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November 2011

Show Me the Monkey

We Bought a Zoo (2011)

Neal Preston/20th Century Fox

With “We Bought a Zoo,” Cameron Crowe has more or less remade “Jerry Maguire” with cuddly wuddly animals in place of memorable one-liners. The new film is about that same foolhardy idealism that drives a man to stake everything he has.

Although based on a true story, the film has inexplicably transported the Dartmoor Zoological Park from the county of Devon in southwest England to southern California. After his son Dylan (Colin Ford) is expelled from school for various antisocial transgressions, widower Benjamin Mee (Matt Damon) decides it’s time for a change of scenery. So he quits his job at the Los Angeles Times and squanders an inheritance on a decrepit countryside zoo. While Mr. Crowe and co-writer Aline Brosh McKenna have preserved many details in the trans-Atlantic migration, they are seemingly oblivious to the fact that real-life Mr. Mee’s former employer, the Guardian, has just launched an American edition.

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Good Old-Fashioned Happy and Joy

Courtesy photo

John Kricfalusi has staked out some idiosyncratic ground in his three decades as a working animator; and it doesn't take long to recognize his work when you see it. “The Ren & Stimpy Show” caused visible distress to Nickelodeon in the 1990s, and lingers in the memory of anyone who caught its U.K. airings on BBC Two. Before then, Mr. Kricfalusi had already worked uncomfortably for Filmation and Hanna-Barbera, and found a much more agreeable niche alongside legendary animator Ralph Bakshi. More recently, the man usually known just as John K. has directed music videos, animated the opening couch gag for an episode of “The Simpsons,” and continued to get into occasional trouble with broadcasters.

Mr. Kricfalusi came to the Encounters International Film Festival in Bristol to talk about some of his favorite animated films. We took the opportunity to ask him about the joys of old animation, why the Internet is frustratingly slow and his very dim view of motion-capture.

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The Ageless Innocence

Hugo (2011)

Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures

One would expect any hardcore Scorsese fan to greet “Hugo” with some measure of trepidation: Has Martin Scorsese finally lost it? Could this PG-rated 3-D fantasy-adventure in fact be his equivalent of Francis Ford Coppola’s Robin Williams-Jennifer Lopez flick, “Jack”? Happily, such is not the case. In essence, “Hugo” the family-friendly extravaganza is only a pretext for Mr. Scorsese’s big-budget love letter to Georges Méliès and for his propaganda film championing moving-image archiving and preservation. You can pretty much tell the auteur was sleepwalking through all the C.G.I.-laden set pieces. But when the movie ventures into his passion-project territories, it comes more alive than any 3-D gimmickry.

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Around the World in Motion Capture

DW Studios

Steven Spielberg is back! After the disappointing “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (which, while containing fragments of Spielbergian magic, often felt flat and labored), “The Adventures of Tintin” sees the master director back on form. Mr. Spielberg’s new collaboration with fellow fantasy filmmaker Peter Jackson is more fruitful than the last one with his old friend George Lucas. Mr. Spielberg seemed to have participated in “Crystal Skull” out of sense of (understandable) loyalty to his old filmmaking friend, with the director appearing to go through the through the motions rather than being inspired to create a new Indy movie for the 21st century. The motion-capture in this new film seems to have liberated Mr. Spielberg though, freeing him up to try new things while recapturing his old magic.

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Billions of Bilious Blue Blistering Barnacles

The Adventures of Tintin (2011)

DW Studios

It has taken nearly 30 years for Steven Spielberg to bring Tintin to the big screen, having optioned the rights to a film adaptation way back in 1983. Whether he was sitting on the project until technology caught up with his vision or he was simply undecided as how to realize a film that comes with an enormity of expectation from a salivating fan base is uncertain. Regardless, by co-opting in his Kiwi buddy Peter Jackson — who brings all his Weta magic to the party — Mr. Spielberg has managed to deliver a film that captures all the joyful frivolity of Hergé’s works with a typically Spielbergian sprinkle of unabashed rambunctious action.

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Crying in the Night So Many Tears

The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence) (2011)

IFC Midnight

Tom Six promised that “The Human Centipede 2 (Full Sequence)” would make the first installment “look like My Little Pony.” By shunning the implied grotesqueness of the mad-scientist-gone-mental farce of the first “Human Centipede” in favor of in-your-face graphic violence, streams of blood, feces and gore, Mr. Six has done just that. Yet, whereas the original verged on the fantastical and as a result was laughable at times, Mr. Six seems determined to push the boundaries of taste further than ever before and as such there is very little of that lightness of touch here.

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A Very Top Dog to the Commonalty

Coriolanus (2011)

Larry D. Horricks/The Weinstein Company

You can tell a lot about an actor by the vanity projects he or she undertakes, by which we mean the films an actor self-finances once he or she has made it big in Hollywood. Some actors choose to take small parts in defiant anti-blockbusters, such as when Ewan McGregor followed “Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace” with “Young Adam,” about a raping, stealing, murdering canal-boat worker in 1950s Glasgow. Other times an actor will take his money to direct something, such as when Samantha Morton used the clout of her Oscar nominations to direct “The Unloved,” about a girl abandoned to the British foster-care system.

So whatever Ralph Fiennes decided to use his Voldemort paychecks for would be interesting. He’s brought one of Shakespeare’s earliest and weakest plays to the screen, set it in a modern, unnamed Eastern bloc country (filmed in Serbia with a mainly Serbian crew) and showed someone shot in the head within the first five minutes. “Coriolanus” does not feel like the work of a first-time director. Mr. Fiennes pulls it off triumphantly. He’s made a historical curiosity relevant now, when our cities are in uproar and the citizens have taken to the streets.

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Fiddle While Home Burns

Chicken With Plums (2011)

Le Pacte

Marjane Satrapi has carved herself a very particular niche, firstly as a cartoonist with an extremely distinctive black-and-white drawing style shown off her in her graphic novels, which are based on her life growing up in Iran. Now living in France, Ms. Satrapi has further branched out into making films based on her graphic novels; the first was 2007’s “Persepolis,” an animated, autobiographical film drawn in her style co-written and co-directed with Vincent Paronnaud. And now they have reteamed for the live-action — though stylized — “Chicken With Plums.”

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Peking Duck and Cover

Beijing Besieged by Waste (2011)

DGenerate Films

Part documentary, part photographic survey, part exposé, "Beijing Besieged by Waste" is artist Wang Jiuliang's highly personal look at the urban Chinese landscape in the face of extreme growth and general disregard for the environment.

Spurred by an interest in the destination of his own trash, Mr. Wang embarks on a journey to the outer rings of Beijing — home to dozens of poorly regulated, hazardous landfills. At each site he is faced with an endless ocean of trash, yet wisely stays away from imbuing the scene with any sort of grotesque beauty. Aside from the occasional landfill sunset, his palette is dull: all grays, browns and blacks.

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Boys and Their Toys

Weta Digital/Paramount Pictures

Watching “The Adventures of Tintin” reminds you that modern entertainment is increasingly driven by each move forward in technology. Images of Steven Spielberg directing scenes from his latest all-action adventure with what appears to be an oversize PlayStation controller only go to emphasize the point.

The shark may have almost driven him mad, but Mr. Spielberg’s career is littered with each leap forward in cinematic wizardry. Not to accuse such a visionary of standing on the shoulders of giants, but where would “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” be without the work of John Dykstra on “Star Wars” and “Battlestar Galactica”? Where would “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” have been without animatronics? What would “Jurassic Park” have looked like without the generational leaps in C.G.I.? And “Tintin” — well, if that doesn't owe a massive debt of thanks to Robert Zemeckis and James Cameron, then I don't know what does.

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