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 Martin Scorsese's Hugo

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Donald McKinney
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PostSubject: Martin Scorsese's Hugo   Sat Dec 10, 2011 5:52 pm

Brian Selznick published The Invention of Hugo Cabret in 2007, a children's book which was also a work of historical fiction, which mixed children's adventure with the origins of what happened to one of the first great pioneers of cinema. The Selznick's book good good acclaim, even winning a few awards. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood would take notice of the book, and it landed into the hands of producer Graham King, fresh from the Oscar success of The Departed (2006). After reading the book, he knew there was one man who had to bring it to the big screen, a man who is a historian on cinema as well, a man whose works were influenced by all the great directors of old, and whose films have influenced filmmakers today, Martin Scorsese. But, King sent the book to Scorsese's wife and daughter first to see what they thought, and they loved it, and so did Scorsese. When you think of Scorsese, you don't think of him as a man of family films, everyone knows him best for his crime and gangster thrillers, but he loves cinema, and saw this as the perfect way to honour one of the stories main characters. So, after Shine a Light (2008) and Shutter Island (2010) wrapped filming, he started work on what became Hugo, although marketed as a family film, it isn't really, but it's a love letter to cinema, and it's one of his most visually stunning films of all, touching, heartbreaking and above all, enchanting.

Set in Paris in the early 1930's, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living within the walls of the Montparnasse railway station, he tends to the clocks throughout the railway station, but managing to stay one step ahead of the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). Hugo's father (Jude Law) was killed in a museum fire, and taken in by his drunken uncle Claude (Ray Winstone), who tended to the clocks in the station before he disappeared months before, Hugo gets by stealing food and supplies to maintain the clocks, but he also has a small mechanical man that his father was working on restoring. Hugo is caught stealing parts by toy store owner Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), who discovers something that upsets him a notebook belonging to Hugo, and Papa Georges takes the notebook from Hugo, saying he'll burn it. Hugo becomes friendly with Papa Georges' god-daughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), who has a key that fits into a lock in the mechanical man. It turns out the mechanical man draws a picture of an iconic film image, and the signature of filmmaker Georges Méliès, who is Isabelle's godfather. Hugo and Isabelle learn the truth of Méliès and his past and how he came to be working in a toy shop in the Montparnasse station.

From first glance, you'd think this sort of material would be best suited to someone like Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam or Jean-Pierre Jeunet. But, look deeper, and you discover why Scorsese is the perfect man for this. It's not only a family adventure, (albiet for older families), it's a history lesson about the beginning of cinema. It's a film of two halves, the adventure in the train station with Sacha Baron Cohen's station inspector and his dog being on the receiving end of plenty a prat fall and Hugo getting to know Papa Georges, then the discovery that Papa Georges is former filmmaker Georges Méliès who, between 1896 and 1913, shot over 500 films!! (Shocked) The flashback to how Méliès made films back then is as enchanting as the scenes in the railway station. Méliès started out as a stage magician, and utilised tricks of his trade into the film business, including puffs of smoke, sleight of hand and jump cuts. He even hand tinted all of his films into colour as well. It's almost heartbreaking to see how his downfall happened, and what happened to most of the films that he'd shot as well, but his back story is done with respect and honour. Even if it's source material was fictional, you get the impression Georges Méliès would have been proud of this film.

As well as being Scorsese's first family film, this is his first film to be shot in 3D as well. A technique that is open to criticism, from people claiming that it doesn't work to blockbusters hastily converted into 3D during post-production. But, Scorsese was determined to make it work, and make it stand out, he wanted the images to stand out, and even looked at 3D films of the past including House of Wax (1953) and Dial M for Murder (1954) for reference, Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson worked hard to make it work, from the dizzying shot showing where Hugo works in the walls of the train station, to the clock dangling suspended above the station lobby, and it sticks out from the screen. It does work in parts, and it gives the film added depth. But, we're still a long way off from it being perfect, but Scorsese has managed to do something interesting with it. But, it brings the sets by the great Dante Ferretti to vivid life, all sets made at Shepperton Studios. But, it happily compliments the images originally drawn by Brian Selznick for his book, and it stays faithful too above all, it's so beautiful to look at.

The cast are all fantastic as well, Scorsese has always been good with actors, and he gets the best from them here. Asa Butterfield's Hugo is a boy who steals, but is not a nasty boy, he's just doing it to survive, he shows pain and emotion as he works to try and complete what his father started. Chloë Moretz as Isabelle is a mature but caring as Hugo's only friend, who literally holds the key to the completion of the mechanical man, she is a well educated girl who lives in books and films. Even the grown ups in the films are engaging to watch, Ben Kingsley's portrayal of Georges Méliès shows him as a sad curmudgeon in his later years, but in the flashbacks 30 years prior, it shows him as a bright, energetic man, full of ideas and excitement and optimisim, it proves to be one of Kingsley's best performances in years, a good portrayal of Méliès. Another surprise is Sacha Baron Cohen as the Station Inspector, who shows a sinister side even if he is a bit of a bumbler when chasing after Hugo or trying to chat up flower girl Lisette (Emily Mortimer). Along with Winstone and Law, the rest of the cast is made up of some nice cameos, from Helen McCrory as Méliès' wife Mama Jeanne, Christopher Lee as bookshop owner Monsieur Labisse, Frances de la Tour as cafe owner Madame Emile, Richard Griffiths as newspaper vendor Monsieur Frick and Michael Stuhlbarg as film historian René Tabard.

It's a touching and emotional film which shows that Scorsese still has the power to entertain and enthrall audiences. With this, it shows a softer side to Scorsese too, a sensitive side respectful to the history of cinema and it's earliest master. Making family friendly fare is something Scorsese has never done until now, he's touched upon nearly every other genre throughout his long and exciting career, but here, he's made a film with heart and feeling. Plus, it has an innocence that family films seem to lack these days, it's a gentle, easy going film as well, with never a dull moments, and you leave the cinema feeling uplifted and content too.





It's rare that you get films like this, and Scorsese is the last person you would have expected to make a film like this, but everything about it seems to work. It's one of the best films this year, and a true, pleasant surprise. Scorsese's films are always well worth seeing, and his films have a richness with good performances and a grandness to them. With this, you can see why it's won so many critical plaudits and even awards. It's too early to say whether Marty will win another Oscar, it would be nice if he did, but it's certainly a strong contender. It might alienate younger kids who don't know the tricks of the cinema trade, but older ones, would like it. Hugo is a magical, enthralling, sad, surprising and funny tale for all the ages (yes, Scorsese has mastered comedy with this film, even more so than The King of Comedy (1982) and After Hours (1985)). Never mind other family films out at the moment, go and see the film from a director who knows what he's doing. This one. It's truly one of the best films of 2011, and love it or hate it, give it a go in 3D as well, as it's better than what previous 3D films had to offer.
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