27 December 2011

The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse

During an early The Adventures of Tintin sequence Snowy, the dog, chases a cat through Tintin's apartment and knocks over various things, including a model ship. The model ship hits the ground, one of its masts breaks, and a scroll in a grey tube falls out from inside the mast. Tintin, returning the model ship to its place, knocks the tube further beneath a cabinet with his foot, oblivious to the scroll's existence.

I knock scrolls beneath cabinets, sometimes, when I see films. My attention is in a different place, the vital components are mysterious or unknown to me, and my life continues. Sometimes I am like Tintin and encounter clues that alert me to my ignorance. Because I live in real life, sometimes not (perhaps mostly not). Steven Spielberg doesn't make films without explanatory keys. They are 'easy' films. They give you things - emotions, experiences, stories, meanings, messages, visual cues, etc.

The Adventures of Tintin, overall, gives you little else but action and excitement. The Unicorn ship is the mystery. Tintin isn't meant to have mystery. The furthest developed character is Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis); we learn about his family history and encounter his problems of drinking and self-doubt. The scroll, in metaphor, says something like "be cool, have fun." The second time I saw Tintin I followed the story closer and more things connected, but, if you can believe it, understanding the plot elements didn't make the film better, but empowered me to further appreciate the nonplot elements. Think about when you attend a party with nervous anticipation because you don't know some people and wonder what they're going to think about you and you worry that maybe some of them are superior to you or whatever but suddenly at one point during the party the other guests reveal themselves enough or you get smashed enough or whatever that you realize or remember the fact of universal human imperfection and fallibility and cut loose and stop giving a shit about what everyone else thinks and just have a good time. I continue to be disinterested in the story elements, but I feel okay about having fun with everything else.

Amazing to me is the fluidity of the camera, the film's delectable candy-colors, and the extraordinary ways Spielberg choreographs camera actions and character movements. Tintin is animated, but Spielberg directs it like live action. I submit that if you can feel the camera or the camera makes you feel, its actual existence is irrelevant. The long, dazzling chase sequence after the shattered glass case scene, involving motorcycles, cars, sliding buildings, and multiple characters, is a glorious and paramount example. A recent video essay introduced the term The Spielberg Face into the lexicon of cinephilia. The Spielberg Face is an example of how Spielberg works with the camera, doing some type of emotional or narrative lifting with each shot. Each shot gives something to the audience, manipulates us in some way.

War Horse section - I reveal some of the film's outcomes, see movie first:

War Horse's scroll, in metaphor, says something like "love strong, love long." The majority of the relationships in War Horse are loving ones, including love between Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and horse Joey, Albert and his father Ted (Peter Mullan), Ted and his wife Rose (Emily Watson), Captain Nicholls (Tom Hiddleston) and Joey, Joey and Topthorn (horse), Emilie (Celine Buckens) and Joey, Emilie and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup), rivals turned friends Albert and David (Robert Emms), and various members of the German and British armies and Joey. Joey is love's center.

Spielberg wants to overwhelm us with love, and by depiction of overwhelming love, encourage us to love more. The emotions of the film are purposely bloated, carefully developed to bloated excess. Sometimes, I think, the film's emotions are like nails on a chalkboard. In several instances Spielberg 'protects' us from the blunt impact of radical misery: rats in the British trenches appear in one shot and vanish in the next, Topthorn's body mysteriously vanishes when the German tank appears, which would run over Topthorn in reality, and Emilie dies in words spoken by her grandfather. The vision is narrow, it's Spielberg's magnifying glass pointed at love, and horrible pain and tragedy are only allowed to lurk on the outer edges, or become beautified and transmuted into tenderness, such as the death scene of Captain Nicholls.

But after we accept that this is what the film is, we can see that the film does these things well. Audience members openly sobbed during War Horse. The untruth of the screen sometimes agitated, bored, or offended me, but also sometimes I felt moved, compassionate, or joyous. My favorite sequence follows Joey's escape from the German tank: he hurdles the British trenches, bombs bursting in air, runs parallel to them for a while, tries to jump to the other side, doesn't make it, falls into the trench, runs through the trench for a while, and then runs into no man's land, trapping himself in barbed wire. WWI is happening and I am amazed by a running horse! Oh, Spielberg, you sorcerer.

22 December 2011

2011 Recap and The Sitter

These are films I saw multiple times in 2011, theatrically, ordered in a way that reflects the intensity of my feelings about the films as of right now:

Enter the Void Director's Cut, Gaspar Noé (3x)
Poetry, Lee Chang-dong (2x)
The Tree of Life, Terrence Malick (2x)
Melancholia, Lars Von Trier (2x)
Shame, Steve McQueen (2x)
Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Apichatpong Weerasthakukal (2x)
Margaret, Kenneth Lonergan (2x)
My Joy, Sergie Loznitsa (2x)
Hugo, Martin Scorsese (2x in 3D)
The Adventures of Tintin, Steven Spielberg (1x in 3D, 1x in 2D)
Dogtooth, Giorgos Lanthimos (2x)
Rubber, Quentin Dupieux (2x)
The Last Circus, Álex de la Iglesia (2x)
Cold Weather, Aaron Katz (2x)

It seems both easy and honest to say these were my favorite films of 2011.  The list of films I saw once and loved would be longer and hard to trim down, harder to order.

My favorite film from 2011 that I did not see theatrically but saw on a television is Jodie Foster's The Beaver.

I kind of almost missed The Sitter during its theatrical run. It left the Arclight, the closest theater to where I stay, after a week and a half, in order, I think, to make room for The Adventures of Tintin, or maybe In the Land of Blood of Honey, or maybe both, but anyway it was booted. I made a special trip to a theater I'd never been to in order to see the movie.

The Sitter is about people trying to be themselves and then, being themselves, trying to be friends and have relationships with others. In every way this is what the movie is about. Karl (Sam Rockwell) is the leader of a gang of probably-gay weight lifters, and the doorman of his lair/gym is a probably-gay rollerskater named Garv (Sean Patrick Doyle). Garv is Karl's #3 best friend. I believe Karl's #2 best friend is Julio (J.B. Smoove), though it may not be explicitly stated. He seems to literally be Karl's #2 man: he encourages hugs and 'sword fights,' and is always with Karl.

Noah (Jonah Hill) is in a position to be in Karl's top ten of best friends, but the friendship is complicated when one of the children Noah is babysitting, adopted Rodrigo (Kevin Hernandez), a Salvadoran, steals from Karl a painted dinosaur egg filled with cocaine. Noah, Rodrigo, party girl Blithe (Landry Bender), my favorite of the kids, and anxious, closeted Slater (Max Records, of WtWTA) spend most of the movie searching for a way to obtain $10K to pay Karl for the painted dinosaur egg filled with cocaine, although the adventure began because Noah was promised sex by his gf if he bought coke (from Karl) and brought it to a party. Along the way Noah makes friends, after misunderstandings, with some people in a bar, a couple of these people having appeared in previous scenes. One of these people, the gorgeous Roxanne (Kylie Bunbury), is Noah's future romance; the others, including Soul Baby (Reggie Green), are his future saviors.

The Sitter is directed by David Gordon Green. It's a warm and humorous film that treats its characters affectionately, despite, or because of, how eccentric, flawed, and weird they are. Because the film is about friendship and self-worth and because DGG loves all his characters and because all the characters are different from each other, I always felt good during the film, was never bored, and was often delighted.