As you’ve no doubt noticed, I’ve been on a bit of a summer schedule lately. Yes, I’ve been working and writing, but I’ve also been trying to build in a little laziness as well. (Wait, does it count as laziness if you schedule it?) Also, I’ve seen a couple of flicks (some horror, some not) that I want to comment on, but they don’t really need the full review treatment. So, we’re going to do something different: short movie reviews for long summer days.
I’ve chosen three movies to look at today. All of them are grand, studio-driven productions, costing millions of dollars and featuring big-time movie stars (hmm, it seems to be Leonardo DiCaprio day). This is not the norm here at Slammed & Damned, so I hope you pardon my dip into the commercial pond. But think of it this way: There’s a good chance you’ve seen these films! And that can’t always be said around these parts. Anyway, let us begin.
- Shutter Island (Director: Martin Scorsese, 2010) – Martin Scorsese’s latest Leo-fest is an homage to classic psychodramas, and it’s a very stoic, serious affair. Gorgeously photographed and scored, this flick is a conundrum wrapped in a noir inside a puzzle box full of great actors. That’s the thing about Scorsese: He’s so well regarded that even the smallest roles in his movies are filled with incredible talent—which is good and bad. Sure, every piece of dialogue is acted amazingly, but the films turn into a game of “Look, it’s….” In this case, “Look, it’s Max von Sydow.” “Look, it’s Emily Mortimer.” “Look, it’s Elias Koteas.” But the best was, “Look, it’s Patricia Clarkson.” In just a few minutes, she pretty much stole the movie. Needless to say, it can get a bit distracting. And when you have a narrative this complex, distraction is bad. I was following every twist and turn up till the end. Then, the very last shot turned the whole film on its head. Everything I thought I’d figured out over the previous 2 ½ hours was moot. Consequently, I’m still not sure what happened. I keep going back and forth. Shutter Island seems to be an experiment with the filmmaking styles of decades past, much like what Steven Soderbergh tried with The Good German, though not as formal. While I award both flicks points for conception and execution, Shutter Island ultimately left me cold.
- Inception (Director: Christopher Nolan, 2010) – I’m a big fan of Christopher Nolan, but I wasn’t sure I cared about seeing Inception. It seemed all too much. But because it was a Nolan film, I knew I had to see it sooner or later. And with its ambitious plot and visuals, Inception demanded to be seen on the big screen, so off I went to the local multiplex. Granted, I was a bit intimidated going in. Would I be able to keep up? Would there be so much thinking necessary that I’d miss important plot points while trying to parse the multiple levels of realities involved (I mean, look what happened with Shutter Island)? Would Leo distract me with one of his nutty accents? I admire Nolan and his impeccable casting choices, as well as his ability to craft smart, lofty entertainments. But, for me, the film’s central conceit robbed the story of a large part of its emotional gravitas. (MILD SPOILERS AHEAD) The fact that most of the story takes place in dreams kind of sucks away any feeling of consequence. What does any of it matter if they can wake up when actual danger approaches? Also, I became increasingly bored with the Leo character’s personal problems. The film was advertised as “James Bond meets The Matrix.” I think a better tag would’ve been “Ocean’s Eleven meets The Matrix.” At heart, Inception is a high-concept heist flick, not a family drama…except it is. So, a more factual tag would be “Ocean’s Eleven and The Matrix meet Love Story.” (I know, not as catchy.) Plus, again, 2 ½ hours long! I suppose that’s standard blockbuster length, but by the end I was like, “Just finish already.” That’s never a good feeling for a viewer to experience. If the audience stops caring, it doesn’t matter how cool the EFX are (and they were freakin’ cool). Inception definitely had its moments, yet all I could think was “Memento was a so much more effective, hip film—and it cost so much less to make.” I’m thinking Nolan is becoming the Bizarro World version of Stanley Kubrick. He produces complex, somewhat austere films that are increasingly being made to sate the modern blockbuster appetite—films meant to entertain both cineastes and those that want to see stuff blow up real good. I know I’m in the minority here but, overall, Inception just didn’t do it for me. It reminded me of a mediocre film based on a book long considered unfilmable. (You know, like your favorite complex sci-fi novel, which someone films and you see it and say, “Eh, it was okay, but the book was better.”) I think Nolan did as good a job as possible with the material he had…but I bet Inception would’ve been an awesome book.
- The Wolfman (Director: Joe Johnston, 2010) – Joe Johnston came onto this messy project late in the game. A troubled shoot usually produces a much worse film that The Wolfman. The flick looks great and the digital effects work well enough. Thankfully, the filmmakers decided to use Danny Elfman’s previously discarded score. The movie is full of spooky period atmosphere and scenery-chomping performances—but, hey, that’s what Anthony Hopkins does these days. (He’s become the distinguished Al Pacino.) Emily Blunt busts her bodice quite nicely as our distressed damsel. I was a tad leery about Benicio Del Toro’s casting, but he’s great, as usual. (SPOILERS AHEAD) The story works pretty well, but as soon as I learned that Hopkins passed on the curse to Del Toro, I knew it was only a matter of time until there was a big Freudian Greek tragedy of a werewolf throw down. While I thought it was rather cheesy, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. The Wolfman isn’t a great flick, but it’s probably the best troubled big-budget wolfman movie that could be made in the current blockbuster climate.
Okay, that’s all for today’s session of catch-up. I have a stack of screeners waiting for me. If you’ve sent me a movie, I apologize for making you wait. I appreciate your consideration and very much want to see your baby. I’ll have a review up in a week or so, but it’s awfully hot outside and that swimming pool is looking pretty good right now…