Random Movies: Best to Worst

Silence (2016)

So, in this movie, Spiderman and Adam Driver are Jesuit priests who watch people get tortured to death in Japan and meditate about the nature of faith and sacrifice. It’s based on a novel that Martin Scorsese’s been trying to adapt for a few decades, and it sounds insane, and no one I’ve mentioned it to has ever, ever heard of it, but It’s really fucking amazing.

Silence is a long movie that feels like it could have been made in the 70s or 80s in terms of the style of filmmaking it uses, and I don’t mean that in a bad way – it feels like serious, important cinema that takes its time in examining introverted themes. It presents a very nuanced and uncomfortable examination of what it means to stand by your beliefs and resists easy answers in a really sophisticated way. The characters are Christian (and Christian scholars have written about what the film means in terms of religion), but the hard questions the movie asks about courage, and ego, and sacrifice are universal. No matter how many philosophy classes you’ve taken and how comfortable you feel that you know the right thing to do, your comfort will be shaken by the end.

My Cousin Rachel (2017)

I went into this without any knowledge about the plot or the book the film is based on, and was pleasantly surprised when what seemed like a very straightforward not-very-mysterious murder mystery took a turn and became a self-reflexive criticism of how women are presented in this genre.

The upshot is that some Victorian dude’s cousin Rachel (who is his cousin by marriage) may have murdered her husband. The Victorian dude starts to fall in love with Rachel even though she’s obviously a serial killer, and even though all of the other characters around him keep warning him away. That’s well enough on its own, but the story takes a turn toward the end, where the movie also starts to ask us what exactly Rachel’s done to warrant the level of suspicion the other characters (and the audience) hold toward her.

Not at all coincidentally, every piece of evidence against her is an example of Rachel doing something she has every right to do, even though the male protagonist doesn’t like it. And, as he gets more and more crazy about it, and starts to believe she’s trying to kill him, it’s plausible both that she is carrying out the elaborate plot he imagines and that she is the innocent victim of his projections. It’s creepy and complicated, and much, much more than I thought I was going to get when I first settled in to watch it.

Wonder Woman

This is, by far, DC’s most successful swing at a super hero movie in a long time. There’s even an added note of realism in how most of the male characters can stand there watching Diana have super powers and walk away thinking, “That Chris Pine guy should be our leader.”

The story isn’t super involved, but the premise is clear an uncomplicated – it’s about an Amazon warrior who’s been cut off from the world deciding whether humanity is worth saving within the extremely dramatic context of World War II. In similar fashion to The Fifth Element, she eventually decides that we are worth saving, because some of us feel love.

What’s cool about the film is that Gal Gadot has a lot of presence in the lead role and, although some of the special effects are overused, the fight scenes look really neat. There’s a little bit of a Xena: Warrior Princess thing going on with the Amazons, but I didn’t mind it too much.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

I didn’t really expect this to be good, so I played a game with myself while I was watching called, “Why is this so bad?” It’s a serious question because the film, which is the fifth in the Pirates franchise, has a lot of good actors in it, an apparently huge special effects budget, and plot elements borrowed from the first and best movie, but still manages to be completely boring and forgettable.

At this point, it’s not really very startling to say that the script for the first film in a franchise has to clear a higher bar, because it’s convincing people to invest money in something, whereas the later scripts are just pieces of paper that need to exist so everyone can fulfill their contract obligations – but it’s true. If I had to identify the key difference between the first Pirates movie and all of the movies that followed after it, I’d say that the characters’ motivations in the first film were a lot more universal. Will is in love with a woman he thinks he’s not good enough for. Elisabeth wants more adventure than her cloistered life can offer her. Jack wants to reclaim his former glory and experience the freedom of the open sea. Barbossa wants to undo his mistakes and stop living a half-life cut off from any sense of purpose or enjoyment. Norrington wants to be rewarded for following rules and leading an honourable life.

Compare that to Dead Men Tell No Tales where the girl character, whose name I don’t remember, wants to solve a mystery in a book that she believes her deceased father left her, and the boy character, whose name I don’t remember, wants to break a really specific curse on his father, and Jack wants to go with them for some reason having to do with general greed, and Barbossa… is there. If you were evaluating the script with a checklist, you could totally check the boxes that say “The characters explain what they want” and “Their actions seem aligned with their stated goals” but it’s missing the larger point that, in order to resonate with an audience, the audience has to be able to relate to the goals rather than just understand them.

Rough Night

I barely remember this movie, but it’s the one where all the women go to Vegas for a bachelorette party and then accidentally kill a male stripper and it joins Bridesmaids in a quest to prove that women can be just as dumb as men. As I remember it, there were a couple of funny jokes, but otherwise not that much going on.

The Invitation

I barely remember this one either, except that it didn’t even have funny jokes. It’s a suspense movie about a guy who goes to a dinner party at his ex-wife’s house, where it kind of turns out to be a party to recruit people to the weird cult she and her new partner have joined. I guess it is a little bit suspenseful, but it’s mostly just very slow, followed by explosive violence.

Image: Silence; Paramount Pictures | November 5, 2017