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Holiday Leftovers:

40 AND STILL GOING STRONG: Anghus claims Tom Cruise one of the best action stars today, now starring in the fourth “Mission Impossible.” Courtesy photo.

Mission: Impossible-Ghost Protocol
stars
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
stars
The Adventures of Tintin
stars

I spend a lot of time in movie theaters—especially during the holidays. It’s an interesting mélange of award hopefuls, big-budget blockbusters and animated family-films vying for hard-earned cash. I spent a day at the movies seeing one of each.

40 AND STILL GOING STRONG: Anghus claims Tom Cruise one of the best action stars today, now starring in the fourth “Mission Impossible.” Courtesy photo.

The Big-Budget Blockbuster
“Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol” is easily the biggest surprise from my Christmas-break movie-watching. It’s the fourth film in the never-ending espionage series, and it manages to be the most entertaining of the bunch. There’s been a lot of speculation about Tom Cruise’s dwindling star power; some say his best days are behind him. “Ghost Protocol” proves the man is still capable of carrying a movie. It also proves that, even well into his 40s, Cruise is a far better action star than the vast majority of his contemporaries.

Director Brad Bird comes from an animation background, and “Ghost Protocol” is his first live action film. It’s a doozy. The movie is little more than a collection of action sequences but each is bloody brilliant. It’s amazing when a director steps up for the first time and knocks it out of the park. Bird makes many of his peers seem almost pedestrian in their ability to make an entertaining and coherent blockbuster.

The plot is a wee bit on the predictable side. How many more times can terrorists plot to detonate a nuclear warhead in order to start a third world war? The entire story was telegraphed by Doctor Evil in the first “Austin Powers.” Yet, somehow, even after a stunning amount of satire, lazy writers manage to recycle this tired machination.

In spite of some predictability, the latest “Mission: Impossible” manages to be more entertaining than any other big-budget I’ve seen in ages. Cruise surrounds himself with some quality actors, including the always amusing Simon Pegg and perpetually brooding Jeremy Renner. Thankfully, Brad Bird understands the fundamental rule of action movie-making: Go big or go home. He went big and it works in a big way.

The Award Seeker
“Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” is a completely different kind of espionage movie. If the “Mission: Impossible” movies are high-octane thrill rides, “Tinker Tailor” is a quiet afternoon of sipping tea at a corner café. This movie is slow—really slow. Based on the 1974 novel, it details the true story of a Soviet spy embedded deep within British intelligence.

George Smiley (Gary Oldman) is tasked with finding the mole. It’s not easy, as Smiley is met with resistance at every turn. The movie shows an era where paranoia and fear dictated so many decisions—even the closest allies in British intelligence are harboring secrets from one another. With no one to trust, Smiley enlists the aid of a young agent played by Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock”) who must deftly navigate between alliances and internal politics to try and discover the identity of the double agent.

There’s a lot to like about “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” most notably the cast, which includes amazing actors like the leads, along with Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Ciarán Hinds and Mark Strong. It’s a moody little film, and it’s extremely labored in its pacing. “Mission: Impossible” moves at breakneck pace, whereas “Tinker Tailor” is a snail. They are completely different movies. Comparing them feels intellectually unfair, but I think between first gear and fifth, I prefer to have the engine roaring as opposed to idle.

That’s not to say “Tinker Tailor” doesn’t have its moments. The film looks fantastic. It’s beautifully shot and staged, and the acting is pitch perfect. But it’s subtle almost to a fault. It took me a day or two of ruminating on “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” before I even knew whether or not I liked it. The further away I get from the movie, the more I appreciate its quiet charm. The movie may exist if only to prove that British actors are far and above the best on the face of the Earth.

The Animated Family Film
“The Adventures of Tintin” is anything but quiet, but it’s not without charm. Steven Spielberg has made his first animated film based on the classic comic series by the Belgian artist Hergé. Chances are, many have never heard of Tintin. He’s a teenage cub reporter who lives for adventure. With his dog Snowy, he travels to the ends of the Earth to solve any case.

Like most Spielberg movies, “Tintin” is dripping with a schmaltzy charm. It’s an unpretentious tale of action and adventure, sure to entertain kids and probably bore or exhaust adults. Tintin (Jamie Bell) has stumbled onto a new mystery after buying a model ship. Inside is a clue concerning the whereabouts of a sunken ship, the Unicorn, and a vast treasure it carried.

I’ve never seen an animated film as mind-blowing as “The Adventures of Tintin.” After many years of computer-animated films featuring dead-eyed mannequins, we are finally gifted with lifelike characters capable of conveying real emotions. It’s an achievement in animation and deserves every technical award that should be bestowed upon it. Visually, it’s a work of art—from the character design, to the virtual cinematography which allows tracking shots to never cut away from the action.

In the cynical age of cinema, the straightforward and earnest adventure story may feel incredibly dated to some. There isn’t an ounce of pretension. It’s the kind of storytelling that only someone like Steven Spielberg could pull off with any degree of seriousness. Credit has to be given to actors Jamie Bell and Andy Serkis who have raised the bar in what motion-capture performance can bring to life. If every animated movie showed this much effort, I wouldn’t hate the genre so much.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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