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There’s some­thing very odd about the open­ing scenes in Shutter Island and it takes the entire film for you to put your fin­ger on it. Shots don’t match between cuts, there’s a stil­ted qual­ity to the dia­logue (too much expos­i­tion for a Martin Scorsese movie) and the pacing is off. For a while I found myself won­der­ing wheth­er Marty had lost the immense influ­ence of his great edit­or Thelma Schoonmaker, but there she is, still in the cred­its, as she has been for Scorsese since Raging Bull.

Several years ago, Scorsese played a prac­tic­al joke on me (per­son­ally, it felt like at the time) when an entire reel of The Aviator was treated to look like faded 1930s Technicolor – I went to the Embassy counter to com­plain and felt very sheep­ish to be told by Oscar, the pro­jec­tion­ist, that the dir­ect­or meant it that way. So, this time around I decided to trust the maes­tro and roll with the strange­ness and was rewar­ded with one of the best (and cleverest) psy­cho­lo­gic­al thrillers in many a year.

Leonardo DiCaprio is a washed-up Federal Marshall, sent to the off­shore Massachusetts booby hatch at Shutter Island to invest­ig­ate the mys­ter­i­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of a woman patient. He is assigned a new part­ner (Mark Ruffalo) and, trapped there by a storm, they start to dis­cov­er some ter­rible secrets about the facil­ity and its creepy staff, led by Ben Kingsley and the always excel­lent value Max von Sydow.

Scorsese isn’t par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in the super­nat­ur­al and so doesn’t do tra­di­tion­al hor­ror films. He is much more inter­ested in what hap­pens to human psy­cho­logy under duress and, to that end, Shutter Island is as per­son­al a work as he has pro­duced since Bringing Out the Dead more than ten years ago.

Jane Campion’s Bright Star is also a ter­rif­ic return to com­fort­able ter­rit­ory – a his­tor­ic­al drama set in 19th cen­tury England in which the great, but unknown, poet John Keats (Ben Whishaw from Perfume and I’m Not There) falls for head­strong young Fannie Brawne (the destined-for-greatness Australian Abbie Cornish). Their love inspires some of the greatest lit­er­at­ure in English but is destined to be cut short rather than fade away. Splendidly cast (in addi­tion to the gor­geous leads the won­der­ful Paul Schneider appears as Keats’ Scottish best friend Charles Brown) and hand­somely pho­to­graphed, Bright Star is totally recommendable.

Totally unre­com­mend­able is the dire Did You Hear About the Morgans? Even the title is pain­ful. Sarah Jessica Parker and Hugh Grant play a wealthy and suc­cess­ful New York power couple who are forced into the Witness Protection Programme togeth­er, des­pite being in the pro­cess of split­ting up. I usu­ally hate using oth­er films as short­cut com­par­is­ons but the makers of this one haven’t tried any harder: DYHATM? is a pathet­ic and trite com­bin­a­tion of My Blue Heaven and City Slickers and no amount of twinkly cow­boy wis­dom from Sam Elliott can save it. Sadly Hugh Grant’s mojo has well and truly dis­ap­peared so that’s no help either.

Masquerades is a little gem of a com­edy from Algeria, played pretty broadly but with a good spir­it, like one of those old Ealing Comedies from the 40s. Mounir Mekbek (Peter Sellers-like Lyes Salem) dreams of being respec­ted by his fel­low vil­la­gers but when he claims his nar­co­leptic sis­ter is being wooed by a rich, hand­some Australian the lies spir­al out of con­trol until the whole vil­lage is pre­par­ing for a wed­ding with no actu­al suit­or in sight.

Watching the new 3D ver­sion of Toy Story the oth­er day I had a strange sense of déjà vu until I real­ised that I had reviewed the ori­gin­al ver­sion in these pages dur­ing my first stint here back in 1995. I recall writ­ing things like “this is the future, cit­izens, get used to it” and now I can say it again. Re-mastering clas­sic and beloved films for 3D is going to be com­mon­place soon (the ori­gin­al Star Wars films are already well on the way) and I, for one, am look­ing for­ward to it. Other not­ables from watch­ing the Toy Story double-feature is how well the 2nd film has stood up elev­en years on, clearly bet­ter than the ori­gin­al, and Buzz and Woody are two of the all-time great movie double-acts – right up there with Butch and Sundance in my book.

Performance of the year so far is the great Jeff Bridges as coun­try sing­er Bad Blake in Crazy Heart. Bridges has always been a won­der­ful screen pres­ence but his recent per­form­ances have some­times seemed a little like tread­ing water (for every Big Lebowski there seems to be a Stick It) but this turn as an age­ing hero on a lost high­way may well be his finest ever. Blake was one of the legendary singer/songwriters of the Outlaw era and Bridges gives him the stage pres­ence of Waylon Jennings, the singing voice of Guy Clark (he does his own singing and play­ing I should emphas­ise) and the drink­ing habits of Townes Van Zandt.

For all the great­ness on dis­play from Bridges, Crazy Heart itself is a bit of a let-down. The cent­ral rela­tion­ship with beau­ti­ful single mom Maggie Gyllenahaal doesn’t work for a nano­second and the happy end­ing comes too easy – it’s as unearned as Blake’s own redemption.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 24 February, 2010.