Sunday, February 21, 2010

Thoughts inspired by "Shutter Island"

Do you think that the trend of praising competent work as classic is a recent trend or something that has happened in all ages?

It could be Sturgeon's Law, and the 90% that is crap from previous eras is forgotten as footnotes. Or it could be the things that craftsmen valued in previous times are not the same thing businessmen value in these times.

Because Shutter Island is a decent movie and well-made. It's not great and doesn't deserve such praise for having a few really good performances, a well-sketched plot and some vivid cinematography. I would hope those would be starting points for a decent film, not grounds for effusive praise.

On the other hand, next to a trifle like Up In the Air, I can see why people like it so much. But that's not necessarily saying it's Goodfellas or even the King of Comedy.


Zev Valancy said...

Maybe it's because competently made, genuinely entertaining movies are so hard to find that they are hailed as brilliant even when they obviously are not?

I haven't yet seen Shutter Island, but I want to because I want a fun, scary movie with some good acting and film craft. Apparently, that's what I'll get.

And after this year's Oscar-bait, I'm quite fine with that.

Mr. K said...

True, it's not self-conscious Oscar bait. And it's competently made & genuinely entertaining.

And it gave me nightmares without relying on the cheap scares of "spring-loaded cats".

But still, the fact that we pay $10 to see something that we only hope is competently made... it's similar to those $200 tickets to jukebox musicals where we're happy if it moves quickly, is amusing & well-performed. Shutter Island isn't quite that, but it's the same principle.

Zev Valancy said...

I feel like "competently made," "genuinely entertaining," and "gave me nightmares" are pretty significant achievements, honestly. I think those are good and noble goals for a movie to set, and good reasons to see a movie. (Not just competent craftsmanship, but a real and involving experience.)

Not every movie needs to aim for great artistry, and many movies that aim for less end up much better works of art. (I'll take most film noir over most prestige pictures from the same era.) Plenty of entertainments and B-Pictures have stood the test of time beautifully.

Maybe it's just because I haven't seen any reviews calling Shutter Island great, it seems like a positive response to a movie that is highly entertaining and genuinely frightening is perfectly reasonable.

Mr. K said...

I get what you're saying, Zev. And hopefully you know by now that I believe in the ability of genre work to speak to something deep within us in ways that "realist" or "slice-of-life" pieces can't.

I'm having a hard time articulating my feelings about Shutter Island clearly, as well. It's not a bad movie, it's a good movie. But the reviews that I've seen (A- from AV Club, Critic's Choice from the Reader, a breathless review from Glen Kenny) seem to imagine it as tip-top Scorcese.

And it's not. There is not much unity between the mise en scene, theme and tone in the film, which is what keep it in B territory (grade-wise, not genre-wise).
I'll try to write a longer post about this soon.

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