Scorsese’s first major non-DiCaprio feature in a decade.

After the films of Georges Méliès aren’t popular anymore, he burns his props, donates his precious drawing robot to a museum and opens a trinket shop in a train station. Museum worker Jude Law takes the robot home to repair it then dies in an explosion. Museum man’s son Hugo, secretly the station’s clock-winder since his drunk uncle (Sexy Beast star Ray Winstone) has disappeared, repairs the mechanical man and, Amelie-like, presents it to Georges Méliès, rekindling his hopes, dreams and love of cinema. Help comes from Méliès wife (Helen McCrory: Tony Blair’s wife in The Queen, Malfoy’s mum in Harry Potter), an author of a book on cinema (Michael Stuhlbarg, star of A Serious Man) and Chloe Moretz, who seems to have gotten younger since her last few films.

Some side plots are loosely integrated – they must be leftovers from the novel. Inspector Cohen has a crush on lovely flower girl Emily Mortimer (of Shutter Island) but is embarrassed by his mechanical leg brace, Christopher Lee is a forbidding/kindhearted book seller, and Richard Griffiths (uncle Monty in Withnail) is doing something or other with Frances de la Tour (in charge of the Albert Finney’s Head science project in Cold Lazarus) and her dog.

Set at the Gare Montparnasse train station where the famous photograph of the train derailment was shot – Hugo must’ve seen the photo because he dreams himself causing it. Some good cinema-reference, a few lovely bits of 3D (and some 90 minutes where I barely noticed the effect), and a nice performance by Ben Kingsley, but ultimately I couldn’t shake the feeling that it’s just a well-made kids movie.

“Men like you are my specialty. You know, men of violence.”

Ruffalo, Leo and Norm in front of a crazy fake sky:

I don’t usually try to outthink a movie, to suppose what will happen next, but when I know in advance that it’s a twist-ending movie I’ve got no choice. What’s the twist ending? Will hallucinogenic drugs be involved? Who here is actually evil? Did the missing patient never exist? And if not, what is Leo supposed to be investigating? And so on, but it turned out to be the twist I’d guessed from the trailer, that Leo was mad all along. Seems his wife Michelle “Wendy & Lucy” Williams killed their kids, so he killed her and got committed, and now he wanders the asylum/island with a plastic gun pretending to solve crimes. Lead doctor Ben “Death and the Maiden” Kingsley assigns Leo’s own doctor Mark “Zodiac” Ruffalo as Leo’s “partner” and sets Leo loose for a couple days to run his “investigation” and see if he figures out the truth about himself.

Leo with dead wife:

Leo with imaginary friend:

Opens with Leo puking on a boat, then being greeted on the island by Norm from Fargo, which is distracting. Kingsley sets our detectives looking for a girl whose name is an anagram for Leo’s dead wife’s name – alternately played by Emily “Young Adam” Mortimer and Patricia “Station Agent” Clarkson (I liked the Clarkson version better – all suspicious survivalist in a cave). Things get more impossible and surreal from then on. Leo has some psychologically obvious dreams, Scorsese reverses the film (cigarette smoke, not as awesome as the snow in Bringing Out The Dead), and Jackie Earle “Little Children” Haley tells Leo “You’re not investigating anything. You’re a fucking rat in a maze.” It’s totally clear about halfway through the movie, and increasingly afterwards that something is happening which is not happening. At this point, if it was a crappy movie I’d be impatiently waiting out the twist ending so I could go home, but this stayed fun to watch through all the ludicrous turns.

Clarkson on fire:

Starts to remind me of The Game. More star power: Max “holy cow, The Seventh Seal was over 50 years ago” von Sydow as a doctor, Ted “lotion in the basket” Levine as a tough-looking warden and Elias “Thin Red Line” Koteas as a figment of Leo’s imagination. Not a lot of women in your movies, eh Marty?

Von Sydow in danger:

I hardly ever watch movies with headphones, just assumed they’d sound pretty professional, but this one had some clumsy-ass dialogue editing. Fine music, though. Written by Steve’s old Avatar buddy, who’s not as smart a writer as Steve probably would’ve been, and by Dennis “Gone Baby Gone” Lehane. Shot by Robert Richardson, who worked with Oliver Stone and Quentin Tarantino and shot two of Marty’s more outlandish looking features, The Aviator and Bringing Out The Dead. I like this guy.

Kingsley patiently explains the twist ending to us:

Leo can’t believe this shit:

Not gonna say too much except that I was hella impressed by this movie. It’s the sort of high-society period piece I usually stay away from, but with balls-out film technique and beautiful cinematography.

Swell, stringy music by Elmer Bernstein (Sweet Smell of Success, every 80’s comedy, Far From Heaven). Beautiful opening titles by Saul Bass. Shot by Michael Ballhaus (The Departed, Quiz Show, tons of Fassbinder) and edited by Powell’s widow. Production designer worked with Fellini and Pasolini, costumer (who won the film’s only oscar) worked with Ruiz, Gilliam, Leone and Fellini, and the set decorator worked on RoboCop 3 and The Lathe of Heaven.

Glad to see macaws and peacocks. Noticed a Samuel Morse painting that I’ve seen at the High. Spent a whole scene staring at the actors’ clothes and the surrounding paintings, thinking about the color combinations. Distracting but very brief cameo by Scorsese as a wedding photographer. Playful transitions, irises, fades to color, rear projection and some super matte work.

The story, okay I might not have given it my full attention because of the colors and the irises, but fully modern man Daniel Day-Lewis is paired with innocent traditional girl Winona Ryder, but then he falls for fiery scandalous Michelle Pfeiffer instead. Eventually DDL is so widely suspected of having an affair with Pfeiffer that he may as well have – but never did. Lots of unspoken thoughts going on, DDL/Ryder’s marriage in the 20-years-later epilogue seems like the Crane Wife, like society would fly apart if they ever spoke what’s on their minds. All the actors very good – I thought Pfeiffer stood out, but the academy preferred Ryder. Great to see Geraldine Chaplin, looking good a decade after Love on the Ground, though she had very little to say or do. Richard Grant played as much of a villain as the film had, a sideways-smiling scandal-slinger, and Jonathan Pryce showed up towards the end as a Frenchman (dunno why, with all the opulence on display, Scorsese couldn’t afford an actual Frenchman).

Appropriate to watch this right after the Michael Powell movies, given Scorsese’s love for Powell’s films. I wouldn’t have guessed the fight scenes in Raging Bull were influenced by The Red Shoes ballet before I heard it in the DVD commentary. Also appropriate to watch this soon after Orlando and soon before The Piano, a sort of 1993 oscar-campaign review.

2020 Edit: watched again on Criterion Channel, noticed two separate things that might’ve been stolen by A Very Long Engagement, and wondered if the narration is from the novel. Wicked line: “but what if all her calm, her niceness, were just a negation – a curtain dropped in front of an emptiness?”

Arrrrgh, I should’ve known better than to trust this movie. A remake with insufficient imagination to justify its existence. A simple thriller with a lot of very good performances, that’s all. I’m probably wrong and it’s probably a Great Film, but I’m gonna go with my gut until proven wrong.

Let’s go: Martin Sheen is the police chief and Leo DiCaprio is his mole. Jack Nicholson is the ganglord and Matt Damon is his mole. Vera Farmiga is the psychiatrist girlfriend. Alec Baldwin is another police guy, and Marky Mark is Sheen’s assistant, one of Scorsese’s new characters.

So what’s different? The relationships with Vera are more developed – she’s marrying Matt and having an affair with Leo. Marky speaks for Sheen, spitting a stream of profanities at anyone in front of him. He kills Matt in the final scene as revenge for Sheen’s death. Most importantly, little things like taking the cellphone out of the evidence bag when Matt first calls Leo and having no recording gear in Leo’s arm cast when the gangsters bust it. Changes for the sake of changing things, removing memorable details that worked well in the original. I like the bit with the psychiatrist and the Marky Mark character – both help justify the longer running time of the remake – but they’ve stripped Leo’s close relationship with the cop boss, making the falling death from the building a lot less meaningful (except through Marky’s revenge bit). I especially don’t get that. I missed Chris Doyle’s cinematography and didn’t appreciate much of the music (especially the Comfortably Numb remake). The move to Boston worked well at least. A perfectly fine movie as long as I hadn’t loved the original. It’s my own fault that I did, I guess.

Still conflicted about Taxi Driver. Sure it’s a good movie, has a real nice look to it (ugly, but at least purposefully, professionally ugly), good acting, neat character. Just doesn’t fly out at me as a Great Film or justify the 30 years of hype. Guess I just wasn’t meant to understand American 70’s Cinema. Was really nice to see this on the big screen, even if Lefont decapitated some actors and credits… good texture to it, very nice print. Wish they’d have played King of Comedy instead, but that might not have even pulled in the 50 loners and misfits who bothered to attend this one.