With Hugo, Martin Scorsese reclaims some of Hollywood’s old power as the great unifier, uncomplicated and sophisticated at the same time. This hymn to the unfettered imagination—Scorsese’s first work in 3D—is terrific popular entertainment, a magnificent children’s adventure story, with heroes and villains so delicately drawn that even the melodramatic moments have a comic wit.
The basic trouble with Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence (Columbia) is Edith Wharton’s novel. Looking back fifty years in 1920, Wharton conceived a tale of love versus honor set in New York high society of that past era, and she embodied it in a full-dress novel. But her material would have served only as a short story, at most a novella, for Tolstoy or Chekhov. What helps to sustain Wharton’s more extended treatment is the attractive prose in which she wraps her narrative.
The gangster genre can be as cliched and unimaginative as any other popular genre, but even the worst examples have something bracing, even liberating, at their core: They categorically reject the ideology that Americans are force-fed since birth.
In her review of Brothers, Slate's Dana Stevens discloses Here I come up against what I'm fully willing to admit may be a personal limitation: I can't stand Natalie Portman. I've never believed her in a single role. She evokes no emotional response in me beyond, "Oh, there's Natalie Portman." She doesn't overact or underact; she just stands around with whatever the appropriate expression for the scene seems to be on her sweet, pretty, childlike face.
Robert Altman: The Oral Biography By Mitchell Zuckoff (Knopf, 592 pp., $35) Here is your exam question: who is the last American movie director who made thirty-nine films but never won the Oscar for best director? Name the film by that director that cost the most money, and name the film of his that earned the most. Clue: The Departed, which must have been around Martin Scorsese’s thirtieth picture, and did win the directing Oscar, cost $90 million (four times as much as any of this man’s films cost)--so don’t go that way.
Kazan on Directing Edited and with commentary by Robert Cornfield (Knopf, 368 pp., $32.50) If anyone wants to make the case for Elia Kazan as one of the outstanding twentieth-century Americans, there is a famous text to call in support. I refer to A Life, Kazan's autobiography, published in 1988 at 848 pages (it was cut to make it a reasonable length), and one of the most forceful and engrossing books ever written about a life in the arts or show business.
How can you pack a life as multifarious and contradictory as Dylan's into a biopic without blasting the whole glib genre to smithereens? In I'm Not There, the acerbic and visually fastidious Todd Haynes attempts a solution: dispatch six actors—among them, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, a black child, Cate Blanchett, and a close friend of his Holiness the Dalai Lama (ahem, Richard Gere)—to capture the life of pop culture's most slippery genius. But the film misses a crucial twist in the story.
The Departed (Warner Bros.) Black Gold (California Newsreel) Of course Martin Scorsese has varied interests—remember The Age of Innocence and The Last Temptation of Christ—but it seems fair to say that his chief subject is crime. He was reared in Manhattan’s Little Italy, where, he has said, “There were two kinds of people who commanded respect, apart from parents. There were the mini-godfathers, who controlled the neighborhood, and the priests.” His films have dealt less with the priests.
I. I just got back from Hollywood, where I had breakfast with Ricardo Mestres at the Bel Air Hotel. Mestres shot from Harvard to the head of Disney’s Hollywood pictures, only to release a string of flops so unremittingly horrible that finally, after a deathwatch that seemed to go on for years, he lost his job. But there he was, with a spanking new title, dressed with casual confidence in khakis and a plaid shirt, working on his second breakfast of the day. The head of Warner Brothers’ film division sat across from us, the new chairman of Disney in the corner.