Blind Spot Review: “The King of Comedy”

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In the entirety of director Martin Scorsese’s diverse filmography few of his pictures stand out quite like “The King of Comedy”. It’s a tough movie to grasp with its peculiar tone and unbridled cynicism. It’s a movie filled with undesirable characters and we are left with practically no emotional connection to any of them. Yet, despite all of these apparent issues and conflicts, I found myself glued to this offbeat bit of satire.

So I said ‘undesirable’ but for the film’s main character Rupert Pupkin that may be a tad harsh. Despite being delusional, obsessive, and a bit creepy there is a sympathetic quality to Pupkin. Similar to Scorsese’s Travis Bickle from “Taxi Driver”, Rupert is an outsider desperately wanting on the inside. Both are sad and pathetic eccentrics who refuse to be creatures of circumstance. They have pride and aspirations – misguided but genuine. Slowly both men mentally unravel and the question becomes how far will they go?

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Both characters are played by Robert De Niro (at the time this was his fifth collaboration with Scorsese). Yet while similar in some areas, Rupert Pupkin has a uniqueness all his own. He doesn’t want power or to win the heart of a special lady. He simply wants to be a famous standup comic. He dupes his way into seeing late night talk show host and comedian Jerry Langford (played by Jerry Lewis) in hopes that it will lead to his big break. Rupert is given the old ‘contact my office’ brush off which he optimistically buys. Of course we know better.

A big chunk of the movie focuses on Rupert’s attempts to meet with Jerry. Some of the film’s best scenes take place in the lobby of Jerry’s office. Scorsese brings us back there several times as a persistent (and delusional) Rupert is repeatedly turned away by the receptionist and by Jerry’s secretary Cathy (played by a very good Shelley Hack). Each visit is a little kookier and slightly more uncomfortable than the previous one.

With each rejection Rupert becomes more unhinged and even more impulsive. Desperate, he seeks the help of fellow deranged stalker Masha (Sandra Bernhard). The two hatch an idiotic but well thought-out plan to satisfy both of their unique Jerry Langford obsessions. It’s here that the movie goes into some pretty weird directions but Scorsese keeps it all under control and unpredictable.

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One thing that struck me is how the film keeps Rupert’s act hidden for most of its running time. His passion is unquestioned and his determination is limitless. But is he funny? Can he make people laugh? Scorsese eventually gets around to answering that question in a really fun way and it’s a perfect wrap up to this zany concoction.

When people talk about Martin Scorsese movies “The King of Comedy” often falls through the cracks. That’s a shame. It may not belong among the director’s best, but it certainly stands out for its uniqueness. It’s quirky, a bit bizarre actually, and that’s a big positive. DeNiro is a blast and offers up another example of why he and Scorsese are such a good team.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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REVIEW: “Silence”

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For Martin Scorsese bringing “Silence” to the screen has been a fascinating journey. It started as an inspiration in 1989. Over the next 25 years it grew and evolved into something deeply personal for the filmmaker. In several interviews Scorsese has intimated that the film’s conceptual evolution mirrored his very own spiritual maturation. This intimate connection seeps from every pore of “Silence” making it a profoundly affecting labor of love.

It was in 1989 that Scorsese first read “Silence”, Shūsaku Endō’s historical fiction novel published in 1966. Scorsese immediately knew he wanted to make a film adaptation but he didn’t know how. Early attempts lead to an unfinished script in 1991. Plans to begin production in 1997 were postponed. More delays came in 2004 and 2011. But these postponements weren’t without purpose. During that time Scorsese gained a better sense of what “Silence” was saying. In his words he finally figured out “the heart of the book”.

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Endō’s novel is a deep exploration of the depths of faith. It drills below the surface-level perceptions of faith, down to its most bare and intimate state. Scorsese’s cinematic study of this central spiritual theme is absorbing but also challenging. The story he and co-writer Jay Cocks tells is powerful and rooted in historical significance. At the same time the film is a bruising meditation that is calling its audience to self-reflection.

To get us to that point we follow two 17th century Portuguese Jesuit priests, Father Sebastião Rodrigues (James Garfield) and Father Francisco Garupe (Adam Driver). The two receive word that their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson) has vanished after renouncing his faith amid intense persecution in the mission fields of Japan. Unconvinced of Ferreira’s apostasy, the two priests set out to find their mentor’s whereabouts despite the cloud of danger awaiting them.

The Japan of the 17th century was controlled by the Tokugawa shogunate. Christianity was deemed a threat and subsequently outlawed. Anyone breaking these laws faced torture and/or execution. It’s here that Father Rodrigues and Father Garupe sneak ashore with the aid of a boozing local vagrant named Kichijiro (Yôsuke Kubozuka). There the “padres” connect with a small village of Christians who secretly practice their faith in the dark of night.

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It’s worth noting Scorsese’s use of his camera to portray the arduous, uncompromising world these two priests enter into. It feels just as foreign to us as it does them. Even the sound design contributes to the sense of uncertainty and isolation. The heightened sounds of nature routinely take the place of a your standard musical score and sometimes the silence itself speaks volumes.

Rodrigues and Garupe establish a semblance of ministerial and sacramental normalcy for the village believers and as a result see their own faith strengthened. But the region’s ruling shogunate led by the freakishly blithe and casually brutal Inquisitor Inoue (Issey Ogata) is intent on rooting out and purging the land of Christianity. His dogged persistence paves the way to the film’s central conflict – something much deeper than a faithful Christian versus his relentless persecutor.

The further you get into “Silence” the better you understand the challenge Scorsese lays before us. The obvious storyline is compelling, but to truly understand the heart of the story requires a willingness to internalize the theme of faith and reckon with what is revealed to you. Yes, it’s a deeply spiritual film but not a preachy one. In fact it could be said it asks more questions than it answers. Still Scorsese ponders these ideas with the sincerest curiosity and unflinching patience – the essence of faith, the pain of betrayal, our human frailty. And what do we make of God’s silence in the midst of tremendous suffering?

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As you would expect the performances are sublime. Neeson’s portrait of anguish and conflict helps make his handful of scenes some of the film’s finest. Driver is as tense as he is gaunt which is strikingly in-tune with his type of character. That gets to Garfield, a guy who has steadily gotten better with each role he has taken. In “Silence” he literally transforms before our eyes both in character and performance. He plays it a bit safe early on but quickly tosses aside all restraints and commits every ounce of himself. Portraying spiritual struggle is tough and Garfield impressively carries the bulk of that load.

It has taken me two viewings and a lot of wrestling to truly figure out how I feel about this film and what it means to me. It’s that type of movie – one that can’t be appreciated with a mere surface reading. Despite its incredible artistry and beautifully sculpted scenes (cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto deserves an Oscar nomination), “Silence” seeks to be something more – a spiritual epic that not only reflects where Scorsese is in his personal journey but challenges us in ours.

“Silence” is a film that may not sit well with Scorsese die-hards looking for his normal cinematic swagger and it certainly doesn’t aim to be a 2 hour and 40 minute crowd-pleaser. But after a second look it clicked for me in every meaningful way. I still have questions the movie stirred up within me and I love the its unwillingness to give me every answer. In fact Scorsese isn’t saying he has every answer. But he is saying the questions are worth asking, and the answers you get just might change your life.

VERDICT – 5 STARS

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5 PHENOMENAL ACTORS WHO NEVER WON AN OSCAR

A few weeks ago I looked at 5 phenomenal actresses who were never given an Academy Award despite their incredible talent and strong careers. Today we are focussing on the men. I found this to be a much tougher list to put together. The number of great actors that never won the highest acting award would surprise you. And I found it incredibly difficult to leave certain names off this list. But I think a great case can be made for the five that made the cut. Now, as with the ladies, Lifetime Achievement Oscars don’t count. I’m talking about men who never received the heralded Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor awards. With such a healthy selection, it would be silly to call this the definitive list. But it’s clear that these 5 Oscarless actors are certainly phenomenal.

#5 – FRED ASTAIRE

While I’ve never been a huge fan of musicals, I’ve always appreciated the amazing contributions Fred Astaire made to the once flourishing genre. So it came as a big surprise to see that Astaire never won an Oscar. Now he did receive an honorary Academy Award after one of his retirement stints. But he was never recognized for his acting. Astaire was an amazing talent both with his dance and with his voice. But he was also a talented and always likable actor who made many quality films. There was a lot of doubt about whether he would make it in the movie industry but he would end up putting that to rest. He will always be recognized for his collaborations with Ginger Rogers. The two made a total of ten movies together including “Top Hat”, “Swing Time”, and “The Barkleys of Broadway”. He was superb in “Holiday Inn” alongside Bing Crosby. He would also make many well-received movies with the likes of Rita Hayworth, Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, and Audrey Hepburn. Fred Astaire made many films that should have garnered some Oscar attention. And this is coming from a guy not that crazy about musicals.

#4 – LEONARDO DICAPRIO

From an early age, Leonardo DiCaprio defined himself as an exceptional actor through several incredible performances. He first caught the attention of movie fans with his portrayal of a mentally handicapped boy in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”. This would earn him his first Academy Award nomination. He would star in several recognizable films before making his big splash (pun intended) in James Cameron’s mega-hit “Titanic”. Following it, he began a defining collaboration with Martin Scorsese in films like “Gangs of New York”, “The Aviator” (which earned him his second Oscar nomination), and “The Departed”. Hey would then earn a third nomination in “Blood Diamond”. He would continue to do top-notch work particularly in “Shutter Island”, his fourth movie with Scorsese, and the fantastic “Inception” with director Christopher Nolan. DiCaprio has an impressive resume and several intriguing roles lined up. He’s earned his numerous nominations but cases could be made that one or more of them could have translated to wins.

#3 – ROBERT MITCHUM

It’s hard to believe that an actor who was so highly revered and with so many good movies on his resume never received an Academy Award for his work. Such is the case with Robert Mitchum. Mitchum really made a name for himself in the film noir genre with movies like “Crossfire”, “Out of the Past”, and “The Big Steal”. He also starred in “The Story of G.I. Joe”, a solid picture that would earn him his one and only Academy Award nomination. After playing in a variety of roles, Mitchum would give a mesmerizing and menacing performance in “The Night of the Hunter”. The rest of Mitchum’s career would feature numerous Oscar worthy performances in some really good films such as “The Sundowners”, the creepy “Cape Fear”, “The Longest Day”, “El Dorado”, “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”, and “Ryan’s Daughter”. Mitchum had a recognizable look and unmistakable voice. But he also had a booming screen presence that made his performances all the more memorable. It’s truly amazing that the Academy never recognized him for his work.

#2 – JOSEPH COTTEN

Joseph Cotten had a long film career that spanned over five decades. He was an actor that was always working but was never quite as popular as many of Hollywood’s big names. But personally I loved Cotten and he starred in some of my favorite classic movies. You know things are good when one of your very first feature films in the beloved “Citizen Kane”. Cotten’s performance as Leland stands out and it’s one of the film’s many strong points. After another wonderful collaboration with Orson Welles in “The Magnificent Ambersons”, he would star in one of my very favorite Alfred Hitchcock pictures “Shadow of a Doubt”. In it he delivers yet another true Oscar-calibur performance. The 1940’s were a great year for Cotten as evident by his work in “Gaslight”, “Portrait of Jennie”, and a spectacular movie that I think may offer his very best performance “The Third Man”. While not as strong as the 40’s, the rest of his career would offer several memorable roles in films like “Niagara”, “Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte”, “Soylent Green”, and “Airport ’77”. It’s stunning to me that Cotten never garnered any recognition from the Academy especially for his early work.

#1 – CARY GRANT

It almost doesn’t seem possible. Has Cary Grant really never won an Academy Award especially when considering his brilliant resume? Nope, he never won an Oscar and he was only nominated twice! In 1970 the Academy did give him a “We Feel Terrible for Always Passing You Over” honorary Academy Award, but that doesn’t make up for the shunning. Cary Grant’s career stands on its own and it goes without saying that it was a great one. Grant’s good looks and undeniable charm always translated well to the big screen. He gave so many brilliant and charismatic performances from the 1930’s until his retirement in the mid-60’s. Instead of giving a history, let me just name some of the wonderful films he’s been in and you explain to me how he never won and Oscar – “Bringing Up Baby”, “Gunga Din”, “His Girl Friday”, “The Philadelphia Story”, “Penny Serenade”, “The Talk of the Town”, “Arsenic and Old Lace”, “Notorious”, “To Catch a Thief”, “Houseboat”, “North By Northwest”, “Operation Petticoat”, “Charade”. There are several other great Cary Grant pictures but I think you get the point. He was a wonderful actor who always commanded the screen. He also gave us some of cinema’s greatest films.

There you go. Those are my five phenomenal actors who have never won an Oscar. What say you? Agree or disagree with my list? Please take some time to share your thoughts on this week’s Phenomenal 5.

5 PHENOMENAL MOVIE NICKNAMES

There are so many cool and fun things about movies. One of those things is the cool assortment of characters that filmmakers introduce us to. I’ve been thinking about some of these great movie characters lately. As I was thinking on them, I started noticing the many nicknames that characters have had. I thought it would be fun to do a Phenomenal 5 on movie character’s nicknames. The one’s I chose range from funny to cool to down right iconic. Now as always I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 movie nicknames are simply phenomenal.

#5 – BLONDIE

Clint Eastwood and Eli Wallach share some fantastic and memorable moments in Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. The three title characters are trying to beat each other to a chest of buried Confederate gold. They scratch, fight, and shoot their way through deserts, civil war battlegrounds, and cemeteries. The movie is actually full of nicknames but none stand out more than the name Tucco (Wallach) gives Eastwood’s character. “Blondie” is funny in that it doesn’t exactly fit a tough-as-nails gunfighter. But it works so well especially in the classic final scene. How can you not love it? 

#4 – SHAMPOO DOUGLAS

Before things really get serious in Jeff Nichols’ “Shotgun Stories”, we are introduced to the key characters through some genuinely fun scenes. While “Shampoo” Douglas (G. Alan Wilkins) isn’t one of the main characters, he cracked me up from the first time I saw him and in almost every scene afterwards. He’s part small town redneck, part dense-as fog airhead and you can’t help but laugh at him, the way he talks, and the interesting predicament he finds himself in. Then there’s his nickname. What’s so great about it is that he hardly looks like someone who has used much shampoo. But yet somehow the goofy nickname is a perfect match for this goofy character.

#3 – HARMONICA

Yet another Sergio Leone classic, “Once Upon a Time in the West” may be my favorite western of all time. It features some incredible direction from Leone and a fantastic cast of characters. We meet one of those characters in the brilliant opening scene at the train station. Charles Bronson plays the mysterious gunfighter who makes his presence immediately known. Aside from his quick draw, he stands out for the haunting tune he plays on his harmonica. It clearly has meaning and we see that later in the film. But it’s the on-the-run bandit played by Jason Robards who gives him the simple but perfect nickname “Harmonica”. He’s such a great character and every time someone mentions the harmonica I think of him.

#2 – WILLIAM “BILL THE BUTCHER” CUTTING

Daniel Day-Lewis’ award winning performance in Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” is memorable for many reasons. Day-Lewis gives the character the same intensity and energy that he always does. He creates a scary and brutal gang leader who also has one of the more interesting nicknames. The name William “Bill the Butcher” Cutting is both funny and intimidating. The fact that his last name is Cutting is pretty funny in itself. But it’s his fondness and skill with knives that really give the nickname it’s pop. We see that he not only knows how to butcher meat, but he’s not afraid to use his knives on his enemies. He’s a great movie character with a movie nickname that really sticks out.

#1 – INDIANA JONES

How can any other nickname top Indiana Jones? Harrison Ford’s iconic action movie character is not only one of the most entertaining movie characters but he’s also known by everyone. We first saw Indiana in 1981 with the classic “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. It was followed by two fun sequels and more recently a pretty bad one. But Indiana’s icon status will never die. It’s a strange and unusual nickname but it’s one that after all these years feels perfect. I mean can you imagine him being called anything else? He may have taken the name from the family dog, but whenever I hear the name Indiana Jones, I’ll always think of the tough and cool archeologist that I grew up wanting to be. Without a doubt, Indiana Jones is the best movie nickname.

There they are. See a movie nickname you disagree with? What are some of your favorite movie nicknames?

5 PHENOMENAL MODERN DAY ACTORS

One thing that we movie fans can be happy about is the large number of great actors in the business today. When putting together this list of five great modern-day actors I couldn’t help but feel bad about leaving guys off who certainly deserve to be on. But such is a testament to the great amount of talent out there. It’s hard to balance incredible individual performances with bodies of work, but I’ve tried to factor in both. So as hard as it was, here they are. As always, I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no denying that these 5 modern-day actors are absolutely phenomenal.

#5 – CHRISTIAN BALE

Bale has come a long way from being the young 14-year old boy in “Empire of the Sun”. At 38 years of age he has amassed an impressive resume of performances that range from straight-forward action pictures to gritty, emotional dramas. After “Empire of the Sun”, Bale received a lot of attention for his role as a serial killer in 1999’s “American Psycho”. From there he established himself as a quality action movie star in films like “Reign of Fire” and “Equilibrium”. In 2005 his career skyrocketed after being cast as Bruce Wayne in “Batman Begins”, director Christopher Nolan’s fantastic reboot of the Batman series. The role opened up doors for Bale to work with some great directors such as Terrence Malick in “The New World” and Werner Herzog in “Rescue Dawn”. After working with Nolan again in “The Prestige”, he worked opposite Russell Crowe in the underappreciated remake “3:10 to Yuma”. That led to Bale’s biggest film yet, “The Dark Knight”, the second installment in Nolan’s Batman trilogy. After two more action pictures, Bale starred in David O. Russell’s “The Fighter” a movie that earned him his first Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Bale is set to star in the final Batman movie of the Dark Knight trilogy this year and I can’t wait to see what else.

#4 – GEORGE CLOONEY

Clooney started his career in television and first gained notoriety on the show E.R. But it was Quintin Tarentino and Robert Rodriguez who brought Clooney to the attention of moviegoers in the vampire action flick “From Dusk to Dawn”. After roles in the mediocre romantic comedy “One Fine Day” and the equally mediocre  action thriller “The Peacemaker”, Clooney starred in a film that could have ended many careers, Joel Schumaker’s horrible “Batman and Robin”.  But Clooney’s career began to take form thanks to some well-received roles in films such as “Three Kings”, “Solaris”, and his first collaboration with the Coen Brothers “O’ Brother Where Art Thou?”. “O’ Brother” showed Clooney wasn’t afraid to show his fantastic sense of humor. He would later star is such fun and quirky films as “Leatherheads”, “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”, “Burn After Reading”, and “The Men Who Stare at Goats”. But Clooney also established himself as a force behind the camera in the heavy, political-driven “Good Night and Good Luck”. He also saw himself garnering more critical acclaim that catapulted him into superstardom. He won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his role in 2005’s “Syriana”. He was nominated for Best Actor Oscars in the wonderful films “Michael Clayton”, “Up in the Air”, and “The Descendents”. Clooney is a bona-fide Hollywood superstar but it’s one of the rare cases where it’s for good reason. He’s a powerful actor who can command the screen and you can expect a quality performance every time.

#3 – LEONARDO DICAPRIO

DiCaprio has been making quality films since he was a kid. In fact it was only recently that I saw him as the brilliant adult actor that he has become. He first captured attention for his remarkable performance as a mentally challenged boy in 1993’s “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”. He was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and it was here that DiCaprio was recognized as much more than just a child actor. He starred in several other films but it may have been James Cameron’s “Titantic” that really put his name on the map. After working with Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in “Catch Me If You Can”, DiCaprio starred in a film that would launch a fantastic actor/director relationship. “The Gangs of New York” marked his first film with Director Martin Scorsese. The duo followed it with “The Aviator” and “The Departed” each earning DiCaprio critical praise. He would receive his third Oscar nomination for “Blood Diamond” and then teamed up again with Kate Winslet in “Revolutionary Road”. He then got back with Scorsese to make the underrated psychological thriller “Shutter Island” which was followed by the starring role in Christopher Nolan’s phenomenal “Inception”. 2012 looks to be an even better year for DiCaprio. He has two intriguing films coming out, “The Great Gatsby” and Quintin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained”. What’s amazing is that DiCaprio is still only 37-years old. It’s fun to imagine what he still has in store for us.

#2 – DANIEL DAY-LEWIS

Daniel Day-Lewis would probably be #1 on this list if he had a bigger body of work to talk about. On the flip side of that, his limited body of work contains some of the greatest performances in modern cinema. Day-Lewis isn’t an actor who constantly stays busy and he’s very selective in choosing his roles.  Another reason Day-Lewis is so good as that he immerses himself into each role. He’s known to stay in his character both on and off-screen throughout the entire shoot and his comfort levels with his characters are evident. Day-Lewis started his acting career in theatre and television but quickly gained attention on the big screen. His most recognized early film work was in 1985’s “A Room with a View”. But it was 1989’s “My Left Foot” that really brought him critical acclaim and eventually the Academy Award for Best Actor. In 1992 he starred in Michael Mann’s amazing adaptation of “The Last of the Mohicans”. Quality performances followed in movies such as “The Age of Innocence”, “The Boxer”, and “In the Name of the Father”, a film that earned another Best Actor Oscar nomination. After taking a few years off, Day-Lewis returned for his memorable performance in Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York”, a performance that earned him yet another Best Actor Oscar nomination. But it was his work in 2007’s “There Will Be Blood” that won just about every acting award available including his second Best Actor Oscar. His performance as Daniel Plainview is mesmerizing and I have no problem calling it one of my favorite performances in movie history. Up next for Day-Lewis is the role of Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln”. I can only imagine what Day-Lewis will bring to the character and he’s one actor I can’t miss.

#1 – RUSSELL CROWE

Russell Crowe could be seen as a rugged “man’s man” actor. He’s starred in an assortment of gritty period films and crime dramas. But Crowe has also showed a sharp range and an intense dedication to putting everything into his characters. Crowe is a far cry from the “pretty boy” image that many actors embrace. He brings a natural and authentic quality to his performances and that’s a big reason why he’s able to excel in such a wide variety of movies. His acting career started in Australia but he soon shifted to American films. He starred as the villain opposite Denzel Washington in the goofy sci-fi action flick “Virtuosity”. But the quality of his films quickly rose with “L.A. Confidential”, a critical success that gave Crowe’s career a boost. After several smaller roles, Crowe starred alongside Al Pacino in Michael Mann’s “The Insider”. He received high marks for his performance and even received his first Oscar nomination. But it was his work in 2000’s “Gladiator” that brought him to the forefront of motion pictures. He won the Best Actor Oscar in what is one of my personal favorite films. The following year Crowe starred in “A Beautiful Mind”, a remarkable movie that was drastically different from “Gladiator”. He received another Best Actor Oscar nomination for his performance that he should have won. In 2003 he starred in “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World”, a gripping historical epic that didn’t garner him an Oscar nomination but it certainly should have. Crowe’s range was again made evident through a run of high quality movies including the boxing film “Cinderella Man” , a fantastic western “3:10 to Yuma”, a crime drama “American Gangster”, a spy picture “Body of Lies”, and a political thriller “State of Play”. In 2010 Crowe made his fifth film with director Ridley Scott, “Robin Hood”. And while I found it to be a another strong film from Crowe, it was received with mixed reviews. Crowe is currently working on two films, “Broken City” and “Superman: Man of Steel”. At age 47, Crowe still has a lot of good movies to make. He’s a natural talent that can carry the movie and whenever I see his name attached, I’m automatically interested.

See an actor that I missed. Disagree with my choices? Leave a comment and share your five favorite modern-day actors.

REVIEW – “Hugo”

Martin Scorsese has proven himself to be a fantastic filmmaker, creating some of the industries most memorable films. The Oscar winning director is responsible for such movies as “Taxi Driver”, “Gangs of New York”, “The Departed”, and most recently “Shutter Island”. But out of all the movies on Scorsese’s resume, none are quite like “Hugo”. It’s his first foray into the more family friendly genre and his first film shot in 3D. But’s it’s also a stellar example of what a master craftsman can do with a great story, large budget, and the latest technology.  Based on the Brian Selznick’s novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, “Hugo” is a movie that resonates on nearly every emotional level while also offering one of the most visually stunning experiences you’ll have in a theater. It’s a near masterpiece.

“Hugo” is the story of a young orphan living within the walls of a Paris train station. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) spends time swiping parts from around the train station in order to fix a broken automaton left behind by his deceased father. Desperate and lonely, Hugo hopes that hidden inside of the automaton is a message from his father. He is befriended by an adventurous young girl named Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) but runs afoul of her godfather Georges (Ben Kingsley). We also spend time with several wonderful characters from around the train station. There’s the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), a florist (Emily Mortimer), a book store owner (Christopher Lee), and more. These characters not only give the station life and vibrancy, but each have there own little role to play in Hugo’s story.

While the story is beautifully crafted, it’s the performances that drive it. Butterfield is very convincing as Hugo and he really amazed me with his emotional range. Even more impressive was Moretz. She’s energetic, charming, and lights up the screen. Kingsley gives another brilliant performance that deserves serious Oscar consideration and Cohen offers plenty of laughs while also showing a sad, pitiful side to his character. There is not one bad performance in the picture and Scorsese manages his actors with precision. These performances are perfect compliments to his directing style.

While this isn’t the sort of material you would usually relate to Scorsese, he handles it with the exact same care and detail as any of his other pictures. Even with it’s big imagination and sometimes fantasy feel, this is a story that seems deeply personal to the director and he pours out affection on every scene. His vision of 1930s Paris grabbed me from it first gorgeous sprawling shot and through every intricate detail found in the architecture, wardrobes, dialogue, and mannerisms. Scorsese’s use of the camera and his ability to set up shots is impeccable and the way he use’s 3D gives me hope for the technology. It’s worth noting that this is a movie you should see in 3D. With so many cheap conversions and cash grabs out there, Scorsese gives us the most visually engaging use of 3D since Avatar. It’s at times subtle and other time jaw-dropping but always pleasing to the eye and immersive.

“Hugo” is a film that should strike a chord with any true movie lover. Not only is it expert storytelling and a visual master work, but it’s a tip of the hat to everything that makes movies such a great art form. Scorsese takes us back to the early days of silent cinema and shows the power and influence of film. There’s no way you can watch the second half of this movie and not have a stronger appreciation for motion pictures and the way it’s incorporated into Hugo’s story is practically flawless.

“Hugo” is a family friendly drama and a celebration of cinema all wrapped into one. It’s a movie for both adults and children yet it never caters specifically to either. It’s an intelligent and earnest picture that earns our tears at the end through it’s genuine sincerity and tenderness. It’s a visual marvel with the same signature camera work we’ve seen throughout Scorsese’s career and a dazzling use of 3D that gives the technology the shot in the arm it desperately needs. “Hugo” left me with one of the most satisfying experiences I have had in the theater. This may be Scorsese’s first dive into this new sandbox, but the result is one of the best films of 2011.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4.5 STARS