Caught two biggies last week, each of which as it happens fetishizes high-tech gadgetry.
Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
Cracking stuff. This is such a filmic film. What I mean by that is that “M:I-GP” is all about the experience that only a movie can give you, qualitatively different than a novel or a play. Big-scale stuff that demands a big screen (the effect will not be the same on TV), it’s full of color and movement and sound and it zings you around through space. You’re right there with Tom Cruise as he clings to the outside of Dubai’s tallest building, attempting to scale it with only the aid of electro-magnet gloves (one of which short-circuits, of course), at one point running down it in a dead-drop race with gravity until pulled out into the sky, swinging through the air by a bungee-like rope. Reportedly Cruisey actually did a lot of this himself, sans CGI, and the result is viscerally vertigious. You’ve got stunts, fights, chases on foot and car, and a globe-trotting hunt to stop a madman from unleashing nuclear war. There’s an ingenious sequence where Cruisey (playing badass secret agent Ethan Hunt) and his team infiltrate the Kremlin via a portable invisible screen on which they back-project an image of the hallway so the security guard can’t see what they’re up to.
Director Brad Bird comes out of animation (“The Incredibles”), and here he brings a comic, comic-book touch. In the non-action moments--say, when he’s required to sit around having a beer and cracking jokes--Cruisey seems even more than usual these days to be having trouble behaving like he’s convincingly a native Earth creature. (I know, I should talk). This is actually the first “M:I” film I’ve seen, but if they came to me for consultation I’d tell ‘em to stick with this current team. They’ve got charisma. There’s computer guy Simon Pegg, always a pleasure, finally getting to be in the sort of picture to which he paid homage in “Hot Fuzz”; Paula Patton as a tough, gorgeous agent, mouth-watering when she goes undercover in a gown; and Jeremy Renner as a non-plussed intel guy with a secret. The banter between Renner and Peggi is nice and dry, funny and underplayed, as the latter describes his reasonable proposals for Renner (you’ll just drop down this shaft; never mind the whirring propeller blades at the bottom: at the last second you’ll just activate this levitation suit you’ll be wearing under your clothes). “Ghost Protocol”, then: high-octane, preposterous stuff, it quenches your action jones.
While watching this film I couldn’t help but think about Karl Pilkington’s latest movie idea:
Key to ratings:
***** (essential viewing)
*** (worth a look)
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
This is a strong movie. The question everybody’s asking is, is it better than the Swedish film? I’d rather judge it as its own thing, but you can’t really help comparing the two, can you? As for Steig Larsson’s books, I’ve only read this first one in the trilogy: my imagination wasn’t quite as captured as everyone else’s. Solid pulp, I thought, but distinguished not by much vivid or memorable prose. What couldn’t be denied is that Lisbeth Salander is a great character, a great creation. Still, I didn’t feel like Larsson had humanized the characters enough for me to need to see their next adventures. I thought the Swedish film a solid dramatization of the book, and in particular I didn't think anybody could play Lisbeth better than Noomi Rapace. Still, you get the idea: I wasn’t exactly burning to read or watch on. I guess the best compliment I can pay to Fincher’s movie is that it sparks my interest enough to make me want to pick up the two remaining volumes and to look forward to what he will do with them as movies. (To his credit, Fincher proceeds as though most people don’t know how the mystery told in “Dragon Tattoo” turns out—the mystery of a missing girl, presumed murdered on an island 40 years ago—even though the books were massive, massive hits. I guess he had no choice.)
Daniel Craig is well cast here as an old-school investigative journalist of courage and integrity, but he’s not the real star, of course. Lisbeth Salander is the character that really captured everybody’s imagination, the brilliant badass investigator and hacker, a feral, perhaps slightly autistic, punk-rock Goth girl with enough 'tude to kill everyone in Sweden, but who one senses is essentially gentle until provoked. Rooney Mara is very good at conveying someone who has been the victim of unspeakable abuse but who absolutely refuses to be a victim. (Among other things, "Dragon Tattoo" can be thought of as a revenge movie). Mara is perhaps a bit harder to buy in the role than Rapace, but that only gives the character more of a sense that her look is her armor, shielding something perhaps more vulnerable. It's a distancing mechanism a bit more urgent because it covers something more tender or raw.
One of the things I admire about the book and the movie is that, for all its themes of sexual violence and rape and sexual abuse, it is pro-sex: Lisbeth is very physical: she likes sex despite all she’s endured. Perhaps this is part of her refusal to be a victim. Mara has a petite body, curvy and feminine underneath her androgynous baggy clothes. The material has a fundamentally healthy attitude towards sexuality which makes an interesting counterpoise to the sick attitudes on display in its bevy of Nazis and rapists and religious fanatics and woman-haters.
(By all accounts a fiery leftist in his native Sweden, the late Larrson also wove a fantasy through the narrative of a takedown of corporate criminals to complement his theme of violence and hatred against women.)
If one can’t avoid comparing the American version with the Swedish, when it comes to direction and storytelling you’ve got to give it to Fincher over Oplev. He tells the story with more verve. His film is a sustained feat of parallel editing, the art of toggling between stories to suggest that they’re going on at the same time, in skilled hands one of the main cinematic tools for constructing suspense. No one wields it more excruciatingly than Fincher. You could also look at the scene of the attempted subway mugging of Lisbeth to see the difference between the two films: in the original I remember just a kind of standard scuffle. As staged by Fincher it becomes a bravura sequence of movement, action and cutting, a fight up an escalator and a sliding getaway down. It contains a great moment for Rooney: when she abruptly roars in the face of her attacker, we’re stunned too. She’s like a wild animal cornered, a Cobra baring her fangs.
The writing by Steven Zaillian is tight; they’ve edited the material within an inch of its life, leaving in basically the same parts of the book as the Swedish film (although if I’m remembering the original correctly, the American film has conflated a couple characters, sisters, in a way that plays with the identity of the missing girl in a rather fundamental way, without, somehow, making much of a difference at all.)
The film is also about the interplay of Fincher’s wintry imagery and Trent Reznor and Atticus Rose’s pulsing electronic music. The opening credit sequence is absolute dynamite, an industrial version of Led Zeppelin’s “The Immigrant Song” sung by Karen O over molten blue-black imagery, human forms being born in pain out of this primordial sea of liquid metal and fire.
--January 4, 2012
Key to ratings:
***** (essential viewing)
*** (worth a look)