Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY" (2011) Review




"TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY" (2011) Review

Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, author John le Carré wrote a series of popular novels calledThe Karla Trilogy that featured MI-6 officer George Smiley as the leading character. At least two versions of "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" had been made The most recent is the 2011 movie in which Gary Oldman starred as Smiley. 

Set in 1973, "TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY" has George Smiley, who was recently forced to retire, recalled to hunt down a Soviet mole named "Gerald" in MI-6 (a.k.a. the "Circus"), the highest echelon of the Secret Intelligence Service. The movie began with "Control" - the head of MI-6 - sending agent Jim Prideaux to Hungary to meet a Hungarian general who wishes to sell information. The operation is blown and the fleeing Prideaux is shot in the back by Hungarian intelligence. After the international incident that followed, Control and his right-hand man, Smiley were forced into retirement. Control, already ill, died soon afterwards. When field agent Rikki Tarr learned through his affair with the wife of a Moscow Centre intelligence officer in Turkey that the Soviets have a mole within the higher echelon of MI-6, Civil Service officer Oliver Lacon recalled Smiley from retirement to find the mole known as "Gerald". Smiley discovered that Control suspected five senior intelligence officers:

*Smiley
*Percy Alleline (new MI-6 chief)
*Bill Haydon (one of Alleline's deputies)
*Roy Bland (another Alleline deputy and the only one from a working-class
background)
*Toby Esterhase (Alleline's Hungarian-born deputy, recruited by Smiley)


I have never seen the 1979 television version of le Carré's 1974 novel, which starred Alec Guinness. In fact, I have never been inclined to watch it. Until now. My interest in seeing the television adaptation has a lot to do with my appreciation of this new film version. I enjoyed it very much. I did not love it. After all, it did not make my Ten Favorite Movies of 2011 list. It nearly did, but . . . not quite.

Why did "TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY" fail to make my favorite 2011 movies list? Overall, Tomas Alfredson did an excellent job in translating le Carré's story to the screen. However . . . the pacing was slow. In fact, it crawled at the speed of a snail. It was so slow that in the end, I fell asleep some fifteen to twenty minutes before the movie ending, missing the very moment when Smiley exposed "Gerald" at the safe. However, I did wake up in time to learn the identity of "Gerald" and the tragic consequences of that revelation. I have one more problem with the film. Benedict Cumberbatch portrayed Peter Guillam, a former division head recruited to assist Smiley in the latter's mole hunt. There was a brief scene featuring "DOWNTON ABBEY" regular, Laura Carmichael, in which Guillam revealed his homosexuality. Cumberbatch did an excellent job in conveying this revelation with very little dialogue and a great deal of facial expressions. And yet . . . this revelation seemed to have very little or no bearing, whatsoever, in the movie's main plot. Even Smiley's marital problems ended up being relevant to the main narrative. End in the end, I found the revelation of Guillam's sexuality a wasted opportunity.

But there is a great deal to admire about "TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY". One, it is a fascinating tale about one of the time-honored plot lines used in more espionage - namely the mole hunt. I suppose one could credit le Carré for creating such a first-rate story. But I have seen too many mediocre or bad adaptations of excellent novels to solely credit le Carré for this movie. It would not have worked without great direction from Alfredson; or Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan's superb script. I found Maria Djurkovic's production designs for the film rather interesting. She injected an austere and slightly cold aura into her designs for 1973 London that suited the movie perfectly. And she was ably assisted by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, and art designers Tom Brown and Zsuzsa Kismarty-Lechner.

The heart and soul of "TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY" was its cast led by Gary Oldman, as George Smiley. The cast almost seemed to be a who's who of British actors living in the United Kingdom. Toby Jones, Colin Firth, Ciarán Hinds and David Dencik portrayed the four men suspects being investigated by Smiley. All four did an excellent and kept the audience on their toes on who might be "Gerald". However, I do have one minor complaint. Hinds' character, Roy Bland, seemed to have received less screen time than the other three. Very little screen time, as a matter of fact. Mark Strong gave one of the movie's better performances as the MI-6 agent, Jim Prideaux, who was betrayed by "Gerald" and eventually forced to leave "the Circus" following his return to Britain.

Both Simon McBurney and Kathy Burke gave solid performances as Civil Service officer Oliver Lecon and former MI-6 analyst Connie Sachs. However, Roger Lloyd-Pack seemed to be a bit wasted as another of Smiley's assistants, Mendel. I have already commented on Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as Peter Guillam. However, I must admit that I found his 1970s hairstyle to look a bit artificial. I can also say the same about the blond "locks" Tom Hardy used for his role as MI-6 agent Rikki Tarr. Fortunately, there was a good deal to admire about the actor's emotional, yet controlled performance as Tarr. I really enjoyed John Hurt's portrayal of Smiley's former superior, the gregarious Control. I thought it was one of his more colorful roles in recent years.

However, the man of the hour is Gary Oldman and his portrayal of MI-6 officer, George Smiley. Many found the selection of Oldman to portray Smiley a rather curious one. The actor has built a reputation for portraying characters a lot more extroverted than the mild-mannered Smiley. His minimalist performance in "TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY" took a great deal of people by surprise. So much so that Oldman ended up earning an Academy Award nomination for his performance. And he deserved it, as far as I am concerned. I consider George Smiley to be one of Oldman's best screen performances during his 30 odd years in movies. In fact, I suspect that the actor has made George Smiley his own, just as much as Alec Guinness did over thirty years ago.

As I had stated earlier, "TINKER, TAILOR, SOLDIER, SPY" is not perfect. Its pacing is as slow as molasses. I thought actor Ciarán Hinds and the plot revelation regarding Peter Gulliam's homosexuality was vastly underused. But thanks to Tomas Alfredson's direction, Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan's Oscar nominated screenplay, and an excellent cast led by the superb Gary Oldman; the movie turned out to be a surprising treat and has ignited my interst in the world of George Smiley.

Monday, May 28, 2012

“24″ and the Breaking Point


 
After watching the April 12, 2010 episode of ”24”, it occurred to me that I had put up a lot with this series during most of its eight seasons run. Perhaps a bit too much – especially since Season Three.  But the above-mentioned episode proved to be the final straw for me. 
“24″ AND THE BREAKING POINT
It seems a miracle to me that I managed to remain a steady viewer of FOX-TV’s ”24”. Despite being a pretty good series, it has presented its viewers with some mind boggling plotlines. Mind you, some of the series’ plotlines from Seasons One and Two left me scratching my head. Kim Bauer’s (Elisha Cuthbert) Season Two adventures that included encounters with a murderous employer, the law and a slightly demented survivalist portrayed by Kevin Dillon come to mind. And the circumstances that led to Nina Myers’ (Sarah Clarke) revelation as a mole inside CTU left me wondering if she had any senses. The fact that Season One featured two intelligence moles who had no idea that the other was a mole seemed to be skimming on thin ice to me. As did the subplot involving Presidential candidate David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert) and his family.
Then came Season Three. Personally, I thought it was a pretty good season. Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) and CTU found themselves battling a former MI6 agent named Stephen Saunders (Paul Blackthorne), who wanted revenge for being abandoned during a disastrous operation against the Season One main villain, Victor Drazen (Dennis Hopper) by unleashing a deadly virus upon Los Angeles. This season also featured a con job perpetrated by Jack, Tony Almeida (Carlos Bernard) and a CTU employee named Gael Ortega (Jesse Borrego); the return of Nina Myers; the introduction of Chase Edmunds (James Badge Dale) as the first (and my personal favorite) of several younger partners for Jack; a virus outbreak in Los Angeles and an exciting showdown in which Jack and Chase attempt to prevent one of Saunders’ men from carrying out his threat.
Unfortunately, Season Three seemed to have kick started many major mistakes created by the series’ writers over the next six years. I tried to deal with the introduction of the Chloe O’Brian character (Mary Lynn Rajskub). But I failed. After another five seasons, I still dislike her. From Season Three to the present, serious mistakes piled on one after the other – Jack’s murder of Nina Myers; the subplot involving Wayne Palmer’s (D.B. Woodside) involvement with a billionaire’s wife and Sherry Palmer (Penny Johnson); Tony’s arrest for the so-called “treason” charge for exchanging Jack’s kidnapped victim for his kidnapped wife – CTU’s own Michelle Dressler (Reiko Aylesworth); the loss of Chase’s hand and his departure from the series (I rather liked him . . . a lot). In Season Four, I had to deal with Jack’s dull ass romance with the senator’s daughter Audrey Raines (Kim Ravner), that stupid plot to infiltrate the Chinese consulate and extract a terrorist, which ended in the death of the Chinese consul, the return of that traitorous ass, Mike Novik (Jude Ciccolella); and a disjointed and badly written season. Season Five brought about a series of deaths that I still believe was heavy-handed – former President Palmer, Michelle Dressler and the near death of Tony Almeida. Many fans have claimed that Season Five – which centered around President Charles Logan’s attempt to sign some treaty with the Russians – was the best. I would have been more tolerant of it, if it were not for the series of murders that occurred in the season’s first episode, Kim’s reaction to Jack’s fake death, and a major plot that really did not require a 24-hour setting. Season Six – with a badly written storyline about suicide bombers and Jack’s family (James Cromwell and Paul McCrane) – was the worst. Wayne Palmer became the new president, but he ended up in a coma from a bombing before mid-season. Chloe’s husband – the equally annoying Morris O’Brian (Carlos Rota) – played a major role in this season . . . unfortunately. I found Season Seven tolerable, especially since it introduced FBI Agent Renee Walker (Annie Wersching) and brought back Tony Almeida. However, Season Eight proved to be another matter.
Mind you, I did not hate Season Eight, like I did Seasons Four and Six. But . . . its plot about a group of Middle Eastern terrorists trying to prevent the president of their country from signing a peace treaty with the United States proved to be . . . old hat. Many fans could see that this series seemed a little tired and filled with some plot holes. The worst and dumbest subplot in the series’ history centered on CTU Agent Dana Walsh’s (Katee Sackhoff) problems involving her criminal ex-boyfriend and some of the dumbest plot lines in television history. But last week’s episode – (8.17) “Day 8: 8:00 a.m. – 9:00 a.m.” - proved to be the last, fucking straw for me. Two things happened. Renee Walker – whom Jack had fallen in love with – ended up murdered by a Russian assassin. And Tim Woods (Frank John Hughes), Director of Homeland Security, fired CTU New York director Brian Hastings (Mykelti Williamson).
It was bad enough that producers Joel Surnow and Robert Cochran, along with screenwriter David Fury had killed off Renee. One, she turned out to be one of my favorite characters from the series. And she also seemed to be the only female capable of dealing with the real Jack Bauer – warts and all. Two, Renee’s murder has jumpstarted an old and tired subplot – namely Jack’s desire to go after the person or persons responsible for the death of a loved one. We saw this in his murder of Nina Myers in Season Three. We also saw this in Season Five, when he murdered the man who had assassinated David Palmer. Some fans see this as a return of the old Jack Bauer. For years, I had disliked Jack for his murderous inclinations, his hypocrisy and the fans’ hypocritical view of his crimes. For the first time in years, I managed to enjoy Jack as a character. With Renee’s murder, it looks as if that enjoyment has come to an end. I do not see any possible hope of an emotional recovery for Jack after this. And honestly . . . if Surnow and Cochran wanted to kill someone off, they could have waited to bump off Jack either in the last episode or in the damn movie. But no . . . they drummed up some contrived plot line to kill off Renee in order to bring back Killer Jack.
But the worst thing I ever saw during Season Eight and during the series’ entire run the demotion of Brian Hastings by Homeland Security Director Tim Woods as director of CTU New York and being replaced by that whining bitch, Chloe O’Brian. I had stated earlier, I do not like Chloe. I never have. I have always found her whining and personality disorders a pain in my ass. But this latest plot development regarding her promotion as CTU New York’s new director was truly the most utterly stupid thing I have ever seen on ”24”. On television period. First of all, Chloe was a computer analyst for CTU. A computer geek. Chloe has had at least one or two hours of experience in the field. And yet, that idiot Woods had decided she would be a better person to run CTU New York than Hastings. Why? Because Hastings had failed to sniff out Dana Walsh as a mole. No intelligence official in his or her right mind who allow a computer analyst to assume command of an intelligence field office. It is an utter act of idiocy. And yet, Surnow and Cochran allowed this to happen. And instead of realizing the stupidity of such a plot twist, many fans have been cheering Chloe’s promotion. Why? Because Hastings had failed to do two things – immediately follow Jack’s lead and sniff out Dana Walsh as a mole. Damn hypocrites!
Why do I call the fans, David Fury and the producers hypocrites over this situation with Chloe, Hastings and Dana? Hastings was not that popular with fans. Chloe is very popular fans. And the fans were impatient with Hastings’ failure to spot Dana as a mole. Well if that is the case, then allow me bring up another name. Nina . . . Myers. Have fans and television critics actually forgotten that for several years, Nina was Jack’s second-in-command at CTU Los Angeles? In fact, they even had an affair. Jack eventually learned that she was a mole out of sheer . . . dumb . . . luck.  Nina was ordered to tell a lie about Kim in order to lure Jack into the clutches of Victor Drazen. No one has ever complained about Jack’s inability to sniff out Nina as a mole, until it was almost too late. Hell, in Season Seven, Jack never knew that a vengeful Tony Almeida was playing a double game against him, the FBI and the Allison Taylor Administration until it was almost too late. Yet, Brian Hastings is criticized for failing to sniff out a mole. This is an example of the fans’ hypocrisy at its worst. And all of this happened six or seven episodes before the end of the series.
I did not bother to watch tonight’s episode of ”24”. After the debacle of last week’s episode, I decided that I finally had enough. In fact, I will NOT be looking forward to any ”24” movie in the future. Thank you, Joel Surnow, Robert Cochran and David Fury for allowing any leftover enjoyment I might have of “24″ to hit rock bottom. This is how I will always remember the series – with two of the dumbest plot developments I have ever seen.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"THE MALTESE FALCON" (1931) Review




The three versions of Dashiell Hammett’s 1930 novel seemed to have become a legend in Hollywood circles during the past decade. Many filmgoers are familiar with John Huston’s 1941 adaptation that starred Humphrey Bogart. However in recent years, these same movie fans have become familiar with previous adaptations of the novel. In 1936, William Dieterle directed a comic version starring Warren Williams and Bette Davis called "SATAN MET A LADY". And Roy Del Ruth directed the original adaptation in 1931, which starred Ricardo Cortez. It is this particular film I will be discussing. 


"THE MALTESE FALCON" (1931) Review

I have a confession to make. I have never read the novel, ”The Maltese Falcon”. The only Hammett novel I have ever read was ”The Thin Man”, published in 1934. Because of this, I would not be able to compare the novel to Del Ruth’s film adaptation. But I can discuss the movie. In a nutshell, ”THE MALTESE FALCON” told the story about a San Francisco private detective named Sam Spade, who finds himself drawn into a search for a valuable falcon statuette first created during the Crusades, while investigating three murders.

The story began with a Miss Ruth Wonderly hired Spade and his partner, Miles Archer, to find her missing sister and a man named Floyd Thursby. When Thursby and Archer end up murdered, Spade discovered that Miss Wonderly is one of three people searching for a statuette called the Maltese Falcon. A mortally wounded ship’s captain delivered the statuette to Spade’s office before dropping dead, making him the case’s third murder victim. The entire case spiraled into a game of cat-and-mouse between Spade, Miss Wonderly, a wealthy fat Englishman named Caspar Gutman and an effeminate continental European named Dr. Joel Cairo. Spade also had to deal with the police, who are determined to pin the three deaths on him.

So, what did I think of this version of ”THE MALTESE FALCON”? In the end, it turned out better than I had expected. However, the movie is not without its faults. There were times when I felt I was watching a filmed play (very common with early talking movies). But the film’s main problem seemed to be its pacing. It seemed too slow for what was supposed to be a witty murder mystery. Especially during the film’s first half hour. By the time Joel Cairo was introduced into the story, the pacing finally began to pick up. The dialogue provided by screenwriters Maude Fulton, Brown Holmes and an unaccredited Lucien Hubbard failed to improve over the course of the movie. Not only did the screenplay allow the dialogue to drag throughout the entire film, the latter was not that memorable. I did recognize a few lines from the 1941 film (which probably came from the novel), but nothing more. Also, I found the scene that featured Spade’s visit to an imprisoned Ruth Wonderly rather irrelevant. Spade’s reluctance to turn her over to the police should have conveyed his feelings for her toward the audience. The prison visit featured in the movie’s final scene simply struck me as unnecessary.

But ”THE MALTESE FALCON” still struck me as a pretty damn good film. Considering that it had been released during Hollywood’s Pre-Code Period (1929-34), it is not surprising that this version is considered the sexiest of the three movies. Del Ruth, along with Fulton, Holmes and Hubbard, did an excellent job of conveying the womanizing aspect of Spade’s character by revealing his affairs with Archer’s wife Iva, his casual flirtation with his secretary Effie, and visual hints of his relationship with Ruth Wonderly – like a small indent in the pillow next to the client’s head, which hinted that Spade had spent the night with her. Other signs of Pre-Code sexuality included Spade bidding a female client good-bye at the beginning of the movie, a nude Miss Wonderly in a bathtub, an off-screen striptease eventually revealed with a bare-shouldered Miss Wonderly, and a hint of a homosexual relationship between Caspar Gutman and his young enforcer Wilmer Cook.

Fulton, Holmes and Hubbard did a solid job of adapting Hammett’s novel for the screen by maintaining most of the original story. As I had pointed out earlier, the film’s dialogue did not strike me as memorable. It lacked the sharp wit of the 1941 adaptation. And it included an unnecessary scene from the novel – Spade’s visit to an imprisoned Ruth Wonderly – that could have easily been deleted. But the screenplay managed to hold its own. And considering that I have never read the novel, the screenplay did allow me to completely understand the story in full detail for the first time, without leaving me in a slight haze of fog. I found nothing memorable about William Rees’ photography or Robert M. Haas’ art direction . . . except in one scene. The scene in question featured an exterior setting, namely a street in San Francisco’s Chinatown where Miles Archer’s body was discovered. I suspect that this particular scene gave both Rees and Haas an opportunity to display their artistry beyond the movie’s usual interior settings.

”THE MALTESE FALCON” also featured a surprisingly solid cast. In fact, I would say that it turned out to be better than I had expected. Ricardo Cortez, a New York-born Jewish actor with a Latin name, led the cast as detective Sam Spade. Cortez got his start in silent films and had grown to leading man status by the time he shot this film. By the late 1930s, he ended up in supporting roles as a character actor and later ended his acting career to become a successful stockbroker on Wall Street. I thought that Cortez gave a very sexy interpretation of Spade in his performance. Mind you, his constant smirks and grins in the film’s first ten to fifteen minutes seemed annoying. But in the end, Cortez grew on me. I can honestly say that not only did I find him very effective in portraying a sexy Sam Spade, he also managed to superbly capture the character’s cynical humor, toughness and deep contempt toward the police.

Bebe Daniels, another survivor from the silent era, portrayed the movie’s femme fatale, Ruth Wonderly. She first became a star (following a stint as a child actor before World War I) during the 1920s. Her role in ”THE MALTESE FALCON” has been be considered as one of her best. And it is easy to see why. She managed to give an excellent performance as the ladylike, yet manipulative Ruth Wonderly, who drew Spade into the labyrinth search for the Maltese Falcon. Mind you, she lacked Mary Astor’s throbbing voice and nervous manner. But that is merely a minor hitch. Daniels still managed to portray a very convincing elegant temptress.

Irish-born Dudley Digges portrayed the wealthy and obsessive Caspar Gutman, who is not above murder, bribery and a score of other crimes to acquire the falcon statuette. Although not as rotund as Sydney Greenstreet, Digges seemed plump enough to be regarded as Gutman’s nickname, ’the Fatman”. However, Digges’ Gutman seemed a bit too obsequious in his performance. He lacked the style to believably portray a man wealthy enough to conduct a twenty-year search for a valuable artifact. Instead, Digges reminded me of a corrupt minor official at a British post in the tropics. He seemed to lack talent and subtlety for infusing menace into his character. Whenever he tried to menacing, he only ended up giving a hammy performance. On the other hand, Otto Matieson gave a more believable performance as Dr. Joel Cairo, Gutman’s Continental accomplice. Despite Effie’s description of him as an effeminate, Matieson portrayed Cairo as a no-nonsense and practical man who is careful with his money and with whom to trust.  Whatever effeminate qualities his character possessed, Matieson kept it to a minimum.

Una Merkel gave a humorous performance as Spade’s Girl Friday, Effie. Her Effie is not hesitant about expressing her attraction to Spade, yet at the same time, she seemed to find the detective’s other amorous activities rather amusing. Perhaps Merkel was amused at Thelma Todd’s performance as Archer’s widow and Spade’s mistress Ivy Archer. I found the future comedy star’s portrayal as the amorous and spiteful Ivy rather theatrical and false. It could have been her slightly hammy acting . . . or the fake clipped tone she used when pronouncing her words. All I do know that is that Todd seemed to be trying too hard as a scorned lover without any subtlety. At least Dwight Frye fared better as Gutman’s young enforcer, Wilmer Cook. Frye barely had any lines in the film, thank goodness. I have seen him in other films and his performance seemed to come off as hammy. But in ”THE MALTESE FALCON”, I thought he did a solid job in conveying the portrait of a baby-faced killer.

It is a shame that John Huston’s 1941 movie has overshadowed this version of Hammett’s novel. Mind you, Roy Del Ruth’s version is not perfect. The movie’s pacing in the first 15 to 20 minutes struck me as rather slow. But if I must be honest, I can say the same about the 1941 film. I was not impressed by Dudley Digges and Thelma Todd’s performances. And this Pre-Code movie seemed to lack any memorable dialogue or mysterious atmosphere. But it had a sly sexuality that seemed to be missing in both the 1936 and 1941 versions. Also, the rest of the cast gave excellent performances – especially Ricardo Cortez and Bebe Daniels. And ironically, this version of ”THE MALTESE FALCON” made me clearly understand the story’s plot in clear detail for the very first time. I believe that it deserves to be considered more than just a footnote in movie history.

Monday, May 21, 2012

"BEULAH LAND" (1980) Images Gallery

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Below are images from the 1980 miniseries, "BEULAH LAND". Based upon Lonnie Coleman's novels, "Beulah Land" and"Look Away, Beulah Land", the miniseries starred Lesley Ann Warren, Paul Rudd, Dorian Harewood and Michael Sarrazin:


"BEULAH LAND" (1980) Image Gallery

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Top Five Favorite Episodes of "LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN" (Season Two)



 Below is a list of my top five (5) favorite episodes from Season Two (1994-1995) of "LOIS AND CLARK: The New Adventures of Superman". The series starred Dean Cain and Teri Hatcher:




TOP FIVE FAVORITE EPISODES OF "LOIS AND CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN" (SEASON TWO)

 


 1. (2.18) "Tempus Fugtive" - Lane Davies and Terry Kiser are superb as time traveling villain Tempus, who wants to kill Superman before he becomes an adult, and legendary writer H.G. Wells, who needs Lois and Clark's help to stop him in this first-rate episode.



 


 2. (2.14) "Top Copy" - Raquel Welch plays a television journalist, who is also an assassin hired to find Superman's identity and possibly kill him.




 


 3. (2.22) "And the Source Is . . ." - Having discovered Tempus' diary, a criminal attempts to blackmail Superman into killing Lois Lane, or he will kill Clark's parents. Clark finally summons the courage to ask for Lois to marry him.




 


 4. (2.03) "The Source" - Lois is suspended from The Daily Planet after she fails to help a source to the illegal operations of a corporation.




 


 5. (2.10) "Metallo" - Scott Valentine has a field day as a petty criminal and boyfriend of Lois' younger sister Lucy, who is shot during a robbery before his head is grafted onto a kryptonite-powered cyborg body by a pair of scientists who are also brothers.

Monday, May 14, 2012

"THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO" (2011) Review




"THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO" (2011) Review

My awareness of Stieg Larsson's posthumous 2005 novel, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" began when it first hit the bookstores, years ago. And it has not abated. And yet . . . I have never developed an interest to read it. Silly me. Even when a movie adaptation of the novel was first released in Sweden back in 2009, I noticed . . . and continued to resist buying the novel. That all changed when I saw this new English-speaking adaptation, directed by David Fincher. 

If I must be honest, it was the trailer for Fincher's movie that finally made me interested in Larsson's novel. One, it featured two favorite actors of mine - Daniel Craig and Stellan Skarsgård. Two, I have developed a growing interest in David Fincher's work, ever since I saw his 2007 movie, "ZODIAC". And three, I must admit that the trailer looked damn interesting. So, I went to the theaters to watch "THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO". And I do not regret my decision. I loved it. And now I have plans to read the novel.

"THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO" is about a Swedish investigative journalist named Mikael Blomkvist hired by a wealthy industrialist named Henrik Vanger to investigate the 40-year disappearance of the latter's 16 year-old niece, Harriet. Blomkvist is assisted by young computer hacker and researcher for Milton Security named Lisbeth Salander. Lisbeth had been originally hired by Vanger's attorney to do a background check on Blomkvist. Both Lisbeth and Blomkvist find themselves residing inside a small house on the Vangers' island estate. During their investigation, they meet other members of the Vanger family - including two brothers who were members of the Swedish Nazi Party, Henrik's nieces Cecilia and Anita, and his nephew, Martin, now CEO of the family business.

While Lisbeth and Blomkvist investigate the Vanger family, each deal with a personal dilemma. Lisbeth became a legal ward of the state, after she was diagnosed with mental incompetency years ago, has to deal with new guardian Nils Bjurman, who turned out to be a sexual predator and rapist. Blomkvist found himself working for Henrik Vanger, after he lost a libel case brought against him by a crooked businessman named Hans-Erik Wennerström. Blomkvist and the magazine he co-owns with his lover/editor Erika Berger, owe Wennerstrom a huge court-ordered monetary damages. Despite their problems, Lisbeth and Blomkvist continue their investigation into the Vanger family. Eventually, they discover that a member of the family is serial rapist and killer, who has assaulted a number of Jewish women over a twenty years period since the 1940s. The last victim was killed a year after Harriet's disappearance.

There is so much about this movie that I really enjoyed. One, Fincher and screenwriter Steven Zaillian did a superb job of adapting Larsson's tale with great detail, while maintaining a steady pace. This is not an easy thing for a filmmaker to accomplish - especially for a movie with a running time of 158 minutes. And the ironic thing is that Zaillian's script was not completely faithful to Larsson's novel. Not that I really care. I doubt that the 2009 adaptation, which I have also seen, was completely faithful. I thought that Fincher and Zaillian did a marvelous job of re-creating the details (as much as possible) of Larsson's tale, along with the novel's intriguing characters and atmosphere. There were changes that Larsson and Zaillian made to some of the characters - especially Mikael Blomkvist, Martin Vanger and Anita Vanger. And do I care? Again, no. These changes did not mar my enjoyment of the film, whatsoever.

The moment the movie began with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' dazzling score and Blur Studio's title designs, a feeling overcame me that I was about to watch a very interesting film. Reznor and Ross' score managed to earn Golden Globe nomination. Unfortunately, they did not earn an Academy Award. Too bad. It was one of the most interesting movie scores I have seen in years. Jeff Cronenweth, on the other hand, managed to earn an Academy Award for his cinematography. And it was well deserved, as far as I am concerned. I really enjoyed Cronenweth's sharp and atmospheric photography of Sweden's countryside and Stockholm. I also enjoyed Trish Summerville's costume designs for the movie - especially her Goth-style costumes for Rooney Mara and the stylish wardrobe that both Daniel Craig and Stellan Skarsgård wore.

I might as well focus on the cast. "THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO" made Rooney Mara a star. There is no doubt about it. The actress, who made a memorable appearance in Fincher's last movie, "THE SOCIAL NETWORK", gave a star turning performance as the anti-social hacker, Lisbeth Salander. She was quiet, intense, intelligent, tough . . . hell, she did a superb job of re-creating every nuance of the Lisbeth character with a subtlety and intensity that I found very appealing. It is not surprising that she eventually earned both a Golden Globe and Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. Daniel Craig did not earn any acting award for his portrayal of journalist Mikael Blomkvist. This is not surprising. His character was not as showy as Mara's. And as a blogger named Brent Lang pointed out, Craig's character was more or less the "damsel in distress". He was not exaggerating. But Craig not only gave an engaging and slightly sexy performance as Blomkvist, he also did an excellent job of serving as the movie's emotional center or anchor. 

Christopher Plummer's peformance as Henrik Vanger resonated with sly humor and deep emotion. Stellan Skarsgård gave one of the most interesting performances in the movie as the missing Harriet's brother, Martin. I found myself wondering if Skarsgård's Martin was a trickster character used to keep the audience wondering about him. Both Geraldine James and Joely Richardson appeared as Harriet's cousins, Cecilia and Anita, respectively. Richardson's performance was solid and a little understated. But I really enjoyed James' brief stint as the sharp tongue Cecilia. And Robin Wright was solid, if not that memorable as Blomkvist's lover and editor, Erika Berger. Yorick van Wageningen's performance as Lisbeth's guardian Nils Bjurman struck me as both understated and downright scary. At first glance, his performance did not hint the disturbed sexism that led his character to rape Lisbeth. Come to think of it, I do not recall any hint of Bjurman's sick and sordid personality in van Wageningen's portrayal of the character at all . . . even when his character was forcing himself on Lisbeth. It was a very disturbing performance. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Steven Berkoff, Goran Visnjic and Donald Sumpter.

I have at least one complaint about "THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO". There was a sequence in the movie's last twenty minutes that featured Lisbeth's theft of businessman Hans-Erik Wennerström's assets via hacking. The sequence seemed to drag an otherwise well-paced movie. Yet, at the same time, I glad that Fincher revealed Lisbeth's theft, instead of vaguely pointing it out, as Niels Arden Oplev did in the 2009 adaptation. I guess I have mixed feelings about this particular sequence.

"THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO" received five Academy Award nominations - one for actress Rooney Mara and four technical nominations. After typing that last sentence, I shook my head in disgust. What in the hell was the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences thinking? That was it? No Best Picture, Best Director or Best Adapted Screenplay nomination? No nomination for Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score? Movies like Woody Allen's dull-ass"MIDNIGHT IN PARIS" and Steven Spielberg's overrated "WAR HORSE" received Best Picture nominations. But not "THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO". And Fincher's movie was one of the best I have ever seen in 2011. This is just damn pitiful.

Friday, May 11, 2012

"THIS MEANS WAR" (2012) Photo Gallery




Below are images from the new comedy called "THIS MEANS WAR". Directed by McG, the movie stars Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine and Tom Hardy: 


"THIS MEANS WAR" (2012) Photo Gallery