Sunday, March 18, 2012

Session Reports; Movie Reviews: Hugo, The Tree of Life

Raanana session report (me, Ellis): Ticket to Ride Card Game, Steam

Jerusalem session report (Nadine): Endeavor, It's Alive

Movie reviews:

Hugo: A sweet movie about a French orphan boy that intersects lightly with the vaguely true early twentieth century story of the filmmaker Georges Méliès. Hugo is left to wander the crawl spaces of a French train station, passing his time winding the clocks (a job supposed to be done by his neglectful uncle who has disappeared) and trying to complete the automaton his father salvaged from a museum and was trying to fix before he died. Hugo is missing a heart shaped key for the automaton, and, wouldn't you know, it turns up around the neck of a cute girl his age who takes an interest in him. The girl is the granddaughter of a grouchy but sad watch and toy seller who takes Hugo's sketchbook on the automaton after catching Hugo stealing parts from his shop. There's more to this grouchy man than meets the eye. Meanwhile, a wily buffoon of a French station inspector parody is out to nab wandering orphans (to send them to the orphanage) in between shyly courting a pretty flower girl in the station.

Somehow everyone and everything magically fits together in the exact way that things don't in real life. But this is the magic of movies, eh?

The story is sweet, as I said, and lovers of cinema and steam-punk especially will love the movie. The automaton in the movie is actually based on three real automata that were built in the 1700s, which were actually incredible. The only thing I really didn't like was the score: the entire first half of the movie and much of the second is scored with that light French accordion music that is supposed to evoke period and romance, but which I find grating.

The Tree of Life: A movie that everyone either loves or hates with a passion. This is an art film, rather similar to the art films of the 60s or 70s, where there is little in the way of plot, the main flow (such as it is) is inter-cut with shots of the universe, nature, or life, and whispered voice-overs pound home existential questions or sharp emotions. The first part of the film is impressions of a happy 50s childhood - loving mom and some children - followed by the news that one of the kids died at age 19, followed by one of the other kids - now a man in his 50s - reflecting back on his childhood. The second part, the largest of the inter-cut segments, is about 25 minutes of evocative astronomical and biological film that roughly traces the origin of the universe, the Earth, and life. The third and largest part is more scenes from childhood, this time giving you the love-hate relationship that the boy had with his father and some other family dynamics. The last part is a surreal walk through the sand with various characters past and present affecting some kind of relationship, or not. At the end we flash back to the present and the man in his office.

Is it good? Obviously this depends on what kind of movie you want to see, how familiar you are with the art movies of the 60s and 70s, and how much you can take of pretension mixed with beautiful visuals and nostalgia. Yes, it's good. If for no other reason that the filmmaker tried to do something a little unusual, which should be applauded. In the case of The Artist, another highly stylized movie from last year, take away the beautiful style and you're left with some great acting but a mediocre rehashed plot. In this film, take away the beautiful style and you're left with some very evocative film-making. The scenes of fifties childhood are poignant and painful. Honestly, the second part (the evolution of the universe) didn't do much for me, and I count myself among those who don't see its point. The rest was captivating.
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