Wordless warrior: Joel Kinnaman in John Woo’s ‘Silent Night’.
SILENT NIGHT **** (105 minutes) MA
Not that he needed to, but with Silent Night John Woo affirms his status as one of Earth’s pre-eminent action directors.
Along with all the stylistic signatures that has distinguished his best work – razor-sharp editing; judicious use of slo-mo; super-long single takes; guy shooting two guns – this ripping action drama is distinguished by having its characters speak no dialogue.
The device works splendidly, galvanizing attention and building tension as a hard-working electrician Brian Godlock (Joel Kinnaman) goes on the warpath against an LA gang lord whose goons killed his young son during a drive-by.
Blood spurts forth in great volume as the bullets criss-cross the frame, yet Woo manages to keep focus on his anti-hero’s humanity and motive.
Now 77, Woo’s work in his Hong Kong home include widely revered films such as Hard Boiled, Bullet in the Head and A Better Tomorrow. His stint in Hollywood included such films as Face/Off, Broken Arrow and M:I-2.
Silent Night is Woo’s first Hollywood film in 20 years and, given the parlous state of America action cinema, the hope is that the huge influence he has had on American filmmakers will find renewed purchase.
THE BOY AND THE HERON **** (124 minutes) PG
But for Spider-Man, Mario and the Turtles it was looking like a pretty dry year for animation.
Now comes the marvellous The Boy and the Heron, a typically bizarre, surreal, thoroughly delightful and strange fantasy odyssey from veteran Japanese director Hayao Miyazaki.
He’s co-founder of Studio Ghibli, the anime powerhouse that gave us Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Ponyo.
Set in 1943 Japan, it tells of a young boy called Mahito Makia who goes to live with his father and new step-mother in the country after losing his mother during a Tokyo bombing raid.
Mahito thinks his mother is dead but a local heron that keeps menacing him has other ideas and soon leads him on an adventure into a netherworld populated largely by a wide assortment of over-sized birds, especially parakeets.
Rendered in traditional house style and featuring loads of visual wit, The Boy and the Heron is rich with wondrous visions that will doubtless be a feast for eyes fatigued by the gloss and precision of digital animation. Ghibli fans will swallow it whole.
Especially enticing is Miyazaki’s love of alternating between moments of relative quiet and stillness to scenes of craziness and surreal splendour. He really knows how to keep you hooked with curiosity about what is about to happen with the next scene change.
Along with the original Japanese audio, the film can be seen in English with a voice cast including Christian Bale, Robert Pattinson, Dave Bautista, Florence Pugh, Willem Dafoe and Mark Hamill. That version is strongly recommended.
Oh, and the film holds up beautifully to a second viewing.
MASTER GARDENER **1/2 (107 minutes) M
A fairly subdued entry from journeyman writer/director Paul Schrader, Master Gardener is a typically dark character piece in which themes of redemption collide with the thirst for violent payback.
Ex-gang goon Narvel Roth (Joel Edgerton) is trying to reclaim his life as a gardener for a rich old lady (Sigourney Weaver) when he is given charge over educating her troubled niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell). Her troubles promptly become his troubles and he has to confront what kind of man he really is.
This is very familiar territory for Schrader who traverses it proficiently though without enough panache to really make it anything more than a passing crime drama. It’s a bit of a letdown after 2021’s The Card Counter with Oscar Isaac, which was terrific.
To give him his due Schrader, now 77, has given us some great films.
He wrote Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Bringing Out the Dead and The Last Temptation of Christ (all for Martin Scorsese).
As writer/director he gave us Blue Collar, Hardcore (massively underrated), American Gigolo, Mishima and Affliction.
As director he helmed such delights as Patty Hearst, Cat People and the fan favourite Auto Focus, about the murder of Bob Crane from Hogan’s Heroes.
REVENGE: OUR DAD THE NAZI KILLER *** (98 minutes) M
Fairly engrossing exploratory documentary about three elderly Jewish men who begin piecing together the mystery of their father’s early life in Australia, which they suspect involved tracking down and killing Nazis who had sneaked in to the country. Very well made and fascinating, though the ABC logo at the beginning suggests it might be worth waiting for it to turn up on the ABC iView. Oh, and on the telly, of course. (Watching live TV. That’s still a thing, yes?)
TIME ADDICTS * (97 minutes) MA
Oh no. Another dreadful Australian film. Druggies find a product so potent it shifts them through time. Unfortunately, the blighters never leave the house. Clumsy and dull, the film’s chief purpose, apparently, is to see how much cussing it can cram into all the witless dialogue. Terrible.