Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Martin Scorsese's latest film, Hugo, is a wonder of whirring gears and Parisian light. It's a little difficult to say exactly what this film is about, except to say that there is a little boy who lives in the clock tower who fixes clocks, and, in relationships he develops before our eyes, he fixes people as well.

Hugo becomes an orphan when his father (Jude Law) died at the museum one day and his uncle comes to claim him. His uncle puts the boy into the clock tower and then is never seen again. Hugo keeps the clocks running, and steals food at the train station in order to live. But he also tries to steal mechanical toys, which are put out to entice customers by the shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley). Most of the action takes place in this French rail station, including chase scenes involving the station's gendarme (Sacha Baron Cohen) and the boy.

But there are several secrets that will be revealed during the running of the film, as the drama plays out in relationships between the boy and the toy shopkeeper as well as the shopkeeper's granddaughter. While I won't reveal these secrets, most of them have to do with the beginning of the art of the motion picture.

I found the movie quite show-moving, a bit boring, in the telling. However, most of my friends who have seen the movie adored it, loved the slow evolvement, and one even thought it one of the most perfect movies she had ever seen.

The delights are in the characterizations, particularly Sacha Baron Cohen as the policeman in the rail station. He gets plenty of film time, and if you're used to him being overbearingly tasteless, this is a different Cohen, an actor who is magnificent as physical comedy.

I felt the film needed the comedy bits because the entire mood is terribly serious and I was put off by that. But Scorsese's films are always visually arresting, and in 3D, this is triply so. And Scorsese obviously loved dealing with a matter close to his heart, the preservation of the history of film.

Thumb's up.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Drive is a perfect little movie.

A young man (Ryan Gosling) is a Hollywood stuntman on the occasional day, as well as a mechanic, but a getaway driver by night. The best in this nefarious business, he gives everyone a little speech before he works for them, telling exactly what he will do and what he won't do. No one gets close, except for his auto mechanic boss (Bryan Cranston), who sets him up for jobs. And all goes smoothly until he meets the woman who lives down the hall in his apartment building, and her young son.

We never do find out The Driver's name, but then again, that's how he would like it. Totally walled off from human emotion, he goes about his business being perfect and contained. When he meets the demure Irene (Carey Mulligan), however, something in him wants to take care of her and her son, Benicio. It's this strange caring feeling that carries over to her boyfriend who gets out of prison (played by Oscar Isaac), when The Driver offers to help pry him away from the mob's control.

There is no role in The Driver that is small and unimportant, and every actor plays each role perfectly. Oscar Isaac (lately of Sucker Punch), for instance, could be the hardass criminal, but instead shows an honesty, a sincere, caring side that helps The Driver decide that he must protect this growing family. And you'll be surprised when you see Albert Brooks as one of the mob guys. Brooks' and Perlman's characters are interestingly Siamese twins, partners in crime, and it's intriguing to see how that works, and how nasty it gets.

Of course, Gosling and Mulligan are the ones to watch. Gosling has such few lines, and Mulligan has very little to do. But it's how they do it. Stunning.

There is one scene that is very telling of their relationship, a scene in an elevator with no dialogue at all. The Driver and Irene enter the elevator at their apartment building with another unknown man. The Driver recognizes the danger, and gently pushes Irene aside, and then launches himself on the stranger, beating him over and over, until he's a pulpish, bloody mass. Irene backs away from the elevator when the doors open, horrified at the scene and at this man she was beginning to know.

Thumb's up.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The Debt

The movie opens as three Israeli heroes disembark the cargo craft in Tel Aviv. Everyone shakes hands, everyone smiles. The movie then flashes back to reveal what actually happened that made these two young men and a woman so celebrated.

So, I thought, I've already seen this, they've told us what happened, so why would they show it again? Except I was wrong. What took place isn't what I was expecting at all.

And when we flash forward some 40 years later, Helen Mirren takes over for the young Rachel. She's got the accent, the fire in the eyes. The two other actors playing the mature versions of the young men aren't as fortunate. Tom Wilkinson, one of our finest, and most prolific, actors today, totally carries off the mannerisms and even speech patterns of young Stephan, but he looks nothing like him. Ciaran Hinds plays the other older version, David, and doesn't quite convince us.

But don't let that put you off. The drama is alive, the tension is tough to take, and the acting is superb. One of the main reasons I wanted to see this film was because of Marton Csokas, who is a charismatic actor, but they're all good. And I'm now convinced that Worthington can act, something his previous outings (Avatar, Clash of the Titans) failed to do. And Jessica Chastain, who plays young Rachel -- well, you can't keep your eyes off her. And it becomes evident from the first time we see her that young Rachel is the focal point of the movie.

There were several scenes in the 1960's sequences that were really hard to watch. Not torture, but exposure to pure evil. But rather than make me avert my eyes, those scenes allowed me to identify with Rachel and feel for her.

But don't think that Mirren doesn't get her chances. The last several minutes of the film are devoted to her, when the older Rachel must become a Mossad agent once again. Riveting.

Thumb's up.