Friday, February 3, 2012

Movie – Hugo (2011)

When Hugo first came out I took one of my increasingly rarer trips to a movie theater to see it.  When I got there I saw only showtimes for the 3D version.  I asked about the 2D version and was told that there were no showings for it.  I asked “what about the people who prefer 2D?”  There were a few noises of agreement from the line behind me.  The manager happened to also be behind the counter and he told me that they only had 3D so I could take it or leave it.  The stunned look on his face when I told him I would leave it, and then turned around and walked out was satisfying, but it left me having not seen the movie.  (And no, there was no movie-style scene where the whole crowd followed me out the door.  I didn’t even get the “slow clap” that gains momentum as I left, either.  Oh well.) 

I did manage to find showings for the 2D version, but they were quite a ways away from me.  I figured that the film would get some Oscar nominations and when it did, it would return to theaters.  I was partially right; the first chain didn’t bring it back, but a second chain did.  Unfortunately, they simply returned the 3D version again.  In their haste to be penny wise, they ended up being pound foolish.  They didn’t stop to think that the people who would be most interested in seeing an Oscar nominated film, and the people who would be most interested in seeing a 3D extravaganza, probably do not have a lot of crossover with each other.  The result is that the chain has already removed Hugo again after only one week of low ticket sales.  You may be wondering which chains these are.  They shall remain nameless, but I will say that the first one certainly didn’t display the magic of cinema that the movie Hugo did, and that the second royally screwed themselves by expecting to earn a king’s ransom for their tickets.

This time I checked again for any 2D versions showing anywhere within an hour and a half drive time.  I finally found an old arthouse theater in downtown Portland (that’s the one in Maine for the west coast folks who don’t know that the Oregon city was named for the Maine one.)  It was just under an hour to drive there, pay extra for the parking garage, and watch it in a theater that was alternately so cold I wished I had a heavier jacket, then so warm I wished I could take off more than my jacket.  And you know what?  It was completely worth it.  Hugo is a fantastic movie.

Now that you have heard my sad tale of woe, you wonder, “Should I see it with my Romeo?”  (Someone once said, “If you’re going to steal, then steal from the best.”)  The answer is yes.

Hugo stars Asa Butterfield (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) as title character Hugo Cabret.  He is a boy living in a train station in Paris in the 1920s.  His father (Jude Law in a cameo) died and the boy’s uncle (Ray Winstone in a cameo) took him to live with him in the train station.  The uncle’s job was to take care of all the clocks.  He taught Hugo how to do it, and then simply disappeared.  Ever since then Hugo has been supporting himself by stealing food where he can.  He has kept all the clocks running perfectly, too.

The other thing he has been doing is trying to finish repairing an automaton that his father discovered in a museum.  He and his father worked on it together, but the father died before they could finish their work.  Hugo has been stealing small parts and gears for it, and this has brought him to the attention of an elderly shop keeper in the station (Ben Kingsley).  This man, named Georges, has mechanical toys in his shop, so it naturally attracts Hugo.  One day he catches Hugo trying to steal, and after threatening to report him to the Station Inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), he has the boy empty his pockets.  Among the items is Hugo’s notebook of his father’s drawings of the automaton.  Georges is startled by this and insists the boy must have stolen the notebook.  He says he is going to take it home and burn it.  Hugo is distraught.

Hugo follows Georges home, but cannot get the notebook.  He sees a girl about his age in the window of Georges’ home.  He gets her attention, talks to her, and she agrees to try to keep Georges from burning the notebook.  Her name is Isabelle and she is the goddaughter of Georges and his wife Jeanne.  They have raised her since her parents died.  Isabelle is played by Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, Let Me In).

Isabelle and Hugo become friends.  She takes him to her favorite place in the world – the book store in the train station.  Its owner (Christopher Lee) allows her to borrow books.  She loves reading adventure stories, but she longs to have a real adventure of her own.  Hugo finds out she has never seen a movie in her life because Georges has refused to let her go.  Hugo shows her how to sneak into a theater – (Isabelle: “We could get into trouble.”  Hugo: “That’s how you know it’s an adventure.”)  She is thrilled by Harold Lloyd’s daring in the movie Safety Last! (1923).  Note – if you haven’t seen it, by all means do.  It is very entertaining. 

Hugo finally tells her about his story, and he shows her the automaton he has been trying to repair.  It still won’t work because it needs a heart-shaped key to start it.  Guess who just happens to have one?  The automaton is designed to write on paper.  What it does write (or rather, draw) leads Hugo and Isabelle into a whole other adventure of discovery about themselves, her family, and the wonders of the cinema.

In addition to those people already mentioned, there are other familiar faces in small roles.  Harry Potter movie fans will recognize Uncle Vernon Dursley (Richard Griffiths), Madame Maxime (Frances de la Tour), and Narcissa Malfoy (Helen McCrory).  Emily Mortimer has a flower stand and her character is the unrequited love of the Station Inspector.  Also watch for the film’s director Martin Scorcese in an uncredited cameo as a photographer.  Some people, including myself, wondered if Executive Producer Johnny Depp had a quick cameo as a musician, but both he and Scorcese said that even though he wanted to appear in the film, his schedule did not allow it.

Hugo received eleven Oscar nominations – more than any other 2011 film.  These nominations include Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.  Surprisingly, there was not one acting nomination for this film.  Ben Kingsley definitely deserved one for Best Supporting Actor.  Chloe Grace Moretz did another fine job in this film, but with the already crowded Best Supporting Actress field, I’m not surprised that she didn’t make it to the final five nominees.

Is there anything that this movie didn’t do well?  There were some small things.  The Station Inspector character was a little too cartoonish.  He was definitely in there for the kids in the audience, yet I’m not sure if kids would like this film quite as much as adults.  The second half of the movie may not keep their attention as well since it concentrates as much on Georges’ story as it does on Hugo’s.  Other than that, there were a few shots that were obviously thrown into the movie for the 3D version.  Neither of these two things are more than minor complaints for me, though.

If you like movies and want a wonderful time with your Significant Other, then seek this one out.  There are small little romantic moments in the film that are cute.  Hugo and Isabelle start to hold hands, a couple of shopkeepers try to connect despite a dog’s disapproval, the Station Inspector tries to get the nerve to approach the flower girl, Georges and Jeanne recollect their adventures when they were younger, etc.

This film is definitely a movie lover’s dream.  It celebrates all that is wonderful about movies and the effects they have on both young and old.  If you know nothing about the early days of the cinema, this film definitely shows it to you.  I loved almost every minute of this film.

I’m not sure who to warn away from this.  Perhaps if you only like big action movies with lots of death, then you should avoid seeing Hugo.  For everyone else, I give this film my highest recommendation.

Chip’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

           DVD                      Blu-ray                    Hardcover


  1. I'm sorry Chip, but your behavior at that movie theater sounded rude. I understand that certain markets can be frustrating for non-3D fans. But there are better and more polite ways to get that point across instead of making a scene and giving employees a hard time. And depending on what type of theater it was, the manager might not have had any power over which movies and formats would be available.

    Personally, I'm a little disappointed that you didn't give the 3D version a try. It's arguably the best use of the format yet in mainstream cinema and has won praise from many prolific 3D cynics including Roger Ebert.

    That being said, I agree with pretty much all your points about the film itself. It was delightful and a wonderful surprise. Adults are certainly the target audience but I think there is enough material to keep children entertained too. That's the best kind of family film IMO. One that doesn't insult anyone's intelligence.

  2. @Ian Montgomery - I re-read my first paragraph and I'm at a loss as to what makes it sound like I was rude or that I gave the employees there a hard time. I'm sorry, but you are reading more into the situation than what was actually there. First, I did not make a scene. Turning around to the crowd and egging them on would be making a scene. Threatening to report the cinema or write letters of protest to corporate would be making a scene. Simply leaving so the next person in line can buy a ticket is not making a scene.

    It was the manager of the cinema who was quite rude by telling me I could "take it or leave it". That's a direct quote, in response to a simple question. His tone of voice, volume, and content of his answer led me to believe that he was sick and damn tired of getting asked that question. Maybe the reason he was behind the counter in the first place was that hundreds of other people had already been asking it. Regardless, he should have said, "I'm sorry, but we chose not to carry that here." Despite his rudeness, I was polite in my response. I didn't raise my voice at all during the conversation. I gave neither him, nor the ticket taker, a hard time. The entire conversation lasted less than 30 seconds.

    Finally, 3D gives me a massive headache. It also costs more than 2D. I have discussed 3D movies with a couple dozen friends who have seen them. Almost none have ever gone back to see a second one, either because the effects bother them or simply because they feel the price is not worth it. I have no desire to see another 3D movie myself.

    If I had gone to a restaurant, attempted to order one thing, and was told they only had a second thing which was more expensive and that gave me major indigestion, and that I could "take it or leave it", should I have still bought it and eaten it anyway, or should I have declined?

  3. Admittedly I wasn't present for the conversation, so I can't say with full certainty who, if anyone, should have done things differently. But the question "What about the people who prefer 2D?" sounded provocative to me because it was already explained that no 2D showings were available; therefore you already knew what the answer was. What sort of answer were you expecting from the ticket taker?

    "Take it or leave it" was an unprofessional statement from the manager. I agree on that point. But look at it from his perspective. He probably gets a ton of complaints and personal attacks from customers experiencing the same problem. This kind of repetition gets frustrating, especially when a customer continues to question him on it even when an answer has already been given. And as I pointed out earlier, the absence of 2D showings might not have been his fault in the first place. The manager might have been a jerk. But given the situation, I would give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Perhaps I was wrong to infer that you were deliberately trying to stir commotion. But if the people standing behind you in line were able to overhear your question, chances are they also heard your other statement(s) and knew why you had walked out. And it also sounded like you were hoping others would follow.

    I was not suggesting that declining to purchase the ticket was rude. It's your right as a customer to decide how to spend your money. And as I said before, I very much sympathize with the lack of 2D availability. The reason I encourage giving 3D a chance is because I think most of the bad rap surrounding the format is the result of lazy studio efforts and general short-sightedness instead of weaknesses with the format itself. I hate to see people dismiss 3D entirely when the technology behind it continues to improve every day. Martin Scorsese himself loves 3D and gave a lot of time and effort into getting this movie to look just right. And it shows, IMO. I realize probably none of this will sway your opinion but I just wanted to clarify my original point.

    I'm sorry if my comment offended you. That wasn't my intention. I was only trying to offer constructive criticism and perhaps that could have been handled better too.

  4. This movie has become one of my favorites of all time. I love how the movie is a mystery. Once the mystery is revealed, there's more to enjoy, and the film gets better. I agree that Kingsley and Chloe deserved nominations; I couldn't believe she was the same actress who was in Kick-A--.

  5. @Ian Montgomery - Thank you for the follow-up. To answer some of your questions:

    "What sort of answer were you expecting from the ticket taker?" My hope was I would be told they would have some 2D showings coming in a couple weeks, after the initial studio profits were earned, sort of like when they start accepting movie passes after the first couple of weeks. I could see the Manager standing there, listening, and I figured if anyone would know, it would be him.

    "The manager might have been a jerk. But given the situation, I would give him the benefit of the doubt." I agree. That's why I didn't respond with rudeness of my own, and especially why I didn't escalate the situation.

    "I was not suggesting that declining to purchase the ticket was rude." Okay. I misunderstood you. I was grasping at straws to find the rudeness and that was my best guess as to what had been the offense. It hadn't occurred to me that it was the question that was being referred to. Your reaction to my post and my reaction to your reaction just serve to illustrate the basic rule that tone often gets lost in written communication.

    Thank you for writing that you were not there. Perhaps I should have put more detail in my post, but I felt I had already taken up too much space before I got to the movie review. My references to the crowd not responding were an attempt to humorously point out that real life isn't anything like the scenes in movies. (Apparently I failed at the humor.)

    The reason I wrote any of that at all was to build up how great Hugo was by saying that going through all of that had been worth it.

    For the record, here is the sum total of the entire encounter:

    Me (searching board behind counter, normal voice) - "Do you have showtimes for Hugo in 2D?"

    Ticket Taker (normal voice) - "No we don't." (disappointed noises from a couple people in the line behind me)

    Me (wondering if they will have 2D at some point, normal voice) - "What about the people who prefer 2D?" ("I had the same question" noises from a couple people in the line behind me)

    Manager (who had been behind Ticket Taker, watching us, in loud, frustrated voice, possibly to ensure it would carry to everyone in line) - "All we have is 3D, so you can take it or leave it." (crosses arms, facial expression becomes smug)

    Me - (after taking a second to realize he actually had just said that, and after taking an, um, second second to realize that any further conversation was going to be useless, normal voice) - "Then I will leave it."

    As I turned to leave, I saw the expression on the Manager's face change from smug to shocked. I freely admit that I took pleasure in that, although I kept my expression neutral until I got outside. If that makes me a bad person, then so be it. When I got out the door I smiled for a few seconds, then lost my smile because I realized that I wasn't going to be seeing Hugo that day.

    While I admit that my opinion of the studios' use of 3D is primarily to maximize profits, rather than to present a new form of art, my negative reaction to 3D is the negative effects it has on my head and eyes. If/when actual 3D (and not multiple 2D images strobed to appear to be in 3D) comes along I will be happy to see movies that way.

  6. @Tom - Thanks. I remember first seeing Moretz in a small, but key (pun intended) role in (500) Days of Summer, and even then she had something that made me pay attention. She looked familiar to me, but after looking her up on IMDB, the best I could figure is I might have seen her on an episode of the TV show My Name is Earl. I thought she just stole the movie Kick-Ass. While I didn't see the need for a remake to Let the Right One In, I thought she did a good job as the vampire in Let Me In. I was looking forward to seeing how Scorcese would be able to improve her even more in Hugo. Hopefully, she will be able to continue to get good roles. And I can't wait for the Kick-Ass sequel. The author is publishing the second set of comics now, so maybe 2-3 more years for the sequel.

  7. Nothing from that story makes you a bad person. I would have worded some things differently had I been in your position. That's pretty much all it comes down to.

    Just out of curiosity, what are some of the 3D movies you've seen?

    Your reaction to my post and my reaction to your reaction just serve to illustrate the basic rule that tone often gets lost in written communication.

    Ain't that the truth.

  8. I thought Baron Cohen's station inspector was brilliant; reminded me of a Peter Sellers character. The inspector was sinister where you feared him, but he was human enough so that you could sympathize. I didn't think Scorcese just picked him to appeal to the kids. The bit of slapstick was there for comedy relief; who didn't love that dog? And the bad leg bit worked well overall, especially with the payoff at the end.

  9. *clap*......*clap*......*clap*...*clap*...*clap*...*clap*.*clap**clap**clap**clap*!!! Awesome review Chip!

  10. @Ian Montgomery - "Just out of curiosity, what are some of the 3D movies you've seen?"

    Like many people I went to see Avatar in 3D. As I mentioned in an earlier comment, I got a massive headache from the effects. I have not seen a 3D movie since. I have read articles since then explaining why some people tend to be bothered by the effects and some people are fine with them. It came down to the eyeball constantly trying to focus to different depths on the flat movie screen vs. not focusing. Apparently I fall into the first group, which leads to eye strain, which leads to headaches. It may have been the same study, but I saw it compared to the optical illusions where if you stared at a picture long enough an object would appear. The trick to those was to let your eyes relax and not focus on anything in particular in the picture. I don't remember ever successfully being able to relax my eyes long enough to see the hidden image, which leads me to believe that my ability to successfully learn to not focus my eyes on objects on the screen in a 3D movie would be similarly unsuccessful.

    You are perhaps thinking that one try isn't enough to know for sure that all 3D movies will affect me that way and that would be correct. I don't feel like paying twice a normal ticket price to experiment again, though. If someone gave me a free ticket to a 3D movie, plus paid for gas and parking, so that I could get up and leave if a headache started and not feel I had wasted my money, then I would try one again.

  11. @Tom - "The Station Inspector...reminded me of a Peter Sellers character."

    I actually was flashing on Sellers' Inspector Clouseau character when Cohen was doing his bit. Great minds think alike.

  12. @Board Members - (big grin) Thank you. I needed that. :-)

    I'm drawing a blank on the title, but there was a somewhat recent movie where a character kept trying to be the guy to start the "slow clap". It's a running gag throughout the movie, and when his big moment finally comes, someone else beats him to it. Thanks for picking the right moment for me.

  13. It's me, pgcomputerguy. It must be pulling the profile from my Homeowner's Association. Odd.

  14. Chip, I agree with your disdain for 3D. I've written about this subject in the past, and with few exceptions it really doesn't add much to the movie-going experience. Unfortunately, I don't get out to the movie theaters half as much as I'd like, but I'll definitely have to catch this on Blu-ray.

    As one of my favorite blogs, I have nominated you for the Liebster Blog Award. Check out my post for details: . Feel free to accept or decline. No pressure! :)

  15. I don't remember ever successfully being able to relax my eyes long enough to see the hidden image, which leads me to believe that my ability to successfully learn to not focus my eyes on objects on the screen in a 3D movie would be similarly unsuccessful.

    That makes sense and you're probably correct. In that case, the technology is probably a long way yet from becoming adaptable to that condition, sorry to say.

  16. @Board Members aka pgcomputerguy - Hey Paul! Long time, no hear. I did click on the "Board Members" link and it told me the profile was locked for private viewing only. You may or may not remember, several months ago your blog's link just disappeared from your Follower's profile here, at least when I looked at it. I asked you if you had discontinued it, but you said it was still there. I shrugged it off as a hiccup and didn't think about it again. I just checked it again and it is still the same. The only "blog" link it shows on your profile is a Picasa web album.

  17. @Barry P. - Thanks! I took a quick look at the post to see what it was about. I will go back and read it in detail in a little bit. I still need to go back and read through your older posts on your site. I try to make an effort to do that for all the blogs I read.

  18. Hey Chip how are ya? Paul G directed here the other day, looking forward to reading your musings! I can't say I either like or dislike 3D. I'm just never sure it adds all that much to the movie and I choose the 2D if available, if not for that then for the cost. I sure do hate using those awful glasses tho, I keep looking for a pair I can just bring myself.

    Loved this movie. It had a real great feel to it and it was so well made.

  19. @Nancy - Thanks for visiting. I hope you find some things that are entertaining or informative here and that you decide to become a Follower like Paul G. In your profile you mention Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. To get you started here are a couple of links:

    About a month ago I re-read and re-watched all the Harry Potter books and movies, then wrote reviews of them. That's what the first link takes you to. It is a parent post with links to the individual reviews.