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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Prometheus: Sail into the mystery

Prometheus – 2012


Directed by Ridley Scott
Starring Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charleze Theron, Guy Pearce. Idris Elba, Logan-Marshall Green, Rafe Spall, Sean Harris, Patrick Wilson, Kate Dickie, Benedict Wong
Screenplay by  Damon Lindelof, Jonathan Sphaits

Early on in the classic film, The Player, there is one long, magnificent scene in which we get to see a number of pitches in a Hollywood studio.  Each one of the pitches involves, in some way or form, a “Julia Roberts”-like actress as the main female presence, starring in a sequel to any number of films, like The Graduate.  I thought of this yesterday, while reading the slew of reviews for the grand new film, Prometheus.  Many of these reviews portrayed Ridley Scott’s new film as a complete or a near miss.  Several of the films described the film as an overly graphic splatter film in which, essentially thinly explored characters die in reverse order of the credits.  Almost every review compares Rapace and, to a slightly lesser extent, Theron, as worthy successors to the “kick butt” archetype of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley.  Equally sad, most of these same reviewers sighed while passing judgement that this film failed to live up to its cinematic predecessor and chronological (in the Alien Universe) follower, Alien.   While many of these same critics decried that the story makers copied many of the elements of Scott’s earlier film, and having the gall to leave some of the story elements unresolved.  Intentionally, they said, for purposes of having a sequel.

This type of review, like the generic plots discussed in The Player, writes itself.  There is an element in the society of critics, both professional and self-proclaimed, that has an incredible urge to be the first one in line to see the film…and the first one to say they hated it.  It is really just the archetype of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.  It’s one thing to hear these a-holes rip a movie over Nachos at Applebees after the movie.  It’s quite another to see any of them paid by the column inch.

For those wanting to escape the world and go anywhere else, Ridley Scott, Damon Lindelof and Jon Sphaits have succeeded in bringing real world possibility into the promise of future exploration.  Starting out in Scotland, archaeologists Shaw (Rapace) and Holloway (Marshall Green) make a discovery of something that mirrors discoveries in many other parts of the world from many different times.  We witnessed one such discovery when my wife and I visited Chitzen Nitza for our honeymoon a decade ago.  The discovery, pieced together with the others, reveals itself as some sort of star map.  This map leads the archaeologists, along with other scientists and representatives of Weyland Corporation to a 4 year journey through space to LV-223 (as compared to Alien / Aliens LV-426), a semi-habitable moon off of another planet.

What they find, I will leave for you to discover.  Anyone looking for anything resembling an Alien feature, where people are picked off one by one by the creature, should be bottled up and shipped back to 1979.  This movie is called Prometheus for a reason, folks.  There is a yearning in this film that is missing from the other features.  It is a quest to find where we come from, and why.  Shaw and Holloway represent two sides of this search.  One believes in an ultimate creator, appreciates the mystery, but searches nonetheless.  The other takes Darwinism as a given, thinking that each piece leads to another.  The film wisely avoids answering this question, but it does offer clues for you to ponder.

As Shaw, Rapace is what you would expect from someone on a quest.  She is not daunted by new evidence, and gladly incorporates it into her search.  It is quite easy to appreciate the transformation that she makes from confidence to doubt and back into search mode.  All aspects are played convincingly by Rapace, even if some of the physical feats are more than a little remarkable.

Contrast this curiosity to Lt. Ellen Ripley, who asks Burke: “You’re going out there to destroy them, right? Not to studyNot to bring back.”  It is apparent that while everyone has motives in this story, there is no foreknowledge of what is to come.

Meredith Vickers is another case entirely.  She seems intent on playing defense through most of the film.  It is obvious that she is not happy to be where she is, but, as we’ll find, for her interests, there is nowhere else she would rather be.   Why is this?  Again, this mystery is for the viewer.

Elbas’ Captain Janek is a wonderful character.  His development is consistent with the circumstances surrounding the events.  While not throwing caution to the wind with false bravado, he seems genuinely strong in his character and his decisions quite reasonable.  Add to that a couple of ships officers that are always where he needs them to be and we have something unique to other films in this universe.

Michael Fassbender pulls off something quite beautiful with his portrayal of David.  As the 8th incarnation of the androids developed by Weyland, David is there to help the mission along, and otherwise serve the will of his masters.  This depends, of course, on who his master appears to be at the time.  His allegiances may be called into question at anytime, but certainly not his curiosity.  In this way, he is like a spiritual sibling with Shaw.  This is relevant, of course, considering where they go.

The parallels between David, Ash and Bishop are many.  One can picture the development of the android line from one to the next, and view them as sentient beings who wonder about their own purpose in life, all while serving out the commands of their “masters.”  So deep is the Universe that Scott helped to create, one could find a series of films based on their own self-discovery as interesting as anything else done to now.  Other’s might lazily make connections to the androids in Blade Runner as a potential parallel. None of the beings in the Alien Universe have any illusions to whether they are human.  They know they are not.  This does not entail they feel any less valuable, however.  They have an entirely different reality behind the one they present to humans.  The whole concept is fascinating.

Guy Pearce is a necessary addition, if for no other reason, the way that he approaches dialogue.  There is a ferocity to his eyes, even as an old man, that just could not be replaced by putting Hal Holbrook in the same position.  As smart as Weyland is, demonstrated by the TED Talk filmed by Ridley Scott’s son, he is also greedy and ferocious as any lion unwilling to cede his kingdom to the rest of his pride.

The remainder of the cast varies enough that it gives a feeling of uniqueness without being absurd (if you discount Harris’ Fifield).  They are given moments to show some individual character and sometimes are involved in contrived conflicts, but overall they work well within the construct of the tale.

Scott presented Prometheus as a chance to explore the world of the Space Jockey.  In this effort we have undoubtedly the most screen time dedicated, but also the least amount of concrete answers.  Their motives are hard to figure, and we are given precious little time seeing them in the act of doing much, except for recorded holographic images.  David helps to explain some of these, but are we to accept his answers?  The live jockey that we  are allowed to see apparently understands much, but reveals little.  The questions that arise about its intentions are fascinating and make the observant viewer yearn for more.

Does the movie accomplish the goals it sets out for itself?  It all depends on whether you can accept more questions than answers.  There are several things to criticize about the film, like the lack of scientific protocol for one and the superhuman (and unnecessary) ability of one of the characters after having been compromised by an abdominal cut.  These issues are small when compared to the glory of exploring new worlds, seeing new things.  These things seem dangerous for now, but that really kind of depends on if you take David’s word for things.  In this universe, who knows what tomorrow brings?

Notes on a second viewing, Saturday, 6/9/2012:

  • The thing that stands out most to me on this go through is DNA.  That is, think about the order people (and other beings) are infected, what they are infected by and who (or what) they infect.  I think this is vital to understanding what types of questions we are facing with the second movie.  From the very first infection and change to what we find in the space jockey’s helmet.  The Space Jockeys, I think, are not so close to us as we should think, based on how Shaw read it.  It took a change to reach that point.  As for the Alien DNA that Scott mentioned in interviews, I don’t think that was an accident.  I think he was not only giving the lazy reporters, reviewers and watchers a bone, he was giving the more discerning of those something to ponder about the rest of the film.
  • Reactions, especially facial ones, are the key to understanding both David and the Space Jockey.  When you see a peculiar expression, think of what was just said.  The last decision made by Shaw in the film is an excellent example of this.
  • Captain Janek was incredibly adept in his analysis of the planet they were on, and I believe this means we will find less “weaponry” in the next film.
  • One cannot say enough about the job that Scott did in this film.  The imagery, framing and pacing are all as good as I have seen.  The 3D effects are good as anything I have seen except for Hugo, then Avatar.  Still, the digital 2D looks even better and I saw several things more clearly.  This may well be, because I knew what I was looking for.  This is one of Scott’s top 5 films, to be sure, and the next one should be even better.

I Don’t Have A Vote: Cool Papa E Picks The 84th Oscars

2012 Academy Awards

Please don’t let this be the year that the gimmicky French film wins.  I would prefer that the real masterpiece that took place in Paris, France take home the gold.  The rush to crown The Artist as Best Picture feels a little like the time we anointed Brokeback Mountain the movie of our times.  If it actually wins, then it will feel like when Out of Africa beat out The Color Purple: only one of those films has been watched since 1985.

The disappointments this year are in the omission of the last Harry Potter film, along with Take Shelter from the nominees list for Best Picture.  We easily could have done without War Horse, Moneyball and Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close in this category.  This just shows the kind of clout Speilberg, Pitt and Hanks have that they get these as gimmes.

As a refresher from last year’s post, if a category is not covered here, it’s because I have not seen most of the films in that group, and, obviously, don’t care about the category.

Best Picture

The Artist, The DescendantsExtremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Hugo, Midnight in ParisThe HelpMoneyballWar Horse, The Tree of Life

My pick:  Out of this group, Hugo is the clear class of the bunch.  There are other good films here, The Help, The Descendants and The Tree of Life among them.  None of those, though, were better than Take Shelter.  Only Hugo achieves this, and it is the best 3D film ever.

Who will win: If The Artist wins, something is seriously wrong with Hollywood, because no one will be watching this film in a year.  For the self-congratulatory voters, however, this is the shiny object in their periphery.  Better still, it is a shiny object that they feel represents “tradition.”  It should be a dead heat between Hugo and The Help.  My money is on The Artist, though.  Something is seriously wrong with Hollywood.

Best Actor
Demian Bichir, A Better Life
George Clooney, The Descendants
Jean Dujardin, The Artist
Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Brad Pitt, Moneyball

My pick: Bashir gave a clinic in A Better Life.  Brad Pitt actually did better work this year in Tree of Life, but that was a supporting role, so the performance was ignored.  Clooney playing slightly against type is always fun.  The older he gets, the more ways he finds to go against type.  Soon, he will have no “type.”

Who will win: If The Artist wins best picture, it may be enough to divorce the voters from the idea of giving it to the French guy, who spoke not a word.  I think the Academy likes Clooney as much as I do.

Best Actress
Glenn Close, Albert Nobbs
Viola Davis, The Help
Rooney Mara, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady
Michelle Williams, My Week With Marilyn

My pick: Mara’s movie, while great, is derivative.  I still think of Noomi Rapace.  She should have been nominated for her work first.  Streep is great, but the Iron Lady is not enough to get the gold.  I haven’t liked Close much since Cookie’s Fortune showed me how unskilled she is when unrestrained.  I haven’t seen Williams as Marilyn.  If ever there was a clear standout, Davis should win for showing us how to be humble, graceful and a giant of a human being.

Who will win: Davis, with no question.  Streep is old reliable and could surprise.  From what I have been told, Mara does not interview well.  That and a violent movie about rape should keep her from the gold this time.

Best Supporting Actor
Kenneth Branagh, My Week With Marilyn
Jonah Hill, Moneyball
Nick Nolte, Warrior
Christopher Plummer, Beginners
Max Von Sydow, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

My pick:  Nick Nolte’s performance in Warrior was incredibly poetic.  His skill has only increased with age.  Hill was fun in his fictional version of Paul DePodesta, and he really worked Sorkin’s dialogue.  I have to go with Nolte here.  I have to say, though, it was a true shame that Rickman was not nominated for his role of Snape.  He would have taken the Oscar, if so.

Who will win:  The shiny object in this category is the old gay guy dying of cancer who was faithful until his wife died.  Plummer is a great actor of many years.  This is his Sean Connery moment, albeit a slightly pinker version.  I would rather have given it to him for Star Trek VI, but hey, I am a different breed of cat.

Best Supporting Actress
Berenice Bejo, The Artist
Jessica Chastain, The Help
Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids
Janet McTeer, Albert Nobbs
Octavia Spencer, The Help

My pick:  Chastain is a wonderful actress who had many excellent roles this year.  3 of these, The Help, Tree of Life, and especially Take Shelter deserved nominations (the latter for Best Actress), but she lands in the one spot she can’t win.  Octavia Spencer is perhaps the best nominated performance of this year’s awards.  She made a lasting impression with The Help.  McCarthy was good, but undercut by fat chick clichés in Bridesmaids.

Who will win: I think that Spencer made the same impression on the voters that she made with me.

Best Director
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life
Alexander Payne, The Descendants
Martin Scorsese, Hugo

My pick: Payne and Malick had excellent movies, but Scorsese’s Hugo is a masterpiece.  This movie is right up there with Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Aviator and Taxi Driver as the best in his career.  Yeah, I know I did not include The Departed.  It’s good, but not on the level with his best.  Remember, Oscar is a shiny object.  The most impressive feat of the film, though, is Scorcese’s ability to weave a wonderful tale and while using unobtrusive 3D effects that actually help the story seem all the more real.

Who will win: It looks like The Artist’s director will take this one.  The only one that stands a chance is Scorsese.  Not a good one, though.

Best Original Screenplay
Woody Allen, Midnight in Paris
JC Chandor, Margin Call
Asghar Farhadi, A Separation
Michel Hazanavicius, The Artist
Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, Bridesmaids

My pick:  Out of this group, I have to go with Midnight in Paris.  Take Shelter should have been nominated and deserves the award, too.  Margin Call was nothing more than a depressing recap.  Bridesmaids was good, but the fat clichés knock it out for me.

Who will win: The Academy is big on Woody Allen.  He thinks like they do.

Best Adapted Screenplay
Alexander Payne, Nat Faxton, Jim Rash, The Descendants
John Logan, Hugo
George Clooney, Grant Heslov, Beau Willimon, The Ides of March
Aaron Sorkin, Steven Zaillian, Moneyball
Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughn, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

My pick:  No contest.  As good as The Descendants is, Hugo is the best story of the nominations and it was written exquisitely.  The story is the history of movies itself.  There can be no better story than this for a movie lover.

Who will win: Odds have The Descendants.  I have to go with Hugo though.  What better way for Hollywood to celebrate itself than by this story?

Best Animated Feature
A Cat In Paris
Chico & Rita
Kung Fu Panda 2
Puss in Boots
Rango

My pick:  No question here.  Kung Fu Panda 2.  The story was a true continuation of the journey.  Remarkable and one of the 4 best animated features ever.  The great thing here is that Pixar was shut out after putting out that derivative pile of crap, Cars 2.  It’s only because I love everything else that Pixar has done (except Cars) that I celebrate this.  They always do better, and they deserved the shut out.

Who will win: Rango is probably going to take this.  It looked great, to be sure.  The story was about as original as Avatar, though.

Original Score

The Adventures of Tintin, John Williams
The Artist, Ludovic Bource
Hugo, Howard Shore
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Alberto Iglesias
War Horse, John Williams

My pick: Howard Shore did a very skilful job combining the feelings and the tension with Hugo.  The Artist was a hodgepodge of stolen riffs from other movies.  They call it an homage, but that did not fare any better than Moulin Rouge for me.

Who will win:  The music for the silent film will probably win the day.

Best Original Song
Man or Muppet,” The Muppets; Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
Real in Rio,” Rio; Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown, Lyric by Siedah Garrett

My pick:  Easy.  McKenzie’s faux rock ballad perfectly encapsulated the glory of all things Muppet.  Ironically, that was not even as good as Life’s a Happy Song from the same movie.  Real in Rio is a nice song, but that’s about it.

Who will win:  Like I said.  Easy.

Best Achievement in Art Direction
The Artist
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Hugo
Midnight in Paris
War Horse

My pick: Before I saw Hugo, this award would have gone to the last Harry Potter.  My life is now infused with the images from Scorsese’s masterpiece.

Who will win:  Hugo should win, but The Artist could creep in.

Best Achievement in Cinematography
The Artist
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo
The Tree of Life
War Horse

My pick:  Malick’s work was immaculate.  His nonsequiturs are amazingly filmed as they are puzzling.  I love Fincher camera work and The Artist sure does look good.  Nothing, however, holds a camera to Scorsese’s work in Hugo.

Who will win:  This is likely the one place that they reward Malick’s wonderful film.  Hugo or The Artist could surprise though.

Best Achievement in Costume Design
Anonymous
The Artist
Hugo
Jane Eyre
W.E.

My pick:  This is a contest between Hugo and The Artist.  Hugo’s costumes encompass all that The Artist’s presented, while bringing into it so much more.  Hugo.

Who will win:  This could go either way, but I am guessing that they go with The Artist.

Best Documentary Feature
Hell and Back Again
If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front
Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
Pina
Undefeated

My pick:  Hell and Back Again.  Semper Fi.

Who will win:  Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory has traction.

Best Achievement in Film Editing

The Artist
The Descendants
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo
Moneyball

My pick:  There are no wasted shot’s with Thelma Schoonmaker.  Hugo.

Who will win:  If the tide is with them, and I think it may well be, The Artist, will probably win.  If by some miracle, they judge on merit, Hugo will take it.

Best Achievement in Makeup
Albert Nobbs
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
The Iron Lady

My pick: Potter.

Who will win:  Potter.

Best Achievement in Sound Editing

Drive
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

My pick:  Hugo

Who will win: Hugo

Best Achievement in Sound Mixing
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Hugo
Moneyball
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
War Horse

My pick:  Hugo

Who will win:  Hugo

Best Achievement in Visual Effects
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
Hugo
Real Steel
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

My pick: Hugo should win this.  Apes was an excellent effort, but Scorsese’s work was conventional and groundbreaking simultaneously.

Who will win:  Unless there is a Hugo landslide, Rise of the Planet of the Apes should win.