Martin Scorsese’s stunning 3-D film enchants viewers right from its breathtaking opening sequence. Set in snowy 1930s Paris, a dazzling tracking shot pulls viewers into the action and into the train station, where much of the action of Hugo unfolds. The film introduces the title character (Asa Butterfield), a young boy who discretely winds the clocks in the station. He is secretly working on an automaton, and steals parts from George (Ben Kingsley) a toyshop owner—until he is caught red handed. When George takes Hugo’s flipbook, Hugo enlists the aid of George’s plucky charge, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz)—a young girl who loves books and big words—to recover his prize possession. What the two youths uncover in their adventures is pure delight, but not without moments of real drama and suspense. Hugo also pays homage to early silent films and the magic of movies; Scorsese incorporates moving images throughout with the use of some astonishing 3-D effects. Some imagery shows papers falling in such a way that they create optical illusions, and the 3-D is used to heighten everything from a chase in the train station to a stack of books in a shop, to the vertiginous heights of the clocks in the station. Other scenes seamlessly integrate footage from actual silent films—from a montage of some of the earliest films ever made to snippets from Safety Last and other classics. But Hugo is not just all mesmerizing visuals; the story, adapted from Brian Selznick’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret, addresses people finding a purpose in their lives. It’s an important message, nicely told, and the performances are terrific. Butterfield and Moretz are charming without ever being cloying, while Kingsley is perfectly cast—both sinister and sympathetic. Equally fine is Sasha Baron Cohen, who provides an amusing turn as the train station inspector. When one character in Hugo describes movies as “dreams,” they very well may be talking about this entrancing film.
Arthur Christmas An animated holiday film that explains how Santa delivers all those presents on Christmas night. And no, this film was not made by FedEx.
Le Havre While it looks like a series of Edward Hopper paintings, and feels like a homage to French wartime resistance films, Le Havre is a contemporary—and drolly deadpan—comedy. Marcel (Wilms) is a shoeshine man who hides Idrissa (Miguel), an African refugee, while his wife Arletty (Outinen) is hospitalized. From this basic premise, Aki Kaurismäki provides an absorbing and quirky character study. Whereas Marcel keeps a low profile–he literally looks down at people, often hoping to find someone whose shoes need cleaning—his status in the community rises when he cares for Idrissa. The baker, green grocer, and bartender all support his action, while Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), a cop tries to find the young boy and deport him. With its carefully composed and artfully framed scenes, Le Havre is a minimalist delight. Kaurimäki consistently toys with audience’s expectations—he uses counter-intuitive music when Idrissa escapes, and includes a marvelous red herring. His unique style generates some laughs, as when Monet enters a bar with a pineapple, as well as moderate suspense during Marcel’s efforts to help Idrissa escape. Yet perhaps the greatest pleasure in Le Havre is watching Marcel, a man unlikely to do anything altruistic–Arletty even shines her husband’s shoes for him–become empowered. (Opens November 25)
The Muppets Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Fozzie the Bear, Gonzo and Animal and humans Jason Segel and Amy Adams try to save the Muppets’ theatre in this musical comedy.
My Week with Marilyn As the legendary Marilyn Monroe, Michelle Williams generates some real goosebumps in this dramatic piffle about the actress making The Prince and the Showgirl. Williams’ luminous performance in this risky part could have been simple crackerjack mimicry, but it transcends that; she nicely captures Monroe’s fragility, insecurity, and her fears of failure. As the “me” in the title, Colin (Eddie Redmayne) is a neophyte who coaxes his way to a third assistant director’s job on Sir Laurence Olivier’s (Kenneth Branagh) film. While Olivier gets more frustrated with the mercurial actress and her handlers—Paula Strasberg (Zoe Wanamaker, terrific) and Milton Greene (Dominic Cooper, wasted)—Colin observes and manages the behind the scenes conflicts. He quickly becomes Monroe’s confidante. My Week with Marilyn is magical when Colin and Marilyn are together, but Colin’s love for her never feels real. Everyone is enamored with Marilyn, from people on the street to Eton schoolboys. All the talk of drama and heartbreak yields surprisingly little emotion. Despite some fine observations into the nature of performers and their egos, and some fun moviemaking moments, no one in the film has any depth, save Williams, who injects Marilyn with some internal complexity. Redmayne just moons over her, like a schoolboy, and Branagh’s Olivier comes across as a one-note caricature, diluting the power of this likable film.