Mini Reviews: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) + Wind River (2017)

Happy Monday everyone! It’s been a pretty hectic week last week with freelance gigs, script updates, etc. There’s a hint of Spring (finally!) after such a long and pretty miserable Winter, in fact, we pretty much hibernated most weekends the past couple of months. Well, that gave us a chance to catch up on a bunch of new-to-me movies. Today I’ve got a pair of excellent, moody crime thrillers that both took place in the Winter months.

Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing for forty years by Lisbeth Salander, a young computer hacker.

Directed by: David Fincher
Screenplay by: Steven Zaillian

For a while I sort of avoided this adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s crime novel (part of the Millennium trilogy), both the Swedish version and this English language version. I just thought it’d be too violent and that I wouldn’t enjoy it. But well, my hubby and I were in the mood for a good crime noir, and since we both liked Gone Girl, we thought we’d give this one a shot. Well, I wasn’t disappointed.

David Fincher is a master in building suspense even with relatively little action. I quite like Daniel Craig as the disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist, who’s hired by a retired CEO Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) to investigate the disappearance of his grandniece Harriet. Vanger exposed some really strange family dynamics which lives up to his descriptions, and then some. The film took its time before Mikael and Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) meets, as their story runs in parallel until their eventual meet-up.

I knew going into this that this is a violent film, especially dealing with brutal sexual assault and rape, but still, it’s quite harrowing to watch. The way Lisbeth retaliates for this brutality has that ‘wish fulfillment’ fantasy, as the wicked assailant has no idea who he’s dealing with. Mara’s transformation as Lisbeth is astounding and she completely lost herself in the role as the brilliant but antisocial hacker. I thought Mara’s a bit of an unusual choice to play her, but she pulled it off. Lisbeth is quite a mesmerizing and intimidating character, an undoubtedly challenging-but-flashy role every prominent actress would want to portray.

What I like most about this movie is the way the story unfolds. I actually like the deliberate, almost unhurried pace, but every moment is never without a sense of dread. Fincher’s direction is superb, using the setting (in Sweden and various Nordic countries) to great effect in conveying the perfect mood for the film. It’s the kind of mystery thriller that fully immerses you in the story and rewards your patience. Stellan Skarsgård is pretty memorable here as well in a quiet, but sinister role as Harriet’s brother.

I have to say though, the scenes towards the end with Lisbeth inhabiting a completely different persona as a femme fatale is feels a bit off from the rest of the film. The hurried pacing and more glamorous setting makes it feel like a Bond movie (with Lisbeth playing ‘Jane’ Bond) which is amusing given Craig’s casting. Honestly, it took me out of the movie a bit. I enjoyed watching the scenes, it’s just that the whole thing feels incredulous. Perhaps that is the point, Lisbeth going way out of her comfort zone to help someone she cares about.

Despite the gruesome scenes, I actually like this film enough that I might even rewatch it at some point. There are SO much details during the investigation that I likely missed a few things. It also got me intrigued to see the original Swedish versions starring Noomi Rapace as Lisbeth.

WIND RIVER (2017)

A veteran hunter helps an FBI agent investigate the murder of a young woman on a Wyoming Native American reservation.

Written & Directed by: Taylor Sheridan

After seeing The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, my hubby and I are craving for more mystery thrillers. I was impressed by Taylor Sheridan‘s impressive writing in Sicario, but haven’t seen anything else he’s done since. Well, he’s definitely no ‘one hit wonder.’

The film opens with a card that says “inspired by true events,” which makes the scene that follows all the more excruciating to watch. A panic-stricken young woman is running in a vast snowy land on the Wind River Indian Reservation with barely enough clothing to survive the harsh climate. Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner), an expert tracker working for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agency, discovered her frozen body and alerted the FBI. The Feds sent a rookie agent, Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) who arrived from Las Vegas and soon realized this case is way in over her head.

The unlikely partnership between Lambert and Banner is the core of the story and it’s intriguing to watch. The fact that Renner and Olsen worked together in Avengers: Age of Ultron two years prior is amusing, but it’s a testament to their acting that I quickly forgot about that fact as the film progressed. I love that Sheridan’s just as concerned with his characters as he is with solving a murder case, putting this film far and above a typical CSI or Law & Order’s ‘whodunnit’ episode. Soon we learn about Lambert’s past and why this case is so hugely personal to him. Sheridan also toys with our expectations, in a good way, in the way he presents the murder suspects. I’m also impressed by the skilled use of flashback to tell a crucial detail, without spoon-feeding the audience too much details. I also appreciate that the film is not gratuitously violent nor gory.

Renner is particularly strong here in a soulful, emotionally-grounded performance as a man who’ve been through hell and back. Lambert offers a nice contrast to the inexperienced Banner, teaching her the ropes without being condescending. Veteran character actor Graham Greene as the Tribal Police chief Ben plays a crucial role here. “This is the land of you’re on your own.” Ben sheds lights into how the Native American community like Wind River is marginalized and barely gets the attention they deserve, as evidenced by the lack of federal support Banner gets to solve this case. I like Jon Bernthal‘s casting as well which again toys with our expectations given the tough guy roles he often plays.

The desolate setting here is a character in itself, in which the location is pivotal to the story. It’s a bleak film to be sure, but a deeply engrossing one and it’s not without hope. That scene towards the end of Lambert and his friend Martin (Gil Birmingham) is a powerful one that ties well with an earlier scene after the girl’s body’s just discovered. I find myself engrossed in this slow-burn mystery, which also rewards your patience with a satisfying ending. I’d say it’s a pretty strong directorial debut from Sheridan, though it made me curious to see how the film would look like under someone like David Fincher. In any case, Sheridan is definitely a gifted writer and a promising director, I’m definitely keen on seeing more of his work in the future!


So have you seen either one of these films? I’d love to hear what you think!

Musings of Movies Past – Series Kickoff

I came across The MovieNess’ Mini Netflix Reviews post last week, and I thought, what a great idea. I’ve watched a bunch of movies prior to my blog that I won’t ever have time to write full reviews of. So to start off this series, I’m going to pick three random movies from different genres: Multiplicity, Equillibrium, and One Night with the King. I know, it’s not lost to me that these are definitely bizarre combination. But no, I didn’t see these five back-to-back, in case you’re wondering 🙂 Anyway, depending on how long my ‘musings’ for each flix ends up to be, I might have more or less movies in this series and I may include a clip/trailer as I see fit.
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Multiplicity (1996)
The Plot: Doug Kinney never has enough time for the things he wants to do is offered the opportunity to have himself duplicated.
I’m definitely in the camp that thinks Michael Keaton is an underrated actor. I mean he’s followed up his fine turn as Batman with a Shakespeare comedy (Much Ado about Nothing), a Tarantino crime flix (Jackie Brown), an action thriller (Desperate Measures), and of course, this lighthearted comedy. Now, by no means I condone this type of procedure from a moral standpoint, but I actually enjoy this movie, largely due to Keaton’s goofball & earnest performance. Unlike Eddie Murphy’s outrageous clones the Klumps in the Nutty Professor, Keaton’s Doug Kinney is hilarious in its real-ness of the good-intentions-gone-bad kind of predicament. He injects each of his ‘Doug’ clones with their own eccentricities: the first clone is butch, the second slightly effeminate, and the third, well, something that’s been ‘photocopied’ three times usually doesn’t come out real sharp. Andie McDowell turned up a pretty decent performance as Doug’s constantly baffled wife who must endure her husband’s multiple change of personalities, including fulfilling the wishes of his ‘insatiable’ husband(s) one frisky night.

Equillibrium (2002)
The Plot: In a Fascist future where all forms of feeling are illegal, a man in charge of enforcing the law rises to overthrow the system.
I must say this is a flix the whole isn’t exactly greater than the sum of its parts, as for me, the flix in its entirety is not ‘great.’ But there are parts that definitely make me love this movie, especially the scenes of Christian Bale and Emily Watson together. Their encounters are breathtaking, as well as the scenes where Preston frantically tears down the filmy layer of his bedroom window as he emotionally marvels at the beauty of the sunrise. Bale’s compelling transformation throughout the movie is a testament to his amazing talent. It’s not without humor, either, the scenes with the dog is pretty funny. I could do without Taye Diggs here and wish they’d beefed up Sean Bean’s role. Obviously this flix has a cult following for the rather violent action and fighting sequences, but the heartfelt scenes are what leave an impression to me, such as this interrogation scene below where Mary challenges super soldier Preston’s reason for living:

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One Night with the King (2006)

I found an old review from 4 years ago that I posted on a social networking site. I thought this might be a good pick for those looking for a decent family film. I’ve added some tidbits that weren’t available at the time I wrote this.

Now most of you probably have never heard of this movie. Me neither until about a week ago when my friend Vony told me about it. There was practically NO marketing for this film, except perhaps through some Christian venues. The story is from the book of Esther in the Old Testament, but the script is loosely based from a book called Hadassah: One Night with the King by Tommy Tenney, so there are elements that aren’t in the Bible. For example, the character ‘Jesse’ wasn’t in the Bible but was given quite a few screen time as Esther’s friend. But the essence of the story of Esther is preserved. We see that God’s hand was present in Esther’s life and she was obedient to fulfill her ‘destiny,’ even when it meant losing her own life.

I was impressed with the lush production of the film. It didn’t feel ‘cheap’ even though it’s an indie production, and the scenery was beautifully shot on location in India. I enjoyed the cinematography and the aerial shots of the palaces, etc., and the costumes were absolutely gorgeous!

Esther & Xerxes

My gripes about this movie is given the epic historical background, it could’ve been a much better piece. Alas, the wooden acting (especially Luke Goss as Xerxes. 80s music fans might remember him as one half of the pop duo Bros) and the dismal dialog no doubt contribute to the poor reviews. Novice actress Tiffany Dupont is beautiful as Esther, but her performance is awkward at times. She does share a pretty good chemistry with King Xerxes though (yep, that’s the same Persian King in 300, obviously before he shaved off his head and developed affinity for gold jewelry). There is a scene where their hands brushed lightly as he is showing his sculptures, and his attraction to her is palpable. Of course as King of Persia, Luke Goss looks far too ‘Caucasian-looking’ with piercing blue eyes and British accent, but that’s Hollywood for you. A few notable actors are involved, such as Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif (together again since Lawrence of Arabia), and the remarkable John Rhys-Davies who’s excellent as Mordechai, Esther’s uncle. Oh, I almost forgot there’s James Callis, all sulking and smoldering as the evil Haman. I haven’t seen Battlestar Galactica back when I saw this, but as a fan of the series now, I just might re-watch this movie again to see him channel bad boy Gaius Balthar with his genocide scheme.

It’s far from a perfect movie, but overall I enjoyed it. It’s always nice to see a Godly story on film without all the cussing, violence and sex like the rest being offered out there.