Thursday, December 29, 2011

Four Holiday Movies with Dogs

In case anyone is planning a New Year’s film binge, here are a few suggestions:

The Adventures of Tintin
Although this animated feature is a little short on character development, the plot is plenty thick, and the colorful settings are marvelously rendered. The sea battle between flaming vessels is particularly vivid, and the film gets more interesting when our detective-hero and his companion, Captain Haddock, arrive in a storybook North African city to retrieve the model ship that carries the third and final clue to the location of the buried treasure.

Fans of the comic book character have had a good time pointing out all the ways that the movie fails to live up to the superb genius of the original material. Those of us who come into the theater without expectations can sit back and enjoy the ride. For myself, I’m not a big fan of animated movies, in which the plots tend to be sentimental, the expressions generic, and the voices wildly exaggerated. Ratatouille? Finding Nemo? UJggh!@#%!

But I liked Tintin, which mostly looked quite real. I think I might read the book.

Margin Call
Margin Call Takes us inside the offices of a hedge fund on the eve of the market melt-down on 2008. Half of the staff has just been fired, but one of the departing “risk managers” (Stanley Tucci) has crunched enough numbers to see that far worse news lies ahead.

The film takes place during a single late-night panic during which young employees, board members, and honchos arriving in helicopters attempt to make the best of a terrible situation, and “get out” before everything goes south. Sales manager Kevin Spacy seems to have a bit more conscience than some of his colleagues, though his emotional life is largely consumed by the health needs of his dying dog. Several sharks (including top dog Jeremy Irons) are given the opportunity to deliver fairly accurate speeches about the willing collusion between fund managers and their clients.

Never having owned a piece of a hedge fund or visited a brokerage of any kind myself, I couldn’t say how accurate any of this is, but it’s a vivid and thought-provoking film.

The Artist
This black-and-white film has a rich soundtrack and a predictable plot, but it’s a charming vehicle for the stars, who spend a fair amount of time merely grinning at one another.

An actor unknown to me, Jean Dujardin, plays the silent-screen idol George Valentin, and a second new-comer, Bérénice Bejo, is equally winsome as the enthusiastic fan who slowly creeps into his life. Both actors indulge in plenty of the “hamming” that takes the place of talk in silent pictures, but they’re very good at it, and the story itself is awfully sweet.

Young Adult
On the other hand, Young Adult is bittersweet at best. Charlize Theron plays an attractive divorcee who writes young adult novels from her high-rise apartment in Minneapolis and drinks Coke from a 2-liter bottle in her pajamas every morning. She’s pushing forty, though she looks to be twenty-five, and her life is a mess. Receiving an almost random baby-announcement email from her high school boyfriend, she decides to return to her home town and “rescue” him from what she presumes to be a boring, claustrophobic life.

Theron does an excellent job of making herself continually watchable but never likable. At the same time, director Jason Reisman succeeds in fleshing out the limited horizons of small-town life without condescension. Patrick Wilson plays the new father with aplomb—obviously happy with his domestic situation, though also guilelessly concerned to make his unexpected visitor feel at home. Added ballast is provided by Matt Freeholf (Patton Oswalt) who was the victim of a hate crime in high school and now paints model super-heroes and distills whiskey in his garage.
Considered all-in-all, Young Adult is far better than any brief description could convey. I might almost describe it as haunting.

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