Tom Hardy’s FX Drama ‘Taboo’ Takes Itself Too Seriously, Moves Too Slowly To Work

FX

When we first meet James Keziah Delaney, the hero of the new FX drama

Taboo

, he’s on a tall ship. Then he’s on a rowboat, then on a white horse, then strutting bow-legged through the streets of 1814 London. He is, the opening sequence wants to tell us, a man with drive and purpose. He has places to be, people to threaten, an agenda to pursue rapidly.

Would that Taboo itself was as motivated as its main character. The series (a BBC co-production, it debuts in the U.K. this weekend, and in the U.S. on Tuesday night at 10) is slow, dark (visually as well as tonally) and unrelentingly humorless. Any of those three qualities on its own would be fine, but put together in service of what’s ultimately a trashy, if pretentious, revenge story, it’s an utter slog, and the biggest creative misstep FX has made in a while.

Delaney is played by Tom Hardy, who created Taboo with his father Chips and Steven Knight, who’s previously worked with Hardy on Locke and another violent period British drama, Peaky Blinders.(*) As a partnership with the BBC, and one co-created by a movie star looking to dabble in TV, the usually reliable FX braintrust may not have been able to make many suggestions — or they were simply ignored — but, boy could Taboo have used some.

(*) To answer your question: no, I have not watched Peaky Blinders, other than the first episode (which moves more and is significantly more fun than this). It’s on a long list of shows I’d like to catch up on if Peak TV ever goes away somehow.

The three episodes sent out for review give some sense of the plot, with Delaney returning from an infamous and potentially mystical African sojourn in the wake of his father’s death. He has designs on a piece of property near Vancouver that his father left him, but the East India Company — led by the arrogant Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce, the only actor in the production enjoying himself even slightly) — has plans for it, as do several other parties, including the royal family, a woman claiming to be Delaney’s stepmother, and the husband of Delaney’s sister Zilpha (Oona Chaplin). And it’s Delaney’s feelings for Zilpha — and, perhaps, vice versa? — that provide the eponymous taboo, and perhaps the reason why the show comes across as so pleased with itself.

There’s raw material here for an unabashedly campy potboiler, but Taboo and its star both take themselves far too seriously for the story, and for the pace at which it’s being told. Hardy swaggers around, growling in his latest weird voice (imagine if Bane from The Dark Knight Rises had gargled asphalt all morning) as he makes intense, if often contradictory, pronouncements — at different points in the premiere, he intones, “Forgive me, father, for I have indeed sinned” and “People who do not know me soon come to understand that I do not have any sins” — but the plot itself meanders far too much for any of it to be of interest, particularly when everything is lit so darkly (and with five layers of 19th century grime covering most surfaces) that you sometimes have to squint with your face pressed against the screen just to make out what’s happening, let alone why. There are occasional references to the supernatural — rituals Delaney picked up in Africa, which gives other characters license to use the N-word to describe him — but presented in such muddy fashion that it’s not clear if we’re meant to believe them, think that Delaney is using this stuff to confuse his enemies, or if he’s just a crazy man who believes it himself.

When Tom Hardy comes to you and says he wants to make a TV show, you not only take that meeting, but you probably smile and nod at his many suggestions. That’s just the way the business works sometimes. But even if the idea came from Hardy and his dad, it might have done better with a less intense — even if he was also less famous — man at the center of the project.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@uproxx.com

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New UK Trailer for ‘Trespass Against Us’ Starring Gleeson & Fassbender

Trespass Against Us UK Trailer

"I’m just trying to look after my family…" Film4 out of the UK has debuted another official trailer for the generational crime drama Trespass Against Us, about a family of criminals who end up battling against each other. The indie film stars Michael Fassbender as a man trying desperately to escape the dangerous criminal world presided over by his savage father, played by Brendan Gleeson. The cast also includes Rory Kinnear, Sean Harris, Lyndsey Marshal, Killian Scott and Georgie Smith. This also features a score by The Chemical Brothers, some of which can be heard in the trailer. It seems like a solid crime thriller with some intense dramatic scenes and entertaining action, but it’s oddly being released very quietly later this month by A24 in the US (see the US trailer here), which makes me a bit concerned. Have a look.

Here’s the new UK trailer (+ UK poster) for Adam Smith’s Trespass Against Us, direct from YouTube:

Trespass Against Us UK Poster

Set across three generations of the Cutler family who live as outlaws in their own anarchic corner of Britain’s richest countryside. Chad Cutler (Fassbender) is heir apparent to his bruising criminal father, Colby (Gleeson) and has been groomed to spend his life hunting, thieving and tormenting the police. But with his own son, Tyson (Smith) coming of age, Chad soon finds himself locked in a battle with his father for the future of his young family. When Colby learns of Chad’s dreams for another life he sets out to tie his son and grandson into the archaic order that has bound the Cutler family for generations. He engineers a spectacular piece of criminal business involving a heist, a high-speed car chase and a manhunt, which leaves Chad bruised and bloodied and with his very freedom at stake. Trespass Against Us is directed by filmmaker Adam Smith making his feature debut, from a screenplay written by Alastair Siddons. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. A24 releases Trespass Against Us in select theaters January 20th.

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The Best of Movie Poster of the Day: Part 16

Above: Mondo poster for The Graduate (Mike Nichols, USA, 1967); artist: Rory Kurtz; lettering: Jay Shaw.
On my daily movie poster Tumblr I don’t make a habit of posting fan art or art prints—call them what you will—because I’m most interested in the intersection of commerce and art that is the theatrical movie poster. But I make an exception when something stands out, and nothing stood out last year quite like Rory Kurtz’s beautiful, elegant and unexpected Mondo illustration for The Graduate, which quite rightly racked up over 200 more likes than even its nearest competitor. But its nearest competitor was fan art too: a brilliant poster for Badlands by the insanely talented Adam Juresko, whose art poster for In the Mood for Love (featured in my Maggie Cheung article) was also in the top four. What makes art posters easy to like—beyond their extraordinary artistry—is the fact that they are referencing an already-beloved work and not trying to sell an unknown quantity. Which makes the top four appearance of a lesser known film—Paul Kyriazi’s 70s dystopian sci-fi Death Machines—all the more interesting. The top 20, sadly as always, has a couple of in memoriam entries: for Carrie Fisher and Andrzej Wajda. It also has a handful of posters for new films, including two designed by the artist known as Midnight Marauder and one—The Ornithologist—which made my Top Ten posters of the year. And one very old poster—the lovely Deco design for 1924’s Lilies of the Field—which I posted because it appears in a new film: on Emma Stone’s bedroom wall in La La Land (a film chock-full of posters, though that one would have set her back a bit since it sold at auction in 2009 for $1,195).
So feast your eyes on The Graduate above, and below are the rest of the Top 20 of the past quarter (actually four months since I slacked off in the post-election daze), in gently descending order of popularity.
Above: Art poster for Badlands (Terrence Malick, USA, 1973); designer: Adam Juresko.
Above: US one sheet for Death Machines (Paul Kyriazi, USA, 1976); designer: unknown.
Above: Castro Theatre poster for In the Mood for Love (Wong Kar-wai, Hong Kong, 2000); designer: Adam Juresko.
Above: US Style B one sheet for Return of the Jedi (Richard Marquand, USA, 1983); artist: Kazuhiko Sano.
Above: US one sheet for The Children’s Hour (William Wyler, USA, 1962); designer: unknown.
Above: US one sheet for Lilies of the Field (John Francis Dillon, USA, 1924); artist: uncredited.
Above: 1985 Japanese poster for Ran (Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 1985); designer: unknown.
Above: US one sheet for Raw (Julia Ducournau, France, 2016); designer: TBD.
Above: US one sheet for Weirdos (Bruce McDonald, Canada, 2016); designer: Midnight Marauder.
Above: Japanese poster for Irreversible (Gaspar Noé, France, 2002); designer: unknown.
Above: Czech poster for ASSA (Sergey Solovev, USSR, 1988); designer: Jan S. Tomanek.
Above: Japanese poster for The Bad News Bears (Michael Ritchie, USA, 1976); designer: unknown.
Above: British quad for Fahrenheit 451 (François Truffaut, UK, 1966); designer: unknown.
Above: Polish poster for Man of Iron (Andrzej Wajda, Poland, 1981); artist: Rafal Olbinski.
Above: Japanese poster for The Ornithologist (João Pedro Rodrigues, Portugal, 2016); artist: Philippe Morin; designer: Igor Ramos.
Above: US one sheet for Theo Who Lived (David Schisgall, USA, 2016); designer: Brandon Schaefer.
Above: US one sheet for I Am Not a Serial Killer (Billy O’Brien, USA, 2016); designer: Midnight Marauder.
Above: 1991 Polish poster for Down by Law (Jim Jarmusch, USA, 1996); designer: Andrzej Klimowski.
Above: Polish poster for Yield to the Night aka Blonde Sinner (J. Lee Thompson, UK, 1956); designer: Ewa Frysztak.
Poster sources are all credited on Movie Poster of the Day; click on the titles above for more information.
You can see an index of all my Movie Poster of the Week posts here, and if you want to see more of Movie Poster of the Day and you’re not on Tumblr, you can follow me on Twitter and get daily updates there.

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Ask Alan: Long-Running Shows That Successfully Made Big Changes

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Happy Friday, everybody! Time for the first Ask Alan of 2017.

With Crazy Ex-Girlfriend returning tonight after a brief hiatus, I tried to pick season 2’s best song so far, though I may have gotten a bit confused between what’s aired and what I’ve seen on screeners. Then I belatedly reacted to the pre-holiday news of CBS attempting another How I Met Your Mother spin-off (this time lacking Greta Gerwig), and followed that by tackling two separate but related questions — the latter of them with recent Vikings spoilers — about shows that went through major changes — whether a new lead actor or a radically different status quo — late in their runs and actually succeeded as a result. (i.e., Robert California does not count)

(By the way, the actor who played Bart Maverick on Maverick — whose name you may have noticed me mentally searching for as I answered that question — was Jack Kelly. And while Roger Moore initially replaced James Garner, he left after a while and was briefly replaced in turn by Robert Colbert, before the network eventually gave up and just alternated new Jack Kelly episodes with James Garner repeats.)

As always, you can send questions to askalan@uproxx.com, or tweet me with the hashtag #AskAlanDay

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Watch: Official US Trailer for Wacky Polish Mermaid Film ‘The Lure’

The Lure Trailer

"All you need to do is have fun. The rest is easy." Janus Films has debuted an official US trailer (red band for mermaid nudity) for a film titled The Lure, a wacky Polish indie about two mermaid girls who join a human band in Warsaw. Part comedy, part cabaret, part horror, part romance, you won’t find anything else like this film out there, though it may be a little too wacky for some. The cast includes Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska, Kinga Preis, Andrzej Konopka, Jakub Gierszal, Zygmunt Malanowicz, Katarzyna Herman and Marcin Kowalczyk. I’ve been hearing about this film for a while, ever since it premiered at Sundance last year, and it’s destined to become a cult classic – catch it in theaters this winter.

Here’s the first red band trailer (+ poster) for Agnieszka Smoczynska’s The Lure, originally from EW.com:

The Lure Movie Poster

One dark night, at water’s edge, a family of musicians encounter aquatic sirens Silver and Golden. After assuring the family that they won’t eat them up, the winsome sirens are recruited to join the Figs and Dates band at a neon-lit Warsaw dance club. When Silver becomes romantically entangled with beautiful blonde bassist Mietek, the more cunning Golden, who cannot escape her bloodthirsty nature, worries that her sister’s relationship will doom their shared dream of swimming to a new life in America. The Lure is directed by Polish filmmaker Agnieszka Smoczynska, making her feature directorial debut. The script is by Robert Bolesto. This premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year, and played at numerous fests all over the world. The Lure opens in select US theaters starting February 1st, 2017 this winter. Interested?

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Third Trailer for Awkward Boy from Mars Film ‘The Space Between Us’

The Space Between Us Trailer

"His heart can’t handle our gravity, it’s too risky!" STX Entertainment has debuted one more trailer for the cheesy romantic drama The Space Between Us, about a boy born on Mars who returns to Earth and falls in love with a young woman from Colorado. We’ve seen so many trailers for this already, and the film was delayed from being release last fall, until this February (supposedly to distance itself from the release of two other big space movies last December – Rogue One and Passengers). Asa Butterfield plays the boy, and Britt Robertson plays the girl he falls for and chases all over Earth. The full cast includes Carla Gugino, Gary Oldman, BD Wong, Janet Montgomery, and Jenny Gabrielle. Will this end up being worth the wait? I’m not so sure, but hopefully they won’t delay the release any further. I just want to see this already.

Here’s the third trailer (+ new poster) for Peter Chelsom’s The Space Between Us, direct from YouTube:

You can still see the first official trailer for The Space Between Us here, or the second trailer here for more.

The Space Between Us Poster

In this interplanetary adventure, a space shuttle embarks on the first mission to colonize Mars, only to discover after takeoff that one of the astronauts is pregnant. Shortly after landing, she dies from complications while giving birth to the first human born on the red planet – never revealing who the father is. Thus begins the extraordinary life of Gardner Elliot – an inquisitive, highly intelligent boy who reaches the age of 16 having only met 14 people in his very unconventional upbringing… While searching for clues about his father, and the home planet he’s never known, Gardner begins an online friendship with a street smart girl in Colorado named Tulsa. When he finally gets a chance to go to Earth, he’s eager to experience all of the wonders he could only read about on Mars – from the most simple to the extraordinary. But once his explorations begin, scientists discover that Gardner’s organs can’t withstand Earth’s atmosphere. The Space Between Us is directed by Peter Chelsom (Serendipity, Hector and the Search for Happiness), from a screenplay by Allan Loeb. STX opens the film in theaters on February 3rd.

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Suffering on the Outside: Martin Scorsese’s “Silence”

“About three in the afternoon, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani (which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)”
—Matthew 27:46
Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield), a Jesuit priest ministering in a 17th century Japan hostile to Christians, craves the sound of this voice, pining for a confirmation of his convictions: something—anything—to demonstrate that God, too, has not forsaken him. Accompanied by Garrpe (Adam Driver), a fellow priest, he enters Japan looking for his former mentor, Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who according to rumor apostatized at the hands of the Japanese authorities. Because the Japanese closed off their borders to “Christian” nations like England, Portugal and Spain, Garrpe and Rodrigues travel illegally from Macao to Japan, led by an enigmatic drunkard, Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka). Shortly after their arrival, the priests bear witness to excruciating acts of torture perpetrated against the local Japanese Christians. But Rodrigues’ personal test, divorced from the gratification of martyrdom or physical hardship, comes later and is of an altogether different sort, related to epistemological uncertainty and the silence of a seemingly absent God.
When a voice finally breaks the silence, it doesn’t so much confirm Rodrigues’ religious beliefs as it does retroactively reconsider the enigma at the film’s core: “I suffered beside you.” It says—a literal voice we hear in the film—“I was never silent.” Considering that he only observers the torture and martyrdoms without experiencing it himself, the voice that “suffers beside” Rodrigues is thus not identifying with any physical pain, as it has come to be often associated in conventional accounts of Christian martyrdoms, but rather expressing empathy towards Rodrigues’ internal crisis: the collapsing of his faith. Though it is ambiguous as to whether the voice we hear is Rodrigues’ own narcissistic self-justification or the actual words of Christ, Silence nonetheless transposes the Passion narrative on 17th century Japan and depicts the Christian martyrdoms from a removed position.
There is an essential balance to Silence, subverting a colonizer’s prejudices while also considering the prospect that Rodrigues’ missionary work is disseminating objective truth; one does not reduce the other, but enlivens it, makes it meaningful, potent and mysterious. Adapted from a novel by Shusaku Endo, a Japanese Catholic persecuted for his religious values at home and discriminated against for his race abroad, Scorsese’s film also occupies the novel’s ambiguous middle ground. Somehow these two values coexist, somehow it all makes sense, and somehow God has not forsaken Rodrigues and these Japanese Christians.  
While the framing of the conventional martyrdom has a direct correlation between form (the Passion) and imitation (historical account of martyrdom), Silence challenges this system by piercing a rift between the two. The imitation—Rodrigues’ posturing as a Christ figure and the martyrdoms that the Japanese authorities force him to behold—is no longer a reliable copy, too distinct from the original to maintain any of its meaning. This is a realm where one can behold without hearing God, bear witness to suffering without deciphering meaning from it. Scorsese’s and Endo’s subversive variant is radically different from the prototypical Christian martyrdom, where the Passion of Christ correlates directly to a martyr narrative, where physical suffering is not only of little consequence but a meaningful pathway to a better existence. Outside of the New Testament’s description of Stephen’s death, Marcion’s account of Polycarp’s execution is the first record of a Christian martyrdom we have. According to New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, the letter is not simply an account of a martyrdom but an account of how one should write an account of a martyrdom, the means by which to find meaning in heinous death and torture:
“Blessed and noble, therefore, are all the martyrdoms that have occurred according to the will of God. For we must be reverent and attribute the ultimate or who would not be astounded by their nobility, endurance and love for the Master? For they endured even when their skin was ripped to shreds by whips, revealing the very anatomy of their flesh, down to the inner veins and arteries, while bystanders felt pity and wailed. But they displayed such nobility that none of them either grumbled or moaned, clearly showing us all that in that hour, while under torture the martyrs of Christ had journeyed far away from flesh, or rather, that the Lord was standing by speaking to them.
The allegorical parallels to the Passion of Christ that Rodrigues uses to frame his own story break at the seams and reveal his position as far lower than the one he envisions for himself. Silence has multiple narrators, but unlike Scorsese’s Casino or Goodfellas they’re in succession, not conversation. Following their development toward epiphany and an undercutting of Rodrigues’ self-mythologizing, Endo’s story and Scorsese’s adaptation, written with Jay Cocks (who also adapted The Age of Innocence and Gangs of New York), revises this narrative without reversing it entirely. The film explores the shambles of a false perception, what happens when Rodrigues falsely imposes the conventions of martyrdom on his own life, constructing an altered reality. His feelings of self-importance are bolstered by the foundational elements of how Christian martyrdoms are narrativised, which Ehrman lists:
“a person could be put to death simply for claiming to be Christian, and part of the crime involved “atheism,” that is, not acknowledging the existence and power of the pagan gods; suffering martyrdom brings eternal life; the temporary suffering at the hands of human torturers is nothing compared to the eternal torments reserved for those who oppose God; the struggle between antagonistic pagan mobs and Christians is actually a cosmic battle between the devil and God; and God’s certain victory in this contest, seen above all in the death, could not help but attract the notice of pagan on lookers.”
Following what Ehrman lays out here, Silence’s subversion is largely in how it presents the Japanese authorities: ruthless, tyrannical and deceptive, yes, but also economical and in their own twisted way, indicative of a modern form of doubt. The inquisitor Inoue (Issei Ogata) is not asking the Christians to worship Buddha nor is he rashly martyring Christians, which he knows will lead to more resistance; instead, he tortures them, leaving execution as an absolute last resort. Both Inoue and the Japanese interpreter are classically trained by Jesuit priests with full understandings of Christian theology, arguing that although Christianity may hold value in nations like England and Portugal, it does not in Japan; they’re advocates for a culturally relative notion of truth.
In the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom, physical suffering points directly back to God’s will: temporary pain for everlasting life, a claim that is in self-evident opposition to the Japanese authorities. The executions in Silence, far from celebrations, are symbolic attacks on Christian rituals and this alleged connection to some higher purpose: burning at the hot springs as corrupted baptism; hanging by the ears highlighting God’s silence; the use of crucifixes in execution as pastiche and mockery of Christ’s sacrifice. Purportedly, there was no need to pin Polycarp to the stake for he stood and burned on his own volition. The Japanese Christians on the other hand, do not embrace their fate so confidently: struggling, squirming and shrieking as life is slowly stolen from them.
Kichijirio, the only Japanese Christian to apostatize in the story, is placed in the role of Judas. Uttering the same words that Jesus said before his disciple betrayed him—“What thou doest, do quickly”—Rodrigues is less a Christ figure that brings salvation to the Japanese people than a Peter, a fallible human who, when put under pressure, denied Jesus three times. Rodrigues’ frames his story as a re-telling of Christ’s suffering, and as such, it is not a critique of “white savior narratives” or whiteness at all, but about the intersection of a colonizer’s mindset with the conventions of martyr stories. Rodrigues’ view of his mission, latent with a sense of cultural, racial and religious superiority, stems from a failure to identify with the Other’s culture and way of thinking. But one part of Scorsese’s film is to break down the character’s self-illusions, developing him to a point where he can “suffer beside” and not “suffer above” the Japanese Christians.
This “suffering beside you” is inherent in the Catholic liturgy. Beholding of another’s suffering, in particular Christ’s suffering, serves as mediator between God and our perception of him. In The Stations of the Cross, 14 paintings or reliefs depicting the day of Jesus’ crucifixion on the Via Delarosa, create a proto-cinematic experience, the faithful walking from image to image, immersing oneself into a place and event in time along Christ’s path to Calvary. The steps from each station are a simulated pilgrimage, using the mounted images as a primer for prayer and an intermediary between spectator and spirit: beholding becomes a means of hearing God, of magnetizing the voice to the image, to the face of Christ. Recreating this phenomenon and subverting its role, the act of beholding shifts from an uncomplicated gaze to an unholy spectacle staged by the Japanese authorities, who force Rodrigues to observe Garrpe’s death, imprison him in a cell with a clean vantage point of executions, and set his apostasy where Christians are being hung by their ears. These forced observations by the Japanese authorities corrupt beholding as a means of encountering Christ.
The shots in Scorsese’s Silence fluctuate between two extremes, a mise en scène that identifies the difference between form and original, alternating between polarities: extreme wide shots and close-ups, elaborately configured compositions reminiscent of the work of Akira Kurosawa and tight shots of faces that exude the same empathy for suffering as the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer. This fluctuation of beholding at a distance, and identifying difference between Christ’s face and the face of the Japanese who suffer, exudes a fundamental understanding: If Jesus himself, fully man yet also fully divine, had wondered if God had forsaken him, what can be expected of mortal humans divorced from that privileged access? It is the mise en scène that breaks down the conventions of the martyr narrative, identifying this difference of imitation from the original Passion of Christ. But it’s in recognizing the difference that there is empathy, and if that is in fact any indication of an active benevolent God suffering with them, maybe he was never silent, maybe he never did forsake them.
In the novel, language takes primacy over images, the divide of truth and the ability of words and corresponding concepts to capture it. After Rodrigues is arrested and re-introduced to Father Ferreira, now living under a Japanese name with a Japanese wife, his old mentor argues that the faith of the Japanese was never the true one, rather a hybridized counterfeit misconstrued by the limitations of language: the Japanese Christians are called “Krishtians,” their God is not God but “Deus,” their Son of Man misinterpreted as the “Sun of Man”—all referents to a faith that is material-bound. Garrpe and Rodrigues note that the Japanese Christians’ worship is directed at the objects and relics, not the person of God.
This relationship between language and images is reversed in Scorsese’s film. This disparity, though also linguistic in nature, is primarily visual, as the camera’s gaze, so often taking Rodrigues’ perspective, simultaneously reflects on beholding as a means of communication and reparation with God. If Endo’s novel is concerned with the relationship between culture and language, and how language can express, communicate and carry out God’s will, Scorsese’s film explores that same relationship but with images and sounds—with cinema itself. A multiplicitous signifier of conflicting ideas, the face of Christ in Silence denotes relativism and truth, pain and emancipation, renunciation and faith. Rodrigues’ perception of Christ’s face is idealized: smooth, symmetrical and exuding profound love. The Japanese have a different image, or at the very least, a different perception of what it means. The most ubiquitous representation of the face of Christ in Silence is the fumie, an image of Jesus or Mary that the authorities required suspected Christians to step on and renounce their faith.
Every depiction of Christ’s face in Silence is a representation sculpted by human hands, obscured by subjective perception. But if there is a God behind the representations and the camera’s gaze, it’s imbued in the empathy of the visual choices: the dignity of its cuts and in the forgiveness behind its placements, angles and compositions; the recognition between the differences in circumstances between the conventions of martyr histories and their original incarnation in the Passion of Christ. Scorsese’s form is especially apparent when compared to the only other film adaptation of this same story, Masahiro Shinoda’s Silence (1971).
When the locals who hid Rodrigues and Garrpe are tested with the fumie, they step on it one by one, shaken by their denunciation of their faith. Sensing the Christians’ discomfort, the authorities demand that they condemn the virgin Mary as a “whore,” or spit on the face of Christ. How this scene is assembled encapsulates the difference in Shinoda and Scorsese’s approach, because while the former cuts to the opposite side after Kichijiro has spit on the face, showing his saliva running down the fumie like a tear, Scorsese holds his angle on the apostate’s horrified, never cutting to the reverse side, choosing to place emphasis on his remorse. Decentering the priest from his own story, Shinoda’s film puts us right in the middle of the torture instead of beholding it from outside. There is no God observing, and if Rodrigues is meant to be his conduit, this fantasy is totally abolished: a critique of the priest by removing the removed perspective.
Silence
Silence’s thematic canvas culminates in Rodrigues’ apostasy. Before Rodrigues completes what Ferreira calls “the most powerful act of love that has ever been performed,” the voice tells him to trample: the sounds of the words magnetized to the blank face of Christ on the plaque, as if the words were coming from the inanimate object. With empathy for an act that subverts martyrdom, the camera—as beholder—inspires this experience, or it is a mediator between God and the priest. Rodrigues steps on the face of his Lord; everything goes silent. And yet, in this act that denies God, it is the moment that will make Rodrigues realize that God, perhaps, had not forsaken him. “I suffered beside you. I was never silent,” the voice says at the film’s end.
But this quotation raises more questions than it solves: How does an immaterial and timeless God interact with sense-bound humans? Can we hear him? See him? Touch him? If we can only experience God through our sense perceptions and our sense perceptions of representations, how does that alter our understanding of him? And with this mediated communication in mind, how can we differentiate our own wills from divine commands? That last question, the relationship between divine will and the interpretation of it by humans, lies at the intersection of Silence’s multi-faceted point of view. Deconstructing a colonial subjectivity while, rather trickily, upholding Christian values, Scorsese’s film is an example of Christian art that also works as a reconsideration of its conventions.  

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‘The Good Place’ Returns With The Indecisive ‘Chidi’s Choice’

NBC

The Good Place

is back, and I have a review of tonight’s episode coming up just as soon as I eat electrical tape right off the roll…

As a very serialized comedy, The Good Place was done no favors by NBC’s other fall scheduling needs, where Thursday night football and the holidays mean it’s been over two months since the last episode ended with Tahani figuring out the truth about her “soulmate.” Some comic and narrative momentum got lost during that time, or maybe it’s just that the flaws of “Chidi’s Choice” would stand out less if it was airing a week after the previous installment and a week before the next.

Chidi’s indecisiveness was a part of his character prior to this episode, but “Chidi’s Choice’ took it to such extreme, ridiculous levels that it became impossible to understand how he had functioned in the world for all those years before the air conditioner fell on him. It would be one thing to say that he becomes victim of paralysis by analysis when the stakes are extremely high — as they are for Fake Eleanor — but the flashbacks suggest he dealt with it constantly, even in low-stakes situations like ordering dinner at a restaurant or picking teams at recess. How exactly did he eat enough to survive, or simply get dressed in the morning to go out into the world? And even if his difficulty choosing came from good motivations, if he couldn’t decide on anything to this degree, would he actually have had friends? A career? Girlfriends?

Also, while Chidi isn’t entirely The Good Place‘s straight man, there’s a sliding scale of reality for the different characters on the show. Michael and Janet can be completely absurd, and Jason pretty close to that. Tahani’s largely ridiculous but capable of being sensible or having real emotions, while Chidi and Fake Eleanor are meant to be relatively normal, even if they’re temperamental opposites of one another. Having him be this cartoonish threw the episode out of whack, even if William Jackson Harper had a lot of fun playing Chidi’s increasing panic at realizing that Fake Eleanor, Tahani, and Real Eleanor all thought they were in love with him.

The funniest parts of “Chidi’s Choice” revolved around Jason, no longer bound by the need to impersonate Jianyu, proposing marriage to Janet and arranging a quickie ceremony with vows about texting naked photos and the (alleged) awesomeness of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Again, it’s easier to let both Janet and Jason be completely weird and random, because she’s not actually human, and he’s not actually smart in any way.

Glad to have the show back, and I liked the next couple of episodes quite a bit more, but “Chidi’s Choice” didn’t entirely work for me.

What did everybody else think?

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New David Bowie Doc Features Incredible Unreleased Footage… And Also Fart Jokes

New David Bowie Doc Features Incredible Unreleased Footage... And Also Fart Jokes

This weekend, BBC Two will premiere David Bowie: The Last Five Years, a new documentary that focuses on Bowie’s albums The Next Day and Blackstar as well as the musical LazarusThroughout the film, a host of Bowie’s collaborators and friends discuss his Reality tour in 2003, his surprise comeback ten years later, and the final works leading to his death in January 2016. 

Highlights include artist Jonathan Barnbrook discussing the process by which he and Bowie came up with the striking cover design for The Next Day. Barnbrook shares the photograph that inspired Bowie to look back at iconic images of himself and reveals a series of discarded cover ideas (one of which features the star logo that would later appear on Blackstar) and alternate album titles (including Where Are We Now? and Love Is Lost). 

The film also offers detailed interviews with Bowie’s Blackstar collaborators, including Maria Schneider (who worked on the original version of “Sue (A Season of Crime)” on 2014’s Nothing Has Changed compilation) and Donny McCaslin, whose band performed on Blackstar. Johan Renck, director of Bowie’s final videos, discusses the making of the clips and shares Bowie’s original sketch that inspired his “Button Eyes” character. Robert Fox, producer of Lazarus, reflects on the collaborative process that led to the musical—whose roots date back to a 1984-inspired project Bowie failed to get off the ground in the mid-’70s—and reveals that Bowie had discussed making a sequel with him shortly after attending the Lazarus premiere.

The documentary also features a number of isolated tracks from Bowie’s last two albums, including vocal takes from “Where Are We Now?,” “Blackstar,” and “Lazarus.” In one particularly surreal clip at the end of the documentary, producer Tony Visconti plays a bit of studio banter in which Bowie utters the words, “Little mouse fart.” Visconti quips, “Here’s a little space oddity,” before playing the clip and then erupting into laughter. The Last Five Years airs Saturday, January 7, at 9 p.m. GMT on BBC Two.

Revisit David Bowie’s “Lazarus” video:

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