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%

 

Hell or High Water (2016)

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“Taut, tense and burnished by Jeff Bridges at his best. This is a deceptively simple tale of Texan cops and robbers that drags the Old West into the modern age.” – Empire ★★★★☆

It took a while to notice that David Mackenzie’s Hell or High Water had made the list of Best Picture nominees at the Academy Awards this year, while we were so overwhelmed that Martin Scorseses’ Silence and Tim Miller’s Deadpool had lost the race. Here comes a throwback to the dusty rambling glories of Hollywood new wave Westerns, inspired by Depression-era thrillers, to reveal arguably the most understated and contemporary socio-political film of last year. That’s a mouthful.

Brothers Toby, played by Chris Pine, and Tanner, played by Ben Foster, first arrive at a remote Texas Midland Bank branch to rob every penny they can fit in their sacks. They make off with some loose bills, and proceed to rob every other bank in the region. Here, Toby is the mastermind, conveying his sincere and potent grievance from the foreclosure on the mortgage of his family property. But of course, with the death of their mother and an oil discovery on the property, Toby is infuriated with immediate eviction and recruits ex-prisoner older brother Tanner to help earn the property back. It’s the story of cowboy’s and Indians – onetime kings of the plains now suspended in a place where both are pushed to near extinction, and what evolves is greed, pain and utter heartlessness.

David Mackenzie’s direction makes the robbery sequences bubble with jolts of extravagant yet realistic violence, getaway action and car chases, on the backdrop of dusty plains. The casting of each character enhances the regional colour and tone of the film, drawing out incredible performances from Chris Pine and of course the highly praised Jeff Bridges. The present day atmosphere and lack of open-carry laws, mixed in with rowdy cowboys creates an amusing and unpredictable vigilante of local distress. But the script is notably the most powerful in this film, and the exchanges are superb in a film so entirely thick with it. The low-key humour, the poignant loneliness, the undercurrent teasing, Hell or High Water is nothing like anything you’ve seen before.

Hell or High Water is talking, character and western backdrop thick. Riding on the back of films such as No Country for Old Men, it draws out weathered storefronts, abandoned pastures, rusted farm equipment and oil derricks on the premise of a film set to define regional identity. Only enhanced by an overly impressive score, Hell or High Water is pleasant but not extravagant, and a delight for anyone with a soft spot for Texas.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 7.7/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 98%

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%

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%

Collateral Beauty (2017)

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Drawn to grief by unthinkable loss, surrounded by a world so unfair and unjust, one man navigates the deepest and cruellest pits of his heart to find his life again. Very highly criticised upon its release early this week, star-studded Collateral Beauty battles within its ability to connect with some (like me) and hopelessly crash for others.

The film unfolds with Will Smith as Howard, the guiding figure at a New York City agency in partnership with Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena. But after the death of his six-year-old daughter and inevitably the collapse of his marriage, Howard’s professional capabilities breakdown and his sanity slowly deteriorates. His coping mechanisms compel him to write letters to abstracts – Time, Love and Death – while lurking around, but never entering, a help centre for grieving parents. As time goes on, Howard begins to learn that although time can take, it can also give new hope.

The screenplay glides with literary allusions, visual effects are sparing and beautiful, the cast is excellent and award-winning director David Frankel, who scored success with The Devil Wears Prada and Marley & Me, brings a level of philosophical sophistication to the film very rare in contemporary Hollywood. The combination of Helen Mirren, Jacob Latimore and Kiera Knightley as Death, Time and Love, and Edward Norton, Kate Winslet and Michael Pena as Howard’s best friends, helps to carry the heart and soul of the film. Considering Will Smith clenches his jaw throughout the majority of the film, unable to express himself outside of his grief, the supporting actors challenge him impressively through outlets of existentialism, whilst visibly fighting their own wars. Collateral Beauty contains a very impressive outlook on life and the fabric of human emotion.

As it turns out, Will Smith’s own father was diagnosed with Cancer three weeks into filming. As Will Smith mentioned in a recent interview, “Having to face my father’s impending death while working on the struggles of my character, helped us to connect.” This is precisely the mesmerising character struggle that rises in Will Smith, to be able to showcase his personal grief on both an artificial and personal backdrop of hopelessness.

We’re here to connect. Love, time, death. Now these three things connect every single human being on earth. We long for love, we wish we had more time, and we fear death.

Collateral Beauty might have crashed for some, but just like me (and everyone in the cinema around me who cried in the hypnotising emotional build up), the film explored philosophy and humanity in a way that was insightful, captivating and completely wonderful.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 6.5/10  Rotten Tomatoes – 12%

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2011)

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In 2001, the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were an unloved New York City landmark that turned into a complex emblem for torment overnight. In the difficulty of conveying a catharsis for 9/11, films rarely centre on the subject, but rather the individuals whose lives have been tampered by its horror. Jonathon Safran Foer’s 2005 novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, adapted by Eric Roth and directed by Stephen Daldry, ambitiously conveys the horror of loss drawn from the event, and the sentimentality of moving on.

Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn, is only eleven years old, yet his prodigiously intelligent, remarkably pacific and technically proficient ways draw out an articulate and seriously solemn New Yorker. His father, Tom Hanks, is a scientist turned jeweller, who cast inexplicable joy and understanding into Oskar’s life, as he struggled to cope with Asperges. On the morning of the 11th of September 2001 Oskar has his very last conversation with his dad, before he disappears into the twin towers for a business meeting – as referred to by Oskar as “the worst day”. Driven by his Socratic enquiries, Oskar sets off on a journey to rediscover his father, and to find himself in the process.

“I regret that it takes a life to learn how to live.”

The film’s premise is engaging and mysterious, drawing out one little boy’s grief to create an impacting and unforgettable story of faith, hope and determination. Illustrated as merely a ripple of the 9/11 attack, Stephen Daldry focuses in on the characters as a raw reflection of the grief and turmoil of the event, and draws hope in finding life after loss. This raw honesty of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is confronting and challenging, yet it conveys a deep emotional connection to the screen and the beautiful story of Oskar Schell, who finds his greatest comfort in shaking his trusty tambourine.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is a fascinating, mysterious and awe-inspiring film driven by beautiful close ups and striking characters. Nominated for Best Picture and Critics Choice in 2011, this film is a sensational and moving masterpiece for the ages.

★★★★☆

Imdb – 6.9  Rotten Tomatoes – 46%