Tag Archives: Adam Driver

Silence (2016)

I’m a sucker for movies about the supernatural, the occult, a higher power, God (or gods) and faith. And so when I heard one of the greatest directors of all-time, Martin Scorsese, was making Silence, a film about 1600 Jesuit priests in Japan starring Spider-Man, Kylo Ren and Qui-Gon Jinn, I was like “Sign me up!”

I intentionally avoided reading too much info about the movie, and thankfully the fantastic trailer did not reveal anything major. Accordingly, I did not know what to expect going in, and boy, nothing could prepare me for what I was about to see.

Twenty-five years in the making and based on the acclaimed 1966 novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, Silence is unlike any film I have ever seen. Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play two Portuguese priests from the 1600s who venture to Japan — where Christianity is outlawed — in search of their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has gone missing after sending back a letter describing the horrors he witnessed — horrors that allegedly made him renounce his faith. This thus kicks off a harrowing journey of incredible danger as the two young priests are thrust into beautiful Japanese seaside villages where pockets of Christians remain hiding in fear and despair due to the brutal Christianity suppression campaign of a man known as the  “Inquisitor”.

Silence is without a doubt a difficult movie to sit through and is definitely not for everyone. The priests are subject to test after test of faith, many of which are impossible to bear from both a physical and emotional standpoint. I guess it could be called slow and torturous “religious persecution porn”, and despite how that sounds, I found the film so engrossing that I could not turn away at the horrors happening on the screen. Scorsese’s control of storytelling and the characters’ inner turmoil is downright masterful, and his use of sound and silence is incredibly powerful. From a visual perspective, the film — entirely shot in Taiwan — is stunning and accords with Japanese beliefs about nature while offering an uncomfortable juxtaposition with the ugly human conduct depicted in the film. The simple sets and foggy landscapes appear authentic and with no sense of CGI whatsoever, and now having seen all the Best Cinematography Oscar nominees this year, I would say that the Silence‘s DP, Rodrigo Prieto, should be the favorite.

The performances are of course great and should have garnered Oscar consideration. I don’t have a problem with Garfield getting his nomination for Hacksaw Ridge instead of this movie, though I think Liam Neeson should have gotten a nod for his difficult and heartbreaking portrayal. I’ve always known that Neeson has a very particular set of skills, but I never thought it would be playing a broken 1600s Jesuit priest who has had his faith shattered.

Silence is not so much a Christian film as it is a film about faith. It’s a movie that people of all faiths, regardless of religion, can appreciate and empathise with. I’d go further and say that even atheists and agnostics can gain valuable insights from this film, especially the extent to which one can have faith in a higher power that never speaks back no matter how much you pray and does nothing to put an end to unjust suffering. I was fascinated by the film’s portrayal of different types of people of faith, from those who succumb to persecution and betray their faith easily, only to ask for forgiveness again and again, to those who long for death — and thus entry into their promised paradise — as sweet relief from their wretched lives.

It’s a shame Silence was almost entirely overlooked by the Academy because it’s easily one of the best films of the year in my book. I found it significantly better and deeper than The Passion of the Christ, which can also be classified as suffering porn, though Silence is more about the mental than the physical, and goes much further by questioning the very nature of faith itself.

5 stars out of 5

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

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First of all, you’re not going to get any spoilers here. Not even any mention of the plot. Zero. Nada. And you know my threshold for spoilers is extremely low, so don’t worry. Disney and Lucasfilm and the entire internet in general have all done a commendable job of keeping the show under wraps, and it’s because of their resilience that I enjoyed the film as much as I did. Seriously, avoid spoilers at all costs because — despite the rampant speculation across the internet — there are some surprises to be found. I actually wish now that I had skipped the relatively spoiler-free trailers.

Secondly, if there is only one piece of advice I could give to would be viewers, it would be to keep your expectations in check. I know it’s hard, considering it’s probably the most anticipated movie of all time. Some people have been waiting for the movie for years, if not decades, and the buzz surrounding it all from the second the film was announced has been out of this galaxy. But just remember that it’s still just a two-hour movie (135 minutes to be exact) and that there is no human, droid or Wookie who can make a film that lives up to the hype. Even I, more a fan of the idea of Star Wars than Star Wars itself, got swept up in the drama and had a dream last night where I arrived at the cinema only to discover that all tickets for the morning session I intended to see had been sold out (I woke up in the morning and pre-booked online immediately).

Now that I’ve gotten the formalities out of the way, it’s time for my spoiler-free review of The Force Awakens. All things considered, the film is a major triumph, a near-perfect blend of space opera and fantasy, fighter jet and lightsaber action, practical and CGI effects, mythology and nostalgia, old and new faces, drama and humour. Provided expectations are reasonable, the film will please everyone from newcomers to hardcore fans alike.

The film begins like all Star Wars movies and will surely give fans chills and goosebumps when the opening scrawl appears on the big screen. The story itself is simple to follow, with just enough exposition to allow those less familiar with the history of the franchise (like my wife) to keep up, without feeling like we’re getting a rehash of previous events.

This already gives The Force Awakens a distinct advantage over the three disappointing Star Wars prequels. JJ Abrams has clearly learned from George Lucas’s mistakes and gone back to the roots of the franchise. He said himself that he was trying to recapture the magic of the first film that entranced him when he was just a child.

Accordingly, there was — as many of you will already know — a special emphasis on costumes and practical effects, with the CGI kept to a minimum where possible. The difference in the visual experience is profound, giving the film that tangible look and feel that has been missing from most major blockbusters in recent years.

What really elevates The Force Awakens to the level of the original films, however, is the characters. Kudos to Abrams for creating and putting a lot of effort into developing the three new-generation leads: Daisy Ridley (Rey), John Boyega (Finn) and Adam Driver (Kylo Ren). All of them are kick-ass characters who have already exhibited more depth than Anakin Skywalker and Queen Amidala put together in the three prequels. I was originally worried that casting a female/black lead may come across as trying too hard, or that Kylo Ren would just be a carbon copy of Darth Vader — but boy was I wrong on all counts. All will be household names soon enough and they deserve to be.

Special mention also goes to the new CGI characters played by the king of motion capture, Andy Serkis, as well as Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o. Fans will already know who they play, but if you didn’t know they are in it you probably wouldn’t be able to figure out which characters they play. That’s one of the things I loved about the movie — it’s not about the name of the star but the character they play that stands out.

As awesome as the new characters are and as much freshness as they inject into the franchise, the movie just wouldn’t have been the same without the members of the original cast. If you’ve seen the trailers you’ll know who they are, and you can tell all of them are happy to be back. Far from just being there to infuse a healthy dose of nostalgia, these beloved characters are pivotal to the story and serve important purposes without stealing anyone’s thunder. The balance and blend of new and old must not have been easy to get right, but JJ got it as close as you could hope for.

As for the action, for my money it was at least on par with the original trilogy. Thanks to modern technology, the spacecraft sequences are sensational and make use of innovative angles and maneuvers. The prequel trilogy may have had better lightsaber duels, but they don’t mean much when the emotional connection isn’t there. In The Force Awakens, the duels actually feel like they mean something, and as a result they come across as much more powerful and impactful.

Having said all that, The Force Awakens isn’t without flaws. Not all the dialogue and humour worked all the time, and there were a couple of occasions where time appears to be stretched or condensed to fit the narrative. Apart from Kylo Ren, the villains didn’t get as much screen time as I had hoped, in particular Gwendoline Christie’s Captain Phasma and Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux, though I do get the feeling that they are playing the long game with these two and that they will feature more prominently in episodes VIII and IX.

Perhaps the biggest complaint that has leaked out since the worldwide premiere is that The Force Awakens has too many parallels to — without being too specific — some of the previous films in the series. I admit this is true as it is something I noticed myself, though there are enough differences and new ideas for The Force Awakens to be both a sequel and a reboot of sorts — something I believe Abrams was aiming for in the first place.

In all, The Force Awakens delivers. While it didn’t blow my mind, it’s a fun, exciting experience that brings back memories, creates new ones, and sets things up magnificently for what is yet to come. As long as you can accept that it will never live up to your impossible expectations, the film might very well turn out to be one of your best cinematic experiences of the year.

4.25 stars out of 5

PS: Episode VIII, scheduled for release in May 2017, will be directed by Rian Johnson, best known for Looper and directing three episodes of Breaking Bad, most notably “Ozymandias”,  arguably the show’s greatest episode. Episode IX will be directed by Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World).

2014 Movie Blitz: Part VII

The Forger (2014)

The-Forger

It feels like John Travolta hasn’t done anything in a while, or at least anything worth mentioning. His latest effort, The Forger, is unlikely to alter that perception.

In this moody crime drama Travolta plays a master forger of masterpieces (I know, he looks just like one, right?), who strikes a deal with nasty gangsters to get out of jail earlier. Of course, it’s because they want him for his skills so they can commit a robbery, but you could forget that watching this film because most of the time is spent on the relationship between Travolta and his son (Tye Sheridan), who sadly is dying from cancer. Christopher Plummer plays Travolta’s dad and Abigail Spencer (from Suits) plays a detective on his track.

As a crime thriller The Forger is terrible. There’s no suspense and no feeling that any of it even matters. It’s no wonder the film is universally panned for how boring it is.

As a father-son drama, on the other hand, I think there are some nice moments stemming from this wish-granting subplot Travolta gets into. Consequently, I don’t think the film is as bad as it has been made out to be.

Travolta is pretty much always the same as he’s always been, though I believe the tragic death of his teenage son a few years back may have prompted him to take on this role and given his performance an added layer of emotion. Christopher Plummer is always good, but it’s Tye Sheridan who stands out by proving once again (after Mud with Mr Alright Alright McConaughey) that he has a bright future ahead of him.

It’s obviously not great, and most critics seem to disagree, but I don’t think The Forger is a bad random DVD hire.

3 stars out of 5

The Loft (2014)

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Every now and then you get a film like The Loft — a forgettable B-grade thriller with a roster full of recognisable names and faces. In this case we’re talking Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet and the Transformers blonde Aussie duo of Rachael Taylor and Isabelle Lucas.

It’s hard to give you an idea of what the film is about without a little detail. Basically, the loft is a sleaze-pad shared by five married friends (the above four actors plus Matthias Schoenaerts) to use for rendezvous with girlfriends, mistresses, one-night stands and so forth. Classy, I know.

But of course, something terrible happens and they have to figure out how to resolve the problem and solve a mystery while they’re at it. It’s actually a remake of a Dutch-language Belgian film from 2008 that must have done well enough to get Hollywood’s attention.

On paper it looks good. Respectable, good-looking cast, a locked room mystery of sorts with flashbacks and a whole load of twists and turns that will kind of keep you guessing. I can see the attraction of such a project.

However, The Loft has a fatal flaw: the characters are just so sleazy, so disgusting, so despicable and such degenerates that they are completely unworthy of sympathy and incapable of invoking any empathy. They’re more than just people with loose morals — some of them are genuinely sick.

As a result you’re just watching a bunch of dickheads get what they deserve and a couple of cardboard female characters act like a couple of cardboard female characters.

That said, you don’t necessarily have to like or care about he characters for a movie to work. Unfortunately, The Loft doesn’t have the requisite elements to qualify as a guilty pleasure. It’s just not satisfying enough, not intelligent enough, not campy enough and not so-bad-it’s-good enough.

Despite all this, the film passes as a watchable DVD or VOD experience owing to its star-studded cast and having just enough intrigue to not be boring. Just don’t expect too much.

2.5 stars out of 5

The Gambler

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I really wanted to give The Gambler its own individual post, but sadly it doesn’t deserve it. I was naturally partial to this film given that it is the follow-up effort of Rupert Wyatt, director of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I desperately wanted The Gambler to be awesome.

However, while the film does have some intriguing aspects and nice moments, I can’t in good conscience proclaim it a good movie.

A remake of the 1974 film starring James Caan, The Gambler is the tale of Marky Mark Whalberg’s Jim Bennett, a literature professor with a crippling gambling addiction. He’s one of those “all or nothing” guys who never knows when to quit, and the self-destructive habit pushes him to the edge after he begins borrowing money from the wrong people (John Goodman, Michael K Williams, etc), much to the disappointment of his wealthy mother (Jessica Lange, who is excellent in her few scenes).

Wyatt infuses the film with a lot of style and a deliberate pace that results in a completely different type of experience to Apes. It’s not unentertaining and never gets dull, but there’s ultimately not enough substance to elevate it to what it could have been.

Part of the reason is that Bennett isn’t a very likable character. He’s interesting, but he’s also a complete asshole, making him hard to root for or sympathise with. Marky Mark is pretty good, so it’s not his fault.

I’m also deducting some points for the film’s depiction of a basketball game, which is so ridiculous and unrealistic that it saps much of the tension of what is supposed to be a climactic part of the film. Thankfully the gambling scenes were executed much better.

I really wanted to like The Gambler more, but unfortunately it’s just an average and somewhat forgettable remake.

2.5 stars out of 5

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

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This Is Where I Leave You is a “light and nice” family drama film (ie, about a family, as opposed to for the family) bolstered by one of the best ensemble casts of 2014.

It’s based on the novel of the same name by Jonathan Tropper and is directed by Shawn Levy, best known for the Night at the Museum films, Date Night and The Internship. This one is better than all those films because of its depth and cast, but the overall feel is somewhat similar — some humour, a dash of gentle drama, and a sugary vibe that takes the heaviness off its life lessons.

Jason Bateman plays Judd Altman, who returns to his hometown following a death in the family and amid person turmoil in his life. There he is reunited with his three siblings (Tina Fey, Corey Stoll and Adam Driver) and their liberal mother (Jane Fonda), and the film follows their lives over the next few days as they deal with their personal issues and relationships.

Rounding out the amazing cast are names like Rose Byrne, Dax Shepherd, Timothy Oliphant, Connie Britton, Kathryn Hahn and Abigail Spencer.

They laugh, they cry, they fight and they reflect on life, pondering what could have been and where they are heading. Everyone is at a different stage in life and has problems and regrets they must face.

It is, however, nothing like August: Osage County, another recent family drama with a huge cast. That was heavy stuff and full of emotionally-draining drama; this is much mellower and aims for sweet poignancy and sentimental reflection. Some moments work, very well even, while others feel like it’s trying too hard.

The result is a mixed bag. It’s not my type of film, to be honest, but the cast is so spectacular that you can’t help be drawn in. Each actor plays to their strengths when it comes to the comedy, and you can see their respective personalities shining through. The humour is light but it’s funny enough for the most part, and the drama is sufficiently engaging though ultimately fails to offer anything new. It’s unfortunate, because it’s a waste of the massive pool of talent squeezed into the film.

This Is Where I Leave You is not bad, but it’s certainly nothing special. I quite liked it despite feeling underwhelmed by its failure to come close to reaching its full potential.

3.5 stars out of 5