Scorsese’s ‘Shutter Island’ out now on DVD, Blu-ray

Posted June 04, 2010, at 5:50 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 29, 2011, at 12:50 p.m.

“Shutter Island” DVD, Blu-ray:

Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island” is all about the art of perception — since there are no correct answers to what’s unfolding here, each viewer likely will have a different experience when the movie comes to its incomplete conclusion. For some, this idea of incompletion will satisfy, as there are few concrete answers in life, which leans into at least part of Scorsese’s larger point. For those who like their movies wrapped in a tight bow, you’re not going to get it here. This is a film that needs to be walked around, so we’ll walk around it without getting too close. Leonardo DiCaprio is Teddy Daniels, a Boston Harbor-based marshal who is called with his new partner, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), to Shutter Island, which is off the coast of Massachusetts and houses the criminally insane. There, a woman by the name of Rachel Salando (Emily Mortimer) has gone missing. It’s Teddy and Chuck’s job to investigate. As they come to know one another, we learn almost nothing about Chuck but a bit about Teddy himself. His wife (Michelle Williams) died in a fire with their daughter, and while that was two years before, Teddy still looks a little shaky. Are memories of them the reason? Could be, but Scorsese isn’t lingering to find out. The movie pushes forward and soon we’re on the island itself. There, each man is asked to hand over his guns before entering the asylum. Reluctantly, they acquiesce — but who wants to bet whether that was a good idea? Who also wants to bet that Scorsese is toying with B-movie conventions? The film is set in 1954, and it features all of the trappings of the movies of the time, only amplified by a master director who has the skills to at once employ them and elevate them. Hitchcock’s presence, in particular, is felt everywhere. Other directors and movies strike influential bells — just who and which, we’ll leave for you — while Scorsese, working his own angles, introduces us to the asylum’s creepy director, Dr. Cawley (Ben Kingsley), and another fright in Max von Sydow, who plays a German doctor. With his pale skin and white puff of hair, there is a whiff of Nazism about him and he always tends to have a mean syringe at the ready. Enough said about him. And also about the movie. “Shutter Island” will disappoint plenty and delight plenty. It’s divisive. At the end, when you try to draw together the several loose ends, you should know that some won’t come together. The plot frays and it breaks. But here’s the question: Is this due to errors in the writing and direction, or is it because when a movie is about a collapse into madness (or the ramifications of a lingering psychological illness — you decide), a fractured plot might just be the perfect metaphor to underscore that madness, thus reversing the film back on itself and leaving more questions than answers. Given the quality of the director, I’m giving Scorsese the benefit of the doubt. Rated R. Grade: B

“Burt Lancaster Signature Collection”: Another signature collection from Warner that should have lost the word “Signature” from its title. The set doesn’t come through with what it promises — excellence — so the studio is just fishing for disappointment. This is true for the “Burt Lancaster Signature Collection,” a collection of five films that doesn’t offer any of Lancaster’s best movies, such as “From Here to Eternity,” “Birdman of Alcatraz,” “Judgment at Nuremberg,” “The Professionals,” “Atlantic City” and “Elmer Gantry,” the latter of which won him the Academy Award for Best Actor. Instead, we get 1950’s “Flame and the Arrow,” 1951’s “Jim Thorpe — All American,” 1953’s “South Sea Woman,” 1954’s “His Majesty O’Keefe” and 1973’s “Executive Action.” While those movies are good, especially “Thorpe,” few would sign off on the idea that they are among the actor’s signature films. Grade: B-

“The George Eliot Collection” DVD: From the BBC, a set of five films for the retro Victorian — or the curious Edwardian — all derived from the works of George Eliot, whose real name was Mary Ann Evans, so you can imagine the complications he-she was able to compose. “Middlemarch,” “Daniel Deronda,” “Adam Beed,” “The Mill and the Floss” and “Silas Marner” all are assembled here and they’re just fine, with most themes reflecting Evans own life as an outsider. The highlight is “Middlemarch,” with the eight-part miniseries “The Mill and the Floss” offering the most insight into Eliot’s life as Evans. Grade: B+

“The Illusionist” Blu-ray: In “The Illusionist,” a satisfying period mystery from writer-director Neil Burger, it’s the rich, shadowy atmosphere of Dick Pope’s cinematography and Ondrej Nekvasil’s production design that grabs you first, then Philip Glass’ spellbinding score, and then the story itself. Like the best, most hypnotic magic trick, here is a movie that seamlessly draws you in, wows you and then tricks you, though you’re delighted by the trick even if you saw it coming, which likely will be the case for some who see it in its new incarnation on Blu-ray. Set in turn-of-the-century Vienna — fittingly where Freud grew up and began his practice — this layered, beautifully measured film toys with your mind. Edward Norton is Eisenheim the Illusionist, who is such a gifted and controversial magician that he eventually comes to fill theaters to capacity. The key to his draw is that Eisenheim has developed an illusion so unaccountably real, one is forced to question that if it is indeed real, what are we to make of his abilities? It appears that he has the power to bring people back from the dead, which gives those in attendance hope that perhaps he might be able to bring back their lost loved ones, if only to allow them a fleeting chance to reconnect. Since Eisenheim isn’t without a flare for the dramatic, he comes to each show by calling the dead to him with an outstretched hand. Eventually, he conjures wavering images of the deceased — either a man, a child, or a woman come to the forefront. It’s the woman who gets him into trouble. When Eisenheim was young, he fell in love with the duchess Sophie von Teschn, whose royal blood wasn’t exactly a suitable mix for his pauper’s blood. Spirited away by her family, they were separated for years, until one evening, at one of Eisenheim’s performances, he meets Sophie (Jessica Biel) again. Their connection is undeniable, yet a disconnect is at hand. Sophie is engaged to Crown Prince Leopold (Rufus Sewell), a ruthless man who is so insecure, he decides to ruin Eisenheim. Deception, betrayal and a grotesque murder all are part of the melodramatic mix — as are several fine performances from the excellent cast, which in-cludes Paul Giamatti. As for the ending, pay close attention. Unlike most magicians, Burger has the burden of being a director, which means that for his film to succeed, he must reveal his own tricks lest he letdown his audience. In a final rush of images, he does so — and, though it comes in a blur, the damned thing adds up. Rated PG-13. Grade: B+

“The Painted Veil” Blu-ray: From W. Somerset Maugham’s 1925 novel, the movie offers something of a guide book on how to humble and humanize the impossible British socialite, in this case, prim Kitty (Naomi Watts). The story follows Kitty’s husband, British physician Walter Fane (Edward Norton), who learns that Kitty has had a Shanghai affair with a dapper diplomat (Liev Schreiber). Out of spite, Fane takes her to the disease-ridden outskirts of China (cad!), where cholera breeds along with an unexpected growing mutual respect. Stuart Dryburgh’s cinematography is as key to the movie’s success as Ron Nyswaner’s taut script and the fine performances. When she’s not mooning over a doomed ape or being haunted by video tapes, it’s nice to be reminded that Watts can act. As for Norton, there never was a question. Rated PG-13. Grade: B+

WeekinRewind.com is the site for Bangor Daily News film critic Christopher Smith’s blog, DVD giveaways and movie reviews. Smith’s reviews appear Fridays and weekends in Lifestyle. He may be reached at Christopher@weekinrewind.com.

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