The Dictator – Review

THE DICTATOR (2012) 

Director: Larry Charles. Cast: Sacha Baron CohenBen Kingsley.

Heralded by a strong marketing campaign that makes it sound as the most controversial movie since the last temptation of ChristThe Dictator is a strange hybrid. It is certainly not what the trailers makes it look like, nor is as innovative as Sacha Baron Cohen‘s best work (well… so to speak… I guess I’m referring to Borat, which is no masterpiece but at least it felt new at the time). I call this a strange hybrid because in trying to be both controversial and a crowd-pleaser, rude and cute, clever and silly, in the end might just dissatisfy pretty much everyone.

This time the documentary style from both Borat and Bruno has been abandoned in favour of a more straight forward and linear structure. But while there are undoubtedly some inspire puns and good ideas here and there (right from the start the mother dying in child-birth), the story (or rather lack of one) is so idiotic and pedestrian that leaves those few good jokes too exposed and definitely not enough to keep you engaged even if the overall length movie is pretty short.

Believe me, I’m all in favour of good satire and I’m certainly not one of those who claim we should not joke on delicate issued like racism, xenophobia, terrorism and Arab (or Western) stereotypes and preconceptions. If it’s done with a purpose and if it’s clever, it can be as sharp as a knife and quite effective. Sadly here, you can just see sporadic glimpses of what this film could have been, had it not fallen into the trappings of a thin love story. Four Lions tried it last year: it was not completely successful, but it was a noble attempt. Here, the satirical edge of the Dictator is too diluted among cheap slapstick and unnecessary interludes, extraneous to the central message (the masturbation sequence for example, rude for its own sake, was just cheap and unfunny in my book, just to mention one… Just being rude for the sake of being rude should really not be the purpose of such film. Leave that to Apatow).

The Dictator was so desperate to offend and be controversial that it forgot its main purpose: to be funny. In the end it just fell flat. This is certainly not Dr Strangelove, but it’s not South Park or Team America either. It’s just a collection of gags, some more successful than others; a sort of modern-day (and more polished and slick) Kentuky Fried Movie (and let’s not forget that even that one is NOT a good movie!).In theory there is nothing wrong comedies made up with a series of gags all stringed together by a silly story. Look at Airplane! But at least on that one the gag rate was so fast that all you did is laugh… here the laughs are too few.

At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding: I was in a half-packed theatre surrounded by what I suppose must have been the core audience for this type of product (a 20-something crowd) and the silence that welcomed some of the supposedly funny jokes was deafening: a clear sign that I was not alone in feeling sorry for a film that is just not as clever as it thinks it is…

5.0/10

Click here for my review of FOUR LIONS

Hugo 3D – Review

Hugo 3D(2011) 

Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Ben KingsleyAsa ButterfieldChloë Grace MoretzChristopher LeeSacha Baron Cohen.

Accompanied by a series of glorious reviews and voted Best Film of the year by the National Board of Review Hugo has finally hit our multiplex. Obviously the expectations are pretty high!

On paper this has got all the elements to be a true masterpiece. Loveable kids, Paris in the 30s, passion for old movies, a heart-melting story, magical sets, spectacular 3d, an amazing cast… and of course Martin Scorsese himself at its helm. How can it possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately despite all these potentials, the film itself  never really took off for me and for all its good intentions, its great heart and undoubtedly its mastery in film-making, in the end Hugo 3D cannot hide the fact that it’s all over the place and actually just a bit boring.

Yes some of the camerawork is astonishing and Marty certainly knows how integrate 3D into his story, making it more than just a gimmick: right from the beginning we can see the potential as we are treated with a one-shot-wonder which pushes the 3D effects beyond anything we’ve seen before (yes, even Avatar). The camera glides, twirls and swoops across a train station, then jibs up along ladders and flies through giant clock mechanisms. But even this first burst of energy gets a bit tiresome after a while and the film runs out of steam pretty soon after that and not even all those camera swoops, chases and constant music can raise the level of excitement.

The main problem seems to be that Scorsese is so concerned about the message of preserving old films, that he forgets about how to make it an involving and exciting story, and most of all, he forgets who central character should be: the film is called Hugo after all. In fact the most inspired scenes in the movies have nothing to do with Hugo himself but rather with Ben Kingsley’s character, the French magician/film-maker Georges Méliès (yes, the one from the 1902 “Le Voyage Dans La Lune, which you can see below). The scenes around him are probably some of the most inspired… and the best. There’s a certain pleasure in seeing the behind the scenes of such iconic moments in cinema history. There’s a great sense of nostalgia for that comes with them and Scorsese’s attention to details is definitely to be praised. However none of this will probably make any difference to the average viewer who will soon wonder where all this is going and surely will get a bit bored.

It’s hard to tell who is this film aimed at. It is definitely too slow for kids, too diluted for the average person, too rhetorical and over-explicit and a bit silly for the real cinephiles.

Scorsese might have made this film for his kids (or so at least he claims), but it’s clear that he has quite got that open-mindedness about children and that innocence  and sense of wonder (that for example Spielberg has) to tell a story about them which would ring true: both Hugo and Isabel (an unusually wooden Chloë Grace Moretz) speak a language which doesn’t quite belong to them (it’s as if Scorsese himself were talking). In the end it’s clear that the director is much more interested in telling a story about the restoration of old movies, rather than a fairy tale about a kid growing up and finding a family. Funnily enough, even the message about saving old films from the past loses a little bit of credibility (and honesty) the moment in which Scorsese decides to turn Méliès’ movies into 3D.

The fault at the core of all this is that Scorsese is just trying to be too clever and cram too much in it.

In a way he is even trying to make his own “Rear window“, by giving us little stories around the train station, as seen from the eyes of Hugo, just like in Hitchcock’s masterpiece we were treated to glimpses of lives seen through the eyes of James Stewart. However while in Rear Windows those stories where a representation of our character’s state of mind (his doubts and fears about married life) and always seen his own the point of view, here much too often we lose track of Hugo himself and the lives we get too see are completely irrelevant to the central story. Most them even feel a bit misjudged too. Sacha Baron Cohen’s turn as police inspector and his slapstick gags are never really as funny as they should be the romances between the various couples are as moving or even quirky as they should to be and in fact not only they seem to belong to a different film altogether but they also pull the film in too many different directions.

It’s surprising how a film so concerned about the art of storytelling could lose itself so much when trying to actually tell a simple story.

6/10

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