I have never seen a film quite like Hugo.  It’s a children’s fable made for adults— and it scares me that most children will probably sit in boredom if their erratic attention spans aren’t captivated by the incredible 3D visuals.  Martin Scorsese, of all directors, has facilitated a memorable moviegoing experience for film enthusiasts.  Hugo is a movie about movies, about making movies, about honoring movies, and about remembering pioneers of movies.  This is all under the guise of a family-film adventure in 3D.  If you’re looking for chipwrecking, steer elsewhere.

Scorsese takes viewers to 1930s Paris, where young boy Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) hides in the tall clock up above the interior of a train station.  Hugo lives secluded from the station inspector (Sascha Baron Cohen) sniffing out abandoned children, fully prepared to ship them off to an orphanage.

After the death of both his father (Jude Law) and alcoholic uncle (Ray Winstone), Hugo busies himself keeping the clocks running properly so as to avoid the discovery of his deceased uncle who normally mans the clocks at the station.  In his spare time, Hugo scurries about pilfering scrap parts from a toymaker, George (Ben Kingsley), until he is caught one day.  George demands Hugo empty his pockets of stolen parts, and in the process steals Hugo’s personal notebook which has diagrams and calculations for building an automaton.

You see, Hugo’s father was an inventor who planned to rebuild a dead automaton he picked up from a museum—this bot having belonged to the legendary filmmaker and magician George Méliès.  Hugo eventually teams up with the toymaker’s godchild, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz) to retrieve his sacred notebook which opens up both children to worlds unknown to each other.  Isabelle is fascinated with literature and books.  Hugo loves gears and machinery.  Both end up enraptured by Hugo’s quest to reform the automaton that may hold a message from Hugo’s father as well as secrets about toymaker George.

In many ways, Hugo is visually one of the most striking films I’ve ever seen.  Most of the film takes place inside the Parisian train station where our young hero leaps and bounds through vents and shafts. Scorsese chose to shoot this movie in 3D.  A wise move he made.  The added dimension is used to grand effect here and compliments the stunning cinematography.  I honestly can’t overstate it.  Take for example the opening sequence which features a breathtaking single shot that drives viewers down the entire interior of the train station before ending on Hugo’s face behind a giant clock.  Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson had me at hello.

Hugo’s mission is clear, even if it isn’t to him.  He wants to finish what he started with his father, and in the process, find closure in that relationship.  The film deals a lot with human purpose.  Hugo comes to the realization that people are like machines, and need fixing once in a while.  When a machine isn’t serving its purpose, it isn’t working, just like human beings.  He intends to fix the automaton, just as he intends to fix George who sits in his corner booth as a lost and withering old man needing to reclaim his former glory.

To be frank, Hugo is not a movie for everyone.  The film delves into the history of filmmaking and eventually becomes a movie for movie enthusiasts.  As a family film, many parents may end up scratching their heads while their kids become restless.  That really is not a criticism.  It’s simply a fair warning.  Scorsese has sought to make a personal, passionate, honoring film about the magic of escapism.  Some parents and kids, however, may thoroughly enjoy this.  There’s no squeaking critters to be found here.  No obnoxious zoo animals.  Nothing hip in sight.  What we do get is a charming, visually stunning, and thoroughly pleasant little movie from a grand storyteller who clearly is giving us a love letter for movies—and it’s in eye-popping 3D.



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Rating: 4.0/5 (1 vote cast)

Shutter Island

The Paramount logo comes up.  The score booms and forewarns us of impending doom from the get-go.  The promotional art tells us most of what we need to know: Some one is missing. The additional details include the time period: 1954, and the fact that two U.S. Marshals have been sent to investigate the disappearance.  That missing someone is Rachel Solando, a mental patient of the Aschcliffe Ward on the bedrock-barricaded Shutter Island.

Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio reteam for a fourth collaboration–adapting Dennis Lehane’s psychological horror novel “Shutter Island” into a feature-length film.  DiCaprio plays one of the cops: Teddy Daniels, while Mark Ruffalo tags along as his newly-assigned partner, Chuck Aule.  The duo must tread through an increasingly gloomy mystery surrounding Mrs. Solando’s disappearance.  Somehow she managed to escape her room, locked from the outside, get past the nurses and other guards, and work her way over and down the island’s cliff-side, all without wearing any shoes.  While it appears if she had waited 35 years or so, John McClane could’ve given her a few words of wisdom, but no matter, Aule and Daniels have to make sense of this disappearance with limited help from those in charge on the island.  The cops are given restricted access and dead-ends to everything they need in their investigation.  Daniels, our lead character, seems to have his own issues–from his nightmares of WWII Germany, to hallucinations of his murdered wife (Michelle Williams).  It seems Daniels took the case because of Laeddis (Elias Koteas), the man who murdered his wife, who happens to be institutionalized on the island.  Not only that, but Daniels has theories on what actually happens in this facility–secret government experimentation on patients.  The winds and rain increase.  Dreariness consumes the island, and the two investigators find themselves trapped.  Soon enough, Daniels feels he’s becoming a target and is warned by another patient (Jackie Earl Haley) that he’ll never escape the island.

I can toss and turn over what I think about “Shutter Island,” but at the end of the day–Mr. Scorsese and novelist Dennis Lehane succeed–their movie got me thinking, and very much so. That’s a testament to movies these days.  This nose-to-the-grindstone thriller captures sensible and thoughtful horror at its most pronounced.  While the master-filmmaker Scorsese throws in a few cheap-tricks, he does so with such looseness, that it all feels fresh, making richness out of elements that get thrown away in a teen slasher flick.  The movie isn’t exactly short on gore or disturbing visuals, or even heinous figures leaping out of the darkness.  What good ol’ Marty adds to the mix is a tightening claustrophobia, an endless trap of isolation, and cross-trekking mystery.

DiCaprio holds this all together quite well.  He has a multi-layered performance that deserves to be closely examined.  He remains somewhat distant throughout the movie.  Only through small doses of information and nightmarish visions do we slowly learn more of his emotionally-shattered history.  Add in reliable performances from Mark Ruffalo as a potentially untrustworthy partner officer, and two living legends: Ben Kingsley and Max von Sydow as menacing doctors overseeing the marshals’ investigation.

Technically, the movie is about perfect…absorbing, atmospheric, shocking, and alluring despite many moments during the film that feel unpolished, overlooked, and even clumsy.  Leave that to Martin Scorsese and his long-time editor Thelma Shoonmaker to use to their advantage.  “Shutter Island” has been mapped out from beginning to end, with every detail serving a particular intent.  In fact, the film’s only drawback is that many movies have done much the same thing.  If anyone out there like me felt while watching the theatrical trailer for this movie, that something very apparent was being spoiled, don’t worry–you’re not alone.  In some ways, ‘Shutter Island’ follows a path we know all too well, and even then, it still has its surprises.  While not one of the best Scorsese films by any means, Martin and his ever-blossoming Leo create a haunting experience hinging on a ‘twist’ where the intended reveal is up to the viewer.  I look forward to a second viewing of ‘Shutter Island’ that may potentially further my admiration of this unmistakably involving thriller from a man who knows his movies.

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