Sunday, December 4, 2011

Review: "Hugo"

Martin Scorsese has made some of the most violent and vulgar films of the past 40 years. His films Taxi Driver (1980) and Goodfellas (1990) both earned him Academy Award nominations for Best Director - he finally won in 2006 for The Departed (a career achievement award more than anything else). My personal favourite, Casino (1995), has the fourth highest fuck-per-minute rating (2.37 times per minute) in film history (the highest rating was awarded to the documentary Fuck (2005) with 8.86 fucks per minute). Having said all this, it was surprising for me to learn that Martin Scorsese was adapting Brian Selznick's Caldecott Medal-winning children's picture book The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The book involves the true story of pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès and the fictional orphan Hugo Cabret. Up until now, the most family-friendly Scorsese film would have to be 2005's The Aviator, based on the life of Howard Hughes. Hugo is a love story to the early Golden age of cinema. Comparisons have been made to Martin Scorsese's life and childhood. Robert Ebert, in his four-star review of the film, briefly discusses Scorsese's love of film as a child and his relationship with British director Michael Powell. Like many frustrated film fans, I have been an advocate against the continued evolution of 3D. I saw Hugo in 3D because it was not offered in 2D at the particular cinema. I was amazed at how the effects helped make the film more magical and did not detract whatsoever from the experience - the 3D effects did not seem to dull the colour. Hugo features Ben Kingsley and Sasha Baron Cohen in prominent roles, but the film shines because of Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz (of Kick Ass (2010)). Butterfield, at just fourteen, lights up the screen with his blue eyes as the young Hugo Cabret. Hugo, a passionate film about the love of family and cinema, is a thrilling adventure led by the young Asa Butterfield and deftly directed by Martin Scorsese.

Set in Paris in the 1930s (where everyone speaks with an English accent, but all the billboards are in French), Hugo Cabret (Butterfield) is a young boy who lived with his father (Jude Law), a master clockmaker. Hugo's father loved the cinema and often took Hugo on trips to watch movies. Hugo's mother is dead, and when his father dies in a fire at the museum where he worked, Hugo is forced to go live at the railway station with his alcoholic uncle. Claude Cabret (Ray Winstone) is a watchmaker in charge of all the clocks at the station. Claude teaches Hugo to tend to the clocks, and then disappears. Hugo is forced to live in the shadows of the station and must keep from being caught by Inspector Gustav (Cohen), who will send him to the orphanage. Hugo has his father's automaton, which he salvaged from the museum, and works tirelessly to get it to work. This involves stealing parts from Papa Georges (Kinsley), the toyshop owner. One day Hugo is caught by Papa Georges, who takes Hugo's notebook away. Inside the notebook are his father's blueprints for the automaton. Hugo enlists the help of Papa Georges goddaughter Isabelle (Moretz). Isabelle loves to read adventure stories and eagerly joins Hugo on his mission to get his notebook back. Their adventure uncovers some profound revelations, and Hugo and Isabelle learn that their lives are uniquely connected.

I was initially skeptical about seeing Hugo. I was unconvinced from reviews and trailers that the film would be as deeply moving as is. Asa Butterfield emotes with such passion and conviction. His crystal blue eyes possess the power to captivate the audience. With the 3D effects, I was lured even deeper into the story. It is probably not coincidental that Martin Scorsese's first foray into 3D was with a film based on Georges Méliès, a pioneer of special effects at the turn of the nineteenth century. Within the story, I was quite amused by the characters at the train station. I loved the interplay between Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths) and Madame Emile (Frances de la Tour), the café owner. It was extremely entertaining watching him continuously try to court her. On the other hand, I wish that Emily Mortimer's Lisette had been given a more substantial role. I predicted her involvement at the end of the story, but it felt a little stale as she did not have enough screen time to develop her role. After the disappointing Shutter Island (2009), it is nice to see Martin Scorsese achieve something incredible with a new genre. Hugo is unlike anything he has ever created before and the film is a stunning achievement. Hugo recently won the National Board of Review award for Best Film (and Scorsese's documentary George Harrison: Living in the Material World was listed amongst the best documentaries) beating Oscar hopefuls The Artist and The Descendants. I am not sure if there is a film I have seen this fall that I would recommend more than Hugo.

My rating: 4 stars out of 4.

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