The Adventures of Tintin

The Adventures of Tintin

Starring Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis and Daniel Craig
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Rated PG for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking

    Based on the famous comic books by Herge′, this first of what are sure to be many adventures of the character Tintin finds the young detective Tintin on a dangerous quest to find the location of three secret scrolls, all of which are individually contained within the models of a ship called The Unicorn, that will eventually lead him to a great treasure.  Along with his brave dog Snowy and the inebriated Captain Haddock, the team competes with the sinister Mr. Sakharine in the race to find the scrolls and the mystery behind them. 

    If you are like me and very American, you will have probably never heard of Tintin.  One of the reasons Spielberg opened the movie in Europe almost two months before the U.S. premiere is because Tintin is a national treasure there.  While the movie is having a tough time coming out of the gate here, worldwide it has already grossed over a quarter billion dollars.  But just because the character is not an icon here as it is there, don’t be surprised if he starts to makes some inroads. 

    Americans love thrilling movies and this one is non-stop action and adventure.  The journey starts almost as soon as the film begins and doesn’t let up until the credits.  It’s like a 107 minute roller coaster that doesn’t make you sick. 

    The film has several other admirable qualities, chief among them is the animation.  Using motion capture, Spielberg has managed to create a breathtakingly beautiful world that you can’t take your eyes off of.  So far the films that have utilized this technology form animation (i.e. Mars Needs Moms, Beowulf, The Polar Express) have had what many consider to be a creepy look.  Tintin however has a brand new style that is mesmerizing.  It’s so captivating that I had to watch the film twice in order to fully understand the plot simply because the look was distracting from the story.  The story is fine, but the art takes over completely. 

    The one thing that American audiences will find most troubling is the lack of character development.  When you watch the Indiana Jones sequels you’ll notice a lack of character development simply because you are so familiar with the lead character, thanks to Raiders of the Lost Ark, and it’s okay to jump right into the action.  Rather than go into a genesis story which would give you that same familiarity, Spielberg chose to jump right in under the assumption that most international audiences won’t need it.  I think he hoped that American audiences would be sophisticated enough to go without as well. Would I have liked a genesis story?  Absolutely, as will many of you.  I’m probably not going to go back and read the comics just to have a better appreciation of the history of Tintin.  This strategy in telling the tale might just hurt the chances of a humongous domestic box office, but I’m sure that is a risk they were willing to take, and so far it has paid off. 

    Also of note is that this should have been a PG-13 movie.  It doesn’t have any bad language or sex, but there is plenty of violence and drinking that will make parents of young children uncomfortable.  Also, I don’t think young children will have an appreciation of anything more than the colors as the story is complicated and might be a little too hard to follow for them.  B+

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara and Christopher Plummer
Directed by David Fincher (The Social Network)
Rated R for brutal violence including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language

    Based on the best-selling novel by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, Girl tells the story of a Swedish magazine journalist (Craig) who goes on the search for a woman who has been missing for forty years.  When his search becomes overly tedious, he acquires the help of a young but brilliant computer hacker with a huge set of personal issues (Mara).  Together they find themselves on the verge of not only finding their missing woman, but uncovering a hidden secret that has plagued a northern Swedish town for decades. 

    Before I dive into the obvious, I will admit that this new version of the huge best-seller is pretty darn good.  It is a dark and frightening film that is a testament to what a film can be when you put a lot of money behind great source material and then hire the best director, writer and actors to build it. 

    And now the elephant in the room: why did we need the film to begin with?  In 2009 the first of the trilogy was released with another great director, writer and stellar cast.  Sure it was in Swedish, and you had to read subtitles, but that didn’t seem to matter since the film ended up being a huge international success both financially and critically.  Also, the lead actors both ended up as the stars of two other big competing holiday films (Michael Nyqvist in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and Noomi Rapace in the new Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows).  The film won many awards and made many critics’ top ten lists that year. 

    And yet two years later the Americans decide they can best it.  Well of course they can, but what’s the point?  If the film wasn’t released in the US or had little recognition that would be one thing, but that simply isn’t the case.  Did Fincher do a better job?  Yes, but not that much better.  Is Steven Zaillian’s script better written?  Of course but both scripts relied heavily on the source material by Stieg Larsson.  Are the actors better?  Not hardly.  They are better looking, that’s for sure, but both casts were fantastic.  It’s one of those situations where you feel that instead of the filmmakers asking themselves if they could make a better movie, they needed to ask themselves if they should. 

    Also, I think Columbia Pictures has been confused about this project for a while.  They’ve done a poor job marketing it, partly because I don’t think they have a clue how to sell it to American audiences.  They didn’t allow most critics groups to see the film before voting deadlines, which means they are only banking on possible Oscar nominations with no buzz leading up to it.  And then you have the fact that they are releasing the film on an extremely crowded Christmas weekend which is a horrible date for a movie of this nature.  Most Americans will go see a movie with their families over the holidays and I seriously doubt that audiences will choose a film about sexual violence over typical holiday fare like action and comedy. 

    I’m sure many of you though haven’t seen the original and are asking yourselves if it is worth a go.  At that point the answer is yes.  This is a very good film, but be prepared for a disturbing drama.  The original title of the book is “Men Who Hate Women.”  Of course “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has a nicer ring to it, but the actual Swedish title is a better descriptor.  Sexual violence is not an easy subject matter to explore and that’s the theme of the entire film.  A-

New in Home Entertainment – December 27, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

December 27, 2011

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Series One
Available on DVD

In this ridiculously funny IFC original series, Todd Margaret (David Cross) is  an inept American employee of a company run by an even more incompetent boss (Will Arnett) to become the new UK sales manager for a North Korean-made energy drink called Thunder Muscle.  Addicted to lying and making bad choices, Margaret goes from one horribly uncomfortable situation to the next.  While completely outlandish, the show is absolutely hilarious and a quick cure for those who miss British series such as The Office or Extras.  B+

Apollo 18
Rated PG-13 for some disturbing sequences and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

While Apollo 17 was officially the last of the Apollo missions, the U.S. Department of Defense secretly launched one more and the footage from that voyage has been locked away, until now.  While Blair Witch, Cloverfield and the Paranormal Activity franchise have made quite a splash with this “found footage” horror genre, Apollo 18 just doesn’t deliver the goods necessary to scare the daylights out of you.  I think that the potential was there and there are some creepy moments with a nice mood throughout, but the fact is that I just wasn’t scared.  I never once got a shiver in my spine.  It doesn’t help that the characters are fairly boring and the acting isn’t the strongest.  But more importantly, while the gimmick is interesting, the filmmakers couldn’t quite pull it off.  C+

A Farewell to Arms (1932)
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This first film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s about a young ambulance driver who falls in love with a lovely nurse during WWI is finally getting a beautiful new release by Kino.  While Hemingway was very vocal about how much he didn’t like this adaptation of his book, it walked away with two Oscars (cinematography and sound) and was nominated for two more (picture and art direction).  It was also the film that put Gary Cooper on the map and made him the star he became.  I’ll admit that the movie is a little corny and the chemistry isn’t the best between Cooper and Helen Hayes, but overall it’s a beautiful example of early filmmaking and this new release by Kino is exemplary.  B-

The Borgias: The First Season
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Trying to capitalize on its hit show The Tudors, Showtime turned to Rome in the late 1400s as the Borgia family, billed here as the original crime family.  Led by their patriarch, Rodrigo Borgia, brilliantly played by Jeremy Irons, the Borgia family manages to place Rodrigo as pope.  As head of the Roman Catholic church he desperately commits every sin possible in order to retain his powerful position.  While much creative license was taken in the storytelling, the writing and acting are solid and the deceit and lechery make it a very interesting show to watch.  With a creator like Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), it’s no wonder these nine episodes are so enjoyable.  B

The Best and Worst of 2011

The Best and Worst of 2011

In 2010 my list was top-heavy with animated films.  As a big fan of animation storytelling, I love it when a year has so many great examples of the art.  Unfortunately 2011 wasn’t a good year for animation, and overall there were a lot of stinkers in theaters.  While I did enjoy Arthur Christmas and had a fun time checking out The Adventures of Tintin, neither was close to the quality of How to Train Your Dragon, Toy Story 3 or Tangled. 

This year had some great cinematic moments, including my top film of the year which I consider to be one of the best of the last decade.  There was a lot of emotion this year, some terrific drama, and an immense amount of creativity and advancement of the cinematic art form.  I was surprised to find that most of my favorites this year didn’t come out in December as is usual, but instead have been out for months and many are already available for you to watch at home.

As for the worst films?  Why isn’t the new Twilight or Jack and Jill on there you might ask?  That’s simple.  I try not to watch bad films.  I like to have at least the hope that I might like it if I’m to spend two hours or more watching it.  All of these bad films actually held some potential at some point before I suffered through them.   

The Best of 2011:

1) The Tree of Life.  How do you even start to explore God’s complex relationship with mankind on film?  Many artists have attempted to take on this task but none has ever done so as elegantly as Terrence Malick.  The film has a dreamy, ethereal quality about it that asks more questions than provides answers, but it is all done in such a way as to bring comfort to the receptive soul watching it.  Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain turn in electrifying performances as the parents of three boys in 1950‘s Waco, Texas, but the film is bigger than the actors.  While Pitt, Chastain and Sean Penn are the known stars of the film, they are really merely just the colors on the canvas being masterfully painted by Malick.  Possibly the most polarizing film in many years (just as many folks hated it as loved it) but those that loved it, like myself, have a connection to the picture that is hard to explain.  I was mesmerized and exhilarated by every minute.  It’s the kind of theatrical experience I didn’t know was even possible.


2) Warrior.  When Warrior was released in early September I was convinced that it would be a huge hit.  Afterall, they took UFC fighting, a very popular sport, and created an emotional powerhouse of a story around it with a wallop of an ending that would have any grown man in tears.  Watching the film land with a thud at the box office really hurt.  I’m still convinced that the reason it isn’t getting the nominations from critics groups is that enough people still haven’t seen it.  So now my hope is that when it is released this week on blu-ray and digital download that people will finally take a look.  I feel this movie has the power to become the next Fight Club or Office Space if the word gets out.  If there is one movie from this list that I insist you watch, Warrior is it.

3) Midnight in Paris.  I will freely admit that seeing this film while flying to Paris last month added much to my enjoyment of it, but regardless, this is Woody Allen’s best film since Annie Hall.  Allen’s story about a young writer living in Paris who is transported back to the 1920’s every night at midnight is absolutely magical.  If you are one of those that just doesn’t like Allen due to personal feelings, you may be glad to know that he is only behind the camera here.  But whether or not you love or hate him, it’s hard not to appreciate the genius of his work here.  It’s hard to imagine this comedy not putting a big cheesy smile on your face.  And just like Warrior, Midnight in Paris comes out this week on DVD and blu-ray.


4) Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
  Don’t be surprised if you haven’t heard of this film yet as it won’t be released until late January, but let’s just say you’ll have a pleasant surprise in about a month.  As you can probably imagine, making a movie about the events of September 11 without creating an aura of depression would be a difficult task.  Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock are the parents of a uniquely strange nine-year-old who is doesn’t know how to cope with the fact that his father has been killed in the terrorist attacks.  When he finds a key belonging to his father he starts off on a journey to discover whatever it may be his dad left him to find.  This movie is not completely without tears (you may in fact need a large pocket stuffed with tissues) but the story is as powerful as it gets and the performances are incredibly moving.


5) The Help.  Making a movie about the 60’s civil rights movement that is as funny as it is sobering is quite an accomplished task.  Relative new-comer Tate Taylor wrote and directed this adaptation of the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett and the risk by Disney and DreamWorks has paid off big time with its $200 million haul.  More than that though, they made a movie to be proud of with one of the best ensemble casts seen this year.


6) 50/50.  Before going to see this I was certain that I would leave the theater imitating David Spade by saying “I liked it better the first time I saw it when it was called Funny People.”  Needless to say I was wrong.  Yes, Seth Rogen again plays the friend of a cancer victim who is given a horrible prognosis, but the script here is so much stronger and strangely hilarious.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is terrific in the role of the young man with terminal cancer and Anna Kendrick once again redeems herself after putting us through so many bad Twilight films.  The big star here though is writer Will Reiser and his very brave script based on his own life and his relationship with his friend Seth Rogen.

7) The Artist.  I’m sure most of you are very skeptical about all of these critics talking so highly about a French black and white silent film.  I was too until I sat down to watch it.  The film tells the story of a silent movie star, played brilliantly here by Jean Dujardin, who becomes obsolete once the talkies hit the scene.  Writer/director Michel Hazanavicius has created a very original and lovely film that will entertain anybody willing to give it a chance.

8) Hugo.
  So much money was wasted this year on completely crappy 3D versions of movies.  In fact, many audiences have shunn
ed the technology and have opted to both save money and have a more enjoyable time by not sitting through the lame effects studios have thrown down in the hopes of a bigger return.  Fortunately there are still films like Hugo which uses 3D the way it should be used: to greatly enhance the storytelling.  Director Martin Scorsese has done a tremendous job of creating an innovative family film about a young orphan in 1930’s Paris who finds himself struggling to not get sent to an orphanage by secretly living behind the walls of a train station.  When the boy’s secret is discovered, so is his journey which his father led him to before he died.  Hugo is simply a fun and beautiful adventure which perfectly utilizes the much-abused 3D technology. 

9) Rise of the Planet of the Apes.  Aside from the ridiculous “damn dirty ape” comment by Draco Malfoy at the beginning of the third act, this wildly creative film that sets up the iconic but silly franchise is anything but just another Planet of the Apes film.  Every few years a film comes along that breaks new ground technologically, but in order to give that film credibility, a great story has to take place, and Rise does just that.

10) The Descendants.  I love Alexander Payne films and The Descendants falls right in line with his other superb work such as Sideways and About Schmidt.  The very understated performance by George Clooney as a husband and father who finds out his wife, who is in a coma, has been cheating on him, will no doubt place him once again as an Oscar front-runner.

Honorable Mention: A Separation, The Adventures of Tintin, Arthur Christmas, Beginners, Bridesmaids, Buck, Life in a Day, The Elephant in the Living Room,  Horrible Bosses, Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol, Moneyball, The Muppets, My Week With Marilyn, Project Nim, Shame, Take Shelter

The Worst of 2011:

1) Your Highness.  Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman teams up with Oscar-nominee James Franco and Danny McBride for the most disappointing film of the year.  The only excuse I can think of for this waste of space is that they were all too stoned to practice good judgment. 

2) The Change-Up.  The good idea was there, the perfect cast was assembled, but the atrocious script ultimately ruined any chance of laughter. 

3) Sucker Punch.  Okay Zack Snyder, I’ll admit 300 was pretty cool and Watchmen was interesting, but Sucker Punch?  You’ve gone too far dude.  There’s no excuse for this mess of a film.  And don’t try crying about how the studio made you trim it up too much.  I saw your director’s cut and it sucked just as bad.

4) Arthur.  Let’s take a movie that wasn’t very good to begin with and remake it with a wannabe movie star who likes to act drunk all of the time in real life.  Sound like a good idea?  I thought not. 

5) The Hangover Part II.  Second verse, same as the first.  If I wanted to see the first movie again, I would have simply watched it again.  I really want to like these guys but I feel a bit deceived. 

New in Home Entertainment – December 13, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

December 13, 2011

Rise of the Planet of the Apes
Rated PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

The Planet of the Apes franchise has always been known to be an iconic, yet also cheesy collection of movies meant for pure silly, almost b-movie entertainment.  That is until this newest entry.  Rise of the Planet of the Apes does serve as a prequel to the rest of the films, but also tells a terrific story which gives some credibility to them as well, as strange as that sounds.  There are no men in ape suits here, but rather wonderfully created CGI apes, with Andy Serkis leading the fray as Caesar, a genetically-altered chimpanzee taken from his mother at a pharmaceutical company while still a baby, and raised by James Franco in a real home environment.  When an event forces Caesar into an ape sanctuary, Caesar’s intelligence changes the course of Earth’s future.  With mind-blowing special effects, an ambitious story, and loads of action and emotion, this new addition to the series rises above them all and is one of the surprise highlights of 2011.  A-

Kung Fu Panda 2
Rated PG for sequences of martial arts action and mild language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

Jack Black is back in this sequel to the hit animated film about a panda that saves the day with his Kung Fu.  In this new pic, Po the panda must lead his team of martial artists to fight the sinister peacock Shen.  The first film was a nice surprise since I expected it to be a pretty corny kids film and it ended up being a rather entertaining adventure.  Unfortunately, this new release just doesn’t have the creativity or energy of the first and runs out of steam rather quickly.  The animation is good enough and there are a few laughs to be found, but it feels like a movie put together too fast in order to capitalize on the tremendous success of its predecessor.  C+

Vietnam in HD
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

With its highly praised WWII in HD, the History Channel has tackled Vietnam in the same manor with this new six-hour mini-series.  Using hours of never-before-seen footage along with accounts of real soldiers, told by the soldiers themselves in combination with a cast of famous Hollywood actors, Vietnam in HD succeeds in not only giving a nice history lesson, but also puts a rarely seen human face on the war.  Some might complain that the documentary doesn’t go into enough detail, but for most the detail is perfect and the images will stick with you long after its over.  Just as in WWII in HD, this new look at Vietnam should appeal to both history buffs and to those that simply want a little better understanding of our country’s tumultuous history.    A

The Life & Times of Tim: The Complete Second Season
Available on DVD

While it’s not one of HBO’s hit shows, The Life & Times of Tim is an edgy and entertaining animated sitcom that is full of rude humor and unexpected chuckles.  If you thought the first season was outrageous, this new one is better. The writers and voice actors are obviously more comfortable with the material, as is evident from the fast-paced laughs.  As a former drug rep myself, I found the episode “Pharmaceutical Sales Rep Gone Wild” to be the highlight of the very entertaining series.  B+

Happy Feet Two

Happy Feet Two

Starring the voices of Robin Williams, Elijah Wood, Pink, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon
Directed by George Miller (Mad Max)
Rated PG for some rude humor and mild peril

    Taking place a generation after the events of the first film, Happy Feet Two follows the lives Mumble, Gloria and their new son Erik.  Under pressure from his parents to either dance or sing, Erik is confused as to what his talent really is and searches throughout the film to find it.  When global warming causes the colony of penguins to become trapped by mountains of ice, Mumble must find a way to rescue them before they starve to death.

    When Happy Feet hit theaters in 2006 I was shocked at how much I loved it.  I expected a mediocre to bad experience and was treated to one of my favorite films of that year.  The music was fantastic, the animation was gorgeous and the direction was inspired.  So armed with a bigger budget and five years worth of animation advancement, I figured the sequel could have real potential.  With expectations high, its sometimes hard to live up to them, and in this case they definitely weren’t lived up to.

    I’ll start off by admitting that they didn’t screw it all up.  This one, just like the first, has a unique look to it that is simply beautiful.  What could have been just a black and white film is full of vibrant colors that leap off the screen.  And George Miller has an eye for animation direction that I believe is unrivaled in the industry.  How to Train Your Dragon came close in regard to direction, but you could tell that there was a lot of inspiration from Miller.  That being said, his story telling here isn’t nearly as good thanks to an unimaginative script that steals heavily from Disney’s Dinosaur.

    To make matters worse, the music here is just plain flat.  There is an occasional laugh from a clever lyric such as “I’m Bringing Slushy Back,” but overall the music sounds like the B-sides from the first film.

    The big saving grace for the pic lies in the introduction of Will and Bill the Krill voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon.  Leaving their swarm, they attempt to fight their way up the food chain at any cost.  Their dialogue is incredibly witty and their antics are extremely fun to watch.  They are most definitely the high point of the film.    

    Five years ago I had an image in my mind of what the first Happy Feet would be like before I saw it, and that image was the sequel.  B- 

New in Home Entertainment – December 6, 2011

New in Home Entertainment

December 6, 2011

The Help
Rated PG-13 for thematic material
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

This year it was hard to find a room full of people where half hadn’t read Kathryn Stockett’s best selling novel The Help.  And when they discuss the book, they almost always compare it with the film and how they got it right.  Having not read the book going in, I was more than pleasantly surprised by this story of social injustice that takes place during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  The stories of the workers are profoundly moving and it is a blessing that much progress has been made in the last fifty years.  While Emma Stone is essentially the glue that holds the group of women together, it’s Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Bryce Dallas Howard and Jessica Chastain that all provide Oscar-worthy performances.  I can’t imagine anyone not loving this wonderfully entertaining drama.  A

Big Love: The Complete Fifth Season
Available on DVD

HBO’s hit series about a Mormon Fundamentalist that practices polygamy came to the spotlight this past year when a major raid upon a compound revealed the scary truths the show portrays.  I think we all knew after watching season four that it would be a bad idea for Bill (Bill Paxton) to come out as a polygamist once he won the Senate seat, but to what degree would be interesting to watch.  In this fifth and final season, HBO did a great job of putting this show to rest.  The writing is strong and the acting equally as powerful.  While I won’t miss the discomfort I get from watching it, I will miss the originality and the superb drama.  Also available in time for the holidays is a beautiful boxed set containing the entire series.  B+

The Hangover Part II
Rated R for pervasive language, strong sexual content including graphic nudity, drug use and brief violent images
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

After one of the funniest and most original comedies of the past decade, you would expect a fairly decent follow-up for the sequel.  While this should have been the case for the second installment of The Hangover, it unfortunately wasn’t.  I realize it would be difficult to duplicate the originality of the first, but it appears that they didn’t even try.  They just basically took the same plot and moved it to Thailand.  And then when they threw Mike Tyson in the mix in the end to sing a song, it was almost like they were making fun of the audience for spending over a half a billion dollars to go see it.  I laughed a few times in spite of its problems, but overall I couldn’t help but thinking what a waste.  C-

The Smurfs in 3D
Rated PG for some mild rude humor and action
Available on DVD, Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D

While not nearly as clever or well-written as The Muppets, The Smurfs does provide a nice trip down nostalgia lane without all of the annoyances an Alvin and the Chipmunks.  I like that they had the foresight to use such a cool iconic figure as Neil Patrick Harris in the lead, but I really wish there was a better story here.  It has obviously made most audiences happy in spite of poor reviews (it hit a world-wide gross of $560 million) and will no doubt be stuffed in many stockings this holiday.  If you do have a 3D television, the effects here are pretty decent.  Also, you should check out the Smurf-O-Vision feature when you watch it.  Sony has taken a cue from Warner Brothers and they are starting to really take advantage of the the blu-ray format and what is capable of.  C+

The Debt
Rated R for some violence and language
Available on DVD and Blu-ray

In 1966, an elite group of Mossad secret agents is sent to Berlin to track down and bring in a wanted Nazi war criminal.  Decades later, the three spies are confronted with the events of that mission, and the new task at hand.  The Debt is exactly what you want a spy thriller to be: exciting, sexy and smart.  The plot is complex without being confusing and the actors who play both the young and old spies do a bang-up job.  Jessica Chastain (who was also excellent in The Help) is a perfect counterpart to her older self played by Helen Mirren.  B+