REVIEW: Silence

16 04 2017

Like I do with many great films, I approached reviewing Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” with a reverence tinged with trepidation. No matter how many seemingly objective angles I took to evaluating it, I could not find a path that did not somehow cross with my own experiences and beliefs as a person of faith. Though this underscores just about every review I write, rarely does it bubble up to the surface. But since today is Easter, I thought it made sense to craft a hybrid akin to Scorsese’s work: a personal statement and a prayer.

I’ve been grappling with the film for the past three months; as Matt Zoller Seitz astutely observed, “This is not the sort of film you ‘like’ or ‘don’t like.’ It’s a film that you experience and then live with.” Scorsese himself has wrestled with Shusaku Endo’s novel for longer than I have been alive. Christian thinkers themselves have wrestled with these issues since the religion began two millennia ago. To project any kind of intellectual authority or issue some kind of vast, sweeping statement about the ideology and thematics of “Silence” is naive and preposterous. In its searing specificity, the film gets beyond the simplistic discussions of religion that predominate our polite culture and delves headfirst into the questions that demarcate contemporary Christianity.

It goes without saying that Scorsese’s involvement in the film ensures “Silence” does not issue the kind of self-congratulatory pat on the back and reaffirmation of most religious films. He zooms past the “what” of faith and immediately wades into the murkier waters of the “how,” specifically as it pertains to evangelism and discipleship. 17th century Portuguese fathers Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) set sail for Japan, where their mentor Ferreira (Liam Neeson) disappears and allegedly disavows the Catholic religion.

Their rescue mission brings them into contact with persecuted Japanese Christians practicing their faith in private, an experience that tugs the fathers’ beliefs at opposite directions with equal force. On the one hand, their torture at the hands of Japanese inquisitors makes the abstract concept of martyrdom painfully real, humbling them tremendously. Yet these supplicants also view the priests as direct conduits to God to the point that they take on a God-like status, inflating the latent self-righteousness undergirding many of their actions.

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In A World… (The Top 10 Films of 2016)

31 12 2016

“In a world…”

Any self-respecting ’90s moviegoer can never forget announcer Don LaFontaine’s literally trademarked invocation. It was an invitation to enter a world apart from our own, be it an entirely invented fantasy realm, a different country or a fresh perspective.

I bring this up in regards to a year end list of 2016 because so many things I could say to describe the events of this year feel so unfathomable that they could only follow “In a world…” Both personally and culturally, the past 12 months have upended plans, expectations and assumptions. It’s not just the result of the 2016 election in America, or the outcome of the Brexit referendum, or whatever the hell happened when Batman battled Superman – and on the positive side, it’s not just the fact that I covered Sundance, tackled SXSW, and interviewed some really talented cinematic artists. It’s everything that led up to that, all the many breaks that went the way they did to get us to this point.

I always do my best to rewatch any movie I put on my year’s best, but this year I found that I had to rewatch more 2016 films not to determine whether they were as good as I had originally thought. Rather, I had to reexamine what I thought they were about at their core. I could go on and on, but for some examples: “Christine” played like a personal psychodrama at Sundance and an elegy for the dignity of television journalism in December. “Jackie” felt like an empowering tale of a former First Lady gaining her agency at the New York Film Festival in October, yet it seemed more like a requiem mass for a fallen dynasty in late November.

Melissa McCarthy as Michelle Darnell in The Boss

Films whose attitudes I had dismissed – “Deadpool,” “The Boss,” “War Dogs” – seemed validated. Others that seemed to champion the virtues of our era – “Denial,” “The Magnificent Seven,” “Neighbors 2” – felt somewhat hollow, if not completely naive.

I remain uncertain as to which of these films is weaker or stronger for accommodating such a panoply of vantage points. In a world where nothing seems certain, it was a valuable and instructive experience for me to remember that while a film as an object stays the same, our ideas and understandings about are invariably shaped by the worldview from which we approach them. The conditions of its creation are unchangeable. The context of our reception is always subject to forces beyond our control.

So … in a world where seemingly so much is at stake and so little is known, what place do movies have? And what importance does writing about them take? When I started paring down the 200 theatrical releases from 2016 that I viewed this year (fun fact: that’s exactly the same amount as 2015), I was struck by how many of them had created an irresistible world or replicated our present one with a staggering amount of accuracy and honesty. I realized that for so much of the year, the best cinema was not an escape from the world but a means for better understanding it in this crazy year.

Without further ado, here are my selections for the top 10 films of 2016. Rather than lavish them with superlatives, I simply hope to convey what I found of value in those worlds. (If you want all the praise, look to my reviews – the titles hyperlink to them.) Now, on with the show: in a world…

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LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Movies of 2016

1 01 2016

Well, guess it’s time to cast my gaze towards the horizon and start looking forward to a new year of moviegoing! I’ve slowly gotten better at making these lists, with more and more movies making it on my year-end top 10 list. 2015 was a bit of an anomaly as so many films got pushed back to 2016 – four out of the ten I picked last year will hopefully see release in the next twelve months.

In that period, some of my enthusiasm has dampened for “Everybody Wants Some” (then titled “That’s What I’m Talking About”), “Knight of Cups” and “Midnight Special.” But one title remains, and absence makes the heart grow fonder.

This year’s slate of most anticipated films feels rather odd, as there’s very little I’m crazily expecting. With relatively few of my favorite directors and series churning out work in 2016, I’m left grabbing at straws. Nonetheless, here are ten films that I’m very ready to see!

American Honey

#10
“American Honey” (TBD)
Written and directed by Andrea Arnold
Starring Shia LaBeouf, Arielle Holmes and Riley Keough

After “Fish Tank,” I’m on board to see whatever Andrea Arnold comes up with next. She’s one of the most vital voices working in film today, not only for females but also just in general. I really have no idea what the film is about, and I don’t want to know.

Brad Pitt:Marion Cotillard

#9
Untitled WWII Romantic Thriller (November 23)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Steven Knight
Starring Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard

This team speaks for itself. I could care less that the casting isn’t even complete.

Passengers

#8
“Passengers” (December 21)
Directed by Morten Tyldum
Written by Jon Spaihts
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt and Michael Sheen

If there was no Jennifer Lawrence movie for me to look forward to, would the year be worth undergoing?

Fantastic Beasts

#7
“Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” (November 18)
Directed by David Yates
Written by J.K. Rowling
Starring Eddie Redmayne, Ezra Miller and Katherine Waterston

Ready to geek out over “Harry Potter” again, and it hasn’t even been five years since the last one. No shame.

The Girl on the Train

#6
“The Girl on the Train” (October 7)
Directed by Tate Taylor
Written by Erin Cressida Wilson
Starring Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson and Haley Bennett

Admittedly, I thought the hype on last summer’s big book was a bit overblown. But I’m still excited to see how this team translates the story into cinema; my imagination often wandered towards I might realize this thriller on the big screen. Can’t wait to compare my ideas with their visions.

Julieta

#5
“Julieta” (TBD)
Written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar
Starring Adriana Ugarte and Emma Suárez

Even when playing in minor key, a new Almodóvar film is always interesting. Returning to his favored territory, stories about women, might provide his best since 2006’s “Volver.”

It's Only the End of the World

#4
“It’s Only the End of the World”
Written and directed by Xavier Dolan
Starring Léa Seydoux, Marion Cotillard, and Vincent Cassel

I am SO ready to see Xavier Dolan, the exciting emerging talent of the decade, tackle his first movie with global stars. That one such star is Marion Cotillard only amplifies my excitement.

Hail Ceasar

#3
“Hail, Caesar!” (February 5)
Written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen
Starring George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson and Channing Tatum

I’m ready for any new Coen Brothers movie, but this one sounds like something special. “It’s about the movie business and life and religion and faith. Faith and the movie business,” Ethan said. Sounds like everything I could ever want from a movie and more.

La La Land

#2
“La La Land” (July 15)
Written and directed by Damien Chazelle
Starring Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Finn Wittrock

Chazelle’s follow-up to “Whiplash” was going to be exciting enough. He sweetened the deal by making it a musical that reunites the magnetic on-screen duo of Gosling and Stone.

Silence

#1
“Silence” (TBD)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Jay Cocks
Starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver

Last year’s #2, this year’s #1. I truly cannot wait to see the film that might be Scorsese’s ultimate statement on the religious themes that have pervaded his work for decades.





LISTFUL THINKING: Most Anticipated Films of 2015

2 01 2015

Well, time to usher in 2015.  It certainly looks to be another good year of movies with plenty of great actors and directors gearing up with compelling new projects.  And, if you’re a franchise lover, this year ought to be nirvana.

So, here’s a year-beginning top 10 list.  Normally, these do not even come close to lining up with my year end list.  In both 2013 and 2014, only two films from the list were in my final top 10.

It is entirely likely that one or more of these films will not be finished in time for release in 2015 – I mainly worry about “Silence,” which has yet to begin production and will likely be a massive endeavor – so I’ll offer up a few honorable mentions and some 2014 festival holdovers that have yet to be released.

2014 HOLDOVERS: I’m not quite sure what year to file “Maps to the Stars” under given that Julianne Moore was nominated for a Golden Globe this year, but I’ll certainly be glad to see it on VOD (February 27). “While We’re Young” (March 27) looks like an incredibly promising follow-up to “Frances Ha” for Noah Baumbach.

HONORABLE MENTIONS: Just outside the list is Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans” (TBD), which teams the director of “Blue Valentine” and “The Place Beyond the Pines” with perhaps the most exciting working actor, Michael Fassbender.  The McConaissance looks to continue in “Sea of Trees” (TBD), a collaboration with Gus Van Sant.

I am sure in a year with two Pixar movies, “Inside Out” (June 19) and “The Good Dinosaur” (November 25), one of them will be decent. And ok, fine, I guess I’ll get somewhat excited for “Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens” (December 18).

That's What I'm Talking About

#10
“That’s What I’m Talking About” (TBD)
Written and directed by Richard Linklater

Despite all the adoration being heaped upon Richard Linklater after “Boyhood,” the director churns out a “Me & Orson Welles” about as often as he churns out a “Before Midnight.”  I remain cautiously optimistic about his next film, a spiritual cousin to “Dazed and Confused,” which is set in a Texas college in the 1980s and somehow involves a baseball team.  I’m not the biggest fan of “Dazed,” but I’ll definitely be awaiting this one.

Knight of Cups

#9
“Knight of Cups” (TBD)
Written and directed by Terrence Malick
Starring Christian Bale, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman

How can any film lover not eagerly anticipate whatever Terrence Malick has cooked up next?  The trailer for “Knight of Cups” was certainly … interesting.  This could be a profound meditation on fame or a Sofia Coppola film made on quaaludes.  Either way, I’m excited to see him work with Oscar winners like Bale, Blanchett, and Portman.  (No offense, Olga Kurylenko.)

The Intern

#8
“The Intern” (September 25)
Written and directed by Nancy Meyers
Starring Anne Hathaway, Robert DeNiro, and Rene Russo

Make fun of me all you want, but I absolutely adore all of Nancy Meyers’ movies.  My family stops to watch “Father of the Bride” and “The Parent Trap” each time they are on TV, and I thought “It’s Complicated” was a laugh riot.  That was six years ago, so it’s time for her to make a new movie.  The concept of an adult intern seems a little beneath her (not to mention kind of taken by “The Internship“), but I have faith that she’ll provide a potent blend of humor and heart like always.

Tina Fey and Amy Poehler acting during film of their new movie The Nest

#7
“Sisters” (December 18)
Directed by Jason Moore
Written by Paula Pell
Starring Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Maya Rudolph

TINA FEY AND AMY POEHLER IN A MOVIE TOGETHER AGAIN.  This is not a drill, people!  Sure, they’ve hosted the Golden Globes and both cameoed in “Anchorman 2.”  But this is them co-starring in a movie together.  I’m just going to have to watch “Baby Mama” ten times this year to mentally prepare myself.

Revenant

#6
“The Revenant” (December 25)
Written and directed by Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Domhnall Gleeson

I did not drink the “Birdman” Kool-Aid quite as much as others, but there is no denying that Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu is making bold, risky cinema.  His next film, shot this fall, brings together Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.  That pairing just needed to happen, first of all.  Iñárritu also requested additional funding so he could shoot the film in sequence, a somewhat odd insistence that has me wondering why it was necessary.  Perhaps to procure that first Oscar for DiCaprio?

Macbeth

#5
“Macbeth” (TBD)
Directed by Justin Kurzel
Written by Jacob Koskoff, Michael Lesslie, and Todd Louiso
Starring Michael Fassbender, Marion Cotillard, and David Thewlis

I am not necessarily a big Shakespeare dork, but Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are two of the meatiest characters in all of fiction.  Watching Fassbender and Cotillard inhabit them should be nothing short of thrilling.  (They are also directed by Justin Kurzel, whose last feature, “The Snowtown Murders,” needs to be placed at the top of your Netflix queue immediately.)

Midnight Special

#4
“Midnight Special” (November 25)
Written and directed by Jeff Nichols
Starring Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst, and Adam Driver

A big-budget studio sci-fi film directed by the guy who gave us 2013’s indie smash “Mud.”  Hmmm.  I think this could establish Jeff Nichols as the next Christopher Nolan or Steven Spielberg if all goes well.

FFN_IMAGE_51471858|FFN_SET_60081353

#3
“Untitled Woody Allen Project” (TBD)
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring Emma Stone, Joaquin Phoenix, and Parker Posey

A new Woody Allen film is always reason to rejoice.  But this year’s installment features an odd yet intriguing pairing: Joaquin Phoenix and  Emma Stone, Allen’s new female muse.  There is some kind of teacher-student relationship at the heart of the film, which does sound a little clichéd.  Still, to watch those two act opposite each other ought to be a show.

Silence

#2
“Silence” (November)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Jay Cocks
Starring Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield, and Adam Driver

For decades, Scorsese’s work has dealt both directly and indirectly with his Catholic heritage.  With his passion project, “Silence,” religion takes center stage with a story about Jesuit priests in Japan.  Shockingly, Scorsese had to come beg for funds at Cannes for the film; you would think by this point, he could just get a check to make whatever he wants.  It has still yet to shoot, so hopefully the final project is not so rushed that it turns out as sloppily self-indulgent as “The Wolf of Wall Street.”

Joy

#1
“Joy” (December 25)
Directed by David O. Russell
Written by Annie Mumolo
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper, and Robert DeNiro

At this point, David O. Russell could direct Jennifer Lawrence reading a calculus textbook, and I would still buy a ticket.  (And it would probably get her an Oscar nomination.)  I’m not quite sure what they see in the story of the inventor of the Miracle Mop, but I am excited to see how they simultaneously find laughter and drama in it.

What movies are YOU excited to see in 2015?  Any of these?!  If you’re just dying to see “Avengers 2,” I guess we can still be friends…