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March 5, 2012

4

Hugo

by Franz Patrick


Hugo (2011)
★★★ / ★★★★

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lived in the walls of a train station with two jobs: winding the clocks that enabled the station to run smoothly and collecting pieces of machines required to fix an automaton that his father (Jude Law) left him before he died. Our young hero believed that the apparatus held a message from his father. But when a toy stand owner (Ben Kingsley) caught Hugo for stealing, his notebook, which contained instructions on how to properly fix the automaton, was confiscated. Based on the novel “The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick, the film had a firm handle on its visual effects by constructing a world so convincing, the opening shot in which the camera daringly explored the depth of space using 3D technology was completely mesmerizing. My eyes were fixed on the middle of the screen and I felt like the camera’s straight trajectory could go on for miles without sacrificing a pixel of its crispness. The strength of the picture relied on many consistently controlled visual trickery without coming off as too gimmicky. One excellent example was when we followed Hugo in the murky underground levels of the station, up a helix staircase, through giant machineries dancing in perfect rhythm, up until our protagonist stopped to admire the view of the Eiffel Tower. Eventually, though, the picture had to focus on the story which was mixed bag. On one hand, I cared about Hugo. He was a kind person, a bit mousy and reticent, with a prodigious talent for fixing machines. Even though he had to steal things like food, we were on his side because his motivations were clear. We wanted to know the message hidden in the automaton and hoped that it would lead to Hugo no longer having to scavenge, as a rat would, on a daily basis. With the help of Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), the toy stand owner’s goddaughter who craved a bit of adventure, the duo dove into an investigation about the message of the automaton and how the two of them were connected. Their research forced them to cross paths with the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), always on the lookout for homeless children to send to the orphanage. It was enjoyable to watch because as Hugo and Isabelle moved from one area to another, the special and visual effects worked on the background which underlined the magic of their journey. On the other hand, the picture had a lesson about film preservation. While I support the idea of protecting old movies from wear and destruction, I found it to be too cloying. Since the issues that the latter half of the picture brought up were so important, Hugo’s story felt small in comparison. While the images were still sophisticated and pleasurable, especially for cinephiles who love old movies, I wanted to know more about the boy and how he planned to move on from the train station if things didn’t work out as he hoped. The character called Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee), a librarian, was greatly underused. He seemed to have developed an interest in Hugo, maybe as a protégé or a son, but the scenes the two had together felt underwritten. Based on the screenplay by John Logan and directed by Martin Scorsese, “Hugo,” like the automaton it featured, looked fantastic but the inside didn’t feel complete. It worked as a sensory experience but not an emotional or cerebral one. A mark of a great film touches more than one camp.

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mar 10 2012

    Franz,

    I agree with you that the Hugo part of the story was the most interesting, but in the ‘sentimental film preservation sweepstakes’, I’d still say ‘Hugo Cabret’ handled its part better than ‘The Artist’, which struck me as having very little interesting to say above a pastiche level, I also agree that there was something undefinable ‘missing’ in ‘Hugo Cabret’, but in a very middling 2012 on my part so far (the movie opened in Norway this month, although a saw preview screening before the Oscars), it’s actually at the top of my list.

    I plan to to see it again soon.

    My MUBI of 2012 so far:

    http://mubi.com/lists/2012-ranked–9

    Reply
    • Mar 15 2012

      I haven’t seen “The Artist” yet and, to be honest, I’m not all that interested in it. It isn’t that it’s shot in black-and-white. The trailers look too… cutesy… to me, if that’s the right word, an attempt to lure older people who just want to see something “nice” and then they have the shot of a dog for canine lovers. Jury is still out, though. Now that it won Best Picture, I feel that I must watch it.

      Glad to see YOUNG ADULT on your list. Can’t agree with you about THE ART OF GETTING BY, though. I felt it could have gone deeper instead of settling for surface problems and emotions. I much prefer Highmore in TOAST.

      Reply
      • Mar 15 2012

        I don’t think you ‘have to’ The Artist. It’s a slight, decently entertaining but utterly overrated film.

        I’m not ready to mount a full-throated defense of The Art of Getting By, even though it’s near the top for this meager and so far, disappointing, movie year. I basically agreethat it only stayed on the surface of its protagonist’s problem, and the final third is an annoying cop-out, but it had a mood I connected with, and some decent chemistry between the leads.

        But can’t American filmmakers find ANY other signifiers of rebels without a cause than sticking a copy of “Catcher in the Rye” in their hands? Great book, yes, and one many disillusioned young people have identified with over the years, but by now it just seems lazy. That brought me out of the film for a moment.

        I have seen Young Adult, but I didn’t like it much. Theron was much better than the movie, in my opinion. I will continue to fill in the MUBI list throughout the year, but now I haven’t seen an eligible 2012 for weeks.

        Reply
      • Mar 17 2012

        We have the same sentiment toward the whole “Catcher in the Rye” bit; it IS lazy and it’s a cliche. I didn’t note it in my review but I was rather irked by that, too. But I guess it makes sense, somewhat, that they do cite the book. In most high schools, it’s required reading and the movie is targeted toward that age group.

        Aww, sorry to hear about YOUNG ADULT. I really enjoyed it, but I’ll leave it until I post my review in the coming days. I hope you see (and like, nay, love!) more 2011 movies recently released there.

        Reply

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