09 March 2010

Shudder Island

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Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island is yet another remixed artifact of a culture that's burning itself out, or, at least, a filmmaker who has lost the touchstones of his art..

This time, the karaoke background noise is Hitchcock and a few hundred B movies that you couldn't pay me to see because life is really too short to spend drooling over deliciously over the top mise en scene.

It often reminded me of an inferior version of Mel Brooks' masterpiece Young Frankenstein. All the motifs and twitches of the old movies are there, out front, mad scientists, crazy stone fortresses, creepy hags. Only, with Brooks, it's a funny and affectionate parody. 

With Scorsese, it's merely pretentious kitsch. 

He's smart enough to hire the finest talent to cover up that kitsch with exquisite cinematography, modern concert music and febrile acting. Classy. And, sure, some of the scenes are quite beautiful in a Bougereau kind of way, the kind of lushness that rock video directors like to throw around and that aesthetically oriented maiden aunts use to guide their interior decoration choices.

Just because Scorsese watched a lot of shitty movies and, worse, remembered them, doesn't mean I have to care. Worst part was, you see the twist coming from a million miles away -- because, you know, that's how these movies work, so you try to anticipate it. Once you put it together, you reject it because, well, it's too damned obvious. Sure enough, your suspicion's confirmed, and its disappointing. This is, of course, to completely ignore the preposterous set up in the first place.

The cast is fine -- how could they not be? They're stuck playing types that were moldy by about 1962. Easy tasks. Veterans like von Sydow, Kingsley and company find their grand guignol groove easily. Di Caprio does his scowly, tortured-soul shtick, pretty much on the same level throughout. He does have a startling moment near the very end of the movie, so it's not all one-note. Just mostly.

Martin Scorsese made at least three certifiable masterpieces, maybe more. Mean Streets, Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are out and out great works. Goodfellas, Casino, and even After Hours are also extraordinary movies.

So, in a way, I don't begrudge him playing with the cinematic palette available to him. He's earned the opportunity in his golden years to pursue whatever games he wishes. But I don't understand why this flabby exercise in stylization deserves any special respect, or why certain critics are hailing it as a return to form, or that it's somehow it's his most personal film. What I saw was a fantastically skilled collage pasted on to a rickety b-grade narrative.

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