Friday, April 30, 2010


The blog enters a very short hiatus from today until Monday.
I'll be moving during the weekend and while I get settled into my new apartment I doubt I'll have the time or energy to get online much.
I'll sure miss writing and talking to all you guys out there and I'll sure miss the movies (won't get to see Iron Man 2 until next week!)
If anybody wants to come help with the packing, you're more than welcome!

Just don't forget to bring champagne!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Brooklyn's Finest **

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Cast: Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes
Jesse Williams, Ellen Barkin, Brian F. O'Byrne, Shannon Kane
Lili Taylor, Will Patton, Vincent D'Onofrio, Logan Marshall-Green

Despite a cast that ought to guarantee a superb movie experience, Brooklyn's Finest often verges on parody with its treatment of the police genre.
Director Fuqua centers on the parallel stories of three police force members in the title borough.
Officer Eddie Dugan (Gere) is a mere week away from retiring when he's asked to train rookies that lead him to no good.
Detective Salvatore Procida (Hawke) is a family man in need of money to support his ever growing family (Taylor plays his wife), which he gets from cash gone unnoticed in drug raids.
Detective Clarence Butler (Cheadle) is working undercover who gets offered a chance at a promotion if he helps bust his friend Caz (Snipes), a known criminal who's been recently released from jail.
The three men show us what countless movies have shown us for decades: being a cop is not easy, noble or good if you're in New York City.
That Fuqua does so with a certain degree of condescension towards the audience seems absolutely bonkers.
There is not a single cop flick cliché these characters aren't willing to embody. Eddie's only friend for example is, you guessed it, a hooker with a heart of gold (Kane), while Salvatore's Catholic guilt forces him to pray before he shoots people and when the time comes for each of the three leads to get their comeuppance, it happens within the limits of the moral lesson they were meant to teach us about all along.
The film isn't lacking in good performances (how could it with this cast?) but most of the time it doesn't know what to do with the talent it's given.
Perhaps Brooklyn's Finest was just too ambitious and overreaching for Fuqua, who has no idea how to handle parallel storylines without turning them into a violent Destiny's Child video sans split screens.
Every time there is a major set piece, all the characters go through the same things at the same time; when to this unbelievable fact you add an ominous, overpowering score, we are left with a sloppy version of Magnolia that thinks it has important things to say about interconnections but really has nothing new or even interesting to contribute.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Actor Factor 1964.

It's time for the second installment of The Actor Factor, last month Andrew, Luke and I discussed 2004.

This time we discuss the 1964 Best Actor Oscar race.

Jose: I was thinking about the historical context these movies came out in and it's such an odd time to imagine living in

Luke: True. Tumultuous... Duly noted.

Jose: and just plain weird! Hahaha we had hippies and wars and then musicals making huge business at the box office, it just sounds prehistorical in a way.

Luke: It's true - this category just doesn't seem fitting considering the changing times.

Jose: So OK, what did you think of the category as a whole?

Luke: I'm going to go against the grain - since I fear I'm generally over-positive about, well, everything - but I really didn't like this line-up!

Andrew: It's a mixed bag for me, it's diverse...and no one's really BAD but I still don't like it.

Jose: Really? I actually think it's a banner year for actors.

Luke: Oooo... I sense a heated convo coming.

Jose: why don't you like it?

Luke: I guess my feelings on the five range from acceptable to dislike. It definitely doesn't scream "best" to me I guess...

Andrew: I'm in the middle then, I guess. I think the group is fine and a good judge of the year...but I don't think that the year was that good to begin with.

Jose: but then again all of the actors arguably were at their pinnacle; Sellers never was as brilliant after that and even Harrison used his limited vocal range to deliver his most legendary performance

Luke: You know, I don't think has anything to do with the actors for me. I'm a fan of most of these gents in other scenarios... perhaps its the lackluster movies that didn't hook me.

Andrew: Ummm, well yeah Sellers hasn't been as good since, and same goes for Harisson. But I don't think that either of them are excellent actors.

Luke: The trouble for me is that of the five, Peter O'Toole is the only one I have a real attachment to I guess (which I know contradicts what I just said...)

Jose: but that's what makes it so good, we have three of the greatest actors in history going against two so so actors who gave the unexpectedly good performances AMPAS loves so much.

Luke: Uh-oh... which ones are you referring to as "three of the greatest actors?"

Andrew: It's weird, (I may be rushing here) but I find O'Toole and Burton to be two of the three best here...but yet they've been eons better than they were here.

Jose: O'Toole, Burton and Quinn

Luke: I'm sensing I'm going to step on some toes when we start talking about Mr. Burton...

Andrew: Those toes may be mine...

The Nominees

Peter Sellers in Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

Andrew: Honestly, I'm no fan of Dr. that like a blasphemous statement or something?

Jose: how come? It's perhaps the funniest movie ever made.

Luke: On first viewing, which was a forced one by my father who loves it, I didn't understand the appeal whatsoever. But on repeat viewing I drew more from it.

Andrew: I always feel really guity about not liking it. I understand what's nice about it...and why is would be funny...but nope. Nothing. I don't hate it, it's obviously a good movie. And Sellers REALLY impressed me playing the President.

Luke: I think it's good enough. But in this case, I honestly like George C. Scott better than Sellers. Is that crazy?

Jose: Haha I guess there's no crazy in this case, I love Sellers playing the British officer.

Luke: So I'm getting the sense that we either admire or love Sellers' performance? Or maybe even admire isn't the right word...

Andrew: Maybe respect is a better word...

Luke: There you go!

Andrew: I've never been hot for Sellers though...

Jose: perhaps his performance was too weird for Oscar? I mean they were impressed by the gimmick but perhaps didn't know what to do with him.

Peter O'Toole and Richard Burton in Becket

Andrew: I could write a thesis on Becket...those are two of MY FAVOURITE ACTORS: I always remember Burton for being a ham, and O'Toole for being subtle...but in Becket we have it inverted. Burton goes subtle and Peter plays the ham...and it's a little weird. The film works best in the first hour when they were young.

Jose: I had trouble deciding who was better. I kept deciding that O'Toole was supporting and go with Burton, but then O'Toole would impress me and I was so confused.

Andrew: I give the edge to Burton because he makes those maddening soliloquies work (I admit they got insufferable sometimes).

Luke: Brace yourselves - I thought Becket was insufferable!

Andrew: WHY?????????????????????????????????????????????????

Luke: It just dragged on and on and I couldn't stand their chemistry - it was so overwrought and drove me batty.

Andrew: You're making me laugh, even if I am offended.

Luke: Though I generally love Peter O'Toole, Richard Burton does nothing for me outside of Who's Afraid. I know, I'm loathsome.

Andrew: Burton doubter? I object.

Jose: I don't like the movie either, I think they're fantastic but the movie is too damn theatrical (like A Man for all Seasons)

Luke: Thank you! That's an excellent comparison!

Andrew: Yikes, I like A Man For All Seasons...

Jose: but then I do love The Lion in Winter.

Luke: We're such selective melodramaphiles, apparently. It's hard for me to be impressed with these types of historical dramas I guess... so many of them seem so identical, and it's tough to see anything fresh and unique I guess.

Andrew: But The Lion in Winter is good because it doesn't take anything seriously...I like Becket (as I've admitted) but I like it all the while I notice the faults. Like how the hell was Geiguld nominated for an Oscar? WHAT THE HELL DID HE DO?

Jose: be John Gielgud I guess, all these theatrical adaptations got the weirdest nominations come Oscar time, like Gladys Cooper in My Fair Lady.

Luke: Ha - yes what the hell is up with the Cooper incident?

Andrew: But as least Cooper was a bit fun if My Fair Lady...

Jose: respected actor does a bit part in an important theatrical adaptation=instant Oscar nomination.

Luke: Bottom line - Richard Burton reminds me of Liberace in every movie of his that I see... and I can't get on board with that degree of kitsch...

Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek.

Andrew: Quinn is in the top three with the Becket boys.

Luke: Quinn has never been so great in my book (maybe I haven't seen the right performance), but I thought his Zorba was at least acceptable.

Jose: I heard in his biography once that losing that Oscar was a huge blow for him. I mean he already had two but he really wanted a Lead Actor statuette like Michael Caine.

Andrew: What the hell? Who cares? Leading, supporting? It's a freakin' Oscar.

Luke: True that. So what do we think of Quinn's performance then?

Jose: I think it's good and iconic like a male version of Auntie Mame.

Andrew: I think he's I said he's in my top three...but I don't like his performance as it comes down to the end. I will give it that - the iconic thing can play a big part in retrospect. (Good comparison there.)

Luke: Hmmm... Unfortunately I have sort of little to say about this one - the movie didn't really resonate in any way for me. Maybe I was in a sour mood or something, but it all seemed very "meh."

Jose: The movie might be a bit too cliché in its representation of non-Westerners being barbaric.

Andrew: Like after he comes back and is all angry at Alan Bates, etc I just get bored with the film and his performance. But Quinn does a great job underplaying all the chauvinist and racist clichés

Jose: yes, I think Bates was an accessory, a cardboard cutout could've played his part, they just needed a British guy to make Zorba work.

Andrew: Ouch.

Andrew: I'm not sure I prefer Kedrova to Irene Papas. Am I wrong on that too?

Jose: I guess both could've been nominated although I do prefer Kedrova, she was heartbreaking.

Luke: She was probably the best part of the film for me.

Andrew: The women were the best part.

Jose: I think that might have a bit to do with our last man. Have you noticed how the category is very male centric?
I mean, other than the Rex Harrison flick, most of the other movies barely have women.

Andrew: And in addition, all the men don't like women (or enough to marry them, and love them).

Luke: Or they just don't like women.

Jose: even Kedrova and Papas are just "used" to move the men's stories forward. Feminists must hate this year.

Andrew: Can I just cut in to ask though, as good as I think Burton is in Becket, he should have been nominated (and won) for Night of the Iguana. And that was ALL about the women...

Jose: I think in this case he should've won because of how good he was in Iguana.

Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady

Luke: I have to say - though his speak-singing is pretty ridiculous (and the fact that no one seems to be using their own singing voice for anything here), at least he played the part to a tee. Even though the part itself is troublesome...

Jose: but is that really the actor's fault? Remember how insane Jack Warner was.

Luke: No, it's not his fault. It just makes it more difficult to like his performance. It's pretty one-dimensional.

Andrew: ...that's not why I don't like the least not only...
Reading the play (which I did first) you get the sense of a cad who's still charming. A bit like Jude Law in The Talented Mr. Ripley or Errol Flynn in...anything.

Jose: or Leslie Howard in Pygmalion even?

Andrew: oooh, yes. Duh.

Wait - Leslie Howard is charming in something?

Jose: well no, but he's more charming than Rex. I find him too passive in everything.

Luke: Sorry - I can't think of him as anything else other than wilting flower Ashley Wilkes.

Jose: but Andrew, straying from the play doesn't have to be bad...I like what Rex brought to Higgins actually.

Andrew: It's just all so lazy with Rex, at the beginning I want to slap him and at the end I want to slap him. No development. When he sings "I've Grown Accustomed..." It's so unreal I feel the urge to just fast forward.

Jose: he's detestable but Audrey's performance is so good that we believe she sees something in him that we probably never will.

Luke: It's true. His change of heart doesn't really make sense. I don't know if that's the fault of his performance or the director. But Audrey is fantastic.

Andrew: Audrey's okay, I guess. I don't know. I find her to be so bland really...good...but bland.

Jose: why do you think he won then?

Andrew: Well isn't it obvious? BIG musical, split votes with Burton/O'Toole; Quinn has two Oscars and Sellers was just too avant garde. And George Cukor is just so goddamn fun, how can you vote against his actors? (unless they're Katharine Hepburn, and Cary Grant).

Luke: Was it a campaigning thing?

Jose: Audrey wasn't even nominated!

Luke: One of the bizarre snubs of Oscar history...

Jose: I think that he got a career Oscar for playing "against type" or "against genre" in this case, [about Audrey] it's not so bizarre, AMPAS loves its vendettas.

Luke: Ha - but just the fact that they drooled all over My Fair Lady and its centerpiece was ignored.

Jose: because of the Julie situation, again damn studio system!

Luke: Ah yes... don't mess with Julie.

Andrew: I know we're veering off, but who'd you boot off to include Audrey? Sophia Loren, Debbie Reynolds, Julie and Anne are all good to me.

Luke: Weeeeeeell.... I haven't seen enough of the nominees to make an informed decision I suppose.

Jose: omg Debbie Reynolds! That movie is so dull.

Andrew: Really? I remember it fondly, but I saw that a long time ago.

Jose: so who do we think should've won the Oscar that year?

Andrew: 1964 is just a dull year.

Jose: Let's try to be as objective as we can haha.

Luke: Yeah, I'm finding that as well.

Andrew: Dull, dull, dull and yet they didn't nominate the men who deserved to be there...

Luke: Out of these nominees, who should've won?

Jose: I'm gonna say Richard Burton

Andrew: I say Burton, Burton and Burton again.

Luke: Well....I'm going to go with Sellers.

Jose: How would we rank the performances?

Andrew: Ranking them it would be Burton (B+), O'Toole and Quinn (B), Sellers (B/, Harrison (C/C+)

Jose: 1) Burton A- 2) Sellers A- 3)O'Toole B+ 4)Quinn B 5)Harrison B-

Luke: Sellers - B ... Harrison - B- ... Quinn - B- ... O'Toole - C ... Burton - C-/D+ ...

Andrew: Okay, who should have been nominated...? I have a few.

Jose: I'm gonna be insane and say Dick van Dyke [for Mary Poppins]

Andrew: I agree!

Jose: also Mastroianni [for Marriage Italian Style], considering they went ahead and included Sophia and also Burton for the other movie.

Andrew: Dick Van Dyke, Burton in Night of the Iguana, Mastrioianni definitely...

Luke: Well I've got nothing - I'm just a fusspot with nothing to back it up or replace it with. I'm just assuming there had to be SOMETHING better that year. How about Cary Grant in Father Goose?

Andrew: Well, there were better choices I guess...

Jose: I'm also gonna go on a crazy limb here and say Nino Castelnuovo for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, now that's a musical performance Rex Harrison!

Andrew: I never saw that, never even heard of it to be honest.

Jose: it's one of the greatest musicals ever made!

Jose: so any final thoughts?

Luke: "Underwhelmed and underwhelmed," said The New York Times.

Andrew: Not so much underwhelmed, I guess, as a bit disappointed...bored...

Luke: Call me when 1964 is over....

What do you think of this Oscar race? Any favorites? Have you seen the performances? anyone you'd loved to have seen win?

Leap Year *

Director: Anand Tucker
Cast: Amy Adams, Matthew Goode
Adam Scott, John Lithgow, Kaitlin Olson

Why are current romantic comedies so chauvinist? Even if they pretend to be about strong, independent women who take the reins of their lives in the face of adversity (which usually comes in the shape of a charming, detestable and often sexy man who they inevitably fall for), the truth is that they serve only as vessels of pent up anger and extreme gender polarization.
In Leap Year, Amy Adams plays Anna, the control freak interior designer with an agenda: marry her boyfriend Jeremy (Scott).
When he presents her with a small jewelry box, before he parts on a business trip, she is sure he's finally proposing; but when the contents of the box reveal to be earrings, Anna takes charge.
She decides she will travel to Dublin and propose to him herself! After all an old Irish tradition establishes that it's acceptable for women to propose to men on February 29th.
So, not only is her empowerment limited by an ancient tradition that happens only once every four years (like presidential elections), it also forces her to act out of pure despair and surrender her self control to irrational behavior.
For starters, you never believe that someone like Anna would take on such an insane enterprise (especially when she's supposed to be on the hunt for a new upscale apartment) but also Amy Adams is just too likable for us to think she's a total bitch like the screenplay suggests.
Then again she obviously isn't flying to Ireland just to be with her boyfriend, she also is meant to meet, hate and then fall for an obnoxious local.
This time it's Declan (Goode) a pub owner who's a bit rough around the edges but has a killer smile and sensitive eyes that capture Anna's heart despite her original mission.
All along of course, it's the woman who seems indecisive, it's Anna who thinks of cheating and flirts with a handsome stranger while her boyfriend cures hearts (he's a cardiologist).
It's only when the movie's ready to give Anna a new male reason to live, that Jeremy's ugly nature begins to surface, but only when the movie's sure Anna will now have a new male figure to torment.
The film gives her a facile Freudian excuse by showing us a glimpse of her dad (Lithgow): an unstable, irresponsible man who made his daughter fear spontaneity and poverty; but when the movie suggests that Anna's materialism in a way will come bite her in the ass, you can't help but realize there's really no way this woman will be able to please this plot.

Crush of the Week.

Yes, for mere physical reasons.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Extraordinary Measures *

Director: Tom Vaughan
Cast: Harrison Ford, Brendan Fraser, Keri Russell
Meredith Droeger, Diego Velazquez, Sam M. Hall, Jared Harris

Movies like Extraordinary Measures are perhaps doomed from the beginning. From the minute that it opens announcing it's based on real events, it's setting itself up into a trap; for not only will it have to live up to genre expectations but also must walk between the very delicate line of reverential biopic and schmaltz fest.
Because it deals with Pompe's disease (an incurable genetic disorder that affects muscles and nerves) we can expect it to veer a little more into the sentimental side.
The plot basically centers around John Crowley (Fraser), an assertive executive whose two youngest children Megan (Droeger) and John (Hall) suffer the rare ailment. When the children's life expectancy is about to reach its end, John and his wife Aileen (Russell) begin a foundation to raise money to find treatment.
They must recruit hermit scientist Robert Stonehill (Ford) who lives in Nebraska and feels more comfortable among test tubes and equations than with other human beings.
So begins an "odd couple" kind of thing where John's will power and love for his kids are put in contrast with Dr. Stonehill's idiosyncrasies.
For a simple effective movie, this would've sufficed. Seeing how the two men learn from each other and realize that they're not so different in the end has worked in similar movies.
This one however takes a different approach and instead contrasts the differences between John's business approach and Stonehill's scientific method.
Before long the movie turns into a dull battle between being fiscally responsible or sticking to academia.
This might be how the world works, where entrepreneurial qualities matter more than actual life saving, but who would want to hear about profits and enzymes in a fiction movie?
Even if this could've worked better as some sort of thesis, the director doesn't explore it this way and the movie ends up trying to satisfy its characters' whims.
Fraser and Ford never really turn their characters into actual human beings. Ford obviously makes the most of his caddish charm even if the character's eccentricity is too selfindulgent.
For the movie to work perhaps it would've needed to be made sixty years ago, films like Madame Curie combined science with melodrama effectively; for current audiences a film like that would feel dated or silly but probably would make more sense than this soulless work.
The movie does tap into a great energy with Droeger's performance, she could've taken a path of misery and overwrought drama but instead infects the movie with an adorable optimism.
Extraordinary Measures does try the dramatic aspect as well and when the inevitable "the medicine is working!" moment comes, the big inspirational score and crane shot kick in almost by inertia.
Too bad that they recur to classic Hollywood when the film is already beyond salvation.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I'll Tell You What I Do Want.

"I want someone who will be monogamous and nice to his mother.
I want someone who likes musicals but knows when to shut his mouth when I'm watching Lost.
And I want someone who thinks being really into cars is lame and strip clubs are gross.
I want someone who will actually empty the dishwasher instead of just taking out forks as needed, like I do.
I want someone with clean hands and feet and beefy forearms like a damn Disney prince and I want him to genuinely like me, even when I'm old.
And that's what I want."

I think this rivals the Bridget Jones "workaholic, alcoholic" monologue in terms of romantic perfection.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Back-Up Plan *

Director: Alan Poul
Cast: Jennifer Lopez, Alex O'Loughlin
Eric Christian Olsen, Anthony Anderson, Michaela Watkins
Melissa McCarthy, Linda Lavin

We all learned during high school that the order of factors does not alter the product, which is why The Back-Up Plan's intention to disprove this, or convince us it does, results in a disastrous romantic comedy attempt.
Lopez plays Zoe, a successful pet shop owner who one day decides all she's missing in life is a child. She gets artificially inseminated and as she leaves the doctor, wondering if she's pregnant or not, she just happens to meet the guy of her dreams.
This guy is Stan (O'Loughlin), an organic cheese maker with perfect abs and just the right amount of scruffiness to make Zoe swoon and distrust his intentions.
Of course she ends up being pregnant and the rest of the movie consists of how she breaks and makes up with Stan as she deals with her own insecurities.
The pregnancy then is merely a device, a McGuffin if you will, used to talk about the same issues romantic comedies usually talk about.
Whatever pretensions the film has of conveying post feminism, dysfunctional relationships and single mother empowerment are lost the moment the audience discovers it's actually using these subjects to revert the characters back to the same old archetypes we're accustomed to.
This wouldn't be a problem if the film was straight forward about it (most people know what they're getting into with current rom-coms...) but its notion that just rearranging the story will work, makes it disrespectful of the audience.
Lopez gives a satisfying, somewhat charismatic, performance, this after all is her movie (notice how there are no recognizable actors besides her) and she's meant to hog the spotlight at all times. She's not as contrived as she usually is (despite the film trying to make her too cute for her own good) and whatever serious flaws are found in her character are due to the poor screenplay which goes from the stupid to the offensive (Zoe's disabled dog isn't only called Nuts but his name sounds like a certain political party when Zoe adds a "-y" in the end).
This being the J. Lo show and all also robs us from the opportunity to watch the ensemble shine brighter. Watkins who plays her best friend delivers the funniest lines in the film and the usually funny Anderson has a character who doesn't even get a name...
The Back-Up Plan is as hormonal and irrational as its lead character; it goes from feeling like a Tampax ad to a parody of Sex and the City in less than a minute and audience members might not feel inclined to satiate its cravings.

Clash of the Titans *1/2

Director: Louis Leterrier
Cast: Sam Worthington, Gemma Arterton, Mads Mikkelsen
Jason Flemyng, Polly Walker, Hans Matheson, Luke Evans
Alexa Davalos, Nicolas Hoult, Danny Huston
Ralph Fiennes, Liam Neeson

Imagine for one second that you're living in ancient Greece, with no television, internet or movies and all you have to entertain yourself are stories.
These stories of course won't tell you about mundane events but about things so fantastical that not only do they make your jaw drop to the floor but also serve as explanations of what's going on in the world around you.
Now before getting too deep into the concept of myth, imagine that centuries later you get these stories, but they are being told by someone who has great editing software, satisfying CGI but not an ounce of imagination.
This would sum up the experience of Clash of the Titans, a remake of the 1981 camp classic which tells of the struggles between men and deities in ancient times.
Sam Worthington (the go to guy for ordinary men-with killer calves-turned unexpected hero) plays Perseus, a demigod, son of Zeus (Neeson) and a mortal woman, who is chosen by the people of Argos to save them from the wrath of the Kraken.
The beast will be released by, god of the underworld, Hades (Fiennes) to teach humans not to defy the rulers of the Olympus.
Of course Hades has secret plans of his own (how could he not when played with such delicious wickedness by Fiennes?) and while Perseus has his adventures down below, the gods go through their own drama.
It should suffice to sum up the film's quality to say that you often might want more of the Olympian drama (probably owed to the quality of the actors playing them) than the struggles of Perseus who seems to fulfill cliché more often than prophecy.
Worthington lacks qualities to make his character interesting; when someone tells him that he has the "best of both worlds" they must be referring to sculpture and athleticism, because he lacks any inkling of humanity and doesn't have the grandiosity to be godlike. The other human characters fare equally, with princess Andromeda (Davalos) being little more than an ornament (while straying greatly from the myth and the original film) and the people Perseus encounters being nothing more than an assortment of great actors (Mikkelsen, Walker and Postlethwaite come to mind particularly) in tepid roles.
Perhaps the film's biggest flaw is in fact its constant ability to underwhelm. With or without added visual dimensions the film never transports you to another place. Visuals for this kind of movie should feel mythical, the ones here are yet another version of what was done in The Lord of the Rings trilogy and 300 to greater effect.
Action sequences are done in the recurrent style of making as many cuts as you can, which never gives us time to grasp the unique aspects of the creatures Perseus fights and every moment that promises excitement is minimized by the director's tendency to make everything seem rushed and easy.
How can a story of its kind be passed on to others when there is no sense of heroism or any special qualities to it?
In the end Clash of the Titans sadly never seems able to comprehend what epic means.

I ♥ Jayma Mays.

"Foreplay shall begin at 7:30 sharp."

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

G-d Bless Photoshop!

And I mean that as a total compliment!
Everyone knows SJP isn't shiny and bronzed but the poster makes the movie look so deliciously decadent.
I don't know why people still have trouble acknowledging the fact that Sex and the City is a fantasy.

Hopefully the sequel will be as fabulous as the first film, apparently advance tickets sales are going quite well already (read more here).

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Dear John *

Director: Lasse Hallström
Cast: Amanda Seyfried, Channing Tatum, Richard Jenkins
Henry Thomas, D.J. Cotrona, Cullen Moss, Gavin McCulley

Your knowledge of Nicholas Sparks' work doesn't need to be so extensive to know the kind of movie Dear John will be. His formula of doomed love, life threatening diseases and third act twists has been established in films like A Walk to Remember, Nights in Rodanthe and especially The Notebook.
This one is obviously not different but by now the formula is so established that this one isn't even fun.
The lovers this time are Savannah (Seyfried) and John (Tatum); she's a good girl who doesn't drink, smoke or curse and he's the former rebel now on army leave.
They meet when he rescues her purse after it falls on the ocean, she is so impressed by his lifesaving skills and pecs (after all her "whole life is in that bag") that two weeks later they're already declaring eternal love for each other.
During these two weeks they frolic in the beach, make out under the rain and Savannah even diagnoses John's coin-collecting father (Jenkins who obviously deserved better) as slightly autistic.
When John has to go back into service, they decide they will write each other and keep no secrets, which turns the film into a dull, uninspired version of a Green Day video. For almost half an hour Dear John takes on an epistolary form and the sun tinted, overlong montage that serves as background for the actors' readings, comes to a sudden end on 9/11.
John decides it's his duty to reenlist and their relationship enters a limbo that makes the film take a turn for the worse as it suggests that the evil war is responsible for the leads' tears.
Perhaps nothing about the movie intends to be fresh but little in it makes its existence justifiable. Tatum and Seyfried, while pretty to look at, have no chemistry and never evoke the angst and longing we're supposed to perceive from their tacky Now, Voyager redux quips about the moon.
The issue might not be the actors but the terrible writing which seems reasonable on the surface but might lead to some disturbing and complex realizations from anyone with the slightest analytical capacity.
In the time of instant gratification and e-mail, Savannah and John's love isn't only utterly fantastical but also fake; instead of breaking hearts the movie should serve to stimulate naive minds and make them realize that perhaps this so called love is nothing but fear of commitment represented through the perpetuation of a faux state of romance.
When the reasoning for a life altering decision is justified by saying "you think it was easy without you", it's fair to say that Dear John isn't an ode to the romantic but to the idiotic.

Gwyn Breaks Up With Nic.

In what has proved to be the most awful week in terms of casting news for me (see previous tragedy here) yet another of my dream projects blows up in smoke.
Gwyneth Paltrow has pulled out of The Danish Girl...
The film which would have her co-star with Nicole Kidman in telling the story of the first person to undergo a sex change operation is now casting a new actress to fill in the role Paltrow left-which Charlize Theron had also left before (I'd written about this before as well)
The actress claims she wanted to spend more time with her family.
One can't really blame her for that, at least she didn't quit this to star in Transformers 3.
But really, Gwyn being my favorite actress and all I had my hopes up for this one.
She has been in such few movies lately that whenever I get the chance to see her I am beyond thrilled (you should hear my squeal of delight every time I see her kiss and dump that helmet on the Iron Man 2 trailer).
I miss her...

Read the complete story here.

Of Love and Other Demons *

Director: Hilda Hidalgo
Cast: Pablo Derqui, Eliza Triana, Jordi Dauder, Joaquín Climent
Margarita Rosa de Francisco, Damián Alcázar, Alina Lozano

Based on the eponymous novel by Gabriel García Márquez, Of Love and Other Demons is a handsomely crafted picture that fails to stimulate anything other than the eye.
Set in Cartagena during the Viceroyalty of New Spain (although neither time nor setting are specified in the film) it tells the story of Sierva María (Triana), the young daughter of a Marquis (Climent), who after being bitten by a rabid dog is presumed to be possessed by the devil.
She is sent to a convent by orders of the Bishop (Dauder)-"we can't save her body but we can save her soul" he proclaims- where she is to be looked after by the nuns and exorcised by Cayetano (Derqui), a Jesuit priest who begins to doubt his faith after he falls in love with the girl.
Whatever might have been special about the magic realist touches in Márquez's novel, is reduced here to a series of random events that make no sense as a whole and certainly fail to engage the audience on any level.
The director is kind enough to let us know about some of the specifics, like the reason why Sierva María's copper hair is more than a meter long, but then she completely neglects strange events like the affliction that ails Sierva's mother (the underused but irrepressibly fierce de Francisco) or the events the nuns mention in chronicles as ghastly but we never know of.
Almost everything in the movie is meant to be taken for real just because it's written; the nuns are scared of Sierva, the Bishop exerts immense power over the entire colony, Sierva has demonic episodes...all this occurs because characters mention it but none of the actual repercussions are actually perceived at any time.
This affects the movie greatly when it deals with the forbidden love affair between the priest and the child (Sierva is only referred to as a child but the discrepancy between her appearance and the age she's supposed to have are quite confusing).
None of the actors evoke what can be taken as real emotion at any time. Triana is pretty but so lifeless that you really have to wonder how anyone could be intimidated, afraid or even attracted to her.
Derqui tries to brood but soon loses interest and turns Cayetano into a contradiction. He's supposed to be a smart man, versed in arts and languages but acts like a pawn at the service of a plot that doesn't know where it's going.
There is also a sense of disconnectedness between the time, setting and the multiculturalism of the accents heard onscreen, this might be hard to detect for foreign audiences but for Latin Americans should induce some head scratching.
The production is effective and some of the cinematography is gorgeous but the film never succeeds in becoming either romantic, cerebral or even entertaining.
With the richness of the central theme about faith turning into barbarism and an ethereal promise that is never fulfilled, this film like its heroine is in dire need of a soul.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Another Reason to Hate Piracy.

Kirsten Dunst better start practicing her damsel in distress screams from the Spider-Man franchise. She's just been cast as the lead in Lars von Trier's Melancholia.
You know I'm a sucker for anything that springs out of the mad Dane's imagination but this news also means something bad for me.
Kiki is set to replace none other than Penélope Cruz! (I'd written about this before)
The most awful thing about it all is that Pe passed on Lars to star in the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie!
The paycheck must be amazing and a movie star needs her couture and all, but how does someone in their right mind say no to Lars for Pirates?
Cruz reportedly said that she was just so excited to work with Rob Marshall again after Nine but has she seen the Pirates movies? The last two were silly excuses for making a buck and robbing audiences everywhere of the chance to reason as they were full of plot holes, inconsistencies and some of the worst written dialogue this side of James Cameron.
Not cool Pe...not cool.
But just how awesome is this for Kiki on the other side? She's been away from the screens for quite a while and truth be told her acting chops haven't really been developed in the way we expected after her work with Sofia Coppola.
When I first heard rumors that she had been cast in a von Trier movie I was ecstatic thinking that she had been cast as the third lucky actress to play Grace in The U.S. of A trilogy and that Lars had finally gotten started on Wasington.
I mean aesthetically it would make total sense that Kiki be the successor to the vastly superior Nicole Kidman and the surprisingly good Bryce Dallas Howard right? (The red hair and virginal all American looks...)
Either way this project is still very much in my "must watch" list, while Pe just made the first post-Volver choice I'll probably be passing on.
Read the full story here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Partir ***

Director: Catherine Corsini
Cast: Kristin Scott Thomas, Sergi López, Yvan Attal
Bernard Blancan, Alexandre Vidal, Daisy Broom

With the concept of a romantic novel and the execution of a realist work-with strokes of Truffaut- Partir proves to be a perfect showcase for the renaissance of Kristin Scott Thomas who, once again in French, takes hold of the screen with melancholic ferocity.
She plays Suzanne, a well to do woman living with her husband Samuel (Attal) and children (Vidal and Broom) after whom she looks day after day.
When she starts renovations on her house she meets Spanish construction worker Ivan (López) who she immediately likes. After a strange accident she begins to get close to him and soon they begin a torrid love affair for which she's willing to leave everything.
From this point on the film becomes a simple, but never simplistic, study of bourgeoisie ennui and how the middle classes turn into the labels they fear so much.
On her own, Suzanne has to get back to a job she hasn't practiced in two decades (while she filled the role of "wife" and "mother") and discovers that love is not enough to live on (as she probably was taught before her marriage).
Director Corsini is a bit condescending towards the social class she criticizes and apparently forgets to create profound triggers to the events that unfold. When the film starts Suzanne doesn't seem to be miserable and her passive aggressive rebellion isn't convincing enough to justify her unorthodox actions.
Perhaps Corsini was less preoccupied with intent and had set her mind on pure emotion which gives Suzanne the characteristics of an Emma Bovary or a Lady Chatterley.
Thomas makes the most out of this and delivers some of the best work of her career. Hostile and detached in scenes with Attal (who is remarkable despite the film's attempt to make him a villain) she finds herself completely transformed in her moments with López (again channeling raw male sexuality).
"You act like a whore in heat" exclaims Samuel as Suzanne flees a family dinner to meet her lover.
At that moment it's difficult not to pass judgment on her character but as soon as she meets Ivan, her face lights up with contagious happiness.
Few actresses can do what Thomas does with her face; she only needs to lift an eyebrow to evoke heartbreaking disgust and a smile to show us how one surrenders to happiness.
"This is the happiest day of my life" she says in English to Ivan during a rapturous encounter; even if he doesn't comprehend the words, he knows what she's talking about.


The luscious Julie Christie turns 69 today.
May the film gods bless her with more work and may she be as beautiful as ever.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Monday, April 12, 2010

Kinatay ***

Director: Brillante Mendoza
Cast: Coco Martin, Maria Isabel Lopez, Jhong Hilario
Julio Diaz, Mercedes Cabral

Young, police academy, student Peping (Martin) takes a job for $2,000 in order to marry his girlfriend (Cabral).
After leaving school on the appointed day (he's in a criminology class in the first of many Dostoevskian touches the film offers) he gets on a van with a group of men-all his superior officers- who then go to a strip club where they pick up Madonna (Lopez), a dancer who owes them drug money.
After she gets in the car they beat her, drive for hours (literally, the scenes inside the van cover roughly one third of the film's running time) and take her to a basement where they proceed with their plan as a display of extreme violence ensues.
Once there Peping realizes it's too late to back off and enters a path of moral decay through which director Mendoza tries to encompass the state of Filipino society and ask us what we would've done.
Kinatay is not a movie for those who are easily disturbed (the title is Filipino for "butchered"), it features moments straight out of the goriest horror film, paired with dark sociological implications that make the violence seem more shocking.
Shot with handheld cameras and what appears to be a great use of natural light-and darkness-the film tries to put us inside Peping's head and make us see what he sees and hears.
For long moments the screen turns almost completely dark while Mendoza experiments with interesting sonic devices. There is a disturbing ambient sound throughout the movie which suggests the cloudiness that invades the protagonist's conscience as he becomes part of a crime.
It's impossible for audience members not to expect Peping to take an heroic path and when he doesn't Kinatay turns into a cinematic experience unlike many you've had.
It's easy to leave the film and call Mendoza's work pornographic, sensationalist or abusive, but where is our responsibility as active audience members who sit through this?
In a way, like Peping, we are drawn to brutality and even those with the intention of obtaining some sort of knowledge out of the situation are accomplices of sorts.
The entire running time we watch how the events unfold; a feeling of impotence prevails over the entire film as we try to decide whether Peping is antihero, victim or perpetrator.
What Mendoza has to say about the corruption that seeps within law enforcement is really nothing new but what he wonders about the way it vacuums people into its destruction is fascinating.
Could Peping do something? Can we?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Birthday Wish.

If this had been released today it would've been the coolest present ever.
Still had a fantastic birthday hehe.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Happy Birthday Max!

He has played chess with death, narrated for von Trier, been the Savior, the Conqueror, an emigrant, a priest, an Allen player and a moving dad.
Today he turns 81 and we can only wait and see what else he has up his sleeve.
You can always go watch Shutter Island to celebrate him but I suggest you find your copy of The Seventh Seal, sit back and enjoy the work of one of the greatest acting masters of all time.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Love is All We Need *1/2

Director: Jorge Durán
Cast: Cauã Reymond, Ângelo Antônio, Fabiula Nascimento
Simone Spoladore, Victor Navega Motta

Love is All We Need (Não se pode viver sem amor) is the third film by Chilean writer/director Jorge Durán. Set in Rio de Janeiro during Christmas Eve, it follows multiple characters as they reach collective epiphanies revolving around love of course.
Young Gabriel (Motta) and Roseli (Spoladore) arrive to the city looking for the boy's father, unemployed lawyer Joao (Reymond) decides to try the criminal way in order to get enough money to elope with his girlfriend Gilda (Nascimento), while university professor Pedro (Antônio) wonders where his future will take him.
To say that the film's opening credits (a Saul Bass-y stars and jazz stunner of an opener) are much more interesting than anything that comes later, might be a disservice to anyone who worked in the film but becomes quite accurate when the movie reaches its climax.
Durán focuses on forcing the connections instead of letting them grow organically and all the characters seem to know they're predestined to know each other and learn something valuable.
It doesn't help that each of their stories isn't never that interesting to begin with and we might create assumptions of our own to make the whole thing matter more.
Therefore as Gabriel travels around the city looking for his dad we begin to assume he might be connected to Gilda-the stripper with a secret-in the end of course they are, but not in conventional ways.
The characters' motivations are never clear and the actors end up giving extreme performances that hurt the film's theme of unity (Reymond and Antônio are all about restraint, Nascimento is extreme theatrical and Motta intends well but suffers because of the ridiculous twists his character endures).
Durán chooses to end his film with a moment that should recall magical realism but comes off as a tacky deus ex machina complete with the ugliest looking visual effects ever.
If the director was trying to unite the rawness of digital film (in honestly most of the film has the texture and look of a soap opera) with the richness of Brazil's culture, the result is often more confusing, dull and shallow than magical.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Alice in Wonderland ***

Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter,
Anne Hathaway, Crispin Glover, Matt Lucas, Stephen Fry
Michael Sheen, Alan Rickman, Marton Csokas, Timothy Spall

Lewis Carroll's books of Alice in Wonderland have been adapted into movie form since the medium began. From silent versions to the subversive animation of 1950's Disney to Jan Svankmajer; Alice's story has always fascinated artists who tend to explore the horror that lies in the innocent.
It makes sense that Tim Burton would want to do his own version, and even if it's not the definitive take fans of the filmmaker were expecting it to be, it's a lovely ride and one of Burton's most mature films to date.
Taking Carroll's text for a spin, he makes Alice (Wasikowska) a nineteen year old girl about to be married to a man she barely knows.
Encouraged by her deceased father (Csokas) to use her imagination and spoiled by the dreams she's had all her life about strange characters and a mysterious land, she follows a white rabbit (voiced by Sheen) on the day of her engagement.
She falls inside an all too familiar hole in the ground where she finds the door to Underland, a place populated by weird characters who insist she's come to fulfill a prophecy.
Soon she learns that not only she has been there before (creating an interest dilemma between what reality is in dreams while giving Disney the opportunity to make endless sequels relying on this concept) but this time in particular she's set to end the reign of the evil Red Queen (Carter) and hand the crown to her sister the benevolent White Queen (Hathaway).
Alice teams up with Tweedledee and Tweedledum (Lucas), the Cheshire cat (Fry), the blue caterpillar Ebsolem (Rickman) and the Mad Hatter (Depp), among more famous characters, as she explores this wonderland and learns lessons for her own life.
Obviously stuck somewhere between the director's vision and the studio's demands Alice in Wonderland is uneven in narrative terms as it struggles between the edge of Burton and Carroll, with the status quo preserving by way of forced naivete Disney specializes in (it's surprising but the animated version is much darker than this).
Therefore we see how Burton inserts his dark humor and macabre nature by way of the art direction, concealed symbols and unexpected character quirks.
In this way Hathaway's, Nigela Lawson-inspired, White Queen takes an aim at social terms of perfection with a lunatic side (watch as the actress deliciously travels from Barbie to Chucky in seconds), Carter indulges in the oddity of her character's construction (her giant head and blood red lips are almost iconic), while Depp surprisingly underacts his way out of the Hatter's madness, creating a character that moves more than it disturbs (his character's post traumatic stress disorder might be a bit too facile but also allows Burton to take a subtle aim at the effects of war).
Perhaps it served Burton to tone down his darkness because the film achieves a calm and sense of equilibrium that allows both opposing visions to co-exist and deliver entertainment that's clever and simple.
In many ways the film is more shaped after The Wizard of Oz than any previous incarnation of the Alice story and in the same way frames the protagonist's adventure against unconscious manifestations.
At first Burton stresses too much what "real life" character will inspire each Wonderland inhabitant but soon this becomes an opportunity to decipher if Burton finally found a way to comment on the power of dreams.
The fact that this Alice often wonders out loud if she's inside a dream doesn't make her smarter than Oz's Dorothy, but serves as a well meant, if underwritten, attempt to encompass female liberation and the Industrial Revolution overthrowing Victorianism.
For all the flaws in Alice in Wonderland we are rewarded with lush scenery, extremely thought out character design and a filmmaker surprisingly finding marvels under restraint.
Like his heroine, Burton enters a land that thrives with the promise of unknown terror but his ability to refresh his aesthetics despite compromise is the real wonder.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Cold Water of the Sea **

Director: Paz Fábrega
Cast: Luis Carlos Bogantes, Lil Quesada Morúa, Montserrat Fernández

Cold Water of the Sea overflows with beauty to conceal the fact that it has nothing to say. Set in a Costa Rican beach during the New Year, the plot follows Rodrigo (Bogantes) and Mariana (Morúa) a young couple who travel to the coast so he can settle a business deal.
On their first night there they find Karina (Fernández) a seven year old who seems to be lost and tells Mariana of the hardships she endures at home.
The following morning they wake up to realize the little girl has disappeared. Rodrigo goes on with life as usual but Mariana is stricken in a different way and begins an introspective journey which unleashes past traumas and connects her to the girl in an unexpected way.
If all this sounds very Persona and Fábrega in a way is implying there exists a metaphysical connection between them (can they be each other? will rescuing one mean salvation for the other?) this is only suggested by forced methods of visual poetry and ominous silences.
The director assumes that by showing moments where "nothing" happens, the audience will be immersed into the profundity she thinks her movie has.
Therefore we have scenes where Mariana dives into a filthy pool (in an obvious "problematic cleansing" metaphor) or she sobs quietly answering "I don't know what's wrong with me" to her concerned boyfriend.
There is also a recurring theme of sea snakes lying on the shore; supposedly they come out due to the low temperatures in the sea water but other than for biological novelty's sake-and stunning visuals of course provided by cinematographer María Secco- it serves no real purpose within the plot.
Is the director suggesting that Karina is a snake? Is Mariana's past the snake? Like the phenomenon involving the reptiles, the whole movie is actually plagued with elements that intend to contribute to build something but make no sense and more than that, never engage the audience into the issues onscreen.
A past of sexual abuse is suggested with trickery, a physiological event that confuses instead of stating and we never understand why Mariana's profession is important to the plot.
Kudos though to little Fernández who builds her character in a way that we wonder if she's a victim or The Bad Seed. Her movements in front of the camera are as natural as they come and her eyes suggest enough viciousness and innocence to merit her a much better movie.
The adult actors fall under the director's spell and spend the whole movie underacting to the point of dullness.
We never understand why Mariana came with Rodrigo, then he disappears for several key scenes and seems to be annoyed by her more than he's worried.
Morúa, who probably intends well, never taps into the inner life of her character and as much as Mariana is driven by inertia, Morúa makes her every action too mechanic.
As appealing as the movie is on pure visuals alone, everything we watch serves no actual purpose but unlike something Bergman or Antonioni would've made, the void here feels unintentional.
It tries so hard to be symbolic and important that it forgoes the road of coherence (within its frame of course) in favor of a series of moments that truly never engage people watching or the characters within the film.
Why do Mariana's friends appear at the beach? Why is Karina's relationship with her mother so strained?
As the movie becomes more and more frustrating we witness other events that reveal that it's probably because Fábrega doesn't have the capacity to make something universal out of everything she wants to say.
She has problems contextualizing the movie for example and until the end, it's never quite clear for audience members (especially those who don't speak Spanish) that the movie takes place during the last days of December and once there they will be even more confused by very Costa Rican traditions that onscreen come off as completely different things (camping at the beach is easily mistaken as extreme poverty or even refugee camps).
While this means that the director perhaps didn't intend her movie for foreign audiences, the pseudo metaphysics, draggy narrative and psychological lack of depth in the whole thing, might imply that the only person meant to enjoy and "get" the film was the director herself.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter.

Is it normal that I think of Charlton Heston more than I think of Jesus during Holy Week and Easter?

How to Train Your Dragon **

Director: Dean DeBlois, Chris Sanders

Once again disregarding time accurate conceptions in favor of contemporary behavior and any trace of verisimilitude within the time and characters, Dreamworks Animation Studios delivers what might be one of their most successful attempts at maturing.
In How to Train Your Dragon we meet Hiccup (voiced somewhat annoyingly by Jay Baruchel) a young viking who's the shame of his town.
While everyone else in town-including other kids his age-indulge in the tradition of dragon slaying, Hiccup pretty much messes up every time he leaves the house.
His father Stoick (voiced by Gerard Butler in an unimaginative 300 way) the village leader leaves for battle and expects his son to have achieved something when he returns.
Fortunately for Hiccup he meets Toothless, a young dragon (of a race nobody has seen before!) who befriends him and soon enough he's not only taming all the other dragons but becomes the village's favorite son.
For all the Oedipal and quasi-environmental issues at its center, there is really nothing in this movie you haven't seen before.
It indulges itself with cliché after cliché; from the characters' names to the things they do. Really what is it with Dreamworks insistence of disregarding everything in favor of contemporary personalities children will enjoy? Don't they have the slightest sense of historical conscience?
The film is somewhat entertaining though and visually it's beautiful to behold (Roger Deakins acted as visual consultant) but it puffs more often than it soars.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Birthday of a Contender.

Click on the picture to read my celebration of Marlon Brando over at The Film Experience.
With that said, what do you think of his performance in Julius Caesar, it's been in my mind a lot lately (it's probably due to the sandals and Roman epics Easter brings but still...).

Friday, April 2, 2010

Together **1/2

Director: Matias Armand Jordal
Cast: Fridtjov Saheim, Odin Waage, Evy Kasseth Rosten

Like most tragic family dramas Together begins with a portrait of practical idyll as Kristine (Rosten) and Roger (Saheim) take their son Pal (Waage) out bowling to celebrate his birthday.
Between the giggles, friendly teases and hugs the family share, we begin to detect the underlying tensions between them as Roger later demands his slow-learning son to order from the restaurant's menu without any help.
Kristine quickly dispels this episode with a friendly joke and it becomes obvious how without her, father and son would be in trouble.
Two scenes later she's dead.
After this the plot centers on the tough relationship between the boys, especially given how Pal struggles to move on while his father descends into alcoholism and self destruction.
Pretty soon they turn into each other as the kid manages the house and even picks up his drunk dad from a bar after he gets in a fight.
The performances from the two lead actors are compelling and quite moving despite the film's shortcomings.
Saheim (who might remind you of Russell Crowe) is charming enough to make his pain and unquestionable neglect almost understandable.
Sometimes he convinces us that because of his role as a grieving husband, his behavior towards his son is normal. That achievement is impressive-if a bit problematic in sensitive terms-regarding the legal implications of raising a child.
Waage stands on his own giving a wonderful performance that manages to be sad, introverted and sometimes intensely ecstatic without ever forgetting he's a child.
The problem is that the director doesn't let the actors do the work and turns almost every scene into a soap opera waiting to happen.
He amps every element available to tug at your heart and stir your emotions robbing the film of an opportunity to work with more restrained Nordic notions.
Jordal never lets the audience discover things on their own and not only wears his heart on his sleeve but constantly waves at us so we can see it.
In one of the most effective sequences Pal runs away from home and recreates one of the most beautiful moments in Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows (from which Together borrows several themes).
If you weren't sure what you'd seen was homage, Jordal confirms it by placing Pal against a French poster for the movie, which only works to neutralize the potential, simple poetry the scene, and the film, could've contained.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Shutter Island **1/2

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley
Emily Mortimer, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Elias Koteas
Max von Sydow, Ted Levine, Jackie Earle Haley, John Carroll Lynch

The opening scene in Shutter Island contains the entire movie; the Paramount Studio logo fills the screen while an ominous string music fills the air. Then all of a sudden the title cards appear, with no dissolves or fade outs. Seconds later we see U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio) head over a toilet, suffering an extreme bout of sea sickness.
He cleans up, fixes his tie and goes outside where he meets his new partner Chuck Aule (Ruffalo) as they approach the title island (an Alcatraz like fort that harbors an asylum for the criminally insane).
In the old fashioned typography of the credits and the musical nod (which reminds you of something Franz Waxman would've done) Martin Scorsese declares his film will be a throwback to classic noir, gothic and horror films.
But for those paying enough attention, he also gives away the film's plot-and polarizing twists-direct and indirectly (those caring to find out in advance need to do no more than psychoanalyze the concept of vomiting and get creative after an apparent continuity error).
It can be said that because of this effect the film is arguably spoiled for those seeking a mystery flick and also ruined for those seeking a psychological study who instead of being rewarded with a complex whodunit get a facile howcatchem.
Scorsese, who's always been a precise filmmaker, has trouble conveying both predominant aspects of the film and while he obviously has a lot to say (the whole movie is filled with infinite movie homages and references) he tries to say it all at once.
This is evident in the convoluted plot, adapted by Laeta Kalogridis from a novel by Dennis Lehane, which shows us the investigation the marshals conduct in the island (the mysterious disappearance of a patient played by the excellent Mortimer) but also tries to convey the troubles inside Teddy's mind (related to the death of his wife, played by a beautifully creepy Williams) the extent of which also involves WWII traumas and HUAC conspiracies.
Soon the plot has trouble finding its way, if any, among the constant new information we receive; this somehow never really deepens the mystery but makes the film drag, as people who know what's coming undergo an endurance test and those unaware of the twists are drowned by the intense, but vague, dream sequences.
Therefore the film is at its best, when along with editor extraordinaire Thelma Schoonmaker and director of photography Robert Richardson, Scorsese indulges the audience with the power of his images.
There are scenes, involving surreal dreams and flashbacks, that go to places he's rarely visited since The Last Temptation of Christ; places where Michelle Williams bursts into flames and Nazi soldiers are executed in front of the frozen corpses they originated.
Some of these moments achieve the kind of beautiful nightmare qualities David Lynch has become an expert at and while giving Marty mostly new territory to explore, fail to click within the whole.
If one of the purposes of Shutter Island was to blur the division between reality and imagination (or to study if there is any when it comes to specific human perception) Marty's obviously more into one than the other (deciding which is which brings yet another dilemma).
For someone with Scorsese's kind of attention to detail, we also wonder why would he give the audience clues about the mystery and then forget to keep up the game.
The best element of the film is arguably Leonardo DiCaprio who gives one of his richest performances letting himself fall completely into whatever the movie is (he works that final line to the extent that he convinces us we saw a much better movie). He's obviously onto something no one else is and creates an affecting portrait of fear, passion and confidence about to shatter.
He is excellent in moments where other actors might've exaggerated and seeps into the brooding essence of someone like Robert Mitchum (appropriate given Out of the Past hugely shaped the feel of the film), his interaction with the superb, if somehow underused, cast is revelatory.
There's a scene with Clarkson that probably would've made a much more interesting film and his moments with the Vincent Price-like Kingsley and the perversely calm von Sydow, both playing asylum doctors, are spellbinding.
As a whole the experience of Shutter Island can be reduced to a paraphrase of the film's closing scene and lead us to wonder if a so-so Scorsese movie is worse than no Marty at all.