REVIEW: Hugo

10 01 2012

It’s slightly disingenuous to make a film all about the magic of the movies and then have little to offer itself in the way of enchantment, but that’s what Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” is – take it or leave it.  His ode to the pioneering days of cinema, when trailblazers like the Lumière Brothers began making movies and Georges Méliès invented special effects, is definitely heartfelt and powerful enough to awaken plenty of latent nostalgia.  However, his movie serves as a better tribute to their genius than it does as an equally majestic film deserving to stand alongside them in the annals of history.

What I left the theater being nostalgic for was “Goodfellas” and “The Departed” and “Gangs of New York.”  While I certainly admire Scorsese for taking on a radically different project, and good for Paramount to give him $150 million to realize this passion of his, I missed the bullet-riddled, F-bomb filled director that I’ve come to love.  It’s a very finely crafted movie, clearly the work of an expert like Scorsese.  All of the below-the-line elements are as good as ever with his usual suspects – editor Thelma Schoonmaker, costume designer Sandy Powell, production designer Dante Ferretti, and cinematographer Robert Richardson – returning to whisk us away to a train station in 1930s Paris with astounding precision.

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REVIEW: Cars 2

2 07 2011

Your favorite Pixar characters are back … and not a moment too soon!  In a fun-filled laugh riot, all your old friends remind you of the magic and charm you are supposed to feel while sitting in a movie.  There’s that characteristic Pixar wit that you just know will still be funny years from now with a nice helping of heart.

Oh, I’m sorry, did you think I was talking about “Cars 2?”  My apologies, that opening paragraph was referring to “Hawaiian Vacation,” the short film before the movie featuring the characters from “Toy Story 3.”  The latest Pixar summer outing brings back some of the most forgettable characters in their vast universe of animation, Lightning McQueen and the down-home American cars from Radiator Springs.

Thankfully, “Cars 2” feels like less of a letdown that it should following Best Picture nominees “Up” and “Toy Story 3” because it only has to live up to a prestigious brand name, not a beloved original.  In fact, it may be the rare summer sequel that is just as good as (if not better than) its predecessor.  Neither have the heart or storytelling prowess of the Pixar classics, but watching John Lasseter and pals do sub-par work is better than watching most other animated movies nowadays.

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REVIEW: City Island

18 01 2011

There have been plenty of dysfunctional family movies inundating movie theaters in recent memory, both of the dramatic and comedic variety.  “City Island” is of the latter type, which often tend to be more cliched and forgettable.  While I hate to make the claim that this is some fantastic entry into the genre that will forever stick out in my mind, it did make for one really great watch that I thoroughly enjoyed.

It’s nothing highly original, but the movie is presented with enough panache for it to be entirely excusable.  The weapon of choice in writer/director Raymond De Felitta’s arsenal is dramatic irony, or for those of you rusty on your literary terms, the art of the secret.  Everyone in the Rizzo family is guarding one closely, and it mediates their interactions with all the other family members.

Patriarch Vince (Andy Garcia) works as a prison guard but is an aspiring actor attending classes without his wife’s knowledge.  Mother Joyce (Julianne Marguiles) has lost all feelings of affection in her marriage and seeks outlets for her disillusionment.  Daughter Vivianne has become a stripper.  Son Vince Jr. has a fetish for obese women.  And then there’s the strange houseguest Tony (Steven Strait), who Vince brings home from the slammer without telling his family that it’s his illegitimate son from a past relationship.

We know the Rizzo family’s business, but they have no idea what’s going on with each other.  The movie is crafted carefully to bring revelation upon revelation until it all boils down to one heck of a comedic climax where all comes out into the open.  You can see the scene coming from a mile away, yet it’s still exciting and hilarious to watch.  The climax represents “City Island” in a nutshell: predictable but fun against all odds.  B+





REVIEW: Shutter Island

27 02 2010

Shutter Island” is director Martin Scorsese’s first movie since he floored the Academy (as well as one semi-notable movie blogger) with “The Departed,” which only serves to set the bar sky-high to clear.  It would take another modern classic to surpass “The Departed,” and this isn’t that.  However, this is high-octane, heart-pumping Hollywood entertainment that delivers the chills and thrills.

Keep in mind, though, this is Scorsese we are talking about here.  “Shutter Island” is no Michael Bay movie.  It succeeds largely because of that unique Scorsese vision which has been the driving force behind two of my all-time favorite movies.  It’s important to know that he isn’t trying to make a “Taxi Driver” out of Dennis Lehane’s novel; this is an homage to the classic horror films of Hitchcock and the like.  If you get déjà vu at all, it will probably more to “The Shining” than to “GoodFellas.”

The movie explores the line between insanity and reality as two federal marshals (Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo) investigate the disappearance of a patient at an asylum.  As Teddy Daniels’ (DiCaprio) observations progress, we come to two important realizations.  The first is that Teddy has something more on his mind than merely investigating a missing patient.  The second, and by far the most important, is that there is something more than just lingering seasickness affecting Teddy’s mind.

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What To Look Forward To in … February 2010

7 01 2010

We’re still in some hazy territory in the month of February, but the new decade looks to give this month some much needed energy.  Fueled by two movies originally scheduled for release in 2009, I might actually drop a good amount of change at the movies in February (not just on repeat viewings of Oscar nominees).

February 5

Put “The Notebook” in front of anything and you are guaranteed a flock of screaming girls coming with boyfriends in tow.  Put wildly popular model/actor Channing Tatum in the poster and you can add some more girls aside from the hopeless romantics.  “Dear John” has just that: a super sweet story from author Nicholas Sparks and girl eye candy Tatum.  Thankfully for the guys, the filmmakers cast Amanda Seyfried (“Jennifer’s Body”), who isn’t so bad on the eyes either.

I’m a little weary to endorse “From Paris with Love,” another John Travolta villain movie.  He’s only good at playing subtle ones (“Pulp Fiction”) with the exception of “Face/Off.”  2009’s “The Taking of Pelham 123” was a disaster mainly because of Travolta and his villainy established only by constantly dropping the F-bomb.  Potential redemption here?  I’ll need positive word of mouth before I watch Travolta go evil again.

February 12

“Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” is the name given to the film adaptation of Rick Riordan’s kids novel “The Lightning Thief.” Clearly Fox is setting up a franchise with the title, and they picked the right place to stake the claim. I read the book in seventh grade, and it is the real deal. I even got a chance to have lunch with the author, Riordan, who is one of the neatest people I have ever met. Whether they ruin it or not is yet to be known, but the movie is being helmed by Chris Columbus, the man who got the “Harry Potter” series flying. That has to count for something.

If Pierce Brosnan isn’t a big enough star to draw you to the aforementioned movie, you should find solace in “Valentine’s Day,” which features just about every romantic comedy actor ever. Literally, I can’t even list all of the stars of the movie here. The post would just be too darn big. Garry Marshall, director of “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries,” is in charge here, so I find some comfort in that. But if the movie flops, this will be a high-profile disappointment.

Sorry girls, the werewolf in “The Wolfman” is not played by Taylor Lautner. Academy Award-winning actor Benicio del Toro metamorphasizes in Victorian England into the hairy beast when the moon is ripe.  This werewolf is not based on cheeky teen lit but on the 1941 horror classic.  And this adaptation is rated R for “bloody horror violence and gore.”  Get ready for some intense clawing.

A big winner at Cannes and a contender for the Best Foreign Film at this year’s Academy Awards, “A Prophet” is a foreign film that may be worth a look.

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