Friday, January 20, 2012
Come and Dream with Me.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Written by: John Logan
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jude Law.
Running time: 126 min.
Here it is. Martin Scorsese's first foray into the dreaded world of 3D, which also happens to be a kids movie. But is Hugo really a kids movie? No. Here is a movie that kids could probably watch, but by the several high-pitched murmurs I heard from the few kids at the viewing, I don't think that they were all that enthralled. Yet, between all of the recycled chases through the train station and a villain who is perhaps just there for the sake of having a villain, we have Martin Scorsese's extremely personal love letter to cinema and all of its magic. It is a movie that could prove enjoyable to the adults, who choose to see through its many flaws and see a passionate look at film shine through. There is nostalgia everywhere, both in the way of going to the cinemas for the first time, or having a nice, family friendly adventure just like they used to make them - without talking animals. But for kids, if they're not enthralled, get them at the right age and they might take something very special away from it: going to the movies is a magical experience, and it always has been. However, that is a message that doesn't even get recognised until the second half of the movie.
A lot of people said that Hugo was a film of two halves, and I had a bit of trouble not noticing this. The first half revolves around young orphan Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who winds up the clocks at a train station in Paris and also lives there, alone. After his father (played in a brief scene by Jude Law) dies, he takes the mysterious Automaton (basically a robot) to the train station and hopes to fix it, as he thinks it might have a message from his father. Hugo relies on stealing food and toy parts in order to survive, and one day a toy shop owner Georges (Ben Kingsley) catches him and takes his notebook, becoming quite upset over the drawing of the Automaton that are in it. In order to get his notebook back, Hugo befriends Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz) who lives with Georges. As these two delve deeper into the case of the Automaton, they find it has a connection to early cinema. And here is where we get into the second story, which becomes dedicated to how cinema started and how magical it all was. We also find out who Georges really is, and it becomes Scorsese's tribute to him.
I personally didn't have much of a problem with the two halves...either way, there were good bits in both of them. However, it was perhaps far too long to be justified as good kids entertainment - as it is marketed and trying so hard to be. The kids entertainment part is probably necessary, but I didn't feel much for the constant chases in the train station, the several colourful yet clichéd characters that hang around the station or the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who serves as the villain which we all got a few laughs from, but he takes a long time to become a vital part of the story. However, once the film switches gear and becomes a beautiful tribute to the early days of cinemas and the dreams that went into them, we had some real masterpiece material. Everything about the way Scorsese writes his love letter to cinema, whether it be by showing Safety Last! to cinema first-timer Isabelle and having her so affected by what is happening on screen, and then having Hugo hang off the hand of a clock, replicating the iconic scene from that movie; or by the montages of some of the most early silent movies; or by even having Isabelle and Hugo literally flick through the history book of cinema. It is all so lovely to watch, and reminded me of why I love cinema so much, and am grateful for those early pioneers.
What is most interesting, though, is how Scorsese has created this love letter to early cinema, and yet he used one of our latest technologies: 3D. Now, I've always tried to stay away from 3D as I barely see the sense in it, so I'm not an expert on 3D at all (especially as I've only seen Tron: Legacy and Thor in the format), but the use of 3D in Hugo is great. Everything from the wide shots of Paris all lit up or under a blanket of snow, to Asa Butterfield's precocious blue eyes, looks flawless. Scorsese doesn't use the 3D as a means to throw stuff in your face in order to make sure you're still awake; he uses it as it is intended, to make everything look more real and, well, magical. If anything, Scorsese deserves an Oscar for his work here because he has made sense of the technology - but also for the love that drips out of him and onto this film. It is one of those films where visuals take centre stage, followed by his heart, then some superb performances. While there were some moments when I thought young Butterfield was taking it a bit too far with his melodrama (sometimes, he just belonged in a more serious film), he displayed a lot of talent and you do genuinely feel sorry for his lost little boy. Moretz is good, but you can't unsee what she did in such films as Kick-Ass or Let Me In, so she didn't feel entirely in place here. Sacha Baron Cohen was okay, but I didn't feel his character very much, nor did I feel the other characters around the train station - although the part with the dogs was really cute. As far as performances in this movie goes, though, Ben Kingsley is terrific as Georges, showing the aching pain of trying to forget on his face everywhere. There were so many times he broke my heart - it is nice to see him back on the top of his game.
There is one scene in Hugo where Georges' wife, Jeanne (Helen McCrory) is watching A Trip to the Moon, which Isabelle, Hugo and Rene Tabard (Michael Stuhlbarg) have brought to her. She sits in front of the screen, and we see the truly monumental, dream-like things that happen in it. I was in tears at this point - not because I was sad, but because I was so happy that someone had the will to dream and create something that would become the benchmark of cinema. Because in cinema, people can create anything, and perhaps we have taken that for granted. Cinema is where people have dreams, and they share them with us. And that was the moment I decided that I will indeed become a director - I'm not turning back now.
What I got: