Friday, August 27, 2010

GET LOW: The Film Babble Blog Review

GET LOW (Dir. Aaron Schneider, 2009)

Set in depression era Tennessee, this is a whimsical tale of a mysterious old hermit who has an unusual plan for his funeral – he wants it to be a party while he’s still alive.

A grizzled Robert Duvall is the hermit, the kind who’d put up a self made wooden sign stating: “No Damn Trespassing – Beware Of Mule” on the road leading to his rustic house.

From his night sweats we see that Duvall is sick and dying. Knowing he has little time left he goes into the small town he lives on the outskirts of to make arrangements. “About time for me to get low” he tells the local pastor (Gerald McRaney).

A young funeral home employee (Lucas Black) overhears this and tells his boss – a mustached worried wart of a man played beautifully by Bill Murray – that their ailing business may have a possible client.

This is a perfect timing for Murray as he was just talking about how down the death business has been lately. Murray: “What are the odds of a funeral home going broke? We have a business that everybody on earth needs. If you can’t make that work it’s got to be you. Right? And yet, I don’t know. What do you do when people don’t die?”

Everybody in town appears to have heard rumors and gossip of all sorts about Duvall’s past. He wants it known that everybody who has such stories should come tell them at his “funeral party.” Duvall in turn will tell his story.

Sissy Spacek is an old flame who appears to be charmed by the old codger, but like everybody else she is tight lipped about what went down back in the day.

As the film began with a flashback to a burning house with a silhouette of somebody on fire jumping out of an upstairs window we have some hints about what will be revealed.

GET LOW has a lot of folksy charm, but it feels like it needed to be a lot more fleshed out. It sails sweetly on the strength of its performances largely Duvall and Murray, but it doesn’t take the risks necessary to give it the emotional power it sorely lacks.

As an African American preacher that Duvall wishes would attend his “going away” affair, Bill Cobbs unfortunately reminds us that this is a whitewashed version of the ‘30s in the South – one with no detectable racism.

The depression era really has no baring on the plot - it could've taken place anywhere at any time, but as it is loosely based on a true story that happened in 1938 Tennessee, that's how we have it.

Also the idea that the town folk would open up at the funeral party and the stories would fly never comes to pass. The climatic event contains a wonderfully delivered confessional speech by Duvall, but after that the ending peters out.

Still, Duvall is always an appealing actor and he never plays a false note as this cantankerous character, and Murray’s masterful portrayal of a broken-down-yet-still-chugging-along-salesman oaf makes every scene he’s in as absorbing as they are amusing.

Spacek and Black are fine in their roles, but both are broad strokes as supporting players which would've benefited from just one more rewrite by the screenwriters (Chris Provenzano and C. Gaby Mitchell).

It’s a light drama sprinkled with light comedy that gets a little too carried away with its own whimsy. That’s okay though, I have a feeling that many audiences will get carried away with it.

More later...

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON: The Film Babble Blog Review

MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON (Dir. Stéphane Brizé, 2009)

It’s a simple story – married man meets woman and they flirt in a restrained manner. Will they consummate their slowly budding relationship? How much will it mean to us if they do or don’t?

Unfortunately these bare bones of a premise are all there is to sift through in this extremely spare French film adaptation off a 1996 Éric Holder novel.

The man is a stoical mason played by Vincent Lindon who we often see on his job smashing walls with a mallet.

The woman is the title character played by Sandrine Kiberlain – a new schoolteacher in town (an unnamed village in France) who asks Lindon to come to her home to fix a drafty window.

After finishing the job, Lindon sees that Kiberlain has fallen asleep in her bedroom and he pokes around her apartment taking interest in the fact that she plays the violin.

When she awakes he asks her to perform the instrument for him. After some hesitation she complies, but with her back turned to him.

He is transfixed by her, but nothing romantic happens between them – yet.

Lindon’s wife (Aure Atika) gradually feels that her husband is drifting away which is confirmed at a Birthday party the family has for Lindon’s father (Jean-Marc Thibault).

Kiberlain plays the violin for Thibault and Atika witnesses her husband’s suppressed passion. There is quiet beauty in several sequences in “Mademoiselle Chambon” but it isn’t enough to make for a vital movie going experience.

The camera lingers on too many sad shots which make the film feel padded. The characters are supposedly suffering inside, but we only get broad surfaces that never bring us inside this material.

Lindon and Kiberlain were once married in real life and there is a palpable chemistry between them especially in a tense scene in which they sit and listen to a CD of chamber music together, their hands finding each others naturally.

This scene is indeed effective and if the rest of the movie had its hold we might have something special here. As it stands however, MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON is too slight, too twee, to be a memorable experience.

MADEMOISELLE CHAMBON is now playing at the Colony Theater in Raleigh. Check the theater's website for showtimes.

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Sylvester Stallone & His All Star Band!

THE EXPENDABLES (Dir. Sylvester Stallone, 2010)

This is the definition of a critic proof movie – as its rating on the Rotten Tomatometer rapidly falls (in a week it fell from 58% to 39%) its box office rises - its been #1 since it opened with a gross nearing $70 million so far.

Apparently America wants a big badass blockbuster with a crew of well known action stars. Call it “Monsters of Mediocrity” if you will, but triple threat (actor/writer/director) Sylvester Stallone has assembled a solid B-Team of action movie mavericks including Jason Statham, Jet Li, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, and Dolph Lundgren.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that from the trailer that Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger are on the mission too, but they only appear in one scene that tries, but fails to make much of a punch.

That could be said of the whole movie with its generic let’s-overthrow-a-corrupt-Latin American-dictator premise, but there is some fun to be had with this ‘80s throwback even if it oddly has too much downtime.

Mickey Rourke has a longer appearance than Willis and Schwarzenegger, but it’s still another glorified cameo as he never leaves his tattoo parlor. Rourke has one of the only serious dramatic moments telling a story about a woman that he failed to save from suicide that brings tears to his eyes. In a movie like this I really didn’t expect to see Rourke cry.

It’s mainly Stallone and Stratham’s show as they spend the largest amount of screen time getting each others backs in fights and shoot outs. The ending is a giant shit-storm of machine gun fire and explosions on top of explosions as expected. It’s played out in a lot of darkness and hyper cutting that makes it hard to follow, but if you like a lot of fiery explosions it should make your day.

Oh, there’s also Giselle Itié as the underwritten damsel in distress (What - An underwritten woman role in a Stallone action flick?) fighting for her poverty stricken people, her angry General father played by David Zayas (Angel Batista on Dexter), and Eric Roberts as an evil ex-CIA man agent backing the dictatorship.

THE EXPENDABLES is undercooked and overblown at the same time, but its core audience doesn’t appear to care. I shouldn’t either because this kind of mindlessness really shouldn’t be minded.

More later...

Former Comedy Superstar Bill Murray Now Hides Out In Indie Films

If you grew up in the ‘70s you most likely know Bill Murray from his 4 year stint on Saturday Night Live.

Murray came on the innovative late night program to replace breakout star Chevy Chase and took a bit to find his place among the “Not Ready For Prime Time Players”, but gradually got a groove going with such popular recurring characters as Nick the lounge singer, the “showbiz reporter” on Weekend Update, and the teenage Todd DiLaBounta– one of the most notable nerds in television history.

If you grew up in the ‘80s you probably know Bill Murray as a comedy movie superstar in such instant classics as CADDYSHACK, STRIPES, GHOST BUSTERS and SCROOGED. In an un-credited cameo he even stole TOOTSIE away from Dustin Hoffman and the rest of the extremely talented cast – such was his comic reign at the time.

If you came to Murray in the early ‘90s you got a puffier even smarmier incarnation of the former SNL schmoozer – this worked like a charm in such films as WHAT ABOUT BOB?, GROUNDHOG DAY, and his only directorial effort QUICK CHANGE, but not so much in such forgettable mediocre work as LARGER THAN LIFE (pair Murray with an elephant and wait for the laughs!) and THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO LITTLE.

Since the 90's Murray has been in an era in which, with a few glaring exceptions (CHARLIE'S ANGELS, GARFIELD and its sequel, various cameos, etc.), he has eschewed major studio work and worked mainly with directors such as Wes Anderson, Jim Jarmusch, and Sofia Coppola whose LOST ON TRANSLATION earned Murray his only Academy Award nomination.

This anti-big budget blockbuster stance was noted by Roger Ebert In his review of Jarmusch’s THE LIMITS OF CONTROL last year. Ebert remarked that Murray “is appearing so frequently in such films I think it is time for him to star in a smutty action comedy.”

It’s telling that Murray has dismissed talk of GHOSTBUSTERS 3 as “a bunch of crock” because he seems happy where he is now – in small budget indie films like GET LOW which opens this Friday in Raleigh at the Rialto Theater.

In a cameo as himself in another Jarmusch film, COFFEE AND CIGARETTES (2004), Murray is recognized by rappers GZA and RZA of the Wu Tang Clan working as a waiter in a dive diner. RZA: “You’re Bill Murray – Bill-Groundhog-Day-Ghost-bustin’-ass Murray!”

Murray replies: “I know that, just don’t tell anybody.”

Seems pretty clear doesn’t it? Murray would rather hide out in the art houses these days than headline at the multiplex. He’s been there, done that.

Back during his post SNL movie star heyday (i.e. the early ‘80s), Murray already had different notions about what to do with his career than what audiences and studios expected.

Murray only did GHOST BUSTERS on the condition that his dream project – an adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s 1944 novel THE RAZOR'S EDGE would be made in exchange by Columbia Pictures. The film, featuring Murray’s first dramatic performance, flopped and the actor took 4 years off from show business and retreated to France. His only appearance during this time being a brief cameo in LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS (1986).

Another more recent cameo in a major studio picture occurred in last year’s ZOMBIELAND. Murray appeared as himself – albeit disguised as a zombie version of himself for the purposes of warding off real zombies.

He’s accidentally shot by a scared Jesse Eisenberg with a rifle and is asked as he’s dying if he has any regrets.

He ponders the question: “‘Garfield’ maybe.”

In a recently published interview in GQ Murray reveals that the regret actually came from taking the role of Garfield because of a misunderstanding that Joel Coen had co-written the screenplay. Even in such expensively CGI saturated studio circumstances, Murray was looking for indie cred.

However, in that same interview Murray does say: “I want to go make a comedy like the ones I used to like to make. And…well, I think I can do it. I think I probably should direct one, too.”

Until that happens though, we’ll know where to find him – hiding out at the local art house theater away from the mainstream and pleased as punch at the prospects.

More later...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

WILD GRASS: The Film Babble Blog Review

WILD GRASS (Dir. Alain Resnais, 2009)

A frizzy red haired woman (Sabine Azéma), who we mainly see from behind, has her purse snatched just after leaving a shop at the beginning of this French (comic?) drama. 

The narrator (Édouard Baer) explains that although it is an natural impulse she doesn’t call out after the thief.

Later an eccentric middle aged man (André Dussollier) finds one of the contents of the purse - a wallet – in the parking lot of a mall. After seeing Azéma’s picture the man starts to become infatuated with her.

After some deliberation Dussollier turns in the wallet to the police - Mathieu Amalric (“Quantum Of Solace”) is the attending officer – but that doesn’t stop him from phoning and writing letters to Azéma, much to her displeasure.

Anne Consigny, as Dussollier’s wife, appears to know what’s going on, yet is fascinated. When her husband finally stops the correspondence, Azéma misses the attention almost immediately. She speaks with Consigny on the phone and finds out that Dussollier is at the cinema so she goes there to wait for him to exit the theater.

After this I would be hard pressed to describe the remainder of the plot. The first two thirds are absorbing as they explore the character’s boundaries albeit in an abstract manner, but the final act is a mess of artsy imagery and an aviation diversion that finds Azéma and Dussollier in a small plane flying as far away from audience comprehension as they can get.

Every so often there are shots of weeds growing in the cracks of the street or a sidewalk and I suspect that we’re supposed to connect this to the title. It’s some symbolic comment on the characters finding love where it wasn’t originally supposed to exist, but I’m just guessing here.

WILD GRASS (French title: “Les Herbes Folles”) is a baffling bizarre mind numbing movie that loses its hold and fizzles out in a stupefying display of pretension.

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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Blu Ray Review: A PROPHET

This Oscar nominated French drama played briefly in my area (Raleigh, N.C.) to small yet very appreciative audiences last spring. It’s now out on DVD and Blu ray so, with hope, it will gain much more appreciation.

A PROPHET (Un prophète) (Dir. Jacques Audiard, 2009)

In this film’s swift opening scenes we are immediately drawn into the dark world of 18-year-old Arab Malik (Tahar Rahim) when he is thrown into prison with a 6 year sentence.

Rahim, after spending the better part of his life in juvenile detention, is told that he’s going to be in with “the big boys now” and finds himself stuck between a rock (the Corsican mafia who rule the joint) and a hard place (the Muslim contingent who want nothing to do with him).

After completing a gruesome task for an elder lifer – the Godfatherly Niels Arestrup - Rahim's power rises in prison to the point in which he can take day passes to oversee the business on the outside.

The film’s storytelling strengths lie in how it posits pivotal characters. With bold white lettering we are introduced to Hichem Yacoubi as an Arab murdered by Rahim early in the film, yet he visits his cell as a haunting reminder throughout the film; Adel Bencherif as a Muslim recovering from testicular cancer who believes highly in rehabilitation, and Mamadou Minte as dangerous drug dealer Latif the Egyptian among deadly others.

Often brutal in a way that may cause some viewers may have to avert their eyes, A PROPHET earns its 2 hours and 35 minute running time with a gripping pace – it’s truly one of the most compelling films of the year.
It’s challenging with its non compromising stance on the futile forum of prison reform and in your face violence, but one can sympathize and cringe with Rahim as he brushes off the insults of “dirty Arab” and tries to assert himself on this treacherous yet unavoidable path.

Not sure if this one would make that noticeable a difference on Blu ray from DVD as it’s a pretty gritty looking movie to begin with, but both versions have deleted scenes and an insightful commentary by from director Audiard, Rahim and co-screenwriter Thomas Bidegain.

In French, Arabic, Corsican with English subtitles. Also available in the Raleigh area at multiple Redbox locations.

More later...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD: The Film Babble Blog Review

SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD (Dir. Edgar Wright, 2010)

This long awaited adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's graphic novel series opens with a pixelated Universal Studios logo with a symphonic variation on the company's famous theme music. The funny implication is clear - this is a video game cartoon of a movie.

Each character's stats are given in pop-up black boxes, there are subspace doors to alternate dream levels, and when our hero defeats a baddie they explode into a cloud of coins that clank into piles of pocket change on the ground. Our hero, of course, is Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) - an unemployed 23 year old slacker who plays bass in a punk rock band called Sex Bob-Omb.

Cera lives in a shabby apartment in Toronto with his "cool gay roommate" (Kieren Culkin), and he starts off his movie boasting about having a new 17 year old high school girlfriend (Ellen Wong). This budding romance is stunted by the arrival of the girl of Cera's dreams - literally a girl that's been in his dreams - Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Ramona Flowers.

The spunky Winstead re-colors her hair every week and works as a delivery person for Amazon so Cera orders something just to be able to ask her out. This is on the side of the woefully oblivious Wong who becomes very upset upon learning of her boyfriend's cheating. This is, the least of Cera's problems as he learns that he has to fight the "League of Evil Exes" for his new girlfriend's hand. That is 7 of Winstead's exes are coming to take him down mostly by way of a big battle of the bands competition. The Evil Exes are (in order of appearance) Satya Bhabha, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman, twins Shota Saito and Keita Saito, with Jason Schwartzman bringing the smarm for the cluttered climax.

Each of the exes has some sort of power which are all fairly well explained (I think), but Cera has mighty powers when he needs them that are not explained. I know, I know - it's just a big surreal world they're having fun with - why ask why? In between the mix of Manga and Martial arts mayhem, director Wright impressively makes the most of the crowded cast that also includes Anna Kendrick as Cera's cynical sister, a very Molly Ringwald circa 1985 looking Alison Pill as Sex Bob-Omb's drummer, and Aubrey Plaza (Parks And Recreation) as a bad tempered co-worker of Kendrick who's foul-mouth makes her a running gag of a character.

But then in this film everybody is a running gag of a character.

The super charged movie has an enjoyable soundtrack provided by Beck who wrote Sex Bob-Omb's material, Nigel Godrich, and Broken Music Scene. It all enhances the playing a video game while blaring punk feeling - or at least the watching somebody playing a game while blaring punk feeling.

Though he is still basically the same old Cera, it must be said that he can be detected trying to play some different notes than he has before with this character. Some of his line readings show a lot more effort than in his last few movies (YOUTH IN REVOLT, YEAR ONE, and PAPER HEART for instance) and he has some tangible chemistry with Winstead.

There's a lot going on (split screen effects, Batman style exclamations like "POW!", frenetic cross cutting, etc.) in every frame of SCOTT PILGRIM and it moves fast through it, but it gets way overloaded in its second half. Not being a gamer or graphic novel enthusiast I'm sure that a lot of stuff flew by me that would give nerdgasms to the audience this is aimed at.

Still I laughed a lot and it doesn't seem out of place with the other wonderful work of Edgar Wright (Spaced, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ) even if it's not quite up to par with those Simon Pegg vehicles.

As I was writing this I saw that surprisingly SCOTT PILGRIM opened at #5 at the box office, beat out by THE EXPENDABLES, EAT PRAY LOVE, THE OTHER GUYS, and INCEPTION.

I guess the geeks aren't going to inherit the earth after all.

More later...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Blu Ray Review: MYSTERY TRAIN (1989)

MYSTERY TRAIN (Dir. Jim Jarmusch, 1989)

There are several notable elements that Quentin Tarantino took to the bank a few years later heavily on display in Jim Jarmusch’s 3rd feature film MYSTERY TRAIN, now out on a special edition DVD / Blu ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

First off, there’s the non linear story-line that gives us three different scenarios that happen at the same time from different perspectives.

Second, there’s the hipster soundtrack that posits Elvis Presley (of course, it being a Memphis movie), Otis Redding, and the Bar-Kays to decorate the film’s scrappy edges. Third, there’s an ultra hip disc jockey who is heard throughout the movie (think: Steven Wright in RESERVOIR DOGS) spinning that cool soundtrack - Jarmusch regular Tom Waits does the duty here. Fourth, there’s Steve Buscemi.

MYSTERY TRAIN is an independent gem that was for a long time endangered to be a forgotten film. This spiffy new Criterion Collection edition not only saves it from that fate; it presents it as the classic that anybody who saw it in the last 20 years knew it was all along.

It’s a movie in which the locale is as much a character as any of its cast. Memphis comes off as a ghost town with dilapidated buildings, dive bars, and a very decrepit hotel – the Arcade Hotel which was raized the year after the film finished shooting. All 3 separate storylines, the names of which are “Far From Yokohama”, “A Ghost”, and “Lost In Space”, take place on the same hot night in Memphis, Tennessee.

In the first story, Youki Kudoh and Masatoshi Nagase play a young couple on somewhat of a religious pilgrimage – they want to visit the old stomping grounds of the King of Rock and Roll and his minions. Their tour of Sun studios tasks them and they constantly bicker about who’s better: Carl Perkins or Elvis Presley.

The next narrative involves Nicoletta Brasch as a recent widow stranded in Memphis while escorting her husband's coffin back to Italy. At a diner she listens to a creepy Tom Noonan telling a story about the ghost of Elvis and later with Elizabeth Bracco as a woman fleeing an abusive ex she re-tells the story. Bracco reacts harshly: “Is this the one where the guy has to go to Graceland and it turns out to be Elvis? I think I’ve heard this a hundred times. I think almost everybody in Memphis has picked up Elvis’s ghost hitchhiking.”

In the third storyline, Steve Buscemi, Joe Strummer (of the Clash), and Rick Aviles navigate through a drunken criminal night ending up at the same hotel as the previous protagonists. The ghost of Elvis lingers as Strummer is referred to as “Elvis” much to his chagrin: “Don't call me Elvis! If you can't use my proper name, why don't you try 'Carl Perkins, Jr.' or something?”

The details concerning a gunshot that is heard in the preceding stories are made clear in the final story and with it the arc is complete. As the night clerk and bellboy of the Arcade Hotel, Screamin' Jay Hawkins and Cinqué Lee are the most consistent characters in the movie – they encounter all the movie’s players in all 3 scenarios and handle them with memorable flair. “Mystery Train” concerns the intertwining stories of foreigners in a quintessential American city.

Like in many of his other films Jarmusch comes off like an American film maker who makes foreign films about America. In my humble opinion this is his best.

Bonus features or as Criterion calls them – Supplements: A rambling but highly amusing Q & A with Jarmusch in lieu of a commentary (his words there not mine) and a couple of cool featurettes including a documentary on the film’s locations and Memphis's musical history and on-set photos by Masayoshi Sukita. 

There’s also an excerpt (19 min.) of a 2001 documentary on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins entitled “I Put a Spell on Me”. All excellent extras on an essential indie classic.

More later...

Saturday, August 07, 2010

HOLY ROLLERS: The Film Babble Blog Review

HOLY ROLLERS (Dir. Kevin Asch, 2010)

For the last year it has looked a lot like Jesse Eisenberg (ADVENTURELAND, ZOMBIELAND, SOLITARY MAN) was gaining on Michael Cera in the awkward geeky teenager sweepstakes (next week though SCOTT PILGRAM VS. THE WORLD will likely be a game changer), but this is a welcome change in character and content for the budding actor. 

On the surface Eisenberg, as a Hasidic Jew in Brooklyn in 1998, seems content with life working with his father and hoping to be approved by his Rabbi for an arranged marriage, but spend a little time with him and he’s clearly an angsty 20 year old going through the motions. His next door neighbor (played with snarky profane charm by Paul Bartha) mentions to Eisenberg that he could make some money transporting “medicine for rich people”, which turns out to be ecstasy, from Amsterdam to New York. 

This new choice of career involves a slick but shady Israeli dealer (Danny A. Abeckaser), his way too flirty girlfriend (Ari Graynor), and a set of rules about how to handle going through customs – #1 of which is “act Jewish.” Because of Eisenberg’s strict religious attire including a large black hat, dark brown cloak, and his curly sidelocks left long (called ‘payes’) he is unlikely to be searched by airport security and this ploy works well enough that his trips become routine. 

However, it’s not just his traditional clothing that wins over his boss. Abeckaser takes a shine to Eisenberg quickly because of his business sense which is well displayed in a nervy drug costs negotiation scene with rapper Q-Tip.

Bartha’s brother and Eisenberg’s friend, Jason Fuchs, meanwhile, who went on their first trip but backed off from joining the operation when the dreaded word “drugs” was said, marries the woman Eisenberg was pining for and seems to be the source of rumors spread around their neighborhood.

There are the obligatory spiraling-down-into-the-darkness druggie sequences with flashing rave lights and supposedly scary chemical induced craziness, but this film is grounded firmly in its narrative. Not that it’s in the same class, but memories of Martin Scorsese’s early work can be felt, such as the secular struggles of Harvey Keitel in WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR? and MEAN STREETS

The same thematic of religious practice versus thug life/drug life echoes through the tension filled final third of HOLY ROLLERS. The characters in this tale of Hasidic Jews as drug mules are composites based on the participants of the real small drug ring that imported over a million ecstasy pills into New York in the late ‘90s. 

 The formula in which drugs equals riches and fun for the first half, then a second half of drug equaling paranoia, death or incarceration may be a bit burned out, but this is still a concise (89 min.) and compelling film. 

 In this promising directorial debut from Kevin Asch, Eisenberg is showing that he is starting to drop some of the tics and overly broad mannerisms and really act. Michael Cera may have won many more hearts with his stilted shtick (and again maybe more next week in SCOTT PILGRAM), but Eisenberg, with this solid indie and with THE SOCIAL NETWORK coming this fall is poised to get plenty of runoff.

More later...

Friday, August 06, 2010

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE (Dir. Daniel Alfredson, 2009)

Right on the heels of the wildly successful theatrical run of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO comes this sequel, and before the end of this year the third (“The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”) in the Swedish series dubbed “The Millennium Trilogy” will be released. 

 You see, the Swedes don’t take 2-3 years between sequels – they strike when the iron is hot. Hollywood is trying to catch up with an English language version of the franchise directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig, but that’s way off so let’s just concentrate on the sequel at hand. Though helmed by a different director (Alfredson takes over from Niels Arden Oplev) “The Girl Who Played With Fire” is roughly the same quality as its predecessor so if you thought “Dragon Tattoo” was a dark gripping experience well worth the time it took to get where it was going you’re likely to think that of the follow-up. 

 Michael Nyquist and the title’s namesake, Noomi Rapace, return in a scenario set a year after the events of “Dragon Tattoo”. The Millennium Magazine journalist Nyquist is investigating a sex-trafficking ring, separate from Rapace who is in hiding after being accused of three murders. 

 Nyquist believes she is innocent of the murders of a couple of his fellow journalists as well as Rapace’s guardian, Peter Andersson, who folks should remember from one of the most searing scenes in the first installment. Utilizing wigs, a lavish secret apartment, and her incredible computer hacking skills, Rapace is able to avoid the police and gets the appropriate info to Nyquist, who tracks down some dangerous family history having to do with, yes, the girl in question actually playing with fire.

There's a huge obstacle to both the protagonist's paths - a towering henchman (Mikael Spreitz) described by boxer Paolo Roberto (in an odd cameo as himself) as a "blond tank." Spreitz's feel no pain presence brings to mind the likewise bruts James Bond battled in the '60s (but then I did just re-watch FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE). 

The pace plummets a few times with the film overestimating the chemistry of the central characters at crucial moments. Several times Nyquist is asked “what’s going on between you?” with no answer given. 

Despite not sharing any screen time until the very end there’s obviously an attraction that is supposed to be the crux of the biscuit, but perhaps it’s something that’s stronger felt in the books which haven’t left the top of the New York Times Bestseller list in months. 

 Obviously, having not read the late Stieg Larsson's books I can’t comment on that, but I get the appeal of these people and their predicaments to a degree. Nyquist lives a more conventional life than the bisexual punk attired Rapace, yet he respects her ideals and vice versa. Somehow her spare never smiling acting style conveys this. Rapace does give off a sly almost barely detectable smile at one point after violently overthrowing 2 biker baddies and stealing one of their motorcycles. 

It says it all: don’t even dream about trying to put girls with dragon tattoos who play with fire in a corner.

Swedish with English subtitles. Starts Friday, August 6th at the Colony Theater in North Raleigh. Check the theater's website for showtimes.

More later...

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT: The Film Babble Blog Review

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT (Dir. Lisa Cholodenko, 2010)

It’s fun to see Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as a long time Los Angeles lesbian couple laugh it up sitting together clutching wine glasses in this much buzzed about indie. Their laughter is infectious, their dialogue is witty, and their movie’s premise plays out nicely. 

Bening and Moore, from the same anonymous sperm donor, have teenage kids – a son (Josh Hutcherson) and a daughter (Mia Waskikowka). On the daughter’s 18th birthday, she and her brother contact the sperm bank with the hopes of meeting their biological father. That turns out to be Mark Ruffalo as an easy going motorcycle-riding organic restaurant owner. Ruffalo is smilingly open to the prospect of having a new family to get to know.

Perhaps too open as (Spoiler Alert!) Moore and Ruffalo succumb to animal desires in a weak moment. Rarely without a glass of red wine in her hand, Bening voices cynical concern over Ruffalo’s presence and influence in their family. Bening spouts out to Moore: “He’s not a father, he’s our sperm donor!” Their believable couple chemistry makes their one on one scenes stand out. 

Ruffalo charms everyone in sight, Moore searches for a clue about what her next move should be, Bening has more wine, the kids seem able to cope with change (hence the film’s title), and every one has sharp quips – most thankfully not of the snarky “Juno” variety. 

Director Cholodenko (HIGH ART, LAUREL CANYON), who co-wrote with Stuart Blumberg, has made a endearing funny film that though maybe stilted by predictable conventions, and some of the same schematics employed on episodic television (Cholodenko has directed episodes of Six Feet Under, The L Word, and Homicide), I genuinely laughed enough throughout that such things could be overlooked. 

THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT is an art house crowd pleaser if there ever was one, and in a sea of cloying comic indies (see CITY ISLAND for instance) it’s a likable, if not lovable keeper.

  More later...