Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper - RIP

A favorite of mine. I'll still have Blue Velvet and River's Edge but it is sad I couldn't meet him and shake his hand for all that he did to American Cinema.
He will be missed.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo - Review

Hype is a very powerful tool. I spoke about it in my IRON MAN 2 review and it also goes back to my KICK ASS review with the discussion of Chloe Moretz. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO also has hype as well, bigger than the combination of the previous two. Everyone has to mention that it was the most successful film of 2009 in all of Europe. They talk about the popular book trilogy that recently has been pushed heavily in book stores and clubs. And yet, the film is getting unnoticed by the general populace largely due to it being unrated and the un-American notion of reading subtitles.

Don't wait for the American remake. THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is worth a trip hopefully to your local independent art theater. It sets itself up for an elaborate murder mystery but spends most of its cinematic energy and audience engagement with social and moral violence and ideals. The shocking material it touches upon makes pieces of abdominal crap like BAISE-MOI even more vapid, exploitative, and hypocritical.

An investigative journalist (Michael Nyqvist) is found guilty of libel against a corporate head. He has six months of freedom before commencing his sentence of three months in prison. A goth teenager (Noomi Rapace) uses her speciality at hacking to retrieve his personal information as an assignment at her job. She also faces jail time in the form of guardianship, and her latest foster parent wants to reform her completely. They both get brought in and caught up with a mystery surrounding a powerful family secluded on an island. The House of Vanger is still haunted by the disappearance of the then sixteen-year-old Harriet and her uncle wants to know if one of his family members had killed her.

I've kept the mystery simple since it does go into some great twists and turns. It is more believable and understandable than the giant conspiracy messes from the Dan Brown films and will constantly keep you guessing. Director Neil Arden Oplev creates some powerful investigation scenes and action moments. The best example, and certainly the best to show the power of cinema, is a sequence involving the last known photos of Harriet. It has Harriet reacting to two separate entities: someone involved with the plot and the audience itself. The stilted frozen eyes glare at you for intruding into the past as she then slips away into the crowd and away from reality.

Other than the hype of the book and the money it gained, critics have always pointed at one specific actor. Noomi Rapace's performance of the female hacker Lisabeth Salander is definitely the spotlight, the shining example of a strong woman. Her beginning storyline features the most disturbing moments of the film, both as a victim and as an enforcer. Rapace keeps the balance right on her acting skills, showcasing the isolation Lisabeth has worn through her troubled life while displaying the absolute courage and strength that she gives back to the harsh world. Her character always seems to be in control of the film's storyline and the players that inhabited it. Her vote on whether to send an email changes the landscape and the morality of the other characters and herself.

One habit that I find humorous and refreshing to see in a film is her constant smoking of cigarettes. Though simple-minded film critics and teachers might go with the obvious metaphor, viewing the act of smoking both as a dependent and a comfort to a person is a real treat for myself. Since the MPAA feels children are even stupider nowadays not to notice the effects of smoking, this element is one of the first to be eliminated when this becomes Americanized. And that is saying something concerning what else is in this film.

I didn't have major concerns and problems with the picture. I would often disbelieve something only for the script and direction to slam it back at myself for doubting it. The only thing that I missed was more scenes on the seclusion of the island and the Vagner family. Some of these characters hardly have any time to speak or be shown. Of course, that's why they have a book available for these complaints after you leave your discarded popcorn and drink.

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO is so far the best of anything printed on celluoid this year. It has a solid story, great performances, and scenes that will frighten you and dare to ask you about yourself and your culture. I certainly will be a member of Team Noomi, hoping that the Academy think about her fantastic acting when it comes to awards season. Skip your DVR, forget about your dumb theories about Lost. Go see something that will shake up the conventions of taste and entertainment and be enthralled.


Monday, May 10, 2010

Iron Man 2 - Review

When it comes to the super hero film genre, there is always a lot of anticipation for any and all of their upcoming films. With IRON MAN 2, the level of waiting and bottled-up joy almost could have caused the film to suffer a meltdown. The original film transcended beyond the Hulks and the Blades and cemented a future popularity and base for a franchise.

IRON MAN 2 is good, just not as great as you might have wished. It gets the job done in continuing the characters and stories, just unable to remodel the original's action thrills and actually have powerful villains as probable threats. Downey Jr. is still the star and showcase, but as the script is shown, the only thing that poses a threat to Tony Stark is only Stark himself.

Stark, like the Iron Man character in our real world, has become a spectacle for the American public. His recklessness and narcissism is constantly increasing as everyone follows his every word and appearance. His live hard - die hard lifestyle is completely true; Stark's technology is tainting his physical capabilities and appearance. He pushes his morality to the brink and throws his remaining life away. To be another annoyance to his life, a violent Russian (Mickey Rourke) is planning for his death along with a competing arms manufacturer (Sam Rockwell).

The script's fan service to the classic "Demon in a Bottle" and "Armor Wars" comic stories is nice, just not truly worth having. So much of the time will have the viewer taking in dialogue exchanges, bureaucratic threats, techno-babbles, and daddy issues. The action scenes are spread far out from each other. The film's world is more pessimistic and cynical. And yet, the film is still good in my opinion.

IRON MAN 2 wants to be a pioneering type of a sequel: raise the word, not the action. The slow burn may annoy but it is amazing how risky Jon Favreau is giving this product to us. He wants our attention on the people, not the heroes and villains. This is best displayed in the fact that Rourke is never named Whiplash or the fact that the War Machine name is a dig at James Rhodes' status as American first, friend second.

Though Downey Jr. continues his great acting in this, the supporters get some good spotlights. Rourke and Rockwell were great with their takes of classic Iron Man villains. Rourke is creepy and frightening as a physical and mental warrior. Rockwell, like the direction and script, slowly burns Justin Hammer with his awkwardness up front hiding his pure misanthropic nature inside. Samuel Jackson's Nick Fury is sometimes too flamboyant but Scarlet Johannson plays the Black Widow just right. Don Cheadle is also a good and better substitute for Terence Howard.

IRON MAN 2 simply is good and entertaining but the emphasis of drama over action is odd and scary for theater-goers. Still, you will enjoy it thoroughly and you will again wait after the credits for the next big thing in the Marvel movie universe.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Nightmare on Elm Street - Review

Though this reboot of the series and a near remake of the original film has some things going for it, A NIGHTMARE ELM STREET is just tepid and misdirected in its execution. Freddy, played by Jackie Earl Haley instead of a returning Robert Englund, is a believable menace, but the words and thoughts coming out of the character are simply a menace of bad script writing.

The film starts off with a teenager commiting suicide in front of a friend after having two disturbing dreams. Instead of hinting that Freddy is killing him and not show too much, director Samuel Bayer and the writers just show him like it didn't matter. Five minutes in, and Freddy Krueger has been introduced with no suspense. Sure, Krueger is an icon of the modern horror genre, but this is a reintroduction, thus a new great entrance for a new generation.

Once this prelude is done, the remaining teenagers then try to figure out what's going on and what has been happening to all of them. It all leads to a major discovery about their past that they somehow forgot to know about. Seriously, there is no logical reason for them to forgot about their past. The film may try to fool myself thinking it was due to it being traumatic but again the writers and director don't elaborate on it.

This discovery also has a major revamping of the Freddy Krueger character that left this major fan of him to be appalled. I like both versions of Freddy: the pure sadist and the vicious harlequin. This remade version, on the other hand, tries to bring the terror back to him by relying on a cheap exploitative characterization. To make this change even worse, his one-liners and actions after this revelation made myself feel dirty and disgusted in the wrong way for ever liking Freddy. It's not Haley's fault; He gets the job necessary to be done regardless of the stupidity coming out his mouth. He even gives Freddy a creepy habit of twitching his blades before sinking into the flesh of the boring teenagers.

Since my enjoyment factor dwindled as the film continued, it causes all the plot holes to expand more and more. Like in the original, one of the teens gets arrested for the supposed murder of his girlfriend. Instead of reading his Miranda rights, he gets told by the arresting officer to shut up. None of the parents are concerned when two of their children have been killed mysteriously close to each other. And, the biggest I noticed, involves the former place that connects the meatbags to Freddy. According to the parents, Freddy Krueger's death at their hands goes unreported and he is never mentioned again. And yet, somehow, the place is shut down and deserted by everyone despite not having bad press.

There was some hope for this film and some good ideas. The subtle notion that prescription and mood drugs have destroyed the well-being of our youth is surprisingly effective to include. I also liked Rooney Mara as the new Nancy is her own form and style. However, the cheap transformation of Freddy, the constantly repeating shock scares, and the dumb script dismantled this project. This film is forgettable while also being offensive to the tastes of a horror and Freddy fan.