WWW: Weekend Wrental Wreviews 54

Let's see what I saw this week for Weekend Wrental Wreviews in my 54th WWW:

1) Shutter Island:
I suspected the twist back when I saw the trailer, and likely the first time I glimpsed the word “twist” in a newspaper review, so I won't be discussing that aspect of the film. I will say that Leonardo DiCaprio does a great job as a ‘50s U.S. Marshall. At some point, I realized we never leave him during the movie, and there are very few actors charismatic enough to carry every single scene in a film. Along with his partner, played by Mark Ruffalo, Leo's Teddy Daniels is sent to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a woman from a mental institution for the criminally insane located there. The fact that the name of the place is an anagram for “Truths and Lies” is but the first clue of the deep conspiracy taking place. Twisted dark woods, pouring rain, steep cliffs, and creepy facilities set a perfectly suspenseful mood, and Martin Scorcese manages to achieve a great Hitchcock tone to the piece. Teddy himself is a haunted man, faced with memories of what he faced in World War II as well as the tragic loss of his wife to an arsonist. This is all about mood and character, and even if you do guess or have an inkling of the truth, that's only a small piece of the puzzle. The real stars are Leo and the island itself, set against a delightful collection of not-quite-right staff and patients, from Ben Kingsley as the head doctor to Jackie Earle Haley as one of the patients. Between this and the recent Inception, DiCaprio is at a career high right now, with two solid performances in films that will make you question the reality that is, and the reality we choose.

2) Zathura:
This was a fun little PG adventure for the whole family, in the tradition of Jumanji. A few parents on the boards objected to one or two mild swears, but I think this is good for kids 9 or 10 and older. Left to their own devices when their father(Tim Robbins) has to run to the office for a few hours, two bickering brothers find that a dusty board game from the basement is more than it appears. Every turn of a key and push of a button moves a little spaceship further ahead on the board, but also ejects a small card which always come true. When the card says there's a meteor shower, the house is bombarded, and they find it floating in space. When it says their crewmate will be frozen in suspended animation, that fate befalls their big sister(Kristen Stewart). Dax Shepard enters the scene when they draw a card that says they rescue an astronaut, and there's a really cool sci fi twist with his character, which is satisfying even if you do guess the truth before the big reveal. Jon Favreau directed, and noted in the special features how he used minimal CGI to avoid having things look too fake or too much like a video game. I like CGI, but agree that when done badly it lacks the same magic as practical effects. Having actual robots, aliens, explosions, and shaking sets definitely added to the magic of the film. The young actors playing the brothers won't win any awards, but still did a good job of showing how siblings fight, and how they learn to get along when facing a common enemy. It might lack the all-star cast and epic feel of Jumanji, but it has a lot of heart and takes you in to the game along with the boys. And like them, once you start playing, you'll have to see the game through to the end. My imagination was never as good as the things that happen in these movies.

3) The Hurt Locker:
In Iraq, war is not what it used to be. The enemy is largely unseen, but no less deadly. U.S. troops have teams of specialists with skills in identifying and diffusing bombs, which could be anywhere, at anytime. This film focuses on a small three-man team adjusting to a reckless new leader(Jeremy Renner) amid already tense conditions. Renner's Sergeant Will James seems unconcerned for his own safety, tuning out his teammates, discarding his protective suit, and opting to walk up to potential bombs in person rather than use a robot rover. At one point, they fantasize about killing him. But gradually, they begin to bond, especially when pinned down by sniper fire. Suddenly, his ability to be cool under pressure comes in handy, and nonchalance proves as contagious as panic. He encourages one soldier through cleaning blood off some bullets. When he asks for juice, it is not for himself, but the other soldier on his team. These guys face unimaginable danger. Any wire, cylinder, pile of rocks, or sack might contain some crude explosive. A suicide bomber might appear with a locked vest. Even the body of a small child might be used as a bomb. We gradually see the cracks in James' armor, that he is not invincible despite defusing hundreds of bombs. If anything, his role in the war has become addictive, the only thing he knows, and the thing he's best at. Even with a beautiful girlfriend(Evangeline Lilly) and an infant son waiting for him at home, the lure of adrenaline is stronger. This may be one of the more realistic depictions of modern warfare, along with the psychological effects on both the troops and the Iraqi civilians. It is especially great as a character study, and it makes a big difference setting it in the military as opposed to a stateside police bomb squad. It takes a special kind of individual to walk down a street, tracing wires and snipping them at their source, especially when the buildings might conceal a sniper or someone with a remote detonator. It is a film about staying cool under pressure, and when someone might be too cool...

More reviews to follow next week after I've spun a few more discs!



Blogger Lorna said...

I had read Shutter Island, and in an unusual twist, liked the movie better than the book.

8/01/2010 1:24 AM  

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