Tag: shutter island

A Cure for Wellness


A Cure for Wellness (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Gore Verbinski’s “A Cure for Wellness” is yet another example of a horror picture that boasts beautifully haunting images but, upon closer inspection, is actually hollow on the inside. If presented only with select individual scenes, it would pique our interest and we’d yearn to discover its deepest mysteries. But with a running time of almost two and a half hours, it is instead padded with scenes that do not consistently push the story in the forward direction. We get a sneaky feeling that its many ideas often get in the way of properly executing a concise horror-mystery with something important to say about modern society’s relationship with pseudoscience despite well-researched, scientific information being available right on our fingertips.

Its most memorable moments involves the protagonist being in an enclosed space. Lockhart (Dane DeHaan), an ambitious employee of a financial firm tasked by the board of directors to acquire a superior from a sanitarium in Switzerland, being stuck in a sensory deprivation tank as eels slowly surround his vulnerable near-naked body is what nightmares are made of. And yet despite the terror happening inside of the tank, there is a dark, macabre humor unspooling right outside it. It is a classic setup involving gasps of horror turning into laughter, vice-versa. Clearly, Verbinski understands how to execute an effective action sequence that plays upon the audience’s deepest fears. If only the rest of the film functioned on this level.

Part of the problem is it feels as though it doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be. Clearly influenced by Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island,” emphasis is placed on establishing a creepy, slithery atmosphere. Almost every person Lockhart meets in the Swiss Alps is highly suspicious. Nearly each room wishes to whisper its history. Knickknacks on desks and files inside drawers beg to be explored or read into. And yet, for some reason, it is stuck on delivering one hallucinatory moment after another. We get it: There must be something in the drinking water. But if we cannot trust our own protagonist in an increasingly untrustworthy place, what is there to hang onto?

I found the answers to the mystery to be generic, something I’ve seen too often in smaller pictures and have been told better in those movies. There is no surprise to be had here in terms of revelations; one simply has to listen closely and pay attention to whom the camera, other than Lockhart, tends to give the suspicious eye. But perhaps I’ve seen one too many mysteries, especially on the television show “Criminal Minds,” that the denouement feels rather trite, spineless, safe, television-like.

While performances are solid all around, one cannot help but feel an aching disappointment (and frustration) especially because it seems Verbinski had access to nearly every element that could help to make a highly watchable, spine-tingling horror film. It would have been interesting if Verbinski had only less than ten million dollars to tell the same story. I bet that the results would have been less beautiful visually but with a far more interesting internal details.

Inception


Inception (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The film started off like a spy film: the glamorous and exotic locale, fashionable suits, femme fatales. But unlike typical espionage pictures, the first half of the characters’ goal was not to steal a valuable object but an idea located deep inside a target’s dreams. The second (and more difficult) half was to get away with it by allowing the target to wake and continue living his life as if nothing had been taken away from him. This simplified two-step process was known as “extraction,” in which Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) was a leading expert. Cobb was not allowed to return to the United States to see his children so Kaito (Ken Watanabe) made an offer that Cobb simply could not refuse: to plant an idea in a future corporate leader’s mind (Cillian Murphy), known as “inception,” which had rarely been done before. If this last massion was successful, it would lead to Cobb’s freedom. In order to accomplish the mission, Cobb had to assemble a team (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page, Tom Hardy, Dileep Rao) with very special talents and they had to dive in the target’s subconscious while navigating their way through defenses set up by the mind and the secrets Cobb kept from his unsuspecting team.

When the movie started, I barely had any idea what was happening. I knew something exciting was happening on screen because of the intricate action sequences and splendid visuals but as far as the story went, it was still nondescript. However, that was not at all a problem because the film eventually established the elementary elements required so that we could have an understanding of what was about to happen. Despite its two-and-a-half-hour running time, I was impressed with its pacing. There was an assigned time for getting to know the lead character in terms of his career, his past, and his inner demons. Once I had a somewhat clear idea of his motivations, I immediately felt that there was something wrong with the way he saw the world and the specifics were eventually revealed in an elegant, sometimes emotional, and often mind-bending manner. Their missions were often sabotaged by Mal (Marion Cotillard), Cobb’s projection of his wife who had passed away, due to an unsolved guilt that he constantly pushed away. Throughout the course of the film, that guilt, like Mal, became more powerful and became a hindrance that the main character and his team could no longer set aside. Anyone with a background in Psychology will truly appreciate the film’s level of intelligence in terms of Sigmund Freud’s revolutionary idea involving the subconscious manifesting in our every day lives and maintaining our mental homeostasis. But what impressed me even more was the minute details in the script such as the characters mentioning topics such as positive and negative emotions interacting and which side had more power over the other, one’s sense of reality while being in a dream… within a dream, and even questions like “If we die in our dreams, do we die in real life?” were acknowledged. That’s one of the things I loved about the film: it was able to present ideas we are aware of but it just had enough dark twist to create something original.

As with most movies with grand ambitions, I had some questions left unanswered. What about those instances when we are aware that we are dreaming and we can control what will happen in our dreams? I have experienced such a phenomenon time and again (and I’m sure others have as well) and I was curious if and how the movie could explain such a strange occurrence. And what about those moments when we sleep but we are not yet dreaming? What if our dreams are interrupted? Sure, the team injected chemicals in their bodies to stabilize the feeling of reality in dreams but, as the movie perfectly illustrated, nothing completely goes according to plan. Perhaps I’m just being more analytical than I should be thanks to the fascinating sleep studies I encountered in Neurobiology and Psychology courses. But I believe a mark of a great film is open to question, interpretation and debate. I say we question because we have embraced the material and we are hungry for more. That’s how I know I’m emotionally and intellectually invested in a film. That absolute killer final shot and the audiences’ collective sigh of anticipation for the clear-cut answer as the screen cut to black was simply icing on the cake.

“Inception,” written and directed by Christopher Nolan, was certainly worth over a year’s wait since it was still in pre-production. I remember trying look for more information about it during my midterm study breaks (and getting so caught up in it) so I am completely elated that it was finally released and it turned out to be one of the finest and most rewarding movies of 2010. It may not have been its goal but “Inception” certainly adds a much needed positive reputation to mainstream movies, especially in a season full of sequels and spoon-fed entertainment. I was optimistic early 2010 in terms of the quality of movies about to be released in theaters, especially when Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” came out, but now I am more than convinced that the film industry is experiencing a drought of refreshing and daring ideas. Some critics may compare “Inception” to “The Matrix” (both great movies) but I think “Inception” functions on a higher level overall and it has an identity of its own. Perhaps an injection of new blood that is “Inception” will inspire movie studios to take more risks in terms of which movies they green light. There is no doubt that mindless, swashbuckling popcorn adventures or even extremely diluted romantic comedies have their place in the market. But with the critical and mass success of “Inception,” it shows that audiences are always ready to be inspired by new ideas and to dream a little bigger.

Directors: Martin Scorsese


Directors: Martin Scorsese (2000)
★★★ / ★★★★

American Film Institute’s documentary focused a spotlight on Martin Scorsese’s works from the 1970s up until 1999. In this documentary, we got to hear from Scorsese himself and his actors such as Jodie Foster, Ray Liotta, Paul Newman, Robert De Niro, Willem Dafoe, and Harvey Keitel. I enjoyed this movie because I am absolutely in love with Scorsese’s work but I felt like it should have been much longer. Just when Scorsese stated something really interesting like an event from his childhood that he incorporated into a particular film, for instance, the picture jumped to another work and left me wanting so much more. I’ve read about Scorsese but it was a much richer experience hearing him talk about his childhood and the struggles he had trying to establish himself as a director–a director that did not make movies in which the material was based on his life. I found it fascinating how he wanted to be a specific kind of director, a long way from his initial dream of becoming a priest. I also enjoyed the fact that Scorsese talked about every film and what he tried to achieve with each of them. Even though I have not yet seen his movies such as “The King of Comedy,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” and his independent movie “After Hours,” (at the time I wrote this review) hearing him discuss the themes he tried to tackle made me want to see them that much more. The actors who he had worked with also said some very interesting things about Scorsese. One of them said that Scorsese was one of a kind because he sometimes said, “My actors are getting tired.” And it was easy to tell that the actors he used in his films time and again have a special connection with him because even though he was sympathetic to them, he had the ability to get great performances out of them. For instance, I was not aware of the fact that Scorsese actually encouraged his actors to keep going whenever they messed up a line or completely forgot the line–and such improvisations often made it to the final cut. I have a feeling that this documentary is just half of Scorsese’s amazing career. With movies like “The Departed” and “Shutter Island” recently attached to his name, I strongly believe that the thick-browed master has more memorable and exciting movies up his sleeves.

Shutter Island


Shutter Island (2010)
★★★★ / ★★★★

When I saw the ominous trailer for “Shutter Island” for the first time back in early to mid 2009, I immediately knew I had to see it. But even I have to admit that I lost a little bit of confidence in the movie because its release kept getting pushed back. Usually, that is a sign that the studios are not very confident about the project so they pick a month where there is not a lot of competition. Well, I should have followed my original instincts because the legendary Martin Scorcese (“The Departed,” “The Aviator,” “GoodFellas,” “Raging Bull,” “Mean Streets”) delivered yet again. Leonardo DiCaprio stars Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall, along with his new partner (Mark Ruffalo), was assigned to investigate an island which harbored a sinister mental hospital because a patient recently escaped from the facility. The two head doctors (Ben Kingsley, Max von Sydow) seemed to be compliant initially but the lead character knew that they were hiding something terrible and it had something to do with maltreatment of the mental patients.

Since I have seen most of Scorcese’s pictures, I knew that this was not going to be a typical mystery-thriller. Right from the get-go, Scorcese established one of his themes. That is, DiCaprio’s fear of the water (perhaps a symbolism for life or rebirth) while he and his partner were on a boat on the way to the mysterious island. On the boat, Teddy stated that his family was gone and what killed his wife (Michelle Williams) and child was the smoke and not the fire. I thought that was a particularly important line because there was a lot of smoke–deception–happening in this film but it is not the kind of deception that cheats because in the end it offers us a logical explanation–the fire–yet at the same time it is ultimately up to us to determine what is real and what isn’t. In other words, Scorcese successfully blurred the line between fantasy and actuality, which could have been a total mess if the material had been steered by a less capable director. One of the many things I loved about this film was its confidence in switching back and forth among the present (the investigation), the past (Teddy’s traumatizing experiences in World War II) and the fantasy (having visions and dreams of his family). The quick cuts to horrific images (which sometimes lingered both on screen and in our minds) and the menacing mental facility reminded me of Stanley Kubrick’s masterful “The Shining.” And like that particular film, I think “Shutter Island” can be a difficult to swallow in one sitting because there was a plethora of information presented to us often in one scene. The twists within a twist were fun but they can get confusing if one tries to analyze every single detail in order to find that “one” flaw. But I think that’s the beauty of this film: it is about a man who is in place where the fractured mind is king and none of it has to make sense (but it does and that’s why I’m very impressed).

I also admired the supporting actors such as Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Ted Levine and Jackie Earle Haley. Even though they did not have much screen time, each of them injected something unique to their characters and it elevated the film. One of my many favorite scenes (and I think one of the most important) was with Clarkson after DiCaprio stumbled upon a terrible incident. I think the picture as a whole reeks of intelligence but I thought that scene was particularly astute because it managed to touch upon specific areas of the history of psychological practices that many people might not know about. I love disorders of the mind (the reason why I took a second concentration along with Biological Sciences) and that is why I love watching psychological thrillers. I feel so much joy applying the things I’ve learned in the university to films and getting a chance evaluate whether the scripts match what my professors had taught me. What’s more impressive to me is that this movie even captured that stigma that we easily put on mental patients: that they’re really scary because of the way they look, that they’re always going to be crazy even if they’re supposedly cured, and the lack of realization on our part that, when it comes to people with mental problems, the irrational behavior is separate from the person.

With all of that said, “Shutter Island” is my pick as the first great film of 2010. After the rollercoaster of emotions and mind-bending situations that the film put me through, I’m very interested in reading Dennis Lehane’s (“Gone Baby Gone,” “Mystic River”) book of the same name. The movie is approximately two and hours and twenty minutes long but it’s two hours and twenty minutes rich of a complex storytelling, a haunting soundtrack and an exploration of what can or should be trusted. Most importantly, it is an exercise in how powerful one’s vision can be if one approaches it with a balance of intellect and confidence.