then there is Doss, who would seem peculiar at any time in history. He’s enthusiastic, optimistic and dedicated to honoring God and his country at once. These things converge for him in  a way different from most. He wants to serve America by being a medic, but does not want to learn how to fire a weapon. The logic is sound even if religion were not involved. Why would a medic want to see anyone hurt?

Garfield is excellent at capturing the depth of a man who seems at peace with the fact that most of the world does not understand his perspective. He’s not an asshole about it either. If they ask, he explains it in simple terms because he thinks quite literally. He is no fool, but his enthusiasm reminds of one who is unencumbered by the rationalizations most people put for their version of understanding the Bible.

Since when did sound logic make anyone popular? Doss suffers immeasurably through boot camp, but he always keeps moving forward. This punishment is endorsed by his Sergeant Howell (Vaughn) and his Captain Glover (Worthington). While not inherently cruel men, they see it as a matter of life and death for the other men that someone on their side won’t pick up a gun to defend them. They don’t see defense in any other capacity or possibility. So myopic is our own perspective at times.

Gibson doesn’t handle the process of mind expansion with any amount of hugging and learning moments. There will be plenty of men who die not knowing the true value of having a peaceful warrior on their side. There are even some who marvel while he is helping them that Doss would also take the time to help injured enemy combatants. He see’s life as life. They see some as right and some as wrong. It’s a worthy achievement that in a story celebrating this man’s achievements Gibson is wise enough to show that some of them will not ever be valued by the people with whom Doss served.

Back to the violence. There are at least two ways to see a war film. Philosophically and realistically. Sometimes one way informs the other. Only by seeing how brutal and horrific the circumstances were can we understand the true bravery of all soldiers. We also are served as a warning to those who think War is something done “over there” with no consequence to most people. It’s one thing to understand war in an intellectual way. It’s another when you experience viscerally at the base level.

The detail that Gibson puts into the battle scenes is legendary. This is above the level even of Braveheart. The strange thing is, for all of the meticulous attention paid to every action above the ridge, the wig applied to Doss’ girl back home (Palmer) is laughably bad.It seems such an easy thing to get right comparatively.

That’s a small quibble though. This is a great film, if you can stomach something as graphic as The Passion of the Christ. It’s done in an equally sacred manner, if you value life. To see lives so easily lost, you will be more heartened to find a man running all through the night, praying for the strength to save “just one more.”

(***** out of *****)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (***): If you can work it in

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2: 2014

Director Marc Webb
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan, Campbell Scott, Embeth Davidtz, Colm Feore, Paul Giamatti, Sally Field
Screenplay Alex Kurtzman, Roberto Orci, Jeff Pinkner

The opening segment of The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems like it could really be fun. The actor most suited for the role, Andrew Garfield, is flying about, really putting everything he’s got into the physical and humorous nature of Peter Parker. His nemesis, Giamatti’s Aleksei Sytsevich is bland with a bad accent. For the first time in recent memory, one can solidly point to a Giamatti performance and say “this may be a mistake,” with growing certainty.  Wait a second, Limbo from Planet of the Apes…But he’s about to be put away for good by Spidey.

In the midst of all this gleeful abandon, Parker looks in a squad car and sees the ghost of his girlfriend’s father.  This is Denis Leary in a silent cameo (or two) that’s even more glowering than his performance in the first part of the rebooted series. His last words in that story weren’t as much for any feelings for his Gwen (Stone) as they were to put a damp dramatic blanket over the building fire of their relationship and the young superhero.

It works, if sucking the fun out of an action scene is considered success. It serves to repeat the awkward two-step at the close of The Amazing Spider-Man. From joy, we see immediate pain. Wait a few beats, then jump back to joy. Then the pain again. Awesome, but not really.

In the midst of this boring structure we get two other story lines. The first is Max Dillon. Max is Jamie Foxx in his hammy worst; a “nobody” saved by Spider-Man when he was in the process of embarrassing Sytsevich. Max decides to dedicate his free time to idolizing Spider-Man while talking to him incessantly as if he’s there. He’s the subject of ridicule by his co-workers at OsCorp, and guess who has to work on his own birthday. Soon enough, he’ll be Electro.  Just as dumb and crazy, but this time in many luminescent colors.

The owner of OsCorp, Norman Osborn (Cooper), is about to die. He was a mean guy, but the script-writers never show you how. Instead, we get an exposition that would drive the soul out of a healthy lad and heap it upon his son, Harry (DeHaan). The disease that has struck the father is also passed to young Harry.  He also inherits control of Oscorp, which places him in the sights of some bad guy (Feore) who is intent mainly on doing more bad stuff.

Meanwhile, Peter resumes his search for his father because, well, he needs something else to do in between scenes with Gwen. He also befriends Harry, for no real reason other than to be there when Harry decides that he needs Spider-Man’s blood. Then Harry decides that Electro needs his help.

We haven’t even reached the point where Sytsevich turns into Rhino.

As convoluted as the plot seems to be, Webb has a good grip on what Spider-Man’s world must look like. His pacing is uneven, but it would take a miracle to make the mess of a plot into something comprehensible.

Stone.Stone is not my choice for a love interest in Spidey, but her chemistry with her real life beau Garfield is obvious. This is all undone by the scene intended to be funny.  When Spider-Man ties her to the back of her car, and she call’s him Peter, it is so forced as to be completely unsettling. It takes the last quarter of the film to undo it.

One thing they do right in is the sequencing of fights in the last 30 minutes. Taking them one at a time instead of all at once, we are spared the confusion of that we experienced the last time we had so many nemeses in a Spider-Man film. The third Raimi film could have used one less bad guy (Sand Man was a chore), but this time it feels like we only had two.

Foxx’s Electro may be the worst antagonist since Arnold’s Mr. Freeze (other suggestions are welcome). He never feels as much a menace as he feels like an actor who was once featured in the movie Booty Call.

DeHaan is not much better as Green Goblin. He chews the scenery with ferocity, almost as if he forgot his measured performance in Chronicle that paved the way for his landing this role. To be fair, though, I am completely tired of Green Goblin by now, and almost as tired of the web slinger himself. Don’t get me started on Aunt Mae as a nurse when she really is only qualified to be a Walmart Greeter.

That’s the real problem with The Amazing Spider-Man series. The ending is set up for sequels, but the lackluster box office performance in North America has lead to its sequel being pushed from 2016 to an unspecified date in 2018. Some argue that they are making The Sinister Six. That sounds like a great idea. But so did putting Giamatti in a Rhino outfit after he’d already done so brilliantly as an ape.

For all it’s faults, the movie still has it’s moments, especially its dramatic conclusion. There is a real consequence to all this flinging around and it gives the movie more gravity than Spider-Man has faced since the original Uncle Ben bit the dust outside the library. It’s unclear how we’re going to get a smart alack Spidey out of this, but for one moment, we didn’t care.

(*** out of *****)

CPE and Em: The Amazing Spider-man may not be necessary, but it is good.

The Amazing Spider-Man – 2012

Directed by Marc Webb
Starring Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Campbell Scott, Irrfan Khan, Embeth Davidtz, Chris Zylka
Screenplay by Alvin Sargent, Steve Kloves, James Vanderbilt

There is a moment when Uncle Ben (Martin Sheen) takes the obligatory bullet early on, but not early enough, in The Amazing Spider-Man, without thought, I clapped and cheered, mortifying my friend and my daughter, who were watching the film with me.  The reason I cheered was not because I favor the death of old people.  Seeing them back their car into a bank is usually enough for me.  Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Sally Field) is the one part of Spider-Man that I really didn’t think I ever needed to see again.  As some sort of rationalization, not fully played out, we see Peter’s mother and father for the first time (Davidtz and Scott).  This tries to add a dimension to the proceedings, that I suppose helps to flesh out a story.  Then, to take scenery chewers like Field and Sheen and place them into the roles that have already been so well established by character actors in the last series?  What a waste.  No one needed to see this again, for sure.  There could have been a flashback that did not include anything more than the parents, which would have made it more memorable and less redundant.

This is not to say that the entire film is wallowed in the cloud of useless repetition.  Sure, the origins are revisited, but this time around, I think they made it more interesting, without the creepy idea of Peter shooting stuff physically out of his hands at people, places and

Who is who? Paddle Pop or Nickelback?

things.  The alternative is much cooler and more appealing.  His drive to catch Uncle Ben’s killer is interesting in that the sleaze looks like the lead singer of Nickelback or the Paddle Pop Lion to an almost disconcerting extent.  It turned into great fun, however, when we see  Spidey go about the town and beat several similarly slimy looking crooks.  One gets much satisfaction imagining the lead singer of that crap-fest of a group actually having his ass handed over to the cops time and again, after being beaten about the head and neck by a superhero.

There are many other good points to The Amazing Spider-Man, with primary among them being Garfield’s performance as Peter Parker.  He walks a balance of cockiness, insecurity, impishness and vengeance with a closer feel of the smart alack that is truer to the spirit of the comic version of Spider-Man.  The confrontation in the sewer with the Lizard is better than anything seen in the earlier 3 films.  The first reason is the use of the web in the truest sense.  Then we see a fight that is anything but glamorous, ending with Spidey barely escaping with his life.  What is Peter Parker’s response to having his chest sliced open in that round:

“That sucks!”

Another great move they made was hiring Emma Stone in the role of Gwen Stacy.  Her style is so easy and free that she can sell sarcasm and the ability to believe she is buying what is in front of her simultaneously.  Her relationship with Garfield seems genuine, as does her back and forth with her father (Leary).  She seemed a little less like a damsel in distress (something Raimi did too often with Dunst) and more like someone you could count on when it hits the fan.

Ifans Dr. Curt Connors is underplayed, with a touch of Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock in his character.  His portrayal is pretty mild, and only truly menacing when he is in his lizard drag.  The Lizard is pretty awesomely generated, looking authentic, mobile and anything but cheesy.

The ending to Spider-Man, just like The Amazing Spider-Man, trades on the conceit that Peter must be alone, because of the enemies he will have.  Seems like his significant others find trouble whether he’s with them or not, so you’d think by now the writers would find some way to just skip that tired old routine.  They give a head fake to it here, and then reverse back to the basket.  The whole maneuver felt about as ripe as Uncle Ben and Aunt May.

So I give this movie a pass, because it is a pretty good story that has the courage to leave loose ends (the Nickelback / Paddle Pop killer) for later and give pointed, but not overwhelming hints about the future of the franchise gives one the want to see more, without reminding them that they just saw much of the same movie for the second time.  If they take off from this point and do something original, hooray.  If not, the series may reach a dead-end.

(**** out of *****)

Em’s Review:

I give The Amazing Spider-Man a thumbs down because it wasn’t that good of a movie.  First of all my Dad clapped when Uncle Ben died.  I thought the old Spider-Man (Maguire) was more cute.  This Peter Parker had weird hair.  He wasn’t that funny.

I am used to the other movies, so I am not really into this first one.  Maybe when they come out with more I will like them.

My favorite character was Uncle Ben.  My Dad should stop saying bad things about him.  I sort of liked Gwen Stacy.

The Lizard looked cartoonish.  I thought it looked fake.  Maybe in the next movie they can not make somebody’s hand turn into a monster.

(* out of *****)