REVIEW: Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

4 01 2012

Leave it to Brad Bird, a member of the Pixar brain trust responsible for such triumphs as “The Incredibles” and “Ratatouille,” to figure out how to make the year’s purest, most enjoyable action movie with “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol.”  For 135 minutes, the adrenaline pumps steadily as the eye is treated to a potpourri of dazzling stunts followed by stunning cinematography.  It’s skin deep, sure, but Tom Cruise has been unabashedly likewise for years, so who cares?  Movies like this are supposed to be fun, and so often they aren’t.  This one is.

Maybe it’s the sort of child-like wonder and awe that Bird brings with him from Pixar that makes this movie “Mission: Enjoyable.”  But whatever that X factor is, it works well.  There’s slightly less substance and character development than J.J. Abrams’ last installment in the series five years ago, which also featured one of the most maniacal villains in recent memory in Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Owen Davian.  But when you’re seeing Tom Cruise actually scale the world’s tallest building in the world – yes, he actually did that stunt himself – Bird more than compensates for the film’s major shortcoming.

He draws on two valuable resources to make the movie such ruckus fun.  The first is simplicity: it’s much easier to enjoy the ride when you aren’t having to keep track of a million different characters and names caught up in a huge scheme of political espionage.  When it’s Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt, being as corny and ridiculously impetuous as ever, being backed up by an eclectic IMF squad going against a crazy Swedish scientist and a small gang of confederates trying to nuke the world, it makes it easier to sit back and enjoy the car chases and the cool gadgets.

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REVIEW: The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest

3 08 2011

Had I not read the whole of Stieg Larsson’s fascinatingly intriguing Millenium trilogy, I probably would have given up on Niels Arden Oplev’s lackluster film adaptations back whenever “The Girl Who Played With Fire” stunk it up like a skunk.  “The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest,” the final installment of the Swedish-produced trilogy, turns the series around in a positive direction but not nearly drastically or radically enough to make it all that worthwhile of a moviegoing experience.  The faithful adage “read the book first” still rings true, although I won’t be as harsh to say it has never rang truer.

The series does a pretty intense tonal shift in the third segment, becoming less of an intensely violent thriller and more of an Aaron Sorkin-esque courtroom drama.  (Hey, that’s actually a great idea – let’s start an Internet petition to bring together “The Social Network” dream team for the American version of this movie!)  Because of this, it’s almost unfair to compare it to the previous two movies in the series.  It has to rely on the Larsson’s plot for the suspense, which is actually a really good thing.  As its predecessor showed us, the late author knows best.

Rapace’s performance is sharp again as her Lisbeth Salander, a unique cinematic creation, endures the crucible of a lifetime in her confrontation of the vast injustices that have plagued her life.  She is, once again, the highlight of the movie and perhaps the only reason I can give to watch the movie instead of read the book.  Larsson’s prose is infinitely more exciting on a page than watching Oplev’s attempt at translating its zing.  If you really can’t keep from biting your nails until David Fincher gets his hands on the series, this will help you bide your time – but won’t really do much else.  B- / 

REVIEW: The Girl Who Played With Fire

14 06 2011

In retrospect, all my complaints about “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” were nothing compared to the ones I can lodge against its sequel, “The Girl Who Played With Fire.”  This adaptation of Steig Larsson’s incredibly intricate and suspenseful novel ultimately amounts to little more than a visualization of his major plot points.  As a reader of the trilogy, this was disappointing but acceptable.  However, as a watcher and reviewer of movies, this was a sloppy movie severely lacking in many significant areas.

For one, basic acting technique.  Generally, when trying to convey emotions and the importance of events, actors create stakes that then register with the audience and goad them toward the appropriate response to what’s taking place on screen.  Meryl Streep creates stakes; Al Pacino creates stakes; even Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart create stakes.  Yet no one in “The Girl Who Played With Fire” seems to be interested in creating stakes, though, making the movie a muddled mess where the characters just seem to wander from event to event without any idea of their importance.  I can’t even imagine how hard this movie must be to watch for someone not familiar with Larsson’s far superior book.

The movie makes the same mistake as its predecessor in cutting out all subplot to focus on Salander (Noomi Rapace) and Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist).  This time around, it’s a fatal move as the supporting characters are so crucial to the storyline as Blomkvist searches for answers to a series of murders that seem to have Salander’s name written all over it.  In addition, Nyqvist’s total lack of emotion makes his carrying the movie simply unbearable.  I know it’s cliched to say “the book is so much better, read it before you see the movie,” so I won’t say that.  Read the book instead of seeing the movie.  C+ / 

REVIEW: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010)

1 06 2011

After seeing the awesome new trailer for David Fincher’s English-language adaptation of Steig Larsson’s “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (which simply has to be watched – because what else do you have to do between now and Christmas?), I decided it was finally time for me to bite the bullet and watch the Swedish version that had been sitting atop my Netflix queue for nearly a year.  The length (146 minutes) and language daunted me, especially as my main block of free time came at the time of day when I would be least capable of reading subtitles: right as I would be about to fall asleep.

But, as David Fincher’s teaser trailers always seem to do exceedingly well, I felt completely drawn into the world on the screen, and I suddenly felt an irrepressible urge to immerse myself into Larsson’s Millenium trilogy.  It was certainly nice to get a visualization of the story, yet just like countless adaptations before it, it doesn’t hold a candle to Larsson’s novel.  Watching anything related to the book is a great pleasure; however, the film doesn’t adequately capture all the nuances and the subtleties that separate “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” from your average cerebral thriller.

The stories of journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) investigating the 40-year-old unsolved case of the disappearance of Harriet Vanger and the various activities of cryptically mysterious hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) are presented in a very boiled-down manner that stays largely true to Larsson’s plotline.  Only a few minor details are altered, which will nag only the devoted and detailed readers (like myself).

Yet other than the two main characters, few other figures from Larsson’s novel get a decent screen treatment.  The Vanger family, such an interesting mix full of wild cards, is largely excised from the film, shorting those who didn’t read the book first.  Obviously, the large volume had to be cut, but the filmmakers made a big mistake taking the Vangers out.  While they may complicate matters, their presence makes us feel like Mikael – confounded and unsure of everyone’s true nature.

The movie does have one saving grace, and her name is Noomi Rapace.  She ventures to the dark side and really inhabits Salander, a multi-dimensional character that puzzles everyone if played right.  Flirting the border between mentally ill and justifiably angry with a world that has pushed her into a dark corner, Rapace’s Salander is a true marvel.  Even though we are never entirely sure of Salander’s intentions, we can see that Rapace is sure through just glancing into her eyes and seeing a clutter of emotions competing for prevalence.  Other than Rapace, the cast is dull and unexciting, especially Nyqvist.  Had someone put a cardboard standout in place of Nyqvist and had the caterer read his lines off-camera, we would have seen a performance of the same emotional caliber.

So while this “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a satisfying adaptation for now, I’m counting down the days until I can see what happens when a true artistic visionary like David Fincher gets his hands on the story.  If the trailer is indicative of the entire movie, I think we will be seeing Fincher having more fun than ever … and that’s reason to get excited for the feel-bad movie of Christmas.  B /