Posts Tagged ‘suspense

03
Mar
10

Marty’s Take on Hitch has Mixed Results

Please Observe “Andrea’s Law.”

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow, and Michelle Williams. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Based on the book by Dennis Lehane

Ask any film aficionado about Scorsese and they’ll talk about “Mean Streets,” “Taxi Driver,” “Raging Bull,” “Goodfellas,” “Casino,” “Gangs of New York,” and “The Departed.” He’s known for biographical movies (“Goodfellas,” “Raging Bull,” “The Aviator”) as well as music-related ones (“Shine a Light,” “No Direction Home,” “The Last Waltz”) Scorsese is a legendary filmmaker who has carved out a niche for himself with his gritty portrayals of gangsters, made men, New York, Boston, and any and all points in-between that the criminal underbelly has a piece of but for all his glory he’s not exempt from making a few forgettable films (“Bringing Out the Dead”). “Shutter Island” will wind up in that pile.

And it’s not that I’m against any director trying to artistically grow or evolve within their medium. On the contrary, I fully support that. The problem here is that Scorsese is making a film that competes in the genre of mystery/suspense/thriller that already has a legendary king (Alfred Hitchcock) and it’s not so much that he can’t go for the crown but truth be told, there are better contenders. Brad Anderson (“Session 9,” “The Machinist,” “Transsiberian”) and Christopher Nolan (“Insomnia,” “Memento,” “The Prestige”) are both examples of filmmakers who are masters of the genre. I can appreciate Scorsese’s entry into it and while he is better than, say, M. Night Shamma-Lamma-Ding-Dong, he’s still a far cry from the two mentioned above.

Andrea’s Law of Island Watching: any movie title including the word “island” is suspicious. Only TV show titles can get away with this. E.g. “Fantasy Island”.

“Shutter Island” is the third movie to be based on a Dennis Lehane novel (“Mystic River,” and “Gone Baby Gone” being the other two) and stars Leonardo DiCapro as the main protagonist, Federal Marshal Ted Daniels. When the movie begins it’s 1954 and Daniels is seasick on a long ferry ride to Ashecliffe Hospital, a mental institution located on an island which houses an old Civil War fort. Daniels has a new partner, Chuck Aule (Ruffalo), who contends that Ted is “legendary.” Ted gives Chuck the lowdown.

A woman named Rachel Soledad disappeared –literally vanished- from her cell. No one knows what happened and the Feds were contacted. Daniels picked up the assignment. Soledad is “dangerous” because she murdered her three children by drowning them in a lake. The police found her in her home with the three children sitting around the table as she was eating. Yeah, bizarre.

Ted and Chuck get to the island and have to surrender their firearms before getting the five-cent tour. Guys in Wing A, girls in Wing B, and the most dangerous of all are in Wing C, the old fort building complete with electric fence and lighthouse. They’re introduced to Dr. Cawley (Kingsley) who professes to want to “help” people over giving them pills, electroshock therapy, or lobotomies. Later that night they meet the other head doctor Naehring (Sydow). Deep inside, Daniels is steaming.

As it all progresses, we learn more about Ted Daniels. He was a soldier in World War II and was there when they captured the Dachau concentration camp. He watched as the Commandant died on the floor from a suicide attempt made slow by screwing-up. He helped to line-up Germans at the camp and mass execute them. Upon returning home he began drinking and distanced his wife (Williams). She died from smoke inhalation when an arsonist named Laeddis set their place on fire. These are the facts as he, and we, know them.

But strange things are afoot at the Ashecliffe Hospital. Ted and Chuck try interviewing the orderlies and no one knows how Rachel escaped; Ted feels that she had to have help. During an interview with one of the patients she grabs his notebook and scrawls RUN. He knows that something’s up and believes that everyone’ story has been coached. Cawley won’t give up personnel records. After finding a scrap of paper that says “The Rule of 4” and “Who is 67?” Ted wants to get back to the mainland and file his report that his investigation has been impeded.

But wait. A hurricane hits the island and everything goes haywire. Ted begins to see visions of his dead wife who instructs him as to what to do. He also has migraine headaches. Chuck and him go to check out Wing C where he runs into George Noyce (Jackie Earle Haley) who tells him that he’s a “rat in a maze” and not to pay attention to the visions of his dead wife. Making their way back to the main building they find out that Rachel has returned to her cell. Case closed… or is it? The world around Ted Daniels begins to unravel as he questions himself, his sanity, the visions, and even his new partner as he investigates the disappearance of Rachel Soledad and what it means while he tries to “blow the top off” what’s going on at Ashecliffe Hospital.

While the trailer for the movie exhibited signs of being “horrifying,” “creepy,” or even “scary,” the film is more about tension and surreality. The film starts off like it’s of the “haunted house/DON’T GO IN THERE” genre; you know, the formula where the movie protagonists go against clear, common sense logic and enter the realm of evil with no guarantee of return of return. By the end of the film it’s more of an “Eyes Wide Shut”/”this is all for your psychological benefit”-thing.

I’m not going to give away the ending of the film directly (although I kinda already have) but I will say that Scorsese does present the truth of what happened not in montage, but in the full sequence so I will give kudos for that. DiCaprio and everyone involved do well enough with what they’re given but surreal filmmaking is –again- not Scorsese’s strongpoint. As for trying to be like Hitchcock… well, Scorsese can build-up the suspense and action but there’s something lost in the translation.

The film sits at “okay.” Not great and nothing I would go watch again in a hurry. If you decide to check it out, I suggest matinee price at most. As I walked out of the theater several groups of people who saw it gathered and talked about it, so at least Marty gave them something to talk about, even if there was a lot of grumbling and mixed reactions.

My grade: C

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26
Feb
09

Movies on DVD Review: First Snow

first_snow

A taut little thriller.

Starring Guy Pearce, J.K. Simmons, Piper Perabo, and William Fichtner. Directed by Mark Fergus.

When New Mexican salesman Jimmy Starks (Pearce) breaks down in the middle of nowhere -and I can’t emphasize ‘nowhere’ enough- he dawdles around a quaint pit stop while his car is being repaired. After a beer and an attempt to sell a bartender on buying a Wurlitzer, he pokes around and finds Vacaro (Simmons), a man who makes his money telling fortunes. Giving him 15 bucks, Vacaro has a reading that scares himself. Starks is given his money back and sent on his way.

The small seed of Vacaro having a “seizure” while holding his hands is planted in Starks’ head, but he continues dismissing it. It’s all just salesmanship, right? Starks returns to his life with girlfriend Deidre (Perabo) and fellow salesman Ed Jacomoi. When a losing team wins a basketball game and a “predicted” windfall of money really is coming from Dallas, Starks begins to have second thoughts. What was it that Vacaro wasn’t telling him?

Piece by piece Starks begins to unravel. He receives phone calls with no one answering on the other end. An envelope comes in the mail and contains a target that has a few bullet holes in it. Digging through the skeletons in his closet he decides to check up on his old best friend Vincent McClure (Shea Whigham). Vincent was Jimmy’s former partner in a business that was raided by the Feds. Jimmy got free while Vincent went in for three years. Could it be Vincent calling, wanting revenge? Or was it Andy Lopez (Rick Gonzalez), a fellow salesman Jimmy had to fire?

Tension builds as Jimmy makes excuses for work, spying on Vincent and confronting Andy. He makes a special trip out to see Vacaro who tells him that everything will be okay until the ‘first snow.’ Not satisfied with the answer Starks leaves, but continues down his road of madness.

Overall, a good movie. Fergus makes the atmosphere of the film dark, brooding, and tense, and it works. This is a film more about the journey than the actual destination. Is Vacaro right? Or can Starks change the future? I’ll let you find out. While it is true that this does not really add anything to the thriller genre, it’s a worthwhile escape that may make you ask yourself the question, “What would you do if you found out your tomorrows were up?” Fergus may not be Brad Anderson, but at least he’s in good company.

I suggest this one for those interested in mystery/suspense, and for those who like Guy Peacre.

My grade: B

 

12
Jun
08

Top Five Movie Twists

WARNING: If you have not seen of the following movies, you might not wanna read any further. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

With the release of M. Night’s “The Happening,” most people are counting on his “one-trick pony” movie twist that is usually found at the end of the movie. In “Sixth Sense,” Bruce Willis was dead. “Untraceable” showed that Bruce Willis really was a superhero, and Samuel L. Jackson was his nemesis. And “Signs?” Well, apparently interstellar space travelers don’t hold up so well against Louisville Sluggers.

 

In honor more for the “movie twist” than Shamma-lamma-ding-dong (had to get that one in), here are five of my favorite movie twists:

 

“North by Northwest” (1959) – Cary Grant is Roger Thornhill, a New York ad exec who has a case of mistaken identity. It seems James Mason and Company think that he’s a spy named George Kaplan, which necessitates the need to kidnap, drug, and try to kill him. Throw in the mix a murder that Kaplan was credited with, the femme fatale Eva Marie Saint, and the fact that Grant goes from one side of the country to the other, eventually scaling down Mount Rushmore, and you’ve got one of the greatest spy (and Alfred Hitchcock) movies ever made. THE TWIST: George Kaplan is a fake CIA identity that does not exist.

 

“Session 9” (2001) – David Caruso plays Phil, a member of a HazMat clean-up crew. When the crew (led by Peter Mullan) get the contract to clean the abandoned Danvers State Mental Hospital, things are going okay. For about a day. When Hank (Josh Lucas) disappears one night, things go to hell quickly. When Hank returns with a knife stuck inside his eye socket and repeating words, “What are you doing here?” you know that it could only get worse. However, the major star of the movie was the hospital itself. It’s something you have to see to believe… THE TWIST: Gordon (Mullan) kills everyone, supposedly being “possessed” by Simon.

 

“Dark City” (1998) – Rufus Sewell wakes up and remembers… nothing. He doesn’t know his name and he receives a mysterious phone call from Dr. Schreber (Keifer Sutherland) saying that he’s in danger and has got to leave his apartment. Sewell eventually finds that his name is John and he’s on the run from cops who think he murdered some prostitutes, his girlfriend who cheated on him, and a group of alien beings that control the city by making everyone sleep while they make “adjustments,” led by Richard O’Brien. And it’s nighttime. All the time. THE TWIST: The entire city is floating out in space.

 

“The Usual Suspects” (1995) – Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) is the only criminal left after a boat heist that went wrong. Verbal was one of five criminals hired to payback their dues. As he narrates the tale to Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri), he mentions the name Keyser Soze. The tale weaves and wraps around this mysterious figure, who is all but a myth. “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn’t exist.” THE TWIST: Kevin Spacey IS Keyser Soze.

 

“Cube” (1997) – Independent sci-fi fare about a group of people who wake in a room. They’re trapped in a gigantic object that rotates around, opening new rooms and closing others, as well as opening to room that have wire that can cut through you, fire, poison gas, etc. No one knows who built it, no one knows who runs it, but everyone is trying to find a way out. One of the best mystery/sci-fi movies of the Nineties. THE TWIST: The only person to make it out is the person who can’t say anything (he’s mentally handicapped).