Sunday, 23 October 2011

The Adventures of Tintin

There's perhaps fewer 20th Century storytellers who are as beloved and transcendent as one George Prosper Remi, otherwise known as, Herge. His Tintin books have captured the imagination of children longing for adventure and adults who crave it just as much. Given that Herge died in the early 1980s, his magnificent tales of the intrepid journalist have slowly drifted into the background of modern pop culture in the past decade or so.

That is until Steven Spielberg stepped in with a long awaited big screen adaptation. However in an age where robot and zombie apocalypses dominate the screens, vampires are in vogue, superheroes reign supreme and Spielberg himself already doing something similar for audiences with Indiana Jones, does something as relatively innocent and wholesome as the faint childhood nostalgia of Tintin still have a place in our hearts? Yes it does. Perhaps now more than ever before.

Taking cues from the Tintin stories, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure, the film recounts Tintin's (Jamie Bell) first ever encounter with his infamous associate, Captain Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis). A small clue from a model ship leads the young journalist on a globe trotting adventure as he and Haddock sough to find the lost treasure of the Captain's ancestor before the devious and mysterious Red Rackham (Daniel Craig) does.

It's sad to describe Tintin to someone who hasn't read one of the books. Lazily you could say it's probably more Indiana Jones than the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was. Despite the fact when Raiders of the Lost Ark originally came out, one could've rightly said, it's very Tintin in its approach. The grumpy old fart cynicism aside however, the film is probably the most fun I've had watching a Spielberg film since the brilliant Catch Me If You Can. It had humour, suspense, mystery and genuinely terrific action sequences which just left a huge smile on my face from beginning to end.

Jamie Bell was thoroughly endearing and likeable in the title role as Tintin. His curious nature was at times infectious and will surely go down well with younger members of the audience. All the while, Andy Serkis was his usual best as Captain Haddock. For me he was the personal highlight, as he went through this bizarre odyssey from this risqué, paranoid, alcoholic to this manly, no nonsense, sailor. Faintly similar to Johnny Depp's journey with Captain Jack Sparrow, albeit with much more grit and far less theatre.

Sparsely but effectively used was Simon Pegg and Nick Frost in the roles of the bumbling detectives Thompson and Thompson. Their Tweedledum/dee routine was highly enjoyable and so natural on screen. A true testament to their chemistry which has come on leaps and bounds from their early days of entertaining me during university in Spaced. Credit must also go to Daniel Craig for his portrayal of Red Rackham, who was truly quite devious and sinister in such a traditional way you rarely see in such cinematic tales these days.

The animation was almost flawless and the backgrounds were truly gorgeous to witness on a big screen and largely the 3D did work. I still do think this type of performance capture animation does still suffer from a bizarre case of dead eye syndrome. Look into those lifeless eyes. Disturbing. Truly.

Steve Moffat, Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish should take as much plaudits for the tidy screenplay they produced which, given the influence those three probably owe to Spielberg and his contemporaries, didn't try to recreate scenes from the Indiana Jones films and stayed true to Herge's own vision instead.

Perhaps to nitpick once more, but I did think the audience was cheated out of an iconic John Williams theme tune. Not that Williams' contribution was terrible by any means, I was probably just expecting, for such an exciting cinematic event, another theme on par with Jurassic Park, ET, Indiana Jones and Superman, but I guess I'm just asking too much...

Final Thoughts
The Adventures of Tintin was full of action, humour, suspense and good old fashion family fun. The film is a beautiful tribute to Herge's books which really do - as the Wikipedia page suggests - transcend time, language and culture. Don't worry if you've never read one of them, or seen the classic cartoon serials, just let yourself be submerged in possibly Steven Spielberg's most widely accessible family film since Hook. Glorious. I didn't even go into my love for the quiff!


The Adventures of Tintin is in cinemas throughout the UK from Friday October 28th, 2011.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

We Need To Talk About Kevin

We need to talk about Kevin. I need to talk about Kevin. I need someone to talk about Kevin with. Fewer films seen in a cinema this year have left me so cold or so troubled than the harrowing imagery found in this. The brilliant, Tilda Swinton - a favourite of the blog - stars as Eva, a reasonably decent woman whose life is thrown into great turmoil when her son, Kevin (Ezra Miller) commits a Columbine-esque shooting on his own school. The narrative skips between the aftermath and sporadic flashbacks of the boy's life and his somewhat strained relationship with his mother.

Tilda Swinton conducted herself so eloquently in this film, possibly the finest role I've seen her in to date. She came across as a very sympathetic soul which I'm sure to much lesser degrees all parents in the audience could quite easily relate to, and her experiences could quite well put off any aspiring parents from the idea of having children altogether - me included. She seemed to drift through the film, especially in the "aftermath", with this lost numbness struck upon her face. It's not comfortable, but it's extremely compelling.

Personally speaking Ms Swinton's acting ability was never in doubt anyway, as she's probably one of the finest British actresses of her generation, the bigger revelation of the film lies within the haunting performance of young Ezra Miller as Kevin, himself. Never, with maybe the exception of the original Omen trilogy, have I seen pure evil personified in a single being so seamlessly. It almost conjures - random and unrelated, I'll concede - memories of watching The Dark Knight and how Michael Caine's Alfred sums up The Joker which I think can also be applied to Miller's character: "Some men aren't looking for anything logical. They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn."

With some slightly twisted musings I have often wondered, how does someone become like that? Do you blame the friends and influences around him? Possibly. His upbringing or his parents? Large portion of the time, almost certainly. However none of this really seems to apply to Kevin, which makes his actions and his relationship with his reasonably loving and devoted parents all the more troubling. Something which resonated with me for hours since leaving the cinema.

If Miller doesn't get at least an nomination for best supporting actor when award season comes along, then he at least deserves my unofficial award of "most sinister villain of the year". His on screen chemistry with Swinton was fantastic, complete with strife and respect rather than any genuine tenderness. It was almost as if they treated each other like mortal enemies rather than family.

Though I haven't read the book, so can't comment on how faithful the adaptation was, I must say Lynne Ramsay's direction was masterful in parts. Some of that credit must also come to the narrative structure set out in her screenplay she penned alongside Rory Kinnear.

That's not to say it's all deep, dark, unsettling imagery, it seems to subtly throw in the odd bitter-sweet moment which made sections of the audience smirk or giggle at the sheer awkwardness of it all - if nothing else than to release tension at times, especially when set against to the caustic revelations in the final act, brought through so exquisitely by the bold and brilliant score from Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood.

Final Thoughts
Believe those daft statements in the posters and trailers, this is Tilda Swinton's greatest performance of her career to date. We Need To Talk About Kevin is an almost nightmarish odyssey through the most terrifying of family tragedies, and will probably leave you feeling more pale and unsettled than any horror film will this year. Or perhaps just put you off the idea of ever having kids. Go see it, and once you do, maybe you'll need to talk about Kevin too...


We Need To Talk About Kevin is in selected cinemas throughout the UK from Friday October 21st 2011.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Batman: Year One

It goes without saying the cultural significance that Frank Miller's graphic novel Batman: Year One - along with The Dark Knight Returns - has had not only a huge impact on the comics of Batman in the years to come, but also in TV and film. Without this story there might not have been even the Tim Burton Batman films, a Bruce Timm animated series in the 90s or more recently Christopher Nolan's excellent Batman trilogy - which borrows heavily from this source material. So with an impressive track record in recent years of adapting infamous graphic novels across the DC Universe, Warners Bros show up with one of the biggest in Batman Year One. Does it live up to it's stupidly high fanboy expectations though?

The general story is pretty straightforward, it's quite possibly as famous and overplayed as the birth of Jesus by now. Young billionaire Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City after years of exiling himself and dons the infamous cowl and cape to become the caped crusader known as Batman to combat the wicked and corrupt. However, like the graphic novel, the main narrative of the story is driven by the strained experiences of Lt. Jim Gordon coming to Gotham City for the first time, and seemingly the only cop in the city who isn't taking bribes from the mob.

Largely the feature is a pretty faithful adaptation of Frank Miller's source material down to the gritty representation of Gotham City to the writer's cold and detached, noir-esque, dialogue which will either grind your gears or fill you with joy pending how much of a Frank Miller fan you are. For me personally, the script comes off well however suffers slightly in the moments featuring Batman/Bruce Wayne due to the soulless, uninspiring, voice acting of Ben McKenzie, but then Batman as a character has always felt slightly off to me in Miller's representation of him.

The true star of the whole piece, and frankly would be my choice to play this character in a live-action setting in the unmentionable 'Post-Nolan' world once The Dark Knight Rises comes and goes next year, is Bryan Cranston (of Breaking Bad fame) as Jim Gordon. He just seems to nail the cynical, downbeat, flawed honesty in Gordon's voice. Other notable contributions come from Battlestar Galactica alumni, Katie Sackoff as fellow GCPD cop, Sarah Essen, Joss Whedon collaborator, Eliza Dushku as Selina Kyle/Catwoman and Jon Polito as Commissioner Loeb.

The quality of the animation was of, as usual, a high standard from Warner Bros. It takes on an almost anime look in sections, reminiscent of the brilliant adaptation of All Star Superman released earlier this year. Though owing more to sections of Batman: Gotham Knight, I still don't think it truly matched the sights and sounds of the Batman created in the glorious Batman: Under the Red Hood of last year.

Final Thoughts
As always with these DC Universe films, they're more than often preaching to the converted. If you don't like Batman, besides being slightly insane, this film isn't likely to change your opinion. Frank Miller's cold, unwelcoming, dialogue and even representation of The Dark Knight isn't for everyone and might not be what you're use to if your exposure of Batman is mainly the animated series and the films. Nevertheless fans of the book should be pleased with the results of the feature and should satisfy all until The Dark Knight Rises reaches cinemas next year. I'm counting down the days, seriously...


Batman: Year One is available on DVD/Blu-Ray now.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011


One of the great director/actor partnerships in British cinema today is undoubtedly been the one struck up between Shane Meadows and Paddy Considine. Even though their collaborations are unlike say Burton and Depp where they can't make a film without one another, it's still managed to produce one of the best British films of the last decade in Dead Man's Shoes and announced Considine as one of the most creditable - if at times underrated in my opinion - actors in the industry today. However this time round, Paddy has stepped away from Shane's directorial creativity and sought to make his own film in the form of brutal drama, Tyrannosaur.

Almost a spin off or a full-length remake of Considine's BAFTA award-winning short film from 2007, Dog Altogether, Tyrannosaur tells the story of dead beat, alcoholic, Joseph (Peter Mullan), as he strikes up a somewhat estranged friendship with good Christian woman, Hannah (Olivia Colman) who works in a local charity shop. The situation becomes more complicated as the Hannah's complicated relationship with her husband surface to the forefront, which suffice to say doesn't make for comfortable, wholesome, cinema.

Where Tyrannosaur stands above quite a lot of films you'll see this year is in the powerful and uncompromising performances of Mullan and Colman. Peter Mullan's Joseph was a seriously disturbed being and I liked that Considine never seemed to shy away from this deranged personality. It made for the moments when the purer aspects of his soul were revealed all the more touching and even in some respects more tragic. Particularly in the scene where he meets Colman's Hannah for the first time, hiding behind a clothes rack.

I've always been a fan of Olivia Colman's work in shows such as Green Wing and the untouchable, Peep Show. However as it turns out, her comedy work never gave her any real justice for her true acting talents. In Tyrannosaur she was simply remarkable. Every moment she featured you just felt this uneasy dread something profoundly awful was about to occur. Her chemistry with Mullan was brilliant, but even more so with the truly sinister performance given by the excellent, Eddie Marsan as Colman's physically and mentally abusive husband.

And so we come to Considine himself, who has created a bleak, hopeless, landscape in Tyrannosaur albeit not too dissimilar to the settings featured in his good friend Shane Meadows' films. Mullan's Joseph could've easily have slotted into the world of Dead Man's Shoes or This Is England. For their sake they'll be thankful he didn't. Though Considine should also be applauded for his tight script, which though being dark also had a soft element of this strange comic timing to it.

If I had to land any criticism to this, mostly fantastic, début film it would be it lacked the emotional intensity found in like minded films such as, This Is England. More than made up for it with the glorious use of The Leisure Society's beautiful song, We Were Wasted in the closing scene and theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts
Don't be put off by the absence of actual dinosaurs! Tyrannosaur is a truly exceptional piece of British cinema, featuring three of the most honest, visceral, uneasy and ultimately tragic performances you will see in a cinema in 2011 from Peter Mullan, Eddie Marsan and Olivia Colman - who has now officially got my backing for Best Actress in the upcoming awards season. Go see it now. Except maybe if you're a dog lover...


Tyrannosaur is in cinemas from Friday October 8th 2011.