Thursday, June 24, 2010

Scorsese's Latest Film is Fantastic

Martin Scorsese is easily one of my favorite filmmakers. He's made such classics as "Goodfellas" "Raging Bull" and "Gangs of New York". Many of his films, such as two of the films previously mentioned, center around mafia and/or gang activities. Finally, several of his films portray realistic, gritty and unabashed violence. While "Shutter Island" certainly has it's share of violence, it does not center around the story of mobsters or gang members. It is, however, an excellent film, full of twists, turns and surprises.

The film is set in 1954, at Shutter Island's Ashecliffe Hospital for the criminally insane. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Boston investigator Teddy Daniels. He finally gets an assignment he's been yearning for, one investigating the disappearance of a patient from the infamous hospital. He and his partner Chuck Aule, played excellently by Mark Ruffalo, arrive on the island to the seemingly cooperative head of the hospital, Dr. Cawley, played by the equally excellent Sir Ben Kingsley. Teddy and Chuck begin their shrewed investigating, examining file after file, and begin to uncover clues that lead to some very unsettling activities and practices by the staff. After being stranded on the island for days by a storm, things of Teddy and Chuck's lives begin to present themselves in such a way that keeps the viewer riveted to their seats. The excitement culminates into a series of twists that will keep the viewer watching in awe.

Typically, I'm not a fan of DiCaprio's roles. Frankly, I think, at times, he can go somewhat overboard in a role, and it comes off as forced and overacted. However, this was a much more subdued role. At times, there were moments of overacting that made me a little less impressed, but it would quickly redeem itself. Two of the many bright spots in the film were the excellent acting by Ruffalo and Kingsley. Having never seen Ruffalo in many roles, I really didn't have his other roles to which to compare this one. But his acting is not contrived, as DiCaprio is sometimes guilty of. His acting is somewhat one-dimensional, but in a good way. While Teddy has many layers of his persona that unveil themselves throughout the film, Chuck's personality helps to reel in the sometimes outlandish antics of his partner. Secondly, Kingsley's performance, while technically being one of the antagonist, is so subtle that the viewer is not led to believe that this is a bad man, but simply the head physician of a hospital for the insane. Kingsley is so good that he doesn't need to act. He can simply memorize his lines, and the rest comes naturally. He's also an actor that will lose himself in a role, as evidenced by his Oscar winning role as the title character in "Gandhi".

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. The acting, writing, and the twists and turns of the plot all made this film a nail-bitter from start to finish.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

"Robin Hood" is Wildly Entertaining

While watching this film, I sat with wonder as to when the stories we've all heard of Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, would present themselves. However, in continuing the long line of recent prequel films, this new film of the legendary archer evolves so that we may better understand the inner workings of the man in the hood and his group of merry men.

Russell Crowe stars as the title character, known in the film as Robin Longstride. Along with his loyal followers, Will Scarlett, Alan-a-Dale, and their muscle, Little John, they return to England after a long battle in France, one that has cost them the life of King Richard. Upon their return, they encounter a dying man named Robin of Locksley. Locksley begs Longstride to return to his village, Nottingham, with a gift for his father, Walter. Once there, an aging Walter convinces Longstride to pose as his late son in order to save Nottingham from royal seizure by the newly crowned king of England, Richard's brother, John. While in Nottingham, he meets and falls for Locksley's widow, Marian (played by another Oscar winner, Cate Blanchett). She appears to be skeptical of his actions at first, but quickly realizes his intentions are pure. On top of that, the evil English Baron Godfrey infiltrates the King's inner circle under the moniker Earl Marshal. He begins to terrorize villages under the false pretense of collecting royal taxes. Longstride must save his new village, the woman he loves, and defeat the Baron, the French, and the evil tyranny of the crown.

The film was directed by Ridley Scott, brother of Tony Scott. Whereas Tony Scott is mostly known for his film work as director, Ridley has been behind the camera for several television shows, and served as producer to several Tony Scott directed films. His filming style is similar to that of his brother's. He employs the use of hand held cameras, which is what gives these films the jerky, choppy camera movements. The use of sound, be it the arrow of the expert archer flying through the air, or a crackling fire, adds to the poignancy of the film. Russell Crowe does an excellent job in such a seemingly large and intimidating role. Crowe is a very intense actor, bringing everything to any role he's in. Blanchett plays her role as she does others she's cast in. She comes off, firstly, as a bit cold, someone who would not give a man the time of day. As the film progresses, she begins to open up into a warm and compassionate woman. As with any other film, the supporting cast is just important as the main cast. This film is certainly no exception. All the way down the line to the young children of the village, the casting is excellent. However, I did find Oscar Isaac's portrayal of Prince, or rather, King John, to be a little over the top and sporadic. In one scene, he would be a dastardly, maniacal ruler, and in another, he would be throwing out one-liners with biting sarcasm. As with any of the Scott brothers' films, the action sequences were excellent. While they were, at times, bloody (as you would expect war to be), they add another level of drama to a film rife with many other dramatic components.

I was never bored watching this film. While some films be long and tedious, this adaptation of the classic story was never dull. I highly recommend it.