DENNIS SCHWARTZ Movie Reviews

 
HUGO (director: Martin Scorsese; screenwriters: John Logan/based on the novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” by Brian Selznick; cinematographer: Robert Richardson; editor: Thelma Schoonmaker; music: Howard Shore; cast: Ben Kingsley (Pappa Georges/Georges Méliès), Sacha Baron Cohen (Station Inspector, Gustave), Asa Butterfield (Hugo Cabret), Chloë Grace Moretz (Isabelle), Ray Winstone (Uncle Claude), Emily Mortimer (Lisette, flower vendor), Helen McCrory (Mama Jeanne), Christopher Lee (Monsieur Labisse), Michael Stuhlbarg (René Tabard), Frances de la Tour (Madame Emilie), Richard Griffiths (Monsieur Frick), Jude Law (Hugo’s Father)  ; Runtime: 127; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: Graham King/Tim Headington/Martin Scorsese/ Johnny Depp; Paramount Pictures; 2011)

"Unlike any of the other Scorsese films."

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz 

Noted director Martin Scorsese ("Raging Bull"/"Kundun"/"Goodfellas") makes his first big-budget family film and his inaugural effort in 3-D. He uses it to make a personal statement about his love of cinema and the magic required to make films. It turns out to be a film that is unlike any of the other Scorsese films. It's based on the 2007 graphic novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret,” by Brian Selznick (a relative of the legendary Hollywood producer David O. Selznick), and is written as a child's fairy tale adventure story by John Logan.

The soulful looking twelve-year-old Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield, the 14-year-old Londoner) lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station in 1931, after his watchmaker father Jude Law) dies in a fire and leaves him only a sophisticated but in need of repair automaton he bought in a museum. The boy's drunken Uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) operates the clock in the Montparnasse station and teaches Hugo how to keep the giant station clock running, while he takes off. If not for the wretched Claude, the kid would be sent to the dreadful orphanage.

Hugo sees his mission in life, since his gentle father's death, is to repair the robot so that he could write again messages with the fountain pen in his hand and perhaps with his hand repaired will be able to send the kid messages from his dad from the other world. To do this Hugo must steal parts, and when he's caught stealing from the train toy shop of Pappa Georges (Ben Kingsley) he enlists the help of Pappa Georges' goddaughter Isabelle (Chlöe Grace Moretz). She's the peppy book reading teenager, looking for a real-life adventure, who is raised by Pappa Georges and her mother Mama Jeanne (Helen McCrory). While living inside the clock, Hugo has to avoid the hiss-able villain of the film and the crippled during the war station inspector, Gustave (Sacha Baron Cohen), who takes pleasure in rounding up orphans and sending them to the orphanage.

The mystery of the automaton turns out to unravel the history of cinema, and how the embittered Pappa Georges is really cinema pioneer Georges Méliès (1861-1938). After being a magician and making a few hundred films by building his own movie camera he modeled after the Lumière Brothers, the dreamer fell out of favor with the public after the war and went broke. The genius inventor found his pride hurt and retreated in anonymity to be the train station toymaker.

Méliès is known today for his A Trip to the Moon” (1902) film, a 16-minute comical science-fiction masterpiece that was restored. Scorsese shows the film’s most famous image, as the rocket lands right in the eye of the Man in the Moon.

Though the story sputters and drags its feet at times, the acting is sincere by the mostly Brit cast, the film's vision is generously magnificent, the attention to detail is marvelous, and  its technical achievements are first-class (recreating the Paris train station with CG effects). Because of its long-winded cinema history lesson the film should be more appealing to cinephiles, adults and Dickens lovers than to the kiddies, who might get restless over all the adult topics. Nevertheless it's a film with its heart in the right place, that pays homage to the artists who look at the world through their camera and are willing to take risks to make imaginative films. Scorsese uses the special effects of the present to make his film ring true as an imaginative work that should please the many movie-goers who favor either the old visionary films or current CGI ones.

REVIEWED ON 12/11/2011       GRADE: A-

Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"

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