Sorcerers and Dreamers

I’m in Pattaya, Thailand‘s sex capital. So obviously I spent the evening at the cinema escaping from the rampant lady boys.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

“This is crazy! But it is fun…”

First film up was the new Nicolas Cage vehicle which I missed the first minute or so of, as I was flipping hungry and ran to A&W before it started. I didn’t miss much, just the “story so far” synopsis which was easy enough to catch up on. It goes something like this:

Back in the day, Merlin (James A. Stephens) was pretty much king of all that is wizardly. However, Morgana (Alice Krige) had plans to defeat him and destroy the world by raising many evil wizards from the dead. Merlin’s understudy Balthazar (Cage) saved the day by trapping Morgana in a Russian doll. Over the years he added “layers” to the doll as he captured other nasty magic-wielders, while searching for the Prime Merlinian – an individual who can cast spells without a magic ring and who is the only person capable of destroying Morgana.

Quick switch to the 21st century and Balthazar finds Dave Stutler (Jake Cherry then Jay Baruchel as the character ages), who turns out to be this Prime Merlinian. A fortuitous find as Dave releases Horvath (Alfred Molina), one of the Morganians who sets out to release and aid Morgana.

OK, plot over. This is an effects-driven movie and said effects are superb. I loved the link between magic and physics – very briefly explained, yet nice and simple. It lends a touch of realism to a fantastical film, and it’s refreshing to hear the things being flung around by magicians being referred to as “plasma”.

I’m gathering that the reviews aren’t that great for this film and that’s a surprise. It’s hugely entertaining. Cage is great in it, obviously having fun, and Baruchel’s not annoying as a young actor can be in films like this. The humour level is spot on, with everything from snappy dialogue to fart gags.

Oh, and not to forget the little film references in there. It’s made by Disney, so there’s a Buzz Lightyear at the start and a very obvious Mickey Mouse-inspired sequence which just had to be included given the film’s name. Even the “hypnosis” moment which instantly made me think of Alec Guinness is name-checked a few seconds later.

This is an ideal popcorn film and something kids and adults alike can enjoy. I just don’t get the poor reviews and attendances. Films are supposed to entertain and this one does the job perfectly.

Inception

“I just want to understand”

A complete counterpoint to the magic of the first offering, Inception is a high-brow sciencey thriller. It’s also a bit of a brainscrambler, often leaving you wondering what the hell’s going on – just like diCaprio’s last outing, Shutter Island.

Leo plays Cobb, a “dream thief”. In this world, people can share dreams and the skilled individual can even create an environment for a third party to explore – so realistic that they don’t know that they’re dreaming. Inside this fake world, others can effectively explore the victim’s psyche and gain information.

The next step is to implant an idea in someone’s head, something regarded as near impossible. This is the “inception” of the title.

Cobb is after one last job to allow him to return to his family in the United States and Saito (Ken Watanabe) offers him this chance. He wants the son of a business magnate to break his father’s companies down into smaller shareholdings to reduce their grasp on the world. To achieve this, the team Cobb forms work out that they will need to “layer” the dreams – one within another within another. This brings about risks – that Cobb is already all to aware of.

As the movie progresses, we not only get a decent twisty plot and some excellent special effects, we also find out a lot more about the history of Cobb.

It’s not that hard to follow once you work out what’s happening and the opening 15 minutes do a good job of explaining it, despite seeming like a short film in their own right. There are plenty of twists and reveals as the two hours plus roll on and it does feel a little long, but that’s a minor complaint.

Told in a good way with extra layers being added as the film progresses, this is definitely a good science fiction film. It also has the best environmental effects since Dark City. Which, if you’ve not seen, you should.

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Shutter Island

Shutter Island (film)
Shutter Island

I wasn’t planning on seeing Shutter Island as the handful of people I know who did catch it had complained it was too long. But my dad liked it, so I gave it a shot on Sunday afternoon.

Shutter Island

“You’ll never leave this island.”

Plot-in-a-nutshell: Two federal marshals investigate an escaped patient on a secure island facility… or do they?

I’ll try to keep spoiler-related commentary till the end, as there is a twist in this tale. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a Fed with a rather stressed-out past. He and his partner are sent to Shutter Island, a secure facility for the criminally insane set on a rock in the middle of the ocean.

The facility is run by the slightly scary Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley) who can’t explain how one of their inmates escaped from a locked cell. Very mysterious.

As the story progresses, the film gets more jumpy. Not as in “scary” – it skips about from topic to topic. Flashbacks start to appear in dream-like sequences as Daniels starts to dream and become ever more paranoid about the actions of the Doctor, the other island staff and the patients. Questions are unanswered or avoided, the patients seem to be acting in collusion with the staff - or scared of them.

There are some lovely sequences, in particular the dream where Daniels holds his dying wife as she turns to ash and blows away. Very well done and the special effects lend it a wonderful dream-like quality.

The acting performances are superb across the board. Being a Martin Scorsese film it’s not surprising that it’s beautifully presented as well. However, I do have some issues that I’ll go over at the end as they could relate to spoilers. I did find that it ran on too long, though. I guessed the “twist” very early on – about 10-15 minutes in, which is a shame. However, at the point where the pieces really do start to drop, the film should be on it’s final run-in. And it’s not. From this point, there’s maybe 45 minutes to an hour to go which is too long.

I’d be interested in reading the source novel to see how it’s paced, but the film is just a little too slow. A shorter running length would have had more impact, I feel. Still, a very good story and a superb cast.

HERE BE SPOILERS!!!!!!

You have been warned.

Alright. At the end of the film you find out that Daniel is actually mad. However, I guessed this very early on. How? Well, I’m not sure if this was deliberate on Scorsese’s part or not, but the editing throughout the film is very disjointed. Someone holds a cup, the view changes and they’ve already put it down. Someone lights a cigarette with one hand, the camera changes angle and they’ve moved it from their face to their side.

Now, this happens in films. Usually you spot this once every few minutes. But in Shutter Island, especially near the beginning, I was finding discrepancies almost every time the camera view changed in a scene. As I said, this could be poor editing. Or it could be the director hinting that things aren’t as they seem. Deliberately disjointed if you like. Which does make a lot of sense later on when we realise that what’s “happening” is predominantly in the mind of the main character.

What does anyone else think? Am I being overly analytical? Was the editor just smoking crack the week he did the work on this film? Or was Scorsese being really clever?

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