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Hugo - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: A+
Acting: A+
Writing: A+
Cinematography: A+
Editing: A
Special Effects: A

It will be a difficult thing to articulate precisely what makes Hugo so great. I'm tempted to say you'll just have to take my word for it, but to me that's far too limited an approach. You simply must go see for yourself. It's just a wonderful, wonderful movie.

It should be noted foremost that it is available in both 3D and 2D, and for the first time ever, I will insist it must be seen in 3D. Never have I seen the medium used so well. Usually it's a gimmick meant to bolster realism of experience, but it never feels quite real -- it's always slightly otherworldly. Such is the case here as well, except that it fits perfectly with the nature of the story. I fell in love with it in the first shot: an aerial view of the 1930s Paris cityscape, the busy street traffic blending for a moment into the grinding gears of a clock. And then the camera swoops down, toward the train station, zooming past the people on a narrow platform between trains, closing in on a clock, through which we can see young Hugo's face looking out a hole in the shape of the 4.

From there forward, Hugo sweeps you along with it. Martin Scorsese has created a world of such unerring charm, this is arguably his best film in twenty years. Everything about it is absorbing. The acting, particularly by the two child leads, borders on astonishing.

And the 3D, miraculously, enhances virtually every single shot in the film -- which, at 126 minutes, is not short. But it makes you feel at home in it. You don't want to leave. This is perhaps the first 3D film in which the 3D is not used just for the purpose of making things appear as though they are jumping out the camera at you. Instead, it simply makes the world come to life. The technology in its current form has its limitations: when viewing people at a distance, they don't look distant so much as three-dimensional living dolls, which creates an awkward sensation. It was one of the many problems with Avatar. It's never a problem in Hugo because nearly all shots of people are done within close range, and nearly all wide shots are of the Paris cityscape or of the giant train station interior.

Much of the action takes place in this train station, which is a magical world in itself, filled with countless charms. The elderly man (Richard Griffiths) constantly trying to approach the elderly woman (Frances de la Tour ) at the café but always deterred by her yipping dog. The sweet flower girl (Emily Mortimer) who catches the eye of the stern and shy Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). The mysterious old man in the book store (Christopher Lee). The surly old man with a magic shop (Ben Kingsley).

All the goings-on in the train station are witnessed by Hugo, played by 14-year-old Asa Butterfield. He looks younger than 14, though; perhaps 10 or 12 at most, which is how old I presumed him to be in the film. Hugo was orphaned after his clock repairman father died in a fire, and was taken in by his drunkard uncle, who kept the clocks running at the train station. His uncle disappeared; now Hugo hides out in the clocks and in the walls and other unknown interior places of the station. As long as the clocks keep running, no one suspects. He lives off food he steals from the shops. He lives in fear of the Station Inspector nabbing him and sending him off to the orphanage.

He is also trying to repair the automaton -- basically a wind-up robot -- that his father never got to fix after finding it abandoned in a museum. He tries to steal a wind-up mouse for the parts from Georges Méliès (Kingsley), the magic store keeper, and gets caught. And so begins the tenuous, and ultimately fantastically rewarding, relationship between Hugo and Georges, the boy thief and the grumpy old man.

I can't give too much more away, except to say that the automaton represents a surprising connection, both to Georges and, seemingly out of left field, some of the earliest silent films ever made. You know that famous silent film in which a rocket gets shot into the eye of the Man in the Moon? It figures prominently.

Hugo, an avid film lover thanks to memories of his father taking him frequently, befriends a young girl named Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz, previously seen in Kick-Ass and Let Me In), who turns out to be Georges's goddaughter. Isabelle doesn't get to see movies because Georges seems to have something against it. The reason reveals itself soon enough.

Hugo is based on a unique children's book that is half-illustrated called The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. I had never heard of it before this film, but given the nature of the story, it lends itself to movie making. I'm not sure why shooting it in 3D seemed like a good idea; I can only say that the final product proves that it was, and that an obvious lover of film like Martin Scorsese was a perfect choice to direct. This was a flawless movie-going experience, the first ever for a 3D film. I do think it would work fine in 2D -- as it will no doubt be mostly seen on TVs at home eventually -- but seeing it in 3D in a theatre truly enhances it, from following Hugo through the bowels of the train station to something as simple as a tray full of freshly baked bread.

It's mostly about atmosphere, which Scorsese renders expertly. I didn't want to leave when the movie was over. It's the kind of movie you could watch again and again and be touched the same way every time, which is perhaps the definition of a classic movie.

Asa Butterfield gets into some tight spots in HUGO.

Overall: A+
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