Silence is a brutal examination of Faith and Humanity

Martin Scorsese’s Silence is beautiful to behold yet difficult to digest. Rather than look for meaning in the assurances of faith, Silence examines the absurdity and failure of priests to bring Catholicism to shogun-era Japan. At times the film is difficult to watch but it is undeniably a masterpiece from one of the most talented filmmakers of our time.

The plot centers on two Jesuit priest who journey from Portugal to Japan in the 17th century to locate another priest and spread Christianity. The priests travel to several small villages to facilitate the conversion of the locals to Christianity. Their task is complicated by government soldiers who terrorize the village and its residents for practicing Christianity yet the priests never back down from their mission because they truly believe that converting the inhabitants of rural Japanese fishing villages to Christianity is a worthy endeavor. The priest named Rodrigues (played by Andrew Garfield) is captured when a fisherman named Kichijiro betrays him by luring him into the hands of the soldiers. Rodrigues is then brought to Nagasaki where he “the Inquisitor” explains to him why Catholicism does not have a place in Japan. Rodrigues also meets with his old mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who encourages Rodrigues to give up his mission because he believes that it is a lost cause. Ferreira has assimilated into Japanes culture since he believes that continuing to convert the Japanese people to Catholicism will only result in more suffering for the Japanese and the Catholic priests. Eventually Rodriuges gives in to Ferreira’s request and commits apostasy by stepping on an image of Jesus.

In Silence nothing is automatically right or wrong. There are many characters with ideas of what is right and what is wrong, but the film itself never seems to formally recognize any ideas as being better than others. The only true thing about this film is that the world is complex and often there are no easy answers to questions about humanity. People believe that everyone should be Catholic but actually trying to convert people in a foreign culture to Catholicism when another religion already exists is a task fraught with difficulty. The priests in Silence are flawed by their belief that Christianity should exist in every part of the world.

In addition to its intellectual strength, Silence is also breathtaking at times and features fantastic cinematography. Its great that Scorsese’s latest films are so long yet entertaining. It’s as if Scorsese was so used to making films the old way that making films nowadays is like going from safety scissors to actual scissors. Scorsese continues to hit home runs every time he steps up to the plate.

 

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Manchester by the Sea is Tragic, Hilarious Oscar Bait.

Manchester by the Sea stars Casey Affleck as Lee Chandler, a janitor who must become the guardian of his nephew when his brother dies of a heart attack. The film is written and directed by Kenneth Lonergan.

The film begins with Lee Chandler’s daily janitorial routine. Chandler comes across as quiet yet competent. However we also see Chandler’s dark side when he loses his temper with a customer and he gets into a fight at a bar. One day Lee learns that his brother Joe has died of a heart attack so Lee moves in with Joe’s teenage son Patrick.We learn through a flashback that Lee accidentally caused the deaths of his three children when he drunkenly forgot to place a screen in front of his fireplace. Lee and Patrick must figure out where Patrick will live following the death of Patrick’s father.

Manchester by the Sea is an easy watch due to the strength of its characterization. It’s the kind of film that makes you uncertain whether you should be laughing or crying while watching it. I’m always impressed by movies that can pull off this kind of tonal balance.

While Manchester by the Sea is clearly successful at what it attempts to do, I find myself questioning how much I should champion this film. The film is being marketed as an award-winning film and it looks the part. Manchester by the Sea is the type of film that fits so easily into an award ceremony. If it doesn’t win at least a few awards, then it will at least garner several nominations. For this reason I feel that I should avoid giving Manchester by the Sea more credit than it will most likely seem to possess during award season.

Manchester by the Sea is a great film with some serious emotional gravity. It will feel incredibly powerful while you watch it but it will disappear from your memory shortly after you leave the theater. The more I think about Manchester by the Sea, the more I want to conclude that the movie is fluff, a simplistic story that fits into an existing system that fails to present anything new or noteworthy. Manchester by the Sea is not a film that will challenge you or make you aware of something from a new perspective. Its film that knows exactly what it needs to do and does so in a workmanlike fashion, catering to your desires like a butler in a rich man’s house.

 

Moonlight (2016) Analysis: This Film will make you a better person.

Moonlight, directed by Barry Jenkins, is the story of an African American man named Chiron told in three parts. The three sections are called Little, Chiron and Black. These labels refer to the name that Chiron is known by during the section. Moonlight is a incredible feat of storytelling and structure. Its a rare film that presents many questions without ever attempting to answer those questions in a simplistic way. Moonlight uses a specific story to explore universal themes such as identity and how people are formed by experience.

The first section of Moonlight introduces the character of Chiron as a young child living in Miami. When Chiron is chased by bullies, he hides in an abandoned building and is found by a drug dealer named Juan who becomes a father figure for Chiron. In this section we see the beginning stages of Chiron’s development as a person. We see a budding relationship with another child named Kevin and abuse by Chiron’s mother. The second section of Moonlight is Chiron’s teenage years. Chiron is constantly harrassed by other kids in school and his mother’s addiction has only gotten worse. Chiron has his first sexual experience with Kevin on a beach but later Kevin is pressured into assaulting Chiron by a bully named Terrel. When Chiron retaliates against his bully, he is arrested.

The third section of Moonlight shows Chiron several years after being arrested. He works as a drug dealer in Atalanta and he goes by the nickname “black”. Chiron visits his mother and forgives her for the roughness of his childhood. Chiron also visits Kevin who now works at a a restaurant in Miami. Chrion reveals that Kevin is the only man to ever touch him which prompts another sexual encounter between the two men. The film ends with an image of young Chiron looking back towards the camera on the beach.

The story of Moonlight could easily occur in reality as it is incredibly personal. The film tends to focus on moments that are mundane but these moments are filled with meaning. You could easily watch Moonlight and think that most scenes are pointless but the truth is that every single detail is important. Moonlight is the kind of movie that you can’t help but think about for days after you watch it.

Moonlight is easily one of the most important movies of the year. It’s a film that shows the facts of a human life without making any assumptions or drawing any conclusions about what those facts mean. It teaches you that the world is an unfair place and often people have no control over their futures. Watch Moonlight to become see a compelling story and become a better human being.

 

Arrival (2016) Analysis: Denis Villeneuve is Today’s best Filmmaker.

Denis Villeneuve creates films that stay with you long after the credits roll. Now that his fourth major film has hit theaters, I am convinced that Villeneuve is the most significant filmmaker we have today. His film Arrival is a stunning masterpiece of science fiction, one of those rare films that is thought-provoking and a downright pleasure to behold.

Arrival stars Amy Adams as Louise Banks, a linguistics professor tasked with translating the language of aliens who have recently arrived on Earth. Arrival begins with a sequence depicting the life and death of Banks’s daughter who dies at a young age. Banks is invited by an army colonel, played by Forest Whitaker, to Montana where she enters the shell-shaped vessel of the aliens and encounters their language for the first time. The rest of the film follows Banks’s journey to understand the aliens language amidst rising military tensions due to the possibility that the aliens are dangerous. This is about as far as you can go describing the film’s plot without spoiling anything. If you have read this far, be aware that I am going to spoil many parts of the film in the rest of my piece.

I should give props to Ted Chiang because Arrival is based on a short story he wrote. Many elements of Arrival such as the design of the Aliens’ language come from Chiang’s short story. This means that Villeneuve does not deserve all of the credit for Arrival’s awesomeness. Much of the material is shamelessly taken from Chiang’s story but this most likely occurred with Chiang’s permission. Villeneuve does deserve credit for Arrival’s incredible visuals, the casting of Amy Adams and the choice to adapt Chiang’s story in the first place. Arrival is an example of what happens when multiple creative geniuses combine forces on one project.

A major source of mystery in Arrival is the aliens’ reason for being on Earth. This is the main question Banks wants to answer in her meetings with the aliens. When the question is answered, it almost happened too quickly to comprehend. The aliens purpose is to give the gift of their language to humanity because learning the language enables the user to see the past and future. The aliens claim that they will need humanity’s help in the future so that is why they are giving humanity their language. This plot point is unfortunately not fleshed out enough in Arrival. There is no discussion of what this means for anyone other than Louise Banks. I wish that the movie had at least made an attempt to explore the larger implications of a language that enables the user to see the future.

Arrival is a much more personal movie than it appears. While the stakes are large, the movie ignores those stakes in favor of the smaller stakes related to Dr. Banks. Ultimately its unclear why the movie chose to focus so heavily on her story when greater possibilities were available. Despite this problem Arrival is so far my favorite movie of 2016. The film achieved what few other could. It kept me transfixed for the entire time I was in the theater. At this point it is safe to say that this is Villeneuve’s specialty. His ability as a filmmaker is unparalleled in today’s cinema landscape.

Green Room (2016) Review: Beautiful and Violent Genre Perfection

Green Room is the third feature film of Jeremy Saulnier, known for also directing 2013’s Blue Ruin. The big name actors in Green Room are Anton Yelchin and Patrick Stewart. Sadly Yelchin stands out in this film for having recently died in a freak accident at a young age. Stewart is incredible as the leader of a group of neo-nazis in rural Oregon.

Green Room is essentially the story of a punk band’s misfortune on tour. Early on we see Yelchin’s character and another band member siphoning gasoline from cars in a nearby parking lot. But what can you expect? This is a hardcore punk band comprised of three young men and one woman so its not surprising to see them steal. The film establishes its characters early on so we can understand the consequences of what happens later. Through a series of bad events, the band accepts a gig playing at rural bar that they discover is filled with neo-nazis. After their set, the band stumbles upon a dead girl in the green room which sets of a series of events with grisly implications. The band becomes trapped in the green room while nazis plan to kill them to cover up the murder.

That’s really the gist of this film. There’s no obvious deeper meaning. This is a very primal and human movie. I found it incredibly refreshing. I feel like every movie I see these days pretends to have something deep on its mind. Every once in a while, it’s nice to see a movie with no pretensions whatsoever. It’s very clear who is bad and who is good and its beautiful to watch. That’s the other great thing about this movie. It’s absolutely stunning as a technical and visual achievement. Saulnier and his team have proven themselves adept at making movies. It’s only a matter of time before Saulnier rises to greater heights because his level of talent can only stay hidden for so long.

Green Room is an incredibly violent movie but each act of violence is felt deeply by its characters. Sometimes movies like Green Room can become sort of cartoonish in their overuse of violence. I find this off-putting. I don’t watch movies to laugh my ass of like a little kid when someone’s head get chopped off. Some of the special effects are a bit phony looking for my taste but I appreciate what Green Room is trying to do. Saulnier and company are trying to make a fun genre movie for people like me. It’s a movie that would appeal to the band members in the movie. It’s brutal and doesn’t give a fuck. The writing in this movie is also phenomenal. Dialogue creates a sense of history and purpose for the characters without getting too deep.

Watching Green Room is like taking a class in how to create a low-budget horror thriller hybrid. I will definitely be watching this film again so I can soak up how it achieved its effectiveness. I love that Green Room is the movie Saulnier decided to make after Blue Ruin, because while I enjoyed Blue Ruin, it didn’t have that much of an effect on me. Green Room on the other hand is the kind of movie that I find perfect in every way.

Hail, Caesar Review

 

Hail, Caesar is an interesting movie.

It has a lot of great actors and actresses performing at a very high level. It has some of the most hysterical scenes in recent memory and it looks amazing, however I found myself bored watching the film. At a certain point, the story started to drag. I stopped caring about the protagonist’s journey and started looking at my watch.

Hail, Caesar focuses primarily on Eddie Mannix, a “studio fixer” employed by Capitol Pictures. His goal is to keep the studio running smoothly. This entails dealing with movie stars such as Baird Whitlock, Hobie Doyle, DeeAnna Moran and Burt Gurney. Each of these performers has their own interesting thread, but the central story involves Baird Whitlock who plays the lead role in Capitol Pictures’ prestige film, Hail, Caesar. Whitlock is kidnapped and it is up to Mannix to find Whitlock while Mannix balances his personal and professional affairs.

It turns out that the people who kidnap Whitlock belong to a Marxist study group. My favorite moments of Hail, Caesar are when Whitlock speaks with his captors who present a very compelling argument for why they deserve Capitol Pictures’ money. They argue that the studio owns the “means of production” and thereby exploits the common man. Income inequality is at an all-time high in the United States, so this part of the movie seems prescient. The film does not portray those working in the studio system as morally righteous. Mannix’s main conflict is his choice between staying at the studio or accepting a better paying and less demanding job with a different corporation called Lockheed. The film portrays Hollywood as corrupt but valuable.

In the end, Mannix chooses to stay with Capitol Pictures. After retrieving Whitlock from the Marxists, Mannix hears Whitlock’s argument that the studio system is exploitative. Mannix responds by slapping Whitlock in the face twice and telling him to go finish his movie. Regardless of his success, Mannix refuses to see the sense in Whitlock’s argument. Mannix’s response seemed to me like an outright dismissal of Whitlock’s speech as crazy talk.

“Capitalism and logic are incompatable”

This seems to be the film’s thesis. Put another way, creating value is the ultimate pursuit in life and the best measure of value is cash. Mannix also places value in the feeling of belonging. This is the other part of his argument for continuing his job with the studio.

What really is belonging?

Belonging means being accepted as a member. Sure, there is a pleasure in being part of a group, but what does this cost? Mannix may be happy staying at the studio for this reason, but the film seems to think otherwise. The true victims of the film are Mannix’s wife and children. They are only present for one scene and it’s clear that Mannix does not value them as much as his career. Mannix’s wife expresses a sadness that her husband must constantly be at work. By forcing Mannix to work long hours, the studio system punishes Mannix’s wife and children. Not only does the studio system exploit its most valuable workers, it also hurts families.

Hail Caesar poses interesting questions about the ills of capitalism in an easy-to-digest package. Capitalism may be harmful, but at least it produces high-quality entertainment. One could look at the present economic state of the U.S. and point out even more problems caused by unhindered capitalism. While Hail Caesar is not the most entertaining Coen Brothers’ film, I appreciate its existence. The Coen Brothers’ may not be making the insanely entertaining films of their past, but they have focused on larger issues.

The Gift is an Effective but Flawed Psychological Thriller

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The Gift is an effective thriller that suffers from a flawed ending. Joel Edgerton’s film stars Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall as a seemingly happy couple starting a new chapter of their lives. Simon (Jason Bateman) becomes reacquainted with an old school chum named Gordo (played by Edgerton himself). It becomes clear that these two men share a sinister history and the nature of this history is the mystery of the film. (Spoilers lie ahead).

As the movie progresses, Simon’s real character is revealed and it is not pretty. Simon was a bully in the past and does not seem to be much better in the present. He manipulates his wife and ruins a co-worker’s career to get a promotion. He’s a rude dude who resorts to childish tactics such as name-calling and physical violence. It’s thrilling to slowly learn the extent of Simon’s wickedness. Edgerton is skilled at revealing just enough satisfying clues while keeping the audience guessing what will come next. The Gift has as much narrative tension as any film this year and that is reason enough to recommend it.

Here’s the thing, the movie concludes on a note that left me scratching my head. In the end, the film settles on being a revenge narrative, similar to a film like Oldboy. We find out that Gordo has filmed himself sneaking into Simon’s home wearing a monkey mask, while Robyn is passed out. This raises the question of whether or not Gordo has rapes Robyn. This behavior departs sharply from the actions previously taken by Gordo and its definitely a bummer ending. While I wanted to see Simon get his comeuppance, it’s hard to wish this kind of trauma on anyone, even an abusive bully. It’s a remarkably black ending for a film that travels through so many shades of grey. I recommend The gift because it will entertain but please be aware that most will leave with a sour taste in their mouth.