HUGO (2011)

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Director: Martin Scorsese
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 126 min.

Twelve-year-old orphan Hugo Cabret lives in the walls of a Paris train station where he minds the clocks.  Always trying to avoid the clutches of the zealous but mildly incompetent Station Inspector, Hugo steals what he needs to survive, as well as little clockwork toys from the station toy shop which he uses to repair the mysterious automaton that he and his late father had been fixing.  But the old toy shop owner catches Hugo stealing and confiscates the notebook with his father’s instructions and drawings.  The shop owner seems to have a strong emotional connection to the drawings, but he will not explain himself to Hugo.  In order to earn the notebook back, Hugo takes a job at the toy shop and befriends the shop owner’s goddaughter, Isabelle.  Together they embark on the adventure of uncovering the automaton’s secrets and the old man’s past.

Scorsese and John Logan, the screenwriter, truly hit the mark in this adaptation of Brian Selznick’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  This was a story that needed to be made into a film.  The cinematography was simply beautiful and tried to capture the original drawings from the novel (which were supposed to imitate camera shots themselves).  The beginning of the film is slow and the “mysteriousness” of the plot will drag on if you have not read the book.  But the beginning of the book is actually much slower and more mysterious, and the film is very pretty to look at even if you are confused.  I also loved how Scorsese and Logan created the milieu of the 1920s Parisian train station and wove the vignettes of the shop owners into Hugo’s story.  Of course it is when film history begins to figure prominently in the story that the true power of the film begins to come through.  Full marks to Brian Selznick for the creativity of this story and his innovation in weaving films into his book through illustrations, but this aspect of the story was especially powerful in the film adaptation.  Scorsese’s and Logan’s “moral of the story” angle was a bit heavy-handed, but otherwise a truly great adaptation.

If you liked the book, go see the movie!  If you didn’t like the book, but found the concept/story interesting, go see the movie!  If you have no idea what I’m talking about with this book but like artsy, visually stunning films, go see the movie!  It’s a good one.


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Director: Tom Hooper
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 118 min

The second son of Edward V, Prince Albert never thought he would ascend the throne.  He was a career military man, and his terrible stutter and fear of speaking in public made him loathe the occasions on which he was called upon to act as a statesman.  But through the gentle prodding of his wife, Elizabeth, Bertie struck up a professional relationship and later friendship with Lionel Logue, an unconventional speech therapist.  Where other speech therapists had failed, Lionel succeeded in giving the prince tricks and techniques for overcoming his stutter and–most importantly–in giving him confidence in his own ability to speak.  As the political climate in Britain grows tense due to George V’s death, Edward VIII’s relationship with a divorced American, and Hitler’s mounting aggression, and with the new prominence of the radio as a means of communication, Bertie’s realizes that his voice will be critical in uniting the nation.

This film took numerous Academy Awards in 2011 including Best Picture.  It is the best film I have seen in a long time.  The cast includes some of my favorite actors (including Geoffrey Rush, Helena Bonham-Carter, and Colin Firth) all of whom I have seen in many, many films. Yet when I watched The King’s Speech, I forgot who they were.  I forgot I was watching actors; I became so absorbed in the world of the film, and there were no actor mannerisms or vocal cues or anything else to jerk me out of that illusion.  I loved the color, the lighting, the cinematography, the soundtrack, and the screenplay.  I know it probably needs no recommendation since it won so many awards, but I don’t always enjoy award winners as much as I enjoyed this film.  If you prefer action-packed adventure stories, this film may not be for you.  But if you enjoy films with an emphasis on character and relationships, I highly recommend it.

JUNO (2007)

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Director: Jason Reitman
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 96 min

Juno MacGuff is not one of the popular girls (she describes herself as “freaky”) but she has the self-confidence, individuality, and snarky sense of humor to make her stand out from the others in her high school.  When she realizes that a one-night-stand with her friend Bleeker has left her pregnant, she briefly considers having an abortion, but instead decides to have the baby and put it up for adoption.  With the support of her family and friends, she finds a childless couple (Mark and Vanessa) and sets off on the adventure of pregnancy.

Juno is a funny, instantly endearing character, whose choices and experiences are both remarkable and genuine.  The story is really a study in relationships–friendships, marriages, romances, and families.  But it is Juno’s wry sense of humor that makes the movie.  This is one of my favorites, and I highly recommend it!


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Director: Ron Howard
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 135 min.

This film is based on the life of eminent mathematician John Nash.  It took a number of Oscars and Golden Globes in 2002 and well deserved them. The acting, writing, and directing were all wonderful.

John Nash has a brilliant mind, but his social skills are somewhat lacking.  He mumbles when he talks, avoids eye contact, and analyzes every situation–from pigeons in the park to women in bars–in terms of mathematical patterns.  His ability to see these natural patterns will lead him to his “equilibrium theory,” which has had a great impact on a number of scientific fields, especially economics.  As he completes his doctorate at Princeton and continues to a faculty placement at M.I.T., he gathers a small following of friends, colleagues, and admirers which will become a strong support network for him later in life.  Among them is his student Alicia de Larde who quickly becomes Alicia Nash.  But John’s brilliant work in mathematics brings him attention he did not anticipate.  Recruited by a mysterious government agent for an anti-communist code-breaking project, John finds himself swept up in a world of secrets, conspiracy, and danger.  As his secret life causes his behavior to grow erratic, Alicia begins to fear for her husband’s health and sanity.

The screenwriters take some liberties with the real story–glossing over a few periods of Nash’s life in order to make the John-Alicia love story more prominent, but those decisions serve the film well.  It is a great story, great cinematography, and great acting.  I enjoyed it immensely.


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Director: David O. Russell
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 116 min.

As tends to be my habit, I missed seeing this film in theaters.  But I’m glad I finally got to see it.  I really enjoyed it!

Micky Ward has always looked up to his older brother, Dicky.  Dicky was a very talented boxer, but his glory days have passed and now he, along with his mother and a mess of other relatives and pseudo-relatives, is determined to train Micky as the next great fighter.  But soon, a cocaine addiction leads Dicky into jail and Micky must decide whether loyalty to his family is getting in the way of his career.  With the help of his girlfriend, Charlene, Micky begins to win fights and make a name for himself.  But can he really succeed without Dicky’s help?

This film is based on a the lives of Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund. It is rated R mostly for language and violence, as well as some “adult situations,” as they say.


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Director: Christopher Nolan
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 148 min

This film is based on the premise that technology exists which allows people to infiltrate and manipulate the dreams of other people.  As the story opens, Cobb, an expert in dream technology is on the run from the law, forced to hide abroad and work for corporations illegally.  After a failed operation, Cobb is approached by the head of a major corporation for a job.  If he is able to penetrate the dreams of a young business man and plant an idea that will cause the man to break up his company, then Cobb’s employer will see to it that all charges are cleared from his name and he can return home to his children.  Cobb takes the job, but in order to succeed, he must escape the ghosts of his mysterious past who seem to sabotage him every time he enters the dream world.

The film takes advantage of the similarity between dreams and the medium of film–the quick cuts from one scene to another without having to know exactly how the characters got there, the seemingly impossible or improbable events that we take for granted, etc.  Just as the characters sometimes have trouble sorting out what is dream and what is reality, so does the audience.  This is not a movie to watch when you are tired or unprepared to pay close attention.  But if you like a solid science fiction concept and like trying to figure out what is going on in a mysterious plot, this is a great film.

HAMLET (2009)

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Director: Gregory Doran
MPAA Rating: Not Rated (originally a stage play)
Running Time: 180 min

This particular production of Hamlet was originally a stage production for the Royal Shakespeare Company.  It stars two actors who have both played prominent roles in serious classical theatre but also in science fiction television shows (David Tennant, aka the Tenth Doctor of Doctor Who, and Patrick Stewart, aka Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation).  I loved every minute of it!  And if you are a David Tennant fan, you should also check out the Much Ado About Nothing he did with Catherine Tate in 2011!

Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a revenge story.  The play opens just after King Hamlet has died and his brother, Claudius, has married the Queen and taken the crown.  But the ghost of the dead king comes to his son, young Hamlet, and tells the Prince that Claudius murdered him.  Throughout the rest of the play, Hamlet struggles to come to terms with his father’s death, his mother’s re-marriage, and his uncle’s treachery and to avenge his father’s death.  Meanwhile Claudius must determine how much Hamlet knows and how best to deal with the problem Prince without arousing suspicions.

There have been many Hamlet films made, and strictly from a cinematic perspective, this particular production is not the best; it was originally designed for the stage.  But the acting is incredible, and the director (Doran) takes great pains to make the play modern and accessible, without losing the original meaning of Shakespeare’s work.  It’s a bit on the long side (3 hours), but Doran, Tennant, and Stewart really bring the story to life.  This is one of my favorite interpretations of Hamlet.  If you enjoy Shakespeare, it is definitely worth watching.  If you have read or seen Hamlet before and thought it made no sense and was not accessible in any way, this might be the production to try!