Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest

The original Swedish "Millennium Trilogy" films have reached their conclusion. What started out in "Dragon Tattoo" as a enthralling mystery, continued in "Played with Fire" as an action thriller, now concludes with "Hornet's Nest" as a "talking head" thriller designed to wrap up all the loose ends.

The screenplay once again trims much of the book down to the central story, eliminating sub-plots and details. There is also some tweaking of story elements as cinematic timesavers. Reduced to the basic plot, it still provides closure for the fans and star Noomi Rapace never falters in her perfect performance as Lisbeth Salander.

If you haven't read the books or seen the first two films, "Hornet's Nest" will hold no interest for you even though there is much exposition to bring the audience up to speed. The political tone of the book tries to be replicated but everything about "The Section" is sliced thin to save time. What does remain, is the regrettable first half that find Lisbeth confined to a hospital bed, switching much of the story to Blomkvist and his quest to clear her name and expose "The Section". This read well in the book but slows things to a crawl in the film. The action picks up in the final act during Lisbeth's trial and even just sitting in the courtroom, Ms. Rapace lets her minimal facial expressions do all her necessary acting.

It will be interesting to see how David Fincher will reinterpret the story in his English versions which are filming now with Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara. But for those fans who can't wait, the original Swedish films are now complete and it will be hard to imagine anyone else as perfect as Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist than Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


A smart marketing campaign tells you this film is "from the mind of M. Night Shyamalan" so of course you are mildly interested since he has done good work in the past. However, while he wrote the story, he neither wrote the screenplay or directed the film. You would think in the hands of others, his material (which always starts out strong) would not fall apart at the end. "Devil" is a silly premise that is well executed and while it doesn't completely fall apart, the ending could have been stronger.

The story concerns five people trapped in the elevator of a high-rise office building and the various people trying to get them out. We learn early on that one of them is the devil in disguise. What works best here is the lack of superstar casting. You will recognize most of the cast but they are not your typical "A" actors and for that reason alone, the film will keep you guessing as the bodies begin to pile up.

The camerawork is very well done and has some unique perspectives. In particular, the opening credits disorient you right from the start. Keeping most of the action within the tight confines of the elevator, the camera keeps things fresh as we view everything from different angles and monitors.

In the end, this is just an extended "Twilight Zone" episode with all it's morality. A more exciting ending would have taken it to another level.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Not a documentary about an music distribution company (although that would probably make a fun film), but rather a silly, over the top but very enjoyable action comedy. "RED" is based on a graphic novel, and it's enjoyment is based on watching four very capable actors come out of CIA retirement to find out who is targeting them for assassination. "The Expendables" employed a similar idea earlier this year, taking action heroes of the '80's and dropping them into one last warzone. "Red" is filled with explosions and gunfire but the pedigree cast adds humor and class to all the noise around them.

Who can resist Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and Helen Mirren bringing down the police departments of multiple states as well as corrupt CIA agents? Throw in Brian Cox as a sly Russian agent and Mary Louise Parker as Mr. Willis's reluctant girlfriend, dragged into the chaos and you have a dream cast that is obviously having as much fun on screen as we are watching them. And it's good to see Richard Dreyfuss and especially Ernest Borgnine back on screen.

We've seen this plot before but it moves at a rapid pace and is never dull. The action is completely unbelievable and yet, with these pros at work, it's still a lot of fun.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps

Michael Douglas reprises his role as Gordon Gekko in this entertaining sequel. While his name is above the credits, his role is secondary to that of Shia LaBeouf, who steals the movie as Jacob, a hungry young financial "player" who tries to balance his financial lust with his love for Gekko's daughter, Winnie, played by Cary Mulligan.

Oliver Stone once again directs but while fun, the film doesn't have the impact of his earlier work. There are far too many tracking shots of Manhattan trying to emphasize how the city is the center of the financial world. The acting for the most part is good, although Cary Mulligan is miscast as Winnie. Josh Brolin makes a very good villain and Frank Langella is impactful in a small role.

What really shines is the script. Even if you are not a financial "wiz", the story is easy to follow and laced with terrific dialog. However, I did have a problem with two plot points. When we first see Gekko, he is being released from prison. The film then jumps 8 years to 2008. That makes sense as the story is set during the worst financial collapse since 1929. However, we never understand how Gekko climbs back and learns to navigate in the new digital financial world. My other problem is understanding why Winnie would be attracted to Jacob in the first place, since she abhors everything about her father's world.

"Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps" is a decent investment of your time. And yes that was a bad pun but it's also a key theme of the film.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Let Me In

A Hollywood remake that actually gets it right and is as good or possibly even better than the original, "Let The Right One In". This is a atmospheric, creepy and at times, horrific vampire movie that sets itself apart from any other vampire/horror film coming out of the Hollywood machine today.

As lonely 12 year old Owen befriends the mysterious Abby, brutal killings begin to occur. Writer/director Matt Reeves, known for "Cloverfield", does an terrific job, first adapting the screenplay and then slowly building the suspense, driving excellent performances from his young actors. Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Owen and he acts way beyond his years with heartbreaking conviction. Chole Grace Moretz (the breakout star of "Kick-Ass") plays Abby, with a winning seduction of both Owen and the audience. One of the creepiest character actors working today, Elias Koteas, plays the fairly normal role of the policeman investigating the killings. And the wonderful Richard Jenkins also stars in a very pivotal role which I will not reveal.

Mr. Reeves sets up wonderful camera angles, unusual points of view, and makes great use of both the light and the dark. While much of the film is a slow build of dread, there are enough flashes of horror to jolt the viewer through to its inevitable conclusion. I can't imagine this film doing great box office as today's horror audiences want quick shock value. "Let Me In" will reward a patient audience and may haunt you long after it's over.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Social Network

Timely and relevant, "The Social Network" really does define a generation. Director David Fincher and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin have created an remarkable film based on the creation of Facebook. Mr. Sorkin's source material was "The Accidental Billionaires" by Ben Mizrich and using his talent for intelligent, rapid fire dialogue, and sharp wit, he, along with Mr. Fincher, have brought the story to life in a very smart and entertaining film.

Mr. Fincher's direction is crisp and economical. Nothing is wasted and every scene sparkles with great dialogue and terrific acting. He continues to astound us with remarkable digital work, creating the important characters of identical twins by overlapping one actor's face and voice over the body of another. It's a seamless digital trick that is incredibly realistic. But his work with the other actors is just as strong. Jesse Eisenberg stars as Mark Zuckerberg, the computer genius but socially inept creator of Facebook. Mr. Eisenberg is perfectly cast and this takes his signature style to another level. The film also stars Justin Timberlake as Napster creator, Sean Parker and Mr. Timberlake continues to grow as an actor with a real star quality. Armie Hammer co-stars as the aforementioned identical Winklevoss twins who sued Mr. Zuckerberg over the idea of Facebook. And another star in the making is Andrew Garfield as Eduardo Saverin, Mr. Zuckerberg's partner who also ends up suing him.

The action moves back and forth between the past and the two lawsuits as we watch Mr. Zuckerberg bring Facebook to life while ironically alienating everyone else around him. He is brilliant but totally lacking in social skills, as we painfully discover in the opening scene. A scene in which we are also introduced to Roony Mara, the young actress Mr. Fincher cast as Lisbeth Salander in the upcoming American version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". Skeptical at first of this casting decision, after watch her in this film, I look forward to her portrayal of Ms. Salander.

The film works on so many levels. How much of it is actually true will be left to debate but as a source of entertainment, it is outstanding. Expect a "Best Picture" nomination and see it before you read all about it on Facebook.