The Reel Deal
HUGO, J. EDGAR & THE MUPPETS
Quick Takes on Three Films
Film Insight by Tyler Malone
Reel Rating: 4.5 out of 5
When I first heard that Martin Scorsese was going to adapt a children’s book into a 3D movie, I can’t say I was excited about the endeavor. I’m not a big fan of 3D, and Scorsese’s career, thus far, has been at its best generally when it is at its least family-friendly. Needless to say, I wasn’t expecting much from Hugo, and was surprised when I started to hear such amazing things from friends and critics alike. The cynic in me was sure that I wouldn’t end up agreeing with the masses on this one, but I went into it with as open a mind as possible, as I always try to do. Having an open mind paid off. At first, I was unmoved by the movie, and began cataloging its minor flaws in my head, but at some point the movie chipped away at my cynicism, unfroze my heart, and won me over entirely. Should I admit I even got a bit teary-eyed more than once?
Is it perfect? No. But is it one of the most enjoyable and heart-warming and cinema-obsessed films I’ve seen in quite some time? Without a doubt.
Telling the story of a young orphan living in a train station in Paris who tries incessantly to fix things, the movie is less about this plot and more about crafting itself as a sort of love letter to the cinema, old and new and everything in between. It is Cinema Paradiso by way of a Harry Potter-like sheen. I’d argue that the real protagonist isn’t actually the Dickensian titular hero, but the cinema itself, and the wonder it evokes in all of us, the ways in which it shows us our very dreams. Thus, the film becomes simultaneously one of the most Scorsesian films Martin Scorsese has ever made and one of the least Scorsesian. It is nothing like anything he’s done before, and sometimes feels more like Spielberg in its sentimentality, and yet it is clearly his most personal film in years (maybe ever?), and thus the sentimentality not only rings true, but ends up feeling uniquely Scorsesian. At one point, Georges Melies, the early filmmaker upon whose story the plot turns, says to an audience: “Come and dream with me.” And that’s what this film is, a wonderful dream we share with Scorsese–and probably the best one he’s produced for us since the early 90s.
Reel Rating: 2.5 out of 5
J. Edgar suffers from a familiar problem–one I mentioned in my review of The Descendants–it has a great performance from a phenomenal actor, but that great work is lost in an inconsistent movie. The muddle that is J. Edgar is certainly not terrible–in fact, there’s a lot of good, and even some great, here and there. The fact that it attempted an unbiased view of one of the most controversial and polarizing figures in American history would be commendable if it succeeded in its vision, but instead the movie felt littered with gaps rather than shaded with nuance. Anyone who knows my political persuasion can probably figure out I’m not the biggest fan of J. Edgar Hoover and his paranoid, fascist tendencies, but I was open to viewing a nonpartisan, evenhanded glimpse at the man, so long as it worked.
The problem is this movie doesn’t work about as often as it does. It seemed as interested in melodrama as in actual drama, in sentimentality as in actual sentiment, in story as in actual history. And it seemed more interested in Hoover’s sexuality than anything else, which I suppose is fine, but even that aspect of his life still remained mostly unexplored. What did I learn about Hoover here? Nothing. Did I manage to feel anything towards him that I hadn’t already felt? No. Who is J. Edgar Hoover? The jury’s still out. He’s as much a mystery after the film as before, and the times in the movie where they attempt to fill in gaps and answer some of our questions, we instinctually feel history being cheated or falsified. Of course, that’s what all historical movies do, they invent a history that somewhat fits the facts, but here it felt especially egregious. J. Edgar leaves me creepily wishing that someone had a whole file cabinet full of secret files on Hoover himself so I could get the real story of his life, instead of this mostly speculative, melodramatic morality play. As a tale about a guy who solely looked at the world in black and white told mostly in shades of gray, this is a somewhat interesting exploration of an endlessly fascinating figure, but it’s nuance isn’t entirely artful, and the times it actually attempts to say something specific, the something more often than not rings false. It’s not a bad film, but DiCaprio’s performance, like Clooney’s in The Descendants, deserved something better.
Reel Rating: 4.5 out of 5
“As long as there are Muppets, for me there is still hope,” says Walter, the new Muppet introduced in The Muppets, the first Muppet movie in over a decade. Anyone of a certain age can appreciate that sentiment. The Muppets, Jim Henson’s flagship creation, are all about the exhilaration of putting on a show, the surreality of existence, the pleasure of a good laugh, the comfort in togetherness, and the joy of life–things kids and adults alike can appreciate. They represent hope; and I had hoped they’d be portrayed correctly in this new addition to the franchise. I was very pleased to see all my hopes realized. The characters were not only treated with respect and love, but were given a movie in which to thrive. They were allowed to be their classic selves, but also they were allowed to be fresh, to be new, and thus this could revitalize the brand. It’s a movie that reminds us not only why we loved The Muppets in the first place, but gives us new reason to love them all over again.
In this new movie, an unabashedly self-conscious and self-referential outing, the Muppets admit they’ve passed their prime and try to win back favor by “getting the gang back together” and “putting on one great show.” And it is a great show, full of funny gags, catchy tunes, loveable characters, celebrity cameos and heartfelt sentiment–you know, all the things that define The Muppets in their best incarnations. I think Jim Henson would be proud of The Muppets, this new movie featuring his beloved characters. I’d argue it’s the best possible Muppets movie to be made post-Henson.
Hugo is a film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by John Logan, based on the book by Brian Selznick. It stars Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen. Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton.
J. Edgar is a film directed by Clint Eastwood and written by Dustin Lance Black. It stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Armie Hammer and Naomi Watts. As the face of law enforcement in America for almost 50 years, J. Edgar Hoover was feared and admired, reviled and revered. But behind closed doors, he held secrets that would have destroyed his image, his career and his life.
The Muppets is a film directed by James Bobin, and written by Jason Segel and Nicholas Stoller, based on characters created and developed by Jim Henson and Him Henson Productions. It stars Jason Segel, Amy Adams and Chris Cooper. With the help of three fans, The Muppets must reunite to save their old theater from a greedy oil tycoon.
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
Design by Jillian Mercado
Press Photo from Hugo, Photography Courtesy of Paramount Pictures