FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #96 – “Silence” (dir. Martin Scorsese)

Poster for "Silence"

In this week’s podcast, two old friends make their second appearance ever on the podcast. A shout-out to 16th-century Protestant reformer Martin Luther, and our resident Japan expert (and Glenn‘s former fiancée and now-wife), Megan! And don’t worry, Daniel‘s here too, being quite unkind to Adam Driver. Take a stroll through Tokugawa-era Japan as we discuss cultural clash and religious persecution in director Martin Scorsese‘s most Catholic film ever (58:17).

Despite delving into some serious religious themes, this episode actually contains even more NSFW language than usual.

FilmWonk rating: 7 out of 10

Show notes:

  • [17:58] Spoilers: Silence
  • Music for this episode is the track “Supply Chain” by ConfidentialMX, as isolated by Trailer Music Life on YouTube (as there doesn’t seem to be an official track available).
  • Bill Wurtz‘ “History of Japan” is one of the most entertaining and educational history lessons on the internet. Silence takes place at roughly the 4-minute mark of the video, but you should really just watch the whole thing. Seriously, go watch it right now. I might watch it again myself after typing this. It’s that good.
  • Correction: This isn’t super-germane to the film (as it’s over 100 years earlier on the other end of Eurasia), but Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses were published in 1517, not 1597.
  • Note: We briefly discuss the story of Cassie Bernall, one of the victims of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, as an oft-cited example of a modern-day Christian martyr. Reading further, I was reminded of something I first learned when reading Dave Cullen‘s exhaustive book on the shooting, which is that this story is – to put it mildly – most likely just a story, even if it has still served the religious and rhetorical purpose that we have put it to today. On a related note, the film that Daniel mentions at the end of the episode is actually a loose Christian dramatization of another Columbine victim, Rachel Joy Scott, and it looks more than a little bit fictionalized and exploitative.

Listen above, or download: Silence (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #55 – “A Walk Among the Tombstones” (dir. Scott Frank)

Poster for "A Walk Among the Tombstones"

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel take a leisurely stroll through a pretty well-executed genre exercise by writer/director Scott Frank (The Lookout). (41:39).

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 7 out of 10

Show notes:

  • Music for tonight’s episode is Nouela‘s cover of “Black Hole Sun“, from the film’s trailer.
  • Joining us for this week’s episode is Seattle artist Jason B., who will happily sell you a delightful pop-art print (or a mug) of Daniel’s mug here. Check out his other artwork and blog over at Catastrophic Shift. "Office Crazed" by Jason Busse
  • The two detective characters that were name-dropped in the film were Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe (created by Raymond Chandler, whom we mistakenly mentioned instead).
  • The last (and only other) film in which we saw Brian “Astro” Bradley was Earth to Echocheck out our podcast review here.
  • We referred to a recent Cracked article about a convicted drug smuggler, now out of prison, who is now a professional speaker – that was this one, from Brian O’Dea. But we actually mixed in a detail from this article (from an anonymous writer), about how drug dealers are often not the people you expect.
  • We referred to the lackluster success rate of Alcoholics Anonymous – for reference, check out this NPR interview with Dr. Lance Dodes, who claims that AA’s success rate is as low as 5-10%.

Listen above, or download: A Walk Among the Tombstones (right-click, save as, or click/tap to play on a non-flash browser)

FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #16: “The Grey” (dir. Joe Carnahan)

This week on the podcast, Glenn and Daniel venture into the Alaskan wilderness into a harrowing (and possibly overrated) tale of survival and wolf-punching. If the film’s trailer is any indication, that is. Which it isn’t. (25:35)

May contain NSFW language.

FilmWonk rating: 4/10 (Glenn), 3/10 (Daniel)

Show notes:

  • We refer to the famous line, “Once more unto the breach, dear friends”, which is indeed from Henry V.
  • It’s Ottway, not Ottman. Get it right, dudes.
  • With apologies to Bob Ducca, stick around at the end for a list of movie title mashups.

Listen above, or download: The Grey (right-click, save as).

Atom Egoyan’s “Chloe” – An odd bit of erotica

Two seconds. That’s how long it takes for Amanda Seyfried’s breasts to appear in this film, and as she begins a wistful voiceover about what it means to be a prostitute, it is with this first artfully lit shot that Atom Egoyan’s Chloe (a remake of a 2003 French film) presents itself with decidedly European sensibilities. But while the Europeans might decry my American puritanical sexualization of the female breast, I must confess that this shot (and many similar ones that followed) put me somewhat on guard. There are few things that take me out of a film faster than the feeling that I’m being manipulated by the screen. If this were a film about gargantuan fighting robots, I could certainly ignore the feeling, but Chloe strives for a good deal more. As it went on, I was forced to decide whether I was watching a thoughtful and emotionally complex exploration of sexual obsession and jealousy or being titillated just for the sake of it.

The premise is certainly a provocative one. The Stewarts are a pair of well-off professionals whose marriage is gradually drifting apart – David (Liam Neeson), a college professor, is friendly and semi-flirtatious with every woman he meets, and his wife Catherine (Julianne Moore), a doctor, is becoming increasingly insecure and jealous. From the outset, we are as much in the dark as Catherine about her husband, as she becomes more and more suspicious that he’s cheating on her. She finds a friend and confidante in an escort named Chloe (Amanda Seyfried), whom she hires to try and seduce David.

“I usually meet the client directly,” starts Chloe.

“I’M the client” declares Catherine.

And indeed, nearly all we see from this point on is through the interactions between these two women. As Chloe recounts her various encounters with David, Catherine insists she spare no detail. These graphic recollections are nothing new in cinema (they reminded me a great deal of Mike Nichols’ 2004 film Closer), but they still rang true for me. They spoke to the secret shame shared by private detectives and their cuckholded clients alike – when you’ve been betrayed by someone you love, you want to know every last disgusting detail.

It is this obsession that the film and its actors convey so effectively. The plot takes a number of rather predictable twists, but I really can’t fault it for this. As Catherine watches the destruction of her marriage, she gradually realizes that it may be her own mistrust and jealousy that precipitated its end. By the final act, the film only seems predictable in the sense of people being reliably self-destructive, and Julianne Moore proves to be the tragic heart of this film, turning in a performance that is both fearless and believable.

But what an enigma is Amanda Seyfried… This is an actress whose work I’ve nearly always enjoyed, who often elevates lesser films with her performances. But for the first half of this film, her line delivery is nearly as flat and devoid of character as porn star Sasha Grey in Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience. As she recounted the vagaries of life as a high-class call-girl, I just didn’t buy it. And while her performance certainly improves in the second half, it’s balanced out by some rather preposterous character twists (for which I place equal blame on the screenwriter).

This is certainly an ambitious film, and its successes manage to stay a bit more interesting than its failures. The film looks great, featuring some gorgeous cinematography from DP Paul Sarossy. It delivers a fantastic performance from Moore and solid supporting work from Neeson. And perhaps most importantly, despite the absurd lengths the film goes to in order to destroy its characters, it delivers a few remarkable relationship insights. I have to think that if only something had elevated the character of Chloe, I wouldn’t have been left to ponder whether this film is exploitative or gratuitous. The film strives for something like Closer but becomes something more akin to Heartbreakers. The result is something worse than one, but better than the other, and fascinating nonetheless.

FilmWonk rating: 6 out of 10