December 14, 2011 12:53pm EST
Let’s put the cards on the table: I have not read Steig Larsson’s best-selling “Millennium Trilogy” and therefore cannot comment on whether or not Columbia Pictures’ big-budget (American) adaptation of its first novel is a spot-on transfer of the shocking story or if Rooney Mara has lived up to the punk-goth-genius of an anti-heroine he created. This review is about director David Fincher’s craft and the dream cast he has assembled to make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo one of the most brutal and engrossing films of 2011.
Right from lustrous sexy title sequence evoking torturous S&M imagery to the ultra-cool Karen O/Trent Reznor rendition of Led Zepplin’s “Immigrant Song” the Oscar-nominated filmmaker plunges his audience into a very specific experience. This is not to say that the story itself is notably inventive; Dragon Tattoo is more or less a standard serial killer thriller wherein a pair of investigators attempts to solve a decades-old murder that has ties to other gruesome mysteries and a wealthy Swedish family. It’s the sinister atmosphere and tone he cultivates using color music and lighting that makes this tale so unique and highly watchable in spite of the terrible events that occur throughout.
Perhaps most compelling though is its mixed bag of characters from different walks of life including Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) a recently disgraced financial journalist in need of an assignment Martin Vanger (Stellan Skarsgard) a yuppie-ish corporate tycoon charged with running the family business started by his uncle Henrik (Christopher Plummer) and Lisbeth Salander (Mara) the alpha-outsider and titular character of this eerie epic. All are emotionally scarred and the actors charged with portraying them go the darkest corners of their own souls to make them their own. Mara in particular must be praised for her ghoulish and extreme embodiment of Salander who suffers physical and emotional torment unlike anything we’ve seen in cinema this year. This more than her scene-stealing presence in Fincher’s The Social Network is no doubt her star-making turn; expect to see her name on a marquee soon. Though she and Craig at times struggle with the Swedish diction (the latter’s native British accent slips through more times than I can count) they more than make up for it with their physical personifications facial expressions etc. Yet it’s Skarsgard who is most impressive as the younger Vanger (he’s of Swedish descent) and delivers a stunning and chilling performance that will rival Mara’s in defining this film in years to come.
Still this is a Fincher film through and through and I cannot think of source material better suited for the maker of Se7en and Zodiac than this disturbing chronicle. Visually he’s given the opportunity to create damp decaying interiors familiar to fans of his work but contrasts them with beautifully filmed exteriors including some terrifying whiteout conditions that are sure to lower your body temperature. In terms of form he and editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall effectively lay out dual character arcs (that of Salander and Blomkvist) that run parallel but connect in uncanny ways until their eventual convergence resulting in a highly literary feel. Both Baxter and Wall won Oscars for cutting The Social Network and I’m afraid that their penchant for quick transitions between shots has a decreasing effect on the terror; for a film that so closely treads the line between horror-thriller I felt that letting certain shots play out a bit longer could’ve had more dreadful results.
Still in no way I am saying that The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo doesn’t come with its share of nail-biting suspense. Fincher takes tense situations to the next level using unconventional camera angles and Reznor’s unnerving score making many sequences in the movie hard to watch. It’s a tiring but entertaining task; one that is a pleasure and pain to endure but the auteur’s masterful methods are quite magical even when being used to tell a story as menacing as this one.
There’s nothing else playing at the multiplex this season that’s quite like it and should you choose to view it you’ll carry its shocks with you for days after.
Meet Wheeler (Scott ) and Danny (Rudd) -- two salesmen who get to hawk a blue sugary caffeine-filled energy drink called Minotaur. Wheeler is a swingin’ KISS-lovin’ single guy who loves his job playing THE Minotaur while depressed Danny has settled into a nice mid-life crisis loathing just about anything and everyone. These two are just destined to become role models. And so after some very bad circumstances Wheeler and Danny do just that forced into 150 community service hours at a mentorship program. It’s either play big brother to a couple of kids or go to jail. Danny gets assigned to Augie (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) a 16-year-old obsessed with Dungeons and Dragons medieval role play while Wheeler gets a 10-year-old foul-mouthed troublemaker named Ronnie (Bobb'e J Thompson). After one day jail isn’t looking half-bad. For a premise that sounds a bit shaky the cast of Role Models simply sell it. Thanks to the likes of Anchorman and 40 Year-Old Virgin Paul Rudd has found his niche as the go-to guy for deadpan humor. Seann William Scott too seems more mature this time finally shedding that American Pie smug arrogance he’s had to live with for so many years. Virgin’s Jane Lynch is hysterical as the head of the mentorship program Sturdy Wings an ex-addict who takes no crap. Elizabeth Banks (she’s in everything lately) also does a nice job as Danny’s girlfriend who has had it with his behavior. And the kids add to the flavor: Mintz-Plasse aka McLovin’ from Superbad gets to try something different as the geeky Lord of the Rings wannabe while newcomer Thompson plays the smartass kid who curses with a certain panache. Can you believe producer/writer/director Judd Apatow had nothing to do with Role Models? It seems to have many of his signature touches including a pretty hard R rating for a movie with kids in it. But actually Role Models comes from the minds of ex-The State members David Wain and Ken Marino along with Paul Rudd and a few other writers. And for once a long list of writers doesn’t spell trouble for the film; it seems to have only enhanced the comedy. The best part of Role Models has to be the medieval role-playing festival where all known D&D and LOTR enthusiasts come out in droves dressed in full gear ready to wage battle and clash rubber swords for their made-up countries’ supreme dominance. It really happens folks and to have front-row seats to this world is quite a comedic treat.
Based on a true story The Longshots takes its inspiration from 11 year-old Illinois native Jasmine Plummer’s (Keke Palmer) incredible feat--becoming the only female quarterback ever in the Pop Warner football league. The film’s arc really revolves around the relationship between the young gridiron star and her down-on-his-luck Uncle Curtis (Ice Cube) a former high school football great who can’t seem to do anything right except keep his trouble-prone niece in line. With his own dreams on the field now reemerging in the form of Jasmine the two become an unlikely pair as he gets her to tryout for the all boys local team The Minden Browns. The skeptical coach (Matt Craven) becomes a believer watching her natural talent unfold. When he becomes ill the call goes out to Curtis to come in and help guide the team--now led by the unlikeliest of quarterbacks. In his recent family comedies Are We Done Yet? and Are We There Yet? Ice Cube (who started in gritty movies like Boyz N The Hood) seemed to be turning into the new Tim Allen a safe father figure that would be right at home in a Disney movie. Even though The Longshots is definitely PG it offers him an edgier role and a well-defined character to play for a change. Curtis Plummer is a lazy down and out ex-ballplayer whose passion for life and football have disappeared. Cube at the top of his game gets this guy and gives him three dimensions which makes his later scenes pay off all that much more. Perhaps it was having a real-life person to play that allowed Cube to stretch even in a rather formula vehicle such as this. The other key ingredient that makes Longshots work as well as it does is clearly Keke Palmer who made such a memorable debut in Akeelah and the Bee and confirms her promise as the feisty Jasmine. Together this twosome make The Longshots a pleasure to watch. Second feature by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst is no embarrassment as he clearly is serious about his new directing career and brings out all the action and comedy running through Nick Santora and Doug Atchison’s script. Getting a first-rate performance from Ice Cube and a sterling turn from Palmer proves he knows what he’s doing with actors which is no small task. The game scenes are well-staged and the football stuff seems authentic even though this story of a girl quarterback would not seem that believable if it weren’t true. Still no sports movie cliché is left unturned in The Longshots--right from the title to the end credits--but for some reason it doesn’t seem to matter. There are generous doses of heart and soul on display here making The Longshots a winner for the whole family.
Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell) has been hotdoggin’ since the day he was born--when legend has it his momma (Jane Lynch) popped him out of her belly in the back seat of a car. Now grown up and living his dream as a NASCAR driver he takes his swagger out onto the tracks with mixed results. Even though he and lifelong friend Cal (John C. Reilly) usually end up in first and second place respectively his owner deems him a financial liability after he finishes a race in reverse. Consequently a prim proper and gay French F-1 driver (Da Ali G Show’s Sacha Baron Cohen) is recruited as a new investment and Ricky gets in a horrific crash trying to beat him winding up paralyzed…in his mind. After a long road back--which sees Cal steal Ricky’s lady (Leslie Bibb) and limelight and Ricky reunite with his estranged racer dad (Gary Cole)--Ricky learns to leave showmanship homophobia and pyrophobia (fear of fire) in his dust and just drive the damn car! Ah...Will Ferrell in his total element--it’s a beautiful thing and one we haven’t much seen since SNL. Until now. In Talladega Ferrell brings his energy satire and out-of-the-blue pop-culture references to new highs in his best post-SNL performance yet. And if you close your eyes and listen to Ferrell’s faux South-speak you can hear his great George Dubya send-up of yore. Matching Ferrell scene for scene--in quality not quantity--is Reilly. With his role as a tractable doofus with a good heart Reilly has now completed the whole spectrum of roles and can be unequivocally branded an acting chameleon. Oddly he seems best fit a tractable doofus but that’s merely a testament to his abilities. Cohen’s biggest mainstream role to date is also a hit as he applies equal parts Ali G’s Borat and hyperbolic French stereotype for often hilarious results. And Amy Adams stars as Ricky’s neglected assistant; it’s a role so small that she must’ve signed on before Junebug took her to the Oscars. If after his hit ‘70s San Diego news show Ron Burgundy were to have done something to necessitate placement in a witness protection program it’s not inconceivable that he could've relocated to the South found his true calling as a pompous NASCAR driver and taken the fake-sounding name Ricky Bobby. That’s no coincidence: Talladega like Anchorman is written by Ferrell and Adam McKay who also directed. But the two have filled in the blanks from their previous collaboration for a more well-rounded effort. The duo best complement one another when it comes to Ferrell’s sense of humor; it is at its core drier than most care to realize but the co-writers manage to moisten it in such a way for all to thoroughly enjoy. What really separates this film from its predecessor though is the action--the racing scenes will surprise! And to that end McKay uses the NASCAR angle to reel in its massive contingency as well as Ferrell/comedy fans all of whom should go home happy.