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‘Hugo’ is Martin Scorsese’s brilliant tribute to the Golden Age of Cinema


You’ve gotta hand it to Martin Scorsese. Whether it's a documentary (The Last Waltz), biopic (Raging Bull), biblical film (The Last Temptation of Christ) or brutally violent gangster movies (Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed), Scorsese has run the gamut of cinematic film noir with an almost impeccable track record.

With his latest effort ‘Hugo,’ which is based on Brian Selznick's novel, "The Invention of Hugo Cabret," he can now add the adaptation of children’s books to his successful film pedigree.Hugo photo: Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures/AP

The movie takes place in Paris during the early 1930’s. Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan grieving over the accidental death of his beloved father (Jude Law), who maintained the clocks in the local train station.

Prior to his death, Hugo’s father was attempting to fix the automaton, a machine he rescued from a museum. Believing that the automaton has a message from Hugo’s father, Hugo aspires to continue his father’s work and fix the machine, but encounters several obstacles while doing so. One in the form of the station inspector (played by a slightly less obnoxious Sacha Baron Cohen) who sent a young boy to jail for stealing a pastry, and Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), the seemingly embittered owner of a toy booth in the train station.

When Hugo starts to bond with Melies’ goddaughter Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), his quest truly begins to take flight, and it is during this turn of events that Hugo’s journey takes on an even greater meaning. This also goes for everyone he comes into contact with, as the key to fixing the automaton may bring solace to Hugo as well as Melies.

‘Hugo’ is a pleasant change from your regular Scorsese picture. Make no mistake, the movie is at times both dark and melancholy with themes of loneliness and regret. However, there are no bloody casualties mixed with profanities here (and make no mistake, I am a Scorsese fan), and nobody is taken out into the desert to get bludgeoned with a baseball bat. Moreover, the movie’s general overtone is one full of good will and warmth (without running the risk of being cheesy), and it’s PG rating enables adults and kids alike to enjoy the offering.

The only real lesser point of the film is the rather slow pace of the story. ‘Hugo’ could be trimmed by 20 minutes and still be just as captivating. This however, is easily masked by Scorsese’s infusion of 3D, special effects, superb art direction, stage design and visuals, as well as a strong musical score by Howard Shore (of Lord of the Rings fame). Scorsese is a true student of classic film, and this is clearly evident in 'Hugo.' Scorsese enables the viewer to immerse themselves in the era in which the movie takes place. This is what gives ‘Hugo’  a timeless feel.

The performances by the cast are exceptional. Butterfield and Moretz (500 Days of Summer) both handle their roles like seasoned actors, and Kingsley further demonstrates why he is still one of Hollywood’s biggest heavyweights with his portrayal of the enigmatic but misunderstood Melies (I’m not giving anything away!). Appearances by Law, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, and movie icon Christopher Lee are brief, yet necessary for the development of the film.

When all is said and done, ‘Hugo’ will most likely be considered one of the best films of 2011, and make sure you see it in 3D!

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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