Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: December 22, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr pulls out his screening schedule, which looks like a gambling addict’s racing form. He bounces from huge, mainstream releases to minor indie award contenders. Facing motion-capture CGI, tattooed bisexual investigators, cross-dressing waiters, silent film actors, and a lead star who is literally hung like a horse, Kevin tries to make sense of the seemingly countless releases this holiday week. Exhaustion from this process makes it impossible to buy a zoo or face the 3D end of the world, but his movie stocking is full, nonetheless.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Click here to listen as Kevin is joined by Mel Valentin from eFilmCritic and SFStation.com to talk about the multitude of movies.

Studio: Paramount

Rated: PG for adventure action violence, some drunkeness and brief smoking

Starring: Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis, Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

What it’s about: This adaptation of the classic Belgian comic book sees a young reporter named Tintin stumble across a clue to a lost treasure in a model ship. Along with his trusty dog Snowy, Tintin helps a drunken sea captain find a link to his past to solve the mystery.

What makes the grade: Growing up in the 70s and 80s, Steven Spielberg’s adventure films were just as influential on me as the Star Wars saga was. A movie like The Adventures of Tintin is a throwback to classic Spielberg, featuring a sweeping story that crosses oceans and deserts. Offering a feeling of a young Indiana Jones, this movie tapped into the joy I felt as a child watching Spielberg’s films.

This is also a first step for the director into motion capture, full CGI animation and 3D. For the most part, the imagery of the film is solid, crawling out of that uncanny valley that Robert Zemeckis was always stuck in. Watching master directors like Spielberg (and Scorsese a month ago with Hugo) tackle the 3D world is great as well, giving some hope for the stagnating process.

It’s not a terribly complex story, and the characters are rather simple (since they are based on comics from the 20s, after all), but The Adventures of Tintin is easy family fun.

What fails: Although the film doesn’t last too long and doesn’t quite overstay its welcome, it’s keystone action sequence falls near the end rather than at the end. I know Spielberg was saddled with the original story from the Tintin comics, but the finale of the film seems just a bit anticlimactic.

Who is gonna like this movie: Kids and family, and anyone who enjoys classic Spielberg adventures.

Grade: A-

Studio:20the Century Fox

Rated: R for brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright and Stellan Skarsgård

Directed by: David Fincher

What it’s about: Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) is embroiled in a scandal at his paper, so he takes a freelance assignment to investigate a murder mystery from half a century ago. Looking into the rich and smarmy family of a girl who went missing in the 60s, Blomkvist utilizes the help of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who is an expert hacker with a sordid and dangerous past.

What makes the grade: I never read the original Swedish book, but like any good film buff, I did check out the 2009 Swedish-language film. From what I can tell, the story and presentation is pretty much the same, though there are some clear liberties taken at times. But director David Fincher kicks his game up a notch from what I considered his lesser recent films of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network.

Like Fincher’s Zodiac and Se7en, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is expertly made on all levels. It’s got gorgeous cinematography and excellent production design. The acting is fantastic, with Rooney Mara giving a daring and worthy take on the title character.

Edgy and raw, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a gripping, unflinching adaptation that hits the audience hard and rarely lets up on the suspense.

What fails: While this didn’t bother me, I suppose some folks will be deterred by the two-and-a-half hour running time. The mystery gets wrapped up long before the final credits, and the dénouement (which I understand is taken more directly from the book than its Swedish counterpart) runs a bit long. I enjoyed it, though, because it delves into a darker place with the characters, delivering on the advertising promise for a real feel-bad movie this Christmas season.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fincher fans and people who like dark mysteries.

Grade: A

Studio: DreamWorks

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of war violence

Starring: Emily Watson, David Thewlis, Peter Mullan, Niels Arestrup and Tom Hiddleston

Directed by: Steven Spielberg

What it’s about: On the eve of World War I in England, a young boy working on a farm gets a horse for work, and he bonds with the animal. However, when war breaks out, the horse is taken to serve Great Britain. Over the next several years, we follow the horse against the backdrop of World War I.

What makes the grade: Just as The Adventures of Tintin is very typical of Steven Spielberg’s adventure films, War Horse is very typical of Spielberg’s sweeping dramatic epics. If you’re not into this sort of thing, you’ll get fiercely annoyed at all the buttons it pushes during its two-and-a-half hour running time.

However, if you’re game for that sort of thing, War Horse is a fantastic film. Don’t be fooled by the soft trailers. While they’re not inaccurate to the flavor of the film, they don’t give the depth of emotion and scope that the movie has.

The cinematography is downright gorgeous, and the epic feel of the film is inspiring and heartwarming, which is quite a feat for what amounts to a standard war picture. It’s a crowd-pleaser and a button pusher, and it’s no big surprise that it’s gobbling up nominations. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb to say while it may not be the best movie of 2011, it’s the one to beat for the Best Picture Oscar come February.

What fails: When I saw the trailers and the running time, I though this film would be a bore, but it was surprisingly well paced. However, if you’re not into the Spielberg button-pushers, you’ll end up hating the film by the end credits. In a strange way, War Horse may be one of the most divisive films for movie fans in 2011 simply because (like DreamWorks’ other award contender The Help), it is quite shameless in emotionally manipulating the audience.

Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone who likes the sweeping war epic.

Grade: A

Studio: Warner Bros.

Rated: PG-13 for emotional thematic material, some disturbing images, and language

Starring: Thomas Horn, Tom Hanks, Sandra Bullock, John Goodman and Max von Sydow

Directed by: Stephen Daldry

What it’s about: A unique child tries to make sense of the death of his father, who was in the World Trade Center when it collapsed. When he discovers a key in his father’s closet, he begins a search through New York City for what he hopes is a message for him.

What makes the grade: Like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I’ve not read the original book for this movie, but I hear it’s a well-written book that would be almost impossible to adapt. Knowing that as I watched the film, I was a bit more forgiving. I definitely got where the film was going and what it was trying to accomplish, and in this sense, it does present the grief, emotion and confusion that the entire country felt on 9/11.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is as much a button pusher as any of the other films releasing this week. It relies (wildly unrealistically, I might add) on the joy of the human spirit and the general beauty of life. The pacing of the film works surprisingly well for how disjointed it is as a story. If you get wrapped up in the emotional empathy with on-screen characters, it’ll really work for you.

What fails: My biggest hurdle to get over with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is its tired and cliched use of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome. This has become a crutch of writers to approach a story from a different angle, and we see it all over the place now, especially in television series (see shows like Parenthood, Flash Forward, Community, Alphas and even a bit part in Grey’s Anatomy). Get a new plot device, writers, ‘cause it’s getting old.

With that said, the film has some flow problems and gets too literal at times with the child’s narration, telling the audience what they should be thinking rather than letting them draw their own conclusions.

Finally, as emotionally manipulative as the film is, the coincidences presented in the picture were too much for me, leaving me rolling my eyes rather than dabbing them with tissues.

Who is gonna like this movie: People who get wrapped up in the raw emotion of a film.

Grade: B-

Studio: Roadside Attractions

Rated: R for some sexuality, brief nudity and language

Starring: Glenn Close, Mia Wasikowska, Aaron Johnson, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Brendan Gleeson

Directed by: Rodrigo García

What it’s about: Glenn Close plays a woman who has been masquerading as a man for thirty years in order to remain employed in Ireland at the end of the 19th century. She slowly comes to a realization that she is not fully happy and hopes to change things.

What makes the grade: There were aspects of this film that I really did enjoy. It was different enough to transcend the standard BBC-style drama, giving it an Upstairs, Downstairs, Wuuuuuut? feel to it. It’s well acted in an underplayed way, and Close does manage to pull some empathy from the audience.

The first half is stronger, as we discover Nobbs’ true identity and his motivations are discovered. It also shows a sad look at employment in turn-of-the-century Ireland, which strangely mirrors some struggles people go through today.

What fails: While Close’s acting is solid, the make-up and presentation of Albert Nobbs strangely puts her in the uncanny valley even though there’s no computer-generated characters. At least Close pulls off mannish far better than her co-star Janet McTeer, who looks more like an uncomfortably-dressed woman than the older female characters in the movie.

The second half of the film meanders a bit, story-wise. It attempts some interesting things, but the payoff is understated and flat, making it a better starter than finisher.

Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone looking for that award season acting spotlight.

Grade: B-

Studio: The Weinstein Company

Rated: PG-13 for a disturbing image and a crude gesture

Starring: Jean Dujardin, Berenice Bejo, James Cromwell, Missi Pyle and John Goodman

Directed by: Michel Hazanavicius

What it’s about: The era of silent Hollywood is celebrated in this film about a movie star threatened by the onset of the “talkies.” When a young ingenue that he discovers becomes a new movie star for the sound era, he struggles to find a place in the new Hollywood.

What makes the grade: By now, everyone’s heard of this darling silent French film shot in black-and-white. It’s a wildly unlikely entry into award season, but it’s definitely worthy of the accolades it’s getting.

The Artist isn’t trying to break down barriers or send a deep message. It’s ultimately a charming, loveable film that is fun to watch. Using crisp cinematography that emulates early Hollywood pictures, The Artist manages to look and feel very much like a movie made during this time.

Like Hugo, this film gives a very narcissistic industry a chance to fawn over itself, which is the best thing it’s got going for it as we move deeper into award season.

What fails: The movie goes off the rails a bit in the third act, and it stoops to some silliness, though this can be forgivable considering the era it is exploring. The film also runs a tad long, especially since the movies of this time tended to run about 70 minutes, which shows the film’s modern hand a bit too much.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of silent cinema.

Grade: A-

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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