The Adventures of Tintin (2011)
Dir. Steven Spielberg
There is a lot to like about Spielberg’s first animated film. It’s gorgeous to look at. The environments are stunning, and the film’s movement (Spielberg’s primary obsession in the film) is at once limitless but bound to Spielberg’s cinema. 3D makes all these things all the more pleasing. Oftentimes, Tintin is exciting and fun—but something is missing. In some ways, it is most similar to the Indiana Jones films, which I also have problems with, and partly for the same reasons. As a protagonist, Tintin (like Indy) is an intelligent, assured hero, so accustomed to adventure so as to be completely prepared for all its surprises. Think of Spielberg at his best. His protagonists have a naivete and a vulnerability (maybe the most important quality) and it is when these characters are confronted with the strange and wonderful, that his films are at their most moving—in most cases his characters are confronted with situations beyond them, that are either frightening or awe-inspiring, or both. Thus, from Tintin a key element is absent, the one that raises Spielberg films from being just expertly crafted to having an intangible magic. That being said, all else is intact, and at its best Tintin is among Spielberg’s best adventures. One chase sequence is among the best of its kind and may even be Spielberg’s highest accomplishment in crafting action. Spielberg’s ambition seems to be to do what he couldn’t quite do with a camera—in some ways Tintin is ideal Spielberg, where his camera can keep up with his instincts, and it is when this ambition is realized that the film at least approaches greatness. Snowy, Tintin’s dog, is a more ideal character for Spielberg in this universe, one that evades characterization and yet has the most personality—a purer vehicle for what is a successful exercise in extreme fluidity, if nothing else.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
Dir. David Fincher
How is Fincher so blunt and subtle at the same time? The straightforwardness of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, like Zodiac, is almost a smokescreen. Fincher’s fixations are so complexly realized that it is difficult to pierce the simplicity of their appearance. This is, of course, precisely what makes him one of the most interesting contemporary filmmakers working in Hollywood. Not as obvious with its obsessions with technology as The Social Network, but just as invested in the integration of tech into its narrative, as part of its own process, though not as its subject. The punk CGI explosion of the opening credit sequence (truly one of Fincher’s shining moments) reveals explicitly what Fincher is concerned with in the film. The coming together of two characters, and the intervention of technology as an underlying element. The relationship between Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander and Daniel Craig’s Mikael Blomkvist is surprisingly moving, and what makes the film work. How Fincher develops the characters on their own for what must be the first hour of the film is all in service of what is a fast-moving but arresting portrayal of a sincere connection. The used and abused Lisbeth gives herself to Mikael because he asks of nothing from her, and although the matter-of-fact nature of their coming together is about as unromantic as one can imagine, it is seriously affecting. This effect is possible because of how Fincher has laid out these characters lives (not in a typical characterization sense, we don’t know them so deeply, but we know them as Fincher likes to know his characters, through routine, demeanor, etc.) and especially because of how the film portrays sexuality. Quick, pleasure seeking sex—not “making love” but fucking—is actually rendered as the film’s most human gesture (note one sex scene where Mikael, distracted, begins to talk, but Lisbeth insists he shush while she climaxes).
Defining this relationship is the film’s most important element—Fincher disrupts the comfort of the whodunnit narrative, shifting the structure so as to make plot’s natural peak just a bump on the road, and removes the emphasis from the mystery, and extending the prologue-esque early portion of the film beyond what other filmmakers would be willing to—the real arc of the film lies in Lisbeth and Mikael and how they change each other. Fincher ends on a deceptively quiet shot (as he has done before), so modestly tragic, and in retrospect, rather beautiful. In some ways, this is his most evasive great film, and the one that most fervently demands for a repeat viewing, for a chance not to penetrate the mystery of the plot, but the mystery of the narrative—this distinction being the one that classifies Fincher’s digital cinema, where his stories are no longer collaborators with his style, and the telling of them is all that remains. Seven/Fight Club/etc. Fincher vs. Zodiac/Social Network/etc. Fincher = stylized stories vs. stories swallowed whole by their telling.
Aside: A fun train of thought; contrast Fincher’s investigation of character via sexuality with Cronenberg’s—Fincher doesn’t care about psychology, or deep inner-workings, but cares just as deeply, but about the surface. Cronenberg wants to know what makes people tick but Fincher is a better listener.
Dir. David Fincher
I initially thought this was a great film back when I saw it on 2007, but upon revisiting it in preparation for Fincher’s new film, I’d say it’s more like a masterpiece. One of the most fascinating Hollywood films of its decade, Zodiac is a maddening experience. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself as obsessed as the characters—but the trick is not to—Fincher isn’t, he’s just mapping out time as it unfolds relentlessly. Like with The Social Network, this is about characters alienated by obsession and driven from real life by their intelligence. Watch as each character crashes and burns, with the biggest brain left standing, satisfied with himself above all else, but alone. Fincher’s suspense here is completely singular, separate from anything we’d simply associate with whodunnit plots of the past. The driving force of the film is the friction between the investigators and time as they subtly become separate from reality. Watch how Fincher quietly shows the cracks of real life as small moments between large momentous stretches of “cracking” the case. Also, note the lack of synchronicity between the characters’ obsession and the filmmaking. Fincher holds the film steady, refusing to crack like his characters, he even films a murder (in what may be cinema’s most effective stabbing since Psycho, I kid you not) with little cutting (no pun intended), in some ways amplifying the real horror of it but also refusing to sensationalize what takes place. He takes his time and is more like the killer than his pursuers. He doesn’t give into their obsession—though he does chart it meticulously—but perhaps that’s a different type of obsession, the one that has made Zodiac, The Social Network and now The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo into fascinating charts of information, and brilliant exercises in narrative form.