Archive for December, 2011


Review: THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN

THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN (2011)
Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg & Nick Frost
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Stefen Moffat, Edgar Wright & Joe Cornish
Produced by Peter Jackson, Steven Spielberg & Kathleen Kennedy
Cinematography by Janusz Kamiński
Music by John Williams
Edited by Michal Kahn

Yeah...Tintin's a pimp like that.

   So, it’s finally arrived. The one, sole film I was eagerly anticipating for alllll of 2011. And now that The Adventures of Tintin, the 30-years-in-the-making dream project of uber-director Steven Spielberg and big-budget adaptation of Belgian comic book artist Hergé’s brilliant masterwork has finally seen the light of day, there’s only one real question left: was it worth the wait?

   The answer, my friends, is an exhilarating & doubt-relieving “YES!”

   Spielberg completely knocks The Adventures of Tintin out of the park. It’s a nearly pitch-perfect tonal appropriation of the legendary and still-popular series of Tintin comics, the first of which was published in France in 1930. Spielberg, co-producer Peter Jackson and their army of technological wizards at WETA (the special effects company behind the Lord of The Rings trilogy….need I say more?) have turned the beautifully simple yet stunning 2-D line drawings of Hergé into fully three-dimensional animated lifeforms through the still-evolving artform of motion capture filmmaking, and the resulting visual effect is sincerely mind-blowing. Spielberg and his team have not only made one of the most exciting and cinematically pleasing films of 2011 and adventure films in general, they’ve also made the absolute best motion-capture animated film thus far. It’s still a relatively new technology, and only a few such films have been released, but this movie easily sets the bar of quality at a very high level for any more to follow.

Ah yes, good shit, let me peep this further.

   Before I continue, a little history lesson – because I’m almost certain that the average American citizen out there has little to no idea as to who or what the hell Tintin even is! Steven Spielberg wasn’t a fan of Tintin until 1981, when a French review of his new film Raiders of the Lost Ark compared the thrilling adventure flick to a series of comic books known as The Adventures of Tintin. Curious, Spielberg looked up the classic books and instantly fell in love with the tales of Tintin, an upbeat young reporter with a flair for mystery-solving and adventuring, as well as the other characters that populated his world. And get this: Before his death in 1983, Hergé himself declared Steven Spielberg to be the only one capable of appropriately adapting Tintin to the big screen – and with an endorsement like that it’s safe to assume some kind of creative energy was going to go along with these proceedings. Once he managed to get the film rights in his pocket shortly after Hergé’s death, Spielberg set about a 30-year quest to bring Tintin to life on the big screen – a quest which has finally come to fruition with The Adventures of Tintin.

   I’m quite happy to say that Tintin factors quite heavily into my life as well. I was about 11 years old when I first came upon the comic books. They were available to check out from the library at Brichta, the fondly-remembered elementary school I attended at the time. As soon as I completed my first book I was hooked, ever-fervently returning to the library as often as possible to try and get my hands on a new Tintin adventure. Herge is easily one of the best storytelling talents of the last century: his stories were intricately plotted out and unfurled with a captivating pace, his drawings were detailed yet stylistically cartoony enough to please the eye, and his characters were so richly defined and developed. Tintin’s travels took him all over the world, allowing him to explore all sorts of places a young lad like myself would only dream of seeing, and what’s more, he had an always-questioning nature and a devotion to figuring out what was really going in his surroundings – something I identified with heavily then and now.

This is the stuff dreams are made of, kids.

   So when news came that two excellent filmmakers – Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson – were collaborating to create a trilogy (that’s right! There’s gonna be 2 more! Oh joy!) based on the Tintin books, I nearly leapt in the air and shouted “yippee!!!” but then didn’t because such a thing would be considered silly. And just my (and everyone else’s) luck, the two die-hard Tintin fans – Jackson being of the lifelong type – have created a film with so much love for the source material that it shines brightly as a triumph in visual medium adaptation. Tintin pretty much gets everything perfectly right – the tone, the character’s personalities, and most importantly, the sense of pure, unapologetic adventure. You feel the rush of the film as you’re watching it, and get swept up in its grandiosity. It’s really an experience like no other.

   One thing that really needs to be pointed out is the way this film is shot. It literally feels like it was filmed in a cartoony reality, a place that exists on planet Earth where these cartoon people exist and go about their lives – such is the realism of the camerawork done by the extremely talented Janusz Kamiński, Steven Spielberg’s go-to cinematographer since they worked together on Schindler’s List in 1993…and if you’ve seen that movie, you know why Spielberg’s doesn’t let this guy out of his sight. The film looks like it was shot in a physically tangible realistic environment, but was in fact completely created in a digital world. The technological wizards I mentioned earlier created the digital environment, giving Spielberg the ability to literally control the camera with his thumbs via a small, Game Boy-like monitor. And what’s great about this is that because of this new technology, Spielberg can get shots that he could only dream of before – shots that would be utterly IMPOSSIBLE to achieve through conventional camerawork. Shots such as having the camera point directly into a mirror, shots where the camera hovers above a speeding car, or shots like the genuinely epic and complex chase sequence through a Moroccan port town that weaves in and out of buildings while all sorts of chaos happens at once – seriously, one of the best sequences in the entire film. And it all happens in one shot!

"I say, ol' chap, this appears to be quite a bitchin' interactive whatsit!"

   Because of this blend of realistic and extravagant camera styles, the hyper-real looking animated characters look even better. The producers did a brilliant thing by making the characters look, as Peter Jackson says, “exactly like real people – but real Hergé people!” The characters’ designs are stylized to be what a person would look like if Hergé was the one makin’ the humans. The effect is pretty breathtaking, even if the character designs seem kind of awkward-looking at times. One of the biggest concerns about motion capture animated films is that the human characters portrayed in them often come off as more creepy than realistic – as human beings we can sense when something else is human or not, and seeing something fake and digital trying to closely mimic a human is a little strange for the mind to experience. This is a big reason why films like The Polar Express and Beowulf didn’t really resonate with a lot of audiences – it’s hard to make your digital characters emulate all the specific and intricate details that make us human. The Adventures of Tintin sort of falls prey to this problem at some points – mainly in scenes with a wide variety of people – but I can happily say that for the most part, Spielberg has attached a sense of human relatability to his digital characters. Facial expressions are KEY in this, and Tintin’s characters have a wide variety of authentic-looking expressions and emotive qualities. There were a few moments where I could actually see Daniel Craig performing underneath the digital puppet that was his character Ivan Sakharine, the antagonist of the film – the way his eyes moved, his movements. I definitely got the impression that a real, live human being was underneath all that digital makeup.

   Which brings me to the most crucial aspect of this film – the performances. All the technical wonders would be for naught if the actors portraying the characters didn’t convey the vibrant personalities of Hergé’s creations, and thankfully, everyone nails it right on the head. Jamie Bell is impressive as Tintin, perfectly capturing his youthful eagerness for adventure and positive, intelligent outlook on all situations. Andy Serkis, the motion capture titan who played Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, has the honor of being the most memorable character in the film: the hilariously drunken Captain Haddock. As a fan of the original comics, I can say that Serkis perfectly gets everything about Haddock right, and it is wonderful. Comedic dynamos Simon Pegg and Nick Frost of Shaun of the Dead fame portray the bumbling Thomson and Thompson, two identical detectives who are high in the running for the title of Dumbest Duo in Creation.  Everybody does their respective character justice, and as a fan of the books, it’s a truly delightful thing to see!

"Aw dude, what hell happened last night? Look at the plane, man! Aw, my dad's gonna kill me!"

   The attention to detail and deft direction by Spielberg show that he has a love and deeper understanding of what exactly makes Tintin work. He’s made a live-action animated film, one that seems like it jumped off the comic book page and implanted itself into the movie genome. The unfortunate downside to all this is, while the movie is definitely good, I’m worried of it finding an audience in America. The movie has already been out for 2 months overseas, where it is being very well-received as the Tintin series is very popular in other parts of the world. But while still being relatively well-known here, American audiences might not be the type to flock out in droves to see this very different looking movie based on a Belgian comic book. The film and comic book series are generally for younger audiences – this being the first PG-rated film Spielberg has made since 1991’s Hook.  The film carries over the abundant slapstick humor present in Hergé’s comics, and while it was a treat for a fan of the series like myself to see, I kept wondering if somebody who wasn’t already affiliated with Tintin and was just seeing these characters for the first time would even know what the hell they were watching. It’s not the typical modern American film, which is one of the most complimentary things I can say about the movie, but also something which might hurt its chances here. There weren’t that many people in the audience with me when I saw it – I’d say around 10 to 14, including myself. It’s not bad, but not nearly the amount of attention I feel Tintin deserves. Time will only tell if the movie resonates with audiences – but, I do feel that the sheer power of Hergé’s characters and story plus Spielberg’s strong directive vision will be enough for audiences to identify with and appreciate.

   So bottom line? Tintin is WELL worth your time and money. I HIGHLY recommend it for anyone who is a fan of fun, mind-blowing cinema and thrilling adventure stories. We’re in the hands of Hergé, Steven fuckin’ Spielberg, and Peter fuckin’ Jackson here! There’s really no way this movie could be bad! It’s a film that was brilliantly handled by above-average filmmakers who not only blew every other motion capture film out of the water, but perfectly translated a timeless and precious universe of richly defined characters onto film in the process! And what’s more, the movie is just fun to look at, even if there weren’t incredible performances and involved storytelling going on at the same time (which, thankfully, there are). The Adventures of Tintin is an expertly crafted film-going experience, and it did the awesome task of living up to my VERY high expectations. For that alone it is my favorite film that’s been released in 2011, and probably one my favorite Spielberg films overall.

   Now it’s time to see him bait the Oscars with War Horse. Two huge movies coming out in one month? And in this year in cinema? No one else should even bother coming to the Academy Awards next year.

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Review: SUPER 8

SUPER 8 (2011)
Written & Directed by JJ Abrams
Produced by JJ Abrams, Steven Spielberg & Bryan Burk
Cinematography by Larry Fong
Music by Michael Giacchino
Edited by Maryann Brandon & Mary Jo Markey

I didn't know they remade Star Wars with little kids!

   For my very first review on this site, I have chosen a very recent film directed by the quite talented JJ Abrams. It’s actually the review which sort of inspired this entire website, so I think it’s a fitting place to begin for a variety of reasons. Primarily, Super 8 is a movie which exemplifies everything that is wholly thrilling about the art of cinema and also inadvertently displays several things that are wrong with it. In essence, Super 8 is a confounded labor of unabashed love – it’s completely adherent to a style of filmmaking and thoroughly well-composed, but is overall crippled by its own reverence. For what it’s worth, I think JJ Abrams’ intent with the way this film ends is in the purest of best intentions – but he unwittingly betrays the very conceit his film is based around, and it’s slightly disappointing to watch.

   Before I go any further I just want to state for the record that I actually really enjoy this movie for the most part – I think it’s exceptionally well made, the child actors are all talented and have great chemistry together, it has great special effects, and it successfully evokes that sort of 80’s movie feel of ordinary people taking part in something extraordinary. It’s also very funny; I found myself laughing quite a bit, even during some of the more intense action scenes – Abrams’ characters are just that good. But after I saw it for the first time, I left the theater with a sort of conflicted feeling….something that was poking at my inner film critic incessantly. I wasn’t really sure why, but now I’ve put my finger on it and can accurately put it into words.

   Now before elaborating on all of that, I’m going to elaborate a bit on JJ Abrams first, because I think it applies to how his art can be understood. JJ Abrams is a wunderkind. The dude straight up knows, understands, and respects the art of storytelling through motion pictures. His passion and devotion to cinema is truly a humbling thing to see, and it shines apparent through everything he touches. He’s very well known for being the brainchild behind many hit shows on television – including Lost, which admittedly, is one of my absolute favorite shows of all time. He directed the pilot episode of that show, and let me tell you, I would be very comfortable with saying that it is one of the best first episodes of any television series in history. (The last episode, however, is another debate entirely, harharhar….) One thing that stands out about Abrams’ style is that he is VERY good at making things intense. The guy can wring excitement out of actors standing in place and pretending to run while he jiggles the camera around – it sounds silly but the guy can make it work! He’s an artist who finds the means to get the fucking shot he needs, when he needs it, and he does it like a boss. He is truly a director born, filled to the brim with creative ideas and the pathos to execute them.

   So now that I’m done kissing his ass, I’m going to emphasize his knack for making things INTENSE!!! Abrams has clearly seen a jillion movies with characters and situations that command focused attention; he’s learned how to build character enough to make you care about if they’re in danger or not and he knows how to manipulate this to his advantage. The way his action scenes are shot and edited are key in this, and what’s better is he uses the story to add emotional heft to what’s happening in them. I’m going to use a positively fascinating scene from Super 8 as an example – the train crash sequence.

Yeah....you're probably gonna want to run now.

   This is my favorite scene in the entire film, and it leaves me jaw-dropped and speechless every time I watch it. I’m almost certain that no other train crash in the history of cinema has been as intense as this one. In the movie, the main cast – a group of young friends who we’ve spent some time getting to know – have arrived at a lonely train station in both the middle of nowhere and the night to shoot their zombie flick on a Super 8 film camera. *Note to all – this is where the title of the film comes from. Ya get it?* While shooting a crucial scene with a train rolling by (for “production value” the lad director specifies), the hero of our film – a boy named Joe (Joel Courtney) – notices a truck turning onto the tracks and driving straight towards the oncoming train. Train and truck collide, and the train starts to de-rail violently – right next to these kids. Scared beyond all recognition, the kids run for dear life while the train literally rains from the sky all around them. If you haven’t seen this train crash, you’re just going to have to take my word on it – it is scary. The raging speed and deadly velocity with which the impacts of the derailing train are imbued with are truly a sight to behold; it’s really quite frightening. And what’s more, these kids who we’ve come to know and (hopefully) like are caught RIGHT in the middle of it!!! RUN, GODDAMMIT!

   The train wrecks in such a violent fashion you kind of roll your eyes a bit when absolutely nobody dies in the scene – not even the dude who ran his friggin’ truck into the train in the first place. And I’m NOT saying that somebody NEEDS to die, like movies are better when characters are getting mowed down left and right – but c’mon, if there was a group of REAL people caught up in a swirling mass of metallic carnage and mayhem like the one we just witnessed, I’m pretty sure SOMEBODY would perish, or at least be mortally injured – but this is getting beside the point!!!

   The point is, in this scene Abrams raises the stakes for his characters by putting them in a death-defying situation that not only sparks the plot of the flick, but also sets the precedent for what is going to follow. The reason this train crashes is so the creature can escape and get the story moving – and if you’re going to crash the vessel which carries your main plot point/focus of the film in such an intense and violent manner, it sort of hints that the creature in question will itself be intense and violent. And it is!…..for a while. What I’m saying is, if you’re going to introduce something so pants-wettingly intense into a film, it would only be wise to continue with that same tone of intensity whenever the creature is around, so the rest of the movie doesn’t pale in comparison to that one scene. And Abrams, for a majority of the movie, does an excellent job of this. Whenever the creature attacks, we only get fleeting glimpses of it, and we are given a sense of its power and attitude towards human beings through its destructive actions.

   Weird things also start happening around town after the train crash: dogs start evacuating town in large numbers, the engines are torn from all of the cars at the local dealership, microwaves and other electronic devices are starting to go missing – and people are as well. To us, this is clearly the work of the monster, doing whatever its pissed off alien creature heart is intent on doing. As the plot chuffs along, things continue to get complicated for the characters, situations occur, and things start to come to a head when the town is evacuated and the military rolls in to go to war with this extraterrestrial nuisance. While all of this is happening, the kids uncover information about the monster and its plight: it’s bein’ held prisoner by the government and just wants to go home goddammit! During this information download, we are told by a very reliable source (the former government scientist turned high school teacher/dude who ran his truck into the train and started this whole crazy mess) that the monster has come to despise all humans and has developed a pretty surly attitude. And this holds true, because we’ve seen the creature murk any and all humans he comes into contact with thus far. But there’s a crucial moment near the film’s end that drives a hard, rusty nail into its own heart – and there’s no coming back for the poor little monster flick.

I swear, this image is a lot less hilarious when viewed in context.

   So Joe and his buddy Cary (Ryan Lee) are traversing through the beast’s underground lair, where Joe’s kidnapped crush Alice (Elle Fanning) is being stored as an afternoon snack alongside a bunch of other townsfolk who have disappeared. When Joe and Cary get there they see the alien with a leg literally dangling out of its mouth – this alien digs on human flesh. After creating a distraction, Joe saves Alice and some of the other adult humans and make an escape, but the monster finds them and picks off the two adults in a manner most becoming a pissed off subterranean alien (and he’s homesick too….you think Radiohead has a right to be miffed here?)

   The film begins its unfortunate decline from a glorious sprint to a saddening limp when the creature backs the kids into a corner menacingly. It is at this moment in the movie where things begin to make an almost preposterous turn for the warmhearted. Joe, understanding the alien creature towering before him, bravely steps forward and imparts upon it the knowledge that not everyone is horrible. The monster picks Joe up and examines him carefully, presumably making a psychic connection with the boy, as we’ve been given such information numerous times at this point. It’s at this point the monster sees the overwhelming goodness in Joe and – in a moment of “humanity” – the monster’s eyes change to that of a happy puppy (seriously…it’s almost enough to elicit “awws”) and he lets Joe and his friends leave with their lives. The kids are then reunited with their parents, all is well with the world, and the alien rebuilds its ship and takes off into the night sky while everyone watches solemnly.  Sounds pretty happy and cathartic, right?

   Well, it is. But see, the thing is – up until that point, the movie was NOT that type of movie. That monster had every inclination in the world to rip those kids limb from limb (like he had done to pretty much every other human he came in contact with) but through the power of childhood innocence he changes his mind and leaves without harming a hair on their heads. I think I’m sounding a little more critical than I intend to, but this is basically what happens at the end of Super 8.

   Now, this isn’t necessarily the worst thing ever. I GET that Abrams is saying that the power of good and understanding is a universal thing, and even the most savage of beasts can be calmed if only they get a little empathy from somebody. I GET that it’s all well and good that the kids are reunited with their fathers, who have come to their own moral victories. These are all strong thematic choices that are perfectly capable of resonating effectively with an audience – but one thing I ALSO get is that a movie shouldn’t compromise its own stylistic integrity to satisfy the sappy resolution the filmmakers think the audience needs – that is just bad storytelling, and worst of all, it’s insulting to the audience.

   Super 8 seems to operate on this principle that if you conjure up images of catastrophic calamity and danger and then wrap it up at the end with a safe, risk-free bow, it’ll all work out to cinema gold. But even though Abrams’ intentions are good, his film doesn’t seem to realize that it’s pandering to its audience by doing so. The fact is, he expects us to do away with all of the information we’ve been told about this creature and its behavior and accept its newly found heart of gold. It doesn’t do what it is supposed to do, merely because the script wants to get to its sugary, please-everyone conclusion. It’s almost like Abrams created this powerful, angry, truly terrifying movie monster to raise all hell but then put a leash on it, domesticating it so he can impress the guests coming over for dinner. The doe-eye scene that Abrams gives the monster makes it look downright cute – and that is NOT something you want your big, scary movie monster to be!

The Super 8 monster, seconds from unleashing its unspeakable terror

   So what am I saying, exactly? That JJ Abrams should have had the kids who we’ve come to know and root for torn to shreds and ended the movie that way? Well, yes and no, actually – I believe if you’re going to create that kind of situation, then the characters need to be true to themselves and react accordingly. Quite frankly, I feel that the monster would have torn the flesh off those poor little kids and gone about his merry way – that’s just the kind of intensity I picked up from this savage creature. But, the characters didn’t necessarily have to BE in that particular scenario – I feel that there might have been a more effective way of getting these characters to confront that stayed true to the nature of the monster and also provided the kind of wonderful closure Abrams was striving for. What could that scenario have been? I dunno, maybe there could have been a dramatic standoff with the military where the kids come between the war of the worlds and convince the trigger-happy Americans that this alien came in peace and just wants to leave in the same vein! It’s just as believable as Joe reaching into the monster’s heart and convincing it to spare him. The fact is, there’s a gaping logical flaw in the movie’s climax solely to get to the happy ending Abrams wanted, and it sacrifices all the artistic choices he made in the first 90 minutes of the flick to do it.

   My main beef with this turn of events in the film is I know Abrams is a smarter filmmaker than this. I know that he’s a dude who likes to push boundaries, and I know he’s the kind of dude who likes a good, thrilling story – his work on television and as director of Mission Impossible III and the new Star Trek is evidence enough of this. So why does the immeasurably strong and volatile creature that kills humans on sight have a completely inexplicable change of heart when it comes to gobbling children at the end of Super 8? Because I think JJ wanted to remind us that – hey, monsters are people too, and in movies, children never get hurt! It’s just been predetermined that we (the audience) would choke the ending down better that way, even if it’s completely contradictory to everything that came before it. And again, I’m NOT saying that the kids HAD to be killed in that scene, or that the movie would have been BETTER if they did – I’m just saying that if you’re even going to put your characters in that situation, don’t have one of them (the monster) act completely against its own motivation just to satisfy our “need” to see the children go unharmed.

   I’ve been singling out Abrams for the way this all turned out…and in being the director I do think he fields most of the blame…but I think it might be a little more fitting to lump producer Steven Spielberg into this paradigm as well. Spielberg is well known for having noble, sappy, Hollywood-friendly endings in his films, and hey, that’s just his cup o’tea. But it seems his knack for making the end of his films look like Norman Rockwell paintings has bled over to this venture, and it has completely neutered what could have been a wholly satisfying cinematic experience. I can’t say anything for sure, since I am not privy to the process behind how this film was made, but I’m willing to bet Spielberg’s influence is (ironically) a key factor in the harming of this film’s potential.

Like father, like illegitimate son!

   So final verdict? Super 8, overall, is a pretty decent movie…certainly one of the best to come out of this foul year for cinema, the year 2011. It captures a feeling of excitement and wonder that is admittedly absent from mainstream cinema these days, and it’s because a talented director was at the helm. There are true, heartfelt character moments in the film that other films would give their right arm for! But the glaring flaw in storytelling logic cannot be overlooked, and even though I believe the film is trying to pass along a positive message and provide the audience a good ol’ happy ending, it ends up betraying its own conceit and is therefore weakened as a whole. It’s really quite a shame, because the movie IS good and it stands up on its own legs – they’re just kicked out from underneath by overzealous good intentions.

   But at least the dogs knew to get the hell outta there! There wasn’t even potential for one to become a snack in this movie – that’ll show that flesh-eating alien!

The First Post.

Hello people of the world, and welcome to my website! I’m currently in the process of getting my shit together and getting some friggin’ content up on this site, but in the meantime you can check out the “About” section for a taste of what my site will be like! Thanks for checkin’ out my little spot of Internet land and I do hope you enjoy what is to come!