Thursday, June 17, 2010

Movie: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (3.5/5) (2009)

If you haven't heard of this movie or the novel, then you've probably been living under a rock for the last two years. It's new to DVD, and we rented it last night.

I wasn't sure what to expect, since I'd never read the novel. I knew there was a female hacker with a dragon tattoo and that's about it. AND - just so you know, it's not a cute, little tattoo of Mushu from Disney's Mulan, it's a honking, huge, evil looking dragon tattoo that covers her whole back.

I was pleasantly surprised. The movie was simple and didn't try to over reach itself. There was no pretension, just a nice, simple mystery movie that was interesting the entire way through. The fact that it was in Swedish didn't hurt it at all, and I really loved comparing the Swedish to the English subtitles and noticing how similar many of the sounds were. There are several sentences that are identical ("Are you ok?") and lots of nearly identical words that added a positive dimension to the movie.

Mikael Blomkvist is hired by a rich businessman named Martin Vanger to solve a 40 year old murder. Vanger's favorite niece Harriet, who he loved like a daughter disappeared in 1966 and he wants to know what happened to her. He isn't really expecting results, but wants someone working on it who won't give up.

Mikael doesn't know it at first, but the title character Lisbeth Salander takes an interest in his case after hacking his computer for another job. Lisbeth is by far the most interesting character and comes from a dark and sordid background. She is 24 years old and still has a guardian assigned by the state for some reason. Eventually, Mikael and Lisbeth track various tenuous leads and get pulled into a mystery bigger than either imagined.

The movie taught me quite a lot about storytelling. Since I've been writing my own novels, I pay close attention to how movies and novels progress their stories. The main thing it taught me is that motivations for your villains is a nice to have, but not 100% necessary. You can just have them just being evil with almost no explanation - the success of the book and movie are proof of this. Another lesson that I've already learned from Taken with Liam Neeson - if you make the villains evil enough, your hero can do whatever they want to them and you will feel absolutely no sympathy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Movie: Van Diemen's Land (4/5) (2009)

The cinematographer did an absolutely amazing job. The last time that I was THAT amazed at a movie's visuals was Girl with a Pearl Earring (2003) where every frame was like a 17th century painting.

In Van Diemen's Land a group of Irish, English and Scottish criminals engineer an escape from Macquarie Harbour, Tasmania (formerly known as Van Dieman's Land), an end-of-the-road place for men whose punishment is a lifetime of slavery. Their escape goes wrong and they end up running into the forest to escape British soldiers.

The camp fire scenes were amazingly lit - like worn paintings of faces in amber and black. The lighting techniques were repetitive, either a camp fire scene, a long, scenery shot or men walking in the forest, but so, so realistic. I was regularly in awe of the look and feel.

The movie had impact, a realism that is rare in film. The dirt under the fingernails, in the ears, on the skin, teeth and clothing looked right. At no point were you ever pulled from the movie - it surrounds you with the hunger and anxiety of the characters. The brutality is ultra-real and as far from being romanticized as is possible.

The story is simple. A story of escape and survival in the wilds, about desperate measures in harsh circumstances.

The character of Alexander Pearce narrates in Irish Gaelic, and the film makers decide to turn him him into an eloquent poet, a literary genius and philosopher, rather than just a common, murderous thug. It was the right choice to make Pearce narrate in something other than English and make his English rather poor as it heightens the tension and make Pearce even that much more of an outsider.

This is a brilliant but disturbing film that is amazing to watch. I want film makers to watch and learn from this film.