Friday, November 25, 2011

A Dream in the Middle of the Day (Hugo)

Last week a friend took her two young daughters to the premiere of Happy Feet Two and described their reaction, by the eighth or ninth musical number, as equivalent to Kramer's involuntary seizures whenever he heard Mary Hart's voice on Seinfeld. (She didn't actually put it in those terms; I'm taking creative license with her ordeal.) To the small crowd of parents and children at the screening of Hugo attended by yours truly: I salute you. The best family films -- the ones capable of stirring a child's imagination -- are invariably ignored, so merely showing up for a Martin Scorsese kiddie flick is admirable enough. Yet as the movie unfolded, I became distracted by the fact that nobody was distracting me. No fidgeting, running up and down the aisles, asking loudly if the movie's over yet, or other instances of acting-out when a film ostensibly made for kids fails to hold their attention. Just rows of mesmerized faces gazing up quietly at the screen. Arguably more than any other movie on his resume (and this is saying plenty), Scorsese made Hugo for himself. Yet it's the most generous personal filmmaking imaginable, the kind of open-hearted work that lets everyone in.

His achievement was nowhere near apparent from the trailers, which slapped together unrelated moments from the film in such a haphazard manner that the joke going around (which I shared in) was that Hugo looked like Scorsese's "Chris Columbus movie" (just as The Aviator was his "Ron Howard movie," as Steven Santos would put it). I'm not sure if misplaced expectations are what lured in the audience, and I'm half-expecting an irate moviegoer somewhere across the land to file a lawsuit against the movie for "not being like Harry Potter," just as one great intellect is currently suing Drive for "not being The Fast and the Furious." Among all movie audiences, the "family film" crowd may be the worst, because their unvarying taste for stultifying, milquetoast crap is stunting the next generation's concept of what movies can be. Parents like these are killing movies for the sake of two hours of silence, except that -- they never learn -- children get vocal and restless when they're having a bad time. Whether the Hugo audience are fans of the book (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick) or if they got suckered in by a film that ended up being something quite other than the bad time the previews promised, they were clearly engaged by a kind of magic considerably less literal than the wizards and Dark Lords and Quidditch matches to which they're accustomed. I enjoyed the last handful of the Potter series, but Hugo offers a very different -- and more substantial -- form of enchantment.

Similarly Scorsese himself once said, "I love Steven's (Spielberg's) movies, but I don't think everyone should have to make them." With Hugo, Scorsese hasn't made a Spielberg movie any more than he's crafted a Chris Columbus joint, but he's learned a few things from his friend and employs a few classic Spielbergian touches. The story is told almost entirely from young orphan Hugo's (Asa Butterfield's) point-of-view, and as he and his new gal-pal Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) jaunt through the 1930s-era train station where the majority of the action takes place, the camera keeps up from behind at eye-level, with most of the grown-ups depicted like many of the adult characters in E.T. -- only as high as their torsos. Visually, Scorsese makes the train-station a potentially threatening place, yet the atmosphere is never oppresive. Between the clocks that Hugo, living secretly within the walls, surreptitiously keeps running to the toy and flower shops to the coming-and-going locomotives themselves, Scorsese makes the real seem magical, rather than trying to persuade us that magic is real.

Much of this is accomplished via 3-D, and while Hugo is only the third movie I've seen to use the extra dimension, it is easily the most effective. Avatar was an entertaining 3-D "experience" that barely disguised a mediocre movie, a mask quickly removed once the movie came to DVD; whereas Cave of Forgotten Dreams found justifiable use for the technology in a documentary that made cave paintings tactile, seemingly touchable. The only problematic moments in that film were when Herzog moved the camera up and down the mountainside, and Scorsese's technique occasionally encounters the same obstacle. Always a purveyor of restless, roving camerawork, Scorsese stumbles a bit whenever Sacha Baron Cohen's station inspector gives chase to Hugo. The image gets fleetingly blurry. In frenetic scenes like these the 3-D can't keep up with Scorsese's energy; it's better at drawing out the details of static framing (which makes me think Kubrick would have been a master at it). For the most part, Scorsese seems to realize this. Whenever Hugo stops running, the imagery opens up around him -- as when pieces of paper with artistic sketches float around a room -- and when he ventures into the snow-dappled Parisian streets (actually a set, but an evocative one) the movie looks breathtaking.

Scorsese has always done unsung work with child actors, and while I wouldn't rate Butterfield and Moretz's performances on par with Jodie Foster's in Taxi Driver, Christopher Serrone's as young Henry Hill in Goodfellas, or Gyurme Tethong's in Kundun, each comes through in crucial roles. I suspect I may even be underrating Butterfield, who has to carry the movie and manages to play an orphaned boy who has lost his parents without a trace of self-pity. Moretz, having already made an impression before turning fourteen in Let Me In and Kick-Ass, seems to be putting a precocious Hermione Granger spin on her lines, but she connects with Butterfield, and has a lovely scene when Hugo takes her to see her first movie. A movie, Hugo explains, quoting his late father, "is like a dream in the middle of the day," and the rapt expression on Moretz's face mirrors the visages on the kids looking up at her in the audience.

John Logan's screenplay has a pleasing symmetry, and Scorsese, demonstrating an imaginative agility he hasn't shown in ages, finds visual rhymes that echo throughout the film. The famous Harold Lloyd clock scene finds its double with Hugo later, as does a recreation of the Lumiere brothers's silent film depicting a train arriving at a station (a sequence that causes members of its initial 1895 audience to jump out of the way). He also attentively brings a few key adult characters into play, a quartet of station employees with parallel thwarted love affairs. In one, Richard Griffiths's shambling advances on Frances de la Tour are impeded by her protective yapping long-haired dauchshund; in the other, Emily Mortimer's flower saleswoman attracts the attention of Cohen's inspector, impeded by his own self-consciousness regarding a leg damaged in the First World War. Sacha Baron Cohen walks a tricky line in Hugo. In the previews, he looked like he auditioning for the next Pink Panther movie, and early on some of his slapstick antics fall flat. Yet the movie needs his energy, and eventually Cohen's mediocre Peter Sellers imitation turns into a good one, the type of Sellers performance that weaves pathos into farcical physical shtick. His train inspector is an adversary but ultimately not a villain, much to our relief. He owns a dog too, an aggressive (and expressive) doberman pinscher. Yes, this is a Scorsese movie with doggie reaction shots, but they're funny doggie reaction shots, namely one that underscores how much Cohen and the doberman resemble one another.

Pauline Kael believed that, unless your name was Luis Bunuel, filmmakers got worse as they grew older. Later she would make exceptions for Robert Altman and John Huston, but Scorsese's work largely fell out of her favor after she was one of his staunchest champions early in his career. "After Taxi Driver," I once heard him say in person, receiving an award, "she never liked anything I ever did afterward -- other than The Last Waltz, Life Lessons, and The Last Temptation of Christ." That's a pretty big "other than," but it's true that for the most part Kael went cold. She missed his collaborations with Leonardo DiCaprio over the last decade but that's probably for the best. Of the four to date, I found two of them frustrating (Gangs of New York, Shutter Island), one mediocre (The Aviator), and a fourth watchable (The Departed) only because Leo didn't have to shoulder the load. (Distracting us in that film were a lively performance from Mark Wahlberg and an embarrassing one from Jack Nicholson.) When Ben Kingsley, late in Shutter Island, turns into Exposition Man and breaks the fake gun in half, I groaned at Scorsese's contempt for the material and the audience. He seemed to have given up drawing from anything resembling actual life experience; he was lost in Movieland.

Hugo is even more of an artificial world than Shutter Island -- and Kingsley's performance as Georges Melies, like all of his work, I find, hits the wrong notes -- but Scorsese puts his lifeblood into it so that it feels like everything he's wanted to say about what cinema means to him. The movie is a joyous reconciliation of life and art, a demonstration of how technology can enable us to live -- or, for the neglected and forgotten, to live again. Years ago Terrence Rafferty, in his review of The Player, hailed the then 67-year-old Altman as "the youngest filmmaker in America." Martin Scorsese, who turned 69 last week, has now staked that claim.


Jason Bellamy said...

This does feel to me like Scorsese's Spielberg movie. But ain't nuthin wrong with that.

What a charming picture! And while I, like you, enjoyed the later Harry Potter flicks, wow, this shows the richness of spirit that those often lack -- probably because they're trying to deal with so much damn plot.

Kingsley, I thought, was the best he's been in years; but he's one of those actors that you go for or don't, and he rarely bothers me. And the so-quiet-you-almost-miss-how-great-it-is performance of the year has to be Michael Stuhlbarg as Tabard; he really sells the significance and the magic of the moment -- a crucial performance at that point of the film.

I can't know for sure, but I think I would have loved this film as a kid. Certainly the kids in my audience seemed less fidgety than their parents, who appeared to be going through smartphone withdrawals, even if they didn't all succumb to the itch.

If I have a gripe, it's that the film becomes a history lesson in the final act. And there's magic there, too, but that piece doesn't quite fit the rest. But that's a small gripe. Glad to be in the hands of a director who can sustain a mood.

Craig said...

I'm glad you mentioned Stuhlbarg (whom I didn't recognize from "A Serious Man"), who gives the movie a lot of its emotional weight. He makes up for Kinglsey, in my opinion, who, as Edelstein pointed out, sells the chill of the character more convincingly than he does the warmth. Christopher Lee, whom also should be mentioned, makes the transition more deftly in less screen time. The love of books in "Hugo" is almost as strong as the love of movies.

Still, even though I had issues with the performance, and even though I knew what was coming, I welled up when Kingsley shouted, "This child is mine!" (I welled up a few other times, too.) You mentioned the over-plotting of the "Potter" series, but what's amazing about "Hugo" is Scorsese's unusual attention to the narrative. Plot normally isn't his strong suit, but he brings all the strands and characters in a way that's deeply satisfying.

Richard Bellamy said...

Well done, Craig, especially in suggesting that this is the kind of family movies kids and adults deserve. The sense of wonder captured through the eyes of Hugo and Isabelle is very well done. The opening prologue is wonderfully done, taking Hugo through the fabulous train station set. But while I see how Scorsese is passionately presenting his passion for film in this movie about the magic of filmmaking, I lost contact with that sense of wonder. Something fell flat for me, which I try to explain in my post.

Craig said...

Nice to have you weigh in, Hokah- er, Richard. I read your review. The part of the film you're referring to - the Melies/birth of cinema stuff - didn't fall flat for me at all. A little slack, maybe, but Scorsese pulled it all together beautifully. It's a children's story, and all children's stories have morals to them, and film preservation seems a refreshing change of pace as far as morals go.

I also read your review of The Immortals, which I haven't seen. You didn't actually say this in either review, it's more of an implication based on levels of enthusiasm, but do you think it's better than Hugo? Really? Because Scorsese's picture has the all the tingles of a classic to me.

Steven Santos said...

I will just come out and say that, while I respect your position on the film, I found this to be the same type of lumbering, bloated film Scorsese has been making the last decade or so. Many of the reviews have been so focused on how kids would see it, but I am quite getting bothered by what I felt was Scorsese's easy, cheap sentimentality not getting called out for what it is because it panders to cinephiles. It reminded me of the worst of Spielberg, though Spielberg has been called out for it on much lesser offenses than "Hugo". Not unlike Tarantino's somewhat self-serving ode to the "power of cinema" in "Inglourious Basterds", I still feel that the true power of cinema can be felt through truly great films rather than film directors feeling the need to pay tribute to their art and, in turn, themselves.

The film does come alive a bit during the Melies segment, which made me wish the movie was about him. And that it would be a movie that would present him as a human being rather than force us to learn his story through a glaze of mawkishness. I found most of what leads up to Melies to be leaden and flat. Hugo is a wide-eyed cipher, perhaps the dullest central character in a Scorsese film as well as the cleanest orphan in the history of cinema. The overly polished Moretz seems to have been directed to smile incessantly, as if trying to earn a gold star by the end of the film. Cohen was painfully unfunny and annoying, proving he's little more than someone who puts on funny hair and an accent and calls it a day in terms of characterization. This was made worse by the half-assed attempt to humanize him by having the Inspector announce his injuries and then return to being unfunny and annoying. When Kingsley and Stuhlbarg came onscreen, I felt I was finally dealing with real people, as opposed to moppets and walking schticks.

The last few films have been the most plot-heavy of Scorsese's career and "Hugo" and "Shutter Island" shows how flat-footed he is when trying to build a story around uncovering a mystery. In fact, both films (which happen to end with Kingsley explaining everything) made me wonder why these stories needed to be presented as a mystery to begin with, especially when their reveals are telegraphed and then run into the ground through exposition. And, visually, I found the movie to be pretty, but the shots to be in service of providing eye candy rather than emotion. Everything has this pristine, antiseptic look that I often find to be the look preferred by unimaginative directors with way too much access to CGI. I did not even find much of a reason why the 3D was needed, which, once again, seems to be in service of making the film look superficially pretty rather than using the space to tell the story. (And converting Melies' films into 3D seemed to be missing the point.) And Scorsese's homages to old film seemed to be merely uninspired copies. The sequence where Hugo hangs off the clock hand just sits there, as if making the visual reference was enough.

You bring up Scorsese talking about how not everyone needs to make the films Spielberg does. I remember when Scorsese would talk about how it was important to have a bullshit detector to make the types of films he wanted to make. I kept wondering throughout "Hugo" why that detector seemed to be malfunctioning for every choice he made or whether he has become content making the kind of bloated Hollywood movies that his greatest films were often a response to. Those great films are about the power of cinema, not "Hugo".

Hokahey said...

Yeah, my blogs got crossed are something.

Hugo is definitely a better film than Immortals, but at the time I was more enthusiastic about the latter. As I say in my review of Scorsese's film, it's so well made; just something kept me from full enthusiasm. Should see it again.

Craig said...


When you tweeted that you were seeing this, I was seized by a dark premonition: "Kids + 3-D = Steven No Likey." I'm joking, of course. Your argument is much more substantial than that, and I was hoping you'd weigh in with it, even after it became clear you didn't care for the picture.

I'll focus on the "power of cinema" part of your argument since it's at the heart of it, and the part that I struggle with the most whenever I see (and find myself responding to) one of these types of movies. It seems we're to the point where the "Movie Brats" of the 70s are in their self-referential twilight-of-the-gods phase, that they've progressed (or regressed) from depicting a heightened sense of the world to the movies becoming their world entirely. We can see this most blatantly with Lucas (from "American Graffiti" to "Star Wars" ad nauseam), but also with Coppola (from "The Godfather" to his last three movies) and, lately, Scorsese. I would argue that their films, taken individually, have different merits and are of varying quality, but altogether I agree with you that the lack of drawing from the real world is problematic in cinema today. Those films are not getting made anymore, probably because they can't get made. And our movie experience is unquestionably suffering because of it.


Craig said...

Where it seems we part ways is the different between subject and approach. I don't want to turn this into a Spielberg bash, but the reason why some take issue with his work (and not as many as I think should) is because he offers a veneer of reality that covers the cliches. He doesn't want to comment on "the power of cinema," he wants to go down as the Homer of his era, and a lot of people buy into his Serious Subjects as evidence alone that he should be taken seriously. (The exception over the last decade was "Munich," not coincidentally the recipient of some of his most polarizing reviews, but for me is a rare Spielberg film where it feels like he's grasping a difficult subject intuitively and is surprised by his own responses.) Similarly, I'm not convinced that indies like "Shame," for all their heavy-breathing about being grim and uncompromising, are telling us anything beyond the usual cliches about The World We Live In.

Which brings us to "Hugo," a film I watched fully cognizant of its flaws and yet came out completely enraptured, those same flaws evaporating into trivialities. For me, it's Scorsese's approach to the material that makes it work. He showed, back in "Kundun" (especially the early scenes with the young Tibetan non-actors) a gentle touch he'd rarely shown before, and I was delighted to see it come to full bloom in "Hugo." He seems both looser and more disciplined, more attuned to the narrative than he's been in a long time. I think the 3-D can be justified in thematic terms as experimenting with special effects now as Melies was then; in practical terms, it's also Scorsese's way of challenging himself, like Hitchcock did back in the day. It's been obvious in his last few movies that Scorsese had become so accomplished that his technical proficiency was beginning to calcify. And as far as subject matter is concerned, I think he's said everything about gangsters that's left for him to say; I don't care if he never makes another "hard-hitting" film ever again. I want him to do what excites him and interests him and affects him emotionally; if that happens to be "the power of cinema," so be it. (Just curious, but how does "Drive," a movie also drenched in cinephilia, work for you as opposed to films like "Hugo" or "Inglourious Bastereds"?)

"Hugo" is about that, yes, but on a larger level it's also about books and trains and other "old things" that, through his ecstatic eye, feel alive and new again. I'm not trying to use "the child's response" to the movie as a final arbiter for its quality. I'm only pointing out the collective reaction of the kids in contrast to their reaction to films that don't work. I'll never forget the complete, wholly justified lack of attention the young audience gave "The Phantom Menace" when it came out, just as I'll always remember the hushed silence that greeted "The Black Stallion." We can disagree about the functioning of Scorsese's bullshit detector, but kids usually have theirs on and I never heard it go off.

Steven Santos said...

I wasn't arguing whether Scorsese should make a kid's movie or a gangster movie, to boil down what you're saying to something more simple. I still believe his last great film was "Kundun", the beginning of which is a far better children's picture than all of "Hugo". And I would prefer he stay away from doing any gangster films again because I think he's worn out that subject matter.

It's that "Hugo" I found to be rife with sentimentality, most of it completely unearned. I'm basically trying to wrestle with all the positive reviews I've been reading, which seem to contain repetitions of phrases like "love letter to the cinema", but often feel like self-vaildations for the critics themselves. For me, cinema doesn't deserve this level of cheap sentiment than the Serious Subjects you feel Spielberg applies his own brand of sentimentality to.

We've all probably seen Scorsese talk about other films in interviews, as well as his docs about the history of cinema, which we can also all agree that he is one of the most passionate and intelligent voices on the subject. I don't even see a hint of that in this film, which reduces Melies to a symbol whose story is told in a montage with treacly music. I was generally surprised how heavy-handed and lumpen this film was or that he chooses to express his love for cinema through such cliched images and story choices that I would expect from lesser directors.

I'm still not shaking the feeling that, much like Scorsese's recent films as well as "Boardwalk Empire" the series he produces, that Scorsese's work has turned into a series of well-shot museum exhibits. The cinematography and production design is pristine and fussed over, but the emotions exist in a vacuum. I sat there during "Hugo" feeling absolutely nothing for anyone on the screen then feeling that I was being pandered to with his big statement about film. Was this whole movie supposed to just give me reason to be flattered because he wants to announce it's okay to love movies?

Since you brought up "Drive", the reason I would hold that over "Basterds" and "Hugo" was because I saw the character of Driver as someone who didn't distinguish between a movie world and the real world. As a viewer, you don't know whether to admire him for his moral code derived from movies or whether he is insane. To me, that's a more daring comment than anything in "Basterds" or "Hugo", which preach to the choir and seem to function as little more than wish fulfillment for cinephiles.

Craig said...

Very well argued as usual. I guess where we disagree the most is the degree of sentimentality: I didn't feel it nearly as much as you did. It may be sentimental by Scorsese's standards, but by the standards of the genre it's fairly restrained. Certainly more so than Pixar's pictures, which always make me feel like my eyeball has been placed over a pan for a good squeeze. I almost never cry at movies, but I did at "Hugo," and I never felt like Scorsese was crowding my emotions. His camera's gaze is too eye-level -- and Shore's score too idiosyncratic -- for that. I didn't feel Scorsese was pandering; I thought he was being genuinely heartfelt, and that's what I responded to.

I have no intention of ending the discussion here (you or anyone else is free to continue), I just want to say I enjoy our debates because you make me work harder. I said that during our last big debate, over "Inglourious Basterds." Other than "Hugo," "Basterds," Spielberg (sometimes) and Pixar (nearly always), we tend to agree more than not, so I genuinely appreciate your counter-perspective.

Jason Bellamy said...

Yum. This discussion is tasty.

As I said above, I was charmed by this picture. And I suppose it's worth noting that while I appreciated the sentiment, I was least moved in the flashbacks that Hokakey aptly described as the "didactic documentary" overview of Melies' career. Now, does that disqualify me from cinephile wish fulfillment? No. But the point is that I was thoroughly engaged within the world Scorsese created independent of any deeper meaning.

So, as for sentiment and wish fulfillment: that's still OK, right? I haven't read many reviews, but the chatter on Twitter suggests that there's been a lot of discussion of the ways Scorsese steps into 3D while looking back on the filmmaking format of old, and that's worthy of discussion but it doesn't have a lick to do with what I'm responding to when under the movie's spell. I think that's the kind of retroactive analytical takeaway more than an of-the-moment feeling, but maybe that's just me.

Of course, none of this can put Steven under the spell of the film, and I wouldn't begin to try to talk him into it. But Hugo does that for me, it takes me within its world and holds me there, at least on a first viewing.

Craig said...


You're probably right about the retroactive analysis. What I responded to while watching the movie was more of a direct throughline of emotion: to name just one scene, when Emily Mortimer gives Sacha Baron Cohen a flower to wear in his coat. Steven sees that as a half-assed attempt to humanize the character, and I respect that point-of-view, but for me it was simple and elegant.

Steven Santos said...

When someone like myself doesn't respond to what's onscreen, a retroactive analysis is inevitable, as it would for a film I did respond to. Expressing my feelings about how I feel about films that essentially reaffirm the beliefs of cinephiles was, for me, not much different as when Jason has, at times, wondered why certain elements of Clint Eastwood films aren't challenged more or when Craig feels that Pixar films are given a pass.

When you read writers justifying their opinions by declaring "Hugo" is somehow a litmus test for loving film itself (not Craig's review obviously, but many of them have gone down this road and it's the kind of argument that made me write that "Basterds" piece two years ago), then I can't help feel that's false based on the quality of the film and trying to express why. While I don't want to imply everyone wasn't emotionally affected by the film, it is these days in film discussion where listening to these superlatives that then inspires me to question them. Not unlike what I did for the raves for "Tree of Life", which I often found vague in reasoning, but clear in their paranoia that anyone daring not call the film a masterpiece was somehow incapable of thinking about film properly. Thankfully, the reaction to dissenting opinions from those who liked "Basterds" and "Hugo" was nowhere pitched at that level of hysteria.

Talking about the film's take on cinema is important to the discussion. While I admittedly found the story of Hugo himself rather dull, even the film abandons his story for the Melies' story and makes cinema its focus, more directly than "Basterds" did. It is clearly what made Scorsese make this film. While the Melies' story was more interesting to me, the way it's presented I felt did it a disservice, basically a montage that invites pity. I don't object to Scorsese doing a children's movie, but it didn't mean his choices in story and imagery had to be this easy. I found the production antiseptic and the emotions forced and I can't help but have to think about why, as well as what others saw it in it that I didn't. I'm not going to change minds, but I couldn't help but express my feelings of disappointment, which is only a fraction of what I discussed with two others I saw it with, who were left just as cold by the movie as I was. We're all wired differently, so all I can wonder is why a film that's been called "magical" I found so damn uninspired.

Jason Bellamy said...

We're all wired differently, so all I can wonder is why a film that's been called "magical" I found so damn uninspired.

Right, and that's why we analyze and have these conversations. We're all on the same page there.

On that point, in case it wasn't clear, when I pointed out that the "retroactive analytical takeaway" in regard to Hugo, I wasn't doing so as a rebuttal of Steven so much as illustrating that reviews that put too much emphasis on what Scorsese is saying about cinema might not be accurately representing the movie's magic. (Not that it isn't possible to love Hugo precisely as a comment on cinema, because that's possible, too.)

Articulating the magic of movies might be the most difficult part of criticism. I found much to enjoy in Melancholia, but I keep reading reviews that suggest a profound emotional reaction to the film's conclusion, which for me felt flat. I keep asking questions about it, trying to get someone to help me see the magic, but it hasn't happened, either because I'm incapable of grasping it or because its fans are challenged to express or even pinpoint why it's magical, or probably a bit of both.

Which leads me here: I was put under the spell of Hugo but I admit I struggle to articulate why -- especially when it comes to responding to Steven's criticisms. To name just one, Steven finds Cohen "painfully unfunny and annoying," to which I can pretty much only respond, "Is not!" Don't get me wrong, Cohen's performance doesn't rival the genius of Chaplin or something, but it fit for me, it didn't offend, and I can't really explain why.

Maybe the best I can do to explain why Hugo works for me, and honestly this just came to me, is to compare it to the many gears of the clocks to which Hugo tends: everything felt perfectly calibrated to work together to create an effect. Now, I realize Steven had the opposite response, but that for me was Hugo's strength, whereas some of Scorsese's other works of late have too many moments for me where one of the gears stops doing its job and the machine begins to hitch and groan.

Craig said...

On that point, in case it wasn't clear, when I pointed out that the "retroactive analytical takeaway" in regard to Hugo, I wasn't doing so as a rebuttal of Steven so much as illustrating that reviews that put too much emphasis on what Scorsese is saying about cinema might not be accurately representing the movie's magic.

I knew that's what you meant. It's what I meant too. There are good cinephile critics and bad ones; we know who they are, and I don't value the opinions of the bad ones any more deeply when we happen to like the same movies.

I agree with Jason that these kinds of arguments can easily devolve into "Uh-huh!" "Nuh-uh!", resting on differences of interpretation that can be difficult to articulate. Jason does a good job at articulating why Hugo brought me so much pleasure. I'll only add that there was something about how Scorsese combined the most sophisticated of technology with the greatest purity of emotion that I found incredibly moving. I wasn't aware of this on a totally conscious level, or that would have interfered with my enjoyment in watching it. Yet it wasn't so unconscious that the feeling came back to me only retroactively. It hit the sweet spot in between that movies which deeply affect me usually hit. Uh-huhhhhhh!

Hokahey said...

I found this discussion very interesting. I side with Steven in that a lot of this movie felt flat to me and I was not touched, but I agree with Jason in that this is a very carefully calibrated and well-made film though it's calibrations didn't always work for me. On the other hand, this one certainly works better than Shutter Island, and I totally see how how you, Craig, found a lot to admire here. The parts that pay homage to film are well done. Just, for me they felt too teachy to be touching.

Craig said...

Thanks, Hokahey. The teachy-to-touching ratio can be tricky to determine in a movie like this. I don't think the transition was seamless, but the subject matter and Scorsese's enthusiasm and energy put it over for me.

Hokahey said...

In the light of the comments about Spielberg, we have two Spielberg movies coming up.

I'm mildly interested in Tintin, a little more so after reading a couple of articles about it and seeing, in the preview, its similarities with Raiders. I'm more looking forward to The War Horse. I tend to like historical settings, World War I, great! I predict some similar discussions about War Horse: will the sentimentality work or not?

We shall see. We shall respond and write. And some of us will agree and some will see it differently.

Craig said...

I think Steven and I are in agreement that the twin Spielbergs look humdrum. I am, however, learning not to trust poor trailers any more than advanced glowing notices. (The early reviews are positive; with all that marketing muscle behind it, how could they not be?) I may go see Tintin, even though I hate motion-capture more than I dislike 3-D, just because I have low expectations and it's win-win regardless if the movie's better than expected or my loathing is confirmed. War Horse we'll have to wait and see; I'm still laughing at our friend Jake Cole's assessment of the end of the trailer from a few months back: "Is that horse supposed to be wistful?"

Sam Juliano said...

It is a great achievement, and a film I have ceaselessly promoted in our school's lower grades, where a field trip next week is imminent. The terrific reviews and awards in this instance are warranted, and much like it's recently released silent movie homage counterpart THE ARTIST it is an infectious, buoyant and exuberant piece that you right celebrate as a definitive 3D achievement. From the dazzling opening, when a camera zooms in past a snowy Paris and the Eiffel Tower and follows a path between two trains to settle on the face of a young boy behind an overhead clock, it's a film that exudes a breathless energy and a ravishing visual progression. The fact that teh film is doing poorly at the box office seems to bolster my perception that Scorsese wanted to do this his way. Indeed, Brian Selznick's exceedingly imaginative Caldecott Medal winner seemed tailor made for the film lover and historian, and he projected his own special appreciation for the origin of film and the magic that influenced so many.

Even as we marvel at Selznick's new book WONDERSTRUCK (which again will be considered by the American library Association for Newbery and Caldecott Awards) we can be thankful to the movie Gods and Martin Scorsese for giving "The Invention of Hugo Cabret" such ravishing and infectious screen transcription.

Needless to say this is a splendid essay in every sense. I applaud you for it.

Craig said...

Thank you, Sam. I hope the kids enjoy the film as much as the ones I saw, and from other reports that I've heard about. "The Artist" hasn't arrived here yet, but I'll be seeing it when it does.