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Hugo 

Viewers can revel in its melancholy joy, which revolves around the immutable pleasure of watching movies

click to enlarge Out of time? Hugo (Asa Butterfield) hangs on.
  • Out of time? Hugo (Asa Butterfield) hangs on.

Martin Scorsese's Hugo is a $170 million 3-D spectacle that longs for the purity and simplicity of the cinema as it was in the beginning. "The movies are our dreams," a few of its characters declare -- and this from the guy who's filmed some of the medium's most graphic violence. (I hope never to dream of DeNiro pointing a bloody finger to his head and pulling an imaginary trigger.) An avid film historian, Scorsese finally taps his gentler side: Hugo revolves around an orphaned lad (Asa Butterfield) who lives in the bowels and rafters of a Montparnasse train station, c. 1930 Paris, and keeps its complex clocks running. His passion for mechanics leads him to discover the long-thought-dead Georges Méliès, the French magician-turned-filmmaker who invented special effects. Film buffs will figure out Hugo as soon as they hear Méliès' name, and everyone else can simply revel in its melancholy joy, which revolves around the immutable pleasure of watching movies. Scorsese doesn't need 3-D here, although some of his shots inside the clockworks are dizzyingly kinetic, and his close-ups are really CLOSE UP. Ben Kingsley makes a somber Méliès, and Sacha Baron Cohen is delightful as a bitter war veteran who's misplaced his humanity.

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