“Mirror, Mirror” On the Wall, is this Movie Fair at All?

Mirror, Mirror is live, fresh take on the Snow White fairytale. This statement alone begs me to ask, “Is this necessary?” and “what new life can be brought to draw folks in?” Well, as directed by Tarsem Singh (Immortals, The Cell) with a screenplay by Marc Klein (Serendipity), Mirror, Mirror hopes to deliver to its audience a family friendly film that has just the right blend of humor, action and suspense to leave all audience members leaving the theater satisfied with their viewing experience. That frankly is quite a hill to climb, and at least for me, it ultimately missed the mark.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, Mirror, Mirror is a re-imagining of the classic fairytale with more than a few twists – one of these twists includes the characterization and dynamic between Snow White (Lily Collins) and The Handsome Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer). Snow White is mainly a sweet, retiring orphan forced to live under her Evil Queen of a stepmother’s (Julia Roberts) rule, but when banished from the kingdom and left for dead, gains an independent spirit and becomes a force to be reckoned with. For his part, the Prince is somewhat emasculated when compared to his source material’s counterpart. When they are together, it is portrayed more as a partnership of equals; there is no real “rescuing” here. For an added touch, the Seven Dwarfs are no longer the affable woodland dwellers that reside in many an imagination. Here, they are a group of gruff, thieving, lawless outsiders, rejected the kingdom when the Evil Queen declares them as not being “pretty enough.” Not to worry – this is a modern telling of the story after all, so there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

So it begs to be asked, just who is this film for? It seems to position itself with the tween crowd, as some of the humor and references may be over the head of anyone younger than 10 years of age. Therein lies the difficulty of course.

I should state for the record one certainty – I am NOT the target demographic for this film. Luckily for me, there was a group of Girl Scouts seated in my row at the press screening I attended last week. Now if I use them (particularly the older, apparently teenaged girls) as a barometer of the film’s ‘aims,’ then YES, this was a fun and entertaining film. Even some of the adults (including myself) had a chuckle or two. But for everyone else outside and in between I am not so sure. Note that there are a couple of tense/threatening/imperiled moments in the film, but nothing extraordinary. However, as I have alluded to, keep in mind that some of the material may not be suited for your progeny (Note: the film was rated PG).

Given the material, the acting by the ensemble was perfectly adequate, but nothing extraordinary. And for as much was made of Julia Roberts “going bad” in her portrayal of the Evil Queen, but as you may have guessed by now, it is principally a comedy evil.

I am familiar with but have not seen any of Mr. Singh’s previous films that include the “swords-and-sandals” romp Immortals as well at the Jennifer Lopez psychological thriller The Cell. Based on his previous work, I would say that selecting him to do a film such as Mirror, Mirror is a curious choice. But hey, Robert Rodriguez was able to helm the relatively successful Spy Kids franchise.

On the bright side (and I mean REALLY bright), the costumes and sets were gorgeous. However, there was heavy reliance on CGI – a little too much at times for my taste.

In the end, the sums don’t add up for me, I am afraid.

 

Food For Thought: A Look At “Forks Over Knives” (2011)

For months, my fellow meat-eating brother was trying to get me watch this Forks Over Knives. And now I have.

The main framework for Forks Over Knives is the story of the personal journeys of pioneering researchers in the field, Dr. T. Colin Campbell and Dr. Caldwell Esselstyntaken. The story is moved forward when the film’s writer and director, Lee Fulkerson, after receiving a startling diagnosis, consults with specialists who recommend he begin a whole foods, plant-based (no meat, no dairy).

From this point onward, the film makes the case for the claims of Drs. Campbell and Esselstyntaken regarding the ability of  the plant-based diet to protect and, in many cases, reverse, several chronic conditions that medical science have told us can only be taken care of in pill form.

The film lays this information in stark contrast alongside the debilitating health affects the ‘Western Diet’ has had on people in America and the worldwide. It achieves this by challenging the conventional wisdom we have about what is ‘good for us.’

For anyone who has even a passing interest in what they put in their bodies, the information is not necessarily new. But it takes on an interesting and ‘info-taining’ dimension through the data shown and personal narratives from people whose lives have been changed and saved from altering what they eat.

On the downside, if you are someone not so convinced by the arguments for adopting a plant-based diet, the delivery in this program could come across as being a bit preachy. You can walk away feeling inadequate about the choices you have made. It does not help that when we see folks shopping, they are often seen at Whole Paycheck … I mean Whole Foods; for many people, this is not the most accessible of food sources.

In addition, the alternative perspective is given very little screen time, which is understandable, but I would have liked to see both sides of the dietary argument presented in a more balanced way.

One final observation – the counter-argument often made against those consuming a plant-based diet is that its practitioners often lack (or are deficient in) several key vitamins and nutrients. It would have been nice to see them (possibly) refute this contention and prove that yes, you can get all the essential nutritional content from the FOK (forks over knives) eating plan. I suppose the producers presumed that the evidence they presented in the films as it related to disease prevention and treatment is enough to win skeptics over. And let’s face it – that IS a very strong argument in its favor.

Personally, as someone who eats meat (although I have had brief ‘flirtations’ with vegetarianism) I found this doc to be very informative and from what I can tell, based on convincing science. In addition, as someone who lost one parent to cancer and is currently dealing with the chronic (but manageable, if not reversible) illness of the surviving parent, the presenters and key players have made a very convincing case. So much so, that I very easily can see myself tweaking some of my eating habits and persuading my family to implement some of what was presented.

In the end, am I convinced enough to TOTALLY give up all meat-based products? Not likely. But information=power and it allows us to understand and better evaluate food choices.

Friends with Kids (2012)

We could see this coming a mile away … off the heels of Bridesmaids’ success last year, one could expect to see a few derivative films that a) kinda-sorta follow a similar theme b) featured many of the same cast members or c) both a) and b).  Friends with Kids has appeared to go for option c).

Directed, written by and starring Jennifer Westfeldt (Kissing Jessica Stein), the story centers on three sets of friends – two married couples (Maya Rudolph/Chris O’Dowd and Kristen Wiig/Jon Hamm) and the obligatory “platonic friends”(Westfeldt and Adam Scott). We first see the married folks’ lives as so cool – living in NYC, footloose and fancy-free and vowing not to be ” on of those ” parents when the blessed moment arrives. Fast-forward a few years and low and behold, we see just how their lives have shaken out as a result of producing offspring. It is obvious that both couples are frazzled (and one couple even lives in Brooklyn, very annoying); but while one set appear to be holding it together, another relationship is crumbling under the child-rearing pressure.

Observing this alteration in their friends’ lives, our chaste couple confesses to the other their desire to have a kid of their own, but without the strings of being romantically involved. Solution? Let’s have one together and share the responsibility and avoid all that messiness. This should SO work, especially since they are not in the least bit sexually attracted to one another [wink]. What could possibly go wrong?

Well for the remainder of the film, we find out just what happens – we see them try to juggle the challenges of raising a child while at the same time being in pursuit of their respective “ones” – enter Megan Fox and Edwards Burns, maybe? I will leave it to you to fill in the remaining plot details.

I entered this film with rather lukewarm expectations and they were in fact met. Sure, it had its chuckle-worthy moments (mostly courtesy of the Rudolph/O’Dowd interplay – Rudolph is a new ‘favorite’ of mine) but on the whole this film did not work for me. I cannot pinpoint exactly what left me feeling so ambivalent, but here are a few contenders:

  • I have grown tired of this stylized view of life in the big city (à la Friends). Even my friends that live like this do not live like this, if you catch my drift.
  • I was never entirely sold on the premise of the main characters becoming parents in the first place.
  • Maybe it was the mood I was in as a result of the circumstances surrounding the screening I attended (more on that tomorrow).

Taking everything into account, this is a film that I could have waited and seen at home. So that is my recommendation: if you must see this film, let it be a rental.

 

FRIENDS WITH KIDS

(2012)

Jennifer Westfeldt

Jennifer Westfeldt

Starring: Adam Scott, Jennifer Westfeldt, Jon Hamm, Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Chris O’Dowd, Megan Fox, Edward Burns

 

 

A Look At: Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen)

Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen) is Benoît Jacquot’s account of the final days of King Louis XVI’s reign as the French Revolution takes hold. Based on the novel of the same name by Chantal Thomas, the story is seen through the eyes of Marie Antoinette’s (Diane Kruger) reader Sidonie (played by Léa Seydoux). Of  course no tale of the French royal court under any circumstances, would be complete without some royal dalliances and court intrigue.

While watching this film, I was reminded that we are bearing witness to historical events and not just simply revisiting them, like one does in a book or a museum. During the Q&A session that followed our screening, Jacquot emphasized how important using this convention was in telling his story. In his opinion, it was important that the audience feel like they are in the ‘here and now,’ watching the events unfold as a matter of fact, with no reference of what may lie ahead. After all, as we live in the present, that’s it – we live in complete ignorance of the impact minor events have on a ‘big picture.’

Jacquot accomplished the above to great effect by doing what is somewhat of a ‘trademark’ of his – a reliance on a very relaxed photographic style; this really gives the film a sense of the present and roots it in a reality not often felt or experienced in a period piece.

In terms of star-power, the headliner is obviously going to be the internationally known German actress Diane Kruger. However, the true star of the film is Léa Seydoux and her subtle portrayal of Sidonie, the Queen’s Reader;  she is our way into this world of increasing chaos and instability.  It should be noted that in the source material, Sidonie is quite older and is giving her account via a series of flashback. This was a conscious decision made on the part of the director, with the author’s approval.

As for ‘Marie Antoinette,’ Diane Kruger brings a mercurial tone to her French monarch that at times makes the audience almost pity her. But then a decision in the final act brings the audience back to earth and one remembers “Oh yeah, that is the ‘let them eat cake’ chick.”

But above all else the pièce de résistance of the film is the production and costume design. Instead of feeling like we are on a walking tour through a museum, Versailles comes across as a vibrant, lived-in palace (as far as a royal residence CAN be lived in) where every corner has a tale to tell. And the bold, beautiful costumes need to be seen on the big screen to be believed. There are two dresses in particular which stand out in my mind: the green dress worn so confidently by Gabrielle de Polignac (Virginie Ledoyen) and the dress worn by Marie Antoinette as King Louis XVI leaves the palace for the last time (Note: these photos do not do them justice).

In summary, Les adieux à la reine is a spirited feast for the (visual) senses that breathes some air into what could have been a rather stale, tiresome historical exercise.

Les adieux à la reine (Farewell, My Queen)

Directed by Benoît Jacquot

Produced by Jean-Pierre Guérin, Kristina Larsen

Written by Benoît Jacquot, Gilles Taurand, Chantal Thomas (novel)

Starring: Léa Seydoux, Diane Kruger, Virginie Ledoyen, Xavier Beauvois

Cinematography: Romain Winding
Release date(s): 9 February 2012 (Berlin), US Release Date: TBD

A Look at “Turn Me On Dammit” (Norway, 2011)

One of the problems with expectations is that they rarely live up to them. At least that was the thought swimming in my head during the preview screening of the Jannicke Systad Jacobsen’s Få meg på, for faen (Turn Me on Dammit). Jacobsen also wrote the screenplay based on the novel by Olaug Nilssen. For her efforts, she was awarded the Best Screenplay prize at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. So, as you can imagine, I was expecting quite a lot.

The story is a centered on Alma, a frustrated 16 year old growing up in a sleepy Norwegian town, who, along with her best friend longs for a life outside of this town.  Piled on top of her wanderlust is a burgeoning sexuality, as exhibited by her mother’s shock and disgust at her bloated home phone bill, the result of Alma’s use of a phone sex line. She also breaks from the monotony of her day-to-day life by escaping into wild flights of fantasy.

Alma and Artur. Credit: Marianne Bakke/Motlys

Her life takes a slightly odd turn, when while at a youth party, the young man she has a crush on, Artur, initiates an odd, sexually suggestive act towards her. News of the encounter spreads like wildfire and she also immediately finds herself a social pariah, shunned and outcast since Artur will not admit to his part in the incident. For the remainder of the narrative, Alma tries in earnest to vindicate herself among her peers all while she gets closer to coming to terms with this complex and confusing time of her life.

In the central role of Alma, Helene Bergsholm ably handles the task of carrying us through her travails while simultaneously evoking a youthful angst that endears the audience.  This is only the more impressive considering Turn Me On Dammit is her (as well as several of her cast mates) first screen role.

Among the notable supporting players is Malin Bjørhovde, who plays Saralou, Alma’s best friend, whose scheme for escaping their hometown involves moving to Texas and campaigning against capital punishment.

Director - Jannicke Systad Jacobsen

Of course, none of this would have been accomplished if not for the direction and writing of Jacobsen. Particularly in the scenes with Alma where we drift into her colorful imagination, I felt as if I had been lulled there – the old bait and switch. This device was obviously by design. Jacobsen also deserves credit for handling a very young and inexperienced cast to positive result.

All the positivity aside, while I found myself chuckling a few times, the screening I attended did not have the level of boisterous laughter one would assume that would come from a film positing itself as a comedy, and a sex comedy at that. In other words, the offbeat humor of the piece may not be to everyone’s taste.

When I think of Turn Me On Dammit, I am reminded of another film that handles female teenage sexuality, Little Darlings. In dredging up this 1980s coming of age tale (a classic of sorts in my mind), I argue that stories dealing with young women’s sexuality in such a frank and ‘in-your-face’ manner are few and far between.

I caught this film at a recent screening at the newly renovated Pelham Picture House, which will be profiled on i luv cinema in the coming days. During this sneak peek, the Director of Programming introduced the film to the audience and we were also greeted with a video greeting from the film’s director.

Turn Me On Dammit opens ­­to wider release later in March.


Turn Me On Dammit, 2011. Directed by Jannicke Systad Jacobsen (Få meg på, for faen); In Norwegian with English subtitles.

UPDATE (2/28/2012) We have a special offer courtesy of Constellation.tv. Constellation.tv, a virtual movie theater platform, will be holding four online advanced movie screenings on March 1, March 8, March 15, and March 22, at 8:00 PM EST.

Click here to sign up for a virtual screening: http://www.constellation.tv/film. When you purchase your online ticket, be sure to use the following code ILF2012 to receive 20% off the value of the online ticket.

Haywire (2012) directed by Steven Soderbergh

Haywire is Steven Soderbergh’s hyper-styled foray into the action genre. This adrenaline-fueled film features Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion Gina Carano in her first motion picture, an action-packed globe trot that spans Washington, D.C., Barcelona, Dublin, New York and New Mexico.

When we first see Mallory Kane (Carano) all indications are that she is on the run from something – but what exactly? Mallory is a black ops specialist working for a private security firm. Well at least she was; the film shifts around the narrative timeline and reveals that the consequences of a recent assignment in Barcelona have produced a life or death situation for Mallory.

As the story unfolds, each layer gets us that much closer to the center of the mystery of exactly what has placed Mallory in her current predicament.

In the director’s own words, as detailed in the production notes, the film is a “Pam Grier movie made by Hitchcock.” That is what in many ways makes this film an interesting study and sets it apart from many films of its ilk. Through dialogue courtesy of Len Dobbs (Kafka, The Limey), there is enough to keep the audience engaged.

Soderbergh uses Ms. Carano’s physical abilities to good use; in fact Ms. Carano did the majority of her own stunts. This definitely added a sense of ‘realism’ to her fights with her co-stars. Going into this film, I wanted to see her kick serious butt – and on that account she delivers and then some. In fact, I could have done with a bit more running, jumping and punching; not MUCH more, but it was so much fun watching the fighting sequences.

For Carano this is an introduction to a possible career as “female action hero,” in the style of Jason Statham. With a little more experience under her belt, she may prove herself worthy.

A wonderful supporting cast that includes Channing Tatum, Michael Fassbender, Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas and Bill Paxton add gravitas to Carano’s presence.

Initially I did have some slight reservations about an action film directed by Steven Soderbergh. The release date of the film amplified my skepticism; January is typically the cinematic ‘dumping ground.’

If there is one thing that I did not get that I expected was with Haywire being an “exploitation” film. Perhaps, this is down to smooth execution by Soderbergh and company so that it did not feel like one.

As I write this, what has come to my attention is that Carano is the lone principal female character – her world is a ‘man’s world.’ The fact that I have just come to this realization a few days after screening Haywire leads me to believe this was part of Soderbergh’s plan. In essence, by not directly referring to her gender, this demonstrates that her gender is absolutely irrelevant to the mechanics of the plot.

In the end, for all the deconstruction of plot, story, etc., this is basically a film to sit back and enjoy.

All Images provided by Relativity Media

A Quick Look at: My Week with Marilyn (2011) directed by Simon Curtis

If I were to sum up this film, I would leave it at the following statement: Michelle Williams owns this picture. In fact, much like Monroe herself did nearly 60 years ago, Williams’ presence is like a supernova, absorbing all that is around her, leaving little room for others to shine when in her path.

My Week With Marilyn is based on the memoirs of Colin Clark, The Prince and the Showgirl and Me. At the age of 23, Colin was the 3rd Assistant Director of the film, The Sleeping Prince itself a play starring Sir Laurence Olivier and then-wife Vivien Leigh  (played by Kenneth Branagh and Julia Ormond, respectively). While the accuracy and detail of his writings is something to be debated, one thing is for sure – the story has the makings of an interesting movie.

And although it is called My WEEK With Marilyn, the film does in fact span the majority of the troubled production of the film that would later become known as The Prince and the Showgirl. This film also chronicles Clark’s account of his own complex relationship with Monroe during this time.

The troubled dynamic between Olivier and Monroe is perfectly summed up by Colin (Eddie Redmayne) – Olivier was an actor who wanted to be a movie star and Monroe was a movie star who wanted to be taken seriously as an actress. Unfortunately for Ms. Monroe, her crippling insecurities and dependence on chemical substances sabotaged those plans.

To add to the problem, her behavior was enabled, by a series of sycophants; the film singles out Paula Strasberg (Zoë Wanamaker) in particular. At times, she seemed aware enough to reach out and pull people in who could help her such as recent husband Arthur Miller (Dougray Scott). But alas, she was too needy and her desire for love made her unbearable and ultimately drove people away.

This is what Williams’ performance was able to capture; she hit all the right notes. In saying this, I am in no way attempting to diminish the work of the supporting cast that includes appearances by Dominic Cooper, Emma Watson, Toby Jones and Judi Dench; they all basically do an admirable job. But this is clearly Williams’ film.

And now for the bad news: as a narrative, the film feels a bit all over the shop. Although I have not read the memoirs/diaries on which the film is based, it felt like, at times, that the film ‘read’ too much like a diary would read, with all the loose-ends and random incidents that take away focus from the central plot.

Overall, I would say I enjoyed the film, based on the strength of Williams’ performance. But I do feel like the film could have benefited from a much tighter narrative.

Production Photos Credit: The Weinstein Company 

 

A Dangerous Method (2011) directed by David Cronenberg

UK Promotional Poster

A Dangerous Method is a historical drama based on the stage play The Talking Cure by playwright Christopher Hampton * (Dangerous Liaisons -play and screenplay, Atonement – screenplay). David Cronenberg, director of sci-fi thrillers Videodrome and The Fly (1986), and most recently of A History of Violence and Eastern Promises fame, directs the cast which includes Keira Knightley, Viggo Mortensen as Sigmund Freud, Michael Fassbender as Carl Jung and Vincent Cassel as Otto Gross.

A Dangerous Method tells the story of the relationship between Jung and Sabina Spielrein (Knightley), a patient he is treating for a psychosexual dysfunction. His fascination with the nature of her condition leads him to employ the analytical method of Freud (“the talking cure”). He goes to Vienna where he finally gets a chance to meet his idol and ‘father figure.’ Although the two gentlemen get along, there is an air of tension about; the film portrays this as being partly down to Freud’ possible resentment of the comfort in which Jung lives, courtesy of his wife’s wealth.

Back home in Switzerland Jung and Spielrein’s doctor-patient relationship develops into a friendship and eventually leads to a sexual relationship. The consummation of this relationship, one could imply, is as a result of Jung’s conversation about human nature and desire with Otto Gross, who himself is referred to Jung by Freud.

It is at this point that Jung’s relationship with Spielrein takes center stage and its implications become one of the primary drivers that place a wedge between Freud and Jung.

Not necessarily know for fully straight-on dramatic pieces, much less one based on historical events, this is a change of pace for David Cronenberg. I like to think of this as a kindler, gentler Cronenberg, even if the subject matter, which deals with psychoanalysis and sexual repression/expression, is quite layered and complex.

Christopher Hampton’s intimate knowledge of the source material shines through and allows the film to be adapted and expanded cinematically. Too often when a story is translated from stage to screen, it presents a great challenge for the screenwriter – how to make the environs, which are initially dramatized for the restrictive space of a theater’s stage, breathe.

Viggo Mortensen transforms himself (yet again), this time as the father of psychoanalysis. So much of his portrayal of Freud is in the nuanced looks, glances and expressions. These nuances told me more than any speech or soliloquy could possibly have. I am not sure another actor would be able to pull it off.  It has been often stated that some director-actor pairs create something special on screen. In my opinion, this film confirms what I already know about the pairing of Cronenberg and Mortensen – they are such a pair.

Fassbender’s Carl Jung is a man who despite all efforts to repress his desire, finally surrenders. Similarly, you can see the tension and anguish on his face and in his body. This is yet another in a string of performances where Mr. Fassbender takes full possession of his character.

Rounding out the ‘big three,’ Keira Knightley turns in a solid performance as Sabina, a woman who starts off as a ‘mad woman’ to a refined but still passionate doctor who affects Jung and Freud in ways they could not imagine. I have always been a fan of Ms. Knightley and she seems to be coming into her own as a thespian who is constantly seeking to challenge herself with complex and demanding roles.

In an all too brief appearance as Otto Gross, Vincent Cassel’s “and” credit is more than deserved. In his brief time on screen, he accomplished what was asked of him – he turns the tables on the doctor-patient interaction and in his talks with Jung creates a point of crises in Jung from which there was no turning back.

Last, but certainly not least, lying in the background of the film but ever present is the lovely musical score by Howard Shore, frequent Cronenberg collaborator who is a three-time Academy Award and two-time Golden Globe winner for his work on Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy; he was also nominated for a Golden Globe Award for his score for The Aviator, directed by Martin Scorcese.

Solid direction, fantastic writing and very fine performances, courtesy of an outstanding cast, make this film a must see.


* The play itself is based on the book, A Very Dangerous Method, written by John Kerr.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011) directed by David Fincher

On Christmas Eve, a friend and me decided to go to the movies and catch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

Before I get into my reaction, let me state for the fact: my relationship with this film can be described as rather layered at best. First let’s mention the book – at present, I am only a partially through it. But I do have every intention to finish reading this and the other two books of the Millennium trilogy. I only started reading the book after so many people recommended it. Prior to that I had no intention of reading the series.

But I was well aware of the popularity of the novel and its Hollywood adaptation; in fact this is the second cinematic incarnation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. I have previously seen the Swedish three-part film series – well most of it anyway. While I liked the first two installments, I gave up about 30 minutes into the third film.

So you can imagine my trepidation in watching this glossy, Hollywood-stylized version of such dark source material. In general I am not a fan of these Hollywood “re-imaginings” of already established foreign films. Ultimately, my fear was that this big-budget Tattoo would be sanitized and cleansed of some of the source material’s (and Swedish film version’s) ‘grittier’ aspects.

As I walked out of the theater, all those concerns had vanished. I never should have doubted Mr. Fincher. In the end, I personally feel like this version was superior to its Swedish counterpart.

The head of the once-powerful industrialist Vanger family (Christopher Plummer) recruits the recently disgraced co-publisher of Millennium magazine Mikael Blomqvist (Daniel Craig). Blomqvist’s assignment is to investigate a 40-year old mystery surrounding the disappearance of Vanger’s niece, Harriet. During the course of his investigation, Blomqvist enlists the services of asocial hacker/private investigator/wunderkid Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), who he has a somewhat loose association with – she was the person who investigated (often through not-so-legal means) Blomqvist for his current assignment. Together, they begin to piece together just what happened all those years ago. Will they ‘solve’ the riddle before it is too late?

I think the narrative is good, in fact, I think that it is almost indestructible. The mystery and eventually piecing together of all the disparate elements are very thrilling and you are left on the edge of your seat, wondering what is behind it all. The Swedish version did a good job in telling the story, but I felt as if the quality steadily declined. In contrast, David Fincher (and screenwriter Steve Zaillian) exceeded my expectations in capturing the spirit of the text and at keeping the story moving. And in spite of the glossiness of the production, I was satisfied to see that some of the tougher elements as were described in the text were pretty much preserved in the film.

That said, as has been pointed out to me by many book readers (who completed the book), by the time we reach the end of the film, key plot elements were changed in the Swedish version; the Hollywood version stayed truer to the Larsson text, although with some minor alterations.

Another aspect of the film that I was pleasantly surprised by was my reaction to the soundtrack; an awesome opening sequence revealed that Trent Reznor of Nine in Nails composed the musical score. When I saw his name appear, I must admit that not being a fan of NIN, I was a little less than enthusiastic. But for the second time in this screening, I was proved wrong; the musical accompaniment matched the pace and the tone of the film very well. This seems to be part of a greater trend in Hollywood – the replacement of ‘traditional orchestral scores for modern, edgier music.

The casting was absolutely superb. Every character was just as I imagined them to be while reading the book. Along with the casting you have the acting, all of which also hit the mark. Along with the principle characters, I would like to note the performances of Robin Wright and Stellan Skarsgård.

Lastly, Jeff Cronenweth wonderfully photographs the desolate and sombre Swedish landscape.

Now, for the not-so-good news. One reservation I have with the film is – the dreaded clock-watching! At almost 3-hrs, it is a rather long film and I have to admit as I got towards the film’s final 45 minutes, I sat there thinking, “they could have tightened this up a bit.

The second thing I wanted to point out is the matter of the film’s release date. Of course this has nothing to do with the film proper, but I think it was an odd choice to release such a downer of a film around ye merry ole holidays. Looking at the box office receipts for the opening weekend, confirms that movie audiences probably thought the exact same thing. I am certain, however, that over the course of Tattoo’s cinema run, the receipts will pick up.

These criticisms aside, I ended up liking this film a lot more than I had anticipated.

I look forward to finishing the books and catching the second and third parts of the film franchise.

 

Now on Video: Midnight in Paris (2011)

In the opening sequence of Midnight in Paris, we are introduced to the City of Lights via picture-postcard montage. Instead of finding this trite and cliché, quite the opposite happens … what we see is a love letter of sorts to a place that simultaneously inhabits the present, past and most importantly, our own imaginations.

The irony of course is that in a city known for love and romance is that the relationship between the main character Gil (as played by ‘Allen-in-Proxy’ Owen Wilson) and his fiancé Inez (played by Rachel McAdams) is anything BUT romantic. They are a couple with very different worldviews. When we first meet Gil, he is a struggling writer – struggling in the sense that he is a hack Hollywood writer who wants to be taken seriously as a novelist. His hope is that the move to Paris will inspire him, like those literary greats who have come before him – especially those of the Jazz Age, a period of time which he greatly admires.

After a night of drinking with Inez and a couple of her friends, he decides to traverse the city on his own; he soon finds himself lost and on the steps of an old church. Suddenly, the bell tolls midnight; this is when the magic begins …

A cab pulls up and Gil is taken away by cab to 1920’s Paris where he meets the Fitzgeralds (Scott and Zelda), Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Picasso, and Dali among others.

He also finds love in the form of Adriana (portrayed by Marion Cotillard), one of Picasso’s muses.

Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald

This leaves Gil in an interesting predicament- torn between his present life and staying in the past. It basically seems that as his life in the ‘past’ is gaining momentum, his present life is falling to pieces. However, with a trip back to Adriana’s “ideal” era (1890s) comes a revelation that leads him to the following epiphany – while there is no harm in looking to the past with a sense of romance and nostalgia, be careful not to inhabit it for the sake of the present. Be sure to relish the here and now – it is the time that matters most.

How this stacks up against Allen’s best work is something that I am not prepared to do. I never considered myself a Woody Allen devotee, having only really discovered him in the latter portion of his career. On balance, the results for me have been mixed at best. In the case of Midnight in Paris, I would say that it probably ranks among one of my favorites during this period of his work. Allen really seemed to capture the spirit of the time.

Among the actors the performances that stood out for me were that of Rachel McAdams and Michael Sheen. It is a credit to their craft that I found them to be so obnoxious. In the case of McAdams’ Inez, one may even wonder how the likes of Gil ended up with her in the first place.

One detail in the film that I found interesting was the introduction of the ‘icons of the Jazz Age.’ At times I felt it was a roll call of sorts … just to be sure the audience knew who they were. This is a minor quibble at best and did not take away from my enjoyment of the film at all.

In the end, Midnight in Paris can be summed up as a beautiful, fantastic trip around a magnificent city.


Midnight in Paris is currently available on DVD and BluRay.