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Nordling Says HUGO Is An Ode To The Magic Of Movies!

Nordling here.

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives between the spaces of the Montparnasse Train Station in Paris.  He's an orphan - his mother died when he was very young, and his father (Jude Law), a maker of clocks, died in a fire, but not before teaching Hugo about the artistry of clockwork and leaving him an enigmatic metal man that Hugo's father called an Automaton.  Hugo is certain that before he died his father left him a message in the Automaton, and so when he's not fine tuning the clocks in the train station - a job he is given by his drunken uncle (Ray Winstone) - he's searching for pieces to add to the Automaton to one day get it to work, and trying to stay out of sight of the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who will happily take Hugo to the orphanage if he ever catches him.  

This forces Hugo to cross paths with Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), an old man with a toy shop in the station.  After getting caught stealing parts for the Automaton, Hugo is forced to surrender his father's journal to Méliès, who promises Hugo that he will take the book home and destroy it.  Distraught, Hugo seeks solace in the bowels of the station, desperate to escape what has become of his life.  Little does he know that the Automaton will take him on a journey of mystery, wonder, and magic - just who is that old man at the toy shop anyway?  Even his goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) doesn't really know why Georges is so sad all the time, and reluctant to revisit the past.  But once, that old man did magic, and changed the world.  Hugo and Isabelle will discover that magic, and the gift of Georges' power.

For people like me, we all know what that magic is, but for those who don't, HUGO is a magical introduction to why we love film so very much.  It's Martin Scorsese's love letter to the power of cinema, and although it's quite unlike any film he's ever made, it's also undeniably a Scorsese film.  Scorsese's films have such joy and passion in them, even when he's documenting evil men and evil deeds like in GOODFELLAS or TAXI DRIVER.  HUGO is playful, charming, and an ode to a cinema that just doesn't exist anymore.

It's interesting to me that both HUGO and THE MUPPETS are being released the same weekend - both are full of optimism and magic, but while THE MUPPETS is probably more accessible to general audiences, HUGO is very much walking the same ground.  It's a film about bringing back the joy of cinema to audiences that might be too jaded to appreciate them.  Back in the early days of film, audiences were startled at a film of a train leaving a station, so much so that they jumped out of the way when the train came close to the screen.  It's no accident that HUGO is made in 3D - this might be the first film that uses 3D as a thematic conceit instead of just trickery and effects.  Like the early cinema of yore, HUGO wants to immerse the audience in an experience, and show us things we haven't really seen before.

All the performances are top notch, especially Ben Kingsley, as a haunted man who just wants to share his dreams with the rest of the world, only to have them snatched away from him.  Georges is broken by life, and it takes two children to show him what once was beautiful.  Sacha Baron Cohen seems to be channeling Peter Sellers with his work here, but not in the obvious ways that you may think.  Asa Butterfield is terrific as Hugo - it's quite a difficult task to carry a film like this and he does so very well.  Moretz just continues to do good work in her films, and HUGO is no exception.

If I'm talking around the film's primary "twist" - and it's not really a twist, if you've followed film history - it's because much of the joys of HUGO are best discovered.  The film is amazingly shot, using 3D to the best of its capabilities - the camera swoops and moves through the crowd with a purpose, and some of the composition of the shots are just jawdroppingly good.  Thelma Schoonmaker proves yet again why she's one of the best editors in the business, and Howard Shore's score is powerful but not overpowering - it's some of his best work, and I'm counting THE LORD OF THE RINGS films in that assessment.  

And as far as Martin Scorsese goes, he's playing here and it feels like a release for him, and the result is something we've never really seen from him before.  Whimsy is an elusive emotion to capture onscreen.  Try too hard, and it feels forced; try too light and it goes over the heads of the audience.  HUGO is whimsical in the best way that great films can be.  It's a statement on the power of what movies can do, but it's more than that - it's about the power of art to transform, to free, and to heal.  Once that power gets inside of you, for good or ill, it controls your life, and you have to follow it down to wherever it leads.  To deny that power is to punish yourself, and HUGO is an affirmation to the magic of great movies.

Nordling, out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 22, 2011, 9:54 p.m. CST

    Hugo......Strange

    by vic twenty

  • 3D - Haters: 1-0

  • Nov. 22, 2011, 10:29 p.m. CST

    Looks awfully Teal

    by Nasty In The Pasty

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 12:18 a.m. CST

    what the hell

    by VoiceOfSaruman

    Sorry to lurch into negative talkback mode just a few comments in, but seriously? As I commented on Harry's review the other day, I saw Hugo also this week and absolutely loved it. But your review here Nordling (if that is your name) gives a ridiculous amount of the movie away in the first paragraph. By the second, you've pretty much killed the whole thing. There's great wonder and mystery about this movie. There is far less in your words - you shouldn't have sacrificed the movie on the altar of your review. Every fucking sentence in the first half of your review is something the audience is meant to discover on their own. I understand you need to say something about the movie, but if I read your review and then saw the film, I'd be bored as hell. Nice job. You say you try and avoid the "twist" but really you only avoided one element of the movie, as you said yourself, it's the one thing in the movie that is already known to film buffs anyway. Another sentence of yours (I'll refrain from pointing out which) basically lets everyone know how the movie ends. Great work. Maybe it's me, not you, and all reviews are like this - pretentious and long-winded while sucking the life out of the details of every plot point. But I always thought your reviews were naive and amateurish, and this truly takes the cake. At least write a fucking SPOILER ALERT first, like the big boys. Jesus Christ.

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 3:53 a.m. CST

    Give me a break

    by Clio

    It's a damned cartoon. Fine, enjoy it all you want, but I won't be wasting my money on it.....unless, of course, the wife wants to see it.....then of course I'll be enthusiastic.

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 4:43 a.m. CST

    So it's a celebration of the greatness of movies...

    by TheMcflyFarm

    but is it a great movie?

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 5:07 a.m. CST

    A cartoon?

    by Extr3m1st

    Let your wife pick the movies from here on out. Looks pretty good IMO. And saruman, his review is not all that bad. Go to Rotten tomato and most of the reviews pretty much say the same things.

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 6:24 a.m. CST

    Jude Law dies in a fire!

    by buggerbugger

    Woah, sometimes your prayers **are** answered...

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 6:38 a.m. CST

    The 3D Argument Apart (Which Has Now Become Rather Boring)

    by Stewart Wolfe

    This looks like a movie to be wholly celebrated and embraced by anyone who has an ounce of love for the medium. I've always been intrigued as to how Mr Scorsese would tackle a 'children's' film and it looks like he's succeeded wonderfully. I can't wait to see it. Plus, total kudos and respect to him for paying tribute to George Melies who, without question, is one of THE most neglected of filmmakers and pioneers (alongside the equally brilliant Louis Feuillade, an even more forgotten figure). I love Melies' work and he was truly the cinema's first great artist. The magic of cinema started with him and that should never be forgotten.

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 6:46 a.m. CST

    themcflyfarm

    by vorlonkosh

    My question as well.... I hear alot of gushing from these guys, and that makes me a bit suspicious. it sounds like the movie is more about this George guy and old movies than Hugo and that automaton. I guess I was under the impression this was a sci-fi/fantasy movie, but it sounds like a bait and switch. I get especially turned-off when these reviewers start throwing the word "film" around alot in the review. When a movie is referred to by reviewers as a "film", it starts to sound like a boring, artsy flick that no one sees twice except in "film" classes. Still going to see it, however. I hope my first impressions turn out to be unfounded.

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 9:36 a.m. CST

    vorlonkosh

    by VoiceOfSaruman

    Yes it is an ensemble and George is quite a key character, but Hugo is the main character in focus. The automaton - what it does and the (now lost) mystery around it - are the key mystery for much of the film. It is not, however, a sci-fi/fantasy film, by any stretch. Yes it's likely called a "film" out of respect for those who enjoy it, but it's definitely a "movie" too. There is a great art to it, in the performances, the cinematography, the incredible set design, plot, and so on, but it is not 'artsy.' It's a movie I really enjoyed and also one I feel sure my son is going to love when he's five or six.

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 9:39 a.m. CST

    extr3m1st

    by VoiceOfSaruman

    You may be right, but Nordling's review was particularly egregious in this regard, and when I made my post, there was no spoiler alert; now there is, so I'm glad I said my peace.

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 9:50 a.m. CST

    hatethanet

    by VoiceOfSaruman

    Sure it is. I'd be surprised if 1 out of 100 AICN readers have read or ever will read the book. And for AICN this is pretty standard practice. Note the SPOILER tags on tons of Harry's older reviews, including Harry Potter, which is one of the most read book series of the last fifty years. He has a spoiler tag on his reviews for Footloose and even the Star Wars Blu Ray for Christ's sake. We can debate endlessly when a spoiler is a spoiler, but based on dozens of past examples, this article needed the tag.

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 10:17 a.m. CST

    Nordling's reviews read like book reports.

    by bat725

    While Harry's read like one of those "What I did during my summer vacation" reports. Where's Massa?

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 6:18 p.m. CST

    Really good movie but this is not for most kids

    by krabklaw

    I don't think this movie will connect with the kids' market- it's not funny and a lot of it will just be alien to kids. It's a charming movie for adults dressed up like a family film. Luckily I saw the movie in a theater with no children. I loved Moretz who gave the movie it's heart. Also I wish the characters would have had French accents instead of British accents which kept me from taking the film seriously. The 3D was top notch, but I think I would have enjoyed the movie just as much without it.

  • Nov. 23, 2011, 8:36 p.m. CST

    there is a purpose to the 3d in this film

    by john

    if watched in 2d, you will be cheating yourself out of an education kudos to marty

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 1:37 a.m. CST

    Brilliant!

    by epidicus

    Dragged my wife to see it tonight & she absolutely loved it. Without a doubt,the best film I've seen this year. Why is Paramount marketing this as a family film, instead of an art-house? Being socially anti 3-D, I must eat crow and admit that this film deserves to be seen in this format. It truly adds to the experience.

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 5:28 a.m. CST

    uhhhh boring

    by coolgeek

    looks great, story is slow kid can't act.

  • Nov. 25, 2011, 11:21 p.m. CST

    Scorsese trying to do Zemeckis

    by SmokeFilledTavern

    I left the moment Jude Law showed up. The constant shifting from 3-D to 2-D made me dizzy. The story was about as interesting as navel lint.

  • Nov. 26, 2011, 10:37 a.m. CST

    Chloe Moretz - Box Office Poison?

    by tailhook

    She keeps getting prime roles and in each one of them the movie underperforms expectations, or bombs. I think part of it is she looks like she came off a Hollywood Kid assembly line. I mean, she can act i'll give her that, but she just isn't pulling them in. So lets see... Kick-Ass : Pulled Mendoza Line numbers. Enough money that it can't be called a failure, but not exactly a barnburner. Let Me In: Audiences didn't. Hugo: Well on its way to just getting curbstomped by Kermit at the box office. All 3 prime roles and she's right up front and part of the selljob on the film and all 3 are varying levels of fail at the box office. Shes also got the soon-to-be DTV Hick.. which will simply be her Hound Dog. An ignored film meant to get her more adult roles.. but gets soundly rejected. At some point, she's gotta have a big one somewhere to actually monetize her worth. Right now all thats seen is a semi-starlet with some acting chops that simply isn't catching on with audiences.

  • Nov. 26, 2011, 5:55 p.m. CST

    @vorlonkosh Your Correct!

    by The E

    It's a bate and switch and quite slow and boring. Would avoid unless you're into slow, artsy dramatic films.