This week at the movies

A look at Friday's cinema releases, 18 February 2012

Sony Pictures/Press Image
Brad Pitt in 'Moneyball'
Brad Pitt in 'Moneyball'

If there is any justice in the world, or at least at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Hollywood, Martin Scorsese's stunning tale Hugo will take most of the 11 Oscars for which it is nominated. The 69-year-old Scorsese produces films with the same force of when he was 30, and is now exploring 3D technology as a tool that brings a freshness sure to please audiences of any age group.

Another highlight of this week's releases is Moneyball with Brad Pitt, a rare case of a predictable story made interesting thanks to a talented director (Bennett Miller, Capote).

To fans of action movies, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance takes the obscure Marvel comic book character who had already been turned into a movie hero in 2007. Like the first Ghost Rider film, this sequel also stars Nicolas Cage.

Hugo | Moneyball | The Iron LadyGhost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance | Reis e RatosRoad to Nowhere

Hugo (A Invenção de Hugo Cabret)

Martin Scorsese is from one of the first generations of filmmakers informed by modern film schools such as NYU, where he graduated and earned his master's degree. As a big fan and scholar of the classics, he created some very important documentaries about cinema’s history (A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies and My Voyage to Italy) and made it his personal mission to raise funds and restore works international film masterpieces through his World Cinema Foundation – such as Limite, by Brazilian director Mário Peixoto. So as disparate as it might seem, there's really nothing unusual about Hugo in relation to the rest of the career from Taxi Driver's director.

Hugo is yet another expression of Scorsese's relationship with cinema, and, above all, a tribute to George Méliès. Based on the novel by Brian Selznick, the story follows Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), an orphan who lives between the walls of the train station in Paris, in his quest to unravel a mystery concerning his father (Jude Law), which ends up involving the owner of a toy shop (Ben Kingsley).

Among the many poignant details of the story is the importance of a Méliès film seen by Hugo's father. Perhaps the first illusionist in film history, the pioneering French filmmaker developed trickery that enabled him to tell fantastic stories, as seen in his most famous films, A Trip to the Moon (1902). Hugo's contact with the art of Méliès provides a sensory experience for the character, and by extension, us.

The protagonist, in short, seeks to understand the past so that he can both support himself by it and use it as a way to throw himself into the future. Thus, it is no coincidence that the movie has such a homesick feeling, and is possibly the best use of 3D technology to date. This is because everything in Hugo is three-dimensional – starting with the characters. The magic of cinema goes beyond the screen to get to the real world, and introduces a sort of communion between Hugo, his father, the other characters, the audience and the cinema.

Dir. Martin Scorsese, USA, 2011. Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jude Law. 126 mins.

Moneyball (O Homem que Mudou o Jogo)

Although not a popular sport in most parts of the world, baseball has yielded very successful films like Bull Durham, Eight Men Out and now Moneyball. The examples are quite different, but with something in common: they are not "baseball movies", but with great stories that happen to pass in that universe

Moneyball is based on the book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game, by journalist Michael Lewis, editor and contributor to Vanity Fair and author of several bestselling non-fiction titles. It discusses the pioneering strategies of a former player and general manager of the Oakland Athletics, Billy Beane (Brad Pitt). With the help of Peter Brand (Jonah Hill), a young Yale-trained economist, Beane buids a winning team with little money and using statistical analysis of players.This method was initially ridiculed, but the team's success (including an unprecedented twenty consecutive wins in Major League), caused other teams to incorporate Beane's ideas over time.

Instead of an overblown triumphant catharsis so expected for this type of film, director Bennett Miller opts for discretion. There is a scene early in the film where Beane, sitting on the sidelines of an empty stadium, the radio came a departure from his team. There, in almost complete silence, Miller holds the image for a few seconds longer than usual before cutting to the next scene. It's as if to remind us: 'The film's about this guy, don’t forget it.' It’s a device whose simplicity doesn’t betray its sophistication.

In a sense, Moneyball is like its protagonist: persuasive, focused and aware that, if all the parts fit together, the desired results will come.

Dir. Bennett Miller, USA, 2011. Brad Bitt, JonahHill, Philip Seymour Hoffman. 133 mins.

 The Iron Lady (A Dama de Ferro)


This biopic deserves to be seen for the performance of Meryl Streep – but only for that. Few things are as disappointing as watching a reconstituted history of a controversial figure who seems to avoid – at all costs – any disputes.

Despite the efforts of the phenomenal actress, Margaret Thatcher is barely a shadow of her actual self, in large part, due to the shortcomings of the script. The film's flimsy structure, stops at key points in the former British prime minister's life without discussing them or even contextualize them properly. We already know the results: a thin biographical outline of her senile twilight years, as she hallucinates about her dead husband. 

Click here to read the review by Keith Uhlich, at Time Out New York

Dir. Phyllida Lloyd, England/ France, 2011. Meryl Streep, Jim Broadbent, Olivia Colman. 105 mins.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (Motoqueiro Fantasma: Espírito de Vingança)

Ghost Rider is a Marvel comic book character that was created in the early 70’s by Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich and Mike Plogg. By making a pact with Mephistopheles to save his adoptive father, the motorcyclist Johnny Blaze is transformed into his heroic alter ego.
In this sequel, he returns with the chance to getting rid of his curse by agreeing to protect a child. Nicolas Cage returns to embody the title character. Unfortunately, Eva Mendes, star of the first movie, isn't in this one.

Dir Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor, USA, 2011. Nicolas Cage,Ciarán Hinds, Violante Placido. 95 min.

Reis e Ratos


The director of Meu Nome não é Johnny returns to theaters with this convoluted comedy about the evening of the Military Coup of 1964. The beginning of the film involves the explosion of a gazebo, a nightclub singer (Rafaela Mandelli) and a paranormal (Cauã Reymond). This odd situation gives a pretty good indication of what comes next.

After this prologue, the story is interrupted by flashbacks and involves a strange mix of characters ranging from a CIA caricature (Selton Mello) to a former pimp addicted to amphetamines (Rodrigo Santoro), who are all somehow connected to the right wing's plan to depose the president without using the military

Reis e Ratos has novelty going for it: the Brazilian cinema has rarely addressed the turbulent historical period that would eventually throw us into the abyss of a dictatorship so unusually.

Dir. Mauro Lima, Brazil, 2012. Selton Mello, Rodrigo Santoro,Cauã Reymond, Seu Jorge. 111 mins.

Road to Nowhere (Caminho para o Nada)

After the questions following David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and, above all, Inland Empire, it was thought that there wasn’t much space for this type of metalinguistic film construction. Apparently, the veteran Monte Hellman wants to overcome this alleged exhaustion in Road to Nowhere.

There's a film-within-a-film, which is accompanied by the reconstitution of a murder followed by a suicide. If it doesn't sound confusing enough, be aware that the more the story progresses, the more the boundaries between the layers of fiction become blurred.

Road to Nowhere invests heavily in fragmentation, and the various pieces of the puzzle are shown without the slightest hurry. The film is left to the viewer to reassemble in a way that that makes sense. It's not everyone's cup of tea.

When weaving questions about the nature of cinematic storytelling, Hellman offers an intricate and difficult journey, it’s true, but it's a rewarding one for those who are willing to follow it to the end.

Dir. Monte Hellman, USA, 2011. Shannyn Sossamon, TyghRunyan, Cliff De Young. 121 mins.

By André de Leones


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