March 17, 2012

Movie Review: Hugo (Don't Skip This!)

My dear readers, this isn't the blog I had planned but I just couldn't hold back. I have fallen in love. No, it's not with carb filled junk food this time. (Although that did happen at last week's potluck when I discovered this super yummy cheesecake sopapilla thing that is absolutely to die for.) This newest love is much nicer to my hips; I've fallen in love with a movie.

It was Spring Break this week but with 3 of the 5 of us sick, we didn't get to do anything. Friday, when we were feeling a bit better we decided to venture out to the discount theater. The only option for the whole family without us adults wanting to throw something at the screen during another insipid kids' show was Hugo. The boys were pretty much "meh" about seeing it but that's the great thing about being the parent--we didn't give them a choice. And what a good choice it ended up being.

Hugo stars the enchanting Asa Butterfield as the titular character, a young boy who has been orphaned and is living in the walls of a train station in 1930s Paris. He spends his days keeping the station's clocks running, stealing food to feed himself and trying to fix an automaton that was left by his father. He learned to repair mechanical pieces from his father, a clock maker. The two had been spending all their free time trying to repair this automaton, or mechanical man, when the father was killed. Hugo then had to live with his drunken Uncle Claude at the train station where his uncle taught him to keep the clocks running and then promptly disappeared. Hugo steals toys from the surly old toy vendor (played by Ben Kingsley) for their parts while avoiding the station Inspector (played by Sacha Baron Cohen, who provides much of the movie's comic relief).

Ben Kingsley is one of those names that I tend to cringe over when I see it in the cast list. He is an ACTOR, and while he was once a very fine one, he has devolved into a one man scenery chewing machine. Everything he does ends up over the top, verging on caricature. He surprised me in this movie. He is an angry old man, named George Melies, who seems to take Hugo's possession of a notebook personally, even though it doesn't seem to have anything to do with him. Or does it? Throughout the movie we get a glimpse into George's past. And Kingsley does, in fact, get to be flamboyant, but only when it's called for and it fits perfectly. When we see George in a moment of wretched pain, Kingsley pulls back the reins and that subtle portrayal makes his hurt all that more devastating.

In an effort to get back his notebook, which once belonged to his father and holds the answers to fixing the automaton, Hugo befriends Isabelle (the always delightful Chloe Grace Moretz), the ward of George. The two of them set out on an adventure, trying to determine why that notebook affects Papa George so and desperately trying to find a way to "fix" him. When trying to sneak into a theater to let Isabella see her first movie, she says, "We could get into trouble." Hugo answers back, "That's how you know it's an adventure." That is what this movie is--a wonderful, beautiful adventure, full of heart and mystery. It was also a marketing nightmare and because of this, was tragically overlooked in the theaters. It's a family friendly, PG rated movie by Martin Scorcese, of all people. The story line was never made clear in the trailers; it wasn't really what I was expecting from what little I had heard of it. It has the look of CG movies like The Polar Express, and while most of the movie is CG, Hugo's big, Bambi eyes and his expressive face are very real. Hugo was nominated for 11 Academy Awards and it won 5 including those for Sound Editing and Sound Mixing. That may not mean much to you, but it means a lot to me. As a girl who will sit through hours of Megan Fox in Transformers for the sole purpose of hearing the sound effects, the sounds of a movie can make it or break it for me. They had me in the opening sequence when the sounds of someone tinkering with metal surrounded me in the theater to the point that I could hear it coming from beneath my seat. The effect will be muted on a television set at home but it will still be amazing.

Hugo's whole life is dedicated to repairing this mechanical man because he believes it will reveal a secret message from his father. Discovering that message is his whole purpose in life, but what will he do once he fixes it? What then? What happens if the Inspector--who spends his days rounding up stray children and shipping them off to the orphanage--discovers that Hugo lives in the station--alone? How can Hugo and Isabella fix a man who is beyond broken? They are both desperately seeking their purpose and the movie is their grand adventure in discovering it.

I was so happy that I dragged my family to see this film. Rent it. Buy it. But don't miss out. It is worth every penny and every minute of your time. This is not the last that you will hear of Hugo from me. (*****)

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