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Montpellier, France
Writer, actor, artist, teacher, exploring the world and its levels in fiction, poetry, memoir, photography, fine arts.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Why "Hugo" Stinks (film review)

Why Hugo Stinks

Despite fawning reviews and a Golden Globe award, Martin Scorsese's indigestible blob of treacle stinks. Not one frame of this bloated, purposeless film has a gram of authentic charm. That won’t stop the Academy of Motion Picture blah blah blah from heaping praises on it.

The child actors, preciously over-dressed and made up, look like pampered dogs going through their show routines. Every moment the camera lingers on those pretty little faces betrays the heavy hand of their handlers, presumably starting with Scorsese, who seems to have as much chemistry with kids as he does with wives.

The adult actors show calculated mastery of film and TV conventions, telegraphing their intentions to an audience the director assumes is so deadened and starved by contemporary culture as to be impervious to any but the most belabored semaphores. Ben Kingsley seems to be perpetually watching himself in the mirror; Sacha Baron Cohen’s wooden station master looks terrified of losing his mustache; Ray Winstone, the evil-incarnate uncle, finds one note and toots it like a bratty 5-year-old with a kazoo.

The repetitive musical score grinds familiar grooves: tinkling chimes for magic, throbbing legato in the heart-warming bits, pizzicatos of excitement for moments like the chase scene with the Doberman pinscher in the mall – sorry, train station. Sentiment like this is available in a gingerbread box with built-in digitized Christmas carols -- a fair description of this film as a whole.

As warm-hearted and uplifting as a prostitute in fairy-tale drag, Hugo screams "fake me" while wriggling seductively through its 3-D effects. The faux Belle Epoch décor and costumes pander to that peculiarly American yearning for the fake that drives hordes to palaces of banality like Disney World and Las Vegas. Over-engineered set pieces and badly-directed actors seem rented from a literary/cinematic chop-shop: great ideas from literature (and the decent book by Brian Selznick) have been stolen, dismantled, and repackaged as trivial bon-bons.

Hugo is a huge, steaming plate of candy-crap dolloped with sugar sauce. Underneath, it’s an over-lingering glimpse of American movie-making that celebrates excess and mocks its audience's ever-rising threshold for mediocrity. Whether there was any shred of redeeming originality or humility before the end of this overblown sugar-puff of a movie, or not, I cannot say, as I left well before it ended, clutching my friend's elbow, fearing for our souls. If it got better before the end, well, good for Mr. Scorsese, and exc-u-use me!

Sadly, the fact that Hugo stinks is exactly why it is likely to garner the biggest, loudest, smelliest blasts of praise at the Academy awards. It's a pile of crap, but to Americans inured to the self-congratulatory Hollywood blockbuster assembly-line, it's a piece of cake. So let those eat it who will; I will happily gnaw bread.

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