False Hope: I can’t say I’m much of a fan of Steven Spielberg. I get that he’s working in an idiom (which he’s played a huge role in developing) that doesn’t exactly prioritize minute shadings of character and tone. But even allowing for that, his moves are usually just too blatant and aggressive for me to be taken in by. Still, I sure liked War Horse. In that film, Spielberg mostly backed off of his usual huckstering, oversold spectacle and concentrated on the sentimentality and nostalgia that are equally his stock-in-trade, with an uncharacteristic sensitivity to the qualities, both superficial and interior, that distinguish, say, a John Ford film from anything that’s been produced in the last half-century. What he got was a deeply understanding, unforced pastiche that legitimately looks like The Quiet Man and has an emotional directness that’s a lot more How Green Was My Valley than War of the Worlds. It’s a hell of a surprising piece of work by a guy from whom I thought I knew exactly what to expect every time.
So, when I finally got around to seeing his The Adventures of Tintin, which was released almost simultaneously with War Horse late last year, I guess I hadn’t properly adjusted my expectations for what was, after all, a motion-capture CGI Steven Spielberg adaptation of an early-1940s installment in the Belgian writer-artist HergÃ©’s sublime comic series, much of the charm of which depended on its author’s wryly objective presentation of his characters’ outrageous adventures and impossible slapstick.
“Wryly objective” isn’t really what Spielberg does best; he has considerable trouble approaching “vaguely restrained.” And given the literally unlimited freedom the full-CGI format allows him to indulge in the elaborately designed but curiously impactless action set piecesâ€”in the essence of which “innocence” and “timelessness” have improperly been assumed by Spielberg as a givenâ€”that have defined his work since Raiders of the Lost Ark, no one, including me, should have hoped for anything from his Tintin that would be remotely satisfying on the original’s terms.
“Now ya tells me,” says last week’s me to this week’s me. I know, I know. Of course, moments like the playful wrestling match between Tintin’s brilliant terrier Snowy and a supposedly vicious Rottweiler play out far too infrequently in the background, and are buried under an endless avalanche of expensively but lazily virtual scenes that are meant to be thrilling, but only serve to prove the awful dullness of Spielberg’s default style of filmmaking: one that prioritizes the appearance of eagerness to please an audience over an actually serious effort to engage with one.
CinÃ© Safari: One of the priorities for CinÃ© in its new, nonprofit incarnation is to increase membership, and to that end the folks over there are going to start coming up with some cool members-only events as perks. One of those will be a series of “behind the scenes” tours with Gabe Wardell, CinÃ©’s executive director. The tours, which began last week and will continue to be held every Friday at noon through May 18, are free to members and should be of interest to anyone who’s ever wondered, for instance, what a 35mm film projector looks like up close. If you’re already a member, great! If not, it’s time: sign up at www.athenscine.com and join the fun.
Front of House: Meanwhile, there’s plenty of good stuff happening in the arthouse that’s 100 percent open to the public. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and Jiro Dreams of Sushi are both major indie releases that you’ve probably heard a thing or two about; they’re both playing right now and may last another week. CinÃ©’s Fifth Anniversary Series is still screening on Thursday evenings, with Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds scheduled for Apr. 26 and Terrence Davies’ The Long Day Closes coming up May 3. Perhaps not coincidentally, Davies’ new film, The Deep Blue Sea, opens the next day. Adapted from Terrence Rattigan’s play and starring Rachel Weisz and Tom Hiddleston, it returns Davies to his favorite milieu of post-WWII England, and looks wonderful. Mark it down.
One More Thing: The late entry deadline for the Sprockets Music Video Competition is Monday, Apr. 30, and as they did with the early deadline last week, the FilmAthens folks will be hosting a “happy hour drop-off” at Flicker Theatre and Bar from 6â€“7 that evening. Submitting your film in person over a nice drink is a lot more fun than mailing it, so head on down there. Come to think of it, you should probably stop by whether you’re submitting a film or not, just to check in. Get the details at www.filmathens.net.
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