You know there is some kind of lunacy in Martin Scorsese taking on a horror movie.
Based on Dennis Lehane’s thriller, “Shutter Island” is a blank canvas where the famed director let loose seemingly every movie trick he knows. And considering that he is an astute student of cinema, that’s a lot.
Invoking Hitchcock in a film set in a mental hospital for the criminally insane in 1954 goes without saying. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Teddy Daniels, a United States marshal who ferries out to the island to investigate the disappearance of a patient.
The poor guy is already haunted by memories of his wife (Michelle Williams), who died in a fire in their apartment building, and by the trauma of being among those who liberated the concentration camp Dachau in World War II.
Now, he has to come face to face with some really creepy patients – who range from zombielike to raging maniacs – and the creepy doctors – Ben Kingsley as the menacing Dr. Cawley, the psychiatrist in charge, and Max von Sydow, whose German accent reminds Teddy of the terrors of war. Things get creepier as the mystery deepens.
How could a woman just disappear from her cell? Then there are hints of Nazi-type experimentation. And why is the weather so bad?
But who’s watching “Shutter Island” for the plot? I confess I read the book and couldn’t remember what happened as soon as I finished.
It’s a page-turner, and that’s what Scorsese has given us the equivalent of. It’s all atmosphere and jolts. Robert Richardson, the director of photography, makes everything appear ominous as if it were in a nightmare.
The colors are disquieting. There is something off about them.
You get the feeling that after the precision and claustrophobia of “The Departed,” Scorsese wanted to show he can make a film with some bang to it.
If he were a lesser filmmaker, you might dismiss “Shutter Island” as a moderate shocker.
But the director can’t go against his better instincts. The film is populated with terrific actors – Emily Mortimer, Jackie Earle Haley, Patricia Clarkson, Mark Ruffalo – and the scenes are intricately choreographed.
No one will pretend this is one of Scorsese’s great films, but it’s not a failure, either. It’s just an interesting commercial detour.
Dose of reality
Season seven of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” was a lot of fun, made more so by the subplot of Larry David getting the “Seinfeld” cast – Jerry, Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Elaine), Jason Alexander (George), and Michael Richards (Cosmo) – together for a reunion show.
Because every one is playing a version of themselves, “Curb” is even harder than “Seinfeld” in separating the stars from the characters and real-life references are rife.
One episode even involves Richards’ notorious racially slurred tirade at a comedy club in 2006.
Larry’s prickly relationship with Ted Danson rears its head again, and in one very funny episode Larry’s fictional long-suffering now ex-wife (played beautifully by Cheryl Hines) tries out for a part on the reunion show as George’s ex-wife, a role that was based on her.
But Jerry prefers guest stars Meg Ryan or Elisabeth Shue putting Larry in another untenable position. Ultimately, “Curb” succeeds because David’s comic alter-ego is not only always stepping in it but is likely to forget to scrape it off his shoes.
• “Oceans” is an eight-part documentary from the BBC that shouldn’t be confused with the Disney-released, Pierce Brosnan-narrated doc of the same name.
• “Nip/Tuck: The Sixth and Final Season,” which was created by “Glee’s” Ryan Murphy, ended up in Los Angeles with the same cheekiness that marked the series.
• “From Paris with Love” is a mindless – stress mindless – but somewhat diverting shoot-’em-up if only because John Travolta and Jonathan Rhys Meyers look like they’re having fun with the roles. There’s even a “Pulp Fiction” reference.
• “Not the Messiah” is a filmed version of Eric Idle’s comic stage show – a “baroque and roll” oratorio – based on Monty Python’s “Life of Brian;” so you know it’s already pretty funny. This lavish 2009 live performance with BBC Symphony and Chorus at London’s venerable Royal Albert Hall commemorating Python’s 40th anniversary featured fellow Pythons Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam. Not as freewheeling as “Spamalot” – mostly because it’s tied to an orchestra – but it’s silly and enjoyable and even has a few jabs at current politics.