Tag Archives: Andrew Garfield

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

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Say what you want about Mel Gibson, but the alcoholic antisemite nutjob sure knows how to make awesome movies!

I was somewhat wary about his latest film, Hacksaw Ridge, the remarkable true story about a Christian conscientious objector who became a hero during World War II. Given Gibson’s religious leanings, I was concerned that he was going to push that aspect of the movie down my throat, but I guess I didn’t give him enough credit because Hacksaw Ridge is one of the most epic and inspiring war movies ever made. And it’s technically an Aussie film!

Former Spider-Man Andrew Garfield plays Desmond Doss, a young man who felt obligated like so many in his hometown to join the US military and fight the Japanese during WWII. The problem is, he’s a devout Christian who not only refuses to kill but even refuses to carry a weapon. Obviously, if he were simply sent home at this point, Hacksaw Ridge wouldn’t be much of a movie. So you can kind of guess what happens next. And yet, the battle sequences, when they finally hit, are so impactful and devastating that I became totally immersed in the film, such that it didn’t matter if I knew what the story was about or what the outcome would be.

We all know Mel loves violence, and Hacksaw Ridge doesn’t hold back one bit. Bullets shredding bodies, exploding heads, flying limbs — the carnage actually wasn’t too far off from the over-the-top massacres in Rambo (2008), except here it felt terrifyingly real. Well-developed characters you care about and good acting can make all the difference.

Garfield is really, really good as Doss, and I wouldn’t be upset if he snags one of the five Best Actor spots at the Oscars this year (he also could for Silence, though I haven’t seen it yet). It could have been easy for Doss to come across as too self-righteous and obtuse, but Garfield’s performance makes him a protagonist you want to root for. The rest of the cast is fantastic too, including Doss’s abuse, alcoholic father played by Hugo Weaving and mother played by Rachel Griffiths. Teresa Palmer puts in one of her better performances as the love interest, while Luke Bracey and Sam Worthington — two guys who haven’t been great leading men but have been solid supporting actors — are as good as they have ever been as soldiers in Doss’s unit. Vince Vaughn rounds off the stellar cast with also one of his best performances in years as their wise-cracking sergeant, providing the bulk of the film’s humour without at all coming across as jarring or out of place.

Hacksaw Ridge a brutal, harrowing film about the horrors of war, but also an uplifting one about faith and sticking to what you believe in and who you are. You really don’t have to be a Christian to enjoy this movie or be moved by it. You can actually even hate Christianity but love this movie because the themes are universal. Inspiring is inspiring, and a great movie is a great movie.

4.5 stars out of 5

PS: Apparently the film is pretty accurate too. Some timelines are shifted or stretched, but the core facts are verifiable.

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

spiderman2

I thought The Amazing Spider-Man, the first of the new series reboot from 2012, was OK. I prefer the leads, Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone, more than their predecessors Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst, and the special effects were obviously improved, but the two films were far too close in temporal proximity and contained too many similar plot points and dynamics for my liking.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2, on the other hand, feels very different to its corresponding predecessor. But it’s still just OK. The main problem with it is that it feels generic, unable to distinguish itself from the plethora of superhero flicks out there, and perhaps even among the 5 Spider-Man films in the last 12 years. There’s all the flying around, dangling from building to building, acting smug in front of thugs; the rise of a new villain, or villains; and of course, the romance and the friendships and the family drama, including trying to piece together his father’s mysterious past. Not to say it’s not well-executed, but there really wasn’t anything — barring a couple of surprises– that I hadn’t seen before, and there wasn’t a whole lot to help it stand out from the crowd.

Allow me to backtrack a little. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 picks up not long after the first one ended, with Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) trying, and failing, to stay away from his girlfriend, Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone), after promising her dying father that he’d do so to keep her safe. Meanwhile, we are introduced to a neglected engineer, Max Dillion (Jamie Foxx), who is about to become Spider-Man’s next villain, Electro, and reintroduced to Peter’s childhood friend, Harry Osborne (Dane DeHann, who was fantastic in the underrated Chronicle), who we know will eventually become…well, yeah.

So there’s not many surprises in the early going, with the majority of the screen time dedicated to setting up the characters and Peter going through his typical internal struggles. On the bright side, director Marc Webb, who gave us the brilliant 500 Days of Summer, knows a thing or two about depicting relationships, and the chemistry between Garfield and Stone is great thanks to their real-life courtship, so the melodrama was not as melodramatic as it could have been.

Personally, I found the Peter-Gwen relationship a little dull, largely because there wasn’t a third party involved to threaten their love for one another. Fortunately, I thought the relationship between Peter and his aunt (Sally Field) more than made up for the central romance and actually contained quite a few touching moments.

Of the villains, I thought Foxx and DeHann did what they could with the characters but both should have been a lot more. Electro, in particular, isn’t even a real villain per se — he’s just some poor, bullied guy with an obvious mental illness. His powers are formidable — he’s a mix of DeHann in Chronicle, Emperor Palpatine, and the dude from the PS3 game Infamous, plus a touch of Billy Crudup from Watchmen — and yet when he goes up against Spidey his abilities suddenly become less unstoppable. And that’s a big part of the problem with the film — you never feel as though Spider-Man is ever in any real danger, even when he’s being battered and tossed around like a ragged doll.

The action sequences, filled with high-definition slow-motion movements, are impressive and something we haven’t seen before in the franchise (at least I think that’s the case). But Spider-Man’s apparent invincibility and the video-gamey nature of the fights take away a significant chunk of the realism and sense of danger, leaving us with pretty albeit emotionless action that ought to have been more exciting.

I also found the storytelling lacking in focus, resulting in an uneven film which struggled to keep track of all the strands of the narrative and the excess of characters. More doesn’t always mean better, and I think it would have been a better film if Webb had pared back the silly 142-minute running time to something more manageable, and in doing so take out some of the unnecessary plot points and character/relationship development moments. One of these would have been Paul Giamatti’s character, a Russian mobster who would become what I assume is a villain in the next instalment.

And yes, there will be at least one, potentially two more instalments in the rebooted franchise. There isn’t nothing strictly wrong with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 — Marvel rarely makes “bad” superhero movies and this is neither great nor terrible, just visually spectacular, above-average generic entertainment — but they’ll have to take a fresh approach and mix things up a bit if they wish to revive the franchise in 2016.

3 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Amazing Spider-Man (2D) (2012)

 

I have mixed feelings about The Amazing Spider-Man, the reboot of the Sam Raimi franchise which began in 2002 and ended just five years ago. On the one hand, it is a spectacular action film with cool special effects that is arguably more faithful to the comics (Spider-Man’s web, for instance, was invented by Peter Parker rather than biological), but on the other it felt too similar to the 2002 film.

I had high expectations for The Amazing Spider-Man, and it’s not just because I am a much bigger fan of the two new lead stars, Andrew Garfield (Eduardo Saverin from The Social Network) and Emma Stone, than the original duo of Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. And it’s not because the film is directed by Marc Webb, who was at the helm of one of my favourite movies, 500 Days of Summer. It’s simply because I think Spider-Man is a cool superhero and an interesting character. And because the reboot of the Batman franchise with Christian Bale has been so ridiculously awesome and different to the Michael Keaton/Val Kilmer/George Clooney one that I expected a completely new spin on the character and story.

Unfortunately, The Amazing Spider-Man is not all that different to the film made 10 years ago. Yes, there are some major differences in the story, such as a new love interest (Stone plays Gwen Stacy — who was played by Bryce Dallas Howard in Spider-Man 3) and a new villain, The Lizard, played by Rhys Ifans. Both are actually upgrades on Kirsten Dunst’s Mary Jane Watson and Willem Dafoe’s Green Goblin. Yes, this one also has a slightly more in-depth origin story that is linked back to Peter Parker’s parents (though more will probably be revealed in the inevitable sequel). But a lot of the plot points were virtually identical (without giving anything away), begging the question of why they needed to reboot the franchise in the first place.

If you haven’t seen the 2002 version or it’s not fresh in your mind, then you will probably have a great time. For some reason, I still remember a lot of it vividly, and as a result I kept getting a sense of deja vu. I know a lot of it was inevitable because they are core plot points in the Spider-Man origins story, but it certainly sucked the freshness out of it. I never got that feeling watching Batman Begins, which was a genuine “reboot” in every sense of the word.

On the bright side, The Amazing Spider-Man is exciting. The action sequences are clearer and more fluid than they were 10 years ago, and also very creative in the way they play out. I didn’t watch the 3D version but I suppose 3D effects could have enhanced certain scenes.

Rhys Ifans makes a wonderful, tormented semi-villain, and Dennis Leary has great presence as the city’s police chief. And how awesome is it to have Martin Sheen and Sally Field playing the uncle and aunt?

The new Peter Parker, Andrew Garfield, is more likable than Tobey Maguire. Interestingly, I thought Garfield looked pretty good for a high school student, but he’s actually 28, and a year older than Maguire when the latter played Spider-Man in 2002. I did have a slight problem with the character in that he wasn’t exactly geeky or nerdy enough. He’s thin, but taller and lankier than Maguire and also rides a skateboard. And it didn’t take much for Gwen Stacy to fall for him. It didn’t really make a whole lot of sense for him to be bullied or ignored by girls at the start of the film.

Emma Stone is also quite good as Gwen. Strong personality with just the right amount of feistiness and teenage angst. Funnily enough, I thought she looked too old to be a high school student, even though she’s five years younger than Garfield at 23.

The weakest link, though, had to be Irrfan Khan as an employee of Oscorp. He was plain bad and unintentionally hilarious at times.

I had a couple of other issues with the film’s editing and tonal imbalance, but these are relatively minor. Even though the film was more detailed than the 2002 version overall, at times I felt they rushed a few key scenes, while others might have been dragged out longer than necessary. And at 136 minutes it was, as usual, about 15 minutes too long. And am I being anal when I say the music score of the ordinarily dependable James Horner was occasionally distracting?

So at the end of the day, if Tobey Maguire’s 2002 version of Spider-Man is still fresh in your mind, chances are you won’t be wowed by this film. For me personally, The Amazing Spider-Man, while spectacular at times and very enjoyable in its own right, was not quite “amazing.”

3.25 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Never Let Me Go (2010)

Award-winning, English-Japanese author Kazuo Ishiguro is one of those writers that I keep hearing about but haven’t had the chance to read.  So I guess the next best option was to check out an adaptation of one of his better known books, Never Let Me Go.

I went into this film having no idea what it was about except it starred Carey Mulligan, Kiera Knightley and new Spiderman Andrew Garfield (from The Social Network).  The poster and the title suggested a moving romantic drama, a tear-jerker, if you will.  After all, Ishiguro’s best known work is probably Remains of the Day, so I thought I knew what kind of movie to expect.

I was therefore pleasantly surprised and a little shocked to find that Never Let Me Go is actually a science-fiction film, and a weird one at that because it didn’t look or feel like your typical film of that genre.  It’s still a moving romantic drama and a tear-jerker, but the entire premise of the story is firmly grounded in sci-fi.

I don’t want to give away too much, because part of the joy of the film is figuring out just what heck is going on, but basically it’s set in an alternate reality, where in 1952 there was a medical breakthrough that allows humans to extend their expected lifespans beyond 100 years.

The film has gotten some rave reviews, but I found it more fascinating (because of the premise) than anything else.  Anchored by strong performances from all of the leads, this was a slow-moving, often confusing, sometimes frustrating, occasionally touching and ultimately haunting film (gave me the chills, in a good way).  I liked how it ended but it was a bit of a struggle at times.  I think it’s the type of film that has the power to really move people and make them think about love, life and death, but it didn’t quite get there for me.  It just felt like something was missing.  Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood.

3 stars out of 5

PS: I also found it interesting that Keira Knightley was purposely made to look ‘plain’ by the film’s director.  Great job, because this was the ugliest I have ever seen her!  I was wondering why she looked so horrible.

Movie Review: The Social Network (2010)

Admit it.  When you first heard that they were going to make a movie about Facebook, you thought it was going to suck too.  I certainly did.

But throw in Fight Club director David Fincher, producer Kevin Spacey and The West Wing writer Aaron Sorkin, base it around a nonfiction book by Ben Mezrich (who shot to fame with Bringing Down the House, which was made into the movie 21), and cast a bunch of young rising stars, and The Social Network suddenly becomes one of the best films of the year.

It is probably important to note upfront that accuracy of specific events may not have been a priority for screenwriter Sorkin when he wrote The Social Network, so don’t watch the film believing it to be entirely true.  However, we do know for a fact that certain things did happen.  We know that Mark Zuckerberg, a former Harvard student, created ‘Thefacebook’, a phenomenal social networking site that now has more than 500 million active members around the world.  We also know that he was sued by a few people — the identical Winklevoss twins for allegedly ripping off their idea, and his former best friend Eduardo Saverin, who Zuckerberg completely screwed over.

That’s all I’ll say about the plot, but believe me when I say it is a cracker.  The tone is set in the very first scene.  The characters are fascinating.  The relationships are compelling.  The dialogue is razor sharp.  And it’s surprisingly funny too.

Jesse Eisenberg is brilliant as Zuckerberg.  He is mesmerizing to watch, and really makes you believe Zuckerberg is a genuine prick.  While Justin Timberlake has received mixed reviews as Sean Parker, the co-founder of Napster, some believe he is being tipped for a Best Suppporting Actor Oscar nomination.  Personally, I don’t think it weas an Oscar-worthy performance, but it was very good, and definitely better than what anyone was expecting.

The rest of the ensemble cast was terrific too.  The standout for me was the new Spiderman Andrew Garfield (Saverin), who grows on you as the film progresses.  But I really can’t poke a hole in any of the performances.  I think in years to come, The Social Network will be remembered as a classic that featured actors who went on to become superstars.  It’s already got Eisenberg and Garfield and Timberlake (all of whom should go on to bigger roles), not to mention Rooney Mara, Hollywood’s new Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Armie Hammer, who plays both the Winklevoss twins, was hilarious, a great contrast to their more serious business partner Divya Narendra, played by Max Mingella (son of the late and great Anthony).  Even Brenda Song, who has a small role as Saverin’s girlfriend, was dynamite in a couple of scenes.

The Social Network is captivating drama at its best, and I’ve already seen it twice.

4.5 stars out of 5