Friday, March 26, 2010

Shutter Island (2010) Review

Emerging through a darkened fog, a lone boat carrying a pair of tough talking U.S. Marshals are en route to the Ashecliffe Instutition for the criminally insane, located on the enigmatic Shutter Island off the coast of Massachusetts. Suffering from a nasty case of sea-sickness, young investigator, Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) meets his new west-based partner, Chuck Aule(Mark Ruffalo), and venture into the isolated complex, on the trail of a child-murdering patient who has strangely gone missing. The newly teamed pair are greeted, and assisted by one of the facility's top psychiatrists, Dr. John Cawley (Ben Kingsley), who's practices are considered cutting edge for 1954, a time where behavioral studies & treatment were slowly creeping out of a near-barbaric age of surgical treatment. Cawley's benevolent manner doesn't help the easily agitated Daniels who cannot see why so many hurdles are laid out for what could easily be seen as a routine hunt for an escapee. That is until soon into their journey, the detectives discover that this may very well not be the case at all. Patients & staff seem to be in on it, suspicion is abound, and paranoia envelops the storm-ridden island like a shroud.

It all seems terribly familiar, but in the hands of the thriller-untested Scorsese, it is often a wonder to behold.

Based on Dennis Lehane's 2004 novel, Martin Scorsese's entry into psycho-thriller noir is one of those pieces that rewards the devoted, and serves as an engrossing study of both the psychological and atmospheric. And a lot of this is due to both the film legend's treatment of Laeta Kalogridis' labyrinthine script, as well as an often gut-tightening performance by DiCaprio. From the moment we are introduced to our protagonist, we are quickly aware of the baggage he brings to this case, as well as his lack of understanding of a burgeoning new era of care for those whom the world hath considered monsters. His tortured past concerning his lost love (Played by Michelle Williams), and haunting memories of liberating Dacchau in late WWII give us the portent that not all is well within this man, not unlike the near typhoon-like winds closing in on the island. And the last thing on his mind, is how the poor souls on this rock could have any future beyond this existence. It's a remarkable feat that DiCaprio achieves, and it doesn't come without amazing support by Ruffalo, Kingsley, Williams, Max Von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Ted Levine, Jackie Earl Haley(in another scene that proves Rorschach was the best thing in Snyder's WATCHMEN), and more. It's an at times breathtaking play on noir film cliches, and yet it becomes a newly formed creature of its own.

The foreboding atmosphere practically creeps off of the frame, as if the viewer itself is meant to take in the clues, reassess them, and perhaps even question their own findings. It's something that Polanski's made a career out of, and it certainly feels as if Scorsese is having a great deal of fun playing with an entirely new palette of colors. Everything from the darkened skies, to the beautifully dank remnants of the once Civil War compound, we are in an alien space, where nothing, and noone is to be trusted.

More than a mere paen to thrillers of the past, Scorsese plays up the clockworks of the script in a manner that applies modern technical sleight of hand that wouldn't have passed in the heyday of the noir thriller. Keeping the viewer as unbalanced as Teddy & Chuck is the goal, and Shutter Island goes so far as to play with our sense of what we saw versus what could really be happening. It also features some of the most inventively cinematic moments I've had the luck to see in a theatrical release in quite some time. Part LSD-laced Hitchcock, part dichotomy exploration, the film isn't above taking expectations and shredding them with the confidence of a master.

Also punctuating the ever deepening mysteries is the stunning soundtrack, arranged by the always reliable Robbie Robertson who uses found minimalist compositions to haunting effect. From aping Kubrick's use of Penderecki, and Ligeti, and even delving into Morton Feldman, the sounds of the film offer a more than fitting mental landscape. Perfectly dreamlike in every respect, the choices made here are an essential part of the story, further inviting viewers to become emeshed in the minds of our leads.Stay through the credits for further proof of this film's aural prowess.

And yet there are definitely some places where all this style comes up short. There are several speedbumps along the path that prevent the film from delivering what could have been a staggering emotional gut punch. Now whether this was due to the script tipping its hand a little too early, or if it was the editing choices. But it stands to reason that the viewer is given enough clues early on to see what kind of story they are being told. And in this world of Shymalan-weariness, it becomes pretty clear by the first hour where all of this is going. And even as the revelations drop from the sky in satellite-precise landings courtesy of Kalogridis' scripting magic, we are essentially relying on DiCaprio's performance to make up for what isn't happening elsewhere on screen. A missed opportunity in what plays mostly like a terrific greatest hits collection.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

House Of Memories

Alas, The New Beverly run of Nobuhiko Obayashi's horror ride, HAUSU has come to an end, and I have to say that it was a fantastic turnout deserving of such a unique piece of work. The experience of seeing it in a crowd exceeded expectations in numerous ways as it was clear fe knew what to expect from this. And the reactions ranged from occasional gasps, and large waves of laughter from a film unafraid to ignore conventions, and just run wild with ideas like a tie-splitting rally in the fourth quarter. Moments that had long made me worry for their public exhibition went over beautifully, as even the most bizarre gags were welcomed with open arms.

Even had a chance to bring some friends, visiting from my home area of Palm Springs to see the film for the first time. And their reactions alone made the evening. This is how we experience films like this, no matter how much I enjoy surprising friends with weird titles at home. HAUSU is what could easily have been a midnight movie classic alongside ERASERHEAD, Il Topo, Rocky Horror, and so on. Its been a long time coming, and still deserves late night audiences all over.

The movie house itself was beautiful in its intimacy. Very small, welcoming crew made it truly feel like a person's little abode, and not some atypical venue for cinema fans. An even smaller theater than the ART theater in Long Beach, this is an ideal place for works of this ilk, and I can't wait to stop by again.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Pluralism Of Summer Wars

A week later, and I still am hard-pressed to be convinced that Mamoru Hosoda's Summer Wars isn't a bold socio-techno allegory. The film has had me thinking about it quite a bit since my first viewing. And since my review was posted on Anime Diet, it never felt as if I could completely examine its effects in a mere review format, so what we'll have here are hopefully some near-cohesive thoughts that arise to mind, even as I've seen it a second time already. The effects remain similar, SW is a funny and thrilling feature film that while an expanded, revised version of the second Dejimon movie, thrives off of notions of cyberpunk, but implements them in the most seemingly mundane of settings, within the confines of a domestic comedy. It also intelligently places multiple generations of thought center stage for a battle of mind & will against a technologically superior threat.

The setting of the film, which is mostly within the countryside of Ueda has implications that this film is instantly meant to take us away from the often-overused sprawl of a concrete jungle as symbol for a dystopically overpopulated ubernet that plagues most virtual world laden storylines. Up until now, the operative emotion placed towards the interweaving globalization of electronic networks have been that of largely fear. The most commonplace concern being that of the ensuing disconnect that comes from thousands to millions logging on and possibly tuning out the very social nature that has led us toward this road. Any film that often centers on the proliferation of networks such as these tends to approach them with a balance of true to life observation.

While it is true that the baby steps of a mainstream internet has in fact brought out some less than flattering aspects of ourselves. (as a matter of fact, this sad story just came up this morning that functions well as further proof) It seems all too overwhelming to many that we've come to such a strange sociological branching point. Naturally, some growing pains would appear and persist. And as much as I love the films of Miyazaki, and even understand and agree with the notions Kiyoshi Kurosawa shared in Kairo (2001), it also does stand to reason that there are indeed some positive points to the advent of an interconnected world. Whether it be the breakout of Twitter posts during the Iranian election, and ensuing uprising of students, as well as the growing ability to create from multiple locations in real time. But where we can see such disconnection fears as valid, can we also see the possibilities inherent in a world where multiple generations utilize multiple methods of communication in order to sustain balance in life matters. In Summer Wars' immense virtual network of OZ, not only are participants able to meet and mingle with others across all nations, but are completely able to run businesses, pay taxes, and shop in what looks to be a very real destination point. It also cautiously proposes the problems that naturally come with such an intricate system. The more the abilities, the higher the stakes are in regards to personal well being and security. As eyepopping, and impressive as OZ feels, it also presents the natural hazards in a very convincing fashion.

And yet, we spend most of our time with the Jinnouchi clan as their matriarch's 90th birthday approaches. We are thrust into what can ostensibly be nothing more than a family comedy as Kenji is put upon to play boyfriend by his classmate, Natsuki, who's concerns are clearly and simply immature. So his current identity as a successful student from a rich family and heir to be flaunted around the already prestigious clan, the ruse is clumsily laid out as the family welcomes him with open arms, only to come crashing down when he is implicated for a network hacking of immensely damaging proportions. His identity revealed, all poor Kenji can do is watch as not merely Japan, but the world is thrown into a panic as network-dependent services and machinations are thrown into disarray by Love Machine, a rogue AI with nothing but information and damage as its goals. Placing our attentions on the humanity of these diverse and funny characters makes for not only a relatable moviegoing experience, but also gives us a solid visual take on just how distant we really are in contrast to whatever deus ex machina thinking would like us to believe. With the grandmother's stern test of Kenji's faithfulness at the start of the film, it is simplicity defined. These fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, aunts and uncles, are our first true network. And it is a feeling of community surging throughout the entire piece, Hosoda's film grants us a vision where not only we are more connected than we had ever imagined, we are granted a great deal more responsibility & personality with it.

Culminating with the extended "mission" climax of the film, we are also granted some encouraging notions regarding a move beyond the technophobia we see so often in other films. One very notable one being the assistance of the thirtysomething year-old firefigher brothers who have grown up playing video games cooperating together in order to stop the digital menace. For me, the implications of this are profound in that it isn't so much that the technology is to be feared, but rather our collective upbringing with it around leads to inevitably missteps and stumbles. And somehow, all aspects of growing up around evolving technology is to be seen with a much more critical eye, as there are both benefits and hazards to be met with each new step. It is an optimistic view to be honest, but it does stand to reason that we are now able to grasp concepts that would otherwise have been unfathomable twenty years ago.

So many films outright decrying computerization tend to omit the very elements of resilience and adaptibility from the mix, as if organic thought processes would up and stop someday. Even as the world seems to be in crisis over the stopping of the gargantuan cyberwheel, the notion of just up and talking with another to work things through is seen as a still all powerful option. While the threat of this is always an extreme possibility, one of Summer Wars's greatest assets is that it embraces the community, rather than merely the neo, which is quite encouraging. The idea that everyone has a stake, as well as talent to contribute is something to be cherished, and it's great to see an animated film grasp this.