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Scorsese clocks up a triumph

AT first glance it may appear strange that, of all people, Martin Scorsese would be the director to tackle a popular graphic novel aimed at children and shoot the project in 3D, but as one sits in awe and wonder at Hugo, everything makes perfect sense.

Scorsese has never lacked the courage of his convictions and here he's created a fantasy adventure which should resonate with all ages and charm even the most curmudgeonly critic.

Set in Paris during the early 1930s, the bulk of the action takes place in a lavish recreation of the Gare Montparnasse, where the orphaned Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield) lives in the clock tower and has been trained by his drunken uncle Claude (Ray Winstone) to keep the station's many clocks ticking over. Hugo's mission is to keep one step ahead of the one-legged station inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen), who takes a particular delight in handing orphans over to the authorities. Hugo meets his god-daughter Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) and with her love of books and his interest in cinema a fabulous friendship is formed.

Martin Scorsese has combined a classic story of two youngsters seeking adventure with a very moving story of redemption, undercut it with a necessary sense of sadness and loss and topped it all off with a clear message about how the medium of film is a wondrous thing.

Ravishing to look at -- with 3D actually being used as a force for good for a change -- and impeccably played by every member of the cast Hugo is a pure joy and one of the year's finest films. HHHHH

THE THING Horror. Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Joel Edgerton, Ulrich Thomsen. Directed by Matthijs van Heijningen. Cert 16

Why would a scientific research station in Antarctica have a ready supply of flame-throwers and grenades? This thought drifted through my mind during this formulaic but reasonably entertaining remake of John Carpenter's 1982 sci-fi/horror classic. Though the makers have been at pains to point out that it's technically a prequel, they're not really fooling anyone and have used the same story about a shape-shifting alien parasite running amok in the snow, only with an added Ripley factor, in the form of Mary Elizabeth Winstead's ass-kicking no-nonsense paleontologist. HHHII

HAPPY FEET TWO Animation. Starring the voices of Elijah Wood, Robin Williams, Pink. Directed by George Miller. Cert General

The first Happy Feet movie rode the wave of Hollywood's craze for penguins and was a rather delightful diversion.

Second time out, however, things are bleaker, with the central character Mumble (Elijah Wood) all grown up and the birds' habitat in danger of destruction as a result of global warming. The wildly uneven tone of the story isn't helped at all by frantic use of 3D, with the hyperactive, swooping shots actually inducing a sense of nausea. It's only the diverting side story involving a pair of soul-searching krill (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) which stops this sequel from being a complete disaster. HHIII

THE BIG YEAR Drama/comedy. Starring Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, Jack Black. Directed by David Frankel. Cert 12A

A year-long quest to spot as many birds as possible doesn't sound like the greatest pitch for a movie but that's what we have here in a nicely shot but so-what movie. High-flying businessman Stu (Steve Martin), nerdish slob Brad (Jack Black) and record-breaking birder Bosnick (Owen Wilson) traipse across America looking for our feathered friends and learn something about themselves along the way. HHIII

WE HAVE A POPE Comedy. Starring Michel Piccoli, Nanni Moretti, Renato Scarpa. Dorected by Nanni Moretti. Cert 12A

Fans of Father Ted will chuckle with recognition at the sight of a group of elderly cardinals getting carried away during a volleyball tournament in the Vatican in this slight but entertaining satire in which the newly elected Pontiff (Michel Piccoli) has a crisis of confidence before he's announced to the world. HHHII