Tag Archives: Stieg Larsson

Best of 2011: 20 Screenplays

3 Feb

A whole month after 2011 ended I have wrapped up my yearly rankings, having seen 256 films released in 2011, granting 13 perfect A+ scores and a really superb 76 scores in the A range. To remember the year that was I thought I should start a feature that will hopefully become a yearly thing for me and do a few Best of 2011 posts, choosing my Top 20 films, directing efforts, screenplays, and performances (separated by lead male, lead female, supporting male and supporting female) and doing a post honoring them with a brief paragraph explaining what made each of those 20 options so remarkable and memorable and thus made 2011 a great year for films. The second entry will be my Top 20 Screenplays of 2011:

20. TAKE SHELTER written by Jeff Nichols

Jeff Nichols wrote and directed the magnificent Take Shelter, and he shows such a great confidence as a filmmaker that it’s just astonishing, and this film in particular is one of those that the second it finishes you’ll be wanting to see again. And even though the performances by Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain, as well as Mr. Nichols’ direction, take a lot of credit for this film being so good, so too does its screenplay. You never once really know where this film is headed, and what’s best is that it’s created such a great sense of tension that you get a bit scared about where it’ll end up. I thought it was a brilliant script that took its time to create a slowburn effect and gradually reveal its many intricate layers.

19. THE TREE OF LIFE written by Terrence Malick

This film held the 6th spot on my Top 20 Films of 2011, and its screenplay gets a mention in this ranking as well. What’s so impressive about this screenplay is that it could easily also be released as a novel, it’s just so extremely descriptive, going into lengths about those many little details Terrence Malick is know to be a perfectionist over, describing exactly how he wanted the many breathtakingly gorgeous images in his film to look. It’s so immensely rich, full of some really fascinating ideas that demonstrate just how complex and ambitious this film was, good thing for us that they translated to perfection on screen.

18. THE IDES OF MARCH written by George Clooney, Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon, based on the play by Beau Willimon

Another film that also cracked my Top 20 Films ranking (at 18th) and that gets that same spot in my Screenplay rankings. The script, which got an Oscar nod, shows why the film was an entertaining, dialogue-driven film. It starts off setting the stage really well, delivering great dialogue and pacing, giving us a great inside look at how political campaigns are ran. The Ides of March is a movie made for actors, certainly, with just quite a lot of character development and more than a few scenes that are all about snappy banter that the film has a hugely talented ensemble deliver. The one thing that’s a bit off and why I didn’t rank it higher is that, for the same reason and the fact that it’s based on a play, it actually feels sometimes like a piece that belongs in a stage. But still, this is a pretty damn good screenplay.

17. A SEPARATION written by Asghar Farhadi

The film that was 15th on my Film rankings gets a mention in the Screenplay one as well, thanks to a seriously powerful script that managed to snag an Oscar nomination, which is rare for a foreign language film. And it’s honestly a terrific screenplay, one that brings forth a lot of seriously powerful ethical questions to be asked by both characters and audiences alike, and that in the domestic drama that it presents it’s tremendously structured to create a really tense environment. So far all 4 of my mentions in this ranking have been written or co-written by the film’s director, which shows how great the writer-director’s visions were in 2011.

16. DRIVE written by Hossein Amini, based on the book by James Sallis

The script for Drive, my fourth favorite film of the year, is great as it is, but what actually elevates it to a category of greatness is what director Nicolas Winding Refn does with it, he kind of strips it down, leaving pretty much just the naked essence of it for us to see. What we then get is a pretty quiet film, in which the imagery says more than words ever could, but in which the words that are actually used just phenomenal. Not to mention that, by not having long explanatory scenes or huge displays of dialogue, the film actually manages to get in quite a lot of plot into its 100 minute running time, which was tremendously well done.

15. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO written by Steve Zaillian, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson

My #3 film of the year had a script by Oscar-winner Steve Zaillian (he won for Schindler’s List), who had the tough task to not only adapt a hugely popular book that was in everyone’s hands not that long ago, but also one that had already been successfully adapted into a great film just a bit over a year ago. Thankfully, the fact that this was being made for big bucks, by a studio, to be consumed by a wider audience, didn’t mean the screenplay was like a sanitized version of the novel, this was as gritty as you could imagine, and the tough scenes are tremendously brought to life by director David Fincher and a hugely talented cast.

14. SHAME written by Steve McQueen and Abi Morgan

Shame is my second favorite film of the year, and Michael Fassbender said that he read the script over 300 times in order to really get immersed in his character, so you can be sure the script dealt a lot with its characters. Written by director Steve McQueen with Abi Morgan the script is much more straightforward narratively than Mr. McQueen’s previous film, which was the excellent Hunger, and much more plot-driven too. Which is good, but still, it’s a tough script to get through because of its very graphic nature and harsh look at addiction, but just how perfectly it delves into the day-to-day routine of Brandon, the lead character, and the inner hell he goes through because of his sex addiction, is incredible.

13. MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE written by Sean Durkin

Yet another film written by its director, and another script from a film that was in my personal Top 20 (it landed at number 10). The script is sensationally well-structured, the back-and-forth technique it uses to go between the memories of Martha about her time in a cult to the present day is impeccable done, because it gets to the point in which, much like the character herself does, the line between past and present gets a bit blurry, which helps us get to feel her mental state. The film had great performances and direction, but a lot of it came from the script too, that scene in which John Hawkes’ character sings a song at the cult’s ceremony is incredible in how much narrative momentum it achieves. Just an impeccable debut, both writing and directing-wise, from Sean Durkin.

12. THE ARTIST written by Michel Hazanavicius

Yes, it’s a screenplay for a silent film, with title cards to indicate dialogue, with actors moving their lips even though nothing is coming out of them. And yet it’s so magical and enchanting and fresh and unique and unlike anything we’ve ever seen before; it’s a screenplay that pays homage to a great era of Hollywood by creating some really memorable scenarios and characters that don’t really need words to come alive and for us to connect with them. Michel Hazanavicius also directed the film, so he knew exactly what he wanted to get; and boy did he get it, I ranked the film as the 8th best of 2011.

11. HUGO written by John Logan, based on the book by Brian Selznick

Yes this was my favorite film of the year and the screenplay for it doesn’t even crack the Top 10. Which is not to say it’s bad, not at all, and it deservedly got an Oscar nod for John Logan, but it just wasn’t as masterful as the film itself. Still, how it managed to get George Méliés’ story within the frame of Hugo’s actually made this a much more emotional film than if it had been a straightforward biopic of Méliés. I loved this, I loved how great a love letter to cinema it was and how great an innocent a kids movie it was at the same time.

10. WIN WIN written by Thomas McCarthy, story by Thomas McCarthy and Joe Tiboni

Win Win is a beautiful little film, one that just makes you want to experience it again after you finish it, and it all comes from the fact that Tom McCarthy is the kind of writer-director that is genius at portraying real people and real emotions. The tone throughout the entire film is so firmly grounded in its screenplay, one that tells a story that’s actually quite easy for you to read and guess where it’s going next, which is good because it enables you to get a glimpse at all the perfectly nuanced aspects of the film. Funny, low-key and, most importantly, terrifically honest, Win Win is a brilliant example of screenwriting.

9. MARGIN CALL written by J.C. Chandor

One of the biggest and most welcome surprises on Nomination morning was to sound of J.C. Chandor’s name being called out when they nominated this screenplay, his debut feature as both a writer and director. It’s the first script that actually knows how to tackle the subject of our most recent economic depression, a script about the power of money and greedy men. It starts off tremendously strong and follows through with a huge array of characters and situations that are really tightly written by a guy that certainly knows a lot about the stuff he’s writing about. Subject matter aside, this is a script done by a writer who knows that good characters in high stakes situations are exactly what makes for good drama, and he gave us the timeliest and most high stake situation of recent times. Just a job really well done.

8. TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY written by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan, based on the novel by John le Carré

I’ve said that Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy may just have been the smartest film of all 2011, it has a lot of moving pieces and it works like a puzzle full of paranoia, just so intricately plotted. The fact that the script got an Oscar nomination is just really well deserved, because balancing all the facts and events and characters is not easy at all, and you’ll have to pay close attention while you see the film to really get it, but it successfully manages to balance it all out, just a seriously fantastic adaptation of a classic of espionage literature. And yes, Gary Oldman as Smiley is the shit.

7. THE DESCENDANTS written by Alexander Payne, Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, based on the novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings

Alexander Payne already has an Oscar for writing Sideways, a hugely deserved one, and he may be getting another one soon for the adaptation of the Kaui Hart Hemmings novel he did alongside Jim Rash and Nat Faxon, which became the fifth best film I saw all of last year. What’s so amazing about how this script works is that it takes all the time it needs to slowly, and beautifully, unfold. From the very get-go there’s something about these characters that feels incredibly human, and when the people, the places and the emotions on-screen feel real it’s just incredibly easy to lose yourself in them. How the screenplay manages to so perfectly mix comedy and drama is truly outstanding, achieving a balance that makes every laugh and every tear feel earned.

6. 50/50 written by Will Reiser

I think this script is terrific; I think the tone it achieves, the structure of it, the characters it crafts, everything I thought was just sensationally achieved. Will Reiser of course wrote this basing it on his own experience with cancer, and I guess it takes a person who has actually gone through something like to be able to achieve this mix between the funny and the serious, to walk such a fine tightrope and come out so successfully. This was just a seriously smart screenplay that never once went for the sort of clichés you might think fitting for this kind of story, it never once wanted to leave you crying, and it’s because of that, because it wasn’t manipulating, that it earns your tears, just as greatly as it earns your laughs.

5. BEGINNERS written by Mike Mills

I saw Beginners for the first time back in June, and I’ve seen it I think three extra times since then, and every single one of those times I feel like it’s this extremely awesome kind of surprise. Even though I’ve seen it before and know exactly what’s coming next, it manages to surprise me, it manages to put a smile on my face. And that all starts with the impressive script by Mike Mills, who makes even familiar moments feel truly fresh, and he achieves that because every feeling on screen from his characters, every exchange, feels spectacularly honest. From the great structure, going from the past to the present, to the great voiceover, to the subtitled musings of the adorable Jack Russell terrier, Beginners is a treat. And if you haven’t done so yet, I urge you to experience it.

4. MONEYBALL written by Steve Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, with story by Stan Chervin, based on the book by Michael Lewis

In 2010 Aaron Sorkin adapted a book about Facebook into the masterpiece that was The Social Network and rightfully won an Oscar for his work, it was by far the best script of that year. Now he had the task to yet again adapt a book that would seem unadaptable, one about baseball statistics, collaborating on a screenplay by Steve Zaillian (who also wrote the #15 on this list), and penning out one that would result in the film that I named the seventh best of last year. The screenplay is just so tightly-written, and it’s typical Sorkin, where people just really intelligently talk really fast and about fascinating stuff. I love the fact that films this smart are being made, ones that rely just on solid words and actors being pitch-perfect at delivering them.

3. YOUNG ADULT written by Diablo Cody

Diablo Cody wrote one of my favorite screenplays of the past decade with the one she did for Juno, the name of this blog “artfully bedraggled” even comes from a description she makes at the beginning of it, so you can say that I’m a bit of sucker for her style of writing. Though I still prefer Juno to this one, I do believe that this may be her most mature effort to date, a story that’s really funny, but that’s also considerably dark and more than a little bit messed up. Mavis Gary is an unlikable character and Cody never once feels compelled to make us sympathetic towards her, but instead never once lets her off the hook, and crafts a really piercing character study. This woman is one of my favorite screenwriters right now, I now she has her detractors, and so be it, I just think she has a knack for this, and this new effort of hers shows she’s moving forward in all the right directions.

2. BRIDESMAIDS written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo

In a year when The Hangover Part II was expected by everyone to be the most hilarious film in the world, a week before it I got to see Bridesmaids, which was being seen by some as the female equivalent to it. Well, we know how The Hangover Part II turned out, and we know how it was Bridesmaids that had everyone roaring with laughter. With a script by SNL MVP Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, which got them an Oscar nod, this was just an expert mix of hilarious raunchy comedy, one that was actually done the right way, with a lot of heart at the same time, a film that at its heart is all about friendship. I loved this film from beginning to end, and even though the cast had a lot to do with it, it would have been nowhere as great without this screenplay.

1. MIDNIGHT IN PARIS written by Woody Allen

My favorite screenplay of the year belongs to my 14th favorite film of the year. It’s the one that saw the return of Woody Allen, writing a film reminiscent of his classic films from decades ago, and one that will, if there’s any justice in this world, earn him his fourth Oscar (his third for writing). Woody Allen is the kind of writer-director that you don’t want to see experimenting and veering off in different directions, because he’s already the best at what he does, and he’s been the best at what he does for four decades now, and Midnight in Paris shows that he’s not slowing down, even though his detractors of late had been suggesting as much. Out of my Top 20 Screenplays, 13 are originals and 7 are adapted. But the real interesting thing, I thought, was that 12 out of the 20 were either written or co-written by the film’s director, showing how great the writer-director vision is nowadays. And my Top 20 included all 10 of the Oscar nominees.

Advertisements

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+

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

28 Jan

Title: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
Year:
2010
Director:
Daniel Alfredson
Writers:
Ulf Rydberg and Jonas Frykberg, based on the novel by Stieg Larsson
Starring:
Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre
MPAA Rating:
R, strong violence, some sexual material and brief language
Runtime:
147 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
6.9
Rotten Tomatoes:
51%

 

The last 2010 film I saw was The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, the last Swedish adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s insanely popular novels, the previous two entries of which were also released last year.

Now, the first film of the series, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I thought was a formidable adaptation, and one that will prove to be real challenge to better for David Fincher, who’s currently working with Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig on the American remake. That first film was really amazing to me, I gave it a strong A-, which will make it end up at 35th out of the 210 films I saw in 2010, and it introduced everyone to Noomi Rapace, who played the enigmatic Lisbeth Salander and who gave a riveting performance which I have ranked as the 10th best given by any leading actress in all of last year, and which we’ll all get to see much more off when she appears in the Sherlock Holmes sequel this year, and then in Ridley Scott’s insanely anticipated Prometheus next year.

The second film, The Girl Who Played with Fire, was still really really good, but not as jaw-dropping as the first one, I gave it a B+ grade, and it will end up as 53rd on my year-end rankings. And this one, the final installment, is much like that one, not up to the standard that first one set so high up, and still a tiny bit below the second one, but still a pretty solid film. The thing that let this third installment down was the fact that it didn’t have too many scenes in which Ms. Rapace interacted with Michael Nyqvist, and the chemistry between those two is what made the first one so incendiary, so taking that away from this one only hurt it.

And even though it’s quite slow, it still keeps us interested because we have spent two past films investing ourselves in these characters, and we go through the slower processes in this one still compelled by what’s being shown. And, moreover, even in the most talky scenes, which take place in a courtroom, Ms. Rapace is able to act up a storm, completely owning the screen and showing us why we remember her so damn well from her first outing as Lisbeth. Not to mention that, because Ms. Rapace is absent for much of the first half of the film, it makes her return during the final parts that much more welcome, especially considering she’s talking up a storm like I said.

I devoured the books quickly enough, and I really think these Swedish film adaptations did them justice, and considering the cast and crew the American adaptations have lined up, I’d say we’ll continue to chew up this stuff like hungry babies. How they get this one to end up is pretty cool, because all along it feels like what it is, a conclusion, working its way to tie up the loose ends, to leave you with some final thoughts.

I guess some would say that the best sequels are the ones that stand on their own, you can take any Bourne film and it will still feel amazing even if you haven’t seen the other ones, and even the Lord of the Rings films, you obviously need to know what went down in the previous one to really get them, but if you see them as stand alone features they’ll still really work. And to some extent I think that’s true, which is why, I guess, some may find fault with these films, the first one is an exquisite experience, but the second one and this one are too tied up to that one and they feel nowhere near complete if you haven’t experienced the others.

And while that’s true, I will say one thing, you have to dumb to see a Part II or Reloaded or Supremacy without checking the previous installments. If you go see this one without having seen the first two you may feel pretty lost in all the happenings, even with all the flashbacks we get. And because it’s such a slow film, you probably won’t care about the characters at all and feel as though the film was rather sucky, which, trust me, it isn’t.

But my guess is that even if you think the film isn’t that good, you’ll probably still feel pretty damn interested about Noomi Rapace and her embodiment of Lisbeth Salander, who is, in my opinion, the definitive heroine of the past decade. And that’s because these films, as much great plot as they may have, are all about the personality of their characters, what they say and think, that’s what really sucks us in. And how it’s shown by these actors, how Ms. Rapace decides to play out Lisbeth is especially incredible to see, and how it’s all shot and presented to us by a very fine European crew that it all works so well.

I haven’t yet seen the three films back-to-back, but I think that once I get to it it’ll be one seriously rad experience, the first one starts it off like crazy, a very cool mystery, the second one still fires on all cylinders, delivering a rad thriller with some action thrown in, and then this third one calms things down and ties the loose ends, behaving like one very neat conspiracy film with fireworks going off in those final courtroom scenes. And that’s really saying something, that’s saying that even if these films can’t stand alone that awesomely, they are one very cohesive work when put together, and that’s all we should want them to be.

Grade: B+

The Girl Who Played with Fire

12 Dec

Title: The Girl Who Played with Fire
Year:
2010
Director:
Daniel Alfredson
Writer:
Jonas Frykberg based on the novel by Stieg Larsson
Starring:
Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Per Oscarsson
MPAA Rating:
R, brutal violence including a rape, some strong sexual content, nudity and language
Runtime:
129 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
6.8
Rotten Tomatoes:
69%

 

The Stieg Larsson Millenium trilogy novels have been a massive success worldwide, the bright-colored covers of the paperbacks taking the world by storm and everyone just eating up the story of Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Hollywood is already gearing up their adaptations, with David Fincher directing Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig in the lead roles, and I’m sure that film will be as amazing as everything Mr. Fincher does. But Sweden, the native country of the novel’s author, has already done all three films. I saw the first one, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo a while ago and gave it a A- grade and thought was just a pretty neat film overall, with an amazing breakthrough performance from Noomi Rapace, who since been cast in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes sequel.

Now, The Girl Who Played with Fire is still a very good film, but it’s not as good as the first one was. Ms. Rapace is still excellent as Lisbeth Salander, as is Michael Nyqvist in the role of Mikael Blomkvist, but the film as a whole isn’t as terrific as that first entry. Though, as sequels go, this is still a remarkable second entry in the franchise. And that’s because it keeps the raw power that made the first one so good in the first place, that’s intact, and considering Ms. Rapace is still as riveting in the leading role, then all’s good.

And that’s really the biggest thing this has going for it, the performances, and that’s why, no matter how talented a director Mr. Fincher may be, and he is, creating a Hollywood version that surpasses these Swedish ones won’t be an easy task at all. In this film we get a bit more insight into the character of Lisbeth, we get to discover a bit about her childhood, but she’s still a mystery to us. And Lisbeth is certainly one the best characters to come out of any media in years, she’s far from your average heroine, her power is her ability to hack into computers, her drive is her hatred towards men who commit violence to women.

These are very cool and powerful films, films in which the violence is very graphic and films that have respect for their awesome source material. And that’s because what’s so good about the novels is that they are very human, they connect the characters not to horrible stereotypes, which would have been the easy way out, but to actual human traits, which is why these work so well, because they’re people we could imagine doing things we could imagine them doing.

In this one we have Mikael still at it as a journalist, trying to get names and details of a women trafficking deal between Russia and Sweden. While Lisbeth has just returned to Stockholm, hot on the trails of a killer that will see her facing bits of her past she wishes she could avoid confronting again. And I won’t tire of talking about how great Ms. Rapace is here, she embodies Lisbeth so well, we feel her sense of alienation, how she has never needed anyone by her side, she totally owns this character, and I wish good luck to Ms. Mara in trying to emulate her.

There is stuff missing from the novel, that’s true, but what’s been taken out are just minor details and side stories that, while neat, would have probably made this film a bit too overstuffed. And it’s better this way, with just the basic core there for us to get to pay more attention to Lisbeth and her main mission. And that mission thickens as Lisbeth herself is accused of murder, and it’s up to her with the help of Mikael to free herself from these claims and get to the man who wants her out of the equation.

This is all told beautifully, not only are the lead performances pitch-perfect, Ms. Rapace being able to get deep down inside the psych of Lisbeth and bare it all out for our viewing pleasure, but this one also counts with a number of stellar supporting performances, which many times serve to give us a new glimpse into our leading characters. The violence is also still here, in lesser amounts and less shocking than in the first film, but just as effective.

The Girl Who Played with Fire may be a bit less than its predecessor was, but it’s still remarkable, and so far this trilogy is two for two in my book, and this one just left me desperately wanting to watch the third and final chapter of the story, and I’m guessing that one won’t disappoint, either.

Grade: B+

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

15 Apr

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Year: 2009
Director: Niels Arden Oplev
Writers: Nikolaj Arcelo and Rasmus Heisterberg, adapting from the Stieg Larsson novel
Starring: Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Runtime: 152 min
Major Awards: 1 BAFTA
IMDb Rating: 7.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 83%

Yes, this film may be too long, and yes, the violence depicted may be too intense and upsetting, some, like the great film critic A.O. Scott, saying it does the narrative a huge disservice, but I personally found The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to be an exceptionally rare film, one that I found myself loving and being extremely engaged to, this is a film that, whether it’s for the wrong reasons, like Mr. Scott, or for the right reasons, like me, you definitely won’t forget, and that’s mostly because of the riveting performance Noomi Rapace gives, her character is also the best part of this film, and I can’t wait to have the two sequels at the ready for me to love just as much.

The character Ms. Rapace plays is Lisbeth Salander, she’s a goth, she’s super thin, she’s small, she has piercings and tattoos, she’s damaged as hell and she’s a genius computer hacker. The intensity of the performance Ms. Rapace gives is beyond words and it translates well into Lisbeth, because Lisbeth is also a very intense, compelling girl, and as she starts investigating the disappearance of a young girl nearly four decades ago she finds a pattern of weird attacks on women that have been hidden for the duration, and she herself was a victim of abuses in her past, that’s when Rapace just turns it the fuck on, this is truly a magnificent performance we witness.

It helps that she has Michael Nyqvist’s character to play against, his character Mikael Blomkvist is a passive investigative journalist that is about to go prison in six months, and with Lisbeth he forms the most unlikely of partnerships as he is hired by a wealthy man to investigate the disappearance of his niece all those years ago, the story of the little girl being interesting as well. Nyqvist is great as well, the passivity of his performance contrasting in a great manner with the intensity of Rapace.

Their partnership is great to watch functioning, their research, everything they do really is not only interesting and well acted, but it is also well presented by Oplev, who also crafts a great look that complements this film as a terrific thriller, the inhabitants of the island the girl went missing in, the whole chilly look of it all, it’s just a fuckin’ brilliant film.

Now I’ll adress A.O. Scott’s two things he didn’t like about the film, and let me just note that Mr. Scott is someone I admire, aspire to be like, and is one of my three personal favorite film critics out there.

About the length of it all, which has been questioned by many, I personally find it not only not bothersome, but actually great, I’m a sucker for lengthy films that don’t bore, and not only does this one not bore us, but it’s positively fast and keeps us going at a pace an average-length film can aspire too, not to say it doesn’t feel as long as it is, it does, it just makes bloody good use of its time.

And about the extreme violence, it is in fact extreme, many are perturbed by it, and I don’t blame them, the scenes involving rape, assault and a number of other horrid things are seriously shocking, but they’re not there just to cause shock, they’re not there as a cheap stunt to grab your attention, they are there to illustrate something, and it’s a horribly tough thing to illustrate, thus their use, but what I liked is that I thought that they were shown with a sort of feminist viewpoint engraved in them which I always like.

This is a masterful film, I saw it and thought it would definitely be remade by Hollywood, and sure enough, it will be, and it seems as though David Fincher is set to direct and names like Kristen Stewart and Carey Mulligan (two of my personal favorites) have been thrown out there for the Lisbeth role, what I mean by this is is that it may turn out to be a really good remake, I just hope people not only see that one once it comes out, but check this one out before, as it will probably turn out to be the superior out of the two.

All in all this is a masterful film, it’s not only an action thriller with sex included, yes, it’s that in a way, but it’s also so much more in many other ways, it’s a terrific story, with capable direction and narrative capped off by a really solid performance by Nyqvist and a tour de force from Rapace, who I’m still gushing over from the sheer power of her performance.

Grade: A-