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Hugo

Year: 2011
Studio: Paramount
Director: Martin Scorsese
Producer: Martin Scorsese
Writer: John Logan
Cast: Asa Butterfield, Chloe Grace Moretz, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen, Ray Winstone, Emily Mortimer, Christopher Lee, Helen McCrory, Jude Law, Richard Griffiths

I hadn't really put my finger on what it was about this movie before I heard someone else say it – for a Scorsese movie this was a Spielberg movie through and through. It had everything The Beard loves from the freewheeling camera flying through an otherworldly landscape to the themes of absent parents and a huge, sweet helping of the Magic Of The Movies. It could only have been made in the hands of the one of the commercially-friendly elder statesmen of film, and Scorsese does as great a job as Spielberg would have.

There are also a lot of different moods and aesthetics. A pervasive one is a distinct steampunk feel. The film as well as hero Hugo (Butterfield) is in love with machinery, the clockwork of yesteryear rather than the slick and soulless modern variety. The film itself has the sheen of well-polished brass and the soundtrack ticks and chimes along with the myriad clocks, toys and devices that provide a constant backdrop.

Hugo lives in the steamy walls and tunnels that service the facilities of a Paris train station in the 1920s. He sneaks from one place to the next, stealing food, maintaining the grand clocks and trying to stay out of the way of the buffoonish police inspector (Cohen).

We learn later Hugo lost his loving clockmaker father (Law) in a fire, and there's some sort of strange connection between his father's old notebook, a clockwork-driven automaton he was building and the grumpy old toy booth owner (Kingsley) who Hugo frequently bumps into, as fascinated by him as he wary.

When the toyshop owner's goddaughter Isabelle (Moretz) befriends him, it brings Hugo's past to a head when he discovers the toyshop owner is actually Georges Mélies, the famed filmmaker behind A Trip To the Moon. Mélies is a bitter, broken man for some reason and it will take Hugo's determination to learn the secret of the notebook, get the (slightly creepy) mechanical man working to receive the message he's sure his father has left for him somewhere and bring the old movie man back to life.

It's a love letter to an art form, technically quite brilliant in every respect (although I think it took most of the Oscars in the technical categories from better films). At times it slows down the tiniest but it will sweep you along as surely as the camera through the human bustle of the sumptuous sets.

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