Silence (2016)

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Silence, this religious epic, a dream project of director Martin Scorsese for decades, is somewhat difficult and unwieldy, as well as a bit gory, but it’s also magnificent, beautiful, and masterful.” – Common Sense Media ★★★★★

This is what makes Scorsese’s film so radical, and so unlike many other movies about religion: It’s actually art.” – The Atlantic ★★★★★

Returning to the ideas that haunted his whole career, Martin Scorsese delivers a film of grandeur and great fervour about Christianity, martyrdom and the silence of God. Sacrifice in the service of the greater good beckons to the ambiguous heroism of one man reaching a future of earthly peace and comfort, in the midst sin and humiliation. Martin Scorsese takes a fearless plunge into deciphering the silence of God in the midst of human suffering, drawing out a passion project of incomprehensible faith and power.

Following the 1966 passion novel by Shusaku Endo, Silence pays its small tribute to the extremely profound influence of Portuguese missionaries who risked their lives to bring the word of God to 17th century Japan. Andrew Garfield, with his eyes filled with fervour, stars as Father Sebastian Rodrigues. Adam Driver, his somewhat starved body resembling an ascetic saint, co-stars as Father Francisco Garupe. These two young Portuguese priests, fierce and full of determination, journey east to Japan in search of their missing mentor Father Cristovao Ferreira, played by Liam Neeson. Senseless rumours drain the village of his apposition to the Christian faith, but when Rodrigues and Garupe arrive in Japan they quickly realise just how viciously Christianity is being suppressed. What unfolds is a gruelling story of relentless faith under ruling samurai who are mercilessly committed to flushing out hidden Christians, any way they can.

Within Martin Scorsese’s’ creative collaboration with Jay Cocks, who also wrote The Age of Innocence, the script doesn’t wallow in the violent visuals, but rather utilises them as a way to reflect the horror of religious persecution. The introduction of doubt is the propeller of the film, considering 2 hours and 40 minutes of spirituality is unlikely to sell to an audience of Marvel Comic Universe-ites. In particular, Liam Neeson is phenomenal in reflecting his character’s reconciliation of conviction and doubt about God, in choosing to suffer with mankind instead of ending its suffering. This is the heart and soul of the film. But all of the performances in Silence are sensational, each character grabbing onto this intense, sacrificial dedication that pulses through their very veins. As Scorsese mentioned, “Silence is about the necessity of belief fighting the voice of experience.” And there is no doubt that Scorsese maintains a rigorous fix on the complexity of faith, refusing to temper with the film’s harshness with any form of sentiment. But to most visionaries’ delight, issues of this complexity are not designed to go down easy, but instead, they are entitled to live and breathe in the cinema air.

But if I can add a personal comment from a Christian point of view, something baffles me about the way faith wavers under pressure, even though martyrdom is so prominent today. *Spoiler alert* I hated the ending – I think he should have died for his faith.

But if I can add a personal comment, from a Christian point of view, something baffles me about the way faith wavers under pressure, even though martyrdom is so prevalent today. *Spoiler Alert* I hated the ending – I think he should have died for his faith.

The price for your glory is their suffering.

Silence is a technical, visual and soulful marvel with editing capacities that effortlessly overlap into pure cinematic art. No one with the genuine belief of the power of cinema should miss this epic creation of essential filmmaking from the modern master – a man who embodies the images he puts on screen.

… “I pray but I am lost, am I just praying to silence?

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 84%

 

Hidden Figures (2016)

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The remarkable untold story of three African-American women who engineered America’s triumph in the space race, and ultimately women’s rights. Crashing through the $100 million barrier at the Box Office on opening weekend, and earning itself a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards, Hidden Figures has gained wonderful momentum worldwide. The world was captivated by the Friendship 7 mission, the first US attempt to match the Russians, and in the heat of the space race Glenn became a national hero. But behind the scenes the immense contribution was much less known.

Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, has an impeccable eye for solving incomprehensible equations, evident from her first scholarship – in which she surpasses her classmates (and teacher) by lightyears. Many years later, working alongside Mary Jackson, Janelle Monae, and Dorothy Vaughn, Octavia Spencer, in the segregated West Computing Group for NASA, Katherine becomes a human computer calculating advanced math for the space program. But despite the intensity and significance of their work, the women are relegated to separate bathrooms, lunch rooms and work facilities. After being bumped up to NASA’s Headquarters to check space-flight calculation trajectories, what unfolds for Katherine is a battle against white supremacy for recognition, respect and fundamental equality.

Octavia Spencer, who received an Oscar nomination Best Supporting Actress, plants her feet into a stubborn, assuring and mesmerising role as computation expert. The contrast between Spencer and her white supervisor, Kirsten Dunst, promotes the invaluable truth of the Civil Rights Movement – the oblivious racism, embedded into the unconsciousness of simple Americans. Yet here, Hidden Figures takes one enormous aspect of history and displays it beautifully, never once stopping to shove it into your face. Janelle Monae does an incredible job in driving the simplicity of emotion, conveying the underdog protagonist who is met with challenges but wins them over trope. But Hidden Figures manages to apply this formula spectacularly to tell an inspiring story. And of course, the phenomenal Taraji Henson shines among her tea-fed white male colleagues – drawing out the beautiful message of the film to inspire and encourage the world.

Every time we get a chance to get ahead they move the finish line, every time.

The wonderful women who carry Hidden Figures, display brilliance and authenticity to the very moment the credits roll down the screen. After walking out of the bustling (and in my case packed) movie theatre, your mind will soak in inspiration, fulfilment and encouragement remembering the film as being entirely wonderful. Let this film remind you that despite any hurdles, we can still cross the finish line. Breath-taking stories don’t stay hidden for long. This heart-winning film is one that cannot be missed.

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.9/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 92%

The Founder (2016)

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If you worked at McDonald’s at the ripe old age of fourteen years old, keen for cash that wasn’t gifted at the whims of your parents’ generosity, then you’ll be familiar with the phrase; “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” Decades after McDonald’s ‘founder’ Ray Kroc coined this saying, the motto remains ingrained in employees across over 35,000 outlets all over the world. This phrase perfectly encapsulates the mid-western work ethic of Ray Kroc, a go-getter salesman with big ambitions and an undying persistence for success.

When we meet Ray Kroc in the 1950’s, he’s a middle-aged, reasonably well-fixed salesman on a desperate hunt for a gimmick that will earn him his fortune. The McDonald brothers, Mac and Dick, appear to have exactly what he is looking for – a successful hamburger joint run by hard working visionaries. Overwhelmed with anticipation for what this small San Bernardino restaurant could become, Kroc talks his way into franchising and expanding into every town in America. The story of a vision that grew under the noses of its creators.

With the undeniably ubiquitous presence of McDonald’s in most people’s lives – from kids birthday parties to the 3am drive through – the story behing the Golden Arches is one we can all easily invest in. But what really drives The Founder is Keaton’s magnetic and dynamic performance as the underlying unequivocal villain, coated with layers of charm, insecurity and grit. Here Hancock tries to enforce the understanding of why Kroc did what he did, almost humanising the ruthless tale of business intrigue.

I am fascinated the follow the response to The Founder, particularly in America. Is it possible that despite everything, Ray will be viewed as a hero, an underdog with persistence that enabled him to push through every setback in his path to create an empire? But his triumph was always inevitable against the McDonalds brothers. To the movie’s credit, Kroc has an opinion about this too.

All in all, The Founder presents a version of the American Dream in which the need to succeed obliterates any other considerations; in a story of strong minded determination, a small downtrodden businessman gains his revenge on the world.

★★★★☆

Spotlight (2015)

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I haven’t posted in yonks, so what better way to come back than with my favourite flick of last year and the much beloved Academy Award Best Picture Winner, Spotlight. As controversial as the Catholic Church paedophilia phenomenon may be, I’m sure we can all agree regardless of our personal stance that this film is just … brilliant. But you need to step outside of your happy bubble to embrace the harsh reality happening just outside your doorstep.

Actor-turned-filmmaker Tom McCarthy has always been a low-key defender of the outsider. His early films marked him out as a craftsman of mature and thoughtful dramas, so when this phenomenon took over the media world, McCarthy was at the very least inspired. Alongside co-writer Josh Singer, Spotlight’s needle-sharp screenplay embraces the mugginess of moral compromise over the cases of paedophilia in the Catholic Church. They illustrate the true story of how the Boston Globe, under its first Jewish editor Marty Baron, took on the entrenched abusive institutions of the church in a city where Catholicism is a way of life, and police and priests are thick as thieves.

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.

Spotlight shifts the focus away from the church to examine how an entire community can become complicit in an unspoken crime. The journalism thriller draws excitement from joining disparate dots throughout the film, eventually taking shape to form the bigger picture. With its convincingly mundane scenes of journalists bashing phones and trawling through dusty records, McCarthy buries discernible visual styles and cinematography behind the pressing issue of script and story. Perhaps the filmmakers felt that their subject was in fact too important to be aesthetically pleasing. Instead, we’re faced with gut-wrenching stories of victim of abuse head on, and even in one case a complacent paedophile priest. You’ve been warned: this film is hard to swallow.

After his striking role in Alejandro Gonzalez Inarittu’s Birdman at the last Academy Awards only last year, Michael Keaton returns once more as Walter “Robby” Robinson. He does far quieter work here than in Birdman, taking on the role of Spotlight stalwart, shaken by the extent of the paedophilia scandal. Rachel McAdams, as Sacha Pfeiffer, takes on the role of a compelling reporter who regularly attends mass with grandma, but soon rapidly begins to lose residual connection with the church as the hidden truths unfold. Pfeiffer presents us with beautiful cinematic moments that balance the distant crisis of faith with the real and present courage of conviction. And last but not least Mark Ruffalo, as Mike Renzendes. The strength of his performance is carried by his passion and long-suppressed outbursts of emotion. He gives a brilliantly calibrated physical portrayal of a born investigator.

We see the personal transformation of all of principle members of Spotlight when the truth begins to unfold. But you seriously can’t listen to traumatic abuse stories and not feel impacted. The psychological impact of their traumatic experiences are rarely explored in mainstream cinema – which is what draws me to the film even more.

I’ve come to realise that Spotlight’s greatest strength is in the way it defies being chopped into components. To its core this is an ensemble film with characters harmonising like ingredients in a satisfying meal. We’re presented with the horrible specificity of victim stories and the subsequent negligence of the community. There is really no tidy moral to take away from this film, and that is the enthralling power of this masterpiece. A story like Spotlight shouldn’t end in comfort. Instead, it leaves your skin prickling – both at the despicable business of secret-keeping and the courage and resourcefulness that rivetingly overturns it. On some dark and unspoken level, no one ever wants to know.

Would I recommend this film? Absolutely. This is my 5/5 and my 10/10.

★★★★★