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:


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:

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


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.


April 18, 2010

 Greetings again from the darkness. What usually sets apart a great mystery thriller from an average one is the story. In part one of the Millennium trilogy based on Stieg Larsson’s books, the story is really good, but the point of difference comes in the titular performance of Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth. American audiences are rarely treated to this type of raw, gritty performance from an actress. She alone makes the film worth seeing.

Please don’t get me wrong … I really like the film. A murder mystery who-dunnit that on the surface appears like an Agathy Christie story, it quickly proves to us how looks can be deceiving – both in story line and in characters. Though the story wraps up a bit too neatly, the long winding road (over a fortuitous bridge) gives us a wild ride of hints, suspects and research that is a blast for those who enjoy such things.

Michael Nyqvist stars as Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative writer who gets set up on charges of libel against a powerful businessman. While awaiting his jail time, Blomkvist is hired by an 80 year old uncle of a girl gone missing some 40 years ago. Oh yes, she is part of the Vanger family who live on a private island and who have multiple members with a history of Nazi loyalties. As Blomkvist investigates the ancient mystery, it turns out he is being followed via super-hacker Lisbeth. After a few twists, these two turn into a highly unlikely, but very interesting and effective mystery-solving couple.

Besides the performance of Rapace, what really sets this one apart is that the villains really aren’t the most interesting characters – Blomkvist and Lisbeth are. We are treated to a great deal of character development for both, and trust me when I say, Lisbeth’s story is not pleasant.

I hear this will be Americanized in the remake and that makes me sad. The source material title for this story is “Men Who Hate Women”.  While director Niels Arden Oplev pulls no punches in his version, in a remake the edgy undercurrent of sex, abuse, politics and religious racism will undoubtedly be softened and surely the lead actress will bring little of the fascination that a fearless Noomi Rapace delivers.