Archive for the “Movie Reviews” Category
Some movies aren’t fun to watch, but still have value at an intellectual or artistic level. Some are a blast to sit through, but the overall experience is much more entertaining than the mediocre sum of it’s parts. But watching a film that does neither doesn’t make for a very rewarding or satisfying experience. Such is the case with Martin Scorsese’s latest, Shutter Island. A psychological thriller that isn’t all that thrilling, regardless of all the detail put into each of it’s many parts.
The film is the latest collaboration between Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. It follows the story of Federal Marshal Teddy Daniels (DiCaprio), as he and his partner Chuck (Mark Ruffalo) attempt to unravel a mystery surrounding the disappearance of an inmate on Shutter Island, an isolated institution for the criminally insane. As Teddy and Chuck navigate the prison grounds and interview both staff and inmates, it becomes evident that Teddy’s screws are slowly coming loose. Visions of past traumas from his time as a soldier in WWII and of his late wife Dolores (Michelle Williams) haunt him throughout the investigation.
As these hallucinations build, so does the dramatic tension between Teddy and his surroundings. Sinister vibes are everywhere, from partner Chuck, to the prisons head doctor, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), to the island itself. What is real? What’s in Teddy’s head? Who has good intentions? Who’s just plain crazy?
In lesser hands, these questions would be too obviously asked or answered. Scorsese however, brings his experienced eye to every scene. No glare or smirk is void of some disguised intent. One of the most notable examples is early on in the film. Teddy is introduced to one of Dr. Cawley’s associates (Max von Sydow) sitting in a menacing wingback chair beside a roaring fire. The combination of sharp wordplay between Teddy and the other Dr., the distorted camera levels Scorsese uses for each characters exchange, and Sydow’s eerie antagonism vs. DiCaprio’s quick fuse, produce a very well orchestrated scene.
It’s because of this skill and thoughtfulness that is put into each piece of the film that makes it difficult to fault any one area entirely. The script is a competent adaptation (of a Dennis Lehane novel), the performances are well balanced, and the direction isn’t without purpose. But unlike so many of Scorsese’s other films, this one leaves you somewhat empty. It has twists that don’t intrigue, complex characters that you’re not invested in, and an environment that is at once both ominous and somewhat dull. I appreciated the care put into the movie, but didn’t really care about where it was going. It was like watching a tract home be built out of imported marble.
Ultimately, the most entertaining movies are those that use the art of film-making to an unmistakable affect on an audience. A director presents their intent, and the audience is impacted by it, for better or worse. Shutter Island is in an odd category. It’s 138 minutes of meticulous intent, and we’re left feeling neither better nor worse for sitting through it.
DiscSox Team Member
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Many great films are so because their effect and artistry is a result of the combined sum of their parts. Avatar is not one of those films. It is instead a great film because of a few very specific, yet revolutionary parts, which overshadow the mediocrity and unoriginal aspects of several other main components.
Avatar is the latest brainchild of James Cameron, the visionary director responsible for the first two Terminators, Aliens, Titanic, and several other impressive, large-scale films. It chronicles the story of an indigenous race, the Na’vi, on a distant planet, (Pandora) who are threatened to be evicted from their homeland by a human led corporation intent on mining Pandora for an extremely valuable mineral. In an attempt to earn the Na’vi’s trust and gain easier access to the planets resources, the corporation places human representatives in the Na’vi’s community in the shape of Avatar’s, remotely controlled Na’vi bodies powered by humans in a semiconscious state. The most promising ambassador to the Na’vi in this effort is Jake, an ex-marine paraplegic who finds a new energy and sense of purpose in his Avatar form.
As things progress, allegiances become muddled, new relationships are formed, and the allegorical tale of corporate greed and the destruction of the environment gets thicker and thicker. The plot grows at a brisk enough pace, but the heavy hand, predictable story shifts and at times distracting dialogue won’t (or at least shouldn’t) win it any awards for originality.
What will make it a contender come awards time are its impressive achievements in the visual and technical departments. Cameron shot Avatar in 3D, and to great effect. Not the schlocky 3D effects that so many movies employ today of throwing things “through” the screen at the audience, or having distracting details flutter around your peripheral vision to remind you how “cool” 3D is. But instead, what could’ve been just a gimmick is employed in such a way that 30 minutes in, you forget you’ve got on some ill-fitting plastic specs. You are, at a point, not just watching the film, but experiencing it.
The detail in which the environments and characters have been rendered convince the viewer that this world has a life of it’s own, removed from the artificial special effects it’s born from. This experiential nature of Avatar is what separates it from other oversized Hollywood budget hogs. It’s not attempting to fool you into thinking Pandora exists, or that the Na’vi are real, but it instead never doubts itself in it’s representation of these otherworldly realities, and depicts them with a beauty and reverence that makes it tough for the audience to over scrutinize their existence.
Ultimately, it’s this achievement that propels Avatar into the “must see” category of movies from this past year. Tired plot devices and distracting self-righteousness aside, Cameron has produced a visually arresting film that uses technology for it’s most noble intent yet; to captivate the audience, and bring a sense of awe back into the movies.
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Regardless of your initial expectations, odds are that Spike Jonze’s ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ will find a way to defy them.
Based on Maurice Sendak’s classic children’s book, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ tells the story of a complicated young boy, Max, (played by newcomer Max Records) and his journey to a distant land inhabited by some endearing, if not somewhat frightening, creatures. Those expecting the movie to be a straight port of page to screen however will most likely be let down. This interpretation of Sendak’s work is as much about the spirit and energy of the original as opposed to its literal contents.
That being said, for anyone who was enamored with the vivid illustrations in the book, the on screen translation will not disappoint. From the harrowing boat ride to the island, to the amazing combination of costumes and CGI work used to bring the creatures to life, the visuals in this film are an act of mesmerizing nostalgia.
The story follows Max’s travels to the island after throwing a tantrum while his mother (Catherine Keener) has company over. In the awkward embarrassment from both Max and his mom, Max’s anger, confusion and shame drive him away. This leads him to discover a world of equally troubled ‘Wild Things’ that all have issues of their own. In some ways the film appeals to our nostalgia again by using our own memory of being a child, (and for some of us, our still active inner child), to remind us how hard it is to have so many emotions at once with no easy way to reconcile them.
One of the unique traits of the film is this recognition of Max’s complexity. So often films aimed at children, (or those about children aimed at adults), paint very obvious shades of a personality. Whether troubled, depressed, delusional, over-imaginative, or any other number of focused traits, these other films remove the audiences need to question a characters motives, and instead focus just on a path to resolution.
In Jonze’s world however, Max is let loose to experience and play with all of these traits at once. In the process, we see parts of Max in each of the ‘Wild Things’. But this deconstruction isn’t always obvious, which in turn makes for an exciting and surprising journey of discovery for the viewer. Some may be disappointed at the lack of finality to the journey, but it so effectively parallels the exciting, frightening, funny, and personal road that we travel in the real world that it still makes for a satisfying trip, regardless of your starting point.
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R.J. Cutler offers up a deliciously indulgent peek at fashion-icon, Anna Wintour, Editor-in-chief of American Vogue since 1988 in this fascinating and addicting documentary. You might remember it was Meryl Streep’s character, Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada that was “loosely” based on Wintour’s reputation. Like being a fly-on-the wall, Cutler offers us a rare real-life opportunity to witness the talented and smart Wintour, who r-u-l-e-s the $300 billion-a-year fashion industry and her inner circle of editors, designers, photographers, & models as they frantically prepare for the voluminous, and cinematic-like production of the September issue.
If one were to describe Wintour based solely on the majority of articles written about her, you would be missing many nuances of her personality. I actually found her to be quite charming and very likable at times. For example, it’s when she’s invited to an all-important meeting with the CEO of Neiman-Marcus in which he professes the influence she has with designers on a global level, and how she can be of extraordinary help to the omnipotent retailer in regards to order delivery, that she reveals a very human side by making numerous gestures of gently touching his hand while responding. It was interactions like this and those between her and her daughter that show off a bit of her softer side.
Despite Wintour’s need to control every detail of every page with perfectionist reasoning, I came to the conclusion that is was OK. After all, she’s well aware, and it comes across crystal-clear, that the ultimate success of the magazine lies clearly in her hands. But at the same time she still encourages and supports her minions, especially that of her ingenious and very talented creative director, Grace Coddington. Although there’s plenty of incidences showcasing Wintour and Coddington desperately clashing over creative differences, the underlying mutual respect and trust between them is quite evident.
Seek out this movie. Even if you’re not a fashionista, I think you’ll at least appreciate the business aspect of what it takes to put together such a massive and arduous production that is Vogue’s September issue.
DiscSox Team Member
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