Monday, January 23, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I write this review knowing I haven’t read the acclaimed Millennium books by Stieg Larsson, or watched the original movie made in Sweden, but I really don’t think that matters. In all three versions, I imagine we’ve found one of the most original female characters ever written in Lisbeth Salander.

This is a dark film, but that’s what to expect from director David Fincher (Aliens 3, Zodiac, The Social Network) and apparently from the source material. And it’s a murder mystery to boot. Knowing that, I still wanted to see it, and I’m glad – perhaps that’s the wrong word – I saw it. It’s clearly one of the best movies of 2011.

Mikael (played by Daniel Craig) is a journalist whose career is in ruins because of a poorly sourced news magazine article. As he holes up to lick his wounds, he’s offered a well-paying job by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), who asks him to solve a 40-year-old murder mystery. As almost an afterthought, Henrik warns Mikael that his family members are monsters. And, almost without exception, they are: Nazi sympathizers, bigots, fearful of strangers, well-educated rednecks who don’t mind human targets, if necessary.

The mystery gets under your skin very quickly. It’s quite intriguing, but the whole thing is brought together by the goodness and passivity of Mikael and the raw, intense intelligence and viciousness of what will be his research assistant, Lisbeth. She’s a feminist wonder, except that she’s not working for the feminists, with a moral core but no-holds barred on how she achieves her own justice. Lisbeth is a bird so wounded by so many horrible experiences that she’s almost beyond the reach of human touch. Her humanity has been beaten out of her. As portrayed by actress Rooney Mara, she’s utterly fascinating.

This movie was so good I’m tempted to read the books. Definitely a thumb’s up.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

The first Sherlock Holmes movie, the first featuring Robert Downey Jr., was dreadful. I really didn't think I'd see Number 2. However, forced to go into the theatre and see the sequel, I am glad I did. It was much better than the first.

What's different, you may ask? For one thing, Downey and Jude Law's Watson have their timing down. They know what they're doing now, dramatic and then suddenly comedic, and they're good at it. While this may not be your Sherlock cup of tea, the movie is good, both thematically and acting-wise. There's a plot, and it winds throughout the movie as you thoroughly have a good time.

I must admit I was slow on the uptake each time there was a bit that would come around again. I would wonder what was happening, why are they doing that, when suddenly I would remember the first time the actors and director introduced the theme and think, oh! I know what's going on now! I was just always a few minutes late.

So the nice thing is that it's all tied together, the actors are in sync in this buddy bromance flick, and, in general, it's just a lot of fun. I heartily recommend the second Sherlock Holmes.

Thumb's up.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cowboys and Aliens

I saw the trailer for Cowboys and Aliens two summers in a row at Comic Con. From the immense roar of the youngish crowd, I expected that the movie would be a huge hit. It was not. The fanboys were disappointed. But this fangirl was not.

True, based on a trailer with a bunch of special effects (and obviously money) thrown at the screen, the trailer was aimed at a young Comic Con crowd. But, I thought as I watched snippets of Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig sniveling at each other, is there a story? Is there a plot?

While convoluted, there is a plot, and a nicely written story. The combination of Craig with Ford is a winning one, and it's nice to see a western again, although the second half of the film could've been set in modern times. Because, you see, aliens come to town and shake the place up. And they're downright mean.

Craig's character is carrying a secret. How did he get the metal bracelet on his arm? And what happened to his memory? When all is revealed, it's worth the build-up. At least I think it is.

In lesser hands, this could have been a cartoonish go at a sci-fi/western mash-up. But with Craig looking quite the Man-with-No-Name, and Ford able showing his acting chops in his scenes, the play moves along quite well and takes us happily along with it. Favreau is famous for inventing characters who help with the action, and he has done so here, as in Iron Man. However, these other characters are in no danger of taking attention away from our two action heroes.

Thumb's up.