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Perception and reality in 'Shutter Island'

Q. You're a lonely single film buff and it's Saturday night.  Hitchcock or Kurosawa? (Matrcus Burciaga)

A. What are my choices?

Q. Why is it that many directors seem to lock in on a certain type of genre and never let go. I mean, you pretty much know what you're going to get when you see a film by Michael Bay, Kevin Smith, or even Quentin Tarantino. But look at a career like Billy Wilder's. He did film noir, drama, and comedy (and did it very well). Why won't other directors get out of their comfort zone and try something new? Is it for commercial reasons? Or am I naive to think they WANT to try different things? At least Scorsese didn't stick to just making gangster films. (Paul Santa Cruz, Phoenix, AZ)

A. A lot of it may have to do with the studio desire to assemble a "package" of known elements. The great directors who work make a variety of films always have trouble getting them financed, Scorsese included. But the  best work outside boundaries:  Sidney Lumet, Atom Egoyan,  Robert Altman. That's difficult for packagers because they have to evaluate each project on its intrinsic merit. To put it in simpler terms, executives in the golden age had better seats in their pants.

Q. When I saw that "Shutter Island," Scorsese's follow up to "The Departed," was moved out of "awards season", I assumed it meant one thing: when the studio saw it, they knew it was crap and didn't want to put it forward for Oscars. Now that it has opened and is apparently not crap, I have to wonder if this means that having ten best picture slots means that studios are no longer as worried about losing out on nominations for their films because they came out too early in the year, and start scheduling good movies all year. (Greg Packnett, Madison, WI)

A. "Shutter Island" was set to open Oct. 3, but Paramount moved it to February. The Los Angeles Times reported the studio thought its "Up in the Air" and "The Lovely Bones" were Oscar contenders, and in these hard times didn't want to spend too much on Oscar advertising.

Fair enough, although who in his right mind would have considered a stinker like "The Lovely Bones" an Oscar contender? Because the studio postponed the Scorsese picture, the tinfoil cap-wearing BuzzBlogs bleated that it had to be bad. Turned out they were wrong, didn't it?

Q. I am an admirer of film. What do you think makes a great movie?  I know this seems like a redundant question to ask, but I'm a film major and I really want to take this with all seriousness.  Right now, I'm in a creative writing class trying to set forth all these ideas and eventually work my way into screenwriting.  To make it a little less general and broad, what's one important aspect that makes a great movie? There, I narrowed it down! I made it easier for the both of us. (Giovanni Martinez)

A. One aspect? Just one? I always quote Derek Malcolm, the London film critic, who said, "a great film is a film you cannot bear the thought of never being able to see again."

Q. Need help settling a debate: Is Shutter Island considered "noir?" My friend's boyfriend says it is not due to the lack of dim lighting and shadow techniques, I say it is because of its detective story and feel. Who is right? Why? (Roberto Fuentes, Manchester, NH)

A. You are right. There are some stylistic conventions that are often found in noir, and shadows are certainly one of them, but "Shutter Island" is filled with shadows are dark corners. More importantly, its hero has in common with most noir heroes a flaw in his past that returns haunt him. A noir hero by definition, I think, cannot be entirely a good guy.

Q. I recently watch "Sid and Nancy" for the first time, and was amazed to find out afterward that Gary Oldman wasn't nominated for an Oscar for his balls out portrayal of Sid Vicious. I feel that if a performance like that were given today it would be the talk of the award season. Do you think the Academy praises different kinds of performances today than they have in the past? (Peter Kane, Bronx, NY)

A. The nominees for that year were Paul Newman, who won for "The Color of Money," Dexter Gordon for "'Round Midnight," Bob Hoskins for "Mona Lisa," William Hurt for "Children of a Lesser God," and James Woods for "Salvador." Was Oldman's performance on a level with theirs? I suspect they would all say it was.

However, it is suspected that the members of the Academy are sometimes reluctant to nominate a film that would be an awkward fit on the Oscarcast. Can you think of a scene from "Sid and Nancy" that would feel at home?

Q. As an 18-year-old I have watched countless comic book adaptations: from "Superman" to "Spider-Man." These movies are franchises. Their plots are constructed in ways to keep me busy for two hours. For example, In "The Dark Knight" nothing horrendous happens to the Joker or Batman; they both live. To me this is not for the sake of the story, but just to keep the characters alive for the next film in two or three years. These are not films; they are just ways to escape reality for a few hours. Similar to McDonalds in which you're eating some sort of food, here you are watching some sort of movie; but if quality is in mind, both these movies and fast food pale in the eye of the keen observer. (Bobby Hamidifard)

A. "The Dark Knight" was a good film. So were "Spider-Man 2" and "Iron Man." Yes, they're franchises, but the original comic books were franchises. Batman, Superman, Spider-haven't died. They must be exhausted by now. Well, not Superman.

Even in his case, it's astonishing that a substance from outer space, Kryptonite, has arrived on Earth in sufficient quantities that after some 70 years of comic books his enemies are still able to find some when they need it. Why doesn't he just hurl it into orbit beyond Jupiter? Oh, wait: He can't touch it.

Q. Pirate sites give me better access to the history of cinema than I'd get if I lived in NYC or Paris, and went to art houses all the time.  Some pirate sites even sponsor custom subtitles for movies they feel are important. Corporate movie making is pretty narrow and dull now, but there's a lot of stuff going on in the edges.

I know it's stealing, and I'm not proud of it.  But a lot of the best stuff isn't available any other way, the market isn't big enough for someone to package and sell a DVD.  And the pirate sites tend to have boards where people talk about movies, and put you on to titles you might not see otherwise.  I think these sites are where people who love cinema hang out now. Do you think that on balance piracy is a good or bad thing for the movies? (Name Withheld)

A. If it involves films available to you through legal means, it is theft. If the makers of a film have departed this life, or will not make it available in a legal format, I choose not to cast the first stone.

Q. I want to voice my disappointment to find a review of Roman Polanski’s latest film on your site. The director’s artistic brilliance does not excuse the heinous crime of which he was convicted, nor his cowardly and unrepentant stance. I believe he should be ignored. (Nadine Ménard, Montreal, Canada)

A. A film is a film. It is good or bad. If I began making moral judgments of directors -- or actors, or writers -- where would it end?

Q. In "Shutter Island"  I noticed something odd. About mid-way through the movie, the Leo DiCaprio character is interviewing a female patient. His partner Chuck gives her a glass of water. At first she only pantomimes drinking the water, then in the next shot you see her putting down an empty glass. When at last she leaves the table, the glass is shown half full. I assume that Scorsese did this intentionally and that it isn't a blooper, but my movie/symbolism vocabulary is not such that I could interpret the meaning. (Mike)

A. It may mean that all perceived reality is deceptive. On the other hand, I think it's more likely it's a continuity error.

Roger Ebert

Roger Ebert was the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times from 1967 until his death in 2013. In 1975, he won the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished criticism.

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