Monday, December 12, 2011


Film: Hugo [2011, usa]
Where I saw it: Los Angeles @ the Grove
Who with: loner style
Rating: ****1/2

I watch all of Martin Scorsese's movies because, come on, it's Martin Scorsese. If you aren't watching every movie that he directs, you are losing film geek street cred and I like to stay on top of that street cred if I can. As his films have gotten larger in every way [budget, scope, audience], I've actually liked his movies less. The personal element that made his films in the 1970s/1980s so raw is hard to find in recent films such as Shutter Island, The Departed and The Aviator. Yes, his films are still incredibly made by a man still in complete control of his craft, but they are lacking in an intimacy as Scorsese has gravitated to broader stories. 

The only thing I knew about Hugo going in was it was based on a kid's book [The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick] and that Scorsese had made a 3D picture. That element was lost on my since I paid to see the 2D version. I've given up on watching films in 3D due to the massive migraines I get every time I see a 3D film. Combine the headaches with the annoyance of having to put glasses on over the glasses I already wear, and I'm done with the fad that is already dying off in popularity [strike three 3D!]. Enough 3D talk, there are so many facets to the story that I love, I just sat back and let the story about an orphan living in a clock tower in a 1930s Paris train station was over me. Hugo has clocks, magic, early film history, literature, childhood romance and adventure, suspense and humor among the things coursing through it. Hugo unleashes the viewer's imagination and then runs wild with the kinetic motion of the story. It reminds me of French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet due to its attention to detail and similar look and production design. I love Jeunet, so that's not a bad reference for Scorsese since he's setting the film in a Parisian train station. 

Obviously, I loved the unexpected journey Scorsese takes the audience on regards to cinema history. The discussion of the early days [including an incredible scene inside a theatre as people watch a Harold Lloyd silent comedy] of filmmaking are sneakily subversive by Scorsese. The last thing I thought this film would have would be conversations about the importance of film preservation! Long a proponent of such a thing, he's just never snuck in dialogue about the topic into one of his movies. This aspect of the story could have probably used some trimming, but as someone who loves film history, I enjoyed these scenes as much as the hard-to-resist story of the orphan "Hugo" as he tries to desperately unravel a mystery spawned by the automaton that he is trying to fix. 

Hugo is a very sweet movie. The story of an orphan surviving on his own wiles in a train station while being pursued by the station agent [Sasha Baren Cohen] provides plenty of adventure, but it is the heart and emotional heft of the film that gives it a weight that will make it appeal to adults and children alike. I would have liked just the mystery and adventure, but having all these "extras" in the story gives it a layered depth that a kid-orientated action film wouldn't have had. I was moved. Asa Butterfield and Chloe Grace Moretz are both terrific in the lead roles. Support by Cohen, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Ray Winstone and others is also first-rate. 

A love letter to many things--cinema, magic, dreams, family and love--Hugo is a wildly entertaining and completely unexpected. This is a favorite of mine in 2011. In fact, it is my favorite Martin Scorsese movie since Casino in 1995. The name Scorsese might not seem a natural fit for PG rated kids movie, but Hugo is a triumphant bit of storytelling and technique that makes living in a train clock tower look like a lot of fun. Recommended in 2D [and probably 3D too!]. 


Eva said...

Is that Brian Selznick related to David O? I'm assuming yes?

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

I just looked it up--distant cousin it looks like. Have you seen this one Eva? Or, THE ARTIST? Two films in 2012 that I loved about silent movies! Didn't expect that.

Eva said...

Ha, interesting. Well I guessed it could hardly be a coincidence - to be called Selznick in movie-making and not be a relative?
I haven't seen Hugo yet, but will I think. I saw a trailer for The Artist when I went to the theatre last week - looks interesting! Have you seen it yet?

Joshua Blevins Peck said...

I saw THE ARTIST over the weekend...I liked it a lot. Mention it in tomorrow's post. Any film fan of early history is going to like it though.