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'Moonrise Kingdom' Review (dir. Wes Anderson)

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So wow...it has been a while since I've posted on this site. Before logging in the other day, I believe it had been February that I had last logged on. Not sure how long I plan to post, probably a few times here and there, but what better way to mark my return than a review:P

?Moonrise Kingdom?, Wes Anderson?s newest feature and easily one of his best, is a delightful, colorful and flat out beautiful depiction of young love, seen through the eyes of a director with a youthful heart. Sure he might overindulge in terms of visual style and whimsy, a passion and uniqueness I personally love, but in the end his mastery behind the camera and tenderness for his characters and the stories he tells make for wonderful experiences.

Not everyone always feels the same obviously, many are completely turned off by his work, but I think in this case even the most anti-Anderson crowd will have a hard time not falling in love with this story, these characters and the touching, charming and often hilarious situations they find themselves in. That is because this time around, more so than in his previous film, the line between reality and fantasy is extremely thin. In his previous films, and this is coming from someone who has loved EVERYTHING he has done (yes, even ?The Darjeeling Limited?), the worlds he creates, with their overtly intellectual, quirky and often pompous characters, are often interpreted mostly as shallow and even more harshly labeled as pretentious and annoying because they are drowning in an ocean of visual grandeur. Although I personally love it, I cannot say I blame people for thinking it. The story, emotion, pain and humanity of many of his films can be lost and viewed strictly formalistically in his attempts to stay grounded while also throwing a very thick layer of style over everything. The difference with ?Moonrise Kingdom? I believe has to do with the perfect blending of that passionate and fine eye for detail, color and design and the central human story below the surface. Here we have the joys and passions of young love, juxtaposed with the hollowness and pains of adulthood in a way that feels more like a fable than an actual depiction of real life. It is in that way, how this feels more like a story out of one of Suzy?s fantasy novels, that makes it work so well.

This fable takes place over the course of a few days in the summer of 1965, on a fictional island off the coast of Rhode Island. It follows Sam Shakusky, an orphan and Boy Scout who has trouble making friends; and Suzy, a smart but depressed young girl whose parents think is ?troubled?. After meeting a year before, and becoming pens pals, the two decide to run away together. When the Scout Master (Edward Norton) finds out he goes to the local police captain (Bruce Willis) to start a search party with Suzy?s parents. As Sam and Suzy?s love blossoms in their adventure across the island, the adults have secrets and personnel issues that begin to get in the way with their search for the children.

Visually intertwined with this story are everything one would expect from a Wes Anderson film. Those fantasy elements and overall tone I mentioned above are really driven by the use of tracking shots, almost always consisting of layers of action, with things happening in the background that could be easily missed on a first viewing; and set and costume design that not only capture the era (the late 60?s) but also a very fantastical and specific melancholy-summer atmosphere. The house where Suzy lives for example feels more like a doll house, with the characters just puppets under Anderson?s guidance. In this way the entire film really feels like a live action version of a story that would normally take place in the world of ?The Fantastic Mr. Fox?.

As for the performances, which are just as important as the visuals and designs because of Anderson?s writing and humor, are all around just wonderful. For the adult cast this comes as no surprise. Bill Murray for instance is no stranger to Anderson?s films (this being the sixth time he has appeared in one). The rest fit in nicely, with Willis and Norton seamlessly blending into the world and dead pan humor. What really blew me away was the performances by the two child leads, Kara Wayward (Suzy) and Jared Gilman (Sam). Now these performances were not perfect, I felt like they stumbled over a few lines and their delivery was flat at times, but it worked in their favor making the performances feel very natural, never forced and their missteps felt more like children trying, and at times failing, to sound smarter than they really are which was in line with the personality and background of both.

Overall this definitely ranks up there as one of Wes Anderson?s best, probably right behind ?The Royal Tenebaums? (my personal favorite of his). As for its place amongst the rest of the films this year? I can easily say that it is the best, and my favorite, filmso farin 2012. And although there are still many more to come, I think I?ll be hard pressed to find another film that was as all around beautiful, charming and fun as ?Moonrise Kingdom?; and even if it doesn?t turn out to be the ?best of the year?, it will most likely be the one I revisit most often.

Shame Review

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"We're not bad people. We just come from a bad place."

"Shame", Steve McQueen's stark and uncompromising exploration of the devastating effects of sex addiction, is a powerful glimpse into the dark parts of the human soul and how it can consume us. It stars Michael Fassbender as Brandon, viewed by his colleagues as a polite, well-kept business professional, who is secretly struggling with a sex addiction that causes him to seek out sexual release through either girls he meets at bars, escorts or masturbation often in public bathrooms. In essence he lives in his own erotic world, though the sex is not for pleasure but simply to help block out some deep-seeded pain, which he tries to control with daily routines to keep focus. This world is disrupted when Sissy, his wayward sister with no other place to go, arrives and requests a place to stay. Brandon reluctantly agrees which appeared to be one of a few attempts to change his habits; the other being starting a real relationship with a beautiful young coworker. Things seem to be going well, but Sissy's intrusive and erratic behavior, though often not intentional, quickly disrupts the rituals that held his psyche together and he begins to break. Her presence makes him feel constricted and bring back those feelings and memories he seemed dead set to repress with his sexual behavior, causing him to spiral downward with his sexual exploits becoming more extreme as the resurgence of his past and inability to cope with her needs boil to the surface.

It is important to understand, because the story relies so heavily on their interactions, that Sissy and Brandon share similar pains, though they go about suppressing them in different ways. Sissy is outgoing and wants everyone to love her; whereas Brandon is reserved and prefers to be on his own. When "living" becomes too hard they give in to harmful behavior. For Brandon it is sexual stimulation and for Sissy it is cutting herself, as pointed out by Brandon's coworker after noticing her scarred wrist. It is this conflict in their personalities that creates the most drama. They are not suited for one another, Sissy's intruding in Brandon's sheltered existence and Brandon's refusing to give her the attention and love she needs are the sparks that lead to destruction. It is not long before their clashing reaches an unbearable limit and they are both so terribly damaged, and heartbreakingly so, that when they both hit bottom it is a tragic moment. Especially for Brandon who finds himself under the pain of both the shame he places upon himself and his sister.

McQueen plays coy on what exactly about their past has had this effect on them but clearly there is a lot under the surface that has left them scarred. Many have complained about this lack of back story or an outright explanation to Brandon's behavior but McQueen is less interested in a thoroughly develop story, and more concerned with peeking into the lives of these individuals. This is honestly all we need. It is sometimes too hard for people to accept that this is just the way we are. Humans have their demons. Films have already thoroughly gone through the scenarios that could lead to this behavior. All that matters is the now, how technology and New York help him to indulge in his addiction, and how he copes with the present.

As Brandon Michael Fassbender gives one of the most haunting and courageous performances in a very long time. His willingness to bear all, in scenes the audience can barely sit through let along imagine being a part of, along with his ability to open himself up physically and emotionally and relay so much pain, in a way that feels so human, was just outstanding.

Carey Mulligan also shines here in a roll that is unlike anything she has ever done. She plays Sissy as a woman who clearly has her own demons, and although she might seem more outgoing and capable or connecting with others, she also has a hard time coping with the past and the rejection of lovers and her brother. One of the film's most stunning moments comes when Mulligan, in a close up, sings 'New York New York' in a powerful, raw and emotional rendition that really mirrored her whole performance.

The result of it all is a dark and unsettling portrait of self-destructive souls, driven by some unknown torment, so lost and damaged, struggling to mask one great shame with another in an attempt to feel something; not pleasure but rather the physical and moral pains of the acts they commit. Alone this is challenging stuff, but with the addition of exquisite long shots, beautiful photography adding a sort of poetic grace all set to a hypnotic score by Harry Escott, it becomes not only an emotional but also visually mesmerizing experience.

Best in Film of 2011

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So with it being the last day of 2011, I decided to post my picks for my favorite films, performances, directors, etc. of the year.

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Worst Films :

  1. Hall Pass
  2. Super
  3. The Change Up
  4. Battle: Los Angeles
  5. Crazy, Stupid, Love

Best Music - Score or Song:

  1. "Theme Suite " by Roger Neill, Dave Palmer and Brian Reitzell (Beginners)
  2. "Brandon " by Harry Escott (Shame)
  3. "Rivers " by Alexandre Desplat (The Tree of Life)
  4. "Night Call " by Kavinsky (Drive)
  5. "It's a Process " by Mychael Danna (Moneyball)

Best Special Effects :

  1. Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  2. The Tree of Life

Best Cinematography :

  1. The Tree of Life (Emmanuel Lubezki)
  2. Meek's Cutoff (Chris Blauvelt)
  3. Melancholia (Manuel Alberto Claro)
  4. Hugo (Bob Richardson)
  5. The Artist (Guillaume Schiffman)

Best Screenplay :

  1. Midnight in Paris (Woody Allen)
  2. The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick)
  3. The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius)
  4. A Separation (Asghar Farhadi)
  5. Moneyball (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin)
  6. Beginners (Mike Mills)

Best Directors :

  1. Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life)
  2. Martin Scorsese (Hugo)
  3. Michel Hazanavicius (The Artist)
  4. Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive)
  5. Abbas Kiarostami (Certified Copy)
  6. Steve McQueen (Shame)

Best Supporting Actress :

  1. Jessica Chastain (The Tree of Life)
  2. Serah Bayat (A Separation)
  3. Carey Mulligan (Shame)
  4. Melanie Laurent (Beginners)
  5. Berenice Bejo (The Artist)
  6. Leila Hatami (A Separation)

Best Supporting Actor :

  1. Christopher Plummer (Beginners)
  2. Albert Brooks (Drive)
  3. Brad Pitt (The Tree of Life)
  4. Shahab Hosseini (A Separation)
  5. Jeremy Irons (Margin Call)
  6. Corey Stoll (Midnight in Paris)

Best Actress :

  1. Olivia Colman (Tyrannosaur)
  2. Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene)
  3. Rooney Mara (The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo)
  4. Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy)
  5. Kirsten Dunst (Melancholia)
  6. Jeong-hie Yun (Poetry)

Best Actor :

  1. Michael Fassbender (Shame)
  2. Peter Mullan (Tyrannosaur)
  3. Jean Dujardin (The Artist)
  4. Brad Pitt (Moneyball)
  5. Ryan Gosling (Drive)
  6. Peyman Maadi (A Separation)

Best Films 25 to 11 :

  • Le Quattro Volte
  • Poetry
  • Moneyball
  • 13 Assassins
  • Meek's Cutoff
  • Martha Marcy May Marlene
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
  • Hanna
  • Melancholia
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  • Jane Eyre
  • Like Crazy
  • Submarine
  • The Trip

Top Ten :

  1. The Tree of Life
  2. Beginners
  3. Drive
  4. Shame
  5. A Seperation
  6. Hugo
  7. Certified Copy
  8. The Artist
  9. Midnight in Paris
  10. Tyrannosaur

Been here 5 years...

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So it appears that I joined this site 5 years ago today.

And have made 24030 posts, and reached level 63.

Although I don't post as much anymore and even if OT is becoming increasingly unbearable...here is to 5 more...

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Review

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I've probably gone back and rewritten this review multiple times over the past few hours. I've been struggling to come to a final conclusion to how I felt about the film. On one hand it is a hollow crime thriller, all polish and no substance, and on the other it is an exceptionally crafted dark and mysterious tale of sex, corruption and murder that oozes with atmosphere. One could make the case for either, and many critics have argued in favor of one side or the other. After a lot of contemplation, I've come to decide that it actually seems to rely on both being hollow and atmospheric, but what continues to conflict me is whether the former can truly be overlooked even if crucial to the final product.

'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' stars Daniel Craig as Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who has recently come under a lot of scrutiny after being accused of making up a story about a wealthy executive and losing the case of libel brought upon him. Facing financial and credibility problems he is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) a wealthy entrepreneur who wants Mikael to solve a 'cold case' that has haunted him for forty years, that being the disappearance of his grand-niece Harriet who he believes was murdered by a member of his corrupt family filled with Nazis and recluses. As Mikael delves deeper into the mystery of her disappearance he hires the assistance of Lisbeth Salander, a goth-hacker with a dark past who has her own personal issues to deal with, specifically a financial guardian who wants sexual favors in order for her to access her money. When they are finally brought together they discover the dark secrets of the Vanger family and its links to a serial murderer case that begins to threaten their own lives.

David Fincher, who directed 'Zodiac' and 'Se7en', is no stranger to graphic and dark thrillers so it is no surprise that he handles the creation of 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' with a level of competence few other directors could have. Along with the help of cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and being set in Sweden the film has a very dark and cold (often literally) tone, making an atmosphere just as chilling as the subject matter and beautiful to look at. Sadly under the gorgeous and dark visuals and the bleak and mysterious atmosphere there isn't much to be had. There is a real lack of emotion and soul.

I can only assume that Fincher's intentions from the beginning were to avoid any real substance, and to make a film just as hollow and sadistic as the story is was trying to tell. There is just about no emotion and so no reason to be attached to anyone except Lisbeth, but our empathy for her stems more from the vial acts we see acted upon her and less from truly knowing who she is, and why she is so emotionally restrained. It is not until the last twenty minutes that she gets any sort of development, but was it too little too late? Again I cannot decide. One could argue that this insight into the character earlier on would have made us care for her more, which I can understand. But I also question whether or not she could have even opened up the way she does at the end without having first gone through the events of the film, in particular the relationship she has with Mikael. Either way, I'm just glad Fincher went with Rooney Mara to play Lisbeth.

It is hard not to compare both film versions of the Lisbeth character, and even harder to choose which was better. This is mainly because both films, although similar in many ways, have very different tones. The Swedish version is a much more straight forward thriller and Rapace's Lisbeth fits that film in being just a strong and tough individual, though there doesn't seem to be too much below her surface and most of the development of her past is shown. Mara's Lisbeth is a much more complex character, and although the film doesn't give her much depth in terms of story until the very end, Mara gives off hints of a disturbing past just in the way she talks and moves, especially when men get too close to her. In reality she is a much weaker character than in the Swedish version. I personally liked that soft side because it makes her feel more like a vulnerable woman so when she fights back it feels more powerful.

It is this humanization that really helps propel Fincher's adaptation over the Swedish version in my eyes. Even Daniel Craig, who put on a very good performance, is given a lot more to do and a much more interesting personality. He gives the character a bit of charisma, and wasn't just a monotonous individual, like in the original, making it easier for us to care for both him and Lisbeth. It also makes their odd but provocative relationship seem more genuine and intimate.

All of this stuff I loved…but then I fall back to feeling like it was all for nothing. I mean it looks pretty, and the mystery is intriguing and the atmosphere is dark and cool, but once it is all over nothing really sticks other than the technical aspects. This isn't helped by the fact that it over stays its welcome for the last few minutes, even if it adds to the characters. Luckily the pacing is done well enough to never make it feel boring but it does end up being rather anti-climactic. But I feel a second viewing is necessary.

With that said, as conflicted I am about everything else one thing that I can say for certain was fantastic is the score. It was crucial in the creation of the moody and dark atmosphere. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who did the Oscar winning score for 'The Social Network', continue to impress and help give the film a pounding and chilling heartbeat. Also the 'Bondesque' opening credits, a brilliant animation of dark tar, leather and gothic imagery set to Karen O's cover of Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song', was absolutely stunning.

So overall I will say that it is an incredibly well-crafted and dark thriller with fantastic visuals and a wonderful performance by Rooney Mara and because of that it certainly deserves a lot of credit but below the surface it is a rather hollow and anti-climactic story making it hard for me to love it as much as I might have wanted to. It also did not help that going into it my anticipation was at an all-time low due to the hype that was built up around it and by how much I liked the original. So for now I'll just say I enjoyed it for what it was, it certainly is well crafted enough to deserves the praise it is getting, but a second viewing will determine whether or not I truly thought it was a great film. Still I recommend it for those interested.

The Dark Knight Rises Trailer Reaction

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So the trailer for 'The Dark Knight Rises' has been released and it still leaves me with a lot of questions but luckily equal amounts of excitement. My reaction to the new footage:

  • What we already know is that it takes place 8 years after the end of 'The Dark Knight', in which Harvey Dent died and Batman was on the run from the police. But what has happened since?

  • Is that Bruce Wayne with a cane?

"When Gotham is in ashes, You have my permission to die." - Bane

  • Is Bane talking to Bruce, with him all beat up in what appears to be a cell, and a scar where he was hit in the head, maybe causing the mask to crack like the one Bane is holding in theprologue?

  • Is Nolan going for a Occupy Gotham subplot? Catwomen talking about how the rich have taken so much from the poor. A rich guys mansion being raided as he hides under a table. Nolan also wanted to shoot footage at Occupy New York but never did.

I wonder if Bane will indeed break Batman's back, but will that happen early on in the film? Will he have to go into hiding? Is that the cave we see with all the steps, and the reason he has a cane? Does Bane bring him down but Batman will "rise" up in the end to defeat him?

There is also still the question as to what parts Joseph Gordon Levitt and Marion Cotillard play. But at the moment I'm incredibly excited.

The Dark Knight Rises Prologue Reaction

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After spending a good hour the other day trying, because the server had crashed, I was able to get free passes to see an early screening of 'The Dark Knight Rises' prologue. It was a part of their new viral marketing campaign, and although it meant driving to an IMAX theater just to see 6-7 minutes of a film that doesn't come out until next year, I had planned to see 'Shame' in Boston as a reason to be out and already in the area. Sadly due to my crappy GPS and traffic I missed 'Shame' and spent the day shopping and eating some great pizza, but in the end it was worth it to see a prologue and a few clips of one of next years most anticipated films, a prologue that I might add left everyone speechless. Below I have a quick reaction, followed by a somewhat spoil/detail filled explanation of what I saw and then a tag with a shocking spoiler.

As for what I thought of the footage, I would say I was sort of blown away. It is an incredibly exciting and fast paced action sequence. It is said to be the opening and if so then just like 'The Dark Knight' and its bank robbery, they wanted to start things off with a bang. To make things even better the visuals, shot all in IMAX, looked amazing on the big screen. Nolan really does know how to shot an action scene and his utilization of IMAX is brilliant. My only complaints are that it is hard to hear Bane's voice, but that was less the films fault and more the ridiculous rumbling of the IMAX theater seats.

For those interested in what the sequence was (somewhat spoilerish:

It opens with a group of armed guards escorting a few prisoners, their heads covered, to a small plane for transport. They are said to work for the man called Bane. While in mid-flight the man running the operation to bring these prisoners to some unnamed location begins to interrogate them by holding them out the plane door. During the process one of them speaks up. The man goes over to him, taking off his mask to reveal Bane, who I must say looks amazing. Next we see a larger plane come up behind the one they are on, and Bane explains this is the first step in his plan. Suddenly he gets up and breaks free as the second plane, now above them, releases men who grapple down and start shooting the guards through the windows. They then attach lines to the end of the smaller plane and the one above begins to ascend, lifting the plane Bane is on until it is vertical and its wings break off. The guards on board are all forced down to the front of the plane, except for Bane who holds on to some seats. The men outside the plane then blow off the tail so they can grapple down inside. When in they attach a line to Bane who grabs one of the other prisoners, who seems to be an important figure, either as a hostage of another part of his "plan". As one of the other prisoners Bane was escorted with tries to attach himself to another line Bane tells him to stay and go down with the plane. The man doesn't hesitate. Clearly his men are incredibly devoted. Suddenly the music gets louder, we hear chanting, and the lines outside of the plane blow, releasing the small plane which tumbles to the ground as Bane, who has a line attached, is left flying behind the larger plane. None of which seemed to be CGI, all of these stunts done on and to the plane were very real. Then a few clips followed:

During the clips at the end we get to see Batman holding a new weapon, his new glider in action, a large group of Bane's army charging at a large group of police officers, we also see Catwoman all dressed, Joseph Gordon Levitt opening a door (boring but hey it is JGL), and Bane and Batman beginning to fight on the steps of some building.

Then came the most shocking moment...

[spoiler] We see a dark room, water falling....and Bane holding half of Batman's broken mask, like the image in the poster above, and he tosses it aside...has he actually "broken" the Bat? [/spoiler]

Then the screen goes black, and the lights came back on, and the entire audience was speechless until they were able to get out a round of applause. Now, I have been very worried about 'The Dark Knight Rises'. Mainly because I think that Nolan might be trying to go too big, trying to one up the second installment, adding way too many actors/characters and a plot more complicated than his already often overly complex films. But after seeing the footage, although I still worry about the final product, my anticipation is through the roof. It should be an exciting conclusion to Nolan's Batman trilogy, with Bane as one of the more brutal and powerful villains any film version of Batman has ever faced. Sucks that I have to wait for it to be released next summer. But hey, at least I got a free t-shirt at the screening that is identical to the one in the image below.

For those interested in seeing the prologue themselves, it will be playing at select IMAX theaters in front of the new 'Mission Impossible'.

Dog Had Seizure :(

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I try not to get too personal on here, but I just really felt like making this post. I sadly had to take my dog to the vet earlier because he had what theydiagnosedas a seizure. After doing some blood work no toxins were found. They believe it is canine epilepsy. It is crazy how things can turn around so quickly. Hug and love your pets people.

I try not to get too personal on here, but I just really felt like making this post. I sadly had to take my dog (pictured above) to the vet earlier because he had what they diagnosed as a seizure. After doing some blood work no toxins were found. They believe it is canine epilepsy. Not sure where it goes from here but we have to monitor him over night and go back in tomorrow. It is crazy how things can turn around so quickly. we have had him since he was a puppy, his birthday was three years ago this past weekend. Hopefully it isn't too serious/manageable. Just another reminder to always hug and love your pets people, you never know what could happen.

Hugo Review

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'Hugo' is not only an old fashion and heartfelt adventure with enough whimsy and fun for all ages; but also a love letter to cinema, by one of this generation's masters, and a plea to support film preservation.

Most of the credit for the its success has to be given to Martin Scorsese, who in an attempt to tell the story about the value of art and the dream like and important nature of films, managed to not only capture the magic of moving pictures but in doing so make one just as magical and beautiful as those he admires. The story follows a young boy named Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield). He lives among the gears and machinery within the walls of a grand train station in Paris where he keeps the clocks in working order. He is alone in this task and spends most of his free time trying to fix an automaton that his father found rusting away in a museum, and attempted to fix before he tragically died in a fire. With his father dead he was sent to work in the station with his uncle, a drunk who has gone missing leaving Hugo to live alone, stealing food from the shops to survive and avoid the orphanage. One morning Hugo gets in trouble with the owner, George Melies (Ben Kingsley), of a toy shop located within the station. Hugo had been stealing small trinkets for parts so he could use them in fixing the automaton, which he believes contains a message left to him by his father. The shop's owner forces Hugo to hand over the stolen trinkets along with a notebook detailing the machine he was trying to fix. Oddly his drawings cause Melies to get emotional and he takes it. In an attempt to get it back, Hugo ends up getting help from the shop owner's goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretzs), who is a lover of books and desperate for some kind of adventure. Together they try to unravel the mystery behind her godfather's reaction to the notebook and the automaton's message. It is a slow moving, but richly detailed journey that leads to them discovering George Melies's sad past, which has important ties to the history of film.

Scorsese's love for cinema is front and center here. Hugo's loneliness mirrors his own. Scorsese suffered from asthma growing up and wasn't allowed to play with other children. Like Hugo, Scorsese looked to machines and cameras to occupy his time, turning to art and film to express himself. Hugo's automaton, a machine like a camera, which played a key part in Melies's life, only works with a heart shaped key. It is no coincidence that the heart, love and a sense of wonder are the key to creating art and opening one's imagination. Scorsese, perhaps more than most directors around today, understands the importance of film, especially for younger audiences and in a way this definitely seems like an attempt to get children to appreciate the medium as much as he did years ago.

My favorite aspect of the 'Hugo' would be the world created. It is fleshed out fairly well, with many supporting characters given a good deal of attention. The most important being the station inspector played by Sacha Baron Cohen who when he isn't out trying to catch potential orphans, is trying to woo a beautiful florist, played by Emily Mortimer. It reminded me of 'Amelie' in a way, which I guess also had a lot to do with the tone and setting.

The stuff about Melies is incredible and as informative as it is disheartening. The man was one of the early pioneers of films. One of the first to truly understand its capabilities to enchant the audience with dream like settings. Learning the history of his career, how after making over 500 films he was forced to destroy most of them and his old sets when the popularity of his work dropped after the Great War, is tragic. Luckily for us some of his films survived, like "A Trip to the Moon" which is a highly recognizable and frequently referenced short.

The direction, the long shots in particular, are breathtaking. The opening is one of the year's best and most spectacular scenes. It is arguably Scorsese's most beautiful film. The fantastical portrayal of Paris is enhanced by 3D that is utilized better than anything I have seen. The use of depth, especially in scenes towards the end in which some of Melies films are recreated in flashbacks is stunning. For once it doesn't feel like a gimmick. The score is also beautiful and luckily not overwhelming. It is one that is there but not noticeable because it fits the atmosphere of the story so well. Honestly, everything about 'Hugo' feels like one complete and perfect work of art, created with a great deal of passion. The only complaint I've really heard is that it is too slow at times. Personally I highly disagree with this. Even at its slowest points it is still totally mesmerizing because this isn't just a love letter to film, or just a historical depiction of the life of one of its most important innovators, it is also a heartfelt story. It earns its emotions and nothing fells forced, and it does this by taking its time, to flesh out its characters and plot.

Lastly, the performances all around are wonderful. Butterfield gives Hugo a great deal of emotion and depth, as well as the level of maturity needed for the character. Ben Kingsley is absolutely magnificent as George Melies. He makes him a clearly sad man, with a long history that troubles him deeply. Chloe Moretz is also great, doing a surprisingly good English accent, and makes the character easily loveable and fun. Even Sacha Baron Cohen, who toned it down, brings his character to life in an almost classically funny way.

Overall to say I loved the film would not do my feelings for it justice. It is so exceptionally crafted, so fun and smart, and most of all it captivated me like few other films have in recent years. It truly is a magical experience, a must see and one of Scorsese's best.

Melancholia Review

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'Melancholia' is an absolutely beautiful and dark film that is a perfect companion piece to 'The Tree of Life', in that both contain very intimate examinations of the way he face and embrace death, but where Malick depicts a dreamlike and graceful moment,Lars Von Trier's view makes for a much more somber and chilling experience. This is not a surprise in that it comes from the mind of a man who suffers from bouts of depression. With 'Anti-Christ' it caused him to push the idea of despair to its limits, torturing his characters until their pain equaled his own. He did so with such extreme violence and sexuality that it wasn't surprising that many hated the end result. With 'Melancholia' however he appears to be embracing that despair, giving the film both a tone of dread and acceptance that one could easily connect with.

The film opens with a beautiful assortment of imagery as Von Trier shows us Earth's destruction by a mysterious planet. He is avoiding surprises here and quickly reveals to the audience that everything will end and so the film focuses on the emotional journey leading up to that moment. The central story following this wonderful opening is in two parts. The first is a lighthearted and often comical wedding ceremony that works incredibly well in how it introduces the characters. The story concentrates on two of them: Justine (Kirsten Dunst) the bride and her sister Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg).We quickly learn that Justine suffers from chemical depression which she had under control but it reemerges at the reception, just as a new star appears in the sky that catches her attention, causing her to alienate herself from everyone including her new husband. Claire on the other hand is much more level headed and does her best to keep her sister and the ceremony under control. The second half takes place a short time later. Justine's depression has consumed her to the point in which she needs help getting out of bed, eating or even washing herself. At the same time the star she noticed at the reception has been reveal to be a large planet, previously hidden behind the Sun due to its odd orbit, and now is closely passing by Earth. Its presence frightens her sister Claire as debates rage by various scientists as to whether it might get too close or even hit earth. Claire is stricken with anxiety as the thoughts of the destruction of life on Earth, more importantly the chance that her son might never get to grow old, cloud her mind as Melancholia gets closer and closer. This tone of dread that Claire and the impending doom emits equals the depression Justine is facing and so causes her to embrace and at times become intoxicated by the idea of life finally being put to an end. These contrasting views of the ever increasing chance of the world being destroyed is what holds this second half together story wise, and makes for its most compelling themes.

No one truly knows how they would handle death. Whether you will face those final moments with grace, apathy or total fear is something you will never know until the moment comes. The buildup to those final moments for Justine and Claire, their inner struggles, is what Lars Von Trier seems most interested in showing the audience.In doing so he creates so much suspense, such an overwhelming feeling of dread; it was like the air had been sucked out of the room. We know from the very beginning what Earth's fate was, but still watching Claire realize Melancholia is headed for Earth was emotionally devastating. I could barely breathe as the final moments of the film played out and was in a state of total shock and by the time that last scene came and the credits rolled I was on the verge of tears.

One thing that I believe made this work so well was the decision to focus only on this small group of characters. They are living in the country side, miles away from the nearest village. When the planet passes by Earth it affects electronics and so they are essentially cut off from the rest of the world. They, and more importantly the audience, do not know how the rest of the world if handling the coming destruction. There would no doubt be panics in major cities but Von Trier cares about only showing a much more personal and subtle reaction, avoiding spectacle and chaos like most disaster films. The result is a very honest and intimate examination of depression, despair and how we face death.

The performances are fantastic all around. Kirsten Dunst gives what is easily her best performance to date, one that is much darker and more complex than anything she has ever done. The way she shifts between moods and states of mind is flawless. Charlotte Gainsbourgh, an actress who is severely underrated in the United States, also gives an incredibly emotional performance and watching her break down is tragic. There are also some great supporting performances by Alexander Skarsgard, Keifer Sutherland and John Hurt.

The visuals are as gorgeous as they are eerie. Next to 'The Tree of Life' it is one of the most visually pleasing films to be released this year. The visual effects, especially for the nearing planet Melancholia, are beautiful.The cinematography by Manuel Alberto Claro, his great eye for lighting and shadow, along with the artist vision of Lars Von Trier blend so well and are crucial to the films overall tone.

Lastly, I think this is not only Lars Von Trier's best film, but also one of the better films to come out this year. It is just so visually stunning and emotionally effective that its ability to move outweighs any flaws one might find. I wouldn't expect it to have such a powerful effect on everyone but the dark and challenging subject matter it explores, the visuals and the shear ambition of this work of art make it a must see.