2022 | Weeks 9–11

Right, let’s try (again) to get things back on track.

These compilations were/are meant to keep my reviewing roughly up-to-date with my viewing, but I don’t think stuffing them with too many films at once is the right way to go. I don’t know about anyone else, but I feel like five or six per post is about right (with some leeway, of course — I’m sure four or seven would be fine too). However, dividing like that means getting out of sync with Real Life, so I suppose I should clarify when “weeks 9–11” were: Monday February 28th to Sunday 20th March, to be precise. And back then, I watched…

  • Tintin and the Temple of the Sun (1969), aka Tintin et le temple du soleil
  • Los Olvidados (1950), aka The Young and the Damned
  • The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee (2020)
  • The King’s Man (2021)
  • Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (1988)
  • Nothing Like a Dame (2018)


    Tintin and the Temple of the Sun

    (1969)

    aka Tintin et le temple du soleil / The Adventures of Tintin: The Prisoners of the Sun

    Eddie Lateste* | 75 mins | DVD | 4:3 | Belgium & France / English | U

    Tintin and the Temple of the Sun

    This fourth big-screen outing for the Belgian reporter also continues the popular TV series, Hergé’s Adventures of Tintin, made by Belgian studio Belvision from 1957 to 1962. Having adapted ten of Hergé’s volumes for TV, here they tackled two more: two-parter The Seven Crystal Balls and Prisoners of the Sun. The story sees Tintin and chums head to Peru on the trail of their kidnapped friend, Professor Calculus, and to investigate an Incan curse that has befallen a previous party of archaeologists.

    Trekking up mountains and through jungles, with nefarious agents in pursuit, plus all the to-do with ancient curses and whatnot, this is chock-a-block with good old “Boy’s Own Adventure” stuff. As with so many of those, the joy lies in being swept along with the adventure rather than thinking about it too hard (our heroes are saved at the end because the Captain happens to have a scrap of newspaper that Snowy happens to steal that Tintin happens to fancy having a look at that happens to mention a handy forthcoming event). By the same token, there’s also the unavoidable effects of time: some of it feels a teensy bit racist nowadays; Tintin makes his way through the jungle merrily murdering animals left, right and centre. The animation itself is fine, with designs and an overall visual style that emulate Hergé well, but it does have a certain TV-ness.

    It’s also not available in the greatest of copies, at least to English-language viewers. Reportedly the original version contains two songs, both of which were cut from the UK video release, but only one of which has been restored for the DVD (and, I presume, the version currently available to stream from Apple, etc). Although most of the film is dubbed, the song is in the original French, unsubtitled; and has clearly been edited, because there are digital freeze frames around it. At the start of the film, the title card has been replaced in a similarly awkward fashion. Then there’s the 5.1 remix, which seems to be missing some effects and music cues. You can still enjoy the majority of the film despite these distractions, but it’s disappointing that we still have to put up with such palaver nowadays.

    3 out of 5

    Tintin and the Temple of the Sun is the 19th film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.

    * Many (but not all) online sources list Lateste as the director, including IMDb, but the film itself doesn’t actually credit him — the only director-like credit is for “Belvision”. Lateste is credited as one of the screenwriters, at least. ^


    Los Olvidados

    (1950)

    aka The Young and the Damned

    Luis Buñuel | 81 mins | digital (HD) | 1.37:1 | Mexico / Spanish | 12

    Los Olvidados

    Combine the literal translation of the film’s title — The Forgotten Ones — with the US retitling — The Young and the Damned — and you build a sense of what Los Olvidados (as it’s been released in the UK) is about. To be clearly, it’s a socially-realist depiction of life for children in the slums of Mexico City. Although initially condemned (according to IMDb, it only played for three days in Mexico before the “enraged reactions” of the press, government, and upper- and middle-class audiences caused it to be pulled), it’s since been reevaluated as one of the greats of Latin American cinema. Certainly, watching it after films like The 400 Blows (made almost a decade later), City of God (over 50 years later), and Capernaum (almost 70 years later), its influence is felt.

    The downside to that is the film feels somewhat less fresh and more worthy than the later efforts. It’s got an overt anti-poverty message that is admirable but sometimes heavy-handed (a school principal character feels like he’s been inserted just to state the film’s thesis out loud) or naïvely optimistic (the opening voiceover asserts that child poverty will ultimately be solved by progress. Over 70 years later, I don’t think progress is doing a great job…) While much of the movie works at its intended goal, when aspects like these intrude it stops feeling like a realistic depiction of poverty and more like a straightforward polemic about how it should be fixed. On the bright side, it avoids the lure of a pat happy ending — although one was actually discovered in 2002, apparently shot to appease Mexican censors. Clearly they managed to get the film released without having to cave on that point, and it’s better for it.

    4 out of 5

    Los Olvidados is the 20th film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022. It was viewed as part of Blindspot 2022.


    The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee

    (2020)

    Dean Murphy | 88 mins | digital (HD) | 2.35:1 | Australia & USA / English | 12 / PG-13

    The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee

    Not a fourth Crocodile Dundee film, but rather a depiction of the accidentally-chaotic life of that series’ leading man, Paul Hogan, the archetypal Aussie now living in LA and, reaching his 80s, somewhat bemused by the modern world.

    Even from that quick summary, you can tell it’s not a terribly original premise. Couple that with a clearly small budget and you have a recipe for many dismissing the film out of hand. Personally, I found it to be surprisingly enjoyable, in a laidback, undemanding way. None of it is properly hilarious (though a bizarre musical sequence comes close), but it’s kinda amiable, and almost heartwarming at the end. Discerning viewers should perhaps not apply, but if you have any affection for the second or third Crocodile Dundee films (again, widely maligned instalments that I found passably entertaining), this is worth a punt.

    3 out of 5


    The King’s Man

    (2021)

    Matthew Vaughn | 131 mins | Blu-ray (UHD) | 2.39:1 | UK & USA / English | 15 / R

    The King's Man

    Co-writer/director Matthew Vaughn expands the Kingsman universe with this World War I-era prequel that delves into the backstory of how the eponymous organisation was founded. Unlike so many prequels, this does feel like a story worth telling — we don’t necessarily need it, but it’s not merely an exercise in visualising events we’ve already been told, or coming up with over-elaborate reasons for people’s names or whatever (why couldn’t Han Solo’s birth name have just been Han Solo, hm?)

    The story begins with Europe on the brink of war, and our heroes — led by the Duke of Oxford (Ralph Fiennes) — attempting to stop it. History tells us they fail, and so the narrative unfurls across WWI as they try to bring it to a close. That will see them come up against the manipulations of Rasputin (Rhys Ifans), who’s part of a secret organisation plotting to bring down the great empires.

    Let’s cut to the chase: the Kingsman films have a rep for elaborate fight scenes set to pop music. One of the major villains is Rasputin. You only need a passing familiarity with the disco hits of the ’70s to know what I was looking forward to here. Well, it doesn’t happen. Indeed, that stylistic calling card is more or less entirely abandoned (the fight does happen, of course, but it’s set to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture — kind of like era-appropriate ‘pop’ music, I guess?) Apparently Vaughn did originally intend the sequence to be set to an orchestral version of the song in question, but ultimately felt it didn’t work.

    This, perhaps, speaks to another concern I had going in, which was that Kingsman’s highly irreverent, almost satirical tone might clash with the all-too-real WWI setting. Such an historical tragedy doesn’t feel right to be made light of in that way, even over a century later. So, as if to compensate, Vaughn and co have toned down the humour, making The King’s Man fairly serious… but without fully sacrificing the near-whimsy at other times, because, well, it’s part of the franchise. The result is a little awkward, tonally, swinging back and forth between historical seriousness and franchise-establishing fun. Put another way, it’s hamstrung by being an entry in a series known for its irreverence that feels the need to show due reverence to WWI. That’s a clash of values it struggles with, some might say admirably, but can’t quite reconcile. In short, it’s too serious to be a Kingsman film, but too Kingsman-y to be a standalone WWI-set action-adventure.

    I wouldn’t say it’s a disaster, by any means — but then, I enjoyed The Golden Circle when many lambasted it, so make of that what you will. Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to the next film getting back to Eggsy & co in the present day.

    3 out of 5


    Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

    (1988)

    Frank Oz | 110 mins | digital (HD) | 1.85:1 | USA / English | PG / PG

    Dirty Rotten Scoundrels

    Michael Caine and Steve Martin star as a couple of chalk-and-cheese con men, pilfering the fortunes of wealthy single ladies on the French Riviera, in this fun con caper with a neat sting in its tail.

    Caine hits just the right note as a charming con artist, his manner inspired by David Niven, who played the role in the original, 1964’s Bedtime Story. I was unaware the film was a remake until after watching it, though I did know it was itself subject to a gender-bent do-over in 2019, The Hustle. I don’t know how similar Bedtime Story and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels are, but, based on its trailer, The Hustle seems to be a direct lift from this, albeit peppered with the kind of pratfalling that’s de rigueur in modern big screen comedy.

    Marlon Brando was Niven’s co-lead, whereas here Caine gets Steve Martin as the very embodiment of a brash American — a little too brash, if anything, though reportedly there were bits he actually reined in. The running time could have done with a similar consideration, because it’s a little long for its breezy premise and tone (running 110 minutes, it would be better nearer 90), but that’s a minor complaint — it rarely feels too slow or draggy, just a little long overall.

    4 out of 5

    Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is the 21st film in my 100 Films in a Year Challenge 2022.


    Nothing Like a Dame

    (2018)

    aka Tea with the Dames

    Roger Michell | 77 mins | digital (HD) | 16:9 | UK / English | 12

    Nothing Like a Dame

    Four thespian friends, Dames all — Eileen Atkins, Judi Dench, Joan Plowright, and Maggie Smith — gather for a natter about their careers and lives. That’s it, that’s the film.

    Given the setup, plus the style of advertising and US retitle, you’d be forgiven for expecting a gentle bit of fluff; eavesdropping on a pleasant chinwag with four venerable British actresses. The film is that, in places, but it also has a surprising undercurrent of sadness running throughout, as these ageing ladies reflect on the ups and downs of their careers and personal lives now that they’re (shall we say) closer to the end than the beginning. It rarely bubbles to the surface, but it always feels like it’s there, somehow inescapable.

    If that gives proceedings more texture than you might’ve expected, then the film’s biggest flaw lies elsewhere. For me, it’s that it wasn’t long enough. The conversations are often delightful and occasionally insightful, but you feel like there’s so much more to be gleaned from these women. The film chops about between topics and pairings, always feeling like we’re getting snippets of the full conversation, never the true depth; like we’re watching a highlights reel of what should be a three-hour series, or something like that. I know it’s an old theatrical adage to “leave ’em wanting more”, but I really did want some more.

    4 out of 5


  • The Comparatively Calm Monthly Review of February 2022

    For a moment, set aside your fears of World War III and/or anticipation for The Batman (whichever is taking up more of your mental capacity right now; possibly both) and journey with me back, back, back to a time when military invasion was just a threat and Batman reactions were still embargoed — i.e. last month.



    This month’s viewing towards my yearly challenge

    #13 She’s Gotta Have It (1986) — WDYMYHS #2
    #14 The Hobbit (1977) — Decades #8
    #15 Jackass Number Two (2006) — Series Progression #1
    #16 Shot in the Dark (1933) — Decades #9
    #17 A Room with a View (1985) — Rewatches #2
    #18 The Misfits (2021) — New Films #2
    #19 Tintin and the Temple of the Sun (1969) — DVDs #2
    #20 Los Olvidados (1950) — Blindspot #2


    • I watched 13 feature films I’d never seen before in February.
    • Seven of them counted towards my 100 Films in a Year Challenge, along with one rewatch.
    • As with last month’s ‘new film’, The Misfits is originally a 2021 release; but, best I can tell, its UK debut only came this month (as a direct-to-Prime Amazon Exclusive), so it counts as a 2022 release for the purposes of the Challenge.
    • Another oddity of my new rules kicked in this month. When I watched the first Jackass movie, it didn’t count for anything (the only place it could’ve qualified was Decades for the 2000s, but that had been taken); but then I watched the first sequel, and now that does count, as Series Progression. My scrupulous planning ahead for rare eventualities does pay off, see.
    • All the great films from the 1930s that I haven’t seen and could’ve watched to count towards my Decades tally, and instead I’ve filled the slot with a 52-minute “quota quickie” murder mystery. And, frankly, I don’t regret it in the slightest.
    • This month’s Blindspot film was Luis Buñuel’s ‘true story’ of children in poverty in mid-century Mexico, Los Olvidados, aka The Young and the Damned. That English-language title does kinda sum it up.
    • This month’s WDYMYHS film was Spike Lee’s pro debut, She’s Gotta Have It, which (as discussed last month) completes the films for which I was reliant on streaming. That’s one less thing to worry about.
    • Away from the Challenge, 13 beats January’s 11 to be 2022’s de facto best month in those stakes.
    • But it’s not a huge number, so falls short of most stats I keep an eye on: February’s all-time performance (the best is 27); the February average (previously 14.2, now 14.1); and the average of the last 12 months (previously 16.0, now 14.8).
    • My “failures” section may have been spun off onto its own dedicated post this year, but that hasn’t affected how many I actually watch: this month, I didn’t catch up with any of last month’s failures.



    The 81st Monthly Arbitrary Awards

    Favourite Film of the Month
    Its nostalgia-driven style may have enraged some critics and cineastes, but (anecdotally, at least) it seems to have worked gangbusters for regular folk — and, for once, I’m counting myself among the latter. There were certainly ‘worthier’ films among this month’s viewing, but nothing so all-around entertaining as Ghostbusters: Afterlife.

    Least Favourite Film of the Month
    A few to choose from this month — it’s felt like an underwhelming start to the year, I must say, with the poor and (mostly) mediocre films outweighing the good stuff. Anyway, the nadir has to be The Brits Are Coming, known in the US (and therefore most places online) as The Con Is On. It promises a stylish crime caper with an all-star cast. It delivers an amateurish-feeling wannabe-comedy that makes you wonder how come this cast were that desperate for work.

    Most Compromised Viewing Experience of the Month
    Nowadays, we’re used to ultra-faithful HD presentations that do their utmost to present films in their original cuts and original aspect ratio with original colour grading and original audio, to faithfully replicate the filmmakers’ intended vision. But not everything has been granted such treatment, like my DVD copy of Tintin and the Temple of the Sun — or, as the revised title card would have it, courtesy of some Windows MovieMaker-level text animation, The Seven Crystal Balls & Prisoners of the Sun. At least the rest of the opening titles are intact, which apparently wasn’t the case on VHS. The tape also cut two musical numbers, though the DVD only restores one. Despite most of the film being dubbed into English — with no original French audio option offered — the song wasn’t dubbed; but nor is it subtitled, so goodness knows what it was about. It’s bookended by some weird digital edits, suggesting more footage was cut, or possibly lost. And talking of audio, serves me right for choosing the remixed 5.1 track, which occasionally misses random sound effects and music cues. All of that without mentioning the strange digital artefacts that pop up now and then. Far from ideal… but also, as far as I’m aware, the only English-friendly version available (I doubt they fixed any of these problems for the iTunes release).

    Moment That’s a Great Visual But Impossible to Adequately Describe in Writing of the Month
    There’s a bungee jump stunt in Jackass Number Two that isn’t one of their most elaborate or dangerous, and certainly is a long way from being their grossest, but nonetheless ends in a moment of hilarity that, literally, has to be seen. I could try to describe exactly what occurs in the split-second, but it would take many words to convey accurately and still wouldn’t do justice to seeing it happen in a fraction of a second. It’s not even their funniest or most audacious thing, it’s just… gravity. Nature always wins.

    The Audience Award for Most-Viewed New Post of the Month
    Despite my return to (relatively) regular posting this year, February is my lowest month for traffic since… well, since as far back as the WordPress stats page shows (October 2019). Oh well. And despite many of my posts containing multiple different films to pique readers’ interest(s), it was actually a single-film review that came out on top for new posts: Ghostbusters: Afterlife.



    Every review posted this month, including new titles and the Archive 5


    Assuming we don’t all get nuked by a frustrated Russian, next month begins with The Batman, which got rave reviews when its embargo lifted yesterday, and ends with the Oscars, which can’t seem to do anything right this year. Hopefully, I’ll see them both.

    100 Favourites II — The Top 10

    And so I reach the pinnacle of my list — my most favourite films I’ve seen for the first time in the past ten years. (Well, if we’re being precise, in the past ten years and three months, but not counting anything from the last three months. But that’s less snappy.)

    Over three previous posts I’ve counted down #100 to #11, but here’s the perfectly rounded number everyone loves for a list: the top ten.

    #10
    Dark City


    4th from 2008
    (previously 3rd | original review)

    Before The Matrix there was Dark City, which tackles some of the same philosophical issues as the Wachowskis’ trilogy, only in a less opaque and verbose fashion — and, as I said, did so first. Of course, it lacks the groundbreaking action sequences that made The Matrix such a hit, but as a thoughtful piece of stylish sci-fi noir it probably bests its better-known thematic cousins. I also reckon it’s still a bit underrated… including by me, really, because it’s nine years since I first watched it and I still haven’t got round to seeing the Director’s Cut. (Note to self: fix that.)

    #9
    The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn


    1st from 2014
    (previously 2nd | original review)

    Calling on the same skill set that produced the Indiana Jones movies, Steven Spielberg created an adventure movie that perfectly balances plot, action, and humour. Despite the freedom afforded by crafting the entire thing in CGI (rendered with stunning realism by Weta), Spielberg knows when to hold back and maintain a level of realism, only to cut loose when warranted. The top end of this list definitely skews blockbustery-y — well, it is “favourite” rather than some kind of “objective best” (not that that’d be strictly possible anyway) — but, nonetheless, I think Tintin is a very fine and underrated example of the form.

    #8
    Kick-Ass


    1st from 2010
    (previously 1st | original review)

    As Watchmen was to superhero comics, so Kick-Ass is to superhero films: taking familiar building blocks from other films and TV series, it deconstructs the genre through a “what if someone tried to be a superhero for real” storyline, asking questions about the glorification of violence and the sexualisation of its characters — all while being a funny and exciting action-comedy. Perhaps it’s having its cake and eating it, and that leads some people to miss the point (some by enjoying it a bit too much, some by thinking it has nothing to say), but I don’t think that stops it being one of the best and most thoughtful superhero movies yet made.

    #7
    Let the Right One In


    1st from 2011
    (previously 3rd | original review)

    It’s felt like you can’t escape vampires in film and TV for the last couple of decades, but trust a European movie to give them a unique spin, right? So it’s both a coming-of-age-y arthouse-y movie about two 12-year-olds and first love, and a scary horror movie about violent supernatural creatures. It works by not shortchanging either aspect, instead combining them to transcend genre boundaries. So it’s a genuinely touching, emotional and relatable drama, as well as a creepy and horrific fantasy thriller.

    #6
    Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation


    1st from 2015
    (previously 1st | original review)

    There’s always been a bit of a ‘wannabe’ air to the Mission: Impossible films, like maybe someone thought it could fill the void left by Bond disappearing post-Dalton, only it took so long to make it to the screen that Bond himself got there first in the shape of Pierce Brosnan. Nonetheless, the series has trundled along… though I don’t want to sound like I’m doing it down too much because I’ve always enjoyed it — the second one made my first 100 Favourites list, even. But Rogue Nation is where M:I finally out-Bonds Bond. Mixing action thrills and a genuine sense of jeopardy with just-ahead-of-reality gadgets, a knowing sense of humour, and a cast full of likeable characters, it’s superb blockbuster entertainment.

    #5
    Seven Samurai


    1st from 2013
    (previously 1st | original review)

    A phrase like “three-and-a-half-hour subtitled black-and-white movie” is going to conjure up a certain experience in the minds of most viewers. That experience is most probably nothing like Seven Samurai — although it is, of course, a three-and-a-half-hour subtitled black-and-white movie. On the surface it’s about a bunch of warriors protecting a small impoverished village that can’t defend itself, and it has a lengthy action-packed climax to deliver on such promise, but it rises above that thanks to its reflective attitude towards its characters and their very existence. No, wait, I said it’s not your typical three-and-a-half-hour subtitled black-and-white movie!

    #4
    Rashomon


    3rd from 2008
    (previously 5th | original review)

    I’d wager most would rank Seven Samurai higher in the Akira Kurosawa canon, but I give Rashomon the edge because the form of its storytelling appeals to me. It retells the events surrounding a murder from the subjective viewpoint of each of the characters who were there, and of course their accounts differ. Its title has become a byword for such narratives, but there’s more here than just trendsetting plot construction — it’s a fantastically made film, exquisitely shot and magnificently performed.

    #3
    Zodiac


    2nd from 2008
    (previously 2nd | original review)

    David Fincher’s meticulous true crime thriller may be his best movie — and when we’re talking about the man who made Se7en and Fight Club, that’s certainly saying a lot. It may look like it’s a murder thriller — it is about the hunt for a serial killer, after all — but in many respects it’s more about obsession and addiction, and how such things can come to take over your life. But if you don’t want to ponder that kind of thing, there’s always chills like the basement scene to keep you viscerally engaged. (The slightly-different Director’s Cut is the better version of the film and, if we’re being specific, would be my pick here; but I watched that a couple of years later, so it was the theatrical cut that figured in 2008’s top ten.)

    #2
    Skyfall


    1st from 2012
    (previously 1st | original review)

    The James Bond films have always been action blockbusters, and more often than not immensely popular and successful ones. Skyfall changed the game though: by hiring Oscar-winning director Sam Mendes it was instantly booted into Prestige Picture territory — and still managed to deliver the most financially successful film in the series’ long history, the first billion-dollar Bond. But box office success is not why Skyfall is #2 on my list. It’s the beautiful cinematography; the way it adds thematic weight to the character without breaking the formula; the sense of Bond’s history without over-explicit reverence — and the way those aspects makes it both familiar and fresh at the same time. Plus it delivers on the action, larger-than-life villain, and one-liners just like a Bond film should. Its artistic success may be a case of the stars aligning and lightning striking (the lacking-by-comparison follow-up Spectre proved that), but Bond has rarely been better.

    #1
    The Dark Knight


    1st from 2008
    (previously 1st | original review)

    Eight years and three months ago, when I named The Dark Knight my #1 film of 2008, I wrote that “I’m unashamedly one of those who believe The Dark Knight isn’t just one of the best films of 2008, it’s one of the best films ever.” It’s nice to be able to stand by such a brazen assertion. And, having thought long and hard about what I would declare as my most favouritest movie from the 1,283 new ones that I’ve seen in the last decade, I clearly do stand by it. I love superhero movies, I love crime thrillers, and I love epics, so it’s no surprise that a movie which combines all three — and does them all well — would top a list of my favourite movies.

    Now: what’s a good list without some statistics?

    January 2015

    How do you top the most successful year of your blog ever? Well, let’s see …


    January’s films

    Ghost Dog#1 The Crab with the Golden Claws (1947), aka Le Crabe aux Pinces d’Or
    #2 Parker (2013)
    #3 Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
    #4 Shadow of the Thin Man (1941)
    #5 Machine Gun Preacher (2011)
    #6 Last Passenger (2013)
    #7 Persona (1966)
    #8 The Big Knife (1955)
    M:I-4#9 Kingdom of Heaven: Director’s Cut (2005)
    #10 The Sugarland Express (1974)
    #11 The Thin Man Goes Home (1945)
    #12 Hancock (Extended Version) (2008)
    #13 Argo (Extended Cut) (2012/2013)
    #14 The Hound of the Baskervilles (1981), aka Priklyucheniya Sherloka Kholmsa i doktora Vatsona: Sobaka Baskerviley
    #15 Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
    #16 Transcendence (2014)


    Viewing Notes

    • Since enjoying Spielberg & Jackson’s Tintin movie at the tail end of 2014, I’ve found myself a bit obsessed this January: I’ve started reading the books (been meaning to for yonks — I bought a complete box set in Amazon’s Black Friday sale several years ago) and acquired all the other films that are available on English-friendly DVDs. Reviewing The Crab with the Golden Claws is just the start of it for 2015, I should imagine.
    • Two more Thin Man films viewed — I’m almost at the end. Hence Thin Man Thursdays.
    • That Hound of the Baskervilles is a Russian TV version from the ’80s, widely acclaimed among Sherlockians. I’ll be reviewing it as part of the Russia in Classic Film Blogathon in early March.
    • Can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get to Ghost Protocol! I really enjoyed it too. With this year’s fifth movie recently moved up to a summer date, there’s every chance that’ll make this year’s list too, even if I wait for the Blu-ray again.


    What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?

    In case you missed it, earlier this month I wrote a 2,800-word introduction to 2015’s “What Do You Mean You Haven’t Seen…?” — aka WDYMYHS:SoOaHaDotO. (I promise not to call it that again.)

    After nearly failing last year by leaving Serious and Heavy films ’til right at the end (Requiem for a Dream wasn’t a very Christmassy film for the end of December, but at least it was a brilliant one), I made a particular effort to start with one of this year’s more difficult films: Ingmar Bergman’s psychological two-hander Persona. Apparently writing about it is to film critics as Everest is to mountaineers, so that should be a fun one to review…


    Analysis

    To reach 100 films in a year at a steady pace, you need to watch about eight films every month. Having spotted my record-equalling run of double-figure months in December, I’ve decided I’d quite like to have a whole year of the same. Last year is the closest I’ve come to such a thing, with nine out of twelve months having 10+ films.

    I’m off to an excellent start to achieve it in 2015, though, with 16 films in January — aka double the requirement for reaching 100. Naturally this means a new record for consecutive double-figure months, now at eight in a row. It also blows away all the possible indicators: January’s average total is 8.7 and 2014’s monthly average was 11.3, so it’s far beyond either of those. In fact, it’s the highest ever January, in the process besting all but one month from 2014.

    I’ve explained before that January is absolutely useless as a predictor of the entire year… but where’s the fun in leaving it at that? So if I were to continue at this pace, 2015 would end up on an improbably-high 192 — take that 2014 and your beat-the-record-by-seven 136! It seems unlikely that’ll happen, I agree, especially as January’s tally has not once been close to the year-end average. That said, it’s normally a good-but-not-great kind of month, often bested immediately by February and March — that’s what happened in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, while February topped it in 2008 and March almost doubled it in 2014 — so things may be looking even rosier in a few weeks’ time. Plus, even if I ‘only’ achieve my stated goal of 10 films per month from here on out, I’ll still end up in the 120s, which would put 2015 among the highest-totalling years.


    This month’s archive reviews

    I’d quite like to get my archive reposts finished during 2015, leaving the slate clean and the site complete for 2016, my tenth year. There’s still a long way to go (just under 170 reviews, plus a load of editorial-type posts), but at this rate I might make it. To kick things off, 20 archive reviews were reposted during January…


    Next month on 100 Films in a Year…

    Despite being the year’s shortest month, February has twice topped the year for total monthly viewing, and a couple more times has been among the top ‘scorers’. Equally, on three occasions it’s been one of the year’s lowest. The rollercoaster continues in 28 days…

    The Crab with the Golden Claws (1947)

    aka Le Crabe aux Pinces d’Or

    2015 #1
    Claude Misonne | 58 mins | download | 1.37:1 | Belgium / French

    Le Crabe aux Pinces d'Or DVDBy 1947, Hergé’s boy reporter/adventurer Tintin had already been around and increasingly popular for nearly two decades; had survived World War 2 and the controversy of being published in a Nazi-controlled newspaper; and the release of his adventures had recently been transferred to a dedicated magazine, Le Journal de Tintin. What better time to bring the character to the big screen?

    Adapted from the ninth Tintin adventure, which is the one that introduces popular supporting character/co-lead Captain Haddock, the plot sees Tintin following clues left by a dead seaman to uncover an opium smuggling operation being run on Haddock’s boat without his knowledge. Animated via stop motion using doll-like puppets, the film was only ever screened twice before being seized when its producer declared bankruptcy and fled to Argentina. A print is stored at the Cinémathèque Royale in Belgium, where it seems it used to only be available to paying Tintin club members, but in 2008 it was released on DVD in France. English-friendly versions are available online, not least via YouTube. The picture quality is poor, but, having gone to the trouble of acquiring a higher-res copy, I can say it doesn’t get much better. It is in the wrong aspect ratio, though — approximately 1.69:1. It doesn’t look too distorted, but if you see a 4:3 version it suddenly looks right. (I presume the DVD was incorrect because I had to adjust the copy I downloaded.)

    As for the film itself, it’s incredibly faithful to Hergé’s original tale — it may not be adapted frame-for-frame, but it’s incredibly close. A couple of action sequences have gone astray, presumably because that’s harder to achieve with puppets, but it also streamlines the story slightly. I can’t speak for the French dialogue, but the fan-made English subtitles are word-for-word with the book. Of course, that may be where they’re sourced from.

    Haddock, Tintin, Snowy, 1947 styleIn my review of the Spielberg film, I remarked I hadn’t read the albums it was adapted from so couldn’t vouch for its fidelity. Watching this, it’s clear that a sizeable chunk of the storyline was actually adapted from The Crab with the Golden Claws, to the point where I was starting to wonder if Moffat & co had taken the entire plot from Crab but subbed in the MacGuffins from Secret of the Unicorn. In the end, about half of this made its way into the 2011 film, including everything aboard the Karaboudjan, the lifeboat and plane sequences, and some of the desert material, too.

    In this version, there’s quite a good bit where Tintin and Haddock escape from the Karaboudjan but we don’t see any of it, instead following the traitorous Mr Mate as he discovers all the crewmembers our heroes have tricked and tied up. As with everything else, this is book-faithful, but works even better on screen. Plus, Captain Haddock has a musical number, about his love for “the bottle and the sea”; and later he has another with Tintin, too. The main lyric is, “tra la la la lai doo”.

    Technically, it’s not the most sophisticated stop motion you’ll see, but it’s not bad considering its age. The models are of their era too, but pretty good on the whole. The two exceptions are, firstly, the black characters — a weakness of Hergé’s book, they were replaced with white characters in later years, but this is faithful to the original version. The dolls aren’t any better than Hergé’s drawings. Secondly, the facial design of Tintin’s doll Le Crabe aux Pinces d'Or original advertmakes it look as if he’s permanently shocked by everything.

    The Crab with the Golden Claws must be the most adapted Tintin adventure now (it was also animated in both the ’50s and ’90s series), which isn’t necessarily warranted: it was a tale compromised by the circumstances surrounding its publication, and apparently is largely a rehash of an earlier story. It’s not without merit, though — all of the good stuff was filched for the Spielberg film, funnily enough. This version isn’t bad, but is really no more than a funny little curio. One for the hardcore fan, be that of Tintin or the history of stop motion animation, or the insatiably curious.

    3 out of 5

    The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)

    2014 #134
    Steven Spielberg | 107 mins | Blu-ray | 2.35:1 | USA & New Zealand / English | PG / PG

    The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn1981: Steven Spielberg reads a French review of his movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. His high-school-level French serves him well enough, although there’s repeated use of one word he doesn’t know: Tintin.

    25 years later: Spielberg has been struggling to make a film version of Hergé’s character for quarter of a century. While developing a live-action version that would feature actors under heavy prosthetics so as to resemble their comic book counterparts, he realises Tintin’s famous dog, Snowy, will need to be computer generated. He reaches out to Peter Jackson and Weta, fresh off their ground-breaking work on The Lord of the Rings. Their test footage is so successful, it gives Spielberg another idea…

    2011: after 30 years, Spielberg finally brings the boy reporter to the big screen as a motion-captured animation. Reviews and public reception are mixed, particularly in the US, but they’re all daft because The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is bloody brilliant.

    Combining events from three of Hergé’s original albums, the story sees Tintin (Jamie Bell) purchase a model ship that is highly desired by the mysterious Sakharine (Daniel Craig). A riddle hidden inside the model sets the ever-inquisitive reporter on a quest to find out what nefarious deeds Sakharine is planning, along the way bumping into drunkard Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis), who holds the key to the entire mystery. Cue a globetrotting adventure that, yes, is very much in the Indiana Jones mould.

    Tintin and HaddockApparently some Tintin purists weren’t so keen on the actual adaptation — elements of The Crab with the Golden Claws have been mixed in to a plot primarily taken from The Secret of the Unicorn, the sequel/second half of which, Red Rackham’s Treasure, is reportedly used sparingly. Plus, in the original tale Sakharine is a minor character who wasn’t responsible for much, apparently. As someone who’s only read one of those three volumes, and even then not since I was young, such things didn’t trouble me. What superstar screenwriters Steven “Doctor Who” Moffat, Edgar “Cornetto trilogy” Wright and Joe “Attack the Block” Cornish have captured is the spirit of Tintin: an engrossing mystery-adventure, laced with gentle satire and smidgens of slapstick comedy, but with real stakes and peril too.

    A talented cast are up to the task. Bell adopts a posh-ish accent for the titular hero, and while some of the accusations of blandness aren’t wholly misplaced, he’s plucky and determined enough to make for an appealing lead. The king of mo-cap, Serkis, is able support as Haddock, while Craig makes for a very effective villain — I hope his post-Bond career, whenever that arrives, sees him playing villainous roles more often. Interestingly, it was his mannerisms that have survived the animation process the most. I mean it in an entirely non-critical way when I say every other character could have any actor behind the mo-cap baubles, but Sakharine’s face and body move with all the recognisable movements and expressions of his actor.

    Of course he can't talk, he's a dogThe slapstick is mainly hoisted by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost as the physically-identical Thomson and Thompson — a true advantage of animation, that. I imagine some find their parts tiresome because of their inherently comic role, but they’re likeable versions of the characters. Even more joyous is Snowy, though. Well, I would like him, wouldn’t I? His internal monologue, such a memorable part of Hergé’s books, is omitted (as it is from every film version to date, I believe), but he’s full of character nonetheless. Some of the best sequences involve Snowy running in to save the day. I don’t think they quite got the animation model right (the one glimpsed in test footage included in behind-the-scenes featurettes looks better, for my money), but his characterisation overcomes that.

    Bit of an aside, but I think there’s something notable about almost everyone mentioned so far: Moffat, Wright, Cornish, Bell, Serkis, Craig, Pegg, Frost… All British. I know that’s because we’re awesome ‘n’ all, but I think it’s also indicative of Tintin’s status in the English-speaking world — which more or less boils down to “unknown in America”, but also “pretty darn popular in Britain”. At least Spielberg, the man who wanted to cast an American as Harry Potter, seems to know this (further evidence: they’ve hired another British screenwriter for the sequel). For whatever reason, Tintin has never clicked in America, while the books remain very popular over here. It therefore feels like there’s a better chance for the films’ fidelity by using Brits (who have the correct tone and style almost ingrained) than by using people coming to the stories entirely for the first time, and perhaps bringing a more generic blockbuster sensibility. On the other hand, this might just be a horribly xenophobic way of interpreting a coincidental appearance by so many Brits in key roles — after all, Tintin’s Belgian, so it’s not like using Brits is “true to source”.

    Action directionOf course, one very important person is neither British nor Belgian: Spielberg. The screenplay’s balance between peril and comedy is spotlessly enhanced by his peerless direction. In a world stuffed to the gills with lesser blockbusters that palely imitate the groundwork Spielberg and co laid in the ’70s and ’80s, work like this should remind people why he’s still the master of the form. The film is shot with an eye for realism (so much so that some viewers have been convinced it was filmed on real locations with real actors, with some CG augmentation for the cartoonish faces, of course), which helps lend a sense of plausibility and also genuine jeopardy. It’s easy to get carried away when working in CG animation, but often the most impressive works are ones that behave as if they’ve been shot largely within the limitations of real-world filmmaking technology.

    That said, Spielberg isn’t afraid to make use of the freedom afforded by working in a computer-generated realm when appropriate: there are some spectacular individual shots, the most obvious being a single-take chase sequence down a hillside through a town. Even better are some of the transitions, which would be literally impossible to realise in live-action — without resorting to effects work, anyway. They’re hard to accurately describe, especially without ruining them, in part because each instance is different; but they do all look incredible, and, again, serve the story rather than being flashy for the sake of it.

    It always went ok on Flight Simulator...The tone on the whole is resolutely PG — actually, like many an action-adventure blockbuster used to be before everything went slightly darker and PG-13. So, for example, Tintin wields a gun on occasion, but never at another human being. The focus is on the story, which happens to lead to some adrenaline-pumping sequences, rather than a lightweight excuse to link together a bunch of punch-ups and chases. Ironically (though, for anyone who knows what they’re talking about, entirely expectedly) this makes the action all the more exciting. It also mean there’s a lighter touch than many current blockbusters offer; a greater presence for humour, including among the action. I guess that’s not fashionable these days, when everyone’s become so po-faced about their big-budget entertainment. However, with the likes of Iron Man and Guardians of the Galaxy proving immensely popular, perhaps the tide is turning, and maybe the still-on-the-cards Jackson-helmed sequel will find itself better received because of that.

    I genuinely don’t understand the muted reaction to this first Tintin, though. It perhaps shows where blockbusters have gone awry in the last decade or two, and perhaps the incidental disdain animation is viewed with among some — I wonder: if the same movie had been produced in live-action, would some of those critics have been better disposed to it? I don’t think it would have actually been a better film, and perhaps it would even have been slightly worse (some of the visual impact would be lost), Herge's Adventures of Tintin!but some viewers would have seen it (even subconsciously) as more of a “real movie”.

    As I said at the start, those people are Wrong. The Adventures of Tintin is a fantastic adventure movie, and should prove to anyone who doubted Spielberg after Kingdom of the Crystal Skull that, when it comes to globetrotting action-adventures, he’s still the man to beat.

    5 out of 5

    The UK network TV premiere of The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is on BBC One today at 4:25pm.

    It placed 2nd on my list of The Ten Best Films I Saw For the First Time in 2014, which can be read in full here.

    Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece (1961)

    aka Tintin et le mystère de la Toison d’Or

    2013 #46
    Jean-Jacques Vierne | 97 mins | TV | 1.66:1 | France & Belgium / English | PG

    Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden FleeceSteven Spielberg and Peter Jackson weren’t the first to bring Hergé’s journalist-adventurer to the big screen, oh no… though you have to go quite far back — and much more obscure — to find the previous efforts.

    The Mystery of the Golden Fleece was the first of two live-action Tintin movies made by the French in the ’60s. It seems quite a low-budget affair, but that might just be applying modern tastes to an era of more simple means. For all the flat direction and pound-store costumes, there’s still a globetrotting plot involving sunken ships, numerous chases, helicopters, and that kind of thing. Some bits drag a smidgen for a modern viewer, but mostly it moves at a decent enough lick, as Tintin and co trot around Greece, Turkey and the like in pursuit of / being pursued by a gang of criminals who are interested in the boat Captain Haddock has just inherited, the titular la Toison d’Or. This isn’t quite a Bondian adventure, though its child-audience aims lend a certain charm and innocence that will certainly appeal to the right audience.

    Indeed, this is exactly the kind of film I can see gaining a cult following, if it doesn’t have one already. Even for the occasional points of clunkiness, it offers some genuine humour and some old-fashioned derring-do that’s never less than good fun. Plus there’s the bizarre sight of seeing characters costumed and made-up to faithfully recreate their comic-book counterparts plonked in the middle of the very-real world. If you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park, imagine some of the characters they have scattered around wandering out onto the streets. There’s a double bonus for English-language viewers, thanks to a stereotypically iffy English dub that only adds to the fun.Tintin via Disneyland (I don’t know if the BFI DVD includes the original French, Turkish and Greek soundtrack, but on TV it was entirely dubbed into English. There’s a French Blu-ray, but it doesn’t look to be English friendly.)

    And then there’s Snowy. Regular readers will know I can go a bit soppy for a great dog in a film, and Golden Fleece offers a Snowy who should be up there with the likes of Uggie in the annals of movie-dog history. He steals most scenes he’s in, and of course he’s in it a fair bit.

    I wouldn’t say Tintin and the Mystery of the Golden Fleece is a bad movie by any means, but it’s not going to work for everyone. Some would find it dated and twee and, if forced to watch it, would despise every moment of the experience. I really enjoyed it, however; in a slightly ironic way, I suppose, looking back on simpler times of cut-price production design and funny dubbing; but also as a well-intentioned adventure movie, in the old-fashioned meaning of that genre that doesn’t involve a millions-of-dollars action sequence every seven minutes.

    If it isn’t a cult favourite yet, I may just have to start that cult. And I think we’d probably give it an extra star, but in the interests of broad consumer advice:

    3 out of 5