Category Archives: Hugo

Five Blockbusters That Aren’t Stupid (Hollywood Take Note)

Some recent postings on the site around whether Movie Audiences are Getting Dumber, or if The Movie Industry is close to an Implosion have resulted in a lot of discussion about the current state of Hollywood. Most seem to agree that there are too many dumb, overblown blockbusters out there and they would like to see something more than movies like Transformers, G.I. Joe or Pirates of the Caribbean are giving them.

I think it’s important before we criticize movies like those mentioned, we should always have a better ideal in mind. So if we think Battleship was a load of nonsense, we should be able to name a similar type of action movie that shows that genre of movie can, and should be much better (Aliens for example).

It is also vital we do recognize that there are films out there that do get it right, and that actually if we take a step back, there have been some really fantastic movies released over the past ten years. It is also my opinion that movies are not getting dumber, every decade has had popular films that lack creativity and intelligence. However, it is important that we as consumers do our best to avoid paying for films we know are not likely to challenge our intellect. That is, of course, if we have any interest in seeing things improve.

So with that in mind, I have decided to create a list that studios can refer to when trying to produce movies that not only have mass appeal, but actually contain a little bit of artistic merit as well. To make things even simpler, I have grouped them by genre, and only included movies from the past decade or so. There really is no excuse to EVER resort to desperately raiding your board games cupboard for inspiration for a movie ever again.

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Animated – Wall-E

Wall-E is my favourite of Pixar’s movies. No mean feat, when one considers Toy Story 1-3, Finding Nemo, The Incredibles and Up could all have an equal stake for this position in the list. Like those movies its brilliance centres in a simple, engaging story and a central relationship we are able to invest in. Its first act in particular is probably as close to perfection as thirty minutes of cinema can ever come.

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Superhero – The Dark Knight

All of Christopher Nolan’s films have than wonderful mix of intelligence and mass appeal. In that sense he is this generation’s Hitchcock. Someone who knows precisely what the audience wants, but also creates films with proper ideas and themes running through them. In The Dark Knight we see the theme of heroics as Batman must make the choice between his reputation and saving Gotham from itself. Rich, dense, but never truly losing its comic roots it is a film that has set a standard for what superhero movies should be.

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Family – Hugo

Martin Scorcese (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, The Departed) is not a director known for making warm, fuzzy family films, and while Hugo is not a warm, fuzzy film it is nevertheless a lot more life-affirming than most of his work to date. Set in 1930s France it sees the young titular character searching for a key to a mechanical robot which is the boy’s last link to his deceased father. This film, like Wall-E has a superbly written story which is full of surprises, as well as containing characters with proper depth and issues of loss and bereavement that are explored beautifully within the film. Criminally under seen upon release, seek it out if you were one of the many who let it pass you by.


Teenage – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Like Wall-E I really could have chosen any from this series after the third one. However, I felt Azkaban was really where the series ‘grew up’ and started taking its central characters more seriously. From the simple changes, like the trio’s clothing changing from gowns to hoodies, to the more pronounced as Harry discusses the impact his parent’s death has had on him with Lupin on the bridge. The success of both the books and the films shows the appetite there is amongst teenagers for characters they can care about, get behind and identify with. The Hunger Games is a good example of another series which is carrying the torch for this type of film.

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Sci-Fi/Fantasy – Children of Men

From the same director as The Prisoner of Azkaban comes a sci-fi movie that doesn’t quite feel in the same category as more obvious examples from the genre like Star Trek or Avatar. The future we see is around 20 years from the present day as a disease has prevented humans from reproducing and they only have around sixty years until extinction. The story at the centre of this film is pleasingly simple. However, its themes of hope and survival are intelligent ally implemented. Also impressive is CuarĂ³n’s use of tracking shot, from the scene in the car when one of the protagonists gets shot, to a scene right at the end where a gunfight is brought to a standstill by a startling discovery. Sci-Fi/Fantasy has the ability to take us to other worlds and explore ideas in a way no other genre can. Children of Men shows the importance of making sure there are universal themes and depth beneath the world you have whisked your audience away to.


What I’ve Been Watching: Hugo

Hugo movie poster“What makes a great children’s film?”

This is the question I have discussed with many people who have seen and loved Hugo, arising from the almost universal comment: “It’s great, but it’s not a kids’ film.”

Perhaps it comes from the need to justify loving such an imaginative and deep tale; or perhaps it says more about the quality of live action children films we have come to expect; or perhaps it is simply because this is not a film children would enjoy.

The plot concerns an orphan, Hugo (Asa Butterfield), trying to rebuild a broken mechanical man, a project he started with his now deceased father. To get the parts he needs, he steals from a shopkeeper at the train station where he lives. The shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley) catches him and takes away the book with the instructions on how to build the auto man again. However, with the help of the shopkeeper’s goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretx), they try and get the book back and rebuild the one link Hugo has to his father.

All of which, especially when written down, sounds very much like the plot to a fairly typical children’s film. Deceased parents; mysterious father figure; an unlikely friendship; and mystery a plenty.

What perhaps differentiates it from other kids’ films is the way it interweaves the history of cinema into its plot in the second and third acts. As such, Hugo would be as good an introduction as any to the films and techniques of cinema in the early twentieth century.

You see, what marks a good children’s film from a great children’s film is simply the way it captivates the imagination. When one thinks of the truly great children’s films that have withstood the test of time, one might mention Wizard of Oz, Mary Poppins, Star Wars or E.T..

What all these films have in common is the way, whether an adult or a child, we get completely caught up in the world they have created. There is also a sense of the mysterious the film leaves us with when it ends. Where is Oz? Where does Mary Poppins come from? How did the Empire start? Where exactly is E.T.’s home and what is it like? It is these unanswered questions that allow us to stay within the world’s these films have created, they allow us to continue to explore them in our imaginations.

It is also what causes some films and characters to lose their allure. The Star Wars prequels don’t work as well as the originals precisely because everything is explained; monsters become less, rather than more, scary once we actually see them (Jaws, Cloverfield, etc.) Mystery and imagination go hand-in-hand and allow all of us, whether adult or child, to remain within the worlds of our favourite films.

Perhaps the appeal of Hugo lies in the classical appeal of cinema itself. The mysterious way reels of frames produce moving pictures; or the imagination so evident in the works of early cinema Scorsese shows us with such affection.

Hugo has all the depth and intellect of the great adult films, but ultimately it has the heart and imagination of all the best children’s films. Whatever ay you slice it, it’s simply one of the best films of 2011.