REVIEW: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

1 01 2012

Dragon TattooWhile on the path to triumphant Oscar glory last year, Aaron Sorkin made the wise observation that no matter what movie he chose to do next, it would always be seen as “the movie after ‘The Social Network.’” The same could be said for director David Fincher, snubbed of a much-deserved Oscar for a movie he clearly crafted with an intricate and delicate precision. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is no different as Fincher’s immaculate visual sensibilities dazzle the eye consistently for over two and a half hours; however, it suffers because of its placement in the director’s canon.

Had it preceded the masterpiece rather than succeeded it, there would probably be a river of praise flowing about his adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s international bestseller. But the specter of Mark Zuckerberg lurks insidiously like an elephant in the theater, making any viewer familiar with Fincher’s work consistently aware of the fact that something is keeping the movie from being truly great. Never is there that sense of jaw-dropping, mind-blowing state of total awe that the director has inspired so many times in his previous features. “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” may be his first movie that fails to live up to the promise of its trailer. (To be fair, Fincher’s movies always seem to have the BEST trailers.)

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty to marvel at in the movie. The story is incredibly engaging, and it gets a great visceral charge from Steven Zaillian’s faithful script and Fincher’s knack for palatable sadism. Taking a 700-page book and compressing into a single movie is no simple task, and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is particularly dense on the page with its labyrinthine family structures, concurrent narrative arcs, and taut mystery. Whether it came from Zaillian in the writing or Fincher with editors Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall in the cutting room, the pacing is a marvel of control, never bloated or convoluted. The 158 minutes go by very quickly as the plot moves along at a nice, even clip.

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REVIEW: Moneyball

10 10 2011

The sports movie is in a rut, I’ll just go ahead and say it.  When movies like “Warrior” receives almost unanimous acclaim and “The Blind Side” can get a Best Picture nomination, the genre is in need of an influx of creativity and ingenuity.  And what better movie to do that than Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball,” a movie that is actually about creativity and ingenuity?

Miller, along with screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian, pulls off a feat not unlike that accomplished by Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s: working within the framework of a failing system, they employ clever cinematic maneuvering and ingenuous thinking to create a fantastic societal and self-examination.  Michael Lewis’ non-fiction tome is about putting the brains back in the business of sports; Miller’s film is about one man trying to find his heart again in sports by using math as a means to achieve his long-sought satisfaction.  It may be that “Moneyball” uses sports only as a backdrop for its deeper, probing questions, something that wouldn’t be entirely uncharacteristic of Sorkin, who just last year won an Oscar for using the rise of Facebook in “The Social Network” as a setting for an exploration of modern power, greed, and friendship.

So while sports fans may be disappointed that “Moneyball” is not a sports movie but rather a movie about sports, Hollywood will no doubt continue to spit out run-of-the-mill, color-by-numbers inspirational movies for them.  Everyone else, on the other hand, can marvel at a movie about athletic competition that doesn’t teach us the hackneyed values of the triumph of individual will over adversity.  While glorifying impressive human achievement makes us feel good, Sorkin doesn’t indulge us in such escapism.  In 2011, we must face the fact that we don’t always win, the system may overpower even the most brilliant of ideas, and satisfaction isn’t just a win or a loss away.

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