Sunday, January 29, 2012

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Mirror Image

"James Miller has just written a book on the value of a copy versus the original work of art. At a book reading, a woman gives him her address, and the next day they meet and take a country-side drive to a local Italian village. Here, they discuss various works of art found in the town, and also the nature of their relationship - which gets both more revealed and concealed as the day progresses." -- from IMDb

Starring a British man and French woman, set in Italy and directed and written by an Iranian director. Dialogue in 3 different languages. Certified Copy is not your movie if you're not into foreign films. And not your film if you're not into talky dissertations on the nature of art and relationships and the perception of each.

What is really happening with this pair? Are they a couple, do they know each other, are they playing a role? Like in art, does it matter if it's the real thing if you don't know? That's the main conceit of the movie ... that their relationship is the living embodiment of the artistic/philosophical point that Miller is making in his opening speech.

Juliette Binoche, as always, is luminous. But you also get quite a bit of anger and humor out of her as well, She flips in and out of the three languages (French, Italian, English) with ease, funny in all of them. Miller is played by William Shimell, a British opera singer who has acted in only a few movies. He's fine here, but his is not the meaty role that Binoche's Elle is.

Like a lot of foreign and independent movies, Certified Copy plays more like performance art than your typical Hollywood movie. There is no action and the viewer is given a lot of the responsibility to fill in the blanks. If you don't pick up what they are trying to do, it can be confusing and boring. If I hadn't already heard several reviews of the movie prior to viewing it, I cannot guarantee that I would have caught on. Even knowing the catch, I can only say that it was mildly effective. Therefore, I would have to give this a tepid rating. Certified Copy is currently on Netflix Instant if you want to check it out. Grade: C+

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Focus on the hypocrites

As if we need any kind of confirmation that network television is a bottomless abyss bereft of either morality or courage, tonight in the 2nd quarter of the New England Patriots - Denver Broncos, CBS aired a Focus on the Family "pro-life" commercial where a series of small children recited John 3:16:

It was not too big of a surprise that Focus on the Family chose this game to run the ad considering that the 2nd coming of Christ was present, Tim Tebow. That a mainstream network would actually run such drivel by a hate group IS.

Would CBS have allowed advertisements by Planned Parenthood or an atheist/humanist group? How about a Muslim group? Every time I hear a Christian complain about how much they are persecuted or how they are not allowed to express themselves, I get sick. They are the forever favored majority with the Napoleon complex.

And don't even get me started about using small children to make this advertisement. Richard Dawkins has often made the point that religious indoctrination is tantamount to child abuse. Children are not born religious.

Final score: 45-10 Patriots over the Broncos. Apparently even God is sick of hearing about Tim Tebow and Focus on the Family.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Something from Nothing?

Yes, I'm cool. Admit it. I'm getting to see Richard Dawkins for the 3rd time! Plus, Lawrence Krauss. I'm going to wait around to get Mr. Dawkins to sign one of my books this time.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

We come from the land of the ice and snow ...

Sitting down to review The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I had to get myself in the mood. How better to do it than with a Nine Inch Nails Genius mix in Itunes. Of course, it's Trent Reznor (of NIN) and Atticus Ross that do the soundtrack and whose cover of Led Zeppelin's Immigrant Song (with Karen O on vocals) begins the movie:

Beginning with a weird title sequence reminiscent of movies of the 50's and 60's, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo jumps right out of the gate. That sequence reminded me a lot of, ironically (because Daniel Craig's in this movie), the elaborate ones you would get with most James Bond movies. All black, in a medium of what appears to be oil, the characters come in and out of focus with occasional flames. Aesthetically, the result is effective in setting the scene and getting one a bit on edge. I listened to an interview on NPR's Fresh Air where Trent Reznor explained how they wanted to evoke both the literal and emotional cold of Sweden and the subject matter.

Just adapting an immensely popular book series, from the late Swedish author Steig Larsson, you are already under a lot of pressure. Add to that a well-received series of Swedish films that many people have already seen. Most directors would probably not take on the challenge. David Fincher did. His history has shown that he does not shy away from the dark side of human nature. Quite the opposite. His movies Se7en and Fight Club are iconic and went a long way towards defining what these type of movies should look like. They are highly stylized and if I had any criticism of this movie was that Fincher largely reigned in that tendency.

My wife liked this adaptation quite a bit more than the Swedish film. Like me, she had read the book prior to watching either, but she still found the Swedish adaptation hard to follow and not as well-paced. I really liked the Swedish films, particular the performance of Noomi Rapace in the role of Lisbeth Salander. While differing a bit from the description of the character in the book, Rapace owned the role and there was a rather large group of people pushing for her to reprise the role in the American film(s). Fincher chose American actress Rooney Mara for the role instead. Mara, wisely, did not try to recreate Rapace's performance.

It's unfair to try and compare the films and performances but it is the elephant in the room. If you don't acknowledge it's there, then you are not being honest about how it might inform your reaction to the new movie. Filmspotting does a great film review podcast that I recently listened to that touches on this point a bit. There are reveals in both the book and the Swedish movie that are surprising the first time you see or read them, but when you know they are coming up, the effect is not the same. That's not Fincher's fault. I think his vision of the film is great, but I think that it would be viewed even better if you had not seen the Swedish film.

The casting in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is impeccable. We've already mentioned Mara, and Daniel Craig in the role of Mikael Blomkvist. Christopher Plummer does his usual fine work in the role of Henrik Vanger. Robin Wright Penn has always given understated performances and continues to do so in the role of Erika Berger, Blomquist's editing partner. Stellan SkarsgÄrd, a Swedish actor that American audiences are already quite familiar with, plays Martin Vanger to great effect.

Because of the numerous times of seeing the original film and having read the book, I frequently have a hard time keeping the sequence and content of events straight in my head. But from my largely untrained eye, the specific instances where I saw Fincher straying from the source material:

- the location and manner in which the still living Harriet Vanger is found
- the exclusion of the short affair with Cecilia Vanger by Blomquist
- the nature and exact participants in the discovery of the past murders by Gottfried and Martin Vanger
- eliminating Blomkvist's time in prison
- additionally, there are a couple of things that do not happen until the 2nd book that are shown in this movie
- Salander having her computer stolen and then her attacking the thief (and her computer is broken in the process)

I have no major problems in any of the above cases. Eliminating the travel to Australia helps to keep the consistency in tone and location. The affair with Cecilia Vanger in the Swedish film is superfluous and does not propel the story forward in any way. Changing which discoveries were made together and which were made individually by Blomquist and Salander does not hurt the story, though I'm not positive why Fincher made this change. It may just be for pacing. Removing the time in prison is probably another case where the plot point really is not integral to the arc of the story.

On the subject of 2nd book plot points, I can't really criticize Fincher for incorporating items from the next book, when the director of the Swedish film, Niels Arden Oplev, did the same.

On the last item, I probably disagree with Fincher a bit. Being attacked by a group of punks establishes her victimization by males that is prevalent through her life. Giving her a more forward role in pursuing her assailant seems to get away from that. But I do understand why Fincher probably did it. He wanted to establish her willingness to stand up for herself. I just think it would be more effective to have that emotional release be during the confrontation with her guardian.

The strength of Fincher films is his evocation of mood. The color palette, the music, the pacing, weather, etc. all work together to bring about a certain feeling. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is no exception. While being less stylized, as I have previously mentioned, he still sets up shots that bring about feelings of dread and isolation. The snowy initial approach to the Vanger mansion reminded me of a Kubrick shot, most specifically The Shining. Kubrick liked to present perspective shots down a hall or road or space ship that tapered to a point far in the background. They were always spooky, as is Fincher's shot.

Though it's a long movie (2:38), it does not seem long, meaning Fincher has largely done his job. It entertains, establishes characters, solves the initial mysteries and sets up the series for the sequels one would expect to be made, whether Fincher will continue to helm them or not. Even though I'm a big fan of the source material and the Swedish films, I've never been one to hold something in such high regard that I will not be open to different interpretations. There is room in the rich world of Stieg Larsson for a different take. Grade: B+

For a great review of this film, please wander over to Ink Blot at Journal Wunelle