A film that runs two hours and 41 minutes can be criticized for being too long. When that film is about torture, it invites jokes about torture to the backside. Silence is that film. However, despite its length, Silence is a stunning, unforgettable, even timely film about the Martyrs of Japan, whose feast day is February 6.

Silence begins with torture: persecutors drizzle boiling hot water onto the baptized, exhorting them to renounce their religion. Here, the persecuted are Christians in Japan in the 17th century. In this time and in this place journey two Portuguese monks, Rodrigues and Garupe. They seek their mentor, a priest rumored to have renounced his religion, taken a wife, and become Buddhist. The fervent young monks cannot believe this; they would rather think the man dead than apostatized. So they follow Christ, their boon companion, into danger, bearing their crosses.

Martin Scorsese based his screenplay, co-written with Jay Cocks, on the novel by Shûsaku Endô. Silence is a story of perseverance and persecution, compromise and confession. It is not a story of Japanese history; in fact, Scorsese makes no attempt to place this particular aspect of religious persecution within political context. Rather, he concentrates on torture, as he did in The Last Temptation of Christ in 1988. Only near the end of Silence does he address the silence of God and of God's priests. 

However, scenes in Silence, beyond the decapitations and grillings, grab the viewer, such as when three black-clad monks descend stairs, a scene shot peripherally. Rodrigo Prieto's cinematography is often stunning. The acting is serviceable, especially Andrew Garfield's as Rodrigues and Liam Neeson's as the mentor monk. The Asian cast deports itself most admirably. But, in the end, Silence is about torture, not God's persistent, if silent, presence or Jesus' way. 

 

 


Through his documentary Under the Sun, shot inside North Korea, Russian director Vitaly Mansky provides a fascinating comparison/contrast between the scripted story he agreed to shoot and the candid footage captured, his cameras running after official filming ended. Borrowing his title from North Korea's designation as "Land of the Rising Sun," Mansky offers a rare, first-person experience.

Ceding total script control to the North Korean officials, writer/director Mansky follows a family living in Pyongyang. Over the course of a yea, eight-year-old Zin-mi Lee prepares for induction into the prestigious Children's Union, an event celebrated yearly on "Day of the Shining Star," Kim Jong-il's birthday. Zin-mi goes to classes, eats a traditional meal of Kim-chi with her parents, practices dance, and visits a classmate in a hospital. The scenes are rehearsed with the Korean minder always supervising, encouraging enthusiasm and smiles among the participants, including workers at the mother's exemplary soy milk factory and the father's equally successful garment factory. 

School lessons exalt the past Great Generalissimo Kim Il-sung and the current Great Leader Kim Jong-Un who will "fulfill all our hopes and dreams." Their stories, pictures and statues are unconditionally revered while Americans are described as cowards and scoundrels, the Japanese as defeated, hated aggressors. By contrast, in scenes not staged, school girls with coats on in the classroom warm their hands over a heater near windows thick with frost. Zin-mi's parents walk her to the school bus. Later workers push a broken-down bus, and we learn that actually these young children live at school to study more, their parents and all workers reside at factory barracks so they can devote themselves to their "beloved jobs." 

From a quiet, observational perspective, Mansky starkly and skillfully reveals the striking contrasts between the actual and the staged. In Korean with English subtitles. The Missouri premiere of Under the Sun takes place at Webster University's Winifred Moore auditorium Friday, January 27 through Sunday, January 29 at 7:30 each evening. 

 

 

Writer/director Jim Jarmusch makes fascinating films that exist outside the norm. He's independent in his thinking and his cinematic productions as illustrated since 1980 in Down by LawDead Man, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, and Broken Flowers, among a dozen other striking works. But his offerings aren't always easy to accommodate, as he proves in Paterson

Throughout its two hours, the camera follows the title character who drives bus #23 in, yes, Paterson, New Jersey. Married, his loving wife Laura designs and decorates their home with circular black and white patterns, except, of course, her unique dinners, such as cheese and Brussel sprouts pie. She dreams of learning the guitar to sing country music. Laura and Paterson fit together nicely, as shots of them show, and they support each other. Laura praises the poems Paterson writes in his notebook before he begins his Monday through Friday bus route and during lunch breaks at the beautiful Great Falls on the Passaic River. 

Jarmusch knows and calmly asserts that unassuming working men are intelligent and educated. Paterson knows about Petrarch, Allen Ginsberg growing up in Paterson, and William Carlos Williams' modern epic poem Paterson. This emerges during quiet observance of Paterson's routine from Monday to the next Monday which constitutes the film, the days appearing on screen along with the text of poems written by Ron Padgett. Paterson wakes shortly after 6:00 a.m., has cereal, and walks to the Market Street Garage where Donnie sends him off each morning. Paterson eavesdrops on riders' conversations, has lunch, finishes his route, eats dinner at home, takes his bulldog Marvin for a walk during which Paterson stops at a bar for a beer, and goes to bed. As with most people, the repetition of his pattern constitutes his life and this film, with only a few minor events intruding.

As Paterson and perfect for the role, Adam Driver gives an impressively controlled, quiet performance. As Laura, Golshifteh Farahani adds energy but, as usual, the wife remains secondary and undeveloped. Far from the mainstream, very slow, Paterson the movie requires a meditative state for the viewer to appreciate the gem Jarmusch offers. At a Landmark Theatre.

 

 

Sleep by Day and Live by Night. That's one of the mottos of one of the gang leaders in Ben Affleck's latest film. Unlike The Town, though, which he also directed, co-wrote, and starred in, Live by Night implodes, largely because Affleck gives a limp performance as an antagonistic protagonist.

Joe Coughlin fought in the Great War, and what that taught him was that being cannon fodder is not rewarding. So he went home to Boston, where his da is a big-time Irish copper, but Joseph went over to the other side. There were plenty of "other sides" available, each with an ethnic epitaph filled with ugliness. Joe is sleeping with the girlfriend of a mafia boss, so he's pretty much asking for what happens. 

Joe declares that his work is distributing "demon rum," but Prohibition is the law of the land in the Twenties and Tommy guns are flaring like fireworks on a 24/7 July 4th. Joe ends up in Florida, where he takes over the rackets, falls in love with a Cuban, and takes his lumps.

Problem is that Affleck never gives Joe Coughlin the oomph he needs -- not in action or in voice-over. The supporting cast  has more moxie than the star in nearly every scene. The litany of secondaries runs for pages because Live by Night is filled with new faces every 10 minutes, and it includes Brendan Gleeson as Dad, Zoe Soldana, Elle Fanning as an evangelist, Chris Cooper, and Sienna Miller as a moll, and Chris Messina. Affleck based his script on a novel by Dennis Lehane, but characters are flat and stereotyped and undeveloped. Also, mostly dead or whispering. 

Robert Richardson's cinematography produces smothering close-ups, flaring gunshots, and stunning aerial shots. Lovers of vintage cars will have a heyday. Those autos deliver more than Live by Night, which would make viewers sleep by night, too, except for the noise of gunshots and body-slams.

 

Katherine Goble (later married and known as Katherine Johnson), Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson: these three, historically significant African-American women receive the recognition they richly deserve in director Theodore Melfi's Hidden Figures. This trio and a group of computer savvy black women supervised by Vaughan made critical contributions to the NASA early '60s space program. 

It's no exaggeration to assert that without them John Glenn may not have enjoyed the spectacular space orbit and successful reentry, for which Katherine Goble solved a thorny mathematical calculation.   

Physicists, space scientists, aerospace engineers, crackpot mathematicians--these women brought their superior intelligence and problem-solving expertise to America's NASA when it needed it most, as the U.S.S.R. launched Sputnik first in the US/Soviet space race. 

Hidden Figures places Goble's work within the context of civil rights protests and racism that extended to colored ladies' bathrooms and even to a separate coffee pot in her office. All three women dealt directly and calmly with reprehensible attitudes and behavior. The acting by Taraji P. Henson as Goble Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Vaughan, and Janelle Monáe as Jackson is superb. They segue from seething to serious, humorous to romantic with flawless precision. In addition, their interaction with each other as well as with superiors and co-workers hits exactly the right emotional register, feeling as natural as overheard conversations. 

As Goble's love interest and future husband, Mahershala Ali confirms his status as a first-rate leading man: relaxed and charismatic, as he is in "Moonlight." Kevin Costner as the fictional NASA mission manager, Jim Parsons as head engineer Paul Stafford, and Kirstin Dunst as Vaughan's supervisor Vivian Michael: all add important details, fleshing out the pervasive 1960s racism that Goble, Vaughan and Jackson defied in their brilliance. In addition to triumphant moments, Hidden Figures injects refreshing humor. With writer Allison Schroeder, co-writer Theodore Melfi mines the amusing without undermining the important. Hidden Figures" is crowd-pleasing entertainment of vital history. At area cinemas.

 

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