Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review

Hello and welcome, Internet!

**Minor spoilers abound**

I just had the pleasure of seeing David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo twice in a row.  Yes, twice in a row.  There aren't a ton of films that I would be willing to do that for.  For some background, I've seen the original Swedish film twice and its first sequel once, but have never read any of the books.  During my first viewing it was immensely difficult for me to separate myself from the original.  I kept trying to compare plot beats and dialogue.  Its not that I wasn't able to enjoy the film; its quite the contrary.  However, I feel that my second viewing opened my eyes further, not only allowing me to pick up on things that I missed the first time around, but it also allowed me to distance myself from what I remembered and appreciate what Fincher brought to the table.  And he brought a lot.

One thought that was on probably everyone's mind was how can Rooney Mara live up to, or even top Noomi Rapace's portrayal of the tormented and intriguing Lisbeth Salander?  Mara not only lived up to any expectations I had, but also blew them out of the water.  Mara plays a different kind of Lisbeth.  Both start out distant and withdrawn, warped by extreme trauma at the hands of their new guardian.  After their respective introductions to journalist Mikael Blomkvist (this time around played wonderfully by Daniel Craig) is where the two portrayals begin to diverge.  Rapace remains distant and withdrawn during the course of their investigation, making love to Blomkvist seemingly to satisfy some carnal urge mixed with a touch of trust.  Mara's Lisbeth's walls begin to slowly crumble during the investigation, falling down almost completely during the extended post-resolution epilogue.  We see a few scenes of her interacting with Blomkvist in intimate and affectionate ways that the original film didn't even go near.

The rest of the cast is absolutely terrific.  Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist with a strong sincerity...I was able to connect with his character and sympathize with him.  Stellan Skarsgard is fantastic, as is Christopher Plummer.  The overall dynamic created by the Vanger family is palpable and real.

Dragon Tattoo, at it heart, is a crime thriller.  Except in this film the crime occurred over forty years ago.  Again, it was highly difficult to separate myself from what I already knew, but Fincher and writer Steven Zaillian craft a story that stands apart from the original.  Key plot points are shifted around in the overall timeline of the film, with certain elements streamlined, while others are expanded upon.  Entirely new scenes are added with some being removed altogether.  Without getting too spoilery, several elements of the case itself were altered, including the main reason Henrik Vanger hired Blomkvist in the first place.  A very large portion of the epilogue has been changed, namely revolving around Lisbeth and Blomkvist's interactions and relationship.  The ending they chose is a smart one; it will allow us to come back to our characters in a convenient manner for the sequel(s).

A David Fincher film has certain qualities that distinguish itself from all others.  Dragon Tattoo is no exception.  The cinematography is immaculate.  The change in lighting and color palette when switching from the 1960s to the present is an inspired choice.  With flashbacks it can be easy to get lost in the timeline (this year's J. Edgar fell victim to that), but with the juxtaposition between the grey/drab modern color set and the bright/vivid 1960s scheme one can easily identify what period they're in.  This film has myriad scenes that left a lasting impression upon me and are highly memorable.  Fincher does not shy away from any of the more uncomfortable scenes presented in the original.  Rather, he embraces them and uses them to effectively motivate and shape Lisbeth, allowing her to regain her power over herself directly and indirectly.  Directly via her confrontation with her new guardian, Bjurman and indirectly by participating and helping to solve Bomkvist's investigation.  We often hear about her troubled past but these few scenes allow us to get but a small glimpse into what Lisbeth has had to endure almost her entire life...and how it has shaped her.

To say that I loved The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo would be an understatement.  It is one of those rare remakes that takes the source material and presents it in such a manner that its predecessor can be all but forgotten in the process.  I consider both films fantastic in their own right.  Fincher's version delves a bit deeper into certain back-stories and offers up connective fiber that the original lacked.  This film is not for the sensitive or squeamish.  Very violent and brutal acts are captured onscreen with a visceral quality.  Some films include graphic sexual content for seeming shock factor (Antichrist is one that jumps to mind immediately), but Dragon Tattoo melds it into the plot and allows us to get a better grasp on one of the main characters.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a must-see and a damn good thriller.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a supremely entertaining and well-executed film.

The Bearded Bullet is off to debate whether or not he should watch The Girl Who Played with Fire again..

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Retro Review: Gone Baby Gone

Hello Internet!

*Warning: Minor spoilers abound!*

Boy do I love a great thriller.  Lucky for me Ben Affleck's Gone Baby Gone is one of the best I have ever seen.  Somehow this fantastic 2007 film slipped past me for all these years.  I absolutely loved Affleck's sophomore effort, 2010s The Town, and decided to check out his debut film.  Needless to say I was absolutely blown away by every aspect of this well-crafted crime thriller.

To call Gone Baby Gone a crime thriller feels like an disservice to the film.  At its surface GBG is about a missing child and the private detectives hired to assist the Boston Police Department in searching for her whereabouts.  GBG goes way further into the rabbit hole than that basic plot.  As a matter of fact that specific plot line seems to have been wrapped up not halfway through the film's sleek two-hour run time (only to have been brought full-circle by the finale).  A great thriller keeps you guessing at every turn and GBG does it effortlessly.  The narrative is not nearly as straightforward as it seems; at the surface the relatively simple missing child plot turns into a kidnapping story mixed with corruption and conspiracy.  Its truly a sigh to behold and had me on the edge of my seat the entire time.  I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen from scene to scene, let alone how the film was going to conclude.  I may not exactly have liked how the narrative played out but that's part of the mystery of these types of films.

Affleck has quite a knack for crafting real characters in a real world.  In both of his films both the pro-and antagonists feel very, very real.  Gone Baby Gone has one of the best ensemble casts I've ever seen on film.  Every single actor embodies their character and makes me forget that Amy Ryan was Michael Scott's love interest on The Office, that Titus Welliver was The Man in Black on Lost, or that Casey Affleck was one half of the always-arguing brothers in the Ocean's films.  I could do that for every actor in the film.  Morgan Freeman, Ed Harris, Michelle Monaghan - all are absolutely fantastic.  The supporting cast is excellent as well.  All of these characters interact in a very real world. 

I felt dirty after watching GBG.  I could feel the grime and dirt of the slums of Boston.  Just as in The Town the setting of the film feels like a character in and of itself.  And not necessarily because of the cinematography (which was great as well) but by how the characters speak and interact.  You get a very real sense that they have grown up around each other and, especially Casey Affleck and Michelle Monaghan's characters, know their way around the city and its seedy underbelly.

As you can tell I am in love with Gone Baby Gone.  I had virtually no expectations going into it, besides the fact that I loved The Town so much.  It truly is a well-crafted thriller with a winding narrative that'll bring you along for the ride and keep you guessing.  I suppose for the eagle-eyed viewers out there you may be able to pick up on certain clues or seemingly throwaway lines that could key you in to the final outcome...but I find it quite doubtful.  I cannot recommend this film enough.

Gone Baby Gone is a truly fantastic film and deserves to be seen.

The Bearded Bullet runs off to practice his Bahstan accent.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows Review

Greetings, Internet!

The Bearded Bullet is here to provide his thoughts on the sequel to 2009's smash-hit, Sherlock Holmes.  To say I was a fan of Guy Ritchie's original is quite an understatement (it was 8th on my top-ten list of 2009).  The original oozed coolness, mixed with intellect and intrigue.  Robert Downey Jr's Sherlock, paired with Jude Law's Watson, made for a great duo, riffing off of each other with witty banter and excellent dialogue.  This year's follow-up is one of those rare sequels that is better than the original.  All of those great qualities exhibited in the original return but are turned up to ten.

I could talk at length about my love for this series so I'll try to keep it brief.  The cast is back and as great as ever.  Downey continues to impress as the quick-witted Holmes.  Jude Law's Watson is sharp as ever, still trying to keep Holmes in line while trying to start a new, married, life.  Introduced into the mix is the shadowy antagonist behind the original film's events, Professor James Moriarty.  Moriarty is played quite effectively by the amazing Jared Harris.  His work as Lane Pryce on Mad Men is one of my favorite aspects of that show.

Harris is an excellent foil to Holmes' detective efforts, driving him to obsession and near-madness in his efforts to expose Moriarty as the villain he is.  Moriarty is one of those rare villains that can challenge our heroes at every step intellectually and physically.  GoS shares themes of the great sequels (Empire Strikes Back and The Dark Knight), in that our protagonists aren't always one step ahead of the villain and aren't always successful in their endeavors.  Holmes takes quite a beating during the course of the film, both physically and intellectually.

The other new additions to the cast include Noomi Rapace and Stephen Fry.  Rapace is the wily gypsy, Madame Simza, whose brother is caught up in Moriarty's scheme.  Fry plays (quite brilliantly) Sherlock's brother, Mycroft.  Mycroft is just as witty and fast-talking as his brother but lacks the suaveness of Sherlock.

I won't get spoilery with regards to the plot itself, as half the fun of these films is trying to figure out what the villains are up to.  What I will say is that the story is quite engaging, but can be confusing at times.  GoS is a film that will benefit from multiple viewings, both in terms of story but also dialogue.  As with the original, the dialogue can be very fast-paced and if you aren't accustomed to Ritchie's other works you might be a bit lost.  The two Sherlock films are definitely his most mainstream work but they still provide enough of a challenge to make them interesting and worthwhile views.

The original's climax involved Sherlock providing exposition that clued us into what was going on and neatly summed up the film's events.  Game of Shadows plays with this formula, bringing us along for the ride as Sherlock unravels Moriarty's plot.  Don't get me wrong, there is still a bit of Holmes dropping knowledge on us, but its done in a more fluid manner.

I'll wrap up my review with the insanely good action scenes.  The original film had two major fights in which Sherlock used his high intellect and observational skills to foresee the outcome of a fight.  The sequel has several of these instances, but they don't always play out as Holmes sees.  Again, the screenwriters play with our expectations while blowing them out of the water.  Ritchie is a master of using slow-motion and speed-ramping to great effect.  One sequence has our protagonists being chased through a German forest (as seen in the trailer) with explosions abound.  The scene is filmed brilliantly and with great clarity.  It is one of my favorite moments from any film this year.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows isn't perfect but its a damn good time.  The film's intelligence can also be its curse; if you get lost during the ride the film will swing back around and pick you up before the finale.  I recommend seeing it twice if possible to assist in picking up things you may have missed the first time.  Fans of the original should most definitely see this stellar sequel.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows is a thrillingly fantastic experience.

Bullet out.

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol Review

What is up Internet?

I'd like to start off by saying that (gasp) I've never seen any of the previous MI films.  I don't really have a reason as to why...they all came out in a time where I wasn't very much into films.  That said, I was still incredibly excited for Ghost Protocol following the still-excellent trailer.  I'm a sucker for a great trailer cut to a great song (Eminem's "Won't Back Down" in this instance).  Adding to the excitement was the fact that MI4 is Brad Bird's live-action directorial debut.  All of his previous efforts were incredible animated films: The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille.  There were quite a few points at which I was truly amazed that this was his first live-action effort.  MI4 is one of my favorite films of the year and is a truly incredible experience.

Front and center are the amazing action set-pieces Bird constructs and masterfully captures on screen.  Without getting too spoilery, several sequences set in Dubai, in and around the Burj Khalifa hotel have me getting excited just thinking about them.  Word is that Tom Cruise insisted on doing all of his stunts, including climbing and and running down the Burj.  Its insane.  Very few films have caused as much of a physical reaction in me as MI4 did.  And it happened several times.  The camerawork and cinematography are absolutely gorgeous.  I'm a fan of long takes and this film has some great ones.  There's an amazing shot of a high-end party in Mumbai that seems to never end.

The performances overall were quite good.  I'm a fan of Tom Cruise and he is excellent in MI4.  Simon Pegg adds some well-timed humor to the mix as one of Cruise's new team members.  Jeremy Renner is a great addition and deserves to have more meaty roles (like he had in this film) in the future.  He's definitely one of Hollywood's most underrated actors (despite back-to-back Oscar nominations for The Town and The Hurt Locker).

One of my chief complaints with the film is the choice of the villain.  The team's foil, Hendricks, is played by the great Michael Nyqvist.  He's absolutely incredible in the original Millennium Trilogy and I'm very glad that he's getting roles in bigger-budget domestic films, but its seems that he's already being typecast as an Eastern-European villain.  In this year's awful Abduction he was the chief antagonist and had very little screen time or good dialogue.  The same goes for this film.  He seems like a lesser Bond villain and deserves a meatier role.  His character's motivations were mildly interesting but there just wasn't much for him to do.  By the end he and Cruise's Ethan Hunt are embroiled in a classic spy-film fistfight to the death.  I'm not saying that Nyqvist isn't menacing, but I can't really buy that he could go toe to toe with Hunt.  The same was present in 2008's Quantum of Solace.  There is absolutely no way that Dominic Greene could last in a brawl against Daniel Craig's Bond.

MIGP is by far not a perfect film.  Despite amazing action and set-pieces, the script asks us, the audience, to make several logic jumps and assumptions.  Where did the crew get their disguises for the Kremlin?  How does Ethan just know every extraction location and hidden weapons cache in Moscow?  Despite being disavowed by the American government, how does the crew get around?  Wouldn't their passports be flagged?  Credit cards deactivated?  Jason Bourne had a helluva time getting around Europe throughout his trilogy.  As seen in the trailer, Hunt's crew was being blamed for a bombing of the Kremlin.  If this is true the CIA would stop at nothing to find these people and either terminate them or lock em up in prison.

Despite all of that I had an absolute blast with Ghost Protocol.  I can forgive all these minor grievances because of the amazing spectacle put before my eyes.  After seeing this film I have a very strong feeling that Brad Bird will have an amazing career in Hollywood with non-animated films.  Or he can go back to animation - as long as he makes great films I don't care either way.

A quick note:  I saw MIGP in both digital and film formats, in Imax.  I highly recommend the digital Imax.  At this time the film hasn't yet released in regular theaters so Imax is the only option.  A good portion of the film was shot in Imax and it shows.  The picture clarity is astounding and breathtaking.  Definitely worth the ticket price.

Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol is an insanely good time at the theater.

The Bearded Bullet is out.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Dark Knight Rises Footage Impressions (Spoilers)

Salutations, Internet!

**Spoilers abound for the first footage of The Dark Knight Rises**

This evening I saw Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (quite a fantastic film) with the first eight or so minutes of The Dark Knight Rises.  To those of you who know me I am quite the Batman fan.  Rather a Christopher Nolan-Batman fan.  I discovered Batman Begins in 2007 (I had been on a forced film hiatus for several years) and immediately fell in love with the world and characters Nolan brought to the screen.  To put it simply, Nolan classed up the joint.  With the reveal in the final shot of Begins of the Joker's card, my anticipation for The Dark Knight began to build.  July 2008 came and I saw The Dark Knight (after having built a Lego version of the tumbler whilst wearing my Joker shirt).  I was speechless after the credits rolled.  To this day The Dark Knight remains my number two favorite film of all time (Saving Private Ryan being number one).  I've been talking, reading, and thinking about The Dark Knight Rises ever since July 2008.  More spy photos and videos have come out of TDKR's production than I've ever seen on any film.  I and two good friends had the fortune to actually be extras in a scene for the film, shot at Pittsburgh's Heinz Field.  It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.  So needless to say I have very high expectations for Nolan's trilogy-ending epic.

Perhaps these high expectations are what left me a bit wanting after seeing the first footage tonight.  The gist is that some CIA dudes are picking up a Russian scientist (the viral campaign plays directly into this) from someone..who has captured three mercenaries that were trying to get to the scientist.  One of the mercs is Bane and bad stuff happens.  The plane is boarded by bad buys and Bane escapes in dazzling fashion with the scientist.

What I liked: Its new footage.  I was amazed at the staging of the scene and the practicality involved; Bane's crew attached cables to the outer hull of the small plane and had their cargo plane pitch upward, causing the wings to tear off the small craft.  The men blow off the tail of the plane and rappel down into it.  At the end Bane blows the cables and the plane falls away from them with him and the scientist attached to the cable.  Everything looked very, very real with little noticeable CG.  The music was great, with the slow tonal build that culminates in Zimmer's classic Dark Knight score..then blends into the distinctive chanting that is featured in both the teaser trailer and the first official trailer.

What I didn't like: Bane's voice.  You can't understand or hear what he's saying.  This has been a huge contention amongst those who have seen this footage.  In Pittsburgh it was incredibly difficult to hear what he was saying to us..but that was coming out of loudspeakers.  He speaks in a very thick eastern European accent and his mask muffles his voice greatly.  I have all the confidence in the world that this will be fix via ADR and perhaps Nolan didn't want us clearly hearing what this badass villain is saying.  I didn't really like the editing of the moves at a very fast pace with a lot of quick cuts.  The dialogue wasn't very good either.  When one of the men mentions a masked mercenary the main guy proclaims "BANE?!" in a goofy way.  There were bits of clunky dialogue in both films, namely the lines "We'll be like turkeys on Thanksgiving!" and "Have a nice trip, see ya next fall," but I hope this is a single case and not a trend.

When seen in context, in front of the whole film, I may end up loving it (I very much probably will)..but I just can't help but feel underwhelmed.  I much preferred the first real trailer that is now attached to Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (also a fantastic film).  I'm 110% confident that I will love The Dark Knight Rises when it comes out next July..I just hope that my expectations aren't too high...

Bullet out.