Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Alternate Title:  A Moose once Bit my Sister

One sentence synopsis:  A convicted libelist and an anti-social hacker try to solve a murder mystery in rural Sweden.

Things Havoc liked:   Normally in these reviews, I start by going on at length about the actors I love in the films. And I could easily do that here, as this movie has, among others, Daniel Craig, Stellan Skarsgaard, and Christopher Plumber, all three of whom are awesome, badass actors whom I love to watch, and do a wonderful job here. But I'm not going to extol these men as much as I normally would, because, before anything else, we need to talk about Rooney Mara.

Who is Rooney Mara? She is the actress who plays Lisbeth Salander, the aforementioned Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and she is, without question or doubt, the best thing in an amazing movie. It is rare, in this day and age, to see a character in a film that actually feels unique, different from everything else that one has seen before. Most characters, even excellent ones, are related to others that have existed before them. This is not a bad thing, it simply is. I however have never met anyone in any movie quite like Lisbeth Salander before, and most of that, I think, is due to Rooney Mara's acting.

Lisbeth is basically a walking case of Asperger's syndrome, but not in any way you've seen before. Anti-social she is, no doubt, to the point of misanthropy, strange of look and manner to the point of repulsion, yet also possessed of what appears to be an almost eidetic memory (though this is never elaborated upon), as well as an almost monomaniacal capacity for concentration and focus. Though there is clearly something 'wrong' with her, never is she portrayed as some kind of Rain Man savant genius, merely as a woman whose disinterest in everything besides her current task is total and absolute. Yet lest she appear to be a simple bitter librarian type, she is given full opportunity to be anything but. Sexual and dispassionate, violent and yet completely controlled, she is an incredibly interesting person to spend several hours watching. It helps of course that she gets several scenes wherein she gets to be completely, balls-to-the-wall, awesome in inflicting terrible retribution against characters who manifestly deserve it. Really, the only person she ever forms any sort of bond with in the entire film, is Daniel Craig's character, a (much more normal) journalist currently in disgrace who hires her to help him solve a set of serial murders and a disappearance that dates back forty years. He seems to get something out of her by simply taking her as he finds her, a refreshing approach in a movie landscape where most films would have him try to "fix" her somehow.

I could go on about this character at length, but I must speak to the rest of the film, which is violent, brutal, and yet tremendously watchable despite (or because of) it. Craig and Mara's characters are hired to research the disappearance of the niece of an industrial magnate, whose family owns a private island in the north of Sweden, upon which all of them live in separate mansions. The landscapes are cold and stark, suiting the mood of the film, and the settings are almost sterile in a very (forgive me) Ikea way, punctuated periodically by interruptions of terrible brutality. Rape, incest, murder, torture, psychopathy, and other such fun topics enter into the film, yet it never turns into a slasher movie or a gorefest, because the overall level of production and acting is so high, and the bloody stuff is intercut with sequences of mystery and research, covering great amounts of detail and conveying vast bodies of information to the audience, all done without ham-fistedness or "designated exposition".

Additionally, though this movie is not short (more than two and a half hours), the pacing in it is lightning fast. It moves with speed and poise from scene to scene, never giving us a chance to get bored or to guess what might be coming. Enormous amounts of stuff happen in this movie, be it simple plot, or complex character development. Never however does it feel rushed, never does it feel like we're being hustled along without time to determine what's going on, nor do any of the characters feel like they were shortchanged for time and not given room to grow and develop. The movie simply has a lot to say and show, and allocates its time perfectly, giving us time when we need it, and cutting anything we don't. I don't think I've ever seen a movie whose pacing was this rapid and yet this good before, and I may never again.

Things Havoc disliked:  For an American watching a movie about Swedish characters, I admit that the names get tied up in my head. I very quickly lost track in this movie of who was who and who was related to whom in what way. Fortunately it didn't matter too much, but it got confusing at a few points.

Unfortunately, what was less forgivable was the ending, which I shall not spoil here. I grant that, as an adapted film, the movie has to sort of go where the book took it, but the entire last half-hour or so, while still good stuff, felt somewhat tacked on, as the main thrust of the film had already been achieved. Again, the pacing never slows in the ending (if anything it gets faster), so it's not like it was a bore, but I don't know that its inclusion, at least in the form it took, helped the film much.

Final thoughts:  Honestly though, the above concerns are just nitpicks. This is a fantastic movie, memorable and interesting from opening sequence (a trippy CGI wierd-out set to Led Zepplin), to ending credits. Not often do I encounter 150+ minute movies that I would gladly watch another two hours of if only they would give me more of the characters in it. Given, however, that the book has several sequels, I expect that's exactly what I will be receiving in a year or two.

Final Score:  8.5/10

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Alternate Title:  Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Soviet

One sentence synopsis:  A retired british spy seeks to ferret out a mole within the British Intelligence service.

Things Havoc liked:  Ah, Gary Oldman. I love Gary Oldman. He can play insane, he can play straight, he can play supremely powerful, and he can play schlub. Whatever's going on, I always love watching him, especially when he's given interesting things to do. Here, he plays George Smiley, the protagonist of John LeCarre's famous set of cold war spy thrillers, who has been involuntarily retired and then approached by the British government to look into rumors of a mole working at the "Circus", British Intelligence. The Circus here is presented much as I imagine it really was, an office building filled with dumpy, paranoid English upper crusters, played by such awesome actors as John Hurt, Colin Firth, Cirdan Hinds, Mark Strong, and the man with the most British name ever invented, Benedict Cumberbatch (no, I did not make that up). Seriously, any one of the above men I could watch doing largely anything. A cast like that cannot place a foot wrong, and therefore does not.

The movie eschews the usual James Bond tropes (not that I dislike those) in favor of the grind and misdirection of an actual spy case. There are no car chases, no duels with machine guns or swords, not even dead drops in the middle of the night while being chased by agents of the Stasi. One does not catch moles by beating them like Jack Bauer, one catches them with careful deduction and research. This research in the hands of lesser filmmakers might get boring or tired, but it does not here, and there's actually a fair bit of tension when one man is trying to pull off a complex yet subtle scheme to steal documents from a secure facility. The story is told mostly in flashback, but without losing the audience in terms of where and when we are situation, and otherwise proceeds at an even pace towards the end.

Things Havoc disliked:  That said, while we never lose the setting of the film, we do lose more or less everything else.

I am not an idiot. I enjoy complex thrillers with labyrinthine turns. I have no fucking idea what actually happened in large portions of this movie. It's not that the movie obscures these things behind misdirection and twist, don't get me wrong, it's that I cannot follow the line of logic that leads our protagonist to sniff out the mole he is hunting for. Entire subplots of the film, such as everything Mark Strong does, and most of what Tom Hardy does, have, as far as I can tell, nothing whatsoever to do with anything, or if they do have something to do with anything, it's a complete mystery to me. The movie takes great pains to establish a situation where the Mole can be any one of a half-dozen men, all well-placed within the Circus. Yet how it is ultimately determined that the mole is This man rather than That man or Those ones is totally mysterious to me. Perhaps if I went back and viewed the movie several more times, I would be able to sort it all out, but the movie's pace was so slow and methodical that I frankly was not given any reason to desire to do so. But more importantly, there doesn't seem (to me at least) to be any major underlying logic to why one person is a mole and not another. Perhaps that's the point, I don't know, but it left me feeling like the movie had arbitrarily chosen somebody to be the bad guy.

Final thoughts:  The book this movie was made from is much longer than the film, as was the original british miniseries made about it. Perhaps those elements are in play here, as the movie seems like it forgot to actually include the important information of how we got from A to B. Still, I can't call this a bad film by any stretch of the imagination. It's shot well (if dumpily, but that's the point, I suppose), acted very well, and does hold together for a coherent viewing. There's nothing particularly wrong with this movie, certainly, but it didn't really leave me with a good sense of what had just transpired.

Final Score:  7/10

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Alternate Title:  Lights, Camera, ...

One sentence synopsis:  An orphan boy and the goddaughter of the first filmmaker try to solve the riddle of an automaton connected to silent films

Things Havoc liked:    Martin Scorsese is the great film director to ever live. That's not a statement I make lightly, but there you have it. I have literally never seen a film of his that I disliked, even if some were, of course, better than others. And while this movie was not what one might normally expect to see from him, such is his draw in Hollywood, that he contrived to pull an incredible cast together for the purposes of it. Ben Kingsley, Christopher Lee, Jude Law, Ray Winstone, and Sascha Cohen (yes) among others are in this film, and, as one might expect, every one of them turns in an excellent performance, even Jude Law, who almost never does. Particular acclaim should go to Ben Kingsley, who plays Georges Meliers, one of the world's first real filmmakers, now an embittered old man selling magic tricks and toys from a train station shop.

But the two stars of the movie are actually the kids, specifically Asa Butterfield as Hugo, an orphan who lives in the work spaces of the Montparnasse train station in Paris, evading security guards, stealing food, and keeping the clocks in working order (for reasons that actually make a degree of sense), and Chloe Moretz as Isabelle, adopted daughter of Meliers, who befriends him. I've been a big fan of Moretz since both Kick Ass and Let me In, both awesome films in which she stole the show as something you wouldn't normally see a kid doing. As to Butterfield, I've never seen or heard of him before, but if anything, he does even better than Moretz. Both kids hold their own in this movie, and when you're doing that while Ben Kingsley is on the screen, you know you're doing something right. Neither one is the steriotypical cute kid, and both do awesome jobs, including scenes with real dramatic requirements that both of them (particularly the boy) sail through effortlessly. Forget stars in the making, these kids are simply stars.

Nothing about this movie looks or feels like a Scorsese picture, but that's not a bad thing. The shots are gorgeous and full of whimsy and life, without lapsing for an instant into fantasy. Paris is one of the world's great cinematic cities, and whatever the CGI involved, it definitely shows in here. The film is set vaguely in the early 30s or so, but there's no Depression era nonsense involved. It's a gilded age of a gilded city shot lovingly by a spectacular director who knows how to establish every shot.

The story is nothing tremendously special, but that's because it serves as an excuse for the real subject of the film, a loving tribute to the wonder of film, via an examination of one of its earliest advocates. Georges Meliers, for those who've never heard of him, was one of the first people to use film to create stories and art, rather than just a sideshow penny arcade attraction. His films, of which there were nearly five hundred, invented everything from practical effects to narrative storytelling through shot selection. Everyone from DW Griffith to Sergei Eisenstein were inspired by Meliers, who practically invented an entire form of artistic expression. Scorsese is plainly using this movie to pay homage not just to Meliers, but to the medium of film to begin with, and this love for film and its magic infuses the movie so much that there's no need for overt fantasy, for the whimsical sense is there between the shots. This movie was a love story to its own medium, and it shows.

Things Havoc disliked:  The story in this film is pretty forgettable, due to the fact that it's not the main purpose, but merely an excuse for Scorsese to have his love affair with early cinema. This isn't my problem. My problem is the pacing.

The pacing in this film is awful.

You might think this is a bit of a nitpick. It's not. The entire first half of the film is so slow that it verges on absolutely unwatchable. NOTHING fucking happens. So much time is taken in establishing shots that the movie looks like a travelogue. So many subplots and extraneously un-necessary characters are brought into the mix that the film risks collapsing. The same damned chase scene occurs at least five times, and some of the characters, particularly the station agent played by Cohen, are given huge blocks of time to establish themselves. Normally that would be a good thing, but nothing fucking happens there either, and the character is not established further, simply placed on screen to act weirdly over and over again. Half an hour into this film, I was on the verge of walking out, something I didn't even do to The Last Airbender.

Now, granted, the film did get better as it went on, but never did it fully escape the almost unbearably slow pace that it had established. When I finally left the theatre, it felt like the movie had run for about two and a half hours. The real runtime was ninety minutes. Roger Ebert once said that no good movie is too short, and no bad movie short enough. This one feels like it's actually never gonna end. The pace is so slow that great stretches of the movie are simply... well... boring. No matter what effort the actors put in or how sweeping the imagery or lovely the idea of the movie, it fails to entertain. No failing is ever as bad as this one.

Final thoughts:  I really don't know where to go on this one. A movie I threatened to walk out of is definitionally not a good movie. And yet looking back, I don't feel any ill-will towards it. The parts of it that work really work, and there's something inescapably charming about the whole thing. The last couple days have softened my view on the thing somewhat, and while I wouldn't call it the masterpiece that most critics seemed to, I'm coming around to the idea that it wasn't as bad as I originally thought. The pieces are all here for a great movie. It's just a shame that Martin Scorsese forgot to make one.

Final Score:  6/10

The General's Post Summer 2018 Roundup

Let's get back into the swing of things, shall we? The General's Post Summer 2018 Roundup Ant-Man and the Wasp Alternate Ti...