Sunday, December 4, 2011


Hi all, my name is Glenn and this is my blog about movies.

Here's a picture of me making a stupid face.

Hello internet.

Great, now that we've got intros of of the way, I'm just going to get started.

So recently I watched two films that would be best describes as love letters to cinema. The first was the seminal classic Cinema Paradiso; the second being Martin Scorsese's delightful 3-D opus, Hugo.

Hugo and the Station Master (Sacha Baron Cohen) play a dangerous game of hide and seek.

Hugo, which I'll start with while it's still fresh on my mind, is quite unlike any film Martin Scorsese has directed before. While I normally respect his talent as a craftsman, and his eye for the unforgettable visual, usually the unrelenting brutality of his protagonists and their inexorable downfalls leave me cold (the notable exceptions being Taxi Driver and The Departed, which I both loved). But now, after decades of delving thoroughly into deception and betrayal, anger and paranoia, Scorsese makes what seems to be his most personal film yet--a lighthearted family film. This is his first film to use 3-D, but you wouldn't know it considering how he integrates it seamlessly into the film with such ease and comfort. His use of the newest advance in film technology to tell the story of its inception as an art form shows how he continues to grow and mature as a director, even in the latter stages of his career.

The opening moments of Hugo are dazzling. In a single, breathtaking shot, Scorsese confidently leads you into an un-named Parisian train station, through the lives of its denizens, shop owners, and the tin man Station Master and up into the face of the clock which Hugo Cabret (played with surprising fidelity and ease by the 14 year old Asa Butterfield) has claimed for his secret home. Hugo's life is one of theft and solitude. When he's not pilfering pastries from nearby shops in the station or avoiding the Station Master--who is determined to see Hugo hauled off to the orphanage--he's working obsessively on fixing an old, rusted automaton. This automaton is the last vestige of his father (a brief appearance by Jude Law), a mild-mannered clock-maker whose death in a fire left Hugo to the whims of his alcoholic uncle. He is quickly deserted by this irresponsible lush... leaving poor Hugo with nothing but his dreams for company. But as luck, or perhaps fate, would have it, the grandfather of cinema Georges Méliès, played lugubriously by Ben Kingsley, also makes the train station his home and throughout the film, they begrudgingly develop a deep friendship

Georges Méliès teaches Hugo his pre-cinematic career as a magician.

On a technical level, Scorsese and his crew have never been better. Even at the start, before the movie fully embraces the story's cinematic roots, the crisp and assured movement of the camera, the richly designed train station setting and the colorful, yet dark palatte Scorsese's team employs, draws you effortlessly into his world. During Hugo's flashback to better days with his father, one can hear the telltale click-clack of an old-time projector, which serves to underscore the movie's main theme... that films are the vehicle by which dreams are made real. The intricate clockwork of the machinery which litters the landscape literally pops off the screen, at once both whimsical and imposing. And several shots of Paris from the top of the train station's clock-tower complete the analogy that Hugo verbally underscores, comparing the world to one large machine, and the people in it to cogs, each one with a vital job to do. 

The story itself is as richly layered as the film is visually. Each character, even the background residents of the train station, has their own dream to pursue and each character is broken in their own way. Just by touching their lives, Hugo fixes them as easily as he fixes the machines in the train-station and toy shop. While the story is ultimately lacking in any real suspense (outside of a couple scenes involving the Station Master and the threat of the orphanage) or subtlety, one has to remember, this is a movie for children too. The happy outcome is never really in doubt.

At a little over two hours, Hugo is 20 or so minutes too long. The uneven pacing of the first hour--bogged down by some awkward slapstick from the Station Master--is largely to blame, but when Hugo and Isabelle, an orphan Méliès has taken into his home, endeavor to help the old magician reclaim his lost legacy, the movie hits its stride and all is forgiven. 

Hugo serves as a love-letter to film-making itself. Any long-time fan of movies can readily identify with Isabelle's awe-struck joy when Hugo sneaks her into her first film (the silent Buster Keaton vehicle Safety Last!), or can empathize with Méliès's pain as he relates the tragic tale of how he lost his taste for dreams. And despite the darker notes that Hugo occasionally touches on, the death of family and the loss of passion, ultimately it affirms the beauty and joy of a purpose driven life, with a conclusion that is guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes of audiences of all ages. Pacing problems keep it from being a masterpiece, but for anyone seeking a feel-good movie for the holiday season, there are no better alternatives in theaters now than Hugo.

Gleeneen16's rating: ****1/2/*****

This took longer than I anticipated, so I'll wait on the Cinema Paradiso review. It'll be forthcoming in the next couple days. 

1 comment:

  1. can we get more of those pictures of you making a stupid face? easily best part of the review, which was good too.