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Gremlins 1 & 2: Review and GIVEAWAY!

Most of us grew up with these movies, and I’ll bet you probably feel like you have a good idea of what happened in these movies, and that you’re an expert on Gremlins. I can promise you.. you’re not. Unless these are your traditional Christmas movies (aside from Die Hard), I can pretty much guarantee that you should double, if not triple the level of entertainment you remembered getting from these films. Don’t worry, if you haven’t seen them in a while, we’re going to give you the chance to win them on Blu-Ray.

While the original Gremlins starts out as a cute story about an evil real estate lady talking smack about some kid’s dog, it evolves into so much more. Sure, you remember how adorable Gizmo was, and how cute it was to see him whistle along with a keyboard. Let me remind you what goes on in this film. A self-proclaimed inventor goes to Chinatown in NYC to sell some of his home-made wares, and comes across a cheeky little kid inviting him to his grandfather’s shop. The man goes to the shop to try to sell something to the old Chinese fellow, and ends up trying to bribe the old Chinese fellow into giving him a small creature from his store. Of course, the Chinese fellow refuses, and asks the man to leave. A couple minutes later, the cheeky little kid comes running out with a box, explaining the creature is a Mogwai, and asking the stranger to abide by three simple rules: 1 – Keep him away from bright lights. Sunlight could kill him, 2 – Don’t get him wet, and 3 – Don’t feed him after midnight. The stranger thanks the kid, and brings the creature home to his son, Billy, as a Christmas present. Billy adores the cute little creature, nicknamed Gizmo, and introduces him to a neighborhood kid. As is the case with most 80s films, this neighborhood kid is played by Cory Feldman, and does exactly the wrong thing which gets the story in motion: he spills a big cup of water on Gizmo. The water causes him to multiply, and several other little Mogwai spawn from him. Gizmo doesn’t seem to like this. In fact, he seems very worried about all his new little friends. Probably because they’re jerks. They make a mess, they’re loud, they’re obnoxious, and they trick their master into feeding them after midnight. This changes the cute, furry, playful beings into big, creepy, green, reptilian imps that just love going around causing mischief. This is what everyone remembers from this 1984 classic: a fun, slightly scary time with incredibly imaginative creatures.

Now let’s talk about what I recently had the pleasure of rediscovering while watching these gems. First of all, this is a horror movie. Sure, it has cute little creatures, a campy tone, and some morality in there, but for all intents and purposes, this is absolutely a horror story. When the obnoxious Mogwais hatch into Gremlins, they instantly start terrorizing a town. They start by killing a high school Science teacher, while another batch goes to mess with Billy’s mother. I should mention she just made some fabulous-looking gingerbread men. The mother goes to investigate a noise caused by the Gremlins upstairs, and comes back to her kitchen to see these little jerks just causing all kinds of problems with her cooking utensils and – this takes the cake – eating her fresh cookies. I’d be all in a huff over this too, but this woman goes for the biggest kitchen knife she can find. She then proceeds to fling one Gremlin into a microwave, making it explode, shove another in a blender, and then plunges that big ol’ knife right into a third. She meant business. Beyond the antics of a mother defending her fresh-baked cookies, we also get to see these little green imps crowd into a bar (where the main character’s love interest is hard at work), and start drinking, smoking, fighting, and pulling guns on one another. This was after the last lone Gremlin decided he wanted more company, and jumped in a pool of water to reproduce and take over the town. So now this sleepy little town has to fight off all these little monsters.  They do, in case you were wondering, and live to make a sequel.

 

The second one is even better. The best way to describe Gremlins 2 is pretty much to say it’s the Airplane of horror movies. This sequel takes place in New York City where Billy, our protagonist from the first movie, has moved with his girlfriend, Kate. Billy and Kate both work for an eccentric developer whose entire empire circles around being technologically advanced. To the point that tours are given for the building this company is based in, the Clamp Building, so that people can see such novelties as the voice-activated elevator. The Clamp Corporation, has many ambitious projects going, such as destroying a few buildings in Chinatown to make way for a revolutionary new structure, filming several television shows within the building, and even a genetic research lab. Going into this sequel, the campy humor just oozes from every single possible angle. After an introduction into Billy’s new job, we meet a workplace friend of his named Fred, a man dressed as a vampire that hosts a daytime horror review show. Fred alerts his buddy to the new genetics research lab in the building, and one thing leads to another until Billy goes snooping.  There he finds Gizmo, who he previously had to give back to the creature’s elderly Chinese owner. Gizmo had barely escaped building demolition after his master dies, and the Clamp Corporation destroys his old shop building. Some of the boys from the lab find Gizmo on the street, and bring him back to get a closer look at him.  Billy makes his way into the lab, cleverly named A Splice of Life, and rescues Gizmo, hiding him in his desk at work.  After being called to an immediate dinner meeting with his boss, Billy asks his girlfriend and coworker, Kate, to bring Gizmo home.  Kate is less than enthusiastic about this request, being that her only previous experience with the Mogwai was the hellish adventure of ridding her home town of Gremlins. While she procrastinates getting up to Billy’s desk to retrieve Gizmo, a clumsy janitor inadvertently manages to squirt water on Gizmo forcing him to reproduce. Antics ensue, and instead of taking home Gizmo, Kate takes home a very dim-witted, hyper Mogwai by accident.

At this point, there are various Mogwais running about the building, eating things, getting near water, and just generally making a mess. Once Billy comes home to see the wrong Mogwai, he quickly puts together the pieces, and goes down to the Clamp building. From here, things get ridiculous. We quickly get Gremlins running all over the place, affording many opportunities for added hilarity. In one of the taping rooms, we see a fellow reviewing the original Gremlins movie, mentioning how horrible he thinks it is, and how he can’t believe we’re now being subjected to a second one. He’s interrupted by two Gremlins popping up behind him, strangling him with a film strip. We also see another stab at the series when the movie seems to stop, and we’re cut to a theater full of people complaining that “they won’t let us watch the movie.” One lady states “the first one was bad enough!” to a theater manager who goes in to find none other than Hulk Hogan. The theater managers asks the Hulk to please get the Gremlins to let them resume the movie, mentioning that all they want to do is watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarves (a reference to their behavior in the first movie). Hulk Hogan verbally intimidates the Gremlins, and the movie magically keeps going. This kind of absolutely random, and wonderful humor is prevalent throughout the entire film.

One of the more fun parts of this follow-up is when the Gremlins get into the genetic research lab, and start drinking random formulas. One Gremlin gets his hands on a flask that just has a bat silhouette, and drinks the whole thing, turning himself into a Bat-Gremlin. This sets him up for several Batman jokes while the Bat-Gremlin bursts through a wall and into the skies of New York City. He manages to attack a man in the street who drags him down into a pit of wet concrete. The Bat-Gremlin is just barely able to fly away, covered in wet cement, and lands on an iconic church in downtown New York, hardening into a gargoyle.  Another Gremlin drinks from a flask with a brain on it, becoming the only intelligent Gremlin, able to speak articulately. Yet another Gremlin grabs a flask with male and female signs on it, becoming the only female Gremlin. During all of this, an entire army of Gremlins has descended on the Clamp building taking down various areas of the structure. Each little antic of theirs helps Billy convince the security crew in the building that there is, in fact, a very big problem, and they need to evacuate the area. Eventually the only people we assume are left in the building are Billy, Kate, an old man from their hometown, the eccentric developer, Mr. Clamp, and Billy’s immediate boss. We soon come to find that there are two more people there: Vampire Fred and an Asian tourist with a video camera, who are broadcasting the madness to the outside world the entire time. Through a few tricks, the crew gets the entire Gremlin population in the lobby of the building which can only end one way. A musical number. Here we get to see thousands of Gremlins break into “New York, New York” with the only articulate Gremlin singing like Frank Sinatra.

All in all, Gremlins 2 absolutely personifies the level of quality we’ve come to miss from movies of its time. The writing is hilarious and unexpected. The cast is wonderful, and the effects were top-notch for their day. And as of May 8th, you can even own both movies on Blu-Ray. Gotta love the future.

In fact.. let’s get back to that chance to win a Blu-Ray copy of these movies. We’ll be giving away one of each movies, Gremlins and Gremlins 2. So you have a chance to win one or the other here. All you have to do is tell me who your favorite Gremlin is.  I’ll get you started – mine was the one playing with the hand puppets in the first movie.

 

Leave a comment with your pick, and we will randomly draw two winners on Monday, May 21st!

 

Avengers

Summer Movie Review: The Avengers (AKA: An ode to Joss Whedon) *spoiler-free*

**This is a spoiler-free review since I wouldn’t want to spoil one moment of enjoyment of this utterly unique cinematic experience.**

I’ll admit it, I was a bit wary coming into The Avengers screening last night. I have been following this one-of-a-kind cinematic collaboration by Marvel since Iron Man and have been breathlessly waiting to see if they managed to pull it off. The previews looked good, but there were a few shots that left me with some doubt that it would be an okay movie, rather than a cinematic marvel (pun intended). I am so pleased to announce that it is the latter. All of my doubts vanished as the movie quickly unfolded. I really shouldn’t have ever doubted Director (and creative genius) Joss Whedon. He has never disappointed me and he rose above even his own exquisite previous work. Have written the screenplay himself, Joss has created both a singularly unique vision, but also managed to deftly integrate four franchises and set up each hero’s individual journey into their future sequels.

I have to give kudos to not only Joss and his team, but to the creative minds at Marvel that hired him, despite his lack of commercial success. While the geek community may have cheered when he was hired, it wasn’t necessarily the obvious or safe choice, so bravo Marvel for taking that chance. I have no doubts that this will be Joss’ most financially successful film and I sincerely hope that it brings him the far-reaching respect and success outside of the geek community that he so richly deserves. I also have to give a hand to each of the creators of the individual franchises who had to integrate the larger Avengers plot lines into their own films while maintaining their own creative freedom and integrity.

So, is The Avengers the best superhero film ever? While some may argue YES, I think this movie goes beyond that. Never before has such a large-scale integration of films and characters been attempted and I think it would be unfair to compare The Avengers to a movie centered around a single hero. The end result of years of planning, integrating the plots of five films, the bringing together of such talented actors and spinning off of as many as five future franchises deserves a round of applause. The fact that it got made is impressive enough, but the end result is more than I could have dreamed of. But seriously now, I will stop gushing.  Can you tell I’m excited?

I kept having flashes during The Avengers about how the same movie, helmed by a different Director, would have looked. There were moments that came so close to veering into cheese territory, but Whedon’s ever-earnest style of filmmaking never allowed it to go there. There was maybe one frame of the whole movie where I rolled my eyes ever so slightly, and it was something really minor. In true Whedon style, there are moments of both extreme darkness and of side-splitting hilarity. This is the largest action-movie that he has directed and I was a little nervous about his handling of huge action set-pieces, but they did not disappoint. I found myself gripping the arm-rests several times and the audience burst into applause multiple times during the film. There is a real intelligence behind the film (another Whedon trademark) and I will admit, I didn’t entirely understand every little thing that was happening. I can’t wait to watch the film again this weekend for an even deeper appreciation of the script. There were no cheesy recruitment montages, no overly complicated explanations for things that weren’t really needed and plenty of surprises.

You may have heard that Bruce Banner/The Hulk steals the show and you’ve heard right. Not in a bad way though. His character is much more fleshed out and confident than what you saw in both The Hulk and The Incredible Hulk, and the addition of Mark Ruffalo turns out to be a stroke of genius. I will be very surprised if Hulk doesn’t get his own franchise after this film. Each of The Avengers gets their own moments of focus and your enjoyment of the film will be further deepened if you’re caught up on each of their individual films. That having been said, I brought a friend who hadn’t seen anything but the Iron Man films and she loved it too. Scarlet Johannson’s Black Widow also surprised me and I found myself enjoying her far more than I thought I would. There wasn’t a ton of character development for each hero, but that’s not what this film was about and it made me long to see them each in their own films in the future. By not dwelling too much on any one person, the star of this film was truly the ensemble cast as a whole. There are no weak links here in my opinion.

I hope you all enjoy The Avengers as much as I did and I can’t wait for the movie to be released this weekend so that I can start discussing details with all of you. Until then, Avengers Assemble!

 

*Just two quick notes here: 1) As for which format to see it in, I saw it in IMAX 3D and while the 3D was well done and resulted in no headaches, it was really subtle and didn’t add to my enjoyment at all, so I say skip the upgrade charge and see it in 2D. 2) Apparently there are two tags over the credits (I missed the latter!), so make sure you stay until the bitter end!

Effie and Katniss on Reaping Day

The Hunger Games Movie Review

I have read The Hunger Games a few times now (4 times before seeing the movie and then once so far since I saw it on Saturday). That’s just how I do it when I enjoy a story. And this is one story that I truly enjoy for a lot of reasons. The main one being that we could easily end up in the world depicted. We really aren’t that far from it.

I am also a person who doesn’t get all freaked out when a book I love is adapted into a movie. Not since Interview with a Vampire when I was in middle school. So I am completely capable of going into a movie adaptation and accepting it for the separate, but related medium that it is. This doesn’t change the fact that I will compare it to the source material.

Thar be Spoilers Ahead

With that said here are my thoughts on what they did right and what I would like to have seen done differently.

Jennifer Lawrence was perfection as Katniss Everdeen.  The interactions with her mother were so well done you could feel the tension in the theater. The shots of the coal miners were beautiful, but I wish they would have done more to really show how desperate life in District 12 is.  I would have liked to have the division between classes within the district shown better. We don’t know from the movie that Peeta is “Merchant Class” while Katniss is from the Seam, and that there is a difference.

While I truly did enjoy the Gamemaker shots and Seneca Crane, I would have liked maybe one or two less of those shots in favor of the bread from District 11 and the conversation between Rue and Katniss showing the difference between the districts and highlighting the fact that they are so cut off from one another. I love love loved the scene with Seneca and the bowl of Nightlock!  One thing I did like quite a lot was the addition of the President Snow scenes.  I always tend to see Donald Southerland as a kindly, jolly figure in films and was worried that he would not be able to bring across the terrifyingly menacing quality inherent in President Snow.   He does it so well and I cannot wait for a few scenes in Catching Fire between him and Katniss.

President Snow "congratulates" Katniss on Her Win

 

 

 

 

 

I have to say my absolute favorite addition to the movie was utilizing Caesar Flickerman in the place of Katniss’ internal dialog in some places, like the description of the Tracker Jackers. It was perfect and meant more Stanley Tucci on the screen! He was exactly as I pictured Caesar while reading the books and I could not be happier. At first I was a little iffy when I heard that Woody Harrelson was playing Haymitch, but I was WRONG WRONG WRONG.  He was so stinking good! I didn’t even care that he wasn’t as fat as I had pictured. And Elizabeth Banks was per-fec-tion as Effie. I loved her nails, her wig, her SHOES, all of it. Her comment about “That is MAHOGANY” had me rolling in the aisles.

Effie and Katniss on Reaping Day

One thing that I couldn’t stomach and I have heard a lot of people complain about it is the shaky cameras and the super-fast blurry panning in some scenes. I have a hard time seeing movies in the theaters because of my vision. I have to take my glasses off to be able to clearly see the screen because of its size and distance – yes, I am VERY much a Sheldon in a movie theater I have MY spot – so it takes my eyes a few minutes to adjust and the shaking cameras made that so much more difficult.

All-in-all I am very happy with the movie, will buy it on BluRay and will be in line on opening day for the other 2 movies. They stayed true to the story, made some excellent changes and kept in (for the most part) the bits I felt were the most important. I cried when Katniss volunteered, was a blubbering mess when Rue died. I was able to hold it in until Katniss put the flowers in her hand but then I lost it. Just like when I read the book.  No amount of knowing what is coming changes that. You care about these characters and the actors they have playing them made it even more so.

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Movie Review: The Lorax

The Lorax (released March 2nd) is a delightful expanded version of Dr. Seuss`s 1971 environmental fable. It`s directed by Chris Renaud, who also helmed 2010`s Despicable Me, and this film shares some of DM`s off-beat humor and kid-friendly supporting characters. The story takes place in the Jetsons-esque town of Thneedville, a bright, colorful burg which boasts futuristic cars and happy inhabitants, but nothing natural. No trees, grass, or organic material exist there. The city is surrounded by a huge metal wall which protects citizens from the polluted outside world.

Young Ted (voiced by Zac Efron) decides that he must find a genuine Truffula tree in order to impress budding artist Audrey (Taylor Swift), the girl of his dreams. At first, it seems hopeless, as the Truffulas have been extinct for ages. But then his feisty grandmother (Betty White) clues him in about the Onceler (Ed Helms), who lives outside the wall and may hold the key to his dream.

The Onceler`s backstory is the heart of the film, as it is tied to the tale of Thneedville. In the Seuss book, he`s shadowy and mysterious, a pair of long arms attached to a face that one never sees. In this movie, he`s still tall and long-armed, but we learn a lot more about him. The Onceler starts out as a likeable neo-hippy who is idealistic about life and just wants to be good at something.

He travels to the idyllically beautiful valley of the Lorax and sets to work on his dream product, the “Thneed”, which is made from the soft leaves of the Truffula trees. But his plans are temporarily halted by the appearance of the Lorax (Danny DeVito), a bold walrus-like creature who “speaks for the trees.” The rest of the Onceler`s tale hinges on the conflict between his friendship with the Lorax (and the valley animals) and his desire to make money quickly.

As you can easily guess, he goes with the second option, and the industrial wasteland that this choice produces leads to the creatures leaving and the evantual creation of the Thneedville wall. It`s up to Ted and his fellow citizens to try to restore the area to its former natural beauty.

The movie handles the Onceler`s hard-earned lessons about the environment in a creative way, showing the effects of his actions rather than becoming preachy. Strangely, the film often feels like a much older one in terms of ideology. Despite its lavish use of CGI and bright color palette, it reminded me of thoughtful 70`s animation like The Point (1971) and various after-school specials.

The animation is gorgeous: especially well-done is the lush green land of the Lorax with its Truffula trees and bright orange Humming Fish. Although the movie is being shown in 3-D. you don`t really have to pay the extra cash: it`s a lovely sight in 2-D. The script is witty and fresh, though it only quotes from the source material a few times.

Danny DeVito does very well as the voice of the Lorax. He plays him as somewhat lighter in tone than he is in the book, but it works out: the comic aspects of the character balance the serious plot points. Helms seems perfect for the Onceler. He captures both his younger self`s enthusiasm and the regret-laden sighs of the adult. Also of note are Swift`s cute yet sweet Audrey and the great Betty White as Ted`s active grandma.

To sum it up. this is a Seuss adaptation that both entertains and educates. It`s always a joy to find an animated film which has a solid story behind the visuals, and The Lorax is such a film.

Review by Guest Blogger, T. Johnson

T. Johnson is a blogger, au pair, and part-time tutor who has been obsessed with science fiction and comics since roughly first grade. One of her life`s big revelations was discovering Wonder Woman comics-another milestone was  starting to read the works of Heinlein and Aldous Huxley. She has always been convinced  that girls can be as truly nerdy as any fanboy.

theartistpleasebesilent

The 2012 Academy Awards: Your Guide for Appearing Informed

Oh, hello. I didn’t see you there. Well, since you’re here, I guess it’s that time of year again, when we go through last year’s best films, and then nominate two or three of them for Best Picture Oscars and six other acceptable movies for the rest.

In 2010 the possible number of nominees for the Best Picture category was raised to 10, which made seeing all the nominees twice as difficult and usually included at least one or two really mediocre movies where you were like, “Really? You think this is one of the ten best movies of last year?” This year, because they no longer HAD to nominate 10, and because they were having a really classy year in which they hired a homophobe to direct the Oscars who later quit after he made himself the asshole of Hollywood if he wasn’t already, the Academy decided to only nominate nine movies, because of course, there were only nine movies last year. (As far as I’m concerned, this is the only excuse.)

I’d just like to take a moment out to point out what bullshit it is that Bridesmaids didn’t get the 10th nomination, as I’m pretty sure the category’s expansion to 10 was just so movies like Bridesmaids COULD be nominated. Would I have expected it to win? No. Would it have been great to see a movie that clearly featured, at least according to the Academy, Oscar-caliber writing and acting score a Best Picture nom as well, since it was obviously operating within that sphere? Yes. Do I think it would have really helped the state of women in movies? Yes, actually I do. But the Academy, because it wants you to know that it doesn’t have to nominate 10 movies, only nominated nine.

Anyway, let’s sit and talk about those nine movies, several of which are good, some of which are okay, and one of which made me want to claw my own brain out and then eat it. Annoyingly for my post-writing purposes, a lot of the acting nominees aren’t from these movies, making it harder to discuss that, but don’t worry about it. At the end I’m gonna briefly summarize who is likely to win (not necessarily whom I, personally, wish would win), whether or not they’re from these nine movies. But in case you didn’t see them, and want to sound knowledgeable and like you did so you can argue with your friends using subjective analyses, please feel free. Also please feel free to argue with me, unless you want to argue about Tree of Life, in which case there’s no point.

For your convenience, here’s an easy way to jump from movie to movie, if you don’t want to read them all (since, even with only nine movies, this post is monstrous), and also for the most part they are free of spoilers that you wouldn’t find on the back of a DVD cover or something unless otherwise indicated.

 

The ArtistThe DescendantsExtremely Loud & Incredibly CloseThe HelpHugo
Midnight in ParisMoneyballThe Tree of LifeWar Horse
The Short Version 

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Darth Paper found at Peet's Coffee & Tea

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Look, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace.  I know, a lot of you don’t like this film, hate it even. And yeah it isn’t as good as Empire, but I do not see it as a bad film. I actually enjoy it. I was there opening day for its original release, and I was there opening weekend for its 3D release.

TICKETS!

I went to the earliest showing on Saturday with my son Seth – I will let him skive off school for opening day releases of the Original Trilogy – he was dressed up like Obi Wan and was SO EXCITED. One thing that really irritated me was the theater manager took his lightsaber away. Seth made a point of turning it off and closing it up before we ever entered the theater (without me having to tell him to *sniff* proud mommy moment here) so it wasn’t as if he was waiving it around like maniac or anything. So BOO ON YOU Regal Cinemas Bridgeport in Tigard, Oregon!  This is supposed to be an event and to unnecessarily take a child’s RELEVANT toy away from them is bad form. I might add that this was the same lightsaber that I brought with me to all of the original opening day premieres of the prequels. A local martial arts studio was there recruiting for new students.  They had a guy dressed as Darth Maul and another as Vader and THEY were allowed to have lightsabers. This started a whole round of “Mommy I really want one of the Force FX Lightsabers!”, yes I know, but I’m not spending over $100 on a lightsaber that you will more than likely break before I can steal it to play with.

(Edit: We did get the Lightsaber back after the movie)

Seth Kenobi

I asked Seth to give me 5 words that described the movie and they were: Awesome, Supreme, Rules, Epic and Action. Keep in mind he is not yet 8 and didn’t quite “get” what I was asking him. I also tried to get him to do a video “interview” but he was more interested in playing Skylanders.

COME ON MOM!

I really enjoyed the 3D usage. I am not the biggest 3D fan because it freaks out my eyes for the first 20 minutes or so until I get used to it. Even still, it was very subtle and was done really well. The blaster blasts coming out of the screen are a TON of fun, the credits were the best, and the end celebration scene with the flower petals falling from the sky was perfection. The pod race scene was MEANT for 3D, so to see it in its full potential was so nice.

A lot of people have an issue with these 3D releases, but I am extremely happy about them for one VERY important reason. My son is going to have the opportunity to see all 6 of the Star Wars films in theaters. Nothing compares to a real theater experience. George Lucas can make all the tweaks and changes he wants because the look of pure joy and excitement on my child’s face makes them all worth it. All-in-all I really enjoyed it, and think it is worth the money for a 3D movie.

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Rooney Mara in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opening sequence (Courtesy of Sony Pictures' dragontattoo.com)

Warning: Spoilers

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, adapted from Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy and the Swedish-language films adaptations, is a film that does not make it easy on the audience. While comparisons between the original film and novel abound, they do David Fincher’s direction and Steven Zaillian’s script a disservice.

Yes, it’s an adaptation. Things will be different. Unlike some remakes of foreign-language films, Zaillian’s script may translate, but doesn’t soften the narrative.

(Author’s Note: I have to include a strenuous warning for anyone who has experienced sexual abuse or rape. If you’re not familiar with the books or films, be very cautious about seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There are scenes which are incredibly unnerving and brutal, and a main theme is crimes perpetrated against women. Both the Swedish-language and US releases have included participation from organizations like RAINN.org, to provide resources to audiences.)

Fincher has kept the locale and narrative intact. Using a tonally opposed cold open and title sequence, he establishes the focus of the film on Lisbeth Salander and the underlying mystery. Daniel Craig, although nominally the star of the film as Mikael Blomkvist, is merely a subtle audience proxy in the event that the audience needs it. It is Rooney Mara’s Lisbeth Salander, much like Noomi Rapace in the original, who is the protagonist and anti-hero at the heart of the film.The film is quiet in a way that fits the tradition of Scandinavian films. Dialogue is spare throughout the first half of the film, and the building tension is amplified by a score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross which manages to be simultaneously present and unobtrusive.

These are people living damaged lives. Blomkvist’s ego, reputation and bank account shattered by a slander trial. Salander living on the fringes by choice and necessity. Add Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer) and his obsession with who murdered his niece Harriet forty years earlier, and mix well. Presented as a mystery, the novels and films are a heavily cloaked treatise on violence against women at an intimate and societal level. Lisbeth’s behavior and gender presentation make her a target. In refusing to conform to expectation, she is a target for everything from being labeled incompetent and antisocial by the state, leading to further presumptive victimization by agents of the state. Blomkvist is the observer, cataloging the parallel horrors experienced by other women in another time.
Fincher presents the sequences of Salander’s abuse and rape, along with her subsequent re-establishment of her own power and agency, without frills. It is a gauntlet thrown down to the viewer. To view events as something that could just as easily be happening to themselves or someone they know, to choose whether Lisbeth is justified in her actions and to understand that surviving sexual brutality does not mean that a survivor’s agency is abandoned, is discomfiting at best. Fincher’s choice to present even consensual sex and nudity in a way that isn’t overtly sexualized, fits the tone of continual confrontation embodied by Lisbeth Salander, extremely well.
This is a film that could have been remade for English-speaking audiences in a way that felt easy and familiar, and wasn’t. While surrounded by a strong supporting cast including Robin Wright and Stellan Skarsgard, the heart of the film remains the shifting dynamics between its two leads. There is an uneasy respect, and an eventual affection between Blomkvist and Salander,but they aren’t likeable, easy characters. Fincher gets the audience from point A to point B in the plot without pulling any punches, while wisely resting the weight of the film squarely on Rooney Mara’s shoulders.
Familiar to audiences from Fincher’s The Social Network as Erica Albright, and her role as Nancy Holbrooke in the reboot of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Mara is a revelation as Lisbeth Salander. To play a character who is so unsympathetic on the surface without trying to offer any excuse or justification, shows a remarkable amount of restraint. She is who she is, what happens to her happens, she does what she does, and she does it without breaking stride. Mara inhabits that skin without hesitation. While Mara and Craig both bring a remarkable sangfroid to their roles, Craig also plays against type, as Blomkvist is suprisingly naifish. The contrasts and subverted expectation make the characters compelling even when the narrative loses its intensity.

Resolving the mystery, revealing the murderer(s), and salvaging Blomkivst’s reputation in the final act are where the narrative becomes too convenient. Limited by Larsson’s plot and leaving an opening for the planned sequels, Zaillian and Fincher seem to run out of steam, and it’s all too evident to the audience and the only completely flat notes in an otherwise taut and necessarily disturbing film.

 

 

Review: Red Tails

Aerial combat in Red Tails (courtesy of redtails2012.com)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 The following review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily that of all Nerds in Babeland staff

 

This winter’s second significant war movie, Red Tails, is a film that is objectively important but horrendously executed. The screenplay from John Ridley and Aaron McGruder from Ridley’s book, follows a standard WWII flyboy motif, with all the tropes that implies. Red Tails gives the audience dialogue that ranges from the rousing rallying cry, “From the last plane, to the last bullet, to the last minute, to the last man: WE FIGHT,” to the caricatured mumblings of Andrew “Smoky” Salem (Ne-Yo) which seem so dissonant within the narrative context as to be cringe-inducing. This is the film’s primary failing, it can’t decide who the characters are. Are they the Tuskegee-educated men history tells us they were: future lawyers, engineers, educators and scientists, or are they the standard flyboys chasing glory and girls that the film type requires?

In spite of the flawed script and heavy-handed direction, Red Tails succeeds as a historical action film. The battle sequences have a grainy authenticity, a period-appropriate newsreel flicker that is familiar to the eye. The dialogue leaves much to be desired, but David Oyelowo as Joe “Lightning” Little, Nate Parker as Marty”Easy”Julian, Tristan Wilds as Ray “Raygun”Gannon and Terence Howard as Col. Bullard, bring a sense of dignity and the struggle of the era.

Hindsight tells us that in 2012, with a bi-racial President, we have come a long way from the legally enshrined racism of the Jim Crow era. The fact that since President Obama took office, there have been an onslaught of requests for him to prove he is a natural-born citizen, tells us we haven’t come far enough. The resonance in Red Tails comes from both a history denied too long in mainstream film and the knowledge that even this film would not have been made if George Lucas hadn’t put up his own money.

Placing the heroism of the pilots front and center, without requiring them to be any more or less perfect than any other heroes; if nothing else, Red Tails says to the audience and to Hollywood, “There are so many stories to be told,” about people of color in any era. It is a direct statement that limiting audiences who want to see themselves reflected onscreen to just Tyler Perry, or slapstick-comedy, or gang-violence genres, is its own brand of institutionalized racism. The gamble taken on getting a broad audience to show up for what is actually a mainstream action-drama that just happens to be about the black experience in WWII, is also a leap of faith in that audience. George Lucas decided to bet on people showing up. I like the optimism in that.

Red Tails is not a particularly visionary film in style or execution. Anthony Hemingway seems to have a much better grasp on the aerial sequences than painting a picture of life on the ground for pilots who may have been more segregated within the military than they were as Americans in Europe during the war. Hemingway, Ridley and McGruder falter in walking the line between making the depths of the era’s racism clear, and treating the characters as pilots who were just as, if not more qualified than their white colleagues. I can’t say this is a film that will hold up to scrutiny either historically or as a film, but it is an important everyday film that offers its audience a chance to view a turning point in history through different eyes.

Movie Trailer: Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

 

I have been a bit ambivalent about this movie. But after seeing the trailer and reading more about it I can honestly say I cannot wait!

 

 

What do you think? Will you be seeing it opening day?

Review: Haywire

Warning: Spoilers

 

Haywire looks and feels like someone with a film degree made a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie. This is not actually a bad thing. Former MMA fighter Gina Carano has charisma on camera, and is more than capable of dishing out and taking a beating. As a woman, watching her go toe-to-toe with Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, and Ewan McGregor is a thrill. Being a fan of action movies while being a girl can often feel like there’s never a chance to truly identify with the protagonist. Angelina Jolie’s Salt was a much glossier spy-thriller/action film, but was hampered by the fact that watching the fight sequences required an extreme suspension of disbelief because Jolie looked like any one of her opponents could pick her up and snap her in half. Carano gives the audience solid muscle and an authentic physicality that isn’t compromised by putting on a dress. One of the small costuming details that hit home is that none of the sparingly-seen heels she wears are stilettos, and she doesn’t fight in heels at all.

No, this is not a reinvention of the genre. Lem Dobbs’ script is bare-bones on plot and heavy on scenes with very little dialogue or narrative continuity. Carano, as mercenary Mallory Kane, is a former Marine working for a private contractor to the US Government. The narrative jumps back and forth between present and flashback to show the audience a recounting of where things went wrong for Mallory and why people are trying to kill her. The duplicity of every character but Mallory, is laid out in plain-text for the audience to read. What Soderbergh does to great effect, is mine 1970’s era low-budget caper films for a narrative veneer, while filling in the rest with a spare and evocative score by David Holmes, Carano’s ability to be appealing and natural with cheesy dialogue, a top-notch roster of leading men, and fight sequences that look like they really hurt.

Dropping out everything but ambient (and for the savvy audience, obviously foley-supplied) sound during the fight scenes enhances the guerilla-filmmaking effect. Most of these scenes are able to continue the paper-thin plot’s momentum, but the climactic fights lack oomph. Once you’ve had your heroine strangle Michael Fassbender between her thighs, and bounce around Dublin rooftops, unless you’ve got something truly extraordinary up your sleeve, it’s going to fall short of expectations. Soderbergh has been swinging between the very stylized (Out of Sight, the Ocean’s franchise) and the subversively authentic ( Sex, Lies and Videotape,The Girlfriend Experience) for decades. To be a truly memorable action film, Haywire needed just a touch more of the stylization. In taking the desire for authenticity too far, Soderbergh undercuts the direct subversion of having a leading lady who really can deliver a knockout punch.

Carano is a find, and with a director who isn’t content to leave her carrying an entire film without a net, we may have a brand-new action star on our hands.


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