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_This_ is why we go to the movies
on December 9, 2011
Different people go to the movies for different reasons. Some of us want to be entertained. Some of us want to be dazzled. Some of us want to be engaged by a story, or by characters that stick in the mind after the film is done. Some of us want to be transported to a different time or place. And some of us want to see talented actors create a bit of magic in the hands of a masterful director. Martin Scorsese's Hugo does all of these things. It is, more than any other film I've seen this year, _why_ we go to the movies.
The film is based on the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. If you've read the book, then you know the story already, but for everyone else I am going to be careful here and not reveal anything that might spoil the film. I will say that Hugo is about many things, but at its heart, it is about obsession, discovery and how one person's story can lead to - and become entwined with - another's.
The film is set in Paris in the 1930's, in a railway station where an orphan boy named Hugo (engagingly played by Asa Butterfield) lives in the workspaces in the station walls and in the station's central clocktower. He spends most of his time keeping the station's clocks running (so that no one will come into the walls or the tower and discover his hiding places) and pursuing his obsession - fixing a man-shaped automaton designed to write with a pen which his father (Jude Law) had found in a museum and was trying to repair when he was killed in a fire. To feed himself, Hugo scrounges and pilfers food from the various food shops in the station, which draws the attention of the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). To feed his efforts to repair the automaton, Hugo steals parts from a toy shop in the station, run by the elderly Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), who finally catches him in the act. He is befriended though by Papa Georges' god-daughter, a girl his age named Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who ends up helping Hugo pursue his obsession of fixing the automaton. Which, Hugo is convinced, has some secret message for him left by his late father. Where this ultimately leads... you'll have to see the film. Telling you here would only ruin the film's joy of discovery.
There are so many good things about Hugo as a film that it's hard to know where to begin. I can at least start by saying that the look of the film itself is dazzling. Scorsese creates worlds within worlds, taking you first back to Paris in the 1930's and from there into Hugo's hidden world within the walls and clock tower of the train station. And from there, other places that are equally wondrous. The 3D is not wasted here and truly adds to the feel of Hugo's world of narrow passages and massive time-keeping mechanisms with their enormous but intricate gears, springs and pendulums all in motion. And Howard Shore's beautifully crafted musical score evokes the period throughout the film, adding to the feeling of being transported to a different time and place.
Another thing that makes Hugo so worth seeing is that Scorsese is one of those directors who can bring out the best performance an actor has in them, which he does a magnificent job of here, from veteran actors like Ben Kingsley and Christopher Lee to comparative newcomers like Asa Butterfield and Chloë Grace Moretz.
And just as the look of the sets shows his attention to detail, the populating of the world with characters shows it as well as he makes the train station come alive with its regular denizens, from Sacha Boren Cohen's officious station inspector with his leg brace and the pretty young flower seller Lisette (Emily Mortimer) he secretly yearns for, to the comic attempts at romance between Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths), an elderly newspaper seller who keeps attempting to woo Madame Emile (Frances de la Tour), a cafe owner who dotes on her dog who unfortunately attacks Monsieur Frick every time he comes near. Scorsese also works in some famous historical Parisian residents of the period into the background, like jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt (Emil Lager), artist Salvador Dali (Ben Addis) and writer James Joyce (Robert Gill).
Highly, highly recommended for anyone who enjoys movies, and an absolute must-see for anyone who loves movies and what they mean to us.