REVIEW: “Silence”

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For Martin Scorsese bringing “Silence” to the screen has been a fascinating journey. It started as an inspiration in 1989. Over the next 25 years it grew and evolved into something deeply personal for the filmmaker. In several interviews Scorsese has intimated that the film’s conceptual evolution mirrored his very own spiritual maturation. This intimate connection seeps from every pore of “Silence” making it a profoundly affecting labor of love.

It was in 1989 that Scorsese first read “Silence”, ShĹ«saku EndĹŤ’s historical fiction novel published in 1966. Scorsese immediately knew he wanted to make a film adaptation but he didn’t know how. Early attempts lead to an unfinished script in 1991. Plans to begin production in 1997 were postponed. More delays came in 2004 and 2011. But these postponements weren’t without purpose. During that time Scorsese gained a better sense of what “Silence” was saying. In his words he finally figured out “the heart of the book”.

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EndĹŤ’s novel is a deep exploration of the depths of faith. It drills below the surface-level perceptions of faith, down to its most bare and intimate state. Scorsese’s cinematic study of this central spiritual theme is absorbing but also challenging. The story he and co-writer Jay Cocks tells is powerful and rooted in historical significance. At the same time the film is a bruising meditation that is calling its audience to self-reflection.

To get us to that point we follow two 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priests, Father SebastiĂŁo Rodrigues (James Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver). The two receive word that their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has vanished after renouncing his faith amid intense persecution in the mission fields of Japan. Unconvinced of Ferreira’s apostasy, the two priests set out to find their mentor’s whereabouts despite the cloud of danger awaiting them.

The Japan of the 17th century was controlled by the Tokugawa shogunate. Christianity was deemed a threat and subsequently outlawed. Anyone breaking these laws faced torture and/or execution. It’s here that Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe sneak ashore with the aid of a boozing local vagrant named Kichijiro (YĂ´suke Kubozuka). There the “padres” connect with a small village of Christians who secretly practice their faith in the dark of night.

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It’s worth noting Scorsese’s use of his camera to portray the arduous, uncompromising world these two priests enter into. It feels just as foreign to us as it does them. Even the sound design contributes to the sense of uncertainty and isolation. The heightened sounds of nature routinely take the place of a your standard musical score and sometimes the silence itself speaks volumes.

Rodrigues and Garupe establish a semblance of ministerial and sacramental normalcy for the village believers and as a result see their own faith strengthened. But the region’s ruling shogunate led by the freakishly blithe and casually brutal Inquisitor Inoue (Issey Ogata) is intent on rooting out and purging the land of Christianity. His dogged persistence paves the way to the film’s central conflict – something much deeper than a faithful Christian versus his relentless persecutor.

The further you get into “Silence” the better you understand the challenge Scorsese lays before us. The obvious storyline is compelling, but to truly understand the heart of the story requires a willingness to internalize the theme of faith and reckon with what is revealed to you. Yes, it’s a deeply spiritual film but not a preachy one. In fact it could be said it asks more questions than it answers. Still Scorsese ponders these ideas with the sincerest curiosity and unflinching patience – the essence of faith, the pain of betrayal, our human frailty. And what do we make of God’s silence in the midst of tremendous suffering?

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As you would expect the performances are sublime. Neeson’s portrait of anguish and conflict helps make his handful of scenes some of the film’s finest. Driver is as tense as he is gaunt which is strikingly in-tune with his type of character. That gets to Garfield, a guy who has steadily gotten better with each role he has taken. In “Silence” he literally transforms before our eyes both in character and performance. He plays it a bit safe early on but quickly tosses aside all restraints and commits every ounce of himself. Portraying spiritual struggle is tough and Garfield impressively carries the bulk of that load.

It has taken me two viewings and a lot of wrestling to truly figure out how I feel about this film and what it means to me. It’s that type of movie – one that can’t be appreciated with a mere surface reading. Despite its incredible artistry and beautifully sculpted scenes (cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto deserves an Oscar nomination), “Silence” seeks to be something more – a spiritual epic that not only reflects where Scorsese is in his personal journey but challenges us in ours.

“Silence” is a film that may not sit well with Scorsese die-hards looking for his normal cinematic swagger and it certainly doesn’t aim to be a 2 hour and 40 minute crowd-pleaser. But after a second look it clicked for me in every meaningful way. I still have questions the movie stirred up within me and I love the its unwillingness to give me every answer. In fact Scorsese isn’t saying he has every answer. But he is saying the questions are worth asking, and the answers you get just might change your life.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

5STAR K&M

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REVIEW: “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”

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While it certainly wasn’t a bad film, I can’t say that I was amazed by “The Amazing Spider-Man”. Maybe it was just too soon after the previous trilogy and a rebooted origin story simply felt too familiar. I liked the movie but it didn’t stay with me. As you would expect in today’s modern Hollywood, a big budget sequel was already in the works and it arrives only two years later in the form of “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”. It is director Marc Webb’s $250 million continuation of the web-slinging superhero’s story, at least this version of it.

Spider-Man is probably the most popular superhero in the Marvel Comics universe and he has been box office gold for Sony Pictures. That trend has proven to continue. This film has already raked in over $350 million worldwide only one week into its United States release. People flock to Spider-Man pictures. But are they flocking to a good movie? Quite honestly the trailers for this film did little to excite me. Still, I’m a comic book guy so any chance to visit these great characters piques my interest at least to some degree.

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Andrew Garfield returns to play Peter Parker and Emma Stone is back as Gwen Stacy. It’s high school graduation and the two are still romantically involved although Peter still struggles with a promise he made to keep her out of his dangerous crime-fighting life. He’s also still haunted by the truth surrounding the disappearance of his parents many years earlier. We are also introduced to Harry Osborn (Dane DeHaan) who returns to Manhattan to see his dying father Norman (Chris Cooper). We also meet a lonely, unassuming man named Max Dillon (Jamie Foxx). He works as an engineer for OsCorp and he has a longing to be needed and noticed. All of these characters plus more find their way into this busy story.

“The Amazing Spider-Man 2” is the perfect definition of a mixed bag. Several of the film’s components work really well while others drag the film down or hinder the storytelling. Perhaps the biggest problem is that the movie tries to cram in too much story and too many characters. This results in some characters who are thin and who feel terribly underdeveloped. More importantly there are significant story angles that are never given the time they need to build. This makes certain parts of the story feel forced and shortchanged which ultimately waters down their effect.

On the flip-side, the movie does shine in the more human emotional moments. Garfield and Stone create a strong and truly believable romance hindered by the complications their lives have brought. The two have really good chemistry and they share several fantastic non-superhero scenes together. I do miss the changes made to the Peter Parker character. Gone is the nerdy awkwardness that has always been a defining quality. There are also some good scenes between Peter and his Aunt May (Sally Field) as well as one particular good scene where Peter catches up with his old high school buddy Harry. The movie was at its best when focusing on the human elements.

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But this is a superhero movie so naturally you look for and expect certain things. First off, Garfield is very good behind the mask. He has a lot of personality and I found several of his quips to be quite funny. Of course the majority of his fighting is presented through CGI. Sometimes it looks good, other times the animation is obvious. But even he suffers due to the film’s lack of a bankable villain. Jamie Foxx’s Electro is a huge stretch from the comic book inspiration and frankly this version is not that interesting. I’ve never been sold on Foxx as an actor and he is very dull and uninspired here. But it’s hard to put the blame squarely on him. He’s given flimsy material and he doesn’t have the chops to rise above it. I also didn’t care for DeHaan’s Harry Osborn. He barely resembled this important character in Spidey lore and there were times when he was just painfully bad. The movie needed these characters to work and I didn’t buy into either of them.

So basically this movie works on the human level but only occasionally where it needed to the most as a superhero movie. It’s a cramped and underdeveloped story which is surprising considering the film is a long 2 hours 20 minutes. There are so many plot lines that feel shoehorned in and that barely contribute to the movie as a whole. There isn’t a good villainous presence and the rebooted series has yet to find itself an identity. It does have its moments, but in the end it doesn’t feel like the movie that this character and his great history deserves. Despite its scattered good scenes, I still felt Spider-Man deserved better.

VERDICT – 2 STARS

“THIS WEEK IN MOVIES” (MAY 4th)

It seems like every week we get new goodies leading up to the releases of “The Dark Knight Rises” and “Prometheus”. This past week was no different. If you haven’t had a chance to see the “Prometheus” International Trailer you are really missing out. Ridley Scott’s upcoming sci-fi picture is still shrouded in mystery and each tidbit of information we get adds another piece to the puzzle. The “Prometheus” International Trailer gives us some new footage featuring the same breath-taking special effects and amazing production design. I still have tons of questions about the film but this trailer  gets me even more excited. Click any of the links to check out the “Prometheus” International Trailer. The film is set for a June 8th release.

 

Some very cool bits of news from Christopher Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”. The movie’s promotional campaign is off and running. Early in the week “leaked” scans of some Gotham City documents hit the web including a police issued arrest warrant and a wanted poster for Batman, a letter from the deputy commissioner, and a photo of evidence on it’s way to forensics. I posted full scans of these earlier in the week (you can find them by clicking  THIS LINK). Fun stuff!

But perhaps even more exciting was the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” Trailer #3 ! At first it was set to debut attached to “The Avengers” movie but through a clever viral web trick, the trailer was unleashed earlier and it doesn’t disappoint. “The Dark Knight Rises” Trailer #3 features loads of new footage and answers some questions about Bane and especially Selina Kyle (a.k.a. Catwoman). View “The Dark Knight Rises” Trailer #3 by clicking any of the links above. The film is set for a July 20th release.

 

Staying with the superhero news, have you had a chance to see the “The Amazing Spider-Man” Trailer #2 ? This is a movie that I have been a little reluctant to get excited about. This reboot didn’t excite me at first but after seeing “The Amazing Spider-Man” Trailer #2 that has changed. If you haven’t seen it, click on any of the links and tell me what you think. “The Amazing Spider-Man is due out July 3rd.

 

NEW IN THEATERS (MAY 4th)

  • “THE AVENGERS” (PG-13) – Action/Superhero
  • “THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL” (PG-13) – Drama/Comedy
  • “THE KID WITH A BIKE” (PG-13) – Foreign/Drama

* It’s a great week to hit the theater. A big budget, action-packed blockbuster, a fun little movie aimed at older audiences, and a poignant foreign drama. I hope to see all three.