Why don’t I like Scorcese?

My latest review is up at San Diego LGBT Weekly. If you can’t be bothered to click over, I’ve posted the whole thing below:

I may lose all credibility as a film critic by admitting that I am not much of a Martin Scorsese fan. Aside from The Departed, I’ve never actually enjoyed one of his films, even if I’ve respected them. There’s no doubt that he is a technical genius – his scene settings and camera work are visionary and sometimes thrilling, and he’s directed some actors to some great performances – but his stories tend toward either the violent or the extravagant or extravagantly violent. Scorsese does not believe in subtlety, and I don’t like to be bombarded by my art. I understand why his fans are his fans, but he just doesn’t make the kinds of movies that move me. Perhaps this is why I was in awe of his latest film, the extravagant Hugo, but I am not in love with it.

Hugo has been described as his first children’s film, and it is based on the Caldicot Award-winning novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, written by Brian Selznick, who is gay and lives in La Jolla. The story follows Hugo, an orphaned boy (Asa Butterfield) living in the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930s. He spends his time tending to the station’s many clocks, stealing food, and avoiding the station’s inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who gets his kicks catching children and sending them to orphanages. He also is trying to fix a robot-like “automaton,” which his father (Jude Law) had found in an attic of a museum before he was killed in a fire. When a very grumpy toy shop owner named Georges (Ben Kingsley) catches Hugo trying to steal a wind-up mouse, Georges takes Hugo’s notebook, which is full of drawings Hugo’s father did of the automaton. For some reason, the notebook profoundly upsets Georges, and Hugo’s quest to retrieve it leads to a friendship with Georges’s goddaughter (Chloë Grace Moretz) and to, well, an adventure. It’s a movie for children, after all.

Except that I can’t imagine very many children being entertained by Hugo. The beauty of the art direction (by the great Dante Ferretti), the truly great 3-D cinematography, and Cohen’s slapstick comedy, particularly during the many chase scenes, will widen some children’s eyes. But the plot is a very slow build, and neither Butterfield nor Moretz are particularly charismatic or well directed. That the story ultimately revolves around rehabilitating the career of a great silent film director doesn’t help. For Scorsese’s fans, the film within a film and the numerous homages to some of early cinema’s most iconic moments will lead to him being called genius, yet again.

Hugo is a rather good movie. Its technical brilliance is the main reason, but the performances of Kingsley and Cohen are the other. Kingsley is incapable of a bad performance; his seriousness of purpose, his deliberateness and his ability to communicate five or six complex emotions when he is just silently sitting on a stool. And Cohen’s physical comedy has never been doubted, but this is the first time I have seen him subdued enough to be truly likeable. Perhaps, this is where Scorcese is actually subtle, in turning Borat into someone a little bit like Charlie Chaplin.

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by John Logan
Starring Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley and Sacha Baron Cohen
Rated PG
At your multiplex
In 3-D

Paris, je t’aime

I adored Woody Allen’s latest, Midnight in Paris. Here’s my review, which can also be found on the LGBT Weekly website.

Midnight in Paris
Written and directed by Woody Allen
Starring Owen Wilson, Marion Cotillard, and Rachel McAdams
Rated PG-13
Opens May 27
At Landmark Hillcrest and La Jolla

For the first 25 years of his career, Woody Allen couldn’t make a bad movie. In fact, he made several inarguable masterpieces like Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Then about 15 years ago – shortly after he left Mia Farrow for Farrow’s adopted daughter and was then accused of molesting his own daughter – Allen’s work became inconsistent. He made some great movies, like Match Point and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and some pretty lame ones, like Celebrity, Scoop, and Melinda and Melinda.

I am happy to say that his latest film, Midnight in Paris, is one of the good ones, a delightful, fantastical comedy about what happens when one of your greatest dreams comes true.

As in most of Allen’s comedies, if Allen isn’t the star, the lead actor is usually a stand-in for Allen. In Midnight in Paris, this time that stand-in is Gil, played to wide-eyed, neurotic, self-flagellating perfection by Owen Wilson. He is a successful screenwriter of terrible Hollywood hits, but he really wants to be a serious novelist, and the book he’s working on takes place in a nostalgia shop.

One night, after drinking with and being irritated by his family and friends, Gil decides to go for a midnight stroll through the city. After he gets lost, an old car rolls up and the Parisians inside beckon him with liquor and laughter. Gil gets in the car and ends up in the 1920s, when and where he encounters and befriends his literary and artistic idols, including F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali and Gertrude Stein, who agrees to critique Gil’s novel.

And he meets Adriana, Pablo Picasso’s girlfriend, who Gil quickly becomes infatuated with, a task not terribly surprising since she is played by slinky, stunning Marion Cotillard. Once Gil discovers that he can go back to the wondrous 1920s every night, his unsatisfying 2011 life becomes rather complicated, and those complexities make for classic comedic fodder.

Except when he was infatuated with a mediocre blonde actress like Mia Farrow or Scarlett Johansson, Allen has always cast his films perfectly, and every actor in Midnight in Paris makes the most of Allen’s trademark quick, pungent lines.

Wilson is perhaps the most fun to watch. He’s a limited actor; he never does anything much different from Wilson himself. But he’s never had the sort of material to work with that he does here, and as the film’s endearing, wry and amazed tour guide to post-war Paris, he does the best work of his career.

Every other role is comparatively small, but Rachel McAdams and Cotillard make the most of being Allen’s archetypes, respectively, of a harpy and an angel. Michael Sheen gets a laugh from his pretentious, “pedantic” character’s every ostentatious display of intelligence, and as Hemingway, Corey Stoll provides a parody of the great writer’s clipped diction and distinct bravado that is pitch perfect and more than a little sexy.