Monday, May 31, 2010

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Fans of this bestselling book will appreciate the work of the film's screenwriters. They have managed to trim the fat, streamline the story and for the most part, keep all the integrity of the book. I say most part, because I was disappointed in the ending. However, it's a minor point, especially for people who haven't read the book and are seeing the story through fresh eyes. Whether you know the story or not going in, it's a terrific mystery with clever plotting and unexpected twists.

The cast is excellent, especially Michael Nyqvist as Mikael Bomkvist and Noomi Rapace. Ms. Rapace, is remarkable as Lisbeth Salander. She captures the spirit and physical aspects of Lisbeth perfectly. She breathes life into Lisbeth with subtle facial expressions as well as broad strokes. She is an exciting actress to watch and I look forward to her recreating the role in the sequel.

The film is in Swedish subtitles but remains easy to follow for an American audience. There are moments of horrific violence but as in the book, they are important to the characters and the story. An American version is in the works with reportedly, Brad Pitt to star and David Finchner to direct. Mr. Finchner is a great choice to direct and Mr. Pitt, I'm sure will make a fine journalist but the success of the film will turn on who is cast as Lisbeth Salander. But don't wait. The original will grab you from the start and not disappoint.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Holy Rollers

Inspired by true events, this is a fascinating story of Hassidic Jews that became Ecstasy smugglers in the late '90's. The film stars Jessie Eisenberg as Sam, a young man at a crossroad in his Jewish life and Justin Bartha as Josef, the Orthodox yet conniving hustler that gets Sam caught up in the drug trade.

With this film, Mr. Eisenberg is starting to shed the awkward teenage roles he has played for so long. He is an engaging young actor and always interesting to watch. Mr. Bartha, known primarily for "The Hangover" as the missing groom, shows his range here as he pulls Sam deeper into into a corrupt world, betraying his values, family and his faith.

The best part of the film is early on watching Sam go about his daily Hassidic life and then his initiation and seduction into the drug trade. From there on, the story takes on familiar themes of the "good guy gone bad" and it's only the unusual setting that keeps the viewer engaged. While the principles do a good job, many of the secondary actors fall flat and even a cameo from rapper Q-Tip is disappointing. He should stick to rap. Mr. Eisenberg, however, is taking the next step in what continues to be a solid acting career.

Solitary Man

Backed by a pedigree cast, Michael Douglas shines in this new Indie drama from writer/director Brian koppelman. Away from the trappings of Hollywood blockbusters, Mr. Douglas has always done his best work and come award season, he should not be overlooked for his work in this film. It is easily his best role in years.

Mr. Douglas plays Ben, a successful car dealership owner, who gets some alarming news from his doctor one day. It changes his life and not for the better. He becomes so self absorbed, he can't see his life unraveling before him and how he betrays and hurts the people in his life. Susan Sarandon, Mary-Louise Parker, Danny DeVito, Jenna Fischer, and Jesse Eisenberg are all family and friends impacted by Ben's downward spiral. It's particularly nice to see Mr. Douglas and Mr. DeVito together again in a film. They have a natural chemistry together and it's been too long.

This film is to Michael Douglas what "Crazy Heart" was to Jeff Bridges. He's not afraid to take risks here and immerses himself in the role of Ben with nothing held back. The story is not pretty, sad actually, but worth your attention to see an actor at his best.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Robin Hood

A subject done many times before, director Ridley Scott decides to take a new approach and make a prequel about Robin Longstride, the man and how he became Robin Hood, the legend. In doing so, both Mr. Scott and his muse, Russell Crowe try to recreate the depth and emotion they conveyed in "Gladiator" while throwing in a little "Braveheart" as well.

While enjoyable enough, "Robin Hood" doesn't quite reach the heights of either aforementioned film. The tone of the film is dark and very serious. Mr. Crowe"s "Robin" is a one-note character with nothing new brought to the role. For 2 1/2 hours, there is nothing you haven't seen before and nothing very memorable. Cate Blanchett co-stars as "Maid" Marion Loxley in a role that is beneath her skill and Hollywood status. She's an obvious box-office draw but her scenes with Mr. Crowe, don't exactly ignite the screen with passion and she is wasted in a "damsel-in-distress" role.

There is a well-known supporting cast including William Hurt, Max von Sydow, and Danny Houston, all doing average work. Mark Strong, who is making a nice career for himself as the villain of the minute (see "Sherlock Holmes"), plays the traitorous Godfrey with evil abandon. The climatic battle sequence plays like a medieval version of the "Saving Private Ryan" opening scene and Mr. Strong does get his comeuppance just as you would expect.

Sean Connery, Kevin Costner, Cary Elwes, and a cartoon fox have all had their shot at Robin Hood. For my money, go all the way back to 1938 and "The Adventures of Robin Hood" starring Errol Flynn. They just don't make them like the used too.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Iron Man 2

With very few exceptions, sequels just don't live up to the originals. "Iron Man 2" definitely falls into this category. With the idea that bigger is better, actor/director Jon Favreau aims high but falls short with an over produced and overblown spectacle that will still appeal to fans simply because films like this are critic proof.

Robert Downey Jr. is still a dashing hero and quick with the one-liner but it's obvious he's working a lot harder than he did in the first film, which found him a lot more relaxed and natural. Gwyneth Paltrow isn't given much to do except whine and complain and Scarlett Johansson's best scene is when she lets her actions speak louder than her dialog. Don Cheadle, so loose in the "Oceans" films is stiff as the iron suit he wears as "War Machine". As the villains, Sam Rockwell hams it up as Justin Hammer and is actually quite funny while Mickey Rourke's "Whiplash" looks imposing but is beaten much too easy.

Mr. Favreau fills the screen with so much sound and vision, it masks the fact that there is very little action with only 3 sequences to pump up the audience. And while those scenes may look good, (don't be fooled by all the exploding cars and glass), there is never any sense of real danger or suspense.

Marvel Enterprises continues to use each film as building blocks in it's comic film franchise, hinting here to the arrival of a full blown "Avengers" film on the horizon(expected in 2012). We get more of Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson, who needs to be tougher), a piece of one hero's equipment put to comic good use, and if you stay past the credits, a sneak peek of the next Marvel hero waiting in the wings.

Despite it's overindulgent flaws, "Iron Man 2" was a bit better than expected and if you enjoyed the first film, grab your popcorn and immerse yourself in it's comic book silliness.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

The Secret In Their Eyes

I hadn't seen all the nominees for Best Foreign film last year, but my money was on "A Prophet". That opinion has changed now that I've seen "Secret". This Spanish language film definitely deserves it's Academy Award. This multilayered film will haunt you and yet, satisfy as well.

Ricardo Darin, well know in South America, stars as Benjamin Esposito, a retired criminal court officer who decides to reexamine a case that has haunted him for 25 years. Mr. Darin gives a very nuanced performance balancing his way through the layers of the story which starts out like a episode of "Law & Order" but becomes so much more. The simple investigation of the crime soon becomes more complex with unexpected twists and turns.

On the surface, it's a murder mystery but there is a heartbreaking love story in place as well. The rape and murder of a young women sets the story in motion. Be warned that the scene of the crime is not pretty but the brutality of the crime is important to fuel Esposito's obsession in the case. When he decided to revisit the case, much of the film is told in flashback and the growing relationship between Mr. Darin and Soledad Villamil, reveals an unspoken love that still smolders years later.

Besides the two leads, there is some fine work by Guillermo Francella, as Pablo Sandoval, Esposito's friend and co-worker as well as Pablo Rago as the widower of the victim. All the acting is superb and the story grows richer with every scene. "The Secret In Their Eyes" is an intelligent, absorbing film that should not be missed.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Date Night

Steve Carell and Tina Fey star in this new comedy but don't go expecting "Liz Lemon" or "Michael Scott", the characters they play on TV or you will be disappointed. Taking two well known comedy actors who are known for their very strong characters and pairing them in a film seems like a wonderful idea but stripped of those characters, the results are only mildly amusing.

The two comics play a married couple from New Jersey who, tired of their routine lives, have a "date night" in Manhattan. Predictably, things go chaotically wrong after a case of mistaken identity. The plot is derivative from "The Out of Towners", a terrific comedy with Jack Lemmon and Sandy Dennis. In that film, it's as if the city itself conspires against the visiting couple. This time we are given the standard gangster and crooked politician with cops on the take who threaten our hapless couple.

There is one very funny sight gag involving a rowboat and an original idea for a car chase but not many "laugh out loud" moments. A scene in a back room club involving a pole dance is actually embarrassing for both Mr. Carell and Ms. Fey as well as for William Fichtner, who plays the crooked DA. Ms Fey gets the bulk of the good one-liners and Mark Walhberg is pretty funny in a self parody. D.J. Smoove (so funny on "Curb Your Enthusiasm") is wasted in what could almost be considered a racial stereotype as a frightened cabbie. Mark Ruffalo and Kristin Wiig are completely wasted in what amounts to a cameo but James Franco and Mila Kunis show some comic flair as the real couple being sought by the villains.

I'm sure the pitch for this film was great but a stronger script would have produced better results.