February 19, 2010, - 4:01 pm
I wasn’t crazy about either of the two new releases at the box office, this weekend, but if you must go, the so-so “Shutter Island” is okay (for adults only). Here are my reviews:
* “Shutter Island“: I have mixed feelings about this one. It isn’t my favorite Martin Scorsese film (“The Departed” is–read my review). It was okay–decent, but not great. For what it is supposed to be–a psychological thriller, I suppose it’s good, in that it accomplishes its goal. It was long, somewhat boring, and mostly a giant trick played on you that, if you’re smart, you’ll figure out (or, at least, have an inkling of it) by half-time. Yup, it’s a set-up. And if you figure it out, then it’s a waste of time.
Plus, I definitely could have done without the constant moral equivalency dialogue, implying that the U.S. government is testing mental patients and doing Mengele-style experiments on their brains “just like the Nazis and the Soviet gulags.” Come on. Even in this completely non-political thriller (that wasn’t that thrilling), they couldn’t resist in trying to make it political. Plus the flashback scenes of Leonardo DiCaprio liberating Dachau and ice-sculpture trees of dead Jewish bodies was cinematic Holocaust-porn that had no place here. At two hours and 19 minutes, this movie could have been trimmed . . . a lot.
That said, I can’t say that–despite all my complaints–it isn’t an entertaining movie. It is . . . somewhat. And even though I was very tired and the movie was long, it was entertaining enough and well-told to the point that I managed to be completely engaged the entire time. The acting was great on all fronts. So was the cinematography. It was beautifully shot and masterfully directed. At first, I found the repeated flashbacks and visions distracting, but later, they are important to the plot.
DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo play U.S. Marshals sent to an island which houses a mental institution for the criminally insane–murderers who are so bad, no normal mental facility can handle them. The institution is headed by Ben Kingsley–very good in this role–and the second in command is a German doctor played by the talented Max Von Sydow, who is great here. It is the 1950s, and DiCaprio and Ruffalo arrive at Shutter Island to investigate the disappearance of a female patient who murdered her children. And, while the staff and patients of the hospital give little help in the investigation, the two Marshals spend several nights stuck there because of horrible weather, some of it exploring the island and its “C Unit,” which houses the worst of the worst. DiCaprio is a veteran of World War II who liberated Dachau and can’t get it out of his head. His wife died in a fire set by an arsonist.
I can’t say much more because it would give away the movie. But know this: the plot twist isn’t novel. It might have been a decade or two ago. You’ve seen it before. Still, as I noted, the movie is entertaining and fine for an escape. But there is much violence, blood, and some dead bodies. And it’s creepy, like it’s supposed to be. It’s not for kids or even young teens.
Definitely not “The Departed.” Not even close. But it’s good enough for an escape at the movies. Still, you may feel cheated at the end . . . if you haven’t figured it out.
Watch the trailer:
* “Blood Done Sign My Name“: This movie, starring Rick Schroeder, is yet another reminder of America’s past in racism that doesn’t necessarily need to be told yet again. I fail to see how it serves America’s moving forward by constantly focusing on racism past, when we now have racism present and future, in the form of affirmative action, minority set-asides, and racist Black-on-White crimes galore. And, while it is a true story, there is a scene that could be seen as incitement to more of those things, when we really need to move on and forward. Yes, racism existed and still does in America. But it exists in all ethnicities, including the Black community against non-Blacks.
That’s not to mention the fact that this movie provides only a tiny, select slice of life about a very hateful Black civil rights activist, Benjamin Chavis Muhammad. He’s an uber-racist in his own right, but this movie shows him at a point in time in his life when he was a peaceful protester of racism, as opposed to the Jew-hating, Farrakhan acolyte and hip-hop purveyor that he is now and has been for about two decades.
Today, Chavis has behind his belt, the racist, anti-Semitic 1995 Nation of Islam “Million Man March,” of which he was the primary organizer (acting as NoI leader Louis Farrakhan’s right-hand man), and the Million Family March, which he also organized in 2000. Chavis Muhammad–who is only identified as Chavis in the movie, even at the end when the closing credits discuss his “achievements.” Muhammad was fired from his position as Executive Director of the NAACP for sexually harassing a female employee, embezzling $65,000 in hush money to pay her off, and blaming “right-wing Jews” when he was fired for this by the Black board members of the organization. That part, of course, isn’t mention in the closing credits. Today, Chavis Muhammad heads the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, a hip-hop political organization that embraces anti-Semitism and Israel hatred, which he co-founded with mogul Russell Simmons. I wrote about the organization’s extremism in the Jerusalem Post (the column is reprinted here). But, again, you would not know it from this movie.
What did I like about this movie? That not all the White characters were bad. Just most of them. Schroeder plays a real-life Christian minister, Rev. Vernon Tyson, who is not racist and who welcomes Blacks and Black preachers to his church. And he imparts his opposition to racism to his children, including son Tim Tyson, on whose book this movie is based. He’s a very righteous and moral man, who preaches non-violence and tries to get the Blacks in the community in Oxford, North Carolina to engage in peaceful protest, rather than the rioting violence that occurred just after a murder of a Black Vietnam Veteran at home on leave. And he is successful.
Schroeder is very good in this film. It’s just that I’m not sure this film’s entire story needs to be told . . . again. The story of Schroeder’s character does need to be told because it’s important for Black Americans to remember that White Americans were also part of the civil rights movement and sacrificed so they could have equal rights. Sadly, I think that message may be lost on moviegoers of all races. And I’m sad that the current message and true life character of the racist bigot extremist Benjamin Chavis Muhammad was given an extremist makeover. And we don’t get the full picture of what he became. It wasn’t all lollipops and cotton candy–what came out of the civil rights movement. But, at least, the film is honest and open in showing us Golden Frinks, a civil rights organizer who admits he is a “stoker. They send me in to heat things up.” He means, to rile up the Black communities and make them angry.
I interviewed Rick Schroeder by phone, this morning, and will try to put the interview up over the weekend or early next week.
Watch the trailer:
Tags: Ben Chavis, Ben Kingsley, Benjamin Chavis, Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, Blood Done Sign My Name, embezzlement, Leonardo DiCaprio, Leonardo DiCrapio, Louis Farrakhan, Mark Ruffalo, Martin Scorsese, Max Von Sydow, Million Man March, Movie Reviews, NAACP, Nation of Islam, Rev. Vernon Tyson, Rick Schroeder, Ricky Schroeder, Right-wing Jews, Sexual Harassment, Shutter Island, Tim Tyson, Vernon Tyson