The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Review

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) 

Director: David Fincher. Writers: Steven Zaillian. Cast: Daniel CraigRooney MaraChristopher PlummerStellan SkarsgårdRobin Wright

Your appreciation and enjoyment for  this film mainly comes down to whether you buy into the story or not and whether you are you a fan of the original book (I should probably say books, since this is the first part of a trilogy). Unfortunately my answer to both questions is quite a drastic no: I know I am going to be quite unpopular with this statement, but I’ve never really fallen in love with the book and I in fact just don’t seem to be able to  find the appeal for the actual story itself. I find it quite derivative, exploitive, contrived and a bit heavy-handed to be honest. These exact same problems are translated (in fact even enhanced) into both film adaptations.

It’s probably unfair to draw comparisons with Niels Arden Oplev‘s 2009 version, but also unavoidable. There are of course similarities, but given the fact that David Fincher is directing, the US version is a lot more slicker and cinematic. It is also closer to the original book in many places, but, as always in condensing it all into a movie, it has lost some of its more polemical thrusts from Larsson‘s story and some of the details which made the characters so compelling. All for the sake of the actual crime/mystery plot (which let’s face it, it’s pretty bland for today’s standards and brings very little new to the genre). So in the end, not only the film suffers from the same problems of the book but by shrinking it all it has lost some of its more subtle subtext too.

I am not really saying anything new here: what works in books doesn’t necessarily work movies. For example, the film spends a long time setting up the two main characters who don’t meet until a good hour and 20 minutes into the story. And yet despite all this time Daniel Craig‘s character is just as elusive to the audience as it was at the beginning. That is an ongoing problem with Fincher’s movies. His usual cold approach to film-making and detachment from his characters makes it always very hard for anyone to empathise with anyone on the screen. Craig does bring some unexpected charm and a slight sense of humour to his character (something which was completely absent in the previous version), but it’s really not enough to make you care for his character, let alone for making you want to watch him again for the next couple of sequels (Fincher has recently announced his interest to direct both sequels back to back… But no official announcement will be made until this one get released, of course).

It’s Rooney Mara who really steals the show here (well, let face it, so did Noomi Rapace in the previous version. It’s a great part to play!). This is one of the performances of the year and there will certainly be nominations and awards for her coming left and right over the next few months. She even manages bring a certain realism to an otherwise over-the-top character by convey both fragility and an incredible strength, sometimes with pure simple looks.

However, did we really need that 1 hour and 20 minutes of preparation before these two characters meet? Did we really need to see the infamous rape scene? Yes of course, it’s that rape that gives her the motivation for wanting to solve the crime, but why couldn’t they just convey that with a quick flashback? Why was the audience allowed inside that room watching not only the rape but also her revenge to her rapist? Wouldn’t it have been just as effective and less exploitive if we had been left outside the door, maybe listening to the screams?

The problem is, if you take all that preamble out of the equation, you’re actually left with very little else because let’s face it, as a mystery this is a fairly derivative film.

As I said, these are all queries with the book and the story itself . Given the material Fincher has probably down the best he could. This is a handsome film, with some solid acting (Plummer once again is at his best!)  but in the end you’re left with a sense of “…so what?”.

I couldn’t help feeling that everything that Fincher did in this film, he had already done it before.

The dark tones of Se7en, the seedy  and multilayered atmosphere of Zodiac, the dark ominous  music (if we can call it that) by Trent Reznor from  The Social Network.

Finally it’s probably worth mentioning the impressive “James Bondesque” title sequence (again, Fincher has down beautiful title sequences before) to the notes of the cover version of  “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin which I found absolutely mesmerizing and yet somehow seemed to belong to a different film altogether.

In the end this film adds very little to the previous version, aside from giving us the wonderful Rooney Mara, and certainly adds nothing to what I already know about David Fincher. I just look forward to seeing him handling a script and a story worth of his craft, because I do believe he’s one of the best directors out there right now…

6.5/10

BAFTA AWARDS 2011

BAFTA AWARDS 2011 – RESULTS & COMMENTS

The BAFTA Awards for 2011 have just been given out. Once again it proved how biased these awards are towards British Films. The King’s Speech was the big winner of the evening (no surprise there), grabbing all sorts of awards (7 in all). Here’s the list of all the winners and some quick comments from me.

Best Film – The King’s Speech

Like it was predicted. I wonder if in a few years time we’ll be remembering this film, or Inception and Toy Story 3. Oh well, it was so predictable.

Leading Actor – Colin Firth – The King’s Speech

Well deserved I supposed, but my votes would have gone to James Franco, especially since Colin had won it last year.

Leading Actress – Natalie Portman – Black Swan

She was pretty amazing in that film, so totally deserved. And I am so happy that annoying  HAILEE STEINFELD didn’t get it for True Grit

Director – The Social Network – David Fincher

Well, I am happy it wasn’t Tom Hooper.. but it should have gone to Nolan for INCEPTION

Cinematography – True Grit – Roger Deakins

Totally deserved, though it was a hard choice, Matthew Libatique did a great job for BLACK SWAN and INCPETION (Wally Pfister) looked amazing!

Adapted Screenplay – The Social Network – Aaron Sorkin

Well, there was no other choice for this, was there? He should get an Award every year just for his West Wing!!

Orange Wednesdays Rising Star Award – Tom Hardy

Well deserved. He stole every scene in Inception and he’s going to be huge with the next Batman movie. Let’s face it ANDREW GARFIELD was Ok on the Social Network, but very transparent on Never Let Me Go

Animated Film – Toy Story 3

Well, of course. What else was there?

Original Screenplay – The King’s Speech – David Seidler

This was to be expected, but it’s a shame Inception couldn’t make it.I can see this might be one of those differences at the Oscars.

Supporting Actor – Geoffrey Rush – The King’s Speech

One of the most controversial win, not because Geoffrey Rush didn’t deserve it, but because we all thought it was going to go to Christian Bale. I guess it was probably a way to punish Bale for his recent behavior. Anyway, his Oscar is coming soon…

Outstanding British Film – The King’s Speech

All pretty predictable of course, however since it got the Best film, this award should have really gone to somebody else. Mike Leigh’s Another Year for example was left empty-handed.

Outstanding Debut by a British Writer, Director or Producer – Four Lions – Director/Writer – Chris Morris

This was also pretty predictable, but a lot of people though THE ARBRO  was a better film. My vote would have gone to EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP , a documentary which I really enjoyed, but also I would have loved to see Banksy collecting the award… hehehe.

Supporting Actress – Helena Bonham Carter – The King’s Speech

A bit of a travesty in my view. This performance was a real caricature and pretty one-dimensional. Brits love Helena, so it was all rather predictable. It’s a pity for LESLEY MANVILLE or ANY ADAMS

Special Visual Effects – Inception – Chris Corbould, Paul Franklin, Andrew Lockley, Peter Bebb

Well deserved.

Production Design – Inception – Guy Hendrix Dyas, Larry Dias, Doug Mowat

As Above

Costume Design – Alice in Wonderland – Colleen Atwood

A pretty obvious choice considering the nominees.

Film Not in the English Language – The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – Søren Stærmose, Niels Arden Oplev

I don’t really get this. I never really understood the success of this film, especially in a year when you have films like THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES, and OF GODS AND MEN. However I’m happy BIUTIFUL didn’t get it, since it was the most depressing film of the year!

Make Up & Hair – Alice in Wonderland – Valli O’Reilly, Paul Gooch

Well, the only other choice was HARRY POTTER, but then again, they’re probably waiting for the next one.

Editing – The Social Network – Angus Wall, Kirk Baxter

Following the rule that the best editing is the invisible one, then this is probably a deserved award. However it should have gone to Lee Smith for INCEPTION

Sound – Inception – Richard King, Lora Hirschberg, Gary A Rizzo, Ed Novick

Well deserved, but the sound on 127 HOURS was truly amazing.

Original Music – The King’s Speech – Alexandre Desplat

It was the obvious choice, but INCEPTION‘s music by Hans Zimmer was almost revolutionary and it is still the most memorable.

Short Animation – The Eagleman Stag – Michael Please

Short Film – Until the River Runs Red – Paul Wright, Poss Kondeatis

After writing this list, I wrote to the Evening Standards the following email, an extract of which, once again, got published on the 15th of February. (It’s the second one they publish, the first  one was for Harry Potter)

After 63 years of BAFTA and 82 years of Oscars (and everything else in between), It must be really hard for these poor people to come up with an acceptance speech that is original, succinct, sharp, witty, but most importantly memorable.
Sam Leiht’s hit the nail right on the head: “better embarrassed than forgotten”. Last thing you want to do is to give a lousy speech: and yet there are still those who end up just making long list of boring names nobody knows anything about, or those who read from cue-cards!
For crying out-loud people: you’re actors!! Act! Remember your lines!! And perform for your audience!
I am not necessarily saying you have to do what Roberto Benigni did at the Oscars in ’99 (though that was pretty awesome.. and definitely memorable!), jumping up and down and shouting “I want to make love with all of you”, but I’m sure you could do better than just thanking your mom and your agent or your beautiful husband/wife.
That Bafta show last night was on the whole pretty lame, in my view, and the only real memorable speech was the one from Helena Bonham Carter (mainly because for some reason she was allowed to break the rule and to go on for a lot longer than she was allowed to).
In their defense, it must be said that nowadays there are too many Movie Awards around and, if you are Colin Firth, from the King’s Speech, you know you’re going to have speak more than once: so what do you do in that case? Do you give the same one over and over again, do you give your best earlier on (maybe at the Golden Globes), or do you hold out for the Oscars (because let’s face it, that’s the one that gets remembered).
I really hope Colin Firth opted for the latter as the one from last night was pretty forgettable… in fact I can’t even remember what he said.
It’s all probably part of a bigger discussion on whether we really need all these awards…
Warren Beatty was right on his acceptance speech in ’76 when he said “We want to thank all of you for watching us congratulate ourselves tonight”, because that’s essentially what they all do. C’mon guys, be a bit more creative!

The Silence Of The Lambs – 20th Anniversary

The Silence Of The Lamb (1991)

(20th Anniversary Review)

Dir: Jonathan Demme With: Jodie FosterAnthony HopkinsScott Glenn

Yes, it has been exactly 20 years since Antony Hopkins appeared for the first time as Dr Hannibal Lecter (the film premiered on the January the 30th in New York and on the 1st of February in LA. Interestingly the film was released to the general public on Valentine’s day: not your typical date movie, is it?).

Back in 1991 it defied expectations by winning the top 5 Oscars (a year after its release!!), best film, director, screenplay, leading actor and actress: it is only the third film in movie history  (after it happened one night and One flew over the cuckoos’nest.)… and the first horror/thriller to win for best film. As it happened a year after Goodfellas lost to Dances with Wolves, it was probably a sign that Hollywood was getting ready to accept the dark side of movies.

20 years later, “The Silence of the Lambs” is still a preposterous film, camp as hell,  absurdly over the top in its premise and its execution and yet it holds a place in American Movie History as a modern classic.

With Hannibal (incidentally a character that appears for only 16 minutes in the film) Hopkins became a star (yes, he was good before this, but few really knew him) and created an icon, which lived on throughout (and despite) its three sequels: Hannibal, Red Dragon (in fact this is both a prequel and a remake of Micheal Mann’s Manhunter) and the very forgettable Hannibal Rising (another prequel, Hopkins-free).

All of a sudden, we all started to love the bad guy, or at least we loved hating him: we loved the fact that he ate the despicable Dr Chilton at the end (“I have an old friend for dinner”, is probably one of the classic final lines of any film, up there with “Nobody’s perfect” in Some Like It Hot), we loved those over the top lines, those chilling looks, his refined taste, his Southern English accent… And we just want him to get away, despite the fact that we know he’s bad.

This is certainly nothing new, Hitchcock had done it  30 years earlier in Psycho, but arguably this is the film that started off the whole trend of “serial killers” with whom we identify, the whole puzzle solving murder mysteries and the mixture of dark horror and funny one liners. Surely without Silence of the lambs and its Hannibal the Cannibal character, there would have been no Se7en by David Fincher, possibly no Dexter on TV and probably not even Jigsaw from the Saw franchise…  And God knows how many others.

However what keeps this film anchored to the ground, despite the over-the-top (but obviously very effective) performance by Anthony Hopkins, is a combination of a very controlled and calculated direction by Jonathan Demmi and the presence of Jodie Forster, who somehow counterbalances her camp on-screen partner.

Jonathan Demmi, uses every little (subtle and non-subltle) trick in the book to suck in his viewers and bring them as close possible to the screen. He films the most intimate dialogue sequences between Hannibal and Clarice in extreme close ups, and has them delivering their lines straight to camera, as if they were confessing their inner secrets directly to us. As he does so, he drops the level of any other sound away from the central conversation, he kills the music and as as he slowly zooms in closer and closer into their faces, he very subtly pushes the bars of the prison cells that separate them away from each other until they actually disappear from the final frame, thus bringing the two characters even closer to each other.

It’s very effective and it works wonderfully!

He even uses the powerful tricks of editing in order to deceive us to believe one thing instead of another. That famous sequence towards the end of the film, where we are lead to believe that the police is about to break into Buffalo Bill’s house and save the day, only to reveal that in fact they’re all actually heading to the wrong place. Nowadays these types of devices have been copied over and over again in countless movies and TV CSI-like shows (and even the great 24) but never worked as well as they did here: it is an incredibly manipulative but just as accomplished moment.

Today so many films about “serial killers”, puzzle solving, cat & mouse chases and dark psychological horrors, they all seem to owe a debt to “The Silence of the Lambs”. Watching it today, we find so many clichés of the genre, but in fact, most of them, if not all of them, were absolutely new at the time.

I am not quite sure it deserved to all all those Oscars, but it certainly deserves its cult status today, 20 years later, for  paving the way to a new genre of thrillers, braner and more stylish horrors.

8.5/10

Check out the review of another modern Classic:

Back to the Future (1985)

The Social Network – Review

The Social Nework (7.5/10)

Directed by David Fincher. With Jesse Eisenberg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake, Rooney Mara, Joseph Mazzello

I know, this film has now been out for weeks, but I’ve only just managed to catch it on the big screen and since I can tell this is one of those we are going to be talking about in the coming Awards season, I thought I should probably spend a couple of words discussing it.

Easily the starting point has got to be the script. Aaron Sorkin is the real star of the film. The fast, sharp and witty dialogue, the same we all fell in love with on the West Wing is Sorkin’s trade mark and it is apparent on pretty much every single line in “The Social Network”. At the end of the day it’s what really makes it work.

David Fincher’s direction this time seems invisible to the untrained eye, but obviously to be able to make a bunch of nerds sitting by a computer interesting and compelling, as this film is,  must have been not an easy task.

The entire cast is faultless, lead by Jesse Eisenberg who is absolutely perfect in his portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg. Even Justin Timberlake, however hateful and annoyingly disgusting he is in the movie,  is actually very good as Sean Parker, the inventor of napster, as we learn from his first scene in the film.

From the start the film  quite clearly does not want to take sides and decides to avoid lawsuites by drawing its dialogue from the various transcripts from the various procedural meetings with the various sides’ lawyers.

And if there is a problem with the film, this is maybe it: there’s a certain detachment throughout, from the way it’s filmed (Ficher’s direction is often quite cold and calculated), to the way it’s written (typical of Sorkin), and edited (the constant cutting backwards and forwards from the procedural meetings to the real story), basically from the way it’s conceived right from the start. All of which prevents you from having a real emotional attachment to any of the character on the screen.

You never really care about any of them in particular. Each of the actors does absolutely their best with what they are given, but clearly that’s not enough.

We almost want to feel bad for Andrew Garfield’s character (who plays Zuckeberg’s best friend Eduardo Saverin), but we are never given the chance to get too close to him, to fully care and really share his feeling of betrayal. In fact his character disappears half way through the film (he goes to New York) and when he comes back towards the end, are we supposed to reconnect straight away and feel for him? I don’t think so.

The film is so careful about not taking sides and sticking to the truth that it ends up being too clinical, cold and makes you feel really detached from it. I am sure that was probably the way all those people are in real life, but if you have to watch them for 2 hours you really need someone to care about.a

Towards the end (SPOILER ALERT… but not really…), we’re almost given a glimpse of a moment where we are meant to feel sorry for Mark Zuckerberg (a person so incapable to connect with real people, just as he was so good in making them connect with the internet), but it’s too little, too late. It’s really not enough and actually, that’s not how the film has been up until that point.

I really wanted to love this movie, I wanted it to become my favorite film of the year and instead, I just thought it was all right.. but not more than that. And I am almost angry with myself for saying that!

With all the will in the world, I don’t think I can give it more than 7.5/10. Still a very good film, but not the masterpiece I was hoping.

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