Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Artist ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Hugo ★ ★ ½

The Artist  Release Dates: Australia  2ND February 2012
USA 20th January 2012      UK 30th December 2011   Other countries

Hugo Release Dates: Australia  12th January 2012  Other countries


A film reviewer is a film lover and we happily take the good with the bad, watching the hundreds of movies a year that our passion demands.  We groan restlessly at the bad ones and buzz enthusiastically when we watch something truly remarkable.
 For many of us, slightly older film buffs, our love affair began with black and whites and—I know I am aging myself—silent films.  After school I would sit enthralled watching the antics of the Keystone Cops and the Marx Brothers—no, I wasn’t born in that era; they were reruns in the sixties.

But as time and technology marches on you expect more from your cinema experience and I must admit I am now a big “Blockbuster” fan with all the technological bells and whistles.
So, this week, I watched both ends of the spectrum dealing with the same subject matter—The Artist and Hugo. The former preview I attended, thinking how can a black and white, silent movie be as good as its PR?  And the latter viewing carried with it great anticipation.  My reaction to both, though was very different.

The Artist, set in Hollywood 1927, written and directed by MICHEL HAZANAVICIUS is the story of George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) one of Hollywood’s reigning silent screen idols.  He is the epitome of gorgeous leading man stardom, carrying the swagger and arrogance to boot.  Early in the story he crosses paths with young dancer Peppy Miller (Bérénice Bejo), and it is clear there is chemistry but circumstances separate them before anything can progress.
 Two years later, talkies are arriving and George sticks his head in the sand as Al Zimmer (John Goodman), head of Kinograph, shows him this exciting technology.  The rest is almost a ‘Star is Born’ story as George’s star wanes just as Peppy’s rises.

In Hugo, directed by Martin Scorsese, and set in 1930s Paris, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living in the walls of a train station.  He spends his time avoiding the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), whilst attempting to solve a mystery involving his late father and an automaton—a kind of a wind up clockwork mechanism robot. With the aid of his new friend Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), he eventually uncovers the secrets of an embittered shopkeeper Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley).
The film is captured beautifully with superb lighting and rich, deep colours and stunning 3D sweeping views across Paris and through the train station.  The setting is as intricate and detailed as you will see in any film, and the actors would have spent most of the filming before green screens, in order for the digital artists to later weave their considerable magic.

            Without giving too much away the story is really about maintaining the preservation and respect of early black and white film. Hugo is Scorsese’s tribute to the origins of filmmaking, just as The Artist is Michel Hazanavicius’.
              My experience of both films, though, is poles apart and is not due to whizz bang effects.  In the initial twenty minutes of The Artist I felt myself rebelling against the lack of technology.  I didn’t want to watch a film without colour or sound—and try opening a packet of crisps quietly in a crowded cinema during a silent film (not easy). 

              But as the frames flickered by, we the audience were drawn in to this world to the point where you forget there are no spoken words.  All you see is an age old story, superbly acted and crafted, unfolding before you.  By the time it is over, you understand you’ve just participated in something magical.

              The whole family attended Hugo, and despite its mastery of all things film technological, my nine year old’s comment half way through was, ‘Too much talking. It’s a little boring.’  And yes, I agreed.  With everything thrown at it, it failed on the one point which is important to a book or a film; it was too wordy and too determined to prove its point.

              With Hugo’s current, wide release, box office gross only $55 million (USA) against a $170 million estimated gross and The Artist’s current $12 million (USA) against its $15 million estimated gross on limited screen release, I hope a message has been sent to Hollywood.  Tell the story first and use the special effects to supplement.  Keep your scripts tight and show, don’t tell.

              And from  the mouth of a nine year old critic, to those who wield the big cheques, too much talking is boring, no matter how pretty your picture or fabulous your Director.  I realise I am going against critical opinion but Hugo fell far short of its promise and premise and it is not a film for children despite the advertising being aimed squarely at them. 
If you desire a rare treat and want to skip lightly from the theatre with your heart uplifted, I promise you that you will find the silence of The Artist is golden.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Young Adult ★ ★★ ★

Release Date: Australia 19th January, 2012, Other Countries

In watching “Young Adult”, directed and produced by Jason Reitman, there was some personal satisfaction for me, in the disaster that had become Mavis Gary’s (Charlize Theron—“Monster,” “The Road”) life.  
In being one of the unattractive skinny girls at school, I worked out that to survive you need a plan.  There was a boy in my class, surprisingly popular considering he was overweight.  There was one simple reason.   He was funny.
So, armed with humour, two shiny long haired popular girls became my friends.  Thus, began my popularity by association. When the miracle of boobs occurred, I ended up tall and curvaceous and with the most gorgeous boy in the school as a boyfriend. The best part though, was that I got to keep the personality.
Mavis lives a lonely, messy life, enjoying one-night stands she instantly regrets, in an apartment that borders on squalor. The series of young adult books, for which she ghost writes, have been cancelled and she has just received an email from her ex-high-school sweetheart with a taunting—for Mavis—picture of his new baby.
 This set up is played beautifully in the opening scenes.  By the time Mavis decides she is going to visit Buddy Slade (Patrick Wilson—“The Switch,” “Lakeview Terrace”) to rescue him, from what she imagines is an unhappy marriage, in a town where nobody in their right mind would stay, we already know we are in for a fun ride.
On her first night back, Mavis, hooks up with Matt Freehauf (Patton Oswalt “King of Queens”, “The Informant”), another former classmate who suffered such a beating at school that he now still carries a limp and other handicaps.
Matt becomes her humorous conscience and accomplice as she single-mindedly pursues Buddy, ignoring that he is clearly happily married to Beth (Elizabeth Reaser—“New Moon,” “Eclipse”).
If you like your comedies dark and lacking in redemption, à la “Bad Santa” and “Seinfeld”, then you will laugh at the outrageous behavior of Mavis.  She is never going to grow up or grow a conscience, thus remaining a perpetual young adult.
As Reitman says, “Hopefully Mavis is a character that the audience has never seen on screen before. I think that there’s a long history of male characters that we love to hate but there’s actually very few female characters that we love to hate. It requires great writing and great acting and that’s how I think this movie is going to work because Diablo Cody wrote a hell of a screenplay and Charlize knew exactly how to walk that tonal balance—that very fine razor’s edge of being brutal with people and yet very human and very funny.”
Theron is at her finest here and there would be few actresses who could carry off her cringing, unsympathetic attitude to others without overplaying it.  Theron was helped, literally, to get into character by Mavis’s wardrobe.
Reitman believed that her clothing should reflect the disconnect between Mavis’ public persona and her private self.  “We needed to establish a separation between how Mavis looked at home when nobody was watching vs. the character she created every time she went out. There was almost a sense that she was putting on different weaponry depending on her agenda,” he says.
Theron recalls, “Jason was the one who came up with the concept that she was a slob and that was really helpful for me. I came in wearing a pair of sweats during our second costume fitting. We were looking at photos of a series of possible costumes and I remember this vividly—there was a moment where Jason took a step back from looking at the photos and took a long beat, just staring at my sweatpants. He said something like, ‘Hmmm, get those in a bigger size.’ And that’s pretty much what I wore throughout the movie.  I would just roll them up and shove them in a corner in my car, drive up, put them on and we’d go straight to work.”
My one criticism of this witty, well crafted film is that it needs another twenty minutes.  From the very beginning we are treated to the unexpected indulgences of Mavis’s fantasies and opinions and when the ending arrives that, too, is unexpected in its brevity.
Still any time spent with Mavis is a good time, brief as it is, cringingly honest as it is, and redemptive as it is for all of us high school ugly ducklings.  Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder but in ‘Young Adult’, ugly is made beautifully funny.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Darkest Hour ★

Releases:  Australia 19th January,  Other Countries

Invisible aliens star in an invisible plot

'The Darkest Hour' should be renamed 'The Darkest 89 Minutes of Cinema'.  After recently watching one of the best sci-fi films of the past decade 'Attack the Block’, I believe there should be a moratorium on films involving aliens invading the planet.  We have seen the best and we don’t need anymore. 
It seems every year we must endure one of these badly plotted, poorly scripted, lamely acted disappointments (warning adverb invasion).  Last year, at the same time, we suffered 'Battle: Los Angeles' and already I’ve forgotten the story except for the image of Michelle Rodriguez toting a gun that looked too big for her.  I pray that by this time next year the image of teenagers—in high heels—running through the deserted streets of Moscow, with light bulbs strung around their necks, will also fade from memory.
Sean (Emile Hirsch) and Ben (Max Minghella) are in Moscow to close a phone app deal with investors.  Not only does that go terribly wrong, thanks to Skyler (Joel Kinnaman), but later that night their attempt at picking up Natalie (Olivia Thirlby) and Anne (Rachael Taylor) at a nightclub is rudely interrupted by ball like lights descending from the sky.  These turn out to be invisible aliens, who within minutes, begin disintegrating people leaving a trail of very messy dust. 
Our four heroes—hear a mocking tone in those words—end up surviving by hiding in a cellar for four days, along with the arch business enemy Skyler. I pause here for a note to the scriptwriter, Jon Spaihts—if people hide in a room for four days, their hair will be messed, their clothes dirtied, men grow beards, and women tend to take their four inch high heels off.
When they finally emerge we are treated to a view of an unpopulated Moscow that is a little intriguing if we hadn’t become so worried that the film was already running amok.  The aliens, having totally devastated the city and incinerated everyone, are now patrolling looking for survivors to crisp.  At this point, the survivors decide they must get to the US embassy because, as we know, only the Americans can save the planet.  Before travelling there, they decide the most important thing is to stop at an empty shopping mall and, wait for it…get new clothes—yes, there is such a thing now as “Invasion Fashion”.
It’s in the mall where they analyse the aliens and deduce that they can see living things by their electrical impulses and, also, that the aliens light up electrical appliances when they pass.  So, they all don light bulbs as early warning alarms against alien drop-in.  Throughout the balance of the film there is much light bulb throwing.  And I fear that, as much as the producers will protest, some light bulbs may have been harmed during the filming.
The film travels on from one ridiculous idea to the next; an electrician who has created an apartment sized Faraday cage in four days; a mob of Russians riding horses and toting guns that don’t kill the aliens yet the Russians are still alive; a submarine waiting in the river for the only survivors—our heroes; microwave guns built in hours; and don’t get me started on women running around in high heels and perfect hair.
Whether the careers of these promising young actors are also harmed by first time Director Chris Gorak’s lack of any sense of creativity or logic is something that remains to be seen.  As this film will no doubt only last a few weeks on screens the actors probably thought that most people won’t see it, and they may as well take the pay cheque.
Normally in reviews my policy is to give away very little of the plot.  However, in this review for the sake of your hip pocket, I would like to share the whole plot.  They get away—fortunately the better acted characters survive (thank you Aliens for taking out the bad actors first).  In the end, they work out how to kill the aliens and you do see the little critters—think some kind of rough sketch of a spider that the special effects department forgot to run through their CGI machine.  Most of the other plot highlights I have already revealed earlier.
I do this dear filmgoer because I know you will see the trailers and think, ‘That looks really good,’ and you may say to yourself, ‘How bad can it be?’  It so bad, you will want your money back. 
You see the marketing department is tricking you with the trailer. They know you will think all those disjointed images that don’t have much story are like that because they are edited from the movie and that the movie will explain everything. Let me enlighten you with my light bulb preview knowledge, those good bits they show you make more sense than the movie and at least they are all over in a few minutes. 
So, get your popcorn and coke, and watch the YouTube trailer and then use your saved eighty-nine minutes productively.  Go to bed and read ‘War of the Worlds’.  Oh and send the twenty dollars you’ve saved to Jon Spaihts the writer, because he needs to go to scriptwriting school.


Release Dates: Australia 19th January,  USA  10th February,  UK 3rd February


All aboard folks, it’s another journey film.  Don those 3D glasses and we are off and running from huge lizards, flying through storms, falling through gigantic eggs, and diving into oceans to escape lava.
This time around, after unlocking a secret code transmitted by his missing grandfather, Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson) of the predecessor Journey to the Center of the Earth, and his step-father, Hank (Dwayne Johnson) decode a puzzle hidden within three books—Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island, Jonathon Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Robinson Crusoe. The code reveals the position of The Mysterious Island, and they set off for the Pacific to look for Sean’s adventuring Grandfather (Michael Caine).
Along the way they gather Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) and her Father, Gabato (Luis Guzmán) who fly them to the Island, only accessed, they discover, through the eye of a storm.
Once on the island, they encounter the result of the ‘Island Rule’, a genuine evolutionary theory which imagines that, over the course of evolution in an isolated environment, large things can become small and small things become large.  
Thus, we have on The Mysterious Island, dog-sized elephants and bees large enough to ride.  How you steer a bee is not explained but the characters certainly seemed as adept as Star Wars Tie Fighter pilots.
This is one for the children and whilst the quite ridiculous dialogue and behaviour of the characters is redeemed somewhat by Michael Caine and the comic talent of Guzmán, most adults will be thinking, sink the island and please take Dwayne Johnson with you. But the kiddies will probably love it.  My eleven year old critic commented, ‘It’s better than the first one by miles.’ The nine-year old laughed uproariously at Gabato’s antics.
It’s a bit of fun, with intriguing use of Verne’s imaginative literary creations, and special effects that will keep most children between the ages of eight and fourteen very happy. Adults please note, whilst visiting the island, keep your brain switched to low and just enjoy the ride.  Don’t analyse the plot holes or you will certainly fall off.  And before you see the film, do explain to your children first, “No, you are not getting an elephant.  Yes, they are cute, but they get big.”