Two cinephiles offer their observations and introspection on a wide variety of movies, old and new. Bringing you reviews, recommendations and alerts for the movies you've loved for years and the films you never knew you couldn't live without.

Updated several days a week with content you won't want to miss.

March 1st
4:00 PM
Hugo
Plot summary: Martin Scorsese’s take on the award-winning novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick stars Asa Butterfield as Hugo, a young orphaned boy living in a train station in Paris. After the death of his father, Hugo is sent to live with his drunken uncle, who teaches him how to run the giant clocks that keep the train station running on time. When his uncle disappears, Hugo stays in the station to run the clocks, playing an elaborate game of hide and seek to try and not get caught squatting in the station.
Before his death, Hugo’s father began fixing an automaton he found abandoned in a museum attic. Hugo, who has inherited his father’s aptitude for fixing mechanical problems, decides to continue fixing the mechanical boy, leading him to steal gears, tools, and other small items from a toy shop in the train station. When Georges (Ben Kingsley), the old man who runs the shop, catches Hugo in the act of stealing, he threatens to turn Hugo over to the station’s police officer (Sacha Baron Cohen), who delights in sending orphaned children who sneak around the station to the orphanage. 
Hugo’s altercation with Georges leads him to a friendship with Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), who, without knowing it, is in possession of the last piece Hugo needs to make the automaton work again.  With Isabelle’s help, Hugo gets the metal boy working again, and discovers a long-held secret about Georges, as well.
Hugo is certainly one of the most visually-appealing movies I’ve seen all year. Set almost entirely in a Parisian train station in 1931, Hugo is full of life and color, excitement and adventure.  The cinematography in the film was astounding, transitioning from scene to scene flawlessly, the lighting and coloring drawing your eyes along without a hitch. My personal favorites were the scenes between Madame Emilie and Monsieur Frick, two station patrons whose scenes of almost-romance were light and airy – very cute and touching.
The train station is like a world all on its own – there are cafés and toy shops, flower stalls and book stores – and has a delightful cast of characters that bring it to life. These include Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars) as Monsieur Labisse, a kindly book-shop owner; Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island)  as Lisette, the sweet flower lady; and Frances de la Tour (Alice in Wonderland) and Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter) as Madame Emilie and Monsieur Frick two regular café patrons whose flirtatious courtship (which includes one touching scene where Monsieur Frick gets a dog so Madame Emilie’s dog won’t hate him anymore)  lends a touch of whimsy and amusement to the station’s everyday life. The lead actor, Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), was wonderful for such a young actor, and Chloe Grace Moretz (whose role Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass launched the young actress into immediate fame) was just lovely as Isabelle, Hugo’s friend and partner-in-adventure. Jude Law makes a brief appearance as Hugo’s father.
To me, the music is what really brings a movie to life, and this one didn’t disappoint. Composed by Howard Shore, who also did the majority of the music for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Hugo’s soundtrack was just as whimsical and sweet as the movie, with the right amount of Parisian-style flair. Howard Shore is, in my opinion, one of the best film composers, with movies like Lord of the Rings, The Aviator, M. Butterfly, and A Dangerous method under his belt.
One of the most interesting aspects of the movie was the historical ties. Ben Kingsley’s character, Georges Méliès, is based off a real person, a French illusionist and filmmaker from the early 1900’s. His film A Trip to the Moon (1902) is cited as being one of the first, if not the first, science-fiction genre films.  His methods were groundbreaking and spectacular, earning him fame throughout pre-World War I France. His methods of special effects were innovative, and he was one of the first to hand-paint the film frames, creating the earliest colored films.
Hugo is an extremely elegant, elaborate film, adding just the right amount of realism to a fantastical story. This is quickly becoming one of the few films that I could watch over and over again and not get tired of it. It’s been put into the “Children’s movie” genre, but I recommend it to people of all ages who love a good, heartwarming story.

Hugo

Plot summary: Martin Scorsese’s take on the award-winning novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick stars Asa Butterfield as Hugo, a young orphaned boy living in a train station in Paris. After the death of his father, Hugo is sent to live with his drunken uncle, who teaches him how to run the giant clocks that keep the train station running on time. When his uncle disappears, Hugo stays in the station to run the clocks, playing an elaborate game of hide and seek to try and not get caught squatting in the station.

Before his death, Hugo’s father began fixing an automaton he found abandoned in a museum attic. Hugo, who has inherited his father’s aptitude for fixing mechanical problems, decides to continue fixing the mechanical boy, leading him to steal gears, tools, and other small items from a toy shop in the train station. When Georges (Ben Kingsley), the old man who runs the shop, catches Hugo in the act of stealing, he threatens to turn Hugo over to the station’s police officer (Sacha Baron Cohen), who delights in sending orphaned children who sneak around the station to the orphanage.

Hugo’s altercation with Georges leads him to a friendship with Georges’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz), who, without knowing it, is in possession of the last piece Hugo needs to make the automaton work again.  With Isabelle’s help, Hugo gets the metal boy working again, and discovers a long-held secret about Georges, as well.

Hugo is certainly one of the most visually-appealing movies I’ve seen all year. Set almost entirely in a Parisian train station in 1931, Hugo is full of life and color, excitement and adventure.  The cinematography in the film was astounding, transitioning from scene to scene flawlessly, the lighting and coloring drawing your eyes along without a hitch. My personal favorites were the scenes between Madame Emilie and Monsieur Frick, two station patrons whose scenes of almost-romance were light and airy – very cute and touching.

The train station is like a world all on its own – there are cafés and toy shops, flower stalls and book stores – and has a delightful cast of characters that bring it to life. These include Christopher Lee (Lord of the Rings, Star Wars) as Monsieur Labisse, a kindly book-shop owner; Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island)  as Lisette, the sweet flower lady; and Frances de la Tour (Alice in Wonderland) and Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter) as Madame Emilie and Monsieur Frick two regular café patrons whose flirtatious courtship (which includes one touching scene where Monsieur Frick gets a dog so Madame Emilie’s dog won’t hate him anymore)  lends a touch of whimsy and amusement to the station’s everyday life. The lead actor, Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas), was wonderful for such a young actor, and Chloe Grace Moretz (whose role Hit-Girl in Kick-Ass launched the young actress into immediate fame) was just lovely as Isabelle, Hugo’s friend and partner-in-adventure. Jude Law makes a brief appearance as Hugo’s father.

To me, the music is what really brings a movie to life, and this one didn’t disappoint. Composed by Howard Shore, who also did the majority of the music for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Hugo’s soundtrack was just as whimsical and sweet as the movie, with the right amount of Parisian-style flair. Howard Shore is, in my opinion, one of the best film composers, with movies like Lord of the Rings, The Aviator, M. Butterfly, and A Dangerous method under his belt.

One of the most interesting aspects of the movie was the historical ties. Ben Kingsley’s character, Georges Méliès, is based off a real person, a French illusionist and filmmaker from the early 1900’s. His film A Trip to the Moon (1902) is cited as being one of the first, if not the first, science-fiction genre films.  His methods were groundbreaking and spectacular, earning him fame throughout pre-World War I France. His methods of special effects were innovative, and he was one of the first to hand-paint the film frames, creating the earliest colored films.

Hugo is an extremely elegant, elaborate film, adding just the right amount of realism to a fantastical story. This is quickly becoming one of the few films that I could watch over and over again and not get tired of it. It’s been put into the “Children’s movie” genre, but I recommend it to people of all ages who love a good, heartwarming story.

February 26th
1:14 AM
The Woman in Black
Plot summary: Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel of the same name, The Woman in Black centers around barrister Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a grieving widower in his early twenties. On the verge of losing his job at a London law firm, Kipps is sent on an assignment to a remote village to sort out the affairs of recently deceased client Mrs. Alice Drablow. Leaving his young son Joseph (Radcliffe’s godson Misha Handley) in the care of his nanny (Jessica Raine), Kipps travels to the secluded town of Crythin Gifford, where is reception is less than welcoming. Determined to succeed for fear of losing his place at the firm, Kipps perseveres despite all warning to leave. It is obvious to him from the very start that something terrible has happened in the village – something that the residents are determined to keep him from discovering. 
Despite all warnings, Kipps travels to Mrs. Drablow’s crumbling estate – Eel Marsh House – situated far out of the town, on an island in the middle of the marshes. Working alone in the big, empty house, Kipps begins to uncover tragic secrets about Mrs. Drablow’s sister, Jennet Humfrye (Liz White), and the slew of fatal incidents involving children that have happened in the town of Crythin Gifford since her death.
Driven by the love of his own son, and the need to stop the deaths of more children, Kipps vows to put Jennet Humfrye’s vengeful spirit to rest – for better or for worse.
I went in to this movie knowing that is was quite possible that I would never be able to sleep again. After all, Daniel Radcliffe himself said that The Woman in Black is “a film to make you afraid of the dark”. Generally, I try to avoid movies like this, but the plot (and Daniel Radcliffe in Victorian clothing) sounded too good to pass up.
Growing up a Harry Potter fan, I was, admittedly, a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be able to see Radcliffe as anything but The Boy Who Lived. However, he really became Arthur Kipps, making it easy to focus on his current character. Kipps’ young son Joseph was played by Radcliffe’s own godson, Misha Handley, and that certainly added an emotional bond between the two characters right away. The role of Jennet Humfrye, the Woman herself, was filled by Yorkshire actress Liz White, whose own narrow features translated perfectly – with the help of some fantastic make-up artists – to the shrunken, but still strangely beautiful qualities of the spirit. Joining them were Sophie Stucky as Kipps’ deceased wife, Stella; Ciarán Hinds as Sam Daily, Kipps’ only ally in Crythin Gifford; Ashley Foster as Nathaniel Drablow; and Janet McTeer as Sam Daily’s unstable wife Elizabeth. All of these actors and actresses worked very well together, creating a team of characters that draw the viewer seamlessly into the world of Crythin Gifford and Eel Marsh House.
The Woman in Black is a very dark movie, plot-wise, and the lighting and soundtrack choices were excellent in helping move that along. Scenes set in the village itself, away from Eel Marsh House and the spirit, were usually overcast but still light, reflecting the citizens’ fear and the effect of the Woman, if not her presence. At the House, however, the lighting was, for the most part, dark and dreary. There were shutters that looked permanently closed, and a long windowless hallway, adding to the gloom and aura of mystery about the place. The whole film is permeated with fog – Crythin Gifford is, after all, set right on the marsh – which is a key feature in many of the creepier scenes. Almost as important as lighting (some might even argue that it’s more important) is the soundtrack, and this one didn’t disappoint. Written by Marco Beltrami (who also did scores for such hits as The Hurt Locker, Live Free or Die Hard, and Hellboy) the music was in turns quietly melodious and startlingly sudden. Listening to the scores alone is almost enough to keep a person on the edge of their seat.
All in all, I quite liked this movie (and yes, I was able to sleep afterwards). It wasn’t gory at all, which is one of the reasons I rarely watch horror/suspense movies, and the fascinating plot was enough to counteract the inherent scare factor. After seeing it, I immediately bought the book, of course, and while they didn’t stick to it exactly (what book-to-movie adaptation ever does, really?), it was certainly a closer translation than the 1989 version was. When all is said and done, I would give The Woman in Black 7 out of 10 each for plot and scare factor, and 9 out of 10 for casting, with an overall score of 8 out of 10. I recommend this to anyone who loves a good scare.

The Woman in Black

Plot summary: Based on Susan Hill’s 1983 novel of the same name, The Woman in Black centers around barrister Arthur Kipps (Daniel Radcliffe), a grieving widower in his early twenties. On the verge of losing his job at a London law firm, Kipps is sent on an assignment to a remote village to sort out the affairs of recently deceased client Mrs. Alice Drablow. Leaving his young son Joseph (Radcliffe’s godson Misha Handley) in the care of his nanny (Jessica Raine), Kipps travels to the secluded town of Crythin Gifford, where is reception is less than welcoming. Determined to succeed for fear of losing his place at the firm, Kipps perseveres despite all warning to leave. It is obvious to him from the very start that something terrible has happened in the village – something that the residents are determined to keep him from discovering.

Despite all warnings, Kipps travels to Mrs. Drablow’s crumbling estate – Eel Marsh House – situated far out of the town, on an island in the middle of the marshes. Working alone in the big, empty house, Kipps begins to uncover tragic secrets about Mrs. Drablow’s sister, Jennet Humfrye (Liz White), and the slew of fatal incidents involving children that have happened in the town of Crythin Gifford since her death.

Driven by the love of his own son, and the need to stop the deaths of more children, Kipps vows to put Jennet Humfrye’s vengeful spirit to rest – for better or for worse.

I went in to this movie knowing that is was quite possible that I would never be able to sleep again. After all, Daniel Radcliffe himself said that The Woman in Black is “a film to make you afraid of the dark”. Generally, I try to avoid movies like this, but the plot (and Daniel Radcliffe in Victorian clothing) sounded too good to pass up.

Growing up a Harry Potter fan, I was, admittedly, a bit nervous that I wouldn’t be able to see Radcliffe as anything but The Boy Who Lived. However, he really became Arthur Kipps, making it easy to focus on his current character. Kipps’ young son Joseph was played by Radcliffe’s own godson, Misha Handley, and that certainly added an emotional bond between the two characters right away. The role of Jennet Humfrye, the Woman herself, was filled by Yorkshire actress Liz White, whose own narrow features translated perfectly – with the help of some fantastic make-up artists – to the shrunken, but still strangely beautiful qualities of the spirit. Joining them were Sophie Stucky as Kipps’ deceased wife, Stella; Ciarán Hinds as Sam Daily, Kipps’ only ally in Crythin Gifford; Ashley Foster as Nathaniel Drablow; and Janet McTeer as Sam Daily’s unstable wife Elizabeth. All of these actors and actresses worked very well together, creating a team of characters that draw the viewer seamlessly into the world of Crythin Gifford and Eel Marsh House.

The Woman in Black is a very dark movie, plot-wise, and the lighting and soundtrack choices were excellent in helping move that along. Scenes set in the village itself, away from Eel Marsh House and the spirit, were usually overcast but still light, reflecting the citizens’ fear and the effect of the Woman, if not her presence. At the House, however, the lighting was, for the most part, dark and dreary. There were shutters that looked permanently closed, and a long windowless hallway, adding to the gloom and aura of mystery about the place. The whole film is permeated with fog – Crythin Gifford is, after all, set right on the marsh – which is a key feature in many of the creepier scenes. Almost as important as lighting (some might even argue that it’s more important) is the soundtrack, and this one didn’t disappoint. Written by Marco Beltrami (who also did scores for such hits as The Hurt Locker, Live Free or Die Hard, and Hellboy) the music was in turns quietly melodious and startlingly sudden. Listening to the scores alone is almost enough to keep a person on the edge of their seat.

All in all, I quite liked this movie (and yes, I was able to sleep afterwards). It wasn’t gory at all, which is one of the reasons I rarely watch horror/suspense movies, and the fascinating plot was enough to counteract the inherent scare factor. After seeing it, I immediately bought the book, of course, and while they didn’t stick to it exactly (what book-to-movie adaptation ever does, really?), it was certainly a closer translation than the 1989 version was. When all is said and done, I would give The Woman in Black 7 out of 10 each for plot and scare factor, and 9 out of 10 for casting, with an overall score of 8 out of 10. I recommend this to anyone who loves a good scare.

February 25th
9:40 PM

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Plot Summary: Journey 2 starts off by reintroducing us to seventeen-year-old Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson), now turned full “Verneon” by his adventure to the centre of the earth with his uncle Trevor but also caught up in teenage rebellion over his mother’s new marriage and their sequential relocation to Ohio. He has received an encrypted message that his stepfather Hank Parsons (Dwayne Johnson) helps him decode as a message relaying the coordinates of an island written of not only in Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, but also in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Though Hank and Sean’s mother are not believers and think there is nothing to find, they allow Sean to travel to the coordinates in the hope that it will provide some “bonding time” for him and his stepfather. Sean and Hank travel to Palau - a small island nation between Japan and the Philippines - and hire a private helicopter ride from tourism pilot Gabato (Luis Guzman) and his teenage daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens). When they arrive at the coordinates, however, they find that the only way to the island is through a devastating hurricane that leaves only scrap metal of the helicopter.

Once on the island, the group almost immediately meets up with Alexander Anderson (Michael Caine), Sean’s long-lost grandfather and the sender of the encrypted message. Together, the five of them must navigate through the forest of miniaturised large animals and gigantic small animals, a volcano of gold, the lost city of Atlantis and the shifting tectonic plates that threaten to sink the entire island for 140 years.

 As a huge fan of the 2007 version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth (starring Brendan Fraser and Josh Hutcherson), naturally I was both excited and nervous when the trailers for this sequel started popping up everywhere. As a rule, I try to avoid seeing sequels in the theatre because I find they usually stray too far from the original storyline, and fall so short of my expectations that I end up kicking myself for actually paying to waste two hours of my life. But since Josh Hutcherson reprised his role as Sean Anderson in the film and I have faith in his ability to carry an entire movie on his shoulders, I decided to take the gamble. I could not be happier with this decision.
Of course when reviewing a sequel, one always has the original in mind and cannot help but compare each aspect, weighing which one is, ultimately, the best. In this case, however, I find it impossible to crown a victor.
Cinematically, Journey was a fantastic example about how the right director can make 3D enjoyable. But if you thought that was good, Journey 2 takes it to a whole other level. With carefully detailed landscapes, vibrant colours, intense action sequences and a wide array of creatures, the visual in this movie will take your breath away. I rarely recommend 3D over 2D, but in this case I feel I have to scream it at the top of my lungs: SEE IT IN 3D - YOU WILL NOT BE SORRY! The only complaint I have about the visuals in Journey 2 is that, on a few occasions, during the height of an action scene, the director chose to shoot in slow motion. I understand that this is for effect but for me all it did was stomp down my adrenaline buzz during an otherwise amazing sequence.
As far as casting goes, I’d be lying if I said I preferred Journey 2 to Journey. Hutcherson was, as I have grown to expect from him, amazing and convincing in every line and every movement. Guzman was as hilarious as ever, Hudgens as sweet, Caine as witty and Johnson as…well…if there is a proper adjective for Dwayne Johnson’s well-intended but short-fallen acting, I haven’t found it yet. But while Journey was carried by three actors that could all manage humour, intensity, excitement and sorrow flawlessly, Journey 2 seemed to lose some of that original emotional aspect and I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters. The few sweet, soft, emotional lines that were spoken in the sequel were always followed quickly by a comic quip or action that ruined the moment and kept the characters at arm’s length.
Journey 2 does, however, trump Journey in action all the way. Where Journey had all of the emotion and the story, Journey 2 seemed to make up for its lack of this by featuring a lot of thrilling running-through-the-jungle, hunting-electric-eels, escaping-giant-predatory-birds scenes. I was thoroughly impressed with Hutcherson in his scenes, specifically, and feel he even outshone Johnson, who I would have imagined to be the centre of most of these shots as he generally gets typecast into the “man of action” role.


All in all, I have to rank Journey 2 exactly even with Journey on my Score List: 8 out of 10 stars. I recommend it to anyone and everyone - I am 21 and I went with a friend (also 21) and my mother (whose age will not be disclosed), but I feel I could see this movie with my five-year-old niece as well. Journey 2 boasts “fun for the whole family,” and indeed it is. I already know without a doubt that I will be buying it as soon as it hits DVD, and I might even go see it another time or two in the theatre!

Journey 2: The Mysterious Island

Plot Summary: Journey 2 starts off by reintroducing us to seventeen-year-old Sean Anderson (Josh Hutcherson), now turned full “Verneon” by his adventure to the centre of the earth with his uncle Trevor but also caught up in teenage rebellion over his mother’s new marriage and their sequential relocation to Ohio. He has received an encrypted message that his stepfather Hank Parsons (Dwayne Johnson) helps him decode as a message relaying the coordinates of an island written of not only in Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island, but also in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Though Hank and Sean’s mother are not believers and think there is nothing to find, they allow Sean to travel to the coordinates in the hope that it will provide some “bonding time” for him and his stepfather. Sean and Hank travel to Palau - a small island nation between Japan and the Philippines - and hire a private helicopter ride from tourism pilot Gabato (Luis Guzman) and his teenage daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens). When they arrive at the coordinates, however, they find that the only way to the island is through a devastating hurricane that leaves only scrap metal of the helicopter.

Once on the island, the group almost immediately meets up with Alexander Anderson (Michael Caine), Sean’s long-lost grandfather and the sender of the encrypted message. Together, the five of them must navigate through the forest of miniaturised large animals and gigantic small animals, a volcano of gold, the lost city of Atlantis and the shifting tectonic plates that threaten to sink the entire island for 140 years.

 As a huge fan of the 2007 version of Journey to the Centre of the Earth (starring Brendan Fraser and Josh Hutcherson), naturally I was both excited and nervous when the trailers for this sequel started popping up everywhere. As a rule, I try to avoid seeing sequels in the theatre because I find they usually stray too far from the original storyline, and fall so short of my expectations that I end up kicking myself for actually paying to waste two hours of my life. But since Josh Hutcherson reprised his role as Sean Anderson in the film and I have faith in his ability to carry an entire movie on his shoulders, I decided to take the gamble. I could not be happier with this decision.

Of course when reviewing a sequel, one always has the original in mind and cannot help but compare each aspect, weighing which one is, ultimately, the best. In this case, however, I find it impossible to crown a victor.

Cinematically, Journey was a fantastic example about how the right director can make 3D enjoyable. But if you thought that was good, Journey 2 takes it to a whole other level. With carefully detailed landscapes, vibrant colours, intense action sequences and a wide array of creatures, the visual in this movie will take your breath away. I rarely recommend 3D over 2D, but in this case I feel I have to scream it at the top of my lungs: SEE IT IN 3D - YOU WILL NOT BE SORRY! The only complaint I have about the visuals in Journey 2 is that, on a few occasions, during the height of an action scene, the director chose to shoot in slow motion. I understand that this is for effect but for me all it did was stomp down my adrenaline buzz during an otherwise amazing sequence.

As far as casting goes, I’d be lying if I said I preferred Journey 2 to Journey. Hutcherson was, as I have grown to expect from him, amazing and convincing in every line and every movement. Guzman was as hilarious as ever, Hudgens as sweet, Caine as witty and Johnson as…well…if there is a proper adjective for Dwayne Johnson’s well-intended but short-fallen acting, I haven’t found it yet. But while Journey was carried by three actors that could all manage humour, intensity, excitement and sorrow flawlessly, Journey 2 seemed to lose some of that original emotional aspect and I found it difficult to connect with any of the characters. The few sweet, soft, emotional lines that were spoken in the sequel were always followed quickly by a comic quip or action that ruined the moment and kept the characters at arm’s length.

Journey 2 does, however, trump Journey in action all the way. Where Journey had all of the emotion and the story, Journey 2 seemed to make up for its lack of this by featuring a lot of thrilling running-through-the-jungle, hunting-electric-eels, escaping-giant-predatory-birds scenes. I was thoroughly impressed with Hutcherson in his scenes, specifically, and feel he even outshone Johnson, who I would have imagined to be the centre of most of these shots as he generally gets typecast into the “man of action” role.

All in all, I have to rank Journey 2 exactly even with Journey on my Score List: 8 out of 10 stars. I recommend it to anyone and everyone - I am 21 and I went with a friend (also 21) and my mother (whose age will not be disclosed), but I feel I could see this movie with my five-year-old niece as well. Journey 2 boasts “fun for the whole family,” and indeed it is. I already know without a doubt that I will be buying it as soon as it hits DVD, and I might even go see it another time or two in the theatre!