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Hacksaw Ridge

(USA/Australia 2016)

“Thou shalt not kill.”

—The Ten Commandments

“I don’t know how I’m gonna live with myself if I don’t stay true to what I believe.”

—Desmond Doss

Like him or not, Mel Gibson has what it takes to direct a massive Hollywood picture. Hacksaw Ridge, his first directorial job in a decade, demonstrates that much—just in case earlier films like Braveheart, The Passion of the Christ, and Apocalypto didn’t.

Hacksaw Ridge depicts the remarkable and true story of Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield), the Lynchburg, Virginia, Seventh-day Adventist who served as a medic in the U.S. Army during World War II. His story is unique: he enlisted, but as a conscientous objector for religious reasons. Refusing to kill or carry a gun, he rescued 75 or so wounded soldiers from the field during the Battle of Okinawa (http://www.collegedale-americanlegion.org/Pages/DesmondTDoss.aspx). President Harry S. Truman awarded Doss the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1945, the first time such a high accolade was bestowed upon someone who never even discharged a weapon (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Desmond_Doss).

From a technical standpoint, Hacksaw Ridge is pretty awesome. The story is a good one. The battle scenes are clearly the centerpiece: they’re loud and extremely graphic. The prosthetics are spot on realistic. Cinematographer Simon Duggan starts out with warm, almost sepia tones in the early civilian scenes, but as the setting moves onto the battlefield he ditches color in favor of a washed out black, green, and white palette. Shaky closeups, slow motion shots, blurry pans, and quick cuts create a sense of confusion as gunfire and explosions and human carnage take over the screen. Hacksaw Ridge is no Son of Saul (https://moviebloke.com/2016/02/11/son-of-saul-saul-fia/), but it still overwhelms the senses albeit in a distanced, staged blockbuster way.

Otherwise, Hacksaw Ridge didn’t impress me all that much. At its core, it’s a standard-issue war movie complete with a sugary subplot about the girl, Dorothy Schutte (Teresa Palmer), waiting for Doss to hurry up and get back home so they can get married, and lots of humorous if mawkish male bonding through nicknames, insults, physical attacks, and simply having each other’s back. There’s a military court scene, trite “war is hell, boys” lines, soldiers who freak out once they get on the battlefield, likable characters who perish, and of course the superhuman heroic deeds of Doss.

Most character background is given hurried and superficial treatment: Doss’s alcoholic veteran father (Hugo Weaving) and his bad experience in World War I, Doss and Dorothy’s quick courtship, even the failed attempts of Sgt. Howell (Vince Vaughn) and Cpt. Glover (Sam Worthington) to persuade Doss to leave the Army. Too bad, because a little more insight could have made the film stronger. A particularly glaring example is brother Hal (Nathaniel Buzolic), who simply vanishes once he shows up at the dinner table in uniform. What happens to him? Did I miss it?

I’m conflcited on the message here, but I guess that’s okay because frankly Hacksaw Ridge is a conflicted film. Gibson maintains that it’s an anti-war statement (http://www.christianpost.com/news/mel-gibson-hacksaw-ridge-is-an-anti-war-movie-170318/). Fine, but that’s hard to believe considering the disproportionate amount of time and resources given to overblown battle scenes. I’m not sure the film honors Doss or his pacifist convictions. Moreover, what sure seems like a blatant parallel to the so-called religious liberty movement is, in my view, misguided and hollow, especially when Doss’s faith is treated more or less as incidental. Hacksaw Ridge sustained my interest, but I would have appreciated a little more depth.

With Luke Bracey, Darcy Bryce, Rachel Griffiths, Firass Dirani, Michael Sheasby, Luke Pegler, Nico Cortez, Goran D. Kleut, Harry Greenwood, Damien Thomlinson, Ben O’Toole

Production: Pandemonium Films, Permut Productions, Vendian Entertainment, Kylin Pictures

Distribution: Summit Entertainment (USA)

139 minutes
Rated R

(ArcLight) C+

http://www.hacksawridge.movie

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Split

(USA 2016)

Poor Kevin Wendell Crumb (James McAvoy). His mother (Rosemary Howard) abused him when he was a child, and he developed split personalities to deal with it. Now, he’s got a thing for watching underage girls dance naked. Dennis, the sternest of Kevin’s personalities, has asserted control and drives him to kidnap three teenage girls (Anya Taylor-Joy, Jessica Sula, and Haley Lu Richardson) leaving a birthday party at a lame Chuck E. Cheese place. He locks them up in a dungeon in his underground industrial hideout. Kevin is undergoing psychiatric care, but his doctor (Betty Buckley from Eight is Enough) senses something horribly amiss when she receives email from each of his 23 personalities seeking an urgent appointment. Kevin’s personalities prepare the girls for the arrival of “the Beast,” the last and most powerful personality. Only one of them is poised to survive.

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!

M. Night Shyamalan’s Split is, in a word, stupid. The story has potential, but it suffers a major breakdown pretty quickly. It’s more silly than scary. I found myself tracking horror movie clichés like a checklist and asking how many more can fit into the plot. I saw the so-called twists coming before they turned the corner. The reference to another movie at the end is mildly amusing, I guess, but not what I’d call clever. The parallel to one kidnapped girl’s childhood, shown in flashbacks, warrants a great big ‘whatever.’ The only thing Split has going for it is McAvoy, who emulates Jude Law doing an impression of Eminem impersonating Justin Timberlake. His characters are fun, particularly severe schoolmarm type Patricia (for whom McAvoy wears heels) and little boy Hedwig. However, even they get tiresome, coming off as a mishmosh of standup routines after awhile, like sticking all of the characters from Little Britain into one body.

I could make a lame comment about replacing “pl” with “h” in the title and getting a far more accurate name for this film, but I’ll just say I wasn’t impressed and leave it at that.

With Izzie Coffey, Sebastian Arcelus, Brad William Henke, Neal Huff, Bruce Willis

Production: Blinding Edge Pictures and Blumhouse Productions

Distribution: Universal Pictures

117 minutes
Rated PG-13

(ArcLight) D

http://www.splitmovie.com

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Arrival

(USA 2016)

“If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?”

—Louise Banks

Denis Villeneuve’s Arrival isn’t exactly what I expected. A sort of updated Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Eric Heisserer’s adaptation of Ted Chiang’s Story of Your Life is a pretty straightforward observation about language. However, it’s a bit more academic than the average alien movie: it examines the theory of linguistic relativity, the idea that the structure of a language shapes the way its speakers relate to their environment (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linguistic_relativity) (http://www.linguisticsociety.org/resource/language-and-thought).

12 mysterious otherworldly spacecrafts land in what appear to be random places all over Earth—including remote Montana. It isn’t clear why they’re here, and people are freaking out. Not surprisingly, world leaders are perplexed—some are handling the so-called invasion better than others.

WARNING: Potential spoilers ahead!

The aliens, octopus-like creatures dubbed “heptapods,” hold visiting hours each day, allowing those who wish to engage them to do so—up close and personal inside their ship. A U.S. Army colonel (totally underused Forest Whitaker) seeks out linguistics professor Louise Banks (Amy Adams) for a mission working with physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) and a team of scientists to figure out how to communicate with the aliens and find out what they want. Banks learns that they have a language—circles and curlycues that they blow into the air. The more of their “words” she learns, the more Banks has visions of her deceased daughter (Jadyn Malone, Abigail Pniowsky, and Julia Scarlett Dan).

Arrival does a nice job showing the limitations of language. A clever plot development involving a mutual misunderstanding of a word demonstrates how things can unravel on a dime. I like the depiction of the aliens in a totally plausible form. Villeneuve slowly builds suspense; he kept my interest almost all the way through. Sadly, Arrival pulls an emotionally manipulative sleight of hand toward the end. The wrap up is insipid; it knocked the film down a few pegs for me.

With Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma

Production: Lava Bear Films, 21 Laps Entertainment, FilmNation Entertainment

Distribution: Paramount Pictures (USA), Sony Pictures Releasing (International)

116 minutes
Rated PG-13

(ArcLight) C+

http://www.arrivalmovie.com

http://sites.sonypictures.net/arrival/site/

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Clueless

(USA 1995)

“Searching for a boy in high school is as useless as searching for meaning in a Pauly Shore movie.”

—Cher Horowitz

The first screening of Chicago International Film Festival’s Totally ’90s series is Clueless, a sort of link between ’80s classics like Valley Girl and Heathers and later films like Election, 10 Things I Hate About You, Mean Girls, and even Fox’s current television series Scream Queens. Adapted from Jane Austen’s Emma, which I haven’t read and probably never will, Clueless transmits the novel’s heroine across time and space from outside London in the early Nineteenth Century to Beverly Hills in the late Twentieth. It’s a cute idea that works—I didn’t know until this screening that the story is 200 years old. As if!

“Hymenally challenged” (i.e., virgin) 16 year old California girl Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) is vain, popular, and rich. Perhaps not surprisingly, she’s incredibly superficial, even if she means well. Her mother died in “a freak accident during a routine liposuction,” leaving her father, brass-balled Type A litigator Mel (Dan Hedaya), to raise her. When Cher gets a bad report card, she enlists her bestie Dionne (Stacey Dash), a hip black version of herself, to help fix up two nerdy tough-grading teachers, Mr. Hall (Wallace Shawn) and Miss Geist (Twink Caplan). Her plan is simple: she wants to get them laid so they’ll chill out and be receptive to negotiating her grades. Meanwhile, Cher adopts a new student, “tragically unhip” druggie tomboy Tai (Brittany Murphy) as a pet project: Cher plans to make Tai more like Cher. Duh. Semi-crunchy, socially conscious stepbrother Josh (Paul Rudd) does not approve of Cher’s antics.

Written and directed by Fast Times at Ridgemont High‘s Amy Heckerling, Clueless feels like an ’80s throwback, but it’s still a lot of fun. Loaded with great zingers and one-liners, I laughed a lot. It also has a ton of references to ’90s pop culture that clearly date the film (Luke Perry? Snapple? A Cranberries CD?! Egads!). Clueless lacks a ceratin bite that makes “mean girl” flicks so, well, biting. I guess a large part is because Cher and Dionne aren’t really mean girls; they’re actually pretty naive. After all, it takes Cher awhile to figure out that Christian (Justin Walker), the guy she lusts after, is a friend of Dorothy. Hello?

With Julie Brown, Jeremy Sisto, Breckin Meyer, Donald Faison, Elisa Donovan

Production: Paramount Pictures

Distribution: Paramount Pictures (USA)

97 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Public Chicago) B-

Chicago International Film Festival

https://www.facebook.com/CluelessMovie

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Gold

(USA 2016)

“The taste of it on your tongue, the feel of it on your fingers—it’s like a drug.”

—Mike Acosta

Not everything gold glitters; such is the case with Stephen Gaghan’s Gold, his first film since the acclaimed Syriana over a decade ago. Matthew McConaughey is Kenny Wells, a redneck businessman running his collapsing mining company from a smoke-filled tavern in Reno, Nevada, in 1988. Acting on little more than gut and some pawn shop cash from hocking gifts he gave his girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard) in better days shown as the movie opens, he abruptly heads to Indonesia to track down geologist Mike Acosta (Édgar Ramírez) to find a gold mine.

Their first meeting doesn’t go well at all. Looking like he stepped out of Banana Republic when it was a safari store in the ’80s, Acosta is shrewd, rugged, and quite experienced. Balding and sweaty Wells, with his jagged teeth and paunch, is sloppy and desperate. He reads as broke. Unimpressed, Acosta passes when Wells suggests they partner up—until the latter raises $200,000 for the proposed venture. After a series of miscalculations and mishaps (including a bout with malaria), they hit the jackpot in the middle of a jungle. Suddenly, the same banks and big investors that turned up their nose at Wells before want in on the action.

Gold isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not the impressive work it wants to be. The pace is fine, but the plot twists are unsurprising if not downright predictable. The problem is that I’ve seen this story before, and recently: mainstream films like The Big Short (https://moviebloke.wordpress.com/2016/01/03/the-big-short/), The Wolf of Wall Street, and American Hustle deal with the same themes in a similar manner. I’ve seen McConaughey be the same character, too. The curious statement “inspired by a true story” after the opening credits is the cue to something I found disappointing: Gold is a fictionalized account of a true story, changed enough that I guess it can’t claim to be “based on” reality. I’m not sure where that line is drawn, but it turns out much of the story is made up (http://www.financialpost.com/m/search/blog.html?b=business.financialpost.com/news/mining/gold-the-movie-about-the-bre-x-mining-scandal-that-isnt-about-bre-x&q=Bre). Plus, it’s never a good sign when the music in a film—here, artists ranging from Orange Juice to New Order and Joy Division to the Pixies and a new song by Iggy Pop and Danger Mouse—elicits the most enthusiastic response from me. Overall, meh.

Also starring Corey Stoll, Toby Kebbell, Craig T. Nelson, Stacy Keach, Rachael Taylor, Joshua Harto, and Timothy Simons

Produced by Boies/Schiller Films, Black Bear Pictures, and Highway 61 Films

Distributed by TWC-Dimension

121 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) C

http://gold-film.com

 

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The Founder

(USA 2016)

Ray Kroc’s name is synonymous with McDonald’s, the ubiquitous fast food institution that hasn’t needed an introduction for the entire time I’ve been alive. It seems strange that I’ve never known much about him even after living in Chicago for almost 20 years—at least, not until The Founder. Then again, maybe I still don’t.

Kroc (Michael Keaton) is a middle aged traveling salesman who hocks milkshake mixers to restaurants, mainly drive-ins and diners, in the 1950s. Based in Chicago, he has a nice enough home in suburban Arlington Heights, a supportive if not ambitious wife, Ethel (Laura Dern), and the means to afford a country club membership. Nonetheless, Kroc is neither wildly successful nor affluent. He isn’t setting the world on fire selling milkshake mixers, and his business ideas never seem to pan out. He doesn’t fit in with the WASPy professionals Ethel gravitates toward. Being the entrepreneur he is, he yearns for more.

While making cold calls in Missouri, Kroc gets a big order for mixers from San Bernardino, California. He drives out there and finds McDonald’s, an idyllic burger joint owned and operated by two brothers, affable Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and crusty Dick (Nick Offerman). Shiny and clean, the place is a welcoming sight. Mac shows Kroc the kitchen: it’s an intricate and super-efficient assembly line that delivers consistenly appetizing product in minutes. Disposable packaging means customers can take their food with them and eat it wherever they want, keeping the line moving while eliminating the need for clean up (not to mention dishes). Employees work together as a team. The customer service is flawlessly friendly. Dick explains that high-quality food and fast service are the hallmarks of McDonald’s. The brothers have hit something with their formula: the place is slammed with a customer base that overwhelmingly consists of middle class families. Kroc wants to franchise McDonald’s, something the brothers tried before but it didn’t work.

The Founder focuses less on Kroc’s personal life and more on the many problems he overcomes in executing his ambitious plan to make McDonald’s and its Golden Arches a symbol of America that seemlessly fits, as he puts it at one point, right in with the Stars and Stripes and crosses on churches. There’s a lot of dry stuff dealing with the nuts and bolts of business here—business models, contract negotiations, marketing, quality control, real estate, financing, trademarks, cutting costs, and of course double crossing. It’s a timely film—I can’t think of a more fitting movie to see on this particular Inauguration Day: one of the promotional posters for The Founder calls Kroc a rule breaker, a risk taker, and a game changer, and for better or worse that’s what he turned out to be. Michael Keaton is perfect for this role, playing Kroc as a ruthlessly driven goofball who has no good ideas of his own but certainly knows how to capitalize on those of others. American history is rich in such characters.

That said, I must admit that I have no idea how much of this story is accurate—not that I was compelled to find out on my own. The Founder doesn’t make me care. Pieces of the story seem to be missing. Robert Siegel’s script isn’t exactly objective—it borders on propaganda, especially when he overemphasizes the simplicity of the McDonald brothers. John Lee Hancock is a capable director, but he’s so ambiguous about his subject that he doesn’t say what he makes of him. I’m not sure he knows. His treatment lacks a certain nuance the material demands that could’ve made The Founder a lot more than it is. It’s not a terrible film, but I had higher expectations.

Also starring B.J. Novak, Linda Cardellini, Patrick Wilson, Justin Randell Brooke

Produced by FilmNation Entertainment, The Combine, Faliro House Productions S.A.

Distributed by The Weinstein Company

115 minutes
Rated PG-13

(ArcLight) C

http://thefounderfilm.com

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20th Century Women

(USA 2016)

“We are at a turning point in our history.”

—President Jimmy Carter

I was a little kid in the Seventies, but I have many indelibly vivid memories of the decade: huge cars, gas lines, expensive meat, hijacked planes, Sanka and Sweet’N Low, smoking everywhere, hard rock, punk rock, disco, macrame, spider plants, the Bicentennial, Sky Lab, Victoriana (we had Mucha posters in our mustard-colored kitchen), that strange Holly Hobby aesthetic. It seems like it all changed immediately when Reagan took office in 1981.

20th Century Women captures a slice of American life on that unique, unremembered and largely disowned cusp. Set as a flashback to 1979 with voiceovers that repeatedly remind us that we’re looking backward, the film is a rather remarkable time capsule. The story is simple: Dorothea (Annette Bening) is my grandparents’ age (born in 1924). She had her only son, Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann), late in life—i.e., over age 40. She’s been divorecd for a few years, which was fine until Jamie hit puberty. Now, she needs help understanding him. She enlists his two closest allies—Julie (Elle Fanning), whose pants he wants to get into, and Abbie (Greta Gerwig), a postpunk fuckup—to help her figure him out.

Loosely based on actual events from director and writer Mike Mills’s childhood, 20th Century Women is fun to watch. Growing up in a house of females myself, I relate to a lot of his experiences. I loved all the Talking Heads, too. Oh!—and Siouxsie and the Banshees! That said, this film borders on overbearing with its nostalgia. It could’ve been so much better—the material and the talent are both there, but Mills goes for easy returns that don’t pay off. The story falls flat. Perhaps a quote from Bening in an earlier film, the superior and far more interesting Running with Scissors, succinctly sums up my problem here: “It’s shit, Fern. It’s sentimental. It’s emotionally dishonest. It implodes into nothingness.”

I wasn’t bored, and I didn’t hate 20th Century Women. But I’m never going to see this movie again. Too bad, because the acting is great. It’s a misfire due to its execution. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Also starring Billy Crudup, Vitaly Andrew LeBeau, Curran Walters, Toni Christopher, Jimmy Carter (public domain footage)

Produced by Annapurna Pictures, Archer Gray, and Modern People

Distributed by A24

119 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) C

http://20thcenturywomen-movie.com

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping

(USA 2016)

One of the best things to come from Saturday Night Live has to be its Digital Shorts segment. With titles like “Laser Cats!,” “Please Don’t Cut My Testicles,” “Jizz in My Pants,” and of course “Dick in a Box” and its follow up, “Motherlover,” the angle was decidedly crass and juvenile—high school boy stuff loaded with potty, sex, and to a lesser degree drug humor with the occasional reference to geek fodder, usually some work of the science fiction or fantasy genre. Written and produced by The Lonely Island—comedy trio Jorma Taccone, Akiva Schaffer, and Andy Samberg—the genius lied in the creators’ astute balance of pop cultural literacy, musical aptitude, and complete absurdism. Generally performed as music videos for rap and pop songs so spot on they sounded real, Digital Shorts attracted the likes of Steve Martin, Natalie Portman, Lady Gaga, Betty White, and of course Justin Timberlake.

In Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, The Lonely Island expands its formula into a feature length film, playing former members of Style Boyz, a boy band whose biggest hit was “The Donkey Roll” (https://youtu.be/-mRVK8-XfEU). After a rift over credit, the Boyz break up and go their separate ways. Lawrence (Schaffer) and Owen (Taccone) fail to duplicate their success, but narcissistic and dubiously talented frontman Conner Friel (Samberg) has a huge blockbuster with his solo album Thriller, Also. The film, done as a mockumentary very much in the style of This Is Spinal Tap!, picks up just as Conner’s followup, Connquest, is about to “drop” (i.e, be released). A huge media blitz including a tour is in the works. When Connquest fails to live up to its predecessor, all signs point to a Style Boyz reunion—but can that happen?

Popstar makes it abundantly clear why The Lonely Island’s brand of humor works as shorts: it simply can’t sustain a movie. With Popstar, they nail the excess, the ego, and the emptiness of the entertainment biz. Tim Meadows as Conner’s manager and Sarah Silverman as his publicist are awesome, simultaneously informing, persuading, and babysitting Conner while constantly stroking his ego. The songs sound real. Conner’s show, complete with backup dancers and a deejay, looks authentic. Some of the scenes are pretty damned funny, including one where Conner is forced to autograph a fan’s, um, junk (props for getting it through the window of the limo). It’s amusing to see real popstars like Questlove, Usher, 50 Cent, and Ringo Starr (not to mention bitch on wheels Simon Cowell) gush in fake interviews over something so obviously lame as Style Boyz and Conner. It’s fun to see P!nk, Adam Levine, and Michael Bolton perform with Conner—and “Equal Rights” (with P!nk) is a hilarious, cheerful spoof of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s “Same Love.” Seal and Mariah Carey make gracious cameos that show they can take a joke. This is all good. The problem is, Popstar is essentially a string of dumb gags. Unlike This Is Spinal Tap!, it gets tiresome, fast. I lost interest after a little while; the characters and the jokes are too thin to carry Popstar all the way. Even Timberlake, whose appearances with The Lonely Island have always been funny, is an uncharacteristic yawn as Conner’s chef. Meh.

Curiously, the best song for this film was deleted: https://youtu.be/t3jKtjgRZQY. Seeing it as a short probably is best, anyway.

Also starring Maya Rudolph, Joan Cusack, Imogen Poots, Chris Redd, Edgar Blackmon, James Buckley, Ashley Moore, Bill Hader, Will Forte, Will Arnett, Carrie Underwood, Nas, Akon, Big Boy, D.J. Khaled, Danger Mouse, Pharrell Williams, Jimmy Fallon, Martin Sheen, Snoop Dog, Weird Al Yankovic

Produced by Perfect World Pictures, Apatow Company, and The Lonely Island

Distributed by Universal Pictures

87 minutes
Rated R

(Home via iTunes) D+

https://www.uphe.com/movies/popstar-never-stop-never-stopping

Florence Foster Jenkins

(UK 2016)

“People can say I can’t sing, but they can’t say I didn’t sing.”

—Florence Foster Jenkins

A lot of hype surrounded Florence Foster Jenkins before it arrived at a theater near us last fall. We wanted to catch it during its original run, but it came and went before we got around to seeing it. So, inspired by a post earlier in the day, I rented it on a Friday when we had no plans other than dinner at home. The night we watched it just happened to be Friday the 13th, which somehow seems appropriate.

Based on actual events and set during WWII, Florence (Meryl Streep) is a rich Manhattan society lady of a certain age who runs in an arty circle and knows a lot of people, some with money and others who follow it. She operates a private venue dedicated to opera, the Verdi Club, where she stars in a show and has a non-speaking role. Dying of either syphillis or the treatment for it—mercury and arsenic!—her one wish is to perform for an audience at Carnegie Hall. The problem is, she can’t sing; she’s downright awful. Her entrance here, lowered onstage from a rope and pulley while dressed as an angel with a harp, reminds me of Sarah Jessica Parker’s entrance (“I offer you mortals the bird of peace so that you may change your ways and end this destruction”) in Ed Wood, Tim Burton’s 1994 biopic about a similarly talentless film director who came along a decade or so later. The comparison is so apt that I wonder if it was intentional. Here, Florence’s husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), doesn’t help matters by exaggerating her talent.

Determined to make her dream come true, Florence hires a vocal trainer, Carlo Edwards (David Haig), and a pianist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), to put together a show. Established and well-known Carlo is content to take Florence’s money, build her ego, and let her dream on. Budding Cosmé, however, struggles with lying to her about her obvious ineptitude, not to mention her negative impact on his professional reputation. He soon sees that those around Florence stretch the truth about a lot of things when dealing with her.

Nicholas Martin’s script is kind to its characters, going for laughs in a way that doesn’t demean any of them. I never heard of her until this film, but the actual Florence Foster Jenkins was an interesting person. Her singing truly was awful:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hcs9yJjVecs. As always, Streep is spot on with her portrayal. She seems to have fun in this role, and it shows. Grant, who usually bores me but doesn’t here, is well suited for St. Clair: he’s stuffy and straight, but he nicely coveys an underlying deceitfulness that doesn’t come off as sinister. I like the way director Stephen Frears plays with deceit here, ultimately using it to depict a very touching side of St. Clair—who lives with his mistress (Rebecca Ferguson) in Brooklyn in apartment that Florence pays for. Much to my surprise, though, Big Bang Theory‘s Helberg steals practically every scene he’s in: keeping it subtle with Cosmé’s homosexuality (as Cosmé himself no doubt would have done during his day), he plays his character as a spineless, perennially uncomfortable, asexual bundle of nerves. He peppers his performance with grimaces and nervous giggles. Later, he delivers a line to explain his tardiness to Florence (of course, it involves sailors) with perfect and priceless dryness. He outshines everyone here.

Florence Foster Jenkins has some funny moments and some very touching ones. I found it enjoyable enough, but certainly not a knockout. It could have benefitted from a little more quirk and edge, especially considering its title character who showed no shortage of either.

Also starring Nina Arianda, Stanley Townsend, Allan Corduner, John Sessions, John Kavanagh, David Menkin, and Sid Phoenix

Produced by Qwerty Films, Pathé Pictures International, and BBC Films

Distributed by Paramount Pictures (USA)

111 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Home via iTunes) C

http://www.florencefosterjenkinsmovie.com

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Silence

(USA 2016)

“I pray but I am lost. Am I just praying to silence?”

—Fr. Rodrigues

Just as main character Fr. Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) is conflicted about his faith, I’m conflicted about Martin Scorsese’s current project, Silence. This film is clearly a labor of love and something extremely personal, both of which I greatly respect. Its genesis dates back nearly 30 years to the controversial The Last Temptation of Christ—can there be a more fitting starting point?—when Scorsese read Shusaku Endo’s novel (the title is the same as the movie) about Jesuit missionaries and Catholicism in Japan in the 17th Century (http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/11/27/magazine/the-passion-of-martin-scorsese.html?_r=0&referer=https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2016/12/martin-scorsese-silence-theology-art-jesuits/510827/ ). Having a Jesuit education myself, the nuance of what drives the characters (i.e., the service-oriented “men for others” philosophy of the Society of Jesus and the desire to make the right decisions and find answers) is not lost on me.

Momentary diversion: I was simultaneously amused and wowed by the number of nuns and priests in attendance at the pre-opening screening that I attended. I say “amused” because the audience looked like a Catholic J. Crew catalog; and I say “wowed” because the turnout served as a testament to the weight of this film. I felt it, and it was heavy. Credible. Plus, what does it say that a lapsed Catholic like me shows up for the pre-opening screening of a religious film as if it were a release party for a new Madonna album? More conflict.

But I digress. Silence follows two Portuguese Jesuit priests—the aforementioned Fr. Rodrigues and Fr. Garrpe (Adam Driver)—on their search to find their spiritual teacher and mentor, Fr. Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who has gone missing in Japan. The Japanese state has banned Christianity: those who practice it are hunted down by a committee, tortured, and killed. There’s an easy way out, weird as it is, that involves stepping on Catholic icons. Unsettling rumors have come to light concerning Fr. Ferreira, the most troubling of which is that he renounced Catholicism.

Silence is a gorgeous film—Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is breathtaking. I can feel every fly and bead of sweat I see on the screen. The idea of pushing “What Would Jesus Do?” to its mindfucking extreme is absolutely brilliant. The acting is generally flawless, but Issei Ogata easily shines lightyears beyond everyone else as the surprisingly unarresting, pragmatic, and understanding Inquisitor. Scorcese does a beautiful job demonstrating two timely ideas: tolerance is crucial for any civilized society, and doubt is totally normal. Can I get an amen? All that said, however, Silence is gratuitous in length, tedious, and exhausting. Painfully boring at points, even. The narration drove me crazy after awhile, as did the subpar Portugese accents. The ending is emotionally brutal; it’s ultimately satisfying, but you have to look closely and you have to be thinking. Normally, this wouldn’t be something worth mentioning; but at the end of such an energy zapper as Silence, it’s just not what I was prepared to do. I love what Scorcese gets at here; he does it artfully for sure, but I wish he had gone about it in a more direct and interesting way.

Also starring Ciarán Hinds, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, and Yôsuke Kubozuka.

Produced by Sharpsword Films, AI Film, CatchPlay, IM Global, Verdi Productions, YLK Sikella, and Fábrica de Cine

Distributed by Paramount Pictures

161 minutes
Rated R

(AMC River East) C+

http://www.silencemovie.com