Chubtoad here with a review of the film Hugo.
Admittedly, Hugo was a film that was not on my radar for the holiday film season. I had read very little on the film and from the snippets of marketing I viewed leading up to its release, I had really had little desire to go out and see this film. This changed when I was invited to a press screening of the film a couple of days before release. Not only did I enjoy this film, I was impressed and blown away by the Scorsese endeavor, so much so that I am pretty sure this will go in my top 5 films of 2011 list!
As I said, I had little expectation for this film and had really no idea exactly what this story was going to be. I must say that the marketing was a bit misleading as I was under the impression that I was going to see a film about magic and fantasy in genre style similar to that of Harry Potter. I was wrong on that account, but was right that it was full of magic and fantasy, only not that of science fiction or supernatural, but that of wondrous storytelling and visually stunning cinema. This is not a film that I would expect from the man that brought us Taxi Driver or Goodfellas. Yet at the same time this is heart-warming ode to cinema and filmmaking that looking back now I could not see be made by any other filmmaker today.
Hugo is for all purposes categorized as a “children’s film”, but it is so much more than that. I am a lover of film, a cinephile if you will, and there are many of us out there. If you have any fondness of the roll of the projector lights and the flicker of a moving picture, this film will appeal to you. However, the appeal of this Scorsese tribute to film is told in such a classic way that it will connect with everyone in a deep soul touching way.
Hugo, played by Asa Butterfield, is an orphan who lives on the fringe of society. He actually lives in the walls and hidden tunnels of the Gare Montparnesse, a busy Parisian train station. He winds the clocks and hides from the station inspector and looks out at the lives of the people who work in the station. We get a good detail of Hugo’s life in the station through a brilliant opening scene before the title credit. This segment of the film is almost dialogue free and plays in perfect juxtaposition to the true subject of this story, early silent film. The shots of early 20th century Paris was magnificent and breathtaking! This is where I want to first note the 3D effects. I am not a lover of 3D by any means; however, I was so glad I saw this 3D masterpiece! I do believe that Scorsese is the first filmmaker to properly use the medium in a live action film. I was blown away by this 3D! It was done just right and if we are going to continue having films presented in 3D then filmmakers of future flicks need take note of what was done here.
Hugo survives by stealing food throughout the station all while avoiding the station inspector played by Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen by the way was a delight in this film. He could have played that role very over the top and goofy, yet he was just the right bit of funny all the while making you really care for his character. While I am speaking of the station inhabitants I need to mention that all the supporting characters we learn about were just magnificent! These very colorful characters were played by actors like Christopher Lee, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer and Harry Potter veterans Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths.
Food is not all that Hugo lifts from the station shops. He also targets a toy shop that he has been taking small windup toy parts from in order to repair an automaton his father was working on before he died. He believes that once repaired it will have a message from his deceased father. The shop owner is film pioneer Georges Méliès who had left the film industry, destroyed his studio and sets as well as sold off his films to be melted down for shoe heels. Méliès is played by the great Ben Kingsley who turns in such an amazing performance it will just warm your heart. There is a scene where he delivers a bit of dialogue from off screen that leaves not a dry eye in the house. His transformation in this film from grumpy shop keep to heart melting wonderful old filmmaker is done in a perfect manner and the plot moves forward seamlessly with him.
Hugo is a bit of a voyeur and extremely passive. Actor Asa Butterfield really knows how to deliver a performance in such a way that it tugs at your heart strings. Hugo is joined in adventure by Méliès’ goddaughter played by the talented Chloe Moretz, a bookworm and one who has a gift of the vernacular with an ever expanding vocabulary. She gives Hugo the companionship he craves as he gives her the adventure she seeks. Despite a questionable English accent, Moretz turns in a performance that I feel might bring her an academy nomination. Together, the children uncover Méliès’ secret and with the help of a film historian, bring his work back into the limelight.
Scorsese worked with a brilliant team such as cinematographer Robert Richardson, special effects supervisor Rob Legato and editor Thelma Schoonmaker to bring this adaptation of Brian Selznick’s book The Invention of Hugo Cabret to life. Even though the work is fiction, Méliès was a real filmmaker whose film A Trip to the Moon will be recognizable or at least familiar to most. I think this work of historical fiction is one of the best in the genre.
Hugo is a true work of art and is a film I enjoyed from beginning to end. With the exception of a few pacing issues during the first act which were barely noticeable, I think this film was almost perfect. It is visually stunning and a great story that isn’t afraid to evoke emotion from the audience. Combined with a great score composed by Howard Shore, this film will let you escape into the world of cinema like never before. I highly recommend you see this film, especially in 3D! I give Hugo 4.5 stars out of 5 and can’t wait to go see it again!
**Chubtoad is co-host of Nerd Heard with Kenneth E. Hayes.
Nerd Heard focuses on nerd and geek culture. We discuss comics, movies, television, video games and anything else nerdy. Nerd Heard is hosted by Richard “Chubtoad” Sheldon and Kenneth E. Hayes.
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