A Dreamer Walking

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on December 30, 2011

In The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn Steven Spielberg finally has the ability to do whatever he wants. He can visit any location the mind can imagine. He can create huge ships, vast deserts, and magnificent cities. He has complete control over all the elements. He places the sun where he wants it to be. He makes it rain, fog, or blow depending on what he thinks best fits the scene. There are many scenes in Tintin where Spielberg takes advantage of his limitless camera abilities. The camera can fit through all the small cracks. There are action shots that hold for minutes at a time. And the framing of the picture is often perfect because Spielberg can capture the acting separately from the framing.

With all the cool things that came with the limitless abilities of animation and the vast imagination of Steven Spielberg and collaborator Peter Jackson, I felt astonishingly unsatisfied with the final result. Unlike most motion capture movies I was not bugged by the photo realistic characters and locations for the most part. It was the story and character chemistry that ruined my day.

Evidently we were supposed to just love the main character Tintin right from the start. He is a journalist who apparently is always in search of a good story. However, he hardly needs to do any work to get involved with the story in this film. He happens to buy a ship at the very beginning of the movie that holds a clue to a long forgotten mystery. Everything in the film seems to fall to simply into Tintin’s hands. He gets himself into sticky situations for sure, but we never feel like Tintin is in any real danger. He is always confident and usually knows exactly what to do, which makes the thrills of the picture less suspenseful and entertaining. We have no idea to why Tintin likes adventure. We are given no time to care for Tintin as a character before we are thrown into his adventure. The movie starts out running and never slows down.

Through investigating Tintin is captured and taken to a ship where he meets captain Haddock; a drunker who has lost all confidence in his ability to command his crew. There are hints of life in the story when Tintin meets Haddock. Haddock is a big clumsy drunk who is easy to like. However, it feels like the plot gets in the way of us really getting to know Haddock. Captain Haddock is directly connected to the mystery of the Secret of the Unicorn. The story has more to do with Haddock trying to live up to his old family name, then it does with us getting to know Haddock as an individual. A huge amount of the success of the story lies in us buying into the chemistry between Haddock and Tintin. I however had a hard time liking them as a duo. Tintin is just too one dimensional and Haddock too insecure and delusional.

Steven Spielberg is a live action director and it shows in this film. First off it did not seem like Spielberg was confident in his animation collaborators. In interviews he has said he did about one month of work and then left the movie for the most part to the animation crew for about two years. In the film Spielberg has the control of the camera, but he never seems to hold on anything long enough for us truly to appreciate it. The characters are too busy fulfilling the plot and going from one action scene to another for us to really have time to appreciate them or their relationships to one another. The locations looked beautiful but we never really were given much time to explore. Spielberg also acted like these were cartoons rather then living and breathing human beings. They could survive almost anything, like plane crashes, building collapses, and huge ship fights. With animation shorts like Looney Toons one can get away with a character walking off a three hundred foot ledge and surviving or getting blown up by a TNT with only some hair burnt off. However, if you want to create a narrative that lasts more then ten minutes you need to create characters who the audience sees as alive and vulnerable to the same kind of consequences as we are in real life. All I am asking for is someone to break a limb, have a few bruises, or just be a bit out of breath after a fight or huge chase scene. Because of the huge lack of reality in Spielberg’s imagined world everything felt to convenient and fake for most to really care.

I am sure the younger audience will find The Adventures of Tintin entertaining. Every once in a while I did feel the magic that so often comes with Spielberg’s movies. There are several magnificent transitions in the film.  I felt like John Williams score was just right for the world and story material. I liked the little bit I did see of the Tintin world and am interested in exploring it more. I don’t know if the animation was mediocre because I wasn’t given enough time to appreciate it or because of the limits that come with motion capture. There still was this weightless feeling I felt with some of the animation which bothered me and is typical of motion capture. In some crowd scenes I felt like everyone blended into each other. One of motion captures greatest flaws is the inability to hit extreme poses that help express information more clearly and make each character feel unique. Motion capture is a tool yet to be perfected. However, it seemed to have taken a few steps forward in this film. The eyes never felt dead and the character designs felt more expressionistic and pleasing then in past motion capture films. Spielberg was also given a way to use many of his traditional live action techniques and apply them to the world of animation because of motion capture.

With animation there are limitless possibilities with what a filmmaker can do. However, the artist is required to create everything which means every step of production takes more time. It seems like Spielberg wanted the benefits of animation without putting in the time needed to perfect the art form. Because of this we often get a busy mess of a film. It’s a shame we get a mediocre piece of entertainment from two of the greatest entertainers of this generation, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson. Spielberg has said this movie was his only real experience collaborating creativity with a producer. I am interested in seeing the roles reversed when Spielberg is the cheerleader producer and Jackson is in the directors chair. The Tintin series has potential but has a long way to go if they want to make any kind of lasting effect like those of the Indiana Jones or Lord of the Rings series’.

Puss In Boots- Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on November 2, 2011

Puss in Boots is a movie full of beautiful locations, fantastic animation, and above par action sequences. At the beginning of the film it even feels like we have a more charismatic main character then what we had for the original Shrek series. However, Puss did not go very far in the movie. He is basically used in the same way he is in the Shrek films, as a character who entertains through some clever and some sub par jokes and a lot of action. The characters around him are given the responsibility to carry the arc of the film and sadly they don’t do much with it.

From the beginning of the film I realized that the character with the greatest arc was not going to be Puss. The reason being Puss was already a very developed character who showed no signs of going anywhere. This is one of the problems that comes with making a sidekick become the star of a film. The majority of sidekicks are created to be one note characters. Their job is to enhance the depth of the main character. In the Shrek series Puss’s job was to entertain while helping to develop the arc of the main character Shrek. Now sense in this film Puss is the main star, the creators needed to either figure out a fatal flaw in Puss that could be worked out through a story, or keep Puss as a one note character and have him be the reason for change in one or more of the characters around him. The creators chose the latter.

In Puss in Boots Puss’s story isn’t much. There is nothing inwardly unique about who he is as a character. He is  the typical misunderstood hero. His main goal is to reclaim his honor and help out the mother and town that adopted him as a kid. The arc of the story laid entirely on Puss’s childhood friend Humpty Dumpty, voiced by Zach Galifianakis. Zach did nothing to make Humpty likable for me. Humpty seemed like a shallow sidekick for most of the movie and an even (spoiler) shallower villain when he betrays Puss in the third act of the story. Through a ten minute flashback showing Puss and Humpty’s childhood, we see that Puss and Humpty were once good friends. Both had a sense of adventure and both were treated as outcasts. Humpty’s ambition was to get away and find the magical beans that would lead to a great amount of treasure. I saw that Humpty was a smart guy and dedicated to his mission, however this did nothing to attract me to his character. Humpty is nothing but greedy through the majority of the film, he even has a hard time allowing Puss to be friends with him as a kid. Eventually his friendship with Puss goes sour when Puss is accepted into the community. Humpty turns to crime and based on some unfortunate events Puss is mistakenly caught as an accomplice to Humpty. This leads to Puss becoming an outlaw while leaving Humpty to get caught by authorities and thrown into jail.

We hear about Puss’s childhood through him telling it to Kitty Softpaws. Kitty Softpaws is an accomplice to Humpty who tries to recruit Puss to help them get the treasure up the magic beanstalk. Kitty falls to sleep while Puss tells her about his childhood. I wonder why the film creators thought we would care about Puss’s back story if the character he was telling it to didn’t even care? We get the feeling something is up when all the characters come together. Puss shows resentment because Humpty gave him a bad reputation. Humpty doesn’t seem sorry and still seems to resent Puss’s charm. Kitty doesn’t seem like she cares for any of the characters, just the treasure at the top of the beanstalk. None of them have very admirable reasons for doing what they are doing. Even Puss wants to get the treasure so HE can get his reputation back, not because he thinks the town or his mother really needs the money.

Because the reason for the adventure is shallow, the action and danger of the adventure doesn’t seem nearly as thrilling. They do go up the magical beanstalk and they do run into trouble while trying to find the treasure in the castle in the sky, but who cares? Yes, these sequences will entertain you a little while they unfold because of the talented animators and background artists at Dreamworks, but the thrills are gone as soon as the scenes are over.

The crude humor in the story seems to constantly stop us from connecting to the characters. There are several shallow sexual oriented jokes in the film, obviously targeted toward the older audience. One of Dreamworks’ greatest problems is the people in charge never trust their story enough to avoid making fun of someone, using sexual innuendo, or throwing in an absurd comment that only gets a nervous or shallow laugh. Kitty Softpaws makes fun of Humpty while he changes clothes. Puss gets a old man aroused when cleaning himself. And, Puss constantly boasts about his ability to attract woman. The shallow humor did nothing to further the story and only made us think less of the characters.

The ending of the film is extremely predictable and unbelievable. Humpty Dumpty ends up betraying Puss. The whole adventure was set up by Humpty so he could get his revenge. However, the back stab is seen a mile away. There is no reason given for why Humpty apologizes and he is obviously still angry at Puss. The most outrageous part however is Humpty’s sudden change of heart at the end of the film. After the years of planning in prison and spending most of the movie getting Puss to fall into his evil plan, we have ONE scene where Puss talks to Humpty and convinces him to change his ways and not destroy the town they both grew up in. Humpty is suddenly sorry and sacrifices himself at the end to save the town. The problem is Puss was not a strong enough character in this film to really create a believable change in Humpty Dumpty, let alone to do it in just one scene. The ending was cliche and completely unearned. Of course it needed to happen because someone in the movie needed to express some type of growth. However, because the ending was not earned the audience leaves the theater with hardly any impact by the one and a half hours they spent watching the movie.

If you are interested in vegging out, I would suggest you watch Puss In Boots. It has enough humor and talented enough artists working behind the scenes to satisfy the audience who just wants to sit down relax and not really think for ninety minutes. But for someone who wants to be stimulated and think while watching a film, Puss In Boots is hard to bear. Dreamworks Animation has some of the greatest artists in the film industry at their studio. Many of their talents are wasted in this film. They have the talent to inspire and influence generations of kids, but instead are made to create mediocre storylines designed to make the quick buck. The story is weak and much of the crude humor dates the film. There is nothing in Puss In Boots that hasn’t been said before, and in better ways. I want to see films from Dreamworks where the visionaries behind the story are as talented as the creators bringing it to life.

X-Men: First Class-Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on June 3, 2011

 X-Men: First Class starts exactly where the original X-Men (2000) movie started, in a 1944 German concentration camp, where we see a young Jewish boy being forcefully taken away from his father and mother. After being taken away the boy reaches out and begins to miraculously bend the fence blocking him from his parents. After a bit of a struggle the kid ends up getting knocked out by one of the guards. The scene is basically shot by shot the way the original X-Men director Bryan Singer shot it, with different characters portraying the roles. However, the re-shoot seemed void of the tension and emotion that made the original Bryan Singer scene so great. The wight of the piece seemed absent. The sounds and visuals did not put me in the middle of a concentration camp, but rather on a set where people were trying to act. I thought maybe the new X-Men director Matthew Vaughn had a few bad days of shooting. I was fine as long as he got better the farther along we went. However, this was not the case. The new X-Men movie ended up being a mediocre superhero film. It was a film full of thought provoking ideas and interesting characters, but all of which were executed with a middling flair. The film, like so many superhero movies these days, was built on action scene after actions scene all of which seemed more interested in showing off effects then trying to express the true essence of the characters.

To be fair we were given a few scenes with character development, but almost all of it felt forced and passed far too quickly. I did not feel like we had enough time with the main characters Charles Xaiver (James McAvoy) and Erik Lehnsherr (Michael Fassbender), let alone the team they recruit. The movie did not really give us much more of an origin story, on how both Charles and Erik were raised and built their ideals, then the first film. We had one scene with Charles as a kid in his luxurious home being kind to a mutant he meets for the first time called Raven. This scene does not tell us anything about how Charles built his ideals on being kind to those around him. We are just shown he is a kind rich kid for some reason. We also had one extra scene with Erik as a child where an evil man, working for the Nazi’s, Sabastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) tells Erik to use his mutant power to move a metal coin or he will kill his mother. Erik can not move the coin, Sabastian kills Erik’s mother, and then Erik pulls a Darth Vador and destroys the room around him out of anger. None of this caught me emotionally. The acting by Kevin was easily forgettable and the boy did not seem to show any more physical emotions then screaming loudly and getting really tense. The music didn’t take a hold of me and the surroundings felt disconcertingly fake.

What happened to the mud and darkness in the first film? For this film everything was too clean. Most of the sets felt too obviously like sets, not locations where the characters really lived. I felt like the expensive budget allowed the film crew to be too free with their set pieces and special effects. Peter Weir once talked about shooting film as though you were always on location and could not remove the walls or scenery. Shooting in a cramped environment often allows for a more realistic scene where the sets feel lived in and the cameras have limits. There were huge shots in the Arctic and during the big ship fight scene at the end of the film that felt too extreme and showy, taking us out of the movie.

The costumes were always perfect, no dirt and no stains. There was a lot of fighting and a lot of killing but we were not allowed to see the consequences to most of the action. We were not allowed to see the blood and the brutality of it all. The only injury they concentrated on was Charles Xavier’s at the end of the film, where he is hit in the back by a reflecting bullet from Erik. Yet, in this scene the acting did not impact me. These characters were supposed to be best friends at this time. The fact that Erik was the cause of Charles injury was supposed to be shocking and deeply emotional to us. I however, through out most of the film and even at the end, did not feel the chemistry between the actors James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender. There were tears but little connection.

Everything relied on us connecting to the X-Men characters. We needed to feel the pain of Erik if we wanted to understand his need for revenge. We needed to understand the belief Charles had in the best of mankind if we were going to care about his convictions not to make war on the human race. The X-Men recruits and the villains of the movie felt completely one dimensional. We are introduced to Emma Frost (January Jones) and see her follow Sabastian Shaw with no explanation to what connects her to this evil man. Shaw just treats Emma like dirt and apparently she is okay with it for some reason. There were glimpses of hope with characters like Hank McCoy (Nicholas Holt) and Raven (Jennifer Lawerance), two of the first X-Men recruits, but there characters were not explored very effectively. We knew Hank hated his ape like feet and Raven was uncomfortable with showing here true form, but there were few examples of how society abused these characters so much they began to hate part of themselves. The closest we get are a few stupid jokes a few of the other X-Men recruits make on Hank.

Superhero movies can have such a powerful impact on our society. Superhero’s like The X-Men, Spiderman, and Superman are the Greek and Roman gods of the 21st century. They also represent part of who we are. They are full of flaws and insecurities. A great superhero is not someone who is all powerful and perfect. A great superhero is a character who has the power to make a difference and fails again and again, but somehow finds the strength to get back up. We must know the flaws and insecurities of these characters before we start rooting for them to get up and fight. The emotional connection created between the audience and superhero is far more important then the scale of their task.

First connect me to the characters and world they live in before embarking on a mission for them to save the world. All the powers of cinema need to be directed toward bringing these superheros down to earth so we can relate to them as human beings. X-Men: First Class is not a bad movie. However it falls victim to a lot of mediocrity because the filmmakers vision could not go much farther then a visual feast of visual effects and action sequences.

Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Posted in Uncategorized by Jacob on January 8, 2011

Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, is a perfect example of my last blog and my point of not making the message become more important then the actual story or vision of the film.

Yes, there are some very powerful messages in this movie. We are taken to a land that is very interesting and are introduced to characters that have a huge amount of potential. However, all they needed to do to create these things is read the book. In the movie I found the story, the conflict, and the characters all underdeveloped and hardly worth paying attention to.

It might be the love I have for the book that makes me so frustrated with the movie. I do not care if a movie adaption of a book goes away from some of the plot or takes away characters. I know the requirements of film and know that most books would take numerous movies to fully express. Cutting is just part of the process when it comes to adapting books to film. However, when I feel that a movie has not done a good job capturing the spirit of a book I have read, or worst yet, when I feel a book has not captured much of a spirit of anything, I get extremely frustrated.

In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, we hardly see a spirit at all. There were whispers and hints of a vision for the film, but most of that was drowned out by sub par acting and too complex of a plot. Believe it or not, the CG character Reepicheep was the most believable and interesting character in the film. The other characters hardly seemed to believe in the land they were in and the task at hand.

There was Prince Caspian who wanted to reunite his kingdom and bring honor to his dead father. However, we did not experience the burden he was under. We did not see much of a struggle on why he felt the need to unite his kingdom and bring honor to his father. Because we did not see the struggle, the redemption at the end was not very fulfilling. It was one of the many cases of moments that did not feel deserved. This film relied on the audience feeling for the characters because the film said we were supposed to, not because they earned our love and affection.

There was a new character in this third installment of The Chronicles of Narnia, in Eustace Scrubb. Eustace experiences Narnia for the first time in this movie. Eustace is a character who seems to hate everyone he is around. He treats his cousins Edmond and Lucy like dirt and cares little for the welfare of others. The big problem is that there is no explanation why he hates the world and all who lives on it. Will Poulter, the actor who played Eustace, did not seem to own the character he was portraying. With characters like Eustace, it is okay for the audience not to like him or her at the beginning of the film. In fact some of the entertainment comes from loving to hate characters like Eustace. He is a snot, but with all well known and loved “snots” in film, there is always a reason for their snobbery. Knowing the reason for the snobbery is the key to buying into the character and eventually believing in the change. This was not the case with Eustace. Eustace, like many other characters in the movie, seems to insult others because that is what is in the script and at the end he changes to become good because that is what the script requires him to do.

With each scene that went by felt like a scene that was cut too soon. I did not get what I felt I needed to get out of the scenes. We were given enough to move the plot along, but not enough to buy into the characters and why they were on their adventure. Lucy wants to be like her older sister. Edmond wants to be taken more seriously and not always treated like “second best”. The big question is WHY do these characters want to change? Why are these characters not comfortable with who they are? It is never really explained, and we never really see it in the characters eyes. I could not buy into the characters and because I couldn’t buy into the characters I could not by into the journey they went on.

There were some powerful messages in this film. Reepicheep makes a point of faith being one of our greatest gifts. Aslan the Lion and Lucy make a point about believing in yourself, rather then striving to be someone you are not. The problem is that most of these messages felt forced. They did not come from the heart of the characters or the story. The journey that the characters went on was supposed to be epic, but did not feel that way. The characters never seemed to be suffering from not having enough food or being at see for weeks on end. We went to plot point to plot point without discovering anything more about the characters or the land they were exploring.

The only critics that I have seen that give this movie a great amount of praise are those who are interested in the underline meaning of the message. Many know that the Narnia books and movies in a whole deal with a lot of biblical issues like Christ Jesus and redemption. It saddens me that Christians seem more interested in the message then the way the message is expressed. The reason why Christianity is ignored so easily is because of movies like Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader. The movie was not really bad. It wasn’t one of those movies that was appalling to watch or something I wanted to walk out on. However, it did nothing to demand my attention. It did not grab a hold of me and give me something that I felt I needed to think about and consider. It was just mediocre and thus it was (and is) easy to ignore.

If we want the message of Christ to be seen, then we need to go beyond the message and concentrate on who the message is for and why we are supposed to express it. We need to demand the attention of the public, by giving them stories full of life and characters who are believable and are devoted to whatever journey they are going on.

In my opinion, we have a long way to go.