Tag Archives: Martin Scorsese

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

Movie Review: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)

wolf

I had no idea The Wolf of Wall Street was a comedy until it won the Best Motion Picture in the Musical or Comedy category at the recent Golden Globes. Leo DiCaprio plus Martin Scorcese usually equal serious, violent, gritty flicks like The Departed or Gangs of New York, but this time, they’ve teamed up to give us one of the funniest movies of the year, an epic black comedy with a bite that goes right down to the bone. Oh, and it’s a supposed true story based on a memoir of the same name.

It’s 1987. Leo plays Jordan Belfort, a handsome, charismatic and ambitious young man with a natural gift for sales. Give him anything and he will sell it. After taking a few life lessons on Wall Street from his boss, played by Matthew McConaughey (in a small but hilarious and memorable role), Belfort grabs a few mates and branches out to start his own firm, Stratton Oakmont, which is more or less a scam — but one that will make them loads and loads and loads of money.

The Wolf of Wall Street is without a doubt a polarizing film. It has earned the dubious distinction of the motion picture with the most “F bombs” in cinematic history, topping the list with 569 times (or 3.18 times per minute!). It is also full of debauchery and morally corrupt behaviour, including but not limited to fraud, alcohol abuse, drug-taking, extra-marital relations, mass orgies, beating off in public and tossing midgets around for office amusement. I can understand why a lot of people have been turned off this film and accuse it of glamourising the excess it depicts and painting douchebags like Belfort as heroes while completely ignoring the pain and suffering of his victims. On the other hand, the cast and crew of the film will argue otherwise, saying that it is a cautionary tale about excess. It’s a valid debate, and at the end of the day, it is up to the individual viewer to decide what the message of the movie is — for them.

For me, the underlying message is not a big deal. The Wolf of Wall Street is just a really really funny movie that I enjoyed immensely. The film’s comedic tone is pitch black; seeped in satire. The pace is frenetic and the dialogue is edgy and razor sharp — and more often than not incredibly and unapologetically politically incorrect. I’m sure some critics have already labelled it misogynistic. But importantly, it does not come across as mean-spirited. It’s just a bunch of smug, self-righteous dickheads who think they are smarter than everyone else boasting about their success through excess. They’re certainly not likable but they’re also not so unlikable that you find their antics unfunny. It comes as no surprise why so many people back in the late 80s and early 90s wanted to work for them and be like them.

Much of the credit goes to Scorsese’s masterful direction and the witty screenplay adaptation from Terence Winter (Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos). Excess in itself is not funny. Debauchery in itself is not funny. F bombs in themselves are not funny. Doing stupid things after getting drunk and getting high in itself is not funny. That’s why I thought Project X was one of the worst movies ever made, Get Him to the Greek was really bad, and The Hangover was overrated. But put it in the hands of Scorsese and Winter and get talented actors like Leo to act it out, and all of a sudden it becomes freaking hilarious.  They key, I think, is that the characters are not in on the jokes. They are dead serious about the stupid things they do and do it with such bravado and conviction — which is why we, the audience, can find the humour in it.

Granted, you probably need to be in the right mood for a lot of the jokes (the scene where the discuss hiring midgets for office amusement is a prime example), though if you are, you might get stomach cramps from laughing so hard. That sequence where Leo and Jonah Hill take these precious banned prescription drugs to get high is, in my opinion, an all-time classic.

Leo won Best Actor — Musical or Comedy at the Golden Globes and is one of the favourites to capture his first Oscar next month. I’m not sure if he will win with Chiwetel Ejiofor’s performance in 12 Years a Slave blowing everyone’s socks off, including mine, but if he does it will be a deserving victory. Leo has had some wonderful performances in the past, though I don’t think anyone ever expected his comedic chops to be this strong. Here he was utterly convincing as the Wolf of Wall Street, a narcissistic smooth talker and salesman, a little naive when he had to be at the beginning, electrifying when giving motivational speeches to excited crowds, and downright pitiful when he hit rock bottom — and he did it all with a stoic straight face. I was particularly impressed with the passion, energy and extent to which he was willing to go to embarrass himself, which is completely at odds with the heartthrob Leo we’ve become accustomed to over the years.

The supporting cast was also excellent. I’ve said many times that I don’t care much for Jonah Hill or Matthew McConaughey, but even I can’t deny that both guys were awesome in this. The rest of Leo’s founding partners in his scam, including The Walking Dead alumnus Jon Bernthal, were also solid, as was Kyle Chandler as the smuggish FBI agent determined to bring the Wolf down. Like everyone else, my eyebrows were raised when the smoking Margot Robbie came on screen as Leo’s future second wife — little did I know she’s yet another Aussie from Neighbours! Anyway, she’s got a great future ahead of her. And I haven’t even mentioned a bunch of other big names, such as Rob Reiner, Jon Favreau and Jean Dujardin.

The Wolf of Wall Street is an acquired taste. At 3 hours it is of course too long, but not by as much as you might think. There’s too much golden material for this to be a  2-hour film, but I think a 15-20 trim could have been beneficial as the film becomes more serious and less funny as it nears its conclusion. There were times when I almost felt like I should dislike the film on principle because of all the nasty people doing nasty things in it. The story is messy (though I think by design), dirty and just plain wrong on so many levels, and it makes you guilty for laughing at some of the jokes. But in the end, I loved it. I think it’s one of the best movies of the year.

4.5 stars out of 5

Movie Review: Hugo (3D) (2011)

To 3D or not 3D, that is the question.

If you know me or have read some of my reviews, you’ll know I hate 3D films with a passion usually reserved for botched haircuts and cakes with hairs on them.  But I heard there were rumours on the internets that Hugo is the first ever film worth watching in 3D.  The Martin Scorsese directed family film (which is weird enough in itself) apparently utilises the technology wonderfully, so well, in fact, that it actually enhances the film rather than distracts it.

Is it true?  Mmm…that’s a hard one.  I haven’t actually seen the 2D version so it’s hard to make a comparison, but I can’t imagine liking the film any less just because it doesn’t have 3D effects.  To Scorsese’s credit, this is one of the rare 3D films that doesn’t make me squint because the screen gets too dark, since he always ensures that visuals are bright enough, even with the dimming glasses on.  The film also employs some neat tricks with the camera which makes great use of depth, but perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay is that the 3D does not feel like a gimmick.

Anyway, all this discussion about 2D and 3D is ultimately kind of irrelevant because no matter how many Ds Hugo has, it’s still one of the best movies of 2011.  It’s so clever, so magical and has so much heart that I’m struggling to think of another family film that even comes close.

Set in the 1930s, Hugo tells the story of the titular character (played by Asa Butterfield), a lonely 12-year-old boy who lives behind the walls of the Paris train station.  Hugo has a secret project he needs to complete which requires him to steal spare parts from the station’s toy store.  The store’s enigmatic owner is played by a marvellous Ben Kingsley, and Isabelle, his goddaughter, is played by Chloe Grace Moretz. And Sacha Baron Cohen is the crippled station inspector who seems to like nothing more than sending little children to orphanages. I won’t reveal much more than that, and I hope if you haven’t seen it you’ll try to go into the film knowing as little about the plot as possible.

If you love film, chances are you’ll love Hugo.  It’s really a love letter to the origin of motion pictures and the art of filmmaking that ingeniously blends genuine film history with a fictional story that is both beautiful and incredibly moving.  I really enjoyed the feeling of not knowing where the film was heading and not caring — I completely surrendered myself to Scorsese’s masterful storytelling and just let Hugo take me along for the ride.  Sure it was a little long at 128 minutes, and the film takes a while to hit its stride, but eventually I was immersed in Hugo’s world and  I actually found myself wanting more by the end of it.  Simply put, the film was exciting, mysterious, heartfelt, magical and absolutely stunning to look at.

The performances played a big part too.  The kid, Butterfield, was pretty good, as were Moretz and, surprisingly, Cohen (not a hint of Borat). Butterfield’s innocence and romantic ideals made Hugo a very likeable protagonist, and Moretz, after playing a kid assassin (in Kick-Ass) and a vampire (in Let Me In), demonstrated her versatility once again as the lovely Isabelle.  Even Jude Law was excellent in a small but important role.  But the movie truly belonged to Sir Ben Kingsley, who was utterly mesmerising as the heartbroken toymaker — you’d probably have to go as far back as his Oscar winning role as Gandhi to find a performance that rivals this one.  I know Hugo swept the technical awards this year at this Oscars but it’s hard to believe none of the actors even got nominations at any of the major awards.

That’s enough rambling from me. All I can say is that Hugo is not only one of my favourite films of 2011 (I am hoping to be able to get to that list I’ve promised to do…eventually), it is the kind of film that made me fall in love with movies in the first place.

5 stars out of 5!

 

Movie Review: Shutter Island (2010)

I've already used the poster with Leo's mug in another post, so I decided to go with this one, which I actually like a lot more

[Note: I was supposed to read the book first, but I couldn’t wait.  Reading the book now.]

Shutter Island.  Based on the book by Dennis Lehane, award-winning author of Mystic River.  Directed by Martin Scorsese, Academy Award winner for The Departed (and director of such classics as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas). Cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, and one of my favourites, Jackie Earle Haley.  Been looking forward to seeing it since I first heard about the production in 2008. Expectations: sky high.

So how was it?

Very good, but ultimately not the masterpiece I had been waiting for.

The story follows DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall summoned to Shutter Island in 1954 to investigate the disappearance of a patient at Ashcliffe, a mental hospital for the criminally insane.  A ripper of a premise, and you don’t even have to wait to see the island to know you’re in for a eerie, frighteningly atmospheric time.

Shutter Island is a wild, fantastic ride.  It’s one of those mysteries where you have to question everything that happens.  Naturally, in a mental hospital, you’d have to.  Why are people acting so strangely?  What secrets are being kept at Shutter Island?  Who can be trusted?  Just what the crap is going on?

You get that a lot when watching Shutter Island.  Scorsese has intentionally created a very disjointed, fragmented film that keeps the audience as confused as Teddy Daniels.  Flashbacks, dreams and visions come and go.  Words and actions consistently don’t make much sense.  Clues and red herrings are mixed in everywhere.  It was weird.  I even started questioning my own sanity by the end of the movie!

So no doubt, it’s a good film, but it was a bit too over the place for my liking.  I was intrigued but also increasingly frustrated as the movie progressed, and I never got into it emotionally like I thought I would.  And the ending, while well-executed, was not totally unexpected.  That said, I did like the last scene, especially the haunting final words.

Can’t complain about the performances though.  Leo is still awesome, Ruffalo is great, Gandhi is solid, and Rorshach (the new Freddy Krueger!) is still terrific as always.

3.5 stars out of 5!