21 February 2010

Shutter Island review

Not every Martin Scorsese movie consists of foul-mouthed gangsters, a constantly moving camera and a soundtrack of period pop songs. That's why I'm a little confused when people make it sound like Scorsese was stepping out of his comfort zone and trying his hand at "something new."

While it is true he's never made a thriller like this before, he has tried his hand at thrillers with his remake of Cape Fear. I'm personally not a big fan of that film and I think you can trace the following it does have to Robert DeNiro hamming it up and the really awesome Simpsons parody it spawned. Still, Scorsese has already tried his hand at putting audiences on the edge of their seat with a "nail biter" movie.

None the less, despite how famous Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are, most people associate Scorsese with gangster movies. Given what a redefining film Goodfellas is, that's not necessarily a bad thing but it's still a commentary on what a limited perspective the casual movie goer can have. Maybe I'm just mad more people haven't seen After Hours. That is Scorsese's most underrated film and one of my favorites of his. It's truly an awesome movie and not enough people have taken the time to watch it (or even know it exists) but I digress.

Shutter Island is based on a novel by Dennis Lehane, an author whose work has popped up in Hollywood a few times in the 2000s. Everyone's favorite curmudgeon Clint Eastwood brought Mystic River to the big screen in 2003 and Ben Affleck (!) directed the adapation of Gone Baby Gone. Mystic River wasn't a favorite of mine but so far, the guy's had a pretty good track record.

Despite some bitching by critics about the film's third act (that's admittedly where my beef lies, too), Lehane and his work is going to continue to stay in good standing as Shutter Island is a pretty good movie.

Whether you love Leonard DiCaprio or hate him, he works well with Scorsese. Gangs of New York and The Aviator have somewhat fallen by the wayside but both films had merit and their problems weren't with DiCaprio's performances. And to a lot of people, The Departed is Scorsese's best work since Goodfellas (I disagree but that harkens back to the "limited perspective" thing I referenced earlier). Anyway, given the second life their collaboration has breathed into Scorsese's career, you really can't blame them for wanting to continue to work with each other.

DiCaprio is fine here, along with Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, John Carroll Lynch, Patricia Clarkson and a slew of other good actors in small parts but the acting takes a backseat to the atmosphere, visuals and cinematography. Those are the real stars of the film.

The moody dream sequences are haunting and have a strange beauty to them. I wouldn't call the pace of the film brisk but it does suck you in as everything unfolds and DiCaprio's sanity seems to crack, which is as good a time as any to segue into the rather troubled third act.

The twist isn't anything that's going to shock you but that's not the problem. Too many films, like Identity and everything by M. Night Shyamalan rely on their twists to justify their worth as films. There's a "Wait for it...Wait for it...WAIT FOR IT!" quality to those films which often kill everything that came before it and eliminate any future replay value (at least for me). In Shutter Island, the twist is incidental. You can pretty much see it coming and despite the third act's problems, it's the logical point for the story to go to. The problem is that it's pure exposition. Kingsley and Ruffalo explain everything, they cut to DiCaprio looking freaked out, then cut back to Kingsley and Ruffalo continuing to explain everything, then cut back to DiCaprio looking freaked out. Lather, rinse, repeat. Oh, and cut to DiCaprio's flashback, which you've already figured out anyway. Small reveal at the end, boom, movie's over, end credits.

It's not necessarily bad but when you consider the imagery and the way they mounted the tension in the previous two-thirds of the film, it just feels like a step back. It's still a film that is well-worth your time. Scorsese continues to remind us why he's Martin Scorsese and well-crated thrillers are hard to come by these days. Check it out. And see After Hours, dammit.


14 February 2010

The Wolf Man (2010)

The Wolfman is a "good but not great" remake. To be fair, when you consider all the production problems this had, it's actually impressive it turned as well as it did.

The film has all the essential ingredients for a good werewolf/ monster movie. Rick Baker was a no-brainer for designing the werewolf make-up. They came up with a new Oscar for his work in An American Werewolf in London, so needless to say, the wolf doesn't disappoint in this movie. There is some CGI in the transformation scenes but it's integrated fairly smoothly with the practical effects. The film also has some great chaos and gore, which was a relief. This could have easily been a PG-13 affair and might have put the nail in the coffin of an already troubled production. Werewolf films (the good ones, anyway) also have a tragic element running through them. Even with the camp and humor contained in An American Werewolf in London and The Howling, David Naughton and Dee Wallace-Stone''s fates in those respective films is sad and it gives them they a weight that elevates them well-above the crappy knock-offs, sequels and Z-grade trash that populate this sub-genre.

In the original Wolf Man, it's Larry Talbot's father who ends up killing him. A father being forced to kill his son is heavy stuff these days and I can only imagine what a gut-punch it was to audiences in 1941.

There is a tragic element in this film but it's not as powerful as the original. Anthony Hopkins is creepy and unbalanced in his role as John Talbot and while the change to his character is integral to the plot, I didn't think it anywhere near as emotional. There's certainly a tragic element here, Benicio Del Toro's Larry Talbot is a sympathetic character who does not deserve his fate but the ending is much more effective in the original.

It's also a visually striking film. I'm not having the love affair with Blu Ray that I did with DVD in its heyday but this is one I will want to check out again in HD. Some of the visuals, like the wolf drinking water with London Bridge visible in the background, are gorgeous.

The film is not without it's shortcomings, though. Joe Johnston did a commendable job with the time he was given but the fact this was a rushed, troubled production does show in a few aspects (mostly plot).

The relationship between Del Toro and Emily Blunt is never developed as well as it should be. It's another area where the tragic aspect of the film is diluted slightly. She does fine with what time on screen she does have but ultimately, she doesn't have the presence her character is meant to have.

As good as the carnage is, the scene with the wolf's rampage through London feels very truncated. There's talk of seventeen-odd minutes of deleted footage and whether or not that helps fill in the gaps remains to be seen but again, it's things like this where you see the figurative seams of a film that went through a lot of shit on its bumpy road to completion.

I mentioned earlier that the CGI in the transformation scene blended well with the practical effects. This is not the case for the entire movie. There are two scenes with a CGI bear and a deer that pretty dodgy. I don't know if they ran out of time or what but the CGI bear especially looks odd when it first appears.

Finally, Hugo Weaving's Aberline is a total bad-ass. The movie sets up a sequel and if it features him extensively, I will be more than happy.

Overall, the film is enjoyable enough. It's not great and I'm sure Universal's expectations for it were ridiculously high at first but I have no doubt they'll turn a profit and even though it's garnered a lot of negative reviews, the crowd I saw it with seemed to really dig it. Traditional monster movies are designed to be crowd pleasers, so any gasps and screams you hear in an audience are a sign that the film has ultimately succeeded. Check it out.

06 February 2010

Headed to this place in 2 hours.....

If you love beer, and you happen to live near Houston, make the trip up to Conroe and check this place out!!!

02 February 2010

Dead Snow

Ever since 28 Days Later, the Dawn of the Dead remake and Shaun of the Dead made zombie movies a hip kid thing again, I've had a love and hate relationship with the sub-genre. I loved the renewed interest it gave classic zombie/ undead movies by George Romero, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson (who all had healthy followings to begin with) and to a lesser extent Lucio Fulci but I hated a lot of the dreck that followed (and this is sub-genre with an abundance of that to begin with).

And let's not forget that anytime a group of dipshits get access to decent cameras, take a guess what kind of movie they want to make? Yeah. And they all suck. I've endured enough of this bull shit on YouTube to definitively say these are hack jobs (no pun intended) at best. Bad make-up, acting, camera work and editing is just that kids, bad. Making a zombie movie is not a free ticket to cult movie stardom. But thanks for trying.

Anyway, after being disappointed with 28 Weeks Later and Romero's Diary of the Dead and putting myself through the utter piles of shit that were Fido and Hide and Creep, I pretty much swore zombie movies off.

And I think I'm right when I say this sub-genre is pretty much dead in terms of originality. I will say I enjoyed Zombieland but it's a lightweight affair all told. The movie will be remembered for how awesome Woody Harrelson is and deservedly so. He owned that movie and his co-stars were good, too. Still, in terms of zombie action, it's pretty soft.

So on to Dead Snow. This Norwegian film does have its enjoyable aspects. The film shares a lot more in common with Raimi's Evil Dead 2 and Jackson's early work than Romero-style zombies and not just because one of the characters wears a Braindead (aka Dead Alive) t-shirt. The film borrows a lot of elements from Bad Taste. The character who continually takes a beating and somehow survives (at least until the end) each encounter and literally has to hold himself together with common household items (the belt around the head in Bad Taste is replaced here by duct tape around the neck). There's also the "splattery" quality of the gore effects (which were one of this movie's strong points) and the reckless abandon to which the characters use weapons, ranging from a chainsaw to a machine gun.

And the film's main bad guy, Colonel Herzog, looked a bit like Bub the Nice Zombie from Day of the Dead. I'm guessing that's not an accident, either.

I also liked the POV shot of the girl watching herself get eaten. That was a pretty unique touch.

Overall, I didn't hate this film. I was entertained enough but I don't feel a real strong urge to revisit it ever again. Yeah, it's Nazi zombies and the gore is pretty cool but I guess I've just become too hard to please with zombie movies.