The Post

In 1971, and following the deaths of her father and husband, Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) found herself the de facto owner and publisher of The Washington Post, despite how little faith or respect her all-male team of advisers had for her. Meanwhile, the Post’s editor-in-chief, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), fought to make the Post a relevant competitor to the more established national newspapers, and a lead on some illegally copied, highly classified government documents may be the key to making that happen.
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Steve Jobs

During the preparations leading up to the public unveiling of three products – the Mackintosh in 1984, NeXT Computer in 1988 and iMac in 1998 – business “composer” Steve Jobs (Michael Fassbender) deals with the same handful of people and problems, including his friend and marketing associate Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), co-Apple-founder Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), engineer Andy Hertzfeld (Michael Stuhlbarg), Apple CEO John Sculley (Jeff Daniels) and Chrisann Brennan (Katherine Waterstone), Steve’s ex-girlfriend and the mother of his potential daughter Lisa.
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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 Serious Man

After the timid reception met by the star-studded Burn After Reading (fun but empty, worth a go if you’re after something light with a dark side), I feel the Coen brothers attempted to recreate some past glories by having a pop at making another Lebowski, but instead succeeded in making the most Jewish film in the world. As a non-Jew (I’m a non-everything, in case you’re wondering. All I can do is offend others) I am among those that, after watching this film, looked around and said “what were they saying?” as quite a lot happens that I’m sure will be familiar to those more acquainted with the Jewish faith and the Yiddish language. The rest is decipherable, but I can’t help feeling that I’m missing something.

Michael Stuhlbarg is Larry Gopnik, a physics professor who, through no fault of his own, is living a life that won’t stop collapsing. His son is having problems at school as he leads up to his Bar Mitzvah. His wife is leaving him for an older, fatter, balder man, who keeps calling Larry so they can hug it out. Larry’s brother Arthur (A Bug’s Life and Spin City’s Richard Kind, the closest the film has to a known star as well as the Big Bang Theory’s Simon Helberg) is possibly autistic, definitely annoying, and sleeping on the sofa. A failing South Korean student is attempting to bribe his way into passing, the school board is receiving calls encouraging them not to give Larry tenure and his neighbours are stealing his lawn. Every step Larry takes is another one towards the total destruction of his existence, and watching swings between hilarious and painful.

I’m sure I’d have preferred the film had a glossary been issued in the DVD case, and if I hadn’t been concerned with the relation the opening scene, in which a husband and wife are visited by a man who may or may not be the possessed corpse of a deceased friend, and to be fair I’m still wondering. The script has its moments (“it’s just mathematics, you can’t arrest someone for mathematics”) but alas this is among the Coen’s more obscure efforts.

Choose life 7/10