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The Adventures Of Tintin (#110 of 14)

Oscar Prospects: Lincoln

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Oscar Prospects: Lincoln
Oscar Prospects: Lincoln

Though it boasts the strongest pedigree of all 2012 awards contenders, Lincoln doesn’t play like obvious Oscar bait while you’re watching it. Masterfully realized, the tame and talky saga spends most of its duration bucking the epic-biopic formula, unfolding with minimal spectacle and with characterization that’s as communal as it is subject-focused. From look to language, it’s no trophy-seeking construct, but a first-rate political drama made with consummate skill. So, how nice that it’s been so ardently embraced by critics, racking up—at this writing—more perfect-score reviews than any other Oscar candidate this year. That critical push is going to help voters take notice of all the un-showy aspects of Lincoln’s production, including Rick Carter’s Art Direction, Joanna Johnston’s Costume Design, and, yes, Steven Spielberg’s Direction. Say all you want about Argo and Life of Pi, but this is your Best Picture frontrunner, poised to be the film with the most nods come January 10. It looks to be a downright lock in at least nine categories, and a handful of other races seem well within its reach. Had it featured some CG cannons or, say, a fresh diddy to be sung by Sally Field, you’d likely be seeing it in damn-near every lineup.

The Call of the Lizard Brain Charles Burns’s X’ed Out and The Hive

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The Call of the Lizard Brain: Charles Burns’s X’ed Out and The Hive
The Call of the Lizard Brain: Charles Burns’s X’ed Out and The Hive

By explicitly referencing the colorful boys’ adventures of Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin, Charles Burns turns his latest works, X’ed Out and The Hive, into something of an intertextual puzzle box. But the surreal, existential horror of Burns’s work has never remotely resembled Hergé’s. In his warped evocation of Hergé’s impressively realized world (which in itself was a rather off-kilter, and sometimes bizarre, vision of our own), Burns highlights its peculiarities: boy hero Tintin’s careful asexuality, the conspicuous absence of female characters or any kind of romance or sex, the surreal exoticization of the real and the familiar. He does this not as metatextual critique, but as a catalyst for his own tale of the meeting of two wounded souls, Doug and Sarah, both art students making their way through a pretension-laden underworld of entitled middle-class youth during the 1970s.

Doug’s appropriation of a Tintin-like comic-book character, “Nitnit,” as a secondary artistic persona becomes a telling indicator of the way he, and in turn all of humanity, interacts with art—as medicine and mask for everything ugly and animal about us. Doug puts on a Nitnit mask and recites poetry “cut-ups” at an art show, cruelly hoping that Sarah, the girl he has a crush on, will “push her way through the crowd to get [him]” even as his current girlfriend looks on. When his recitation is interrupted by a harsh critic, he fantasizes about looking on as his heckler shamefully admits she’s never heard of William Burroughs. Doug’s hypocrisy is key to understanding his terrifying, vivid fantasies and dreams. Burns weaves Doug’s dream life into the two books along with his memories, creating one continuous hallucinatory, cascading narrative that skips across different times and realities.

Far from Home Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

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Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City
Far from Home: Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City

A question for the history of the graphic novel: Will anyone ever write a cartoon equivalent of Moby-Dick, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, or For Whom the Bell Tolls? Will there ever be a cartoonist who in his or her real life does a bunch of dangerous and exciting stuff, such as work on a whaling ship, pilot a river boat, or fight in a war, and who then sublimates those experiences via the imagination into a work of fiction that’s vivid and dense and spiritually substantial? More specifically, will there ever be a cartoonist who can combine with his or her comics all that you get in Hergé’s The Adventures of Tintin (the audacity, the action, the energetic globetrotting) with all that you get in Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth (the disappointment, the ambiguity, the baroque psychology)?

Guy Delisle’s new Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City is a nonfictional graphic novel about being far away from home in an occasionally dangerous and precarious and confusing place. It’s about living for a year in Israel while trying to be a husband, a father, and an itinerant cartoonist. Insofar as it’s a memoir, Jerusalem is low-key and humorous, and brings to mind Ross McElwee’s documentary Sherman’s March. Insofar as it’s a travelogue, Jerusalem is inquisitive and observant, and brings to mind another doc: Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. As a whole, the book is both enjoyable and instructive; it makes you chuckle and grin, and it makes you feel like a more informed, concerned citizen of the world.

Critical Distance: Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol

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Critical Distance: <em>Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol</em>
Critical Distance: <em>Mission Impossible - Ghost Protocol</em>

As commercial cinema goes, animation and live action are seen as divergent modes of filmmaking sharing the mutual goal of aesthetic cohesiveness; they only achieve it by different means. While Avatar and The Adventures of Tintin achieve a melding of live-action and animation techniques, other examples suggest that the sensibilities of animation and live action are more disparate and incompatible. If the static shots and deadened rhythms of the big-budget fantasy films John Carter and the first two Chronicles of Narnia entries are any indication, the qualities of animation may not so easily translate to live action. These films were directed by animation veterans—Andrew Stanton and Andrew Adamson, respectively—whose authorial voices evaporated under the conditions of live-action filmmaking.

Understanding Screenwriting #90: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Adventures of Tintin, Contraband, & More

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Understanding Screenwriting #90: <em>Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy</em>, <em>The Adventures of Tintin</em>, <em>Contraband</em>, & More
Understanding Screenwriting #90: <em>Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy</em>, <em>The Adventures of Tintin</em>, <em>Contraband</em>, & More

Coming Up in This Column: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Adventures of Tintin, Contraband, Frederica Sagor Mass: An Appreciation, The Miracle of Morgan’s Creek, Rio Grande, but first…

Fan Mail: “outsidedog” wonders, quite legitimately, why I am wasting my time with the Downey/Richtie Sherlock Holmes movies, since I did not like the most recent one. The reason I went to see it was that I had seen the first one of the new bunch and liked it. I thought it was an interesting take on the idea of Holmes. As I said in the column, the new one gets very sloppy. Sometimes there are movies you see because you think they might have something and when they don’t, you give the sequels a miss. I had a hard time staying awake during The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) and knew I would never last through the rest of them. I caught the first Matrix film (1999) and it just seemed silly to me, so I passed on the others. As I said, the reason I went to the new Holmes is that the first one had shown me enough to be interested in the second. I doubt if I will see a third one, if there is a third one.

I haven’t been following the new Sherlock Holmes television series, since I am not a fan of conventional mysteries. They seem awfully slow and talky. My wife is a big fan of mysteries, both novels and television shows, but we have never got into the new one. I am glad outsidedog is paying attention to the writing and I will take his word on its quality.

David Ehrenstein raised the question of how much director Frank Tashlin may have contributed to the script of Susan Slept Here (1954). Given how bland and dull the script is, and how very much a filmed play it is, I doubt if Tashlin did any rewriting. There is nothing in the script that one could call a Tashlin touch. If he did some work on the script, he did not help it at all. But then I guess he would not have been allowed to bring Jerry Lewis and Jayne Mansfield into the film. Although they couldn’t have made it any worse and might have helped.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011. Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughn, based on the novel by John le Carré. 127 minutes.)

If you have to tell this story in 127 minutes, this is the way to do it: The novel Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is the first major le Carré book I read, and it remains one of my favorites. The reason I read the novel in the first place was that I had seen the 1979 television miniseries adapted from it by Arthur Hopcraft. I still consider that one of the two or three best miniseries. Ever. So you can imagine that I approached this new film with some trepidation, even after the good reviews and recommendations from friends. I have one friend who’s already seen it three times, but that’s because she’s got the hots for Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Peter Guillam. I generally hate remakes of very good films; I believe it was Pauline Kael who made the great suggestion that they should instead remake the flops and get them right.

Ranking Oscar’s 2012 Nominees

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Ranking Oscar’s 2012 Nominees
Ranking Oscar’s 2012 Nominees

The 84th Academy Awards will be held this upcoming Sunday at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California. A total of 61 films received nominations in 24 categories, and with the exception of Footnote, The Muppets, and W.E., I’ve seen them all. Most of them I wish I hadn’t, but such are the perils of this job. Below, a ranked list, from best to worst, of the 58 films I’ve seen.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Original Score

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Original Score
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Original Score

At the risk of milking a joke whose teets have been sore for weeks, The Artist’s musical score will do just fine without Kim Novak’s vote. In the hierarchy of Oscar scandals, which have a way of surfacing every season (just ask THR subscribers), the ire of an old Hitchcock muse is meager compared to blockbuster-bashing emails and history’s tackiest FYC ads. So, rest easy, Ludovic Bource, for your rape charges won’t take you the way of Herman Cain, and few Academy members will be able to resist the sprightly notes subbed in for Jean Dujardin’s dialogue. If anything, The Artist’s perfectly legal Vertigo sampling will strengthen that skim-off-the-cream nostalgia, which has yet to relent in its ability to charm the Depends off Novak’s peers.

Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature

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Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature
Oscar 2012 Winner Predictions: Animated Feature

Putting aside the Academy’s shocking diss of Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin in this category, I was with Eric here at first: “I guess we should never underestimate this branch’s desire to make the category look like it deserves to exist.” The branch, after all, passed up Cars 2 and Happy Feet Two, films few seem willing to go out on a limb for—and Winnie the Pooh, well, that wasn’t exactly the second coming of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. But after rallying to see the five films that made the final cut, I’m thinking that singing penguins might have actually legitimized this category.

The most delightfully animated feature in this bunch, Kung Fu Panda 2 is still at best a slab of warmed-over holiday seconds, and one whose statistical chance of winning is perhaps smaller than Demián Bichir’s. Then you have Puss in Boots, another glossy trifle from the House that Shrek Built that frequently, if shamelessly, brought a smile to the face of this recently anointed cat person. A better dissertation on family than either of them is The Cat in Paris, the wafer-thin but quaint account of a young French girl who discovers that her kitty moonlights as a jewel thief’s partner in crime. The film gets my personal vote by virtue of being the most unpretentious and least corporate-looking nominee in the category.

The Conversations: 3D

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The Conversations: 3D
The Conversations: 3D

Ed Howard: If there’s anything that can excite an impassioned debate among film fans, it’s the topic of 3D. The technology has been around for a long time in one form or another—the first 3D films were released in the 1950s—but its popularity tends to wax and wane, sometimes reaching peaks where it’s a huge fad and a box office draw, while at other times the technology falls into disfavor and disuse. We are currently, without a doubt, in the middle of one of 3D’s peak periods, and there are even those, like James Cameron, who argue that 3D is the future of film. It’s pretty rare these days for any big animated film or summer blockbuster to get released to theaters without being in 3D, and older hits from the Star Wars series to Titanic are being refitted and re-released with 3D effects grafted on.

Our entry point for this conversation is provided by the release of two 3D family/adventure flicks made by esteemed directors working in the 3D format for the first time. Martin Scorsese’s Hugo and Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin are very different movies, both in their own right and in how they use 3D. Scorsese’s latest work is a deeply personal (but also, paradoxically, uncharacteristic) ode to the early cinema, a formalist celebration of the joys of movies. Spielberg’s film, an adaptation of the beloved comics by Belgian artist Hergé, is arguably less of a personal work, a propulsive, often funny, action movie that hardly ever pauses for breath. Though both films share a certain witty European sensibility and both are family-friendly crowd-pleasers, it’s hard to imagine two more different movies in terms of tone: the breathless, wide-eyed wonder of Hugo and the kinetic, nearly slapstick violence and adventure of Tintin.

Precisely because these films are so different, and because they’re the product of two highly respected American directors rather than just two more disposable holiday-season spectacles, they provide a perfect opportunity to discuss the merits of 3D, to consider whether this technology really is, as filmmakers like Cameron seem to think, the future of film and a valuable aesthetic tool, or if it’s simply a faddy gimmick that’s cycled back into popularity before people get tired of it again. These films provide an interesting case study for these questions. One curiosity is that the brasher, louder Tintin arguably uses 3D effects much more subtly and minimally than the comparatively low-key Hugo, which suggests that 3D can easily be separated from the other elements of a film’s style and tone. I wonder if that disconnect between 3D and the rest of a film’s elements provides some proof for the viewpoint that 3D is an unnecessary gimmick rather than a truly vital means of expression.

Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Score

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Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Score
Oscar 2012 Nomination Predictions: Score

All this talk about Meryl Streep and very few are editorializing much on when the Academy will give John Williams an award just for being America’s most Kennedy Center Honor-ific film composer. He’s been trophied more often and more recently, but it’s still been a pretty long stretch since 1993. Both Williams and Steven Spielberg have been laying low since the latest Indiana Jones movie blew up in everyone’s face, but they’ve returned in tandem and it’s hard to see how the Academy’s music branch will be able to a) resist, and b) choose one over the other. So expect them to have their cake and eat it too, citing both the traditional Wagnerian triumphalism of War Horse (which, up until the last two weeks, seemed a frontrunner for double-digit nods) and the more varied, synth-assisted, Prokofiev-tinged themes from The Adventures of Tintin.