Hugo (US, 2011)

Cinema of attractions

Many would assume a ‘family film’ from Martin Scorsese would involve the mafia however his first foray into 3D is a film for ‘all the family’. I’m not a fan of 3D, and Scorsese hasn’t convinced me, but at least its use is integral to the film. By focusing on a pioneer of early cinema, were the thrill – and shock – of the new drew audiences, it makes sense to try and mimic the excitement felt at the time with 3D.

Until the two cameras used to create stereoscopic vision are small enough to be placed as close together as eyes, the 3D perspective will never truly convince. In addition, I dislike the way in which objects out of focus, in the foreground, appear like ghosts. I also find 3D simply a distraction that draws attention to the ‘fourth wall’, which is antithetical to most cinema’s realism. Let Godard make a 3D movie! Maybe not…

As noted, Scorsese’s use of 3D works to give us a sense of wonder, similar to that experienced in the pioneering days of cinema. I did get a sense of wonder, but it was primarily from Dante Ferretti’s set design, recreating a 1930s Paris mainline station. Costumes are also great: Sandy Powell. Well, $170m was reportedly spent on the film. It’s getting rave ratings on the but lukewarm box office in North America, which is disappointing as it’s probably going to be the best movie for the ‘holiday season’.

I’m not going to dwell on the narrative as I’d managed to avoid who the film’s about and so it was quite magical to suddenly realise – well into the film- where it was going. Excellent performances from a stellar cast, with Sacha Baron Cohen’s Station Inspector taking the plaudits, add to the pleasures of this excellent film.

Up (US, 2009)

The joy of living

Pixar is an extraordinary production company: how many mainstream films, aimed at a family audience, feature a cantankerous old man (well Secondhand Lions immediately springs to mind but you get my point)? And, brilliantly, pull off the pathos of age whilst celebrating the joi de vivre of youth? Add the homages to Looney Tunes, brilliant characterisations of dogs and wonderfully absurd visuals… well, you probably know how good it is already.

NB Bechdel tests:
It’s dawned on me that the way I’ve been counting whether films fail or pass the test is not as straightforward as it could be so, starting today, the tally will feature the number passed out of the number seen. For protagonists it will be number of females out of the total. The Lacey test is the reverse of the Bechdel test.
Bechdel test: fail 12/30
Protagonist: male 8/24
Lacey test: 12/12

In other words, of the last 30 films I’ve seen only 12 feature two named women discussing something other than men; 8 out of 24 films featured a female protagonist; every film, out of 12, featured two  named men discussing something other than women.

Star Trek (US, 2009)

Those that boldly went before

Those that boldly went before...

those who are boldly going now (before)

those who are boldly going now (before)

The new Star Trek has been, like Casino Royale, described as a reboot. Both were long running series that had grounded; the makeover for Bond was based on ‘going gritty and serious’ to distinguish it from Brosnan’s parody (though Connery had parodied too). Star Trek, however, had always taken itself seriously so that option wasn’t open. Producer director JJ Abrams has found a brilliant solution for this prequel: keep it serious and offer plenty of laughs but not at its own expense.

It is a ‘family film’ as it offers pleasures for all generations; for the old gits (like me) there’s remembering the original 1960s series – of which this is a prequel – and for the generation even younger that the original ‘Next Generation’ sequel, there’s plenty of satisfying action and special effects. The only thing that jars is that the Enterprise is more modern looking than the one it became in the 1960s; but then the narrative is based on a time paradox.

The writers, and actors, have convincingly given us the younger versions of the ’60s characters; only Simon Pegg’s Scotty doesn’t fit. Zachary Quinto is uncannily like Spock and Karl Urban’s ‘Bones’ captures DeForrest Kelley’s intonation very well. The set design, of the comos, is terrific; check out the end credit images and, as a summer (‘what summer?’) rollercoaster ride this will be difficult to beat.