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When a duckling lost its way, Patsy Wills rescued it and became its ­protector, surrogate and friend

Spring is just around the corner. Soon you’ll see wild mallard mamas marching their downy hatchlings to our Chesapeake waterways.
    The spring one of those countless ducklings lost its way, Patsy Wills of Owings Beach first rescued it from a tight spot, then became its surrogate mother.
    After freeing the tiny creature, Wills, now 63, carried her to the beach and searched for the duckling’s family. But Mama and her brood had moved on. “I took a different approach,” Wills said. “I tried introducing the duckling into another family. No luck.”
    Which gave the nature-loving Wills a new role.
    Up went a predator-safe shelter in her back yard, and in went Duck. The duckling took to her new home and to Wills.
    Duck was hatched in the wild. The first thing she saw was a mallard. Thus, through a process known as filial imprinting, Duck imprinted upon its mallard mother and acquired and kept some of her behavioral characteristics. Duck behaved like a duck, but she accepted Wills as protector, surrogate and friend.
    Thus Duck grew up lucky. She feasted on poultry pellets and earthworms. The sight of Wills picking up a garden fork sent Duck into a frenzy of joy. Duck walked with Wills in the yard or on the beach, stubby wings flapping. Snoozed on the porch. Paddled around the filtered pond installed just for her.
    Wills bought a new plastic kayak, and she and Duck paddled around the edge of the Bay near the mouth of Rockhold Creek. As Wills propelled the kayak, she dangled one foot in the water, so Duck could surf the ripples atop her toes, then hop aboard.
    As Duck grew, her feathers came in. On one walk, Duck’s usual wing flapping lifted her off the ground. She flew through the air for 20 yards, then landed at the edge of the Bay.
    Duck seemed surprised, as well as pleased. She turned to look at Wills, as if to ask, Did you see that?
    From that day on, Duck spent less time in the yard. She came and went as she pleased. Then, in her second spring, she brought home a drake.
    Wills didn’t care for him. He took Duck’s food.
    A second drake seemed immature, simply following Duck around the yard.
    At last, Duck came home with a keeper. This guy was friendly. Mama approved. The pair mated and Duck laid a clutch of 13 eggs.
    After that season, Duck appeared less often. Wills knew she’d done her job well; she’d raised her Duck to self-sufficiency.
    But for many years, she says,
“whenever I stepped outside, I carried poultry pellets just in case.”
    As for Wills, life has gone on. She’s now married to a man she met at a local dance and has changed her surname to Watkins. But she still regales friends with tales about the duck she raised till love did them part.

If winter comes, can spring be far behind

It’s hard to get excited about Groundhog Day.    
    February 2 is a huge turning in our calendar of hope. As winter’s midpoint, it is the mark in time when poet Percy Shelley’s line — if winter comes, can spring be far behind — sparks a bit of optimism. But hope dressed up in a groundhog suit? Surely we could do better.
    We do, on Valentine’s Day.
    The holiday we name for a second-century marriage celebrant is far more heart-warming. By Groundhog Day-plus-12, nature is putting her force behind the promise of renewal. Look around, and you’ll see better prognosticators than the visible or invisible — I can never remember which — shadow of Punxsutawney Phil.
    Squirrels, for one. They’re chasing one another from tree to tree in acrobatic pursuit, suddenly as interested in frolic as in nuts.
    Not to be outdone, birds are beginning their spring song in prelude to courtship.
    This was Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate, wrote another poet, Geoffrey Chaucer.
    Did Chaucer hurry the season a bit? The climate and species of 14th century are not those of Chesapeake Country, but it’s hard to say what is seasonal nowadays. The birds, however, seem to know. At the top of Chesapeake Country pecking order, bald eagles have already mated to give their slower-growing chicks time to mature before next winter. Another favorite species, blue herons, traditionally return to their rookeries on Valentine’s Day to begin their new generation. Osprey will return in another month to get busy on their seasonal business.
    At my feeder, songbirds are going about life with new interest, as if winter might really be gone and not only hiding.
    It’s getting to be pretty lively out there.
    By Valentine’s Day, the vegetable kingdom is also pushing into a new season. This moderate year, daffodil and hyacinth leaves are well risen. Looking down, I’ve seen some five inches high. Looking up, I read the seasonal clock of the maple tree that always bursts into hairy bloom just about now.
    We humans have insulated ourselves from the seasons. We need not be cold in winter or hot in summer. More than any other generation on earth, we have detached our survival from nature. Far more of us work in offices than on the land, and we depend on sources of power produced far from where we use them. But our seasonal clocks keep ticking, and we feel something stirring.
    Is it warmth? Is it longing?
    Could it be the force capitalized on by the Valentine’s Day industry, with cards and chocolates, flowers, fancy dinners and diamonds?
    Could it be why so many people have birthdays around October 22, nine months and one week after Valentine’s Day?
    The human creative force has, of course, more outlets of expression. You could write a love letter, as Samuel Barr did 200 years ago, chronicled in this week’s edition. Or a book, as romance novelist Laura Kaye is doing. You could start a new restaurant, as Bobby and Julia Jones are doing. You could envision a new career, maybe in marine trades. Reading those stories in this week’s paper may urge you to your own creations.
    Or you could simply salute the rising season with a Valentine’s card.
    Our Valentine to you here and on this week’s cover comes from Bay Weekly’s Miss Cora Smith collection of early 20th century Valentines.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com

One dog lives several lives in the year’s most emotionally manipulative movie

Bailey (Josh Gad: The Angry Birds Movie) is born a stray in a back alley. He’s caught, taken to the pound and euthanized. So begins the first of many lives of Bailey the dog.
    His second time around, Bailey is luckier. He finds a boy, Ethan, (Bryce Gheisar: Walk the Prank) and lives a happy and wholesome life as his boy’s best friend. But eventually, Ethan moves away and Bailey gets old. When it’s time for Bailey to yet again shuck this mortal coil, Ethan comes home to say goodbye, offering Bailey one last reason to wag his tail.
    Soon, Bailey is back again, this time as a police dog with a lonely handler.
    Throughout each of his five lives, ­Bailey wonders what the point of life is. Why was he put on this planet? Why does he keep coming back? Most importantly, will he ever see Ethan again?
    Expect your emotions to be manipulated in A Dog’s Purpose. Writing is poor and acting middling, but none of that matters because every scene is packed with cute puppies doing adorable things. You’ll see bright-eyed dogs panting; dogs grabbing stuff and running; dogs barking and wriggling. Every time the movie lulls, here comes a four-legged rescue. You’re even forced into weeping at seeing old dogs die.
    You will be watching dogs die, each equally manipulative. It’s like signing up to watch the last 20 minutes of Marley and Me four times. This is not a movie to view without a packet of tissues.
    Though you’ll cry, A Dog’s Purpose is oddly devoid of other emotional attachment. Director Lasse Hallström (The Hundred Foot Journey) beautifully captured the personality of the dog actors in the film. Humanity is often short-changed.
    Performances reflect this slipshod attitude to storytelling. An ensemble that ranges from unknowns to veteran actors Dennis Quaid (Fortitude) and John Ortiz (Togetherness) varies from robotic to perfunctory. If all of their dialog were cut, there would be no great loss to plot. Maybe the human actors lost interest when it was clear a dog would be stealing all their scenes.

Poor Drama • PG • 120 mins.

Dining Guide 2017 leads the way to good times

I get nostalgic when this time of year comes around. It isn’t just that we’ve already sped through one-12th of this new year — though that recognition does make me want to throw out an anchor against the tide of time.
    It’s our annual Dining Guide — where we introduce you to two-dozen local eating and drinking establishments — that sends me traveling back in time.
    Restaurants and bars were my family’s business. My mother and father met in the coffee shop of the Mark Twain Hotel in downtown St. Louis. She was a waitress, and he ate lunch there. A succession of bars followed: The Midget and the 34 Club in St. Louis, and places, names long forgotten, in Key West, where Dad’s World War II Navy service in the Shore Patrol opened new doors for his wife and friends.
    Stuck on the dilemma of Key West, where Mother and Dad wanted to stay, and Grandmother Martin’s insistence on Miami, where she’d lived in the 1930s, we moved back to St. Louis. That’s where I grew up, my school years up through college centering on The Stymie Club, the cocktail lounge and supper club my parents opened with Dad’s bit of an inheritance — from whom, I now wonder? — and Mother’s hard-working conviction she could do anything.
    Fast-forward to now, where the week I’ve spent immersed in this year’s Dining Guide reminds me anew that people go to bars and restaurants to have a good time.
    Going out to eat and drink, you let somebody else take over an hour or two of your time. you’ve made an implied contract of your willingness to pay for that somebody’s ability to use that bit of your precious time better than you can.     On the other half of that contract are owners who’ve created eating and drinking establishments from the ground up for your pleasure, just as my family did in their bars and restaurants. They want to feed you, and they promise to do it well. They want to give you a place to find refuge and refreshment. They want to make you so satisfied that you keep coming back, whether to a regular refueling stop or a place so comfortable that it feels, like the Stymie did, like your club. A place that you like will feel that way, if you let it, as you get to know bar and wait staff, owners and regulars.
    Newer versions of the food, drink and camaraderie I remember from my childhood await you in Chesapeake country. In this week’s paper, you’ll see what awaits you in two dozen-plus establishments ambitious to satisfy you. To give you a sense of each place and who’s behind it, what to expect and what it does best, Bay Weekly staff and I have visited repeatedly, eaten and drunk and talked to owners and customers. Each in its own way is committed to living up to that implied contract with you.
    I hope this Dining Guide gives you many good times. I’m starting on mine tonight.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com

Can three smart teens outwit a madman with 23 personalities?

Three teens waiting for a ride home from a birthday party are abducted. The girls — Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy: Morgan), Claire (Haley Lu Richardson: The Edge of Seventeen) and Marcia (Jessica Sula: Lucifer) wake to an argument between their captor and a woman.
    The girls hope to reason with the female abductor. Then they learn she is just one of a myriad of personalities inhabiting the troubled mind of their male abductor.
    Two of the personalities, Dennis and Patricia (James McAvoy: X-Men: Apocalypse), are devotees of the beast, a harrowing creature that will remake the Earth by eating the innocent. The girls don’t really believe in the beast, but they’re fairly convinced that the man holding them captive — whose other personalities include a prepubescent boy, a fashion designer, a diabetic and a history nerd — is crazy.
    Can they outsmart and escape a man with 23 personalities?
    Can Director M. Night Shyamalan (The Visit) make a believable movie?
    These girls aren’t typical victims. They’re smart. They don’t wait passively for rescue. The villain, too, is atypical, in that he comes in at least four wildly different variations. Shyamalan also treats the idea of multiple personality disorder with respect, avoiding making his baddie a drooling psychopath.
    Actors are more than carrying their weight. McAvoy’s stupendous performance sells the outlandish concept. He alters the set of his face, his body language and his voice so distinctly that each personality is clearly identifiable.
    As Casey, Taylor-Joy holds her own against McAvoy, using her eyes to express both terror and determination. Watching her try to beguile and manipulate all of the personalities is fascinating.
    Split is entertaining, but it’s not perfect. Plot holes and overwrought dialogue abound, though the performances smooth that over.
    A great popcorn film that offers laughs, chills and thrills, Split is worth the ticket price. See it in a crowded theater, as it tends to evoke vociferous and often entertaining reactions from the audience.

Good Thriller • PG-13 • 117 mins.

Last year, I started from seed and had my biggest and best crop ever

If you planted garlic last fall, it now needs mulching with compost. I use compost made from either crab or lobster waste. Both have a good supply of calcium and a medium to high level of slow-release nitrogen for when soil temperatures rise above freezing. Mulching also protects these shallow-rooted plants from rapid temperature changes.
    If you plan to grow onions this spring, consider growing your own seedlings. Last year, instead of purchasing seedlings from Texas, I grew all my onions from seed and had the biggest and best crop ever. Since onion seeds are slow to germinate, seeds should be sown in prepared potting blends before the end of January. I highly recommend Copra and Candy. Both are good keepers, and Candy is as mild tasting as any Vidalia onion.
    Sow the onion seeds approximately a quarter- to a half-inch apart on the surface of the soil. Cover lightly by placing potting mix on a piece of window screen and shaking it over the seeds. Water well. Locate the containers where the soil will remain about 80 degrees. Onion seeds will germinate in about two weeks at this temperature.
    Once most of the seeds have germinated, place the container in full sun at a window facing south, as onion plants will grow in cooler temperatures. As daylight hours get longer, you will observe increased growth. Once the seedlings reach three inches tall, start making light applications of liquid fertilizer at three-week intervals.
    By mid March to early April, the onion plants will be five to six inches tall and ready to transplant into the garden. Onion plants are very cold-tolerant and can be planted early. They do best in soils rich in compost. I incorporate an inch or two of compost into the soil just prior to planting.
    If you prefer large onions, space the seedlings at least six inches apart. For smaller onions, space them four inches apart. I grow mine in solid blocks with spacing either six by six or four by six inches. I like the six-inch spacing between rows so that I can cultivate with my onion hoe. After the soil has been prepared, use a dibble to make the planting holes. Then, using your fingers, lift the onion seedlings in clusters from their rooting medium. Separate the seedlings, putting one in each hole. After all of the seedlings have been planted, use a stream of water to wash the soil into the planting holes to cover the roots.
    Once the onions start to bulb in June, stop cultivating the soil between the rows. The slightest amount of mechanical damage to the skin of the bulb will induce rot.
    As soon as the tails of the onions show yellow and browning, use a rake and knock down the tails to prevent neck rot microorganisms from entering the stem. Neck rot will spoil your onions when you put them into storage as summer ends.


Ask The Bay Gardener your questions at DR.FRGouin@gmail.com. Please include your name and address.

Once upon a time, this fish meant food and sport in early spring

Mention the word gudgeon to any Bay angler, and you’ll usually get a quizzical look. It was not always so.
    The gudgeon (Gobio gobio) is a small (up to five inches) schooling fish of the carp family that lives in our brackish waters but spawns in fresh water. They will sometimes appear in good numbers in our tributaries in early springtime, sprint to more lonesome areas to procreate, then disappear to whence they came.
    Francis F. Beirne, a Maryland historian, documented the gudgeon runs in his 1951 tome, The Amiable Baltimorean (reprinted in 1984), as a long-ago springtime obsession. Describing schools of the little fish in the “tens of thousands pulsing up the Gunpowder watershed” in the early 1920s, he noted crowds of waiting anglers, armed with slender cane poles, sewing thread for line, a small bobber and a tiny hook baited with a pinch of worm.
    The catches were often in the hundreds. Cleaned, dusted with seasoned flour and fried a crispy brown, along with red-skinned potatoes, the gudgeon were a gourmand’s treat. Over intervening years the runs have fallen with the quality of our waters.
 

    The presence of gudgeon each springtime is not limited to the Gunpowder River; the fish can be found in most of our freshwater tributaries. Their timing is impossible to predict, but most schools appear coincidently with those of the herring and hickory shad. Dogwood blossoms predict the peak of the season.
    The fish are rarely caught accidentally because of their small size and smaller mouths, so an angler has to be fishing for them purposefully with hooks originally designed for trout flies (size 22 through 14), lightly weighted and fished off the bottom, usually with a tiny bobber. Rarely these days, the schools can be spotted nearer the surface circulating through the swifter waters, awaiting the proper conditions to continue upstream to spawn.
    Approaching the fish with a fly rod, a floating line and a tiny, bright-colored silver or gold fly can also be an effective method of catching them. Hildebrandt Lure Co. makes a small, Flicker Spinner fly rod lure in size 0 (1⁄32 oz.) that may be effective and can also be used with a light spin rod with a small bobber for casting weight.
    Maryland Department of Natural Resources does not regulate gudgeon specifically. It is considered in the same vein as our other common minnows and can be harvested similarly. For hook and line or dip net, there are neither limits nor closed seasons. Keep in mind, though, that their numbers are limited, so if you happen upon a good concentration of them, moderation is prudent.
    It may seem like an outsized labor to catch such a diminutive fish, but it connects us to an old Maryland angling and dining tradition.

Get to better know Chesapeake Country in this week’s paper

With strong legs ending in well-balanced feet, we humans are made for walking. We’ve used those extremities to spread out over the earth. That evolution may well have swelled our brainpower, which in turn has increased our scope by the invention of wheels and imitation of wings.
    Walking, running, rolling, riding, flying — how we love to move! We’ve made heroes of explorers and both simulated and stimulated our own mobility with stories of exploration and adventure.
    Century by century, locomotion by locomotion, we’ve covered more territory with more speed and less effort. Nowadays, when air travel is commoner than auto travel was a century ago, travel for fun has become America’s first-ranked hobby, by some surveys.
    So it’s a good thing that developmental topographical disorientation is a rare disorder, for otherwise we’d never know where we’d gotten ourselves.    
    The thing to do on getting to a new place is to look around and get your bearings.
    That’s just what artist and writer Suzanne Shelden has been doing in her Route 4 series of paintings. “I never thought I could be so inspired by a road,” she writes this week in Maryland Route 4 Became My Roadmap. Her paintings illustrate the story, so you’ll see what she saw through her eyes.
    Stay a while in a place, and you go beyond your amazement at discovering its features to amazement at your ignorance. Your ‘discoveries,’ you realize, are the culture and often the creation of people who’ve been there longer than you.
    Who of us comers-into Chesapeake Country doesn’t become fascinated with its culture? Doesn’t read James Michener’s Chesapeake and William Warner’s Beautiful Swimmers? Doesn’t meet the past through the photos of Marion Warren and Aubrey Bodine? Doesn’t try to crack crabs and maybe catch them? Doesn’t learn the lore of working the water?
    This week another writer, Mick Blackistone, takes us on board an oyster boat to show us the present tense of the time-honored Chesapeake tradition of oystering in Working Winter’s Water. ­Blackistone, who enjoys the honorary title Admiral of the Chesapeake, knows his subject well. The author of Dancing with the Tide, stories of the year-round cycle of working the water, Blackistone has worked as a waterman, fishmonger and administrator of marine trades associations in both Annapolis and Washington, D.C.
    Eventually, as you live in a new place, memories of the places you once called home are likely to catch up with you. With a certain nostalgia, you find yourself missing old familiar sights and practicing customs that remind you of home.
    That’s why Billy Greer, owner of Jing Ying Institute of Arnold, celebrates the Chinese New Year, beginning on January 28, with lion dancing and tea tasting. And at Maryland Hall, as you’ll read in Kathy Knotts’ story, Enter the Year of the Fire Rooster, World Artists Experiences brings Chinese acrobats, artisans and musicians in festival this weekend.
    Reading this week’s paper, you’ll discover that a place’s culture is ever expanding with what all of us make it.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com

The black, white (blond, tan) and gray of it

Dennis Doyle’s piece regarding black squirrels was very interesting.” … So said reader after reader.

•   •   •

Been seeing them in Londontown by the Pub, yesterday and last week. Not sure if it’s the same one or different ones. Cute.

–Ernie Kleppin

I was somewhat surprised at the statement that black squirrels are so rare these days (1 in 10,000), as we see them with some frequency here in the Apple Greene neighborhood in Dunkirk. Our most recent backyard sighting took place in late November of 2016. Before departing for parts unknown (hopefully not a tragic encounter with one of the several hawks patrolling the woods behind our house), Mr. Black Squirrel frequently dined at our “squirrel-proof” bird feeders.

–Gary Schmidt

We often see black squirrels on Germantown Road in Edgewater.  There seems to be a herd(?), family, group, gathering of them living in the woods at the corner of Carrs Wharf Road and Germantown Road. Thank you for sharing your observations of them.

–Linda Hines

For the last five years or so I have watched black squirrels near the intersection of Carrs Wharf Road and Cadle Creek Road in Mayo
    Keep up the great paper.

–Gordon Reynolds
 

I liked Dennis Doyle’s column on black squirrels and was intrigued with his explanation of their existence. Somewhere I heard that the black color was a genetic mutation triggered by being in an area of ample food ­supply; the canopy/camouflage angle was a new one.
    All our squirrels are a treat. We have two blacks in the yard; only one will come to the door. Several friends do a double take on seeing the black squirrels. One visitor was sincerely freaked out; kept saying it was “evil.”  Go figure.
    At any rate, we live downtown on Market Street and think Cerný is a marvelous addition to the neighborhood.

–Ed & B.J. Skinner

Ed and B.J. Skinner have named their black squirrel Černý (black in Czech). They report that he has become progressively bolder over the last few months and now will readily take the peanuts directly that we used to leave outside. “Yes, I’m pretty sure a committed naturalist would be appalled at hand-feeding, but it’s really hard to resist that smile,” says B.J.


When I was a teenager in the late 1970s, my family lived in Landover Hills. We had a hickory nut tree in our yard that a black squirrel used to drop nuts and shells down on the two Dachshunds we had at the time. We would watch him and the other squirrels all the time from our porch. We really missed him and the other squirrels when we moved to Marlton.

–John Jones

My husband and I live in a wooded area in Dunkirk, and we almost always have a black squirrel or two around. In fact, we’ve had black squirrels here for many years. Sometimes, especially in summer, they’ll take off for parts unknown, but they make sure to return for free food (birdseed) in the winter.
    Thank you for putting out a great newspaper every week.

–Faye Graff

My wife feeds two black squirrels in our back yard in Apple Greene in Dunkirk for the last six months. They show up everyday.

–Martin Burless

I enjoyed your article on black squirrels. This was often a topic of discussion at the dinner table. My dad, who grew up in Wisconsin, would say it was a sign of good luck if  you saw a black squirrel. We considered ourselves very lucky to live in Kensington.
     In my high school years, we had many black squirrels running in the Rock Creek Hills neighborhood. I was in the area recently and saw two black squirrels on Beach Drive along the bike path. I made a mental note of this because I have only seen a few black squirrels while living in Pasadena the last 10 years.
    I currently reside in Riva and have not observed any black squirrels.
    I have had many fox and deer sightings in the back yard. I purchased a seed bell to hang outside for the  furry friends. Maybe I will be fortunate to have a black squirrel sighting and bring good luck to my new dwelling.
    May the new year bring you good health and a special vision of a black squirrel gathering.

–Catherine Schaaf

I live in the neighborhood behind Heroes Pub in West Annapolis, and there are probably a half-dozen black squirrels  around our house. I’ve noticed them the four years that I’ve lived here.
    I enjoy reading your newspaper each week.

–Dave

I live on the Eastport peninsula and have seen one black squirrel three times or three black squirrels once each. Each time, the squirrel was alone, once in my little backyard, where I feed birds and, thereby, squirrels; once in a large lot where boats park in sailing weather closer to the Maritime Museum; once in a large yard around the corner from my house. Each one looked healthy and had a very shiny black coat.

–Elliot Abhau

I enjoyed your article on black squirrels in the January 12 issue of the magazine. I thought it might interest you to know that the town of Cheverly has a large and apparently thriving population of black squirrels. In fact, it is rare to see a gray squirrel in the township. Cheverly is close to D.C. and College Park; perhaps this population is descendant from those introduced at the zoo from Canada. It would be interesting to do some genetic tests to determine if in fact these populations spread from that initial introduction or if they are naturally occurring populations that have somehow survived in spite of the general dominance of our common gray squirrel.
    Thank you for your magazine. I remain a loyal reader.

–Egan O’Brien

You want to see black squirrels come up to my house in Fairhaven. I feed them. I’ve got about 10.

–Barbi Shields

Seen Any White Squirrels?

What do you make of this critter I ­spotted in Minneapolis in December?

–Sal Lauria

White and black squirrels have one thing in common, they are both color phases of the American gray squirrel.
    They are rare genetic color variations, though just how rare is open to interpretation. The black variety is reported at 1:10,000. The white even more unusual, though that may be because of predation since they are so much more visible to hawks, owls and foxes.
    There are two types of white squirrels. Leucistic types occur because of a mutated gene (like the black squirrel) and can include blond and tan-colored squirrels. These have dark eyes. Albino squirrels are white with pink eyes because they lack any kind of color pigmentation.
    A number of cities in the U.S. boast populations of white squirrels: Olney, IL; Brevard, NC; Marionville, MO; and Kenton, TN among others. Most populations number up to 100 or so, but Brevard claims to have more than 1,000 within its three square miles of city limits.
    All of these concentrated populations of the color mutations are protected and encouraged by the citizens and have become tourist attractions in many cases.
    I have only seen a few blacks and one white in Maryland, though there may well be more in specific locations.

–Dennis Doyle

Three decades in the making, three (boring) hours in the watching

In the 17th century, Japanese governors forestalled the growth of Catholicism in their country by rounding up priests and converts. Those who recanted were released. The faithful were tortured.
    Word reaches the Jesuits of Portugal that Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson: A Monster Calls) has foresworn his faith and is living among the Japanese. Horrified, Fathers Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield: Hacksaw Ridge) and Garrpe (Andrew Driver: Patterson) volunteer to go learn the truth.
    After a harrowing journey, the priests reach Japan. Instead of Ferreira, they find desperate Catholics who see their arrival as a sign from God. Rodrigues and Garrpe realize their parishioners have a deep and powerful faith — that is getting them killed.
    Questions evolve.
    Is it moral to ask people to martyr themselves? What business did white Christians have going to Japan trying to alter centuries of religious beliefs? Will they ever find the truth of what happened to Father Ferreira?
    A ponderous movie on the strength of faith and the needs of people to believe, Silence is a passion project. Legendary director Martin Scorsese (The Wolf of Wall Street) has been trying to bring Japanese author Shusaku Endoto’s book to the screen for nearly 28 years. The long-awaited movie is beautifully shot, thought-provoking and far too long.
    Cinematically it’s breathtaking, with many nods to Japanese cinema and directors. But the story fails to make emotional connections. By trying to be fair to both sides, Scorsese leaves you ambivalent to both the Japanese who want to preserve their culture and the priests who believe salvation is possible only to Catholics.
    Performances are another weakness. Scorsese needs a strong lead to sell a nearly three-hour movie. At the heart of the film is Garfield, who is acceptable but not compelling, so Father Rodrigues’ struggles with faith are not keenly felt. It’s also odd that Scorsese forces both Garfield and Driver to speak in slightly stereotypical Portuguese accents, while Neeson speaks in his usual Irish brogue.
    Long, slow and inconsistently acted, Silence is not a film to win your heart. If you buy a ticket hoping for lively storytelling and engrossing action, enjoying this film will be a miracle.

Fair Drama • R • 161 mins.