FlixChatter Review: HUGO (2011)

Set in 1930s Paris, an orphan who lives in the walls of a train station is wrapped up in a mystery involving his late father and an automaton. Based on a historical fiction by Brian Selznick, The Invention of Hugo Cabret

This project wasn’t really on my radar at all until I saw the trailer a few months prior. I immediately took a liking to the visuals and the vintage setting of 1930s Paris. By the time I got to the theater, I had only glanced through a few reviews, not remembering much about the plot, so much the same way with Midnight in Paris, I only knew that a famous director had directed it, this time it was Martin Scorsese.

I haven’t watched many of Scorsese’s films as they’re generally not my cup of tea, but I was quite intrigued to see his foray into family movies… in 3D no less. It feels rather odd to hear Scorsese and 3D in the same sentence, but you know what, this is perhaps one of the best use of 3D technology I’ve ever seen. More on that later.

From the time the film opens, the visuals immediately grabs me. The train station with the giant clocks and the people in retro costumes are meticulously crafted. It’s just another day in the young life of Hugo Cabret, but for everyone watching him, it’s an enchanting world.

It’s a rather slow-burn kind of story, I didn’t immediately connect to this Hugo character other than deep sympathy for a lonely orphan left alone to survive in the world. In fact, his scenes of him running around in the cold, snowy weather with only a pair of shorts on reminds me of the tragic story of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that since he lost his father, his most-prized possession is a broken automaton his father’s been trying to fix before he died.

The key characters Hugo encounters are a toy story owner Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley) and his goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz). Who they really are is for you to find out for yourself, but lets just say that Mr. Méliès and Hugo did not meet on amiable terms. It’s through her friendship with Isabelle that things are slowly revealed and to me, that’s when the real story begins.

Most Scorsese fans probably already know that Scorsese is a master in coaxing great performances from his actors. Asa Butterfield who is 14 seems a lot younger than his age and has that melancholic innocence about him. I almost couldn’t believe that he and Moretz are the same age as she seemed a lot more mature in this one. In any case, both are quite good, and the Atlanta-born Moretz’s British accent is pretty convincing as well. Kingsley is excellent as the disillusioned Méliès, no surprise from a thespian such as himself, and Helen McCrory as his longtime wife is equally engaging. The cameo from Christopher Lee is pretty memorable as well.

I gotta admit I find Sacha Baron Cohen‘s Station Inspector rather annoying though. Not as annoying as Michael Sheen in TRON: Legacy but pretty darn close, he’s supposed to be a comic relief but I don’t think the story needs it, nor do I find Sacha to be all that funny either. Emily Mortimer is also practically wasted here as the object of Sacha’s affection, which is a pity as she’s a talented actress. I also have a bit of a quibble about the dialog between the two young stars, at times it felt rather awkward and their friendship lack warmth I’d expect from such a friendship.

Those are small quibbles however, as overall I’m really pleased with this film. The strength of this movie lies in Scorsese’s utter love for films and film-making, so naturally the last third of the film is the best part for me. It’s the Italian director’s love letter to cinema, the scenes depicting that sentiment is truly moving. The one particular scene that showed Méliès ‘get his groove back’ so to speak really packed an emotional punch! I was tearing up quite a bit and I didn’t happen to have any Kleenex on me which was cumbersome! In the first half hour or so, I kept wondering just what is the  Hugo and Méliès connection, but I’m glad to say that by the end Scorsese tied their stories together well. Without Hugo, Méliès’ life just would not be the same.

Back to the 3D effects for a moment…  now this is perhaps one of the BEST use of 3D technology I’ve seen so far. It looks seamless and enhances the story instead of hindering it, for a while I even forgot I had the 3D glasses on. Some of the lush visuals remind me of Pixar’s Ratatouille a bit as it’s taken place in the City of Lights as well, and the Paris scenery is almost a character itself here. I’ve always been fascinated with clocks, especially vintage ones and if you’re like me then you’re in for a treat as there are tons of gorgeous shots of them all over this movie!

I’m glad I saw this on the big screen, and if you’re looking for a family entertainment for everyone of all ages to enjoy, I highly recommend this one. And surely, any fans of cinema will love this one and would surely cherish this for years to come.
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Have you seen this movie? I’d love to hear what you think!

Week-off Viewing Roundup and more Gregory Peck movie marathon

Happy Sunday, everyone! Well, that was that, my week-and-a-half-long holiday is now at an end. It’s ok though, I’m kind of excited to be going back to work tomorrow before I forget what it is I actually do, ahah. It’s been a pretty awesome week for movie viewing, by Sunday evening I’ve watched six films total (well seven if you count my Youtube viewing of Paradine Case), so most of the films I watched are part of my on-going Gregory Peck marathon. I feel like I’m the only one who’s suddenly smitten out of my wits here with a classic (read: dead) actor, I know Nick from Cinema Romantico is also in love with Joanne Woodward, but not sure if his um, obsession is as bad as me, ha..ha.. Well anyway, here’s what I watched this past week:

Thursday

The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956)
Gregory Peck played Tom Rath, a former soldier who faces ethical questions at his new job at a PR firm, as he tries to earn enough to support his wife and children well. This film is over 2.5 hours long and the pace is rather slow, but the plot of the story kept me engaged the whole time. There are flashback scenes as Rath reminisces on his years in the war and his affair with a girl in Italy.

The dilemma he faced in this film is quite relevant to today’s time, whether one chooses to be a company man who lives for his work or keep a balanced life of work and family. Jennifer Jones once again co-starred with him as his wife, but of course their relationship is less tumultuous than that in Duel in the Sun. It’s quite an interesting dynamic here too as Jones played a strong-willed and forthright wife, not the typical meek, dutiful housewife typically seen in this era. I highly recommend this one for any of you classic movie aficionados, or anyone looking for a good, well-grounded story.

The Guns of Navarone (1961)
I’ve been wanting to see this film for the longest time, especially since it came highly recommended by my pals Paula and Michael who are both fans of this WWII adventure thriller. Peck, Anthony Quinn and David Niven are part of a British team sent to cross occupied Greek territory and destroy the massive German gun emplacement that commands a key sea channel.
This film is so darn entertaining from start to finish, plenty of action and great dialog as well as lighthearted moments peppered throughout. The special effects is really something to write home about considering the time this was made, particularly the realistic shipwreck scene. The score by Dimitri Tiomkin is also notable in creating the perfect mood. Now if you’re looking for a historically-accurate film, this isn’t one for you. There is no such place of Navarone in Greece and the size and location of the massive guns themselves are implausible but the historical inaccuracies didn’t derail this movie in any way as it was so well-done. I can see watching this film over and over again in the future. The blu-ray quality is really good and it’s also loaded with extras which are just as fun to watch as the film.

Friday

HUGO

I came to see this one blindly… I merely glanced through a few reviews and didn’t even want to read too much about the plot other than whatever’s presented in the trailer. I’m also not a Scorsese fan but intrigued by the look of the film. Well, it turns out to be an enjoyable family flick that looks beautiful and worth the 3D price. It’s not without flaws however, which I will discuss more in my full review.

Saturday

More Gregory Peck stuff, but I managed to sneak in a movie I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time. Thanks to Michael’s in-depth article posted last week, I just didn’t want to delay watching it any longer!

The Purple Plain (1954)
Out of the dozen-plus GP DVD collection I’ve accumulated, this tiny-budgeted British war drama will surely get a lot of play in my place. It’s such a nice change to see Peck all disheveled and unkempt for most of the film, such a change from Roman Holiday which he did just a year before. Peck plays a Canadian squadron leader Forrester who lost his wife in a bomb raid. His depressed and suicidal ways almost cost him to be dismissed but a compassionate doctor introduces him to a Burmese girl and soon he finds a new purpose in life as he falls for her.

Fate plays a funny trick when he ends up stranded whilst on a routine flight, but his will to live actually becomes stronger. This isn’t a fancy film, but the substandard special effects is balanced by the exotic on-location setting and the sweet interracial romance between Peck’s character and a Burmese actress Win Min Than. It’s nice to see they didn’t cast someone like Jennifer Jones again and paint her eyes to look Asian or something. This is an absolute must-see for fans of Gregory Peck.

The Iron Giant (1999)
I’m so glad I finally saw this film! It’s a heartwarming story about a boy who makes friends with a giant robot from outer space that a paranoid government agent wants to destroy. The kid was initially terrified of the metal-eating robot and rightly so, but after he discovers that he’s a ‘friendly’ robot, they become quick friends and the boy becomes the ‘teacher.’ It reminds me a bit of How to Train Your Dragon in a way, though I think I still rate that a bit higher in my book.


There’s a good message about good vs. evil and choose to use one’s power for good which will resonate to people of all ages. The references to Superman is pretty cute so as a fan of the DC hero it’s such a treat. I read that somehow this movie didn’t do well at the box office, and that is a shame. Not sure if that’s the poor marketing from Warner Bros, but I’m glad that now it seems this movie has become sort of a classic and hopefully more people will see this in DVD/Blu-ray as it’s really worth a watch. So thanks again Michael for egging me on to watch it! 😀

Sunday

Roman Holiday (1953)

Well, talk about a perfect note to end my week-long holiday… I rewatched Roman Holiday for perhaps the fifth time. Oh my, its charm and lovely-ness never ceases to amaze me. One day I’ll write a special appreciation post for that timeless film… but this time I just want to take the time to say a little something about hat pitch-perfect final scene, nary a fairy tale ending in sight.

I will cherish my visit here in memory as long as I live.
~ Princess Anne

A lesser film would’ve ended with Princess Anne rushing out in haste, forgoing her royal duties to spend another day, a lifetime, with that irresistibly handsome newspaperman Joe Bradley. Yes that is what Joe desperately hopes for, and what WE the audience wants to have happened. Little did we know that director William Wyler will have none of that. So we wait… just as Joe waits for the palatial room to clear out. But he soon realizes she’s not coming out, so with a heavy heart he starts walking (that walk alone demands its own blog post, but that’s for another time). As he passes the two guards, he still takes a glimpse towards the stage once more. Empty. The music swells up, forcing us to realize they’re never going to see each other again. Joe keeps on walking towards the camera and disappears, carrying the memory of that day in Rome that he too will cherish for as long as he lives.

Woof! It’s a sobering finale… but one that I too, will cherish for as long as I can remember!


Well, that’s it folks. So what did YOU watch this past weekend?