"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realize something was actually strange." -Inception

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Movie Review: Hugo

After taking a requisite break from blogging after the Oscars, it's only fitting that my blog post back would be for Hugo.  The film was nominated for 11 Oscars and ended up winning 5 (and tying The Artist for wins) in the technical categories.  Having watched the film, it is easy to see why it did.

As everyone liked to point out in the weeks leading up to the film's release, Hugo is Martin Scorsese's first family film and many critics have rightly pointed out, his most personal ode to the movies.  Scorsese is known and famous for his gangster films such as Casino, Mean Streets, Goodfellas and The Departed for which he finally won the Best Director Oscar.  His films have a gritty realism to it with characters who inhabit them with many shades of grey.  Hugo, however, is unlike any other film he's ever made and I simply loved it and hope to see more of this "other" side of Scorsese.

The film opens in Paris, the opening sequence is quite astonishing; drawing us into Paris and the small world of the train station which Hugo Chabret (Asa Butterfield) calls home.  Hugo lives in the walls of the train station fixing and maintaining the various clocks.  He keeps an eye out for the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) who dislikes and carts away young orphans.  He steals small parts from different toys to fix an automaton found in a museum by his late father.  Hugo feels that the automaton is his last link to his father and wants to get it working again at any cost. 

However, one day, he is caught stealing a wind-up mouse at the toy store by the owner, Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), who discovers his father's notebook of drawings of the automaton.  He confiscates the book and seems unsettled by it.  Hugo is distraught because this means he can't finish the automaton.  No matter of pleading works with Papa Georges either.  But he finds a sympathizer in Papa Georges' goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) who wants to help him out.  And thus begins their adventure into finding out the big clue to the automaton and its connection to Papa Georges.

Isabelle has a heart-shaped key which (surprise, surprise!) is the final key (pun intended) to making the automaton work.  The automaton comes to life and brings Hugo a message, an image of the moon with a bullet in his eye.  From there on, the film makes a reveal as to who Papa Georges really is and I'll allow you to find out his identity yourself.

After Isabelle and Hugo get the automaton working and help Papa Georges remember his past, those key moments are the strongest in the film.  Isabelle and Hugo make an adorable pair, both of them keen to have an adventure.  Hugo introduces Isabelle to the wonders of moving pictures and films and Isabelle brings Hugo to her sanctuary, the library filled with books of adventure.  They both have that wonder and awe that children have when you first discover a book you can't put down or see a film that changes your life and it consumes everything you think about after.

Scorsese captures the essence of how we first become movie buffs in the first place and it's his ode to preservation of older films which should be known to a newer generation of fans.  Because the current crop of movies owes a great debt to the innovations and techniques attempted by the pioneers.  Back when there was no color, each frame had to be painted painstakingly by hand and creating special illusions on film sometimes meant cutting the film to cover up the trick.  All this we take for granted and can easily be done with a few clicks on the computer but it's nice to show the younger generation that 'back in the day', you used your imagination to see how you could create this yourself by hand.

There is something about the movies, "the place where you get to see your dreams in the afternoon".  We've all had that moment.  I remember watching Jurassic Park in the cinema and that scene where they encounter the dinosaurs (Brachiosaurs to be more specific) for the first time.  And I recall getting goosebumps at the time because when I first read the book, it was exactly how I had pictured it in my mind.  I kept thinking, how did they know?  That connection with the movies is so well captured in Hugo and that is why it is so enchanting.  The movie has its pacing issues, it could have done with eliminating 20 minutes or so off its running time but the its final moments and the buildup are the true reason you should watch it.

Fun Fact: Did you know this movie was produced by Johnny Depp?

Directed by Martin Scorsese; Screenplay by John Logan; Based on the novel by Brian Selznick; Cinematography by Robert Richardson; Music by Howard Shore; Edited by Thelma Schoonamaker.

Also starring: Jude Law, Helen McCory, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour.


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