Ten days into the new year, it’s past time to knock out GitM’s best-of-2011 list. To be honest, last year’s movie crop was somewhat underwhelming, and as always, there are a few more gaps I’d love to have plugged first — Cedar Rapids, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Take Shelter, Warrior — but, for what I saw last year, here’s the best of ’em…
Most Disappointing: Had I more faith in Zack Snyder beforehand, this would go to his thoroughly terrible Sucker Punch, and, alas, the unfortunately botched Green Lantern came close to taking this spot as well. In the end, though, this goes to Jon Favreau’s misfire Cowboys and Aliens. Cowboys! Aliens! Daniel Craig! Harrison Ford! And yet, this one came out duller than dirt.
Worth Netflixing: The Adjustment Bureau, Beginners, The Conspirator, A Dangerous Method, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Pt. 2, Hugo, The Ides of March, J. Edgar, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Tree of Life, The Trip, Win Win
Best Actor: Gary Oldman, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy; George Clooney, The Descendants; Michael Fassbender, Shame
Best Actress: Rooney Mara, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Charlize Theron, Young Adult; Mia Wasikowska, Jane Eyre
Best Supporting Actor: Uggie, The Artist; Christopher Plummer, Beginners, Eric Bana, Hanna; Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hardy, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Supporting Actress: Shailene Woodley, The Descendants; Jessica Chastain, The Tree of Life, Melissa McCarthy, Bridesmaids, Cate Blanchett, Hanna
Unseen: 30 Minutes or Less, Albert Nobbs, Anonymous, Another Earth, Apollo 18, Arthur, Arthur Christmas, Atlas Shrugged, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, Bad Teacher, Barney’s Version, Beastly, The Beaver, Bellflower, Biutiful, Carnage, Cars 2, Cedar Rapids, The Change-Up, Colombiana, Conan the Barbarian, Coriolanus, The Darkest Hour, The Debt, The Devil’s Double, The Dilemma, Dolphin Tale, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Dream House, Drive Angry, Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Everything Must Go, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, Fast Five, Footloose, Fright Night, The Guard, The Hangover Pt 2, Happy Feet 2,The Help, Hesher, Horrible Bosses, I Am Number Four, Immortals, Incendies, In the Land of Blood and Honey, In Time, The Iron Lady, I Saw the Devil, Jack and Jill, Killer Elite, Kung Fu Panda 2, Larry Crowne, The Last Circus, Like Crazy, The Lincoln Lawyer, Margaret, Margin Call, Martha Marcy May Marlene, The Mechanic, Melancholia, Moneyball, Mr. Popper’s Penguins, My Week with Marilyn, New Year’s Eve, Our Idiot Brother, Paranormal Activity 3, Pariah, Paul, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Priest, Puss in Boots, Rango, Real Steel, Red State, Rio, The Rum Diary, Sanctum, Scream 4, Sleeping Beauty, The Smurfs, Something Borrowed, Straw Dogs, Take Me Home Tonight, Take Shelter, The Thing, The Three Musketeers, Tower Heist, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Twilight: Breaking Dawn, The Way Back, Warrior, We Bought a Zoo, We Need to Talk about Kevin, Winnie the Pooh, Your Highness, Zookeeper
Point being, I had a different reaction to this film than I’m guessing those unfamiliar with the world of Tintin will. Even notwithstanding the joy of seeing these beloved characters come to life, The Secret of the Unicorn is filled with easter eggs for Tintin-o-philes. Our hero (Jamie Bell) has nods to Cigars of the Pharaoah, The Black Island, and King Ottokar’s Sceptre on his wall. Later we encounter a crab with golden claws, a zero-G nod to Explorers on the Moon, and, as the villain’s “secret weapon,” a cameo by one of Captain Haddock’s (Andy Serkis) more amusing adversaries. And, in the background, Spielberg and Jackson are constantly recreating sight-gags from various Tintin adventures — say, Snowy digging up a ginormous bone in the desert –that continually conjured up ancient memories of childhood laughs within me. If you like Tintin, you’ll almost assuredly have a good time here.
And if you don’t know Belgium’s most famous boy journalist from a hole in the ground? Well, that’s a stickier wicket. The exquistely craftted chase scenes are reasonably engaging, if ever so slightly repetitive, on their own. (And a shout-out to John Williams’ score, which could be my favorite work of his in at least a decade.) But if you don’t know anything about these characters already, I’m not sure you’ll find much of a rooting interest here. For better or for worse, this is pretty clearly a film by Tintin fans for Tintin fans. (If anything, I sometimes wish they’d hewed even closer to the books. Some of the setpieces — say, Haddock and the bad guy (Daniel Craig) dueling with construction cranes — felt like generic action-spectacle filler. I’d rather have seen Tintin do more detective work.)
But, whether you’re new to Tintin or a veteran hand, I’m happy to report that the motion-capture animation here is the most impressive I’ve ever seen — no dead eyes to speak of here. I actually thought the animation Zemeckis’s Beowulf was reasonably well-done back in 2007, but this is better by an order of magnitude. (It helps that Spielberg and Jackson have forgone the uncanny valley by going for a Herge-plus look.) In fact, the two things I was most afraid of not working going in — the motion-capture animation and Snowy — are probably the two highlights of the film. (Tintin’s faithful companion is a scene-stealer through and through.) Conversely, the character who I thought would be an easy slam dunk, Captain Haddock, actually grows somewhat tiresome over the course of the movie. (The swearing plays, but all the alcoholic tendencies that are funny on paper begin to grate in three dimensions.)
Speaking of three dimensions, I caught this in 3D, but I’m not sure it really added much to the experience — especially when you factor in that a 3D movie ticket now costs all of $15.50(!) here in the District. I know I recently hated on the 3D push in my Hugo review, but, still, that price for one ticket to a 100 minute film is verging on the ridiculous. My advice: Take your kids to Tintin, but spend 2D money, and use the savings to buy them one of the books.
Hmmm. As a Tintin kid, I’m really looking forward to these movies. But, for now, I am not feeling the decision to go photorealistic with this at all. Snowy/Milou should not conjure grim memories of Scooby-Doo and Yogi Bear. Here’s hoping a few more rotations in the CGI-machine smooths this out some.
In the new Empire Magazine, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson talk The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, and show off the boy reporter’s new Final Fantasy-ish look. (The cover above mirrors a famous drawing of Tintin that I have up in my work-cube.)
In the same story, PJ talks about where he might take Tintin after the Secret of the Unicorn/Red Rackham arc covered in Spielberg’s film. “One of my favourites is The Seven Crystal Balls, so that’s the one I’ve always been thinking of,’ he says. ‘I also really like the Eastern European ones, the Balkan ones like King Ottokar’s Sceptre and The Calculus Affair. I think it’s a terrific setting for a thriller, the weird Balkan politics and the mysterious secret service agents. I think the Moon ones are terrific, but they’d be good for the third or fourth Tintin film, if we get that far. We want to keep his feet on the ground just a little bit longer.” As a Tintin kid, I’m really looking forward to these.
In the trailer bin of late:
And, as Comic-Con 2009 is just kicking off:
In honor of the character’s 80th birthday (or 560th, if we’re talking about Snowy), fans and future trilogy directors Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson brandish Thompson hats and umbrellas while talking Tintin. Now that Zack Snyder’s Watchmen has come and gone, I suppose it’s Tintin that’s the next “I can’t believe they’re really making a big-budget film version of this” beloved property of my youth. (Which probably means that, sometime around my 40th birthday, David Fincher’s Mr. Men will be hitting the multiplexes as well.)
Word comes down today that (as rumored way back in 2004) Jamie Bell will replace Thomas Sangster as Tintin, and Daniel Craig will play the fearsome Red Rackham, in Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, first of the planned mo-cap trilogy. Moreover, Shaun of the Dead scribe Edgar Wright has given Stephen Moffat’s script a polish. (As reported earlier, Andy Serkis is Captain Haddock and Wright’s usual brothers-in-arms are Thomson and Thompson respectively.)
Hmm. With Spielberg’s first film likely covering Unicorn and Rackham, I wonder if PJ’s contribution will involve Destination Moon/Explorers on the Moon or The Seven Crystal Balls/Prisoners of the Sun. And Toby Jones is now among the cast too, it seems…Professor Calculus?
Doctor, doctor, can’t you see they’re burning, burning? I missed this rumor when it first got some run last September, but apparently AICN has confirmed it: Fanboy brothers-in-arms Simon Pegg and Nick Frost of Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, and Hot Fuzz have been cast as the Thompson twins in the forthcoming PJ/Spielberg Tintin films. Now that’s great casting, particularly as they’re pretty much impossible to tell apart.
In other Tintin news I missed, Thomas Sangster (a.k.a. Tintin) is now off the project due to scheduling conflicts (and writer Steven Moffat also left to pursue Who.) But Andy Serkis is still Haddock, and Jackson and Spielberg are still directing the first two installments.
“My entire career has been a Secret Plan to get this job. I applied before but I got knocked back cos the BBC wanted someone else. Also I was seven.” Arguably the reincarnated show’s best writer, Steven Moffat will take over as head of Doctor Who for Season 5 (or Season 31, depending on how you’re counting), replacing Russell Davies. That’s a perfect choice…so long as it doesn’t screw up Spielberg and PJ’s Tintin trilogy.
“An executive who worked with Sangster in Los Angeles recently told me: ‘Thomas seems to be the one. He was just great, but I’m not certain if anything has been finalised yet.‘” Spielberg and PJ look to have found their Tintin, and it’s Thomas Sangster, formerly of Love, Actually (but I’ll try not to hold it against him.) He joins Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock and…hey, it’s mocap…can we get Berk as Snowy/Milou?
Dictatorial duck billed diplodocus! Motion-capture veteran Andy Serkis joins Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg’s Tintin trilogy, most likely as the inimitable Captain Haddock.
Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson’s previously-announced Tintin trilogy finds a writer in Doctor Who scribe Steven Moffat, of the Season 3 episode “Blink.” Speaking of which, I’ve run hot and cold on BBC’s Doctor Who update thus far, and have found showrunner Russell Davies’ campy contributions to be mixed at best. But the second half of Season 3 has been exceptionally good Who. From “Blink” to the “Doctor goes Human” two-parter in pre-WWI England (“Human Nature/”The Family of Blood“) to Derek Jacobi’s turn as a lonely, befuddled scientist at the end of time in “Utopia” to the Master taking Tony Blair’s job in “The Sound of Drums,” I’d say this most-recent run can hold its own with the best of the Pertwee-Baker years. (I haven’t seen “Last of the Time Lords,” the Season 3 finale, yet, but I dig John Simm as the Master, and his evil companion is a real kick.)
Off-topic, but also on the television front, I’ve recently boarded the 5:23 Mad Men commuter train. It’s a show I’ve been shying away from despite the good reviews, mainly because I feared it’d be 85% Rat Pack kitsch, i.e. its raison d’etre would be primarily to wallow in the unregenerate un-PCness of the early Sixties. But, while I’m still living a few episodes behind present-time, Mad Men makes for pretty solid television, even if, as with Miller’s Crossing, it can be hard to watch without a glass of Jamesons and clinking ice in hand. Jon Hamm’s Don Draper and John Slattery’s Roger Sterling are particularly good, and, as someone noted on The House Next Door, Michael Gladis’ Paul Kinsey is an eerie facsimile of the young Orson Welles. Plus, with all due respect to Officers Bunk and McNulty, it’s a nice change of pace to watch smart, well-written characters in a TV drama that aren’t cops, doctors, or mobsters.
Finally, I never much cottoned to it anyway, but after the Season 2 premiere, NBC’s Heroes is getting kicked off the DVR. As I said last Spring, the blatant, unattributed ripping off of Watchmen and the X-Men’s “Days of Future Past” in Season 1 was already hard to swallow. And, judging from the first week’s installment, Kring & co. have decided to go back to the well, and have stolen the Comedian storyline straight out of Watchmen too. Given that their poorly-written, overstuffed show is usually as artless as their theft here, count me out.