Archive for February, 2010

21 Feb 2010

Shutter Island

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Leonardo DiCaprio impresses in his latest role as tortured federal marshal Teddy Daniel in "Shutter Island".

It took legendary film director Martin Scorsese nearly three decades to be recognized at the Oscars for his unrivaled filmmaking. With the making of the Best Picture and Best Director film, “The Departed,” in 2006, it’s hard to deny his patience was worth the wait and awarded deservedly.

Jump ahead to a little more than three years later and Scorsese has returned to the big screen with the psychological thriller, “Shutter Island” – a movie so masterfully done, so resounding in its imagery, so meticulous in its plot pacing, the legendary filmmaker has once again proved that the wait is worthwhile.

Based on the novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane, “Shutter Island” details federal marshal Teddy Daniels’ (Leonardo DiCaprio, “Revolutionary Road”) and newly appointed partner, Chuck Aule’s (Mark Ruffalo, “Where the Wild Things Are”) investigation into the disappearance of a insane asylum patient on Shutter Island.

Upon arrival on Shutter Island, Daniels and Aule are treated suspiciously by the caretakers and especially head physician, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley, “The Wackness”). With Cawley’s insistent refusal to cooperate fully with the marshals, the two begin to look beyond the missing inmate into what is possibly an elaborate government conspiracy taking place on the island. Haunted by the passing of his wife and tortured by consistent migraines that cause hallucinations, Daniels becomes more and more affected by the mysterious manner of the island and realizes that if he doesn’t solve the case quickly, he might become the asylum’s newest resident.

Good psychological thrillers are rarer than good romantic comedies these days. With most stories being told before, plots are predictable as ever and hardly thrilling. That is unless you have one of the most acclaimed directors of all time visually recreating the story onto film. While Lehane’s story is above the level of most scripts seen in Hollywood today, it is truly Scorsese and his years of experience that elevate “Shutter Island” to levels of greatness.

In all honesty, this film could have been a complete bore. At two hours and 20 minutes long, it probably takes longer than necessary for the film’s conclusion to come. Through the mesmerizing use of lighting, vibrant colors, a pulse pounding score and dream-like sequences, the story is not prolonged, only extremely detailed.

Using styles commonly seen in old film noir and even many Stanley Kubrick films, Scorsese unravels “Shutter Island” ‘s  mystery through small, visually enticing pieces, often purposely teasing viewers with its ambiguity. Daniels’ flashbacks/hallucinations mix disturbing memories, such as his wife’s death and his haunting experiences in a Nazi death camp, with a sea of overwhelming visuals, such as sets slowly turning into burning ash and blood drenched clothing. On top of that, the somewhat curiously consistent use of water to propel the plot forward captures an important symbolism that gives even more depth to Daniels’ character.

Bringing the torment and frustration of Daniels to life is DiCaprio in yet another role that cements him as one of the most talented actors currently working. Reviving the Boston accent he used in “The Departed,” Dicaprio’s authority as this intelligent marshal determined on uncovering wrongdoing is never questioned. Come the end, and the film outright tells you the answers to all the questions (or so one would think), one would be inclined not to believe it because of strong emotional and sympathetic feelings DiCaprio has created with his character.

Backing the prestige that DiCaprio and Scorsese have created in their past four endeavors together is a magnificent supporting cast that is an early contender for the year’s best ensemble. While Ruffalo plays his sidekick role with compassion and honesty, it is the sure-footed presence of Kingsley that steals the show. His commanding aura mixed with a hint of sarcastic stubbornness helps build upon the idea that Shutter Island undoubtedly has a malicious existence. In one of the three female supporting roles, Michelle Williams (“Wendy and Lucy”) brings a passionate eeriness to Daniels’ deceased wife who now haunts his dreams. As the two Rachel’s, Emily Mortimer (“The Pink Panther 2”) and Patricia Clarkson (“Vicky Christina Barcelona”) dive deep into twisted characters, leaving memorable impressions of those who are mentally deranged.

In his second attempt at a thriller/horror picture, Scorsese proves that his first attempt into the genre, “Cape Fear,” was not a onetime stroke of genius. Many filmmaking techniques that made “Cape Fear” such a landmark in its respected genre are used in “Shutter Island” to give it that extra punch. Most specifically is the use of the overpowering score. In the 1991 flick, a set of booming chords are used repeatedly throughout the film to bring menace to Deniro’s villain. In “Shutter Island,” a similar set of booming notes are used to create tension on the island, but only during selective moments, highlighting the film’s unpredictable intensity.

To my great surprise, many critics have called “Shutter Island” one of Scorsese’s lesser work. I wholeheartedly disagree. While certain aspects of this movie, including the good, not great plot, hold this movie back from becoming an instant classic, this movie ranks as some of the most masterful and finely crafted work from any director working today. Though it holds little meaning at this time, I feel confident in calling “Shutter Island” the best movie of this decade.

“Shutter Island”
Release Date: Feb. 19

Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, and Michelle Williams
Rating: R for disturbing violent content, language and some nudity.
Grade: A-

13 Feb 2010

Valentine’s Day

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Hollywood has done it again. In predictable fashion, they have released a sappy, romantic-comedy that is not only predictable, but yes, clichéd. The good news is, “Valentine’s Day,” as flawed as it may be, serves its date movie purpose quite well. 

Ashton Kutcher, right, tries to charm Jennifer Garner in the newly-released "Valentine's Day."

Set during Hallmark’s favorite day of the year, “Valentine’s Day” gives audiences very personal, yet very short, glimpse into the lives of multiple Los Angeles couples. While most of the couples embrace what the day ahead will bring, all of the couples learn that love is not as simple as the thousands of flowers sent on that special day.

With one of the largest casts ever assembled for a big Hollywood movie, an appropriate way to name them is in pairs by the television shows that most became famous from. From long canceled show “Alias,” there is Jennifer Garner as the fun-loving romantic hopeful and Bradley Cooper as the charming guy that spends his screen time on a plane with a military enlisted Julia Roberts. Viewers also get a blast from the past with the reunion of “That 70’s Show” stars Ashton Kutcher and Topher Grace as two men who can’t seem to get it right with their girls. “Grey’s Anatomy” fans get a “Mc”-double dose of dreamy and steamy with Patrick Dempsey, who fittingly plays a flirtatious doctor, and Eric Dane, who plays an aging stud quarterback debating retirement (Brett Favre sadly couldn’t play this role due to being wrapped up in Sears and Wrangler contracts). Throw in the America’s most overexposed teen Taylors (Swift and Lautner), a few Oscar winners (Jamie Foxx, Shirley MacLaine and Kathy Bates), plus a dash of Hollywood’s hottest (Jessica Alba, Jessica Biel and Anne Hathaway), and you have yourself one hell of an outrageous casting budget. 

After “He’s Just Not That Into You” set the bar high for big stars/stereotypes romantic comedies last year, “Valentine’s Day” seemed to be made under the intentions of making the 2009 hit look like a weak attempt at ensemble filmmaking. While “Valentine’s Day” does share the intertwining stories theme, it doesn’t cram the idea of what relationships should be like down the viewer’s throats. Instead, it takes multiple looks at how these fictional characters deal with the subject of love. Sure, it still drives home the point that being single is really not OK, but what glamorized romance flick doesn’t these days?

To make the movie all the more enjoyable and relevant, it throws in countless references to popular modern occurrences. Beyond the whole in-your-face Favre football reference, the movie also tackles such things as ridiculously over-the-top gift giving, the idea of Facebook friending complete strangers, and my favorite, a subtle reference to Twilight’s ridiculous amount of shirtless males. This last instance comes when girl Taylor ask her boyfriend, guy Taylor, to put on the shirt that she specially made him. In a deadpan manner, Lautner replies, “I’m not comfortable taking my shirt off in public.” B.S. on you, Mr. Lautner… B.S.

Girls will be devastated to hear that their favorite werewolf does not go shirtless in this movie, but to the delight of the multiple boyfriends that will be dragged to this movie, there are a few gluteus maximus shots of Garner and Hathaway. Guys will also appreciate the surprisingly funny one-liners from Foxx, while girls get more than their fill of “awww, how precious” moments with the grade school crush sequences.

Serving its civic/marketing duty to make the United States’ most contrived holiday seem even more important, “Valentine’s Day” is one of those crowd-pleasing movies that most just can’t help but see. If nothing else, it’s amusing to see Taylor Swift taking the stereotypical ditzy blonde to new extremes.

“Valentine’s Day”
Release Date: February 12
Director: Gary Marshall
Starring: A lot of famous people
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual material and brief partial nudity.
Grade: C

07 Feb 2010

An Education

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"An Education," starring Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan (above), tells the story of Jenny Miller, a schoolgirl who must choose between an education at Oxford and an education at the university of life.

One of the best movies that no one saw last year has returned to a theater near you. Powered by an outstandingly profound and insightful screenplay, as well as unforgettable performance by the beautiful British actress Carey Mulligan, “An Education” is one of this year’s most deserving Best Picture nominees.

Set in London during the early ’60s, “An Education” tells the story of 16-year-old schoolgirl Jenny Mellor (Carey Mulligan, “Public Enemies”) and her tumultuous journey into adulthood.

Forced by her overbearing father to succeed in school in order to get into Oxford University, Jenny leads an uneventful life which is highlighted by playing her cello and listening to French music. All of this changes though when she meets David (Peter Sarsgaard, “The Orphan”), a middle-aged man who leads the life of a playboy. David and Jenny quickly form a romantic bond and Jenny is introduced to a world full of enjoying art, going to concerts and living life to the fullest. Seduced by the lifestyle that she could have with David, Jenny must decide is she wants a scholarly education or an education from, as David calls it, “the university of life.”

Setting itself apart from the rest of this year’s Best Picture lineup, “An Education” is one of those brave films that relies on its script and sharp dialogue, rather than action, to engross viewers. Screenwriter Nick Hornby has adapted a screenplay dedicated to capturing every essence of Jenny’s bravado, wit, naivety and, most importantly, humility. While it is obvious Jenny is a bright young girl from the beginning through her confrontations with her father in which she always stands her ground, it is her conversations with her school teachers that really reveal her unique ability to understand what most are oblivious to.

Raising this “wise beyond its years” script are the spot-on performances from the entire cast. With a confidence not seen in a young actress in years, Mulligan is able to craft Jenny into character that allows the audience to share all of her multitude of emotions. Her transformation from charming school girl to responsible and cultured young woman is fascinating to watch and without the most Oscar-worthy role of last year.

As the older man that should know better, but just can’t help himself, Sarsgaard also gives one of the performances of his career. Seemingly the perfect gentlemen at first, there are random and surprisingly off-putting instances that make you question his honor. While it plays well with the story and probably is a proper characterization of men during this period, it is obvious that female director Lone Scherfig has some distain for the opposite sex.

Countering her negative view towards men is also a surprisingly biting view of women that don’t carry the form of intelligence that Jenny does. This is seen through Helen (Rosamund Pike, “Surrogates”), the lover of David’s friend, who is oblivious to the world outside of her pampered life. Her mockingly dense characterizations often lead to the film’s most humorous moments when responding to Jenny’s taste in culture and music.

While the conclusion of all these characters interactions may be somewhat of a letdown for those who crave a fantasy romance, “An Education” approaches the subject matter with respect by not taking the road most traveled. It leaves viewers reflecting on their own experiences of maturing and how stubbornness in approaching adulthood is unavoidable. If one is to learn anything from this film, it is that this is independent filmmaking at its finest.

“An Education”
Release Date: October 9 (limited), February 5 (wide)
Director: Lone Scherfig
Starring: Carrey Mulligan, Peter Sarsgaard, Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper, and Rosamund Pike
Rated: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving sexual content, and for smoking.
Grade: A

Sidenote: “An Education” played for only a brief period of time at Riverside theaters back in November of 2009 before it was quickly removed. After recieveing three Oscar nominations including Best Picture, distributor Sony Classics decided to re-release the film in more theaters than it ever received in its original release. It is uncertain how long it will be playing in Reno this time around and the DVD release is still to be determined. If you get the chance to see this movie, don’t hesitate. I promise you won’t regret it.

This review can also be found at

03 Feb 2010

A practical look at this year’s Best Picture race

No Comments Features, Oscars, Published Work

The movie awards season that started in early December has reached the final stretch with the announcement of the 2010 Oscar nominations Tuesday. Representing the wide and varying opinions of the the nearly 5,800 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members, this year’s nomination leaders are “Avatar,” directed by James Cameron, and “The Hurt Locker,” directed by Cameron’s ex-wife Kathryn Bigelow.
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