Tag Archives: Stellan Skarsgard

[Review] – The Avengers

27 Apr

Title: The Avengers
Year: 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Writer: Joss Whedon, based on a story by himself and Zak Penn, based on the comic books by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Clark Gregg, Stellan Skarsgard, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany
MPAA Rating: PG-13, intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, and a mild drug reference
Runtime: 142 min
IMDb Rating: 8.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Metacritic: 71

Since Marvel started to produce their own films, the ultimate goal had always been assembling all of their superheroes into one huge omnibus-style movie with The Avengers, to maximize fandom and thus maximize commercial potential. That idea, of course, entirely depended on the success of the superheroes’ stand-alone outings, and on how successful the studio would be at creating a universe in which all of these characters co-exist, which was dubbed the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

27 Dec

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Year: 2011
Director: David Fincher
Writer: Steven Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson
Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Goran Visnjic, Embeth Davidtz, Elodie Yung
MPAA Rating: R, brutal violent content including rape and torture, strong sexuality, graphic nudity, and language
Runtime: 158 min
IMDb Rating: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 85%
Metacritic: 71

 

Yes, last year the Swedish adaptation of the hugely popular Stieg Larsson novel came out, and it was seriously great (I ranked it as my thirty-fifth favorite film of 2010, giving it an A-), and it had a breakout performance from Noomi Rapace in the role of Lisbeth Salander (which I ranked as my tenth favorite by a leading actress in 2010). So, of course people will say that it’s unnecessary to get a new adaptation only a year later. Well, I won’t say if thinking that was wrong or right; all I’ll say is that by the second you walk out of this American adaptation you’ll realize that this is a masterpiece, surpassing whatever great expectations were set by the original film, and finding in Rooney Mara the perfect actress to tackle on the role of Lisbeth Salander, no matter how great Ms. Rapace was a year ago. This is David Fincher proving to us why he’s one of the Top 3 directors working today, following last year’s masterpiece The Social Network (my second favorite film of 2010), with this one; going from hackers in Harvard to hackers in Sweden, but that doesn’t have any other similarities, the cold of Sweden making the cold of Cambridge seem like child’s play, and crafting a film that’s over two-and-a-half hours and that’s unapologetically brutal and yet so, so captivating. This is genius stuff, one of the very best films of the years hands down.

A lot was said for months about the search for the perfect actress to play Lisbeth Salander. And rightfully so, the role was hugely demanding, had just been played extremely well by Noomi Rapace just a year before, and, in the hands of the wrong actress, would make the movie crumble down. So pretty much every great young actress in Hollywood tried out for the role: Carey Mulligan, Kristen Stewart, Ellen Page, Mia Wasikowska, Evan Rachel Wood, you name it. Natalie Portman was supposedly offered the role but declined due to exhaustion from all the Black Swan craziness, unable to throw herself into such an intense role for the second year in a row. Jennifer Lawrence’s name was also thrown around, one of the brightest young actresses, but ultimately she was said to be too tall for the role. Scarlett Johansson was also considered, but Mr. Fincher considered her too sexy to play this role of a recluse hacker with a really weird kind of sex appeal.

All of their losses are our gain, as Mr. Fincher pushed and pushed for Rooney Mara, a girl who had appeared in The Social Network in a small but pivotal role, as Erica Albright, the girl you see in the opening scene at the bar telling Mark Zuckerberg he’s an asshole, effectively causing him to create Facebook out of spite towards her. She was made to audition time and time again, and finally won the role. And the stuff she brings to the table is such an incredible level of commitment that you can’t imagine any of the other prospective actresses would have brought, she’s fireworks in this film, and it would be an insult if she didn’t get an Oscar nomination (though she actually probably won’t).

I get why some people would argue against remaking a film that just a year ago did such a great job at capturing a story that, being written by a Swede and set in Sweden, was pretty much all their own. But people, take a look at what’s at the bottom of this story and you’ll realize why it needed to be told on a wider canvas, with a bigger budget, for a broader audience, with one of the most masterful eyes in cinema directing. This is a story about a female heroine, a different kind of heroine, for sure, but one that, in her quest of being an avenger against men who exact hatred towards other women, is a heroine that’s revolutionary and incredibly relevant, and a heroine we haven’t seen in films yet and that really gets to you in this one.

Because Lisbeth Salander is a truly unique character. To have a hero in this kind of film that isn’t a white male of middle age guy (because as great as Daniel Craig is as Mikael Blomkvist, this is Lisbeth’s film and story) is truly something special, a thin white girl with a petite frame and a style full of black clothing and piercings, that suggests either a hardcore goth or an S&M enthusiast. And the stuff Ms. Mara does with her is awe-inspiring, showing her unbelievable intelligence just as well as she hides her emotional scars, her eyes intently focussed underneath the strands of jet black hair that fall down her face. It’s an unbelievable character and a spell-binding performance, able to seduce you just as perfectly as she’s able to intimidate you, a woman who plays by her own set of rules, trusting no one but herself.

Screenwriter Steve Zaillian made a few changes to the story, that much is true, but this is a great writer and it still follows the story pretty close by and is quite similar to its Swedish counterpart, but from those changes and the subtle alterations made by Mr. Fincher, the film starts feeling different, becoming its own, different beast. From the minute the opening credits start rolling along David Fincher will have grabbed you by the throat and won’t let go for one hundred and fifty-eight minutes; it opens with a cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘The Immigrant Song’ by Trent Reznor, Atticus Ross and Karen O that plays through a series of really piercing images that will set the tone for the rest of the film. That opening sequence is a thing of brilliance, and the whole score throughout the entire movie is pretty much revolutionary, the stuff that Mr. Reznor and Mr. Ross brought to the table, and that won them an Oscar last year for The Social Network, being intensified tenfold for what they bring to this film; much like in last year’s masterpiece, the score here is just as big a part of the storytelling as any other variable.

The mystery story is obviously there, with Christopher Plummer, delivering his second great performance of the year which will help him sow up even further that well-deserved Oscar for Beginners, starring as Henrik Vanger, an old millionaire, patriarch of a powerful family that lives far off from the mainland, obsessed with finding out how his adored niece died four decades ago. The body of the niece, Harriet, was never found, and no trace to suggest she’s still alive and well somewhere else were uncovered either, so theories start forming in the mind of the old man, and later in that of Mikael Blomkvist whom he hires to help him out, and who then brings Lisbeth onto the case, theories that point the fingers at the people who were there that day all those years ago, most of them members of the Vanger family tree themselves.

As far as that goes, then yes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a mystery murder kind of film, and alongside Se7en and Zodiac you could say Mr. Fincher has crafted a masterful trilogy of murder investigation movies, giving you information like crazy and expertly showing the investigations, carefully allowing everything to set into your mind. But when Salander is on screen this film transcends that label, and becomes about the women who fought back against those men that hated them, Lisbeth being their Joan of Ark. The murder stuff is an incredible backdrop to which to set all of this to, but, like I said, this is Lisbeth’s story we care about here. It’s amazing to see an American film made by a studio that pays so much attention to a strong female character, one that’s so in control of her own sexuality no matter how vulnerable she may appear at times.

David Fincher understood all of this, he knew this was her story, he knew Stieg Larsson wrote the books because when he was fifteen he witnessed a brutal gang rape of a woman and never got over the fact that he did not help the girl, Mr. Fincher didn’t forget the fact that the original title for the book is Men Who Hate Women. So in return he fought for who he thought was right for Lisbeth, Ms. Mara, an actresses audiences don’t know and who may not seem desirable enough for many (though she seriously is, but that’s not the discussion here), and he gave her the role of a lifetime, he gave her a big-budget, huge running-time, R-rated movie for her to shine in. And she paid off his trust in her by delivering a performance that will stay with you for quite some time well after the film ends.

This film is perfect, I don’t care what any of its critics may say, it’s just insanely perfect frame by frame. And I can’t wait to watch it a second time, and a third, and a seventh; because, like any other truly great director, David Fincher’s films are ones you should spend quite some time getting into, breathing in every shot, studying them, there’s a reason why he’s famous for asking for close to a hundred takes for many scenes; he wants every little small detail to be just right. As amazing as Rooney Mara is in the role, kudos also have to paid to the rest of her cast members, Mr. Plummer like I said is terrific, and Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson and a slew of other truly tremendous actors give their all to flesh out a number of really memorable characters to support Lisbeth’s story. And then there’s Daniel Craig, who plays the role of Mikael Blomkvist different than Michael Nyqvist did in the original film, something which may be expected considering the guy’s James Bond, but he also plays it perfectly, allowing for a sweetness to come organically towards a girl he starts caring for quite a lot, but knowing to always keep his distance, not to scare her off.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, may seem like a movie about a complex man helping out another man. But in reality it’s the story about a girl, and about avenging the death of another girl, and David Fincher knows that. He’s crafted yet another absolutely perfect film with this one, taking hold of a wildly successful novel that had already spawned a very great film and out-doing them all. Yes, the rape scene shown here is seriously brutal. Yes, you won’t be able to listen to Enya’s ‘Orinoco Flow’ the same way again. Those are all things that are strong to see, brutally shown, but the way Mr. Fincher opts to show them is just a thing of beauty only someone as good as him can achieve, a master storyteller. And then there’s Rooney Mara, about whom I’ve already said quite a bit, and about whom the rest will be for you to discover. Trust me, it’s well worth it.

Grade: A+

Melancholia

15 Dec

Title: Melancholia
Year: 2011
Director: Lars von Trier
Writer: Lars von Trier
Starring: Kirsten Dunst, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, Alexander Skarsgard, Charlotte Rampling, John Hurt, Jesper Christensen, Stellan Skarsgard, Brady Corbet
MPAA Rating: R, some graphic nudity, sexual content and language
Runtime: 136 min
IMDb Rating: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 78%

 

Oh what a great, great film Melancholia is. A Top 10 of the year so far for me, just a brilliant film from the often polarizing, yet always outstanding Lars von Trier, a man who made headlines in May of this year when he went to Cannes to premiere this film and made some controversial comments that got him banned from the festival for the rest of his days. The festival however, didn’t shun the film, as Kirsten Dunst came out as winner of their Best Actress trophy, and by god was that a wholly deserved win for her. For all its little missteps (and they’re very little since I believe this film to be close to perfect) Melancholia can always count on Ms. Dunst to rock the socks out of everybody, her performance is one of the best this year, an absolute marvel to watch her for over two hours.

That role Ms. Dunst plays here was originally to be played by Penélope Cruz, who made the stupid, money-grabbing decision to go and do the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie (to which I gave a C+ to) instead. And while I’m actually sure Ms. Cruz would have also delivered in this role, we’re better off with Kirsten Dunst, an actress I’ve loved since forever and who I was ecstatic to have back after a short absence in last year’s All Good Things, a film I gave a B+ to and that had really fine performances from both her and Ryan Gosling. She’s the perfect muse for Lars von Trier, a director with one of the most peculiar visions working today who guides us through a deep state of depression in this film, while the apocalypse dooms ever so close as the planet Melancholia is heading towards Earth.

Yes, the film is certainly very bizarre and considering it goes on for nearly two hours and twenty minutes there will be times when it drags along a bit, but all of that is worth forgetting for the instances in which this film is just so masterful, so awe-inspiring, it’s just a beauty to behold. Not to mention that, even if you fall on the other side of the fence and think this movie is too strange, too gloomy, if you mistake its overwhelming power for something you just can’t get, you’ll still have a hard time forgetting the experience of having watched it, and that’s what marks this one’s absolute greatness.

By giving us his apocalyptic vision in a smaller scope Mr. von Trier sees the end of the world in a very intimate way and not the epic grand statements most films that deal with that topic usually do. The result is a film that’s much more enchanting than anything he’s done in the past, a much more romantic side to the director that I thought was just a real treat to watch. When the film begins and you get to hear Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde”  along with those striking images you’ll be witnessing one of the best uses of music in film this year. The magic of those opening moments is more than enough to get you through the perhaps more tedious middle section of the film, but please stay with this film even in those parts, as the payoff that comes forth in the end is undeniably stunning.

It’s just amazing to me that such a fine director could have looked so far within himself, as he’s been open about battling with addiction for some years, and deliver such a beautiful film. A film that speaks about depression while looking at the obsession two sisters have with this planet called Melancholia. And I loved that it focused so closely on just a few people, because if you think about films about the end of the world, there’s always be a lot of talk about the media coverage and overall frenzy of the worldwide population about, with that typical montage of news stations all over the world speaking of it in different languages. Instead we focus on deeper emotions experienced by just a few, and in this film the end of the world is, contrary to what one may assume, a beautiful thing.

The film is split in two, one half named after each of the sisters. Justine is the name of the character Ms. Dunst so marvelously plays, one of the sisters, and when her half opens we see her going to her wedding reception in the Swedish country house her brother-in-law, John, owns. That first half introduces us to Justine in the night of her wedding, to Justine and her greatly volatile mood swings, the apparent depression about to burst through the seams, taking her with it. It’s arguably in the second half of the film that we see Ms. Dunst deliver her best, since she becomes more apparently ill and gets meatier scenes, but in this first half she’s also pure magic, portraying a woman doing her very best at trying to hide her severely damaged state of mind.

The fact that it’s a wedding we’re talking about here means Mr. von Trier can go ahead and deliver some black comedy bits and melodramatic family drama, with some really outstanding dialogue popping up in the scenes that mark the family dysfunctional, the awkward encounters these events always have, the tension underlying through it all, the arguments, the sex. Those darkly humorous parts in the family gathering are really impeccable.

The second part of the film is named after Claire, the sister played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, and sees Justine already much more depressed, back in the country house to try and come out of it. In the time that has passed between the film’s two halves the little blue dot in the sky in the first half has now been identified as Melancholia, the planet quickly coming down to end us all. An end that Claire starts getting highly paranoiac about, and that Justine seems to long for as a possible end to all her deep suffering, Ms. Dunst being sheer perfection at showing Justine’s pain, her sadness, how consumed she’s been by her state of mind.

I honestly loved this film. I won’t give it a perfect grade because there were just a few things that didn’t quite gel from me, all of them coming from that second half of the film that was just much looser than the first in my opinion, but still, this is a film that you won’t want to miss, if only because of the striking images Mr. von Trier comes up here. Not to mention that even those bits that don’t feel as down right perfect as the rest of the film still feel like something that Mr. von Trier was aiming for, a very intentional part of his vision of a woman who has her own internal world crumbling to pieces while the real planet does just that.

Grade: A

Thor

14 May

Title: Thor
Year: 
2011
Director: 
Kenneth Branagh
Writers: Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz and Don Payne, based on a story by J. Michael Straczynski and Mark Protosevich, in turned based on the comic book by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby
Starring: 
Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Anthony Hopkins, Stellan Skarsgard, Kat Dennings, Idris Elba, Colm Feore, Ray Stevenson, Tadanobu Asano, Joshua Dallas, Jaimie Alexander, Rene Russo, Clark Gregg
MPAA Rating: 
PG-13, sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence
Runtime: 
114 min
Major Awards: –

IMDb Rating: 
7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 
78%

And so we get to Thor, the movie that officially kicked off the summer season and one that came with huge expectations on my behalf. You might know I’m a huge comic book geek, and while Thor is far from being my favorite comic book character, and I don’t even own that many comics of him, I  was still deeply intrigued not only by how the film would choose to represent Asgard, the supernatural world where Thor inhabits, but also by how Thor, a lesser known Marvel character than the ones that have been portrayed in films previously, would be able to carry a film all by himself. Not to mention that I wanted to see how it would start shaping things up, with the help of this July’s Captain America, in preparation for next summer’s The Avengers film, which is being directed right now by Joss Whedon, geek genius extraordinaire.

So I was intrigued by Thor, and I very much needed it to be great. And it was, probably not as amazing as that first Iron Man movie but, for my money, better than the sequel to that one, and a tremendous addition to the Marvel repertoire. And I think a lot of this has to be attributed to the very bold choice Marvel made when it picked its director. As Kenneth Branagh, he who spends much more time dealing with Shakespeare than with superheroes, brought his sensibilities to the project, and instead of this one being an all-out special effects action film, we also get quite a lot of seriously solid family drama, paired up with a very witty sense of humor that’s sure to appreciated by everyone.

Which is not to say that Mr. Branagh paid no mind to special effects and the regular components of Marvel’s blockbusters, not at all, this film has splendid action sequences, and the special effects are pretty tremendous themselves, especially those used to create the world of Asgard, which looks extremely cool. Thor was, I thought, prime entertainment, a supreme way to kick off the summer season, and not just one full of superficial set pieces, but one that under Mr. Branagh’s direction makes do with some really solid performances that help this one become as good as it is.

Chris Hemsworth, the Aussie actor in charge of playing the norse god, does a really spectacular job at it. And I had my doubts about him going in, because I didn’t know this guy outside of a small role in 2009’s awesome Star Trek reboot in which he played George Kirk, and I was skeptic about how he would handle this role of a supernatural being on Earth, and if he would be able to go toe-to-toe with Robert Downey Jr. when The Avengers came along. And I honestly think he will, he not only looks the part, but he also sounds the part with his big voice, and just absolutely owns the role.

And the rest of the cast is equally impressive. You have Natalie Portman, of course, in the third film I’ve seen her in this year after No Strings Attached and Your Highness, and she’s awesome here. She plays an astrophysicist who’s the first one to encounter Thor as he lands on Earth, exiled from Asgard by his father Odin, played by Anthony Hopkins doing his usual Anthony Hopkins magic. Along with Ms. Portman’s character, Jane Foster, we have our other two main human characters, Darcy Lewis, played by Kat Dennings who’s always a favorite of mine, a student who signed up to help on the investigation Jane was conducting, and Dr. Erik Selvig, played by Stellan Skarsgard, as Jane’s superior and the one supervising the whole experiment.

They find Thor and we must see him on Earth without his powers, desperately trying to get back to Asgard. And our story has two sides here, then, one is on Earth, with Thor eventually getting Jane to believe him about his identity, and falling in love with him in the process, and them doing everything they can to get him home. This part obviously includes a visit from Clark Gregg’s character who we’ve seen in both Iron Man‘s, Agent Coulson from S.H.I.E.L.D., who’s sent to investigate what’s going on and deal with Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer which has landed on Earth and can’t seem to be moved by anyone.

The other part of our story takes place back in Asgard, with Loki, Thor’s brother played extremely well by Tom Hiddleston, being the story’s villain. He’s the one that betrays Thor and does everything he can to keep him from coming home. He has to deal with the Warrior’s Three, Thor’s allies and friends over at Asgard who quickly come to realize that Loki’s the one that did wrong to their home. And there’s also Heimdall, who’s played real nicely by the terrific Idris Elba, the guard of the Rainbow Bridge, where one of the movie’s climatic scenes happens and which, by the way, looks infinitely cool.

Honestly though, if you had any doubts about Thor, trust me when I tell you they’ll be vanquished as soon as you get to see what Mr. Branagh and his cast and crew did here. He really was the perfect choice by Marvel to direct this movie, his Shakespearean background really enabling him to get to the story behind it all, and getting him to shine a light on the family issues that lie so deep within Thor’s mythology. And as a film to kick-off things for next year’s The Avengers it works wonders, not only does it introduce Thor as a great character played by a very promising actor, but it keeps tying together the Marvel universe in a way that feels extremely rad and not one bit overstuffed. We get a little reference to Tony Stark made by Agent Coulson, a mention of Bruce Banner by Dr. Selvig, an actual look at Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye who’ll obviously be in The Avengers, and of course we also get our easter egg scene after the credits with Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, which I won’t spoil for you here but suffice it to say it was terrific and set things up real nicely for what we’ll get this July and next summer.

Grade: A-

Boogie Woogie

14 Jul

Title: Boogie Woogie
Year: 2010
Director: Duncan Ward
Writer: Danny Moynihan
Starring: Amanda Seyfried, Gillian Anderson, Stellan Skarsgard, Heather Graham, Christopher Lee, Joanna Lumley, Alan Cumming, Danny Huston, Gemma Atkinson
MPAA Rating:
Runtime: 94 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating: 5.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 30%

I’m unsure about how I feel about Boogie Woogie, I mean, from time to time I did find myself positively smiling and giggling at stuff this satire threw at me, but more often than that I found myself not really enjoying the process, finding this film to be ‘warm’ and in that temperature scale I just created to illustrate a point any satire has to be at ‘hot’ to be successful, this one had moments when it started getting hot, but just when it seemed to be able to get there a cool bucket of water chilled it down, and that process was tough to watch.

The film delves into the art scene of London, and while interesting at times and certainly with a good pedigree on the subject since it had some knowledgable people to take input from ,I think it could have submerged itself further on the subject at hand, the one bright spot in this film, and the reason why my grade for it will be better than it should really be, is the cast, which is seriously awesome, just take a look at all the names above, but still, the cast is given a weak script, the camerawork is extremely subpar and it generally doesn’t feel like the sort of movie it was clearly intended to be.

Now, even though I give praise to the actors in the cast, there are two things to mention, the direction the cast was given was clearly not great, and secondly and more importantly, even though they’re all good actors, they’re not that good as to make an Altman-esque film, which is the vibe this film shamelessly tried to pull off with a huge ensemble and a full-on exploration of a specific world or genre. Not to mention that Duncan Ward, the film’s director, is a first-time feature film director, and he’s certainly no Robert Altman, and when he’s five feature-length films into his career I doubt he’ll have a MASH like Altman did. But then again pretty much nobody can do what Altman did, so let’s not bully him, let’s just say he should’ve known better.

I won’t really go ahead and describe the whole plot, I saw the film more than two months ago and I probably forgot most of it anyway, but I’ll say that Amanda Seyfried is actually pretty good in it, even though I say that in pretty much anything she’s in, and Gillian Anderson is an actress I’ll watch in anything, and think she has become quite the charming actress post-X-Files. But again, for the pleasure I got from the castmembers I’ll give this film a rather okay grade, but unfortunately this film, while it does have its moments of nasty fun amidst it’s completely off’-target over -the-top demeanor, is one I’ll forget all about in a couple of months, just like I forgot the majority of its plot two months after watching it.

Grade: B-