Film #18: Hugo (2011)
Hugo is unusual fare for director Martin Scorsese, whose films usually revolve around violent crimes or troubled psyches (or, in the case of Cape Fear, both). Instead, Scorsese’s latest work is an about-face, a family mystery film following its 12 year-old title character in 1931 Paris. Hugo lives within the walls of a large railway station, a drab existence resulting from an accident that killed his father (Jude Law) and the negligence of his drunken uncle (Ray Winstone). Before his father, a clockmaker, died, he infected Hugo with the wonders of machinery, especially in the case of an old broken automaton. Hoping to find some sort of message from his late father, Hugo sets to work fixing the machine with the help of Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the goddaughter of an angry shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley) who resents Hugo for his thievery.
February 26, 2012 | Categories: 7 - 7.5, Adventure, Drama, Family, Fantasy, Genre, Ratings | Tags: 2011, academy awards, asa butterfield, ben kingsley, brian selznick, Chloë Grace Moretz, christopher lee, emily mortimer, frances de la tour, Georges Méliès, howard shore, hugo, john logan, jude law, martin scorsese, michael stuhlbarg, oscars, ray winstone, richard griffiths, sacha baron cohen, the invention of hugo cabret, voyage to the moon | Leave a comment
Released during the waning days of summer, one could easily look to Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion as the movie to bridge summer blockbusters and the autumn run of award fodder. Indeed, this was what I had heard going into the movie, so I was disappointed to find that Contagion is a strikingly mediocre film that desperately needs to trim down its characters and subplots.
September 12, 2011 | Categories: 6 - 6.5, Genre, Ratings, Thriller | Tags: gwyneth paltrow, jennifer ehle, jude law, kate winslet, laurence fishburne, marion cotillard, matt damon, scott z. burns, steven soderbergh | 3 Comments
Sherlock Holmes is a character that everyone knows. He has survived for well over a century now, and has been re-imagined in various books, television shows, and films. The latest cinematic interpretation of this beloved character comes from Guy Ritchie, well known for his British crime films such as Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. The fact that Ritchie is known for films that are fast-paced and action-packed, and that Holmes is a detective who is praised mostly for his intelligence and logic, should raise a few concerns to anyone familiar with both figures. Indeed, the pairing ends up being unsuitable, and the result is a mildly entertaining but mostly forgettable adventure film.
The movie follows Holmes and his trusty sidekick Watson as they examine the case of Lord Blackwood, a villain that they begin the movie with by capturing but who appears to have risen from the dead. Amidst all this chaos is the threat of Watson’s fiance stealing his services away from Holmes, as well as a femme fatale that has a special and not entirely sexual relationship with the famous detective.
Holmes is re-envisioned for this film. Ritchie makes it very clear that this Holmes is still very deductive and intelligent, but that he has translated these intellectual skills into brawn. In two of the better sequences, Holmes plans out his movements in a fight and then executes them perfectly, allowing the audience to see exactly how Holmes determined he would kick that guy’s ass. Unfortunately, save for a few requisite instances of Holmes filling everyone else in with small but apparently sufficient clues, the rest of the movie just features Sherlock as a fighter and not a thinker. Fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories might be disappointed with the lack of fidelity here, but of course, much of the movie-going audience doesn’t bother with literature anymore and will probably be more pleased with this action-packed hot wired version of the super sleuth.
The lead actors is what makes this film somewhat enjoyable. Robert Downey, Jr. fits into the title role easily, especially with the bare knuckle brawling reincarnation. As a man who has struggled with his own addictions in the past, I was hoping that Downey’s Holmes might at least be faithful in the fact that he was a cocaine addict. Unfortunately, the closest Ritchie comes to this is a scene showing that Holmes is apparently a severe boozer (something I’m not sure a real detective would be able to support). The scene probably conveys the proper sense of unkempt problematic drug use, with Jude Law’s Watson having to pick up the intoxicated pieces of Holmes, but it still cheats by using the legal drug instead of the real deal (shouldn’t be that big of a deal, really, since cocaine was legal in these times).
Jude Law also works well as a more mature and straight-edged Watson. Many people have said that the chemistry between the two leads is the film’s saving grace, and that it plays out like some sort of “bromance”. This is true, and their banter and playful interactions should be enough to entertain even the most jaded Doyle fan whose hopes for the picture have shattered by the end of the first sequence.
The rest of the cast is disappointing. Mark Strong plays the most bored-looking villain I’ve seen in quite a while. Sometimes he seemed really severe, but most of the time it seemed like his eyes were on the verge of glazing over as he recited his cringingly bad dialogue. Rachel McAdams was entirely unnecessary. I’m convinced that her character was only there to serve two low purposes: sex appeal and sequel set-up.
The best sequences in the film are the action scenes, but really, they’re all so loosely tied together that sometimes you forget how they started or what the stakes are. The 19th Century English setting is really well-done, and is a good use of CGI in this film – a lot of the dangers and obstacles during the action sequences are an equally weighted bad use.
Most of all, the film just isn’t intelligent enough for its subject. Running around in tunnels beneath Parliament, somehow our characters come out on top of a huge London bridge under construction for the mediocre climax. And while Holmes may be privy to the cognitive biases that ruin most peoples’ perceptions and ideas, his observation skills are explained here as being the result of a sort of supersensitivity to sight and sound. I’m not sure how to feel about that decision, but I do know that I wish the character had done a bit less ass-kicking and a lot more thinking. This is a character that is so awesome because of his relentless faith in science and logic, but Ritchie has turned him into just another Hollywood action hero. As Downey Jr. says in the film, “Crime is common, logic is rare”. Apparently too rare, for it seems to be missing from this standard action adventure fare.
Final rating: 6/10
–James A. Janisse
After their successful collaboration in Gangs of New York, Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio became a director/actor team, following that success with 2004’s The Aviator. Scorsese’s epic biopic follows DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, the famous aviator, filmmaker and entrepreneur. The movie takes place from the 20s to the 40s, and includes depictions of well-known stars of the era, including Katherine Hepburn (played by Cate Blanchett) and Ava Gardner (Kate Beckinsale).
The Aviator is like the man whose story it tells, in that it has huge ideas and grand ambitions. The film celebrates its setting with very vivid depictions of the decades it goes through. Hughes is certainly a man interesting enough to fill such a lofty film, with his unrestrained ambitions and obsessive compulsive personality disorder. DiCaprio proves that he is a true leading man who doesn’t have to rely on his good looks and heart-throbbing teen fans. He really embraces the role, accent and all, and fits into it nicely. He manages to fit the character’s needs and is able to balance between paranoid, eccentric, and brilliant.
Hughes is certainly a complex character, and one of my complaints with the story is that it prefaces his anxiety disorder with a single, short scene where his mother warns him about germs. I realize that your environment growing up may have some impact on an eventual psychological affliction, but to imply that his problem is caused by this in a throwaway scene feels kind of cheap.
Throughout the film, Hughes faces some crises. After a very well-shot and fantastic looking flight scene, Hughes crashes in what is easily the most intense sequence of the movie. Another scene near the end of the film, after his sanity and stability has almost entirely eroded away, there’s a sequence of him at his low-point, locked in a room and compulsively lining up jars of his urine. Another problem with the movie is his unexplained and instant recoveries from these incidents. The plane crash severely injures him, but just a few scenes later he’s walking around with no visible evidence that his body had ever been put through the trauma. And minutes after he is in his paranoid depravity, he is presenting a legitimate defense in court. This uneven roller coaster of fortune for Hughes minimizes the power of his highs and lows; they don’t stand out because they’re likely to be ignored shortly.
Despite the film following a considerable portion of Hughes’ career, it still feels like a bit of a light grazing over. I was left with my historical interest in Hughes the man unsatiated. The film definitely is more about Hughes as a person than the things that he does, probably because of the strong performance available with DiCaprio. He’s not the only strong performance, either; in fact the entire cast is very strong.
Cate Blanchett probably commands the most attention for her portrayal of Katherine Hepburn. I thought her first scene during the golf outing was a bit exaggerated, but then again, her character is one of many layers and controlled outward appearances, so after you learn that it becomes palatable. Kate Beckinsale is also satisfactory. Gwen Stefani and Jude Law show up in small but pleasant roles. Alan Alda, playing against his usual type, and Alec Baldwin, playing exactly with his own, team up as a very great and entertaining antagonistic duo. And John C. Reilly once again brings a great performance to a secondary but important character who helps bring a down-to-earth perspective in the midst of Hughes’ head-in-the-clouds ideas.
The direction is superb, as should be expected from such a venerable filmmaker. Scorsese’s compositions show great attention to lighting and colors, with many rooms and locales having their own unique color schemes. He uses an upside-down tracking shot at one point, but also includes plenty of long, exploratory shots that offer comprehensive readings. The editing disappointed me a bit, but this was because of mostly minor errors including ones of continuity.
Overall, the film is an enjoyable look into the life of one of America’s most eccentric and ambitious businessmen. Its length begins to be noticeable near the end, and some pretty shallow explanations and turning points definitely detract from the story, but the cast is top-notch and the direction is great. It may not be his best, but it certainly doesn’t detract from Scorcese’s filmography.
Final rating: 6.5/10
–James A. Janisse
January 15, 2010 | Categories: 6 - 6.5, Biography, Drama, Genre, History, Ratings | Tags: alan alda, alec baldwin, cate blanchett, gwen stefani, john c. reilly, john logan, jude law, kate beckinsale, leonardo dicaprio, martin scorsese | Leave a comment