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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 16, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 50
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Scorsese's Hugo pure cinematic magic
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Hugo
Now Playing


Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in the walls of the Paris train station. The 12-year-old, much like his late clock-making father (Jude Law), is something of a mechanical genius, and with his drunken uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) mysteriously away, it is up to him to make sure all of the station's clocks run with their usual precision. To do so, he must avoid the constant badgering of the facility's chief inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), whose main joy in life is ridding the massive building of orphans by taking them away to the orphanage.

But Hugo isn't just intent on making sure the clocks continue ticking. He is also consumed with a passion to rebuild a broken automaton his father once discovered in a museum's attic. He is sure that by fixing it, he will reveal a final message from his dearly departed dad, that its words will give him some sort of reason as to why these troubles have befallen him and help the lad discover his life's purpose. What he does not know is that this quest will also lead him to the mysterious Georges Méliès (Ben Kinglsey), and with the help of the old man's free-spirited goddaughter Isabelle (Chloë Grace Moretz), Hugo will change more lives for the better than just his own.

Based on the beloved novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese's (Shutter Island, The Departed) 3D adaptation Hugo is at times a visual and emotional marvel that moved me to euphoric tears. Its sensational final 30 minutes are a celebration of the cinematic medium, a jovial harkening to the days of silent film and childlike imagination that speaks to the very best of who we are. It is a miraculous achievement that Hugo, during this home stretch, engages on levels and in ways few other films can admit to, and as such, it makes a decided case to be considered as one of the year's finest achievements.

Yet there are issues. Scorsese and screenwriter John Logan (Rango, The Aviator) is not entirely successful in translating Selznick's prose to the big screen. The entire subplot involving the inspector's never-ending quest to capture Hugo gets old far too fast, and there are moments where the movie dips into a state of juvenile sentimentality more suited to a Nickelodeon or Disney Channel sitcom than to high drama. More so, while I was never bored by the proceedings, it does take the movie a bit of time to hit its stride, and as wonderful as Hugo and Isabelle's friendship climactically proves to be, getting there took a tad more effort than it needed to.

But no filmmaker, not even James Cameron with Avatar, has used the 3D process in such a profound and intimate way. There were moments where I could actually feel myself disappearing within the frame, becoming one with the wispy bits of dust and spiraling layers of smoke filtering through it. This is as immersive a motion picture as any I have ever had the pleasure to experience, and if this is truly the future of 3D as it pertains to cinema, then I might finally have to reconsider my reticence toward the technology.

More than that, though, Scorsese has found a way to extrapolate on his love for the camera and the cinematic medium in a way that speaks universally to the child within us all. Hugo is more than a history lesson; it is a love letter, beautifully conveying the importance and significance of the early days of moviemaking and lovingly showcasing how those first moving images of trains, crowds mingling, and men journeying to the moon shaped the filmmakers of today. It enraptures the soul, engages the intellect, and connects in an emotional way that had me mesmerized. I could not look away from the screen, and the smile never left my face during the third act's bit of blissful delirium.

Yet do not misunderstand, what makes all this borderline brilliant is that Scorsese never forgets about his characters, never loses sight of Hugo's story or how his journey plays upon Méliès and his family. What is discovered comes from a character-driven place that is as distinct as it is wonderful, adding to the film's innate power to charm and to beguile and proving once again the best stories are always the ones you can relate to on a personal level.

This review could go on forever. There is so much more to talk about, so much just on a technical front - whether it be Howard Shore's (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) score, Robert Richardson's (Inglourious Basterds) cinematography, or Dante Ferretti's (The Black Dahlia) eye-popping production design - I don't even know where to begin. I could go on about the intricacies of the script, the delicate and subtlety complex nature of the majority of the performances (although Cohen did get on my nerves at times), or how Moretz's use of the word 'clandestine' made me shiver in absolute giggly glee.

The point is that, even with its flaws, Hugo is such a wondrous achievement on so many different levels that trying to go into detail in regard to them all borders on impossible. For me, the end result is that Scorsese has manufactured a motion picture that articulates everything I love and adore about cinema, but has done so in a way that also speaks to the greater angels within us all and to the better people each and every one of us hopes on some level to be. It is, in a word, sublime, and here's hoping general audiences will take the time to discover its heartwarming magic for themselves.


Muppets still make a rainbow connection
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The Muppets
Now Playing


Gary (Jason Segel) lives in Smalltown with his younger brother, Walter. He's in love with beautiful schoolteacher Mary (Amy Adams). Together, the trio is heading to Hollywood to visit the fabled Muppet Studios, the legendary home of Kermit the Frog, Fozzie the Bear, Miss Piggy, and all of the rest of the famous entertainers both Gary and (especially) Walter share a special affinity for.

It is there they learn that oil billionaire Tex Richman (Chris Cooper) intends on leveling Muppet Studios in order to get to the oil bubbling within the ground below. Not wanting to see this happen, Gary, Walter, and Mary seek out Kermit, persuading him to bring the estranged group of Muppets back together to put on one last show and save their collective legacy. It is a journey of discovery. It is a journey of hope. It is - for one of this trio, at least - a journey that will take them right into the lap of destiny, showing that rainbows do exist and the magic store is still open to anyone who truly believes in the impossible.

The Muppets is an awful lot of fun - that fact is unmistakable. Much like this summer's animated winner Winnie the Pooh, this return visit of a group of timeless characters who found themselves just a tiny bit outside the mainstream consciousness is a joy in almost every sense of the word. Seeing Kermit and company put The Muppet Show back on is undeniably awesome, and for any fan of Jim Henson's legendary creations, this is one motion picture that simply cannot be missed.

All the same, it must be admitted this new adventure (the group's first cinematic sojourn since 1991's relatively forgettable Muppets from Space), does take a bit of time to hit its stride. It spends a good 20 minutes introducing us to humans Gary and Mary and potential new Muppet Walter, giving them center stage for a great deal of the narrative's initial setup. While nothing here is bad, per se (it must be admitted the opening musical number and early trek through a dilapidated Muppet Studios are both exceedingly well done), that doesn't make the opening act of the film any less slow. As one pintsized member of my preview audience loudly proclaimed, 'Where are the Muppets?' - a statement I couldn't exactly hold against them as I was sitting there thinking the exact same thing.

But things do pick up as soon as Kermit arrives, and the moment he hooks back up with Fozzie and a montage reminiscent of The Muppet Movie is bravely suggested, the picture noticeably begins to gather momentum. Sure, the focus on Gary and Mary can at times feel out of place, but when the Muppets take center stage, the film achieves a rollicking energy and whimsy.

The last 30-40 minutes are easily the best, as Segel and fellow writer Nicholas Stoller's (Get Him to the Greek) script finally takes flight and becomes just the kind of Muppet extravaganza the group's creator would have been proud of. A couple of the musical numbers had me in absolute stitches (a group of chickens in particular having me clucking in such outright glee I was positive my belly was about to explode). It's one great moment after another, everything culminating in a perfectly self-aware way that holds so true to Henson's legacy I almost couldn't believe my eyes.

It will be interesting to see how The Muppets ends up performing with general audiences. The pacing problems and lack of early focus are undeniable, and the potential for the early portions to put younger audience members to sleep is definitely there. But all in all, Segel has done a marvelous job bringing back Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Gonzo, and all the rest to the big screen, and if this movie is even a modest hit, I imagine a sequel will be a foregone conclusion. 'Mahna mahna,' indeed.






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BEST OF MUSIC: Hottest artists of 2011
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BEST OF MUSIC 2011: LIVE PERFORMANCES by Albert Rodriguez and Jessica Price
SGN A&E Writers


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BEST OF MUSIC 2011:
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

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BEST OF MUSIC: Worst of music 2011
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Lashes Christmas Show - R Place's holiday must-see
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Homo for the Holidays a one-of-a-kind holiday smash
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Hillary Clinton's most impressive speech on human/lgbt rights in Geneva ...most incredible


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The genius of Jason Robert Brown
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Scorsese's Hugo pure cinematic magic
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Muppets still make a rainbow connection
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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Northwest News
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Letters
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Owen Meany's Christmas an enjoyable night
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A Dyke About Town: Cris Williamson glows
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Blu-ray enhances great Mahler
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Dramatic and poignant, Tori Amos stills the Paramount
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Wacky Wisemen skewers the holidays
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