Sunday, 29 August 2010

Flickan som lekte med elden

The Girl who Played with Fire is, as everyone already knows, the second book in Steig Larsson's Millenium series - and the second of the Swedish film adaptations. The story picks up a year after the first one, Män som hatar kvinnor ('Men who hate women' in English, though the film was translated as 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'). Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander haven't seen each other for a year. Lisbeth's fingerprints are found on a gun used to kill three of their acquaintances. Rather than attempt to prove her innocence through the usual channels, Lisbeth disappears and begins investigating the murders. There are two other investigations going on in parralell: Blomkvist's, motivated by the death of his friends and his desire to prove Lisbeth's innocence (of this particular crime, at least) - and the fairly hapless enquiries carried out by the police.

Noomi Rapace is Lisbeth Salander. Her looks, attitude, moodiness and intelligence are perfectly poised in this assured, understated portrayal. This was true of her performance in Män som hatar kvinnor as well, but she is even more impressive in the sequel. Michael Nyqvist's solid, convincing Blomkvist sits well alongside, but this really is Rapace's film. She is complemented by the unflashy cinematography and the locations: largely the harsh, grey but beautiful Swedish countryside and Stockholm's classic city backdrop. These are major contributors to the success of this as an adaptation of the sombre, gritty novel.

This is not just an excellent adaptation of the novel. In many ways it's an improvement: the distractions of original, such as the intricate police procedural and political aspects (and the silliness of Lisbeth's proving Fermat's last theorem in her spare time), have been removed - making the story tighter and the action faster-paced. As such, I preferred it to the film of the first book, despite feeling the opposite about the novels. There exists a three-hour cut of the film, presumably featuring many of these removed plot points. I'd be surprised if it was an improvement over this cinematic release.

The Millenium series is also currently being adapted by David Fincher, who directed Fight Club and Seven. Much as I admire his work, I cannot imagine these new versions coming close to the perfection with which these Swedish films capture the spirit of Larsson's books.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Piranha 3D

In general, the bullet-pointed list is more suited to PowerPoint presentations then movie reviews. That's because films are usually better considered as a coherent work of art than as a series of loosely connected scenes. And in fact, Piranha does achieve this aesthetic wholeness, despite its rice-paper-thin plot. But that's not why you should see it. Piranha includes:
  • two piranha fighting over who gets to eat a disembodied human penis
  • Kelly Brook and another naked playmate performing a Sapphic underwater synchronised swim
  • Christopher Lloyd reprising his role as Doc from Back to the Future
  • two superb deaths-by-being-torn-in-two 
  • Ving Rhames getting post-industrial on the asses of a shoal of piranha with a boat propeller
  • the shredding of countless objectionable frat boys, and
  • someone being eaten from the bottom up.
If you want to see these play out in glorious, colour-saturated 3D, then this is the film to watch. And if you don't, then what's wrong with you?

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque)

If I met someone for the first time at a party and they told me they enjoyed listening to French spoken word jazz, I'd swallow my entire drink in one gulp and make my excuses. But that's the music of Serge Gainsbourg described in four words. If on the other hand I had met Gainsbourg himself at a party I think I would have followed him round for the rest of the evening. If this new biopic is anything to go by, the weedy, Gallic chain-smoking piss artist had charisma.

I knew almost nothing about him when I went to see this film. I'm not sure I know too much more now, but that doesn't matter. Based largely on the movie poster, I was expecting this to be something like Control, the film about Ian Curtis' life that came out a few years back: very well made, dark, tragic, but not exactly fun. But Gainsbourg  is hilarious, surreal fun. It's probably this that makes Christopher Tookey hate it. Tookey is the Daily Mail clown who thought Kick-Ass was for paedophiles and wanted to get Cronenberg's Crash banned. To paraphrase C S Lewis, Tookey is either a lunatic, a liar or - an unlikely one, this, admittedly - the son of God. He seems to have a real hatred for joyous, charming, playful movies. He calls Gainsbourg 'woefully pretentious', 'tiresome', 'twaddle'.

Pretentious twaddle it may be in part, though I think there's more to it than that. But it's far from tiresome and woeful. There are a handful of scenes which are stunning, for various reasons. One joyful section involves Brigitte Bardot dressed in a bedsheet, dancing around Serge's piano while he plays and smokes, and is so entirely convincing that watching it feels close to voyeuristic. The brilliance of several other scenes derives from the presence of Gainsbourg's 'mug', a Tim Burtonesque character with an enormous nose, long thin fingers and a mischievous grin. Mug is born, almost literally, out of the exploded remains of an oversized, comic-book spherical Jew the young Gainsbourg creates and with whom he enjoys various adventures. I wasn't overstating the case when I said it was surreal. Elements are clearly influenced by Dali (whose home makes a brief appearance).

Although there isn't much of a plot in the traditional sense - a problem shared by many biopics, whose subjects have a bad habit of failing to structure their lives like films - Gainsbourg's life had enough marriages and tribulations to make the film a highly enjoyable series of set pieces. And watching the journey his character takes, from cheeky charming child through awkward young man to self-assured, arrogant old soak, makes up for the lack of conventional story arc. One small criticism of the 122 minute movie: it could stand to lose a few minutes to the edit room floor, especially during the last third. But this is a minor issue and even the scenes that slightly outstay their welcome have more to recommend them than those of many movies. Gainsbourg is one of the most original, inventive films of the year, and also one of the best.

Toy Story 3

I don't have very much to say about Toy Story 3. It's been generally lauded, with a 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes to date, and rave reviews from both Kermode and Mayo and their current standins Boyd and Floyd. Supposedly it's the first 'part 3' film to live up to the quality of its preceding chapters, and Pixar's finest moment to date. It's also been widely touted as making grown men cry at the unbearably emotional ending in which Andy comes to a decision about what to do with his toys now he's leaving for college.

Toy Story 3 is slick, no question. And the story, involving the toys coming to terms with their possible futures now Andy has grown out of them, is well-crafted. Even the 3D seems somehow natural in a way that it hasn't managed even in the best of the 3D films we've seen so far such as Avatar and Streetdance 3D. But for some reason Toy Story 3 just left me a little cold. While tears streamed from under the polarised lenses of hardened criminals around me (or so I surmise), my own ducts didn't even flinch. I much preferred the charming How to Train your DragonI was explaining this to someone, telling them I wasn't hugely impressed with the film, and they replied that on the contrary: "It's a good story, well told". Well, it is that - but to me, it wasn't much more.