Thursday, December 29, 2011

Hugo: Not Just a Story About a Creepy Robot

Ah, home for the holidays. Nothing like spending one awesome day with your entire family and then collapsing into that whole "well...what do we do now?" period after Christmas and before New Year's Day. What did my family do, you ask? One guess.

Hint: it begins with an 'M'...

In my family, my mother, youngest brother, and I have a tendency to go to the movies when we don't know what to do with ourselves. It's like the supercalifragilisticexpialidocious of actions, if you will; the something to do when you have nothing to do at all. So our family-friendly trio opted to go see Hugo for this year's round of post-Christmas dead time.

Judging from what I had of the preview I was mostly going on the ideas of "this looks really pretty" and "omigod this is a kid's movie directed by Scorsese!" Admittedly, I was a little skeptical about how good it would be as the well-known director's first attempt at a different audience, but I was pleasantly surprised at the end result.

The film begins with the story of a young boy named Hugo (Asa Butterfield) who lives in a Parisian train station. As we learn early-on, Hugo's father died in a museum fire and he was left to his uncle to help keep the clocks of the station in working order. But Hugo's uncle has since disappeared and he continues to work the clocks in order to keep himself off the radar of the bumbling station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). After getting caught stealing parts from the booth of a toymaker (Ben Kingsley) the boy's cherished notebook, filled with pictures of parts for an automaton that he and his father were repairing, is taken away from him. Hugo is extremely distraught, even following the old man back to his house to try and get it back. In an attempt to win back this notebook, he befriends the toymaker's foster daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). Armed with a taste for adventure from her many books, Isabelle urges him to embark with her on an adventure to fix Hugo's broken "automaton" (robot, to you and I). During this journey, they find out a message that the automaton's been hiding, and with it Papa George's secret past.

Beautiful cinematography: ready, set, go!

Without giving too much away (or at least trying not to..), what they find out is strongly attached to the early history of film itself, making the film largely a love letter to cinema. Showcasing clips from early films such as Train Entering a Station, The Kiss, The Great Train Robbery, and A Trip to the Moon, Scorsese takes a young audience's attention and directs it to a subject that most children do not learn until they are college-bound. This movie sneakily incorporates a good deal of film history into a children's adventure plot, which of course makes crazy cinephiles like me absolutely delighted. It manages to capture the majority of film's modest beginnings without seeming like it's going off on a tangent, and thus keeps the mystery of the plot intact while teaching history.

In terms of the feel of the movie, I've got to say, it's beautifully shot. Everything is in crystal-clear high definition and the lighting in every shot is gorgeous. Each frame could be placed on a wall as art. The movie is also shot somewhat idealistically and romantically, reflecting in itself glamorous films of the 20s, and giving a nod to Oscar glam in the end scene.

What's the Great Depression?

That being said, perhaps the reflexive nature of the film is a bit much for a children's movie. Everything was just slightly heavier than most kid's movies are, which is a somewhat common mistake that directors make, in my own humble opinion (anyone else hate The Polar Express? Bleh.). For example, while I would say that all of the acting was very well done by the young actors Butterfield and Moretz (who I love. Please see Let Me In), there was a certain maturity to it that left them seeming a little unrealistic to some degree. Although that was probably on purpose (I imagine most children that live in train stations by themselves are slightly more mature than their peers), I had a hard time viewing them as regular children, and thus had trouble empathizing a little. Hugo has some moments that seem overly sentimental, which I feel is a little weird for a boy. Perhaps I'm being picky, but I should also admit that I have a low tolerance for sap (unless it's hilariously overdone. As in every Lifetime movie I've ever seen) and I have two extremely non-emotional little brothers who seem to foil Hugo.

Another qualm that I certainly have with the film is the creepy robot kid. In the days of such movies as Child's Play, I, Robot, and Surrogates, I was waiting for the damn thing to come alive and kill people for the entire movie. Also he keeps on staring at Hugo in, like, every scene. Dear Martin Scorsese: Why in God's name would you place a message from a poor boy's dead father in such a freakin' creepy "automaton"? Yeesh...

After a string of murders the children regretted ever fixing the damaged robot.

But besides Creepy Robot Child, the movie is actually quite a pleasure to watch. For those of you with a passion for film without much knowledge of how it came to be, I certainly hope that you will check this out and that it will pique your interest in learning the history of film (as I'm sure Sir Scorsese planned...sneaky man...).

Touche Scorsese, and well done.

Four outa five stars.

PS Sacha Baron Cohen is the funniest person in this movie. If for no other reason, see it to see his performance.

Also, here's the preview in case you need more persuasion to see how pretty it is.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tower Heist (aka Working Class People Rock)

Met up with Mom yesterday at the Cumberland Mall and decided that we needed more time to hang out with each other. So we did what we do best: we went to the movies. Apparently 2:00 PM is a very unpopular time to be screening films because the only things available were Breaking Dawn (couldn't bring ourselves to do it) and Tower Heist.

Shazam.

Now I wasn't too thrilled at first to be watching Tower Heist. THe movie was highly anticipated but after Thanksgiving I don't really recall hearing anything at all about it, and seeing Eddie Murphy made me a little skeptical (let's face it, after the disasters of Pluto Nash, Norbit, Imagine That, and Meet Dave, there has been little to redeem this poor man). But Tower Heist actually ended up being a pretty bearable movie, thanks to an awesome supporting cast and a plot that would interest people that have been perhaps screwed over by the recession (99%? Anyone?).

The plot revolves around Ben Stiller's character, Josh (he doesn't look like a Josh to me, but I digress..), who is the expert concierge of a high class apartment complex called The Tower. The man who owns The Tower, Arthur Shaw (played menacingly by Allan Alda), is pretty tight with Josh in the beginning and one gets the vibe that Josh kind of looks up to him as a father-type figure. But trouble strikes when we learn that Shaw is being investigated for fraud and that Josh invested all the staff's paychecks in his stock (or something...finanace isn't my thing. But basically all you have to know is that Josh screwed up by trusting this guy and everybody loses money cuz of him).

SO! Josh, feeling extremely guilty that these people don't have money because of him, decides to get back at Shaw and hence plans a Tower Heist (see what I did there?).

I'm pretty sure this is how they did it in Ocean's 11..

This film was actually kind of unexpectedly charming. The major plotters of the heist are adorably inexperienced. Matthew Broderick plays the hilariously bankrupt Wall Street banker, Mr. Fitzhugh, and I'd be lying if I said he wasn't my favorite character in the entire film. Additionally, Eddie Murphy, Casey Affleck, and Michael Pena made up an unbeatable team to match (and even overshadow) Stiller's charming underdog character.

In an interesting twist, the movie doesn't get caught up in gadgets and impeccable timing like other espionage movies. The film is obviously unrealistic, but is honest in that it never pretends that these guys are anything but working class heroes. Even Fitzhugh, who was an investment banker (or something else high up) is equal to the others in that he now has nothing. This film sort of realizes the problems of the recession, the issues with the wealthy, and the endless loop of unrecognized hard work and battles it with the camaraderie, love, and humor of the lower middle class.

I'm mildly surprised that this movie didn't do better actually. The ending isn't 100% happy, but if puts the working class in the position of martyr for the greater good, making honor more important than happiness (which is maybe hinting at an attitude that we should try). The only thing that bugged me about this film's sort of social agenda is the fact that these actors are top-grossing comedians who aren't technically in the 99%, so the material was therefore a little hard to swallow since you're kind of watching it and thinking "well, no offense, Ben Stiller, but I'm not buyin' it". So maybe I just answered my own question, haha, but check it out for yourself.

Your sack lunch does not fool us, Ben Stiller.

(Also, disclaimer: if you have a hard time watching people dangle from extremely high heights, make sure you cover your eyes)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Just as a side note...

I feel like I should acknowledge the fact that I failed my own challenge of watching 10 Thanksgiving movies. Sorry, kids. Guess it's hard to promote a holiday that's more based on food than most things.

Sorry, little guy.