November 28, 2011

Hugo - 2011

Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: John Logan
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace-Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helen McCrory, Christopher Lee, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jude Law

Hugo (Butterfield) is an orphan living in a train station, continuing the Herculean task of his late father (Law): reconstructing a mysterious automaton. When he meets Isabel (Grace-Moretz), a young girl who somehow has a key to the strange device, the two discover a long-buried secret about her godfather (Kingsley).

I'd be lying if I said I didn't consider Hugo to be a brilliant piece of cinema. Virtually anything Scorsese goes to work on ends up great; while Shutter Island wasn't one of my favorites, it was still far from terrible. The cast he cobbled together is nothing short of wonderful. Between this and Kick-Ass, Grace-Moretz has proven her worth double that of some actresses twice her age. Butterfield, who had his breakout role in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, also shows he's more than your standard child star. Kingsley is tremendous as always, and Cohen is as enjoyable as he was in Sweeney Todd, another script by Logan, rather than his usually intolerable roles in his own pictures. The story is straightforward enough to be enjoyed by all ages, which aids in Scorsese's debut in the realm of non-adult fare. Unfortunately, I think that the reports of Scorsese's skill with the 3D have been greatly exaggerated, despite his great attempt to replicate the response early audiences had when first seeing Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat. The third act plays out more as Scorsese's love letter to the old films moreso than one the audience at large might identify with, and film buffs may enjoy the latter half more than the average moviegoer, but Hugo is a triumph nonetheless. A

November 25, 2011

The Descendants - 2011

Director: Alexander Payne
Cowriters: Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon, & Jim Rash
Starring: George Clooney, Shailene Woodley, Beau Bridges, Matthew Lillard, Judy Greer

After his wife slips into a coma, Hawaiian native Matt King (Clooney) must become a father to his two daughters with renewed vigor. However, a wrinkle comes into play when one of King's daughters tells him about an affair his wife was having before her accident.

Payne's last film was Sideways all the way back in 2004, and I'm glad as hell to see him back. While the protagonists of the three films of his I've seen could be said to share a basic archetype, that doesn't make them any less enjoyable. This time he's working with Clooney, who's pitch perfect as the haole (white Hawaiian) struggling to keep his life together while tackling a B-plot related to the sale of some family land. It's this secondary storyline that seems a bit excessive, but otherwise it's a spectacular film. The cinematography shows off the natural beauty and Hawaii, and all of the cast is terrific, right on down to the newcomers portraying King's daughters. I hope Payne doesn't wait seven years for his next film. A

November 1, 2011

The Rum Diary - 2011

I've realized that writing about these wide-release films is an exercise in redundancy, so enjoy the videos alone from this point onward!

Martha Marcy May Marlene - 2011

Director: Sean Durkin
Writer: Sean Durkin
Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, Sarah Paulson, Hugh Dancy

After escaping from a brutal cult in the Catskill Mountains led by the enigmatic Patrick (Hawkes), Martha (Olsen) struggles to reacclimate to society, despite the best efforts of her sister (Paulson) and brother-in-law (Dancy).

Yet another spectacular independent film, and a debut from so many involved on top of that. One caveat: this is going to be a little hard to find; I only saw it because I happened to be in Los Angeles at the time, and its second weekend of release only saw it in four theaters overall. Regardless, I feel the need to spread its gospel. Hawkes, who many recognize from last year's Winter's Bone, gives another stirring performance, capturing the essence of the typical backwoods cult leader figure. Paulson and Dancy are good enough to get by, though we don't really spend enough time with those characters for anything substantial to develop. However, the true shining point of the film is the performance of the youngest Olsen. While this isn't the first time she's been in front of a camera by any means, it's not only her first lead role, but also more substantial than anything her sisters ever did (combined or separately). Her actions are never over-the-top, nor do they seem unrealistic for someone in her character's horrifying circumstances. The writer/director makes excellent use of flashbacks in conjunction with match cuts, and the story of cult experiences unfolds surprisingly naturally alongside the reassimilation. The foley mix is a bit high in certain scenes, and one forest scene isn't lit well enough to see the actors' faces when you need to, but the film suffers little for its technical errors. A-