Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is the rarest kind of family movie: one that will appeal to adults more than it appeals to children. Now don’t get me wrong. Kids of all ages will be enraptured by the story of a young orphan who, against all odds, finds his place in the world. But unlike most cross-generational family movies, Hugo does not engage adults with ironic references or crass jokes. Instead, Scorsese’s latest is a visual delight, and its 3D enriches our watching experience. More importantly, it is thematically ambitious, using history to remind us of the imagination’s power and why we go to the movies.
On Saturday Night Live last week, Seth Meyers asks Kermit to explain the difference between a puppet and a Muppet. Kermit responds with, “A puppet is controlled by a person, whereas I am an actual talking frog.” After watching the old Muppet movies for decades, I still prefer to believe him. No other franchise evokes joy quite like Jim Henson’s prized characters, and director James Bobin‘s reboot The Muppets recaptures that elusive quality. As a terrific tribute and reboot, the movie never waivers from its infectiously positive good humor.
You can tell you are watching an Alexander Payne movie by how the main character looks. They have a pleasant, ordinary appearance – never too attractive or unappealing – and nearly all of Payne’s heroes have an abundance of polo shirts. With The Descendants, Payne’s first feature film since 2004’s Sideways, he adds Hawaiian shirts to the hum-drum wardrobe. The tropical setting is a perfect backdrop for a story of a hapless father who struggles to save his family. There is little of the delightful satire that defines Payne’s earlier work. Instead, the characters are wry and observant without being sentimental.
Ever since Mystic River, Clint Eastwood has been the Michael Bay of portentous, serious movies. Eastwood’s latest, J. Edgar, is another example. The screenplay, written by Milk scribe Dustin Lance Black, mixes procedural with a character study and the results are unintentionally ridiculous. Minor characters have a modicum of development, and the handling of Hoover’s sexuality is both clumsy and uncomfortable. J. Edgar Hoover is one of the most controversial men from the past century, and an interesting movie can be made about him. This one isn’t it.
Before an eager crowd of design nerds and urban policy wonks, documentary filmmaker Gary Hustwit premiered Urbanized, the last part of his design documentary trilogy. Of the three films, this is Hustwit’s most ambitious; in his introductory remarks, he said Urbanized took him the longest to make. Whereas Helvetica investigates typefaces and Objectified considers industrial design, Urbanized looks at how urban design influences how we exist in city spaces.
The more I think about it, the more sense it makes for Harold and Kumar to be stuck in a Christmas movie. The stoner comedy and the schmaltzy Christmas movie are American classics, and their staying power is tied to their dependability. Familiar with both genres, I expected a heartwarming ending, in addition to copious nudity and dick jokes.A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas delivers precisely what it promises, and also adds sly racial commentary with even a little meta-humor.