This week's chamber:
Silence and Jackie

“The price for your glory is their suffering?”

Rating: R (for some disturbing content)
Genre: Drama
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Jay Cocks, Martin Scorsese
In theaters: January 13, 2017 (Wide)
Runtime: 161 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures 

This movie tells the story of two Christian missionaries (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who face the ultimate test of faith when they travel to Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson) - at a time when Christianity was outlawed and their presence forbidden.

Martin Scorsese is back with his most somber and prophetic work exploring the confluence of religion and cinema, giving us a gratification of cinematic persecution that film industry rarely achieves anymore. This somber, nihilistic, xenophobia of a travelogue is inward in epic prowess yet tender and wrenching with its personal soul searching. Scorsese, who adapted this movie from Shusaku Endo's 1966 acclaimed novel – creates a demonstrative lurking uncertainty through his lead performance of Andrew Garfield. The affable actor back from Superhero purgatory (starring in Sony’s 2010 and 2012 Amazing Spider-Man) lent himself to a rewarding role as a strident Jesuit priest who has gone to Japan to not only find his wayward former mentor Father Ferrera, played by the familiar but worn out leather mug of Liam Neeson, but also to usher Christianity as a metaphoric forced spoonful of dreadful medicine down the country’s misbegotten throat in an attempt to ideologically and religiously fix something that was never broken in the first place – buddhism.

When Garfield’s “Father Rodrigues” arrives he finds that he is in way over his head through Scorcese’s traverse of dark, benign landscapes and Kurosawaian feudal peasant realism. Rodrigues walks in with the cocky, proud strut, but that soon dissipates with every entitled sandal step he takes forward, and every indigenous villager he tries to redeem. Of course, the conflict of the story is that he is behind enemy lines as the Japanese regional shoguns, see him as a threat and this is when Hammer meets Nail. Painstakingly the further Rodrigues treads into japan the more his unrelenting belief in his faith is stymied and crestfallen, as if Scorsese is personally reflecting onto his character with a meta-contempt like self-prosecutorial fury. Along for the trip we have Adam Driver’s character as Father Garrpe but he leaves as soon as he comes, and its ultimately up to Andrew Garfield to become our soul crushing avatar.

This movie for all its deep theological ambitions, comes close to becoming the perfect forsaken movie that deals with personal faith in by achieving the intersection it aims for between narrative examination and commercial viability. Scorsese is too good to let this weighty demagogue of cinematic testimony to ever succumb to outright boredom – no Scorsese is too powerful and immense as an auteur for that, he will bore you to death with this movie by sheer bravura, which is your fault, not his nor my own as this movie for me was an incredible welcomed challenge. The movie clocks in at a whopping run time roughly at 2 hours and 40 minutes. That is not offensively indulgent, its purposefully sustaining doubt. You feel mystified by  this choice, but this is the work that Scorsese has wanted to take on, and when have you known this craftsman to half-ass his ambitions – never! Everything is giving to a deliberate observation in how Garfield’s “Rodrigues” is met with adversity around every corner. Scorsese is making the viewer earn the right to move forward to the next scene, next revelation, and soon the audience would find itself being tested to want to see what is next or emotionally check out. I did not - I stayed wanting to lose myself with the promise that the deeper the movie got, the more involved I have become, regardless of the movie spinning its wheels behind its obligatory presentation of scenes involving Rodrigues getting into thorny philosophical discourses against the Inquisitor, Inoue Masashige, played by Japanese acting elder statesman, Issei Ogata.

Brilliantly, this movie cornered me with its ambition, and I wanted to take the voyage. It works as an obvious mystery but also as a reflective mood piece especially for viewers that appreciate film art theory along with Japanese centric aestheticism. Kurosawa fans will appreciate the influence that he had over Scorsese as it shows in the filmic texture and naturalistic feel through its frames and cinematography. Scorsese doesn’t use much music to underscore the main emotional tipping points for his story. He keeps you in scenes with his direction using religious theorems to drive home the point that “Silence” as the title represents not only God leaving Rodrigues’ prayers unanswered, or the deliberate choice not to use a score, but to immerse the audience into a psychological, Ingmar Bergmann explorative determination, that subverts Andrew Garfield’s sweet natured warmth piousness into an unraveled Onibaba-esque decent into madness. As the more Rodrigues, on behalf of the film’s director, descends into Japan to free its converts, the more he feels trapped to do anything for them for he’s in the swamp called Japan, and his roots are not deep enough not to be cut. 

4 out of 4
Top 10 film of 2016

“People like to believe in fairytales.”

Rating: R (for brief strong violence and some language)
Genre: Drama
Directed by: 
Pablo Larraín   
Written by: Noah Oppenheim
In theaters: December 2, 2016 (Limited)
Runtime: 95 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Jackie is a film about a personal portrait of one of the most important and tragic moments in American history, seen through the eyes of the iconic First Lady, then Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy (Natalie Portman). The film places us in her world days following her husband's assassination. Historically known for her class and iconic place in historical “First Lady” glamour and womanly influence, here we see a psychological portrait of Jackie as she struggles to maintain her JFK’s legacy and the world of "Camelot".

This movie for all its intentions to give us an personal introspective peek behind the curtains of Jackie Kennedy’s arguable most harrowing moment of her life, fails miserably in its design to draws us personally and substantively closer beyond the technical Terrence Malick imitation up close and tight camera work the director Pablo Lorrain uses to evoke such a false intimacy. This film led by Natalie Portman, who typically always hits the mark on her roles, does not give us any discernable insight or emotional pathos that this film preconceived subject matter would suggest. Portman, plays Jackie to a woeful caricature down to the lithic breathy melancholy voice, the brunette mushroom mod haircut and arts and craft pink pillbox hat. What betrays her more than anything is her height. What makes the real Jackie iconic is her formidable style, and handsome dark looks and ethereal mystique – Portman looks like Babes in Toyland with her Lilliputian portrayal.

It’s obvious from its trailer, and from the onset of the film that Lorrain’s only intent is to give you a faux visual diary to visually read but with no legible meaning or truth, only the feeling of empty syrupy soullessness. He films this movie around Portman in an all so “Look at Natalie wearing her mommy’s pearls” adolescent grown up make believe kind of way. Portman, who is known for her fierce work in her academy award best actress winning role Black Swan, can carry a film, and has enough star wattage to greenlight a film. This film should have been a triumph, but she doesn’t let us in, she succumbs to a 2 dimensional performance of Lorrain’s pretentious filmmaking that lends to vanity filmmaking at its worst.

Steeped more into its unintended consequence of obnoxious silly political cos-play exercise, and not a true psychological personal Kennedy tragic-mythos, the film, through its flashback narrative becomes insufferably empty. Lorrain mixes his verisimilitude by recreating the fateful day of Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, but then interlocking his staged scenes, with actual footage that creates an unwanted artificiality and cheapens the historical impact for the sake of indulgent art. He wants to make a good-looking picture, but this film has for all its ambitions, has no original cinematic foundation beyond visual derivations of better directors to achieve what it wants to do for “Camelot”.

The only time the movie centers itself to a halfway decent intake are the scenes in which Jackie, in the present moment being interviewed by a reporter played by Billy Crudup, who intends to write a piece on Jackie. Portman is given more to work with, and can play off someone that reacts to her and vice-versa and Crudup and Portman find genuine adversity each in their individual intent as its done with a cagey respect of both players. Conversely, it’s the flashback scenes in which we are left to her cloying madness and drifty loneliness where Portman can’t find the added mental terror, that she has demonstrated in other roles, better roles. However, in contrast, we can work with the dynamic between her and Crudup, which is sad because that is where the truth was in the film, but it was a throw-a-way, as Lorrain was clearly more interested in making the flashback scenes his tour-de-force pronouncement to say that this film is more of a testament to his filmmaking than to Natalie Portman’s acting. Sure Portman got a Golden Globe Nom for her work in this, but trust me, it wasn’t because of him, it because she is good, real good, and better than most actors on their best day. Which this movie needed before it became farcically lame.

Pretentious, vapid, and passive aggressively decadent – “Jackie” almost singlehandedly sunk all of Camelot for its cinematic misdeeds. From its wonky uneven score, to its juxtaposition between fairy tale imitative truth and historical contextual fact, this movie was obscene. However, Natalie Portman saves it from being one of the worst pseudo art house biopics that I have suffered through in a long time. Is it Frida bad? No, but it’s not far behind.

1.5 out of 4


This week's chamber:
Top Five, The Imitation Game, and Wild

Top Five
"Smile muthafucka!"

For those that this matters towards and those that it doesn’t – here are my top five rappers: NAS, Notorious B.I.G, Rakim, Ghostface Killah and Rick Tha Ruler (Old School baby!) - Chris Rock is back harnessing his full Woody Allen while keeping it somewhat real trying to prove he still can’t hail a cab as black man, when the meter is running and his cabbie awaits their destination. Rock, who is gifted ferociously funny and redundantly corny, gives you a performance you can expect, but he does sharpen his suit and filmmaking eye to hit you where it counts: LETTING YOU KNOW WHAT’S AUTHENTIC AND WHAT ISN’T and he is the person to tell you where it stands. Sidepieced by Rosario Dawson, our hero is being interviewed for a new article on Rock’s cooked up Haitian Revolution diluted historical exploitative motion picture titled “Uprize” that’s right, Uprize with a “Z”. The New York times comes a calling and sends Rosario and her squarish cinder blocked cheek boned self to interview Andre, and get a sense as to who this man really is besides, his basic bitch “Hammy the Bear” super-cop wanderlust former pathetic franchise.

Like Innirtu’s Birdman, credibility is under Rock’s scrutiny. He banters to a hasten wit with Dawson as the ample and statuesque "loversary." Nothing that Rock deals with aside from his persona relationships ring authenticity. His “fiancé” Gabrielle Union is a reality star that must have every moment with Allen on camera. Speaking of the lens, Top Five is filmed with a lean wide lens perspective. Rock knows what he is doing with his frames, multiplied with the conscientious dialog, the beginning scenes set a responsive and wondrous start to something that appeared to be fresh. It was not. Rock is at his best when combating with Dawson and they both chew the air like a pack of bubbleicious gum. However, when he is alone, deep pocketing a retread joke, Top Five loses some of its power, its relevance, its freshness.

The further the movie progresses the more tonal trouble finds Rock. On one hand he is being observational, pithy and biting with his commentary-humorous delivery, but when he tries to pratfall for an schticky joke, Top Five ends up at the bottom of the list. Moments of truism are few and far between, but in scenes with his family (hilariously effective Leslie Jones and always reliable Tracy Morgan) add a bright spot giving understanding to Rock’s intentions and motivations. Also, Dark Man X shows up for a well-timed rocket fueled cameo. Good at times, average at times, and not nearly as funny from a farcical standpoint than from a commentary assault, Top Five, lacks focus for the most part regardless of the solid chemistry between its leads.

Written, directed by, and starring Chris Rock, Top Five tells the story of New York City comedian-turned-film star Andre Allen, whose unexpected encounter with a journalist (Rosario Dawson) forces him to confront the comedy career-and the past-that he's left behind. Starring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Cedric The Entertainer, J.B. Smoove, Sherri Shepherd, Anders Holm, Romany Malco, Leslie Jones, Michael Che, and Jay Pharoah.


2.5 out of 4