Thursday, December 22, 2011

Movie Review: “The Adventures of Tintin”

My favorite animated film of the year finally makes its way across the pond.

***** out of 5
107 minutes
Rated PG for adventure action violence, some drunkenness and brief smoking
Paramount Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: The Adventures of Tintin on Blogcritics.

While motion capture in film is nowhere near as intolerable as when first introduced via Robert Zemeckis’ excruciating “Polar Express,” it sure has come a long way. This year, however, it may have even finally hit its stride. From the dusty plains of “Rango” to Andy Serkis’ hopeful Oscar-nominated turn as Caesar in “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” it was only a matter of time before Zemeckis’ long time buddy, Steven Spielberg, unsurprisingly, one upped him. Along with producer Peter Jackson as his partner in crime, Hergé’s beloved Belgian character finally gets a sea worthy big budget adaptation in “The Adventures of Tintin.”

While already a huge moneymaker overseas (currently standing at a massive $239 million), this isn’t the first time Tintin and his faithful canine companion Snowy have made their way to the States. When it was announced that Spielberg and Jackson were uniting to bring a trilogy of sorts to the big screen, it was a moment of glee. Even if just because I knew they would set out to prove exactly what you can really do with full length motion capture animated films and 3-D features as well.

The story may seem a tad convoluted, but that’s not the point of “The Adventures of TinTin.” Spielberg has finally made the best “Indiana Jones”-like film since Indy rode off into the sunset in 1989. Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a young reporter who’s just set his sights on a replica of the fabled Unicorn, a model ship. After it’s quickly snatched away by Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), Tintin finds himself kidnapped where he meets up with the whiskey swilling Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). Together, the three (Snowy in tow), must travel the globe to discover the secret of the Unicorn including a lost treasure buried beneath the sea by Haddock’s pirating relative, Sir Francis Haddock (Serkis again), after the best “Pirates of the Caribbean” sea battle Disney never gave us.

The screenplay was originally drafted by Steven Moffat (“Dr. Who,” “Sherlock,” “Coupling”), with a rewrite by the brilliant Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead,” “Hot Fuzz”, “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”) and Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”). The three have written an amazing film that could easily have taken place within the “Indiana Jones” universe. If they wound up being our Three Wise Men for the rumored fifth venture, I’d be even more on board than I already am. As a Spielberg fanatic, I have to admit that I didn’t despise “Crystal Skull.” I know how much he loves his aliens and considering the timeline of the entry it fit in far better than people may want to admit.

Now Spielberg and Jackson have welcomed in a whole new kind of adventure. Where, thanks to the CG assistance of course, whole action sequences can be breathtakingly choreographed into a single take. And considering the writers, it should come as no surprise that there are references aplenty to The Beard’s previous work, along with the original Hergé comics as well. As I mentioned the motion capture here finally works – even if Jamie Bell may seem a bit too wide eyed and you’re dying for him to blink.

But nothing spoils the fun thanks to Spielberg reveling in his yesteryears and whisking us away on his most grand adventure in a long time. If it hadn’t been for the aforementioned “Rango” being a complete original, where this is based on previous material, it would be my frontrunner for best animated film of the year at the Academy Awards. As it stands however, “The Adventures of Tintin” still takes the case of being my favorite animated film of the year.

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures

Movie Review: “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”

Best. “Mission.” Yet.

***** out of 5
133 minutes
Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense action and violence
Paramount Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol on Blogcritics.

A lot of people have been integrating IMAX filmed footage into their movies lately. While the best are few and far between and range from the great to awful (“The Dark Knight” to “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”), there’s still plenty of room to keep our mouths agape. And if director Brad Bird has anything to do with it, his live action debut, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” seems set out to make sure that if you don’t already suffer from acrophobia, you just might after his central pièce de résistance is over.

Brad Bird is best known as the genius behind one of the single greatest superhero movies ever made (“The Incredibles”). And was also the man who made the world discover that yes, anyone can cook, even if it’s a rat named Remy (“Ratatouille”). It was only a matter of time before someone handed him a camera and a deft screenplay (courtesy of producer J.J. Abrams’ regular partners in crime, Josh Applebaum and Andre Nemec), letting him set his sights on a big-budget action film. If you thought his visuals in “The Incredibles” lived up that film’s title, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

In “Ghost Protocol,” we meet up with Ethan Hunt locked up in a Moscow prison. Benji and Co. have just arrived to break him and fellow inmate Bogdan (Miraj Grbic) out to the tune of “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head.” We’ve also seen another agent, Hanaway (Josh Holloway, “Lost”), being taken out by who turns out to be an assassinating blonde (Léa Seydoux) with high ambitions. Jane and Benji inform Ethan that Hanaway was killed by Sabine Moreau while they were attempting to obtain some documents. Turns out said documents just happen to be nuclear launch codes.

The codes are also being hunted down by our current antagonist, Hendricks (Michael Nyqvist). Hendricks of course just wants to use them to start an all out nuclear war. Things get a little tricky for the team however, as the IMF has disavowed all agents thanks to Hendricks setting off an explosion inside the Kremlin. Now Ethan and his crew are about to be declared terrorists right after choosing to accept their mission of finding Hendricks and obtaining the codes. But not before the Russians take out the IMF Secretary (Tom Wilkinson) with a hailstorm of bullets leaving everyone en route to Dubai to get back the nuclear launch codes and save the day.

There’s been a whole lot of press surrounding Tom Cruise and his daredevil antics during the filming of “Ghost Protocol” — most of it having to do with his leaping, crawling, and running down the face of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world. When Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his band of merry IMF misfits – Benji (Simon Pegg), Jane (Paula Patton), and Brandt (Jeremy Renner) – discover their most current MacGuffin is related to the building’s 130th floor, you get a whole new perspective on the ground floor. By now we all know that yes, that is Tom Cruise performing his own stunts as usual and it’s all for the greater good.

With J.J. Abrams returning as producer, even if handing off the reigns to Bird, there’s some surprising continuity for a change. And not just because of some select characters (including series favorite Luther Stickell, Ving Rhames) making joyful appearances. We also get back composer Michael Giacchino who infuses the film with his own musical cues tying this film with “III,” even if at least thematically. Not to mention that writers Applebaum and Nemec have plenty of background in the spy business after having worked on Abrams’ own “Alias.” It’s like a big welcome conglomeration of everything Bad Robot and Pixar.

Plenty of references abound, ranging from Ethan using extraction code Alpha 1-1-3 to Jane’s use of a red balloon. Not to mention the finale which will seem all too familiar, yet every bit as fun, as the door chase sequence in “Monsters, Inc.” And finally, anyone who doesn’t take the time to witness “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol” the way it was meant to be seen, on their local IMAX (if available at least), is only shortchanging themselves. “Ghost Protocol” is definitely one of the year’s most fun films.

Photos courtesy Paramount Pictures

Movie Preview: December 2011

Get ready for a holiday wallop!

Article first published as Movie Preview: December 2011 on Blogcritics.

It’s that time of year again. While the snow may not be falling in my neck of the woods yet, the awards season is ramping up. And while the cinematic presents may seem few and far between, that doesn’t mean the month will leave you out in the cold. While nothing of true note may be opening until December 16, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth waiting for.

December 2

Sorry, literally not one new film opening. Nothing to see here folks, moving along…

December 9

While “Valentine’s Day” was absolutely one of the worst films of 2010 doesn’t mean that the “creators” of that monstrosity shouldn’t try capitalizing on yet another holiday. Now you get “New Year’s Eve.” You’re welcome. Poor Gary Marshall is still out to prove just how much he’s forgotten about how to make a great romantic comedy, or even just a fun movie. Long gone are the days of “Pretty Woman,” “Beaches,” “Overboard,” “Nothing in Common,” “The Flamingo Kid” or even “Frankie & Johnny.” Something sure seems to have sucked the life out of ol’ Marshall during the ’90s and he’s never recovered.

Look no further than “Exit to Eden,” “Dear God,” “The Other Sister,” “Runaway Bride,” “Raising Helen,” “The Princess Diaries 2,” “Georgia Rule,” and the aforementioned “Valentine’s Day.” The first “Princess Diaries” was a small trifle compared to the rest of those. Let alone that writer Katherine Fugate seems to think that having Katherine Heigl (one of my most hated celebrities) crack jokes about there being “more celebrities here than rehab,” or poor Sofia Vergara being degraded into making jokes about how big her boobs are. I will hopefully never have to bear witness to what befalls audiences here. However, if New Year’s Eve were this movie, I could get behind it.

Meanwhile, Jonah Hill makes his final onscreen fat appearance in a movie that just screams “Adventures in Babysitting” ripoff – “The Sitter.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But when it comes from the same guy who used to direct the likes of “George Washington,” “All the Real Girls,” “Undertow,” and “Snow Angels,” apparently being friends with the Apatow Crew is a more surefire way to keep your day job. Even while the law of diminishing returns could be used against him. “Pineapple Express” was a surprise hit all things considered, and while I’m in the minority who enjoyed “Your Highness,” you can’t help but wonder about this one as the studio refuses to screen it. Guess we’ll just have to wait for Hill’s hilarious looking “21 Jump Street” to see the freshly weight lost Hill back in action.

December 16

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. First there’s an artsy fartsy headed our way reuniting the team behind “Juno”: Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman. While Reitman has more hits on resume than Cody, together there seems to be something grand between the two of them. Also today, we get the return of everyone’s favorite detective, “Sherlock Holmes,” who’s up against his arch nemesis Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris). Jude Law and Rachel McAdams return as well for “A Game of Shadows” with the original “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” herself, Noomi Rapace, along for the ride. With a trailer featuring as many slo-mo action sequences as anything released by Zack Snyder, a sense of fun and wise-cracking seems to be headed our way once again with Guy Ritchie seeming to be fully enjoying his deserved turn in the Hollywood spotlight. Game on!

Also out, in an IMAX exclusive release is Brad Bird’s (“Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles”) ascent into live action with a little movie you may have heard of, “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.” (Expanding to a wide release on December 21.) After a bombing in the Kremlin, super spy Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and company go rogue to clear IMF’s name. Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames return while Ethan’s newest cohorts consist of Paula Patton and Jeremy Renner, who may or may not be taking over the series’ reigns after this installment. Also be on the lookout for Josh Holloway, Tom Wilkinson, and Michael Nyqvist. If the teasers and trailers are any indication however, there’s still too much life in the series for it to end here. And with producer J.J. Abrams touting Bird’s IMAX footage as “mind-blowing,” it’s just further proof that if they decided to end things here, at least they seem to be going out with a bang.

For the kiddie set, there’s yet another entry to the dreadful “Alvin and the Chipmunks” series. Some day studios will learn that this live-action/CGI hybrid stuff just doesn’t work. But alas, audiences keep flocking, the rest of the world keeps suffering, and Jason Lee will keep getting work. Too bad “My Name is Earl” was canceled bringing him back to this dreadful looking fiasco. This time the crew finds themselves “Chip-wrecked” (hardy har har) on a deserted island where they seem to bide their time waiting for rescue singing Lady Gaga songs. As if some of her work wasn’t already annoying enough, we should never have the “opportunity” to feast our ears upon her playlist by way of the “Chipmunks.”

December 21

In the interest of there being six big movies opening within four days, we’ll keep the rest of this shorter and sweeter. Today we get two of the most highly anticipated films of the season, along with two high profile directors, but two wholly different features, both featuring protagonists on a mighty quest. In Steven Spielberg’s first foray into motion capture technology comes his adaptation of Hergé’s beloved “Adventures of Tintin.” While the “Secret of the Unicorn” subtitle has been dropped, screenwriters Steven Moffat (“Doctor Who”), Edgar Wright (“Shaun of the Dead”), and Joe Cornish (“Attack the Block”) will be making sure they keep things on a grand scale. On the flip side of things, David Fincher returns to his darker roots with his Hollywood version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” With Daniel Craig stepping in as Mikael Blomkvist and Rooney Mara taking over as Lisbeth Salander, we’ll see if Fincher can one up the original Swedish version of Stieg Larsson’s acclaimed novel.

December 23

When you haven’t released a film in six years people are going to hold you up against your yesteryears. For Cameron Crowe, this means the ilk of such films as “Say Anything…,” “Singles,” “Jerry Maguire,” and “Almost Famous.” While I am a fan of one of his two lesser but more recent affairs (“Vanilla Sky,” not “Elizabethtown”), when you have Matt Damon in the lead, you could probably make any kind of film you wanted. What Crowe has decided to bring us is an adaptation of Benjamin Mee’s true life account of uprooting his family to a zoo to spend their days. Hilarity and lots of heart will undoubtedly prevail.

December 25

There have been lots of horror movies released on Christmas Day. So finding a 3-D alien invasion flick headed our way should come as no huge surprise. I still remember going to see “The Faculty” on the year’s biggest holiday, even if I was one of extremely few. Coming from the man who directed a great little horror diddy already, “Right at Your Door,” we’ll see if Chris Gorak can make due with producer Timur Bekmambetov (“Wanted”) behind him as aliens attack Moscow and Emile Hirsch must save the day in “The Darkest Hour.”

Films about 9/11 have started to dwindle as of late, but thankfully none of them have been anywhere near as cinematically abysmal as “Remember Me.” Thankfully for “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close,” a writer (Eric Roth of “Forrest Gump”) and director (Stephen Daldry, “Billy Elliot”) with some class have been brought on to direct a grade-A cast (Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis). Newcomer Thomas Horn may have won “Teen Jeopardy” but now he’s making the leap from the small screen to the big one to portray young Oskar Schell who’s in search of the lock that a key from his father (Hanks) left behind after dying in the 9/11 attacks. Heartstrings will be pulled but I suspect the sentiment will be real for a change.

And finally, Steven Spielberg gives us a second helping of cinema with his big screen epic adaptation of “War Horse.” When Michael Morpurgo’s novel has already been brought to us on stage with puppets and five Tony Awards no less, I’m sure Spielberg will find a way to make sure his film is of the grand scale it deserves. Having screenwriting masterminds Lee Hall (“Billy Elliot”) and Richard Curtis (“Love Actually,” “Four Weddings and a Funeral”) can’t hurt either. I’ve heard the scope of the film is everything old school in both Hollywood and Spielberg so my fingers are crossed that the 147 minute runtime is well deserved.

With nothing opening after Christmas Day until 2012, there’s clearly already way too much headed our way anyway. With the Thanksgiving films hopefully holding over as well, there’s plenty to keep everyone occupied with too many worthwhile films to see. Have a safe and happy holiday everyone and we’ll see you next year!