Thursday, December 22, 2011


Directed By: David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara
Based on the novel by Stieg Larson

This film is intense, sexy, violent and right up Fincher's ally. I read the book last year and I was aware of the Niels Arden Oplev film that came out in 2009. *I never took the opportunity to watch the Swedish version of the film, but after seeing this one, I am interested in checking it out. What I especially like about Fincer's take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is that you do not need to have read the book to get sucked into the mystery. This film, unlike the Oplev's film, has received a lot of attention state side, not just for the famous director, but for the stars Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. 

The film opens with an amazing, graphic, title sequence. It's not worth trying to describe, you just have to see it. Immediately, the dark, moody atmosphere sets a beautiful silvery tone that lasts throughout the film. This is quite a long movie but there is a unique balance between long, thoughtful silences and loud, intense violence that make time fly. There are moments of dark humor and they even managed to work in an interesting little love story. This film combines everything a Fincher fan could want and it is an excellent cure for the holiday blues.

Despite the big names involved in this film,  don't expect that traditional Hollywood gloss. This film is raw and some people might be a bit disturbed by a few scenes. As an adaptation, the film is great because it stands on its own as a great piece of art. Fincher is a master of capturing the under belly of modern culture, he does it so well in fact, that you wish you could live in the dark worlds he creates.

The film weaves in and out between two distinct story lines. The first follows Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), a disgraced journalist, hired by an old industrialist to solve a decades old family mystery. The other follows Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) a 23 year old ward of the state and gifted researcher/hacker hired as Blomkvist's assistant. Blomkvist and Salander exist in two different worlds, but are both are driven to pursue truth and both have an innate sense of righteousness.

Blomkvists world surrounds the newspaper business and the Swedish elite. Salanders world is mysterious, violent and a bit sexy. For about half of the film the two exists alone in their own worlds, but the very best scenes in the film involve Blomkvist and Salander, quite, in their arctic refuge musing over documents, and photographs. Both Craig and Mara give near perfect performances in their respective roles.

Rooney Mara is incredibly powerful as Lisbeth and it's probably safe to say she nailed it. Mara is completely unrecognizable in the role and has gone from unknown to super star literally over night. Salander is a complex character with a murky past. The book takes great time to explain her history and her quirks in excruciating detail to the point that she becomes larger than life. The film is the same, but unlike the book Fincher rooted Lisbeth in the real world which made her more relatable.

This film is anything but subtle and I do not think any actress could have captured this character the way Mara did. She has multiple nude scenes and many of them involve sexual violence that will make your skin crawl. Mara's performance is cutting and impassioned, she has really raised the bar for actors across the board.

Although Mara is the break out star of the film, Daniel Craig gets the most screen time. I find it rather hard to be impartial to his performance because he is such a handsome man, all I see are his abs and rippling manliness. But seriously, Daniel Craig is hot, he has never looked better. As Blomkvist, he spends most of the time in thoughtful silences and in the snow, chasing down lead after lead on his relentless quest. He is a single minded, musing bachelor, obsessed with work and with little connection to other people. However, when Blomkvist and Salander's paths cross, Craig is at his very best.

The bond that develops between Blomkvist and Salander is an excellent interpretation of how modern relationships work. There is no romance, no lofty admissions of love. In fact, their relationship is as calculated as their research into the old industrialist's mystery. Mara and Craig have a very intense, sexy chemistry, you wont be able to take your eyes off them.

The film also stars Christopher Plummer as the old industrialist Henrick Vanger, Robin Wright as the editor of Blomkvist's disgraced newspaper, and Stellen Skarsgard as Martin Vagner. Though Mara and Craig draw the eye, the supporting cast is also quite good. With a 2 hour running time, there was enough room to give detailed history on all of the side characters. This film could have been incredibly confusing, but Fincher really tapped into the heart of each character's story and brought it to life with out being tedious.

Artistically, the film is incredible. There is a nice contrast between beautiful snowy landscapes and dark, silvery cityscapes, monotone overcast days, and cold, soggy nights. The visuals are perfectly complimented by an outstanding soundtrack by Trent Reznor. The cinematography is classic Fincher, which shouldn't be too surprising since he worked his long time DP Jeff Cronenweth. This film has the sensibility of Se7en and Fight Club but it is much more controlled and mature.

I think this will go down as one of Fincher's most ambitious and most successful films. From start to finish it is as close to perfect as an adaptation gets. He made the film his own while staying true to the soul of the book. He does take some liberties, but it in no way negates the overall quality of the film. This film is worth ponying up the $7.00 to see in theaters, especially because there is nothing better than 13 foot high, topless Daniel Craig.

A- : This film isn't for everyone, and those with delicate sensibilities might be a little taken aback, but if you love dark, moody, mysteries you will love this film, even if you never read the book.

* I saw the Oplev films and they are amazing! They are different from Fincher's take, but still worthy of a view. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011


Directed By: Clint Eastwood

I saw J. Edgar a few days ago, I was overruled by my companion on what film to see. I wasn't necessarily thrilled with the choice, I actually wanted to see Tower Heist. But in retrospect, I'm glad I saw this film instead. I have always been a Leonardo DiCaprio fan and I've seen just about every film he's been in. I have more than a few of his films in my personal DVD collection. This film is directed by Academy Award winner Clint Eastwood who is a master of dark, moody tales of misunderstood heroes.

I read a little bit about J. Edgar before seeing it and I didn't peak my interest at all. It is a bio-pick about the man who began the FBI in the midsts of the cold war and his demise into senility. This type of film, on the surface, was not something I thought I would be interested in. When I saw that it had a 2 hour 17 minute running time, I let out an audible groan. In the end, I did enjoy this film but I have to say it is far from perfect and will bore most people to tears.

The film follows the life and career of J. Edgar Hoover, the young ambitious government agent who began the FBI. The film flips between Hoover's younger years as a passionate defender of the American way of life to his older years as a broken old man with a grandiose view of his own history. There is no real 'present' to this film, it just flows, seemingly, willy-nilly from one decade to another and then back again. This style of nonlinear storytelling when done right, like in Christopher Nolan's Momento, can be very powerful. But this film confuses time and events so much you can't quite keep things straight.

Dicaprio is the driving force behind this film and I thought he did a damn good job for what he was given. But unfortunately many of the supporting characters in this film were stagnant. Helen Gandy, Hoover's secretary (who is played by Naomi Watts) is a very important character in the story, but every time she walks off screen, I forget she exists. Her character serves only to say, "yes Mr. Hoover, right away Mr. Hoover."

This would be believable for the time in which the film takes place except for the fact that the first few scenes of the film, they establish that Mr. Hoover trusts Gandy with his life secrets. Gandy and Hoover work side by side for well over 30 years, yet, until his dying day Gandy treats Hoover like she'd known him only a week. There was no emotion exchanged and the chemistry between Watts and DiCaprio was awkward. I wish I could say it was intentional, but Watt's just seemed confused by her character and DiCaprio didn't know what to do with her.

Of course, the relationship that the film really focuses on is the one between Hoover and Clyde Tolson, played by Armie Hammer. I thought Hammer, like Dicaprio, did an excellent job with what he was given. I am not going to get into the semantics about wether or not Hoover was gay, but I thought in the context of this film the Hoover-Tolson relationship worked very well. Dicaprio and Hammer committed to their roles and I believed it.

Every other character in the film is forgettable. There is an attempt to mix in some big names of Hoover's era like Roosevelt, Robert Kennedy and Richard Nixon, but most passed by with out much fan fair. The filmmakers tried to incorporate too many characters and didn't develop any of them. Scene after scene new characters would appear then disappear, it is truly maddening and it contributes heavily to the confusing nature of this film.

Artistically this film was quite good. It is your classic Eastwood. Its dark with heavy use of cold colors and his signature moodiness. The film had a noir feel to it which made the film much more interesting. Over all the production design was accurate and beautiful, and the cinematography was acceptable. Eastwood is quite comfortable with his old man sensibility and it shows through out the film from the set dressing, to the costumes to the locations.

The make-up is also worth mentioning because the three major characters Hoover, Gandy and Tolson age about 40 years throughout the film. To be honest, I wasn't totally sold on it. Perhaps it is because Leo, Watts and Hammer are all very recognizable people, but the make-up looked like clay and none of the actors could move their lips properly. It was a little off putting and old Hoover looked like a bloated dead body missing its mouth.

But despite the many problems I saw in this film, I still really enjoyed it. Sitting through this film was certainly an investment, but it got me interested in a man I never knew anything about. I probably would not sit through this film again, but if you are interested in history and American politics then I encourage you to check it out.


(images are off of Google)

Friday, December 9, 2011


To be perfectly honest, I had every intention of skipping this film. My first impressions from the trailer and some pre-release reviews were not necessarily positive. Even though it was on my list of films to see this season, I assumed I would just catch it when it came out on DVD. I certainly never thought I would write a review for it. Yet, here I am. It has taken me a few days to try gather my thoughts about this film, but after thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that overall, I really enjoyed it. If you are at all interested in Hollywood or filmmaking you will love the story line. But this film does lack that cinematic depth that would have taken it to the next level.

I feel like this film had the potential to be a great masterpiece, it had all the right elements. Marilyn Monroe is one of the most celebrated women of all time, her life and career were full of intrigue and drama. Her world was glamourous but mysterious. The film had amazing actors, like Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Williams and Eddie Redmayne. The film had beautiful locations, amazing costumes and lovely music.  But in the end, this film wasn't able to pull it all together.

When I did my pre-season/trailer reviews, I think I said that this film would either be really good or really bad, and the truth is, it actually fell somewhere in between. The very best elements were breathtaking, and the not so great elements made me roll my eyes.

One of the best elements of this film was Michelle Willaiams as Marilyn. I was very skeptical about Williams's in this role. I was certain that she would make it too campy and suck all of the realness of the character. But, like a lot of things in this film, I was pleasantly surprised. Williams was outstanding. Her performance might not be Oscar worthy, but I think she honored Monroe's memory with her honest, multi-layered portrayal.

But as good as Williams is, I think she benefitted greatly from her co-star, Eddie Redmayne, who plays Colin, the young ambitious gopher, turned Marilyn's play thing. The chemistry between Williams and Redmayne is spectacular. Redmayne plays the inexperienced love sick young man perfectly and Williams plays the sweet succubus.

Kenneth Branagh is an excellent actor with an unbelievable resume, but I think he fell flat in his role of the two-faced, desperate director. His character, Sir Lawrence Oliver, is blinded by Marilyn's youth and beauty and unable to see the flaws in his film. He is frustrated with Marilyn's drama and inability to work but doesn't see that his failure is of his own creation. I think that the writers missed an opportunity to cast Sir Lawrence in a more severe light. He came across as an inept, childlike man, throwing uninspired tantrums. There was also a very rich chance to explore Sir Lawrences's wife's jealousy of Marilyn, but the filmmakers threw it away.

I think it is also worth mentioning that Emma Watson is in this film. The more I research this film the more I have come to realize that she is a huge draw for audiences. The Harry Potter actress has gotten more buzz for this film that its stars Williams and Redmayne. I ought to tell you that her role is incredibly small and she mostly smiles and stares. She is also wearing an awful wig. So if you are seeing this film purely to see the lovely and talented Watson, you may be slightly disappointed.

Now, I can't do a proper review of this film with out mentioning the artistic aspects. Over all, I was disappointed with the production design and cinematography, but the costumes were brilliant. The production design had the potential to be a rich aged quality, but most of the sets looked like modern England with a few period cars here and there. The cinematography was muddy and there was an unreasonable amount of soft focus which bothered me most of all. The cinematography had the potential to capture the Marilyn's glamour, but she faded into the background in so many scenes.

The best aspect was of course the costumes by Jill Taylor. They were the element that solidified Williams as Marilyn. With out the amazing, historically accurate dresses and outfits, I don't think Williams would have shined as much as she did. None of the costumes were over worked or campy and they flowed beautifully from scene to scene. My favorite outfit is the one she is wearing when she walks out of the Library and says, "Should I be her? Who? Marilyn," then poses for admirers. Check it out, and check out this film. I am very happy I saw it and it might even be worth seeing again.


(the images are off of Google)