Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016)

silence

Boiled down to its essence, Silence is the story of two identically framed shots, both of which take place in the film’s first third. The first is of Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) striding across a beach, accompanied by members of a village in Japan almost wholly inhabited by Kakure Kirishitans (Japanese who worship Christ in secret) that welcome him and the spiritual services he provides with open arms. The second is of Rodrigues stumbling along the very same beach alone in disbelief, the wide and distant framing creating a sense of absence rather than a feeling of grandeur. Of course, no movie, and certainly not one of this magnitude and accomplishment, can be summed up in such a way, but it provides an undeniable contrast that mirrors that of the film of the whole. It is a constant struggle, orchestrated with nigh-impossible finesse by Martin Scorsese and company, between faith and doubt, destruction (physical and spiritual) and endurance, and a score of other eternal opposites. But it is never a simple conflict of East versus West or Christianity or Buddhism, nor does it ever succumb to any sort of extreme. It remains exceedingly faithful and yes, quiet, but in a way that feels irrepressibly moving and impactful, that continues to affect this reviewer days after, and will likely to shake me for years to come.

Scorsese’s confidence and his utter trust in the thematics at the center of his film (and the novel by Shūsaku Endō that it is based on) is such that the driving narrative force is all but absent during much of the film. After introducing the impetus for Rodrigues’s and Father Garupe’s (Adam Driver) perilous journey to Japan, the disappearance and possible conversion of their well-known mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), the film purposefully moves in fits and spurts, never breaking away from Rodrigues’s perspective. Its flow is impeccable, as comfortable when it lingers on the Jesuit padres providing the sorely needed sacramental rituals as when they are itching to continue the search, to leave the outer villages and search among the grave dangers of the cities under the iron rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

This is an unexpectedly quiet and powerful aspect of Silence, occurring even before the unimaginable turmoil that dominates the latter two thirds of the film, the simple statement “We need you.” It is said in a moment of desperation by one of the villagers, but it feels as if it applies to every waking moment of the Kakure Kirishitans’ lives. For them, the arrival of the padres is almost literally life-changing, a return of hope for a hidden people who have been forced to use valiant imitations and a surrogate priest in the face of systemic suppression. It is a comfort born out of an immense hunger, where the gift of a single rosary bead or a handmade cross gives immeasurable satisfaction. Scorsese shows this with utmost clarity, with a profound empathy for their belief almost without reservation.

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Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi, 2016)

fences

Hidden Figures is the strange sort of film where absolutely everything, even and sometimes especially the not insignificant number of well-done parts, act as a sort of detriment. It is a disappointment, for sure, but there is something in its shamelessly crowd-pleasing manner that feels both ingratiating and off-putting.

The first oddity of Hidden Figures is its altogether odd attempts at a sort of verisimilitude through a mixed visual style. Most of the film takes place in flat but serviceable digital, but the opening few minutes, set in the 1930s, are irritatingly manipulated to seem “vintage” (a useless effect since the date is shown in a chyron). But the majority of the work seems to have gone into darkening the images to an absurd extent, an effect which serves as the opposite to the extensive “bright” CGI used in the second half of the film. It isn’t extraneous, as there are vital scenes surrounding the spaceflights of the Mercury 7, but it feels distracting, often coupled with archival footage where the shift from film grain to sleek digital destroys a sense of continuity.

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Railroad Tigers (Ding Sheng, 2016)

railroad-tigers

January is the greatest movie month there is. Not only are we in the lesser metropolises of America finally granted access to tardiest of the previous year’s award hopefuls (see this week’s Silence), but via studio counter-programming logic, we also get Hollywood’s most interesting action films. The bloated prestige actioners get released in the summer (your Marvels and Nolans), while a handful of unstoppable forces stake their claim to winter break (the Star Warses and Camerons), while the suits and bean-counters push the films they don’t know how to exploit to the shadow of Oscar season. This is the month of Paul WS Anderson (his Resident Evil: The Final Chapter opens at the end of the month). It’s also blockbuster season in China, with big titles being released at Christmastime and especially at Lunar New Year, which falls between the end of January and the end of February (it’s January 28 this year). Two years ago the big early January Chinese import was Tsui Hark’s The Taking of Tiger Mountain, last year it was Donnie Yen’s Ip Man 3. This year, we’ve got Railroad Tigers, opening this week at the Pacific Place.

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Friday January 6 – Thursday January 12

Featured Film:

Silence at the Meridian and the Lincoln Square

Every year it seems there’s one movie that doesn’t screen in time to make it onto end of the year lists, but that if it had, would have done quite well. This year, it’s Martin Scorsese’s Silence, which would surely have placed high in our end-of-the-year poll had it played here in time. As it is, it’s eligible for our 2017 poll, but will probably be forgotten by then. But regardless, it’s one of the best films of 2016, the story of Portuguese Jesuits attempting to evade persecution in 17th Century Japan, it’s at once remarkably nuanced in its exploration of faith and colonialism while remaining resolutely materialist and physical. The worthy final piece of Scorsese’s great trilogy of explicitly religious films, alongside The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Jackie (Pablo Larraín) Fri-Thurs
Master (Cho Uiseok) Fri-Thurs
Lost & Found (Joseph Itaya) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982) Fri-Tues The Final Cut
The Last Starfighter (Nick Castle, 1984) Fri-Mon

SIFF Egyptian:

Jackie (Pablo Larraín) Fri-Thurs

Century Federal Way:

Master (Cho Uiseok) Fri-Thurs
Carousel (Henry King, 1956) Sun & Weds Only
One Piece Film: Gold (Hiroaki Miyamoto) Tues Only

Grand Cinema:

Jackie (Pablo Larraín) Fri-Thurs

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Mifune: The Last Samurai (Steven Okazaki) Fri-Thurs
Saturday Secret Matinees: Presented by the Sprocket Society (Various directors & years) Sat Only 16mm

Landmark Guild 45th:

One Piece Film: Gold (Hiroaki Miyamoto) Tues Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Silence (Martin Scorsese) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Dangal (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs
Jackie (Pablo Larraín) Fri-Thurs
Carousel (Henry King, 1956) Sun & Weds Only
One Piece Film: Gold (Hiroaki Miyamoto) Tues Only

Regal Meridian:

Silence (Martin Scorsese) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Dangal (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Harry Benson: Shoot First (Justin Bare & Matthew Miele) Fri-Thurs
2016 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour Weds Only
Il Solengo (Alessio Rigo de Righi & Matteo Zoppis) Starts Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

Railroad Tigers (Ding Sheng) Fri-Thurs Our Review
One Piece Film: Gold (Hiroaki Miyamoto) Tues Only

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Jackie (Pablo Larraín) Fri-Thurs
Dangal (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs

Seven Gables:

Jackie (Pablo Larraín) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

The Uncondemned (Michele Mitchell & Nick Louvel) Weds Only Director Q&A
Nordic Lights Film Festival Starts Thurs Full Program

Sundance Cinemas:

Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Uptown:

Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986) Sun Only Quote-along

In Wide Release:

Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi) Our Review
Fences (Denzel Washington) Our Review
La La Land (Damien Chazelle) Our Review
Assassin’s Creed (Justin Kurzel) Our Review
Moonlight 
(Barry Jenkins)  Our Review
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) Our Review