Review: Jurassic World

Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jake Johnson

Review: Entourage

Starring Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon

Review: San Andreas

Starring Dwayne Johnson, Alexandra Daddario, Carla Gugino

Review: Ex Machina

Starring Alicia Vikander, Oscar Isaac, and Domhnall Gleeson

Review: Pitch Perfect 2

The Pitch is Back!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: The Five-Year Engagement

Sometimes things are all perfectly lined up.  Sometimes a project seemingly has everything going for it and just by looking at the collection of talent on paper you know it is going to do well.  And sometimes despite all these things, the movie does not come together as planned.  I think the latter sums up what happened with The Five-Year Engagement, which had a great producer, a good director, and a strong cast, yet opened in fifth place at the box office earning just over $11MM to go with lukewarm review.   

Let me start by saying that in no way do I think it is a bad movie.  To the contrary, there are some genuinely funny and poignant scenes in this film that are universally relatable.  Even the movie's harshest critics would have to agree with that.  Most of us are familiar with producer Judd Apatow’s resume (Bridesmaids, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Superbad), and while his latest movie is not on par with his greatest hits, for the most part this movie does not stray too far from the pack.

What it has going for it is the cast.  Jason Segel has mastered the art of playing an affable guy with a good balance of comedic male bravado and a high emotional IQ and Emily Blunt is very charming with her rowdy brand of British sensibility.  What makes the cast particularly stand out though are those working in a supporting capacity.  Chris Pratt (as Segel’s BFF) and Alison Brie (as Blunt’s sister) steal the show as a fun-loving mismatched couple providing a sharp contrast to our protagonists.  Rhys Ifans (as the foil), Mindy Kaling, Randall Park, Kevin Hart, Chris Parnell, and Brian Posehn do a great job of accompanying Segel and Blunt along their romantic path and adding a comedic soundtrack to their foibles. 

Yet despite all this wealth of talent at work in this film, there exists a disconnect between the onscreen product and the audience and in my opinion it is born from two important factors:

1. Length and Pacing.  To put it bluntly, the movie runs too long. It feels like director Nicholas Stoller had such an embarrassment of riches that he is hard pressed to leave anything on the cutting room floor.  Unfortunately a good number of these comedic bits do very little to advance the plot and thus the net result is that the pacing gets knocked off and the plot comes to a screeching halt in the third act.

2. Segel and Blunt as Tom Solomon and Violet Barnes respectively are highly entertaining, but as a couple they lose a good measure of their likability.  There is something about their chemistry – as good as it is at times – that made me less than enthusiastic about their prospects.  It was not so much that I was rooting against them, but more that as the movie unfolded, I felt less convinced that they had to be together in order for the film to pay off.  For a romantic comedy, that is an incredibly damning statement.

Still, I would recommend this movie.  It is funny, entertaining, and there is great acting across the board.  I just don’t think you will walk away from this one readily prepared to elevate it into the cannon of Judd Apatow movies.  You won’t kick yourself for watching this in the theater, but I don’t know it demands a big picture showing.  When watching, pay close attention to Rhys Ifans (Notting Hill, The Replacements) as he next appears as the heavy in this summer’s The Amazing Spider-man.

Standout Performance:  Chris Patt as Alex Eilhauer is all over the map in this film in a very good way and outright steals the show.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Review: Colombiana

Colombiana had been sitting on my iPad for a couple of weeks, mostly because I had passed it over for some other poor choices (The Sitter, The Darkest Hour), but also because I didn’t feel compelled to make time to watch it.  The trailers for the film portray it as incredibly straight forward – a revenge movie with a female lead and lots of action sans the stylistic sophistication or the twists and turns of a Kill Bill.  The movie though does feature Zoe Saldana, whose work – specifically in Drumline, Star Trek, and Avatar – I have enjoyed.  Yet, I have never really viewed her as someone who can carry a movie as the lead.  While in the past this assertion may have been due to the lack of opportunity, having watched Colombiana I can say with a bit more certainty that my opinion stands.

In the film, Saldana's Cataleya watches her parents get slaughtered at the hands of a nefarious Columbia crime boss.  Subsequently, she dedicates the rest of her life to exacting revenge on those responsible for rendering her an orphan.  The execution of this plot – written by Luc Besson – is fairly vanilla so it often feels like director Olivier Megaton is constantly trying to over compensate weak storytelling with big fanfare.  Subsequently you get a handful of big moments strung together by cheap filler.  The end product is by no means an insult to one’s intelligence or an assault on the senses, but I also find myself at a loss when trying to find verbal bouquets to toss at the film.  I can for sure say that after watching the movie, there were ten key takeaways that Besson and Megaton desperately wanted to impart on viewers through this film:

1. Kids (Amandla Stenberg) can kick just as much butt as Jason Bourne.
2. Zoe Saldana is an attractive woman.
3. Don’t have sharks as pets in your home, swimming beneath a glass floor.
4. Zoe Saldana is a very attractive woman.
5. Nothing good happens when people take pictures of you from their mobile phones and then send those pictures out on the web.
6. In case it hasn’t sunk in yet, Zoe Saldana is a very attractive woman.
7. Michael Vartan – or as he is most commonly known: the dude in Alias or that guy in that Drew Barrymore movie (Never BeenKissed) - still has absolutely no charisma.
8. In case you might have forgotten, Zoe Saldana is a very attractive woman.
9. The FBI is incompetent.  The CIA is corrupt.
10. Zoe Saldana is a very attractive woman so be sure to see her in Star Trek 2.

Those ten points more or less sum up the experience that is Colombiana.  So I cannot really recommend this movie, but at the same time I would not say that you should avoid it at all costs.  If it happens to come across your path and you need to kill a couple of hours while exerting absolutely minimal effort then I think there is value here.  There are worse things in the world to do than watch Zoe Saldana open up a can on a bunch of really bad men.  After watching this, if you find yourself still in need a Zoe fix, look for her next in The Words starring opposite Bradley Cooper.

Standout Performance:  Amandla Stenberg (Rue from The Hunger Games) as a young version of Saldana’s Cataleya.  She and her stunt double are solid in the opening act.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Review: The Darkest Hour

I have been pretty open about proclaiming Jack and Jill the worst movie of 2011.  I am obviously not alone in this assessment, as about a month ago, that Adam Sandler movie became the first movie to ever sweep the Razzies – setting a new standard for filmmaking.  For those of you who don’t know, the Razzies represent the polar opposite of the excellence that the Oscars try to recognize.  However, I now feel the exact same way I felt when Sean Penn won the Oscar for best male lead for his performance in Mystic River over Bill Murray for his in Lost in Translation.  The voters got it wrong.  Because as bad as Jack and Jill is, there is actually a movie that is worse.

That film is The Darkest Hour.  And having just looked up its domestic theatrical box office numbers ($21MM), I now know why it didn’t get the Razzy recognition that it so deserved.  It’s because no one saw it.  The movie is a low rent amalgamation of 30 Days of Night and Independence Day minus any shred of creativity and execution on the part of the filmmaker, the cast, and crew.  We all get the premise – aliens come to earth to mine the planet of something they value and along the way try to annihilate the human race.  The twist that is supposed to captivate us in this film is that they are invisible, but have an effect on electromagnetism – so an ordinary light bulb becomes the equivalent of an early warning system.  Riveted?  I thought not.

It is really hard to drum up anything good to say about this film.  It stars Emile Hirsch who has done some good work in The Girl Next Door and The Emperor’s Club, but like everything else in this film, he is a complete miss.  Olivia Thirlby stars opposite Hirsch, as a potential paramour against the backdrop of global annihilation and the best I can say about Thirlby is that from certain angles, she vaguely resembles Anne Hathaway.  As for the rest of the cast, they do nothing to distinguish themselves.  Max Minghella and Rachael Taylor are forgettable and the role of Skylar played by Joel Kinnaman could have been played equally as well by any guy from my MBA class.  Seriously.

Bad writing, plus bad direction, plus bad acting all thrown together with low rent special effects is a toxic cinematic mix.  And that is exactly what The Darkest Hour is.  There are things that can be done to mitigate the damage of such deficiencies, but not when they all come together at once.  If you have a choice between watching this movie and contracting food poisoning, take the latter.  Your stomach will recover, but the memory of this cinematic disaster could linger in the mind for a while longer.  In lieu of this film, I would recommend…pretty much anything.

Standout Performance:  Any actor who was offered a role in this film and passed on it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Review: The Sitter

Who didn’t love Elisabeth Shue back in the eighties when she was the quintessential girl-next-door playing opposite Ralph Macchio in the true Karate Kid movie or subbing for Claudia Wells as Jennifer in the 2nd and 3rd installments of the Back to the Future Trilogy.  She didn’t quite reach Meg Ryan’s status as America’s Sweetheart, but I think for a lot of people, her performance in Adventures in Babysitting did a lot to nudge her into the conversation.

It really was only a matter of time before someone would attempt a remake (and make no mistake about it – The Sitter is a replica of Elisabeth Shue’s cult classic), but if ever there was a complete 180 in casting it would have to be Jonah Hill stepping into this lead role.  Don’t get me wrong.  I like Jonah Hill – he of Moneyball, 21 Jump Street, and Superbad fame, but this is one of those projects he should have passed on.

Hill plays Noah Green, a college dropout with little sense and even less direction, who is entrusted with looking after three troubled kids for an evening.  Add women, guns, and eccentric drug dealers to the mix and you have the setup for a symphony of errors.  The problem is that director David Gordon Green and writers Brian Gatewood and Alessandro Tanaka aren’t really up to the task of putting together a sound comedic production.

Hill is adequate but only because we are familiar with his shtick as a sarcastic degenerate slacker.  It’s a role he eases into like an old pair of sweatpants.  But jokes are poorly set up and punch lines extremely flat.  One of the key mechanisms to this movie is to establish a camaraderie between Hill and Landry Bender, Kevin Hernandez, and Max Records (the 3 kids he is charged with watching).  Unfortunately, there is little development in their relationship and that completely robs the plot of any sense of catharsis in the third act.

As for the rest of the cast, Ari Graynor is adequate as an incredibly self-centered and narcissistic woman who emotionally abuses Hill’s character; Sam Rockwell delivers his typically strong performance as the heavy who terrorizes Hill’s night; and Kylie Bunbury as a potential paramour for Hill is likable amidst a cast of misfit pieces.  Despite some inspired efforts, unfortunately the final product is less than the sum of the individual parts.  The blame for this has to fall on the source material.

I would avoid this one all together.  Even on free TV.  There are any number of Jonah Hill movies out there that are better to watch and to be honest, The Sitter is not even worth the postage fee Netflix pays to ship a DVD to you.  Going forward, let’s hope that Hill makes better comedic choices and that he also avoids pulling a Jim Carrey or an Adam Sandler on us by embarking on a run of movies that reflect a desire to pursue a career as a dramatic actor.  We could definitely use another installment of 21 Jump Street in the near future. 

Standout Performance:  Sam Rockwell.  He always brings something to each performance that makes it unique.   His performance as Karl is a memorable one.

Monday, April 16, 2012

May 2012 Movie Guide

Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner
Official Synopsis: Marvel Studios presents the Super Hero team up of a lifetime, featuring Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye and Black Widow. When an unexpected enemy emerges that threatens global safety and security, Nick Fury finds himself in need of a team to pull the world back from the brink of disaster. Spanning the globe, a daring recruitment effort begins.
Why You Should See It: Because your mother always told you not to put all your eggs in one basket, but that is precisely what Marvel Studios is doing.
Why You Should Avoid It: No good reason whatsoever.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  Yes. Theatrical. IMAX, ETX, Digital projection, et al.

Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Anna Faris, John C. Reilly, Ben Kingsley
Official Synopsis: The film tells the heroic story of a dictator who risked his life to ensure that democracy would never come to the country he so lovingly oppressed. It is inspired by the best selling novel “Zabibah and The King” by Saddam Hussein.
Why You Should See It: Because Sacha Baron Cohen walked the Oscar’s red carpet in character and dumped an urn full of ashes on Ryan Seacrest.
Why You Should Avoid It: It will no doubt feature embarrassingly low brow, squirm inducing humor.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  Take a pass.

Starring: Brooklyn Decker, Liam Neeson, Rihanna, Taylor Kitsch
Official Synopsis: Battleship is an epic action-adventure that unfolds across the seas, in the skies and over land as our planet fights for survival against a superior force. Based on Hasbro’s classic naval combat game.
Why You Should See It: See if Taylor Kitsch can rebound from contributing to the $120M loss that Disney reported for the 2nd quarter of 2012.
Why You Should Avoid It: It is based on the board game Battleship – not exactly the richest source material in cinematic history.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  Bottom of your Netflix queue.

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Chris Rock, Jennifer Lopez, Matthew Morrison, half of Hollywood
Official Synopsis: Four expectant couples learn that having a baby is anything but predictable in this romantic comedy based on Heidi Murkoff's ubiquitous best-seller.

Why You Should See It: Because Battleship is the only other new major new release that weekend.
Why You Should Avoid It: These ensemble movies featuring half of Hollywood (i.e. Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve) are cinematic rubbish.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  Never.

Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Alice Eve
Official Synopsis: The Men in Black are back, and this time Agent J must take a trip into the past in order to save both the future and his taciturn partner Agent K in the third installment of the hit sci-fi comedy series.
Why You Should See It: Will Smith is still the most bankable star in Hollywood and he rarely disappoints during summer blockbuster season.
Why You Should Avoid It: See MIB II – and this one doesn’t feature Rosario Dawson.
And the Magic 8 Ball Says:  Why not.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Review: Attack the Block

Attack the Block is one of those movies that smells vaguely like a cult classic, because it is definitely not mainstream; it dabbles in both the horror and sci-fi genre; and because it possesses a British sensibility (for some this is an automatic indicator of cinematic credibility).  I am going to skip any dissection of the cast in this film - because I came away from the film feeling ambivalent toward the whole lot - and instead am going to come right out and say that I was not feeling this movie at all.  I can however understand how a very small segment of the population might.

- If you like cheap scares that require no thought or set up, then this movie may be for you.
- If you like weak stereotypical caricatures of urban youths cast as glorified anti-heroes, then this movie may be for you.
- If you like poor cinematography and amateurish special effects, then this movie may be for you.
- If you don’t need to know the “why” that goes along with the “who, what, when, and where,” then this movie may be for you.

The truth is that even if you meet one of these conditions, you may still not enjoy this movie.  I don’t dislike it because it has a low budget and weak production value – though the latter really exasperates the situation, but really my disdain is because the movie is incredibly juvenile.  The filmmakers clearly had a target audience in mind when they set out to make this movie, but then they went out and disrespected those fans by putting together a film that lacks a shred of intelligence. 

In the film, a bunch of aliens fall from the sky and focus their attack on an urban city block terrorized by a handful of paper-thin poor man’s street thugs.  There is no rhyme or reason as to why anything in the ninety-plus minutes of the movie actually takes place, except perhaps to allow the cast to spout a bunch of nonsense in their British accents while tussling with aliens that look like the ugly cousins of the wolves from Liam Neeson’s The Grey.

So let’s cut to the chase.  I do not want to spend much more time on this movie.  It goes without saying that I cannot recommend this movie.  It feels like mommy and daddy gave a check to their film school dropout son to go and do something.  While this is not the case, director Joe Cornish does very little to distinguish himself.  There are however a handful of cinephiles who would disagree, but I think this sentiment is born from their lust for films that are different even if it is just for the sake of being different.  For me, this movie resides in the Jack and Jill / Johnny English Reborn neighborhood, which is absolutely the low-rent district of cinematic quality.  Believe me when I tell you that you should take a pass on this one.  Not only will you save ninety minutes of your life, you’ll actually be better for it. 

Standout Performance:  Me – for making it through the entire movie. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Review: American Reunion

If you’re on the wrong side of thirty then you are probably old enough to remember one of my favorite Christmas classics – A Very Brady Christmas.  Go ahead; read it again.  It is not a typo.  I loved the heck out of that made for TV movie; and not because it was particularly well written - because it wasn’t - and not because it was telegenic art – because it most certainly was not.  The reason I enjoyed it so much was because it reached into the memory bank and brought me back to those grade school afternoons in front of the television set, which was always set to channel 56.  You see - there is something comforting about familiarity.  It’s like seeing an old friend or the house that you used to grow up in and immediately being whisked away to a better time and place.  It’s why the Brady reunion struck a chord with viewers, because seeing those familiar faces all in one place again evoked nostalgia. 

Writers/Directors Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg are clearly trying to corner the market on R-rated comedies as they have followed up the debacle that was Harold and Kumar 3D with American Reunion.  I am mildly relieved to say that the latter is a much better showing than the former, but things really could only have gotten better.  What they have working in their favor is nostalgia.  It’s all they really have going for them.  It’s their hook, because the latest and hopefully last installment in the series features the entire original cast.  No ringers, no bate and switches, and no poor man’s doppelganger.  That gives the movie a big event feel, even though most of the cast have not only seen their stars fade immensely but some are straight up reclamations projects.

As for what ails this film, the problems are three-fold.  The first is that there is too much going on.  Each member of the principle cast has to have a reason for returning to a 13 year high school reunion (and thus appearing in the film).  Because of this, we are left with a web of spaghetti-thin plot lines woven into a tangled mess.  Sure, sentimentality and the ease with which Jason Biggs, Alyson Hannigan, et al slide back into their roles makes the plot a bit more palatable, but it is just not enough to overcome the second problem, which is the recycling of the Stifler redemption storyline.  The “Stifler has not moved on and has not realized that time has passed him by” storyline was done in American Wedding but I am guessing that the writers assumed they could get away with recycling it since so few saw that film.  The third problem is that it is just not that funny.  The jokes were stale and delivered by a cast that - to be honest - looked a little too weathered to deliver the punch lines. 

It’s not a waste of time to watch this movie especially if you’re a fan of the previous films.  It’s just not a great use of your time.  If the comfort of familiarity and nostalgia is what you seek and you are okay with knowing that Hurwitz and Schlossberg often deliver raunch in lieu of real comedy then you will be entertained.  If you’re a casual fan and prefer sharp and witty humor, you should probably save this for a rental.  The novelty of seeing older versions of the characters you once knew, can only last so long when one's affinity for those characters is measured.

Standout Performance:  Eugene Levy - a fantastic comedic veteran – is given a larger role in this film and is responsible for nearly all of the few laugh out loud moments that in the film.  

Friday, April 6, 2012

Review: Dream House

The low-lying fruit in Hollywood is the horror genre.  How else can you explain 42 sequels to Saw and 30 incarnations of Final Destination.  Okay, so there aren’t that many; it only feels that way.  But really, horror films are incredibly polarizing.   You rarely find anyone who is ambivalent.  People tend to be on one side of the aisle or the other.  Those, who are on the side that does not mind cheap scares and a little bit of gore to go with their popcorn and soda, are a loyal bunch.  Having seen Dream House, it feels like the fine marketing folks at NBCUniversal were really trying to reach out to those fans, even if it meant stretching the truth a bit.

The problem here is the Dream House may look like a horror film and try to act like a horror film, but that is precisely what it is not.  On paper, director Jim Sheridan’s project has a lot going for it.  Daniel Craig, in my opinion the best James Bond ever, sits in the driver’s seat of this mind-bending (or so it aspires) movie as a husband and father of two, who learns that he and his family are living in a house where three ghastly murders took place.  The plot unfolds as Craig’s Will Atenton peels away the layers to the murders and moves closer to discovering a dark set of truths.  If the movie only aspired to be that (a Whodunnit flick), all would have been better off.  Unfortunately, the movie incorporates a supernatural element to the movie that leaves the plot looking like a thin slice of Swiss cheese.

The cast does very little to redeem themselves or the film in this outing.  Daniel Craig is just adequate in much the same way as he is in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  The issue is that Craig excels in alpha-male roles involving intense physicality as opposed to that of a more passive and slightly inept detective of events.  Rachel Weisz is cast as a key role in this movie (Will Atenton's wife), but struggles to really make a strong emotional impact.  It is in stark contrast to some of her better performances (i.e. About A Boy, Definitely, Maybe).  Perhaps she and Craig fell victim to the cinematic trap that is spouses working together on a film (see also Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut).  As for Naomi Watts, I’ve not seen her in a film that I liked since The Ring.  Or maybe I feel like that is all I have seen her in because she has one stock performance that she constantly delivers.

I hate to say this, because I am one of those people who enjoys a good scare, an intense thriller, or even an occasional gore fest, but I find myself hard-pressed to recommend this movie.  At the very most, it is a bottom of the queue / free cable movie, but in all honesty it is a movie you should take a pass on.  However, Daniel Craig fans fear not.  Skyfall is currently in production and is already receiving great buzz.

Standout Performance:  Marton Csokas has made a decent career out of glaring at the camera and portraying generally mean characters.  This film is one more notch in the belt.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Review: The Three Musketeers (2011)

The thing that always bothered me most about The Three Musketeers is that the plot always involved D’Artagnian – thus rendering the trio a quartet.  Not a particularly important point, but I wanted to get that off my chest.  But I digress.  For Hollywood, the Three Musketeers is like that ex-girlfriend you always go back to when your current paramour tells you to hit the bricks.  Every time the creative powers that be run out of ideas, someone in the industry goes back to The Three Musketeers.  How else can you explain the following?

-       -  Charlie Sheen, Keifer SutherlandChris O’Donnell and Oliver Platt (aka Tiger Blood, Jack Bauer, Robin, and some other dude) starring in a Disney-fied The Three Musketeers in 1993.
-       -  Jeremy Irons, John Malkovich, Gerard Depardieu, and Gabriel Byrne portraying the mid-life crises version of the quartet in The Man in the Iron Mask.
-      -   Cheech Marin, Alison Doody, Thomas Gottschalk, and David Hasselhoff portraying the sword-wielding quartet’s future descendants in The Ring of the Musketeers (I kid you not).

Given this lackluster cinematic past, I really expected to loathe the latest incarnation.  And in all honesty, director Paul W.S. Anderson gave me plenty not to like (as he usually does) about this piece of fluff.  The plot was thin, unimaginative, and full of holes, and the cast lacked the star power to make up for this creative void - unless you consider the kid (Logan Lerman) from Percy Jackson & the Olympians a star, which no one - outside of his parents - does.  There really is no nice way to put this; the kid CANNOT act.

With all that being said, there are some redeeming qualities to the movie and I think it stems from the fact that it plays like a throwback to the kind of lighthearted action movie that never makes it onto screen anymore.  Good is good; evil is evil; and when good is not out fighting evil, camaraderie and a great time is shared by all.  What makes this engine go is the cast sans Lerman.  Matthew Macfadyen, Luke Evans, and Ray Stevenson are not exactly household names, but they are strong character actors that make for entertaining musketeers.  They share a chemistry that makes you believe they’ve embarked on countless adventures together.  Likewise, Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz, and Milla Jovovich are incredibly easy to despise as the heavies in the film.  

However at the end of the day, this is simply not a good movie.  It’s clearly a case of the parts much greater than the sum.  I am not going to cast this movie as a complete write-off though as there’s always a place for lighthearted action romps that mindlessly entertainment.  Save this one for a day when you can no longer expend the energy to think or have a paucity of brain cells to spare.  And if you find that you do utterly loathe this movie, fear not.  Sooner or later, another studio exec will decide that it is time to revisit this lore.

Standout Performance: James Corden as Planchet was a nice touch of comic relief that almost makes you forget the cinematic disaster that is Logan Lerman.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

I grew up watching Roger Moore, tolerated Timothy Dalton, and was disappointed by Pierce Brosnan, but of all the different incarnations of James Bond that I have seen, Daniel Craig stands out as the best.  So it was with much interest that I sat down to watch The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011) even though I had stayed away from the novel or the original film.  I had wanted to it during its theatrical run, but the release was oddly timed for December.  It is hardly what I would call Christmas season material.

Besides his turn as Bond, Craig has delivered strong performances in Layer Cake, Munich, and Defiance so my expectations were high for his portrayal of disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist.  However, a funny thing happened along the way to discovering the truth behind the disappearance of Harriet Vanger (Moa GarpendalRooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander completely stole the show.  There are few iconic performances in which an actor takes on a physical and psychological transformation in order to completely disappear into a role (DeNiro in Raging Bull, Bale in The Machinist) and Mara’s work in in this film resides not far outside that pantheon.

The plot focuses on a decades old murder involving the wealthy Vanger family that is as decayed as the trail of dead corpses that have seemingly been following the clan for over four decades.  Craig’s Blomkvist is brought in to write a memoir – but really to revive an investigation into the mystery.  He enlists the help of Mara’s Salander – a brilliant but troubled investigator.  This is a dark world that director David Fincher drops us into and we would expect nothing less from the man.  Everything and everyone is soiled and violence is the most prevalent form of communication. 

This film is most definitely not for everyone as there is a fierce brutality that underlies all the action.  It seems that religious undertones are established in the film only to ensure that viewers understand these values can and will be easily shattered in the most perverse manner.  The film is entertaining – albeit slightly predictable – because Rooney, Craig, and the very talented cast that includes Stellan Skarsgard, Robin Wright, and Christopher Plummer own their roles and navigate these violent, incestuous, and duplicitous waters with the tacit disdain that their roles require.  But make no mistake, Rooney stands out amongst the accomplished cast.

I would recommend this film for a rental.  It is a dark and brooding film that for the most part remains entertaining.  Sony Pictures has already committed to moving forward with the sequel despite its mediocre performance at the domestic box office ($103M), so you can be sure that we will once again revisit the world of Lisbeth Salander.

Standout Performance: Rooney Mara does a great job of separating herself from Noomi Rapace’s 2009 performance in the Sweedish take on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  Visually it is impossible to believe she was Zuckerberg’s lost love in The Social Network.