Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Released 11.23.2011

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by John Logan (Based on "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" by Brian Selznick)

"Hugo" shows a state-of-the-art mastery of the craft that it adores throughout. Powerful performances, stirring stories, and vexing visuals give it wings with which to fly. Simply put, Scorsese's "love letter to cinema" is one you must see in the cinema (in 3D no less).

"Hugo" should not have been a surprise for me, but it absolutely was. Months ago when the trailer was first revealed I sat confused and not all that interested, which is surprising as I am a pretty big fan of Mr. Scorsese's films. Then it was released and the endless praises were sung and it was revealed what the movie was actually about (again, I blame the misleading trailer). I went to see with high expectations, but still skeptical. Within minutes I was mesmerized by the effect of it all and by the end I was overcome with immense satisfaction. Let me try to explain...

Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is young boy who lives and works in a Paris train station (circa 1931). He is responsible for the myriad clocks in a place that seems to work, well, like clockwork. Steampunk fans will feel at home in the magical world that is still largely grounded in realism. Hugo has to dodge the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) and Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), who peddles a toy shop, both of whom seem more than willing to punish meddlesome little boys. You could say Hugo meddles. Things start to change when he meets a girl slightly older than he. She loves to read and loves adventures, on and off the page. She also happens to be the granddaughter of Papa Georges, who they learn was once a renowned filmmaker in the early days of cinema. Papa Georges seems to have lost his fire and a mysterious automaton left by Hugo's father ever calls to be figured out. The station is certainly full of meaningful mysteries and incomplete characters. The stage is set and waiting.

Everyone and their dog (yes, there are a few pooches involved) perform to exaction. Ben Kingsley, who was pretty great in Scorsese's last film, "Shutter Island," is downright mesmerizing here as Georges Melies, who anyone who knows their film history ought already revere. Scene by scene, as the rich layers of his character and back story are revealed, he becomes more complex and ultimately magical (which is exactly as it should be). Kingsley deserves supporting actor recognition throughout the award season. Rest assured he will here in The Film Tome for whatever it is worth. Asa Butterfield (who put himself on the map playing Bruno in "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas") is as amazing as child actor's go (they go pretty amazing these days). He does a lot of the heavy-lifting acting with just his eyes. Kid's a natural. Opposite him is Chloe Grace Moretz who must have been the best of her acting class. I admire Sacha Baron Cohen for taking this role. People who have never seen his other (more adult) performances will finally get a taste of his talent. He brings a lot of laughs here as an orphan-hunting, lovesick cripple (a regular Keystone Kop). Helen McCroy is also a delight. Like Kingsley she plays one of the Melies at different ages and does a beautiful job looking pretty and holding secrets.

When it is finally revealed what "Hugo" is really about you will be educated, entertained, and enamored. For me, the film had an inextinguishable effect. From the opening to the very last shot (a marvelous long take of a shot) and clear through the credit sequence I was clutched in womb of wonder surrounded by placenta of passion. It was almost as if I was on the verge of weeping throughout, not because I was emotionally unstable at the time, but because I inherently sensed the love of a filmmaker for this film and all films throughout. Yes, you will see some truly beautiful scenes of classic films and envisioned filmmaking, but the joy in this art can be felt all over. It is because of this feeling that I easily forgive a moment or two from the movie that may have irked me.

Now a brief word on the three dimensions you can currently see this movie in. For live-action films shot in 3D, "Hugo" stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of them (i.e. "Avatar, if you can call that live-action, and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams"). It particularly suits this visual banquet of colors, swirling snow, billowing smoke, and all manner of prepped production design. I mentioned the final long take before. It is worth mentioning again. There are many more to be found. A fine cinematographer that I know expressed that this was the first time a great cinematographer got his hands on the 3D medium: Robert Richardson, who has proven exemplary in previous Scorsese films, the films this millennium of Quentin Tarantino, and early Oliver Stone films. It all looks terrific.Some scenes out of the station and in the streets of Paris will simply take your breath away if something else in the film hasn't already. One of the best gifts you could possibly give your family this holiday season is to take them to go see "Hugo" in 3D. For the first time that I know of you might need to figure out what to do with tears while wearing those lovely 3D glasses.


CONTENT: thematic material, some action, smoking


Anonymous said...

Saw it last night. I agree with your thoughtful and complete, as always, review. You are able to clothe with words my thoughts. Nice job. Great flick. Dad

Anonymous said...

Likewise as noted above. I Thought the review was perfectly in line with the experience.

Galyn said...

I really didn't know what the film was about but the trailer intrigued me. The movie held me captive in a magical dream it seemed. At the end, I felt entertained, and in awe of the acting, the directing, and the whole shooting match. All of these characters seemed to play parts they were born to play. I didn't realize this was the boy from The Boy In The Striped PJ's. I really liked that film too. Thanks for your review, which always brings more insights. MADLY!