Thursday, January 5, 2012

Catching up with 2011: Hugo



As I’m sure everyone is aware by now, Hugo is the PG-rated Martin Scorsese film that is unlike anything he’s ever made before, but represents the things that are nearest to his heart. The film is a family film, yes, but it is also a labor of love for; a 130 minute infomercial for film preservation designed to arouse (I tried to think of the cleanest way possible to say that) cinephiles everywhere with its references to early film and re-mastered footage. I am admittedly not a huge fan of 3D – I often have to remove the glasses and rub eyes for a minute or so before I jump back into the “experience” – but Scorsese does it about as perfectly as the medium could hope. If there are going to be new films being done in 3D (three out of the five previews at the showing I attended were for re-releases in 3D…lazy and lame), Scorsese has provided the template. I love the film’s opening with its sweeping images of the train station (Scorsese wisely films this opening as almost a short film to give the audience the setting of the film, but also to get the audiences eyes acclimated to the 3D action without missing the story) and the way it showed just how beautiful (and subtle!) 3D can be. Once the film’s plot kicked in, I was surprised by how engrossed I was with the film, and really I only felt the need to remove my glasses a few times in the beginning parts of the movie, but after that, I didn’t even realize I was watching a 3D movie.



There’s nothing else much to say about Hugo, now that we’re in January, that already hasn’t been said by countless others, but I will say this: Ben Kingsley’s performance as Georges Méliès' (the man responsible for the film’s that are the main focus of the film’s final half) is one of the best of 2011, and Asa Butterfield as Hugo Cabret (by the way, why did they change the name of the movie to Hugo instead of keeping the original title of its source material, The Invention of Hugo Cabret? Bad choice by the producers) is fantastic and gives one of the best performances by a young actor in years.

The film’s many references to the earliest days of silent film (when they were a carnival attraction) to its references (both literal and through homage) to Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! are just a few of the things that make the film such a pleasure. Just like the automaton and the little toy mouse that Méliès' and Hugo create and fix, Scorsese is a master craftsman – the ultimate toymaker – who offers up a shop full of goodies with the most unlikely of films for the master to tackle. Hugo reminded me a lot of The Age of Innocence: a similarly mismatched genre that showcased the finest and most invigorating qualities of Scorsese the auteur. The scenes of Méliès’ dreaming and creating seem to have awakened something long dormant in Scorsese; the joy and pleasure of Scorsese’s filmmaking here is palpable in a way that used to be felt in every Scorsese release. I’m not saying his 2000s output was bad, but it lacked the energy one sees and feels in every frame of Hugo. Not since Bringing Out the Dead has a Scorsese film been this exciting to watch, talk about, write about, and reflect upon. It’s one of the very best movies of 2011.

8 comments

  1. The movie itself runs a bit long at 127 minutes, but Hugo is worth every minute for the visual feast it provides, and features Scorsese in probably his most delightful and elegant mood ever, especially with all of the beautiful 3-D. Good review.

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  2. I placed it #1 on my "Best of 2011" blog post. It truly is a wonderful movie, filled with something that modern filmmakers have forgotten about and that only the old school ones understand: the sense of 'magic' in a film.

    I've always said that I love Scorcese films because he hasnt forgotten how important music is in films...that grand cinematic sweeping emotional score. Scorcese has never stopped using this kind of music in his films, and I love them for that.

    The 3-D was excellent, especially during those sequences inside of the clock work, it kind of reminded me of Charles Chaplin's Modern Times with the clock work imagery.

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  3. I love this movie! One of my favourite! Ever!!

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  4. fantastic post i really like it a lot

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  5. "The film’s many references to the earliest days of silent film (when they were a carnival attraction) to its references (both literal and through homage) to Harold Lloyd’s Safety Last! are just a few of the things that make the film such a pleasure. Just like the automaton and the little toy mouse that Méliès' and Hugo create and fix, Scorsese is a master craftsman – the ultimate toymaker – who offers up a shop full of goodies with the most unlikely of films for the master to tackle."

    Indeed Kevin, and you've offered up a superbly written and wonderfully appreciative piece here! Brian Selzick’s Caldecott Medal-winning picture book The Invention of Hugo Cabret was tailor-made for Martin Scorsese’s direction, though the veteran director had never previous to this ventured out into territory that the cynics have been chiding him for broaching. Scorsese’s then 12 year-old daughter was supposedly a reason the director was interested, but the silent film homage inherent in the story was right up his alley. From the spectacular opening, when the camera glides past the Eiffel Tower during a snowfall, and moves at breakneck speed between two trains on a platform to settle on an overhead clock and teh face of a boy behind a hole by one of the numbers, you know you are in the hands of a master, a master who has finally understood the 3D form, and has given it one of it’s finest treatments. (This same year, celebrated directors Wim Wenders and Warner Herzog have also injected the form with style and substance). Scorsese gets some wonderful performances from Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley and Sasha Baren Cohen, and stunning art direction from Dante Ferretti to bring his magical vision to the screen, and the later scenes when George Melias is uncovered and showcased, are among the most moving in any film this year and in Scorsese’s career. Hugo is a coming-of-age tale with mystery and wonderment that chronicles the feral solitude of a street smart and gifted survivor that recalls Dickens, and a ravishing dreamscape of a film that connects emotionally while yielding the top level of cinematic artistry. It’s Scorsese’s best film in years.

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  6. Dan O.:

    I didn't think the movie felt long at all. I was actually surprised that I was so engrossed in the movie that the length of the film never once entered into my mind.

    I agree with you thought that this is Scorsese at his most delightful in a long, long time.

    Thanks for the comment.

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  7. TFC:

    You're so right about the music -- the one thing Scorsese may know how to use better than any filmmaker today. I'm glad you placed it #1; it's definitely worthy of that ranking. I like your Chaplin reference, too. The 3-D in the clock (especially the opening chase scene as Scorsese establishes the setting) was amazing and may have gotten me to be a believer of 3-D when it's in the right hands.

    Thanks, as always, for stopping by!

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  8. ...stunning art direction from Dante Ferretti to bring his magical vision to the screen...

    D'oh! I can't believe I forgot to mention Ferretti. I remember thinking once the film was over that I wanted to make a special mention of him (and his continually great work...with Scorsese especially), but I obviously forgot to write it down. Thanks for bringing this up in the comments because the art direction was showcased beautifully in 3-D.

    Thanks, Sam, for stopping by and your continual support of this blog!

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