Saturday, December 31, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Redux

I've read the books and liked them.  Saw the original movies, liked them.  Agonized over whether I should see the American version of the movies.  And knew in my heart that I wouldn't be able to resist.  After all, David Fincher directs the first American version.  Daniel Craig plays Michael Blomqvist.  Rooney Mara reportedly does a good job as Lisbeth Salander though it is mind-boggling to imagine anyone coming close to Noomi Rapace's perfomance. 

The story involves the search for what happened to Harriet Vanger, the niece of Henrik Vanger, Swedish industrialist tycoon. Disgraced journalist Michael Blomqvist is hired by Vanger to research her disappearance and presumed death 40 years earlier after so many others have failed.  Blomqvist requests an assistant with computer/internet skills (read hacker) and Lisbeth Salander is hired.  Both are intense, intelligent, independent individuals who are quick to intuit and inevitably become involved.

Niels Arden Oplev's direction of the original movie, 152 minutes long, was very faithful to the book.  Its depictions of violence, sex and sexual violence leave nothing to one's imagination: it is very graphic and detailed indeed.  Fincher's version, six minutes longer at 158 minutes, while remaining true to the spirit of the novel and telling of the story, shows the sex, violence and sexual violence but assumes the American audience can neither tolerate it as much nor as long nor in quite so graphic detail.  The screenplay takes a few shortcuts that don't affect outcome of the story or the setup of the remainder of the series. 

Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails fame) and Atticus Ross were responsible for the original music.  They have worked with Fincher before, most recently on The Social Network.

Positives:  Daniel Craig does a nice job.  Not a fantastic, Oscar worthy job, but he gets out of his clothes often enough to keep me interested.  Not sure if that does much for any of you folks, but it made me happy.  Rooney Mara was effective, her performance was more emotional than Rapace's, if it can be called that, as a character such as Lisbeth Salander is not one to show emotion.  Always nice to see Robin Wright, here as business partner to Daniel Craig's character.  Other actors were all good.

Overall, I give the movie a B+.  If I had to pick one movie, I would recommend the Swedish version.  But if you are a true fan of the novels, see both.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hugo: You Should Go!

I was caught asleep at the controls.  Hugo was completely off my radar screen.  This has been a crazy year for me and I have not been concentrating on movies, I haven’t seen or reviewed as many as I would have liked, I haven’t kept up with what’s been released.  Then a friend told me he’d seen Hugo and it was wonderful.  I did some reading up on it and agreed that it was a must see.  So, off I went with one of my movie buddies.  My friend was right….. Definitely a must see movie and definitely worth seeing in the theatre, in 3D.

Hugo is based on the story written by Brian Selznick titled The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  It is a Caldecott winner (won in 2008).  The Caldecott is an annual award to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.  For more information concerning the book, the inspiration, the author, George Melies and early filmmaking, please feel free to go to and .  Both sites have a wealth of information.  I learned from my niece that Mr. Selznick’s books, both The invention of Hugo Cabret and his new one, Wonder Struck, are awesome.  Trust me, I have it on the best authority.

The story is about an orphan, Hugo Cabret (Asa Butterfield), who winds the clocks in Gare Montparnasse in Paris.    He was brought there by his sot of an uncle after Hugo’s father died.    Uncle Claude then wandered off after training Hugo to do his job of winding the clocks while diligently avoiding the Station Master (nicely played in a restrained manner by Sacha Baron Cohen).  Hugo also must avoid various adults while nipping food and supplies to keep the clockworks going.  This leads to Hugo being caught by the proprietor of the toy shop, played by Ben Kingsley (Papa George, Monsieur Melies), who confiscates Hugo’s precious notebook.  Young Isabelle(Chloe Moretz) is under guardianship of Papa George and Mama Jeanne and strikes up a friendship with Hugo when the toy shop owner confiscates Hugo’s notebook.  She introduces Hugo to Monsieur Labisse (Christopher Lee) the bookseller and Mama Jeanne (Helen McRory).  We slowly learn the story of George and Jeanne and how Hugo and his notebook fit in.  Throughout the film we watch the budding romances of the Station Master and Lisette (Emily Mortimer) and between Madame Emilie (Frances de la Tour) and Monsieur Frick (Richard Griffiths) and their two dogs.  Jude Law does a cameo as Hugo’s father and Johnny Depp pops in and out as a guitar player.  Martin Scorsese pops in too as a photographer.  One of the lovely parts of this film is the creation of a whole world inside this train station.  A world unto itself.  (I credit my on-line friend Hokahey for this succinct observation…. He expresses this sentiment well in his blog Little Worlds.  I suggest you wander over to check his out.   See my link.)

I found the cinematography wonderful.  The sets were well imagined.  The filming was lovingly done.  The story was well-told.  I learned a great deal about early movies.  This is Martin Scorsese’s homage to movies.  I was drawn in and kept there for the most part.  I must admit there were moments here and there that I checked the time.  At the end of movie I loved it.  How does the film rate?  One of the best I’ve seen this year.  But that’s damning with faint praise.  But this was a good movie.  And, Marty knows how to end a movie.  Something that’s been missing from the last few films that I’ve seen.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Martha Marcy May Marlene- My, My, My, My!

I wanted to be clever and try to write this review with words all beginning with the letter M.  I quickly rethought that as it would be so very, very annoying to both you and me.  But not quite so annoying as I found the end of this movie.  The end wouldn't have been quite so annoying except that the previous two movies I had seen in a theater (Drive and The Ides of March) had not been entirely satisfactory in their endings.  Is this a trend?  I'm not liking it.  I tend to be a conventional person.  I like Bach.  I like old fashioned rock and roll.  I like stories to have a beginning and an end.  Is that too much to ask for?  Oh, but I am giving you the impression the movie was not good.  I shouldn't do that.  There were many good points that made this movie worth seeing.  It's just that the end didn't quite satisfy and was, well..... but let's leave this for the end.

Please:  BE AWARE- SPOILER ALERT!  This review discusses the movie at length.  Including the end.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is the story of a young woman (Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of the twins) who finds herself living on a farm somewhere in upstate New York (really, this covers basically all of New York State except New York City and immediate suburbs when you think about it) with quite a few young women, a few young men and an apparently charismatic older man named Patrick (I'm thinking Patriarch here) played here by John Hawkes.  I am a big fan of John Hawkes.  He played Teardrop in Winter's Bone, my favorite film of 2010.  He was also in The Perfect Storm.  I do like John Hawkes- a great actor to watch.  He brings life and character to each role.  I like Elizabeth Olsen as well.  I enjoyed her performance, very "informed, nuanced and (I want to say gritty)" but that word doesn't really feel right here.  I've just written a few cliches but what I really mean is that I loved her performance and she was a joy to watch.  So natural and real.  But I have wandered off a little, well maybe not since the actors are important but back to the story.  Life on the farm is communal though hierarchal - Patrick at the top, then the men, then the women who serve the men.  Martha, when she joins the community, is given a new name by Patrick- Marcy May.    The name Marlene is the name given to any woman answering the telephone at the farm.

Sean Durkin wrote and directed this story.  It is told in segments, present and past.  Marcy May escapes from the commune and calls her sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson who was so delightful as Harriet Hayes on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip).  It has been over two years since Lucy has heard from Martha and Lucy has married Ted (Hugh Dancy).  Lucy and Martha mother's had passed away we learn.  It seems Martha wanders off and is gone for two years before Lucy receives the phone call.  In the interim,  Lucy has, of necessity, "moved on" with her life.  Martha only discloses that she spent these last two years with a boyfriend, not divulging that she has been living with a communal cult.  The story moves between the present and the past.  As Martha jumps into the water from the boat on the lake to swim, we see Marcy May in the water swimming in the secluded swimming hole with her communal cohorts. The film continues to move back and forth in this manner. 

Martha's story begins to unfold in this present/past storytelling manner.  Through this device, we begin to learn her journey and rigor/controlled circumstance of the life on the farm.  Part of Patrick's control is the drugging then rape of the young women, performed as part of ritual.  The day after Marcy May is "indoctrinated", Patrick shares a song he has written about her to the group.  This flatters Marcy May and lulls her into acquiescence.  Eventually, Marcy May assists in the "indoctrination" of another young woman that includes the administration of the drug and reassurance that this will be a wonderful night.  In another scene, young men and women of the commune are having sex in the same room, while Patrick observes, though not in an orgiastic way. 

Once Martha has escaped the commune and is living with Lucy and Ted, she criticizes them for their essentially capitalistic attitudes.  Later, Martha walks into their bedroom and lays down in bed with them while they are having sex, though not as if joining them.  This clearly upsets Lucy as well as Ted. 

The film does a wonderful job telling the story and unfolding the pieces bit by bit.  It keeps one's interest.  As the story goes on, little by little, it gets a bit more disturbing as the members of the commune stray a little from the home front.  We also watch Martha/Marcy May/Marlene try to cope or maybe we don't.  Maybe she's in denial.  We watch her story, we watch as Lucy and Ted become more baffled because Martha doesn't open up.  The decision that Martha needs professional help is not an easy one.  Does this lead to the end?  What is the end? And then as the film ends, it all gets ambiguous.  Did she see this or that?  Who was that on the shore?  Or is that just an hallucination?  Who was in that car?  Or is MMMM just plain crazy? This is my complaint...... it's like the end of Memento:  who was calling on that damn phone?

I liked the movie.  It was interesting, intriguing, the acting was good.  The story was moving along with an interesting device to go back and forth.  Then POW!  It has to end.  Why is it no one can write a satisfactory ending anymore?
Oh, my, my, my, my!