The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Review: 5 out of 10
“Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” has already been a book by Stieg Larsson and a movie with subtitles.
One would think this latest incarnation is just an answer to Americans who refuse to read anymore (an audio-book of my reviews is coming, thank you for bearing with me), and they would be right.
Nothing is more bothersome than a story we already know is stretched out to three hours, except if the movie also manages to short-change as well, like David Fincher’s film does.
Daniel Craig is Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced Swedish journalist brought to the snowy island of Hedestad to investigate the 40-year-old murder of Harriet Vanger, the niece of industrialist Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer). The Vanger family is full of dysfunction and other evils and he soon realizes that he will need an assistant.
Enter Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a standoffish young computer hacker with black leather, piercings, and a mohawk. Lisbeth has problems of her own. Deemed incompetent and socially inept, she is given a sleazy guardian (Yorick van Wageningen) who refuses to grant her any independence without sexual favors in return.
The mystery was a by-the-numbers procedural (lots of hacking, going through photos, interviews) the first time and obviously hasn’t aged well with repeated tellings. Fincher adds a dark, cold atmosphere (the opening James Bond-like title sequence is excellent too) but you can’t escape the feeling he’s just jamming Larsson’s book into three hours, going from point to point, but never setting up interesting characters.
This can definitely be said of the book’s heart and soul, Lisbeth. Rather than break through her wall of mystery and solitude—Fincher has Mara act detached, prickly and not afraid to get her hands dirty. Just her bruised psyche, defensiveness, and differing moral attitudes seem underplayed, especially when the movie just throws her into being Blomkvist’s lover without any lead-up to it.
The other characters, even Blomkvist, are never anything more than the plot needs them to be. And that rape scene gets more graphic, and the real point of it less effectual, every time I see it.
“Tattoo” is creepy.
With all the monsters Larsson has running around Sweden, how could it not be? But it misses the true heart of the story just by speeding through it.
War Horse – Review: 6 out of 10
Times must be bad. Even Steven Spielberg had to take two jobs this year.
His “Tin Tin” is an Oscar shoo-in—but “War Horse”, based on both a stage-play and book, is an ehhhh, not so much.
Newcomer Jeremy Irvine is Albert, an young Irish kid living in England charged with training the jumpy, fiesty horse, which he names Joey—bought by his drunken father (Peter Mullan).
Both he and Joey are soon called upon to mow a field or they forfeit the farm to its landlord (David Thewlis). They make it happen, but rain swallows the crops and soon Joey is changing hands more than Jameson at a stag party. First to a British soldier (Tom Hiddleston) during the first World War with Germany, then two German defectors (David Kross, Toby Kebell), then a young French girl (Celine Buckens) and her grandfather (Niels Arestrup), back to the Germans, then the British, and it goes on like this.
Spielberg gives us just enough time to recognize his basic truths about war—it’s scary, cruel and chaotic, boys fighting it are scared, it was evil but most of the men were not— which he has already said in better films, before moving on.
The brevity of these scenes ensures that the only human character worthy of any emotional investment is Albert and that’s really because Spielberg hammers home the boy-and-his-dog—or in this case horse—with lots of soaring music, “never give up” speeches, and enough gooey sentimentality to make even the Kaiser reach for a hanky.
The heavy French, German, British, and Irish accents don’t make this any easier to get through either.
On the plus side this horse does have its moments (an epic battle where men charge on horses toward blazing gunfire, Joey escaping a tank, and the horse, or horses used to play Joey are admittedly beautiful as are the sweeping shots of rolling hills), but mostly you feel this is a long, straight-forward, pandering tear-jerker from Spielberg and nothing more.
We Bought a Zoo – Review: 4 out of 10
So “We Bought a Zoo” is based on a true story about a single parent who brought his family back together again by buying a zoo.
Did I mention it’s directed by Cameron Crowe (Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire), stars Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson, and features an impressive musical score by Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi?
But then again, that storyline…uh, keep laughing—you’ll need it to get through this schmaltzy dreck.
Matt Damon, looking more confused than ever, plays Benjamin Mee, a recent widower with a moody teenage son (Colin Ford) and cute 7-year-old daughter (Maggie Jones) he desperately wants to make happy again. A change of pace is necessary, so he buys a farmhouse, which also happens to be an old zoo in need of repair. Much of the plot surrounds fixing the zoo (in the process also fixing their hearts) to meet the standards of the inspector (John Michael Higgins).
Don’t ask questions.
Just listen to the inspirational music that plays over Ben’s hopeful face when he looks at the place or sees how happy it makes his daughter (adorable close-ups are mostly all Crowe gives Jones to work with).
Watch how the zoo’s repair serves as only an excuse for tear-jerking family melodrama and crowd-pleasing emotional uplift rather than to create interesting characters.
And guess what! Scarlett Johansson and Elle Fanning are here to act as love interests for Ben and his son. We know this not from any chemistry Crowe creates, but because they are the only women on the farm.
And we also get conflicts both minimal and far between, all having resolutions most will be able to see coming far in advance.
Thankfully Angus MacFayden, playing a zookeeper, and Thomas Haden Church, as Ben’s older brother, bring some laughs to this thing. Otherwise Crowe makes the whole experience generic, bland, sentimental, and eye-rollingly manipulated.
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