Tag Archives: martin scorsese

Review: ‘Silence’

dfm_silence-poster-300An impressively devout expression of religious faith that seeks to answer some of mankind’s most pressing questions, Silence demands respect and inspires debate, all while displaying the absolute command of master filmmaker Martin Scorsese.

Now 74, Scorsese has reportedly desired to adapt Endô Shûsaku’s novel for some 25 years (or, soon after The Last Temptation of Christ). The novel, first published in 1966, reflected Endô’s views on Christianity from a personal perspective; he became a practicing Catholic at a young age in the 1930s. Shinoda Masahiro made the first film version, Chinmoku, in 1971.

The movie follows two Jesuit priests from Portugal who travel to Japan in 1630 on a mission to locate a missing priest. Before they leave, they are released from their assignment by Father Valignano (Ciaran Hinds), who informs them that Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has committed apostasy and publicly rejected the faith. Still, Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Garrpe (Adam Driver) insist on going; Ferreira was their beloved mentor, and even if he has committed apostasy, they feel obligated to save him.

So off the priests go. Officially, Japan has outlawed Christianity, but as soon as they land in country, thanks to drunken former Christian Kichijiro (Kubozuka Yôsuke), Rodrigues and Garrpe come into contact with a group of “hidden Christians” who are grateful for their presence. The local Christians persist in their beliefs, despite the knowledge that government officials constantly search for them, intent on persecuting them until they recant by stepping on a fumie, a small stone with an image of Christ carved into it.

Initially pleased with the opportunity to provide for the villagers’ spiritual needs, Rodrigues and Garrpe are tested by the need to remain in hiding during the daylight, and their consequent inability to search for their mentor Ferreira. This slowly sets up one of the essential dilemmas of the film, as the priests eventually learn that the government has decided to persecute the priests, not by torturing them, but by torturing others until the priests recant.

Silence is less a story and more of a meditation, largely constructed around long, grueling sequences that become challenging to endure, especially after Rodrigues and Garrpe are separated. Rodrigues is imprisoned alone in an open-air cell, where he can watch the horrors visited upon fellow believers. He is regularly questioned, not for the purpose of learning about his religious beliefs, but to prompt him to question his faith; all he has to do is take one step, the officials taunt, just one step on the face of Christ (on the fumie) and all the torture and suffering will cease.

Perhaps what makes the film even more grueling than might be expected is the knowledge that Scorsese is at the helm. He exercises great restraint, avoiding his usual visual grace notes — save for an occasional “God’s eye” view from above and one or two gracefully swooping, extended ‘follow’ shots — and instead makes the suffering as palpable as possible. The locations are well-chosen (Taiwan standing in for Japan) and Scorsese and company, including cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, film editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and production designer Dante Ferretti, make good use of them in recreating 17th century Japan.

The performances by Garfield and Driver are soul-wrenching. Film director Tsukamoto Shinya portrays a hidden Christian named Mokichi in an affecting manner, while Asano Tadanobu gives his role as a government interpreter a villainous gleam.

Silence is a film to be admired and respected, more than it is to be enjoyed. The long stretches of inaction are a test of patience to watch, which is likely what Scorsese intended. After all, if we find it difficult to watch fictionalized depictions of torture and suffering, what must God think when he looks down upon Earth and sees the real thing?

The film opens at the Angelika Film Centers in Dallas and Plano on Friday, January 6.

Review: ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Roars

Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese's 'The Wolf of Wall Street'
Leonardo DiCaprio in Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’

Tapping into a primal force that is mercifully unbound by decorum or good taste, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio tear up New York’s financial district in their latest collaboration.

The Wolf of Wall Street finds both director and actor baying at the moon, streaking naked for all to see their shortcomings and strengths, flexing their muscles and refusing to cower at the prospect of an unconventional narrative and an unrepentantly avaricious protagonist. Inspired by a real-life criminal, Jordan Belfort is a consummate salesperson.

But he is also a particularly odious personality, a vile excuse for a human being who, early in his career as a stockbroker, developed a thickly-calloused disregard for his clients’ financial fortunes; as long he profited, all bets were off. His thirst for wealth was not quenched with basic commission fees, and soon enough he devised schemes to rip off more money from more investors at a dizzying rate, quickly totaling into the tens of millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains.

DiCaprio is, frankly, too old to play a naive, fresh-out-of-college kid whose first day as a licensed stockbroker on Wall Street coincides with the nosedive that the stock market took in October 1987. Yet he gives a good suggestion of youth and inexperience, a prototypical sponge, eager to soak in the dynamic, profanity-laden, greed-obsessed, misogynistic culture that quickly envelops him. Even as a young person, his ability to deliver a compelling sales pitch over the telephone sets him apart, his self-confidence cancelling out his insincerity.

Focusing intently on the almighty dollar, Belfort steps easily into drug addiction, which then enables his obsessive personality to indulge freely in all manner of debauchery and sexual promiscuity, no matter that he is married with children. As his lifestyle becomes more luxurious, his sexual activity remains anonymous; he can only relate to women as naked vessels on which to line up cocaine or upon which to empty his seed. He drifts from one wife to the next as though he were trading in a lightly-used sports car for a brand-new model.

Committing fully to the idea of Belfort as someone who is not hindered by the mores of ordinary mortals allows DiCaprio to bellow and beseech and shout and scream and otherwise “overact” in a manner that would be inappropriate for any type of character that is not so over-sized and exaggerated. Largely presented from Belfort’s point of view, The Wolf of Wall Street begins with his voice-over narration, breaks the fourth wall as he addresses the camera directly, and then employs the device only when needed to shore up the ostensible story.

Even as DiCaprio breaks the rules as a leading man, engendering little sympathy for his character’s transgressions, Scorsese breaks all kinds of narrative rules, often drifting away from anything resembling a plot, while calling less attention to his directorial hand. Indeed, much of the whirling action feels tailor-made for his stylish flourishes, so that his craftmanship makes it impossible to see any seams.

The bottom line is that Jordan Belfort surrounded himself with a gang of idiots, and then he made them all rich by swindling unsuspecting clients. The idiots somehow managed to do this while ingesting copious amounts of drugs and engaging in a continuous sexual orgy, according to the film. Scorsese recreates a universe of debauchery, follows Belfort and his friends as they swim in the filth, and then sits back as the chickens eventually come home to roost.

None of this, however, even begins to suggest the heights of hilarity that are reached. (I cannot recall any Scorsese movie making me laugh out loud as often as this one does.) Nor does it touch on the prodigious amount of nudity that is shown and the numerous acts of sexuality that are portrayed. (I should note that most of those scenes are brief and the views fleeting.)

Yet the ridiculous, mirth-inducing conduct and the extreme sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll all serve a purpose: Jordan Belfort and his cohorts lived in a world that was apart from and existed in isolation from the rest of humanity. They were rich, and, as Belfort brags at one point, he knew how to use the money.

Aiding and abetting Scorsese and DiCaprio is a fine cast that exceeds expectations, most notably Jonah Hill as Belfort’s partner-in-crime, Donnie Azoff, who lives only to ‘get effed up.’ Margot Robbie makes a solid impression as a beautiful woman who gets mixed up with Belfort; Rob Reiner is great fun as Belfort’s anxious father; Matthew McConaughey sets the tone as an early mentor; Kyle Chandler supplies grounded balance as a straight-arrow FBI agent; and on and on: Jake Hoffman, Jon Bernthal, Jean Dujardin, and Joanna Lumley all make key contributions.

Behind the scenes, Terence Winter wrestled Belfort’s book into a screenplay that may only have been a blueprint, but it’s a wonderful blueprint, with a foundation that gives Scorsese license to riff into the eternal. Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography and Bob Shaw’s production design are spot-on, while the musical score often plays second fiddle to Scorsese’s usual, excellent mix-tape of pop, rock, and punk songs. (It seemed that more cover versions were used this time around, which may reflect in a small way that Belfort re-used tried and true sales techniques.)

Scorsese’s most important collaborator is Thelma Schoonmaker, who has been editing his films since, oh, almost forever. So the rhythms, including the stops and the starts and the silences in which sound drops out at certain moments that makes the scenes mesmerizing, and then music kicks in to accent or undermine what’s happening, are familiar and yet different each time out.

The Wolf of Wall Street made my sweet spot explode. It’s a smart, explosive, and very, very funny movie, with an acute understanding of the peculiarities of greed and its corrosive effect upon the soul.

Review originally published at Twitch. The film opens wide throughout Dallas/Ft. Worth on Wednesday, December 25.

DiCaprio, McConaughey, Scorsese: ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ Trailer Roars

The rip-roaring first trailer for Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street has exploded online. Based on a true story, Leonardo DiCaprio plays a New York stockbrocker in the 1990s who enjoys smashing success and a hard-partying lifestyle that only Manhattan can offer. Matthew McConaughey and Jonah Hill also star; the movie is due in theaters on November 15. [Apple via MovieClips]

Review: ‘Hugo’

Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo'
Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo'

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo exerts a tremendous, gravitational pull upon anyone who loves movies. To watch Scorsese, a master of cinema, deconstruct the art form itself is thrilling, instructive, and gratifying; to experience it in 3D is mind-expanding. It’s the first truly great use of 3D in motion pictures as a means of extended enchantment.

Oddly, perhaps, Hugo outwardly pushes away intellectual analysis, presenting itself as a simple fantasy. Yet it’s an intelligent children’s story that refuses to pander, and enraptured many of the young ones at an advance screening I attended. While it can be taken at face value, the film contains layers of meaning waiting to be unwrapped.

While I was watching Hugo, I was both fascinated and distracted. Its subject is time, and it refuses to hurry, so that allowed opportunity for my contradictory feelings to war with each other. My own sense of wonder insists that Hugo is a must-see in theaters, in 3D if you can, even if its imperfections sometimes undermine its own good intentions.

Young Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield, believably stressed) is an orphan living inside the walls of the Paris train station in the 1930s, a whiz kid who was brought up by his clockmaker father (Jude Law) to become a magician of space and time. Hugo is blessed with an innate sense of mechanics; combined with his father’s training, he is well-positioned to keep all the clocks in the train station running on time.

Notwithstanding his abilities, Hugo is an orphan during the Great Depression, so he lives a precarious day-to-day existence, stealing food from markets and passing delivery carts, and also hiding from the persnickety Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen, in a generally restrained performance). The Inspector suffered a debilitating leg injury during the Great War, forcing him to wear a metal leg brace that occasionally locks up on him, and serving as a bell on a cat’s neck for Hugo.


What commands Hugo’s interest is a toy shop in the station run by the snarling Georges (Ben Kingsley, who is sharp and affecting). It’s not so much the toys, though, as what’s inside them: gears and pendulums and nuts and bolts and screws and things. Hugo’s fascination is more of an obsession, but when Georges catches him stealing and demands the contents of his pockets, it’s Hugo’s notebook — with drawings of a mechanical man — that steals Georges’ attention.

— From my review at Twitch.

Hugo is now playing wide across the Metroplex.