Four Lions(1/14/2011)

            Four Lions is a comedy about terrorism.  That fact alone is going to be more than enough to offend some people who will shout “terrorism isn’t funny.”  I understand where this attitude comes from, but let’s not forget that making fun of dark realities has been prevalent not only throughout the history of cinema but also in comedies through the ages.  Nazi’s were effectively made light of in movies like The Great Dictator and To Be or Not to Be, nuclear warfare was satirized excellently by Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, and racism has been effectively ridiculed by numerous standup comedians including Richard Pryor and Chris Rock.  None of those subjects are “funny,” but there’s plenty of room for ridicule and satire in all of the subjects as long as the people making it know what they’re doing.  Of course just because you can make a comedy about a subject without it being offensive does not necessarily make it funny.

            The film follows a group of English Muslims who have formed a jihadist cell bent on performing a suicide bombing of some sort.  The catch is that these terrorists are more like the shoe bomber than Osama bin Laden; they’re a bunch of bumbling fools playing with fire.  The most sensible of the four seems to be Omar (Riz Ahmed) who acts as a straight man of sorts to the fools he’s surrounded by.  The most extreme of the group, Barry (Nigel Lindsay), isn’t even a Muslim by birth; a fact that hasn’t stopped him from publicly spouting off about the supposed tyranny of the western world.  The other two, Waj (Kayvan Novak) and Faisal (Adeel Akhtar), follow along with the groups scheming to some degree.  A fifth person eventually emerges in the form of Hassan (Arsher Ali), a disaffected youth who’s talked into actually participating in “the cause” rather than simply making statements.

            The movie that Four Lions is widely being compared to (perhaps unfairly) is last year’s brilliant British political satire In the Loop.  To say the least, I went into Four Lions with pretty high expectations because of this and I can’t say they were really met.  The concept of In the Loop was far less audacious than Four Lions, but it had the major benefit of being made by people who are really really funny.  The comedy in Four Lions on the other hand, not so much.  I’ll say right up front that my disinterest in the comedy here has nothing to do with it being “edgy,” I just don’t think the jokes were all that good.  I feel like part of this is that the actors were casted more because they looked like terrorists than because they were great comedic talents.  Nigel Lindsay and Arsher Ali were the only ones here that really seemed like they belonged in a comedy. 

            The movie also suffered from the team behind the camera, this is clearly not a film made by confident filmmakers.  The film uses the all too common unacknowledged mockumentary format as its visual style to no effect.  This feels less like a genuine stylistic decision and more like a tool to conceal the movie’s low budget, and it genuinely makes the whole thing feel amateurish.  I know that visuals aren’t really supposed to be the focus of something like this, but having minimal technical prowess certainly doesn’t help.  It might have been less of an issue if the script stood on its own better, but this doesn’t really.  There is a decently absurdist image late in the movie that would seem funny in theory, but the filmmakers sort of botch the gag because they don’t really have the right timing when they reveal it.

            The movie also doesn’t work particularly well as satire, we do get a somewhat unique look into the stupidity of domestic terrorists, but the film never really fully explores these guys.  The glance into their world is largely superficial, and at times their bumbling feels less like the real failures of dumb “radicals” and more like dopey physical comedy.  Once again this movie just doesn’t exploit a really brilliant and ballsy premise.  That’s the thing, courage can get you so far and at the end of the day you also have to be funny, and in the grand scheme of things I don’t think the people who made this are world class comedians.

** out of Four

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DVD Catch-Up: The Town(1/14/2011)

            I try to see all the major movies that come out in theaters and write reviews of all of them, and then see the not-so-major movies on DVD.  Of course life gets in the way sometimes and the major movies need to wait for DVD.  The Town is just such a movie.  This was a very well received heist film with an impressive trailer and it was also Ben Affleck’s directorial follow-up to the flawed but promising Gone Baby Gone.  That’s definitely enough to drag my lazy ass out to a theater in most circumstances, but the month that movie came out was astonishingly busy for me, and it just didn’t work out.  Fortunately, DVD release windows are shorter than ever these days so I can still catch up with movies like this without much of a wait.

            The titular “town” in the movie is Charlestown, a blue-collar suburb of Boston known for the fact that many of inhabitants have become bank robbers.  As the film opens we see one such robbery, in which four men wearing skeleton masks burst into a bank wielding assault rifles demanding money.  They know what their doing and are able to bypass most of the bank’s security measures.  One of the robbers, who we’ll soon learn to be James “Jem” Coughlin (Jeremy Renner), violently demands the money and threatens to kill a hostage if a bank teller (Rebecca Hall) doesn’t quickly open the safe.  Another robber named Doug MacRay (Ben Affleck) takes a softer approach and allows the teller to take her time with the combination lock.  The teller is then taken hostage as the robbers escape, but is released safely after they are out of harm’s way.  She is questioned by an FBI agent named Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm) but leaves out a key bit of evidence for fear of the robbers.  Later she and MacRay meet in a Laundromat, he recognizes her but she doesn’t recognize him and a relationship is formed that could shatter if the truth came out.

            Consider that last development in the summery.  Does anyone believe that would really happen in real life at all?  Who in their right mind would really want to start a relationship with someone that you robbed a few days earlier and who could potentially identify you if you stick around longer?  That’s about the stupidest thing an otherwise expert thief could possibly do and there’s very little in the movie to explain why he would do this beyond some sort of movie logic that any time a man and a woman in a movie are both played by celebrities they must hook up.  In short, that’s a ridiculous premise to base a movie on and it takes a lot in order for me to get past it and enjoy the movie.

            Fortunately there’s a lot here to admire, particularly on a filmmaking and acting front.  Ben Affleck has not quite developed into a full blown auteur, but he does have a lot of skill behind the camera.  He shoots with a lot of confidence and he isn’t too quick to follow trends and fads.  He also knows how to cut an action scene pretty well, and there at least three very well executed set pieces here.  There are also a lot of small decisions here that improve the movie in interesting ways.  For example, the gang wears some particularly interesting skeleton masks in the opening heist and that improves the scene immeasurably.  The film also boasts a hell of an ensemble cast, led by Affleck himself who has done the Boston thing before and seems pretty confident doing it here.  He’s overshadowed though by some of his co-stars, particularly Jeremy Renner who is almost unrecognizable, he is completely different from how he looked and acted in The Hurt Locker.  Jon Hamm is also doing some decent work here and finally there’s also Rebecca Hall who makes for a pretty decent screen presence.

            All this makes for a pretty enjoyable crime film, but does it have anything to rise above its genre trappings?  Not really.  The movie sets up this study of the titular neighborhood, but goes nowhere with it.  It also operates on some sort of strange Hollywood morality scale in which we are supposed to root for Ben Affleck’s character just because he’s a little bit nicer than the people around him even if he’s just as complicit in their crimes.  That and my reservations about the Affleck/Hall romance make this a hard movie to really take seriously, but it is a fairly fun action movie that can make for an enjoyable watch.

*** out of Four

The King’s Speech(1/3/2010)

            Being a king, especially a modern king, is really a bizarre position to be in if you think about it.  To be given an incredible degree of importance and power simply because you were born to the correct parents rather than through your own ambition, effort, and worthiness is simply not a typical part of the human condition.  Granted, there are many people who are born into privilege, but they usually don’t have to be public figures if they don’t want to and they aren’t expected to be any sort of leader if they aren’t interested in being one.  Things get even weirder when you consider the precarious position of being a monarch in an age of democracy when their role is supposed to be symbolic but sort of isn’t.  What does it mean to be a born leader, both literally and figuratively?  The King’s Speech is a film that perhaps doesn’t ask or answer many of these questions, but it is about someone who has all of the above swirling in his head all of his life. 

            The film is about King George VI, who began his life as Albert Duke of York (Colin Firth).  Albert was not the first in line for the throne and had likely made himself content with his role as a secondary monarch to his older brother Edward VIII (Guy Pearce).  Even if he wasn’t the younger brother in line for the throne, Albert’s leadership ability always would have been doubted because he was afflicted with a prominent stutter in his speech which made his public appearances limited and infuriated his father (Michael Gambon).  Of course anyone who knows their recent British history knows that this wouldn’t last, Edward VIII was destined not to last long as the king and soon Albert would find himself leading his country in its darkest hour.  This film is the story of his time with an unorthodox Australian speech therapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) who was asked by Albert’s wife (Helena Bonham Carter) to help Albert get over his stutter, a task that would become all the more urgent when Albert is asked to give a major radio address to his subjects on the eve of World War II.

            Though he was not personally involved with any part of the production, it feels like The King’s Speech is heavily indebted to the British screenwriter Peter Morgan and especially his 2008 snorefest Frost/Nixon.  Make no mistake, this is better than that ridiculous middlebrow exercise, but it has a lot of the same aura to it.  Frost/Nixon was massively over-rated when it came out and was quickly forgotten afterwards because it was supposedly able to get a lot of drama out of a “mere” series of interviews.  Similarly The King’s Speech has been greatly praised for getting drama out of  Albert’s speech therapy, but I don’t exactly think that’s as much of an accomplishment as a lot of people seem to think.  Most of the people making these statements would seem to know better, have these critics not seen movies that get great drama out of dialogue before?  The film also has similarly inherited much of Frost/Nixon’s tone, which is to say it’s kind of stiff and muted to the point of stodgy.

            The film also inherits Frost/Nixon’s bad habit of exaggerating the importance of the events it depicts.  I’m sure that the King’s ability to give a speech did help British morale to some extent, but I don’t exactly think that it’s the life or death struggle that the movie makes it out to be.  I will not however dwell on the Frost/Nixon comparisons much longer, as this movie does probably deserve a little more credit than that.  It also has a script that is slightly less prone to over-explaining the history surrounding the events, though I’ll admit that might have more to do with the increased familiarity I have about the Nixon administration over the ascension of George VI. 

            Probably the best part of the film is Geoffrey Rush, who turns his character into an energetic teacher who gets to the root of Albert’s problem.  I seriously doubt that the real Lionel Logue was anywhere near as wise as the character here, but the character is interesting all the same.  Firth’s performance is a bit more predictable, but it works for what it is.  The actor does sort of resemble the real king and if you look up some of George VI’s actual speeches they also sort of sound the same.  Albert lived just long ago enough that his image isn’t overly tied to video footage in our collective minds, so we don’t really get that Jamie Foxx as Ray/Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin vibe of thinking Firth looks and sounds just like the real guy, but that whole thing was getting kind of old anyway so that’s probably for the best. 

There’s also a class difference conflict between the two characters, with Logue (a commoner with origins in the colonies) often challenging the king in ways that would not normally be acceptable.  It is to the filmmaker’s credit that they didn’t sugarcoat Albert’s less than pleased attitude about this, the character can be a classist prick at times.  The film’s less than sympathetic treatment of Edward VIII is also interesting; this is a story that easily could have been turned into an epic romance of its own, but here the former monarch is depicted as little more than a spoiled and reckless brat. The limits of how much the monarchy can bend its traditions to the times is explored by both of these sub-plot but it’s never examined with anywhere near the depth that it was in Peter Morgan’s significantly better film The Queen.

Stylistically, the film can probably best be described as competent but bland.  The period costumes are convincing and the sets are appropriately decorated, but remember that this is set in the twentieth century and not earlier, so most of these costume drama trappings are not going to be as elaborate as they are in movies about older monarchs.  Director Tom Hooper is not particularly interested in taking any major risks here, this is small scale and predictable filmmaking and it probably could have been made as a BBC original film without many sacrifices. 

As the film plays out it becomes clear that it’s all leading up to World War II, and of course the film’s titular speech.  The speech scene itself is pretty good; they show Firth speaking into the microphone with clear conviction and struggle against a montage of British subjects listening sternly.  That’s kind of a manipulative approach, but it mostly works in its own kind of corny way.  I looked up the recording of the real speech on Youtube, and it does indeed sound more or less the way it does in the film.  What I’m less impressed with is the manufactured drama and suspense that leads up to it.  The film takes clear liberties with the chronology of Albert’s treatment and leads up to a less than believable finale in which he needs to deliver this speech at a point where he’s as bad a stutterer as ever.  Give me a break.  The real king’s handlers never would have created a situation like that with such a gaping possibility of failure, it’s ridiculous.  The real Prince Albert had already improved his speech dramatically as early as 1927 and would have been a lot more prepared for this speech than the film portrays.

The King’s Speech is, in final analysis, a decently workable bit of filmmaking.  There is very little here that you haven’t seen before, it follows the three-act structure like dogma and it is shot with minimal ambition, but its disinterest in risk does pay off in that very few of its choices backfire in any kind of unexpected way.  This feels like the kind of prestige picture that was being made in the eighties, it delivers simplistic stories under the dressing of sophistication; in short, it’s middlebrow as hell.  I can’t say it’s a movie that doesn’t work, but it was never going to soar, and I’m surprised that it has managed to trick people into thinking that it does just that.

*** out of Four

DVD Catch-Up: The Last Exorcism(1/6/2011)

            It’s getting to the point where the found footage format is no longer a gimmick or even a unique technique so much as an established horror sub-genre.  The format has existed for a while but it came to prominence in the form of The Blair Witch Project and has become especially prevalent now through films like Cloverfield, [Rec], and Paranormal Activity.  These are horror films that are shot in a documentary style but differ from mere mockumentary in that the footage was presumably found after the demise of those who filmed it.  This one was made by a relatively unknown filmmaker but was produced by the torture-porn maestro Eli Roth.  When it was released it received surprisingly good reviews but was widely panned for its ending, a spoiler I carefully avoided until I could catch up with the movie on DVD.

            The film poses as a documentary following Cotton Marcus (Patrick Fabian), a young evangelical preacher in Louisiana who has been performing exorcisms for a while.  Marcus has never really believed that he was curing actual possessions and has been using props and sound effects to put on a show of exorcisms all these years.  Recently though he’s begun to question the ethics of these fraudulent exorcisms and has decided to use this documentary as a platform to reveal the tricks of the trade.  He chooses a random letter from his pile of exorcism requests, and decides this will be the one for the movie.  This brings them out to a secluded farm on the bayou where a religiously fanatical farmer (Louis Herthum) believes that his daughter (Ashley Bell) has been possessed.  The fake exorcism works out as expected, but it becomes clear that there’s a little more going on with this case than they expected.

            The mockumentary aspect of the film is mostly innocuous, it doesn’t really add much to the film’s atmosphere or add the kind of “this really happened” feeling that often accompanies these movies, but it also isn’t too much of a distraction either.  The movie itself is a fairly run of the mill take on exorcisms; there isn’t a lot here that you haven’t seen before. The possession at the center isn’t too different than the one in The Exorcist except that this possession never becomes overtly supernatural.  The film maintains the question of whether or not the daughter is really possessed through most of its running time and you won’t see Ashley Bell rotate her head 360 degrees or anything of that sort.  That said, Ashley Bell’s performance does provide most of the film’s best moments and is able to contort her body in genuinely creepy ways when the script calls for it.  Otherwise this is a pretty standard, if well made, horror movie that has a handful of decent jump-scares. 

            However, the film completely and unquestionably goes off the rails in its final five minutes or so.  I’d been warned that the film had a bad twist ending before I began watching, but I still wasn’t quite prepared for the sheer stupidity that would occur in this film’s finale.  This is an ending that’s completely at odds with the tone of what came before and it also completely undercuts the themes of religious ambiguity that the film had carefully stayed on the right side of until this ending.  That the ending seems to have been added for absolutely no reason other than shock value is the worst part.  I’ll admit I was genuinely surprised by it, but only because there was no good reason to expect something that dumb.

            I’ve never been one to completely fail a movie for one scene and this isn’t necessarily an exception.  Had The Last Exorcism wowed me in a grander way up until its unfortunate conclusion I probably would have been more forgiving.  As it is, the film is a movie that managed to move itself from being passable to being a failure.

**1/2 out of Four

Tron: Legacy(12/28/2010)

            Tron: Legacy is, if nothing else, exactly the kind of production we’ve been asking Hollywood to make for a very long time.  It takes a pretty cool intellectual property, a cult film from the early eighties, and rather than trying to remake or reboot it they simply decided to make a straight up sequel and to do it with respect.  They went so far as to get the first film’s original stars, fill the trailer with images from the original movie, and they did all of this with a large blockbuster budget.  It was a pretty risky move given that the original film is probably best known to the youth of America as “that movie that inspired that guy to wear a dorky costume on the internet,” and any further research into the film would have led them to some really primitive effects work.  But the people working on this high profile sequel kept making some really good choices that greatly upped the movie’s cool factor, like the decision to bring the Parisian house duo Daft Punk to provide the score.  Because of this, the movie is hitting theaters with more buzz than the sequel to a semi-obscure movie has any right to.

            The film is set twenty-some years after the events of the first Tron and follows Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund), the son of the first film’s protagonist: Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges).  Twenty years before the start of the film Kevin Flynn disappeared, leaving his multi-billion dollar software company to be inherited by his son once he reaches an appropriate age.  This day doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon, as Sam is sort of coasting through life and pulling the occasional prank on the now evil company he should one day inherit.  One day an old friend of his father (Bruce Boxleitner) comes to him and tells him that before his father left, he had given him a pager and told him to keep it at all times, and that this pager had finally been paged and that this page came from the phone at an old arcade that Flynn had owned.  Sam decides to inspect this arcade and finds an old computer which transports him into The Grid, a personified version of a computer complete with “programs” walking around and interacting with one another.

            The original Tron is, if nothing else, a pretty interesting pop culture artifact that’s notable for its pioneering visual effects and for its focus on computers in a time when they still weren’t really mainstream devices.  To put that movie in perspective, consider that it came out a full three years before that Dire Straits “Money for Nothing” music video and you realize just how pioneering the effects were.  It was also a slow paced movie with some corny acting and a story that was sort of an inferior riff on George Lucas’ THX-1138.  It was only a moderate box office success and was sort of forgotten for a while after its release, but as its pioneering status became clear a cult began to form around it. 

            Part of the appeal of the original film, and the element that most clearly made it a Disney movie, was its childlike wonder at the concept of computers.  If you ever imagined that little gremlins lived inside your computer and made all the programs do their thing you’d pick up on that.  In the film there were literal programs walking around and playing games when that’s what the user wanted them to do.  That was certainly a strength if you were a child, but it was also kind of ridiculous; I mean, why are these programs doing anything if no one is operating the computer and how does the computer work if all the programs are running off on all their various escapades?  It doesn’t really make sense and you could get away with that when you’re making a children’s movie in 1982 but not when you’re making a blockbuster in 2010.  So, for this new movie “The Grid” has been turned from being a functioning computer into being something that was seemingly designed to be a computer world from the ground up. 

            Of course this world has also been redesigned with top of the line technology in order to reflect a more modern conception of what technology can and should look and work like.  For example, the lightcycles (which still function more or less the way they used to) can now move in curved lines rather than at robotic angles.  The world and costumes have also been given a new sexier makeover and most of the aspects of the world have a cool neon orange teal look to them.  In fact, as far as the visuals of The Grid go I don’t think there’s anything to complain about at all, the movie looks interesting as hell.  One effect that does not look so good is an effect used to bring the film’s main villain to life.  This villain is a program that’s been created to look exactly like Jeff Bridge’s character looked when he created it in the late eighties.  So what we have here is another example of the anti-aging effect that was first seen in the opening scene of X-Men: The Last Stand, and the results are inconsistent.    In some shots the effect seems to really work and in other shots it looks freaky in that Uncanny Valley way.  The fact that the character is a computer program sort of justifies the unusual look when we’re talking about the villain, but they also use the effect for the film’s opening scene which is a flashback that’s supposed to depict the real Jeff Bridges character and it doesn’t work at all in that context.  I should also probably mention that, aside from some early scenes in the real world, the film is entirely filmed in 3D.  I would call this the best 3D I’d seen since Avatar… but it’s also the only 3D movie I’ve gone to since Avatar, so maybe I’m not an authority on the subject.  The film also sounds really good, both in the form of its theater shaking sound effects mix and from its awesome techno score by Daft Punk.

            Many have criticized the acting in the film, but I don’t know that I agree with this so much.  Jeff Bridges is basically his good old self; you can sort of see The Dude slipping through in his performance, but that makes sense, SoCal surfer type isn’t exactly an inappropriate take on a character that’s a former hacker.  Bruce Boxleitner is another cast member from the original film, and I probably prefer his work here a lot more than his cold performance in the original film.  Michael Sheen also has an interesting little role where he seems to be channeling a Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie and Olivia Wilde I think does a pretty good job playing a naïve computer program with Amazonian fighting skills.  The cast member here who’s received most of the flack for his work is Garrett Hedlund, but I can’t really say I see what people are so up in arms about.  Hedlund seems to do exactly what I’d expect someone to do when playing a pretty generic young protagonist.  He is decidedly a post-millennial young movie star in the vein of a Shia LeBeouf or an Andrew Garfield, and I can see why people would be put off by his sort of demasculinized good looks, but that doesn’t have anything to do with his performance.  Yeah, he’s a pretty boy and he was probably chosen by a marketing committee, but I think he does well enough with the material he has been given.

            The real problem here is in the script, and by that I don’t necessarily mean that the story or dialogue don’t work (both are at least adequate) so much as I don’t really think the film works very well as science fiction, particularly in the way that the world has been built.  Take the discs for example, these are things that are seemingly very important but it’s never exactly explained what they are needed for and capable of and if they are so important why are they so cavalierly throwing them around as weapons?  There’s also a fairly important part of The Grid’s history where a series of programs called “ISOs,” but the movie never really explains what these things are or why they’re so important.  Later, the movie discusses the possibility of the programs escaping The Grid much the way humans are able to enter it, but never really explores how this could possibly be possible or what the implications of that are.  They also reintroduce the character of Tron, who I’d forgotten was even an actual character from the original film, but turn him into a faceless and lifeless robotic henchman who does little except look badass and have a completely unearned shift of allegiance late in the film.   

On a more generally level I see this as sort of a wasted opportunity.  This was something that really could have been a transcendent exploration of technology and how it has evolved since 1982, and instead it settles on being a kind of neat looking adventure movie.  There are definitely some cool action scenes here and it’s generally a pretty fun ride, but it certainly doesn’t have the spark of inspiration that the first movie had which allowed it to transcend its weaknesses.  Still this has everything I’d want from an action movie in 2010 and it’s worth seeing for its production values alone.

*** out of Four

DVD Catch-Up: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo(12/30/2010)

            I’m not sure how Stieg Larson’s novel “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and its sequels managed to turn into a major publishing event, but turn into an event they did and I guess it’s better this than the goddamn “Da Vinci Code.”  I haven’t read any of the books but I’ve mostly heard good things about them and I also like how they were able to spawn a Swedish language movie that somehow made over a hundred million dollars in worldwide gross.  This might have had something to do with the film’s aggressive release strategy that made the film startlingly easy to actually see, a strategy I hope will be replicated for future foreign language releases.  The film itself though, didn’t interest me as much, but now that I’ve seen it I guess I see the appeal to some extent.

            The film is set in modern Sweden and primarily follows a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) who has just been convicted of libel and is sentenced to serve jail-time for the offense.  Blomkvist insists that he was set-up by a major corporation, but doesn’t seem to be in a wild hurry to appeal the ruling.  Instead he accepts a job offer from a rich man named Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to investigate the 1966 disappearance of his niece, who he believes was kidnapped by one of his family members.  Blomkvist makes some headway on the case, but his investigation is really jumpstarted when he receives a tip from a hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) who had been hired to monitor him in relation to the libel case.  Slowly they begin to tie this disappearance into a string of ritualistic murders, and the deeper they look the closer they come to some truly dark revelations about this family and their legacy of violence. 

            I was surprised at how much of this story was about the Mikael Blomkvist character because pretty much every piece of advertising I’ve seen about the movie has heavily focused on the Lisbeth character, a hacker decked out in punk stylings like tattoos and piercings.  The plot summery I just wrote makes it sound like she doesn’t even factor into the story until pretty late in the movie, but that isn’t entirely true, as there’s an extended introduction to her in which we see her dealings with an abusive probation officer through much of the film’s first act.  Watching it we wonder what exactly this has to do with the main story and the answer is: not a lot.  The material basically only exists to establish the character’s motives, and frankly I didn’t care what those motives were, not at first anyway.  I feel like the movie would have been stronger if it left this material out or at least waited until later in order to bring it in, thus leaving an aura of mystery around the character. 

            There’s a whole thematic level to the movie about sexual violence and violence against women in general.  In fact, the original Swedish title to both the book and movie translated to “Men Who Hate Women.”  It shouldn’t be a huge surprise that they decided to change that title, but at times it seems more appropriate and not in a good way.  A lot of this material feels pretty ham-fisted and a little pointless.  It feels a lot like the anti-rape grand standing in shows like “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,” which always seemed pointless to me.  Is there anyone in the world who would say out loud that they aren’t anti-rape?  It also feels kind of disingenuous because, like most television crime procedurals, this is a movie that absolutely revels in the lurid details of over the top serial killer behavior and then hiding this fascination behind a moralistic structure.  If the movie were about slightly more realistic and down to earth acts of sexual violence rather than Manson-esque levels of depravity, this material might have come off as more genuine, as it is it feels border-line exploitative.

            Over-all, this leaves me with the impression that the novel it has been based on is basically a beach-read and that this is about what I’d expect from an adaptation of just such a book.  If Stieg Larson’s novel does have a deeper level to it, it’s not conveyed here.  It also doesn’t work particularly well as a mystery, there’s no way to solve the central mystery before the reveal with the clues given.  This is a police procedural (albeit one that follows a reporter and a hacker rather than cops), not unlike an episode of CSI and can probably be enjoyed as just such a pot-boiler.

*** out of Four