Monday, February 22, 2010

A Great Week At the Movies

Shutter Island

Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” is his ode to Sam Fuller. Or maybe it’s his ode to Hitchcock. Or wait… it’s most certainly his attempt to recreate those fetishistic images of the 50’s and 60’s old haunted house pictures he absorbed as a boy. Whatever one sees as the direct influence on “Shutter Island’s” visual scheme, the fact is it’s a genre picture of the highest order and one that sets the bar unusually high for the year after only 2 months. Based on a Dennis Lehane novel (and wow does Lehane have some suppressed grief issues about children and marriage and murder), Scorsese amps up the proceedings with Lynchian dream sequences that rank as some of the most evocative images of his long career, piercing bits of music that range from classical to Bernard Hermann-like, and a seemingly reclaimed appreciation for the whip pan. Leonardo DiCaprio, in his fourth outing with Scorsese, tackles his most impressive role as the Boston cop trapped on the titular island trying to wrap his brain around the disappearance of a psychiatric patient. People will say they see the “twist” coming a mile away… and that’s all fine and dandy. The real hook of the film lies in the very dark paths it takes, revealing a flawed human being on the brink of madness and with Scorsese’s camera carefully tracking the breakdown. Music and image finally merge into a heartbreaking passion play that feels at once removed and very personal for the aging auteur. Scorsese is reaching for something beyond the twist here, and it got me right in the stomach.

The White Ribbon

Michael Haneke’s “The White Ribbon” is uber European, and god I love it for that. Set in the German countryside in 1914, Haneke’s latest provocation settles on the quietness before the storm. A series of strange events begin to overtake the village. A wire is set up between two trees which causes the town doctor to take a painful spill off his horse. Children vanish and are then found hanging upside down and whipped. A bird is stabbed with a pair of scissors and left on the owner’s desk. Some of these actions have direct violaters, but many don’t. The casual brutality, at first, manifests itself in the children, eventually spreading to the adults. Filmed in austere black and white and full of long takes that observe simple things such as a closed door (for what feels like an eternity at times), Haneke builds a sinister atmosphere around every frame. It’s only in the end, when the narrator reveals that Germany instigated World War 1 the next day, that Haneke’s genuis premise snaps into place. Like Ingmar Bergman’s “The Sepent’s Egg”, “The White Ribbon” is a film that concentrates on the subconscious malcontent boiling beneath the surface. While Bergman’s film was a less than perfect (yet more explicit) take on the underlying rise of National Socialism, “The White Ribbon” is less pointed and more interesting. The words “Nazi” are never uttured, but its there in the cold, souless faces of the children that in 10-15 years, they’ll be propagating some of the same merciless acts on a global scale.

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