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Animation

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A Boy and His Dog.

Fortunately, Charlie Brown and Snoopy seem to be themselves in the first teaser for Steve Martino’s Peanuts, executive produced by Paul Feig of Freaks and Geeks and Bridesmaids. “[T]here’s a big effort to preserve Schulz’s ‘sweet optimism’…’Snoopy will not be rapping, no one will be twerking, we’re in good hands.’

Thundering Son of a Sea-Gherkin!


Much like Hitchhiker’s Guide in 2005, I should go ahead and admit upfront that my review of Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn probably won’t be much use to many stateside. Growing up overseas in England and Belgium, I was a definite Tintin kid. So I have a pre-existing fondness for the character, and, for at least the first forty-five minutes or so of this film, I had trouble wiping off the huge “Great Snakes, a Tintin movie!” grin off of my face. (When you throw in the trailers for The Hobbit and Star Wars in 3D beforehand, it almost seems like Hollywood is explicitly trying to cater to my inner six-year-old these days. Trailers for an Asterix and/or Mr. Men movie would’ve completely clinched it.)

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.

After Sunset.


You just start with what the feeling is. For this one the feeling definitely started with the handmade aesthetic and charm of Olympia’s work. Instantly I had the idea of doing it in a bookstore after-hours, imagining the lights coming down and these guys off their books…It evolved naturally and it all just started with the feeling.

Director Spike Jonze crafts a stop-motion Parisian love story, Mourir Aupres de Toi, with handbag designer Olympia LeTan. (Fret not: It’s ever-so-slightly less twee than Where the Wild Things Are.)

Craft of the Python.


All you lazy people out there who want to get maximum effect from minimum work, I want you to meet the arch-idler of all time, Terry “Python” Gilliam!” Via the Twitter machine, Terry Gilliam, circa 1974, explains the craft of cut-out animation. “The problem when you’re doing cutouts is to be totally aware of the limitations…I’m always accused of doing violent things, well, it’s because of the nature of cut-outs.

Unicorn Spotted.


Blue blistering bell-bottomed balderdash! Along with the spiffy poster above, the teaser for Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is now online.

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.

Nite-Owls and Cherry Bombs.

Word abounds that the Tron: Legacy trailer will be popping up very shortly on the petticoats of Tim Burton’s Alice, but no sign of it yet.

Until then, Zack Snyder follows up Watchmen with Hugo Weaving and animated owls in the rather meh trailer for Legend of the Guardians. Eh, doubtful…As per the Snyder norm, he lost me with the cruddy frat-rock.

And, for some more encouraging rock ‘n’ roll, Dakota Fanning is all grown up as Cherie Currie to Kristen Stewart’s Joan Jett in the second trailer for Floria Sigismondi’s The Runaways. Hmm, maybe…I can see Michael Shannon being a good bit of fun.

Time Waits for No Toy.

Old toys never die, they just lose their accessories. In the trailer bin, Buzz, Woody and the gang suffer the inevitable indignities of castoffhood in the brand-new trailer for Lee Unkrich’s Toy Story 3. So far, so good, and Pixar hasn’t really led us astray yet. Still, it could be the concussion talking, but I’m finding the pastel color palette of this flick really rather headache-inducing.

Where the Plastic Things Are.

After a decade in the toy chest, Woody, Buzz, and the gang finally get out of mothballs in the trailer for Pixar and Lee Unkrich’s Toy Story 3. It’s been 15 years since the first and ten since the second, so unclear to me why Pixar would endanger its winning streak by going back to this well now. Still, they haven’t let us down yet.

Down, Up, and Over.

Since I’m behind on my movie reviews, as ever, I’m hitting up the past few summer flicks I’ve witnessed in bulk. So, in brief:

A loving throwback to the director’s Evil Dead days, and an audience film if there ever was one, Sam Raimi’s Drag Me to Hell delivers a solidly entertaining two hours of low-budge comic mayhem, if you’re in the mood for it. It doesn’t really aspire to be anything more than what it is — a B-movie carnival funhouse. But taken as such, Drag Me to Hell offers thrills, chills, and (gross-out) spills with plenty of Raimi’s old-school tongue-in-cheek. I enjoyed myself quite a bit at a virtually empty screening, and would think this movie would kill with a packed Saturday night crowd. Buy the ticket, take the ride.

If you haven’t seen the previews, Christine Brown (Alison Lohman, quite appealing) is an ex-farm-girl trying to shake off her country roots and jump ahead a few social strata in the City of Angels, and she’s doing everything she can to be (or at least seem) upwardly mobile — she’s listening to pronunciation tapes to lose her accent, she’s foregoing sweets to keep her (newly thin) figure, she’s eyeing a promotion to assistant manager at the bank she works at, she has wildly overpaid for a trendy Mac laptop, etc. Then again, the last decision was probably forced on her, as Christine is currently dating Mac Guy (Justin Long), here Clay, a new psychology professor whose wealthy, elitist parents radiate condescension towards poor Christine. (By the way, fellow gradual students: if the kid being dragged to Hell before the opening credits didn’t tip you off that this is fantasy, the sight of Long starting a new academic job, complete with spiffy office, should do the trick. Riiiiight.)

At any rate, in her halfhearted attempts to seem ruthless enough for her bank promotion, Christine one day refuses the pleas of a sickly (re: gross) old woman (Lorna Raver) and signs off on the foreclosure of her home. Huge mistake, as this grotesque crone is actually of the gypsy persuasion — Yes, this movie is gonna make massive bank in Kazakhstan. Soon enough, after a comic brawl that involves stapled eyes and a lot of gummings, said gypsy dooms Christine to Hell. Hades. The Bad Place. And so, poor Ms. Brown only has three days — days which she will spend tormented by the lamia, a shadowy goat demon from the nefarious netherrealms — to save her soul. And, if you factor in LA ‘s infernal traffic, that’s really only two days…

One of the running jokes in Drag Me to Hell is that pretty much everybody around Christine — her boss (David Paymer), her co-worker (Reggie Lee), her gypsy nemesis, Clay’s parents, even Clay, whose warmth and sincere fondness for Christine is infused with noblesse oblige — is probably more deserving of her dire straits than she. Raimi’s film is positively Victorian in its punishing of Christine for trying to transgress class boundaries — apparently, there is no sin worse in LA than social striving. Still, pondering Drag Me to Hell‘s socioeconomic implications for any length of time is missing the point. Best to just sit back and let the blood, maggots, and embalming fluid flow. And if the elderly woman a few seats over won’t stop hacking, coughing, or chattering during the film — trust me, you’ll want to just let her do her thing.

Soon after bounding out of Drag Me to Hell, I caught Pixar’s Up in 3D. And, yes, like every other Pixar movie you can name (with the possible exception of Cars), it’s an impressive, eye-popping, first-rate entertainment, with both colorful craziness for the kids and a haunting resonance for adults. My go-to-Pixar films remain Toy Story 2 and The Incredibles, but I’m sure this’ll make a few people’s favorites list as well, even if most of the film actually comes off as somewhat anti-climactic.

Up begins with a meet-cute between nerdy Carl (eventually, Ed Asner) and adventurous Elie (Elizabeth Docter), two youngsters who share an inordinate fondness for explorer Charles Muntz (Christopher Plummer) and his Spirit of Adventure, the zeppelin he piloted to faraway Paradise Falls, never to return. These two kids enter a pact that they will one day follow in the footsteps of their hero…but, after love, puberty, marriage, and a life well-lived, they never quite make it. By ten minutes in, Elie has passed on, Carl is now an old and curmudgeonly retiree, and their longtime house is about to be torn down by ne’er-do-well corporate developers. Knowing no gypsies, Carl takes drastic action of a different kind — he attaches several hundred helium balloons to the premises and simply floats away. And, with an inadvertent stowaway in tow — That would be Russell (Jordan Nagai), the would-be Wilderness Scout who just wants to “assist the elderly” and procure his final badge — Carl finally has that long-awaited Paradise Falls adventure, which includes but is not limited to an ill-fated reunion with Muntz, a giant bird named Kevin, and a gaggle of roaming, Bowlingual-enhanced dogs…Squirrel!

Much hilarity and occasional melancholy ensues, of course, as per the norm. But for all the film’s many strengths, I thought Up suffered from a grievous structural flaw that knocks it out of the top tier of Pixar offerings. Remember how the first forty minutes of WALL-E just overpowered the broader and more whimsical “starship fatties” half of the movie? Well, Up feels even more frontloaded. The first ten minutes or so of the film, encompassing Carl and Elie’s many decades together, is so concise and elegantly told that it just put me out of the mood for the colorful birds and talking dog hijinx that follows. Ever see the ST:TNG episode where, due to that particular week’s encounter with a cosmic energy force, Picard ends up living out an entire lifetime — marriage, kids, grandkids, and all — while only forty-five minutes passes on the Enterprise? How was he supposed to go back to the usual random shuttling back-and-forth across the Alpha Quadrant after an experience like that? Well, Up felt for me much the same. It basically peaks in the first ten minutes, as it tells the story of a lifetime, and everything thereafter — tho’ kids will probably feel different — is just a slow leaking of air.

I’ve noticed in my conversations with movie people that there seems to be a distinct generation of men — say, five to ten years younger than me — who think of Todd Phillips’ Old School as a certifiable comedy classic, the Stripes or Revenge of the Nerds of its era. (FWIW, I thought Old School was terrible, and remember very little about it except Will Ferrell honing his naked-guy schtick.) Well, I’m guessing a lot of those folks thought more of Todd Phillips’ The Hangover than I did. It’s not a bad movie or anything — in fact, I would call it intermittently funny. But i didn’t find it anywhere near as uproarious as some reviews would suggest, and I feel I could’ve just as easily caught this flick on cable in a few months and not lost anything. If this is really the comedy event of the summer, then just keep drinking — we’re in for another year to forget.

The premise of The Hangover may be the funniest thing about it. Four friends — ok, three friends and Alan, a weird deadbeat soon-to-be brother-in-law (Zack Galifianakis) — descend upon Vegas to paint the town red for a blowout bachelor party. Cut to the next day, and things have clearly gotten out of hand. Doug the groom (Justin Bartha) is nowhere to be found. Phil the lothario schoolteacher (Bradley Cooper) has a monster headache and a hospital band around his wrist. Stu the henpecked, cuckolded dentist (Ed Helms) has lost a tooth and gained a wife. And Alan can’t find his pants or his man-satchel…but has found a tiger in the bathroom and a toddler in the closet. So what the eff happened? The remaining three musketeers try to piece together clues of their Big Night and find their lost friend before zero hour in California, when Bridezilla awakens. Can they save the day in time?

The Hangover works best if you think that absolutely anything could’ve happened the night before. As it turns out, tho, most of what happened is constrained by what you’ve seen in the previews (or, barring that, the promotional materials all over the theater I was in — Heather Graham, check. Mike Tyson, check. Mike Epps, check.) And so what you’re mostly left with is a few hours of waiting for these haggard guys to tick off the next few boxes and get up to speed with the trailer. In the meantime, their company is, well, mildly entertaining, I guess, although (as in Old School) these dudes — and the sense of humor — are all a bit too mook for my taste. (If you find bare asses funny on their own terms, tho’, have at it.) A lot of the jokes revolves around Zack Galifianakis’s Alan, who’s…not quite right in the head. But, frankly, he just seems like a collection of comedy writing tics than a full-fledged character like, say, Walter Sobchak in Lebowski. What can I say? Humor is a delicate thing, and it differs for different people. But, aside from a line here or there (like the “Holocaust ring” one in the trailer), I just didn’t find The Hangover all that funny. Your mileage may vary.

Besides, on my first wild weekend in Vegas, Dubya started an unnecessary, multibillion-dollar war. Beat that for crazy.

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