Film

Three films: Passengers (2016), Nocturnal Animals (2016) and Silence (2016)

Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016) 3/5

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

Nocturnal Animals has had some rave reviews with people comparing it to Kubrick and the Coen Brothers for complex style and themes. To be honest I didn’t quite get it, parts of it reminded me of Blue Ruin, Blood Simple and Eyes Wide Shut, but the dual scenes of violence and grief of a man struggling for justice in one fantasy narrative that’s read by the author’s lonely ex-wife, as somekind of gesture of spite, just didn’t quite work for me; perhaps the story itself is meant to represent the author’s suicide, as I would imagine in a Paul Auster novel, I have no idea.

I sometimes send books to people I’ve fallen out with, partly as a gesture of reconciliation and partly to get the last word – I always wonder if anyone cares what happens to me or what I think or feel. Shouldn’t there have been a scene where Gyllenhaal contacts Adams before the restuarant scene, surely they spoke at some point and discussed the novel so that he could later stand her up? Which would’ve made him look petty and vindicative. At first I actually thought she was just going to the restuarant on her own after she’d enjoyed the novel, but quickly assumed she was meant to meet someone, Gyllenhaal, or her husband, which was why she looked abit upset, but I was also thinking perhaps she was just relaxing for the first time on her own without worrying about either her miserable job or boring husband.

Silence (Martin Scorsese, 2016) 3/5

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It takes 2 years to make a film,but only 2 hours for a critic to review it’ Stanley Kubrick. Well, apparently it took 28 years for Scorsese to get his dream project made, which I’d assumed was the case for Gangs of New York which he’d wanted to direct since the 70s – and I think was alluded to in Steven Bach’s tellall The Final Cut.

What I didn’t realise was that Silence had already been adapted for the screen in 1971 by Masahiro Shinoda in Japan from the same novel, so perhaps this is another example of Hollywood trying a remake of a popular (often better) foreign title (eg. Solaris, The Vanishing, Insomnia, The Departed, Old Boy, Vanilla Sky, The Girl with the dragon tattoo – I prefer US version of Infernal Affairs to the Hong Kong version). I haven’t seen the original Silence, but watching Scorsese’s lacklustre story about renegade priests seeking salvation in medieval Japan shows the same flaws of sparse dialogue, exotic scenery and long takes as previous attempts at exploring the conflict between divinity and politics (eg. The Mission, Tree of Life, Last Temptation of Christ, Kundun), but with none of the inventiveness of something like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah (2014); which downplayed the sacrosanct preconceptions of its source material, and didn’t take it so seriously.

Religious iconograhy is nothing new to Scorsese’s films, in fact it seems like the trademark theme which distinguishes him from other auteur filmmakers (Stone, Spielberg, Coppola, Tarantino). He was raised Catholic and perhaps the questions of faith and God provide symbolism and themes relevant to Hollywood and Western culture, plus he happens to tell interesting stories regardless of this. The slow motion, almost ritualistic style of violence and suffering in films like Shutter Island, Cape Fear, Goodfellas and Raging Bull appear to emphasis the qualms we have about death, morality and guilt.
Silence reminded me alot of The Mission (1986) or Black Robe (1991), about missionaries on a futile quest to civilise a foreign peoples resistant to change and the dangers this provokes. Although it feels like Scorsese already covered this topic in both The Last Temptation of Christ and Kundun, then perhaps Silence can be seen as the final part of a pseudo-historic trilogy exploring these themes. While Last Temptation was about Christ and the crucifixion, Kundun was about the Dalia Lama, the Buddha incarnate, and therefore Silence appears to be a progression between East and West doctrines.

Passengers (Morten Tyldum, 2016) 2/3

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I was a bit drunk when I watched this, but afterwards I thought ‘wow you really don’t need interesting characters to tell a story, all you need is two good-looking actors lost in space for some reason’. Seriously, it’s like The Martian meets Love Story, but definitely more ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry’ than ‘I’m gonna science the shit out of this, fuck you Mars!’. This is a romantic ‘chick flick’, in fact my sister even said it was great and Chris Pratt’s performance was brilliant, weirdly, other reviews I’ve read have described it as ‘shallow’ and that it’s J-Law’s performance that carries the film, although she mainly undresses and cries for the most part.

Perhaps I’m overthinking it or maybe I’m just old and not romantic, but neither character was especially charming or funny enough to make this film worth the 100 million it probably cost. Moreover, I detected a definite phallocentrism or sexism with the characters. Chris Pratt’s character is a hunky dude but also a blue-collar engineer who likes to build things and happens to know horteculture and rocketscience. J-Law is a beautiful Ivy league intellectual, but also athletic and free-spirited, and was inspired by her father, a prize-winning author who died when she was 17 no less. Strong male role model?

For the romance scenes the characters spent alot of time just drinking or doing aerobics. During the third act climax, where Pratt falls into peril, he an engagement ring  before saying the line ‘I would’ve built you a house and read your novel’. Somehow, in reality I don’t think Pratt’s character would’ve been quite as sensitve or interested in tree-planting, and probably would’ve spent more time watching football or reading car magazines, or that J-Law wouldn’t have overlooked his reasons for unlocking her hibernation pod. Surely he would’ve released someone he might have had something in common with or who could atleast unlocked the crew’s chamber to fix the ship.

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