Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Scorsese's HUGO: intelligent, "personal," mainstream moviemaking (with nods to some better films) -- & the best 3D so far!

What an oddball wonder is HUGO -- the latest film from Martin Scorsese -- and what in the world will families, particularly the young kids, make of the movie's final hour? The whole thing runs two hours and seven minutes -- which is lengthy for a family movie, particularly one that, midway along, turns into nearly a documentary about the early days of French filmmaking (Hugo is set in Paris). TrustMovies loved the entire thing, even if he admits that much of the children's adventure section is B-level rather than A. (Yet B-level, when the production design is so delightful, and the cast so competent and energized, turns out to be quite enough to provide classy entertainment.)

Snowflakes in your eyes and all over your lap are one of the first sweet 3D effects that Scorsese (pictured at right) and his crew have whipped up, and they are lovely -- immediately setting the visual tone for much of what is to come. You'll soon be put in mind of Spielberg's A.I. (and not simply because of Jude Law and an automaton) before moving on to Dickens, Rostand and finally -- best of all -- to the movie medium itself as the source of magic, joy, dreams and creativity. It's no secret that Mr. Scorsese is a proponent of salvaging and restoring film; here he turns his passion into art of a sort, and one that might, if his film is able to reach young minds and eyes, lead these toward the light. (TM wants to take his grand-kids -- both bright and ages six and three -- to see this one, if only to learn whether or not they are enchanted and can understand the inclusion of the silent film footage.) Certainly, adults who accompany the children, if they have any appreciation of history and art forms, will get it.

What the filmmaker has done is to marry his tale of a young boy (Asa Butterfield, above, right) -- whose father (played by Mr. Law, above, left) and drunken uncle (Ray Winstone) tend the clocks in a Parisian railroad station -- who connects, rather badly, with the old man (Ben Kingsley, below, left) and young girl Chloë Grace Moretz who run a shop in the station that sells and fixes old toys. (That station is brought to gorgeous, detailed life by production designer Dante Ferretti and his crew.) Into this mix comes yet another story of an artist (early filmmaker Georges Méliès) whose work has faded from view and whose life has apparently ended.

It is here that Scorsese's film both enters what at times seems almost a documentary mode but also clearly touches the director's heart and mind. This section is filled with wonder, history and some fabulous ancient footage and soon becomes a marvelous tribute to both movies and Méliès.

If the chase scenes (several of them) involving the local gendarme (Sacha Baron Cohen, above, looking an awfully lot like the new hit leading man Jean Dujardin) and his doberman are second rate, there's a nice nightmare sequence (that steals from Elm Street and ups the movie's "action" quotient by several notches.

Cohen is adequate, as is his usually-better love interest, the station's flowergirl (Emily Mortimerabove: shades of My Fair Lady), while the secondary set of would-be lovers, played by Frances de la Tour (below, right) and Richard Griffiths (left), are a bit de trop.

Yet the main cast -- including Miss Moretz and Mr Butterfield, both shown below, and Helen McCrory (as Kingsley's wife) and Michael Stuhlbarg (as an early film historian) -- delivers beautifully, bringing the movie home.

And did I mention Christopher Lee (above, left), on full display and doing a very nice job as an unusual "librarian."

A word must also be said for the 3D effects: Granted, I have only see perhaps a half dozen of the newer 3D movies over the past few years, but to my mind Hugo is the best of the bunch (including, yes, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, though I have not yet seen Pina). Dimensions are so beautifully created via the various working of the clocks on view, and the stairways, the dark alleys, those snowflakes and so much more. This appears to be a movie that was filmed from the first with 3D in mind rather than some of post-transfers (Thor, anyone?) that are dark, drab and tiresome, from beginning to end.

Hugo, from Paramount Pictures, 127 minutes, open today, Friday, November 23, nationwide. Click here to locate a theater near you. Bring the kids -- and let me know what they think.

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