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Why Would Monday Movies’s Key Fit Into Your Machine?

“I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine,” says orphaned Hugo, who lives in the wall at the train station, taking care of the giant clockworks. “Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine, I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.” Hugo, it turns out, is correct in every particular but one.

Hugo’s fascination with machines comes from the family business. As a younger boy, he helped his father repair timepieces. After his father died in a fire, he went to live in the hidden chambers of the train station, taking only the mysterious automaton he and his father were repairing together. He hopes one day to find the key that will fit the automaton’s heart-shaped lock, and release the message from his father that he knows must be hidden inside.

Hugo the movie (dir. Martin Scorcese), adapted from the novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, is a wonder and a delight, a soulful children’s adventure movie with no condescension at all. It’s also beautiful to look at, the first 3-D movie whose use of 3-D I enjoyed all the way through. Hugo (Asa Butterfield) will investigate the mystery of his father’s automaton with the help of Isabelle (Chloë Moretz), the abecedarian bookworm daughter of a train station shopkeeper (Ben Kingsley); his foil is Inspector Gustav (Sacha Baron Cohen [!]), the war-injured station master whose icy, orphan-arresting heart yearns to be melted by the station’s flower peddler (Emily Mortimer). Mixed in with the adventure is an ever-so-slightly fictionalized biopic of Georges Méliès, the proto-surrealist French film pioneer whose most famous work was A Trip To The Moon.

By uncovering Méliès’s history, Hugo finds his own place in the world. But his journey undermines his original proposition about the clockwork world in which he plays his part. That philosophy’s reductio is stated by Inspector Gustav, who, upon throwing Hugo into a cell before dispatching him to the orphanage, cries that it was his own time as an orphan that prepared him to play his role and remain alone.

But Hugo only moves down the path to finally understanding connection and family (not to mention Gustav’s) because of the existence of extra machine parts–from the automaton’s original fabrication, in fact. The extra parts that Hugo supposes can’t exist are what give rise to both of the stories Scorcese tells here, Méliès’s life in film as well as Hugo’s investigation. There’s no end of clockworks in the movie, but its final suggestion is not that we are put in place in a perfectly moving machine, but that our stories and our connections only happen because machines are imperfect with excess.

See anything good?


December 5, 2011 - Posted by | Monday Movies | , ,


  1. I saw (the end of) Terminator 3 with The Kids and it surprised me again how depressing it was. Is it the only blockbuster that ends so down? It anyway shows that there were gloomier periods in history than this present “the financial markets require (fill in one of many depressing things) is urgently implemented’.

    But the destructive force of skynet is probably negligible when compared to the banking system. Isn’t there a movie in a premise like that?

    Comment by Guido Nius | December 5, 2011

  2. 11/29/30 – Pitfall – Teshigahara 1962 8/10
    11/30/11 – Unknown 2011 – This guy gets to do Akira? 3/10
    12/01/11 – The Devil’s Temple – Misumi 1969 8/10
    12/02/11 – 13 Assassins – Miike 2010 9/10
    Note:monkey/forest demon (pre-samurai Heian? Shinto?) vs bad daimyo, brawl fun but samurai boring vs most exciting day;other pairings, two father-son pairs;final post-battle pair
    12/03/11 – A Story from Echigo – Imai Tadashi 1964 9/10
    The Adjustment Bureau – George Nolfi 2011 6/10
    12/04/11 – I Am a Cat – Ichikawa 1975 6/10

    I’ll talk about Echigo, my 1st Imai. Imai has 4 films on the Kenpo 100 best Japanese films. I see a lot of dark and depressing films, but I have rarely been as horrified as by this one. I was “OMG life sucks” at the end. (My difference from Guido:”What evil lurks in the quotidian?”

    Okay, it’s a variant on Othello:with peasants instead of nobility;with O being just a good guy hard worker without a ton of hubris;with O and Iago being brothers, and Iago just being a envious loser; with Desdemona being an orphaned servant girl who has been through hell before marrying O; and with Iago raping and impregnating Desde while O’s away. Takes place in 1937, when most guys are one mailman away from certain death-in-war; and takes place on the remote mountainous coast, with snow up to your knees and agricultural barely enough to keep you alive.

    And it’s a masterpiece. Great to look at BW cinematography of snow, mountains and sea; great acting. The structure was amazing, starts off with O and Iago, and gradually fills in backstory of Desde and close observation of O so by the end you have maximum empathy for the married couple; and near-ends with Iago marching off to Manchuria terrified this guy, asshole though he be, never had nuthin nuthin and now has to die young

    You may think I have given spoilers but there is so much more, like how sake and village charcoal are made and communal funeral practices

    But oh my god, it’s a downer

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 5, 2011

  3. We saw The Future, which was not good. The cat narration seemed to be doing little other than setting up sentimentality in order to disappoint it — the same with the supposedly quirky or charming relationship. It didn’t have a big payoff moment like “back and forth” from Me, You, et al., but I did find the overall message to be true: if most people were left to do “whatever they want,” they would wind up either wasting their time (the boyfriend) or fucking everything up (Miranda July). Also, I’m never cancelling our Internet service, because that obviously would lead to disaster.

    Comment by Adam Kotsko | December 5, 2011

  4. “Isn’t there a movie in a premise like that?” Rollover? Nah.

    Hard time remembering movies directly relating financial crash to everyday general catastrophe Wonderful Life?

    King Vidor, Frank Borzage, William Wellman, Ozu made great lefty movies of the depression.

    Our Daily Bread for example gets to the point. After the money dies, the fields and factories still stand. The workers should just fucking declare Jubilee and take it what they need.

    Comment by bob mcmanus | December 5, 2011

  5. I was going to go see a movie with my buddy as both of our wives were at a function together. We took a look at what was showing, though, and when removing Hugo and The Muppets from the equation, I think the most appealing option was Tower Heist. Thus, we didn’t see a movie.

    I did, however, peek in on the Indiana Jones quadrilogy(?) yesterday on SyFy. Those movies are just a lot of fun to watch, except the last one. I used to hate the second one because I thought it was just Spielberg getting too cutesy by adding the kid and his wife. After seeing it again I like that it’s the only one of the three where he does something for reasons other than archaeological conquest and concern for the lives of those close to him.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | December 5, 2011

  6. Oh, Hugo and the Muppets were removed from the choices at my wife’s request.

    Comment by Matt in Toledo | December 5, 2011

  7. We watched “Walled In” On Demand the other night, in part because there wasn’t much else to choose from and because Misha Barton is so sad that you have to support her by making fun of her movies. I think the movie was supposed to be “thought-provoking” and “intellectual,” but it was just stupid. Which is to say that it was appropriate that Misha Barton starred in it. She was as convincing as a demolition engineer as Tara Reid was as a “scientist” in “Alone in the Dark.” Sadly, unlike “Alone in the Dark,” Christian Slater was not the co-star; rather, it was Dakota Fanning’s “twin” from the “Twilight” movies. A chair has more personality than that boy. In retrospect, our time would have been better spent watching an episode of “Property Brothers” or “Divine Design.”

    Comment by Craig McFarlane | December 5, 2011

  8. The movie itself runs a bit long at 127 minutes, but Hugo is worth every minute for the visual feast it provides, and features Scorsese in probably his most delightful and elegant mood ever, especially with all of the beautiful 3-D. Good review.

    Comment by CMrok93 | December 5, 2011

  9. […] The Future, Hugo, The Tree of Life, Terri, The […]

    Pingback by Monday Movies Should Check That Out, Or At Least Feel Guilty for Not Doing So « The Weblog | January 2, 2012

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