Short Ends and Leader

Everyone Is Totally Insane: 'Shutter Island' (Blu-ray)

Do we marvel as the man responsible for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino works a similar artist magic on material that many would consider exploitative schlock? You betcha.

Shutter Island

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Max Von Sydow, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer
Rated: R
Studio: Paramount
Year: 2010
US date: 2010-06-08 (Limited release)
UK date: 2010-06-08 (General release)

The typical definition of insanity is one's failure to fully grasp reality. Put another way, the clinically deranged cannot fathom the crystal clear differences between our world and the fantasy land swirling around their swollen psyche. Perhaps this is why the realm of the unhinged has been so ripe for cinematic exploration. From actual case histories to wild, made-up manias, Hollywood loves to dabble in the lunatic fringe -with frequently uneven results. But when Martin Scorsese decided to deliver a horrific Hitchcock homage based on Dennis Lehane's literary thriller Shutter Island, few could have imagined the masterpiece he'd create. Though he's an American treasure, one of our greatest living filmmakers...blah, blah, blah - he is still trudging through tenuous territory.

Now comes the amazing Blu-ray of the 2010 hit, a gorgeous transfer teaching us that, sometimes, style and pure filmmaking flare can occasionally substitute for sense, sensibility, and sporadic lapses in plot logic. Does everything match up successfully once the last act "twist" is revealed? Not really. Do we marvel as the man responsible for Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas and Casino works a similar artist magic on material that many would consider exploitative schlock? You betcha, and the main reason is obvious almost from the first frame: Scorsese has decided to act just as nuts as the characters the narrative centers around. When he isn't cribbing from the Master of Suspense and decades of post-modern noir, he's utilizing a gonzo like approach that almost redefines our impression of the director.

Current collaborator Leonardo DiCaprio stars as stunted Federal Marshall Teddy Daniels. It's 1954, and our hero carries with him the haunting memories of a dead wife (Michelle Williams) and the liberation of Dachau during WWII. Assigned a new partner from Seattle, Chuck Aule (Mark Ruffalo), he has requested the task of heading to Shutter Island off the coast of Boston, Massachusetts. There, he must investigate the disappearance of convicted child killer.

As he meets the various staff of Ashecliff Hospital, including head Doctors Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and Naehring (Max Van Sydow), he is convinced that something more sinister exists inside the locked buildings and inaccessible areas of the facility. It's not long before Teddy and Chuck find themselves stranded, a powerful storm tearing at the very heart of the locale, revealing more unsettling secrets along the way.

As a clockwork exercise in audience manipulation, as genre-jumping Gothic horror loaded with Golden Age flourish, as a chance for the creator of cinematic marvels to play b-movie madman for once in his life, Shutter Island offers Martin Scorsese at the top of his game. Forget all the obvious nods to the genre's straightjacket past. Continuity, matching shots, and editorial precision be damned! This is a filmmaker having fun for once, letting his always fervid imagination to run unchecked for 135 glorious minutes. Stretched between Lehane's heavy-handed melodramatics, which provide a perfect cushion for where Scorsese's experiments fall, this is the first great movie of 2010, a pristine example of cinema at its most sly and seductive - and the Blu-ray reproduces it in loving detail.

Sure, it takes nearly an hour to get going, our heroes locked in one overlong condemning conversation after another. True, there are no genuine shivers, shocks meant to catch you off guard before the true bloodshed occurs. Instead, this is the true definition of terror, a film that plays with your perceptions until you're not quite sure what to believe and what to fear. This is also a movie mired in ambiguities, where nothing and no one is ever quite what they seem. When we first meet Teddy, he comes across as world weary and worn. Fast forward a few minutes and he's already on a downward spiral toward his own personal Hell. Chuck also comes across as helpful but hindered, unseen forces keeping him from fully functioning as Teddy's partner. Naehring may be a Nazi war criminal. He may also be a harmless old psychiatrist with an unfortunate Teutonic accent. Kingsley's Cawley is perhaps the most fascinating. He's always polite and amenable, even when he appears to be stonewalling the Feds at every step of their investigation.

Inside the asylum itself, the patients also come across as narratively schizophrenic. One ax murderess is actually lucid enough to discuss her crime (and to warn the cops of impending doom). Another denies his actions only to show unbelievably violent rage when Teddy continues to aggravate him. From orderlies who provide comfort but little confidence to whackjobs who show off their literal split personas, Scorsese drenches us in the symbols of dread. As we move deeper and deeper into this sheltered abyss, as Teddy finds himself lost and alone without anything remotely reasonable to hang onto, Shutter Island finally explodes. The last 45 minutes or so are one delicious denouement after another, explanations and reboots requiring us to remember what came before and how it might fit, emblematically, with what is currently happening on the screen.

As for the acting, it's all awards caliber. DiCaprio, who made a similar impression last year with his fascinating work in Revolutionary Road, is clearly synced up with his own inner demons now. His performance is all rage personified and mental torment telegraphed. It's the most mature work he's ever done, losing almost all of his pretty boy façade to face the evils inside this place (and himself) with tightrope tenacity. He is matched by Ruffalo, given the mostly thankless role of expository receptacle. Still, he illuminates the plot points with enough cynicism to keep the audience on his side. Kingsley and Von Sydow are masterful as two sides of the same supposedly sinister coin. The latter hardly hides it, always looking at Teddy and Chuck as interlopers in a realm they don't dare belong in. Sir Ben, on the other hand, is far more slick. He's trying to lull his guests into a sense of complacency, the better to thwart their efforts when the need arises.

Then there is the ending. As with many movies of this kind, something "happens" which then twists everything we know into a shameless shadow of its former already frustrating self. As Scorsese walks us through each revelation, as he actually takes the time to illustrate each point that is being made and maneuvers the time line so that events that which seem impossible or incongruous end up falling meticulously into place, we marvel at the skill. Still, nothing is really settled during the last 15 minutes. Answers are indeed offered, but they don't satisfy so much as get us scratching our heads all over again. Since Scorsese has been messing with us since the very beginning, cutting between characters without matching their actions, etc. we expect such artifice. Taken another way, such an open-ended approach is nothing short of genius.

As for the Blu-ray itself, it's not offering many answers. While the visual and audio elements are truly mind-bending (including a darkened scene in a far off cell where Teddy meets his true fate), the added content is rather sparse. There are only two featurettes offered - one a basic EPK like look at the film's production, featuring the cast and crew, and a more in-depth look at how Scorsese reinforced the story with deeper emotional and psychological meaning. No deleted scenes or full length audio commentary. No specific attempt to address what many fans will see as a finale so fascinatingly oblique that it demands something along the lines of a complete Criterion overhaul. Still, for a movie that many thought would flop considering its convoluted release schedule (originally primed for 2009's award season, it was 'shuttled' off to February, often seen as the commercial kiss of death), the transfer celebrates its success.

That the eventual release of the film would be as crazy as every other aspect of Shutter Island speaks to its epic meta measures. When you think about it, nothing about the movie makes sense - not the plot, the players, the particulars within each backstory, the resolutions and the reactions to same. If you go in thinking that this will be a typical thriller, you'll be gravely disappointed. Scorsese is clearly capable of same - see his ridiculously on-target remake of Cape Fear - but he's decided to "go native" with the rest of the atoll's population. The results are one of 2010's best films, a motion picture experience that reminds you that, when everyone around you is totally insane, the most normal thing you can do is join them. This time around, Martin Scorsese did just that.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

Next Page
Related Articles Around the Web

Subverting the Romcom: Mercedes Grower on Creating 'Brakes'

Noel Fielding (Daniel) and Mercedes Grower (Layla) (courtesy Bulldog Film Distribution)

Brakes plunges straight into the brutal and absurd endings of the relationships of nine couples before travelling back in time to discover the moments of those first sparks of love.

The improvised dark comedy Brakes (2017), a self-described "anti-romcom", is the debut feature of comedienne and writer, director and actress Mercedes Grower. Awarded production completion funding from the BFI Film Fund, Grower now finds herself looking to the future as she develops her second feature film, alongside working with Laura Michalchyshyn from Sundance TV and Wren Arthur from Olive productions on her sitcom, Sailor.

Keep reading... Show less

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less

The Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop artist MAJO wraps brand new holiday music for us to enjoy in a bow.

It's that time of year yet again, and with Christmastime comes Christmas tunes. Amongst the countless new covers of holiday classics that will be flooding streaming apps throughout the season from some of our favorite artists, it's always especially heartening to see some original writing flowing in. Such is the gift that Paraguay-born, Brooklyn-based indie pop songwriter MAJO is bringing us this year.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.