THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (2011)

December 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. The character of Lisbeth Salander absolutely fascinates me. That’s true whether we are discussing Stieg Larsson‘s Millennium trilogy novels, the Swedish film versions, or this latest film version from director David Fincher (The Social Network) and a screenplay from Steve Zaillian. It’s also true whether Lisbeth is played on screen by Noomi Rapace (Swedish films) or Rooney Mara. She is a brilliant character hiding in plain sight from a world that has fiercely mistreated her, and now misjudges and underestimates her. She is the oddest heroine I can recall … and I can’t get enough of her.

 Let’s start with the source material. Stieg Larsson’s books are far from perfect, but addictive just the same. The first book (on which this film is based) is, at its core, a traditional who-dunnit presented in a manner that is claustrophobic, paranoid and eerie. Moving on to this particular film, we find the director and screenplay holding the basic tone of the book and original films, while making a few changes … some minor, others more substantial. These changes may irk those fervent fans who are quite loyal to the books, but Fincher surely wanted to offer more than a simple re-telling of the story.

 Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist hired to solve the 40 year old mystery of the disappearance/murder of Harriet Vanger, niece to Swedish millionaire Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). To research, Blomkvist must dig into the Vanger’s rotten family tree of Nazis, anti-Semites, sexual predators, anti-social fanatics, and a few just plain loony birds. You can imagine how excited this rich and once powerful family is to have someone uncovering long buried secrets. Circumstances allow for Lisbeth to assist Blomkvist in researching this.

 Unlike many mysteries where assembling the clues is the most fun, the real heart of this story is the odd, somewhat uncomfortable developing relationship between Blomkvist and Lisbeth. This latest version allows this to develop relatively smoothly, but it nonetheless rattles our senses. We see the subtle changes in Lisbeth as she slowly opens up to the idea of a real friendship based on trust. Fear not mystery fans, the Vanger clan still provides more than enough juice to keep any film sleuth happy.

COMPARISON: It’s truly impossible to avoid comparisons between the two movie versions and the respective casts. It’s quite obvious Mr. Fincher was working with a substantially greater budget than Niels Arden Opler had for the first Swedish film. While they are both enthralling, I actually lean a bit towards the rawer original. That takes nothing away from this latest version. Same with Noomi Rapace vs. Rooney Mara. Ms. Mara is excellent in her performance and I was fully satisfied, though Ms. Rapace brought a rougher edge to the role … one that made it even tougher to crack that shell. The biggest difference in the casts is Daniel Craig against Michael Nyqvist. Mr. Craig is just a bit too cool for the role, while Nyqvist captured the insecurity and vulnerability that Larsson wrote about. To have two such strong film versions of the same story released so close together speaks to the strength of Fincher and Larsson.

 All of that is nit-picking. Both film versions are thrilling and sterling entertainment, and clearly the Fincher version will bring the story to a much wider audience. He even brought back Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross to deliver another note-perfect score. I would encourage those that are interested to check out the Swedish version, as well as the Larsson books. Maybe you will join me in my fascination with this creature known as Lisbeth Salander.

note: this is an extremely harsh, dark film.  It includes brutal sex crimes, Nazism, animal cruelty and quite a few unlikeable, unsavory folks.  Heck, even the Swedish winter is jarring!

note 2: get there in time for the opening scene and credits. Reznor and Karen O (from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s) deliver a searing remake of Led Zeppelin’s classic “The Immigrant Song” … over some mesmerizing visuals.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of the Larsson books and/or the original Swedish films OR you want to see one of the most original characters on film OR you are just looking for another reason to hate rich people

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF:  you are looking for upbeat, light-hearted holiday entertainment OR you avoid movies featuring any, much less all, of the subjects in my note above

watch the trailer:


THE TOURIST (2010)

December 12, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. Ahh, beautiful people in beautiful places. That’s a good start! Throw in some amazing film blood lines: directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck (The Lives of Others), writers Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects), Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park) and Jerome Salle. Salle wrote and directed the 2005 French film that this one is based on – Anthony Zimmer. The stellar cast is led by Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, and includes Paul Bettany, Timothy Dalton, Rufus Sewell and the always solid Steven Berkhoff. No way to mess this one up, right??

Somehow, despite all of that, the final product is a jumble of tired visual stunts, lame dialogue and a twist so obvious it might as well have been in the trailer. The aim was a thriller with involvement of mobsters, stolen millions, boat chases, rooftop shootings, crackling dialogue intertwined with dangerous settings and high fashion. The biggest failing is with the dialogue … so many wasted moments. The give and take between Depp and Jolie is just outright lame.

 Where is the payoff for sitting through the endless string of stupid moves from Scotland Yard inspectors? The police tail on Jolie’s character looked like something from the Pink Panther movies … only it is played straight! Same with the interactions between the two stars. How about some playful banter? Did Depp’s character need to be so dull? A math teacher from Wisconsin. Really? And poor Angelina. She is used as a flesh and blood Jessica from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. EVERYTHING about her is exaggerated! Yet, she still flashes her glances like her characters from Salt or any other action film she has upgraded over the years. The film just can’t decide what it is … thriller, farce, comedy?? It just doesn’t work here.

And I have to mention the absurdity of the chase scenes through the Venice canal. It’s not very often a boat chase scene is limited to 4 knots speed. How could the shooters miss time after time? At least we were treated to some stunning shots of Venice. That’s the only positive I can offer for this one.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: Three beautiful things is good enough (Angelina, Depp, Venice) OR you want to see the slowest boat chase scene in history

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you expect crackling dialogue OR you prefer your thrillers to actually have moments that thrill