Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Jan. 25 | Film Clips | Creative Loafing Charlotte

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Capsule reviews of films playing the week of Jan. 25



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. ***

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

CARNAGE How the movie version of Yasmina Reza's God of Carnage compares to the Tony Award-winning Broadway show I cannot say — Creative Loafing's budget inexplicably does not provide for me to stay a few days in New York to check it out firsthand — but this screen version is a tasty, wicked treat; to borrow a classic phrase from Sweet Smell of Success, it's a cookie full of arsenic. It takes place in the apartment of Penelope and Michael Longstreet (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly), where they're meeting with Nancy and Alan Cowan (Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz) to discuss the unfortunate incident wherein the Cowans' son hit the Longstreets' boy with a stick, causing severe damage to his mouth (including the loss of two teeth). The visit begins on a note of cordiality, even though hints of aggression are already bubbling around the edges of the polite chitchat. Sure enough, it doesn't take long before an all-out assault occurs, with the four adults at each other's throats. If Steven Spielberg managed to open up War Horse in a manner that takes full advantage of cinema's gifts — it's so expansive that it's easy to forget a theatrical version resides in its family tree — Roman Polanski does little to make this look like much more than a filmed play. Yet because Carnage is so well-written and performed — and because it runs a rapid 80 minutes — there's none of that stifling claustrophobia that chokes similar one-horse-town stage adaptations. Among the quartet, Waltz delivers the best performance, followed by Winslet, Foster and then Reilly lagging behind. As for Polanski, he masterfully orchestrates all the mind-game mayhem — at times, the scenario recalls a more grounded version of Luis Bunuel's surrealist romps The Exterminating Angel and The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie — although he above all filmmakers constantly reminds us how important it is to separate the artist's personal life from his public offerings. Polanski has made an astounding number of fine motion pictures over the course of his career, yet I would gladly give up the very existence of this one if it meant that, instead of being free to film it, he had been properly prosecuted and were presently imprisoned for raping a child. But because Carnage does in fact exist, it receives thumbs-up for its sly dissection of middle-to-upper-class airs masking true bourgeoisie brutality. ***

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