Less than a month after Martin Scorseseís beautiful (seriously, the most gorgeous looking film of 2011) Hugo blessed screens everywhere the 'berg makes his first foray into digital, motion capture and 3-D filmmaking in one fell swoop with his adaptation of the beloved (everywhere but here) comic book series, Tintin.
To see two masters embrace the latest technology--innovations so often misused by lesser or just bad filmmakers--while adding two fine films to their rosters; that's a real treat. Scorsese achieved levels of sublime and wondrous direction with Hugo, and it's simply amazing use of 3-D pretty much validates that outdated gimmick's continued existence. And while Spielberg doesn't quite rise to that level of effortlessness with Tintin--Scorsese's Euro-art-house sensibilities make for a more enigmatic and emotional film and he's just better--The Beard does find himself re-invigorated. This is the movie that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull should have been.
The endless comparisons to Indiana Jones are earned. Not long after Raiders came out the 'berg acquired the rights to Tintin after someone pointed out the tonal similarities. He saw it as an Indiana Jones adventure for kids and the finished film (only 30 years later) captures that intention, often beautifully.
Tintin (Jamie Bell) is a cub reporter in Europe with his trusty sidekick, a dog named Snowy. Whilst he's wandering about the town's shopping square he spots a beautiful model of a tri-masted ship called the Unicorn that he falls in love with. Buying it, Tintin doesn't realize that he's also buying into an adventure as he is immediately approached, then attacked by men who want the ship from their own mysterious purposes.
When Tintin discovers that the ship holds a piece of parchment in it's mast he's drawn in further down the path of discovery after he's kidnapped by the evil Sakharine (Daniel Craig) who needs the parchment, as well as two more pieces from two other identical model ships to find the location of a sunken ship packed with treasure.
Along the way Tintin is held prisoner on a steamship where he meets the drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) who winds up helping Tintin after he realizes he's being used his crew for Sakharine's own nefarious purposes. Haddock's role in Tintitn's adventures winds up being more providential than fate would hint at.
And it turns out to be a rollicking, old fashioned adventure given a 21st Century artistic veneer with a great pace and sense of scope that recalls the Spielberg of yore. The script, by the trio of Steven Moffat, Joe Cornish and Shaun of the Dead's Edgar Wright--who supplies the lines for a pair of bumbling cops voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost--is tight as a drum, racing from one set piece to the next as Tintin and Haddock (and Snowy) dodge bullets, nearly drown at sea and globe hop in search of the remaining ships, while the deeper mystery of Haddock and Sakharine unfolds.
And the mo-cap technology has freed up Speilberg, using his virtual camera in ways he could ever use a real one. One sequence in particular that finds Tintin chased over and through a town is played out in one continuous shot with bullets flying and motorcycles exploding as he uses a quickly disintegrating bicycle to zip cord his way to escape using the electric cables that criss-cross above the cobbled streets. It's a sequence that would have been impossible to pull off with a traditional camera. You can almost feel the 'Berg delighting in his new sandbox.
The art design is lovely and wonderfully specific to the world while the character models ride a peculiar line between fidelity to the original artwork and the photorealism that causes some of them to cross that "uncanny divide" into something that looks completely real. Combined with the 3D, it's a feeling of a wonder of the modern age that contrasts anachronistically with a story that feels warm and vintage.
With The Adventures of Tintin, watching Spielberg delight in the medium hasn't been this much fun in a long time.
My Week with Marilyn
I've honestly never understood the prestige of Marilyn Monroe. Hot? Yes. Talented? I was never sure. She played to type and that type never seemed very demanding in the talent department. But as an icon, her persona has taken on a mystery--including the circumstances of her death--that has people fascinated to this day.
Fortunately, movies like My Week with Marilyn come along to reinforce why Monroe holds the place in history that she does. It's a light, breezy, affair that ironically contrasts a near comedic tone with the underlying sadness of Monroe's life.
The Legend Lives.
Michelle Williams plays the icon in 1956 as she's cast to star alongside Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) in the production of a light comedy, The Prince and the Showgirl. Accompanied by her latest husband, Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott) and her leech of an acting coach, Sir Laurence soon learns--after many, many blown takes--that he may have bitten off more than he can chew in hiring the flaky, unsure of herself bombshell.
The story is told mostly from the perspective of one Colin Clark (Eddie Redmayne) a young novice who muscles his way into working for Olivier by basically hanging out at his offices every day until he annoys the actor into hiring him. Starting out by serving the tea he is quickly promoted to 3rd assistant director (which means getting tea has a title) and meets the woman he's long loved from afar, Monroe. Soon, he becomes enmeshed in her life in ways he would never have dreamed when he was sitting enrapt in the theater, watching her on the silver screen.
Based on the diaries of Colin Clark, and adapted by Adrian Hodges, My Week with Marilyn has a nice period feel--set in the idyllic British countryside--and a bright tone that gives the whole affair the feel of comedy, despite the underlying sadness that accompanies the hagiographic look at Monroe. Narratively, it moves along at a nice clip, never really bogging down in the darker aspects of Monroe's addictions (while still acknowledging them) and mostly delighting in the frustration of Olivier as he has no fun at all trying to make his comedy film, constantly fretting over how to get the erratic Monroe to do what he wants when he wants it. Branagh's moments in front of the make-up mirror spewing his frustration make for the films funniest moments. "Teaching her to act would be like teaching Urdu to a badger."
The film has a raft of fine performances from the likes of Branagh, Dougray Scott, Toby Jones, Derek Jacobi, Judy Dench and a slew of British greats but it's really all about William's performance as the icon and it's a great one. William's owns the role and its sexy, confused and insecure subject, capturing Monroe's every coy glance and suggestive inflection. In an Oscar-bait film this is an Oscar-bait performance that deserves the attention after Willams was snubbed in last year's great, wrenching and unforgettable, Blue Valentine.
Slathered in beautiful production design and slick lensing by Ben Smithard My Week with Marilyn is a visual feast on more than one level. An overall package that is a delight to behold, despite the sneaking suspicion that it's a confection so light it threatens to melt away under the glow of its own stars.
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