Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Shutter Island, Black Dynamite, Ghost Story, Alice in Wonderland

Oh, boy...another review dump! Nothing new has been posted at the Vampire Film Festival website, though. Not for February, anyway.

The first review I offer up is for the Martin Scorsese-directed psychological thriller Shutter Island which stars Leonard DeCaprio and Mark Ruffalo as two Federal Marshals who are sent to Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a dangerous patient from Ashecliff Mental Hospital. It's from a novel by Dennis Lehane.

I wanted to like this. I admire Scorsese, as do most filmmakers, and his direction of this film is flawless, but I found it hard to believe right out of the gate and I guessed most of the film right away. Really, my problems with the film are with the story - not even the script, just the story. The script was well-written enough, I just found the whole plot unbelievable and lacking. The cast were all great, even DeCaprio, of whom I'm not a big fan. I found the camerawork to be a little too stylish at points and it distracted me from the film, but was nice overall.

The plot aside, another huge problem I had with the film was the music. Scorsese used music that sounded similar to what Stanley Kubrick used for The Shining, but where Kubrick used it like a delicate brush with which he filled in the landscape of the film, Scorsese used this music like a sledgehammer to pound the rough edges into submission.

Overall, an okay, but ultimately disappointing, film.


Black Dynamite is a film I've been waiting for since I first heard about it a year or so ago. It stars Michael Jai White as our eponymous hero in a loving spoof of classic blaxploitation films like Shaft and Superfly.

The film is so jam packed with plot that I'm not sure I can adequately sum it up...but I'll try. Black Dynamite is a kung-fu master and pimp who, while fighting to rid the community of smack and to rid his people of the shackles of The Man, stumbles upon a nefarious plan to further put the black man down that culminates in a fight in the White House, then ends with a good old kung fu showdown on an island.

This film was just as hilarious as I thought it was going to be. Everything about it was pitch perfect and even the most casual view of blaxploitation - like myself - can appreciate the finer jokes as well as the broad. There's just one little problem: it's one of the longest hour and half films I've ever seen. It's so dense with plot and jokes that the movie stretches out forever and the film jumps the shark once it makes it to the White House, but that long hour and those looooong thirty minutes contain some of the best laughs I've enjoyed during a movie in a very long time.


Ghost Story is a flick from 1981 starring Fred Astaire, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Melvyn Douglas, and John Houseman as the self-proclaimed Chowder Society, a group of friends in rural New England bound by a deep, dark secret that's forcing its way to the surface via the twin sons of one of its members, both played by Craig Wasson.

As played out as this plot is 29 years on, the film is still very effective, thanks due mostly to the four "Elder Statesmen" in the film as well as the special effects provided by Oscar winner Albert Whitlock and Henry Millar, Jr.

The film was well paced and whatever plot issues there are are spackled over effectively enough that you just don't notice. The music is atmospheric and unobtrusive, and the direction was deft and well done. A solid film worthy of the title.


Alice in Wonderland is the newest film from Tim Burton, his follow up to the gruesome film adaptation of the musical Sweeney Todd. Here, he reunites with Todd stars Johnny Depp and wife Helena Bonham-Carter in an adaptation of the classic children's book by Lewis Carroll. In this film, Alice is almost twenty years old and Wonderland is little more than a recurring nightmare, but she's still willful and easily distracted and at the party her late father's friends have thrown to celebrate her surprise engagement to a man she's not sure she wants to marry, she sees the White Rabbit in the waistcoat and follows him down the rabbit hole in a Wonderland that's been corrupted by the evil Queen of Hearts.

It skillfully blends elements from the stories with the brain of Tim Burton to produce an absolutely wonderful film. Everything about it was perfect, from the girl cast as Alice to the voices chosen for two of the most pivotal characters, Stephen Fry as the Cheshire Cat and Alan Rickman as the Caterpillar. From the trailer and all of the promotional art, I thought that they were going to over power the audience with Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter, but I'm happy to say that he's in the film for the right amount of time and he plays the character with a perfect mixture of control and chaos.

I watched this film in 3D and though I don't think it's necessary to the experience to see it in three dimensions, it sure was fun. If you can afford to spend a couple of bucks more to see it in 3D, I'd go for it.


NoelCT said...

I don't know what it is with Scorsese. Man's an excellent craftsman who (mostly) chooses his material well, but I just can't stand the characters in his movies. Making people realistically flawed is one thing, but he typically takes it to a loathsome degree.

ALICE, though, that's a must see. James Cameron popped my 3-D cherry, so who better to follow it up with than Tim Burton.

Great reviews, Lori, and nice to see some love given to a rare Peter Straub film.

How did THE CRAZIES turn out, or will that be the subject of a future write-up?

Lori said...


I don't remember having a problem with the characters so much as the plot for this one. Well, except for Michelle Williams' character.

Digital 3D is far superiour to the red-blue anaglyph type. Unless the film itself is poorly done (like this crap flick called Fly Me to the Moon), I don't get headaches or sea sick or anything.

Hahaha! To be honest, I completely forgot that I saw The Crazies. What a review THAT will be, but I just watched this great flick from last year called Triangle so I can do another review

Marvin the Martian said...

Interesting. "Shutter Island" looked vaguely interesting but I really think Scorsese is wildly overrated. Kubrick was much better, in many ways.

"Alice" looked too freaky, but if you liked it, maybe I will.

Lori said...


Of the American school, I prefer Scorsese and Coppola to Lucas and Spielberg. Kubrick was an ex-pat and I think his films evolved into a blend of Hollywood and Europe that was fairly unique to him.

I like freaky and I've always loved the Alice stories. This is the first adaptations, other than Disney's musical, that I've seen that I've thoroughly enjoyed.

NoelCT said...

I also quite liked the 1999 ALICE IN WONDERLAND, staring Tina Majorino. A little talky at times, but perfectly captured the book with a good cast and surprisingly impressive visuals for a tv production.