March 1, 2012
Scorsese's 'Hugo' a beauty
By BRUCE KIRKLAND, QMI Agency
Hugo is Martin Scorsese’s love letter to the history, preservation and celebration of cinema back to its roots in the 1890s.
Even though it has complex undercurrents, Hugo is also Scorsese’s first bona fide family film. It is entirely suitable for children, despite the slow build of the story. After a lifetime of making adult dramas, from Mean Streets through to Boardwalk Empire, Scorsese explores his inner child in Hugo with a beautiful tenderness.
This marvellous film debuted this week on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download. It arrives as a freshly minted Oscar-winner. While it lost in the critical category of best picture to The Artist, Hugo tied that same film overall by winning five of the golden statuettes. In a strange paradox, The Artist is a French-made, B&W silent film set in Hollywood in the 1920s. Hugo is an American-made, English-language, colour talkie set in Paris in 1931 - with flashbacks back to the silent era.
Scorsese’s film was inspired by Brian Selznick’s novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Hugo, a fictional boy played by Asa Butterworth, intersects with the legacy of the real-life Georges Melies, a father of cinema. When the orphaned boy meets the former filmmaker, Melies is a broken man running a toy shop in the Montparnasse train station. As played by Ben Kingsley, he is in denial. But the flashbacks showcase Melies’ real creative magic.
Melies pioneered illusion and special effects in early cinema. His amazing short The Trip to the Moon (1902) launched the fantasy science fiction genre and remains dazzling, especially in the newly restored, hand-tinted colour version Scorsese excerpts.
All of the Oscar wins for Hugo were in craft categories. The home entertainment options deliver that picture and sound quality with grace and precision. The stand-alone DVD is good and includes the 20-minute making-of documentary, Shoot the Moon. Even Sasha Baron Cohen, whom Scorsese cast in the critical role of the Station Inspector, is on his best behaviour in Barbara Toennies’ excellent doc, talking as his sane self.
The two-disc combo pack offers DVD, Blu-ray and digital copy. The picture is breathtaking on Blu-ray. The bonus materials are greatly expanded. But that means you get a separate featurette of Cohen posing as an arrogant idiot, as he did on the Oscar red carpet.
Better is the intimate historical look at the real Melies, whom Kingsley captures so perfectly in both physique and manner. The third option adds a 3D Blu-ray disc to re-create at home what Scorsese did for audiences in theatres. Given his own admiration for 3D of the 1950s, it is appropriate that Scorsese finally did it himself in the modern era.
Many of us thought Michael Shannon would score another Oscar nom, this time for his incredible performance as a mentally ill husband in the harrowing drama Take Shelter. No such luck. But the film remains a treasure - and very difficult to process emotionally. You can find out for yourself, if you have an appetite for adult filmmaking. Writer-director Jeff Nichols’ stunner is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Both share the same strong extras, among them illuminating interviews with Nichols and the droll Shannon. Both help us understand the fable-like story and the film’s metaphors. Despite the ambiguous supernatural ending, the film does not need to be read so literally, they say.
Take Shelter, which features emerging star Jessica Chastain as ShannonÕs on-screen wife, chronicles the slow consumption of a man by his delusions and sense of foreboding. You will not easily forget the experience. But it is powerful and beautiful and those extras will help in taking it all in.
NEW THIS WEEK: Hugo, Marecages (Wetlands), Johnny English Reborn.
NEW NEXT WEEK: Immortals, Footloose.
COMING SOON: The Adventures of Tintin (March 13), The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (March 20).