Ever since the film Gravity hit cinemas it has been all about Sandra Bullock, now it is George Clooney in the spotlight, finally. The 52 year-old film star must have felt as cold as his stranded character in the space film. Floating around in the freezing cold and ignored by all those Bullock fans who love what his co-star did in their film.
Director Martin Scorsese’s film Shutter Island was touted as ‘Scorsese does horror’ by the studio marketing department. The teasers and trailers that cropped up in theatres and television as early as 2008 slotted the film firmly in the scary screamer category.
So I was a little bit more than confused when I finally got to watch the film in 2010. Munching my popcorn in the darkened theatre, I expected to lose at least half of it from jumping and jerking at the scary bits. Thankfully, that was not to be (thankfully, because I love eating popcorn while watching a movie, it is as perfect a combination as say, peaches and cream).
Instead I found myself watching a damned good psychological thriller. There was a mixture of mystery, drama, horror and tragedy thrown in for good measure, but, it was undeniably a thriller. So despite the studio publicity hacks best attempts at dooming the picture because of misrepresentation, Shutter Island shot straight into the Blockbuster category.
I mean was there ever any doubt that Scorsese, the Wunderkind who grew up, wouldn’t pack the cinema’s with his ‘tribute’ to Hitchcock? Not in my mind. Scorsese has hit more out of the metaphorical ball park than Babe Ruth. Okay, time to move on from the Scorsese fan-boy stroking.
The film opens with US Marshall Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo) on a ferry heading to Shutter Island. They are going to Ashecliffe Hospital and institution for the criminally insane based on the island. They’ve been sent there to investigate the disappearance of a patient, Rachel Solando (Emily Mortimer).
Rachel was imprisoned for murdering her three children by drowning them. As Ashecliffe Hospital is, despite it’s name, a maximum security prison located on an island, the disappearance has a ‘locked room’ mystery air to it.
On the journey out to the island, we learn that Teddy is a decorated war hero and that this is the first time he has worked with his partner. When the men land on the island they are met by a hostile group of ‘prison officers’ who demand that they hand over their weapons.
The two Marshall’s are then escorted to a meeting with the head psychiatrist, Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley). Dr Cawley is oddly reluctant to deal with the investigating Marshall’s and refuses to hand over medical records of the missing woman. He explains that Rachel’s doctor is on holiday and he refuses them access to the ward that she went missing from.
Cawley then explains that they have already searched the island and it’s broken lighthouse, he is of the opinion that the officers have wasted their time coming to the island.
We learn that Teddy suffers from migraines and he also has flashbacks about the war and the death of his wife. The war flashbacks are from his unit coming across a ‘death camp’ and his subsequent ‘execution’ of the SS Commandant who ran it. The flashbacks of his wife’s death involve the man who killed her, an arsonist that had a grudge against Teddy, Andrew Laeddis (Elias Koteas).
While the meeting is going on, Teddy and his partner Chuck meet Dr Naehring (Max von Sydow) who questions Teddy about the war and makes certain assertions about him and his personality. Teddy reacts aggressively and his flashbacks about the war increase as does his migraine.
Teddy starts questioning the staff and patients who, like Dr Cawley, are reluctant to help. The staff come across as bored and hostile, the patients unfocussed. Only one patient appears to be ‘with it’ and she slips Teddy a note telling him to run.
Teddys get frustrated at the lack of cooperation and decides to break into Ward C. Teddy’s migraine gets so bad that he passes out and when he wakes up he has been given ‘hospital’ clothes. He begins to think that the entire hospital is engaging in a conspiracy to hide what really happened to Rachel and he has found evidence that his wife’s murderer is a patient there.
Teddy thinks that a trap has been laid for him and his partner, but they are both stuck on the island as a hurricane blows in.
As a thriller Shutter Island works brilliantly. The plot twists and turns and as we follow Teddy around on his investigation, we get as lost as he is. The truth is hidden behind lies and misdirection. There are scary bits in the film as well as disturbing ones.
We grow to like Teddy and his partner, although, as the film progresses we start to mistrust Chuck and begin to question his motives and his loyalty to Teddy. We struggle with Teddy as he finds clues as to what is really going on at the hospital and we share his frustration at the many dead ends and false leads he encounters.
Shutter Island is Scorsese at his best. He masterfully weaves the threads of this tale and neatly ties them up at the end. The cinematography of the island and the hospital is dark, uncomfortable and unsettling. When Teddy has his many flashbacks the scenes are brightly lit and jarring. The music suits the mood of the film and helps to sell the finality and sadness that the doomed Teddy faces.
I feel that Shutter Island is a thriller, but Teddy’s own story could very well be classified as horror. The film is a worthy adaptation of the novel by Dennis Lehane it manages to evoke the same feelings and reactions about Teddy and his predicament.
I mentioned that I love the combination of popcorn and movies. Well, I can generally measure how good a film is by the amount of time it takes me to consume a large bag of popcorn. The better the film, the faster the popcorn runs out.
I ran out of popcorn before a quarter of the film had gone by and I lost not one kernel to ‘jumps’ or ‘scares.’
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan Inception is a masterpiece of a movie. It features an all-star cast and has so much chopping and changing of plots and action that you begin to feel like you’re watching a movie version of the game Twister.
The budget for this film was 160 million dollars and the box office return was in excess of 825 million dollars making Inception a real blockbuster film with a capital B.
The basic (as basic as you can get in this film) is that Cobb (DiCaprio) is a dream thief. He is in exile from America as he has been accused of murdering his wife and he is unable to see his children in Los Angeles as a result. The irony is that this dream thief dreams constantly of returning home and seeing his kids.
Cobb has been offered a ‘clean slate’ by ruthless businessman Saito (Watanabe), which will allow Cobb to return home and wipe the murder charge from his record. What Saito wants in return is for Cobb to not steal a dream, but to plant an idea which is known as “Inception.”
The target, a business conglomerate, owned by tycoon Maurice Fischer (Postlethwaite) who is dying and leaving it all to his son Robert (Murphy). Saito wants Cobb to plant the idea through Robert’s dream state that his father really wants him to sell the conglomerate off and make his own fortune.
Cobb’s ‘business’ partner Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) says it is not possible. Cobb maintains that it is. He and his deceased wife Mal (Cotillard) had practised this. Unfortunately it is very dangerous and we learn that this was how Mal died. Although Arthur decides to help Cobb he is not convinced that they can do it safely.
Cobb must now come up with a new powerful dream ‘architect’ because this was Mal’s job before she died. Ariadne (Page) is recruited via Miles (Caine) Cobbs father-in-law. He then gathers the rest of his team; Eames (Hardy) an identity forger, Yusuf (Rao) who controls the sedatives required by the team, Arthur and Saito as the mission observer.
In order for the idea to be planted, the team must go into several dream states, each deeper than the previous one, in order to evade the target’s defences.
And evade they must for Robert has had his brain ‘trained’ by a security company. This training allows his dreaming state to be patrolled by security guards who can spot intruders and terminate them with extreme prejudice. This is not the only hurdle the team have to overcome. It seems that Cobb’s dead wife, Mal, is alive and well in his sub-concious and she will try to sabotage their mission.
The last ‘danger’ the group face is being in the dream world too long. If you go too deep and cannot be brought back, via a drop or your dream self getting killed, you will remain in the dream state forever. You can also become confused as to what is ‘real’ and what is a dream, to help each team member keep track, they each have a personal totem that behaves differently in the dream state. Cobb’s is a top that spins perpetually.
So the team must go into a dream and then go into another dream and into another dream. Each dream state requires a team member to stay in that level and watch over the remaining members as they go deeper.
This film looks amazing, you can see where the 160 million went. Nolan masterfully helms the many twists and turns of the verse and at no time does he leave one string dangling. My daughter and I went to see this at the cinema. We both were on the edges of our respective seats through the entire film.
What The Matrix did for cinema combat, Inception does for cinema environment. Two of the film’s set pieces, ‘the exploding room’ and ‘the anti-gravity room’ were real sets. The mountain fortress was real as well, just in miniature so it could be blown up. CG was used at a minimum to help sell the shots. Nolan created these set pieces by taking a step back in the world of special effects.
But where CGI was used, it worked beautifully. When Cobb is interviewing Ariadne, the scene begins with the two of them at a Parisian Bistro. They are seated with drinks in front of them. Cobb is explaining how dream architecture works. He then looks at Ariadne and says, “Do you remember how we got here?” When Ariadne starts to respond, items from the ‘busy’ set start exploding. *On a side note here, the scene has so many props in it, that if it were not computer generated it would have set Nolan back a large part of that 160 million.*
After the set explodes, they then start walking the streets. Ariadne starts practicing her architecture and literally bends the streets and buildings, while Cobb explains the rules of the ‘dream verse.’
CGI is used for the world that Mal and Cobb created that resulted in Mal killing herself in the mistaken belief that the created world was the real world that she desperately wanted to go back to. The city in the parallel world is almost Dali-esque in it’s depiction. When Cobb and Ariadne go there to deal with Mal, it is decaying and falling into the ocean. It is like the place is eroding from lack of use and it looks disturbing.
But two of the most impressive scenes that did not rely on CGI were the exploding room at the beginning of the film and in the hotel scene later on. Using an ‘anti-gravity’ room, which in essence was a ‘room’ that was suspended in mid-air and rotated. The actors were attached to wires in some cases, but for the most part they really were working in ‘free-fall.’
And free-fall is how Nolan sells the film so well. Remember the “dream within a dream within a dream” bit? Well, this tier system that requires a team member to stay behind in each level, starts with the first team member, who actually has everyone else with him but in a dream state, drives a van they are all in off a bridge. Cue the first free-fall. And it has a effect on the next team member who is in the hotel portion of the dream.
The film only had about 500 visual effects. A very small amount for a film with so many special effects and such a huge budget.
The film moves almost seamlessly between the real world and the dream world. But it does this so often that is almost like a cinematic shell game. By the end of the film you have to decide what was real and what was a dream. What ever you decide is based on your interpretation of the series of events.
When the film ended (prepare yourself for the controversy) two things happened almost simultaneously, we both looked at each other and said, “Blu-ray.” We also immediately started discussing the ending and how we saw it. We weren’t the only ones either.
For the first time in years, I saw a room full of people discussing excitedly the film they had just seen. The room was full of laughing, talking, and arguing people. I really can’t remember the last time I’ve seen an audience act that way after a film.
As we left the cinema, my daughter turned to me and said, “Wow, that was ‘The Matrix‘ of the new millenium.”
I think she’s right. Just like The Matrix, Inception changed the rules and bent the rules it couldn’t change. It went so far outside the box, that the box ceased to exist.
If Inception is not on the list of films to see before you die, it should be.
I got quite excited when I heard that Quentin Tarantino had written and directed a new film. I got even more excited when I found out it was going to be a western (my favourite type of film). Add to the mix that it is a ‘homage’ to the spaghetti western and its multiple Django films and I was in heaven. But the real icing on the cake is that Tarantino will be working with Samuel L. Jackson again.
He’s also got a few other actors who have worn spurs before. Leonardo DiCaprio (Lonesome Dove), Franco Nero (just insert the Django title of your choice) and of course the stalwart of western bad men Bruce Dern. It is interesting to note that he is using Don Johnson, perhaps Don is hoping that Tarantino will revitalize his career. John Travolta‘s sagging career was given a booster shot when he did Pulp Fiction, so I guess Don has nothing to lose.
He also has his “childhood hero” Tom Savini and Christopher Waltz, who is becoming a Tarantino regular. Of course the real surprise is his casting of Jamie Foxx as Django. Not because he is black, but because his build is nothing like Franco Nero’s. Nero pretty much built a career out of playing Django and I would have thought that Quentin would have tried to match him at least in build.
I do think that Jamie Foxx will bring a lot to the role. He is a damn fine actor and I believe this will be his first western. Looking at the story line on IMDb, it looks like the story will feature the ubiquitous bounty hunter that most spaghetti westerns are built around.
I’m also keen to see if Tarantino will use a dubbing system that will emulate the sound of a Spaghetti Western a la Mickey Knox. And of course I am expecting all the guns to sound like howitzer cannon with screaming ricochets. Tarantino is a film fan first and foremost. He loves a range of genre films and has always, where ever possible, paid several homages to his love of the Spaghetti Western.
So even though we are not scheduled to see this film until January 2013, I’ll saddle up and ride down to the local cinema to give it a look see. Yee Haw!