STOCKHOLM (2019)

April 13, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. The film opens with a title card informing us that it is “based on an absurd but true story”. In 1973 the Kreditbanken of Stockholm Sweden was held up by an armed man. The ordeal was unusual for low-crime Sweden and it was broadcast live on TV. It has also been credited as being the origin for the term “Stockholm Syndrome” – a term to describe the bonding that sometimes occurs between a hostage and their captor.

Writer-director Robert Budreau wisely wastes little time with setting the stage. Lars (Ethan Hawke) dons a disguise meant to trick the police, and storms the bank lobby armed with a sub-machine gun. Wearing a cowboy hat and a leather jacket with a Texas flag, he proclaims “Remember the Alamo” as he secures some hostages and presents himself as Kaj Hansson, a well-known criminal. Of course, Mr. Hawke is certainly an American, and the actual robbery/hostage event was conducted by a Swede.

Lars is loud and boisterous to the cops, while simultaneously being sympathetic and understanding to the hostages – especially Bianca (Noomi Rapace), a married woman with two kids. Christopher Heyerdahl plays Police Chief Mattison, and he employs some unexpected psychological gamesmanship with Lars that gets even more convoluted when Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme becomes involved. Lars’ real goal here is to spring his buddy Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) from jail and have them both ride off to freedom in a mustang like the one Steve McQueen drove in BULLITT.

Yes, I should mention that although guns are fired and hostages are held, this is really an offbeat comedic bank heist. It focuses on how the hostages bond with their captors and how Bianca quickly realizes that not only is she smarter than Lars and Gunnar, but that the cops are more of a threat to her than the criminals. She strategizes better than either side, and Ms. Rapace (from the original Millennium Trilogy) is the standout performer in the film.

Filmmaker Budreau and Mr. Hawke previously collaborated on an intimate look at jazz trumpeter Chet Baker in BORN TO BE BLUE (2015), and they prove again that they work well together. The other two hostages are played by Bea Santos as Clara and Mark Rendall as Elov. When Prime Minister Palme refuses to negotiate or allow Lars to leave with hostages, we can sense the emotional tide turn as Clara, Elov and Bianca realize they are safest remaining with the hostages.

Of course there are some liberties with history taken for cinematic reasons, and since most of the filming takes place within the confines of the bank, we do get to know each of the participants pretty well. The similarities to Sidney Lumet’s DOG DAY AFTERNOON (1975) are unmistakable, and one of the reporters covering the story even comments that it’s “almost like watching an American movie.” The odd ending works for the film, and thanks to Ms. Rapace, there is enough heft to the characters to prevent the humor for taking over.

watch the trailer:


THE DROP (2014)

September 13, 2014

drop Greetings again from the darkness. Much of what I write here contradicts my long maintained stance that a strong story/script is the basis for any movie worth it’s proverbial weight. This neighborhood crime drama does not spin a twisty plot. Nor does it flash fascinating and colorful mobsters. Instead, it’s the acting that elevates the film to the point of neo-noir must see.

By now you have heard that this is James Gandolfini’s final movie. He passed away while director Michael Roskam (Bullhead) was in editing mode. Gandolfini plays Cousin Marv, a would-be wise-guy who never-really-was.  Now he is bitter and desperate, in a beaten down kind of way. As a farewell, Gandolfini leaves us a final reminder of what a powerful screen presence he was, and what a terrific feel for character and scene he possessed.

Beyond Gandolfini, the real attraction and the main reason to see the film is the outstanding and mesmerizing performance of Tom Hardy. In many ways, his bartender Bob is the polar opposite of his infamous Bane from The Dark Knight Rises. Quasi-effeminate in his vocal deliverings, and moving with a slow, stilted shuffle, Bob is one of the least imposing guys.  The kind that you would likely look right through. At least that’s the first impression. Hardy is so nuanced, we aren’t even certain when his character transitions and exposes his true make-up. When he does, it’s the highlight of the film.

Noomi Rapace, in yet another intriguing turn, plays local waitress Nadia, who befriends Bob after he rescues an abused puppy. Since the movie is based on Dennis Lehane’s short story “Animal Rescue”, it’s no surprise that the main characters each share a need to be rescued. Nadia’s ex-boyfriend is played to full psycho and creepy effect by Matthias Schoenaerts (so great in Rust and Bone, 2012). The scenes between Schoenaerts and Hardy show the movie at its tension-filled best.

As with most neighborhood crime dramas, there are many secrets, local legends, and allegiances in doubt. The players are weary and dream of either better times or ending the misery. Mr. Lehane wrote the novels that led to some other fine films: Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island. He has a feel for ultra-realistic characters, and his material depends on extraordinary acting for fulfillment. This slow boil benefits from some of the best acting we could ask for.

**NOTE: all due respect to the late, great James Gandolfini … we get a glimpse of him “running” from a crime scene, and his athletic prowess does detract from his otherwise imposing screen presence.

**NOTE: how good must this be if I went the entire review without mentioning Ann Dowd or John Ortiz … two excellent actors who play small, vital roles?

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you need further proof that Tom Hardy is one of the more talented actors working today OR you bask in the atmospheric neighborhood crime drama genre (this is a good one) OR you just want to see a really cute pit bull puppy.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: like me, you find it impossible to “unsee” a glimpse of James Gandolfini running on screen, in spite of his towering presence and acting ability.

watch the trailer:

 

 

 


DEAD MAN DOWN (2013)

March 10, 2013

dead ma Greetings again from the darkness. On the surface, this looks like just another early season crime thriller. From that perspective, it works well enough. However, there are some elements that add complexity and interest, and set this one above the usual. It’s directed by Niels Arden Oplev who was responsible for the original (and very cool) Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009). This looks to be his first English language feature and he re-teams with the exciting and talented Noomi Rapace.

The film begins with a body in the freezer, and crime boss Alphonse (Terrence Howard) and his crew attempting to solve the mystery of who killed his friend and associate. Someone has been tormenting Alphonse with little clues and he falls right into the trap of jumping to conclusions. One member of his crew is Victor (Colin Farrell). We slowly learn more about Victor thanks to an awkward and slow connection between he and his neighbor Beatrice (Ms. Rapace). Their initial acknowledgment of each other is an exchange of waves between balconies. It’s an effective visual.

dead man2 The movie bounces between crime thriller and romantic/love story, and offers a couple of big ol’ shoot-em-ups. The added fun of secret missions from both Victor and Beatrice provide the twist this one needs. Actually there are 4-5 exceptional scenes in the movie which make up for the often plodding pace … not typically a good thing for a thriller. The pieces are greater than the whole, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting watch.  Noomi Rapace has quickly made the transition to English language films and she has the ability to play gritty or glamourous – something not all actresses can pull off. Colin Farrell is one of those actors who seems to consistently choose scripts that don’t showcase his skills. He was excellent in In Bruges, but often takes roles that require little more than flexing his world class eyebrows. The quiet scenes with Rapace and Farrell give this movie a higher quality feel than it otherwise would have had.

dead man3 In addition to Farrell, Rapace and Howard, we get some really enjoyable support work from Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert and F Murray Abraham. Ms. Huppert in particular adds a touch of class and humor, and her character could have easily been expanded … same for Mr. Abraham. Cooper plays an idealistic, but not so observant buddy to Victor and loyal crew member of Howard.

This one reminds at times of a couple of Mel Gibson revenge flicks: Payback and Edge of Darkness, though what really helps here is the strength of the cast and unusual scars of Victor and Beatrice. A slightly tighter script and improved pacing would have jumped this one a level or two, but it’s entertaining in spite of the flaws.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: seeing Colin Farrell and Noomi Rapace flash their acting talent intrigues you

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you are looking for a taut thriller with many surprises and twists

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yq3rls47cNE


PROMETHEUS (2012)

June 9, 2012

 Greetings again from the darkness. Director Ridley Scott bounds back into the sci-fi genre 30 plus years after his two classics: Alien (1979) and Blade Runner (1982). Since then, he has avoided sci-fi and had some ups (Gladiator, American Gangster) and some downs (too many to list). Of course, in the film world, one need only create a single masterpiece to be forever worshiped … and the Alien lovers have always held out hope their master would return. Despite the sly marketing approach, Mr. Scott has delivered a prequel that should keep the geeks happy, while also having the “wow” factor to generate multiple viewings.

In the year 2089 we witness an archaeologist played by Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) discover an ancient cave gallactic map. With remarkable efficiency found only in the private sector, four years later, the Prometheus space ship is landing on the moon depicted in the drawings. It’s lofty mission is to discover the origin of life. The crew make-up is almost identical to the crew in Alien, only this time we get an ice queen corporate director, played by Charlize Theron, to emphasize corporate greed and lust for power, and the lack of love for science.

Once the ship lands, we pretty much know what the search crew will find. That doesn’t ruin the impact of the images. The strength of the movie comes from the visuals and effects. We never doubt that we are in a far away galaxy or that the aliens are real. This is one of the RARE times that the 3D version is recommended. Despite the dulled images caused by the glasses, this one was actually filmed in 3D and some of the effects really pop.

There will be much debate over this film because it looks effectively creepy and fascinating … downright phenomenal. However, it has too many of what I call “stupid movie character moments”. You know, those times when a character does or says something that just makes no sense – other than to create an opportunity for the filmmaker? There are plenty of those present here. The script is co-written by Jon Spaihts and “Lost” guru Damon Lindelof. The overall idea is brilliant and worth pursuing, however, the details and gaps are quite disappointing. We know there will be minor characters sacrificed in the name of creating fear in the survivors, but couldn’t we have more than one strong character? The Noomi Rapace character has much in common with Sigourney Weaver‘s Ripley, but the others here are pretty generic.

 Idris Elba plays the ship’s captain, Guy Pearce plays Peter Weyland, the old man funding the mission and seeking immortality, and Logan Marshall-Green plays Rapace’s partner and lover. The only other character of interest is Michael Fassbender‘s android David. He models himself after Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, right down to the golden locks. Android technology has come a long way since Alien and David can be quite a wry smart-ass.

In the end, the sci-fi geeks will decide if this one deserves to live on, but for me, despite the breath-taking technological effects, it’s not worthy of the “classic” label. It was kind of humorous to hear a score that bears an uncanny resemblance at times to the iconic score of Inception. It seems that film’s impact is nothing short of never-ending.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of Alien OR you are fan of sci-fi and special effects

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer a coherent story line and strong characters

watch the trailer:

 


SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS

December 17, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Normally if a sequel shows up a mere two years after the original, we would have good reason for low expectations (ie, The Hangover). However, director Guy Ritchie is back and just as importantly, Robert Downey Jr and Jude Law reprise their roles as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Adding a few twists to the successful template provided by the original, the team delivers one that is sure to keep fans happy.

The reason so many Sir Arthur Conan Doyle loyalists dismissed the first film is that the frenetic pace and towering action sequences seem to go against what made the original stories so great. So what does Mr. Ritchie do? He goes BIGGER and FASTER! There are three extended action sequences that are mind-boggling to watch. They work because the plot is so elementary, my dear. Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) is out to cause a war from which he can personally profit. His plan involves guns, bombs and assassinations. Only our heroes can possibly stop him.

 Much of the odd-ball bromance from the first movie has been toned down here, and we get not only the return of Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) and Watson’s new wife (Kelly Reilly), but also the introduction of a third female character – a gypsy fortune teller, Madame Simza (the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Noomi Rapace). Of course, McAdams character doesn’t last long, Reilly gets tossed from a moving train, and Rapace is given a few lines and a couple of sprinting scenes. There may be more women, but this is still a man’s world.

 The vision for this franchise is an updated version that encourages discovery of Holmes by a new generation. And while Downey is excellent, it’s difficult not to notice the similarities to Captain Jack Sparrow. Also, Professor Moriarty is very much a Bond-type villain. None of that matters too much as the rapid-fire dialogue between Holmes and Watson, and the crackling chemistry between Downey and Law, make this a fun time at a huge holiday movie. An added plus this time is a brilliantly written and executed chess match between Moriarty and Holmes. That scene fed my need for the more brainiac Holmes that I so adore.

It seems odd that the release date for this one is so close to that of the new Mission:Impossible, but they both deliver what the fans want and hopefully find their audience. Even if you aren’t a fan, the fabulous sets and various world filming locations will keep you interested, even as you dodge giant explosions.

note: this is the first English-speaking role for Noomi Rapace

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: while watching the first one, you thought to yourself “too bad there aren’t more explosions and fight scenes” OR you enjoy the test-pilot speed at which Guy Ritchie and Robert Downey Jr so excel

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer the traditional, methodical pace of the Doyle books OR watching a wife get thrown out of a moving train might motivate you to action

watch the trailer:


THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST (Sweden 2009)

November 7, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Part 3 of the Stieg Larsson Millennium trilogy brings to an end this fascinating multi-dimensional mystery-thriller centered around one of the most absorbing characters ever viewed on screen, Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace). While I have anxiously awaited this final chapter, I must admit to a touch of emptiness in not having more to anticipate.

As with any literary adaptation, there will be devotees of the written word who say the film versions don’t do justice to the books. I have purposefully waited until seeing all three films to begin reading the books. What I will say is that from a pure film perspective, the 3 films are fascinating, thrilling and pure joy to follow.

As a stand alone, part 3 can be watched as a whole … however, I would promote the full benefit of watching the three in chronological order. The sum is much greater than any of the 3 pieces, though I will say that part one (Dragon Tattoo) is the superior film of the 3.

Part 3 begins with a flashback to the end of 2, and has Lisbeth and her scumbag father in the hospital recovering from their violent meeting. Her goon half-brother Niedermann (Micke Spreitz) is on the hunt for revenge. Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and his team at Millennium are putting together a comprehensive expose’ to help in Lisbeth’s defense and to prevent her from being institutionalized.

This is where we really are introduced to the players of The Section, the secret society of Swedish Police. This group from the 60’s seems to have no boundaries and will do whatever necessary to prevent exposure of their group. Their power is on display early on.

What follows is a very complex weave of intricate plot lines that fall across many levels of Swedish society. At the epicenter is Lisbeth and her knowledge of her father’s deeds over the years. Best to keep her quiet.

As she recovers from her injuries, we see the Millennium team start putting the pieces together with the help of the police. Lisbeth’s attorney Annika, has little luck in convincing her to speak with an independent shrink to prove her competence. Instead it falls to Dr. Teleborian, who has been a source of misery for Lisbeth since childhood. How things come together is quite fun to watch.

There are so many things that make Lisbeth captivating as a character. Her lack of trust in everyone. Her struggles to communicate with others in anything more than grunts. Her outright brilliance when backed into a corner. On and on. She is no white knight, but she does have her own body armor … spikes, piercings and hairspray.

Lisbeth’s saga has been a movie-going pleasure and I am sad to see it end. Though Larsson is dead, it’s not difficult to imagine a writer picking up where he left off and come up with additional story lines. Until then, the best we get is the Americanized version with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. I trust Ms. Mara understands how high the bar was set by Noomi Rapace.

Here are links to my comments on the first two parts:

 https://moviereviewsfromthedark.wordpress.com/2010/04/18/the-girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo/

https://moviereviewsfromthedark.wordpress.com/2010/07/11/the-girl-who-played-with-fire/

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you have seen the first two parts (like I could keep you away!)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you have read the books and think no movie ever does justice to the book


THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE (Sweden, 2009)

July 11, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. This is the second of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, though we have a new director for parts two and three. Daniel Alfredson takes a more mainstream approach to filming and story telling and, of course, he loses the element of surprise we enjoyed in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, one of my favorite films of the year so far.

With Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist back as Lisbeth and Mikael Blomkvist respectively, it certainly helps to have seen the first film to fill in the character development that this one assumes. We are treated to a more intricate, complex story line in this one, but the fun research part we enjoyed in part one, comes up a bit short.

Swedish acting veteran/legend Per Oscarsson appears as Lisbeth’s first (and trusted) state assigned officer. He plays a small, but vital role and is quite interesting on screen – even at age 83! The story fills in some of the gaps on Lisbeth’s childhood and background but really leaves her a bit short on screen time despite being suspected of 3 murders.

Lisbeth’s look is somewhat softer in this one and we get full on views of her eyes, which rarely happened in part one. I believe the movie suffers a bit by making it easier to relate to her as a wronged woman. Still, the story is much better than the average thriller and the two lead characters are more interesting than most. I look forward to the final film of the trilogy … The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.