Tag Archives: JAPAN

SILENCE (2016): REVIEWED BY A RELIGIOUS OUTSIDER

SILENCE (2016): REVIEWED BY PAUL LAIGHT

Rather than review every single thing I have seen in one monthly instalment I have decided to theme my reviews concentrating on quality rather than quantity in 2017. So, here I go with a light essay on the nature of the existence of God, the relevance of religion in today’s world and at the same time give my humble opinions on Martin Scorcese’s passion project Silence (2016).

martin-silence1

In my mind I do not believe in God. I do not believe in a higher-power that created Earth and oversees our everyday lives. I believe Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed existed in some form or another in the past and their philosophies and teachings laid the groundwork for Christianity, Islam and Buddhism; plus many of the other religions that are followed today. Personally, I believe in all that I see and hear and experience in life and while I respect other people’s faith, commitment to an all-powerful being is not for me. Each to their own I reckon.

liam-neeson

A belief in Heaven and God certainly explains many things such as why are we here? And what happens when we die? Because let’s face it the threat of a never-ending abyss of no consciousness is a terrifying thought after all. I mean, I lived and studied in Stoke-on-Trent for three years so have seen the void and it is frightening. So, I get that people need some comfort and answers to difficult questions. It’s just a shame that religion, organized or otherwise, has been used historically for not only good but also something that has caused: torture, war, murder, inquisitions, control, heartache and division etc. But, hey, that’s more of a critique of humanity rather than faith.

Thus, while I respect individual’s choice of faith or politics or ideology, religion and prayers are not for me. Having said that, I’m not a fundamental atheist looking to attack those believers and when reputed filmmakers such as Martin Scorcese embark on personal journeys into their own faith it certainly makes one have a look and reconsider your own perspectives. Indeed, Silence features a lead character which clearly acts as Scorcese’s personal conduit as Rodrigues journeys into the heart of darkness and faces a horrific test of faith.

silence-00432.jpg

Like The Last Temptation of Christ (1988) and Kundun (1997), Martin Scorcese is no stranger to broaching heavy and powerful subjects relating to religion. Of course, it’s easy to say I prefer his stylised, violent and darkly humorous gangster films as they are eminently watchable with kinetic camerawork, great soundtracks and brutal men taking each other out in all manner of bloody ways. Having said that these films still ring true to Scorcese as he grew up in a tough Italian neighbourhood where more often than not the choice was to become a gangster or a priest. What a choice!

Silence is set as far away from New York as you could get: in 17th century feudal Japan. It concerns two priests Rodrigues and Garupe (brilliant portrayed by Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who venture into the heart of darkness to attempt to find their mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson). It is a long film which requires much stamina in both heart and mind and at times certainly tested my faith in the director. However, after it had ended it left me with so much to think about I knew it was worth the journey. It’s a story that you absorb through your psyche and physicality. It does not strike any easy notes as it discordantly pulls at your cerebral sinews.

silence

The first act quickly establishes the drama but I felt that the second thirty minutes was arguably too slow as I was very keen for the quest to find Ferreira gain some pace. Yet, when the film focusses on Andrew Garfield’s character and the testing of his faith Scorcese really got to the heart of the narrative. Moreover, there was much in the film which reflected today. The priests are captured, humiliated and tortured in a Japanese equivalent of Guantanamo Bay. But the Japanese were not stereotypical or evil for evil’s sake. Their motivations of protecting their culture and own religion were well argued. In fact, it’s an important theme in the film where, in testing Rodrigues’ faith, are they not perhaps right to protect their way of life? Especially given they may have some knowledge of the violence committed by Westerners and Christians in the name of God.

silence3

Overall, Silence is a reflective and personal film about faith and culture clashes. Over the running time Scorcese, through the characters, questions his beliefs and how he should best go about praising the Lord. Scorcese’s soul is in many characters notably Rodrigues but also Neeson’s Ferreira. Most importantly he is also present in a fascinating sin-confess-repent-Judas character called Kichijiro (Yōsuke Kubozuka). While moving at a meditative pace Silence possesses some wonderful cinematography, sterling performances and a brooding score. Ultimately, faith is a personal choice and whether you believe in God or not an individual must choose their own path of faith even if it is silence.

GODZILLA (2014) – FILM REVIEW

godzilla

GODZILLA (2014)

**CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS**

This massive budget reboot of Tohu’s iconic monster GODZILLA is not a terrible movie. It is a technical triumph in fact and has some memorable moments; however, for a MONSTER movie and cinematic experience it was a bitter, bitter disappointment. Plus, at times – dare I say it – it was pretty boring.

If I pay ten quid to see a film called GODZILLA I expect and demand ultimate carnage with the lives of thousands destroyed – eaten and crushed and fire-balled to death –  while cities and oceans are awash with blood, rubble and the tears of survivors.  Because Godzilla is a metaphor for nuclear attacks don’t you know so surely this should be your first priority:  show annihilation and destruction of cities and humans?  That’s what I want for my money!

Gareth Edwards and his massive team of filmmakers offer some destruction over its 120 minutes but ultimately Godzilla fails as a monster movie; it fails as a disaster film and fails most importantly as a piece of drama driven by believable and empathetic characters.  It’s not a great surprise to be honest as the sophomore director got the gig on the back of his independent film MONSTERS (2010)  which was filmed on Prosumer cameras with special effects and editing also done very cheaply. Much kudos goes to Edwards’ for creating Monsters on such a low budget and he is certainly a filmmaker who deserved a big break.

Monsters, like Godzilla was slow-moving, solemn and very serious in tone and in both films their monsters are hidden from view only appearing in full way too late in the narrative for my liking. I enjoyed Monsters because it gave us the brilliant actor Scoot McNairy who has gone onto to feature in some fine films notably Argo (2012) and Killing Them Softly (2012).  But it was essentially a love-story-come-travelogue with the creatures having little direct impact or threat on the characters.

Sadly, this also happens somewhat in Godzilla. It begins promisingly enough in 1999 with a nuclear explosion caused by the hatching of an egg which releases an unknown creature into the sea. So far, so intrigued.  Flash forward 15 years and Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is devastated by the loss of his wife (Juliette Binoche) during said nuclear disaster and obsessively attempts to find out what happened that fateful day.  Throw Brody’s son portrayed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson – quite handily a bomb disposal expert – into the mix and you get a promising character axis on the go.  Simultaneously, scientists Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe enter the fray to investigate but they are dull cardboard cut-outs there to serve us mundane expositional ramblings with no character momentum whatsoever. But Cranston’s character disappears from the narrative quite quickly and moreover, having to wait an hour before the first main bit of monster action really tested my patience.

I realise Edwards chose to go down the less-is-more route of Jaws (1975) but the reason the shark could not be seen in that was because the mechanical beast was beset with troubles and didn’t work so Spielberg and his team had to think creatively around this issue. Consequently, they created so many great set-pieces – something severely lacking in Godzilla. For example the scene with the two fishermen trying to catch the shark with a lump of meat is an especially brilliant sequence where the camera and music act as the shark. It’s a quality and economical piece of filmmaking with a fantastic punchline at the end to lift the mood.

When they do appear the Monsters are amazing to look at but there was not enough in the screenplay for me to actually give a damn by that time. The ensemble cast are pretty much wasted in my view and the less said about the screenplay the better. I feel it would have been better to have done a Towering Inferno (1974) or Poseidon Adventure (1972) style disaster movie with an ensemble star cast battling against the impact of Godzilla on their lives. In fact, Godzilla, however impressive he may look is pretty benign as a threat to humans; a decision which dumbfounded me. Overall, I felt the film needed a bigger name director like Steven Spielberg or Peter Jackson or a James Cameron figure to give us that WOW factor. The screenplay also had a humour bypass too and I failed to get value for my entrance fee. Sad to say this film was a gigantic disappointment.