by Bill Johnson
These capsule reviews of current movies offer a basic overview of what these stories did (or didn't do) to engage an audience.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, directed by David Fincher
This American version of the Swedish novel has opening credits that suggest the movie will be about S&M and bondage. More so than the Swedish film of the novel, this movie is more visual and more compressed. This movie also does a better job of conveying Lisbeth's journey, from anti-social misfit to a woman potentially capable of being in a loving relationship. The Swedish film ended on a strictly plot note, which undercut the power of that film. It left Lesbeth's journey unfulfilled.
The journalist Mikael Blomkvist operates to solve the mystery of the missing girl with Lisbeth. In the novel (and the Swedish film) his goal of saving the magazine he helped found comes across much more strongly.
I'm more removed from the novel than when I did the early capsule review, but I still found Lisbeth to be the more interesting, compelling character.
The movie does have a quality of coming fully to life when Mikael and Lisbeth start working together.
Reducing a novel with a complex web of characters and plot threads is difficult. Fincher and his screenwriter, Steven Zaillian, got the job done.
Sherlock Holmes, a Game of Shadows
Unfortunately, this movie takes the title too far. For most of of the movie, it's not clear what Moriarty is trying to accomplish in the shadows. The result is there's a lot of beautifully staged action, but for most of the film, no sense of an underlying point. What Moriarty is trying to accomplish comes out at the end of the film, but too late to make this a powerful story or an engaging plot (although viewers with an understanding of history will guess what Moriarty is aiming for).
The film does have the easy camaraderie of its two stars.
On the surface this film is a fish out of water story, with the fish being an ivy-league, African-American FBI agent sent to Ireland to help intercept a drug shipment. Circumstances force him to work with a braggart, racist cop. The FBI agent can't stand the man, but he also wonders if his seemingly uneducated, vulgar partner with a large sexual appetite for hookers is really much smarter than he lets on.
The plot is generic but the storytelling is organic. What happens, and why, is based on who these two men are, and the choices they make based on who they are. Different characters would change the outcome of the plot, versus action films where the characters are in the service of the plot.
A pleasure to watch.
The Skin I Live In
This film by Pedro Almodovar demonstrates how a shift in time and perspective can affect an understanding of a story. The film begins with a scientist/surgeon living in a secluded mansion and keeping a beautiful young woman in an isolated, locked room. A housekeeper suggests it would be best if the young woman were dead. Then, a man in a costume shows up, the wastrel son of the housekeeper. He ties her up and rapes the young woman, while commenting that she looks just like 'her.' The surgeon comes in and shoots and kills the rapist.
The film now shifts to six years earlier. The surgeon is at a dinner party with an unstable daughter. It comes out that her mother recently died. Unnoticed by her father, she goes out with another young man. He expects this is for sex, but when she resists, he panics, hits her, tidies up her clothing, and flees. The father finds his daughter, who has undergone a psychotic break and later commits suicide.
He captures the young rapist and performs a sex change operation. Over the years, continued operations turn the young man into the beautiful young woman seen at the beginning of the film.
This explains who the young woman is, but it also completely changes the perspective on what this is a story about, that it is a kind of modern day Frankenstein story.
Odd but compelling film.
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