Showing posts with label film. Show all posts
Showing posts with label film. Show all posts

Film Review - Shutter Island

Scorcese's newest film Shutter Island reminded me a lot of The Shining . In the opening scene two policemen are on a ferry headed towards an island that serves as an insane asylum for the most deranged psychopaths in the United States. The sky is heavy and gray and as the camera pans in towards the dark, ominous island a pounding, intense soundtrack makes it very clear that bad things happen there.

Actually, the entire film seems like a giant homage to The Shining. Without giving too much away, it's all about a descent into madness, which is evident both by the actions and delusions of the characters and also in the gothic imagery. Instead of a snowstorm, the characters in Shutter Island are trapped by a hurricane and the physical barrier of the ocean and the old fort, which houses the psychiatric patients. The frequent dreams about dead children and Teddy's (played by Leonardo Dicaprio) dead wife are beautiful and disturbing and are reminiscent of the little girls that haunt the Overlook Hotel in Kubrick's film.

Strange things begin to happen almost immediately and the audience isn't really sure who is telling this story, whose perspective we are getting. As a result we aren't sure what, or who to believe and as the film crashes towards its climax, we are feeling just as paranoid and crazy as most of the characters. Who do we trust and how the hell are we going to get off this island?

While watching the film, I found myself frustrated with the plot - certain things didn't make sense and even as I've tried to unravel them, they still don't add up. But I think that is part of the point - in Shutter Island plot isn't always linear, characters are flawed and conflicted (and we are conflicted watching them) and lots of things don't make sense. There is nothing neat about this film, it is messy and fragmented and even at the end, when the truth is revealed, we still aren't totally convinced that it's true. Or maybe it's that we don't want to believe it. As things begin to unravel, the audience is drawn into making crazy assumptions and at the end, we are as culpable as the lunatics who are locked up. 

The trailers for Shutter Island may actually do it a disservice. They present the film like a straight forward thriller - something scary and fast paced. Although the film does have jumpy moments, it is much too subtle to really appeal to people who are just looking for an easy scare and I suspect the result will be that many people won't enjoy it. It builds slowly and there is no satisfying resolution at the end.

But even those who don't like the plot should enjoy the way it was shot. Not only does it look and feel like an old film noir, but there are some moments, mainly the dream sequences, that are among the most memorable I've ever seen. In one particular scene, a dreaming Teddy is visited by his dead wife who died in an apartment fire. Played by Michelle Williams, Dolores is glowing in a yellow dress and even though she consumes the screen with her presence, even Teddy knows she isn't real. Still, as he walks towards her, he notices that her back is missing and there is only a deep red ashy pit of embers in its place. Despite the horror of it, he embraces her as she simultaneously burns and turns to water before finally, he is left alone, clinging to ash. It's horrible and beautiful.

There is nothing simple about Shutter Island and it isn't a film that is easy to let go of once the credits roll. It's definitely a film that leaves its audience with more questions than answers, along with an indelible imprint of something strange and fleeting, like smoke.

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Nothing Lovely About Them Bones - Film Review

The Lovely Bones is a strange choice for Peter Jackson, the director best known for bringing the Lord of the Rings Trilogy to life in, what I consider to be, one of the truly brilliant book to film adaptations of my generation. I haven't read the Alice Sebold book, but the film is very much pre-occupied with the things young girls are meant to be frightened of - scary men who want to rape and murder us.

I can remember being nine, ten, fourteen, sixteen and every time some new young girl disappeared, no matter where in the world, my grandmother would look at me and say, "This could be you." And I always knew that in theory it could be. Whether it is because the media bombards us with the grisly details of these tragedies or because the world really is less safe these days, girls, even women, cannot really ever feel truly secure.

Peter Jackson doesn't approach this story by genuinely trying to examine the very real fears of young girls, nor does he really achieve a full sense of the horror or grief this kind of tragedy can inflict on a family or community. Instead he spends far too much time following the dead girl Suzie through the endless landscapes of the 'in-between place' (not heaven but not earth), depicted in painful CGI faux-realism. The film takes place in the '70s and in one especially painful moment, Suzie and her dead friend Holly (another victim of her killer) are clad in platform shoes dancing on a record player to disco. I think they may even be wearing tie-dye. Although in parts heaven is pretty, it is also boring and the young actress who plays Holly gives a performance not even worthy of a bad high school play.

The element that rings the most false about the film is that although Jackson is trying to hit one melancholic high note after another and is figuratively jumping through fire to try and tug at our heart strings, it all feels a bit empty. Like the narrator Suzie, who is telling us this story from far away, I felt removed from the emotion of the story. The thing I felt most consistently throughout was discomfort at Jackson's awkward attempt to try to understand and represent the fears of the teenage girl (he fails at both). At best, the film is a third rate Hallmark Hall of Fame made for tv movie crossed with an episode of law and order - at worst it is the sticky, voyeuristic approach of someone who is trying to make teenage girls into some strange ideal - beautiful, thin angels dancing about in gauzy fields of colour. The gaze is uncomfortable and at times feels inappropriate. I'm quite certain that this was not Jackson's intention.

The only slightly redeeming feature of The Lovely Bones was the performance by Saoirse Ronan as the dead girl Suzie Salmon - probably best known for playing the trouble-making Briony in the film adaptation of Atonement a few years back. She doesn't have a lot to work with in The Lovely Bones, but but she does mostly manage to play it straight, despite being forced to deliver line after line of insipid surgary goop. Rachel Weisz, who plays Suzie's bereaved mother, is adequate as are the other supporting children (with the exception of the horrific Holly) but where it really falls apart is with Mark Wahlberg, who plays Suzie's father. Sporting a shag haircut, which is constantly in his face, there are dramatic moments where crazy-eyed Mark doesn't seem to realise he isn't in a Saturday Night Live sketch. I half expected a laugh track to cut in where I should have been feeling sorrow for a father whose favourite daughter was murdered.

Similarly, the usually lovely Susan Sarandon plays an over-the-top character whose only purpose is to distract us from how rubbish we think the film is with her big hair and kookiness. Finally, Stanley Tucci as Suzie's killer is so oily and grim that it is hard to wonder that any of the characters in this film aren't immediately assured that he is the monster in the neighbouhood. All he does for two and a half hours is skulk in dark corners, spy on young girls and build doll houses. He is creepier and more obvious than Golum.

The Lovely Bones was odd, painful and it missed every single mark. The paranoia and pathos so entangled with being a teenage girl in North America is a strange choice for a middle age, male, Kiwi film director, though it could be argued that as Jackson is neither a hobbit nor an inhabitant of middle-earth, yet he created a great series of films out of The Lord of the Rings. It would be interesting to know what pulled him towards this material that so obviously eluded him.

There is a scene in Sophia Coppola's great film The Virgin Suicides (based on a book, which, it should be noted, was written by a middle-age white guy), which really sums up where this film went very wrong for Jackson. Young Cecilia Lisbon is in the hospital after trying to kill herself and the doctor says, "What are you doing here, honey? You're not even old enough to know how bad life gets."

"Obviously Doctor, you've never been a 13-year-old girl."

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Kick Ass

This looks so good!!

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I am in Love with Herb and Dorothy

HERB & DOROTHY Trailer from Herb & Dorothy on Vimeo.

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