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Rating History

Silence
Silence (2017)
9 days ago via Movies on iPhone
½

Martin Scorsese is, undoubtedly, one of the great American filmmakers. For over 40 years he has been the guy that has wanted to wash the scum off the streets; claimed it's better to be King for a night than schmuck for a lifetime; advised us to never to rat on our friends and to go home and get our fuckin' shine boxes. These classic cinematic moments aside, he's also known for the occasional deviation from the norm of his criminal outings and delivered films with deep religious themes; The Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun and now Silence completes his unofficial religious trilogy.

Plot: In 17th century Japan - at a time when Catholicism was outlawed - two Portugese Jesuit priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garupe (Adam Driver) travel to the foreign land in search of their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) who's lack of correspondence and silence has led to rumours of his apostasy. In order to find the truth behind his disappearence, the two missionaries decide to enter dangerous territories where Christians are tortured and killed, putting their own faith to the ultimate test.

Having a religious faith has always been a recurring theme throughout Scorsese's filmography. Despite Catholicism predominantly being the focus, he did embrace the Buddhist philosophy when he delivered the fascinating saga, Kundun in 1997. With Silence, Marty takes us back to the guilt-ridden suffering that his Catholic faith has, seemingly, brought him.

It's clear from the opening of this film that Scorsese wants to go big and the truth is, he goes very big. This is a film on a grand scale. Not just in terms of visuals but in terms of its dense and thought provoking themes. For all it's religious rhetoric, though, it manages to avoid preaching. And that's what I respect most about Scorsese's endeavours. There's a deep commentary on the importance of different cultures and the influences they have on belief systems, psyche's and human nature.

This is a thought provoking examination on the desperation of faith and greater need to believe that it will prevent suffering in life and provide absolution. Alas, it may lead to nothing. Some people's faith might stand strong while others will be led on a journey of self-discovery and an eventual reluctance to tread a preordained path. Scorsese ponders hard on whether faith has any substance or tangible affinity with a supreme or celestial being. Despite being raised Catholic myself, I personally think it's wholly illogical and such a ridiculous notion that it has become a socially accepted form of madness. Granted, if not take literally, it can provide some comfort in the vast enigma of our existence but I prefer to approach life in accordance with science and logic and, like some of the characters in this story, I had to turn my back on blind acceptance.

Although this is based on the novel by Shûsaku Endô - who wrote from the rare perspective of being a Japanese Roman Catholic - this feels a lot like Scorsese exercising his own demons and how faith and it's constructs have held him back within his own personal life. In some senses the film is a close relative to Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now. Organised religion may take the place of Coppola's tribal spiritualism but this is no less an existential journey than Cpt. Willard's search for Col. Kurtz. Here we have Garfield (delivering an excellent performance and deliberately looking like Christ himself on occasion) and Driver - who perfectly capture the youthful naiveté of their devotion. Their search for their mentor Neeson, who has abandoned his faith and succumbed to eastern beliefs, captures the same intrigue and wonder that Apocalypse Now possessed in terms of a once devoted man now choosing a completely different and unexplained path. And what right does one's beliefs have over another? This is the crux of the film and Scorsese poses this crux without ever having to be forceful. He lets it smoulder and the events and beliefs explain themselves.

Throughout this journey, Scorsese and cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto conjure up very striking and haunting imagery. They don't shy away from depicting human suffering but they also look at the beauty of our world and look aghast at how we "under the watchful eye of God", can commit atrocities to one another.

This is, somewhat, of a demanding film and it requires a certain patience but if you give it your commitment, it's a thoroughly rewarding experience. Scorsese lets loose on a subject that is very close to his heart. We've seen religious symbolism and references throughout his work over the years but none have been as potent as his work is here.

Mark Walker

Mulholland Falls
15 days ago via Movies on iPhone

Released in 1996, Lee Tamahori's Mulholland Falls has largely been overshadowed by the Oscar winning L.A. Confidential - which followed a year later. Although I often find fault with the Academy, on this occasion, I'm not going to split hairs them and argue that Tamahori's film is as good, because it's not. But that's no shame in Tamahori's efforts as, for me, L.A. Confidential is one of the best films over the last 20 years. Mulholland Falls is a very admirable attempt that doesn't deserve to have become a forgotten addition to L.A. themed noir.

Plot: Post WWII, Los Angeles sees the LAPD set up a special crime unit known as "The Hat Squad". It comprises of four no-nonsense Lieutenants: Max Hoover (Nolte), Ellery Coolidge (Palminteri), Eddie Hall (Madsen) and Arthur Relyea (Penn). They are tasked with controlling organised crime within the city - even if it means breaking the law themselves - but when they find the crushed body of a young woman, it opens up some personal demons for Hoover. Her death also implicates the involvement of the U.S. Army and attracts the attention of the F.B.I.

Over decades, L.A. Noir has become a sub-genre all to itself. For many, Chinatown is the epitome but my preference is the aforementioned L.A. Confidential. I think Curtis Hanson and Brian Helgaland done a fantastic job in developing a coherent script from a very difficult James Ellroy novel but all that aside, L.A. Noir isn't always an easy endeavour. There are some that promise so much but fail to deliver - Gangster Squad being a recent example of how it can go wrong. In order for stories of this type to be effective, there are many things that need to come together; the cast, the script, the cinematography and the music are all important to setting the mood and, for the most part, Mulholland Falls manages to capture all of these.

First of all, Tamahori assembles a very impressive line-up of performers which lends the film an epic feel and the script by Pete Dexter captures the requisite mystery and intrigue to hold your attention. Haskell Wexler's cinematography precisely captures the time and Dave Grusin provides an evocative and dramatic score. The production design by Richard Sylbert is also flawless as you should have no problem feeling like you're back 1950's L.A.

Everything fits here, but it's only as the film comes to the denouement that it starts to falter and if any fingers must be pointed, they'd have to be pointed to Pete Dexter's script. Things make less sense as the film draws to a conclusion. The tempo is accelerated to the point that you feel like Tamahori may have been under studio pressure to finish within a certain running time. This is such a shame, as the film is genuinely entertaining and very particularly paced up until that point. It's the exclusion of Chris Penn and Michael Madsen in the final third that lead to some questions over the film being butchered in the editing suite. And this comes just around the time of the film's reveal. The reveal itself is acceptable but it would have been more effective had it not been fumbled. That said, the only reason this stands out is because the earlier part of the film is so measured and involving.

Benefitting greatly from its attention to mood and atmosphere, there's much to admire here. It's a reminder of how strong a presence Nolte can be and he's supported by an impressive ensemble. Mulholland Falls is a damn good slice of noir that enthusiasts will take plenty of enjoyment from.

Mark Walker

Triple 9
Triple 9 (2016)
24 days ago via Movies on iPhone
½

After his relentlessly grim debut The Proposition and it's equally grim follow-up, The Road, director John Hillcoat carved a reputation as a less than cheery filmmaker. However, he was clearly one with an undeniable ability to capture a time and place. His third feature - Lawless - proved again that he had a great eye for detail - even though it was lacking a depth of narrative. With Triple 9, Hillcoat, yet again, showcases his gritty realism but it suffers the same problems in terms of the story.

Plot: Blackmailed by Russian mobsters, a gang of crooked cops, led by Terrell Tompkins (Chiwetel Ejiofor), plan the murder of transfer officer Chris Allen (Casey Affleck) in order to buy themselves time to pull off an audacious heist.

Within moments of Hillcoat's crime yarn taking place there are instant reminders of Michael Mann's Heat and the precision in which its characters carry out their bank heist. It's an explosive and very involving start to the film. Soon after, the opening credits display name after name of quality actors. The ingredients are here and there's no doubt about that from the offset. That said, the critics have not been favourable to Triple 9 which had led to me putting it off for so long. Sometimes when this is the case, though, it can lower your expectations of a film and you can approach it with an open mind. I didn't expect much from this and I'm glad I didn't as it delivered many positives for me. For a start, the acting is, as expected, top drawer; Affleck, Harrelson and Ejiofor deliver solid work and it's good to see TV stars Aaron Paul and Norman Reedus breakthrough even if they're essentially rehashing their roles from Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead, respectively. Needless to say, it's a male dominated environment but that doesn't stop Kate Winslet from stealing every scene she appears in as a ballbreaking Russian mob boss.

For the most part, everything comes together wonderfully; Hillcoat's direction is kinetic and his action set-pieces are brilliantly handled with the aid of Dylan Tichenor's skillful editing and Nikolas Karakatsanis' sharp cinematography. The action moments here rival the aforementioned Heat but what's missing is an attention to plot and characterisation: the very thing that Heat set a benchmark with. Triple 9 simply lacks it and that's where I can find agreement with the film's critics. Character development is nonexistent and for a film that's close to 2 hours, it really shouldn't be as aloof as it is. Some plot strands and character interactions don't make sense at all and it can often leave you wondering if some of the film has ended up in the cutting room floor as it wouldn't have been difficult to take a few extra minutes to explain the relationship of the characters in a little more depth.

It's a real shame that it's not quite the sum of its parts as the action is expertly handled and the cast, under Hillcoat's watchful eye, are outstanding. In the end, though, it's Matt Cook's incoherent muddle of a screenplay that lets them down. There's an old saying that too many cooks can spoil a broth but in this case it took only one.

Despite the weak script, though, I still admired plenty about this gritty cops-and-robbers yarn and it certainly isn't the write-off that it's been burdened with. When all is said and done, the poor writing didn't spoil my enjoyment or take too much away from the abundance of quality elsewhere.

Mark Walker

The Straight Story
32 days ago via Movies on iPhone

Walt Disney and David Lynch are two names that you wouldn't ordinarily expect to see involved on the same project. Disney is, of course, the leading production brand for family entertainment and Lynch's work couldn't be further from that magical and innocent material. However, that's exactly what we're looking at with The Straight Story which is a complete change of direction from the usually dark and disturbing Lynch and he proves to his naysayers that he's entirely able to construct something of a different nature altogether.

Plot: After hearing that his estranged, older brother has taken seriously ill, 73-year-old Alvin Straight (Richard Farnsworth) decides that he's going to put aside their differences and visit him before it's too late. Unable to drive a car or take public transport, Alvin buys himself a ride-on lawnmower and begins his long journey over hundreds of miles in the most unconventional way.

Not just in terms of the main characters' namesake, The Straight Story is exactly what it sounds like; a straight and simply told tale that's, without doubt, the most accessible film on Lynch's resumé. Those with a sound knowledge of Lynch will notice that the characters have no nefarious purposes, there's no metamorphosis, dream logic or hidden metaphors. This is an emotional and heartfelt odyssey about self-reflection, regrets and family connections and there's nothing to suggest that Lynch isn't absolutely at ease with lighter material. His film is a beautiful and poignant road trip that's full of pathos and stunningly captured landscapes.

Despite the simplicity, Lynch still can't contain his propensity for oddball characters and slightly off-key tones but it entirely works for this material. What's most strange about this story, though, is not as a result of Lynch's involvement but because it's actually based on a remarkable true story. The one thing that will draw reminders to Lynch's usual work is his love for small town America and the odd inhabitants therein. Although he keeps himself on a leash, he is still able to capture the idiosyncrasies and mannerisms of ordinary people which still adds a (albeit lesser) surrealistic flavour to the film.

Lynch is aided considerably with regular collaborators as well; Freddie Jones' sublime cinematography captures some stunning images and Angelo Badalamenti's beautiful score compliments the proceedings.
At the heart of the film, however, is a commanding and heartfelt central performance from Richard Farnsworth. Rightly Oscar nominated for his superb work, Farnsworth is the beating heart of this story - a man that has come to terms with himself and the mistakes he's made in life but still has enough left in his twilight years to right some wrongs. Sadly, Farnsworth's outstanding performance is tinged with poignancy and sadness itself as the actor died with a self inflicted gunshot wound to the head, shortly after the film's release. Apparently, he himself, was nearing the end of his life with bone cancer and took the decision to go out on his own terms - much like the character of Alvin Straight.

A wonderful and measured piece of storytelling from David Lynch. For those that can't handle his darker and more twisted films, then this is one for you. There's no denying it's charm and it's introspective reflection of life and all the challenges that come with it. This really is a pleasant, yet bittersweet journey.

Mark Walker