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asa butterfield, ben kingsley, chloë grace moretz, christopher lee, helen mccrory, hugo, jude law, martin scorsese, michael stuhlbarg, sacha baron cohen

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Old 5th Mar 2012, 16:51   #1
Noumenon
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Default Hugo

In an ethereal Paris between the world wars, a slight orphan boy lives a hidden life within the mechanisms of the clocks in a railway station. Surviving on whatever food he can steal, Hugo devotes himself to two tasks, one practical, one emotional: first, he winds and maintains the station's clocks, to ensure that no-one trespasses on his domain; and second, he searches for scrap-metal cogs and wheels to repair a rusting model man, an automaton, which his father had once hoped to rebuild.

He is always in peril. The crippled stationmaster is forever on the hunt for thieving urchins, while the victims of Hugo's need would like nothing better than to have yet another pest removed - and when the owner of a toy stall catches him in the act of stealing a wind-up mouse for its parts Hugo is forced to give up his most prized possession: his father's notebook, filled with drawings of the automaton and its missing parts.

The toy maker is powerfully moved by what he sees, to sadness and to anger. He takes the notebook orders Hugo away, threatens to burn it, then claims that he has - but his adopted daughter, Isabelle, knows better. Sensing the adventure she has only read about in books, she sides with Hugo and helps him start to break down her father's walls. In return he risks trusting her, and reveals the secret his world revolves around. And then a bunch of other things happen next - oooh, CINEMA!

Martin Scorsese's Hugo, based on the Brian Selznick's portmanteau graphic/novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, is being lauded as a masterpiece. I found it hugely disappointing. As a visual spectacle it is an attractive experience, a richly realised world through which we are almost constantly on the move; though I've not read the book, a quick glance between the covers suggests it is very a faithful reproduction of Selznick's gorgeous illustrations - two dimensional all, by the way. However, that quick glance can say very little about the story contained, and - for all Scorsese's reputation as a lover of cinema - it is the storytelling that is most at fault in the film.

I was bored by Hugo. Despite the liveliness of the camera, and that of the world it almost ceaselessly glided through, I became deathly bored. In its opening sequence, sneaking with Hugo through his nooks and crannies, peeking out at the characters around him, we learn much about him and everyone else and everything is looking good - but almost the moment that the reigns were properly handed over from camera to script, everything went wrong. Not the first moment, fair enough; Hugo's encounter with Papa Georges was tense and funny and emotional and, in terms of dialogue, terse and effective. But then...

There was a plodding theatricality about the two central performances that just absolutely hamstrung this film. When Asa Butterfield in the lead - or is that leaden - role had to put more than a handful of words together, it suddenly became clear that he could only do two things: read, and speak, but not act. Chloë Grace Moretz had the glassy delivery of a BBC child actor from some hypothetical drama circa 1970. All the performances in the first three Harry Potter films (that is, the ones I've seen) were just streets ahead of both of them. They only had the given script to work with, mind, and that overall was not good. The biggest laugh my girlfriend had was at my repeated sigh of dismay every time Isabelle opened her mouth during the second half of the film. The two hour film... I started squirming and fidgeting and fiddling with my chair and asking in a loud whisper when it was over - oh, we had great fun, when not looking at the screen.

The supporting cast is stuffed to bursting with star and character actors, and in many ways they are all fine. Christopher Lee's sepulchral book-store owner, Ray Winstone's drunkard, Emily Mortimer's florist, Frances de la Tour and Richard Griffiths as the cafe owner and her potential paramour, they and more add living detail to the world - although there seem to be an awful lot of them, don't there? We also have Michael Stuhlbarg as a tatty academic, and Jude Law as Hugo's clock-loving father (in a cameo that, oddly, brought to my mind his plasticky turn as the sexual automaton in IA). Do we really need all these characters, popping up like tin ducks for a handful of minutes before disappearing again while an unseen mechanism slowly wheels them around for another brief turn?

Two key supporters obviously stand out as key. Ben Kingsley, as the long-tormented Papa Georges, was for the most part good - at the beginning. Looking the part from the book to a tee, his early scenes were understated and believable, but as the story dips into the past his role collapsed into laborious monologues, delivered into a suddenly static camera, not to mention some seriously clumsy prosthetic makeup. Sacha Baron Cohen's slapstick stationmaster on the other hand was never more than unfunny. In a Paris wholly diverged of French accents (a stylistic choice that never fails to annoy me when it crops up*) his squeaking Londoner's tone was easily the most intrusive on reality; even the pathetic gendarme of 'allo 'allo would have been more convincing (compare for yourself: 'allo et 'ugo).

The story then. "Everyone" seems to be claiming that Hugo is a love letter from Scorsese to the medium of his heart, O Lovely Cinema. So what about the story? Because that is what it is all about, right? Story. Not chases, through a train station or a clock tower, because that's not Story. Not non-matching side characters, waiting to be successfully paired, because that's not Story. Not a sequence of scenes, progressively slowing in pace and fascination, where nobody really changes even if their circumstances do, because that's not Story. Sadly, that means Hugo is not Story.

And it's dull. Dull, dull. dull. I dunno. Has everyone, Scorsese included, forgotten that there is more to cinema than a moving camera? You would have to say not, since Scorsese at least goes out of his way to give us clips of Méliès' footage, be they recreations or genuine, that are more magical in their brief seconds of static fantasy than everything else going on. Hugo may be a love letter, but a Dear Marty may be the only reply.



* Enemy at the Gates, *cough cough* with Jude Law too *cough*
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Old 5th Mar 2012, 23:50   #2
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Default Re: Hugo

You and I simply never agree anymore, do we? I watched this on Saturday, and I loved it. I particularly disagree with your criticism of Hugo as a story, and its demerits as an act of storytelling. The structure is that of a mystery -- what is the automaton, where did it come from, what is the connection to Papa Georges, and so on. I think that's very clear, and that's what drives Hugo and Isabelle. That's the story, and I thought it was well told. I was certainly captivated, anyway, and moved.

I do agree about some of the side characters. Not so much that they don't belong, because I think they do, but given how little Jude Law and Ray Winstone are given to do, I don't understand why they needed to play the roles. Could have cut down on that much-talked about budget if they'd aimed a little less famous on some of those. But I liked Cohen, I'll have you know. I liked his sad delivery of the line explaining his leg troubles to Emily Mortimer, and while I don't suppose I laughed at his antics too much (except for the bathtub/dog joke) I did find him...I don't know the word I want. Winning? And I absolutely loved Kingsley and Helen McCrory as his wife. And Stuhlbarg. And Lee. It was a wonderful movie. It was!
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Old 5th Mar 2012, 23:54   #3
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Default Re: Hugo

Also, for the record, I would in fact give this movie a very solid .
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Old 6th Mar 2012, 11:51   #4
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Default Re: Hugo

There certainly seems to have been a parting of the ways!

As I was writing all the above I started to wonder if I was unfairly not mentioning decent moments. I liked the dog/bath too, and the dream sequences were quite effective; but, despite knowing nothing about the film beforehand, the mystery elements seemed obvious on first appearance, so the investigation of them seemed painfully drawn out. I was remiss in not mentioning Helen McCrory, who was indeed good, and I didn't actually find the various side characters bad as such, just that there were needless amounts of them. I think somewhere inside this there is a spectacular, thirty-minutes-shorter version trying to get out.

The result is that I was bored. I found it too long and somewhat repetitive, but worst of all disastrously played by the two child leads - who I notice you did not just defend. I imagine that actual children in an audience would not automatically be swept away by it either, particularly when it comes to the crunch and the pace drops off like a cliff-face into wistful monologues and the like - which is a pity, because the core message is nice. However, I don't consider it to be an example of effective film storytelling, and showing me an enraptured audience at the end doesn't make me part of one.

And bah, and humbug, and a sprig of holly through all your hearts.

EDIT: "disastrously" is good for my sentence, but it is the wrong word to describe the leads. They were just boringly bad, with about two dimensions between them.

Last edited by Noumenon; 6th Mar 2012 at 12:19.
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Old 6th Mar 2012, 16:27   #5
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Default Re: Hugo

The only reason I didn't defend the child actors is because arguing about performances can become very circular. But I suppose I already did that to some degree, so okay, I liked both of them. Particularly Butterfield. I thought he was a natural. In the scene where he and Moretz are investigating Melies's study, and he tells her to knock on the panel, he does so in a way that struck me as very "in the moment." It's hard to describe, but I thought he was quite good. So there.

As for the accents, just to go back a little, I can understand finding the choice strange, but I can't understand being too hardnosed about it. The alternative, for one thing, is to have everybody doing a French accent, which could be deadly (granted, the choice of English accents forced Moretz to switch from her natural American one, which is a bit odd, but oh well). Generally, I prefer the Amadeus route of just dispensing with the question entirely. I'm reminded of what Paul Schrader said in response to questions about the surprising New Yorker-iness of the actors in The Last Temptation of Christ, which was that unless everyone was going to be speaking Aramaic, they might as well all have Brooklyn accents.
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Old 8th Jul 2012, 23:39   #6
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Default Re: Hugo

I watched this last night (finally), and while I would not call it a masterpiece, my wife and I were both happy with it, maybe for different reasons even (I had fun with the brief excursions into film history and she liked the relationships more). All in all, a beautiful looking film.

I must say, though, that Moretz was a bit, uhm, out of her league? So many fine performances, but her dramatic smiles felt superficial. I loved Kingsley when he gave Hugo back the burnt book; he looked so devastated and ashamed. And the other performances -- I loved them!
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Old 28th Aug 2012, 13:46   #7
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Default Re: Hugo

Whilst I agree with some of the good points offered here (the dog/bath, the early cinematic sequences), overall I thought this a very weak and lacklustre film, disjointed in the most part and characterised by particularly poor acting from the child leads (though I agree the investigation of the wardrobe was the most natural instance of Hugo and Isabelle's interaction). For the most part, I liked the side characters and their stories, and whilst Cohen's gendarme was a silly parody, I can imagine many children enjoying his role (though it was at odds with dialogue with the cuckolded orphanage director about affairs and frequency of marital relations).

I suppose I just didn't think there was enough to the children's story to warrant a two-hour film, and there was no tension in any part of the action, whether Hugo was being chased, hanging off the exterior of the station clock, or hiding in M. Melies' room. Add to this a (probably unfair) long-standing resentment that The Invention of Hugo Cabret has never (to my knowledge) been published in paperback (to my mind, out of some kind of defiance rather than sales-figures or "fitting it within a paperback spine"), and I would give it

at the most. (But I did love Jude Law as his father, a little like his Lemony-Snicket turn.)
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Old 16th Sep 2012, 20:44   #8
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Default Re: Hugo

Saw it today. I'm in the Noumenon, Colyngbourne camp. It was insufferably tedious. It gets marks from me for the clockwork, the lovely Parisian atmosphere, a few little touches, excellent design and set dressing, but it was absolutely eeendless. And, frankly, the story may have worked in a comic book (or graphic novel) but, oh, dear, not this movie. How could a director like Scorsese have directed such a total non-event?
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