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Review: Holiday Roundup

Tinker, Tintin, Silent Stars and Spies

Above: Tom Cruise on the world's tallest building in "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol."


Aired 12/28/11

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando reviews the latest holiday releases.


You're done with the baking and the wrapping, and finally have time to relax. Your mission, if you choose to accept it is to find the best entertainment value for your hard earned dollars.

The most fun to be had in theaters right now is "Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol" (opened December 21 throughout San Diego and in IMAX). Animation director Brad Bird has made a live action cartoon with the most breathtaking stunts of the year. What's great is that although the film defies reality, the stunts have a realistic edge. So when Tom Cruise makes an unbelievable jump he lands with painful body crunching hits. The film feeds an action junkie's need for death defying stunts but reminds us how dangerous it all really is so we feel the tension of the scene. "MI4" gets my vote for most improved franchise. Accept this mission.

Jamie Bell provides the voice fro Tintin in "The Adventures of Tintin."

Columbia Pictures

Above: Jamie Bell provides the voice fro Tintin in "The Adventures of Tintin."

With "The Adventures of Tintin" (opened December 21 throughout San Diego and in 3D), director Steven Spielberg essentially delivers a cartoon version of "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Based on the famed French comic, the film serves up some stunning 3-D animation action. But don't look into the characters' eyes or you'll enter the uncanny valley. That's the term coined for the discomfort of watching human replicas -- in this case animated ones -- that look and act almost but not exactly like real human beings. Ironically, the film opens with some lovely 2D hand drawn-looking animation that is much better at capturing the charm of the original comic.

The film brings together an odd array of talent: Spielberg is at the helm but Kiwi Peter Jackson produces while Brits Edgar Wright and Joe Cornish adapt from the French source material. Spielberg's hand is the heaviest here as the film blends the action of Indiana Jones with the youthful protagonists of an "E.T." But now and again you can find the light clever touch of Wright ("Shaun of the Dead") and Cornish ("Attack the Block"). In one scene, the drunk captain thinks Tintin's dog snowy is "a giant rat from Sumatra." Only someone like Edgar Wright would make a sly reference to Jackson's "Dead Alive," in which a zombie-like infection is spread by Sumatran rat monkeys. But Spielberg prefers chases to dialogue and character development.

End result: fast-paced but hollow.

Gary Oldman stars in the film adaptation of John LeCarre's "Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy."

Studio Canal

Above: Gary Oldman stars in the film adaptation of John LeCarre's "Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy."

The antithesis of fast-paced is Tomas Alfredson's adaptation of John Le Carre's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" (opened December 23 at Landmark's La Jolla Village Theaters). In a quiet conference room where a clock steadily ticks away the seconds, a group of gentlemen spies note, "There's going to be changes. We need to decide if we are going to be part of the past or part of the future."

Mainstream audiences may view this as very much a part of the past, a relic of the Cold War spy genre. This is not a film about action but rather about cold calculation and meticulous investigation. The emphasis here is on the intelligence and not gunplay and gadgets. So fans of LeCarre's novels may see it as the refreshing anti-Bourne film they've been waiting for. Unlike the Bourne franchise, this film is all about paperwork, politics, clandestine meetings, and long steady shots of people talking. Plus there's an embarrassment of acting riches starting with Gary Oldman, John Hurt, and Colin Firth. The novel had previously been made into a PBS mini-series in 1979 with Alec Guiness in the Gary Oldman role of Smiley.

Jean Dujardin stars as "The Artist."

The Weinstein Company

Above: Jean Dujardin stars as "The Artist."

There's no talking -- or almost none -- in the French film "The Artist" (opened December 21 at Landmark's Hillcrest Cinemas), a black and white near silent film about a actor who refuses to make the transition to sound in 1929. The film overflows with cinematic cleverness. It opens with the main character George Valentin (Jean Dujardin) in a scene from one of his silent films in which he is being tortured. In a title card he loudly proclaims he will not speak, he will never speak. That becomes his mantra for the entire film. Director Michel Hazanavicius eschews dialogue but relies heavily on music and occasional sound effects as in a nightmare sequence in which the silent star suddenly finds everything around him making sounds.

Director Hazanavicius and actor Dujardin reteam after a pair of successful spy spoofs based on the "OSS 117" French books. Dujardin has the perfect face and physicality to act in a film that refrains from dialogue. He has a grin that seems to naturally sparkle like in a toothpaste commercial. The film is a beautiful and sometimes poignant valentine to filmmaking itself, a pure delight.

Elmo with puppeteer Kevin Clash in teh documentary "Being Elmo."

Constance Marks Production

Above: Elmo with puppeteer Kevin Clash in teh documentary "Being Elmo."

Cleverness and delight are also at the heart of Constance Marks' "Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey" (opened December 23 at Landmark's Ken Cinema for a one week run ending Thursday). The documentary highlights the ingenuity of Elmo puppeteer Kevin Clash and his idol Jim Henson. Colleague Fran Brill sums up their magic: "It looks easy but it's very difficult to make a piece of fabric and a foam head react like a human being would."

Clash has a true gift for bringing Muppets like Elmo to life.

Michael Fassbender is Carl Jung and Viggo Mortensen is Sigmund Freud in "A Dangerous Method."

Sony Pictures Classics

Above: Michael Fassbender is Carl Jung and Viggo Mortensen is Sigmund Freud in "A Dangerous Method."

David Cronenberg tries but fails to breath life into a pair of famous figures in "A Dangerous Method" (opened December 23 at Landmark's Hillcrest and La Jolla Village Theaters). Viggo Mortensen plays Sigmund Freud and Michael Fassbender is Carl Jung.

Jung: I think of you more as Galileo and your opponents as those who condemned him while refusing to even put their eye to the telescope.

Freud: I have merely opened a door.

Cronenberg's clinical approach works best when it contrasts with more horrific material as in "Dead Ringers" or "A History of Violence." But here -- where there's a lot of analytical debate -- it's like cool on cool with the result being, well, chilly.

Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig star in the remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

Columbia Pictures

Above: Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig star in the remake of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo."

And finally, there's David Fincher's remake of the two-year old Swedish film "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." Although Fincher's film could more accurately be called "The Man Who Ends Up In Bed With the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" because it focuses more on its male character and biggest star Daniel Craig.

Fincher tries to do more by following the book more closely but ends up doing less, and delivering it with less of his signature dark style. Rooney Mara takes significant ownership of the character of Lisbeth Salander but doesn't surpass her Swedish original.

As with the American remake "Let Me In," Fincher's film is not necessarily a bad film but it is another unnecessary Hollywood remake of a foreign art house success. Fincher doesn't bring anything new to the story or make it his own. Some scenes are almost frame by frame recreations of the original, and that's what disappointed me. I expected more from Fincher, and more that was unique. Fincher has a penchant for darkness and discomfort, and I thought he might push the envelope more than his Swedish counterpart. But in many ways his film is less edgy and less disturbing. Surprisingly, the Swedish film felt darker, more ominous, and more intensely involving. He also starts the film with a James Bond-like opening credit sequence -- featuring Rooney Mara dipped in a black oil-like substance -- cut to a cover of "The Immigrant Song." These opening images made me think the story had been changed and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was now involved in some kind of story involving oil.

I also felt that we got to know Lisbeth Salander better in the original film where she was played by Noomi Rapace. Mara, while good, tends to look like she walked off a Vogue photo spread where anorexic models are given a chic Goth look -- even the baggy pants seem too carefully picked to feel lived in. Mara, along with many in the cast, is also stuck between no accent at all and a vague attempt at one. The lack of consistency across the cast makes it awkward.

And I want to add one comment about the sexual violence in the film. Salander is forced to perform sexual acts in order to get money from Bjurman, the man assigned by the court to administer her trust fund. In her first encounter with Bjurman, Fincher conveys the abuse with an appropriate sense of menace and revulsion. A close shot of Bjurman's meaty hand pulling the back Salander's head to his crotch is disturbingly effective as is the camera ominously pulling back from the closed door. But a later scene depicting rape and assault, Fincher is less effective in conveying Salander's perspective. Male director's often emphasize the physical violence involved in a rape as if they don't understand that the non-consensual sexual act is violence enough.

If you haven't seen the original "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" then you'll probably like this remake, but I suggest checking out the original as well. I'm interested to see if Fincher follows through with the two sequels. The Swedish films started strong but then started to lose steam. So Fincher still has an opportunity to improve on what his predecessor did.

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Avatar for user 'DRaGZ'

DRaGZ | December 28, 2011 at 11:05 a.m. ― 5 years, 2 months ago

I dunno if Fincher will keep going full steam with the Dragon Tattoo series. He's got a lot on his plate, and he loses interest really quickly.

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Avatar for user 'Truly_Enchanting'

Truly_Enchanting | December 28, 2011 at 9:39 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

I totally agree with the author for the blog of "The Girl With the Dragoon Tattoo" I did not watch the whole movie, because I left in the middle of it. An hour had gone by and it hadn't picked up. I found the Hollywood version very boring and very slow. The opening was the longest I have ever seen. I thought I was watching a commercial, then a new James Bond film.

I was not impress with the acting of a lot of the actors. I was especially surprise and not impress with the acting of Daniel Craig and Christoper Plumber. Those being two of my favorites, I thought they could have done better.

The accents of the actors could have been better. They had lost their accent. Moments it would sound German, English, American. They could not keep their accent. I think the director should have put his actor through Swedish culture training. I did not feel the actors understood how to be Swedish in the bit or felt the director understood the Swedish-ness, that would have made the film a lot better.

As for Daniel Craig playing Mikhail, he acted way too English, he was very posh, and not enough down to earth and too stylish for his clothing, and too good looking and too James Bond

For as Rooney playing Lisbeth Salander she fell quit short. She need not have that aggressive, or that rawness that Noomi had. Nor did I feel she understood her character. She played Lisbeth too weak. For example always averted her eyes when someone talks to her. Lisbeth Salander does not see herself as a victim, she is pass being that. She has already came to terms of her abusing childhood and has made promise to herself that she would never be the victim. She is a fighter. Nor did I not like that she had no fight to her, especially the blowjob scene, there was this submissive nature to her. She did not carry with her an intense presence. I thought she could have played the character a lot better.

I also felt Rooney, and the director did not understand the rape scene. The rape scene could have been a lot better. It was watered down. It wasn't as intense as the Swedish version. Bluman didn't hit Salander, he slap on the handcuffs. They did not capture the cruelty of the rape scene and as to say "Shit like this never happens. And it seem Rooney and the directer forgot that Lisbeth Salander got rape for a whole day, because Rooney hurry out of room. If you were rape like Salander was, you be limping all the way home.
And when Lisbeth was in the shower they could have showed that Bluman beat the hell out of her, but didn't. There was a hint of bruising, but nothing that mad you think of feel "Oh my God......"...

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Avatar for user 'Truly_Enchanting'

Truly_Enchanting | December 28, 2011 at 9:40 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

...continuing post:

I felt Rooney should have study a lot more and had deeper understanding of her character.

Also the actors did not find their character's humor, so the characters were bit flat.

I felt cheated in way because there was so much hype about the director doing no holds bar type of film, but it wasn't.

Over all, it was just ok movie, if you were really bored, it be something to watch. But to compare to the Swedish version he doesn't hold a candle. Once again Hollywood ruin a perfectly good movie. If you hadn't read the books or seen the Swedish versions, you would probably love this move, or think this movie is the bomb.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | December 28, 2011 at 10:49 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

I wonder if the great Max von Sydow was ever offered the "Hendriks" role.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | December 28, 2011 at 10:51 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

There's a lot to consider in GIRL, not the least of which is the age difference between the two main characters although storywise it takes a back seat.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | December 30, 2011 at 10:03 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Thanks for the thoughtful comments from everyone. I think Fincher missed a chance to make GIRL something uniquely his own instead of just a slick American remake.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | December 30, 2011 at 10:43 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

The ending, I must say, was like something out of a entirely different film. i didn't expect Salamander to react that way--or even care in that way for the guy.

A DANGEROUS METHOD seems interesting, although Cronenberg is an odd choice for this. I once thought about how the Freud-Jung split would have fared as a play.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | December 31, 2011 at 10:47 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

A DANGEROUS METHOD is based on a play, Christopher Hampton's The Talking Cure.

And BTW, it's Lisbeth Salander, not Salamander. That's an amphibian. ;)

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