"Hugo" inspires through storytelling

The renowned Martin Scorseseʼs latest and most unprecedented film “Hugo” is nothing short of pure movie magic. As a director known for such dark crime epics as “Goodfellas,” “Gangs of New York” and the Academy Award-winning “The Departed,” Scorsese has blindsided audiences with a tenderhearted and exquisitely nostalgic family film for the holidays, one that celebrates adolescence as well as cinema itself.

Special effects creatively capture the setting

In a preamble aerial sweep of a CGI 1930s-era Paris, “Hugo” ensures that its special effects will not only be a genuine driving force behind the narrative but also a necessary tool in sending us back to a simpler, more mystical age; it was a time in which vintage train stations were bustling watering holes of colorful people, when Charlie Chaplin pictures were all the rage and Oliver Twist-esque youth feared nothing more than the cruel city orphanages.

Film illustrates history of making movies

We see this forgotten world primarily through the curious, sapphire eyes of the protagonist child Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield). He and his father (Jude Law) design and build clocks for Parisʼ Gare Montparnasse railway station. When his father perishes in a fire, Hugo chooses to remain in the station, making his home within its walls. As a tribute to his father, Hugo covertly maintains the many clocks they installed, while at the same time works to repair the automaton, a miniature, metallic wind-up man his father came across abandoned in a museum. Hugo feels the automaton is the key to a hidden message from his father, if only he can get it working again.

Interwoven with this central plot are several charming lateral story lines that account the train stationʼs venders whom Hugo so religiously observes from behind his clocks: There is the manager of the stationʼs cavernous bookstore (Christopher Lee), the flirting artist and the cafe owner (Richard Griffiths and Frances de la Tour), the lovely flower girl (Emily Mortimer), and the quirkily villainous station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). Yet of all these side characters, the most significant is the old, despairing toy shop owner Papa Méliès (Sir Ben Kingsley), whom Hugo quickly deduces as a man with a mysterious past. Through him, Hugo befriends Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), a bright young girl who reveals the potential of adventure behind his many aims and struggles.

Between the lines of the mission of restoring the automaton, the mystery of Papa Mélièsʼ bygones and the threat of the station inspector who hunts for children and condemns them to the orphanage, “Hugo” illustrates to modern audiences the actual history of movie-making itself, particularly its genesis in the earliest parts of the 20th century. I will not divulge which character was a real person and was also directly connected to the first films which expressed the wonder of special effects and elaborate set decor, but “Hugo” ingeniously melds fiction with reality in glorifying the silent film era and how important it was on many cultural and historical levels.

Acting, directing display human emotion

Respective newcomer Butterfield plays Hugo with great passion as well as requisite subtlety, embodying a hero who isnʼt so much reluctant as he is endearingly desperate. His love for his father is what pilots his motives, projected subconsciously onto Papa Méliès and his desire to “fix” him. Kingsley is likely to get an Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor. His portrayal of Méliès is masterful, the work of a true, seasoned actor. Moretz is gorgeous and charming as Isabelle, bursting with exuberant, bona fide glee. The casting of this film was perfect. The most entertaining character to watch by far was Cohenʼs station inspector. The man who so memorably incarnated Borat and Bruno shows us in “Hugo” how good an actor he really is. Cohen brings drama, comedy and villainy all into one single role. No small feat.

Scorsese has produced possibly his most honest film. I say this because “Hugo” seems a loose depiction of Scorseseʼs own upbringing. All throughout his childhood he idolized cinema as Hugo does, adopting many silent film directors as his effigies. Scorsese also grew up in Little Italy, Manhattan where he watched his world from a bedroom window, constantly observing but never feeling truly a part of it. He lived in the movies, a place where “Hugo” constantly assures its audience is “where dreams are made.” It isnʼt by mistake that “Hugo,” a film that is riddled with flawless CGI and color grading, consciously honors the earliest films in which special effects were all done on-set and colored pictures were painted by hand, frame by frame.

I loved “Hugo.” I cherished every minute of it. As a cinema arts major I may be biased toward its affinity for the history of film and also toward Scorsese whose veteran, ground-breaking use of composition and lighting is inspiring to say the least. However, I feel that any fan of superb storytelling and real human emotion will enjoy this film. It was made for families, but not necessarily designed for them. Itʼs accessible on many more levels than that. This fact will be revealed during Oscar time. I predict several nominations for “Hugo,” Best Picture being one of them. But then, I treat the Academy Awards like I do March Madness. Letʼs see how well both my brackets do this year.

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