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War Horse, Tin Tin, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and more big movies for Christmas

Steven Spielberg brings us both War Horse and The Adventures of Tin Tin this holiday season

Next week is generally the biggest time all year for movie going. So no wonder, there’s now a big bunch-up of expensive titles trying to entice you into the theatres. Tin Tin is already a big hit in Europe, Mission Impossible 4 goes wider this week and Sherlock Holmes and Alvin are strutting with confidence. We’ll see how the newcomers fare.

Meanwhile let me offer you my best seasons greetings … and, of course, this week’s list.

War Horse  4

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo  3 ½

The Adventures of Tin Tin  3 + 4

Carnage   3 ½

We Bought a Zoo  3

Sing Your Song    4

The Darkest Hour  --

 

WAR HORSE: (Opening Christmas Day) Hey, it’s a Steven Spielberg film, so of course there will be sentimental scenes. Hard to avoid them when the story is about the bonds between a boy and his horse and the war that separates them. But, take note, this is also one of the best movies of the year, marked by bravado filmmaking skill and a wistful look back to the classic movies of long ago. The film unfolds with a look and pace that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1940s and there’s one scene at the end that’s almost a visual quote of Gone With the Wind.

 Originally a children’s book, then a celebrated stage play in both London and New York, the story is ostensibly told from the viewpoint of a horse, named Joey. On screen you’ll just have to imagine what he might be thinking as a drunken farmer unwisely buys him at auction and his son trains him to pull a plough. There are some 40 minutes of this bucolic section in the English countryside, with thatched-roof farmhouses and stalwart peasants. Then World War I breaks out, Joey is sold to the army and is off on a journey to the continent to face one peril after another. A brilliantly-filmed cavalry charge ends in disaster and puts him into German hands, and after a brief hide-out at a French farm, he’s put to work pulling artillery. More dangers are to come as the war rages in the trenches and Spielberg delights in re-creating the look and feel of that absurd war, but without getting too graphic and without demonizing the Germans. You can take the family to this one, well, older kids. It’s almost 2 ½ hours long. (International Village  and suburban theatres)  4 out of 5

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO: If I  hadn’t seen the original Swedish film, I would be recommending this remake in English much more strongly. David Fincher has made a highly engrossing film with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara as the unlikely pair working to unravel an old mystery and except for matters of emphasis here and there and a curious location change near the end stays true to the story Stieg Larsson told in his blockbuster novel. Fincher, who explored similar material in Se7en and Zodiac, knows how to put lurid shocks on the screen without repelling us. And he keeps the story moving at a good clip so the almost 2 ½ hours don’t feel that long at all.

So, what’s the problem? While the craftsmanship is higher, the impact is lower. Rooney Mara, as Lisbeth Salander, the bisexual computer hacker, doesn’t have the surreal, other worldly presence we saw in the first film. Mara just doesn’t seem as psychologically damaged as she’s supposed to be. Fincher sure has us looking at her body a lot, even in the somewhat toned-down rape scene. Nice touch, though, in another scene, to let her tee-shirt talk for her. Then he neglects to involve us as fully in the investigation. Last time, we were breathless with a sense of discovery with every new photo turned up. Not so much here. More important, though, when the heart of the mystery is revealed, it doesn’t have the same chilling punch. That’s a serious letdown. Daniel Craig is adequate as the reporter sleuth but Christopher Plummer, as the man who hired him, and Stellan Skarsgård, as another member of one very dysfunctional family, both stand out. (5th Avenue, Scotiabank and many suburban theatres)  3 ½ out of 5 

THE ADVENTURES OF TIN TIN: Spielberg’s second film for the season also harks back to an earlier time, the 1930s judging by the cars, but also the boy’s own stories from anytime, delivered with the latest technology, 3D and “motion capture” animation. This is a sprawling adventure that starts in London, goes to sea, and the air, crosses a desert, visits a mysterious Arabian land and, in one of its best sequences, visualizes an enormous pirate battle in the 17th century. It’s all exhilarating and eventually excessive, but my grandson didn’t mind. He enjoyed it all. Careful, though, things get noisy, especially when two loading cranes on a dock get into a stylized sword fight.

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