The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

December 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgård
Directed by: David Fincher (“The Social Network”)
Written by: Steve Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”)

From the start of the opening credits two-time Academy Award-nominated director David Fincher (“The Social Network”) wants everyone to know the new adaptation of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” based on the first book of the widely-popular Stieg Larsson series, is a Fincher film. Borrowing from his music-video aesthetic, Fincher unleashes what can only be described as the melding of liquid metal and body parts. Trent Reznor and Karen O’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” pulsates behind the glossy and fleshly images. The stylish and head-trippy kick-start is perfect for those who were pleased with both the brutal nature of “Se7en” and the experienced craftsmanship of “Zodiac.” Call it the third and most mature movement of Fincher’s serial-killer symphony.

Never mind that Larsson’s entire “Millennium Trilogy” received the Swedish treatment in 2009 by director Niels Arden Oplev, who packed some incredibly suspenseful scenes in his version of “Tattoo.” The blood inside Fincher’s snow-white fantasy runs just a few degrees colder than its predecessor, which lends its unsympathetic Nordic setting to the English-language storyline. Fincher manages to match the seething temperament and sexuality of Swedish actress Noomi Rapace with an impressive Rooney Mara (“The Social Network”) as the anti-hero.

Said protagonist, Lisbeth Salander (Mara), an unsociable and troubled researcher and computer hacker, comes in a petite, punked-out package with short jet-black hair and pale features. She is directed to recently disgraced journalist-turned-investigator Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig), who has taken leave from his magazine after losing a libel case, to help him solve the disappearance of a young girl named Harriet 40 years prior. Blomkvist is commissioned by Harriet’s uncle and retired industrialist Henrik Vagner (Christopher Plummer) to revisit the cold case. With Salander on his side (and in his bed), Blomkvist begins to unearth clues that bring him closer to discovering the truth of Harriet’s whereabouts. Will secrets hidden by the enigmatic Vanger family lead to some type of closure for Vagner? Have Blomkvist and Salander found evidence that a serial killer is responsible for Harriet’s death?

Written for an American audience by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”), the narrative linked to the new “Dragon Tattoo” is not much different from Oplev’s take. For the most part, all the pieces are present to hit the most important plot points. Also evident is the screenplay’s overall lack of sentiment, which complements the story’s cast of discomforting personalities. Getting too close to any of these emotional recluses wouldn’t bode well for anyone, especially Mara, who spends much of her screen time proving just how merciless and vengeful Salander really is. It’s a fearless turn for the actor, who pumps acid through Salander’s veins so she can maneuver her way through a lonely life behind a computer much like Jesse Eisenberg’s Mark Zuckerberg in Fincher’s 2010 masterpiece “The Social Network.”

Despite the film’s many parallels to its foreign counterpart, Fincher’s fingerprints are all over this one. As a visual artist and director, not many can attain the muted look and distressing tone he serves up. A tangible threat is felt constantly throughout the film and Fincher is extremely conscious of the details he needs to exhibit to keep each isolated moment at a highly concentrated level, even when those moments aren’t meant to be seen. Fincher makes it all feel effortless. With “Dragon Tattoo,” he has set a standard for filmmakers who want to improve on projects that have already set their own lofty bar.

Moneyball

September 23, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Brad Pitt, Jonah Hill, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Directed by: Bennett Miller (“Capote”)
Written by: Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”)

In a world of competitive sports where a power lifter can basically bench press a bulldozer by sticking a syringe his ass cheek, it’s getting harder to believe any athlete is performing on an even playing field nowadays. Even without the roids, there’s always a company out there manufacturing high tops that add six inches to a basketball player’s vertical leap or polyurethane bodysuits that give swimmers increased speed and make Michael Phelps whine. Whatever the case, having an unfair advantage seems to be America’s new favorite pastime.

When it comes to comparing championship teams with teams whose fans wear paper bags over their heads, however, it’s not all about whether 450-ft. homeruns are crushed off the bats of juicers. Sometimes it helps to have a few dollars stored away in the dugout. The idea that a team’s financial status can affect whether they succeed in their sport is examined in “Moneyball,” an exceptionally entertaining look at the true story behind Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) and the unconventional route he takes in 2002 to transform his scrappy, penniless team into a competitive ball club. Call it “Bigger, Stronger, Faster, Richer.”

Based on the 2003 book “Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game” by Michael Lewis, the film follows Billy and his brainiac new assistant GM Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) as they work to keep up with the intimidating payrolls of powerhouse teams like the New York Yankees by signing ball players considered undervalued by rarely-recognized analytical statistics.

If “Moneyball” sounds like a baseball movie for nerds, it is. There are no bottom of the 9th, bases loaded clichés and sports heroics. Instead, Academy Award-winning screenwriters Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) and Aaron Sorkin (“The Social Network”) dissect the game into an intriguing underdog story about one man’s belief in changing a good ol’ boy system he feels is outdated. Aficionados of the sport should admire the clubhouse access they get, especially during scenes where Billy builds his team as skillfully as a mathematician solving a proof. Pitt proves his big-league worth in this winning combination of thrilling drama and cynical dialogue.

Directed by Bennett Miller, whose previous film “Capote” won Philip Seymour Hoffman an Oscar (he plays grumpy A’s manager Art Howe in this one), “Moneyball” is one of the best baseball movies ever made that’s actually not about baseball at all. With the way the game is played today, it’s nice to get something that feels so natural.