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Wednesday, February 24,2010

Reviews in Short

by Cole Smithey

 

Shutter Island. For his 45th film Martin Scorsese crafts a gorgeously stylized psychological thriller full of darkly lush horror that torments its obsessed protagonist. As former World War II vet turned U.S. Marshal Edward "Teddy" Daniels, Leonardo DiCaprio hits every psychological mark that Scorsese dynamically orchestrates against a vast metaphorical natural and unnatural setting. Peddocks Island in Nahant, Mass. stands in for "Shutter Island," a Boston Harbor land mass, circa 1954. The isle contains a private prison hospital for the criminally insane. There, a female inmate named Rachel Solondo has escaped from her unbroken cell. Teddy and his first-time partner, U.S. Marshal Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), arrive on the fog-shrouded isle to investigate the patient’s disappearance. But they don’t get much cooperation from the hospital’s governing psychiatric doctors (played by Sir Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow). The manically obsessed Teddy suffers from migraines and has walking nightmares that recall his wife’s tragic death and the atrocities he witnessed while helping to liberate Dachau. Teddy has his own private agenda — to investigate the facility on suspicions that the doctors there are performing illegal experiments on patients similar to those conducted at Auschwitz under Josef Mengele. "Shutter Island" is a complex mystery that exponentially folds back on itself during its shocking third act. America’s most accomplished and inspired director has made yet another truly engrossing picture. Rated R. 138 mins. (A-)

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Aside from some non-PG-rated emphasis on an abusive home life and a lot of underwhelming CGI, "Percy Jackson" is a well-paced kids’ action picture that flirts with Greek mythology to create its otherworldly spectacle. Rising child star Logan Lerman plays Percy, a Manhattan teenager living with his mom Sally (Catherine Keener) and her lessthan-desirable boyfriend Gabe (Joe Pantoliano).During a school trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Percy discovers that he is the demi-god son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). It seems that the Lord of the Seas had a fling with Percy’s mortal mother. Someone has made off with the lightning rod that Zeus uses to control the heavens. Needless to say, the King of Olympus is plenty steamed about it. Believing Percy to be the thief, Zeus dictates that the bolt must be returned before the approaching solstice if an apocalyptic war with Hades (Steve Coogan) is to be avoided. Percy’s wheelchair-bound teacher Chiron (Pierce Brosnan) accompanies him to a camp for demi-gods where Percy hones his fighting skills. With fellow demi-gods Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, and his half-goat protector Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) Percy sets off to rescue his kidnapped mother from Hades and return Zeus’s purloined lightning rod. Uma Thurman makes the most of her limited screen time as a sunglasses-wearing Medusa. Director Chris Columbus and his crew take a literal approach to spectacle that denies the magnificent use of weirdness and scale that famed stop-action animator Ray Harryhausen brought to such myth-inspired classics as "Jason and the Argonauts" (1963) and "Clash of the Titans" (1981). To think that young audiences in 1963 had a far more earth-shattering theater experience than today’s viewers will have with "Percy Jackson" speaks to the effect that "Harry Potter" films have had on reconfiguring what is expected of this kind of picture. It doesn’t help that Columbus directed "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone" (2001) and "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets" (2002) because it affords him the liberty of repurposing ideas and techniques he learned on those films, rather than thinking anew about how a modern movie with mythological characters should look and feel. "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" is a fair movie, but it’s no "Jason and the Argonauts." Rated PG. 120 mins. (B-)


Valentine’s Day. “Valentine’s Day” is yet another date movie that’s less than the sum of its parts. The sheer number of A-list actors involved spells trouble. Jessica Biel, Julia Roberts, Jamie Foxx, and Anne Hathaway provide cast padding for the likes of B-listers Taylor Swift, George Lopez, and Emma Roberts. Intertwining romantic threads weave a haphazard pattern in the City of Angels where Ashton Kutcher plays Reed, a pink-shirtwearing flower shop owner who prematurely proposes to Jessica Alba, playing a typecast role as Morley, a snooty little minx who rejects his offer. Reed’s platonic gal-pal-since-childhood, Julia (Jennifer Garner), is dating a doctor with big secrets, and has her own love lessons to learn. Hathaway falls on her actor’s sword as Liz, a temp office receptionist who has a sideline as a phonesex entertainer when she isn’t pursuing a "simple" relationship with Topher Grace as her doormat-tobe. Julia Roberts is Grace, a soldier flying home on a leave that will give her only a handful of hours to spend with her significant other before she has to return to duty. Bradley Cooper plays Grace’s seatmate Holden, who imposes his kinder-thanthou personality on her so that the audience is left waiting for the other shoe to drop. The filmmakers hoard personal revelations about Grace and Holden for a miscalculated emotional climax that discharges the last bit of helium from this heart-shaped fiasco. With half as many sub-plots the filmmakers might have been able to keep the plates of passion spinning. Screenwriter Katherine Fugate, whose credits include "Xena: Warrior Princess" and "Max Steel," should stick to her day job as a TV writer. Hollywood is full up with hacks as it is. Rated PG-13. 125 mins. (C)

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