Sunday, November 27, 2011

Review: "Hugo"

Asa Butterfield and Jude Law in "Hugo"

Before I start my review, I have a confession to make: I knew I was going to love Hugo going in. What I didn't know was just how much I was going to love it.

Martin Scorcese's adaption of Brian Selznick's novel "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" tells the story of a young boy (Asa Butterfield) who lives in the walls of the Paris train station in 1930, winding and maintaining the station's many clocks. He watches the the goings on among the station's shopkeepers from behind the clocks' faces; steals food from the restaurants and fruit carts and tries to avoid the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), a wounded WWI vet with a cranky leg brace and a not-quite vicious Doberman. When caught trying to steal clockwork parts from the  station's toy shop, the shop's cantankerous owner (Sir Ben Kingsley) makes Hugo empty his pockets, where he discovers a detailed notebook filled with drawings of an automaton that upsets him to no end. When the old man threatens to burn the book, Hugo pleas with his ward, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) to help him get it back. And thus the adventure begins. I won't go in to more plot detail than that, because you really need to let it unfold around you.

And I mean that quite literally. Shooting in 3D, Scorcese uses the medium to add  remarkable depth to his film, quite unlike any other director has managed to do. The 3D is crisp and amazing, allowing the audience to experience the story as though they were silent observers in a very real place without once becoming gimmicky. No spears are thrust into your face; no explosions sear your eyeballs and nothing makes you dizzy or nauseous (not that 3D ever bothered me in that way).

The performances here are just terrific, across the board. Butterfield is undoubtedly the best young actor I've seen in a long time, using his huge, expressive hazel eyes to remarkable effect while Moretz continues to prove her versatility. Kingsley and Baron Cohen are both wonderful (Baron Cohen is especially delightful as the comedic foil villain) and appearances from Christopher Lee (and why is he not Sir Christopher Lee, already?); Jude Law; Helen McCrory; Emily Mortimer; Ray Winstone and Frances de la Tour just add to the fun. And the Steampunk aesthetics (tons of gears and loads of steam and clockworks) are all the better because of the remarkable 3D.

Robert Richardson's dreamy cinematography; Alastair Bullock's lush art direction and Sandy Powell's gorgeous period costumes are all amazing and Howard Shore's beautiful score is one of his best.

Hugo is Scorcese's love-letter to the movies and knowing what we know about his own childhood, it's no wonder the story appealed to him. Hugo is all about dreams and magic, which is what going to the movies has always been about for me. In fact, I almost felt like he'd made the movie just for me. Anyone who loves movies (and especially their early history) will love Hugo. I saw it with Q, Dale and K at a later show with an all adult audience and just about everyone in the auditorium applauded when it was over. I can't recommend Hugo enough. It was the perfect way to kick off the Holidays, and I'm sure I'm going to see it at least once more in a theater. Without a doubt, the best movie I've seen so far this year. **** (Four Out of Four Stars).

See this film! And see it in 3D (I can't believe I actually typed that sentence).

More, anon.

P.S. - Let me know if you spot Scorcese's own Hitchcockian cameo...