The phrase "family film" has never appeared in the same sentence with Martin Scorsese. But the R-rated master has made a spectacular PG-rated movie full of wonder and imagination. "Hugo" offers equal parts nostalgia, fantasy and mystery with Charles Dickens overtones.
Asa Butterfield is perfect as the resourceful Hugo. He's an orphan boy hiding in 1930s Paris after his father dies. He lives in the back rooms and clock towers of a train station. He keeps the clocks running and struggles to complete repairs on a strange machine with a mysterious past.
Hugo meets young Isabelle, who becomes his partner in their ever-growing adventure. They capture childhood innocence in a way that's often missing in the modern era. The complex plot also brings together the earliest days of silent movie making with today's finest special effects.
At 127 minutes, it's longer than it needs to be, but "Hugo" pays homage to 100 years of the movie-making craft. Scorsese delivers the dazzling look and magical feel of the best classic productions of this genre. It's sure to get some attention at Oscar time.
Beautiful Hawaii is the serene backdrop and key plot point for the chaos of one man's family in "The Descendants," director Alexander Payne's first film since 2004's "Sideways."
Like that film, the pace is unhurried, giving us a chance to absorb the sharp writing and wonderful performances.
George Clooney gives his most unguarded portrayal yet as a disengaged husband and "backup parent" forced to take an active role when his wife is gravely injured in a boating accident. As the real condition of his wife, marriage and their two difficult daughters is revealed, we see that this is not a man who has all the answers. He doesn't even know the questions.
There are several Oscar-caliber performances here besides Clooney's. Shailene Woodley is amazing as rebellious daughter Alexandra — a believable combination of sullen and sensitive. "The Descendants" tells a simple story about complicated truths that everyone can identify with. Aloha, Oscars.
'My Week With Marilyn'
"My Week with Marilyn" is a charming real-life memoir of a young man's weeklong friendship with Marilyn Monroe, at the peak of her beauty while filming "The Prince and the Showgirl" in England.
The look of the 1950s is lushly photographed and there is some delightful humor, no small thanks to Kenneth Branagh's acerbic portrayal of Laurence Olivier.
Michelle Williams is a luminous, if skinnier Marilyn and captures something of her frail sweetness, but the film merely reinforces the stereotypes we already knew about the troubled star.
JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator.
SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun