Tag Archives: Andrew Garfield

Silence (2016)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Silence</strong> (2016)

(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) Martin Scorsese’s Catholicism has always informed his movies, but seldom as much as in Silence, the story of two missionaries travelling to Edo-era Japan to spread the gospel and being persecuted for their beliefs. While such a plot summary would suggest a dull drama, Scorsese keeps even a slow-paced story moving through good performances and a focus on a period of history that usually gets short thrift in western cinema. Along the way of the protagonists’ suffering, Scorsese also gets to play with themes that are dear to him and inspiring in their own way—how closely you adhere to your beliefs can be measured to how much pain you’re willing to endure for them, even as others may reach accommodations with persecution. Andrew Garfield is quite good in the film’s main role. It’s worth noting that there is seldom any explicit discussion in Silence of the absurdity of religious oppression: it exists, immovable, and can either be resisted on a personal level (at the risk of destruction) or surrendered to. In Scorsesian terms, this is a pure passion project and far closer to his spiritual biographies than his crime drama—it’s certainly not as flashy or purely entertaining as other films, but it may be more important to him than others. I approached Silence with some skepticism (I’m really not in the target audience for the film) and dread at the film’s advertised characteristics (length, setting, subject matter…) and yet ended up appreciating the result far more than I expected.

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Hacksaw Ridge</strong> (2016)

(Netflix Streaming, September 2017) At some point, someone will need to sit down with Mel Gibson and ask if he’s all right, because most of his movies as a director include unnecessary gore to a level that approaches ridiculousness. Hacksaw Ridge is no exception, but it feels even more ridiculous given how dissonant the film gets once it heads to war. The first half of the film is easily the most interesting, as a young man (Andrew Garfield, effortlessly likable) enlists but refuses to take up arms due to religious beliefs. The army doesn’t take his conscientious objection very well, and the action soon moves to the courtroom as our protagonist defends his right not to bear arms in the service of the nation. There’s a conventional romance, but the angle through which Gibson explores national service is interesting. Then we head over to the front and Hacksaw Ridge becomes an entirely different animal. As combat rages on, soldiers are killed in increasingly gruesome ways only made possible by CGI and our protagonist must continue to operate in this hellish environment. If viewers had been worried they wouldn’t get war sequences after a pacific start, those worries are soon put to rest by a Grand Guignol carnival of exploding heads and severed limbs. Some viewers may want to tune out, not just because of the gore, but mostly because the film pretty much loses any dramatic interest from that point on. There will be bullets. There will be heroic sacrifices. There will be redemption for a protagonist regarded as unreliable by his fellow soldiers. It plays out almost exactly as anticipated, although the visuals are indeed nightmarish enough. Uneven in its approaches, Hacksaw Ridge undeniably has some interest, but it is needlessly graphic in its portrayal of violence. 

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Amazing Spider-Man 2</strong> (2014)

(On Cable TV, January 2015)  The biggest problem with the 2012 reboot The Amazing Spider-Man was that it was hard to justify its existence barely a decade after its inspiration.  This sequel doesn’t have as much to do in order to justify its existence: We’ve been reintroduced to Peter Parker and now we get to look at how his story develops in a different direction.  Andrew Garfield is still quite likable as the superhero in disguise, whereas Emma Stone also still coasts on her charm to sell an under-written character.  The action sequences certain shows how progresses in special effects can allow filmmakers to present even bigger and better visuals on-screen: the opening chase sequence, taking place at breakneck speed in a brightly lit New York City, is a small marvel of super-powered heroics that wouldn’t have been possible even a decade ago.  While the return of the Green Goblin as an antagonist feels safe and conventional, the use of Electro is a little bit more interesting.  This film, of course, has to do what the previous trilogy didn’t want to in showcasing a traumatic moment in Spider-Man history and while it’s difficult not to applaud this difficult dramatic choice, it’s also one that is blatantly foreshadowed in almost everything that happens prior to it.  You can almost count down the seconds before it happens.  Does this in any way justify the film?  Sure, but not too much: we could have gone without it, and (BREAKING GEEKY NEWS!) the announcement that the next few Spider-Man films, to be developed with Marvel Studios, will ignore this misguided reboot don’t do much to justify those instantly-disposable films.  Director Marc Webb should be doing other better things with his time anyway.  But such is the age of the mega-buster nowadays: full of wonders, empty of meaning and so scrapped and forgotten a year later.

The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

<strong class="MovieTitle">The Amazing Spider-Man</strong> (2012)

(On Cable TV, March 2013) Here is the key to this film’s seemingly-pointless existence: A long time ago, before it took ownership of its characters’ movies rights (a process that eventually led to The Avengers), Marvel sold the rights to the Spider-Man character to Fox studios, with a clause saying that movies about the character had to be produced every few years, otherwise the rights would revert to Marvel.  Combine that with the fact that the original cast members of the Spider-Man trilogy have all gone out of contract and into a much higher income profile and you get a perfect excuse for a reboot, whether you like the idea or not.  Ten years is a long time when it comes to the teenage audiences at which the Spider-Man films are aimed.  So it is that The Amazing Spider-Man is nearly a plot-beat-per-plot-beat rethread of 2002’s Spider-Man.  You’d think that modern audiences, familiarized with superheroes through fifteen years’ worth of such films, could be spared another origins story… but no.  Still, a reboot may be a disappointment, but it’s not necessarily a substantial knock against the finished film: it’s all about the execution, and a deft take on familiar ideas can outshine plodding originality most of the time.  Sadly, the biggest problem with The Amazing Spider-Man is that it can’t be trusted to present a satisfying version of the Spider-Man mythology.  It doesn’t do much with the expected elements of the Spider-Man origins story, and by strongly suggesting that non-nerdy Peter Parker is meant to become Spider-Man, it seriously undermines one of the charms of the everyman character.  This, added to evidence of late tampering with the script (as in: the trailers show more than what’s in the finished film) and the obvious non-resolution of enough plot-lines to point the way to a film trilogy, make The Amazing Spider-Man such a disappointing experience.  Oh, it’s not as if the film is worthless: The two lead actors are better than the previous trilogy’s lead actors even when they’re not given equally-good material (poor Emma Stone doesn’t have much to do than show off her knees), director Marc Webb has a good eye and the wall-to-wall special effects show how much the industry has improved in ten years.  This Spider-Man has better quips (one of the characteristics that establish him as a distinct alter-ego from Peter Parker), Rhys Ifans is intriguing as the mad-scientist villain and the film is slickly-made.  Still, from a storytelling standpoint, it seems as if all the worst choices were made in the service of a mechanically-conceived piece of pop-culture merchandizing.  It’s entertaining enough, but it could have been so much better…

Never Let Me Go (2010)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Never Let Me Go</strong> (2010)

(In theaters, October 2010) Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is generally acknowledged as a Science Fiction novel coming from outside the SF genre, and as such pays more attention to fine prose, character development and inner monologue than SF devices, coherent word-building or narrative excitement.  As an adaptation, Never Let Me Go feels a lot like that, with a thin plot, leisurely pacing and constant focus on the three lead actors.  (Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and -to a lesser extent- Keira Knightley all do well with their roles.)  The muted colors of the cinematography reflect the restraint with which the characters react to their fated lives, and the lack of urgency in the telling of the story is designed to let everyone reflect at lengths about the situation.  It’s one of those rare (and largely mythical) SF movies without obvious special effects, and as such should earn a bit of respect from the genre-reading crowd.  On the other hand, that genre-reading crowd will be more likely to recommend the film to others as accessible-level SF than to appreciate the film for themselves, given how it vaguely sketches the alternate-reality of the story’s universe, and features largely passive characters whose role is to stare into the face of inevitability.  There is, however, something very interesting in the film’s emphasis on sub-culture mythology, with a series of ill-informed rumours (all of them knocked down one after another) forming a good chunk of the characters’ inner landscape due to the absence of more reliable information.  (The final revelation perfectly fits into this motif.)  Does the world of the film hold together?  Absolutely not, but it doesn’t even try to address plausibility, betting instead on the real emotional core of the trio at the middle of the film.  Never Let Me Go will be a bit too slow and thin for some, but it’s a success in the same way that Atonement and other middle-brow character dramas can be.  Don’t let the “Science Fiction” label create false expectations…