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Capone says HUGO is a triumphant achievement of technology and emotional storytelling!!!

Published at: Nov. 24, 2011, 3:15 a.m. CST by Capone

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

Maybe I'm blissfully ignorant, but I wasn't aware that Martin Scorsese's latest (and utterly different from anything he's done before) film HUGO had any kind of surprise or twist in its plot. Granted, the trailers and commercials don't really emphasize the fact that much of this film is about a pair of young friends, Hugo (relative newcomer Asa Butterfield) and Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), discovering the fantastical, remarkable-to-this-day cinematic creations of innovative French filmmaker Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley). If anything, the real shocks about HUGO have more to do with just how creative Scorsese gets in his first-time use of 3D, making it an essential part of the storytelling rather than simply a gimmick.

As the film opens, Hugo's watch-repairing father (Jude Law) is killed in a mysterious museum fire, and the boy is sent to live with his drunk uncle (Ray Winstone), who maintains the clocks in a Paris train station, opening the film up to some incredible production design set pieces in which Hugo runs and crawls around through the catacombs behind the walls of the station where the many clocks' inner workings are housed. Scorsese's camera is a fluid being that seems to defy gravity and physics to follow Hugo up, down and around tight spaces. Yes, some of the shots are clearly CG enhanced, but that doesn't make the effect any less impressive.

Hugo's uncle vanishes, leaving the boy in charge of clock maintenance, unbeknownst to the station's chief inspector played by Sacha Baron Cohen, a wounded WWI veteran with a squeaky brace on this leg and a generally sour attitude toward street urchins. Hugo befriends George (Kingsley), the proprietor of small toy shop in the station, who also happens to be (along with his wife, played by Helen McCrory) the guardian of Isablle, a girl in search of an adventure. In Hugo's case, the adventure begins with an automaton, a sort of robot his father discovered at the museum that seems to run on watch gears and can only be be activated by a key that Isabelle just happens to possess. The pair also become friendly with book shop owner played by Christopher Lee, and I only bring this up because any chance to see Lee on the big screen is worth mentioning.

The first half of the two-hour HUGO wanders a bit. Scorsese spends more time than necessary introducing us to various regulars at the trains station, including a flowershop owner played by Emily Mortimer, whom the inspector fancies a bit. There's also an older couple (Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths) that have a mostly silent series of exchanges as they adorably attempt to court. However, these little side stories take up a great deal of time, especially in the opening hour, and as dazzling as Scorsese's visuals are, the time moves slowly. That being said, once the automaton is set into motion and the direction of the film becomes clear (the two are tied together), Hugo becomes something truly incredible.

It would short change the film not to mention what the best moments are, but in the spirit of keeping certain plot elements something of a surprise, I'll warn you that semi-spoilery stuff is approaching. What truly dazzled me about Hugo were the countless recreations of Georges Méliès at work creating some of his most famous films, including his 1902 classic A TRIP TO THE MOON. If you're at all familiar with the filmmaker's history and works, these are the moments that will likely bring tears to your eyes; if not, you still get this wonderful sense of history and an almost spiritual drive in Méliès to create and be original and imaginative. The joy in his eyes as he sees new outlandish costumes or devises (or more accurately, invents) special effects for his fantasy sequences cannot be denied.

I especially liked the way Scorsese not only celebrates one of the creators of modern film but those who admire and write about film (who I guess would include Brian Selznick, who wrote the book this story is based on, and screenwriter John Logan). I was genuinely taken by the appearance of Michael Stuhbard as Rene Tabard, a film writer whose book on early silent films is the impetus for the kids to discover that the toy maker is actually Méliès. Tabard's passion for film history should ring of chord of recognition in many devoted movie lovers, and it's no wonder that Scorsese clearly loves the character.

In many ways, the Méliès portions of HUGO remind me of Scorsese's documentary/memoir A PERSONAL JOURNEY WITH MARTIN SCORSESE THROUGH AMERICAN MOVIES, only in this case it's French movies and rather than simply showing clips of his favorite films, he recreates them. The result is just as personal a movie as any of Scorsese's works about Italian-American gangsters. HUGO is both a technical and emotional achievement, a gorgeous movie that I can see every age audience member getting something different from. Younger viewers will enjoy the 3D wizardry and adventure story, while older coots like myself will get dizzy from the director's celebratory approach to discussing some of the oldest cinema in existence. I loved it even during its slower sections, and it's tough to image anyone who loves movies not embracing HUGO.

-- Capone
capone@aintitcool.com
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Readers Talkback

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  • Nov. 24, 2011, 3:37 a.m. CST

    Yep, when HUGO works, it's pretty great.

    by justmyluck

    Which is mostly in the last third. I found the leading kid miscast, and many of his emotional scenes fell flat. Borat was also doing a Monty Python *I know a dead parrot when I see one* accent, which also dragged his scenes to a halt. Yes, London is close, but having so many leads in Paris speaking English with British accents felt implausible. Beyond those issues, Scorsese has a real triumph here. Like many great films, it holds you rapt near the end, and you don't get the full emotional resonance until it's over. The 3-D, as everyone is saying, is superb. Using CONVERGENCE PULLING and INTEROCULAR manipulation, along with framing each shot in LAYERS of fore, mid and back-ground, Scorcese's made the first feature film which demands viewing in 3-D. Period. Whether a vista, medium shot or close up, Scorsese maintains the same SPATIAL DEPTH. Is it mostly accurate 3-D, as far as the abilities of human vision? No. Does it maximize the potential of dimensional stereographic presentation to incredible result? Big yes. While HUGO somewhat fails as a childrens' entertainment, it's a worthy gateway for parents and children to have a discussion regarding the value of art in peoples' lives. You can't ask for more than that. SPOILERS Scorsese's passion for film restoration and archiving is exalted with some digitally restored and 3-D post-converted Méliès footage, which will hit any cineaste like a bolt of lightning. I really loved the last shot, which implies that while creators and artists try their best to capture life, and make it available for future generations as mechanical reproductions, it can still have a soul.

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 4:48 a.m. CST

    creepy: CLOCKWORK ORPHAN is a brilliant fucking title

    by melonman

    That may be the best comment you've ever made.

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 5:24 a.m. CST

    ehhh

    by coolgeek

    i wanted to love it, didn't. looks great, but kinda slow, acting by main kid is blah and i never really liked him, i dunno, fuck it, whatever, I'm gonna be in minority on this i know.

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 7:02 a.m. CST

    Another good review capone, Just Unsure of Hugo..hmmmm

    by shawn rhoades

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 9:40 a.m. CST

    A Clockwork Orphan

    by dukeroberts

    Genius title, Creepy. I can't wait to see this, but I have to. Until Monday.

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 9:52 a.m. CST

    Capone spot-on with your review

    by IMC1965

    The film is wonderful. Of course it will bomb, it's a two hour arthouse film dressed up as kids entertainment. Still, does one create great art just to generate revenue? This film will stand the test of time, and maybe even one day in the distant future a director will come along and make a film about Scorsese making Raging Bull/Taxi Driver et al. Long Live Cinema!

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 10:09 a.m. CST

    Because "Creepythinman" has...

    by Kevin Rubio

    produced soooooo many more award winning films than Scorsese, he obviously must know better. Opinions count for nothing; especially when you hide behind them with a made up "username".

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 10:19 a.m. CST

    Melonman...

    by Kevin Rubio

    Touche

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 10:46 a.m. CST

    CTM

    by Marxeffect

    How is it that every time I peruse the talkbacks you are constantly throwing your toys out of the pram about every, and any, subject that's being discussed?? I mean, you were even negative towards the muppets for christ sake! How anyone can anyone have bad feeling towards the muppets, that not only represent all the good in the world but are the most joyous creations known to man. Shit, I bet if you subjected every country in the world to a screening of the muppets then we would finally achieve world peace! Now you are calling Scorsese a sellout because he worked hard his entire life to make movies on a shoe string and is finally be given a huge budget make movies, which is his job? Dude... Issues. P.S In regards to a Scanner Darkly being a masterpiece, I'm afraid you are sorely mistaken sir!

  • #occupyflammablemuseums

  • So they saw Twilight. And I cried.

  • and in your very first sentence no less. I won't be clicking on your articles/reviews any longer.

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 1:58 p.m. CST

    rupee88 and Hugo

    by NightArrows

    Who gives a shit rupee88, You hate everything anyways. I still can't muster the drive to see this film. I'm going to, I know I will, but nothing is making me want to see this film right now and that is just bizarre to me...

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 2:18 p.m. CST

    Marty is the effing Man!

    by Anthony Torchia

    First, fuck you Second, fuck you Third, Martin Scorsese is the greatest Italian director of movies, period. Fellini can blow me (and repeatedly did, I might add). Fuck you

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 4:01 p.m. CST

    @creepythinmanlives - you DO realize that when...

    by dasheight

    ...you say that a film is going to "bomb", that in THIS day and age, that's the BIGGEST COMPLIMENT YOU COULD GIVE IT - right? The movie has a RT score in the MID-90's, of both the top critics and everyone else. The fact that you think it won't be BOX OFFICE hit? Nobody cares. If today's movie audiences, who flock to see "Twilight" crap, ignore "Hugo", which is a GIFT to film lovers everywhere - that's the biggest compliment it could receive - and it will once again prove that the majority of American movie audiences have the collective IQ of a dead school of Turbots. So thank you for paying "Hugo" the best compliment it could receive - that American audiences "won't get it" - because it means, as almost every critic under the sun is saying, that it's a remarkable, beautiful, stunning film. I saw it last night. It was the best time at the movies I've had in YEARS - and the 3D was the best I've ever seen. Creepy - your comments are annoying enough with the "fact" stuff - I take it you either have tourette's or are mildly mentally troubled in some way to constantly write like that - but the fact that you feel your biggest insult to a film - that you haven't even SEEN - is to say it won't make a lot of money? That proves pretty finally that you're no fan of cinema.

  • ....extremely disappointing to a film historian like myself - someone who is obsessed with, and loves movies, because it means that the new generation has fallen victim to the "industry" way of judging films in terms of their box office. It's extremely sad. I'm 34 years old, probably older than most of the people here - and I have to say that you a lot of you guys just don't get it - who CARES how much a movie makes? What the HELL does that have to do with how GOOD a particular film is? American audiences, on the whole, are dunces when it comes to judging movies. In 1990, "GoodFellas" - now a CLASSIC - wasn't even in the top 10 at the box office. STOP thinking about box office - this is supposed to be a site about MOVIES and film lovers - not ACCOUNTANTS.

  • As a film historian, you don't find it (depressingly) interesting that Twilight will make twenty times the amount of money as Hugo? A stakeless, bloodless, terribly-written, laughably-acted vampire movie with piss-poor everything beats the tar out of Scorcese, and it's immaterial to a film site? You're a film historian, and Hugo is a film about film history. I don't see how you can ignore how it is perceived by the masses. It sucks, but it's still pertinent.

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 5:26 p.m. CST

    My bet is that it will be a classic

    by Aloy

    and that more people will remember him for this than the "serious" stuff. See you in 5 years to find out.

  • i suggest people go back to the preview threads and read the comments they ranged from...this is gonna suck....to....why is scorsesce making a 3d kids movie? this is the work of a genius pretend to be releasing a family film...when what you are doing is educating the masses regarding the history of film

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 6:28 p.m. CST

    creepythinmanlives

    by john

    moretz is androgenous?

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 7 p.m. CST

    Is there a Taco Truck in it?

    by catlettuce4

  • Nov. 24, 2011, 7:52 p.m. CST

    I wasn't...

    by kesoze4

    I wasn't aware that the film had any kind of surprise or twist in its plot either until I read the first line... thanks, asshole.

  • Nov. 25, 2011, 3:47 a.m. CST

    HUGO trailer in 3D...

    by workshed

    ...I watched it tacked on to the front of TinTin the other night. It blew my mind, especially the glimpses of the Melies recreations. Maybe this could cement the reputation of 3D in the same way Wizard of Oz did with Technicolor i.e. there had been many other colour films before it but it was THAT movie (along with Gone With The Wind) that marked the true arrival of the process. This is the move away from his traditional subjects that I've been waiting for from Marty; looks like he's finally beginning to emulate his idol (and Mrs.Schoonmaker's ex-husband, Michael Powell). Btw, TinTin was great (and my 8-yr-old daughter hasn't stopped talking about it since - in fact she's asked me to get the cartoons/live action films out of my collection for her to watch!)

  • Nov. 25, 2011, 5:11 a.m. CST

    Tintin...

    by kesoze4

    ... left me cold. Just couldn't relate to the "heroes", I guess. Does Tintin ever fall for a girl or does he just spend his life "hanging out" with an older ship's captain?

  • Nov. 25, 2011, 11:03 a.m. CST

    I'll wait for this to come out on Netflix.

    by D o o d

    I'm not convinced by what I've seen so far and also I refuse to fund 3D anymore. Been bitten too many times by this distracting technology.

  • Nov. 25, 2011, 4:51 p.m. CST

    BORING as Hell!

    by The E

    What a slow boring movie, ughhhh! Hated it. Was it well made with great cinematography and 3D effects? Yes. But was solo slow and dramatic.<p> Was marketed as a fantasy kids film but in reality was an adult drama. Took 5 kids, from 5-11 and they all were restless and hated it.

  • Nov. 25, 2011, 8:56 p.m. CST

    morons...

    by symon

    If you saw this movie and didn't love it and want to instantly have a silent film marathon, then you have no soul. Or at least no taste in movies. You think Scorsese gives a fuck what you think? This is art. Go play with your action figures and wait for the next shitty tentpole nerd movie.

  • Nov. 25, 2011, 8:58 p.m. CST

    ps...

    by symon

    my 7 year old daughter loved it. My four and a half year old son was a little scared by the dream sequence, but he was captivated the whole time.

  • Nov. 25, 2011, 10:37 p.m. CST

    anyone who rips a movie by saying

    by Raskolnikov_was_framed

    "What a slow boring movie, ughhhh! Hated it." should have their right to an opinion taken away...if you type like Alicia Silverstone talks in Clueless you need to go away forever...FOR EV ER!!!!! probably don't even know what that reference is from...I hate dumb surface focused idiots

  • Nov. 26, 2011, 12:10 a.m. CST

    Hugo = Brilliance

    by epidicus

    Went to the theater the other night with my wife intending to see either "Ides of March" or "J. Edgar", both of which we were kinda "Eh", about seeing. While in the ticket line I just spontaneously decided to go with "Hugo" and it turned out to be the best thing I've seen this year. Can't fathom where all the hate is coming from. Either you haven't seen it, or your idea of cinema begins & ends with Michael Bay. The film was a feast for movie lovers.

  • Nov. 26, 2011, 10:11 a.m. CST

    This film brought tears to my eyes

    by This_talkback_is_on_CRAZYPILLS

    It was sheer brilliance from start to finish. To the person going to watch it on "netflix" , don't bother. It will be wasted on you. Better for you to wait for Transformers 4. You can really tell the children on the talkbacks by their reactions to excellent films like this one.

  • Nov. 26, 2011, 12:09 p.m. CST

    this film made me

    by Philip Tolken

    takee a huggee liquid shittake

  • Nov. 26, 2011, 9:06 p.m. CST

    Hugo was a cute movie, but too boring for children.

    by Mr. Moe

    Every kid in that theater was squirming in their set, or finding other ways to entertain themselves.

  • Nov. 27, 2011, 2:26 p.m. CST

    meh.

    by leonardo_dicraprio

    The movie looks great in 3D, and has a few moments, but it is generally pretty tedious. The dialogue is clunky, the world a little too circumscribed, and the plot fairly predictable. And when I call this movie tedious, I don't mean it's slow-paced, I mean it's tedious. I'm a big fan of hou hsiao-hsien, _George Washington_, and plenty of other slow movies, so nyah.

  • Nov. 27, 2011, 2:33 p.m. CST

    by leonardo_dicraprio

    There are a few amazing shots in 3-D (ben Kingsley sitting on his couch at the end, framed in the middle of the picture, is lovely; I'd love to see what Life Aquatic would have looked like had it been filmed in 3-D), and the clips of Harold Lloyd, Buster Keaton, and Melies stuff is a joy, (and 3-D historical footage of WW1 is surprisingly affecting), but it tends to upstage most of the Hugo movie-making. And titanic 3-D effects look surprisingly great. Almost tempted. Phantom Menace, surprisingly bad, even without a nanosecond of jarjar on screen.

  • Nov. 27, 2011, 4:01 p.m. CST

    Hugo = Crap

    by Cash907

    And I love silent movies. Lon Chaney and Charles Chaplin were pretty much my idols back when I was a theater geek. Melies, on the other hand, was a pretentious prick of a control freak if you actually read about him, so unless you're looking for two hours of wandering plot and boring revisionist history, do yourself a favor and go see the Muppets instead.

  • Nov. 28, 2011, 9:53 a.m. CST

    Cash> of course there's a level of control freak

    by CreamCheeseAlchemist

    Melies was probably the first filmmaker whose work required exact framing. I enjoyed the Muppets but there's nothing that warrants another viewing, DVD or even soundtrack purchase for me. So far, Hugo's my favorite holiday movie, Twilight will be skipped unless I hear the ending is changed to Bella ending up with Aice, and J. Edgar is my recommendation for non-family fare, although it's not something I'm eager to revisit because it wasn't made for me. It's for all the "but it's a choice" whiners and theocrats.