"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Directed by: David Fincher
Running time: 158 minutes

One thing that is overlooked by us film watchers is the opening credits sequence. While many filmmakers choose to display the introductory credits while an early event of the film is taking place, others choose to have a sequence that is completely dedicated to establishing the title of the film, who’s in it and who was part of the behind-the-scenes team. I believe that we all have stopped acknowledging the purpose of the latter scenario, and that is to make us (the audience) really pumped to see the rest of the movie. To really fire us up in anticipation of the next two hours. Now, the reason I bring this up is because The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has the best opening credits sequence I have ever seen! Using what is essentially an awesome music video, the sequence fired up my interest and my initial skepticism for the film was washed away. I entered the cinema with a sense of cautious optimism, but once the opening credits kicked in I was suddenly overcome with sheer awe as to the film I was about to see. I suddenly remembered: this is a David Fincher movie, the man who directed Fight Club, and this is going to rock. Not only did I remember this, but I was so impressed with the contents of the opening credits sequence. It consisted of a black oil that was constantly morphing into shapes of wasps and two people embracing and iPod cords and a woman being viciously tied up; and all of this set to an awesome remix of “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin, a remix that I prefer to the original (that’s right music fans, come get me!). It was so visually intriguing, and so atmospheric to the mood of the film that I enjoyed it immensely. There never needs to be another music video ever again, it was that awesome!

 

As I’ve blatantly stated, Now Showing this week is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher. This is a remake of the Swedish film of the same name released back in 2009, which in turn was based upon a novel written by the late Stieg Larsson. Recently shamed journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), in an effort to escape said recent shaming, has been hired by Henrik Vanger to investigate the disappearance/murder of his favourite niece Harriot Vanger that occurred some forty years ago; a crime Henrik is convinced was committed by a member of his large family. Blomkvist moves to the Vanger family island a short train ride away from Stolkholm in order to meet and investigate the entire remaining Vanger family and is joined later by Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a very disturbed Gothic computer hacker.

 

First off: wow. Just wow. The feeling I got when I watched that opening credits sequence was entirely justified as David Fincher has made an excellent movie here. I was always a huge fan of those “who-done-it?” mystery shows and this film ticks all the right boxes. The isolated setting of the island combined with the numerous suspects, all of whom would have had motivation to commit the crime, is very reminiscent of stories such as The Hound of the Baskervilles (a Sherlock Holmes mystery for those playing at home). And while there are some cliches along the way, the actual final twist to the mystery was so surprising even though I had seen the original Swedish version! My mind seemed to have blotted out most of the Swedish film for some reason, but I’m glad it did as it allowed me to really engage with this remake. I think that this story is so interesting and rich  filled with some interesting characters; the source material is excellent.

 

The only complaint I would have in its translation to film is that the opening section of the film has a massive case of information overload. The film opens with Blomkvist leaving court after being sued for using false information in an article against a wealthy business man, and is then contacted by Henrik Vanger to meet him on an island not far out of Stockholm. Meanwhile we are introduced to Lisbeth (who’s story runs parallel to Blomkvists for half the movie!) who is dealing with her own welfare problems. Back to Blomkvist, we are getting a detailed rundown of the entire Vanger family and it is incredibly difficult to keep up! But the end of it, I was very lost and I only recovered thanks to the individual meetings between Blomkvist and the Vanger family members. I just feel the move was jamming too much down out throats to begin with but once its finished the initial bombardment, the movie calms down and really lets us sink our teeth into the characters. I suppose I could argue that end of the film didn’t translate to film very well either. Once the “who-done-it” is resolved, then the film goes on to resolving events from Blomkvist’s introduction. Maybe all that information is relevant to later films, but I just feel that in a “who-done-it” story, once you know who did it, the story ends! Maybe a brief re-cooperation but then it finishes, not go on to cover more details about a part of the story that we never really cared about. But as I said, maybe it will be relevant in later sequels, I’ve been wrong before but it just felt very long winded.

 

Sadly, the film suffers from an identity crisis as it cannot decide where it’s characters are from. Fincher really screwed the pooch on this front. There is no consistency in the film as to whether we are in Sweden and people are speaking English, or if we are in Sweden and the magic of film has translated everything into English. Daniel Craig sports his natural British accent whilst Rooney Mara uses a fantastic Swedish accent while speaking in English; both characters are meant to be Swedish. All the cafes and their menus etc. are written in Swedish, but Lisbeth and Blomkvist are constantly Googling in English! You can’t have both people! Either the film should be in Swedish (as has been done) and subtitled OR you have everything in English including dialogue (you can even use accents, but only if your actors can pull it off) and have the film state that it is set in Sweden. The film Valkyrie back in 2009 pulled the latter off rather well and all films should have been taking notes! But if a bit of excess story and some cafe menus being written in Swedish are all I have to complain about, then this is hardly a bad film.

 

I will conclude with one final commendation to this film: Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. She was fantastic. The way she held herself in the film was awe inspiring, with the look of detachment in her face along with an insane fire burning in her eyes when she is ever crossed. Couple that with looking somehow at home in her piercings and Gothic getup, yet still somehow being believably attractive whenever her character was obviously meant to be, and you have one amazing performance. The girl deserves some sort of award, I’m just saying. And I must commend her, actor to actor, for how far she was willing to go in this film for her character. Lisbeth goes through some terrible things in this film, and they are shown in grisly detail. She is a very brave woman for performing how she did, and I congratulate her.

 

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is definitely worth a watch. It is definitely not for the faint of heart, but it is an excellent piece of cinema from a magnificent film auteur. And I recommend seeing it in Gold Class if you can, as I ordered a very nice glass of scotch whiskey prior to the screening and asked for it to brought to me about halfway through the movie. Without giving too much away, that glass arrived exactly after a particularly disturbing moment and I sure needed that stiff drink! See you next time!

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"The Descendants" (2011)

The Descendants (2011)
Directed by: Alexander Payne
Running time: 115 minutes

Now Showing this week was originally going to be Steven Spielberg’s War Horse, as I saw that within the last week and I knew it was a film that others were interested in seeing so I would therefore have a keen reader base. Heck, I even had such witty criticisms all ready and prepared for it; like how it had more cheese than pre-dinner nibbles and drinks; but the main talking point that I was engaged in with those I saw War Horse with was how “touching” the film was. And I was going to ramble on in my review of the film about how I’m probably heartless and just couldn’t be “touched” by the exploits of this horse and his slightly annoying boy master, and that the horse was portrayed as to have intelligence beyond that which is capable of a horse. But then I was inspired by another film I saw this week that touched me in a way that War Horse just couldn’t.

Actually Now Showing this week is The Descendants, directed by Alexander Payne. Matt King (George Clooney) is a lawyer living in Hawaii who is just days away from sealing a deal to sell his family’s inherited land for a very large sum of money. Matt is very wealthy already, but this land deal will make his relatives very well off as well. However, Matt’s wife Elizabeth has recently gone in to a coma after having a boating accident and she is not going to wake up. As by her living will, they must take her off life support and let her die within the next few days. But when Matt brings together his family (his ten year old daughter and his estranged seventeen year old daughter), his older daughter informs him that Elizabeth had been having an affair in the lead up to her accident. Matt is now confronted with saddness for losing his wife and rage for her betrayal.

On paper, I suppose this film doesn’t sound like much. I know that because that is how I felt about it when it was pitched to me in the trailer. But upon seeing the film I was over come by how touching (there’s that word again!) this story was. I recently lost my grandmother, and this film brought out emotions within me about her. All the characters in the film are so confronted by having to say goodbye to Elizabeth, and I was sitting there wishing I had known I had to say goodbye to my nan. I understand that that emotional connection is really specific to me personally, but I believe that there is something in this film for anyone to connect with. Whether it be the passing of a loved one, the betrayal of infidelity or even pondering what you would do if you could confront the person whom stole your lover’s heart.

All of the characters just felt so genuine and, especially George Clooney, they didn’t feel like characters they actually felt like people. And that isn’t just because the acting is top notch, the director clearly knows how to remove that sense of melodrama that always emerges from a “face it, she’s never coming out of that coma!” plot line. On top of that, the script is brilliant! The dialogue was witty and beautifully written and Clooney’s narration was performed wonderfully. The narration was actually a highlight for me, with some of the best dialogue I have heard in a while. All the characters had such interesting perspectives on their existances that were a joy to explore.

And finally, the setting of this film I think was perfect. I was initially apprehensive about the setting when I was hearing about the film as it seemed to me that it was using it as a selling point. “So, it’s a normal character drama about a struggling family. But in Hawaii!” But that’s not what the film is like. The choice to set the story in Hawaii I believe was very clever as Hawaii looks so beautiful and yet such sad events are taking place. I find the ocean and beach going communities to be so beautiful and happy, but to experience these events along with the characters in those communities was such a wonderful contrast. I also enjoyed recognising some of the locations from Lost!

The Descendants certainly isn’t the best movie I have ever seen. It is however very high on my list of films I like as it was so touching and powerful and entertaining. I think it will be nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, and personally, I would be very satisfied if it won. It does deserve it. See you next time!

"The Adventures of Tintin/Drive/Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol – 3 review New Year bonanza!" (2011)

Happy New Year everybody! And trust me, nobody appreciates it being a new year more than I do as it means that the tyranny of ignorant/rude cretin Christmas shoppers has left my retail working life and I finally have the time to get back to these reviews. Seriously, Christmas shoppers are jerks! But enough on that, I have a treat for you all. In my Christmas break I didn’t stop my movie going life altogether, that would be ridiculous; no no, I saw many a film in fact. Well, three. Just three. But all three of these films didn’t really inspire me with a passion to ramble about them to a huge extent so I have instead decided to condense my reviews of them all into one post! That’s right people, you’re getting three reviews in one; isn’t that a good deal? Does that please you?

…man I need to get out of retail mode.

the-adventures-of-tintin-poster-artwork-jamie-bell-andy-serkis-daniel-craigThe Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Running time: 107 minutes.

The Adventures of Tintin tells the story of young investigative journalist Tintin (Jamie Bell) who is on an adventure to find out why a creepy British man (Daniel Craig) is so keen to find out the secret behind the old sailing ship “the Unicorn”, and also what the hell a drunken sea captain named Haddock (Andy Serkis) has to do with it.

I was very excited to see this film as I loved the Tintin books when I was a kid. And all my old favourites feature in this film adaptation, from Tintin and Haddock to Snowy the dog and Thompson and Thomson. However having said that, this is not the Tintin I remember from my childhood. I didn’t really notice it at first given that the majority of the first act was very much like the old Tintin books, with Tintin stumbling upon a mystery that leads him to be kidnapped and eventually lost in a remote area. You know, classic Tintin. But it was around the latter half when suddenly there are huge car chases, tanks demolishing buildings, huge explosions and a climactic scene evolving two characters having a sword fight but using two giant industrial cranes instead of swords, that I realised that we’d left Tintin behind a while ago.

Visually the film was a bit hit and miss. I saw the film in 3D, which was implemented very well so points for that. And the computer graphics themselves were stunning, the characters looking very real but sadly we are still stuck in the uncanny valley as the characters seem lifeless. I would put it down to their eyes, there was no life in their eyes. On top of that, the framerate wasn’t too good either, so when the camera was panning anywhere it was very jittery and blurry.

My biggest disappointment of the film was the script. That is not to say that the script was bad, it was actually quite decent, however the film was co-written by my two favourite British screen writers (Steven Moffat of Doctor Who/Coupling fame, and Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead/Hot Fuzz fame) so I expected more. Moffat and Wright have written some of the funniest and most moving scripts I’ve ever seen on film, but this script just felt average. It did the job and wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t blown away.
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drive-movie-posterDrive (2011)
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Running time: 100 minutes.

Out of all the three films I am reviewing today, Drive was the one I was most looking forward to seeing. I had heard from critics and friends alike that it was a wonderful piece of cinema and was also regarded as the movie of the year by some of them. This was clearly a film that I was going to find very interesting! Well, I didn’t.

Drive follows the activities of “the Driver” (Ryan Gosling), a stunt driver who also works as the getaway driver on heist jobs in his spare time. One day he meets his new neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her son and forms a bond with them. Irene’s ex-con husband owes some mobsters some money and, out of the goodness of his heart, the Driver offers to assist him on stealing the money. The job goes south and suddenly the Driver is in deep trouble with some mobsters (Ron Pearlman and Albert Brooks).

My initial reaction to this film was: “good lord, Nicolas Winding Refn really wishes he was Quentin Tarantino!” If “Tarantino” was a genre, this film would be classified under it. It just screamed that it was a Quentin Tarantino movie. The pacing was slow, majority of character interactions were just mundane conversation and towards the latter half there was suddenly bursts of ultra violence. And I’m not having a go at Quentin Tarantino here, he is very good at what he does. But other people are not. Character relationships and conflicts form so well in Tarantino’s films because the mundane dialogue taking place between them is coming from such interesting people and is at least an interesting conversation even if it doesn’t mean anything. In Drive, the Driver and Irene barely say four words to each other in their first meeting (involving him helping her carry her shopping) which is then then followed by a montage of how the Driver seems to become a new dad for her son. The thoughts running through my head were: “Why did she even see him again?!” It just didn’t feel right.

And the Driver himself bugged me as a character. We know absolutely nothing about him. And that is fine in a lot of films, it can work. But it works when we aren’t told what a character’s motivations are but can discern it from paying attention to what they say and how they react to their happenings. Stunt Man Mike in Tarantino’s Death Proof is an excellent example of this, as we have no idea why he is a crazy serial killer but we can figure out an explanation based on his behaviour throughout the film. Whilst in Drive, who knows why the Driver is also a heist driver! I feel the film crossed the line from “mysterious character who we can deduce from the events of the film” to “there is no character here at all”.

I suppose I could go on, but I was just disappointed by Drive. Everyone I knew who saw it raved about the proverbial boners it induced in them; and whilst the opening scene was amazing in this film, for the feature’s duration my proverbial (and literal) penis remained flaccid.
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Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
Directed by: Brad Bird
Running time: 133 minutes.

Oh you all thought you were done with him, but no, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is back for another bout of insanely far fetched, technological espionage! After being implicated in a terrorist bombing of the Kremlin, Hunt and his team are informed that “Ghost Protocol” has been initiated, which basically means that their team has been shut down and they must go off the grid to clear their names. Pretty simple stuff. The plot of this film is no where near as complex as the previous installments, but it is still interesting and allows for many awesomely tense scenes using crazy gadgets to fool the bad guys.

That’s really what I was there for, to see the crazily complicated ways that Ethan Hunt would extract information or infiltrate buildings. And boy did this film not disappoint! He scales the tallest building in the world with magnet gloves, uses eyeball cameras to scan a document to print into his brief case and also tricks a lone guard with the best use of an iPad I have ever seen! And what’s more, the cast was great. Nothing Oscar winning of course, but they performed with conviction and were believable and interesting. All the scenes involving Simon Pegg were just awesome. Haven’t really got much more to say about this film, it was just fun. I had a good time, and that’s really what this all comes down to. If I had a number system (and I don’t!) I would give it a 7 out of 10.
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Ok, so maybe I did ramble on about the films a bit much but I was making up for lost time! I hope you all enjoyed this extended review, and I look forward to many more post in 2012. We have a good line up this year, including The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises and Prometheus. This year is going to be fun!

See you next time!