Sunday, April 1, 2012

I Might Be The Only One Not Enchanted By Hugo

The Good: Look, Theme
The Bad: Erratic Look, Character, Acting, Pacing, Dull Plot
The Basics: Hugo is a slow, unimaginative, film that never quite gets going.

When this year's Oscars aired, I found myself losing many of my bets. Every year, I get a little thrill off of betting on the various categories and this past year, I kept finding myself on the losing end of the wagers (even if this year they were mostly friendly bets between my wife and I). The source of my losses (though she lost even more than I!) was that I continued to bet on pretty much anything but Hugo or The Artist in virtually every category. Unfortunately for me, Hugo won quite a few awards, which saw me betting wrong. So, tonight, I decided to see what all the fuss was about and my wife and I took in Hugo.

Hugo is Martin Scorsese's attempt to make a movie his children would be able to watch and I have to wonder why his children would want to watch such an unspeakably boring movie. I mean, I have a love of fantasy and the fantastic, but it's entirely possible to make a movie where children discover the magic of the world and the world around them and make the film interesting. Hugo, alas, is not that film. With a quest that oscillates between the boring and the pointless, Hugo is very much a children's movie, but one that never seems to land. Instead, it is a film that seems to be about finding magic in the world, but it is packaged in a disappointingly slow, meandering film that is too mundane to be truly fantastic.

Young Hugo Cabret lives in the clockworks at the Paris train station. There, as an orphan, he keeps the clocks running and steals the parts he needs to make an automaton function and the food he needs to stay alive. Hounded by the station inspector and threatened by Melies, the owner of the toyworks, Hugo desperately works to get the automaton working, as it was the last thing he and his father worked on together. With the help of Isabelle, Melies's goddaughter, Hugo looks deeper into the mystery of the unfinished mechanical man.

When Isabelle's key necklace allows the automaton to be wound up, the pair discover that the automaton draws. But the mystery deepens when it signs the drawing "Georges Melies." As Hugo struggles to avoid the station inspector, Gustav, he works to reanimate the automaton and discover its relation to Isabelle's godfather . . . and his own father.

Hugo is, in part, a movie about the love of movies. Unfortunately, the movie is very erratic. From the opening shots, where the setting appears animated, the film wanders between a pointless series of chases and a series of vignettes that express a love of movies. Hugo sneaks Isabelle into her first movie, the automaton's drawing is of a frame from the first film Isabelle's father saw and while Gustav poorly flirts, Hugo recounts a history of early movies. The movie could truly be about finding magic in the mundane, save that elements like Gustav's relentless hunting of Hugo is painfully realistic. The story seems much more sloppy than in any way incredible. Hugo is like a boring version of A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (reviewed here!). At least A.I. had a clear purpose, even if it undermined itself.

In Hugo, Martin Scorsese wanders and the result is a film that is full of melodrama - Hugo's tantrums as he tries to recover the book that seems to have the clues to fixing the automaton from Melies wear thin - and distractions to what seem like the movie's sense of purpose. For a master filmmaker, Scorsese seems unsure of what the story he wants to tell is. Moreover, he does not seem to know how he want to tell it. Is it a story of the triumph of love, the magic of the movies, a generic adventure with classic villains, the story of how children grow up, who the heck knows? But more than that, the pacing is very slow and fails to capture the enthusiasm of youth. Instead, Hugo is somewhat tortured and trapped in his own anguish and Isabelle is more antagonistic and pedantic than an interesting sidekick.

As for the acting, Asa Butterfield does Hugo no rich services as the title character. To be fair, he is a child actor, playing a kid and he is awkward and stiff through much of the film. While Chloe Grace Moretz has not even a hint of her character from Kick-Ass (reviewed here!) as Isabelle, she does not make Isabelle very interesting at all. In the scene where Isabelle experiences her first movie, she opens her eyes wide like children are "supposed" to, but she seems like what she is; a girl putting on an air. That's not the character, that's the acting.

Sir Ben Kingsley does what he can as Melies. For such a refined actor, he is relegated to a surprisingly monolithic role. Kingsley does best with depth and subtlety and Melies does not start that way at all. He is angry and even Kingsley cannot sustain generically angry in an interesting way. Surprisingly, Sir Ben Kingsley is trumped on the acting front by Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen, best known for his absolutely zany roles, plays Gustav and he actually has quite a bit of depth in the role which is tangential to the primary story. Sacha Baron Cohen plays shy surprisingly well in Hugo and as little as I liked the character and plot thread, his performance is one of the best of his career.

It is not, however, enough to save Hugo. Hugo is a children's movie made far too dull to entertain or inspire even a child.

For other works with Sacha Baron Cohen, check out my reviews of:
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Da Ali G Show


For other film reviews, please visit my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movie reviews I have written!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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