The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is the first of three bestselling books by Stieg Larsson that has been made into a movie. It was just released this week which made me surprised to see such a small turnout. Maybe people decided Christmas shopping was more important and/or entertaining than this movie. Maybe some found it offensive? I’m not sure but I am sure that I had a pretty good time watching it with my wife Sarah, a huge fan of the trilogy.

The story centers around Lisbeth and Mikael Blomkvist, played by Daniel Craig. They work together to uncover the identity of a serial killer who has been at it for decades. there are side stories as well that I thought were more interesting than the backbone of the story.

The one word I would use most about Lisbeth Salander, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is deliberate. She breaks through firewalls on her laptop to spy on bad guys with speed and focus. It is fun to watch her do her work. When she is done in one place, she hops on her unassuming black motorcycle and heads down the straightest path to get to her destination. She takes vengeance like a little grim reaper and we find this twenty something woman to be smart and mature about the world beyond her years. We watch her have sex at least twice where it’s by her choice and, most importantly, under her control. The scenes where she is raped she is not as composed, and understandably so. I kept wondering about her life as a child and teen. She is calculated and without emotion most of the movies. How did she get to be this way? All we hear is that she is a ward of the state and she burned her father over 80% of his body. I imagine the book tells us more about why, the movie does not.

In the final analysis, this film could be called all flash, no substance. We aren’t invested in the characters but some James Bond action and leather and straps sex scenes hold some interest. Watch it expecting just those things and you’ll have a good time. Whether or not that familiar formula can support two more movies remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, this actress better sign the papers quick because this is not a role for a thirty something. The Marlboro Reds should start having their effect on facial lines and physical fitness in a couple years. As long as it was tech, it would suit this girl. I give it a 3/5 for the awesome suspense and action scenes. Unfortunately though, for me, it didn’t explain Lisbeth Salander, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo enough and that’s why it lost points. Character development could have been embellished a bit more. Oh and in case you are wondering about the tattoo? Yes we do see it.

Gnomeo and Juliet

Here’s a brief review of a good movie that children and their parents will like. I watched this movie today with my kids ages 3, 6, and 12. They all loved it. There were a few spots when it dragged a little but all in all the “cuteness” of these garden gnomes sold me.

There is no global solution offered here just Gnomeo and Juliet falling in love. A great afternoon out with your kids. I thought the animation was spectacular and the story light and fun.

There are little asides here and there paying tribute to Shakespeare. It is very well-suited to have Patrick Stewart play the bard himself. Elton John was the producer and his music is woven throughout. It sounds amazing. If nothing else, this movie teaches people about the Shakespearean play. What’s more, it reintroduces the music of Elton John to a new generation. There have been some really bad reviews so far. I’ll admit, it’s not the best movie but the visuals and music are stunning. Listen, these garden gnomes are so cute, you have to see them for yourself. It will hold your kids’ attention for over an hour, what more could you ask for in a movie?

I am really surprised this movie hasn’t received higher ratings. I saw it as an 8/10. I think this is a great one for kids and the pop culture jokes here and there will keep the parents’ interest. Don’t go into it expecting more or you’ll be disappointed. BUT, if that is your expectation, you’ll have a great time at a cute movie.

Gulliver’s Travels 2010

I know I run the risk of stating the obvious here. Gulliver’s Travels with Jack Black does not deliver the messages in the book. It’s obvious because most reviews show that most people aren’t expecting it to. Still, even those who expected your typical Jack Black movie are giving it a 6/10 or less. That’s about what I think of the movie. It focuses on CGI instead of the human perspectives that shine in the original written work.

The film was directed by Rob Letterman (Shark Tale, Monsters vs Aliens …). His work on this film marks a departure from animation and I don’t think he ever leaves the gate. It plays more like a wild-eyed cartoon than an intelligent comedy. He spent more time directing tiny cannonballs into Jack Black’s CGI tummy and then flexing them back at the little people than he did making sense of anything in the original story. That’s a shame.

The 2010 movie is, in a nutshell, about Lemuel Gulliver, Jack Black, who is basically a loser clerk in the mailroom of a newspaper. The beginning of the movie shows laboriously how Gulliver will never amount to anything beyond the mail room. Amanda Peet plays Darcy Silverman, a professional byline writer who Gulliver seeks to impress through lying and plagiarism. Bear in mind, none of this has anything to do with the original Gulliver’s Travels.

Gulliver ends up being assigned his first big correspondent trip to the Bermuda Triangle. There, he has encounters with small people. Really small. In the book, this is used as a metaphor to show how perspectives can change when our size changes. In this movie, it’s just crazy antics with miniature and giant plastic devices. It was sort of cool when they used a giant iPhone, but not cool enough to stop my yawns.

Other stars in the film include Emily Blunt, Jason Segel, and Billy Connolly. If you like to see these actors whether the script and acting is good or bad, go see Gulliver’s Travels. If you are hoping to see a side-splitting comedy that uses intellectualism to tickle your funny bone, you’ll wind up empty after this one. Do yourself a favor and make a gamble on Tron instead. I wish I would have.
[xrr rating=1.5/5]

The Grapes of Wrath

My wife and I watched “The Grapes of Wrath” recently and while it was a bit tedious at times, it packed some powerful and therapeutic messages for me. The adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel was about the Joads, a family from Oklahoma, traveling in the 40’s to find work. It is during the ferocious dust bowl period that made farmers’ land fallow. Those who once owned the farms were now vagrant/migrant workers. The greed and selfishness of the banks and landowners is an eerie backdrop to this realistic fiction. With our country in such financial crisis it seems it could return to this. Maybe it’s not so bad to be afraid of that.

The whole “aura” of the movie always gets to me emotionally because my grandpa came to Bakersfield, CA from Arkansas when my dad was just a kid. Certainly my dad was younger than Tom Joad being born in 1945. I see the Joads as “my people.” It is quite a powerful movie when you really connect with the messages. Those messages re about life, death, family, faith, hard work, government, and more.

Favorite scene: When the Joads ask to buy a loaf of bread for a dime in a diner. They are told the bread is 15 cents a loaf and not for sale anyway. This being all they had, the storekeeper lets them have it for 10 and lies about how much the candy costs so the Joad kids can have some swirl sticks. The movie is great from beginning to end, but that scene is forever etched into my mind.

Where the Wild Things Are

This post I wrote was published first at Blogcritics.

I waited months in anticipation of this movie based on my favorite childhood book, Where the Wild Things Are. My parents used to read it to me at bedtime and I recall such vivid images of Max’s bedroom, the far-off land of the wild things, and those creatures with their yellowy eyes. It was oddly scary and comforting at the same time to hear that story each night. That’s probably why I was curious to see what director Spike Jonze would do with the big screen adaptation. Unfortunately, this movie had few positives for me.

It’s the kind of movie I wait and wait for and then wind up feeling empty once it’s over. I will concede that my opinion is not the norm. I read five reviews on Blogcritics alone before I decided I must be from another planet. I felt this movie was like cheap merchandise with nothing to back it up.

The movie begins with a sort of “grunge” look to it. The beginning scene is very short and the title of the movie sort of “freeze frames” in sloppy strokes reminiscent of Flowers for Algernon. That was cool but after that we get a contrived character of 9 or 10 years of age. He is stricken with fury at his mother, his sister, and those around him in those scenes. My wife and I have a debate going over whether he shows evidence of mental illness. Make no mistake … this is decidedly not the “Max” of the original book.

The Max in the book is a garrulous young boy of about six years old. He is sent to his room without his supper. The Max of the movie is deeply disturbed and much older and he ends up running away from home. There is serious convolution of character and plot here.

When the “movie Max,” played by child actor Max Records, gets to the island on his boat, the book’s magic is lost. The movie has already cashed in on the book’s familiar appeal.

I should say here that this movie is decidedly not for kids. My 2- and 4-year-old girls were on the verge of tears a couple times. A friend of mine has a daughter who cried uncontrollably through the opening snow tunnel scene. Well, maybe that was an over-reaction, it’s not terrible I suppose. More than that, it is a bait and switch from the book we all read growing up.

One particularly scary aspect of the movie is the character Judith, played by Catherine O’Hara. She is not a playful character and seems to show direct and unbridled hate toward Max in a few scenes. I have a feeling the movie wants to be a statement about refusing to grow up. This is the opposite of the book’s message, which brings acceptance of growth and maturity upon Max’s return. I could accept the Judith scenes if he grew somehow. Instead, he just seems to eventually run away again.

If you want to watch disturbing images in and out of realistic fiction, this movie will appeal to you. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate disturbing images when they make a point. For example, I thoroughly enjoyed the 1970’s Pink Floyd movie The Wall. It made excellent points through disturbing images. The difference from WTWTA is that The Wall didn’t claim to be a big screen adaptation of a beloved children’s book.

If I had to pick one positive aspect of this film I’d say it’s the Jim Henson muppet wild things. They look awesome. If that alone is worth your trip to a movie, I won’t steer you away. However, if you want a warmhearted adaptation of a children’s book, pass on this one.

I Love You Man

This post I wrote was first published at Blogcritics.

I just saw I Love You, Man, the latest film by director John Hamburg (The Letter, Along Came Polly) and I laughed myself silly. The operative word here is “silly” because in the same spirit of Hamburg’s Along Came Polly, this movie is a laugh a minute. Despite some crude references, which are more the norm than the exception in Hollywood these days, this is a wholesome R-rated comedy (if that is possible).

Peter Klaven, played by Paul Rudd, is a real estate agent in his 30s, set to be married to Zooey, played by Rashida Jones. Peter needs a best man. His brother can do it but he feels they are not that close. Instead, Peter chooses to start “man-dating.” This sets a stage where some truly hilarious scenes take place. These are jokes about the insecurities some guys have about getting close. There’s nothing gay going on but it feels like that same category of humor (i.e. Reno 911, The Birdcage, etc). This is a clever job of writing; it’s nice to see a movie that takes a spin on something that’s already been done and makes it original.

One of the themes revisited several times in this film is the “man cave.” Sydney Fife (Jason Segel) has a man cave and invites Peter into it to jam Rush songs and observe his “special chair” (one of the crude references I alluded to earlier). Every guy 21 and up can relate to a man cave: a place to jam music and talk about chicks!

The conflict at the end is quite predictable, especially in its resolution, but frankly, I didn’t care to be critical. I was laughing and enjoying myself right up until the end. They might have made the Sydney character a bit more normal since most guys have friends like that. Then again, this is a movie so it doesn’t have to be exactly like real life, I guess. It never became as odd as The Cable Guy but that sort of weirdness in another shade is what I’m talking about. Take it from this writer, friends don’t have to be that weird to be weird according to our wives. I thought the writing of Sydney was a bit overkill.

The Southern California settings were beautiful, starting in Pasadena, working through Venice Beach, and finally culminating in the real on-location wedding in Santa Barbara. I found the realism of setting reminiscent of Jim Carrey’s recent film Yes Man which was shot in Pasadena, Balboa Park, and at the Hollywood Bowl.

I recommend this one to guys and/or couples 21 and up. My wife and I laughed our brains out. Sure, it could have been better with a more realistic characterization of Sydney but who’s keeping track of stuff like that in new movies that really make us laugh?

Peggy Sue Got Married (1986) 5/5 – Time-travel fun akin to ‘Back to the Future’

I can’t think of anything wrong with this film, it’s one of the perfect ones in my book. About 25 years out of high school, everyone probably thinks a little about what they could have or should have done. This film throws a little sci fi “what-if” into a 25 year high school reunion.

Peggy Sue Got Married

“Peggy Sue faints at a high school reunion. When she wakes up, she finds herself in her own past, just before she finished school.” -IMDB

Cast

Kathleen Turner Peggy Sue
Nicolas Cage Charlie Bodell
Barry Miller Richard Norvik
Catherine Hicks Carol Heath

Directed by

Francis Ford Coppola

Written by

Jerry Leichtling, Arlene Sarner

Other Info

Comedy, Drama, Fantasy, Romance
PG-13
Fri 10 Oct 1986 UTC
103min
IMDB Rating: 6.3

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather saga,  Apocalypse Now, …), is all I need to say to most movie students like myself. He has such an incredible way with people and movies and we see that come across well in this film. They don’t make films like this often and the universe doesn’t see one like Francis Ford Coppola come along often either.

The staff is similarly charmed. Kathleen Turner plays the lead actress role of Peggy Sue. Watching her is like watching a fine work of art or a ballet dance. She is a talented actress and simply beautiful. Part of her appeal in this film is her humility that belies her beauty. She is one of those beautiful women that can pull it off.

Nicholas Cage is simply hilarious in this film as Charlie Bodell, Peggy Sue’s boyfriend. He is, by way of trivia, the cousin of the famous director. Cage does a great job as the hate-able yet love-able testosterone filled boy with a dream.  His angst mixed with Peggy Sue’s regrets makes the film an amazing message to all of us. There are other notable performance in this film

Peggy Sue somehow transports back to high school after a long bout of regret about her choices. While in this dream state (or is it?) she tries to right every wrong she did in her life. She finds out that maybe isn’t possible but that’s what makes life wonderful. It’s imperfect yet beautiful. Humans are imperfect. My favorite line is when her dad buys an Edsel and she says (in her young self body) “Oh dad, you bought an Edsel, your were always dong stuff like that.” Of course the family thinks she crazy.

FINAL THOUGHTS
We need more movies like this with a female in the lead role who takes us on a fantastic journey. I am always reminded of an important life lesson every time I watch this film. If for no reason other than the fact that it was made by Francis Ford Coppola, you should see this because it’s about the choices we make and sometime regret. Maybe we shouldn’t regret them after all. See what this inspiring film has to say. I recommend it as a perfect film in its genre. It is quite similar to Back to the Future.

 

Harvey (1950) 5/5 – ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ meets ‘Psycho’

Jimmy Stewart is one of the most impressive and emotive actors of all time. His voice creates a presence of calm and attention. He usually has something to say in a film and in Harvey it’s life wisdom hand over fist.

Harvey

“Due to his insistence that he has an invisible six foot-tall rabbit for a best friend, a whimsical middle-aged man is thought by his family to be insane – but he may be wiser than anyone knows.” -IMDB
Cast

James Stewart Elwood P. Dowd
Josephine Hull Veta Louise Simmons
Peggy Dow Ruth Kelly
Charles Drake Dr. Lyman Sanderson

Directed by

Henry Koster

Written by

Mary Chase, Mary Chase

Other Info

Comedy, Drama, Fantasy
Not Rated
Fri 13 Oct 1950 UTC
111min
IMDB Rating: 8.0

Directed by Henry Koster, this film was in a long list of highly successful films of its time. One that rings a bell with me is The Bishop’s Wife (1947) but the list is quite long. It makes sense such a prolific creator would have made a gem like this. Clearly he was acquainted with mental health facilities and care of the time. They are presented realistically for the time.

James Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, a happy-go-lucky homebody dedicated to taking care of his sister who is ailing and a bit hysterical. He keeps her calm and we can see early on how relaxed as a person he is. Peggy Dow plays Ruth Kelly, a beautiful young nurse who is kind and helpful to Elwood even though she may think him crazy. I hope if I am ever thought crazy I get such wonderful sweet treatment. Charles Drake plays Dr. Lyman Sanderson. This doctor has a crush on nurse Kelly and they provide some romantic tension in the plot. There are a few more really great performances in this movie. I am honestly blown away every time I see it.

The story here starts with Elwood (Jimmy Stewart). He talks to a 6 foot rabbit who the audience may or may not ever see, you’ll have to decide. Maybe you just see the impact of him but not him physically. That’s really the point of the movie. Is it bad to have delusions that don’t hurt anyone? In fact, can these delusions even help everyone?

FINAL THOUGHTS
Harvey is on my shortlist of best movies I’ve seen in my lifetime. I like it because I sometimes waffle back and forth into the land of what people expect of me and what I want for myself. Elwood P Dowd is my reason to dwell in the latter. I like movies that make me think and give me something to talk about with my wife and friends. I think we can see every neurosis there is in these characters and choose the one we want to act the part of. As for me? I pick the delusional Elwood. See it, make some coffee and call me, we’ll chat it up!

5/5

Fences (2016) 3/5 – Denzel talks a bit too fast for my ears but this is still a good film

The acting and directing in Fences comes at the viewer rapid-fire and almost auctioneer-like. While the 1950’s produced frustrated fathers I am sure, it’s not clear whether this father represents any father we may know. He is larger and louder than life, so much so it’s difficult to identify with the true theme of the movie.

Fences“A working-class African-American father tries to raise his family in the 1950s, while coming to terms with the events of his life.” -IMDB

Cast

Denzel Washington Troy Maxson
Viola Davis Rose Maxson
Stephen Henderson (as Stephen McKinley Henderson) Jim Bono
Jovan Adepo Cory

Directed by

Denzel Washington

Written by

August Wilson, August Wilson

Other Info

Drama
PG-13
Sun 25 Dec 2016 UTC
139min
IMDB Rating: 7.5

Denzel Washington directs and plays the lead role of Troy Maxson in this unsettling drama. I rarely see films where the lead actor can direct and make a good film. I think it’s overly ambitious, especially in a play adaptation such as this. Notwithstanding it should be noted that Denzel has a few directing credits under his belt and therefore, should have some respect from me as such.

I think this actor hits too hard in this. Perhaps a different set of eyes and ears in another director would have seen this. I never felt like I had a chance to gather my thoughts or see a tender side of him. In fact, after an hour, I’d about had enough of his grandiose verbal abuse of his family.

Viola Davis plays his wife and brings a sad, subservient contemplation to things. She plays the role well, showing fear of him and yet a strange love for him at her core. I can say this was not a feel good film and I could not relate.

One level this film works on is its portrayal of a 1950’s black housewife. She has no option to leave but you wonder if she stays because she loves him.

Fences is a vignette of a man who has chosen to be a garbage man as his profession. He resents his eighteen year old son and won’t approve of him getting a college scholarship for football.

Final Thoughts
I know this is up for Oscars and I respect that but as always, I have to be real about my response to the film. It shows uncomfortable people in attempt to show what ignorance is. Some may relate to the family.

3/5

The Founder (2016) 4/5 – Top Shelf Keaton as Fast Food Mogul Ray Kroc

Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc works as well as a 30 second service cheeseburger in a bag with fries and a vanilla shake. His superb acting performance leads the incredible story of how the American fast food restaurant started its empire. The story alone is powerful but does the film produce ultimate customer satisfaction?

The Founder
“The story of Ray Kroc, a salesman who turned two brothers’ innovative fast food eatery, McDonald’s, into one of the biggest restaurant businesses in the world with a combination of ambition, persistence, and ruthlessness.” -IMDB

Cast

Michael Keaton Ray Kroc
Nick Offerman Dick McDonald
John Carroll Lynch Mac McDonald
Linda Cardellini Joan Smith

Directed by

John Lee Hancock

Written by

Robert D. Siegel

Other Info

Biography, Drama, History
PG-13
Fri 20 Jan 2017 UTC
115min
IMDB Rating: 7.2

The Founder was directed by John Lee Hancock who has a nice resume of films behind him: 2013 Saving Mr. Banks, 2009 The Blind Side, and more. I particularly enjoyed The Blind Side, I thought it portrayed a true story quite emotionally on-screen. I feel has made another winner true story adaptation with this film.

Nick Offerman plays Dick McDonald, one of the two brothers who started the legendary franchise. He’s been around the block but is probably best known to the masses for his role on Parks and Recreation. He is the shrewd one, not allowing Kroc to succeed in some of his schemes to make himself rich. Having read about him apart from the film, I can tell you we have him to thank for anything wholesome about the food.

The amazing and well-known actor John Carroll Lynch (Fargo, The Walking Dead …) plays Mac McDonald, the jolly supportive brother who likes to believe in Kroc. It was his support that really allowed the franchises to start. These two are excellent in their roles. Michael Keaton steals the movie with a dab of every role he’s played thrown into the character. Suffice it to say, the acting is top-notch. You definitely get a show between the three of these. Patrick Wilson and Laura Dern both have small roles and I love their performances as well.

While not the full story of McDonald’s up to Kroc’s death, there is a lot here to satisfy the curious McDonald’s lover (like me). With retro cars, buildings, props, and wardrobe, it’s fascinating to watch how things started and got into full swing. You see it through the point of view of Kroc, who is a very passionate and ruthless dreamer. Many questions are left unanswered, most especially the one of what’s more important in business: money and success or people and integrity.

FINAL THOUGHTS
I loved this movie. It’s a chance to see Keaton play his famous pissed off maniacal self. I saw a little of his Gung Ho performance along with Mr. Mom and even a little bit of ruthless Birdman. The McDonald’s story is an American treasure. It shows the pitfalls of free enterprise alongside the pleasures. Kroc gave a lot of joy to people with McDonald’s food across the globe. It’s a good question to think about though whether it gave him true joy or partial heartache. Knowing his story, that was left out and I kind of missed it.

4/5