Scorsese soars with 'Hugo'

Martin Scorsese, director of those dark, hard-edged films "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" and "Goodfellas," has created "Hugo," a magical, shimmering work of art that will stir and ignite the imaginations of children and adults. It's an astonishing and unexpected achievement.

Using the cutting-edge technology of CGI and 3-D, Scorsese constructs a magnificent train station in Paris. The year is 1932. In the opening scene, the camera crosses three dimensions as it moves along a passenger platform, sweeping past countless people, some waiting, others rushing to catch a train. In the center of the shot is a 12-year-old boy, Hugo (Asa Butterfield), his clothing frayed, his startlingly blue eyes melancholic, his wary demeanor a bit feral.

It is soon revealed he is a permanent resident of the station, living by his wits, secretly residing in a remote part of the vaulted ceiling, amid the cogs and wheels of an enormous clock that looks down over the station. Through the face of the clock, which he oils and winds, he watches the human drama below, a canvas of vignettes featuring not only travelers, but the proprietors of small shops who sell flowers, newspapers and demitasses of coffee.

There is one shop owner in particular, Georges Melles (Ben Kingsley) — he sells mechanical toys and trinkets — who knows that Hugo has been cadging small sprockets and tools from his counter.

Hugo is thought of as a gamin, a street urchin, by the rigid, predatory station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen) whose mission is to find these small boys and send them off to the orphanage. And it's the inspector that Malles threatens to call if Hugo refuses to empty his pockets and reveal what he has stolen on that particular morning.

And so the narrative — complex and lovely — begins to unfold, ever richer, as Hugo is drawn into the world of Melles and his goddaughter, Isabelle (Chloe Moretz), also 12 years old, spirited, compassionate and ready for an adventure.

Gradually Hugo discloses his secret to Isabelle, showing her an automaton that Hugo is desperate to repair. It sits on a table in his stark bedroom, surrounded by tools and small brass sprockets, possessing a human face that seems to watch Hugo impassively. One mechanical hand holds a pen, the nib resting on a blank sheet of paper, ready to write a message Hugo is sure is meant for him, if only he can repair the interior mechanism and make it work.

The direction the film takes is remarkable as Scorsese offers up a valentine to film, acknowledging its astonishing ability over the past century to tell stories that grow evermore compelling, a startling amalgamation of the stylized and the technical until Scorsese himself combines all that he knew and all that he now knows as he fashions a magical tale, offering the audience an experience like no other.

Know that "Hugo" is a film that must be seen on the big screen in all its breathtaking and transformative 3-D splendor.

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