Leonardo DiCaprio and Woody Harrelson Have New Movies Now Playing, Both With Elias Koteas
Martin Scorsese examines insanity. Woody Harrelson portrays delusion. And Hollywood’s twisted view of Indians gets documentary scrutiny. Also note the brief appearance by the Olympics in this week’s movie offerings.
SHUTTER ISLAND: The latest from Martin Scorsese starts by perfectly re-creating the mood of a cop thriller or film noir from almost 60 years ago. Except for one thing. Back then, they could tell a story like this in a crisp 90 minutes. Scorsese takes close to 2 ½ hours and it feels even longer. There’s a confusion of story elements that don’t seem to fit together. A big revelation eventually explains them all, but you might be a bit worn out by then. Leonardo DiCaprio plays a U.S. Marshall who comes to an island mental hospital (accompanied by some wildly portentous music) to investigate a disappearance. He requested the assignment hoping to find the man who killed his wife. The hospital brings memories flashing back of helping to liberate Dachau concentration camp in World War II. The medical staff (led by Ben Kingsley and Max Von Sydow) appear to be suspicious. Mind control experiments may be going on. These and many more elements swirl around in an atmospheric, well-crafted, well-acted, but bewildering stew. Patricia Clarkson has a short, strong scene in which she almost explains the mystery. Mark Ruffalo also plays a Marshall while Jackie Earle Haley and (in the first of two films this week) Canadian actor Elias Koteas bring on chills as two creepy patients. Dennis Lehane (Mystic River) wrote the novel. (5th Ave, Oakridge and 13 other area theatres). 3 ½ out of 5
DEFENDOR: It's hard to imagine that anyone could be as delusional as this character. Still this film is moderately entertaining, even very funny at times. Woody Harrelson plays a home-made superhero with a duct-tape D on his chest, a mask drawn with greasepaint and a dashboard figurine called "Defendog" in his truck. He appears on the streets to fight crime, often in alleys where he gets beaten up or arrested. "Trouble has a way of following me," he says.
His ultimate quest is to find "Captain Industry" the super villain he conjured up as a young boy by misinterpreting an anti-business rant from his grandfather. The trouble is, now as an adult, he still believes its all real. Qualms about mixing humor and insanity? The stars sell the material. Harrelson makes the eerily dim-witted hero oddly appealing. Kat Dennings plays a young hooker he befriends, Sandra Oh a therapist who interviews him and (in his second film this week) Elias Koteas is again creepy as a corrupt cop. Comic book cliches get a clever but also obvious workover here. It's a Canadian film made in Hamilton, Ontario, not that you can tell that from the partially whitened-out license plates. (Tinseltown) 2 1/2 out of 5
REEL INJUN: I would have thought the people who made this film could have had more fun with their subject. Made jokes and mocked mercilessly. After all, Hollywood has spent many years dispensing a completely unrealistic image of North American Indians. Surprise then that this is a serious and calmly argued documentary about aboriginals in popular film. A wide variety of speakers offer their thoughts including filmmakers Clint Eastwood, Jim Jarmusch and Chris Eyre. More pointed comments come from activists Russell Means and John Trudell seen both now and in archive footage from Wounded Knee and other protest scenes.
Sacheen Littlefeather explains how and why she appeared at the Academy Awards Ceremony to announce that Marlon Brando had declined his Oscar. Like Brando, this film blasts the wild savage image perpetrated by hundreds of films. It directs a little too much wrath on John Ford and John Wayne. A clip from The Searchers is a bit deceptive. The scene was intended to criticize not endorse a character’s anti-Indian obsession. I suspect a lot more damage was done by all those b-movie cavalry pictures that far more people saw. They should have had a bigger role in the film. Still it’s a fascinating essay with eventual nods to some good films about aboriginals, topped by Atanarjuat, the Fast Runner.(Tinseltown) 3 out of 5
TWO FILMS ABOUT THE OLYMPICS: You’re probably busy watching the athletes compete. If you have time and want some strongly argued background, consider these.
FIVE RING CIRCUS: THE UNTOLD STORY OF THE VANCOUVER 2010 GAMES: Conrad Schmidt is a local activist, filmmaker and bicycle-rights agitator. He made this documentary to show the dark side of the games, the costs in both money and environmental abuse. Chris Shaw, Betty Krawczyk, Derek Corrigan, and Jenny Kwan are just a few of the people interviewed.
Presented tonight (Feb 19) at the First United Church at 15385 Semiahmoo Avenue, White Rock. More info at: http://www.whiterocksocialjusticefilmfestival.ca/. If you can’t get there, the Vancouver Public Library has copies.
SALUTE: This Australian documentary looks back at one of the most famous political protests at the games. At the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City two American medalists, Tommie Smith (gold in the 200 metres) and John Carlos (bronze) caused an uproar by giving the black power salute from the podium. In between them was silver medalist Peter Norman, from Australia. He supported and actually abetted their protest because he objected to his own country’s white Australia policy. He was reprimanded, ostracized and denied a spot on the 1972 Olympics team. His nephew made to film to tell his story. Thursday, February 25 at the 5th Avenue Cinema, presented by the DOXA Documentary Film Festival.