Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Movie Name: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Year of Release: 2011
Director: David Fincher
Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgaard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Yorick Van Wageningen, Goran Visnjic, Julian Sands, Donald Sumpter, Ulf Friberg, Sarah Appelberg
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 9

David Fincher is without a doubt one of the most interesting directors working these days. His meticulous eye, and superb direction is flawless, and after the wonderful films that were "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and "The Social Network", he is back to darker themes, which he explored before in the fantastic films that were "Seven" and "Zodiac". The film follows Mikael Blomkvist, a journalist who has fallen from grace, after trying to expose a corrupt businessman without sufficient evidence. Across his path comes Lisbeth Salander, a young woman who has been battered by a hard life, but who is resilient and extremely intelligent. Both are united in an effort to unveil a killing that occurred 40 years earlier in a small island. The young woman who was killed and disappeared belonged to a very wealthy family, and though her uncle has tried since to discover the truth about her disappearance, it's up to Mikael and Lisbeth to unravel this enigma.
David Fincher's version of the highly successful book from Stieg Larsson, is simply superb. Fincher builds an environment of unease throughout the entire film, one that keeps the viewer always expecting something else. As the story unfolds and we are introduced to Mikael's and Lisbeth's lives, we realize that these people, seemingly so different, have a common core, in their attention to things that most people discard or don't look at. Rooney Mara in particular creates her character with an immersion that is truly fantastic to behold - her Lisbeth though defensive/aggressive is a tender heart who has been brutalized all her life. Her cathartic moments after some brutal events, graphically violent as they may be, are so important in the definition of the character. She reacts to violence as an extension of herself, as a way to protect her inner self. This is a film that boasts attention to detail, to the creation of environments, characters and that doesn't shy away from the grittiness and brutality that comes with life. It is also beautifully shot and edited, with high marks going to cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth and the great soundtrack of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. A simply fantastic film!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Music With an Impact - 2011

2011 was a year that saw many great releases and where some of my all time favorite artists excelled by creating new and challenging music, that continued to expand their universe and reward upon multiple listens. It was also a year where new tools were used to develop music and to allow the listener to interact with it. Here is a list of the best of what I heard (and heard) during the year that just went by.

Bjork - Biophilia
PJ Harvey - Let England Shake
Stateless - Matilda
St. Vincent - Strange Mercy
Radiohead - King of Limbs
Washed Out - Within and Without
Lamb - 5
Cut Copy - Zonoscope
Apparat - The Devil's Walk
Bibio - Mind Bokeh

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol

Movie Name: Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Brad Bird
Stars: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist, Vladimir Mashkov, Samuli Edelmann, Anil Kapoor, Léa Seydoux, Josh Holloway, Ivan Shvedoff
Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Brad Bird made his name in animation, first connected with "The Simpsons" and afterwards directing "The Iron Giant", "The Incredibles" and "Ratatouille". "Mission:Impossible" is his live action feature debut. The film follows the usual Ethan Hunt, and his team at IMF who have been framed for a large crime they did not commit. The responsible is a criminal intent on starting a new world war, something that Ethan and his disavowed team have to battle and deploy in a very short amount of time.
The "Mission:Impossible" series started in 1996 with Brian DePalma, featuring a great cast and a great tone, one that the following films had a difficult time emulating. John Woo directed the following chapter to mediocre results and J.J. Abrams (who is a producer on this chapter) directed the third feature in the series. Brad Bird successfully recaptures the thrilling component of the first film, while maintaining the sense of impending menace and danger. Much like Brian DePalma, he focuses his attention on a small team that surrounds Tom Cruise's Ethan Hunt character, and lets them have an opportunity to showcase their abilities. The action is non-stop, without being tiresome. The film smartly establishes an intelligent villain, one that relies on intelligence and devious abilities, as opposed to pure violence or destruction. It's an entertaining film, shot on different locations around the globe, allowing for some beautiful shots from the great cinematographer Robert Elswit (who won the Oscar for Paul Thomas Anderson's "There Will Be Blood"). An all around exciting and entertaining chapter in a irregular series.


Movie Name: Melancholia
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Lars Von Trier
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgaard, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Stellan Skarsgaard, Brady Corbet, Udo Kier, Cameron Spurr, Jesper Christensen
Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

After the controversy surrounding "Antichrist", Lars Von Trier went in a different direction with "Melancholia". "Melancholia" tackles a doomsday scenario, one where a planet named "Melancholia" is on a collision course with Planet Earth. The film is divided in two parts and follows two sisters, Justine and Claire. In part one, Justine is getting married to Michael. During the course of the wedding we're introduced to Justine and Claire's universe, including their divorced parents, Claire's husband John, Justine's boss Jack and a variety of other characters. Justine is depressed and having a difficult time going through the entire wedding, something that becomes progressively more strained as the evening develops. In part two, Claire is confronted with the fear that her family life and life in general is coming to an end, since the impending doom of the planet crashing into Earth. Justine is profoundly depressed and seems unable to cope with anything, but as the impending end nears, she seems to find a new strength and resilience.
Lars Von Trier always uses catalysts outside the characters universes to create the dynamics that propel them, or that bring out their best or worst characteristics. The end of the world, brings out the clarity in Justine, forcing her to surpass her bleak depression state. Claire on the other end, fights to keep her family unit and everyone around her happy and content. Both sisters almost sit on opposing ranges, but come to terms with themselves and each other as the collapse nears. The film is beautifully shot by Manuel Alberto Claro, and the performances are fantastic, as is usual in Von Trier's films. Kirsten Dunst is a revelation, creating a character that goes from wide-eyed and sunny, to someone profoundly depressed and deprived of life. Charlotte Gainsbourg continues her path of portraying pained characters. Both make for an engaging dynamic. Though not one of Lars Von Trier's best, this is still a good film worth watching!

Young Adult

Movie Name: Young Adult
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Jason Reitman
Stars: Charlize Theron, Patton Oswalt, Patrick Wilson, Elizabeth Reaser, Collette Wolfe, Jill Eikenberry, Richard Bekins, Mary Beth Hurt, Kate Nowlin, Louisa Krause
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 7

Jason Reitman is back, following the huge hit that was "Up in the Air" with George Clooney. "Young Adult" teams him back with Diablo Cody, the screenwriter whom he worked with on "Juno", which also garnered lots of accolades and awards. "Young Adult" follows the life of Mavis Gary, a writer for young adult books, who has gone through a divorce and who's an alcoholic. Upon knowing that her high school boyfriend and his wife had a new baby, Mavis decides to go back to her old town and win him back. Mavis wants to get back the life she had when she was popular and younger, and nothing will deter her from it.
Jason Reitman again tackles a character that seems at odds with the world. All the characters from his previous films are either too smart for their environment or uncompromising in their own choices. Mavis is a woman who has never really grown up, who knows she has reached a dead end in her life, but who doesn't want to deal with any problems. Mavis has checked herself out from any type of responsibility for her life. Jason Reitman smartly makes the character interact with Matt Freehauf, an old friend from high school who had troubling issues of his own, and who is a surrogate conscience. Mavis however is not one cliche character who has an epiphany and suddenly her life is transformed - she continues to be flawed and deeply human. That's what makes this film so enticing and interesting. Charlize Theron is fantastic as Mavis Gary, showing the real extent of her delusion and bitterness. As she did in "Monster" (the film from Patty Jenkins that won her the Oscar), she goes beyond her beauty to showcase the depth of a real person. A good film not to be missed.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Week with Marilyn

Movie Name: My Week with Marilyn
Year of Release: 2011
Director: Simon Curtis
Stars: Michelle Williams, Kenneth Branagh, Eddie Redmayne, Julia Ormond, Dominic Cooper, Judi Dench, Emma Watson, Michael Kitchen, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott, Zoe Wanamaker, Derek Jacobi, Philip Jackson
Genre: Drama
Score out of ten (whole numbers only): 5

Simon Curtis has made his career directing TV movies and several television shows for the BBC. His new feature "My Week with Marilyn" is again financed by BBC Films, and adapts a memoir/diary of Colin Clark. Colin was a production assistant on the set of Sir Laurence Olivier's "The Prince and the Showgirl" which featured a young Marilyn Monroe, then at the height of her popularity and with all the problems dealing with her fame and love life. Colin is a young man who becomes a confidante to the beautiful star, and between them both grows an intimate relationship of trust, that is severed when Marilyn finishes the film and goes back to her life in Hollywood.
"My Week with Marilyn" is a brief insight, seen from a distance to the world of Marilyn Monroe when she was in England shooting the film with Sir Laurence Olivier. Simon Curtis allows just a bit of insight as to why Sir Laurence invited Marilyn to be his co-star, and all of her insecurities and problems, when she was at the zenith of her fame. The film however never probes very deep to what is the real dynamics of Marilyn, or for that matter Colin or any of the other characters. The film is very slight in it's approach, never giving much depth and exploring any conflict. As is, it's an interesting illustration of a period that has gone by with a star that fascinated millions. The performances of Michelle Williams and Kenneth Branagh are fantastic, and for that alone the film is worth checking out.