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A movie directed by Martin Scorsese

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The Mystery of the Mechanical Man

  • Nov 24, 2011
Star Rating:

The genius of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo is not just that it employs the latest in filmmaking technology, but that it employs them in a story about how filmmaking itself came to be. This is a subject near and dear to Scorsese, who, apart from directing and producing, is renowned for his work as a film historian (he’s the co-founder of The Film Foundation and the World Cinema Foundation, both nonprofit organizations dedicated to the preservation of film). He doesn’t present history so much as immerse us in it, and not in a way that’s distant or clinical but rather in a way that’s warm and inviting. He beckons us with the art of illusion, gets us interested in the mechanics, and allows us to study them up close. In that process of revelation, never once does the magic elude us.
Hugo, adapted from Brian Selznick’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is an absolute triumph, not just of plot, but of casting, performance, character development, art direction, set design, special effects, and theme as well. It’s also one of the best looking 3D films I’ve ever seen, and if you’ve read my reviews, you know how I feel about 3D in general. Rather than assault our field of vision with crude pop out gags, Scorsese allows the process to envelope us like a blanket, making us at one with the world he has created. We’re not watching the story unfold; we’re actually a part of it. There are times when I wanted to reach out and try to touch the images, for they were so well integrated into the shots that they achieved an uncanny tactile quality. For the first time ever, I’m recommending you spend the extra money for a 3D movie, especially if your local theater uses digital projectors that allow for bright, clear pictures.

Taking place in Paris sometime in the early 1930s, it tells the story of Hugo (Asa Butterfield), an orphaned boy who lives within the walls of a train station. As the son of a watchmaker (Jude Law in a flashback sequence), he has an affinity for clockwork and mechanical creations, which is why he keeps himself busy by winding all the station’s clocks. His secret lair is a world of iron, gears, pendulums, springs, and steam. He observes the everyday hustle and bustle through various openings, usually clock faces. He sees Monsieur Frick, the newspaper vendor (Richard Griffiths), trying to woo the café owner, Madame Emile (Francis de la Tour), while simultaneously trying to avoid her irritable dog. He sees a flower girl named Lisette (Emily Mortimer), who cheerfully sets up shop every morning. He desperately tries to avoid the mean, crippled station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who, along with his Rottweiler, rounds up unattended children and has them shipped off to the orphanage.
Before he died in a fire, Hugo’s father was trying to repair a metal automaton, which he found rusting away in a museum. Hugo, determined to finish the work his father started, runs afoul of a bitter, reserved man known as Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), whose assortment of windup figures has the gears Hugo needs. Georges, who knows Hugo has been stealing from him, is shocked when he discovers a notebook Hugo’s father sketched in. He then takes it and refuses to return it. He even threatens to burn it. Hugo must get it back. Here enters Georges’ goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who quickly becomes Hugo’s friend. Well read and adventurous, Isabelle wears a heart-shaped key around her neck – the same key that fits a special lock on Hugo’s automaton. Why does she have it? And what will happen once the automaton has been wound up?

Alas, I cannot describe the rest of the film without becoming annoyingly vague. What a shame that I’m unable to reveal how all this connects to the art of filmmaking. All I can say is, Scorsese does a masterful job of depicting what it must have been like in those early days of movies, in which it was evident that not even the limits of technology could put a damper on the imagination. We see boundless creativity in gaudy costumes, plywood sets, and celluloid that has been hand tinted frame by frame. We study first generation cameras and projectors and marvel at their hand-operated mechanisms. Best of all, we see audiences staring in awe as pictures, projected on a white screen, actually move.
Every character is so engaging and richly developed that I couldn’t possibly praise them all. This would not have been possible were it not for the spot-on casting. As Hugo, Butterfield is sympathetic but not manipulative – a Dickensian character capable of real emotions. Moretz is just plain charming as plucky young Isabelle, and Kingsley shows great range as Georges. The biggest surprise is Cohen as the station inspector, who we expect will be little more than a traditional cross between a frightening menace and comedy relief. We would be wrong; as he nervously makes passes at Lisette, we begin to see a real person, a man who has yet to process his misfortunes in life in a healthy, constructive way. As a historical fable, and as a celebration of the cinematic arts, Hugo is a treasure.


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March 26, 2012
This is a good family movie.
March 27, 2012
It's a good movie, period. What a beautiful homage to the history of filmmaking. This movie reminded me of why I love them so much.
March 28, 2012
I agree.
November 24, 2011
As with Cronenberg, Scorsese's name almost always gets me to the theater. I am very interested with this upon seeing its trailers; the only thing that may me keep me from it may be the fact that time is a little on the short supply for me right now. But your perfect score gives me more motivation to make sure I see this. Thanks for the reviews!
November 26, 2011
You should definitely make it a point to see this one. I was surprised at just how much I loved it. I was even more surprised that the 3D was successful.
More Hugo reviews
review by . January 11, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Another 'Age of Innocence'
Martin Scorsese's 'Hugo' is his first family friendly entertainment, but just like all of his endeavors, his film pays dirt. Filled with passion, innocence, yet shrouded in mystery, 'Hugo' works well by its own merits, but, having seen it in 3-D, it can't be said enough how much the enchanting story unfolds like a flowing pop-up book. (While 'Avatar' wins the prize for being elaborate, 'Hugo's 3-D experience is more worthwhile, my best to date.)   …
review by . April 29, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Those who are familiar with the work of Martin Scorsese may find it odd that he decided to direct a movie like Hugo. Scorsese's movies tend to be much more on the gritty, violent side. I've read that guilt is a constant theme of Scorsese's, though I'm not sure I can interpret that from his previous work, although there's a certain contrast between good and bad that seems to appear in a lot of his work. Therefore, Hugo would seem like an unusual move for Scorsese, but those who know about the director's …
review by . July 26, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Wherever Hugo, I go.
Hugo is directed by Martin Scorsese   Stars Asa Butterfield             Chole Grace Moretz             Christopher Lee             Ben Kingsley             Sacha Baron Cohen      Hugo is an orphan who comes to live in the secret rooms of the Paris train station in the 1930s.      His father was a clock maker who …
review by . November 25, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****    Once in a while in cinematic history, we happen upon a young protagonist who perhaps loves the movies as much as we do. Surely, this is a rare encounter; but one that is ultimately meant to be treasured, to say the least. Think about it: "Cinema Paradiso". "8 1/2". "A Cat in the Brain". "The Man with the Movie Camera". All of those films are unquestionably beautiful, metaphorical works that attempt to merge the movies with our lives; and quite a few of them …
review by . November 23, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
'Hugo' 'Two Jews On Film' Only One Feels The Magic In Martin Scorsese's 3D Fantasy (Video)
         By Joan Alperin-Schwartz      When you hear the name, Martin Scorsese several things may pop into your mind...New York City, Italian Gangsters, Films About Italian Gangsters...Scarface,Casino,Heat and 'Goodfellas, just to name a few...Or you might think about a little movie starring Scorsese's bbf as an off the charts, crazy taxi cab driver.      Whatever the case …
Quick Tip by . April 01, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
Based on the book “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”, Martin Scorsese’s “Hugo” is so different from the films he has done in the past. It is delightful, and does a good job in becoming a family film.      The story is a pretty much a kiddie story--it has influences from comic books and is filled with slapstick chases, storybook fantasy, and wonderful discoveries…sure it may seem contrived, but Scorsese’s direction manages to engage …
Quick Tip by . February 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
I just saw Hugo last night. I have now seen 3 best picture nominees including Moneyball and The Help, each an excellent movie, but Hugo made me happiest to be alive. This is a must see movie.      I know the recommendation "made me happiest to be alive" may seem like an odd recommendation for a movie, but that was really the way I felt walking out of the movie.   Has anyone else felt a similar reaction to this movie?  I would be curious to hear your response.   …
review by . November 27, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
Dazzling but dizzying
HUGO Written by John Logan Directed by Martin Scorsese Starring Ben Kingsley, Sasha Baron Cohen, Chloe Grace Moretz and Asa Butterfield   Isabelle: We could get into trouble. Hugo: That’s how you know it’s an adventure.   Before any image even appears on screen, master filmmaker, Martin Scorsese, sets his scene with the sounds of his central character, Hugo Cabret’s life. Clocks are ticking, gears are clicking and trains are passing. These are the sounds one …
Quick Tip by . February 28, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
I just saw Hugo last night. I have now seen 3 best picture nominees including Moneyball and The Help, each an excellent movie, but Hugo made me happiest to be alive. This is a must see movie.      I know the recommendation "made me happiest to be alive" may seem like an odd recommendation for a movie, but that was really the way I felt walking out of the movie.   Has anyone else felt a similar reaction to this movie?  I would be curious to hear your response.   …
About the reviewer
Chris Pandolfi ()
Ranked #2
Growing up a shy kid in a quiet suburb of Los Angeles, Chris Pandolfi knows all about the imagination. Pretend games were always the most fun for him, especially on the school playground; he and his … more
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About this movie



Director: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Drama, Family, Fantasy, Mystery
Release Date: 23 November 2011 (USA)
Screen Writer: John Logan, Brian Selznick
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