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My Top 10 Favorite Movies of 1997

Here we go with another list of my favorite films of a given year. This time we’re in 1997. The year when we found out that the Terminator movies weren’t accurate predictions of the future as Skynet didn’t take over on August 29. The year when “MMMBop” reigned supreme on the pop charts. The year when James Cameron released a little film that would go on to obliterate the cash registers at the box office. The year when Lady Di met an unfortunate end. And, of course, plenty of good movies.

As usual, this list only counts movies with a stated release year of 1997 according to IMDB.

Honorable mentions: Boogie Nights, The Fifth Element, Life is Beautiful, Suicide Kings, Titanic

10 – CUBE (Vincenzo Natali)

“No more talking. No more guessing. Don’t even think about nothing that’s not right in front of you. That’s the real challenge. You’ve got to save yourselves from yourselves.”

A group of people wake up in a maze consisting of cube-shaped rooms. Some of the rooms contain deadly traps. There. That’s an effective two-sentence summary of Cube’s premise. While there are scenes of gruesome deaths, the focus lies primarily on the characters and how they cope with each other as they try to figure out where they are, why they’re there, and how they can get out. With claustrophic tension to spare, this Canadian thriller is not one to miss.

9 – PERFECT BLUE (Satoshi Kon)

“You bad girl! You have to follow the script!”

Perfect Blue is a must-see for anyone who liked Darren Aronofsky‘s Black Swan as they deal with similar themes: uncertainty of what’s real, pressure to succeed, and the psychological effects of sex. Here we follow a young famous pop artist who decides to switch gears and become an actress, only to find herself stalked by an all-seeing obsessed fan who thinks her a traitor. At only 80 minutes, Perfect Blue is a very condensed psychological thriller that packs a heavy punch.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on 19 April, 2012 in Lists, Top 10 of a year

 

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Review – The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

David Fincher has in the past shown that he is a master of the modern thriller, and his films have often been soaked with tangible atmosphere. Seven was so filthy and grim that I felt as though I would never be clean again. The same goes for Fight Club, where further ambience was added by it being viewed by a protagonist whose mind was frayed by insomnia. The Game played the paranoia card, putting me right in there with Michael Douglas‘ character, having me wonder where the danger is and whether it was real or just, in fact, part of the game. The more subdued Zodiac concerned itself more with the mystery of the murders, constantly egging me on and telling me there was more beneath the surface, a lurking darkness threatening to destroy the lives of the people investigating it from both the outside and from within. Even Fincher’s comparatively weaker thrillers like Panic Room and the disowned Alien 3 had tension to spare.

So what the hell happened?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is cold and unwelcoming, yes. This is fine. These can be useful qualities for the genre. What is lacking is a sense of danger, an air of uncertainty, and a driving force to push the story along and me along with it. There are scenes with bite, but for the most part this is a toothless thriller from a man who used to be all fangs.

Set in Sweden, the story of the film revolves around a mystery: Who killed Harriet? The daughter of wealthy Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), she disappeared 40 years ago. Henrik is convinced that someone in his family murdered her. This doesn’t seem far-fetched; the Vangers are essentially a bunch of loners and Nazis, says Henrik. The killer keeps sending him a gift every year on Harriet’s birthday: a simple flower painting. Someone is toying with him.

To figure out the mystery, he enlists journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig). Mikael, recently convicted of libel againt a corrupt businessman, is reluctant to accept the job but realizes that he needs the money now that his career is in jeopardy. More importantly, the well-connected Henrik promises him information that would prove his innocence. Mikael isn’t the sole protagonist, though. A young hacker by the name of Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara) also figures into the story. It takes a while before she encounters Mikael proper in the movie, but she eventually helps him with the investigation. Keeping the two leads apart like this for almost the entire first hour is a smart move, as it allows us to get to know their characters and understand what’s at stake for them as individuals, rather than as a unit.

Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

A big draw of the story – which has been told before in Stieg Larsson‘s novel and in Niels Arden Oplev‘s Swedish film from 2009 – has always been the character of Lisbeth. Dressed in black with multiple piercings and tattoos, constantly on guard against the world, and with a troubled past. Strong-willed but slight in stature, keeping a lid on her words until she needs to make a point. By having a lesser-known actress like Rooney Mara play the role, it’s easy for us to accept her as a proper person. Regardless, I am not fully wowed by her performance. She plays the bottled-up aspects well enough, managing to be oddly intriguing despite her pricklinees. It’s the scenes where she has to show strength and wrath that I don’t fully buy into. Meanwhile, her co-star Daniel Craig has problems of his own. The character Mikael is a more conventional one, almost an every-man albeit with a sharp and honed intellect. Craig is a fine actor, but one who rarely manages to fully disappear into a role. There are times when he comes off as too strong. Too stoic. Too James Bond. I never get the sense that he’s in danger. If this sounds overly harsh, it’s not by intention. Both performances are overall serviceable.

There are bigger issues I have with the film. One is that the solving of the mystery isn’t handled very coherently. We’re introduced to suspects at a rapid pace. Clues are discovered and delved into rapidly. Mikael and Lisbeth interview old witnesses and police officers, examine newspaper clippings and study bible quotes. Often presented in speedy montages, I found it hard to keep track of the connections, the whos and the whats. When they arrive at a likely culprit, I was wondering how they got there. More importantly, I was questioning whether they knew how they got there. For a film where solving the case is the central focus of the story, this is a serious flaw.

The climax of the film is handled well. However, the film sputters along for a good 20-30 minutes after that. Tying up loose ends of the case is fully acceptable, yes, but there is a lot of stuff going on there that seemingly has more to do with the overarching plot of the trilogy rather than the story of this first film. It’s likely that these parts will feel more warranted as the two sequels arrive, but for now, it makes for an odd sense of pacing towards the end. I was ready for the end credits to roll a good 15 minutes before they did.

Again, I fear this review has come off as too negative-sounding. There are things I like about the film. Most of the supporing performances are good, with Plummer as the stand-out. Here’s Henrik, an old man who recognizes the importance of being hospitable even when under personal stress, who has had a successful career and knows how to get things done. And yet there’s a slight glimmer in his eyes that makes me think he knows more than he lets on, no matter how jovial and open he seems. It’s a strong showing from the veteran actor, making me all the more eager to check out his awards-toted performance in Beginners. Another one who impresses is Yorick van Wageningen, who plays Lisbeth’s newly appointed guardian Per Bjurman. His character is not one of nuances but a complete monster, and it’s imperative that we hate him. The script does half the job for him, but there is no denying the sleaziness he brings to the part. You might say a one-note character requires less effort to play, but that one note needs to be played to its fullest possible effect. van Wageningen holds nothing back.

While I didn’t feel much tension in the film, I can’t fault the score for it. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross have crafted a solid soundtrack here, one which at times becomes quite palpable and provides a raw texture to the movie. I’m one of the seemingly few who never noticed their acclaimed work on The Social Network while I watched that film. This certainly didn’t happen here. Another thing I need to give serious props for is the way Fincher and company have captured Sweden. Every design choice, every item in every frame is spot-on, from the candelabras in the windows to the news presentations on TV. Everything looks just as it should, so a bravo is in order.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not a terrible movie by any means, but it is a lukewarm one. Had this come from a less accomplished director, it would be understandable. But this is David Fincher, a director who has proved himself to be in possession of great talent and a keen eye. Considering this, the film becomes almost baffling. What was he going for here? Why did he choose such a cold and distant tone for a story wrought with intense violence and evil? Why is the investigation process such a mess when he did it so well and intriguingly in Seven and Zodiac? Why why why indeed.

Score: 2/5

There. That’s my formal review of the movie, where I of course have offered my subjective opinion of it but while doing my best to view it from a fair and unbiased point of view. I have refrained from comparing it to the Swedish movie, because there’s no reason to. This is a readaptation of a book I haven’t read, not a remake of a film I have seen, so it deserves to be judged on it own merits. There is a lot more I have to say, however. It doesn’t suit the tone I want in my reviews, but expect another blog post on it either later today or tomorrow.

UPDATE:  Here it is.

 
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Posted by on 26 January, 2012 in Reviews

 

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How I ended up loving movies

How did you become a movie fan?

Maybe you always have been. Perhaps your family would watch plenty of films when you were a kid, thus setting you on a path that has continued through your teens and into adulthood to this day. You might not remember a time when you weren’t into movies. It has always been there.

Or maybe you were a casual watcher for a long time, until you saw that one awesome film that really opened your eyes. One movie to fall in love with that left you wanting more, and so you set out to discover other films hoping to find something to evoke similar feelings. That one great film was the starting point for you.

Neither of these scenarios fit me.

Police Academy

I’m not a life-long movie fan. That said, I certainly watched films when I was a kid. My family went to the cinema every now and then, but most of the movies I saw when growing up, I did on TV or VHS. I could watch the Police Academy films over and over. Same with the Wayne’s World movies, and The Lion King, and Home Alone. But film was never my main interest. I was always more into playing video games, reading boks and comics, and watching pro wrestling. Those were the things I would call my hobbies. Watching movies was just something I did ocassionally.

This casual level of interest continued into my teens. I would watch films at times, but never to any huge degree. When I was around 15 years of age in the late 90s came the boom of the internet, and now I had another thing to occupy my time with in addition to video games and fantasy novels. Even happening upon American Beauty in 2000 or 2001- a movie I fell in love with and which instantly became my new all-time favorite – was not enough to spark any big film interest in me.

More the opposite, in fact. My watching of movies went from casual to barely alive. Perhaps it was a combination of things. Subconsciously, I might have felt that nothing could ever compare to American Beauty. My interest in pro wrestling was also picking up again after a few years worth of sabbatical. More important I believe was the fact that my life was changing, though. In 2002 I graduated from gymnasiet – roughly the Swedish equivalent of high school in the US. Old friends drifted away, leaving less opportunity for random spur-of-the-moment films. And now I also had to worry about what to do with my life. I had some vague plans of going to university, but I wanted to take some time to work and make money first. Job hunting proved harder than I thought, and in the midst of all this, I spent more and more time online. Eventually I went to university for a few fruitless years and felt kind of… lost.

Then came World of Warcraft, and the less said about that the better.

I didn’t notice it at the time, but during this part of my life I hardly watched movies at all. I would spot a trailer at times that looked interesting, but didn’t see the film. Someone might mention how they just saw a great movie, and I’d just shrug and move on. An example: When a friend told me had bought Batman Begins on DVD, it was the first time I ever heard of the film. I just didn’t care about the world of movies. I had other things to spend my free time on.

Things changed in early 2008. I had gotten Transformers on DVD from my brother for Christmas (we both loved the toys when we were kids), and found myself with some other unseen movies lying around for some reason. World of Warcraft was starting to lose its grip on me at that point, so one weekend where I had nothing better to do, I sat down to do some movie watching. I saw 5 movies: Transformers, The Terminal, Hostel, The Butterfly Effect, and Captivity. In a typical story, you might expect me to have had an eye-opening experience with one or more of these. But I didn’t. True, I remain very fond of both The Terminal and The Butterfly Effect to this day, but they’re not amazing or anything. No, the noteworthy thing about these films isn’t the films themselves, but what they led me to do.

On that Sunday, February 10 2008, I went on an off-topic forum at a video game website I frequented and started a new thread, where I offered a few lines of summary on how I felt about these films. This wasn’t something I had any habit of doing, but random threads about whatever were commonplace on that message board. I didn’t put any thought into it. It was just something to talk about with people online. At first, nothing much came of it. Someone chimed in saying they hated Transformers, someone else expressed joy at my liking of The Butterfly Effect.

Then someone said “You should do Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind next!”

Huh? Eternal Sunshine of the what now? I’d never heard of it before but figured that Jim Carrey was usually good for a laugh or two, so I decided to check it out. I wrote a bit about it, and someone told me to watch Death Proof. The suggestions and recommendations kept pouring in. I found myself watching lots of movies. More than at any other point in my life. I had a lot of catching up to do. Not even counting all the films I hadn’t seen from before the millenium shift, I still had pretty much the entire past decade of films that had passed me by. There was so many great movies to take in. The mind-blowing Memento, the heart-melting Amélie, the blood-pumping Crank, and the eye-opening Adaptation, to name but a few. Sure, I saw plenty of underwhelming films as well, but they all helped me refine my tastes. And I went back further in time too, seeing some beloved films for the first time like The Princess Bride and One Flew Over Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and found they lived up to the hype.

I would talk with friends about flms I had seen as though they were fresh new discoveries when they were really old hat to them – I vividly remember a bemused look I got from a friend when I, in 2008, started talking about this unknown gem of a comedy called Anchorman. I would often go to my best friend’s place and bring a bunch of DVDs with me, both to revisit films I loved and to show them to him because by God, he just had to see this Sideways film!

There was no need for me to go to the cinema much, as there was so much to see on DVD whether bought, rented or borrowed. But every now and then I’d head to the theater with friends to see films like The Dark Knight (awesome) and Max Payne (terrible).

Maggie Gyllenhaal

I learned which people online liked the same films as me and prioritized their recommendations. But just following their suggestions wasn’t enough. When I discovered a new actor I really enjoyed, like a Jason Statham or a Maggie Gyllenhaal, I would look for more films starring them. I started paying attention to the people behind the camera too. After falling madly in love with Amélie, I had to see what else Jean-Pierre Jeunet was capable of. And whoa, wait; Seven, The Game and Fight Club are all directed by the same guy? Some dude named David Fincher? What else has he done?

I started reading blogs to further expand my horizons, and began keeping up with film news. I discovered the wonderful writing of Roger Ebert, James Berardinelli and other critics, reading them more to find new perspectives than to find out whether a movie was good or bad. I read books on film – Louis Giannetti‘s “Understanding Movies” had a big effect on my viewing experiences. I would use websites like Flickchart, Filmtipset, and ICheckMovies to keep track of the films I had seen. I started a blog of my own – the first of several – where I would talk at length about movies I watched. Twitter also became a great way to find new people with interesting opinions.

A peculiar thing is the divide that has sprung up between films I saw before and after my cinematic awakening. Films I adored back then still remain among my favorites: American Beauty, The Blues Brothers, Groundhog Day, Terminator 2 and more. Others I might be able to find faults in now, but they still live strong thanks to nostalgia; Interview with the Vampire for example is really pretty corny, but I can’t help but love it. I find it hard to compare movies from opposite sides of the divide, however. Even when they’re kind of similar, like Forrest Gump (seen before my awakening) and The Shawshank Redemption (seen after). I know I have different perspectives on these films, so comparisons feel unfair. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose between two great films and can love both equally.

Now, almost four years after that one weekend in February 2008, film is my biggest interest. My viewing pace might have slowed down a bit and fluctuates more, but I do tend to watch a couple of movies every week. And I still find time for my old interests as well. I play video games when I have something fun to play, I keep up with the world of pro wrestling, and I read books every evening – sometimes ones that have had good film adaptations. But movies is where my heart lies.

Considering the short time I’ve been a film fanatic, I sometimes feel inexperienced in the field. Many of you readers have been into the art form for much longer than my four years. The same goes for plenty of bloggers I read and people I follow on Twitter. I’ve also never studied film at college or anything. So I’m not the most well-versed or knowledgeable movie lover in the world, but there’s not much I can do to change that in the present. All I can do is to look towards the future and try to broaden my views in time. I’m still learning, still catching up, still hungry. My rental queue at Lovefilm currently consists of 863 films, and that’s not counting the prebooked ones that haven’t been released on DVD yet, or the ones they don’t have in their database which I keep track of at a different site. The total amount of films I know of that I want to see rises well over 1000. I’ve put up goals to pursue. I want to see films from more countries I’ve never seen films from before, until I’ve tagged every country in the world. I want to explore older movies more so I can find them less threatening. I want to see every movie that Jason Statham or Shannyn Sossamon have ever been in. I want to find that one Woody Allen movie that I’ll love and am sure is out there somewhere. I want to get around to watching highly acclaimed films I haven’t seen yet, like Goodfellas and Jaws (coincidentally, Roy Scheider died on the day my film interest took off.) I want to be a good Swede and finally see my first Ingmar Bergman movie. Most of all, I want to see more great films, whether they’re ones that live up to hype or unexpected surprises. I want to find movies to love as much as I love American Beauty, Amélie, and my current favorite Lost in Translation.

This is how I became a movie lover. The why still eludes me. The way it happened seems so random to me. Was that starting ground of a weekend really just a case of me not having anything better to do? Perhaps there’s more to it. If there is, it’s buried in either my subconsciousness or in the realm of forgotten memories. “It just happened” doesn’t make for much of a story to tell – although I suppose that didn’t stop me from writing these 2000+ words on it.

I still post on that forum where it all started. I make a comment on every movie I see, and have done so for the past four years. People don’t recommend films to me as often. Instead, they share their own thoughts on movies they’ve watched. At times, some even ask me for recommendations. I’ve become “that movie guy” over there. There are worse things one could be.

So how did you become a movie fan?

 
23 Comments

Posted by on 20 January, 2012 in Misc.

 

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