December 23, 2011 Christmas Flicks. Movies Reviewed: The Adventures of Tintin, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, War Horse

Posted in 1970s, Drama, Espionage, Family, Horses, Steven Spielberg, Tintin, UK, Uncategorized, US, WWI by CulturalMining.com on December 22, 2011

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM, looking at high-brow and low-brow movies, indie, cult, foreign, festival, genre and mainstream movies, helping you see movies with good taste, movies that taste good, and how to tell the difference.

It’s holiday time once again, and there are lots of good movies out there to see. I’m just going to tell you about three of them, all period movies – one set in the 1910’s, one in the fifties, or thereabouts, and one In the 70’s — all with mainly British casts, and two out of three, directed by the same guy – Steven Spielberg.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Dir: Tomas Alfredson

It’s the 1970’s, in the middle of the Cold War between the Soviet Bloc and the West, when a British agent is shot in Budapest in a failed mission. Why? Because, says a young agent, there’s a mole somewhere in the highest ranks of The Circus (as the agents refer to MI6 headquarters). The wife of an enemy general told him. So they let the disgraced spy, George Smiley — John Le Carre’s most famous character — to come back in to find the leak.

This is an amazingly complex spy movie, with three or four plots going on simultaneously, along with various flashbacks gradually filling in the missing details. (I gave only the most bare-bones details, so as not to spoil the film.) Some of the scenes are fantastic – like an insiders’ view of the spy division’s office Christmas party, where the agents sing out songs from the various nations they are spying on as they guzzle vodka-stoked punch. It’s also a visually stupendous movie, with period costumes, and lighting that somehow makes all the sombre faces look like chiseled (or grizzled!) stone statues.

The acting is all-around amazing, with Gary Oldman as Smiley, and especially the less well-known actors like Mark Strong, Kathy Burke, and Tom Hardy. Warning – this is not a high-concept film like a 007 action movie. It’s not so easy film to absorb: you have to think about it as you watch. But it’s very satisfying to see.

The Adventures of Tintin

Dir: Steven Spielberg

Based on comics by Herge

Tintin is a young journalist who travels around the world with his dog Snowy. When his model ship is stolen, he discovers a secret message left behind, and vows to track down the other clues. But he’s being chased by a mean man with a sweet-sounding name — Sakharine. Tintin is shanghaied, and on board the cargo ship he meets Captain Haddock, a drunk who also has a connection to the missing model ship, the Unicorn. Together, they set out on an orientalist journey to a North African sheikhdom – travelling by plane, boat and on foot — to find the secret message, solve the mystery, and catch the evil villain. Part of the puzzle is written down, but part is lost somewhere in Haddock’s hazy memory – the only way to find the treasure of the villainous pirate Red Rackham is for Captan Haddock to remember the story. Billions of blue bilious blistering Barnacles!

Tintin and Snowy are Herge’s beloved characters who travelled around the world, speaking the same language as everyone he met, and always doing the right thing. I loved reading those comics. Never mind that Herge continued to publish during the Nazi occupation, affably drawing his villains evil Jews; never mind that he used racist caricatures in depictions of the Congo (where, ironically, it was Belgium’s King Leopold who had slaughtered millions as he plundered their wealth). These things are all Herge’s faults, not Tintin’s. He is always true, brave, clever, kind hearted, and adventurous.

I always loved the clear detailed lines, the amazing adventures, and the exotic locales of Herge’s comics. But some of it’s lost on the big screen. The 3-D movie version is shot in my least favourite type of animation: Motion Capture. This is the type where actors move around with little cameras hanging all over them, to give a combination of live action but animated characters and background. But it’s uglier and less elegant than the original, simpler versions. This one gives Tintin a sort of a globe head with fuzzy hair (could you imagine someone doing a motion capture movie, of, say Charlie Brown and giving him a bulbous head and one giant curled hair?) And the clips of ocean waves and fire look totally out if place – they don’t match the rest of the images. Some scenes are perfect – like Haddock drinking blobs of floating alcohol on board a prop plane. But the sword fights are way too long; the opera singer, Bianca Castafiore, is given a beautiful voice (instead of a terrible one). And worst of all, they hijacked a Tintin story and almost turned it into a Haddock story. Great Snakes! Tintin and a sidekick? You can’t do that…

The voices – Andy Bell and Andrew Sirkis as Tintin and Cap’t Haddock – are great, no problems there. Anyway, it’s a fun adventurous drama… but it left me hollow — not with the great thrill I felt reading the comics gave me.

War Horse

Dir: by Steven Spielberg

Albie, a poor farmer’s kid in the rolling hills of Devon, trains and raises his beautiful colt Joey. They grow up together, but when his father is close to losing the farm on the eve of WWI, he sells the horse to an officer to use in the war. Albie is heartbroken, but ties his dad’s regimental flag from the Boer War to Joey’s bridle to remember him.

This is where the focus shifts from the kid, to the horse himself! Horses played a vital part in WWI, and Joey the horse finds itself drifting across battle lines in France, between the British and the Germans. He’s taken in by German soldiers who also recognize his strength and beauty. Later he’s found by a young French girl who wants to hide him from the soldiers. And he makes friends with a bigger, black horse. But it’s a war, and Joey is sent back to the front lines, back to the trenches, facing death as a dray horse. Will he make it through the war? And will he ever get back to Albert and his peaceful farm in Devon?

When I heard about this movie, I put a giant X across it, and said BLLLLEEEEAAAAAAGGGHHH! I am not watching a movie about a horse! NO WAY! That’s a definite. But you know what? I went, I saw it, and… oh my God! It turned out to be an amazingly touching movie: Sentimental but not smarmy, unorthodox, exciting, unusual, and a total tear-jerker – at least three genuine sob-scenes. OK, it’s partly formulaic – everyone likes kids and animals – but it’s so much more than that. It avoids anthropomorphizing the animals – they are horses not people. Spielberg also shows war as a cruel and bad place, with the Germans and the British equally suffering.

Acting was great, the cinematography looks like an old Hollywood western, and even the somewhat cloying music rarely spoiled the feel.

I thought they couldn’t make great G-rated movies anymore, just Chipmunk Squeakquels… but they can. This is a wonderful, beautiful, tear-wrenching, and exciting movie.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy is now playing, The Adventures of Tintin just opened, and War Horse on Christmas Day. Check you local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

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