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.
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.
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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)
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)
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)
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