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Like stu­dents swot­ting for exams New Zealand film dis­trib­ut­ors seem to have run out of year for all the films they have to release so there are some really big names being squeezed into the next two weeks. If you can’t find some­thing to watch on – the inev­it­ably wet – Boxing Day next Monday, then I sus­pect you don’t really like movies at all. And if that sounds like you, why are you still reading?

The biggest of the big names this Christmas has got to be The Adventures of Tintin. Despite Steven Spielberg’s name on the tin, it’s almost a loc­al pro­duc­tion when you con­sider the tech­no­logy and skills that went into its man­u­fac­ture, so we all have a small stake in its suc­cess. Luckily, Europe has embraced it so a second film has already been con­firmed – and will be made here.

But enough of the cheer­lead­ing – what did I think of it? It’s good, really good. The per­form­ance cap­ture and char­ac­ter design works bet­ter than ever before, Spielberg has embraced the free­dom from the laws of phys­ics that anim­a­tion allows and throws the cam­era around with gay aban­don – but always with pan­ache and not to the point of motion sick­ness. Many of the visu­al gags are ter­rif­ic and Andy Serkis as Haddock proves that there is no one bet­ter at act­ing under a lay­er of black dots and ping pong balls.

Where it falls down is in the story – or rather how the story is told. There’s an awful lot of talky explan­a­tion – some of it quite repet­it­ive – and the desire to cram in so much ori­gin­al Hergé might please the pur­ists but it baffles people like me who only read the books once. Tintin – the char­ac­ter – is also an unsat­is­fy­ing prot­ag­on­ist, bland to look at as well as a one-dimensional char­ac­ter. There’s not much there for Jamie Bell to grab hold of.

The Mission: Impossible fanchise has always been Tom Cruise’s “Get out of jail free” card, there to res­cue his career whenev­er it hits the doldrums. Last year he stank the place out with Knight and Day so it makes sense that MI4 – Ghost Protocol should arrive about now. The series gets a good kick in the pants from Pixar dir­ect­or Brad Bird (The Incredibles) and the set-pieces are fairly aston­ish­ing. Apart from the crash, bash, wal­lop I found it almost impossible to care for either the char­ac­ters, their pre­dic­a­ment or – by the end – even the plan­et they were attempt­ing to save.

Side note: com­pare and con­trast Mr Cruise’s shirt-off scene in MI4 with Ryan Gosling’s in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Gentlemen, that’s the age­ing pro­cess, right there.

The battle between talk­ing furry creatures doesn’t look like a fair fight this Christmas. I have a soft-spot for the Alvin and the Chipmunks films but Chipwrecked really should have skipped the big screen and gone straight to video. There weren’t even any kids at the screen­ing I went to which says a lot about the state of the franchise.

Meanwhile, The Muppets have returned (re-booted is the tech­nic­al term) and it’s jolly to see them back. My ear for voices pre­vents me from truly let­ting go and wal­low­ing in the nos­tal­gia because I can tell that it isn’t Jim Henson as Kermit and Frank Oz as Piggy. For all the care and atten­tion Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobsen devote to their roles – and the pup­petry is first rate – they just ain’t the same. The story is fairly stand­ard Hollywood redemp­tion ter­rit­ory and the songs aren’t as great as every­one is mak­ing out.

Grown-ups have a few options, too, this Christmas. The Salt of Life is Gianni Di Gregorio’s gentle follow-up to last year’s Mid-August Lunch and mines sim­il­ar ter­rit­ory – a retired man sur­roun­ded by eccent­rics and oddballs. In this film Di Gregorio him­self plays Giovanni, bossed around by his wife, his moth­er and his daugh­ter. His best friend sug­gests he take mis­tress – like all red-blooded Italian males. Maybe the beau­ti­ful neigh­bour whose dog he walks? I’ve done pretty well to remem­ber that much plot as the film passes the time pleas­antly enough but is fairly forgettable.

The only reas­on for see­ing The Iron Lady is to wit­ness first-hand the alchemy of Meryl Streep. There’s been no oth­er per­form­ance this year – male or female – that so com­pletely tran­scends the source mater­i­al. Streep plays Margaret Thatcher, once the most power­ful woman in the world now hol­lowed out by Alzheimer’s. The film treats Thatcher like the greatest Englishman ever – a cross between Boadicea and Churchill – but fails to adequately por­tray the tox­ic nature of her polit­ics and the damge she did to her soci­ety and the nation she pro­fessed to love.

Anyone look­ing for a rest­ful stupor on Boxing Day won’t find it in Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia – but you will find obli­vi­on of a dif­fer­ent sort. The strange new star Melancholia is going to pass very close to Earth. Meanwhile, depression-sufferer Kirsten Dunst is get­ting mar­ried but isn’t sure why, frus­trat­ing her fam­ily which includes Kiefer Sutherland, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Charlotte Rampling.

Melancholia deserves a whole column – but won’t get it – but I will say that it is one of the most amaz­ing, thought-provoking, pro­found and frus­trat­ing films I have ever seen. Everyone should see it and – as an anti­dote to the Christmas sea­son – it might as well be now.

Printed in Wellington’s Capital Times on Wednesday 21 December 2011.


  • Sportsfreak says:

    Soory Dan, but I dis­agree on the Tintin review, but I guess you knew that.

    The reas­on that there’s so much plot explan­a­tion neces­sary in the movie is because of the cute way the range of plots, as well as the Spielberg self-indulgence, are weaved together.

    Agree the Tintin char­ac­ter is bland, but Haddock is good (although Robbie Coltrane would’ve been better)

    Tintin pur­ists will note that Nestor (such and under-rated char­ac­ter) was excellent