March 2012

HugoCertified CopyThe Rum DiaryPortlandia: Season One

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DVD reviews by Loey Lockerby and Dan Lybarger


 

Hugo

 

A 3-D children’s movie … by Martin Scorsese?! That was how many people reacted to the news that the auteur of violent dramas would be adapting Brian Selznick’s popular book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. What on earth does the man behind Mean Streets know about family-friendly entertainment?

 

Quite a lot, it turns out. Scorsese has famously credited his 12-year-old daughter with encouraging him to make something she could see, but it’s the director’s own childlike love of movies that makes Hugo so special.

 

Set in a fantastical Paris train station, circa 1930, the story concerns the orphaned Hugo (Asa Butterfield), who has been abandoned by his alcoholic uncle to maintain the building’s elaborate clockwork. If the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) discovers him, Hugo will be sent away, not only from his tiny apartment in the walls, but from the beautiful automaton left to him by his father (Jude Law). Hugo’s attempt to repair the contraption puts him in the path of Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her godfather, Georges (Ben Kingsley) — who just happens to be real-life early film pioneer Georges Méliès, now nearly forgotten and operating a toy shop.

 

Once Georges’ identity is discovered, Hugo is transformed from a charming fantasy into a breathtaking tribute to cinematic creativity. Hugo and Isabelle gradually draw Georges back into the spotlight, and Scorsese provides what may be the most delightful film history lesson of all time. Méliès’ work is ideal for 3-D, and he undoubtedly would have loved the format. It’s enough to make a grown geek weep.

 

Hugo makes a few tiny missteps, notably in the slapstick nature of Cohen’s character and the odd mix of kid-friendly adventure with a plea for film preservation. But for fans of early cinema, it’s a delightful celebration of why people like Méliès matter. For everyone else, it’s just delightful.

 

Extras: A general making-of doc, plus others on special effects and the work of the real Méliès; a short comedy bit with Cohen. (PG) Rating: 4.5 —LL

 

Certified Copy

 

If you haven’t been following Iranian cinema (those subtitles get in the way sometimes), one thing you’ll discover is that the country is full of talented filmmakers who regularly find creative ways to get around censors and entertain audiences. One of the country’s most accomplished filmmakers is Abbas Kiarostami, who gave us A Taste of Cherry.

 

He’s made documentaries in other countries, and it’s a real testament to his skill that Certified Copy, which he made in Italy, doesn’t get lost in translation. Considering the fact that the movie is in English, French and Italian, that’s saying something.

 

Moonlighting opera singer William Shimell plays James Miller, a British historian visiting Tuscany for a book about art forgeries that have become legitimate over time. He meets with a French woman (Juliette Binoche) who wants to show him some of the sights. As they wander through the scenic village of Lucignano, the locals assume the two are an item, and the two do nothing to dissuade what others think. Even though the two were practically strangers before that day, they start conversing as if they’ve been married for years, even making up a history for each other.

 

All of this could have been overly meta and pretentious, but Kiarostami’s mental exercise winds up having some emotional resonance thanks to fine work from Binoche and Shimell, who can switch gears effortlessly. Watching these two do an adult version of “let’s pretend” is a stunning experience, and the gorgeous cinematography and locales don’t hurt. In other hands a movie about two people talking might have been rather dull, but Kiarostami demonstrates how some of the most seemingly simple ideas are really the most complicated.

 

Extras: just the making of and the trailer. (N/R) Rating: 4 —DL

 

The Rum Diary

 

A movie with Johnny Depp playing Hunter S. Thompson ought to be many things: Crazy, funny, strange, provocative. The Rum Diary tries to fulfill that mandate, but it ends up just being dull.

 

Based on one of Thompson’s early novels, the author’s stand-in this time is Paul Kemp (Depp), who goes to Puerto Rico in 1960 to write for a local newspaper. He spends a fair amount of time enjoying the island’s vices with a couple of fellow scribes (Michael Rispoli and Giovanni Ribisi, who steals the movie), but soon gets roped into a scheme involving a developer, Sanderson (Aaron Eckhart), and some shady land deals. He also falls for Sanderson’s impossibly hot girlfriend (Amber Heard). After lurching around aimlessly for a while, Kemp decides to start fighting back against “bastards” like Sanderson, and basically turns into the Gonzo legend we know and love.

 

Rum Diary is a gorgeous film to look at, with nearly every shot suitable for framing.  It’s got a great setting, too, in the booze-soaked world of hedonists and scam artists, all looking to get some excitement out of Puerto Rico’s then-emerging economy.

 

There’s just not much happening here, with Kemp remaining passive until a last-act personality shift that makes no sense, given his previous behavior. That leaves the substance-abuse humor to fill the void, and it is funny, but it’s also kind of straight-laced, even square. Those are words that should never describe anything involving Depp or Thompson, let alone both.

 

Extras: A standard behind-the-scenes doc; another, more in-depth look at Thompson’s own failed efforts to get the film made. (R) Rating: 3 —LL

 

Portlandia: Season One

 

This IFC series is astonishingly creative and unabashedly quirky, and if you know anything about Portland, Oregon, it’s even funnier. Moonlighting Saturday Night Live star Fred Armisen and musician Carrie Brownstein star is a collection of interconnected sketches that focus on the Bohemian residents of the city, who seem to take political correctness to new heights of absurdity.

 

Most organic restaurants don’t provide you with one-page bios of the animals customers are about to eat. You also might want to make sure not to do anything in Portland that seems too “Seattle-y.” Fortunately, most of the satire is offered with affection. After seeing all six episodes, one really wants to be in the “city where the young go to retire.”

 

By actually shooting in Portland, the series has a unique look to it, and the celebrity cameos are actually fresh and clever. No, you really don’t want Aimee Mann or Sarah McLachlan cleaning your house because their music careers are suffering. Armisen and Brownstein are unafraid to make utter fools of themselves and seem to have fun doing it. It should also be noted that they get some help from Kansas City’s Jason Sudeikis and Edie McClurgh.

 

It’s also hard not to love any series that put the phrase, “Put a Bird on It,” into the national vocabulary. By the way, real Portland Mayor Sam Adams plays an assistant to the show’s Portland mayor, Kyle McLachlan.

 

Extras: Extended Scenes, Bloopers, An IFC Behind-the-Scenes Featurette, "Thunder Ant" Sketches and Audio Commentary by Armisen and Brownstein. (N/R) Rating: 4 —DL

 


Loey Lockerby can be contacted at lrl94@aol.com.
Dan Lybarger can be contacted at Lybarger@eFilmcritic.com.