Director Martin Scorsese's Hugo was released last week, so it's a little late for a traditional review at this point, but the film is so spellbinding and wonderful it's worthy of some recognition here on Screening Room. So in place of the usual review here are a smattering of thoughts on a movie that, judging by its mediocre performance at the box office, you probably haven't seen yet (but definitely should).
1. Memo to Parents: If You're Choosing Between Hugo and The Muppets, Choose Hugo
I loved The Muppets, and it definitely has more jokes geared more directly toward the adult crowd, but Hugo is in a different class altogether. It's magical and spellbinding, but not really supernatural, and it doesn't try to serve two masters at once -- namely the kids and parents in the audience. Instead, it stands on its own as a great movie, not a great kids movie or a great kids movie that adults can also sort of appreciate or a great movie that your kids won't love.
Lately, Pixar Studios has seemed like the only creative force capable of pulling that off in the family genre. Not so anymore, apparently. There's plenty of children's fare these days, especially around this time of year, and while I can't speak for, say, Tintin, which hasn't been released yet, or Happy Feet Two, which I haven't and don't plan to see, I doubt you're going to find a more enjoyable movie for the entire family this holiday season
2. Sacha Baron Cohen Basically Plays Another of His Characters, and It Actually Works
Coming in to Hugo, I was most puzzled by the inclusion of funnyman Sacha Baron Cohen in a prominent role as Station Inspector Gustav. I expected Cohen to go the Punch Drunk Love/Stranger Than Fiction route and attempt to transform into a serious actor, but, much to my surprise, it seems that Scorsese pictured quite the opposite.
Cohen was something akin to Ali G with post-traumatic stress disorder, and even more surprising than that being the case was that it worked totally and completely within the framework of the movie. Cohen and his Doberman, Maximillian, provided some much-needed comic relief to break up an intricate and involved plot, which may have otherwise felt on the cumbersome side.
3. Chloe Grace Moretz Might Be My Favorite Child Actor of All-Time
That's largely on the strength of her performance as Hit Girl in 2010's Kick-Ass, but she certainly only added to her impressive body of work in Hugo as the titular character's lone friend (and the goddaughter of Georges Milies), Isabelle.
Both Moretz and Asa Butterfield, who played Hugo Cabret, seemed to dominate the screen time, and yet, they were hardly a liability. Quite the contrary in fact -- Hugo and Isabelle are the spine of the tale, a big reason why the film is so compelling.
4. Yes, It Was a Little on the Long Side
This is the only real criticism I read of Hugo going in, and I thought it was mostly valid; 5-10 minutes of the movie could have been cut out, particularly at the very beginning and during Milies' (Ben Kingsley) flashback to his days as a successful moviemkaker. It's hardly noticeable in the grand scheme of things, though, and it's not like I was sitting there checking my watch. Moreover, it's just a very rich plot. Exceeding a two-hour run time sounds heavy-handed for a family film, but it doesn't feel that way when you're actually watching it.
5. This Is the Best 3D Movie Since Avatar
I'm actually not a huge fan of the 3D movement, but, as with Avatar, in the case of Hugo it's worth the extra few bucks. There's not even another movie that's been particularly close to the pair in that department. Whether the 3D itself is better than what James Cameron gave us in Avatar is debatable. Whether Avatar is a better movie than Hugo is not because, well, it isn't. There's almost nothing cliche about Hugo -- no unobtanium moment that spoils the ride.
Isn't it odd, by the way, that Scorsese and Cameron also happen to be in a class of their own when it comes to 3D? You would think that there wouldn't be quite so much overlap between great directing and great 3D technology, but then maybe the lesson is that both men set out to do anything they do well, so mediocre 3D would be just as unacceptable to them as a crappy screenplay. 6. This Isn't Scorsese's Best Film, but It's Up There
It's totally understandable if you want to make that case, as one friend has, but I don't see how this is better than, at minimum, Goodfellas. Of course, comparing the two movies, or really most of Scorsese's other projects, is a difficult, thankless and fairly fruitless endeavor.