FILM REVIEW: Hugo
- November 25, 2011 1:18 PM |
- By Eli Glasner
Those are the few of the pen scratchings I could make out in my notebook from the screening of Hugo.
After a dazzling 10-minute opening sequence, swooping over rooftops of Paris in the 1930s, into the central train station, cleaving the crowd and into the tunnels and hidden passages of the train station... well I simply stopped taking notes.
Hugo, a children's film from Martin Scorsese, is a fabulous mess of many things - a mystery about an absent father, a love letter to the dawn of cinema, and finally a tour de force of technology - in the service of the story of silent cinema.
Based on the book by Brian Selznick, Hugo tells the tale of a little boy who keeps the clocks in the Paris train station running on time. He lost his father in an accident, but inherited his knack for fixing machines. Hugo spends his days stealing croissants and running from clock to clock, winding, adjusting, oiling their gears and springs and all the while searching for a message from his father (played in flashbacks by a pleasingly weathered Jude Law.)
The message isn't in a bottle, but in an automaton, a wind-up robot of sorts his father recovered. While gathering parts to fix it, Hugo gets caught stealing from a toy shop. A scowling Ben Kingsley plays the shopkeeper George, who confiscates Hugo's book of blueprints, forcing the two into a partnerships of sorts.
Asa Butterfield portrays Hugo Cabret, left, and Chloë Grace Moretz portrays Isabelle in a scene from Hugo. (Paramount/Associated Press)
This is first of many detours, as Hugo and his friend Isabelle learn George is George Méliès. Méliès was a silent film pioneer who helped push cinema into the realm of fantasy. If you've seen the iconic Trip to the Moon, you've seen a Méliès. If you haven't seen it, by golly you sure will.
Hugo is a slow, tender film about boy looking to find his purpose. But it's also a time capsule into a sun-kissed Paris of the past. At night, the city is the rich blue and yellows of a Monet painting. In the day, the train station comes to life, with touching vignettes, including Richard Griffith as a rumpled newspaper vendor and Frances de la Tour as the café owner whose yapping dog keeps him at bay.
And in the ultimate irony, this ode to the pleasures of silent film is filmed with gusto in 3D. This is no Clash of the Titans rush job. One can clearly feel Scorsese invigorated by the possibilities. From the sweeping cinematography to the sound design, voices that echo and double, the director is making the most of this new way of seeing.
Hugo may surprise parents expecting a quick-paced adventure. It's not Race To Witch Mountain. It's almost as if someone forgot to tell Marty he was making a kids' film. The mood can be quite oppressive, which makes the appearance of Sacha Baron Cohen as the accident-prone station inspector all the more awkward.
Cohen is as capable as they come with physical comedy and makes the inspector with his squeaky leg brace a tragic character all his own. But with a mustache and flair for slapstick like another Inspector, he seems almost out of place in Scorsese's slow waltz around the history of film.
And a brief word about that history. The adventures of Hugo in the train station are derailed at one point by the life and times of George Méliès. In an extended flashback, Ben Kingsley as the magician-turned-filmmaker brings us into his glass studio, the place where Méliès brought the stars and mermaids to the masses. A digression for sure, but a beautiful one.
*The soundtrack is composed by Howard Shore, but the looped, repetitive patterns which fit the clockwork theme so nicely had a Phillip Glassian feel to them.
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