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Posts Tagged ‘Andrew Garfield’

One can’t help but feel a certain sympathy for Liam Neeson’s personal circumstances and desire to keep working, even as one regrets some of the mankier films this has resulted in him turning up in over the last six or seven years – Battleship probably marks the gloomiest nadir, though there’s a lot to choose from. Thankfully, however, there are signs that Neeson is making a comeback as an actor of substance, for this week alone saw the release of A Monster Calls, in which he voices the title character, and Martin Scorsese’s Silence, in which he gives probably one of the greatest performances of his career, albeit in a supporting role. This seems quite apposite, for Silence is a remarkable film of the kind which does not come along very often.

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Silence is many things, but primarily a very personal story, and so the details of its setting are not systematically laid out but allowed to emerge organically in the course of the story. The majority of it takes place in Japan in the 1640s. At this time the country was under the control of the Shogunate and was attempting to isolate itself from the rest of the world in order to preserve its autonomy (this would continue until the USA effectively forced the country open in the 1850s). One consequence of this was a programme of savage persecution directed against the thousands of Japanese converts to Christianity, whose allegiance to the Pope was perceived as being a threat to the authority of the Japanese ruling castes.

Neeson plays Ferreira, a Jesuit priest, resident in Japan for many years, caught up in the worst of the persecution. The Jesuits are obviously concerned for him, and also by dark and unsettling rumours as to his eventual fate – but simply entering Japan is incredibly hazardous for any priest. Nevertheless, keen to find their mentor is the crack spod squad of Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver, young priests determined to do God’s work and minister to the needs of the Japanese Catholics, and also firm believers that the worst stories about Ferreira cannot be true.

What they encounter in Japan tests their faith to the utmost, in all kinds of ways. Many questions are raised by what they see and hear, questions which they can’t help thinking over and praying about – even when the answer to all of their prayers merely seems to be silence.

Many great directors seem to wear a number of different hats in the course of their careers, and it’s no different with Martin Scorsese. There are the films he’s made as a director for hire, some of which are very fine in their own right, and then there are the ones he’s perhaps most famous for – hard-edged crime dramas and psychological thrillers, often very violent, frequently with Robert De Niro or Leonardo DiCaprio. But then there are a handful of films which reveal a deep concern with spirituality and religion – the most controversial of these is almost certainly The Last Temptation of Christ, but Kundun (about the Dalai Lama) also caused a bit of a stir. This is the same category into which Silence goes, although it doesn’t appear to have provoked much of reaction.

I’m a little surprised by this, not least because its presentation of the Japanese authorities is very far from sympathetic – perhaps this is the reason why the film was made in Taiwan rather than Japan itself. Then again, perhaps people simply aren’t that interested in a film about the Catholic Church any more. I suppose there remains the possibility that Silence will be adopted by those who believe that Christianity is somehow being persecuted in western society and that the film constitutes a metaphor for this – but that would be a considerable stretch.

As I said, the film is ultimately more personal than that, although it has an undeniably epic scope and deals with big concerns across its very lengthy running time. At this point you may be thinking ‘Hmmm, this sounds a bit heavy’ – and I can’t honestly argue with that. This is not the kind of film you go to simply to have a good time or be entertained – while watching it, you can of course appreciate the craftsmanship that has gone into the sets and costumes, the artistry of the editing, the skill of the camerawork, and the commitment of the performances, but in the end this is at heart a serious film about profound issues of belief and faith.

It is on one level a kind of adventure, with the two priests trying to survive in a hostile landscape, witnessing the awful persecution of their flock, searching for their mentor, and so on, but it is never far away from a thorny dilemma or serious moral or theological question – are the priests right to allow the villagers to sacrifice themselves to protect them? Is the faith that the Japanese Christians imperfectly observe really the same one that the priests themselves belong to? Can one ever be really certain what another person truly believes?

As a former student of philosophy with a strong interest in Japanese history and culture, I found Silence to be mesmerising from start to finish, but I suppose there are a few people dotted about who may not find long discussions on the subject of apostasy to be quite what they’re looking for in a film, which begs the question of whether there’s anything else here for them. Well, I would certainly say so, for while the trappings of the film are steeped in Catholicism and the work of the Jesuits, I think it is ultimately about the nature of faith itself – why does someone believe something? What sustains that belief through difficult periods? What drives a person to try and share his creed? It is about people at least as much as any religion.

And it works as well as it does because of some very notable performances. It’s good to see Liam Neeson back on top form, but we always knew he was a heavyweight given the right role; what’s perhaps more revelatory is Andrew Garfield’s performance. There were perhaps warning lights flashing over his career following his sacking as Spider-Man, but this film shows he is an actor of real power and range. Also making an impression as a sardonic and cruel interpreter is Tadanobu Asano, best known in Anglophone cinema for (inevitably) his work in Marvel Comics movies.

Lots of people get rather excited about Goodfellas and Raging Bull and Casino, but I must confess that these movies have never quite done it for me – all the machismo and/or Mafia chic kind of gets in the way of their undeniable quality. For good or ill, Silence is much more my type of film. I am certain it won’t be to all tastes, for the theme, tone, and graphic violence and cruelty will probably combine to put many people off. And that’s regrettable, for I think Silence is a truly magisterial and significant piece of work which people will be watching again and again for many years to come. It asks the most serious questions in an undeniably powerful and moving way, and perhaps even changes the way you think about the world – and if that’s not the definition of great art, I don’t know what is.

 

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When is a Marvel movie not a Marvel movie? When it isn’t made by Marvel Studios itself, but by someone else who bought the rights to one of the company’s characters many years ago. It has been wisely observed that one of the things that makes Marvel Studios’ achievement in building up its world-conquering franchise-of-franchises so remarkable is that it has done so without access to Marvel Comics’ most popular characters – 20th Century Fox have the film rights to the X-Men and the Fantastic Four, while Sony owns Spider-Man (for some reason Universal have hung on to Sub-Mariner and Lionsgate to Man-Thing despite neither seeming particularly keen to make a film about them). Marvel have built their empire with characters who are, comparatively, second-stringers.

This achievement has not gone unnoticed by the people who do own the rights to Marvel’s big-hitters, and it appears to be affecting how they make their own movies. You would have thought another decently-made instalment in the Spider-Man franchise would essentially be a licence to print money anyway, and this is basically what Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is.

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The sequel finds Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) juggling his self-appointed responsibilities as Spider-Man with his relationship with winsome girlfriend Gwen (Emma Stone). He is constantly aware of the danger he may be putting her in, having already got her dad killed in the first film. He is also still trying to solve the mystery of his parents’ disappearance.

More pressing issues arise when a much put-upon and overlooked electrician (Jamie Foxx) suffers a freak accident and is reborn as vengeful glob of sparky evil Electro, while the death of dubious tycoon Norman Osborn leads his son Harry (Dane DeHaan) inheriting the company. Harry also learns that this isn’t all he’s inherited from his dad: he has a terminal genetic condition, but it transpires that – would you believe it!?! – the blood of Spider-Man could provide a possible cure…

As you can probably see there is a lot going on in this film: possibly even a bit too much. Then again, one of the distinctive things about Webb’s take on Spider-Man is just how many things are turned up to eleven – the colours are brighter, the CGI more elaborate, the emotional content more overwrought, the plot more crowded. Just about the only thing that gets soft-pedalled is the humour and quirkiness, but – as with the first film – I suspect this is more born from a need to be different from Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy than anything else.

That seems to be slightly less of a concern this time around. While the appearance of Electro might indicate this run of films is intent on excavating the lower reaches of Spider-Man’s rogues gallery, the movie also includes a new version of the Green Goblin. They still shy away from creating their own version of J Jonah Jameson, though. And there’s an extent to which they’re on a hiding to nothing with this approach, anyway: you can’t properly do Spider-Man on film without including plotlines about his difficult lovelife, so this film inevitably recalls the Raimi ones in that respect.

On the whole it is a fun and entertaining package: what it lacks in narrative focus it makes up for in colour and incident. Garfield and Stone are engaging leads, even if I didn’t find their scenes together to be as irresistibly cute as the director clearly did. The pathos of the Electro character is a bit undermined by Foxx’s tendency to go OTT, plus the character’s origin (he is basically savaged by a shoal of electric eels) – well, it’s possibly not the silliest origin story in the history of superhero movies, but it’s definitely high on the list. Dane DeHaan (possibly cast on the strength of his performance as a supervillain-in-the-making in Chronicle) is really much better as the new Goblin.

While we’re on the subject of villains, do not be fooled by the prominence of the Rhino (played by Paul Giamatti) in the publicity: he’s barely in it. His presence is part of the only element of the film which felt to me like a real misstep: an elaborate and drawn-out coda to the main action which is mainly there to set up not just the next Spider-Man movie, but also a Sinister Six spin-off. (There are not-very-subtle indications that other projects headlining Venom and the Black Cat may also be in the producers’ minds.)

It’s very hard to see this as anything other than an attempt to replicate the success of Marvel Studios’ model of putting out at least one film a year, but whether they can do so from such a narrow base remains to be seen: especially if, as is apparently the case, on-screen crossovers with the Fantastic Four have been ruled out. This kind of film has always been made with one eye on potential sequels – but now it seems that building a franchise is starting to take priority over the quality of the actual film. That’s something that the producers of the Spider-Man series might want to bear in mind in future – for the time being, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is an entertaining film that ticks all the boxes for this particular character – it’s just a little too preoccupied with Spider-Man films of the past and future to really be something special itself.

 

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I suppose it says something about this year’s blockbusters, not to mention the quantity of associated hype, when a new Spider-Man movie has been on the schedule for ages but – until recently – has received relatively little attention. There’s a sense in which it’s been squeezed out by the massive buzz surrounding both The Avengers and The Dark Knight Rises (expectations of which are reaching ominously Prometheus-esque levels). This is a shame because Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man has much to commend it.

The life of brainy teenager Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield) has been shaped by the death of his parents in mysterious circumstances when he was but a lad. Awkward and lonely, the chance discovery of some of his scientist father’s old papers changes his life, for they contain a (hmmm) secret formula which is the secret to trans-species genetic modification. His father’s old friend and unidextrous authority on genetic engineering and reptiles – must have been an interesting degree course – Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) is still working on this and while visiting Connors’ lab Peter is bitten by a genetically-modified spider.

Weird things start happening to Peter. He becomes much stronger and more agile, starts sticking to walls, and finds himself completely unable to climb out of the bathtub unassisted (Don’t Write In Dept.: I know I used that gag writing about the first movie – if they start making original films, I’ll start writing original jokes). In an attempt to discover the reason for this, Peter passes the secret formula on to Connors, who – being a scientist in a Marvel movie – sees nothing untoward in using it to inject himself with lizard DNA in the hope his arm will grow back. Unfortunate events ensue.

If we were living in a parallel world where this was the first full-length live-action Spider-Man movie ever made, I imagine The Amazing Spider-Man would have received very positive reviews, for it is undeniably an accomplished piece of movie-making. But I also suspect some critics well-versed in the lore of the comic would be nonplussed by the decision to use the Lizard as the main villain, not to mention the omission of key characters such as Mary-Jane Watson and J Jonah Jameson, and finally the decision to generally fiddle about with the Spider-Man origin story.

But, of course, this is not the first full-length live-action Spider-Man movie (The Amazing Spider-Man was once set to be the title of what eventually appeared as Spider-Man 2). Sam Raimi made that, not very long ago at all. There are spiders and lizards and critters of all kinds in this film, but there’s also an elephant in the room, and that elephant is Raimi’s Spider-Man – as close to a perfect retelling of the classic Spider-Man origin as we’re likely to see. This film is effectively Spidey Begins – an attempt at a from-scratch reboot, but one unable to use one of the classic villains. (I believe the Lizard was one of the villains set to appear in Raimi’s abandoned Spider-Man 4.)

Webb’s movie has a much harder job to do than Batman Begins, in that the Raimi movies were made not that long ago and were, on the whole, considerably better than the Burton and Schumacher Batman movies. Setting out to do something tonally and narratively different, which was clearly part of the brief here, therefore involves intentionally moving away from something which was generally very good in the first place.

If we’re going to compare Spider-Man and Amazing Spider-Man, and I don’t see why we shouldn’t, it’s fascinating to see how two films which visually look very similar can actually feel totally different as viewing experiences. The most obvious thing about Amazing Spider-Man is that it plays the story a lot straighter than Raimi did, with much less comedy and weirdness. Which you prefer is really a matter of taste, but personally I think Raimi’s approach was slighty more to my liking.

That said, there is a lot to enjoy in Amazing Spider-Man. The performances, from a strong cast including Emma Stone, Martin Sheen, Denis Leary and Sally Field, are uniformly very good. Andrew Garfield plays Peter Parker as less outwardly nerdy and more gauche and awkward than Tobey Maguire, but pulls this off very well and is – perhaps – better than Maguire at doing Spider-Man’s wise-cracking-through-the-fights schtick. The effects work and action choreography are also top notch.

I wasn’t so wild about the mystery-of-Spidey’s-parents plotline, an element which the now-obligatory mid-closing-credits tag scene promises will continue in any future sequels. It’s also a real shame that the only thing that Emma Stone is given to contribute to the film is a selection of short skirts and boots (and, given she’s playing Gwen Stacy, one wonders if she’s signed up for the same number of sequels as the other main actors). The romance in this film feels mawkish and syrupy rather than charming and it feels as if the whole thing grinds to a halt every time it goes into this mode – I felt like throwing things at the screen every time the ‘romance’ theme started playing. (James Horner’s score suffers from the lack of a strong theme for Spider-Man himself.) And a small quibble – Spider-Man’s habit of taking his mask off in public at regular intervals also makes the idea of his identity staying secret rather implausible!

It’s surely arguable that we really didn’t need another film telling the origins of Spider-Man only ten years after the last one – although I suppose a lot of the kids enjoying the screening I attended weren’t even born back in 2002 – but given that we have to have one, The Amazing Spider-Man does about as good a job as one could imagine, and, in all honesty, a much better one than I was expecting. Hopefully with the sequel Webb and associates can do something with much more of its own identity to it; I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with.

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If you watched Never Let Me Go without captions and with the sound turned down, you’d have no idea of the kind of film it is. (There’s no reason why you’d want to, but still.) The trailer was deliberately circumspect about the narrative territory this film inhabits, too. My parents were thinking about going to see it, assuming it was another very well-mannered romantic drama about young people coming of age and getting to grips with adult emotions.
 
 

Well, to some extent that’s true, but only marginally. Even my own oversensitive antennae only detected the barest of hints from the advertising as to what this film is, but the fact that the novel it’s based on (written by Kazuo Ishiguro) was shortlisted for the Arthur C Clarke Award as well as the Booker Prize will no doubt tip you off: Never Let Me Go is an SF movie, and quite possibly the best in years.

It’s understandable why the film-makers have done their best to bury this fact: the expectations of the standard SF blockbuster crowd would be grievously disappointed by a movie totally bereft of aliens, spacecraft, robots, laser guns, psychic powers and time machines, while the mainstream audience would stay away in droves because of exactly the same expectations. Nevertheless, no serious definition of the genre could exclude this film.

Having said that, the science in Never Let Me Go is extremely nebulous: the story occurs in an alternative history where medical science made an unspecified breakthrough in the 1950s, resulting in a massive increase in longevity. The ramifications of this are not immediately made apparent, but we are introduced to them through the lives of three children, Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth. At first they seem to be simply pupils at a rather odd private school in 1978 – they and all the other pupils have been conditioned to never, ever leave the grounds and to take great pains in looking after themselves. They wear odd bracelets that track their location. A delivery of second-hand toys is a great event.

The truth eventually emerges for us and them: the defeat of cancer and other diseases, and the increase in longevity, has created an enormous and ceaseless demand for donor organs. All the pupils at the school are clones, not legally human, being raised until the day comes when their own organs can be harvested for the benefit of people in the outside world.

This is not an especially new idea – something similar formed the basis of Michael Bay’s 2005 flop, The Island, while I myself prefer Michael Marshall Smith’s short story on this theme, To Receive is Better (last words: ‘I’m having a few things back.’). But what makes Never Let Me Go a compelling and powerful film is its treatment of it. This is not a loud or brash or openly manipulative film, nor do the characters respond in the ways we’d expect.

They have grown up in this world and become desensitised to the relentless (and to us, almost inconceivable) horror that underpins every moment of their existence. None of them ever considers trying to avoid the ghastly fate their entire lives have been leading towards. The most anyone hopes for is to defer the moment their donations begin, and to this end they take solace in rumours that such a thing is possible: that a couple who truly love each other will be granted a few extra years of life.

As you may be able to discern, this is a story rich in potential metaphor, which the film presents as understatedly as anything else. Its power – which is considerable – comes from the tension between the ordinariness of the images on the screen and the terrible nature of the film’s world. (The question inevitably arises: how desensitised have we ourselves become? What atrocities do we turn a blind eye to, for our own benefit?) As a result, the wider world of the movie stays out of focus, even though it must surely bear only the most superficial of resemblances to our own. I expect this is fruitful territory for anyone who would dismiss the film on the grounds of implausibility. I’m not sure. I think this film is worryingly plausible in many ways.

In any case, the focus is on the relationships between the trio as they make sense of what and who they are, and come to terms with the moment of ‘completion’. Carey Mulligan, Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley play the three leads as adults, and they are all superb. Mulligan has the toughest gig, as a character who’s naturally quite passive and accepting, but remains effortlessly watchable throughout. This may be one of our last chances to enjoy Andrew Garfield’s English accent for the next few years – in any case, he’s almost unrecognisable from The Social Network. Knightley manages to remain somewhat sympathetic, even though Ruth isn’t an especially nice person. No-one else in the cast really gets much to do, though Charlotte Rampling is good as the headmistress of the school: someone who, though sympathetic to the children’s situation, still only really thinks of them as ‘nearly human’. Mark Romanek’s direction is effectively invisible, which I mean as a very definite compliment.

The smoke and mirrors with the way this film has been pitched to audiences doesn’t seem to have quite paid off: it’s hanging in there in theatres, but it doesn’t have the buzz around it that certain other films seem to have acquired, nor indeed the critical plaudits. Never Let Me Go may be too understated, too restrained, for many people’s taste, but to me it seemed virtually perfect and deeply, deeply moving. I use the word unmissable very rarely, but I’m going to use it here: never mind what genre it belongs to, this is a brilliant, unmissable film.

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