Movie Review: Shutter Island (2010)

March 1, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

I've already used the poster with Leo's mug in another post, so I decided to go with this one, which I actually like a lot more

[Note: I was supposed to read the book first, but I couldn’t wait.  Reading the book now.]

Shutter Island.  Based on the book by Dennis Lehane, award-winning author of Mystic River.  Directed by Martin Scorsese, Academy Award winner for The Departed (and director of such classics as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull and Goodfellas). Cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, Max von Sydow, and one of my favourites, Jackie Earle Haley.  Been looking forward to seeing it since I first heard about the production in 2008. Expectations: sky high.

So how was it?

Very good, but ultimately not the masterpiece I had been waiting for.

The story follows DiCaprio’s Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall summoned to Shutter Island in 1954 to investigate the disappearance of a patient at Ashcliffe, a mental hospital for the criminally insane.  A ripper of a premise, and you don’t even have to wait to see the island to know you’re in for a eerie, frighteningly atmospheric time.

Shutter Island is a wild, fantastic ride.  It’s one of those mysteries where you have to question everything that happens.  Naturally, in a mental hospital, you’d have to.  Why are people acting so strangely?  What secrets are being kept at Shutter Island?  Who can be trusted?  Just what the crap is going on?

You get that a lot when watching Shutter Island.  Scorsese has intentionally created a very disjointed, fragmented film that keeps the audience as confused as Teddy Daniels.  Flashbacks, dreams and visions come and go.  Words and actions consistently don’t make much sense.  Clues and red herrings are mixed in everywhere.  It was weird.  I even started questioning my own sanity by the end of the movie!

So no doubt, it’s a good film, but it was a bit too over the place for my liking.  I was intrigued but also increasingly frustrated as the movie progressed, and I never got into it emotionally like I thought I would.  And the ending, while well-executed, was not totally unexpected.  That said, I did like the last scene, especially the haunting final words.

Can’t complain about the performances though.  Leo is still awesome, Ruffalo is great, Gandhi is solid, and Rorshach (the new Freddy Krueger!) is still terrific as always.

3.5 stars out of 5!

The Culinary Gods Must Live Here!

March 1, 2010 in Food, Taiwan, Travel by pacejmiller

Restaurant: Jing Fung
Cuisine: Local Taiwanese (specialty: Lu Ro Fan)
Price: Around TWD 50-100 per person
Location: Section 1, Roosevelt Road, Taipei (Corner of Lane 59, Section 1, NanChang Road)

And so we have come to the final entry in my Taiwanese Food Adventure, and I have saved the best for last.

Jing Fung is a no-frills, kinda dodgy-looking restaurant next to the Nanmen Markets (take Exit 2 of the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall MRT stop and walk straight for about 50m) in Taipei.  Although it is constantly full of people, even at 10pm at night, it’s not the type of place that non-locals would go to without a recommendation or a tour guide.

The tables look old and peeling, the floors might look dark ugly, and the walls may be discoloured – but none of that matters, because Jing Fung is a place that is blessed by the culinary gods.

Jing Fung has been around for 20+ years because of its Lu Ro Fan (stewed pork rice).  Perfectly cooked white rice topped with a mixture of lean and fatty pork, sliced shitake mushroom …and I don’t know what else.  Rumor has it, the stewed pork is a special recipe which involves a top secret blend of Chinese herbal spices and sauces and hours of stewing.  I believe that, because I’ve never tasted any other Lu Ro Fan that has managed to duplicate that flavour.

(To see the pics and read on, click on ‘more’)

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Movie Review: The Box (2009)

March 1, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

The Box is one of those films that’s likely to polarise viewers – either love the intriguing premise and go wherever the film takes you, or hate it for being a confusing mess.  That said, I found myself somewhere in the middle.  I was intrigued by it all but was not overly impressed.

Directed by Richard Kelly (who also co-wrote the script), best known for his cult masterpiece Donnie Darko, The Box deals with a fascinating idea.  Press a button and you’ll get one million dollars (1976 money), tax free – but someone in the world, someone you don’t know, will die.  It’s based on a 1970s short story by Richard Matheson called “Button, Button”, which got badly butchered by the Twilight Zone in the 80s (Matheson apparently hated the changes they made to it).

Sure, people in the world die all the time, but you’ll have to live with knowing that it was your greedy decision that directly led to that person’s death.  Would you do it?

Well, that’s what James Marsden (underrated Mr Cyclops) and Cameron Diaz (her face still looks weird to me) have to deal with in The Box.

Full credit to Kelly for infusing that Donnie Darko weirdness into The Box.  For starters, it has by far the most WTF moments since Mulholland Drive (coincidentally released the same year as DD).  You just never know where the film is heading, why people are doing the things they do or acting the way they are.  Is it an elaborate prank?  Is it a government experiment?  Is it even happening?  Am I crazy?

Of course, don’t expect any definitive answers to all your questions by the end of the film.  Usually, movies of this kind fizzle when they run out of places to go, but The Box manages to handle the final resolution pretty well, much better than I had expected.

That said, The Box didn’t blow me away or anything.  It’s good, but a notch below DD in terms of enjoyment, and nowhere near as memorable.

The Box is far from perfect, but I liked it.

3.5 stars out of 5!

[PS: I picked the poster with James Marsden in it – there is another version where it’s just Cameron Diaz’s weird face]