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Friday, November 25, 2011

Hugo (Release Date: 11-23-2011)

        There's a big, fat oxymoron seated right at the center of film criticism, tucked away in plain sight for everyone to see. On one hand, those seeking to publicly evaluate movies are expected to be guinea pigs, toiling through whatever the world of celluloid throws at them, and reporting the results to all who want to listen. In this sense, it is a critic's primary job to speculate what his or her readers might enjoy, and subsequently present findings and hypotheses. And yet, anyone who's judging movies for the right reason will tell you that they are driven by a personal love for the flicks. Thus we arrive at that juicy contradiction: That critics see movies and enjoy movies for themselves, and then must report back on their qualities while primarily concerned with the pleasures and preferences of others. My brain has been racked with this conundrum for the last several days, and it all started when I walked out of Martin Scorsese's latest, Hugo.

        Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is a young boy living alone inside the inner-workings of a giant clock in a 1930's Parisian train station. He keeps the time-keeper ticking, and steals little bits of food or various other supplies in order to stay alive. But thievery doesn't always treat young Hugo well, as he is caught a Toy Vendor working in the station (Ben Kingsley) and forced to fork over his most prized possession; A notebook filled with drawings and diagrams whose meaning Hugo refuses to explain. To get it back, Cabret enlists the help of a young girl living under the vendor's care (Chloë Grace Moretz), who's been itching for an adventure for quite some time now. The two look to unlock a mystery from the past, all while avoiding the attention of the cruel, kid-hunting Station Inspector (Sasha Baron Cohen).

        Hugo has been oft sighted as representing a couple of firsts in legendary Scorsese's career; His first kid's movie, and his first 3-D presentation. Only one of these is true. Under Marty's watch, Hugo is absolutely nothing short of a 3-D wonderland, endless corridors, falling ash, and clamoring crowds all brought vividly, almost tangibly to life. In this sense, the movie puts on a true clinic, showing how to do 3-D right both in terms of immersion and promotion of a narrative. You really feel like you're along with Hugo on his many misadventures, and the feeling of being so completely enveloped in a film is magical. Simply put, it's one of, if not the greatest 3-D presentation I've ever seen. Calling it a kid's movie, on the other hand, is a pretty big stretch. It's not wrong in the sense of profanity; the film's PG rating is exactly what it deserves, but it is a tad long (just over two hours), filled almost entirely with talk, and, near the end, takes on a cause that I'm sure every little tot finds near and dear to their heart: Film Preservation.

        And so, we arrive back at my first paragraph. I've studied movies for a decent amount of my life, not as long as many, to be sure, but enough to have fallen in love with them the way that all film-lovers do. When Hugo decides to take a trip down the road of film history, I was all for it, but I'm not so sure how much casual movie-goers will enjoy this movie's second half. That's why, for today anyways, I am giving you my grade for me, not you. It's because I really, really like this movie, and even if I think you might not, I just can't lie to myself. In terms of both visual and story content, Hugo recalls a great many  monuments in the on-going saga of celluloid, movies like The 400 Blows, Amacord, Sullivan's Travels and The Bicycle Thief. Despite all of its allusions, it never loses its sense of self, unlike earlier 2011 reference-athons like Rango and Drive. Hugo is a beautiful film, visual stunning, and emotionally true, made by a master of the medium who has always made it his task to honor those who came before him. There's a not-terrible chance that it might bore you to bits, but for me, and the multitudes of people across the world with a deep passion for the moving image, its quite a thing to behold.

Grade: A-

1 comment:

  1. Wow. Not going to lie, I'm super excited to see this.