Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Natalie Portman stars as tightly wound ballerina Nina Sayers, who lives with her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey), and is chosen to replace outgoing principal dancer Beth (Winona Ryder) in her company's "re-imagined" production of Swan Lake. Under the direction of the highly regarded Thomas (Vincent Cassel), Nina excels in the technically proficient "White Swan" aspect of the Swan Queen role, but struggles with the passionate "Black Swan" side, which new, carefree dancer Lily (Mila Kunis) performs naturally. As Nina delves deeper into the demanding part, so too does she increasingly fall into a psychosis that threatens to devour her.
Debut screenwriters Andres Heinz, John McLaughlin, and Mark Heyman (who worked on the original, second, and final iterations of the script, respectively) craft dialogue that's sometimes stilted and obvious, often delivered by conventional character types, but identifying those traits as flaws misses the point. The film explicitly suggests its folk tale inspiration by using Swan Lake as a backdrop, and does so implicitly through the sensual assault it steadily builds to. The immersive sound design, double-take editing, and close, handheld shots that Aronofsky employs cause the audience to believe that what we're seeing isn't quite real. Spending so much time with Nina (Portman is in every scene) allows us to experience the world as she does, and it's often through the lens of fantasy, for better or for worse.
Black Swan hinges on Portman's abilities as much as its dazzling visuals, and she gives a completely engrossing performance here, with a physicality and range only hinted at in prior work. (Similarly, Kunis shows that given the right material, she has a natural, easygoing charm.) The story's initial groundedness comes from its exploration of the disciplined, difficult world of ballet, and as Nina becomes consumed by it, so do we. Aronofsky uses Tchaikovsky's score (and Benjamin Millepied's choreography) to great effect, with it ultimately taking over the picture as Nina is overtaken.
As with one of my other favorites of the year, Shutter Island, this is ostensibly a horror movie whose twists and turns aren't exactly surprising — but the way in which they're presented is. A true filmic feast, Black Swan is striking in its depiction of a tortured artist becoming unhinged in the name of creative perfection.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
As Zuckerberg, Jesse Eisenberg carries the movie with an understated performance that both propels its swift storytelling and effectively holds the screen (with help from strong turns by Justin Timberlake, Andrew Garfield, and Armie Hammer). In what could be a theme for the films of 2010, the Zuckerberg of The Social Network may not be entirely "true," but he's a nuanced character for whom Eisenberg manages to have the viewer rooting, while also keeping them at arm's length. Buoyed by its muted color palette and intense, foreboding score (by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross), the picture can feel cold and calculating — but no more so than its subject.
Thursday, September 30, 2010
It's difficult to discuss a movie like Catfish without first acknowledging the controversy surrounding its release and promotion...and while we won't delve too deeply into that here, it does seem contextually significant. Since its Sundance purchase, much has been made of the film's supposed "truth problem," and the is-it-or-isn't-it questions that have swirled around its status as a genuine documentary. This has been exacerbated by the filmmakers' insistence that the movie is "real," and by the studio's "Not based on a true story...just true" tagline.
What I'll say is that when I saw the trailer, I just assumed it was a "faux documentary" without thinking twice — and I can't help but think that the studio, with its clear Blair Witch influence, was intentionally vague in not making that distinction explicit. Of course, "real" and "true" are objective terms, and I took the tagline to mean, "There is truth to this film," rather than, "These events were not prefabricated."
I also knew that, after having seen the trailer, I didn't want to read or hear anything more about Catfish before watching it, so I saw the film oblivious to the growing fuss around its authenticity. I'm fairly certain that my mindset going in — that it was a given the movie wasn't a straight-ahead doc — made my viewing experience a more positive one than it would've otherwise been, had I known the filmmakers were defending it as "100 percent true."
I'll reveal my personal bias and say that it seems a little too coincidental that a film concerned entirely with what's real and what isn't just happened to get a lot of press about whether or not it was real; I don't believe that Catfish is a "real" documentary (whatever that actually means), but I also don't think that that at all takes away from it as a film. I can understand people being rankled by what appears to be a ruse, but frankly, those folks are taking the bait. Gimmicky or not, Catfish is an effective movie — namely, one about a group of friends...being rankled by what appears to be a ruse.
Co-directed with occasionally motion-sickness-inducing handheld camerawork by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the pair choose to make Ariel's brother and roommate Nev the focus of a film project after Nev begins an interesting correspondence. A New York-based photographer, Nev receives a painting of one of his recently published photos in the mail from Abby, a young girl in Michigan, and subsequently exchanges emails with Abby's mother, Angela.
As their correspondence continues, Nev strikes up a long-distance friendship with Angela and Abby, as well as other family members, including Abby's older half-sister, Megan. Through phone conversations and various social media communication, Joost and Schulman document Nev and Megan's budding relationship. But as cracks start to form in the veneer of who Megan has presented herself to be, Nev plans a face-to-face confrontation with Megan and her family, culminating in a revealing trip to Michigan. What we eventually find there may not come as a shock, but where the story goes is certainly surprising.
The Schulmans and Joost are a likeable group of guys, and much of the footage feels like a genuine documentation of friends spending time and cracking jokes together. Catfish enages viewers by establishing this laid-back environment, then holds our interest by managing to build to a legitimately heart-pounding climax. By turns funny, creepy, suspenseful, awkward, exploitative, and sad, the film is certainly an emotional roller coaster.
It may be telling that many of the year's best movies were about the nature of reality as it's presented (Black Swan, Inception, Exit Through the Gift Shop, and Shutter Island, among others), or how social media can effect that reality (The Social Network). Nev Schulman, probably like much of his audience, is rarely without his iPhone, Facebook, YouTube, or Google Maps, and while a "Does the internet really connect us?" message would be easy, Catfish goes for something more substantive. It's about inter-connectedness, sure, but it's ultimately a touching film that explores relationships and portrayed personas, self-delusion and real friendship. And it does so truthfully.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
In addition to his directing and co-writing duties, Affleck stars as Charlestown crook-with-a-heart-of-gold Doug MacRay, who heads a crew of creepy-masked bank thieves, including hotheaded James Coughlin, (Jeremy Renner) Doug's childhood friend. While James remains fiercely loyal to their violent way of life, Doug angles for a way out — of robbery and of Charlestown — but not before One Last Big Job.
Affleck is likeable, but sometimes outshone by the strong cast he's assembled. (Renner, in particular, follows his Oscar nod with another commanding performance.) Each character is unmistakably a stock archetype, fleshed out as much as possible by engaging actors: Rebecca Hall as the love interest/bank manager (twist!); Jon Hamm as the smooth FBI agent on Doug's tail; Chris Cooper as Doug's wizened father, serving time for his own crimes.
Despite its by-the-books plot, the movie's still fun to watch unfold, and hits all the necessary notes with aplomb — even if that means heading toward a schmaltzy ending which wraps things up a little too neatly. Moment to moment, The Town is a well crafted and compelling thriller, but lacks the emotional resonance of the high standard Affleck previously set for himself. It'll be interesting to see what this clearly talented filmmaker chooses as a next step.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Tuesday, August 31, 2010
Inception fans will recognize Edith Piaf's classic, "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien," as the song that Leo's dream thieves use as a warning that the "kick" (an upsetting of the dreamer's equilibrium, thus waking him up) is on its way. They'll also remember that, in the film, time slows down in a dream. As such, astute YouTube user camiam321 noticed something interesting about Inception composer Howard Zimmer's main theme:
From the jaunty brass and strings of "Regrette"'s refrain, we get Zimmer's tense, foreboding score, punctuated by horn blasts. How cool is that? (Not to mention that Inception co-star Marion Cotillard won an Oscar for portraying Piaf in La Vie en Rose. This movie has levels, man.) One of the many reasons why I thought it was the best of the summer.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know over in the poll.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
This slowed-down "remix" of The Bieb's hit "U Smile" by Shamantis has been making the rounds online, and Sigur Ros comparisons abound.
Maybe Shamantis is J-Biebz in disguise, and this is his exploratory foray into the ambient scene?
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
First up, Boston crime drama The Town, opening September 17:
Adapted from the novel Prince of Thieves by Chuck Hogan, The Town is the sophomore directorial/co-writing effort from Ben Affleck, who proved himself a formidable talent behind the camera with 2007's excellent Gone Baby Gone. Rather than give brother Casey the starring turn this time, though, Affleck (straight from the personal trainer, apparently) here steps into that role himself, the next phase in a valiant attempt to resurrect his acting career.
It certainly doesn't hurt that his co-stars are Jon "Don Draper" Hamm and a fresh-off-his-Hurt Locker-Oscar-nom Jeremy Renner -- or that this clip makes the thing look like The Departed meets Dark Knight. In other words, I'm eager to see it.
Next is the strangest, and most potentially interesting, of these three: Catfish, which also bows Septmeber 17. The breakout Sundance hit's trailer is already something of a controversy; the film's primary draw during the festival was its refusal to be bound to any one genre, and the surprises that its third act delivered. Some are crying foul that this clip gives away too much (consider yourself warned):
I, for one, am a perfect mark for this kind of campaign; without a marketing push like this, I likely wouldn't be much enthused about yet another indie faux-doc. While I understand the argument that going into the film knowing nothing is the ideal way to experience this kind of story, most of the moviegoing public doesn't get to experience new releases within the context of a film fest bubble. Bring on the "WTF" angle, I say.
Finally, the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg biopic, The Social Network, opening October 1:
When I first heard that Ben Mezrich's 2009 book, The Accidental Billionaires, was being adapted, I wondered if the story of Facebook would really make for much of a movie. Then, it was announced that Aaron Sorkin was writing the script, which David Fincher would direct (with a score by Trent Reznor, no less). I got interested.
The trailer, buoyed by an eerie choral rendition of Radiohead's "Creep" -- from Belgian women's choir Scala and Kolacny Brothers, reports Entertainment Weekly -- manages to be dark, funny, and poignant. Here's hoping the film lives up to it.
Is it autumn yet?
Saturday, August 7, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
-He considers the movie Kung Fu Hustle "the the supreme achievement of the modern age in terms of comedy";
-He apparently did Garfield because he mistakenly thought it was written by the Coen Brothers;
-He has only seen one episode of Seinfeld (which he refers to as "what's-his-name, Larry David's show," and which he thought was "terrible");
...all of which is a little confusing, and kind of awesome, much like the man himself. In related news, Caddyshack just turned 30 (!).
Via Rotten Tomatoes.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Slightly more conventionally helmed by director Daniel Alfredson than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo's Niels Arden Oplev, the movie wastes no time launching into muckraking protagonist Mikael Blomkvist's (Michael Nyqvist) next adventure; those who haven't seen Dragon will be lost. As with the last film, which had Blomkvist investigating a decades-old series of unsolved Swedish murders, he is assisted in his latest case by punky private investigator/hacker, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the real star of the series. This time, the pair becomes embroiled in a human trafficking chase, leading Salander to confront some of her past's secrets.
While Fire is a much more expository narrative than Dragon, Salander remains a compelling, badass character (rooted in Rapace's commanding performance), and the story provides an opportunity for viewers to learn more about her background. The movie retains the series' clear Silence of the Lambs imprint, but manages to feel just as influenced by the derring-do of the Bourne franchise. This blending can be by turns effective and disjointed, intertwining twisty and complicated plot elements. (Perhaps the inevitable American adaptations - the first of which arrives next year from, promisingly, David Fincher - will provide a more realized offering?)
Jonas Frykberg's - who returns as co-writer for the threequel - script may close with an unsatisfying ending, but only because it's an obvious setup for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (arriving stateside in October); it's a testament to the absorbing universe created by Larsson, and strikingly adapted by Alfredson and Oplev, that we immediately want to know what happens next. The Millennium trilogy's core elements may be fairly standard crime procedural material, but its unique perspective is original enough to excitingly propel the series.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Case in point, Toy Story 3. When news of the film's release first broke, there was some disappointment among Pixar fans that the studio was "settling" for a second sequel to an already established property, rather than announcing a new, original story. It's a (fairly unsurprising) relief, then, that from its opening scene, the movie is immediately funny, touching, and exciting, and that those feelings don't let up, even through the end credits. Four years passed between Toy Story 2 and the original; TS3 arrives eleven years after the second entry. While that gap could be seen as further fodder for the argument that the picture was greenlighted purely for its financial potential, director Lee Unkrich (co-director of TS2, Finding Nemo, and Monsters, Inc.) uses that lapse in time to provide a solid reason for revisiting Sheriff Woody, Buzz Lightyear, and the gang.
In the kind of "emotional time passage" montage at which Pixar has become so adept, TS3 opens with home video clips of toy owner Andy growing up, from the days of the first two movies, to the present, which finds him preparing to leave for college. Naturally, this change inspires panic and melancholy among the toy ranks, lead by Woody and Buzz, who've had to go to increasing lengths to get the teenaged Andy to acknowledge, much less play with, them. The inherent sadness in the idea that our playthings are secretly alive has been felt throughout the series, but screenwriter Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) brings it to new depths here by having the toys face such a crisis of identity and purpose. Pretty brave stuff for summer family fare, but it's consistent with the studio's track record of rewarding risk taking.
What ensues is the expected Toy Story setup of elaborate near escapes and rescue plots, fraught with peril and humor - propelled of course, by fantastic animation, the best of the three on display here - but this time around, a weighty sense of existential (and tangible) angst pervades the setpieces. Each of the trilogy's films deal with questions of friendship and loss, but Toy Story 3 is the most emotionally engaging, and ultimately, the most powerful, of them. Improbably, Pixar has crafted a movie series in which each entry is more effective than the last.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
The movie's breathtaking hand-drawn animation rightly garnered it a nomination for Best Animated Feature at this year's Oscars (Up ultimately took the win). Animation enthusiasts, and those who prefer their family films without pop culture sass-talk, should definitely check this one out.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
David Yates, who brought a (mostly) deft hand to the last two series entries, takes the reigns again for the final chapter(s), officially making him the director of half of the Potter films. But before we all start prematurely crying into our butterbeers, let's check out that Voldemort-heavy trailer:
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Meanwhile, the second annual Green Music Fest wrapped up tonight in West Town, with headliners David Bazan and Cloud Cult. Bazan - armed with a 3-piece band behind him - clearly aimed for a festival-ready set of loud, rock-driven tunes, eschewing his usual question-and-answer segments, as well as, oddly, most of his newest record. Curse Your Branches may be speculative (at one point, Bazan mentioned the strangeness of playing "navel-gazing songs" at an outdoor festival), but it's also his most accessible material.The orchestral-indie stylings of Cloud Cult provided a similarly boisterous closing set, highlighting a few solid songs from their new record, Light Chasers, which won't hit shelves until September 17, but is now available online. Up next for Chicagoans: Pitchfork, Lolla, etc, etc.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Boardwalk, which premiers on HBO this fall, stars Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson (based on real life Atlantic County Treasurer Enoch "Nucky" Johnson), the "boss" of Prohibition-era Atlantic City, and generally looks awesome. It doesn't hurt that other Sopranos mainstays like director Timothy Van Patten are on board...or that Martin Scorsese directed the pilot and is producing the show.
Evidence of Scorsese's involvement is all over the newly released trailer, which doesn't quite make me want to pay for HBO, but ensures the series a home at the top of my Netflix queue:
Monday, May 17, 2010
The sequel retains the brisk energy and improvisational feeling established by director Jon Favreau (who returns here) in the first movie, as well as the expected exciting setpieces. The solid cast, anchored by the relentlessly charming Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony "Iron Man" Stark, also continues to be in fine form, with notable new additions in Mickey Rourke as creepy Russian physicist Ivan Vanko; scenery-chewing Sam Rockwell as sleezy weapons manufacturer Justin Hammer; and the reliable Don Cheadle, replacing Terrence Howard as Col. Jim "Rhodey" Rhodes.
Vanko and Hammer — each variations on aspects of Stark's character, and both with a vendetta against him — provide the bulk of the story's conflict, but Stark is also facing problems with the federal government, which pressures Stark to turn his technology over to the military; his company, which Gwyneth Paltrow's Pepper Potts takes over as CEO; and another government agency, the shadowy S.H.I.E.L.D., which we learn more about this time around. If that sounds like a lot of plot elements, it is, but the screenplay (by Tropic Thunder scribe/actor Justin Theroux) largely succeeds where other sequels haven't, by juggling multiple storylines while keeping the characters empathetic and three-dimensional.
Often, second superhero movie entries allow a series to become less restrained by its origin story, the elaborate mythology of which can typically hamper a first movie's compactness. Iron Man's origin unfolded so effectively, however, that the franchise is actually threatened with that problem in its sequel. But while IM2's structure isn't as tight and streamlined as the original, the film still chugs along fluidly — even if the proceedings aren't exactly inspired.
It's a true "part two," in that the picture tells a transitional story — not a bad thing, if done well. Marvel Studios uses IM2 as its most overt platform yet to set up a likely Avengers series, which initially seemed like a terrible idea (some things are best left on the comic page), but the movie convinces that the plan, while a bit messy, is at least thought out, and has potential to be done justice.
Ultimately, for what it is, the film succeeds simply by being a sequel that doesn't feel unncessary; it's a solid second chapter that takes Tony Stark to the next logical place in the series. (Here's hoping the inenvitable threequel finds further inspriation in the comics' landmark Demon in a Bottle arc, which focused on Stark's growing alcoholism.) It's exciting to see Marvel — whose first release was Iron Man — defy conventional wisdom by aiming to not just let each picture stand on its own, but cross-pollinating them with each other's characters, and attempting to set up a real comic book world on film. Iron Man 2 is loud and busy, to be sure, but far from brainless. It manages to retain enough of the heart, message, and fun that made the original special.
Friday, April 30, 2010
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Incidentally, the previously mentioned documentary about the band, No One Said It Would Be Easy, was released last spring.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
Although the band left the stage after album closer "Cymbal Rush," Yorke reemerged not long after, performing a brief solo set each night, finally getting above average sound out of the notoriously sonically-unfriendly venue. On Sunday, he began with the new "Lotus Flower" -- which would fit comfortably on a Radiohead record, as is rumored -- on electric guitar. Yorke moved to piano for the unlikely next song, Radiohead's disorienting "Like Spinning Plates," rendered here as a pretty ballad.
Immediately following, the band took the stage again with the creepy, dancy Radiohead B-side "Paperbag Writer," then launched into "Judge, Jury, and Executioner," which Yorke called the group's first original song when they debuted it last fall. AfP closed with two new band songs, the bouncy "Hollow Earth," and jam session "Feeling Pulled Apart By Horses," each of which sounded like funkier, fuller versions of Eraser material, similar to "Judge, Jury." (The band's encore setlist was the same both nights.)
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
Storyboards, the duo's fourth LP, continues in the orchestral leanings of their last record, Keep No Score, by featuring string arrangements from Van Dyke Parks, but is more compositionally experimental - due, in part, to contributions from Joanna Newsom band member Ryan Francesconi.
The band kicked off their spring tour last week.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
The Passion may have proven inimitable, but the fact that an original screenplay almost entirely about (mild spoiler alert!) the Bible can get developed by a major studio at all, let alone star Denzel Washington as a sermonizing, samurai sword-wielding drifter, would likely have been impossible ten years ago. Getting audiences to shell out for the titillating mixture of the sacred and profane is certainly nothing new (just ask Dan Brown), but rarely have blockbusters been this overtly evangelical.
As is typical for the talented, uneven directors, the Hughes Brothers (who started in music videos before helming features Menace II Society and From Hell, among others), the film offers immediately striking visuals of a muted, post-apocalyptic wasteland, backed by a compelling score and sound effects. The visceral beauty of Eli’s (Washington, in an expectedly commanding performance) world—hunting, scavenging, traveling alone—as presented by the Hughes Brothers, is undeniable, but it’s difficult to shake the feeling that the audience has already seen the same end-of-the-world scenario plenty of times.
We learn that the world is suffering the effects of a nuclear world war, which caused the sun to explode…or something along those lines. Society has collapsed; rogue gangs roam vast stretches of unused highway; resources are scarce. It’s a good thing, then, that Eli, perpetually walking west (in search of what, we’re not initially sure), is capable of Kill Bill levels of stylized ultra-violence, which he uses to dispatch the thugs who inevitably seek him out. In a classic Western movie trope, he repeatedly offers, “I don’t want any trouble,” before carrying out a self-defense massacre.
Eventually, Eli reaches a small town, which a creepy intellectual named Carnegie (Gary Oldman, charismatic as always) organizes and lords over, demanding that henchmen pillage the surrounding areas, in search of books. The printed word has largely disappeared, and Carnegie believes that if he can obtain the information found in one particular book—guess which one—he will be granted unparalleled power.
Here, the story takes a turn for what could be considered a fundamentalist warning/fantasy. It is revealed that religion was the cause of the war, and consequently, survivors were forced to burn all copies of the Bible. Eli, however, has a copy in his possession, and stops at nothing to protect it, hiding it from everyone—further raising some dubious “Christian” virtues—with the exception of Solara (the wooden Mila Kunis), a town resident whom Eli reluctantly agrees to bring on his journey.
When Carnegie learns of Eli’s copy, he demands that it be handed over. “That book is meant to be shared,” Carnegie reasons. Eli refuses, and naturally, takes out a small army of attackers, wounding Carnegie, on his way out of town. “I haven’t found the right place for it yet,” Eli says of his Bible. Is the moral, then, that Christ is a selective messiah, or that some are unworthy of hearing his message?
Eli and Solara make their way west, and when she questions his methods, he claims that he feels called to travel in that direction. The idea here is to extol faith, over physical evidence, as a virtue, but the sentiment of hearing a voice that tells one to do things (including killing those who get in your way) is too close to “fundamentalist terrorist” for comfort.
The very aspects that I find baffling about The Book of Eli, though, are the same that endear me to it: who exactly is the intended audience? Its over-the-top violence will likely deter it from megachurch screenings; its preachiness may prevent it from taking a hold in the action flick pantheon; the slow pace of its Western film influence could keep the multiplex crowds antsy. It’s a strange picture (e.g., Tom Waits has an extended cameo), and for a popcorn movie, that’s admirable.
Still, this is screenwriter/former video game writer Gary Whitta’s first script, and it shows. It may be a unique take on a familiar story, but it’s still populated with stock characters (the villain; the damsel; the seemingly invincible hero), and its plot device is a little contrived. Like a proselytizing comic book, or church drama aiming for edginess, the parable can wear thin.
Questionable theology notwithstanding, The Book of Eli has enough interesting ideas and exciting set pieces to make it a worthwhile experience. Its ultimate message even manages to resonate when Eli gets it right by the third act: “I got so caught up in keeping it safe,” he says of his book, “that I forgot to live out what I learned from it. ‘Do for others what you do for yourself.’”
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Monday, February 22, 2010
Unsurprisingly for Scorsese, he decided to follow the critical, box office, and awards (including his first Best Director Oscar) acclaim of The Departed with something seemingly out of left field: a horror movie about an insane asylum. And again, unsurprisingly, the critical response has largely been a collective shrug. "Shutter Island is 'minor Scorsese,'" many have patronizingly said. The film may not be what people expect of the director, but that's half the fun; it's two hours of an auetur reveling in his love of cinema to tell a story that envelops the senses.
From its opening moments, as U.S. Marshals Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) are ferried across foggy Boston Harbor, the movie strikes a tone of creepiness and dread. The Marshals are headed to Shutter Island, which houses Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, to investigate the disappearance of a patient. The soundtrack - a key component to any Scorsese entry - includes no score, but instead, a collection of discordant, modern classical pieces, just as defiant as the rock & roll that typically lines the director's films. When Krzysztof Penderecki's tense symphonies, also featured in The Shining and The Exorcist, immediately fill the theater, you know you're in for a scary good time. (If you're going to make a horror movie, look to the best.)
Alternately expansive and claustrophobic, the film's Shining inspiration is felt throughout, its framing and camera movement a reminder of Kubrick's hefty influence on Scorsese. It's also beautifully shot by frequent collaborator (and Oliver Stone/Tarantino mainstay), director of photography Robert Richardson, especially in vividly rendered dream and flashback sequences. As he did with Scorsese in Aviator, Richardson makes great use of color to propel the story's emotional beats, be they elegant or grotesque.
Its 1950s setting and Hitchcockian mystery structure naturally serve as an homage to noir films and B movies, but indeed, Shutter Island is able to overcome genre conventions by ultimately revealing itself as an emotionally driven tragedy. The fine cast, anchored by a strong, moving performance from DiCaprio (in his fourth outing with Scorsese), effectively pulls the audience into their characters' lives, enabling the story's sucker punch of an ending to truly sting. Ruffalo is perfectly cast as DiCaprio's affable, empathetic partner, and Ben Kingsley, genteel as always, has fun as Ashecliffe's chief psychiatrist, Dr. John Cawley, whose intentions seem compassionate one scene, and sinister the next.
Closely adapted from Dennis Lehane's (Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone) pulpy novel by screenwriter Laeta Kalogridiso - whose previous credits are mostly in TV - the film explores intense themes of violence and its relationship to American society, while maintaining a level of ambiguity that allows viewers to experience the characters' sometimes tenuous hold on reality. Shutter Island thrills because we're watching a master filmmaker at work; if this is "minor Scorsese," I'll gladly take it.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
Ebert, who lost most of his lower jaw to complications from salivary cancer surgery in 2006, is no longer able to speak, but is perhaps a more prolific writer than ever before, maintaining his Sun-Times column and a widely-read personal blog. Jones's article sheds light on the ways in which the iconic film critic's life has changed, negatively and positively, in the last few years.
I grew up watching Siskel and Ebert, and devouring the latter's collected essays, unusually thoughtful for "mainstream" film reviews (there's a reason that he was the first movie critic to win a Pulitzer). I've always loved writing, reading, and cinema—as well as writing and reading about cinema—and it's nearly impossible to not be inspired by Ebert's passion for the same.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
I could opine on the loss of a pop culture monument, but why rehash what Current TV's hilarious SuperNews! has already summed up perfectly (in all its Watership Down-referencing glory)?
Did Jersey Shore Kill the Video Star?
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Since any of my hopes for today went out with Brett Favre's ankle a couple weeks back, I'll probably be more invested in the Puppy Bowl...