Friday, December 23, 2011

Worth Mentioning - Choose to Accept It

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

This week, Cody accepts the mission to check out a couple new releases and Jay is surprised by a search through the Ozarks.


A lot of people are very familiar with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The trilogy of novels by Stieg Larsson, unfortunately not published until after his death, were massive bestselling hits, read by many millions of people. The books were adapted into very popular films in Sweden, with stars Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace going on to score roles in big U.S. films.

Myself, I haven't read the books, I haven't seen the Swedish movies, I knew nothing about The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo beyond what the trailers for the U.S. version told me. What drew my attention and secured my ticket purchase were the facts that David Fincher was directing, Daniel Craig was starring, and the female lead always looked badass in images, whether it was Rapace from the original or Rooney Mara in this one. That the teaser featured an awesome cover of Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song" by Karen O and Trent Reznor didn't hurt.

For those as out of the loop as I was: the story begins with magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist, disgraced after losing a libel case, taking a job offered to him by a wealthy old man named Henrik Vanger. Blomkvist is set up in a small guest house on the Vanger family's private island and the public story is that he will be writing Vanger's memoir, but he's really been hired to investigate the murder of Vanger's niece forty years earlier. She vanished without a trace, her body was never found, and the only suspects are members of Vanger's family, "thieves, misers, bullies, the most detestable collection of people that you will ever meet."

Intercut with Blomkvist's investigation, we also follow the girl who did Blomkvist's background check, a damaged, antisocial, smart and tough young girl named Lisbeth Salander. There are some very dark things going on in Lisbeth's life. When Blomkvist needs a research assistant, he seeks out this girl who hacked into his computer, and when they meet up and join forces at about the halfway point of the film, you know they're going to get the job done.

This movie blew me away. There was much more to it than I knew, it went places that I never expected. I was completely enthralled and wanted to watch it again almost immediately. Given that it's 160 minutes long, that's saying something. I don't tend to like super-sized running times, but there is a way to do them right. This movie was done right. The people behind the scenes - Fincher, his cinematographer and editors - did an excellent job putting it together. The score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is awesome. The way it's shot and edited and the music is used, the momentum is never lost, it never drags, it's always moving forward. My only issue was with an extended epilogue that brought things down after the climax of the mystery.

The cast is great, particularly the two leads.

I find Daniel Craig to be one of the best, most watchable actors working today. I could've enjoyed this  even if it was just Craig in a spotlight on a stage reading aloud from the book, but as it is, he's perfect as Blomkvist.

Also perfect is Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. There are people who put her down just for the fact that she took this role, they think Noomi Rapace owns it and no one else can do it justice. That's not the case. I haven't seen Rapace's turns in the role, but there's no need to hate on Mara. She is amazing in this, putting in a breakthrough, revelatory, award worthy performance.

There are several ways that watching a movie can cause me to want to make movies myself. Sometimes I admire the do-it-yourself spirit that a movie was made with, sometimes they're so ridiculous that I want to make something that fun, sometimes a movie will affect me emotionally so much that I want to add something to the world that will do the same for others. In this case, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo inspired me because I was seeing everyone involved working with a mastery of their craft.


While I haven't seen many episodes of the '60s - '70s Mission: Impossible TV series (a fact which I'll soon rectify now that it's on Netflix Instant), I am a big fan of the movies. I understand that the show and movies are quite different from each other, and one thing I like about the film series is that all of the entries are also different from each other. One of the big ideas behind the movies was to make it a "director's showcase" series, to hire a different, interesting director for each installment and have them take the basic idea of an Impossible Mission Force team of spies and the character of IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and handle the story and tone in their own way.

As a result of the "director's showcase" approach, we've had a twisty (rogue) spy thriller from Brian DePalma, John Woo doing a pseudo-remake of Hitchcock's Notorious around extended action sequences, and J.J. Abrams delving into Hunt's home life and making things personal. All different, and every one of them I have greatly enjoyed.

Other directors who have had near misses with the franchise over the years include Oliver Stone, Ang Lee, David Fincher, and Joe Carnahan.

J.J. Abrams made his feature film directing debut on part 3, and the fourth film is another director's first. After directing the animated features The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, and Ratatouille, Brad Bird has made his live action feature debut with Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, and he's done a fine job. He honed his eye for shots and composition over the course of more than twenty years working in animation, and he's aided here by some beautiful cinematography from Robert Elswit. The movie looks fantastic.

If you boil the story of Ghost Protocol down, it's very similar to the first movie - a mission goes horribly wrong, Ethan Hunt is disavowed and sets out to clear his name with the help of other disavowed IMF agents. At a point they have to access a computer system and Hunt has to engage in some "acrobatic insanity" to get the job done. But it's all in how the story is told, and each film tells it in a much different way, with a much different style and tone.

In the most famous scene from the first M:I, Hunt had to be lowered into a room on a rope and pulley system to access a computer. Here, he has to scale the side of the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, to reach a computer server room. That difference is rather indicative of how much larger the scope of this film is. There is another sort of callback to that famous scene later in the film, when IMF teammate Brandt (Jeremy Renner) has to be lowered into a computer array, but instead of ropes and pulleys, Brandt is levitated off the ground with a magnetic suit. And that difference is indicative of the fact that Ghost Protocol is packed full of gadgets.

The scope of Ghost Protocol feels massive, it certainly feels like the biggest of all of the Mission: Impossible movies. Gadgets provided by Simon Pegg's techy character Benji Dunn are put to use at every turn. While the characters are dealing with some heavy problems, the tone is pretty lighthearted, with a lot of comedic moments. If you speak Bond, the movie that Ghost Protocol's scope, gadgets, and tone bring to mind for me is The Spy Who Loved Me. The villain in this film even has a similar goal in mind as the villain in that 1977 Bond film: to reboot the world by instigating a nuclear war between Russia and the U.S.


I really enjoyed Ghost Protocol, but I did have some issues with it. Despite his plans, the villain played by original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo star Michael Nyqvist is kind of a non-entity. That's not Nyqvist's fault, he wasn't given much to do. More interesting is a henchwoman played by Léa Seydoux, an assassin who works for diamonds (another cool Bondian touch) and whom IMF agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton) has a personal grudge against. At 133 minutes, Ghost Protocol is the longest Mission: Impossible movie yet and I felt that it could've been trimmed slightly here and there, and there's a subplot about something that happened between M:I III and this one that really seemed unnecessary to me. These issues aren't dealbreakers, though, and on a side note I have to say that I am very pleased that finally there were no traitor IMF agents involved with the villainous schemes. Even though the IMF as a whole is disavowed along the way, at least none of them were actually guilty. Next time, I'm hoping for no traitors and no disavowals.

Popular opinion seems to be that Ghost Protocol is the best Mission: Impossible so far. It may not be my favorite personally, but the film is a lot of fun, especially from the point when it reaches Dubai, and I highly recommend it.

Jay's mention:


Directed by Debra Granik
Starring Jennifer Lawrence, John Hawkes, and Garret Dillahunt

Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree, a 17-year-old Ozark Mountain girl who is responsible for taking care of her little brother and sister as well as her sick mother. Their father, who is out of the picture, is all sorts of bad and is currently awaiting a court date. If he fails to show, that means Ree and her family will lose their home in the process. Ree sets off on her own journey to find her deadbeat dad and get him to show up in court.

This movie didn't play out at all how I expected. I figured Ree would be out on the road as she searched for her father, but she is never gone from home for long. The pacing and construction of this film definitely defied my expectations, but that isn't a bad thing. There is a lot of buzz around Jennifer Lawrence and it's easy to see why after watching her performance here. John Hawkes also turns up as a family member known as Teardrop and delivers a great performance as well. Probably my favorite in the film.

There's a great scene in this film that involves a swamp (at night), a chainsaw, and the sawing of some body parts. If that doesn't make you want to watch it then I don't know what will. It's streaming on Netflix, so give it a look.

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