Home Movies: The Adventures of Tintin,Conan the Barbarian, The Devil’s Double, Rio Sex Comedy, Sarah’s Key and Super 8

November 23, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin (Not rated, 300 minutes) — The Adventures of Tintin: Season One arrives in time to capitalize on the imminent release of the Steven Spielberg/Peter Jackson big screen 3-D production. While traditionalists might regard any iteration of TinTin assembled without the full participation of creator Herge (Georges Remi) as blasphemous, this French and Canadian co-production which originally aired in 1991 closely adheres to the original books, though some of the violence and drinking has been toned down. As such, it serves as an excellent introduction to the phenomenon, even as it lacks some of the comic’s satirical bite. Anyway, it revolves around the highly unlikely international adventures of an investigative reporter named Tintin, usually accompanied by his faithful fox terrier, Snowy, and the alcoholic sea captain Haddock. It’s primarily aimed at children rather than fan-boys, the animation is crisp and simple and in tune with Herge’s distinctive ligne claire style. Grade: 86

Conan the Barbarian (R, 113 minutes)— Jason Momoa steps in for Arnold Schwarzenegger in this forgettable reboot of the Barbarian franchise. Contains sexuality, some nudity and gore — though probably not enough to satisfy some fans. Grade: 78

The Devil’s Double (R, 108 minutes) — A solid performance by Dominic Cooper in a duo role as both Uday Hussein, the dissolute son of Saddam Hussein, and the look-alike Latif Yahia drafted into service as the princeling’s body double is both absorbing and depressing, which means its ultimately hard to watch. But while Cooper probably won’t draw any award season love for his roles, he’s simply fantastic at differentiating between the two characters — to the point you forget the casting is a stunt. Grade: 78

Rio Sex Comedy (NR, 127 minutes ) — Jonathan Nossiter is one of my favorite “minor” filmmakers, but I wish he’d shown a bit more ambition with this modest, pleasant movie that makes better use of its Brazilian locations than with most of its admirably international cast. Multiple storylines, lots of characters — parts for Charlotte Rampling, Bill Pullman and Irene Jacob, among others — and an intelligent script fail to add up to more than the (deliberately) generic title promises. Truth in advertising, I suppose. Grade: 83

Sarah’s Key (PG-13, 111 minutes)— American journalist Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas) lives in Paris with her French husband, an architect who, in 2002, starts renovating an apartment that has been in his family for decades. She is planning a story tied to the 60th anniversary of the roundup of Jewish families by French authorities during World War II when she discovers a link between her husband’s project and her own. Sarah’s Key is for the most part able to overcome the clumsy contrivance — the sentimental convenience — of the plot device through an almost documentary detachment in the film’s flashbacks to the horrors inflicted on the French by the French. These scenes are fraught and tense, while the “present day” scenes suffer from the tug of melodrama as Julia the detective searches for the truth. Most of these scenes are conducted in English, which may mean that we’re simply more alert to the banality of the lines and the arch artificiality of some of the scenes — they seem, as I suppose they’re meant to, like part of another movie — but that doesn’t make them any more compelling. While no doubt some will be emotionally exhausted and shocked by the final denouement, the real virtue of Sarah’s Key is that it refuses to provide audiences with an upbeat ending that they can use to make themselves feel better about things. Grade: 87

Super 8 (pg-13, 117 minutes) — Awarm and fuzzy homage to vintage Spielberg films, J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 is the rare would-be summer blockbuster with a surfeit of heart. Whether or not the film takes deep hold of you might well depend on how old you were when you first saw E.T. or Close Encounters of the Third Kind — those who were 10 to 12 years old when these movies came out will feel especially vulnerable. And even those a little older are liable to feel the little satisfactions of deep emotional triggers being fired, especially through the first half of the movie. It’s an easy film to bask in, to let its cool waves of nostalgia wash over you.
If art, as Paul Gauguin famously suggested, is either revolution or plagiarism, rest assured that Super 8 gives no comfort to Bolsheviks. This is one for the cinephiliac Goonies set, the entitled children of Reagan’s American morning, the ones who could imagine themselves (literally) realizing their dreams. It’s a good little summer movie, a tonic for calloused, cynical moviegoers who come primed with (false) memories of gentler times. What’s nearly great about the film is its willingness to be specific about the films that inform it — much of the movie’s humor derives from subtle (and not-so-subtle) nods to its pop culture sources, not all of them Spielberg’s. It’ll do, pig. It’ll do. Grade: 87


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