#359: Hugo (2011)

hugoReleased around Christmas last year, my visit at home over the holiday season enabled me to sit down in front of the fire with my family and 3D glasses and finally catch-up with Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning film. It could have been the morning afternoon mulled wine, but we all absolutely adored it.

Based on the kid’s book by Brian Selznick, Hugo is an imaginative retelling of cinematic history for new, perhaps uninitiated audiences.

Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) is an orphan living in the labyrinthine walls of a Parisian train station in the 1930s. He spends his days sneaking croissants from bakers, winding the station’s clocks to keep them ticking accordingly and hiding the po-faced station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who gets a kick from throwing troublesome kids off to the local orphanage.

Keeping one of his father’s (Jude Law, in flashbacks) most-loved hobbies alive, Hugo spends his free time fixing old automaton, swiping gears and parts from the a station toymaker called Georges (Ben Kingsley). After the crotchety Georges catches Hugo one day, the boy begins discovering eerie connections between Georges and his father, connections that lead him and his curious friend Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), to uncover the forgotten stories of cinema’s inception.

It may sound like a simple adventure story, but Hugo is much more than that. Behind the child angst is Scorsese’ ode to cinema’s first real auteur as, quickly enough, we discover that Kingsley’s disgruntled shop clerk Georges is none other than cinema wizard Georges Méliès. Of course, that will mean nothing to most audiences, but throw in some archive footage of the iconoclastic 1902 short feature A Trip to The Moon and audiences of all cinephilic levels can’t help but be enthralled.

His first foray into 3D filmmaking, Scorsese’s Paris is something to behold. It’s a world painted with vivacious broad strokes balanced with steampunk locomotives and 1930s smoke. A harmonious juxtaposition of beauty and tragedy which coloured Méliès’ own life.

Instead of a elegiacal portrait, Hugo is an uproarious celebration of the cinema of attractions. The performances are delightful, particularly Butterfield and the “Jennifer Lawrence in-the-wings” Moretz. Ben Kingsley is unsurprisingly great, and even Cohen shows himself to be a competent actor outside the outlandish shock-cock films like Bruno and The Dictator.

Backed up by the magnificent visuals of DP Robert Richardson and Howard Shore’s swooping score, Scorsese’s picture is not just an intelligent, fun-for-all-the-family fable, it’s a movie which will inspire the young filmmakers of tomorrow.

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#357: Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary (2002)


Lauded Canadian avant-gardist Guy Maddin takes an old dog and teaches it new, stunning tricks, with 2002’s Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary.

I love Maddin. Unashamedly anachronistic, he’s made a lucrative film career from borrowing the tropes of archaic silent cinema and early expressionistic talkies. But this 2002 theatre-film transcends those old celluloid days and sees maddened Maddin present Bram Stoker’s classic Gothic novel Dracula, via a performance by The Winnipeg Ballet.

It’s certainly not for everyone, but I found this film to be an absolute feast. Maddin brings out the inherent xenophobic plot points of the novel (Dracula is played by an Asian dancer, whilst Van Helsing is a white supremacist), and mixes them with striking expressionistic facial expressions that harken back to F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu. Such grimness is matched with great beauty though. Shot in chiaroscuro black and white on Super-8 stock, hand-drawn colour seeps into shot, with dripping blood red and decadent golden yellows. Although most of the film is told in slow-motion to match Mahler’s 1st symphony, the brilliant balletic choreography makes the entire film move with great poise and spectacle.

Not my favourite Maddin – and it may not be my favourite adaptation of Dracula either – but it’s certainly the most audacious I’ve ever seen. As with all of his films, Maddin has the ability to trepidatiously guide us through the maze that his mind. It may be filled with cobwebs, dark fantasies and personal nostalgia, but it’s fueled on an appreciation for sheer cinematic spectacle.

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