‘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.

‘The Wolf Of Wall Street’: Review

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They say that Scorsese is back, well, not actually back, since he’s been making films consistently forever now, but The Wolf Of Wall Street feels like something different. Yes, The Wolf Of Wall Street harkens back to what we all really consider a Scorsese movie to be like, a long epic, crime movie, with sex, violence and swearing, and that’s just what we’ve been delivered. Of course we all know Scorsese’s most famous movies in Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, Casino and so on, his most popular and most founded upon are the mob-esque ones that detail high crime. It’s no secret why they are so, and not only from their content, but also through Scorsese’s directing prowess have these films reached a while different cultural lexicon. Even stuff like Gangs Of New York and The Aviator aren’t quite quintessential Scorsese, even though they are great films, so I guess, yes, in a sense this is classic Scorsese formula, just formulated for 2013 tastes.

The thing about The Wolf Of Wall Street unlike any of those other films is that it’s not a drama, but rather a comedy. Sure, Scorsese is known for his bleak pictures, but they always have a strong comedic sense, and are always light of foot in certain parts. “Wall Street” is seemingly an inverse of these previous traditions with the vast majority of the film focused on comedic elements, all focused through a “dramatic” storyline, but engulfing it in jokes and laughs. Hearing about it beforehand that this was “Scorsese’s funniest film” made me uneasy in him taking his old and true concept and making it kind of silly and odd, seemed weird to me an not like anything he’s ever done. But, the film works splendidly as a comedy, and so off-kilter and taking Scorsese’s style to it’s brink, but never pushing it over, with delightful physical, verbal and sight gags, going fore bore into the proceedings. It maintains like a 20% serious tone throughout, a baseline, but the other 80% is just an entertaining and comedic filled time in this crazy world.

Don’t let any of that fool you, this is classic Scorsese. This film is like The Aviator on crack, literally. We follow Jordan Belfort on his way up to stock trading ladder, as he eventually gets his own company and gets more money than a Fort Knox stronghold. All throughout the film he does more drugs than a Rolling Stones concert, bangs more women than a Motley Crue concert, and makes more money than Gordon Gecko. If you had to sum up the movie in three words, it’d simply be sex, drugs and money. All these facets are explored and enjoyed through a myriad of ways, and lend that classic Scorsese touch. DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort is high throughout the whole movie, different women around every corner, and new “investment” opportunities seek to make him even more money.

Of course, like these stories are always destined to do, Belfort is faced with everything going to shit, as he gets in deeper with his own company, money creating efforts and FBI on his tail, a shadow begins to follow him. Caught up in all this greatness of drugs and money and power and self-worth it’s hard to give it all up, even if threats of fines and jail time are looking you in the face. It’s the crux of a lot of the film, how far will you go until too far is too far, how much is enough? When you get to feel this power and  gain money so easily, is anything enough? Belfort feels this emotions back and forth, succumbing to the ultimate power of thinking of the greater good, until he vaults back to only thinking for himself. It’s never good enough, and really who knows if he actually ever truly learns a lesson.

DiCaprio gives one of his best performances in a while, which is pretty substantial since he’s just been giving knockout performance after knockout performance over the past couple of years. He’s a slime-ball, but since he’s Leo one you’re still always kinda rooting for him, even with that slightly sinister look he always plays off of his face. Really, it’s because DiCaprio is so goddamn charismatic that you’d follow him off the edge of Niagara Falls if he looked at you right. Jonah Hill plays another one of his “semi-serious roles, but actually still the comic relief” and he fits it perfectly. A rotund guy who just wants to make it in the world coattails off of DiCaprio and becomes his right-hand man, and lightens the situation. Margot Robbie continues to be amazingly gorgeous to look at, and plays DiCaprio’s “duchess valley girl” wife to the perfect degree.

Scorsese and DiCaprio deliver another classic, and one that I’m happy to watch, seemingly not getting to experience an epic 3-hour crime movie in a long time. The movie is just utterly entertaining with ridiculous scene after ridiculous scene of DiCaprio fucked off quaaludes, coke, crack, booze, women, you name it. While possibly cheap ploys for a “hard edge” movie, it all works in concert with the life that this film creates and the story it tells. Everything is over-the-top because this story and these people’s lives were over-the-top. It’s so ridiculous that it has to be true. Martin Scorsese’s still making these films, and DiCaprio is still knocking them out of the park, traditions die hard.

9.5/10

‘This Is 40’: Review

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Judd Apatow is to comedy films as Martin Scorsese is to dramatic films or Quentin Tarantino is to genre films (well, for me anyways). There have been a vast number of auteurs in film history, including some great ones still working today, who often write their own material, direct it, and have similar themes and techniques. Unfortunately, there never seemed to be any huge comedy auteurs, and especially nowadays it’s pretty unheard of. Apatow is really the only one that comes to mind (currently), but correct me if I’m completely blanking on someone. Granted, Apatow’s films that he has written and directed all have several more serious themes, such as growing up, family, and getting old, but are still mainly comedies through and through. I love this balance in his films, where you get all the dick and fart jokes you could possibly dream of, but he instills his films with such honesty and sympathy toward the characters that it’s hard not to engage with the film both emotionally and comedically. This is the prime reason why Knocked Up is my favourite comedy of all time, even with the presence of the godawful Katherine Heigl.

This Is 40, a quasi sequel to Knocked Up, isn’t Apatow’s most layered film, but is obviously something he feels strongly for, and is modeled by his current life status. There really is no plot here, basically just Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann’s characters hit a wall in their marriage and try to work it out, while frustrating for other viewers, I found it to free the film up a little bit and allow it to be a little looser in format allowing the themes and comedy to not get bogged down in plot (something this kind of film doesn’t really need that much of). Like all Apatow films, it’s a good deal longer than it needs to be, and especially in a film like this with no huge plot markers or direction, there are plenty scenes that feel unnecessary and drag on for awhile. While not married, or even remotely close to being in these characters shoes, for me it’s hard not to understand the the themes of family, love and perseverance that Apatow, Rudd, and Mann exemplify through their characters ‘ actions and relative downfalls.

The acting was good all around, mainly. I generally like Maude and Iris Apatow in their father’s films, even if they are pushed to the forefront a bit too much on screen. Both were a bit stilted, but they’re both still kids, and I’m not that mean to deconstruct their performances. Maude had a few instances where you could see a great actress inside of her, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she got really good after some more practice and diversified roles. This is probably Leslie Mann’s best performances I’ve seen her in, and maybe her biggest starring role, I think? She gets to be funny of course, which she is, but her compassion and attempts to deal with her birth father (the fantastic John Lithgow) really let Mann hit those dramatic notes hard, and really make you feel for her as she is consistently an expert at playing sadness off her face. Apatow isn’t really the most stylish director, but he has some nice camera movements, and a few stylistic shots, especially during the vacation scenes, that heighten the feel of the film, and keep it from feeling generic.

I think through the well-explored themes and good jokes, while nothing revolutionary, Apatow succeeds in making the film he intended. Deeply funny, while keeping with the dealings of a marriage some 15 or so years in, how it changes you, your partner, and your life as a whole. As long as Apatow wrings the truth out of real-life, explores some of these issues to a more fuller and deeper extent, throws a joke or a hundred in the script, he’ll continue to have a great career looking at the serious and funny side of modern life.

7.5/10