Rover Film Reviews: La La Land, Hacksaw Ridge, and Silence
La La Land, Reviewed by Crystal Avila
La La Land is a film that almost every film critic and moviegoer has enjoyed. Why is this? Director Damien Chazelle’s mix of music, dancing, and playful, quirky characters’ constant development throughout the entire film plays a large part in why it has received almost across-the-board praise. The audience is treated to a modern-day musical that speckles tributes from past Hollywood classic favorites such as Singin’ in the Rain, Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Rebel Without a Cause, and Casablanca throughout its narrative. The music itself is not spectacular or sung with amazing voices (Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling), but their value and prestige is augmented when seen in the complete spectacle of film: the famous actors, fun colors, dancing, music, and beautifully crafted scenes. Chazelle fully emerges his audience’s senses and proves that cinema can be a complete sensory excitement.
What is perhaps most clever about this film is the “hidden” third main character: Hollywood itself. Characters Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) are two people following dreams: Mia wants to be a famous actress, and Sebastian wants to open up his own jazz club. The place where they want these dreams to come true—and the only place where they believe their dreams can come true—is Hollywood. The film quickly shows that Mia and Sebastian work well together and share common goals. Interestingly enough, throughout the film they constantly say they know exactly what they want, but the film reveals otherwise. Sebastian finds fame first, but it is clear that he is “selling out” to make money, trying to support himself and Mia. This is when the film’s first conflict is truly born.
The film shows how Sebastian’s fame quickly leads to him having a busy schedule and a greater absence in Mia’s life. Interestingly enough, Sebastian ends up being the one who helps Mia to fulfill her dreams and return for an audition, which changes her life forever. The viewer can decide whose fault it is that things seem to not end up the way they should have—or perhaps it is neither of their faults but rather Hollywood’s. Although the ending is very straightforward, it is also equally ambiguous. What happened when Mia decide to take a role that made her famous and moved to Paris for a few years? Did she and Sebastian talk about going together?
What can be seen as the film’s saving grace (yet sad reality) is when Chazelle gives us a small peak (literally in a projection screen) of what could have been if Mia and Sebastian stayed together. He doesn’t show the audience if they were famous or successful in their career oriented dreams but rather he shows them happy, smiling, loving life. Neither of them seems particularly sad in the end, but nostalgia clearly lingers. They both got their dreams in Hollywood, but is that what was best? Would they have been happier finding success in a different way if that mean them staying together? That is left up to the viewer. Although this ending is “unsettling” and strays from traditional Hollywood endings, it gives the audience more room for conversation and interpretation.
In Mia’s “Audition” song, the lyric sings, “Here’s to the ones who dream / Foolish as they may seem.” Mia seems to be shouting that those who dream are at least trying to live out a desire they have. It seems, however, that how you dream can either be foolish or smart. Like the film’s very title, La La Land, our lives can be an assortment of “La La Land” wishful thinking, but we can choose to make “La La Land” thoughts into realities when we decide what dreams are worth pursuing and which ones are better left reshaping. La La Land encapsulates a wanted dream and what can happen when we go at any length to fulfill it, be that good or bad.
Rover Rating: 3.5/4 Stars
Hacksaw Ridge, Reviewed by John Paul Ferguson
After a 10-year hiatus from directing, Mel Gibson has returned with the World War II drama Hacksaw Ridge. Critically and financially successful, the film tells the true story of Private Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector medic who was the first non-combatant to win the Medal of Honor. Gibson, laying low the past decade amid personal scandals, is back on top of his game with this work, which has been nominated for 6 Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director.
Andrew Garfield plays Private Doss in what may be his most captivating role to date. Doss, a true historical figure, enlists in the United States Army intending to bravely serve his country as a medic, but will not pick up a gun due to his Seventh-day Adventist beliefs against violence. The United States Army, however, in the words of his commanding officers (including Vince Vaughn), does not conform to his beliefs, and the officers do everything in their power to pressure him to pick up a weapon and fight, from brutal boot-camp hazing to claims of cowardice to threatening a court-martial. Doss, in the face of seemingly overwhelming harassment, is a beautiful testament to staying true to one’s deeply held beliefs and values at personal risk, and Gibson’s religious influence shines through with the emphasis on Doss’s peaceful-minded Christianity.
The second part of the movie, after the training camp struggles, actually takes place on the front lines of Okinawa, where the U.S. must take a nearly impenetrable cliff called Hacksaw Ridge from the Japanese soldiers, who are suicidally mad in their fierce defense. Reminiscent of the likes of Saving Private Ryan, the horrors of war are on full display in an almost aesthetic way, a Gibson trait well-known from Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ. Doss’s physical bravery is on full display as a medic, he runs back and forth almost non-stop amidst the hellfire of battle, dragging wounding soldiers to safety and administering to them without regard for his own safety. Doss is a big-screen action hero who never touches a weapon. Yet Gibson does not fall into the clichéd trope of demonizing the U.S. military at the expense of the heroic individual (see Jason Bourne, Mission Impossible, etc.). Led by Vaughn’s Sgt. Howell, the combatant soldiers are just as courageous in battling the Japanese; Hacksaw Ridge is an unabashedly American patriotism story.
Doss’s words to his general provide a perfect summary of the message of this brilliant film; “With the world so set on tearing itself apart, it doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to want to put a little bit of it back together”.
Rover Rating: 4/4 stars
Silence, Reviewed by John Paul Ferguson
This past December, Martin Scorsese’s Silence debuted in a few selected theatres across the country, a passionate project the renowned director has been attempting to direct since 1990. Adapted from the novel of the same name by the great twentieth-century Japanese author Shusaku Endo, Silence tells the powerful story of two young Jesuit missionaries entering Japan in the 1600’s during its most brutal time of persecution of Christianity. They are attempting to locate their former teacher, an older Jesuit who has disappeared and is rumored to have apostatized and renounced the faith. Pursued by the authorities, the two priests also strive to minister to the remaining Japanese Christians, but the shadow of their fallen mentor, Father Ferreira, looms above them, and as they come closer to finding out the truth they must face the impending question of how harshly they themselves will tested.
Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver) live in hiding, are constantly pursued by authorities, and must watch as Christian peasants are cruelly martyred. Separated and eventually captured, the priests withstand psychological and physical abuse for a long time, and despite the constant effort of the Japanese to have them apostatize, they stay true to the faith. Garrpe heroically dies trying to save a number of Christians, but Rodrigues lives on, slowly crumbling, the immense duress wearing him down. The Japanese torment him quite effectively by torturing and executing captured villagers in front of him, and telling him that he, by renouncing his Christianity, can save them. In the film’s climactic moment, the traitor Fr. Ferreira (Liam Neeson) finally appears and confronts Rodrigues. The young protagonist at last caves, and in the heart-wrenching final scenes, he too is seen living as a Japanese and working to uncover and persecute Christians until his death.
Artistically, the film’s cinematography is impressive. Extended shots of the lush, green forests of Japan are touched off with gentle rainfalls and gorgeous beach backdrops. Scorcese plays with the theme of silence and noise throughout, providing many soundless moments where the visual symbolism is highlighted. Silence, true to its name, has no real musical score once the priests are in motion. Garfield’s portrayal of a man torn by his love of faith and love of fellow man is no less profound, in a performance that marks him as capable of playing deeply philosophical characters.
Many have praised Silence for its moral complexity and portrayal of the tragic nature of apostasy. Rodrigues desires a triumphant death, looking forward to his execution in the service of God, but his pride and almost selfish focus on his own glory is his downfall. The movie departs from the novel only a few times, but the significance of those moments is great—for instance, whereas Endo had written the character dying as a pagan Japanese citizen, Scorcese shows him carrying a secret crucifix until his death (this raises a whole host of other moral questions as well), undermining the entire fallen hero ideal. Given his publicized devotion to the book as his authoritative source, Martin Scorcese should have no “artistic license” there.
Silence is doubtless a compelling drama, but to what is the audience being compelled? It raises more questions than it answers. With so much focus on Ferreira and Rodrigues, the apostates who are at times compared to Judas, the real heroes of the story are the martyr Fr. Garrpe and the Christian peasants crucified in the ocean, burned alive, and beheaded—the simple, yet steadfast and absolutely unwavering believers. Although Silence brings up many important questions, the everyday moviegoer may feel that the film’s running time is too long and that it would have had a greater impact if it had been told more concisely.
Rover Rating: 3/4 stars
Crystal Avila is a senior studying Film and TV. She is so happy to have a fellow film reviewer (Jack)! If you need a movie suggestion or want to talk about any film related stuff, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Paul Ferguson is a freshman in Fisher Hall and is completely obsessed with his PLS major. He welcomes any responses or differentiating interpretations at email@example.com.