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Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island - Live like a monster, or die a good man??
Martin Scorsese's latest installment Shutter Island is a challenging yet fantastic Gothic thriller that not only entertains, but forces us to ask questions about the duality of humanity and the incredible power of the human brain.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Scorsese's favorite partner in crime, stars as U.S. Marshall Teddy Daniels, a widower, and a smart and rugged detective that smokes like a chimney and always gets his man. Set in 1954, DiCaprio plays to a T that confident, tough police detective of classic hard boiled, pulpy noir films. The opening scene of the film puts us into familiar territory with DiCaprio: on a boat. As it emerges steadily out of the mist toward an island, Daniels stands on the edge of the deck with his partner, U.S. Marshall Chuck Aule, played brilliantly by Virginia native Mark Ruffalo. With it's razor blade cliffs, monster waves and numerous straight lace, heavily armed guards, the looming Shutter Island makes Alcatraz look like a Hawaiian vacation spot.
The pair has been sent to the secluded location to investigate and potentially capture Rachel Solando, a patient at the island's Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane who murdered her three children and who has apparently vanished from her cell out of thin air. Upon arrival at the hospital, the detectives meet Dr. Cawley, the head doctor and overseer of the institution played beautifully by Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley. Cawley first comes off as pleasant and eager to assist the investigation, but his unwillingness to release important information, and his general creepiness, lead us to believe there is something dark and sinister hiding behind closed doors that he does not want us to see.
Strange coincidences prevent them from getting specific background history on doctors and patients, and the arrival of a powerful hurricane only complicates things further. It doesn't help that one of the head doctors has ties to Nazi Germany and the head guard follows them all over the island like an overly-determined hawk.
As days pass and eerie events continue to unfold (a patient slips him a note that says "run"), Daniels begins to voice to Aule that something isn't right on the island. Daniel's suspicions prove to be true after an informative, and equally strange, chance run in with a patient. It is then that he comes to the haunting realization that the hospital is in actuality a cover up for unethical human brain experimentation involving radical surgeries and drug treatments.
But as Daniel's sinks deeper into the hospital's dark pool of secrets, his own devastating personal issues begin to be revealed. We are informed about his past through a series of flash backs and dream sequences. Vivid hallucinations involving his dead wife, as well as some involving painful memories from his soldier days in WW2, begin to increase in frequency and lucid intensity as the investigation becomes increasingly frightening. Much in the vein of The Shining and Mulholland Drive, the line between fantasy and reality becomes blurred, and in a shattering yet stunning climax we see how Daniel's dark past is linked to the island more than we could have possibly imagined.
This film is unquestionably a must see. The cast is a smörgåsbord of some of the finest actors in the business that also includes Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson and Ted Levine in key supporting roles. And I mean, come on, it's Leo! Scorses's directing is not flawless in this film (I have an eye for continuity errors), but nonetheless the editing, lighting, special effects and structure of the story are all combined to create something that is very impressive both in visual style and narrative coherency. Most impressive though is the pacing of the film. Slow enough to develop characters and establish the plot, but with enough twists and turns to keep you from snoozing. So kudos there (I can't believe I just said "kudos", but whatever).
Towards the conclusion of the film, Daniels rhetorically asks Aule, "Is it better to live like a monster, or die a good man?" It is this existential question that challenges us to peel back the layers of the film and look at our own lives; to weigh the duality of our own existence.
This is not a film for everyone. Not every question is answered and it does in fact involve a slight bit of thinking. To a certain extent, you can draw your own conclusions and make your own interpretations. And in some regards, the film leaves it up to us to decide the fate of the main character. But fittingly, these aspects run parallel with the film's themes of fate, searching for truth and choosing the "reality" of our own life. Or, if you don't care about themes or deeper meanings, and enjoy playing with Legos, just go relish it for sheer entertainment purposes! Actually, I kind of like Legos so never mind.
Shutter Island is certainly the Oscar front runner for 2010, and one of the best psychological thrillers ever, so don't miss out!
Nim's Island (2008)
solid, but nothing special...
Nim's Island is a tale about a young girl named Nim (imagine that) who lives with her single father on a remote island in the middle of the South Pacific. Because she has no friends or neighbors, she spends her time playing with animals and indulging in the fantastic fantasies of her Alex Rover adventure novels. The stories of the Alex Rover novels are assumedly based on the adventures of the author, Alexandra Rover. The reality is that Alexandra is an introvert hermit who spends her days writing her stories in her San Francisco apartment and talking aloud to the imaginary Alex Rover character. Alexandra and Nim come into contact through email and Nim reveals that her father, who is a scientist, is lost at sea. After much debating, Alexandra gets up enough courage to finally leave her apartment and travel to visit Nim. Once on the island, the girls quickly develop a special bond. With the help of the imaginary story hero Alex Rover, they step into a world of fun and adventure where the line separating fantasy and real life vanishes and dreams become realities (I know that last line was really corny, but whatever).
The predominant aspect that enticed me to see the film was the awesome cast. You have academy award winner Jodie Foster as Alexandra Rover, Abegail Breslinwho you may remember from Little Miss Sunshineplaying Nim, and the star of 300, Gerard Butler playing dual roles as the father and as the imaginary Alex Rover. And yes, ladies, he does have his shirt off in this film.
Despite the big names, the cast seemed to lack the necessary chemistry. I thought Butler did an awesome job with both of his roles, but his relationship with his daughter is far from believable. And Jodie Foster, who happens to be one of my favorite actresses, just seems really out of place in this film. Kind of like Subway's Jared eating at Quiznos. Breslin was fine as Nim, but she spends half the movie talking to lizards and a giant seal. That might seem cute to some viewers, but in my opinion she probably needs a psychiatrist, or possibly an exorcist. I would also like to add that someone needs to teach that girl proper running form. Many scenes feature Nim running through the woods or down the beach and every time I watched her run I just started to laugh. With her arms flailing about she looked like Pinocchio running around high on amphetamines or something.
I did really enjoy all the fantasy elements of the film, but I think a movie that mixes fantasy with reality works best when the fantasy aspects provide a sharp contrast to reality. In Nim's Island, the normal lives they live are unrealistic which causes the fantasy elements to lose their effect. I mean, who in the right mind moves to a remote island with a ten year old? And how in the world did they get wireless internet service? I can't even get service in my own basement, and they have perfect connection on an island in the middle of no where.
Maybe my expectations are too high. Maybe I am too old to appreciate a children's film. Nim's Island is, after all, a kid's movie in the purest sense. There are plenty of corny jokes, cute animals, and moments that will probably touch your soul, unless of course you are Satan. I had high hopes for this film because I honestly enjoy quite a few kids' movies. Who here doesn't like Hook? Or The Sandlot? Or Angels in the Outfield? Nim's Island, unfortunately, did not measure up. Sure I laughed a few times and smiled innocently at some of the scenes, but about half way through the movie I
to be perfectly honest, I fell sound asleep. I think I dreamt about unicorns, but I don't really remember.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
funny, but nothing special
In recent years, movie spawned from the mind of film maker Judd Apatow have made a lasting impression on the comedy genre. I can't count the number of times I have sat laughing hysterically with friends while reciting hilarious lines from Superbad, Knocked Up, and The 40 Year Old Virgin. Apatow's most recent addition to the movie world is Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Unfortunately, after you see this film, "forgetting" is exactly what you will be doing.
The basic premise of FSM is nothing new. It's the classic "boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy wallows in self-pity and cries himself to sleep every night because he wants girl back." And trust me, the main character Peter (Jason Segel) does a ton of childish, female-like crying. His best friend Brian (Bill Heder) is fed up with Peter moping around eating salad bowls full of Fruit Loops for every meal. So he tells him the best thing to do is take a vacation to a foreign country: Hawaii. Peter figures Hawaii is the perfect elixir to help him forget about his television star Sarah and, in doing so, get his life back together. Wrong. When Peter arrives at the hotel he runs face to face with his ex-girlfriend (Kristen Bell) and her new boyfriend, English pop star Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). This sends Peter into an even deeper depression. All hope for Peter seems to be lost until he meets Rachel (Mila Kunis), a cute hotel worker with an adventurous spirit and an infectious personality. What ensues is an out of control semi-romantic vacation full of disaster. A sex obsessed tourist, a weird surf instructor, a quick witted bar tender and an overweight employee with pop star ambitions (Jonah Hill) all do their share in adding to the mayhem.
FSM is not a bad movie by any means, but it wasn't a good movie either. The funniest scenes of the movie almost all revolved around Aldous Snow. Usually with films involving a breakup the new boyfriend/girlfriend character comes off as a total douche. Aldous is exactly the opposite. His facial expressions and deadpan honesty make him funny and incredibly likable. In the opening scene of the movie, we see him in a music video singing a song titled "We've Got to Do Something." The song and video, which are a parody of musicians who talk about climate change and so forth, feature him singing about nonsense, making humping movements with his hips, holding up signs that say things like "sodomize intolerance" and making out with random people on the street. In another scene, he has a hilarious piece of dialogue where he makes fun of Sarah's movie (she plays a television star in FSM) about a cell phone that murders people.
Let me be frank (you can be Sam), Snow stole the show and without him this movie would have been terrible. This is a testimony to Blake's acting schools, but it also reflects the lack of funniness in the rest of the film. A member of the supporting cast outshining the lead is never a good sign. Can you imagine if someone had out-shined Jim Carey in Ace Ventura Pet Detective or Bobby Di Cicco in Ghoulies IV? I didn't think so. The verdict is in: Thumbs down.
It is films like Jumper that have made me tired, weary, and downright frustrated with the enigma that is Hollywood. When a film provides an interesting plot, cool special effects, and an all-star cast I automatically have high expectations, as any self-respecting movie goer should. When these films fail, as often happens, it really disappoints me. In fact, it makes me want to "jump" off a cliff into some jagged rocks. You catch that? I used the word "jump" because it ties in to the title. I know I'm good. As I was saying, when all the right ingredients are thrown into the mix we expect something delicious, something sublime. Not something that tastes like it got pulled out of a crack addict's trashcan. Jumper, unfortunately, falls under the later.
Walking into the movie theatre I was expecting Jumper to provide me with full blown, "jump" out of your seat action. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I couldn't resist I'm done now. Seriously though, the previews for Jumper looked pretty cool. Teleportation, lightening ray guns, and Samuel L. Jackson beating fools were merely a few of the images on the preview that sucked me in. Unfortunately, after the credits rolled, I realized I had not seen much more than what I saw on the preview.
Hayden Christensen (Star Wars Episodes II and III) plays David Rice, a high school loner with no mother and drunk father. His one friend is a girl at school named Millie (Rachel Bilson of The O.C.). David has a little crush on Millie so one day he gives her a small gift to display his affection. Of course, Millie's angry boyfriend grabs the gift and, like Roger Clemmons with roid rage, throws it out into the middle of a frozen lake. David walks out onto the lake to retrieve the item and falls through (frickin' global warming). Fighting for his life under the water, he unintentionally teleports out of the water and into the local library. With his new found teleportation power to use at his will, he decides to leave his miserable home life behind. So, with everyone in town assuming he had died in the lake, he mysteriously disappears.
David moves to NYC and experiments with his usual ability. In no short time he realizes he can travel anywhere in the world in a matter of seconds, even a bank vault. That's right, he's a thief. Not only that, but he doesn't use his power for good like Spiderman. He watches a live news report showing helpless people trapped in a flood. Does he save them? Nope. Even worse, he doesn't even have a cool nickname like Spiderman. He could have been Teleport Man, or Ghost Boy or something. I mean, I have a super hero name and my only super power is driving my car with my left hand.
Everything is biscuits and gravy for young David. That is until Roland arrives. Roland, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is an assassin. His job is to travel the globe and kill "Jumpers" like David because quote "only God should have his power." Granted, Roland's silver hair makes him look like a larger version of Sisqo, he makes up for it by carrying a large knife.
Now, at this point, I was pretty excited for the direction this film was going in. We have a hedonistic superhero with potential for good, a God-fearing assassin hunting him down, and a romantic relationship with a girl from his past. Pus, there is a back-story involving the truth about what happened to his Mother. However, despite a strong start, the film quickly runs off track.
The story turns out average at best, there is no character development whatsoever, the on screen romance of Christensen and Bilson is far fetched, and a few of the scenes were so incredibly stupid it was laughable. For instance, early in the story David reunites with Millie after not seeing her for eight years. Everyone had thought him to be dead. Imagine if you thought one of your best friends had died and then they suddenly appear after 8 years. You would probably be jumping up and down, hugging and shouting in joy. Shoot, I would throw a parade with dancing and balloon animals. What does Millie do when she sees him? She walks up to him like its no big deal and says "I saw you sitting at the table for 45 minutes. Why didn't you come over and talk to me?" Is that what you would say to you friend who you thought was dead? How about, "I thought you were dead!" I guess she was playing hard to get or something.
The worst part of the movie was the ending. It was truly horrible. And the disappointing part is that the story structure was perfect for a huge finale. Instead, I left the theatre feeling like I got ripped off by a blind man in a wheel chair. What unsettles me the most about this film, above all my other disappointments, is that I see the potential it could have had. A better script and that potential may have been realized, but instead I am left standing in thought like a father with a 7'0'' son who wants to quit basketball to be a horse jockey: just a perfect waste of something that could have been great.
27 Dresses (2008)
Not All That Bad
Despite the fact that I am absolutely horrible at math, I have always enjoyed films with numbers: Se7en, 12 Angry Men, and 101 Dalmatians to name a few. While I cannot say that 27 Dresses is going to be nestled on my DVD rack any time soon (then again, recently I almost purchased Hitch), it was not by any means a torture to watch. In fact, there were a few moments during the film where I caught myself smiling. Luckily, it was dark and no one saw me, but I smiled nonetheless. Sorry for having a soul.
The story revolves around Jane who is played by Katherine Heigle (Knocked Up, Grays Anatomy).She is young, hot, and, of course, somehow single. I know, hard to believe, right? I wish for once they would make a romantic comedy about a girl who is old, unattractive, and who has a serious boyfriend. I can only imagine. Actually, I don't want to imagine that. Forget I ever said it. Anyway, Jane has a strong affinity for weddings. She has been to 27 of them as a bridesmaid hence 27 Dresses. Personally, I think the movie would have been better off being called 28 Dresses, or possibly 30. 27 is just not pushing the buttons for me. Can you imagine if 300 were called 297 or 299? Exactly my point. Anyhow, Jane is slightly depressed that all these other people are getting married but not her. Cry me a freakin' river. Her boss at work, George (Edward Burns), is oblivious to the fact that she is in love with him and to make matters worse, her cute sister Tess (Malin Akerman) comes to town and starts dating George. I know, what a skanky little ho, right?
Nothing seems to be going right for Kate. Imagine having to watch your sister date the man you love. All hope seems to be lost until, you guessed it, her knight in shinning armor, Kevin, arrives. He is not really a knight and he does not really wear armor, he wears Levi's. It's a metaphor. How awesome would it be though if it really was a knight in armor and he rode around on a horse and just stabbed criminals with his sword? Anyway, a guy named Kevin arrives in the form of Jason Marsden. You might remember him from the X-Men Trilogy as Cyclops, or as some dude in Hairspray. I did not see Hairspray, though. No, really, I'm serious. I did not see it, alright? As I was saying, all hope is lost until Kevin arrives. At first, Kate hates Kevin's guts. He is mean, cynical, and downright creepy. She leaves her date book in a taxi with him and he writes his name and phone number in dozens of pages. Then he mails her flowers at work. The guy is about two steps from becoming Jeffrey Dahmer. Somehow though, she isn't all that creeped out. That is the difference between movies and reality. In real life, the guy has an eye patch and a hook for a hand and the girl has to file a restraining order. But that isn't the case in this film.
Kevin and Jane develop a love/hate relationship and, like in most movies, stuff happens. They end up getting together and getting drunk at a bar and, a la Cameron Crowe, lead a group of people in the singing of an Elton John song. After that, there is conflict, and a big climax, and blah blah blah
I don't want to give away the exact details. If you are female you will enjoy this movie. And if you are a guy getting dragged along on a date, you might enjoy it a little as well, even if you don't want to admit it.
Hotel Rwanda (2004)
Eye Opener/Don Ceadle is simply fantastic
This was an amazing film to say the least. Don Cheadle definitely deserves an Oscar nod. He is one of the best actors in the film business by far yet he is never mentioned with the other top names. I really couldn't take my eyes of Cheadle when I watched this. The emotion and presence he carries on the screen is phenomenal. I saw this film in theaters and loved it. This was an incredibly moving film that really opens your eyes to whats going on in places outside the US. What was done to the people in Rwanda is horrifying and deserves to be shared with the rest of the world. Thats the beautiful thing about movies: they help everyday people to get a glimpse of hardships people face in other places that we will never experience or fully understand. Its hard to completely explain how good this film was, but its one of those films that makes you want to study the history taking place in the film and then go back and watch it again and again. 10/10!!