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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Feb. 8

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THE ADVENTURES OF TINTIN Finally, here's one seven-year itch that can be scratched. When 2004's The Polar Express made film history as the first animated movie to be created wholly by employing the motion-capture process, we instantly recognized that we were in the presence of something ghastly. Awkward and unsightly, the ersatz innovation rendered all characters stiff, clammy and lifeless — anything but animated. Even as recent as two years ago, with the release of the Jim Carrey vehicle A Christmas Carol, it was clear that the format had not yet hit its stride. But thanks to director Steven Spielberg, producer Peter Jackson and their crack team of technicians and artists, The Adventures of Tintin emerges as the first motion-capture movie to fully fulfill the promise of this hyped advent in animation. Based on the internationally beloved comic series created by Belgian writer-illustrator Hergé (I myself enjoyed them as a lad, even though French writer René Goscinny's Asterix was my main Euro-fix), this finds squeaky-clean boy reporter Tintin (voiced by Jamie Bell), accompanied by his clever canine companion Snowy, acquiring a model ship that in turn is being sought by the villainous Sakharine (Daniel Craig). Tintin's curiosity eventually lands him on a real seafaring vessel that belongs to the drunken Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), and together, they set out to distant lands to locate hidden treasure. While the stop-motion process still isn't as pleasing to the eye as either old-school Disney or new-school Pixar, its employment in The Adventures of Tintin still qualifies as leaps and bounds ahead of its use in the unwieldy antecedents in this field. What's more, with the overseer of the Indiana Jones franchise at the controls, this cartoon cliffhanger manages to consistently serve up the breathless thrills. Even the 3-D, hardly ever worth the effort (or higher admission price), works for the greater good of the picture, at one with Spielberg's kinetic and imaginatively designed set-pieces. ***

ALBERT NOBBS There's a towering performance in Albert Nobbs, and it sure as hell doesn't belong to Glenn Close. A labor of love for the actress, Close not only stars in the picture but also serves as co-writer and co-producer (and, lest I forget, she also co-penned the theme song, "Lay Your Head Down"). Yet in essaying the title role, a lesbian in 19th century Ireland who has dressed up as a man for 30 years in order to work as a butler in a Dublin hotel, she isn't especially convincing: Even accepting that she looks a bit like a fey, mummified Stan Laurel, viewers have to assume that everybody in Ireland suffers from poor eyesight to fall for this ruse. Couple her turn with the fact that her character is never afforded much in the way of backstory or defining traits or — heck — even a pulse, and it's hard to invest any interest in her difficult life. Albert Nobbs would be a slog if it wasn't for Janet McTeer. Like Close, she plays a woman who's spent years passing herself off in public as a man, and she's excellent in the part, allowing us access where Close only allows indifference. Her Hubert Page is a vibrant character, full of wisdom, inner strength (and external, as she makes her living as a house painter), life experience and passion (she shares a cottage with her lover Cathleen, played by former Commitments co-star Bronagh Gallagher). Close only comes to life in her scenes opposite McTeer; the rest of the time, she unwisely fashions her character as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. And while that designation might have worked well for Russia (at least according to Churchill), it's not adequate for a movie purportedly about the woman behind the man. **1/2

THE ARTIST Although its cribbing from Singin' in the Rain, A Star Is Born and more means that this black-and-white silent picture sometimes runs short on invention, it easily makes up for it in style, execution and a cheery disposition that's positively infectious. Jean Dujardin plays silent screen star George Valentin, whose chance encounter with a young fan named Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) contributes to her eventual rise in the industry. The pair clearly harbor feelings for each other, but George finds himself trapped in a loveless marriage (Penelope Ann Miller sympathetically plays his estranged spouse) and relies on his dog Uggie and his faithful chauffeur Clifton (James Cromwell) for companionship. The matrimonial strife soon takes a back seat to a dark development, revealed when studio head Al Zimmer (John Goodman) informs him about the inevitable advent of sound in motion pictures — a revolution that George myopically dismisses as a short-lived fad. Instead, this cinematic breakthrough all but destroys his livelihood. In crafting his homage to the silent era, writer-director Michael Hazanavicius crucially fails to include one of its key ingredients, that go-for-broke dynamism that informed much of the cinema of the time — think, for example, of that house really falling on top of Buster Keaton in 1928's Steamboat Bill Jr., or Harold Lloyd's eye-popping stunts in 1923's Safety Last! and other gems, or just about anything served up by Chaplin. Nothing in The Artist can quite showcase that sort of edgy genius, although a sequence that has wicked fun with sound effects is worth singling out. Yet while it may not match up with the best of the silents, The Artist matches up nicely with the best of 2011. Dujardin and Bejo are both enchanting and irresistible, and Hazanavicius' screenplay has no trouble shifting between mirth and melodrama. As for its visual appeal, the black-and-white images are as crisp and dynamic as anything on view in the year's color explosions, whether it's the luminescent paint jobs in Cars 2 or that vibrant rainbow connection in The Muppets. ***1/2

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