Apart from the family time and limited time off work, the holidays are often when I get to catch up on the hottest box office flicks. This time around, among several others, I chose to see two very different films: Martin Scorsese’s “Silence” and newbie Damien Chazelle’s “La La Land.” Now perhaps it was the closeness in timing of seeing the two that made the differences seem so stark, but even on their own, each movie is like un tour de montagnes russes!
Let’s start on a high note with “La La Land.” Two words – C’est magnifique! Ah, what a
return to the glory days of cinema! The film follows the adorable Mia (played by Emma Stone) and her journey toward stardom. Along the way, she meets a charming, although melancholy, jazz musician Sebastian (played by Ryan Gosling), and they enjoy the ups and downs of the classic love story cinema audiences have enjoyed since before the talkies. This whimsical piece flits in and out of characters breaking into song, from pensive numbers like composer Justin Hurwitz’s “City of Stars” to his peppy “A Lovely Night” (pictured above) that might as well have been danced by Gene Kelly in his heyday. Now, that’s not to say that Stone and Gosling even come close to the dancing or singing talent of the experts of the ‘40s and ‘50. Their attempts are valid and enchanting, and they work for this overall homage to the cinema of the olden days. It’s been a long while since I’ve gotten to witness a musical number not chopped up into multiple cuts; Chazelle clearly made an effort to film musical numbers as they were originally intended – without cuts and shot in singular continuous takes. I left the theatre with a smile on my face, a skip in my step, and missing home. (Much of the music is reminiscent of classic Parisian motifs…)
Overall Takeaway? I highly recommend for audiences of all ages, especially Los Angeles natives! I spent much of the movie turning to my daughter and exclaiming, "Hey! We know that place!" or, "Wow! That's a block away from home!"
Now let’s move on to the darker of the two, aforementioned films… “Silence.” Distinct from the previous delightful, musical romp, “Silence” explores themes of faith and doubt through the story of two Portuguese, Jesuit priests abroad in Japan in the late 1630s. I had the pleasure of watching this film at Arclight (at which I am a Gold Member…) where a staff member shares some brief facts about the film before it starts. I was shocked to learn that “Silence” was 2 hours and 41 minutes long! And long, it felt! I’ll give it to Scorsese and his cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, the film is visually quite stunning. Filmed on the coast near Taipei, Taiwan, the rugged coast, cliffs, and mountainside provided a beautiful backdrop for such an introspective film. Newly emaciated Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver both offered gripping performances alongside a talented, yet unrecognizable, cast. BUT, and this is a big BUT, this film is clearly not made to be enjoyed by the layman. “Silence” is a quiet, tortured journey throughout which you must have great patience and understanding. Issues like faith and doubt in God when faced with human torture and murder are not to be taken lightly, and as Matt Zoller Seitz of RogerEbert.com put it so aptly, “‘Silence’ is a monumental work, and a punishing one.” I still feel punished by it as I am still stewing several days later.
Overall Takeaway? I cautiously recommend to the moviegoer looking to reexamine their entire spiritual/faith walk over the course of 3 hours of witnessing torture, murder, tears, frustration, and quite a bit of mud.