Silence (2016) – The Swamp of Uncertainty

Martin Scorsese, the master of the finely tuned gangster flick; whether it is the mean streets or wall street, he goes taps into the audiences psyche; concocts frenetic scenarios with fast paced scenes that accentuate the presented narrative.

There are movies of his, which go outside his usual presentations (The Age of Innocence, Shutter Island, and Hugo), show the same finesse, style, and attention to detail that has grown with age. Silence, in its grandeur and beauty is reminiscent to Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu’s The Revenant. It is similar in being shot exclusively outside and takes advantage of the natural surroundings to provide visual aesthetics of authenticity. A time forgotten, when the light of the world, space, and torches dictated the movements and planning of the groups living in the shadow; whose faith and practices carry a heavy cross, forsaken by an isolation layered in depth.

Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garupe (Adam Driver), two Jesuit priests are sent to find Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson); they embark upon a journey to the land of the rising sun, which has built itself into an isolationist culture. It is made apparent that their presence is unwelcomed, that Japan has conflicting interests when it comes to western influences and the way it could divide the nation. The main samurai, Inoue (Issei Ogata), provides a point regarding language syntax and challenging the priests’ expectations converting the villages along Japan. That what Ferreira and the other priests had taught the villages was being translated from a literal sense (i.e. “Son” and “sun”). Rodrigues is reunited with Ferreira, who, looks unequivocally like Qui-Gon Jinn, further unwraps the words of Inoue; that Japan as a whole is not ready for the concept of Christianity, the analogy of Japan as a swamp is floated in the movie, meaning that the roots of Christianity cannot take hold due to Japan being as isolationist as it is; context and meaning is misconstrued to the point where Rodrigues and Garupe are seen as the saviors to the villages. They are tangible, the bridge between the word and the newfound Christian spirituality consumed by the villagers in search of something to alleviate them of their sins and misfortunes. The hierarchy of Japan realized the problems this could cause and decided to handle it in a curt and aggressive manner.

The main theme/narrative of the movie resonated with me in a sense of past experience. Rodrigues and Garupe are, in their collective experience, not doing anything wrong. They are not forcing faith onto the villagers, they are coming up to them to be absolved of their sins. However, the priests know that as long as they are there the people will be subjected to horrendous torture. The dynamic of thought, practice, and perspective is flipped around when Inoue asks Rodrigues, legitimately, what would Jesus do if he saw his followers being tortured in front of him? Inoue in a twist of perspective understands the initial message of Jesus, He would have sacrificed his pride and well-being over the pain and suffering of His followers. Is the message lessened when principle becomes the driving factor over sacrifice? The people who worshipped the Jesuits had a life that was not made better because of their faith, the foundation was not yet set to yield fruitful results of their sacrifice in such an environment. The Catholic Church had not yet reached the scope of influence that was necessary to carry out in a land such as Japan; the lack of fortified roots for the faith to take hold ended up besting the priests.

Overall, this somber, docile experience had enough drama and turmoil to keep the narrative interesting, with spectacular scenery that set a pristine atmosphere. However, one thing that bugged me about Silence was the payoff and ultimate lesson at the end of the movie. It was abrupt to a degree that took me out of the movie and questioned the point being made; was it worth it this whole time to live a life after committing the first part of it to a doctrine and faith that does not go away easily. Regardless, if you are looking for a movie to break up the cacophony of our current societal climate; to cleanse your palette of the outrage that multiplies daily, Silence, is deserved.

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Top 5 “Meh” Movies of 2016

  • Batman: The Killing Joke – M’kay, I’ll get this out-of-the-way now: what was the deal with the love story between Bruce and Barbara?? That space is normally etched out for someone like Nightwing – Dick Grayson. The flow of the movie was, slower than normal when it comes to the area of animated Batman movies, I know for a fact I have seen paint dry faster. The transition from that to the main story halted the narrative flow, and had me flabbergasted during viewing. The main Joker story was, serviceable, and it was pristine to hear Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy back in the studio, donning the figurative cowl and make up respectively. What bugged me the most about this was the lack of, pop; the sense of urgency that was overflowing in the Alan Moore written graphic novel that further fleshed out one of the many Joker’s back stories that had Batman laughing uncontrollably when it was over. Skip this one and move straight onto Batman: Return of the Caped Crusader, which sees the return of Adam West and Burt Ward in a reincarnation of the sixties television show.
  • Jason Bourne – By the numbers, that is what this series has been reduced to after exploding onto the action movie scene in 2002 with an updated format of the spy genre, yet remaining pedestrian to a degree that Matt Damon had to essentially start from the ground up when it came to rediscovering himself. By the fifth movie, fourth in the Damon driven series, the plot has become convoluted to the point of parody; rehashing old elements of once dynamic set pieces. Jason Bourne, once again, is looking for a piece of the puzzle that is beyond his reach, and must trek across Europe and the United States in order to discover the missing piece as to why he ended up the way he did. There, that is the plot in a nutshell, I would recommend seeing London Has Fallen, a less serious, politically incorrect sequel to Olympus Has Fallen that takes itself less seriously to the point of parody.
  • Independence Day: Resurgence – This was a slog, an alien invasion movie with a ridiculously high budget could not get me excited on Spectre levels of “meh.” The plot is reduced to its base level down to a chore, the charisma and urgency of the main characters did not seduce my interest, at all. Not even the off-keel, quirky charms of Jeff Goldblum and Brent Spiner was enough to wrangle my emotions to care about what happened to baby-Thor, not-Will Smith, and…her? Although I will admit it was pretty sweet to see how the world adapted to the boom of technology provided after the first alien invasion. Twenty years later, after hearing Bill Pullman’s patriotic speech, they decide to take another crack at Earth; this time, they bring twice the firepower. Humanity scrapes and endures, listing lazily to the left and boom! We end with a major cliffhanger that implies a sequel will be coming. Instead, go out and rent/purchase 10 Cloverfield Lane to satisfy that sci-fi itch.
  • Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice – Zack, what happened? Sooner or later, this Frank Miller-lite schtick cannot be the driving aesthetic and narrative of the DC Universe. Enough of the insipid, angst ridden, lizard brain level motivations of Batman and Superman. The complexity to their actions stripped down to vengeance and power lessens the emotional return on two characters with rich tapestries. And Lex Luthor? That was some Jim Carrey – Batman Forever type shenanigans that looked like it was trying to be a counterbalance to all the gloom and doom, but instead felt jarring to the overall narrative. I mean, it is fine if he is insane or unhinged to a degree in which fits with the rest of the tone; however, the silly-boy wunderkind archetype would have been perfect for something along the lines of Deadpool. Aside from the tonal issues, it falls into the trappings of X-Men: The Last Stand and Spider Man 3: too many characters being pushed into frame with too little development for the audience to form any kind of emotional connection. Civil War, on the other hand, is a fine example of strained relationships and strife among superheroes who want to accomplish the same global goals, but struggle with the HOW of execution.
  • Suicide Squad – My favorite thing about this movie was Jai Courtney’s Captain Boomerang, specifically whenever he is in a shot in the movie he always has a beer. It is never explained why he has a beer, where he gets the beer, or is mentioned by any other member of the squad. It was a superb visual gag that added some levity to the honest to god clustercuss the rest of the movie displayed. The hot topic, Burton-lite, “tee-hee we are so edgy” aesthetic presented as the end product was dismal, to put it lightly. Enough! This aesthetic is played out, the fine line between innovative and campy was crossed years ago, around the time of Burton’s version of Alice in Wonderland. I was in high school when the ‘scene/emo’ trend was a thing; Warner Brothers, Zack Snyder, it is over. This is not the mid to late 2000’s anymore, times have changed, attitudes are different, we as an audience are not interested in the dark, gritty tone if it is used in a slap dash way. Having the trailer company take the reins in editing the final product lessened the emotional payoff of what could have been a movie with a darker tone that fits with the characters and their respective back story. If you are looking for a movie that enlists the help of a ragtag team of rebels, Rogue One did it better, and has a place in the lore of its respective universe.

Top 5 Favorite Movies of 2016

Foreward: I did not get to see all the movies I wanted to this year, or that many; however, there were several movies that garnered my attention and blew me away. P.S. top 5 “meh” movies will soon follow.

  • The Nice Guys – If Shane Black were to spend the rest of his career writing and directing increments and spin-offs of Lethal Weapon, it would not be the worst thing in the world. The mismatched duo of Gosling and Crowe, with the former’s slapstick antics and the latter’s swinging fists, the cacophony is on point. The execution of the fight sequences and shoot outs is reminiscent of a past time in action movies, more specifically when Russell Crowe fought Keith David; side note, this was the year I finally saw They Live, which added further meta-context for the Crowe/David fight. Alas, the ending up being a bit more, less than subtle with its message; the quirky hijinks involving the environment tickled me in the beginning, but intertwining it with the plot felt a bit forced and out of pace. Regardless, Shane Black knows his craft masterfully and can weave action, allure, and action movie tropes in a way that reminds me of Tarantino. And what better city to set a neo-noir, gumshoe tale than the overcrowded, smog ridden city of seventies Los Angeles as the aesthetics and tone of the setting enhances the narrative experience.
  • Green RoomGreen Room is one of those low-budget survival thriller movies where the sum of its parts align to a nigh perfect degree. The focus on claustrophobia and uncertainty around every corner brings the audience forward and right back down on their seats. An out of town band going to a remote location in the mountains, playing to a crowd of, to put it lightly, rowdy customers; witnesses a horrific event and are left in a compromising scenario. The main attraction, the burning question of this movie is: how are they getting out of this one?! The sheer will power to get from place to place when there is a gang the size of a small militia outside and in; all the while being completely cornered is feat in of itself. Patrick Stewart and Anton Yelchin provide a satisfying counterpoint to each other as predator and prey, pushing each other’s efforts to the brink; creating a shift that sways in both their favors. You cannot go wrong giving this movie a watch if you missed it in theaters.
  • Deadpool – What if I were to tell you, that the surprise hit of February, as well as 2016 was an insane superhero movie where are our main protagonist wore a mask, spat fourth-wall breaking one-liners, was nearly invincible, was played by a Canadian, and added with a twist of insanity? But enough about Jim Carrey in The Mask! Ryan Reynolds as Wade Wilson/Deadpool was a savior performance that purges any wrongdoings that were transgressed in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. He stepped back, and took the time to perfect his Deadpool schtick and show that given significant creative control he can add rejuvenation to the X-Men franchise. In return, this movie is by far 20th Century Fox’s best X-Men movie since First Class. The barrage of destruction brings an element of excitement and the meta-humor is so on point the line of parody is blurred. The plot is your average stand-alone mutant experimentation story, except that someone cranked Wade’s levels to eleven, leaving him in near constant state of insanity. The formula does stagnate in the villain department, and yet, this is specifically a Deadpool origin movie, most of the screen time is going to go towards his character development.
  • 10 Cloverfield Lane10 Cloverfield Lane is a prime example of how to accomplish a soft reboot/alternate story within a shared universe. The shock of a cataclysmic event is still felt within Mscene later, she is brought to the main area in which the film spends ninety eight percent of the movie. If you thought Green Room was claustrophobic, it looks like a massive church compared to 10 Cloverfield Lane. John Goodman puts on a stellar performance as a survivalist who has his fair share of issues exacerbated by recent events. As time progresses, the amount of cringe and paranoia can be measured in yards as Goodman’s unhinged tendencies burst from the seams. Goodman clearly wants to relive happier times, and where Winstead stands on this, calculating issue is irrelevant. It is bad enough that an alien invasion looms around the corner, but when we as people are forced to exist in compromising positions becomes a necessary evil.
  • Hail, Caesar! – May the Coen brothers continue to create their brand of philosophical, head-scratching comedy. The overall narrative led by Hollywood fixer, Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), is layered within the stars he manages, as well as the reporters who come to him for any semblance of sensational leads. George Clooney, Scarlet Johansson, and Channing Tatum round out a cast with all sorts of zany characters and familiar faces. Each thread begins as a particular issue in which Brolin’s firm, subtle touch is required, and ends in unpredictable outcomes. A characteristic of the Coen brothers’ formula are the numerous side characters and their agendas that give the plot its winding turns. Leading to calamitous conclusions and a story that is not bookend finished, rather allowing us to fill in the blanks and explore further ideas and concepts rooted within the movies’ narrative. All in all, the Coen brothers film catalogue has more memorable and irreverent selections; Hail, Caesar! stupendously passes the bar and lengthens the stride of the brothers’ output of extraordinary movies.

A Bourne Patriot?

Over time, I have surmised regarding the Bourne series, particularly the first trilogy, adults above the age of forty love it. Whenever I have brought it up in conversation, at some point they mention how much they like it, with a fit of gusto in their voice. A kind of nostalgia regarding the “adapted from a novel” approach that also applies to the Jack Ryan movies. Despite liberties taken with novel accuracy; the overall tone, the “good ol’ boy” charm of Matt Damon, and Bond-style exotic locations comprise a visual experience any action movie fan will enjoy.
The series as a whole has a unilateral narrative cycle akin to another Universal franchise: Fast & Furious; unilateral in the sense that both series know what they are, know their audience, and know that they’ll be making sequels regardless of critic reviews. Concerning the Bourne series, consistency has been their strong suit. Bourne has an unlimited well of skill, innovation, and timing that is impeccable. The car chases are short and sweet, in the most claustrophobic locations of the city. He uses information and anonymity as his main weapons in the finely crafted games of cat and mouse that ensue when he is on the espionage trail. The more secrets he uncovers the more the conspiracy unravels. The conspiracy unravels and more the story trails off into a barrage of political exposition dumps; shady characters and organizations are brought in and the rabbit hole keeps splintering. Can the narrative stay the course without getting bogged down in the exposition dumps packaged with each successing movie in the franchise?
Regardless, despite how critics view the movie, the fans will come and see it; this is another shared correlation with the Fast & Furious franchise. Granted, the Furious franchise retooled their formula between four and five, and have released movies on a more consistent basis. It is still quite the accomplishment to have a film franchise, let alone two, that have been commercially successful since 2001-2002. The audience’s perspective of these types of movies are lenient when it comes to real life accuracy, they came for the characters, the fights, the car chases in which both franchises have in spades. Jason Bourne, however homogenized it may be with Supremacy and Ultimatum, is familiar. The audience will get a kick out of seeing familiar faces and new faces as we continue the global trek of Bourne and his never ending quest to see HOW far the conspiracy unravels.

The Nice Guys

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     When the movie was over, I had a thought; perhaps the reboot culture we live in could benefit with a paradigm shift toward spiritual successors; the correlation in this instance being Lethal Weapon, The Nice Guys and Shane Black. There is enough aesthetic similarity between the two films – instead of bringing back Mel Gibson and Danny Glover or going through the recast shuffle – present the same grimy city element, push it back a decade, and have the main characters in less than reputable jobs. The shot in the beginning of The Nice Guys was a sublime call-back to Lethal Weapon; even the fights brought back comparisons to similar shots.

     The beats of the movie are consistent with past examples of noir/crime narrative flow: woman dies, we meet the protagonists in their environments, they cross to hilarious results, get to know each other, go on the trail, get in some fights, the plot unravels, lose the trail, have a break through, another fight, meet the big hoss, learn what is actually going on, have a final shoot out, and become an inseparable team; all within a grimy, polluted, dangerous, and retro set Los Angeles. The pace and flow of the movie is quick, akin to The Wolf of Wall Street; what feels like an hour and a half tops is closer to 2-3 hours of the actual movie time. Stories such as these benefit from a quickened pace as to match the erratic environment the cast occupies, that and to avoid inconsistencies within the narrative flow.

     The main inconsistency problem I had was with the third act. The whole “we’ll take them down with an experimental porno” arc put Gosling and Crowe in a no-win situation when it was revealed the antagonist that be was unbeatable by a P.I. and enforcer, even after factoring in the suspense of disbelief prior. Further more, the cheeky gag of how polluted Los Angeles was should have stayed that way; making it the main cause of the whole debacle sent the narrative flow on a preachy path. If the main plot traveled further down the path of investigating the porn industry, then, the recurring gag of pollution could still work as an analogy towards the excess of the industry. That, and we could have had some choice call-backs in the fashion of The Big Lebowski or Boogie Nights.

     Understandably, the box office return on The Nice Guys was stifled in the wake of movies such as Neighbors 2, X-Men: Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, and The Angry Birds Movie during opening weekend. I implore that as many people as possible see The Nice Guys if they desire a nutty, skimpy, irreverent tale in the vein of some mad concoction betweeen Pineapple Express and The Big Lebowski; where the wordplay is tight, the action is zany, the movie shot well, and the hijinks last for days. Inconsistencies aside, it is splendid to see that neo-noir is alive, the two protagonists were not totally inept, and that people like Shane Black are still working. Even though it may not make it’s budget back, it is nice to see a spiritual successor in a sea of sequels and reboots.