Thursday, March 30, 2017

On DVD/Blu-ray: SILENCE (2016); PATRIOTS DAY (2016); and EVOLUTION (2016)

(US/Mexico/Taiwan/UK - 2016)

A passion project that Martin Scorsese's had in various stages of development since acquiring the rights to Shusako Endo's 1966 novel in the late '80s, SILENCE completes the legendary filmmaker's unofficial religious trilogy that began with 1988's THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST and 1997's KUNDUN. SILENCE was already made into a movie once with a 1971 Japanese adaptation, but SILENCE '16 again demonstrates Scorsese's recurring obsessions with faith and religion, themes that go back as far as his earliest films like 1968's WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? and 1973's MEAN STREETS. Make no mistake--SILENCE is a horse pill. It's slow-moving and sometimes punishingly long at 161 minutes, which almost seems by design to put you in the mindset of his central character. It's the kind of visually stunning epic that you rarely see any more, equal parts Werner Herzog, Terrence Malick, and Francis Ford Coppola, but filtered through the uniquely singular vision of arguably the greatest living American filmmaker. It's the reality of getting movies made today, but it's hard to believe that a director of Scorsese's reputation and stature has to get funding from a truckload of production companies (including the unlikely involvement of VOD and Redbox B-movie dealmakers Emmett/Furla Films, taking a break from being a half-assed Golan & Globus for a rare bid at respectability) from four countries with 40 (!) credited producers. C'mon, Hollywood studios. This is Martin Fucking Scorsese. If he comes to you with a project, give him the money. His films tend to stand the test of time, if that even matters anymore. Sure, they can't all be TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, and GOODFELLAS, but can you name a terrible Martin Scorsese film?

In 17th century Macau, two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries, Father Sebastiao Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, having a breakout 2016 and even better here than he was in his Oscar-nominated turn in HACKSAW RIDGE) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver) journey to Japan in search of their mentor Father Cristovao Ferreira (Liam Neeson). Ferreira's been missing for seven years, and a letter turns up in the hands of Bishop Valignano (Ciarin Hinds)--a letter the rogue Ferreira sent years earlier, indicating that he's apostasized, renouncing Christianity, leaving the priesthood and has no intention of returning from a missionary trip to Japan, where he's taken a wife and wishes to live a normal life. Instinctively concluding that this letter doesn't sound like the words of Ferreira, Rodrigues and Garupe insist on finding their teacher and embark on a trip that will draw obvious comparisons to Heart of Darkness and APOCALYPSE NOW, but also the grueling sort of quest that recalls Herzog's AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD and FITZCARRALDO, as well as Roland Joffe's THE MISSION. The missionaries will be double-crossed by guide Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozoka), will eventually be separated, and the story will focus primarily on Rodrigues. Rodrigues clashes with Inquisitor Inoue (a scene-stealing Issey Ogata), a powerful official hellbent on stopping the spread of Christianity in Japan, and willing to torture, crucify, and kill to do so (one harrowing scene has converted Japanese Christians crucified at sea, drowned by the incoming tide, then having their bodies set ablaze so they can't be given a Christian burial). Rodrigues will eventually find Ferreira and he isn't quite the Col. Kurtz-like madman you might be expecting. SILENCE is a difficult and challenging film that has definite slow stretches but it rewards the patient viewer. The script by Scorsese and Jay Cocks unfolds like a richly-textured novel, taking its time to build and establish the characters and get you in their heads, which makes the complete experience all the more powerful. Pitched by distributor Paramount as a major awards-season contender, SILENCE played well in NYC and Los Angeles but bombed hard when it expanded into wide release, relegated to one 9:55 pm showing per day when it finally made it to my area. It was almost shut out of the Oscars, earning just one nomination for Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography. It's not the kind of film that will appeal to casual moviegoers or even to casual Scorsese fans (though it explores recurring themes in his work, its style is more Terrence Malick than Scorsese). It's an often profoundly moving film about deeply committed faith, one that's philosophical without being preachy, and if you've followed Scorsese through the years, you'll recognize his passion and his concerns, his voice coming through even though it's somewhat of a stylistic departure for him. (R, 161 mins)

(US/China - 2016)

You might think it takes a special breed of asshole to bag on a movie that honors the victims and heroes of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, but it takes a special breed of asshole to create a bullshit composite character and make almost the whole thing about him. Composite characters are dramatic necessities in narrative chronicles of true events but here, it's a clumsy distraction that's alternately insulting and unintentionally hilarious. The last and by far the least of director/co-writer Peter Berg's unofficial "Mark Wahlberg: American Hero" trilogy (after LONE SURVIVOR and the underrated DEEPWATER HORIZON), PATRIOTS DAY has Wahlberg playing Tommy Saunders, a composite character created specifically for the film. Tommy, or as he'll be known from here on, "Tawmy," is a plays-by-his-own-rules homicide sergeant who played by his own rules one too many times and got temporarily busted down to patrolman. But he's free and clear and out of the doghouse after one more day--you guessed it--Patriots Day. Tawmy's got a bum knee but puts on a brace, plays through the pain, and does his jawb, and he's right there when the bombs set by the Tsarnaev brothers--Tamerlan (Themo Melikidze) and Dzhokhar (Alex Wolff)--go off. He immediately calls for backup and oversees the triage unit, and when FBI Special Agent Rick DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and Gov. Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) show up at the scene, they know that the only person they need to consult is, of course, Tawmy.

Tawmy's right there at the center of the action at the command center, taking charge and making sure everyone's on the same page, and thank Gawd he's there to inform DesLauriers how investigations work, imploring "Hey! Listen! I was hawmicide! Witnesses! We should talk to witnesses!  Maybe somebody saw somethin'!" as everyone within earshot nods in agreement. Yeah, because I'm sure veteran FBI Special Agent Rick DesLauriers who, according to his FBI bio, has been an agent since 1987, has no fucking idea how to do his job, so props to Tawmy for being there to show him how it's done. Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman) also holds back on making any decisions until he runs things by Tawmy, who's given a special role in the investigation when DesLauriers asks "Hey, you know this area pretty well, right?" because obviously there's no way any other cawp knows more about Boston than Tawmy Saunders, Super Cawp! Because Tawmy can't be there for every break in the investigation without turning the film into outright fiction, when an FBI agent spots a possible suspect in Dzhokhar in surveillance footage, the first person DesLauriers alerts to this discovery is Tawmy. Later on, Tawmy's also the cop who first spots Dzhokhar hiding in a boat in a Watertown resident's backyard, and that's not long after a shootout between Watertown cops and the Tsarnaev brothers where one Watertown cop opens fire, shouting "Welcome to Watertown, motherfucker!" It's telling that the two best sequences in the film--Chinese college student Dun Meng's (Jimmy O. Yang) carjacking by and subsequent escape from the Tsarnaevs, and Tamerlan's American wife (Melissa Benoist) being interrogated by a sinister black ops agent (Khandi Alexander, killing it in just a few minutes of screen time)--are nail-biting set pieces that don't involve Wahlberg, at least until the Zelig-like Tawmy is the one who responds to Dun's 911 call, because of course he does. Why not just make an Altman-esque ensemble piece showing how all of these people worked together in pursuit of the suspects?  PATRIOTS DAY pays a lot of lip service to the notion of a community coming together but in execution, it's almost all about Tawmy. I get that Tawmy is a symbol of "Boston Strong," but it just gets silly. Why clumsily straddle the line between paying reverent tribute and making a formulaic Mark Wahlberg vehicle, especially when the usually reliable actor responds by turning in what might be his career-worst performance (Tawmy sobbing on his couch and yelling "We're gonna get these motherfuckers!" is embarrassing)?  It's hard to take the film seriously when Tawmy seems to be the only cawp who knows what he's doing, and one with enough juice to get lippy and bark "Who the fuck are you?" to an FBI guy. The real question is "Who the fuck is Tawmy?" (R, 133 mins)

(France/Spain/Belgium - 2016)

The first film in over a decade by acclaimed INNOCENCE director Lucile Hadzihalilovic (she's married to IRREVERSIBLE director Gaspar Noe, edited his 1998 film I STAND ALONE and co-wrote his 2009 film ENTER THE VOID) is an impenetrable arthouse sci-fi/horror mood piece that feels like an aquatic UNDER THE SKIN and can best be described as what might've transpired if David Cronenberg remade THE LITTLE MERMAID. There's some memorable visuals (this was shot on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands) and a pervasive sense of ominous dread throughout, but it all seems to be an aimless, meandering voyage that doesn't really have anything in mind other than low-key and extremely slow-burning squeamishness. In a remote seaside village that seems to be frozen in time, young Nicolas (Max Brebant) is swimming and sees the body of a drowned boy with a bright red starfish attached to his navel. He tells his mother (Julie-Marie Parmentier), who dives in the area where he was swimming and only finds the starfish. There are no adult males in the village, which is populated only by young boys and their mothers, all plain and unemotional, with white eyebrows and their hair pulled back in tight librarian buns. The boys are fed a gruel-ish concoction of goop and worms and given a strange medicine in between visits to a local "hospital" where they're kept for observation and given ultrasounds by the female doctors and nurses. Nicolas becomes convinced that the village mothers are up to something and spies on them as the writhe naked in star-shaped formations, covered in a slimy film along the shore in the dead of night. Convinced his "mother," who has six suction-cup-like growths on her back, is not his mother, Nicolas is given an extended stay at the hospital, where he befriends strange nurse Stella (Roxane Duran), who decides to show him who--or more accurately, what--he really is. It's a lugubriously slow buildup to very little, but there's some effectively unsettling imagery along the way, with a droning score that really contributes to the escalating sense of unease. But mood and style aren't enough to get the job done with EVOLUTION, which ends up being some kind of asexual nightmare with a predictably ambiguous, hackneyed ending suggesting these creatures are about to walk among us. Some interesting ideas here, but EVOLUTION never comes together. (Unrated, 82 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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