Saturday, November 26, 2011

Martin Scorsese: Mechanism of Marvel (Hugo)

Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Hugo, Paramount Pictures, 2011.

For sheer unadulterated love of cinema, no modern film director can hold a candle to Scorsese, not even the fervent Tarantino. Scorsese's boyhood wonder at the mechanisms behind the motions transfigured into a ferocious body of work, mostly known for his incomparable crime dramas. In the past decade, he went from helming one of his best films ever (Bringing Out the Dead) to an unofficial quadrilogy of excellent pictures starring the brilliant Leonardo Dicaprio, culminating in one of his other best films ever (Shutter Island). With Hugo, he steps back and away from melodramatics to steep himself in a "kids" flick set in a Paris train station in the 1920s, which we all really know is just an excuse for the maestro to compose yet another valentine to the cinema.

From its very first frame, Hugo is a gorgeously pulsing hermetic world leaking heart fluid. Scorsese's Paris is a jewel of shimmering delights, effervescently shot by the irreplaceable Robert Richardson, whose mastery of vision has loaned Scorsese some of his best visuals (Casino, Shutter Island). We feel apart of bustling little Hugo's(the magnetic Asa Butterfield) fantastic world, a Paris on the verge of semi-modernity. Plunging us in an ultimately stumbling block plot about uncovering a family secret, little Hugo and his bestie (Chloe Grace Moretz) scour the station and Paris at large for the missing pieces of a puzzle beginning with Hugo's inventor father (Jude Law) and leading to French cinema master Georges Melies ( a regal Ben Kingsley).

As you can imagine, Scorsese runs with all of the intricate imagery of gears and springs, winding clocks and cranking early cameras/projectors. The wonder of the pioneering days of cinema unfurls in a heart rending fashion, our eyes already spellbound by the rapturous imagery. Paying homage to D.W. Griffith, Fritz Lang, G.W. Pabst, Charlie Chaplin, F.W. Murnau, Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton, the maestro is reveling in his righteous roots. John Logan's script is unusually tight and buoyant, save for a collapsing third act which needed more work. The cast is exceptional; Sacha Baron Cohen, Emily Mortimer, and Christopher Lee round out the hearty list. Howard Shore's score is alternately playful and solemn, incorporating all of the joys and terrors of childhood.

Scorsese culls together a potent world which pulls you under. You will behold his craftsmanship with marvel. For, even though in the end it is not one his supreme works, Hugo's mechanism is made up of such deep adoration and passion that it is hard not to be deeply affected by it all.

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