Monday, July 19, 2010

Reviews galore!

The Great Northeastern Heat Wave, which seems never-ending, has pushed me back into the cooling AC-embrace of my local theaters, so I have lots of opinions to share.

First up: Ondine. No longer in theaters, but may still be available On Demand. Otherwise, it shouldn't be too long before it is on Netflix. This is directed by Neil Jordan, who also did Interview with a Vampire and Breakfast on Pluto, which I love. It was filmed around County Cork (which surprised me - I had guessed it was all out West). Either way, the scenery is stunningly gorgeous and Jordan and his cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, take the time to show off the natural beauty of the region. It is a gorgeous film to watch.

The film centers around Syracuse, a down-on-his-luck fisherman (well played by Colin Farrell who suppresses his normal manic energy). He pulls a girl out of the water one day and his handicapped daughter believes the girl to be a Selkie, or Celtic mermaid. Selkies have definitive rules associated with them (I'd like to thank my Mermaid book from when I was a child for familiarizing me with the legend), and the enigmatic girl seems to fit these rules. While the film is partially a magical fairy-tale, it stays grounded enough in reality to keep from becoming too precious. Most of the realism stems from Syracuse's relationship with his ex-wife and his struggle to overcome a hard-drinking past in order to support his daughter.

Ondine isn't a great drama, but for a whimsical, lovely diversion, it is certainly well worth watching.

Finally, is Stephen Rea in every single Irish film that comes out?

4/5 stars

I really enjoyed this one. I had been craving a big, hulking action movie for the summer (having missed Prince of Persia and unwilling to subject myself to the A-Team or Jonah Hex), and I found it. This movie is an absolute blast, and stands out all the more for being released in the midst of a disappointing summer. It's also a fine example of rebooting a series done correctly. The film references the original, steers clear of the general mess of Aliens vs. Predators, and gives the fan base what they want. A great update for modern day.

The film immediately drops us into its world without any unnecessary back story. And I mean that literally - the opening shot is Adrien Brody waking up in free fall before his chute deploys and he crashes into a harsh alien jungle. In fact, an entire team of killers (and one doctor) from Earth have been deposited on this alien world in what they quickly realize is a game preserve.

The director, Nimrod Antal, uses the Jaws technique to ratchet up the tension for the first act. The threat is never seen. The audience knows that at some point the alien (or shark) is going to pop out, but not being able to guess when exponentially increases the pressure. The characters are solid and somewhat developed, which was surprising for cannon fodder. (In fact, I think a lot of the audience derived pleasure from trying to guess the kill order.)

The action sequences are incredibly well shot. Adrien Brody manages admirably in the lead (although I quite liked him in King Kong, so I didn't find that surprising). Most of the team is really good, in fact. Alice Braga and Oleg Taktarov are particular standouts as an Israeli sniper and Russian soldier, respectively. The only weak link is Laurence Fishburn as a multi-year survivor on the planet. His crazy loner act didn't quite cut it for me.

One more note, but it qualifies as a spoiler, so scroll-over text is in use here: I loved Topher Grace in the film. However, one reviewer had described the team as a bunch of killers and a doctor, who isn't what he seems. That is what we call a spoiler, genius. Anyways, so I knew going in that Topher Grace would turn out to be a serial killer, but I really enjoyed his performance anyways. His biggest scene felt like it was cut a little short, but that's a minor quibble and probably stems from how much I enjoyed the character.

5/5 stars. It's not perfect or game-changing, but I think it accomplishes everything it sets out to do and it's probably the most fun I've had at the movies this summer.

The Girl Who Played with Fire
In order to review this one, I need to clarify my relationship with the series. I've read all the books. I was one of those crazy people who ordered the final installment from England to hurry up and find out what happened. I loved the first film and the second book is my favorite of the series.

The brief plot synopsis is that Lisbeth returns from abroad only to have a gun with her fingerprints on it be used in a murder. She becomes Sweden's public enemy number one, while Blomkvist uses his research skills to try and exonerate her. Along the way, we learn more about Lisbeth's family history.

Given my background going into the film, I found it a tad disappointing. I feel this could be a for a few reasons:
1 - I am comparing it to the first film, which had a different director and was better constructed.
2 - I am comparing it to the book, which I really loved. It is much harder to live up to that standard in a book to film adaptation.
3 - The first film had an easier plot to shoot, as it centered around a pretty standard locked-room murder mystery. The Girl Who Played with Fire is much more sprawling, which is difficult to adapt.
4 - While I don't mind Lisbeth and Mikael being apart in the books, their separation bugs me more in a visual medium because they aren't playing off each other. What does work really well for me in this film is still Noomi Rapace, who is stunning as Lisbeth. She gives incredible depth to a nearly mute character. However, in the book, we do get Lisbeth and Mikael's thought processes as they work, which drives the reader along more.
5 - The film ends on a cliffhanger, which is obviously a tough way to end a movie, since the audience doesn't get any resolution.

My largest problem with the film is that the book was a serious page turner. I could not put it down, whereas I feel that the movie drags. The audience I was with was definitely becoming restless by the end, which was not the case in the first film at all. I realize it must have been incredibly difficult to turn such a large book into a movie, even a long one, and I'm not entirely sure what I would have done differently to keep the tension up during the last hour. But the end result is that this film is not as taut as the first and doesn't live up to the experience of reading the book.

I'd love to know what an uninformed viewer thought. Perhaps part of the thrill of the reading experience was learning all of the new information about Lisbeth and her past. Seeing the film already knowing how it turns out and what clue comes next may kill that tension. Maybe a fresh perspective would mean a much more exciting film.

3/5 stars, because I adore getting more Lisbeth.

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