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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Movie Review: Hugo


I'm an enormous fan of well-made "kid movies," or as I like to think of them, movies for the uncynical and young at heart. I think one of the biggest reasons they appeal to me so much is that they cut to the core of things. Oftentimes, a coming-of-age or childlike film gets right down to who a filmmaker is at their essence. This happens more often when great writers and directors are at the helm of these movies. They feel very personal. That's one of the reasons why I consider JJ Abram's Super 8 to be my favorite movie of the year (there are a hundred more, but this isn't a review of that film). Martin Scorsese's Hugo is right up there, and for many of the same reasons.

Based on a children's book by Brian Selznick (which, it kills me to say, I actually haven't read), Hugo is a completely unique, almost dream-like fable. I went in with little knowledge of the story and no expectations, which I think is the best possible frame of mind to be in before you watch this movie. After about the first fifteen minutes (more of an introduction to the title character's world... which ends with a stunning reveal of 1930s Paris) I found myself utterly engrossed. Riveted, even. This feeling lasted through the entire movie and the weird thing is, it's not a wham bang action thriller with huge plot twists and explosions. It's not the kind of thing I'd expect to be riveted by... yet there I was.

Now that I've given it some thought, I can put it down to several factors. First, the world of Hugo is utterly immersive. The color palette, the cinematography (the angles used to shoot inside the station are just thrilling to watch) and the side stories of the different goings on inside the station all add up to create a sense of place that's absolutely transportive. It's like a classic painting come to life. Story and character aside, it's beautiful to look at. But that's selling the story short. After awhile, you do know where it's going, but the journey to get there had me guessing. What's up with this strange boy's salvaged automaton? Or the mysterious toy seller, or the secrets his dead father seemed to know? I love a good mystery, especially when it pays off as well as this one did. I didn't expect the rich taste of history and filmmaking we get in the film's latter half. This is that deep, personal connection I was talking about earlier. It definitely feels like this is Scorsese's core. You almost expect the movie to head in a fantasy direction. What you get is quite different, and far more affecting.

Finally, I'd be leaving a gaping hole if I didn't at least mention the acting. It's uniformly excellent... "kid movie" or not. I've loved everything that Chloë Grace Moretz's done, so it's no surprise that she's amazing here (and it's nice to see her playing against the Let Me In/Kick-Ass type). Sacha Baron Cohen hams it up a little much here and there, but turns in a performance that ends up to be much more layered than it first seems. Ben Kingsley has one of the tougher performances and plays a critical role in the central mystery. He carries it off brilliantly, of course. And Asa Butterfield, the youngest of the bunch, carries the movie on his shoulders with a pair of ultra-expressive blue eyes that often speak louder than any line he's been given. He's the heart of Hugo, and wouldn't be a total shocker come Oscar nomination time.

The vague marketing isn't doing Hugo any favors, but if you like intelligent, engrossing, character driven movies (that just happen to star a child), you've got to check this out. Hell, if you're a fan of movies and moviemaking in general, I don't see how you could miss it! A


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Blogger Natalie Zaman said...

Excellent--I might go see this weekend (fingers crossed)AND--if you stop by my blog and comment you could win a signed copy of said book, just sayin' :) xxNat

6:23 PM  
Anonymous Scott said...

I agree wholeheartedly—Hugo is a marvelous movie, and finally one that puts 3D to good use. I enjoyed it even more than I enjoyed The Muppets. Now, to get myself to a cinema to see Arthur Christmas...

3:35 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

I saw Arthur Christmas the other day and enjoyed it, though I think it wouldn't worked better as a short (maybe 45 min?) feature. The good stuff was so clever and quick and funny but it did get bogged down a bit in the middle.

4:36 PM  

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