At Large

Homage to the magic of movies

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When I first saw the trailer for “Hugo,” I wondered why Martin Scorsese would make a fantasy film about a child who lived in a railroad station. But after sitting through about an hour of the movie, I realized why the project held such appeal for the well-respected, much-awarded director, for whom “Hugo” is his first “3-D” movie.

At heart, “Hugo” is a homage to movies, to the magic of filmmaking, to the genius of its pioneers who employed every trick in the book to lure the eye and beguile the imagination. In fact, Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), the real-life film pioneer in the movie, started out as a magician until he was taken in by the celluloid magic of the first moving image, shot by the Lumiere Brothers, of a train entering the station. So taken in were the moviegoers, we were told, that they scampered away as the train neared them, frightened that they would get run over.

But “Hugo” is much more than just a movie about movies. As the orphan searching for a message from his dead father, Asa Butterfield combines cunning and innocence, street smarts and dreamy sentimentalism. The son of a watchmaker (played by Jude Law in a cameo), Hugo early on learns lessons about mechanisms and machines and their care and maintenance. These become useful for him when, after his father’s death in a fire, he is taken in by his drunkard uncle who maintains the clocks at the train station. When his uncle disappears, Hugo takes on the responsibility of keeping the clocks running, while hiding from the station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen in a surprising comic turn) who hates orphans, and surviving on food scrounged (or stolen) from the shops at the station.

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But Hugo is essentially “someone who repairs,” as his friend Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) observes. So when he meets Isabelle’s godfather Melies, Hugo is intrigued by the man’s mysterious air, and when he finds out Melies’ former trade as a filmmaker, he and Isabelle set out to recover his stature in the film trade and discover why he abandoned the art.

Precious indeed are scenes showing clips from the early films of Melies, especially the iconic “Voyage to the Moon,” especially the scene where the rocket ship lands on the moon, hitting the “man in the moon” in the eye. Comical and intriguing are the scenes of Melies setting up scenes in his all-glass studio, experimenting with special effects that deceive and fascinate.

Expectedly, “Hugo” has received much critical acclaim. It is nominated for Best Picture and Best Director in the Oscars, among other categories, and won for Scorsese the nod for best direction in the Golden Globes. But sadly, it has not made any money for its producers, one of whom is actor Johnny Depp. “Hugo” had a budget of $150 million but so far has earned just $114 million. When I checked if “Hugo” was still showing here (we saw the movie last week), I could no longer find it in any of the listings.

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In contrast, I bet “Unofficially Yours” will be around for some time yet.

It is billed as a “rom-com” (industry shorthand for romantic comedy) but with a difference, it is “bolder” than your run-of-the-mill pakilig movie. In the Philippine setting, “bolder” simply means it has more than the average number of bed scenes, although the lead stars are properly chaste—well, except for John Lloyd Cruz who is shown early in the film in all his naked glory save for a strategically placed blanket.

“Unofficially Yours” tells the story of Macky (John Lloyd) who falls in love after a one-night stand with a woman he hardly knows. But when he discovers that Ces (Angel Locsin) will be his “mentor” in the newspaper beat, Macky sets out to win her heart. The trouble is that, we find out later, Ces has inured her heart and mind to love after a disastrous affair with a man who abandoned her. This doesn’t stop the pair from indulging their raging hormones, however, and it’s a hard slog from the first “wham-bang-thank-you-ma’am” encounters to staying long enough to enjoy breakfast.

This is a twist, at least as far as formulaic rom-coms go, where the girl is usually the one who wears her heart on her sleeve. But as a romance-obsessed young man who is willing to change the direction of his life for love of a girl, John Lloyd is appropriately kilig-worthy, from soulful stares to sappy one-liners and even to displays of his flabby waist line.

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But as a journalist, let me put in my few depreciated centavos’ worth to the portrayal of reporters and editors in “Unofficially Yours.” No, it has nothing to do with their sex lives (although, the stories I can tell!), but with their work life.

In the first place, Macky and Ces are shown constantly in the newsroom (or the corner of the Lifestyle section), working over their articles. But reporters nowadays are hardly seen in their offices; most just e-mail their stories. And if they took such a long time to come up with their pieces, they’d be fired immediately.

Second, Macky writes a gushing tribute to Ces who is about to leave for Singapore, and it is run on the front page(!). If a real newspaper did that, I told Tesh, my future daughter-in-law who accompanied me, “it would be laughed out of the business.”

Also, Ces teeters about her business in sky-high stilettos that make me wonder how on earth she could run after her sources or just negotiate the maze of the newsroom. At one point, Ces instructs Macky to engage his interviewees “eye to eye and heart to heart.” If a real reporter did that, he or she would end up either in a brawl or an affair.

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