PICKS OF THE WEEK
Steig Larsson's Dragon Tattoo Trilogy ("The Millennium Trilogy") (A-)
Sweden: Niels Arden Oplev & Daniel Alfredson, 2009-2010, Music Box
In scorcher of a Swedish crime thriller trilogy, Noomi Rapace, as Lisbeth, the tattooed beyond-the-fringe investigator/suspected murderess/hacker heroine, and Michael Nyqvist as Mikael, her muck-raking leftist journalist/ally, tear off the scab-memories from some old sociopolitical wounds (just this side of fascism): a mostly engrossing adaptation of the world-wide literary/bestseller trio by Stieg Larsson -- a leftist muckraker himself.
Like his hero Mikael, Larsson was a leftist Swedish investigative reporter himself, engaging in obvious literary wish-fulfillment. He wrote the three novels (and maybe more), but died before any of them could be published. Put out posthumously, the Larsson trilogy have all become spectacular international best-sellers.
Then came the movies and they've all been crowd-pleasers too. Many of the main actors thread their way through all, or most, of the trilogy: led by Nyqvist as the angst-ridden, determined Mikael, and Rapace as the bewitchingly sullen and silent half-pint dynamo Lisbeth. The supporting cast includes brilliant, warm, lovely Lena Endre (of writer Bergman and director Liv Ullmann's great confessional-film Faithless), in the less flashy part of Mikael's exposé magazine colleague Erika; Georgi Staykov as Lisbeth's brutal Russian defector father Alexander Zalachenko, Anders Ahlbom as her scum-sucking pedophiliac pig of a psychiatrist Dr. Peter Teleborian , and, the best of all the movie's many malevolent male villains, Micke Spreitz as the huge, blonde assassin Ronald Neiderman. (Extras: Both the English- and Swedish-language versions; documentary Millennium: The Story; interviews with Nyqvist, Rapace, and others from the cast and crew; fight scene anatomized; trailers.)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (A-)
Sweden; Niels Arden Oplev, 2009
Based on the first Larsson novel, this one is about Nazis, serial killers, and cold-case murder mysteries on an isolated island -- with an incredible performance by newcomer Rapace as Lisbeth, a black-leather, bisexual, computer expert on the trail of misogynists and monsters, and strong support from Nyqvist as Mikael, the Larsson-like left-wing investigative journalist (in temporary disgrace) and Sven Bertil-Taube as a rich industrialist who wants Mikael to solve the decades-old disappearance of his daughter.
Larsson's book was originally called "Men Who Hate Women" and the movie is, likewise, a full-throttle assault on violent sexism, to the extent that some viewers may get repelled and disturbed. But, like The Silence of the Lambs, this is a shocker that turns misogyny inside out. (In Swedish, with English subtitles, or English language version.)
The Girl Who Played With Fire (B)
Sweden; Daniel Alfredson, 2009
Perhaps the least of the Larsson Trilogy, but still a corker, this movie delves into Lisbeth's fiery past, sends her on the run and introduces two sadistic and frightening villains, Lisbeth's own father (played by Staykov) and Spreitz as the blonde monster Neiderman. There's a problem with the last two Girl stories, though: Lisbeth is a damsel in distress and in jail or the hospital for much of their joint running time, and she's more fun when she's roaming free and kicking ass. (In Swedish, with English subtitles, or English language version.)
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (B)
Sweden; Alfredson, 2009
The third of the Steig Larsson movie adaptations -- about Blomkvist, Lisbeth, and the rat's nest of government corruption, private depravity and cold-blooded murder they uncover -- is a gripping, entertaining, and unusually intelligent show.
Dolphin Tale (B)
U.S.: Charles Martin Smith, 2011, Warner Bros.
Winter, the dolphin star of Dolphin Tale, is a truly inspirational figure in a sometimes inspirational and often entertaining movie. Caught and crippled in a crab trap on a Florida beach, Winter was brought to the Clearwater Marine Hospital, where part of her severely injured tail had to be amputated. She was also befriended by humans who knew she would have to be killed unless the tail could somehow be repaired, something unprecedented. Nevertheless, a local prosthetics expert (played in the film by the matchlessly avuncular Morgan Freeman), volunteered and ....
Well, since the actual Winter, six years later, is playing herself in this movie, and performing with the acting chops, presence and charisma of a true pro, it's obvious that there was a happy ending of sorts. It's an amazing story. But what isn't obvious is how much of the rest of the story we see here is true as well -- at least as scripted here by screenwriters Karen Janszen (Duma, Free Willy 2) and Noam Dromi, and directed by Charles Martin Smith.
The rest of the movie gives us a lonely, alienated, fatherless 12-year-old, Sawyer Nelson (Nathan Gamble of Babel) who finds and helps rescue Winter and then bonds with her; his hardworking, understanding mother Lorraine (Ashley Judd); his plucky new young friend Hazel Haskett (Cozi Zuehlsdorff) who befriends the boy and his dolphin and whose dad Dr. Clay (singer/actor Harry Connick Jr.) runs the hospital; the kindly grandpa (Kris Kristofferon); Sawyer's cousin Kyle (Austin Stowell), an ex-champion swimmer and injured Iraq War vet and the lovably crusty prosthetics expert Dr. McCarthy (Freeman) who makes the tail....
It all seems a bit much for one (factually based) movie, however inspirational.
U.S.: Gavin O'Connor, 2011, Lionsgate
Improbabilities won't necessarily knock out a good fight film, if the feeling and the footwork are there. Warrior is a movie about a high-profile, multimillion-dollar TV mixed martial arts tournament in which too long-estranged brothers are both competing, and in which they finally meet in the ring. Improbable? Sure. Impossible? Probably. But Christ almighty, the crazy thing works anyway. It's a sports movie that tries to inspire thoughts of brotherhood and humanity, in the midst of showing us guys getting their guts crunched and pummeled and their brains beaten in -- and it's surprisingly effective.
The two brothers are Tommy Conlon, alias Tommy Rourke (Tom Hardy), an ex-Marine, and Brendan Conlon (Joel Edgerton), a high school science teacher in Philadelphia. Their father, who taught the boys their ring skills, is Paddy (Nick Nolte), a recovering alcoholic seething with shame and guilt, a mean drunk now nearing 1,000 days of kinder sobriety. Paddy taught the boys everything they know about fighting, and nothing that they know about love.
All three have touchy relationships and haven't talked for years: Tommy moved out with his cancer-stricken, dying, much-abused mother long, long ago, while Brendan stayed with his dad and then married Tess (Jennifer Morrison) and started a family. Now Tommy turns up, not feeling any kindlier toward his pop, but wanting his dad's help to train for Sparta, the big-bucks TV mixed martial arts tourney. Brendan, whose home is about the be foreclosed by another damned bank, enters the tourney too, with the help of his buddy/manager Frank Campana (Frank Grillo) -- and the professionally brash TV announcers immediately brand Brendan as the underdog, longest of long shots, while Tommy, who turns out to be a missing war hero (and also a deserter), is cast as Sparta's finest.
Along for the ride are a wild bunch of colorful fighters with names like Midnight (Anthony Johnson) and Pete "Mad Dog" Grimes (Erik Apple). And you may be amazed at what the MMA contestants get away with in the fights, from kung fu kicks in the head to strangleholds. I didn't see any biting. But, as for that old signature move once considered the dirtiest of dirty fight tricks -- hitting a man when he's down -- I can't remember one Sparta warrior who didn't indulge in it, frequently.
Fighting and love (or the lack of it) is what this movie is all about. It's a violently emotional movie that works much better than it should, because the actors give it their all, and because the movie, rather ingeniously, contrives a way to have us rooting for both fighters at the same time