Film » Film Capsules

Film Capsules

In theaters this week

Hugo (PG)

Asa Butterfield plays Hugo Cabret, a wide-eyed boy whose clockmaker father dies unexpectedly, leaving the kid to be raised by his drunken Uncle Claude, who keeps the clocks running at a Paris train station. Rather than be gathered up as just another orphan and given over to authorities by the villainous Station Inspector, Hugo lives in the station's walls, stealing croissants and milk to get by. One day he meets a luminous, educated young woman, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who introduces him to the colorful characters at the station that he's spent so long avoiding. One of them is her de facto papa, a cranky toy-shop keeper named Georges (Ben Kingsley), who has a mysterious connection to the broken clockwork automaton Hugo's dad left behind. The maze of connections between Isabelle, the station, the automaton, the toy man, and everything in between leads Hugo on a magical journey that's surprising and touching at every turn. By inextricably linking our experience now with that of audiences past, director Martin Scorsese draws a direct line from early movie-making dreamers to today's torch-carrying filmmakers. It's a deeply personal work and a majestic love letter to the cinema. — Justin Strout

The Descendants (R) — Matt King (George Clooney) is away on business when he gets word that his wife is in a coma after a boat accident. Suddenly he's responsible for not only raising two troubled daughters, but also telling family and friends that he's taking his wife off life support. Plus, he finds out that she'd been cheating on him. Director Alexander Payne (Sideways) laces The Descendants with equal doses of humor and drama, and Clooney gives one of his most affective performances. It's Clooney and Payne's most emotionally taxing work, and it's Clooney who keeps the movie on course when it starts to become a bit aimless. (Michael Gallucci)

J. Edgar (R) — Director Clint Eastwood's stirring biopic looks at long-running FBI director J. Edgar Hoover (played with spot-on self-satisfaction by Leonardo DiCaprio), a deeply conflicted egomaniac whose personal agendas often broke the laws he had sworn to uphold. The movie crisscrosses eras and historical highlights from Hoover's life, but it isn't flashy — that's not Eastwood's style. It is supremely well-made, directed with insight and reverence and skepticism for Hoover and his story. The attention to detail and pinch of nostalgia make J. Edgar one of Eastwood's most old-fashioned movies and one of his best. (Gallucci)

Martha Marcy May Marlene (R) — With its minimalist texture and deeply felt direction, Martha Marcy May Marlene is easy to love and impossible not to admire. That's also true of the film's breakout star, Elizabeth Olsen (sister of Mary Kate and Ashley), whose title character goes by any number of alliterative names for a variety of reasons. Martha is who she was born as and how her older sister Lucy refers to her when Martha, who has just escaped from years of seclusion in a cult, rings her up asking for help. Once in the relative safety of Lucy's sprawling vacation home, we learn via flashback that she was renamed Marcy May. The movie is a mighty achievement on the surface, but it has major structural problems, and an utterly baffling, abrupt ending answers nothing and only compounds the coldness. (Strout)

The Muppets (PG) — The Muppets is slavishly devoted to the old guard's property and reputation, and it's enormously ambitious. Star and co-writer Jason Segel brings the rapturously joyful felt creatures to life via bouncy, catchy musical numbers, big colorful costumes, and a swirling miasma of pop-culture references and Hollywood cameos — just like old times. But under newcomer James Bobin's clunky direction, the movie feels cheap and strangely small-screen. A bit of the old magic eventually comes roaring back when the original Muppets gather for a telethon. But the film's meta-silliness often plays like a comedic bailout. (Strout)

My Week With Marilyn (R) — Michelle Williams is luminous as Marilyn Monroe in writer Colin Clark's remembrance of the time he talked his way onto the set of The Prince and the Showgirl and ended up assisting Laurence Olivier on set and aiding Monroe everywhere. Williams' Marilyn is an untouchable goddess who keeps Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) under her thumb, Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) at her mercy, and every man who lays eyes on her at full attention. But because the movie is based on the memoirs of a glorified personal assistant, it's scant on inside-baseball verisimilitude, opting instead for boxed-in broad comedy. The only plot to speak of concerns Monroe's inability to perform the most basic functions of an actress and Olivier's inability to tell her what to do. (Strout)

The Rum Diary (R) — This zesty adaptation, with Hunter S. Thompson protégé Johnny Depp as journalist Paul Kemp, is the best Thompson piece to hit the screen. Kemp, a hard-drinking but idealistic newspaperman, lands at a failing San Juan daily bent on exploiting Puerto Rico's riches, eccentric boozy colleagues, and an unattainable beauty. The picaresque plot is secondary to the impeccable design and cinematography, ebullient acting, and the witty script. (Pamela Zoslov)

Take Shelter (R) — Curtis (Michael Shannon) has nightmares of a storm so unrelentingly fierce that it sends the family dog into a bloodthirsty frenzy and birds into swarming black armies. The dreams become so intense that he begins preparing for the apocalypse, worrying his co-workers and straining his relationship with wife Samantha (Jessica Chastain). Shannon gives one of the year's best performances as a man stuck in the center of a psychological torrent. Produced by Clevelander Tyler Davidson and shot in Lorain County, Take Shelter won't always connect with your heart, but it will mess with your head. (Gallucci)

Like Crazy (PG-13) — Anton Yelchin (Star Trek) and newcomer Felicity Jones play Jacob and Anna, two attractive college kids who meet cute during class and immediately fall in love. They relate to one another in intimate, clipped conversations that were mostly improvised by the actors, and Jacob, an American furniture-design major, builds Anna, a British journalism student, a wooden chair to prove his devotion. Eventually, it's time for Anna to return home for the summer and renew her student visa. When their reunion moment comes, there's a snag: Anna's visa has been revoked. While the performances are fine, director Drake Doremus seems to fear the places Blue Valentine went. These are awful ties that bind long-distance relationships. Like Crazy is disappointingly incurious about them. (Justin Strout)

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