Movie Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

December 27, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)
158 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by David Fincher
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer

Grade:  A

Was there really any doubt that David Fincher wouldn’t do right by the best-selling novel? From his credentials, Fincher has been pounding out some of the best thrillers in the past fifteen years (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac), and even some of the best dramas in recent memory (Benjamin Button, The Social Network). Of late, he’s found a harmony between critics and the mainstream film, collecting several Oscar nominations from movies that tally impressive worldwide grosses. So like I said again, was there any doubt Fincher wouldn’t do it again?

Fincher returns to form where most people know him best, the edge-of-your-seat thriller that is equally violent as it is engaging. Adapted by screenwriter Steve Zaillian, the 158 minute run-time of the film doesn’t drag, which makes the experience of watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo that much more draining. For those who have read the books or have seen the Swedish movie version, the Fincher version isn’t a carbon copy or a remake. It’s simply an adaptation and the team of Fincher and Zaillian has produced something very special.

The story is complex with a number of characters that will spin your head silly if you don’t pay attention. Mikael has lost a libel case in court and has his entire career in a downfall, so to retreat from his situation he begins an investigation for Henrik Vanger. Henrik wants Mikael to use his reporting expertise to discover new information about the disappearance of his great-niece 40 years ago. Mikael accepts the job without acknowledging Henrik’s warning about his family.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander shows off some very impressive hacking skills as she teams up with Mikael to research the Vanger family. Played by Rooney Mara, she gives a brilliant performance as the troubled and disturbed goth chick with a mysterious past, but still embodies a character you want to root for. If her slender stature or soft-spoken routine gives off an idea that she’s weak, then you’re dead wrong. Mara embodies the violence and rage that is always screaming to break out. Trust me, you don’t want to be around when the beast wakes up.

There is a very dark tone throughout the length of the film, shown by the murkiness of the island and plenty of low-lit rooms. Fincher always had an eye for setting the mood throughout a film, such as the constant pouring in Se7en. Even though there is quite a significant political back-story involving the health of the independent magazine company and unleashing the truth about the corrupt Hans-Erik Wennerstrom, the real power of the film lies in the murder mystery and how Mikael and Lisbeth work together to solve the mystery.

While Mikael is the main character, there is no question that Mara’s Lisbeth steals the show. Aside from her physical transformation, she does a great job showing very small doses of true emotion, but hiding it enough to make you doubt what she really cares about and why. This is certainly the coming out party for Rooney Mara who is a fantastic, young actress.

Fincher has received much success recently from mainstream dramas but the fate of the rest of the trilogy lies in the reception of this film. He certainly didn’t shy away from stretching the boundaries of its R-rating by including a very graphic rape scene. I personally would love for Fincher to continue the series because from just this film, he has started one hell of a movie trilogy.


Movie Review: Young Adult

December 21, 2011

Young Adult (2011)
94 minutes
Rated – R
Directed by Jason Reitman
Starring: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson

Grade: B-

Director Jason Reitman and screenwriter Diablo Cody team up again for the first time since their Academy Award-winning collaboration, Juno. This time, there is no cute cover of a love song at the end of the film to leave you smiling and humming on your way out of the theater. The feeling you’re left with after Young Adult is quite the opposite.

At the heart (or lack thereof) of the film is Mavis Gary (Theron), a 37-year-old ghost-writer of a once-popular youth adult fiction series who returns to her small hometown of Mercury, Minnesota to win over her high school boyfriend, Buddy Slade (Wilson) who is happily married with a baby. Mavis needs no convincing that what she wants is by the hand of fate and quickly mistakens Buddy’s kindness as a sign that he needs to be rescued from his loveless prison of a marriage.

The movie could’ve seriously been deficient in character depth if it wasn’t for Matt Freehauf (Oswalt), a “loser” who went to school with Mavis. She only remembers him when she sees his walking cane and realized he was the “hate-crime guy.” Matt offers the much-needed sympathy and common sense throughout a film with such a stubborn and damaged protagonist. The interactions between Theron and Oswalt are the highlights of the movie.

At the surface, Young Adult displays a walking train-wreck of a woman with a drinking problem who realizes that her current situation is far from what she dreamed about when growing up. Mavis’ immaturity is compared to the genre of fiction novels she writes, as it appeals to teenagers. But what we really have here is a woman who bathes in her own misery because she doesn’t know how to achieve true happiness. She understands happiness through other people’s reactions, such as getting married or having a baby, but she doesn’t completely get it since she’s never experienced it. So she walks down memory lane desperately searching for the answer to cure her depression, only to discover the answer isn’t in the past.

Young Adult was rarely funny and I was disappointed by this, unless the climactic embarrassing scene was meant to induce more than a nervous chuckle. However, what the film lacked as an enjoyable dramedy it made up by being a bold character-study. Still in the end, Cody has written better women leads before and even though the film’s greatest strength lies within Mavis’ weakness, it doesn’t capture the wit and sharpness of Juno.


The Golden Globes Nominations

December 20, 2011

Below are the movie categories for the Golden Globes and what it means to the race leading up to The Academy Awards. Even though I don’t like to acknowledge the Golden Globes too much, it does make a slight impact on which movies and actors are on the right path for an Oscar nomination.

 

BEST PICTURE, DRAMA
“War Horse”
“The Ides of March”
“The Help”
“Moneyball”
“Hugo”
“The Descendants”

Starting with the big award of the night, all of these films except for The Ides of March are expected to receive Best Picture nods. The nod to The Ides of March helps as it was also one of the top ten movies selected by the National Board of Review. But it’s still a long-shot to be nominated for Best Picture.

 

BEST PICTURE, COMEDY
“The Artist”
“50/50”
“Bridesmaids”
“My Week With Marilyn”
“Midnight in Paris”

I don’t think I’ll ever understand why this is a category, aside from allowing films like The Hangover to have its glory. Also, because The Artist is in this category it takes away from any drama that will be The Artist vs. The Descendants, as this is what the race is shaping up to be. We must remember that these are the Golden Globes and anything can happen. What I’m saying is I wouldn’t be surprised if Bridesmaids takes this category over The Artist and even Midnight in Paris. Hey, it can happen.

 

BEST ACTOR, DRAMA
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “J.Edgar”
Ryan Gosling, “The Ides of March”
Michael Fassbender, “Shame”

The Globes really liked The Ides of March, as they rewarded Ryan Gosling with a Best Leading Actor nod. Clooney, Pitt, and DiCaprio are practically locks for Best Actor nominations for the Oscars, so expect one of them to walk away with this award. Fassbender is still in the running to receive an Oscar nomination, but still behind the race.

 

BEST ACTRESS, DRAMA
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Tilda Swinton, “We Need to Talk About Kevin”
Rooney Mara, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”
Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”

There’s no surprise that Davis and Streep were among the nominees here. Swinton has definitely been receiving praise for her performance in We Need to Talk About Kevin and Mara is picking up some momentum with this nod even though the film has been shut out by most critics circles.

 

BEST ACTOR, COMEDY
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Brendan Gleeson, “The Guard”
Owen Wilson, “Midnight in Paris”
Joseph Gordon-Levitt, “50/50”
Ryan Gosling, “Crazy, Stupid, Love”

The Comedy movie categories are so underwhelming that it’s insulting that The Artist has been places in here. But this is how the Globes are able to invite dozens of stars to litter their ceremony for their ratings-hungry show.

 

BEST ACTRESS, COMEDY
Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”
Jodie Foster, “Carnage”
Kristen Wiig, “Bridesmaids”
Charlize Theron, “Young Adult”
Kate Winslet, “Carnage”

The most interesting aspect about this year’s comedy category of movies is Bridesmaids. Clearly one of the best comedies of the year, does it have what it takes to seriously be considered an Oscar contender? With actresses that are breaking out into stardom like Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, can they receive acting nominations?

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR
Albert Brooks, “Drive”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginners”
Kenneth Branagh, “My Week With Marilyn”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Viggo Mortensen, “A Dangerous Method”

This is where the Globes make a mark on the Oscar race. With ten nominees for Lead Actor and Actress, there are only five supporting actors and actresses nominated. Here, it seems that Brooks has regained some steam after being snubbed by the SAG. But the race looks to be favoring Plummer in a big way, with Branagh not too far behind.

 

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS
Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”
Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Shailene Woodley, “The Descendants”

The Help is a big contender with Spencer and Chastain leading the way in this category. Bejo and Woodley also remain very strong in this race and you can’t forget about Melissa McCarthy, who was snubbed by the Globes.

 

BEST DIRECTOR
Martin Scorsese, “Hugo”
George Clooney, “The Ides of March”
Michel Hazanavicius, “The Artist”
Alexander Payne, “The Descendants”
Woody Allen, “Midnight in Paris”

Once again, the Globes really went for The Ides of March. Giving Clooney a Best Directing nod was a surprise as it is unlikely he’ll get that kind of response from The Academy. I’m also very surprised that Spielberg wasn’t nominated for War Horse here. Does it really hurt his chances? Not really. The DGA is the best sign to where everyone stands in the race, not the Globes.

What does all of this mean? Not much. Remember, the Golden Globes are not voted in by The Academy. It’s a group of approximately 100 members that make up the Hollywood Foreign Press Association that vote the winners. When you compare the prestige of The Golden Globes to The Academy Awards, it’s a landslide. But I will admit that the Globes do make up for some enjoyable programming.


Movie Review: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

December 19, 2011

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011)
133 minutes
Rated PG-13
Directed by Brad Bird
Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton

Grade: A-

By this time, you’ve probably seen a Mission: Impossible film, or maybe you’ve seen them all. There really isn’t anything new to the way the film plays out or the espionage style with gizmos and gadgets that could be sold to Batman. But what intrigued me the most about the fourth installment of the franchise was the director, Brad Bird. This is his live-action debut after directing some of my favorite animated features: Ratatouille, The Incredibles, and The Iron Giant.

Bird did an exceptional job with Ghost Protocol by putting all of his weight on the acceleration pedal and never letting up. I must note that I viewed the film in IMAX and even though there was only a reported 27 minutes filmed specifically for IMAX, it made the whole experience better. There’s nothing like the rumbling of an aftershock vibrating your seat.

Anyway, Tom Cruise is back as IMF agent Ethan Hunt. After being broken out of a Moscow prison by Agent Carter and Dunn, he has to enter the Kremlin to extract files to reveal the identity of Cobalt, a man threatening to nuke America. When the plan fails, the Kremlin is destroyed and the idea of terrorism is high with Agent Hunt helmed as the leader. The IMF is disavowed but they still continue with their mission to track down Cobalt and disrupt his plan to launch a nuclear attack.

There is one scene that really took my breath away while watching Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, and seeing it in IMAX only made me inch closer to the edge of my seat. The scene involves Tom Cruise dangling from the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, with just a pair of electrified adhesive gloves to climb several stories. The camera shot of how high up the building really goes gave me a serious case of vertigo, as I’m already scared of heights. I was simply flabbergasted throughout the whole suspenseful scene. Please Mr. Bird, how did you shoot this and did Cruise really do this stunt himself?

Aside from that jaw-dropping scene, the film had plenty of other high-pace, energetic moments from the chase scene through a sandstorm and the multiple-level fight scene inside a large car garage that changes platforms constantly. At the center of the entire movie is a very strong performance by Tom Cruise, displaying his intensity and professionalism from beginning to end. Simon Pegg provided much comedic relief while Jeremy Renner actually had a few humorous lines as well. And Paula Patton combined sexiness with a kick-ass attitude to compliment the team.

Overall, the pacing of the film is relentless and that’s a good thing. With a running time of 133 minutes, it never drags. And just like the Bond franchise, there seems to be plenty more missions for Ethan Hunt to take, though I would be content if this were the last because I love it when franchises save the best for last.


Oscar Watch: SAG nominations announced

December 14, 2011

The 18th annual Screen Actors Guild awards will take place on TNT and TBS on January 29, 2012 at 8 p.m. Here are the nominees:

Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture

“The Artist”
“Bridesmaids”
“The Descendants”
“Midnight in Paris”
“The Help”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Demian Bichir, “A Better Life”
George Clooney, “The Descendants”
Leonardo DiCaprio, “J. Edgar”
Jean Dujardin, “The Artist”
Brad Pitt, “Moneyball”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role

Glenn Close, “Albert Nobbs”
Viola Davis, “The Help”
Meryl Streep, “The Iron Lady”
Tilda Swinton,“We Need To Talk About Kevin”
Michelle Williams, “My Week With Marilyn”

Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Kenneth Branagh, “My Week With Marilyn”
Armie Hammer, “J. Edgar”
Jonah Hill, “Moneyball”
Nick Nolte, “Warrior”
Christopher Plummer, “Beginnners”

Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role

Berenice Bejo, “The Artist”
Jessica Chastain, “The Help”
Melissa McCarthy, “Bridesmaids”
Janet McTeer, “Albert Nobbs”
Octavia Spencer, “The Help”

First and foremost, my initial reactions for the SAG nominations were sort of plain. The nominations for The Artist, The Descendants, and The Help were obvious, but I was quite surprised by Midnight in Paris and Bridesmaids to receive noms. I was expecting to see Drive, The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo, or even Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in for the running instead of Bridesmaids (not that I mind because I loved Bridesmaids).

For those who are just shrugging their shoulders and thinking, “Who cares? What does all this matter in the long run?” Let’s take a look at the past few years and see how they match up with the Academy’s Best Picture:

Last year, 2011, The King’s Speech won the Outstanding Performance by a Cast and ended up winning Best Picture. Also, Black Swan, The Fighter, The Kids Are All Right, and The Social Network were nominated for the SAG and all were nominated for Best Picture.

In 2010, Inglourious Basterds won the Outstanding Performance by a Cast and was also nominated for Best Picture. The other SAG nominees were An Education, The Hurt Locker, Nine, and Precious. The Hurt Locker won Best Picture and Nine was not a Best Picture nominee.

In 2009, Slumdog Millionaire won the Outstanding Performance by a Cast and also won Best Picture at the Oscars. Other SAG nominees included The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Doubt, Frost/Nixon, and Milk. Only Doubt wasn’t also a Best Picture nominee.

In 2008, No Country for Old Men won the Outstanding Performance by a Cast and also won Best Picture at the Oscars. Other SAG nominees were 3:10 to Yuma, American Gangster, Hairspray, and Into the Wild. NONE were nominated for Best Picture.

So what can we conclude? Out of the past 4 years, the movie that won SAG’s Outstanding Performance by a Cast won Best Picture THREE times. Why is that? Because the SAG makes up the largest guild of the entire Academy who votes for the Oscars. Winning the SAG award is being recognized by your peers and puts you at an advantage going into the Oscars. You most likely already have the majority of the votes by the largest guild in The Academy, it’s like you can practically see the finish line.

Anyway, all of this really enforces is that this year’s Best Picture seems to be coming down to a race between two movies: The Artist vs. The Descendants. It’s still early, but that’s really what it’s shaping up to be (unless War Horse can make a ridiculous push as the dark horse, no pun intended).


Review: Bag of Bones on A&E (2011)

December 13, 2011

Grade: C+

On Sunday, December 11, A&E premiered their two-part television event of Stephen King’s “Bag of Bones” starring Pierce Brosnan. While it was a success in terms of being the most-watched program on cable with 3.4 million viewers (beating out the finale of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire), they killed all of the anticipation with a dull, 2-hour first part. Quite frankly, I wasn’t even sure what the story was as the clock struck 11 p.m. on Sunday night.

The movie started quickly right out of the gates, with the death of author Mike Noonan’s wife. Mike mourns his beloved wife and decides to spend some time away in a small town in western Maine where they shared a summer house. Here, Mike’s wife spent a lot of time and was friendly with most of the townspeople, which creates a suspicion of an affair that she might’ve had. He becomes acquainted with Mattie and her daughter, Kyra and joins a custody battle between her and her father-in-law, Max Devore.

Throughout, Mike is receiving signals from his wife and having nightmares of a blues singer, Sarah Tidwell. There is a significant amount of drowning in his dreams, but he’s unable to figure anything out. This is where the film tries to stir up some scares, but what ends up happening is a number of predictable tickles that are more laughable than frightening.

The first part of “Bag of Bones” was a lot of filler and not enough essence, but the fact that I devoted two hours of my life watching half of this movie guaranteed that I would return to watch the second half, which premiered on Monday, December 12 at 9 p.m.

In the second part, the pace certainly picked up from the lackluster product of the first two hours. Mike is told about the Dark Score Lake and is slowly making progress in determining what his wife was up to when she spent time here. After the death of Max Devore, the chaos surrounding Mattie seems to have settled and there is an attraction between the two. But when the truth about the Dark Score Lake, Sarag Tidwell, and how even Mike is connected, that’s when the film finally picks up.

The conclusion was a bit too neat for a horror film, but I must say the second part salvaged some of the disappointing first part. Pierce Brosnan was solid throughout the movie, but the main flaw was the screenplay, which contained plenty of laughable dialogue and not enough heart to pull this film through the thin adaptation of a 500+ page novel. I guess I can’t blame A&E entirely since my expectations were low, but I could’ve done without watching this television event.


Movie Review: Arthur Christmas (2011)

December 7, 2011

Arthur Christmas (2011)
97 minutes
Rated – PG
Directed by Sarah Smith

Grade: B+

As the holiday season is in full swing, Arthur Christmas pumps out the laughs, joy, and heart like in every family-friendly Christmas classic. This film will most certainly be a delight for both children and adults and I think it has the lasting power to potentially last as a holiday favorite for years to come.

Arthur is a kind but goofy, young man who works in the mail room at the North Pole. He’s the younger son of the current Santa. All expectations are that Santa will retire after this Christmas to make way for the technology-savvy, military-minded older brother of Arthur, Steve, but his anticipation is crushed when Santa declares he’s keeping his title for at least one more year. This creates a division inside the family.

The night takes a turn when their 100% delivery status to every child in the world winds up being untrue: there is one gift left behind and that means one child won’t have a gift on Christmas day. Santa and Steve are content with having an almost-perfect Christmas Eve, but Arthur believes this crisis must be resolved before Christmas morning. He, Grand-Santa, and Bryony (a gift-wrapping elf) embark on their journey to deliver the bicycle to the little girl, Gwen.

Let me just point out that the opening sequence of the hi-tech elves diving from the S-1 to drop the gifts underneath everyone’s Christmas tree was greatly entertaining and exhilarating. While the use of 3-D isn’t necessary to enjoy Arthur Christmas, it does enhance the many action scenes quite a bit.

Practically every Christmas film is about restoring the faith of the holiday and of Santa, and Arthur Christmas is no exception. But there is such a refreshing factor within this animated feature that I couldn’t help myself embracing the child inside of me. The film was full of cleverness, comedy, and holiday spirit, which makes it the perfect family Christmas movie of the year.


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