Monday, November 28, 2011


Why in the hell would someone like me ever doubt Martin Scorsese? Someone who considers the director to be the very best living American filmmaker we have.  Someone who has seen every single one of his films and accepts that even when he veers ever-so-slightly off course, there’s always something there. A grand catharsis, a worthy style, a stellar performance – something. With Hugo, I did what I rarely do: I judged a book by its cover.

The trailer for Hugo is uninspiring at best. It’s misguided, silly, and full of unneeded fluff. Having seen the film, I now understand why it misrepresents the inarticulable magic that Scorsese’s brilliant film contains. To spoil greatness in a two minute movie trailer would be, in my world, to commit an irreparable sin.  Make no mistake, to see Hugo is to witness utter greatness. Is it to witness that a man of nearly 70 years of age has absolutely no inclination of lower his game any time soon, of which we couldn’t benefit more.

Hugo tells the story of young Hugo Cabret, an orphan in 1930s Paris who lives stealthy in the walls of a grand train station, fixing the station’s many clocks (a skill taught by his drunken, now absent uncle). If he’s caught by the station’s nasty inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) Hugo will surely be sent to an orphanage. So he bides his time, feigning for himself by nabbing a roll here, a few toys there, and so on.

The train station contains a slew of splendid characters that Hugo monitors on a regular basis. In addition to the inspector, there’s Lisette (Emily Mortimer) the quiet, lovely flower shop owner, Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee), the educated, helpful bookworm, and most importantly, Papa Georges (Ben Kingsley), the cranky, weathered toy store owner.

When Hugo is caught stealing from Georges (for reasons I won’t explain) the two embark on a tumultuous relationship that tests them and their loved ones including Georges’ wife, Jeanne (Helen McCrory) and his goddaughter Isabelle (ChloĆ« Grace Moretz).
Now, I’ve literally described the initial 20 minutes of the film, and to divulge any further would be to do my readers a great disservice. Hugo is a film driven purely by magic; by self-reflecting awe of its craft. It takes you places so whimsical and unexpected, that to ruin it would be to impose many a sleepless night on myself.

So allow me to carefully skirt around the story by delivering a bit of hyperbolic praise. 

Hugo, above all, is a film about movies.  About watching them, living them; about feeling them. This may seem like a foreign concept to many, but for someone like me – someone who associates so much of their life to what they see in motion pictures – Hugo is nothing less than a Godsend.

The supporting cast, many of whom I haven’t mentioned, are all superb. Baron Cohen’s performance is so comically precise, it makes you wish you saw more of him. And while Moritmer, McCrory, Moretz all bring their mysterious charm to their respective roles, the film’s acting can primarily be judged by its two lead performances.

As Hugo, 14-year-old Asa Butterfield, is nothing short of marvelous. He’s in nearly every scene of the movie, most of which demand a fresh emotion. Even when we aren’t sure where the film is taking us, we trust Butterfield’s instincts (and those of his director) wholeheartedly.
And then there’s Ben Kingsley, who, as Georges, delivers one of the best performances of his impeccable career. It’s the best thing he’s done since Sexy Beast, rivaling his work in Schindler’s List and Gandhi (yes, he’s that good). Hugo is a profoundly moving film, and Kingsley’s performance is much to thank for this. A mere Oscar nomination seems paltry at best.

Martin Scorsese knows how to make damn fine films. His power over the craft of cinema is nearly unparalleled.  He works mostly with the same crew (which includes, but is not limited to, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, production designer Dante Ferretti, costume designer Sandy Powell, and cinematographer Robert Richardson, who will all surely occupy a seat at this year’s Academy Awards), and often works off strong, bold scripts (this one by John Logan). I absolutely loved The Departed, but I proudly, boldly declare that Hugo is his finest achievement since Casino, possibly GoodFellas.
Rarely do I cry in movies, especially on first viewing. And I cannot remember for the life of me the last time I cried literal tears of joy from watching images being projected onto a large white screen. What Hugo does so masterfully is remind us why we love movies. As a lover of film, there’s really no greater gift than a film can bestow on us. See it, with your family, in 3D. It’s one of the very finest experiences (film or otherwise) that you’re likely to have this year. A


  1. Well, I so Hugo Yesterday Night. And it was purely because lack of other options in the Cinema near me. It wasn't one of the movies I was looking forward to. However, in the end, I was glad I saw it.
    I think because Scorsese himself has put so much work into film restoration himself, it must have been a very dear, very personal subject to him. And he has made a very amicable, very personal film.
    And yes. Ben Kingsley is definitely the best part of it.

  2. I couldn't agree more about the film reflecting Scorsese's film restoration practices. Glad you enjoyed it considering it was a last resort haha

    Kingsley man, blew me away.

  3. Wow, this sounds amazing! It comes out here in January, so I'll definitely see it in the theatre as soon as it is released. A new Scorsese film is always an exciting event! However, I won't see it in 3D as I loathe 3D and always will.

  4. I too, had moments in tears for this film because I didn't think it would be this good. The stuff about Melies was a joy to watch. I can see why Scorsese would do a film like this but I didn't expect to be accessible so that it can reach a wide audience. I think he's proving that he has no boundaries at this point in his career and he might have a few more surprises left in him.

  5. That was a beautiful review, I am glad you liked! I am looking forward to see it soon, maybe Friday or Saturday!
    Scorsese is fantastic, I always appreciate the fact that his movies are rather loud, majestic, strong,if you know what I mean, but always realistic and interesting! This seems like a change of direction in his usual style, but I think it will be great, can't wait to see it!Thanks Alex!

  6. @Tyler, no one, except maybe Roger Ebert, hates 3D more than I do. I think it is a ploy to make more money and rarely is it worth the extra dough. Hugo is a grand exception. There are no cheap tricks, its world IS 3D, its immersed in it 100 percent. I understand your hesitation, but Hugo is the 3D film for people who hate 3D films.

    @thevoid, no boundaries indeed. If you told me 10 years ago that one of Scorsese's finest accomplishments as a director was going to be a family film, I would've laughed in your face. Joke's on me.

    @Aziza, hey thanks for your kind words. I think you'll really dig the flick. And I know exactly what you mean about Scorsese's loud, purposeful style. Hugo has that, but with a delicate touch of sentimentality as well.

  7. The movie itself runs a bit long at 127 minutes, but Hugo is worth every minute for the visual feast it provides, and features Scorsese in probably his most delightful and elegant mood ever, especially with all of the beautiful 3-D. Good review Alex.

  8. Hey thanks Dan. The one criticism I've heard about the film is that it drags a little in the beginning. I disagree, but I see where people are coming from. Glad you ultimately enjoyed it!

  9. I still haven't seen this movie (I've just been too busy!) so I really can't say much other than I"M SO GLAD YOU LIKE IT!! Basically I feel your reviews are dead on. Hugo is one of those movies that I would be soo sad if it was bad because the children's book they based it off is amazing and deserves an incredible movie. Every other chapter in it is told through pictures where the tiniest detail changes the story. The book is magical...and judging by your review the movie will be too. I'm I can't wait to see it!

  10. Thanks so much for your kind words. And wow, that book sounds incredible. The movie should certainly not disappoint.