For starters, with the exception of a Nine Inch Nails-y music video credit sequence (set to that ultra-catchy cover of “Immigrant Song” from the teaser), this film is no different in tone or content than, nor does it improve on, the Swedish version that came out all of two years ago. (Ironically, that film’s two stars, Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist, are also on-screen this weekend in Sherlock and MI: Ghost Protocol respectively.) To be honest, I don’t even know why Fincher bothered to make this film, except for the paycheck: He already covered this sort of ground in Se7en, and went well beyond it with Zodiac. And even Matt Reeves’ Let Me In was further afield from Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In than this is to Niels Arden Oplev’s 2009 film.
If anything, Oplev’s 2009 version was more elegant in many ways. You definitely don’t need to see them both. There, the clues snapped together better as the story progressed — Here, it’s occasionally unclear how our two intrepid investigators, Lizabeth Salander (Mara) and Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) have made the intuitive leaps they have. There, the post-case coda was briskly covered — Here, the extended ending approaches Return of the King-levels. And, perhaps most importantly, in the 2009 film, there was more than one bleedin’ suspect in the movie. Here, even without the obvious casting tell, the eventual murderer is pretty much the only person we meet over the course of the investigation. (Fincher should’ve paid Willem DaFoe and Christopher Walken just to show up and skulk around.)
Now, in my Let Me In review, I was rather tolerant of that film being a note-for-note remake of the Swedish version, while here, not so much. What’s the difference? Well, for me, it’s mainly because Let the Right One In was a novel take on the teenage vampire story, i.e. a story worth telling. But both versions of Dragon Tattoo are, in my humble opinion, puerile, sadistic trash. Honestly, what does it say about us that this brutal, rapey, not-particularly-interesting revenge-pr0n thriller was the #1 best-selling book in America for many moons? The only interesting subtext here is of buried secrets festering rot, which registers in both the national history of Sweden (who, as a neutral nation, had its share of Nazi sympathizers during the war) and the personal history of the author (who apparently wrote these books as penance for ignoring a horrible crime.) Otherwise, I find these films to be ultra-violent, serial-killer crapola.
And speaking of indications of how screwed up we are as a country, why was Steve McQueen’s Shame rated NC-17 if this movie got an R? Shame had a lot of consensual (if pained), not-very-appetizingly-filmed sex, and, ok, full-frontal nudity from Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan. (Yes, Virginia, adults have mommy and daddy parts). Meanwhile, this movie has beatings, murder, rapes, torture, eviscerations, disembowelments, Stellan Skarsgard…oh, heck, let’s just give it an R. Honestly, the MPAA’s priorities are nothing short of bizarre. (I’m not advocating censorship of this film — Bring the kids if you’re so inclined. It’s the ridiculously messed-up priorities that rankle.)
I’ll concede that, in general, I find serial-killer movies to be abominably stupid. (They’re not even frightening. In that regard, I much prefer supernatural horror. Other than Silence of the Lambs, American Psycho, Zodiac, the original Vanishing, and, if you want to count it, A Clockwork Orange, I can’t even think of any films in the serial killer genre I like.) So if the Dragon Tattoo books were your cup of tea, but not so much so that you didn’t bother to catch the Swedish movie, then perhaps you’ll find The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo worthwhile. The movie is definitely competently directed and made — Fincher isn’t going to put out bad product. But I found this an unnecessary remake of a grotesque and ludicrous story in the first place, and I’m kinda annoyed with myself for spending money on it.
“Webb said, ‘This is a dream come true and I couldn’t be more aware of the challenge, responsibility, or opportunity. Sam Raimi’s virtuoso rendering of Spider-Man is a humbling precedent to follow and build upon. The first three films are beloved for good reason.’” Well, actually, not many care much for Spidey 3. In any event, the post-Raimi reboot of Spiderman at Sony has found its director in Marc Webb, previously of (500) Days of Summer.
A solid choice, although two things give me pause: 1) It’s hard to escape the sense that Webb was picked mainly because the studio suits think that, unlike Raimi, he’ll be more malleable than a lot of the A-list names floating around (Fincher, Cameron). 2) The ramifications of the following sentence might just end up being terrible: “The touchstone for the new movie will not be the 1960s comics…but rather this past decade’s ‘Ultimate Spider-Man’ comics by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley where the villain-fighting took a back seat to the high school angst.”
The powers-that-be announce the nominees for the 81st Academy Awards, with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button garnering 13 nominations (it helps when your Oscar Bait is FX-heavy), Slumdog Millionaire grabbing ten, and Milk and The Dark Knight notching eight apiece. (That being said, TDK was frozen out of the main awards, Ledger’s inevitable Supporting Actor bid notwithtanding.)
Also in the running for major stuff: The Reader (picture, actress, director), The Wrestler (actor, supporting actress), Doubt (actor, screenplay, actress, supporting actress), Frost/Nixon (director, actor, screenplay), and WALL-E (screenplay, animated film). And the happy semi-surprises: Richard Jenkins for The Visitor and Robert Downey, Jr. for Tropic Thunder.
I’ll make my picks with the GitM 2008 list, which should be coming up within the next week or two. (The movies I’ve been waiting for — Frost/Nixon, Revolutionary Road, and The Wrestler — all open here tomorrow.) And, don’t worry, 2009 isn’t being slighted all that much: I highly doubt Paul Blart: Mall Cop was going to make the cut anyway.
The nominees for the 2008 Golden Globes are announced, with David Fincher’s Benjamin Button, John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, and Ron Howard’s Frost/Nixon leading the pack with five nods each. I’ve been feeling way behind on my moviegoing all year, so I’m glad to see that all of the best drama nominees (Button, Revolutionary Road, Slumdog Millionaire, Frost/Nixon, The Reader), as well as some of the closer also-rans (Milk, Doubt, The Wrestler) are films that aren’t out yet here. So, since i can’t as yet speak knowledgably about any of the contenders, i’ll hold off on my picks until closer to the big night.
Going into the awards stretch, my favorite film of the year is probably still The Dark Knight (with WALL-E running at 2nd), so I was also glad to see Heath Ledger get his due today. Would that he were around to see it.
More a straightforward police procedural than the type of visually kinetic extravaganza one might expect from the director of Se7en and Fight Club, David Fincher’s Zodiac, which I saw on Friday, is a slow-moving but generally effective film. I confess to having very little interest in the story of the Zodiac killer, or in serial killer movies in general. Still, I found Zodiac to be a somber and engaging character study of the cops, journalists, and suspects caught up in the hunt for San Francisco’s most famous murderer, and a moody meditation on how, as months yield to years without a definitive answer, the long, tiring search for truth comes to haunt and drain their lives away. It may basically play like a seventies throwback Law and Order for most of its run, with occasional flourishes from The Wire, but Zodiac is still a worthwhile film, and one that marks a welcome rebound for Fincher after the relatively uninspired Panic Room. It’s good to see his sign rising once again.
After the first of many impressive establishing shots of San Francisco, set to some spooky post-psychedelic pop ditty of the era, Zodiac begins on July 4th, 1969, with what feels like both a classic urban legend and a recipe for disaster — two young people flirting and fumbling at a dark and abandoned Lover’s Lane. Only this story is true, and soon enough, the Zodiac has struck for the second time, leaving one dead and another terribly wounded in his wake. Showing a penchant for publicity that will make him a household name in the Bay Area over the next few years, the Zodiac sends both boastful and encoded message to several major newspapers. These pique the interest of — among others — a hard-drinking, hard-living writer on the cop beat (Robert Downey, Jr.), a nebbishy cartoonist with a knack for puzzles (Jake Gyllenhaal, playing the author of the book on which the film is based), and two peace officers (Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards) assigned to track down this preening sociopath before he strikes again. For the next few years, we follow each of these fellows as they attempt to pin down the identity of the elusive killer: negotiating bureaucratic snafus, parsing encrypted texts, and, yes, hitting the archives like good, little researchers. But the trail of the Zodiac exacts a heavy toll, and as the Age of Aquarius fades into the Reagan era, each of these men leave the decade scarred by their quest, some irreparably. And still, somewhere out there, the Zodiac lurks…
Its opening moments notwithstanding, most of Zodiac is concerned not with nasty serial killer exploits (although there are a few, such as a jarring afternoon picnic at the lake) but the ugly mechanics of the cops and journalists’ search, with all its circumstantial theorizing and bureaucratic gear-grinding. Some of this stuff, such as the memory-holes that arise between overlapping jurisdictions of various Bay Area law enforcement bureaus, would probably seem fresher if you’ve never watched The Wire, where police mismanagement and careerism is a central staple. (That being said, likable character actors like Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, and Zach Grenier spice up these scenes considerably.) But, other facets of the hunt still resonate, such as how multiple explanations pile up for a given clue with no real way to determine the correct one. The Zodiac’s symbol…is it a cross-hair, or was it stolen from a watch company, or is it the countdown from the opening of a film reel? Each answer seems like it must be the definitive one at different times, and, for the participants in this haunted search, the shifting interpretations grow increasingly maddening. The film is kind enough to give the audience something of a sense of closure at the end, but Zodiac is most intriguing when it leaves all doors open, and lets its characters get thrown about in the bruising wind that ensues.
More trailers: Sly tries to go fifteen more rounds in the surprisingly effective second trailer for Rocky Balboa (It’s the music, for sure), and Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Robert Downey, Jr., Chloe Sevigny, Donal Logue, Elias Koteas, and Brian Cox venture into Se7en territory in the preview for David Fincher’s Zodiac. (Panic Room was sorta dull and by-the-numbers, but Fincher still has a lot of goodwill in this corner for Fight Club.)
Another director update: Steven Soderbergh, late of The Good German, talks Che and Ocean’s 13, and David Fincher, currently completing Zodiac, has picked up, yes, still another serial killer flick, Torso, about the latter days of Elliot Ness as a crimefighter in Cleveland.
Two fanboy icons get the Remix treatment…First, Tyler Durden gets all Tekken up in here with Fight Club: The Game. (Hmm, sadly, it looks Ikea-Nesting-Instinct-lame.) Meanwhile, Kirk & co. get their funk on in this strange ad for the Star Trek Original Series DVD. Well, it’s definitely more fun than an Odd-numbered Trek.
Speaking of cinema, making my top 20 films list the other day has encouraged me to get back in the habit of renting (the lousy weather the past four days has helped.) Over the past few days, I’ve perused Bill Paxton’s Frailty (Interesting, but I think The Rapture does this better), Guillermo Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone (I quite liked it, although the Spanish Civil War allegory gets a bit heavy), Wes Andersons’ The Royal Tenenbaums (I liked this as well. It’s a bit too self-consciously quirky, perhaps, but Gene Hackman is great, and there are sight gags aplenty. Far better than anything by the other Anderson.) and David Fincher’s Panic Room (Disappointing and strangely dull. The floating camera shots, which worked so well when used sparingly in Fight Club, seem unnecessary and distracting here. And Jared Leto seems out of his depth.) K-19: The Widowmaker will be this evening’s presentation, and if it ever comes back in I’d like to see Donnie Darko sometime this weekend as well.