A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Adventures of TinTin (dir. by Steven Spielberg)

Originally, this was supposed to be the year of Steven Spielberg.  After all, Spielberg had two major films open within days of each other and, earlier this year, various know-it-all pundits declared that both of these films (along with David Fincher’s dumbed down version of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) would be major awards contenders.  This was, of course, before films like Hanna, The Artist, Drive, and The Tree Of Life came out and made Spielberg’s trademark suburban cinematic vision seem almost quaint.  Spielberg’s two films — The Adventures of TinTin and War Horse — both very much remain in the hunt for nominations but few seem to be expecting them to actually win anything.  Oddly enough, it’s as if Spielberg’s films somehow went from being overrated to underrated before they were even released.

I haven’t seen War Horse yet (and the commercials don’t fill me with hope) but, in the case of TinTin, this is unfortunate because I saw the film on Friday and it’s a perfectly enjoyable animated film that, while never reaching the intertextual heights of Rango or matching the “awww” factor of Puss in Boots , is still a bit more memorable than Pixar’s Cars 2.  Based on a Belgian comic book, (which I had never heard of before so don’t expect me to get into the whole debate about whether Spielberg does the original justice) The Adventures of TinTin is about a “boy reporter” named TinTin (voiced by the always likable Jamie Bell) who, along with his adorable dog Snowy, ends up going on a quest for lost treasure.  The film plays out like an old-fashioned adventure film with TinTin and Snowy’s quest taking them from one exotic locale to another.  Continually, they find themselves getting captured by various bad guys and having to escape in some properly exciting manner.  Along with the way, they meet an alcoholic sea captain (voiced by Andy Serkis) and a whole variety of flamboyant characters.  My favorite characters were the two well-meaning but inept police detectives, Thompson and Thompson.  Thompson and Thompson are voiced by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and the two of them have so much chemistry and play off each other so well that they’re even fun to just listen to.

When I saw The Adventures of TinTin, I was sincerely surprised by how quickly the film moved.  Usually, I find that the majority of Spielberg films tend to drag in the middle.  Whenever there’s nothing to blow up or an excuse to fill the scene with soaring music conducted by John Williams, Spielberg seems to lose his way as a filmmaker and can almost seem desperate in his attempts to convince us that he’s a serious artist.  However, it almost seemed as if The Adventures of TinTin was over before it even started.  This is not a film that drags but instead one that cheerfully leaps from one action sequence to another.  It’s as if working on an animated film freed Spielberg up from his inherent need to remind us that he’s a respectable filmmaker.  For once, he’s willing to just have fun without trying to justify it.  Since I was seeing the film with two hyperactive children (my nephew who is five and my niece who is three), I was happy and relieved that the film didn’t have any slow spots.  The movie, as a matter of fact, held their attention better than it held mine and all three of us loved Snowy.  An important lesson for all aspiring filmmakers: If you’re ever in doubt, always cut to a small animal doing something cute.

Ultimately, TinTin is an enjoyable little film that really doesn’t add up too much.  This isn’t another Toy Story 3 or a How To Train Your Dragon.  This is not a film to bring tears to your eyes but it’s enjoyable enough and it’s a rare Spielberg film that seems to be unashamed of simply being message-free entertainment.

Quickie Horror Review: Deathwatch (Michael J. Bassett)

A horror film from Great Britain came out in 2002 starring Jamie Bell (from Billy Elliott) and Andy Serkis. This was a film which went under the radar of most people, but not horror fans who tend to pick up on little gems such as Michael J. Bassett’s Deathwatch.

Set during the height of the trench warfare in the Western Front during the First World War, the surviving remnants of a British Infantry company stumble upon a nearly deserted set of German trenches as they exit a fog-shrouded battlefield. Except for a couple of terrified German soldiers, the near-deserted trench only has dead German soldiers. As they spend their first night, it’s more than German soldiers they have to worry about, somewhere within the trenches something that’s hunting them down one by one.

Deathwatch does a good job in mixing in themes of horror and paranoia as the British soldiers and their lone German prisoner must try to figure out just who or what has been hunting them in the trenches since their arrival. Signs of this unknown enemy could be seen in the dead German soldiers piled on to of each other and wrapped in barbed wire. Blood flows freely from within the muddy walls of the trench system though no bodies could be seen within these walls. The film does a great job of creating such a claustrophobic atmosphere for the characters that it’s natural to see their progression from being battle-weary but alert to being paranoid to the point that they begin to hallucinate and, at times, turn on each other.

From the sound of it this film shares some similarity to Carpenter’s The Thing. As more and more of the survivors die, paranoia and suspicion grows amongst the rest as to who or what might be hunting them. The performances by the cast is good though nothing to write home about, but enough to convey the dread and paranoia sweeping through the trench. Jamie Belle as the teen British soldier with a conscience gives a understated performance while on the polar opposite is Andy Serkis scene-chewing his way through the bulk of the film as a soldier with sociopathic tendencies.

Deathwatch was a very good horror-suspense film that made great use of it’s World War I setting and borrowing themes and ideas from similar films. Michael J. Bassett’s direction kept the film moving and the film doesn’t skimp on the gore when it needed it to balance out the scenes of suspense throughout the film. It’s not a great film by any means, but it’s one of those little-known gems that one hears about and won’t be disappointed once they give it a try.

Lisa Marie Does Jane Eyre (dir. by Cary Fukunaga)

Hey, ladies!  Did your man make you sit through Battle Los Angeles?  Did he spend the whole time going, “Oh Hell yeah!” every time something exploded?  Did he insist on repeatedly going, “Hoorah!” after the movie ended? 

You want to get revenge?  Well, here’s what you’re going to do.  You’re going to go up to him and you’re going to tell him, in the sweetest way possible, that he’s going to take you to see the latest film adaptation of Jane Eyre.  Tell him that this is a revisionist take on the story and that its full of scenes of lesbian flirtation between Jane and Helen.  Of course, that’s a lie but this is the same guy who just gave you a card for Valentine’s Day.  You don’t owe him a damn thing.

And who knows?  He might find something to enjoy in Jane Eyre because it’s one of the best films of 2011 so far.  (Though I doubt it because Jane Eyre really is an unapologetic chick flick.)

Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is one of those books that has a timeless appeal to it.  I don’t know if it was the first novel to feature a young governess isolated in a creepy mansion but it certainly set the standard that all other gothic romances would have to meet.  The first film version was a silent film from 1910 and since then, Jane Eyre and the enigmatic Mr. Rochester have been played by everyone from Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles to Susannah York and George C. Scott to Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt.  In this latest version, Jane is played Mia Wasikowska and Rochester by Michael Fassebender and the end result is probably the best film version of Jane Eyre to date.

With a few notable exceptions, the film is faithful to Bronte’s book.  Jane is an orphan who, after being mistreated by her wealthy aunt (Sally Hawkins, cast very much against type), is sent away to a “charity school” where she is again mistreated and abused until finally, she turns 18 and she leaves the school to take a job as the governess for a young French girl named Adele (Romy Settbon Moore).  Adele is the ward of the mysterious, arrogant, surly, but oh so hot Mr. Rochester.  Though Rochester is, at first, a rather fearsome employer, he soon starts to warm up to Jane and the two of them defy the 19th century class system by falling in love.  However, not everything is perfect.  Jane discovers that Rochester has secrets of his own and then there’s the constant sound of footsteps and moaning that seem to echo through the old mansion late at night.  Fires are mysteriously set.  A guest is savagely attacked in his sleep.  When Jane discovers the truth, she also discovers that nothing is as perfect as it seems.

One reason why the original novel has remained such an important work (and one that is still readable as opposed to say, The Scarlet Letter) is because Bronte used her narrative to tell several different stories.  Me, I’ve always related to the character of Jane and her struggle to maintain her independence in a society where women are not encouraged to think for themselves.  Others see the story as an early soap opera, a melodramatic romance in which true love conquers all.  There’s also an argument to be made that the book is primarily meant to be an examination of the 19th century British class system.  Of course, if that’s all a bit too much for you, you can always just read Jane Eyre as an early “haunted house” story.

The genius of this latest film adaptation is to be found in the way that director Cary Fukunaga and screenwriter Moira Buffini brings all of these various themes to life while still crafting a compelling and entertaining movie out of them.  Perhaps the biggest change they made is to begin their film near the book’s conclusion.  They then proceed to tell the story of Jane’s childhood and romance with Rochester through flashback, a move that recreates the book’s ground-breaking 1st person narration (ground breaking because, before Jane Eyre, it was rare that any female character was allowed to tell her own tale).  While some may complain that the 1st half of the book is pretty much reduced down to 15 minutes of screen time, Fukunaga and Buffini pick their scenes carefully and, most importantly. the essence of Bronte’s narrative comes through if not the exact details.

As a director, Fukunaga plays up the gothic aspects of the story.  Whenever Jane ventures outside, the skies are overcast and you can almost literally feel the chill of a desolate wind.  Meanwhile, the interior scenes are so full of menacing shadows and expressionistic camera angles that Fukunaga’s film almost feels like the noir version of Jane Eyre.  By doing so, this Jane Eyre becomes not just a prototypical gothic love story but instead, it becomes a true coming-of-age story with the mysteries of Mr. Rochester coming to symbolize the mysteries of life itself.

Fukanaga is helped by some excellent performances.  Jamie Bell and Judi Dench — playing a clergyman and a housekeeper respectfully — both bring life to characters that have been reduced to stereotypes in previous versions of this story.  Fassebender is a perfect Rochester, displaying both strength and weakness in equally believable measures.  However, the film’s success or failure obviously lies with Mia Wasikowska’s performance in the title role and this is Jane Eyre’s crowning triumph.  Wasikowska gives a fiercely, intelligent performance.  Her Jane is strong-willed, indepedent, and intelligent without ever becoming so idealized as to be unbelievable.  If Jane Eyre was the first strong woman to appear in literature, Wasikowska gives a performance that is equally strong.  There have been over 20 Jane Eyres since 1910 and Mia Wasikowska may very well be the best.