Two Cents on Scorsese’s HUGO

 

Two Cents
Two Cents is an original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team will program films and contribute our best, most insightful, or most creative thoughts on each using a maximum of 200 words each. Guest entries are encouraged, as are suggestions for future entries to the column. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion.

The Pick

Over the course of his long career, Martin Scorsese has dabbled in an incredibly wide range of genres and styles. There’s his sprawling gangster epics, his grimy and intimate character studies (Mean Streets, Raging Bull, his frenetic waking nightmares (After Hours, Bringing Out the Dead), and his crackling pulp (The Departed, Cape Fear).

But before 2011, one category that Scorsese had categorically avoided was ‘family film’ (give or take a Shark Tale cameo, which…why, Marty?)

But Brian Selznick’s historical fiction book The Invention of Hugo Cabret seems to have been grown in a lab specifically to entice a taste like Scorsese’s. For starters, the novel centers on a lonely boy isolated from and looking out into the world, just as a sickly young Scorsese spent much of his early life looking out the window at a world that was unsafe for him to take part in.

More than that, Hugo‘s mystery plot steadily reveals itself to be concerned with the origins of film and filmmaking, and a desperate plea for the importance of film history and preservation, a subject that Scorsese has been on the forefront of for decades.

Hugo stars Gollum-eyed youngster Asa Butterfield as the titular orphan, living in the walls of a Parisian train station, minding the clocks and working to fix a cracked automaton. The cast also features Sacha Baron Cohen, Chloe Grace Moretz, Emily Mortimer, Michael Stuhlbarg, Helen McCrory, the late, great Christopher Lee and Richard Griffiths (in his last film completed before his death, though his final film About Time would come out posthumously), and Ben Kingsley.

With Scorsese’s latest film, Silence already stirring up divisive critical discussion, we thought we’d spend some time looking at one of Marty’s other recent efforts and see if Hugo stands with the best of his oeuvre or if this is one genre that he would have been better off staying away from.

– Brendan

Did you get a chance to watch along with us this week? Want to recommend a great (or not so great) film for the whole gang to cover? Comment below or post on our Facebook or hit us up on Twitter!

Next Week’s Pick:

Last month Wes Anderson excited fans with the announcement that work has begun on his next film, Isle Of Dogs. The film is set to mark his return to stop motion animation, previously employed in this week’s pick, Fantastic Mr. Fox. It’s based on the book by Roald Dahl, last seen in 2016’s whimsical The BFG which recently hit Blu-ray.

Fantastic Mr. Fox is currently streaming free (with ads) on Vudu, or grab it from Amazon.

– Austin

Would you like to be a guest in next week’s Two Cents column? Simply watch and send your under-200-word review to twocents(at)cinapse.co!

Our Guests

Husain Sumra:The first time I watched Hugo I was struck by the film’s thoughts on preservation, whether it be film preservation, a passion of Martin Scorsese, or the preservation of something else, like dignity. When I rewatched it recently, something else struck me.

Hugo is a movie about broken people trying to find a purpose. The quickest way to any purpose, of course, is work. Hugo takes on the purpose of his father and uncle, fixing the automaton and keeping the clocks running. The station inspector finds purpose by making sure orphaned kids have a home, and by extension, a purpose. Georges Melies’ purpose becomes blurry when he abandons his work.

It turns out Hugo is actually a pretty wonderful meditation on how your work can give you purpose. It beautifully ties this into the idea of preservation. Preserving your work preserves your purpose, and the purpose of everyone who came before you.

I’m a little bummed I couldn’t see this in 3D again though, the film takes on a whole new life in that format. As a friend once told me, it’s fitting Scorsese chose such a new effect for a movie about one of the first special effects geniuses. (@hsumra)

Trey Lawson: Hugo is a love letter to cinema. To be clear I do not mean simply nostalgia for early silent film, but for the very mechanical processes and possibilities of cinema. This may seem counterintuitive, for such a celebration to take the form of digital 3D, but in celebrating cinema, Hugo not only not-so-subtly makes a case for film preservation and archiving, but also points to the medium’s capacity for innovation and its ability to create images of the fantastic, magical, and impossible. In that way, the (absolutely gorgeous) 3D visuals perfectly complement the plot. And yet, Hugo is so much more than a story about the (re)discovery of film history; it is a story about loss, and the struggle of loneliness in the wake of emotional trauma. I don’t think anybody really knew what to expect from a Martin Scorsese children’s movie, but what we got is simply delightful. The entire cast is great – Asa Butterfield, Ben Kingsley, Chloe Grace Moretz, even Sacha Baron Cohen. Plus Christopher Lee shows up in a small but important role. This was my first time watching the film since seeing it in theaters, and while overall it’s better in 3D, the last 10 minutes still brought tears to my eyes. Hugo is joy. It is happiness in cinematic form, and considering that it didn’t exactly set the box office on fire, deserves to be seen by more people. (@T_Lawson)

The Team

Brendan: First thing’s first: Hugo is freaking GORGEOUS. Every frame is as perfectly composed as a painting, every camera motion as fluid as music. While Hugo will never be considered Scorsese’s best film, it finds one of the great American masters working at an almost impossible level of craft and confidence.

I just wish the film had a bit of a stronger spine to go with that craft. The story plays well enough as a picture book, but blown up to three dimensions and drawn out over two hours, the whole enterprise feels too slow and too repetitive. This brand of whimsy requires a feather-touch, and that’s just not something that Scorsese seems comfortable pulling off.

Despite these misgivings, Hugo still works, and boasts a final act that falls like a hammer blow. I’m going to go ahead and give most of that credit to Ben Kingsley, who digs deep and reminds us all why he truly stands as one of the great modern actors. Kingsley never shies away from what a nasty and insular man his Papa Georges has become, but the twinkle in his eye suggests the true Georges Melies waiting to live again. And when the resurrection is delivered, it never fails to bring a tear to my eye. (@TheTrueBrendanF)

Austin:I watched this theatrically in its original run, knowing pretty much nothing about it aside from the direction of Martin Scorsese, but spurred by positive reports that the film was a special treat for cinema lovers.

While the story of the orphaned boy and his friend has its charms, it’s the secondary arc of Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) that truly moved me deeply. The tale catches up with the film pioneer in the decline of his latter years, an unappreciated and somewhat embittered genius who has abandoned the craft that was once his passion and life’s work. Kingsley inhabits the character with beauty and sadness, and his personal renaissance is a joy to behold. The notion that Scorsese could take the story of one of the oldest filmmakers and make it vital cinema for young people is, I think, a remarkable accomplishment. (@VforVashaw)

Did you all get a chance to watch along with us? Share your thoughts with us here in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook!

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the author

Brendan Foley lives in Massachusetts, where he has made a habit out of not knowing what he's doing. He'd like to make a career out of it. You can follow his ramblings on Twitter: @TheTrueBrendanF, and his ramblinger ramblings on Tumblr. Three years from now, it will be revealed that he was dead the entire time.