Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese has undeniably made so many memorable films over the years that bear repeated viewing. Sadly, "Shutter Island" is not one of them. The master director and his muse, Leonardo DiCaprio have turned in an overlong and tedious "thriller" with a twist that's been done far better in other films.

There have been so many TV and radio spots for this film I could recite most of the dialog by heart. That, and the long running time sucked all the possible suspense right out of the film. There is certainly a more complex story here than the ads leave you to believe but by the time all is revealed, you're just grateful it's over.

I will say that Mr. DiCaprio remains one of the best actors of his generation and there is some fine work done by the supporting cast including Mark Ruffalo, Sir Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow and a particularly good Patricia Clarkson (in a one scene cameo). It just doesn't add up to much by the end of the film.

Mr. Scorsese has always given each of his films their own vibrant life but here he actually repeats himself by recreating the atmosphere of "Cape Fear", his remake with Robert DeNiro. Shutter Island" gave him his biggest opening weekend box office. He gave us a disappointment.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Wolfman

Benicio Del Toro channels Lon Chaney in this remake of the original horror classic. The film tries to remain faithful to the original but veers off course mixing bits of "American Werewolf In London" as well as "Werewolf of London" starring Oliver Reed.

Mr. Del Toro plays the tortured soul cursed by the bite of a werewolf along with Anthony Hopkins as his father, a man with a pretty obvious secret. Along for the hairy fun is Emily Blount and Hugo Weaving. Throw logic out the window when Ms. Blount, Fiancée to Mr. Del Toro's dead brother is instantly smitten with him and Mr. Weaving is conveniently setup for the sequel should there be one.

The film tries hard for chills and thrills but Danny Elfman's score is over the top with mood and menace and the cinematography is so black and blue, you would think the film itself was beaten by a beast. There's a nice mix of CGI as well as old fashioned makeup, courtesy of Rick Baker.

In the end, it's not a bad "popcorn" movie as it does have a pedigree cast trying hard to please but for today's over stimulated audiences, it's 'Ho Hum", another monster movie.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The Last Station

Set in the 1910 Russian countryside, this wonderful film is about the last days of famed author, Leo Tolstoy. At first thought, a film about dull but fireworks erupt on screen between Tolstoy and his wife Sofia, played brilliantly by Christopher Plummer and Helen Mirren.

The film plays like a Russian version of "The Lion In Winter" except in this version, it's the lioness that takes center stage. Ms. Mirren is a marvel to watch as the wife of the beloved revolutionary thinker who just wants the best for her family, while her husband's philosophy is to share all with the masses. Married for almost 50 years, this is a very human film about a couple's love versus their ideology. The scenes between Mr. Plummer and Ms. Mirren are filled with a level of acting few can match. Watching these two "giants of the screen" is pure pleasure.

The film co-stars Paul Giamatti as Tolstoy's disciple, Chertkov and James McAvoy as Bulgakov, Tolstoy's secretary. Both are excellent and hold their own with Mr. Plummer and Ms. Mirren. Mr. McAvoy, in particular, has the difficult role of trying to remain loyal to Tolstoy's philosophy while acknowledging Sofia's point of view. He is an everyman caught between two gigantic personalities.

The story comes from a novel supposedly based on the actual diaries of the principles. Some liberties are taken at the end but for the most part, the film is historically accurate. Besides the acting, the cinematography is breathtaking with beautiful shots of the Russian woods and countryside. If you're looking for something different, "The Last Station" is a great alternative to the Hollywood "top 10"

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Another movie franchise in the making, "The Lightning Thief" is based on the first book in a series about a young teen who discovers he is the son of Poseidon. The film is directed by Chris Columbus, who helmed the first Harry Potter movie, and knows a thing or two about fantasy films for young adults. Unlike the Potter books and films which are based on magic entwined with modern teenagers, "The Lightning Thief" and it's subsequent titles are rooted in Greek mythology but share a common bond in a hero who is unaware of his powers or lineage but soon discovers the truth about himself.

Using mythology as a background provides fertile plot points that keep the story moving with lots of action (requiring a lot of CGI), clever dialog and cameos galore for stars to ham it up as mythological figures. The image of Pierce Brosnan as a minotaur is a bit unsettling and Steve Coogan as Hades is a strange choice. However, Kevin McKidd as Poseidon, Uma Thurman as Medusa, and Sean Bean as Zeus are perfectly cast. Also co-starring in human roles are Catherine Keener as Percy's mother and Joe Pantoliano as his creepy stepfather.

The most important casting choice is of course, Logan Lerman, who plays Percy Jackson. Mr. Lerman does an admirable job of being a young hearthrob as well as action hero. His best friends are played by Brandon T. Jackson (who plays his role like a live version of "Donkey" from "Shrek") and Alexandra Daddario, who plays Annabeth as a young "Xena, Warrior Princess".

Mixing modern reality and ancient mythology create an enjoyable family film that will set the table for at least four more films to satisfy the legions of Percy Jackson fans out there.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Lovely Bones

I enjoyed the book but therein lies the problem. If you've read the book, you will not appreciate the "in- between" as interpreted by director Peter Jackson. And if you haven't read the book, you still may not appreciate his vision for Susie Salmon's "in-between. The visuals are beautiful and surreal but they bog down the story and do nothing for Susie's heavenly narration of her murder and the family she leaves behind.

Susie's parents are played by Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg. They do an admirable job in roles that are underwritten for the screen. Susan Sarandon plays the grandmother in an over the top performance and Michael Imperioli is stereotyped as the detective in charge of the case. Susie's murderer is played by Stanley Tucci who gives a very creepy performance that was deemed Oscar worthy by his peers. Rose Mclver, as Susie's sister has the most tense scene in the film.

I have to save Saoirse Ronan for last, as Susie Salmon. Ms. Ronan is remarkable to watch. She was excellent in "Atonement" and once again shows acting maturity beyond her years. If not for her performance, the film would be unwatchable. She anchors the film and breathes life into this murdered young girl. She manages to rise above her scenes in the "in-between" and I look forward to seeing her work for years to come.

I give Mr. Jackson credit for tackling this novel. It's not an easy story to translate to the screen and while he tries hard, he just can't pull it off. This is a story you must interpret for yourself and for that reason, I recommend reading the book and take a pass on the film.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

A Single Man

Colin Firth stars in this period drama from first time director Tom Ford. It's 1962 and George Falconer has just lost his lover of 16 years in a car accident. Mr. Firth is excellent as George. He is in almost every scene and his subtle expressions, restraint of emotion, and driven purpose serve him well. He is a man swollen with grief who can't express his loss to the world. He formulates a plan and methodically goes about his business effectively hiding his pain from those around him.

Julianne Moore co-stars in what amounts to a cameo. She really shines in their major scene together but her part is becoming all too familiar to some of her more recent work. Contrast this to her work on 30 Rock and you can really appreciate her range as an actress.

Mr. Ford co-wrote the screenplay and directs the film with his fashion world eye for color and detail. His use of lighting and color literally express George's emotions for the viewer. He does tend to let the camera linger a bit too long which slows down the pace of the film but the character study of George Falconer and Mr. Firth's portrayal will keep you engrossed.