All the King’s Men

In 1950s Louisiana, door-to-door brush salesman and parish treasurer Willie Stark (Sean Penn) runs for Governor, under the eye of local politician Duffy (James Gandolfini). A local reporter (Jude Law) takes a personal interest in him, and ends up working for/with Stark, much to the disapproval of his stepfather (Anthony Hopkins) and his childhood companions (Kate Winslet and Mark Ruffalo).
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Contagion

Chaos descends onto the world when a deadly, and highly contagious, illness descends worldwide, seemingly beginning with Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has just returned from a business trip to Hong Kong. The CDC are soon brought in to deal with the situation, but things rapidly spiral out of their control as the illness spreads across the country. We follow the outbreak from the points of view of those desperate to stop it, members of the public affected by the crisis, and the few who see it as an opportunity for personal gain.
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The Holiday

Iris (Kate Winslet), a London-based journalist, has just had her heart destroyed by her colleague Jasper, who she has longed after for many years, but he’s just got engaged to someone else. Meanwhile Amanda (Cameron Diaz), the owner of a hugely successful L.A. movie trailer company, has just discovered her boyfriend Ethan (Edward Burns) is cheating on her. Both women decide they need to get away from everything for a few weeks, so opt for a house swap, trading homes for a fortnight over the Christmas period. But when they had originally hoped to get away from love, they each end up finding it in the most unexpected of places.
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Hugo

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield, one of the kids from Nanny McPhee and the Big Bang) lives inside the clockwork at a train station in 1930s Paris. He spends his days maintaining and fixing the clocks, stealing only the pastries and milk that he needs to survive and avoiding the child-hunting station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). A run-in with station shop-worker Georges (Sir Ben Kinglsey) results in Hugo having to work for the toymaker, all the while building a bond between Jugo and Georges god-daughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz). 

On the surface, this doesn’t appear to be a typical Martin Scorses project. For starters, it’s a kid’s film, not something you’d generally associate with the director of Goodfellas, Mean Streets and Taxi Driver. There’s nary a gangster to be found, nor a grisly death or vicious killer. Hell, it’s not even set anywhere near New York. But once you get past the halfway point of the film, and the story switches from that of a young boy trying to eke out an existence on his own to a tale about the history of the beginnings of cinema, it becomes clear just what Scorsese saw in this story. It’s no secret that the great director is a passionate man, especially when it comes to the medium of movies, so seeing an opportunity to make a film dedicated to films themselves would have been an opportunity he jumped at. Fortunately, it helps that it’s a captivating story, filled with vibrant characters and plenty of heart, without too much schmaltz. Wihtout the secondary cinematic storyline, this would have felt far more like a Spielberg picture than a Scorsese.
I didn’t have the opportunity to see this film in 3D, but I get the feeling that if you are able to, you should give it a shot. This may come as a surprise to many of you, given my usual stance on the current trend of shamelessly, and often needlessly, opting to add a third dimension to films that really don’t benefit from it, but there are many scenes here where it would probably not only have fit, but benefitted the viewing experience. 3D works best when there’s lots of little things flying in the air, for example the dandelion-thing scene in Avatar, or the lantern scene in Tangled, and in Hugo we get at least two opportunities for this, first with snow and then later with flying pieces of paper, both of which I’m sure would have looked fantastic in 3D. There’s also a lot of forced deep perspective and carefully considered samera angles, making this possibly the first film I’ve seen where the 3D was probably justified.

There’s great camerawork elsewhere too, particularly in a Goodfellas-esque extended tracking shot through the inner-workings of the train station that is positively mesmerising. It’s clear that almost every shot has been digitally enhanced to make it look older and more French – the colour scheme is rich and everything has a sepia tone, seemingly even the air. At times this felt a bit too stylised, and often took me out of the film with how fake everything looked, but it’s nowhere near as bad as many of the films that use so much CGI that they may as well be videogames. 

The kids aren’t bad, but they are overshadowed the tremendous supporting cast, including the likes of Jude Law, Ray Winstone, Christopher Lee, Emily Mortimer and Richard Griffiths in relatively miniscule parts around the train station (I was half expecting them to break into a rendition of ‘Who Will Buy?’ from Oliver). Kingsley is superb in a role that requires moments of seriousness, compassion, pity and wonder, but Sacha Baron Cohen does have a tendency to over-act now and then, presumably a result of his more comedic past. He is by no means bad, but reigning his performance in a little, to be less of a caricature, would have been better in my eyes.

I think the people that will get the most out of this movie are film fans, especially those with an interest in the beginnings of cinema. Fortunately I am such a person, and I also appreciated Michael Stuhlbarg’s character, as one of history’s first film nerds. There are many references to classic early and silent films like La Voyage Dans La Lune, L’arrivee and Safety Last, featuring the classic image of Harold Lloyd dangling from the clock face, eventually recreated by young Hugo himself, and I was engrossed at the details of how effects were created before more traditional editing processes were invented, with actors remaining frozen in place whilst explosive charges were set around them. The old technology and equipment was fascinating to me too, appealing not only to my love of cinema but my mechanical background, with a hand-cranked projector required to watch something now available on YouTube.

Scorsese has created that most marvellous of films, a successful, inventive children’s picture, that just happens to have an informative and educational semi-biopic of one of cinema’s founders wrapped up inside it. It’s beautiful, engrossing, perfectly cast and just plain delightful. And there’s a robot!

Choose film 9/10

A.I.: Artifical Intelligence

Kubrick’s visionary ideas, social commentaries and moral dilemmas don’t quite gel with Spielberg’s family oriented sentimentality in this disjointed and overlong offering, conceived and planned by the former but implemented by the latter after his death in 1999.

Now, I love me some robots. Whether they’re compacting waste into trash skyscrapers, travelling through time to save Sarah Connor or trying to kill Will Smith, you show me a film with robots in and I’ll watch the Hell out of it (though I’ve never actually seen the 20th Century Fox film Robots starring Ewan McGregor and Robin Williams, just never came around). There’s a robot clock watching me from atop a bookcase in the lounge, robot cushions on the sofa and a robot cookie jar whose head seems to rotate around and look at me wherever I am. But the key characteristic that joins these all together, is that they all look like robots, which is where A.I. looses my interest, for here they look like people. Yes, I know that’s the point. Haley Joel Osment’s mini-mecha David has been created to fill the hole left when his new parent’s son goes into a coma, and Jude Law’s robo-gigolo Joe (that’s fun to say) would be downright weird if he didn’t look a lot like a human, but that’s not what I want to see in a film about mechanical men. It isn’t until over half way through the film that we see some older models and exposed innards, and even then it’s far too briefly.

Osment is good, too good, as the automated child, and occasionally he passes for human, but for the most part he’s in full-tilt terrifyingly creepy mode, following his ‘mother’ Monica (Frances O’Connor) around the house all day, standing and watching her until she justifiably locks him in a cupboard. The first 45 minutes could quite easily be the start of a horror film, so disturbing is David: “I can never go to sleep, but I can lay quietly and not make a peep.” Nothing he does is endearing or even likable, but then I’ve always felt this way about children, but still the brief amount of time it takes for Monica to bond with this mechanised horror is jarring, especially given there seems to be no real scenario that draws them together. Also, David is only programmed to ‘love’ one parent, and his new ‘father’ Henry (Sam Robards) seems devoid of emotions, either for his comatose son or the new replacement, so that fits together nicely.

The movie is comprised of a series of episodes that, once passed, are all but forgotten. The story could have been interesting, and the world has potential for a more enthralling film within it, especially in the city scenes, and the brutal Flesh Fairs, where rogue ‘bots are hunted and tortured to a baying crowd’s delight, but over an hour of watching David desperately wanting to be a real boy becomes terminally dull. The future technology and gadgetry is generally good, subtle yet insightful, although the cars look a bit silly. And the ending is polarising, I found it terrible and unsatisfying, whilst Aisha thought that, whilst it seemed tacked on and unnecessary, it was still very moving.


Choose life 5/10