2010 in film: ‘Shutter Island’ and ‘Inception’

Part of me wants to see Leonardo DiCaprio in a romantic comedy. Or any part that doesn’t have him looking introspectively out of frame. Or holding a gun. You get the point.

DiCaprio has become Hollywood’s go-to for intensity and inner turmoil. Much like Christian Bale, who has developed an almost identical reputation, the almost 40-year-old is specifically cast as internally torn and disrupted men, in movies that use DiCaprio’s unrest as its central motivation. 2010, if we define it as the year we questioned our reality, was DiCaprio’s year.

In “Shutter Island” and “Inception,” DiCaprio played very similar characters. They were both, primarily, subjects of a vast trial, a test that would prove what kind of people they were. In the former, he’s Teddy Daniels, a detective challenged with cracking the case of the creepy insane asylum (ultimately by means of facing himself). The latter had him traversing dreams, another detective of sorts, trying to achieve something most say is impossible (ultimately by means of facing himself).

With the kind of intensity and detachment he plays all of his characters (I believe actors reach a point of popularity and skill that stagnates them, for better or for worse), DiCaprio wielded the two well, becoming the nexus for both films. Scorsese, who directed “Shutter Island,” and Nolan, “Inception,” used the actor to prove their films: his knack for strength, regret, and most importantly hurt became a vehicle for the films’ recurring and resounding themes.

It’s testament to the two auteurs, interestingly enough, that while the films are so similar in tone and scale (with “Inception” being slightly more set-piece reliant) they still provide entirely different experiences for the viewer (but still manage to reach the same conclusion).

Similarities:

  • A dead wife who doesn’t seem to go away
  • Trauma-soaked memories that encroach on the real
  • A main character who constantly questions his surroundings; is this as it appears to be?
  • The reliance on visual repetition and motif
  • Booming, memorable soundtracks

Differences:

  • “Shutter Island” is a character study; “Inception” is a world study (with a central lead, of course)
  • “Shutter Island” is hinged on one final discovery (as it proves, a weak hinge indeed); “Inception” is more about the journey than the destination
  • “Shutter Island” strings you along for the ride; “Inception” loses you
  • “Shutter Island” prefers one-on-one; “Inception” plays zone: In this I mean the former knows where it’s going and how it’s going to take you there — these are the steps that need to be taken. It wants to move a character from point A to point B, and is written accordingly (you can tell it’s a literary adaptation). The former has solid direction, with a solid script (“Inception” uses recurring, triggering dialogue more abundantly than any film in recent memory), but zig-zags, complicating its path to exhalation.

If we’ve learned anything this year, as A.O. Scott so elegantly put in his summation of 2010’s obsession with reality, it’s that a palpable fear that we’re not living the way we think we are has come to dominate our collective psyches. The idea that there’s a higher truth than what we see, one that we may have already conceived but refused to face, as suggested by both “Shutter Island” and “Inception,” has resulted in an unprecedented cultural self-examination. Whether they’re a nod to film itself, or the digital and technological age we occupy, or something entirely different, these films defined 2010.

2010 in film: ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1’

In honor of the films of 2010, I plan to examine, one at a time, what I believe to be the most worthy of discussion. Be it moving, cerebral or simply lame, this is 2010 in film.

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

The “Harry Potter” films were doomed from the start. The lack of a proper foundation and commitment to the original material (from what I understand) set each film up for failure. It was self defeat. Rushed characterization, castrated story and plot, and overall mismanagement has led to seven films ranging from trash to mediocre.

Not to credit myself for not reading, I feel I, and those like me, am in a better position to judge these films, because I don’t see them as renditions. Having not read the books, I’m not supplementing the movies as they go, filling in all the empty spots and shoddy storytelling with things I know from the novels. I don’t pity the films, as many seem to do, because I’m purely motivated by the films and the films alone. In other words, the “Harry Potter” films are the epitome of bad adaptation.

This year’s entry was a tedious, albeit beautiful at times, rambling make-up call that fell far too little too late. Even films with the highest production values and technical quality can be sabotaged by a limp, directionless series of happenings, magic or not.

At this point, as set up by the six films before it, I have no feelings whatsoever about the people on screen. In fact, there are so many characters — some that weave between the films with little meaning, some that are only present for one of the films, and some that even now, this late into the series, are being introduced — that I almost prefer that their ranks are thinned in order to ease my mental cataloging.

While most hailed “Deathly Hollows: Part 1” as the emotional and captivating best of the series, I staunchly disagree. It may be the best of the series (although I don’t actually believe that either), but it surely was not deserving when compared to actually good movies. It suffered the same debilitating problems of its predecessors, and, although it contained some well-orchestrated magic duels and chase sequences and noticeably made an effort to humanize the series, had little more than pop culture appeal to offer.

Twin Cities Film Fest closing event

I spoke with the executive director of the Twin Cities Film Festival Jatin Setia after the event’s final screening (the Naomi Watts/Sean Penn vehicle “Fair Game” in theaters this November) Saturday evening at AMC Block E in downtown Minneapolis. He reflected on the inaugural festival and what he’s looking forward to next year.

“Night Catches Us” director Tanya Hamilton fields audience questions

This was taken yesterday, Sept. 30, 2010, after a Twin Cities Film Fest screening of Tanya Hamilton‘s new film “Night Catches Us” starring Anthony Mackie (“The Hurt Locker”) as an ostracized former Black Panther member in 1970s Philadelphia. She touches on how the filmmaking process affected her personal life, what she found most interesting about the timeframe of her film and what went in to the making of the soundtrack composed by The Roots. Sorry about the light quality; the theater was amazingly dark!

Davis Guggenheim talks “Waiting for ‘Superman'”

Academy Award-winnning director Davis Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) screened his latest documentary “Waiting for ‘Superman‘” as the inaugural event of the Twin Cities Film Fest. Afterwards he responded to audience questions, clarifying his view of America’s troubled education system, which he examines in the film through various young students entering the lottery to be admitted to highly sought charter and prep schools.