Posts tagged Movies

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

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

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, 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













 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.

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.

Review: War Horse

Warning: Spoilers

Benedict Cumberbatch, Patrick Kennedy and Tom Hiddleston (still from War Horse courtesy of

War Horse, directed by Spielberg and scripted by Lee Hall and Richard Curtis, faces the challenge of illustrating the horrors of war through a horse’s eyes. Adapted from Michael Morpurgo’s children’s book and subsequent theatrical adaptation, the film follows the titular horse, Joey from his birth in the Devon countryside, to the muddy trenches of the front lines in France.

It is a cinematically beautiful film, courtesy of longtime Spielberg cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, but there are too few moments when the audience truly feels like they’re seeing events through the horse’s eyes and the humans are too thinly or too stereotypically drawn to effectively provide a window into the WWI experience.

Unlike Spielberg’s previous war films, Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, War Horse seems to gloss over the reality of war. WWI being the turning point from wars fought on horseback, to the industrialized warfare that carried on through the twentieth century, and now being replaced by an even more detached form of battle in the twenty-first with unmanned drones leveling attacks in faraway lands. It’s a family-friendly version of The Great War, where no one bleeds, and a boy and his horse will be reunited at the end.

Relying on the audience knowing just how doomed so many who fought were is the biggest error the film makes. While there is an admirable effort to show those affected: Young officers drawn from the upper-classes who made their charge, swords drawn and with God and Country in their hearts, never knowing they were literally outgunned by the German forces. The young conscripts who fled the fight. The civilians whose homes and farms were decimated by both battle and the constant pillaging to feed armies. The infantrymen in the trenches who had no personal investment in the war, but who fought and died anyway. The film offers fleeting glimpses, but never gives the characters a chance to be more than props to the message, “War is bad.”

The first forty-five minutes establish the relationship between Joey and Albert (Jeremy Irvine) but weigh the film down in a mawkish, bucolic atmosphere. The sub-plot of an alcoholic father (Peter Mullan) who recklessly purchases Joey, and the threat of losing the family farm to an arrogant landlord (David Thewlis) would have benefitted from a ruthless hand in the editing room and allowed for expansion of the more directly relevant scenes of the war. Emily Watson, as Albert’s long-suffering mother, is tragically wasted in the sequence.

Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and Joey (still courtesy of

Tasked with illustrating the blithe valor and nihilistic realism of a cavalry composed of men who were more used to playing polo than being at the sharp end of history, Tom Hiddleston, Benedict Cumberbatch and Patrick Kennedy deliver lean, quiet performances that seem out of step with the rest of the film. For fifteen minutes, War Horse is a film about a war that nobody really won.

In one of the most economical sequences in the film, the English officers’ journey is shown as mundane tasks imbued with swaggering bravado, a rousing speech to, “Be Brave, fear God, honor the King,” and poignantly, the cavalry’s charge intercut with German soldiers at their guns, and riderless horses galloping into the forest. Unfortunately, it isn’t until the final reel, that we see that economy again. As Joey confronts a German tank, the change in the meaning of a cavalry division from horse to armored machinery is writ large, but the horse’s desperate run through the trenches and barbed wire of no-man’s land is beautifully brutal. The denouement of the film plays out much as the audience expects, even without a familiarity with the source material.

There is a sense of War Horse as paint-by-numbers filmmaking. All of the parts are well-made, but they don’t quite blend together. What should be a stirring homage to a generation of warriors that are all but forgotten, instead feels like a deliberate attempt to manipulate the audience. Instead of reining in the obvious emotional cues and trusting the gravitas of the narrative, Spielberg pulls out one too many tropes and cliché shots. With a final shot that is oversaturated in more ways than one, Spielberg undermines the homage and sense of historical significance he intended.

War Horse is a a beautiful film and successful Oscar bait, (judging by recent nominations) but it’s not the great film about The Great War, that it should be.

Minimalistic Art for the Geeky Eye

These clever little capsules from Greg Guillemin will certainly keep us geek-folk amused for probably a little too long:



And while I’d probably make flash cards out of them, they seem to be available in some finely printed forms.

Book Review: The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman

The True Adventures of the World’s Greatest Stuntman by Vic Armstrong (with Robert Sellers)

Review: Jenn Zuko Boughn



Chances are, you have never heard of Vic Armstrong[1].

But you probably have heard of: Indiana Jones, James Bond, Superman, Rambo, the Terminator, Flash Gordon, Han Solo, Henry V, The Green Hornet, and Thor.

And since you are reading a site called Nerds in Babeland, you must have heard these names: Harrison Ford, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Steven Spielberg, Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Christopher Reeve, Tom Cruise, Richard Attenborough, Kenneth Branagh, Angelina Jolie, Will Smith…

Vic Armstrong is the recipient of many accolades and awards for stunt performing and stunt coordination, including the Guinness World Record for Most Prolific Stuntman. Keeping in mind that this above list is a mere fraction of the people Armstrong has doubled, worked with, or directed as Second Unit[2] Director, you can see why. The man is a legend among stunt performers, and his family is following in his footsteps. Armstrong’s new memoir details his early life as a horse lover (and expert) on through stunt performer and, later, stunt director. He gives a behind-the-scenes look at many stages of his epic life in the field of stunts.

This is not the autobiography you read for its scintillating prose. This is an autobiography you read for the amazing stories of the amazing events throughout an amazing, long career. The book begins with a recounting of Armstrong jumping from a moving horse to a moving tank, as Indiana Jones. The harrowing near-miss is delivered with the wry humor typical of a stuntperson, with the dry reality that he would have to reset it and do another take. The book is an immensely entertaining combination of a “special features” behind-the-scenes narration of a staggering number of favorite films (and characters), and chatting with a chummy mentor over a pint, recalling the good times of back in the day.

One of the most engaging things about Armstrong’s narrative is his genuine respect and even awe for his fellow professionals, not only in the stunt field, but everyone who’s worked hard in the movies he’s been involved with, and those that came before. He speaks with true joy about his excitement at starting a new project, and with not too much modesty about his skills and setbacks as a professional. Peppered throughout his personal narrative are brief bold-fonted paragraphs penned by some of the more famous folks he’s worked with. These magazine-article-blurb-like interruptions range from delightful (Harrison Ford avers: “If you learn to talk, I’m done for”), to slightly repetitive (many of the paragraphs start to sound like a ping-pong game of vague praise), but all in all the book reads like a snappy, exciting…well, action sequence!

As a stage combat professional myself, what I appreciated most was his consistent stress on the safety of the techniques used, from the earliest movie he appeared in (You Only Live Twice!) to a lovely farewell as he puts down this book to go work on Thor. He makes it clear what technology was available for each movie, what stunts he did that were foolish-young-man stuff and which he butted heads with the director with over safety. He also has interesting things to say about actors that want to do their own stunts, which is food for thought for those movie-goers that may think an actor doing his own stunts is a “cool” thing.

The bottom line: Vic Armstrong has been involved with the stunts for a dizzying number of films that we at Nerds in Babeland regularly nerd out over, and more than that, and more. The man is a legend, and continues to be so. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the world of the stuntman, or indeed any movie buff.

~Prof. Jenn



[1] Unless you’re a stage combat nerd, like me.

[2] The Second Unit director is the guy who directs the action sequences.


Angel’s (Decidedly Massive) Oscar Post

This year, I watched like a billion movies, but only ten of them were nominated for best picture at the 13947394th Academy Awards, which are tomorrow night (on ABC for the interested). I was like, hey, why not talk about them?

A couple of years ago, the Academy decided to expand the number of possible nominations for best picture from five to ten, which has the potential to make Oscars a total gamechanger. As it is, it is now more likely that an awesome summer blockbuster has the chance to take home an Oscar, whereas before if your movie came out before Thanksgiving your chances were practically nonexistent. (Most people will tell you this is because The Dark Knight. They’re probably right.)

Now, the Oscars are a regular hodgepodge of must-see movies, ranging from the insanely claustrophobic like 127 Hours to sweeping epics like True Grit to psychological horror movies like Black Swan. One thing a lot of them have in common? Hand injuries! Man, if you have a problem with hand or finger perforation or amputation, I can tell you that you should avoid many of these movies. You’d think they were hand-picked by Robert Rodriguez. At least 24 fingers were lost in this year’s nominees, and plus some additional fingernails and probable future amputations.

Anyway, there are ten movies, so even at a couple of short paragraphs apiece this is post is a behemoth. As such, I’m including links so that you can do what I often do easily, and just skip through and read about the movies I really really liked and the movies I really really hated.  But just in case you still want to read about the movies you didn’t even see, everything is for the most part spoiler-free.  Except for Toy Story 3.  I had to spoil that one a bit.  And I think 127 Hours comes pre-spoiled.

127 HoursBlack SwanThe FighterInceptionThe Kids Are All RightThe King’s SpeechThe Social NetworkToy Story 3True GritWinter’s Bone

The Short, Short Version of This Post

Or, I guess you can just read the entire post behind the cut. (more…)

By Odin’s Beard!

The official Thor trailer has been released.  Marvel enthusiasts will remember the comic.. which, this looks like it will do a nice job of portraying.

Care to see it?

The one thing that’s bugging me here, though, is the size of his hammer.  That looks like one weak little hammer. Thor’s hammer is supposed to be something only HE can lift.. well, and the Hulk that one time.

Anyway.. what are your thoughts on this?  How do you guys feel about the Comic to Movie trend? Personally, I’d really love to see more new ideas in the movie world these days instead of recycled stories. However, there’s no denying how fun it is to see your favorite characters in a new light, and in a new medium. Plus, it reaches these stories to new audiences, which gets more people into comics.

Video Game & Movie Releases – November

Sorry for the delay, I suck! Below is a list of upcoming movie and video game release dates to keep your eyes on, and wallets handy for.

Video Game Releases
Nov 2 – MAG: Escalation — PS3
Nov 2 – GoldenEye 007 — Wii, DS
Nov 2 – Hoard — PS3
Nov 2 – Auditorium — PS3, 360
Nov 2 – James Bond 007: Blood Stone — PC, 360, PS3, DS
Nov 2 – Dragon Ball: Raging Blast 2 — PS3, 360
Nov 2 – God of War: Ghost of Sparda — PSP
Nov 4 – Kinect — 360
Nov 4 – Kinect Sports — 360
Nov 4 – Kinectimals — 360
Nov 4 – Kinect Adventures — 360
Nov 4 – Your Shape: Fitness Evolved — 360
Nov 4 – Dance Central — 360
Nov 9 – Karaoke Revolution Glee — Wii
Nov 9 – John Daly’s ProStroke Golf — 360
Nov 9 – Call of Duty: Black Ops — PC, PS3, 360, Wii, DS
Nov 16 – Dance Dance Revolution — PS3
Nov 16 – NBA Jam — PS3, 360
Nov 16 – EA Sports Active 2.0 — PS3, 360, Wii
Nov 16 – Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Hero Gauntlet — PS3, 360, Wii, DS
Nov 16 – Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood — PS3, 360
Nov 16 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — PC, PS3, 360, Wii, DS
Nov 16 – Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit — PC, PS3, 360, Wii
Nov 18 – Zumba Fitness — 360, Wii
Nov 23 – Splatterhouse — PS3, 360
Nov 23 – Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom — PS3, 360
Nov 23 – Michael Jackson The Experience — Wii, DS, PSP
Nov 23 – Crazy Taxi — PS3, 360
Nov 27 – Gran Turismo 5 — PS3
Nov 29 – Golden Sun: Dark Dawn — DS
Nov 30 – Epic Mickey — Wii
Nov 30 – Nail’d — PC, PS3, 360

Movie Releases
Nov 5 – Megamind
Nov 5 – For Colored Girls
Nov 5 – Due Date
Nov 10 – Morning Glory
Nov 12 – Skyline
Nov 12 – Unstoppable
Nov 12 – Cool It
Nov 12 – Helena from the Wedding
Nov 12 – Tiny Furniture
Nov 19 – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1
Nov 19 – Heartless
Nov 19 – Me Too
Nov 19 – Nothing Personal
Nov 19 – Queen of the Lot
Nov 19 – The Next Three Days
Nov 19 – White Material
Nov 24 – Burlesque
Nov 24 – Faster
Nov 24 – Kawasaki’s Rose
Nov 24 – Love and other Drugs
Nov 24 – Tangled

Ebert’s original review of Halloween

Just saw this on Mr. Ebert’s Twitter feed. Really cool to see this review from back in the day.

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