By Desmond Reynolds
I was originally intending on writing a preview for the upcoming Academy Awards, but then I realized I, like the average filmgoer, haven’t seen the vast majority of any of the nominated films. Instead, I’ll be discussing here the Oscar-worthy, the mediocre, and the bad of the movies I did get around to seeing this holiday season.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One had a lot going for it. Oozing nostalgia, familiar characters, a familiar plot…. wait a minute, I’m thinking of that other Disney Star Wars movie. Rogue One broke brave new ground for the Star Wars franchise, being the first in a series of planned spin-off anthology films. But in my view, the risk did ultimately pay off in terms of pure fun and visual spectacle. Just don’t expect to care too much about the characters, who are less three-dimensional people than vehicles for the advancement the grand narrative (given the way the movie ends, perhaps that was intentional).
To the people suggesting this is the best of the Star Wars ‘prequels’, i.e. movies taking place before the original trilogy, please. The third act of this movie took place on a beach and didn’t have a single mention of how the characters felt about sand. Not a single line of dialogue. Hopefully, in future films Disney will draw more on the rich mythology of the universe established by Episodes 1-3. Otherwise, I have few complaints.
Breakthrough performance: the Death Star. It really showed its immeasurable potential, and had an immense presence whenever it was on screen.
La La Land
This movie’s meteoric rise has been an underdog story in so many ways. Who would have expected an original jazz musical to be both commercially and critically successful in this day and age? I sure didn’t. To me, La La Land seemed like a film that would get a ton of buzz at Sundance and never be heard from again, until reappearing on some “Most Overlooked Movies of 2016” list in a few decades. Thankfully for fans of original movies, the movie tap-danced its way both into the hearts of audiences everywhere and into Oscar contention.
Set against a dream-like backdrop of Hollywood, La La Land steeps the screen with sweeping primary colours as it tells the story of a struggling musician and actress who fall in love while pursing success in show business. I cannot lie: I loved this movie. I have an intense general dislike for both rom-coms and musicals, but La La Land is the best of either I’ve ever seen. I’m not ashamed to admit it, although I did take issue with the lack of representation in the movie: not a single engineer appears on screen.
A few weeks ago, La La Land received a record 14 Oscar nominations, tying the all-time record for a single film. This is a true victory for well directed, beautifully shot, masterfully acted, perfectly scored, and compelling movies everywhere. On second thought, I guess that shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.
Being a fan of the Assassin’s Creed video game series, I saw this movie out of obligation. I came in full well knowing the track record of video game movies. Nonetheless, I was cautiously optimistic that the good casting choices and proven director would be able to make it an exception to the rule. I had hoped the movie would give fans of the series a cinematic experience complementary to the immersive joy the games, but I wasn’t holding my breath.
In any case, I was still disappointed. What better way adapt a video game that to tell an over-complicated, joyless story populated by unsympathetic and flat characters that didn’t even appear in the games?
If you have no interest in the Assassin’s Creed games, don’t see this movie. If you have played and love the games, don’t see this movie. If you’re coming out of a coma from the 1920s and you’re impressed by sound and colour on film, you might be mildly entertained by this piece of disaffecting cinematic blandness.
Coming off the heels of the wildly successful Wolf of Wall Street, legendary director Martin Scorsese returns to familiar themes in Silence, substituting nudity and drug abuse for religious persecution in 16th century Japan. Okay, maybe they’re not that similar.
Silence follows the quest of two Portuguese priests to locate their mentor – a missionary lost in Japan in the period after the banning of Christianity in the country – who has allegedly renounced God and surrendered his faith. It is a long, contemplative, and often laborious think piece on the nature of belief and doubt in the face of overwhelming (and often bordering on gratuitous) adversity. The film is driven forward by a surprisingly powerful performance from ex-Spiderman Andrew Garfield, as Scorsese challenges the audience over and over again with difficult questions while eluding simple answers.
Notably absent in the movie is any sort of score or background music, barring a few subtle strings in the film’s final act. As each scene presents us with some new, challenging moral dilemma or intense internal conflict, we are left both in awe and in introspection as though at the end of a prayer. We must consider the deep consequences of what we’ve seen without the refuge of musical accompaniment to either distract us or tell us what to feel. In those crucial, contemplative moments, there is nothing but – what else? – silence.