HUGO

November 29, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. This latest from Martin Scorsese can be fitted with multiple labels and each would be correct: a tribute to the birth of movies, a case for film preservation, a children’s fable, a special effects/3D extravaganza, a family movie with touches of Dickens. Very few directors would tackle such an ambitious project and succeed in producing such a magical experience.

Based on Brian Selznick‘s (relative to the film giant David O. Selznick) children’s book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, this is a story of redemption and fulfillment. Asa Butterfield plays Hugo, made an orphan when his watchmaker father (Jude Law) dies in a fire. Hugo gathers up the project he and his dad had been working on, and  moves in with his drunkard Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone). They live in the walls of a 1930’s Paris train station and maintain all the clocks, ensuring accurate time for travellers. When his uncle disappears, Hugo carries on the daily mission unseen by passengers and station staff. He steals the occasional croissant and milk to survive, all while continuing the mission of repairing the fantastic automaton his dad salvaged. Hugo is convinced there is a hidden message from his father that will be revealed when the automaton is fully functioning.

 Hugo gets cross-ways with a station toy vendor named Georges, played by Sir Ben Kingsley. Georges is a bitter old man and has no time for Hugo the urchin. Chloe Moretz plays Isabelle, a ward unto Georges, and she and Hugo strike up a friendship. Hugo introduces Isabelle to the world of cinema … previously off-limits to her thanks to Georges. She returns the favor by awakening Hugo to the power of books in a store run by the mysterious, and always great, Christopher Lee. All this is happening while Hugo tries to evade the grasp of the oddly dedicated and slightly twisted station inspector played by Sacha Baron Cohen.

 The kids’ research and automaton revealed hint lead them to a film history book written by Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg). It’s here that they discover Georges is really George Melies, the famous pioneer of film who developed the first special effects and studio system. If you know much of film history, then you recognize Melies as the one who brought us the 1902 A Trip to the Moon. It is here that Scorsese delivers a quick recap of the origination of film, including the Lumiere Brothers, the famous clock stunt by Harold Lloyd and other silent film classics like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. The best portion is dedicated to recreating the creative community  used by Melies to produce films with his wife in a make-shift studio.

 It is here that we are allowed to remember just how magical movies can be and how the best ones fill us with a sense of wonderment. The lines between what we feel and what Scorsese is showing us becomes so blurred it no longer matters. As Isabelle is overwhelmed in the theatre, that same feeling sweeps over us. How interesting that Scorsese’s first special effects film features the man who originated film special effects. We even get a re-creation of the famous Lumiere Brothers’ oncoming locomotive clip that caused audiences to jump. We get it in 3D in Hugo’s own station!

 I have been extremely critical of 3D and its misuse in movies these past couple of years. It rarely adds to the movie and always dims the colors and brightness. Scorsese is a firm believer in the technology and set out to show what can be done and how it can compliment the story. While more impressive than any 3D since Avatar, I still have my doubts about the benefits. What I do know is that if you can overlook the story that drags a bit and the possibly unnecessary 3D effects, you will probably find the film to be extremely entertaining and fun to watch. Howard Shore‘s score plays a vital role and supporting work comes from Emily Mortimer, Richard Griffiths, and Helen McCrory. It’s not for the youngest kids, but it will make you feel like a kid … while reminding you that movies are the stuff that dreams are made of.

Note: with a budget of almost $170 million, there is almost no chance that this film turns a profit, but for full effect, I would encourage you to see this on the big screen.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you can enjoy a tribute to film history wrapped in a family film designed to flaunt the power of 3D OR you have a pretty smart kid aged 8 or older who could appreciate the most impressive movie prop of the year (automaton).

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you lean towards a cynical mindset and are unlikely to open up for a big budget children’s fable making a case for film preservation

watch the trailer:

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SHUTTER ISLAND (2010)

February 20, 2010

(2-19-10)

 Greetings again from the darkness. Ahh yes, the psychological thriller is my favorite movie genre. Not sure what that says about me. There are so few good ones, at least since Alfred Hitchcock passed on. Director Martin Scorsese often includes some psychological warfare in his films, but with Shutter Island, he leaps feet first into the world of the criminally insane.

This is a very difficult film to comment on because it is crucial that the viewer watch with a clean slate … in other words, don’t let someone toss out some spoilers if you plan to see the film. All I will say regarding the story is that it’s fun to watch and my brain was working non-stop the whole time (that’s a good thing!).  Scorcese uses many different camera angles, close-ups and bright red to go with they island storm.  The film has some of the style of his Cape Fear, but even more darkness to the story, as here, EVERY character is a bit off center.

Scorsese has, as usual, assembled an excellent cast. Leonardo DiCaprio takes the lead as Teddy. His partner is played by Mark Ruffalo and they “investigate” the disappearance of a patient from Shutter Island – a treatment center for the criminally insane. This is no vacation island and at the center is a civil war fort that houses the worst of the worst. The creepy place is run by Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow, who could both make afternoon English Tea seem downright ominous.

The cast is so strong that Emily Mortimer and Patricia Clarkson are basically limited to one scene each and Jackie Earle Haley continues his resurgence with a wicked one on one scene with Leo. Michelle Williams makes her appearances via flashbacks, visions and sweaty, late night dreams. By the end of the film, her ugly yellow dress was itself a frightening prop.

To cap off the mental and emotional turmoil, Scorsese adds an unusual score that at first seems overbearing at odd times, but later reveals itself to have been “right” all along. My favorite shot of the film is at the very beginning when the ferry first breaks through the fog. Funny enough, it was ME in a fog for the next 2 hours!