Shutter Island – BluRay Review

SHUTTER ISLAND – (6.5/10)

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Leonardo DiCaprioMark RuffaloBen KingsleyMax von Sydow

I am assuming that if you are reading this, you’ve probably already seen the film. If you haven’t and you don’t want to know how it all ends, please stop now as this review will be full of SPOILERS.

The film has been around for almost a year now and it’s even out on DVD and Bluray but it recently popped up again on the pages of Variety, Screen International and The Hollywood Reporter in a big campaign “for your consideration” as Paramount is trying to push it for the forthcoming awards season.

The Cinematography

Well, for a start the film is just too long (it’s at least 25 minutes too long, if not more) and it’s just too pleased with its mood and its look. In a way it’s just too self-indulgent.

There are just too many characters, most of whom have to go through long tortuous scenes with dialogue full of exposition (including the “shock” ending which is played out with Ben Kingsley basically having to explain the whole film to Di Caprio).

And it’s a shame because the whole thing looks beautiful! Scorsese obviously knows his cinema history and pays homage to so many classics of film noir and from the 50s, from Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor, to The Snake Pit, to Hitchcock’s Spellbound and even Psycho at one point.

This is as dark as it gets in terms of mood, colours, and the whole atmosphere of the film itself. It’s all enhanced by the strangest music, assembled from previously recorded material and assembled for the film by Robbie Robertson (most of which sounds just like a horn sound from a boat).

And yet the film’s main problem is that the whole thing is played out like a big mystery heading towards the final “shocking revelation” and yet the audience is always miles ahead of the main character played (impeccably, I should say) by Leonardo DiCaprio. Let’s face it, you know pretty much from the very start that he is mad.

The constant dreams and flashbacks that Di Caprio has, the weird encounters with some of the characters in the film (particularly Patricia Clarkson) are pretty much telegraphing the fact that Di Caprio is seriously disturbed, so much so that when a piece of paper turns up saying that there’s another patient in the island we all know that it’s him! (Especially if we have seen films like Angel’s Heart, where a very similar trick is played).

The film tries to mess things up adding a series of red herring to divert the attention of the audience, but in fact, all they seem to do is to make the film a bit too slow and heavy.

When the ending finally comes, it all feels like A) something which we half knew already and B) a bit of a cheap trick. Also, let’s face it, a film that spends the last 20 minutes explaining to you everything you’ve been watching up until that moment in a long dialogue scene has something seriously wrong going for it.

And it’s a real shame because the story itself is actually rather good, including that very last line in the film where you get the feeling that Di Caprio is faking his madness in order to get lobotomized and not have to live with the pain of his guilt and sorrow anymore. It’s a beautifully handled and very sublte scene.

In fact, I must confess I probably enjoyed Shutter Island more on a second viewing on the bluray, where I wasn’t so confused by all the names and characters and I knew what to focus on and how I should have interpreted all those long dialogue scenes, which on a first viewing don’t make a lot of sense.

Don’t take me wrong, I don’t mind being confused in films, but as long as me being confused is actually the intent of the film-makers. If I start wondering “who was that guy again?” then the film has failed to tell me a clear story.

If I were to judge this movie on the basis of its visual style and its atmosphere I would probably give it a 9/10, the acting is superb (Di Caprio is always good, that’s now not even debatable), so is Mark Ruffalo, and it’s nice to see Ben Kingsley playing against expectations, but I found the movie is just let down by a lack of editorial judgement which should have made it a lot tighter.

On a technical note, the transfer on the Bluray is perfect, and so is the audio, as you would expect from a movie of this calibre. However the extras were pretty thin.

6.5/10 (though I really want to give it more)

The Walking Dead (s01 e03)

The walking Dead – Episode 3  (7/10)

EPISODE 3 – Tell It to the Frogs

Director: Gwyneth Horder-Payton.  Writers: Frank Darabont, Charles H. Eglee, Jack LoGiudice

CAST: Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie Holden, Jeffrey DeMunn, Steven Yeun, Chandler Riggs, Norman Reedus, Michael Rooker, Juan Gabriel Pareja, Emma Bell, Andrew RothenbergMaddie Lomax

It’s interesting to see how different these last three episodes have all been.
The first one (arguably the best) has been setting up a perfect eerie and uneasy mood. It was truly scary despite the fact that it was marching through a very well-known territory (both the settings and the actually zombies themselves are nothing new and yet it was all terrifying).
The second episode went for the gore and it felt almost like a parody of the genre itself (by saying that I don’t mean to criticise it, however some of the “yuk factor” was so over the top that somehow it became less scary).
Now, having set up the main story and the characters, finally this third episode can afford slow things down a bit. Gone is the eerie atmosphere and the splatter  factor (a part from one scene, where a head gets chopped off). Gone are also the big action set pieces and they all seem to have given way for more character-building scenes.
The makers are obviously aware that this is a TV series after all, where from episode to episode we get to know more and more about each character and they have decided to exploit the format to their advantage by pushing all the right emotional buttons at their disposal.
Last week in my review I wrote that I was afraid the series might end up looking more like a soap opera, but I now happy to say that I was wrong.
What could have been really cheesy sequences about a family being re-united and about a wife betraying the memory of his dead husband by cheating with his ex best friend, in this third episodes exploded into some of the most emotional sequences in the whole series yet, mainly thanks to a particularly well handled direction and some excellent performances.
I must confess , when or main character, Rick Grimes, finally sees his wife and child again, I was almost brought to tears
One  also has to appreciate the boldness of the makers who mercifully went straight for the punch lines and the “big reveal” without over-stretching the storyline of the return of the thought-to-be-dead-husband into 3 or 4 episodes.
Let’s just see how will they now handle the “betrayal” stuff and let’s hope they’ll be able to keep the pace up.
On the downside, I still have some problems with predictably of some of the set ups; for example (SPOILER AHEAD) the fact that the guy on the roof would have use the saw to free himself from the handcuffs was basically telegraphed from last week.
However, for the time being,  I’m still hooked to this.
7/10

Blue Valentine – Review

BLUE VALENTINE 8/10

Directed by Derek Cianfrance. Starring Ryan GoslingMichelle WilliamsMike Vogel.

This film is possibly one of the most realistic depiction of the “falling in and out of love” story I’ve seen in a very long time (possibly ever). It’s certainly not an easy watch: its raw and honest quality makes it almost palpable and you truly believe these two characters have been living as a couple for years, had a child together and are now going through their toughest time yet.

The film follows two timelines and inter-cuts them to perfection: The present day, in which things are not going to well and the past (you’re never quite sure how long it’s been between the two times, but the make up on the actors and the age of the child, makes you deduct that it must be at least 5 or 6 years).The audience is left putting the pieces together and wondering “how did they get there?”. And yet the film doesn’t really answer many questions, mainly because sometimes there isn’t a straight answer.

Derek Cianfrance films this story as a documentary (it’s interesting to notice that’s what his background has been so far). The camera seems to capture little looks, gestures, lines of dialogue almost by mistake, as if it happened to be there by mistake. Crucial lines are sometimes delivered as the leads turn their back to camera and sometimes even off-screen. There are a couple of intimate moments in the film too, and why they too are raw as they can be, they’re also never distasteful or gratuitous. I was shocked to learn how this film got a NC17 rating in America, treating it as if this was some sort of pornographic flick (which it really is not!), or as if it was worse than any of those explicitly graphically violent movies like Machete for example, which is out at the same time.

I mean… really!? You barely see a couple of breasts from a few seconds and that’s about it.  I seem to remember much stronger images in Basic Instict years and years ago…

(SPOILER ALERT) I must confess there’s a scene in the film which is so intense that for a moment I thought I wasn’t going to take it. It’s when Michelle Williams decides to go to the hospital to have an abortion. Once again the true raw atmosphere of the film makes this scene almost unbearable. A woman sitting next to me was covering her eyes all the way through… and yet, you don’t really see anything at all. The whole scene is played on Michelle Williams face as you hear the doctor explaining to her what he’ll do, step by step. Mercifully, she changes her mind before it’s too late.

Which brings me to talk about the acting in this film. This is certainly Michelle Williams’s best performance yet (though she has already been pretty good in the last few years) but what really stood out for me was Ryan Gosling who managed to portray a character full of imperfections and faults and yet made him so likeable that it’s impossible to blame.

(SPOILER ALERT) The scene towards the end when Michelle’s character confronts her husband and tells him she has no love for him anymore is truly heartbreaking and made even more powerful by intercutting of the scene wedding day. The dialogue is minimal, the music almost non-existent and yet the actors bring it alive like nothing I’ve seen this year.

Sadly the film might be a bit too low-key to get any Oscar recognition, but it surely deserves some!!

08 DECEMBER 2010 –
The MPAA has overturned the insane NC-17 rating. Now the film will be rated.

The Walking Dead (s01.e02)- Review


The Walking Dead

(episode 2) 7/10

Created by Frank Darabont. Directed by Michelle Maxwell MacLaren. With Andrew Lincoln, Jon Bernthal, Sarah Wayne Callies, Laurie HoldenJeffrey DeMunnSteven YeunChandler RiggsMichael Rooker

I might have built up too much expectation after first episode last week and even though I still enjoyed this second part, I didn’t find it as stylish nor compelling as the first one.

Gone were all those long silences and eerie atmosphere that made the pilot so intriguing, scary and horrific (in a good one, of course). What was basically a one man show has now become filled with a series of new characters, most of whom are not defined enough to care.

However what lacked in mood was definitely compensated by action packed sequences and a lot of gore, possibly even more than in the first episode, to the point of parody. Which brings me to ask: “what kind of a series does this want to be?” Is it going to be a horror series, or is it going to be a bit of a parody? The whole subplot about  Andrew Lincoln‘s wife and her affair with the ex partner (and friend) scares me a little bit. I really hope this is not going to turn into a soap opera…

I didn’t particularly like the fact that the zombies themselves seem to have learnt how to run and jump over fences on this one. I thought they couldn’t run on the previous episode. Are we back to “28 days later” territory again? And taking about ripping things off from other movies, the idea of having a group of people seeking shelter from zombies in a shopping mall is lifted from Romero’s Dawn of the Dead.

Also I thought that the whole dropping the key into the hole moment, was a bit silly… Surely they could have found a better excuse to leave that guy handcuffed.

Anyway, the production value is still pretty high and I to be honest I did have a lot of fun watching this (in fact the episode felt faster than the first one did. Was it shorter by any chance?) but I am fearing that it could all possibly run out of steam or ideas sooner than I though.

I’m rating it with a 7 mainly because  I still have a little bit of excitement left from the first episode. Let’s hope it doesn’t go below that.

7/10

Click here to read the review of  EPISODE 1 

Click here to read the review of EPISODE 3

Rabbit Hole – Review

RABBIT HOLE  (6.5/10)

Directed by John Cameron Mitchell. Starring Nicole KidmanAaron EckhartSandra OhDianne Wiest

Let me just start by saying that this is not a bad film. It is very well handled, both in terms of direction and the general tone (A surprising change from Shortbus director John Cameron Mitchell). The acting is absolutely impeccable, the photography simple and understated, yet perfectly controlled an absolutely right for a film like this. Even the music, by TV composer Anton Sanko,in its gentle form is carefully used and never falls into the cheap emotion stirring mode.
So why did I just give it a 6.5 then, when everything about it seems ever so perfect?

I supposed my argument against it comes down to not the subject matter itself but the way the story is handled. I am probably alone on this one, since the play from which the film has been adapted has won the  Tony Award in 2007. Obviously somebody must have seen a lot more in it than I did. Somebody must have liked it a lot!

It is essentially a film about grieving: a couple has lost their 4 years old boy in an accident and 8 months later they are struggling to cope with it. This is essentially the film. This is how much I knew about it before going into the theatre and this is exactly how much I still know about it after the screening.

Despite the fact that the film is an incredible emotional experience (I pretty much cried non-stop from half way though right till the end), to me the film just went nowhere. I knew exactly what was going to happen before it happened… and probably because nothing really happened. It’s all played by numbers and there was really nothing surprising about it.

Of course it’ll make you cry. If I tell you a story for 2 hours about my 4 years old boy who died run over by a car, I’m sure I can make you cry too. You certainly can’t judge a film on whether it’ll make you cry or not. Of course, this film will stay with me for a while, but once again, this isn’t certainly a mark of a good film either (I remember a lot of very bad films too).

I can probably understand that this is exactly the point of the movie: when something like this happens, it’s as if you fall in a state of trance and nothing really seems to happen anymore. Life stops and it doesn’t matter how much you try to shake off the emptiness, life will never be the same again. I get it. And yet I hated it. Maybe I just resented it for being put in a condition where I had to watch people having to live this tragedy for 2 hours.

This is one of the most depressing film I’ve seen in quite a while. In a way it reminded me a lot of “Revolutionary Road“. But where that film had some sort of character development and skillfully managed to balance moments of comedy (however dark) to moments of high drama (thus elevating them and giving them more impact), “Rabbit Hole” is constantly depressing. It only seems to have one gear, travelling at constant speed to a place which is pretty obvious right from the start. It’s a film with the same level of voice all the way through and after 2 hours of being told something pretty obvious, it does get all a bit tiring.

Aaron Eckhart is really good, of course he is. This the typical Oscar worthy part, but I have to say, it’s so much easier to play a character like this. I am not an actor and yet if somebody put me on a stage and told me “your 4 years old boy has died” I would be able to cry and shout and look the same way Aaron Eckhart did. The same goes for Nicole Kidman. I am not trying to take anything away from them, I am not saying they were not absolutely perfect in this film, I am just saying that the part of a grieving parent has got Oscar bait written all over it. Also, I must confess I was a little distracted by Nicole’s lips too. All the way though the film I kept on asking myself ” What the hell has she done to those lips…”. Please Nicole, leave them alone! Have the courage to grow old, like any other human being. You are so good, even without Botox and surgery!!

6.5/10

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