Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The book is always better than the film, right? Actually, in this case I would just say different. You can't really expect to squish 600 pages into 2.5 hours anyway. The girl in question (Lisbeth Salander) is a loner, computer hacker who works as a researcher for a security company. She just wants to do her job and be left alone. And while she is the title character, the story is not about Lisbeth. Instead, it is about the investigation by a journalist into a 40 year old murder. The murdered person is Harriet Vanger (of the Swedish industrial giant Vanger family) and the person paying for the investigation is Henrik Vanger (Harriet's uncle and former Vanger group CEO). The twist is that the murder is basically a locked room mystery, the event happening while the entire family was isolated on an island, with no body or evidence ever recovered. As the mystery unfolds, Lisbeth becomes involved in the investigation and some of her mysterious background is revealed along with that of the Vanger family. It should be noted that much of this background is pretty horrific (we are talking serial killer and ritual abuse here) and graphic. As a murder mystery/thriller, the film holds together really well. The pace is good and the revelations are timely. And Lisbeth as the title character, it seems, is really being set up in this installment as the protagonist for the remainder of the trilogy. Based rather carefully on the book of the same title by Stieg Larsson, I look forward to continuing the story.
4-stars (out of 5)

The Merry Gentleman

The only thing merry about this film is that it is set around the christmas season. Otherwise, the merriment is purely fictional. And while I like a good hitman movie, be it a dark comedy (see You Kill Me or In Bruges) or just dark (see The Memory of a Killer), this turns out to be a mediocre hitman movie. Michael Keaton plays the role of the lonely hitman searching for something more. Apparently his work is not fulfilling and he finds his curiosity piqued when he encounters ... But no chemistry erupts, no emotion is ever displayed. Keaton plays a grey character in a color world, resulting in a film that is pretty flat throughout and in the end, forgettable.
2 stars (out of 5)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

City Island

I saw this film last thanksgiving on our return flight from Bangladesh. Since it was an airplane movie, I presumed it was an older film that I had just missed. Instead, it was a new film that hadn't been released in the U.S. yet. In fact, it gets released next weekend, so this in an early review. Andy Garcia and Julianna Margulies are a working class couple who live on City Island, a small fishing enclave on an island in the Hudson river. Garcia is a correctional officer who only has aspirations to be an actor. He regularly goes to acting classes, only to draw the suspicion of his wife that he is cheating. Throw in a couple of eccentric kids, and the wildcard of Garcia bringing home a "long lost son" from the prison and one would think that the film had jumped the shark before beginning. On the contrary, this is a great little portrayal of a blue collar family struggling to relate to each other and jump out of the trappings of being stuck as a blue collar family. Alan Arkin turns in a quality bit role as the acting class instructor and Garcia is clearly made for his role as the father. A good film that uses cliche and stereotype to good effect and doesn't take itself too seriously.
3 stars (out of 5)

The Color Purple

This is one of those movies that I am surprised I had never seen. I guess 25 years after its release is better than never. What begins as a story of two sisters growing up in the south in the early 20th century turns primarily to the story of the oldest sister, Celie. She is married off to a man with no redeeming qualities and spends decades in an oppressive life. She finds joy when the mans mistress comes to stay with them (it makes him nicer) and finds hope in looking toward a reunion with her sister. There are no surprises anymore in this film and it has been analyzed by thousands over the years. As I was watching it, I simply found myself cringing and uncomfortable with the purely abusive relationships that unfold. Some of these characters are so one dimensional (they are only bad and we never see a hint of good) that it reminds me of reality TV when the editors cut together clips to develop a persona for the screen that is clearly not the whole picture of who the person is. I like the fact that Celie struggles with using violence as an escape, but ultimately chooses not to. This is not an easy choice, and is not a major part of the film, but a major part of who she is as a person. Well worth seeing, for the first time or again.
4 stars (out of 5)

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Tale of Springtime

The first of four films in the Tales of Four Seasons series by French director Eric Rohmer, A Tale of Springtime puts Jeanne and Natacha together by chance and follows their relationship over the course of a few weeks. Jeanne is a young philosophy teacher and Natacha a high school student taking classes at a piano conservatory. Both women are probably more honest with each other as strangers than with those they are close to, but this allows us to develop a deeper relationship quickly. The springtime reference of the title is clearly connected to romance and love and we get to watch the machinations of Natacha as she wheedles her way between her father and current girlfriend and the indifference of Jeanne as she considers her connection to her boyfriend. This is a nice film, but one gets the sense that it works better as part of the whole four-film series. As an isolated film, it is only so-so.
3 stars (out of 5)

Inside American Power: Air Force One

With Netflix queue dogs that occasionally percolates to the top of the list, I generally have good luck. I wanted to see it at one time, so it must have some value. And this National Geographic special could have been good. Unfortunately, the entire segment was about how the plane projects the power of the president, and by association highlights its value to American imperialism. We spent only about 5 minutes total actually seeing the technology/design/customization that makes the plane special. Very rarely does film fall into the waste of my time category. This one did.
1 star (out of 5)