Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Like all good magic, romance builds slow: Hugo

This is definitely one of those cases where your patience will be rewarded.

Martin Scorcese's "departure form Gangland" doesn't seem like much for the first 30 minutes or so. Till that time, the easily grasped plot and sub-plots are stretched almost beyond tolerance; having lost his clockmaker father (Jude Law, making the most of his limited minutes), a boy in 1930s Paris ends up in the train station winding the clocks that direct the trains around which revolve the lives of the extraordinary and the also-rans.

But, he has something else. Hidden away in his gear-filled home is an automaton (wind-up man) bequeathed to him by his father, but in need of repair, in particular the insertion of a heart-shaped wind-up key. This particular metaphor preety much becomes a motif for the entire film, which is considerably enlivened by the presence of  Sasha Baron Cohen as the autocratic yet insecure station inspector (rounding up other orphans and hotly pursuing Hugo); Oscar-winner Ben Kingsley in the role of the crotchety real-life cinema pioneer George Mellies, ruined by WWI and largely forgotten, and most of all, the luminescent Chloe Grace Moretz as Mellies' ward (thus also an orphan) and Hugo's "love interest" in the film - at least as far as pre-teen characters are allowed to have love interests.

The real love letter is revealed though, through a stirring collection of clips, to be Scorcese's, directed at the cinema itself. Through the play of the story, we see George Lloyd's famous "clock-hanging" scene (further recreated by Hugo himself), the Lumiere Brothers early clips, including the train arriving at the station (the train becomes a metaphor in another, more harrowing way, but watch the film for that) and recreations of Mellies famed glass studio and his own pieces.

It looks and feels like magic, but  of course, its partly borrowed, and it may come a little too late amid all the chases and the hand-holding to satisfy some viewers. There's no denying however, that like the wind-up man, the picture turns a few neat little tricks when set on its own.

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