‘Silence’: Review

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Martin Scorsese is so good and operates at such a high level after 50 years of directing (I had to look this up to be sure, that’s two of my lifetimes making stunning films) that I feel everybody, including myself, is kind of brushing Silence to the side like “eh, another amazing Scorsese film, what else is new.” Any other lesser director, or one not as well-known directs this film and there’s gonna be storming the streets over how good this thing is, but with Scorsese it just seems like another day at the office. I’ve been waiting years for Scorsese to get his passion project finished and now that it’s here and as good as it is it’s kind of demoralizing to see it fall by the wayside during end of the year awards talk, not that that’s the be-all and end-all of whether a movie is good or not, but still.

This is an uncomfortable film to watch and Scorsese doesn’t reward you at the end for sitting through this punishment, it’s not Hollywood fanfare where we all come out happy in the end and necessarily excited for life. It’s about two priests who travel into anti-Catholicism Japan in the 17th century in search of their mentor who has been missing for years. Both men get deeper and deeper into this religious war zone and suffer hardship after hardship affecting both their religious and physical demeanour.

While Liam Neeson and Adam Driver share their name on the poster with Andrew Garfield, it’s largely a showcase for Garfield who he pulls it off with aplomb. I’ve always liked Garfield fine enough, he’s never really wowed me or did anything horrible, just been doing well existing and putting in fine work. But, he certainly proved that if you give him a meaty part and something for him to sink his teeth in, like this film, he’ll go full bore and deliver something special. A lot of the film works in quiet moments and also because of the Japanese to English language barrier a lot of the emotions and reactions are played off the actor’s faces. Garfield is especially wonderful in how he’s able to act with his face and emote all this pain and feeling that wears him down through the hours of the audience watching the film and the years inside the film.

Scorsese never makes easy films, but he also never makes films that are so over-complicated and convoluted that they treat the audience like an idiot because of wanting to seem “smart” and educated. He’s so assured in his direction that a psuedo-comedy like The Wolf Of Wall Street and a deeply religious exploration like Silence can be told by the same equal measured by Scorsese’s respect for the medium and how expertly each part of it informs the whole, no matter the subject matter. Silence is a film that is powerful in the quiet moments and understated in the grandiose, revelatory moments. It’s a film that is interested in showing how things are and how they were, no matter the pain that it delivered and may continue to for some. Scorsese documents it and wraps it all up in an engaging filmic package that he clicks on as easy as autopilot, while still showing how much he cares.

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‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’: Review

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*Spoilers obviously ensue if you somehow haven’t seen it yet*

The seventh Star Wars film, the first in a decade and a kickstart to what will be the most oversaturated years of this universe to come, is a successful ton of fun that doesn’t disappoint like the last trilogy did because of how it balances the new and old elements of the film’s canon and how it sets up the future films along the line. The film isn’t very inventive, in fact it takes LOADS from the original trilogy, specifically A New Hope, and packages it around some new characters.

Sure, it was all well-and-exciting to have a new Star Wars trilogy under any circumstances, but the black hole left by Episode 1-3 rightly had people worried. So what did they do to try and mitigate that, they thought, “hey, you guys loved the characters of the original trilogy, and they’re, like, 40 years older now, but we’re bringing them back!” And that was enough. Thankfully, original players like Han, Chewbacca, Leia are just their on the outskirts of the film to help install these new characters the film introduces and to frame these films and characters around the original trilogy and distance it as much as possible from the early 00’s one. Not to say that the new characters of Rey (our lead female protagonist, stuck on the planet Jakku until she gets raveled up in Finn and Poe’s shenanigans and hey, might just be infused with the force), Finn (a reformed stormtrooper who just up and realizes this dark side stuff may not be as great as it was cracked up to be), Poe (the slickest X-wing fighter pilot the Resistance has seen) are bad or anything, they’re not at all, but putting them against the backdrop of the familiarity of these characters and plot constructs certainly helps their cause. The throwback characters definitely tow the line of being too much and overtaking too much of what really shouldn’t be their story, I would expect and imagine that they should not be major part of the series going forward, besides a small scene or so and the resolution of the cliffhanger ending with Rey and Luke. It’s a fun nostalgia to see these characters, but they’re on their way out and they’ve helped usher in some worthy new era Star Wars characters to create their own legacy.

Circling back around to the plot of this thing, I guess it makes sense that this thing works because they kept things simplistic and copied a majority of the original trilogy’s beats. We start the film off with a droid carrying a message that needs to be delivered that holds the key to expected peace and overcoming of the dark side in the whole galaxy, we have a character living in the doldrums of a planet with seemingly exceptional skill with little future prospects until pulled up in to inter-galactic war, we have a hotshot x-wing pilot whose job in the climax entails flying into the First Order’s (bad guys) base and going in-between cramped spaces to destroy the small core, we have the main villain which is like a teenaged Darth Vader who has severe daddy issues, said daddy being Han Solo, who he confronts in a grand moment a top a catwalk where he subsequently betrays his father’s wishes and sends him off the edge to his grave death. I mean, I could go on, but you get the picture, the film takes a ton from the earlier movies, and so much so that it seems like some weird psuedo-remake. I’m not necessarily harping on the film for this, there’s still enough surrounding it that it doesn’t feel like a total retread, but you can’t help but seeing how intentionally safe they took this thing by relying on old standbys that they new would work, just with subbed in new characters and with the old ones just standing around waving on the sidelines.

I think what helps a lot in keeping this film a retreading and in injecting the new blood is the fidelity of the new cast members and how real to this universe and lived in they already feel. It doesn’t take you long to understand the plights and position of Rey, Finn and Poe in this world and how their each unique view shades in a different area of the film. Adam Driver as Kylo Ren was a particularly interesting casting choice, largely based out of the fact that a guy who looks like a pre-eminent un-assuming and un-opposing New York hipster and who is largely famous from playing one on TV for the past few years on Girls, was cast as this generation’s Darth Vader and tasked with being the large and encompassing villain of a dang Star Wars movie. I still couldn’t help but laugh when Kylo Ren’s badass helmet/mask was removed and Adam Driver’s svelte face with his curly hair bobbing out greeted me. At first I was at odds with him as the character and my believability of what kinds of evil should be coming from this guy who looks like what you would describe a prototypical millennial as. But, then the film progressed, I saw what they did with this character, having him be at such odds with his parents and what he saw around him that he regressed from everything they taught and preached and what they built their lives on and turned to the dark side. Sure, they’ve done this same storyline to an effect like dumb un-assuming Anakin turning into Vader, and Driver does much the same in his own way where he kind of gets in over his head, but you’re supposed to hate him for how he looks and just how easy it is for someone, anyone, to be so consumed by power and revenge that they make such decisions.

On the good guys side, things couldn’t really be in any better of a place. Daisey Ridley is excellent in playing this independent badass woman who is a fast-learner in this new world that demands fast learning. Finn, is literally thrown into a new world, having abandoned his storm trooper ways and is in his own fish out of water situation. I enjoyed how they played the Daisey/Finn relationship, hitting strongly on the friendship vibes over the romantic ones, something that wasn’t needed and would really only serve to cheapen both characters if they went that way and had them kiss or something like that.

I could go on and on, but you get the picture. This thing was exactly what I expected and really thought it should be, and I imagine the creators though the same way. It was an easy, succinct way to re-introduce and re-establish this whole world, roping in all those characters you grew up loving all the while bringing in this new generation who look more than capable to continue the story. The old and new were balanced as well as one could expect, now let’s see what happens when the leash gets reigned in further and they don’t have the familiar crutches to lie upon.