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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Hugo - Film Review

Charming.  Not a word usually associated with the films of Marty Scorsese.   If you called Cape Fear, Goodfellas or Casino charming you may find yourself under mandatory psych evaluation.  Well, there is always a first.  "Hugo" is a film that's content is completely foreign in comparison to the rest of the director's filmography, yet retains much of his cinematic style.

The story begins following an orphan named Hugo that lives in the clockwork of the main train terminal of Paris; but then becomes so much more.  Since the boy’s father passed away, leaving him with a secret message, Hugo has searched for the answers that may or may not ever arrive.  He works tirelessly to try to repair an automaton that his father had been repairing, assuming that this machine would be the messenger.  His attempts to fix the automaton lead him to a run in with an old man that sells wind- up toys in the train terminal - this is where the adventure begins.  The film becomes a mystery and ends as a love letter to film itself.  For your sake I will let you unravel the mystery in the comfort of your own theater seat.

The films does start a bit slowly but eventually picks up momentum when Hugo attempts to run the automaton for the first time. At this point the magic begins and continues throughout the rest of the film.  Visually the film is stunning.  The use of 3D, at times, helps breathe life into the visuals, exemplified with the beautifully recreated exteriors of the long since gone 1920's Paris, which are just stunning. Another example is when the camera passes through the clock work from one room to another in one continuous camera shot - classic Scorsese.

The performances are all up to snuff.  Newcomer Asa Butterfield’s performance as Hugo is solid enough to carry the film, although he does get swallowed up in scenes when sharing the screen with the great (when cast correctly) Ben Kingsley and the chameleon Sasha Baron Cohen (playing Hugo's nemesis, the trains inspector) who does a wonderful job adding some comic relief.  Chloe Grace Mertz, whose character is quite charming (there's that word again, charming - has Pesci ever been charming in a Scorsese film?) does some great work when not killing crooks or sucking blood (as seen in some of her more recent roles NOT "Hugo") ...she has a bright future.

My top complaint about the film, besides the slow start, is that it does seem to require a big bite and takes some time to consume and digest. There are essentially two main storylines entwined with several other, lesser threads.  It is not that there are any that are not interesting; but based on the family- film expectations I had come in with, 130 minutes is a bit much.  The problem there is that some of the scenes that are not crucial to the film's central storyline do add some much needed sweetness to a fairly grey film, so they have their place.  Also, the use of 3D is at often times a waste, not adding or at times even distracting. I kept wanting to look around items in the foreground of shots; scenes that would have never been shot in such annoying fashion if shot in 2D.  But as I said before, the 3D does make for some breathtaking shots of Paris (which happens to be the setting for two of my favorite films of the year) so I will deal with it.

I have to question if this is really a film for kids as it is being marketed as the story, the pacing and some of the themes are more akin to an adult audience. However, one audience I definitely recommend the film to are those that love film itself.  To you, leave the kids at home, do yourself a favor and see this.
8.5 stars out of 10

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