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%

 

The Great Wall (2016)

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“A hybrid between a historical epic and an action fantasy, The Great Wall manages to be only a passable example of each genre, which makes it less memorable than it had the potential to be.” – Common Sense Media ★★☆☆☆

Matt Damon has earned his merits for action spectaculars with Saving Private Ryan, The Martian and the Bourne films, yet veteran Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou is an action world class master. Following Hero, House of Flying Daggers and the unforgettable 2008 Beijing Olympics ceremonies, Zhang Yimou teams up with the US for the co-production of the century, a whopping $150 million dollar project. And the result in a nut shell? It takes a white Hollywood A-List actor to save the Chinese world.

The Great Wall, a monument decorated with history, prestige and nobility, a place where the walls whisper ancient myths- and this is one of them. Matt Damon is William and Pedro Pascal is Tovar, two 12th century European mercenaries who scope the deserts of Western China looking for mysterious black powder. In the search for riches and fortune, the two best-friends push toward the Great Wall to make a deal, where they are met with a spray of arrows and an immensely organised and colourful Chinese army. Zhang keeps this swirl of colour, light and dizzying action as almost a distraction from the plot, which unfolds miraculously from a plan to escape.

The Great Wall’s action scenes exemplify a sense of fierce determination and precision, a shared responsibility that one will rarely discover in action spectaculars. Not only is the film thrillingly large scale, but it is visually euphoric, an artwork of colour and beauty amidst a prominence of computer-generated imagery. Although the film is often well-choreographed, it is very easy to be seduced by scenes of impersonal warfare and battle. But as the fighting slows down, and the characters evolve, there is little spark between our Caucasian and Chinese performers. But this is simply because The Great Wall is unlike any American blockbuster you’ve ever ever ever seen, and character development is minimally the focus in the inventive and thrilling action pieces that evolve before your very eyes.

I was born into battle.

I have little to say about The Great Wall, other than its fantastic ability to work as an action-adventure spectacular. In this, we see the triumph of the Chinese as sacrificial, determined and relentless warriors, in what can only be described as a tribute to China’s war history. But in the midst of this fierce patriotism is an entertaining blockbuster with eye-popping and breathtaking cinematography – that only follows the simplistic plotting of a Chinese myth. Watch this blockbuster on the biggest cinema screen you can find.

★★☆☆☆

Imdb – 6.3/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 36%

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%

Jackie (2016)

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The assassination of John F. Kennedy, a moment that shook America and the rest of the world, but a moment that destroyed the first lady. This is a portrait of Jackie Kennedy, a beautiful illustration of a stunned, stricken existence enveloped in a mesmerising tragedy. Jackie portrays a stunning moment by moment story of the aftermath of horror, amplified by lonely silence, long corridors, conspiratorial whispers, haunting close ups and memories of a once happy life.

Pablo Larrain takes one piece of slimmer of history to create art on screen – the before, during and after of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but most sensationally through the eyes of his beloved wife Jackie. Painted on a canvas of Mica Levi’s mesmerising orchestral score, the haunting strings weave seamless sadness and horror into a heartbreaking performance from Natalie Portman. On the screen explodes a fierce and powerful woman, who unlike many others, must stay composed in the waking hours of her husband’s death. A moving psychological portrait of Jackie, who fearlessly attempts to maintain her husband’s legacy and his fabricated world of Camelot.

Natalie Portman’s performance is careful and intelligent, and thick with anxiety hidden under layers of poise and grace. The Monroe breathiness of her voice and the heartbreaking dialogue of her painted lips exposes the precise and unfathomable truth behind Jackie’s moments in hell, torn between living and dying in the aftermath of her heartbreak.

“There comes a time in man’s search for meaning when he realises that there are no answers. And when you come to the horrible and unavoidable realization, you accept it or you kill yourself. Or you simply stop searching.”

Natalie Portman almost effortlessly carries Jackie, in an intimate and personal piece that should be considered more as a portrait than as a film. With her recent nomination for Best Actress in the Academy Awards, it is no wonder Portman was the first choice for taking on a role so demanding and so intimately powerful – I doubt anyone could bring so much life to Jacqueline Kennedy. Pablo Larrain’s most daring and most profound piece, a historical monument to the life of a woman who’s actions will echo in history’s books.

I will march with Jack, alone if necessary.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.1/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 89%

Fences (2016)

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Director and front man of Fences, Denzel Washington, brings the passion product of the year to life with high distinction and incomprehensible emotion. Awarded for four Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress, Fences delivers a powerful, fervent and beautiful story on the backdrop sunlight, shadows and incredible performances.

An adaptation of August Wilson’s award winning stage play Fences, first performed in 1983, the film brings the daunting performances that haunted the stage to life. Troy Maxon is a middle-aged African-American man working as a garbage collector in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, whose vanished glory as a failed Baseball star gave him nothing more than a “pot to piss in, or a window to throw it off.” Perhaps Maxon’s cynical mood is the cause of his big appetite for booze, his loud humour, his wounded moods and his jolted pelvis, but the suppressed nature of the film is the contrast with his wife Rose, played by Viola Davis. What unfolds is one house struck with guilt and shame painted with spectacular attempts to mend an invisible fence of hopelessness and fear.

Fences is dense with such intelligence and compassion that you will struggle to tear your eyes from the screen. Although in single moments the air is thick with stage presence, the breathtakingly vibrant monologues and poetic stagecraft breath rare vulnerability of the characters to life. Denzel Washington and Viola Davis are phenomenally well paired as husband and wife, drawing rich emotion from what feels like the depth of their souls.The camera captures each of these moments perfectly, always with the characters listening just as intently as we are. The character dynamics are simply unlike anything I’ve seen in cinema before.

“Some people build fences to keep people out, and other people build fences to keep people in.”

Fences is fierce and powerful, and outstanding in the caliber of Best Picture nominees. There is a rich pleasure in watching phenomenal actors tackle issues of poverty, racism and death in a way that hits home with everyone in the audience. Fences is just as heartbreaking as it is beautiful, resonating in the hearts of all of us in one way or another.

★★★★★

Imdb – 7.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 94%

Moonlight (2016)

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Moonlight features a black man’s face as its landscape, divided into three slivers of different shades – from turquoise to amethyst to black. Little do you know, the face is cleverly depicting the faces of one man from boy to teen to man. Intricately and intensely, this becomes the very arc of Moonlight, the moving art of identity, family and masculinity.

The little boy we first encounter is known as Little, whom Alex Hibbert heartbreakingly composes with a depth of loneliness and fear that will bring tears to your eyes. Bullied by school kids, chased into hiding and neglected by his troubled mother, Little stumbles upon Juan, played by Mahershala Ali, who takes him in to safety with him and his girlfiend. What follows is the journey of one boy into adolescence and then manhood, battered by fears of belonging, fears of living and ultimately fears of his creeping identity.

These three age structures first composed by Tarell Alvin McCraney, inspired rising director Barry Jenkins, of Dear White People, to create an intricate masterpiece of an almost Black Lives Matter context, illustrating abuse and torment on a backdrop of poor black communities, drugs and violence. But in spite of the harsh complexities of Moonlight, Barry Jenkins finds a tenderness and compassion that could take your breath away. The search for manhood has never been so thoughtful or moving. But of course, Nicholas Britell’s score transports the visual beauty of Moonlight into more than just a story, but a dreamlike sphere, where single moments are filled with power, melancholia, liberation and pre-eminence. Illustrated with superb intensity, each moment is powerful in itself.

I wasn’t never worth anything. Never did anything I actually wanted to do, all I could do was what other folks thought I should do. I wasn’t never myself.”

The diversity of Moonlight’s visual poetry has a gentle ability to transport viewers into a hidden world with honesty and tenacity. Barry Jenkins has delivered a powerful film.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 8.2/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

Live by Night (2016)

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Ben Affleck has proven time and time again that he is an outstanding director, fuelled by an entirely impressive expertise of filmmaking from his very first Gone, Baby Gone to his more recent and highly successful Argo. But with the release of Live By Night this weekend, Affleck turns a corner with his very own adapted screenplay from Dennis Lehane’s amiable gangster novel sensation.

Ben Affleck, as lead Joe Coughlin, returns disenfranchised from World War I, haunted by the arbitrary violence and barbarism that painted his life. Filled with refractory hatred towards those in power, Coughlin becomes an outlaw on the streets of Boston, living by night in search of the next bank to rob or gamble to gain in the era of Prohibition and underground distilleries, speakeasies and gangsters. It’s not long before Coughlin is drawn into the gang war of Irish Albert White and Italian Maso Pescatore, and not much longer again before Joe ends up in their employ, working in Florida to raise Prohibition, build casinos and gain revenge.

As with all other prominent films that Affleck has directed, he passes the juiciest roles to his outstanding co-stars, with Sienna Miller as the knockout mistress of Irish mob boss Robert Glenister and Zoe Saldana as the Cuban love interest on the Florida bootlegging operation. Here is where you might get confused, because you can also throw in Chris Cooper as the God-fearing local sheriff, Elle Fanning as the good girl turned prostitute, Matthew Maher as the leader of the KKK and another handful of religious conversion and zealotry to boot. It makes more sense when you watch it yourself, from start to finish. But as a lead himself, Affleck maintains his square-jawed Batman, an observer in his own life rather than a participator, a concept built into the fabric of Lehane’s novel.

What you put into the world will always come back for you.” Simply put, this quote perfectly sums up my take on Live by Night, as more than just merely a gangster movie, but as a whole take on human life and the value of luck and fate for those who take it.

Live by Night is a beautiful film of exceptional cinematography and outstanding filmmaking, and Affleck really shines as a director of brilliant actors and vying action. Affleck knows too well how to create a haunting gangster noir worth getting lost in.

★★★☆☆

Imdb – 6.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 32%