‘Silence’: Review

silence_poster

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.

Advertisements

‘La La Land’: Review

la-la-land-reviews

La La Land works well enough because it operates within every preconceived notion and cliche of what you would be perceive this movie to be. It’s quirky, sends up Hollywood pictures of yesteryear and has a couple who meet then dislike each then like each other then date then have the best time of their lives then something UNEXPECTEDLY splits them apart then they become a “better” person from that relationship.

Now none of this is particularly bad per se, and La La Land has enough to distract from its formulaic misgivings, but still in doing so the film seems unoriginal in spite of what it’s trying to project on the screen. It so badly wants to rise from the ashes of all these old time Hollywood movies and become something different and masterful, but it’s still tied down by its trite machinations. I mean, sure, it’s not like the two main characters end up together happily ever after or anything like that, it’s not that formulaic, but it does the next best thing by having its cake and eating it too by saying, “Hey, we’re not gonna put them together, but see they’re better off for that and, awww, heck, fine, we’ll show you them together in some alternative world dream sequence.” Because the film is never content on straying TOO far from that happy Hollywood medium, less it get pulled out of its preordained rut. It’s a fine enough device, giving you the sad and happy by showing you both sides of how following your dreams or staying with a lover can work out either way and letting you choose what applies, but it still rings too cheap and easy.

Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are both exceptional in there roles, although I’m quite less enamoured with Stone even when while I still see the good stuff she’s putting out there. The writing and performances do a pretty good job in letting these characters be fun and eccentric without it veering too far into camp and seeming like these are just movie characters spouting these writer-speak words that nobody in real-life would ever say. In other words this movie wasn’t written by Diablo Cody. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but thinking that Gosling and Stone’s characters suffer from Gilmore Girls syndrome, where it’s all fun and charming to see them crack wise at each other and make funny little quips and have all these cutesy sayings, but imagine actually running into these people in real life and you won’t be able to find a razor blade fast enough to get away from these unbearable people.

I enjoyed all the musical aspects, ie breaking into song, but I honestly couldn’t help but thinking that the film didn’t really need any of it and at the end of things it just became more gimmicky than anything. There’s not a single song that stands out (good or bad) and it’s not like the film is worse off for any of it, or that it provides a disruption, it just seems like the musical aspect was force-fed into this movie that didn’t really need that to operate at a high level.

Believe it or not after the first four paragraphs that I wrote, but I actually liked this film. While I hated that it had to rely on so many cliches to get where it was going, it operates so well inside these cliches that it puts itself head and shoulders above what most do with them. Damien Chazelle is a good director and writer who crafts this film on such a grandiose stage thanks to his assured eye and vision that it’s hard to believe it’s only his third film. Everyone behind and in front of the camera delivers this whole package with such passion that it’s hard not to be moved by its emotion and the final grace notes from each character. La La Land is a film that loves old Hollywood musicals a bit too much, it has its own heart, but it just can’t resist the bright lights.

‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’: Review

rogue-one-banner.jpg

*Nobody reads these things, but mad spoilers ensue*

Rogue One works because it knows when to be a Star Wars movie and when not to be a Star Wars movie. The film is billed as a standalone movie in the franchise, and technically it is seeing as the cast is 90% new characters. It’s really Episode 3.5, as it provides a connective link between the two sets of trilogies and shows how the Death Star came to be.

The thing I hate more than anything else in movies deep into a franchise, spin-offs or whatever of the like is the cute little winks and nods to popular characters of the past just for the simple sake of getting a quick rise out of the audience just for mentioning them. This film has them, of course, but it’s done in such a small scale and organic way that it never feels like the film is stepping aside from its story to focus in on these elements. It bridges the gap between the two trilogies so it makes sense to shade in element of Darth Vader’s rise and fill out the story of how the Death Star came to be and what exactly lead to the moments at the beginning of A New Hope, the place we all originally were thrust into this world. Every other nod is treated as more of an easter egg where if you’re just watching the movie on face value (and/or you’re just a casual fan) you might not get it, but nothing will seem wildly out of place, but for more heedy viewers all the little references are there.

This is all in contrast to The Force Awakens where they pretty much just copied A New Hope and had a heavy presence of characters from the original trilogy. I mean, sure they kind of had a different mission to accomplish with The Force Awakens compared with Rogue One, where the former movie had to re-instill and reboot this franchise in people’s mind by playing to the broadest sensibilities possible to a. ensure the movie and subsequent franchise would be a success and b. to have a connective vessel point for these new characters. Whereas Rogue One is in the wake of the success of that movie and can follow a more niche guide because they knew it was going to be a one-and-done film rather than a direct sequels that had to follow in the story wake of The Force Awakens.

But, mostly Rogue One works because it makes sense and its chief example of this is that every damn body dies in this thing. It makes sense that since we’ve never heard of any of these people in the original trilogy that probably a lot of them wouldn’t be around at the conclusion of it. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting it at first, of course some people were going to die, but then the body count started rising and it all clued in for me and I hoped they would go that sensible route, because it made sense, and they did. I’m still amazed that Disney green lit this movie where literally the whole main cast dies, good and bad. Sure, they had in their back pocket the up note of an end scene where Princess Leia gets the Death Star plans and we see her in all her CGI glory, kicking directly off into A New Hope. But still, damn, I keep scrolling through the main cast on IMDB and I’m just like, “Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead.”

Honestly, I was just as excited about getting a new Gareth Edwards film than I was another Star Wars movie. I absolutely loved his first film Monsters which is almost a masterpiece for me. I was less enamoured with Godzilla, as I thought it was just fine and didn’t really do anything new. But, what I knew with both of those movies is that he obviously has a flare for staging epic battle scenes, but his sensibilities also extends into a passion for smaller human elements. I felt that Rogue One was actually pretty skimpy on the dramatic emotional beats, outside of the Galen Erso and Jyn Erso father/daughter stuff, but it served the film well in that there wasn’t an overabundance on any of that (not that it was bad or anything, it just picked and choosed well what it wanted to accomplish), as the film clearly wanted to focus on the larger battle aspects. And I thanked the high heavens that they didn’t do anything with a Jyn Erso/Cassian Ando romantic relationship because few things are worse than shoehorning a romantic relationship into a movie just because that’s what 95% of them do.

I gotta say I was pretty lukewarm on the movie for about the first 80%, but they really stuck the landing on the last section of the film and were seemingly allowed to do what they wanted and pulled everything off. Like I said earlier, I think this film was allowed to succeed in that it was operating inside of this area between the two trilogies where they knew this would be a one-and-done movie and could go all out and tell a story that didn’t need to be extended or have the end set up sequels (because they’re already made!) or have characters do unnecessary things because they needed to bank on them for the future. I don’t know fully where this stands for me in regard to the whole series, although I do find people thinking this is the best one pretty ludicrous, but I do know if they keep giving these films to auteur action/genre directors like Gareth Edwards and Rian Johnson then we’ll be in more than good hands.

‘Manchester By The Sea’: Review

060422-32221722-jpg

Grief and despair are so often chronicled by film and television because it’s an easy way to elicit emotions in characters and thus trigger a reaction in the audience. Nowadays we’re so brainwashed into what we think this means when watching it portrayed in media where everything has to be overdramatized to further stress a point to make sure its intent is 100% coming across. Nine times out of ten, in real life, things aren’t that cut and dry and it isn’t so easy to explain motivations behind actions and reasons behind emotions. Manchester By The Sea knows all of this and infuses it into every scene, making every frame of the film resonate in its real world fidelity.

Manchester By The Sea is a raw nerve of a film led by Case Affleck’s frayed end. Casey Affleck is a mind-blowingly good actor who plays sullen and downtrodden like it’s his life’s work (I guess because it pretty much is). Somehow after all this time and after amazing performance after amazing performance it still feels like Affleck is undervalued, under-appreciated and underrated, but with this latest performance he aims to put all that in the past.

Affleck plays Lee Chandler, a tired of life janitor doing the minimum to get by, who’s forced back into his old life and former town after his brother dies and leaves custody of his son to Lee. As the film unfolds you see exactly why Lee had such a hard break from his former life, a mind-numbing tragedy that leaves Lee barely able to function mentally at times and leaves him in a pseudo state of paralyzed despair. Of course Lee and his nephew Patrick have different ideas on how this guardianship thing will work out, with Lee wanting to cut bait from town as soon as possible and bring Patrick back to Boston, but with Patrick not wanting to leave town. We’ve seen this story thousands of times before, two opposing forces with opposite goals who of course will come together in the end in solid unity, expect that doesn’t happen here, because Manchester By The Sea doesn’t do things how movies typically do. Try as he might, Lee is too crippled by his former life, the memories, his walking tragic reminder of an ex-wife, to competently give Patrick the life and parenting that a teenager needs. Instead, Patrick stays in Manchester-by-the-sea (the town its set in and obviously the film is named after) and Lee goes back to his old life. Even back in Boston with the small tethers of his previous life rattling around in his brain, it’s too much for him to handle and something he can’t, and won’t, let be inflicted on another person.

Nothing wraps up neatly in the film, as most things don’t in real life, there’s no grand reunions, reconciliations, understandings or rekindling of relationships, it’s just a reshuffling of the deck. Kenneth Lonergan directs an open wound of a film that is expertly prodded by the damaged souls of Affleck as Lee, Michelle Williams as his ex-wife and Lucas Hedges as Patrick. It’s a film that isn’t interested in how things have been done, but in how things are done, no matter how sloppy, messy and anticlimactic it might be, because that’s where true raw emotion is found, in the places that people don’t want to look.

‘Arrival’: Review

arrival-banner-1-final

Dennis Villeneuve has fast become one of my favourite filmmakers and one of those people who I’ll see his name next to a project and know I’ll be seeing it as soon as possible. So much so that I’m now looking forward to his reboot/sequel/whatever of Blade Runner, and I could not have cared less about the original one. Incendies first launched him into the limelight, and with his four year run from 2013-2016 of Prisoners, Enemy, Sicario and now Arrival, Villeneuve has proved that he’s no fluke and has a ton to say through a variety of film genres.

A common thread through all of Villeneuve’s films, and one that becomes abundantly clear watching Arrival if it wasn’t already, is that he’s chiefly interested in the human condition. How people react in increasing times of physical, psychological, and even extraterrestrial avenues of stress and how this informs them as humans. How these feelings are intrinsic to each person around the world whether you’re confronting family strife, emotional instability, high pressure job situations or just some damn aliens.

Arrival works because Villeneuve is so skilled at balancing everything this film needs to be, from sci-fi to a character drama to a philosophical study. Because this is a Villeneuve film he takes something standard (at least in sci-fi fare) like an alien invasion and doesn’t just go the simple route of seeing them lay waste to our society or set everything up for an epic 30-minute space battle, instead the film takes a step back and thinks about what REALLY might happen if aliens descended upon our world tomorrow. Villeneuve makes the reality of this situation shine so bright and dim that it makes the otherworldly aspects that much more starker, and scarier, because of what its implications mean on us everyday humans.

Amy Adams is the perfect vessel for all of this because she, like Villeneuve, is so skilled at portraying a wide variety of person for the job that needs to be done. She is believable as an expert communicator trying to decipher what these aliens are trying to get across, she is believable as a mother with grief, hardship and confusion seemingly informing her every move and she is believable as someone who isn’t just content with seeing things at face value.

The film features a clever twist on the idea of a “twist” where I even hazard to really even call it a twist. We find out that Louise’s visions she’s been having throughout the movie (including of her dead daughter) are flash-forwards and that the presence of these aliens is to reveal that time can be literally viewed as a flat circle, changing the idea of time.

When we first view the film chronologically we interpret what we assume are flashbacks, but only later realize that they are flash-forwards. Just as in the narrative film universe where the characters discover that they can view time as a flat circle, us viewers of the film now unlock that ability and retroactively feel the same experience of the characters and click into this mindset of seeing everything at once, even if we didn’t know it and were confused by it at the time.

I feel like it’s almost too lazy to call this a “thinking man’s” sci-fi film, and I mean it is, but it still feels like too much of an easy brush to paint it with. It works much like Villeneuve’s other films because it puts you in the situation because it feels so real and lived in no matter how fantastical, makes you try and answer the questions being posed to the characters in the film and actually provokes thought and emotion that sticks with you. Arrival isn’t interested in tricking you and making you out to be a fool, but rather taking a roundabout way in showing you how things you might have thought looked so concrete and definitive are often always anything but that.

‘The Revenant’: Review

the-revenant_banner

Enough is enough, Leonardo DiCaprio thought, he’s had several close-calls with taking home that long-coveted Oscar, but it just wasn’t good enough. So, he went full Oscar bait doing the whole “suffering in the wilderness on/off screen trudging his way through trials and tribulations to get him to his destination.” The destination being either home and one-step closer in avenging his losses if you’re taking about the movie or the Oscar at the end of the road that he so desperately wants. In the strictest sense of the word this is an Oscar bait film to get Leo his award, literally everything in the marketing and presentation of the film has that in the forefront. Someone like Tom Hardy who is at least just as good as DiCaprio in the film is unheard of in any type of awards talks and the film itself seems to have taken a backseat. I mean, sure, it’s nominated for a bunch of awards for the film itself, Inarritu, but it’s still very much a DiCaprio vehicle.

Going into the film I was a bit worried because I had heard from other reviews that it’s not some deep meditation on this character that DiCaprio plays and really not all that big of a study on the human condition. It doesn’t stick with DiCaprio’s character of Hugh Glass as he fights the elements, Indians and whatever else the landscape has to face him, we don’t just suffer through with him, we often flip back to Tom Hardy’s character of John Fitzgerald, who had killed Glass’ son spurning on the revenger from Glass, attempting to make it back to the Fort all the while attempting to cover his traps and formulate his game plan of making a break for freer pastures. We also flip back to the Fort where Glass and Fitzgerald’s fellow trappers have made it back and are slowly being drawn into the story. I thought this all was going to be a detriment to the film, all the flip-flopping to other areas and characters, withdrawing from the constrictive plight of Glass, but doing so as a more traditional narrative film works quite well and probably just as good as if they just solely focused on DiCaprio. Conversely, I could never get behind a similar in construct film in ‘The Martian’ because they would too freely flip between Matt Damon’s character stuck on Mars and the people on Earth trying to get him back where you felt no tension or real concern about his character being trapped on Mars. Focusing more on his plight would’ve greatly helped the film, whereas I actually think that direction in The Revenant might’ve put too much of an onus and be a little much with DiCaprio’s portrayal of Glass.

Don’t get me wrong, DiCaprio is very good in the role, definitely not as great as I anticipated him to be, but he does enough work to help disappear into the role and seem more Hugh Glass than he does Leonardo DiCaprio playing a character. As mentioned earlier Tom Hardy is fantastic in his part, but unfortunately will forever be overshadowed by DiCaprio’s work, but that’s what you’d expect when DiCaprio pulls out all the stops. The direction and photography is top notch as expected, I know some people think Alejandro González Iñárritu is overrated, but I think without his touch and dedication to get this film done with as much real life fidelity as possible it wouldn’t have come off as both being a low-key epic film, along with the more subtle beauty shots that juxtaposed with the harshness of the land. The stage was masterfully set by Iñárritu and sufficiently finished off by the effort of DiCaprio and company.

‘The Hateful Eight’: Review

The-Hateful-Eight-Banner

The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s bloody rendition of a what a play would look like filtered through the eyes of the visual director. It’s funny because where Tarantino is largely and accurately looked at as a pastiche director, one who takes elements of several others and combines them into one thing, The Hateful Eight very much seems like a pastiche of previous Tarantino films, although I guess you could make that argument about all his films.

Of course, Tarantino loves nothing more than hearing people speak his dialogue, so this film which is about 80% set in the same location, a haberdashery filled with a cavalcade of Tarantino characters, is practically a field day for Tarantino where he has access to eight+ characters cramped in a tiny room, all fixed to play off each other and each maintaining their own motivations and secrets. It works well in this sense because Tarantino gets to indulge in everything he loves like grand monologues, Samuel L. Jackson recounting an epic story, and slowly tightening the grip on these characters who are all unsure of who each other truly is.

I think that’s the best thing that Tarantino has going for him here, I mean, largely it’s the whole point of the film, but it works expertly in ratcheting up the tensions until you’re finally revealed to who’s who and what’s going on. Chiefly all these characters with different backgrounds and motivations are stuck in this cabin during a blizzard, until Samuel L. Jackson’s character of Marquis Warren slowly unravels that certain people might not be who they say they are and like all Tarantino films unravels into a mess of blood and chaos.

The film is purposely slow and takes a while to get to the point where all is revealed, but it happens in one large swoop rather than one-by-one. I previously thought coming into this that it would be a And Then There Were None situation where people slowly get picked off one by one, but I guess in this shortened film time it almost works better where things pop off with a huge violent reveal. Tarantino, though, to create these shortcuts and remove some of the guessing from the audience actually outlines, through his own dang narration I might add, what is going on and literally tells you which character did what and guides your hand in solving this mystery for you. I’m not explaining that well at all, but it’s this weird thing where Tarantino provides his own narration in order to skip the plot ahead and tell you pertinent plot details instead of letting things play out, it’s weird and not a good decision, even if it speeds the film’s events up.

It’s almost pointless to talk about the performances in a Tarantino movie, because they’re always so good. Jackson is fantastic and literally fits any Tarantino movie like a glove, where nobody delivers Tarantino dialogue like Samuel. It’s nice to see Kurt Russell back again who’s perfect as a gruff bounty hunter where he has a code always to bring his subjects to hang, because the hangman’s gotta work, too. Tim Roth does his best Christoph Waltz impression and Michael Madsen and Bruce Dern turn in inspired work as well. By far the standout, though, is Walton Goggins as Chris Mannix, a supposed newly appointed sheriff to the town they’re all traveling to. He’s his typical Walton Goggins southern hillbilly self combining a weird off-kilter sense about him to his bubbly humour that can pop out of nowhere.

I will say that after Django Unchained its gotten progressively uncomfortable hearing and seeing Tarantino make these movies with black issues at the forefront involving slavery and the general treatment of black people of this time, and his insistence in using the n-word so frequently. I realize this was largely how it was, but it seems excessive to a fault, even if he’s trying to make some kind of point, and especially coming from Tarantino, who is as white as can be. I don’t know, it just seems a bit much at times, and yes, the black protagonist in the past two films always gets his way over the oppressors, but it sometimes just feels he uses it as an excuse a bit too much.

It’s hard to tell at this point where I fit this on the overall canon of Tarantino, I liked it overall, but as soon as I finished I was dying for a re-watch because I think things will become a lot more clear once I’ve seen it again. I did respect and enjoy the play aspect of things, where everything was combined and contained to one specific area that made you feel like a bigger part of the film and the filmic world became such that you were aware of every nook and cranny of that cabin. I am very interested to see what Tarantino will do next, since his big ideas years ago of doing a WWII film and a western have now been done, and now two westerns at that. As great, and enjoyable as his period films have been, I wouldn’t mind him tackling something in the modern day again or perhaps another modern crime flick in the vein of Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown. Who knows.