Triple Feature: Hugo, Muppets, and a Zoo

Since I have to grade papers (and bake some cookies) today, I decided to indulge myself yesterday with a triple feature.  Doubles are not that unusual, but triples are a rare treat.

Hugo

Hugo is a wonderful movie for all of us who are film lovers from Martin Scorsese, a film lover and historian who happens also to be an exquisite filmmaker.

I’ve already heard from students in my Introduction to Film course this semester who saw the film with their parents and were thrilled to find out it’s about Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), whose iconic 1902 film A Trip to the Moon is something they saw the second week of class and have continually referred back to as an early example of formalism.

The story centers on a young boy, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) who tends the clocks in a 1930s Paris train station after his father dies, but the narrative takes hold when Hugo discovers that the old man running a toy store in the station is really a once famous but by then forgotten magician and filmmaker.

I can pretty much guarantee that people who are passionate about the movies will love Hugo.  It is a bit of a valentine to the silent cinema, and I bought into the movie completely to the point that I got teary-eyed at least three times while watching.  It’s also one of the few films I can think of in which 3D is both used well and seems to enhance the film a bit, though I’m lukewarm on the technique in general.

I do have two story quibbles.  The first half of the film with its emphasis on clocks is a bit prolonged (remember, I’ve seldom seen a film that I think couldn’t have been improved by cutting ten minutes from the running time).  Also, there seems to be a missing scene involving the Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee) character.  It is implied that he recognizes young Hugo’s name and later shows up at the station with just the right book for him that was, he says, intended for his godson but is given to Hugo.  There is a lot of set-up here for zero story payoff.  But, these are really quibbles about what is otherwise a beautiful film.

The Muppets

It’s cute.  Fans of The Muppets (in all incarnations) are sure to love it.  I enjoyed a few chuckles, but I was also reminded that I was never that much into the television show in the first place.

No hate mail, please.  After all, this is not a “maniacal laugh” but rather a tepid smile for a perfectly pleasant film that appeals more to other people than it does to me.

We Bought a Zoo 

The ads didn’t intrigue me so much as knowing that this is a Cameron Crowe picture.  For someone who has only seven narrative feature directing credits (and several music docs), Crowe casts an unusually long shadow.  Among them, Say Anything and Almost Famous are particular favorites of mine.

The most popular of his films is probably Jerry Maguire.  While I understood the appeal of that one, it always bothered me that a single mom would ditch a job with health insurance on a whim to follow a man who seemed so…well…feckless.

I know women do things like that, but I never could relate to Renee Zellweger as a mom after that rash decision.  Maybe it’s just me…a single mom of a young son, too, at the time the film came out.  And, besides, we all know that the eponymous character played by Tom Cruise would be back to his workaholic ways two weeks after the final scene of the film.

But, let’s get back to consideration of the movie at hand.  We Bought a Zoo is the story of a daredevil journalist who has to make life changes after his wife dies leaving him with a teenage son and a seven-year-old daughter to raise alone.  Under normal circumstances, buying a zoo would seem outlandish, but (in a situation apparently based on a real story involving the Mee family) everything unfolds believably in this film.

That may be because the emotional hurdles faced by father, Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon), and son, Dylan (Colin Ford), in particular, are written and performed with a high degree of authenticity.  It is the little moments of the film I like the most.  Along those lines, the relationship that begins to emerge between Benjamin and his zookeeper (Scarlett Johansson) is perfectly rendered as is the parallel story developing between the Dylan and the zookeeper’s niece (Elle Fanning).

We Bought a Zoo is a perfect holiday film for the whole family.  It is polished with all the seriousness of the transitions the Mee family makes offset by funny supporting characters and lots of animal cutaway shots.  Maggie Elizabeth Jones steals nearly every scene she’s in as Rosie Mee, Elle Fanning proves once again how terrific she can be onscreen, Thomas Haden Church plays Benjamin’s accountant brother who is horrified by the purchase of the zoo, and there’s an assortment of other characters who spice things up throughout the film.

I have to note – given how attuned Crowe has always been to the music world (he began writing about music for major magazines as a high school student) – that I felt the soundtrack for the film was at times intrusive and just a little bit off.  But, most everything else is spot on in what should be a crowd-pleaser of a picture.

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