Monday, January 07, 2013

Two Hugo Movies

I saw two Hugo movies in the last few days.  One was Les Miserables, the musical based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel. The other was Martin Scorsese’s  Hugo, a fantasy based on Brian Selznick’s children’s book.  Both were terrific.

Les Miserables

Les Miserables, popularly called Les Miz, is the most successful musical-theater production of all time, and its transfer to the big screen has been eagerly awaited.  The wait was worth it.   Hugh Jackman, as the hero Jean Valjean, is simply marvelous.  The Australian is of course no stranger to the musical theater, but his past successes do not prepare you for his performance in Les Miz. He is a certain contender (if there is any justice) for a best actor Oscar. 

One of the best roles the musical theater has to offer is that of Jean Valjean’s stalker, the policeman Javert, and once again Hollywood chose box-office appeal rather than talent. Not that Russell Crowe can’t act; he is in fact an excellent actor, but he is no singer, so Javert’s dramatic soliloquy Stars does not get the show-stopping treatment it deserves.  It is an infuriating miss, reminiscent of Hollywood’s choice of Rosalind Russell over Ethel Merman in Gypsy or its snub of Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady.

Anne Hathaway, not known as a singer, handles her songs very well, and her acting has earned her widespread praise. Amanda Seyfried plays Cosette rather woodenly.  Speaking of wood, Helena Bonham Carter plays Madame Thenardier.  Her husband, the “master of the house,” is played adequately by Sacha Baron Cohen.

The real star, aside from Hugh Jackman, is the material.  The book is the most moving piece of fiction I have ever read, and the score is stunning. (The same composer gave us Miss Saigon, whose score is almost as good.)  Bottom line: Despite the shortcomings, this motion picture is well worth seeing.


In my opinion, Hugo is Martin Scrosese’s masterpiece.   This is the tale of a young boy (Hugo) who tends the big clock in a Paris railroad station, after the deaths of his father, a mechanical whiz, and his uncle, a drunkard.  Hugo lives in the dark recesses of the station,  where he must avoid the clutches of the gendarme (Sacha Baron Cohen),  who sweeps boys like Hugo into the orphanage.  Hugo, who has inherited his father’s love of machinery, works on an automaton left by his father – an automaton, Hugo believes, which holds an important message.

In the station is a toy shop, whose owner is a misanthrope (Ben Kingsley) who, it turns out, once was a movie pioneer. There are thus two story threads, one involving the boy and his automaton, one involving the earliest days of movies, and the two threads merge in a conclusion that is wholly satisfying.  The movie is, in a word, wonderful. The recreation of 1930’s Paris is staggeringly beautiful. (One can see why the film cost $170 million to produce.) The acting is topnotch, as are the cinematography, the music, and, most of all, the charming story.  A plus: It is a film that families can enjoy together. Now, how many Martin Scorsese movies can you say that about?