Hugo

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Written by Stephanie | Rated: 5 Stars - No Beef, Comedy, Drama | Posted on 03-12-2011

I’m a sentimentalist. I cry at adverts, reality TV shows (a rising string gets me every time) and the worst kinds of romantic comedy. I even cried while waiting in an airport arrivals longue recently, watching some random small children reunited with their grandparents. More often than not, I cry in spite of myself. My cynical side well aware that I am being manipulated and I kind of hate myself for being such a sucker. Around Christmas, this amplifies. Something about the fairy lights and mulled wine I think. I cried through the entirety of a animated version of The Gruffalo one Christmas Day. For the uninitiated, The Gruffalo is NOT The Snowman, nothing sad happens, nothing at all. I couldn’t tell you what the hell I was crying about. I was just overridden by cuteness and booze.  This sort of hollow sentimentality has to hit me in the right mood to get the tears flowing though. A friend and I went to see Love, Actually a few days before Christmas once and spent a large portion of the film wondering what would happen if we started throwing things at the screen (embarrassingly, even that abysmal piece of film-making sucked a couple of tears out of me before I realised what a piece of shit it was).

Occasionally though, a film comes along that works on a whole separate plain. A film that reminds me what it was to be a child and to feel joy and wonder and sadness, all at the same time, of how beautiful the world can be. Hugo is one of those films.

Set in 1930’s Paris, Hugo tells the tale of a young orphan boy who lives inside, and maintains, the mechanical clocks of a train station. The station is a busy and vibrant setting, though as the film opens Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is as alone as anyone has ever been. He doesn’t have any friends or family, and rests his hopes of company on an automaton that his father found at a musuem and that they had been repairing together before the accident that left Hugo alone.

Even though Hugo is alone, he uses his clocks to hide in and observe the other people whose lives revolve around the station and, as the film progresses, their lives begin to interweave. There is Georges (Ben Kingsley), a gruff old man who runs a station toyshop and Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), a young girl who accompanies him. The unnamed Station Inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen) is Hugo’s nemesis, desperate to catch young orphans, and hopefully the eye of Lisette (Emily Mortimer), a florist. Isabelle is a voracious reader and, through her, we meet Monsieur Labisse (Christoper Lee). Monsieur Labisse runs a book shop and, curiously, for a film set in Paris, is the only character with even a hint of a French accent.

I went into Hugo knowing very little of what the story entailed and, one of the things I loved about it was watching the way the story unfolds. With that in mind, I won’t go into any specifics about where Hugo leads. However, portions of the film (including the opening segment) have a very old school silent film mentality to them. Large swathes of the film contain no dialogue whatsoever, and the physical comedy is as good as any seen in the silent films of the early 20th Century. Sasha Baron Cohen borders on parody with his strange voice, war injury and inability to smile naturally, but he fits like a glove into this landscape. His role could easlily have been a horrible mis-step, but, to my mind, he pitches it perfectly. There is also a ongoing romantic subplot between Madame Emile (Francis de la Tour) and Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths), which involves very little dialouge, and would have played out in a very similar way had this film been made 100 years ago.

Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s first “children’s” movie, though I think calling it that does it a great disservice. This is a film for anyone with a heart beating in their chest, a film to savour and adore, whatever age you are. The direction is, as one would expect, fantastic… and the 3D is the best I have seen. My favourite 3D sequence has long been Lionsgate’s mechanical cog introduction (Lionsgate make a lot of horror films, and I love horror films in 3D, so I’ve seen it often). There is something about the cogs in motion that just works wonders in 3D, and Hugo is basically mechanical porn. Mechanics are front and centre here, whether in Hugo’s clocks, Georges’ toys or the automoton that Hugo so desperately wants to work again…. And Scorsese knows how to make them sing, they jump right out the screen at times.

As I say, this isn’t really a children’s film. It’s a film for anyone who knows about loss, and the wonder of experiencing the new. It’s about the pain of war, finding magic in the world around us, and connecting with others, fixing them, so they can help fix us too. I cried and cried and cried, but these weren’t the sort of tears that make me frustrated with how pathetic I am. These were tears of joy, of remembering how a film can remind you of all the wonder and beauty in life.

I went to see Hugo with my Mum, who has the attention span of a gnat when it comes to films. It’s rare that she manages to stay awake through even the shortest and fastest moving of stories. Hugo is over two hours long and takes its sweet time with its story at every single turn, yet she stayed awake through the whole thing, and professed to loving it when it finished. Though her first reaction, open the rolling of the credits was to look at me with a rather surprised expression and say ‘Steph! Nobody even walked out!’…. Frankly, if THAT isn’t a recommendation, then I don’t know what is.

Our Idiot Brother

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Written by Stephanie | Rated: 3 Stars - Some Beef, Comedy, Drama | Posted on 28-11-2011

My name is Stephanie and I am a Ruddaholic. Sure, Paul Rudd has been in some horrible films (I’m looking at you, How Do You Know) but I’ve never seen him be anything less than wonderful. He even helped Friends limp through its final two seasons, while the rest of the cast sleepwalked through their, by that point, rather hackneyed roles. He just makes me happy, with his baby blue eyes and his head that is slightly too big for his body. I tend to seek out his films, and, if they showcase the Rudd as he deserves, I’ll watch them again and again. I’ve seen Role Models at least five times. Paul Rudd + Jane Lynch = 1000x amazing (I’m well good at maths).

In Our Idiot Brother, my blue eyed hero plays Ned. Ned is a hippy, and I guess what some would call a loser (or an idiot, obv). Though at the start of the film he appears to be living the dream to this fellow loser. He works at a farmers market, has the best dog ever, looks happy and content, and sells a bit of the good stuff on the side. Sadly, a stupid mistake means that Ned is wrenched from this life rather abruptly and forced to rely on the kindness of his family to help him back on his feet.

This is where the film really comes into its own. Everyone here is amazing, it’s like the casting director put together a list of people I love and put them all in a big lovely film, just for me. Almost without exception, like Rudd, they are playing to their own stereotype, which is fine by me. Regardez –

Elizabeth Banks – Shrill, selfish, workaholic
Zooey Deschanel – Freespirited, sexually ambiguous, kooky
Emily Mortimer – English, uptight, repressed (she isn’t actually playing English, but she might as well be)
Steve Coogan – Pretentious prick
Adam Scott – Lovely, lovely but slightly lacking in masculinity
Rashida Jones – Massive lesbian who wears terrible shorts and glasses throughout the film, just in case we forget at any point that she likes the poontang
Hugh Dancy – Pretentious prick #2

Actually, i’ve never seen Rashida Jones play a tough lesbian, or Hugh Dancy play anything but lovely. I just wanted to mention that they’re involved, as they are both super cool (Also, I actually kinda like the terrible glasses/shorts combo… and Dancy makes a surprisingly good pretentious prick).

The film follows the route of a thousand gentle comedies before it. It doesn’t shock and it doesn’t surprise. It did, however, manage to make my boyfriend (who had been threatening to go for a nap) stay with me for the entire duration. We both laughed a lot, though most of the jokes didn’t stick with me past the closing credits.

In the end, Our Idiot Brother is rather like a lovely big bag of Haribo. It’s sweet, goes down easily, tastes delicious and might even make you giddy for a while… but it contains no substance whatsoever, and might make you a little sick if you lack the tooth for this kind of thing.

Our Idiot Brother was released in the USA in August. It’s still awaiting release dates elsewhere. When it does finally get a release, I recommend watching on a rainy Sunday afternoon with an enormous bag of sweets, and letting the sugar wash all over you.

Sidenote – I’ve included the picture at the top because me and my friend Gemma sat in those EXACT seats at Cafe Gitane in New York. Yes, I have shared bum space with the Rudd. I am awesome.

The Beaver

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Written by Stephanie | Rated: 3 Stars - Some Beef, Drama | Posted on 17-10-2011

Mel Gibson was a movie star. Not just an actor, but an honest to goodness movie star. I was made to watch Mad Max: Road Warrior recently and the man exuded charisma out of every pore. He was one of those rare people I just couldn’t keep my eyes off when he was on screen, he seemed mysterious and sexy and interesting. All the things I want when I’m sitting down to be entertained (take note those who keep casting Gerard Butler, who is none of these things, and less. Wonky, sweaty and grubby looking does not get this ladies biscuits tingling). He was box office gold too, What Women Want made over $182 Million, despite being poorly received by critics. The man was a charm machine, dropping knickers at fifty paces with one of his megawatt smiles and a flash of his baby blues.

Saying all this, I’ve always felt like there was something slightly ‘off’ about him, something behind the eyes when he’s being interviewed. He was married to the same woman for a long time and they sired many, many children. He’s a Catholic, and while I am loath to criticise anyone’s beliefs, he has publicly denounced the use of birth control and of abortion. This just doesn’t sit right with my personal beliefs, especially coming from a very wealthy man, who has little of the worries that plague us normo’s. He has proven himself to be rather a talented film director, though his projects are somewhat, erm, ‘specialist’… but things started to go badly wrong for Mel a couple of years ago. There were various reports of anti-semitism (Winona Ryder recently told a story of him referring to her as an ‘oven dodger’ at a party. He’s also claimed that ‘Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world’. How lovely!) homophobia and racism. The thing that really sealed it for him though was a relationship which ended badly, amid reports of physical and emotional abuse. I won’t go into the details here, all this is making me feel grubbier than Gerard Butler, but, suffice to say, his career was knocked sideways. I find it really difficult to look at him now without picturing his depiction on Southpark, which doesn’t bode well for suspending disbelief and actually enjoying his performance in a film.

Given all this, I wasn’t expecting much from The Beaver. I have a lot of love for Jodie Foster, but I’ve never been bowled over by her Directorial efforts, and I was confused as to why she wanted to taint her film with the stench of controversy and hatred that Mel brought. We open with Walter (Mel Gibson), displaying all the signs of full blown depression, overlaid with a voiceover telling us exactly that. This guy is at rock bottom, he’s sleepwalking through life, and dragging his family down with him. The voiceover is Mel, channeling a strange mixture of Ray Winstone and Michael Caine. Turns out this voice belongs to the titular Beaver, a puppet that Walter finds in a bin, and promptly begins to use as a tool to communicate with the world around him. It’s a bizarre plot device, and it could have fallen flat on its face, if the puppet wasn’t so damn CHARMING. Whatever has happened in his personal life, Mr. Gibson is still a bloody movie star. It’s heartbreaking watching the absence of light in his eyes, while the puppet jokes and cuddles and reconnects with his family.Jodie Foster plays Walter’s wife, and is, as ever, pretty fantastic. His youngest son manages to stay just the right side of annoying (I am not a huge fan of cute kids in films. I blame Jonathan Lipnicki from Jerry Maguire) and I thought the effect of his fathers condition on him was well portrayed. This isn’t just a film about one mans breakdown, it’s about the effect this has on those around him. It’s essentially a film about depression/dysfunction and the way it can be passed down through generations; Mel’s eldest son desperately wants to shed his associations with his father, to avoid meeting the same fate.

It’s an independent movie staple to try to depict mental illness through the prism of an audience friendly story, and The Beaver hits all of the beats you would expect. The soundtrack is pure whimsy and the puppet serves as a comical device which helps to make rather a tragic tale a little more bearable. In the end, I found it a little too fluffy to truly connect with, and I suspect the memory of it won’t linger with me for long. The fluff does ease as it moves along, but I didn’t ever feel moved or like I was watching something truly genuine. One thing is does prove though, for me at least, no matter what disgusting things he says/does in his personal life, Mel Gibson is a movie star. Though one we won’t get to see shining much anymore. Do I care? Not really, there are other actors out there with the same skills who don’t set my teeth on edge so much, but damn, this man owns the screen. If only he’d just keep his mouth shut (and his fists to himself) when he’s off it.