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Wednesday, 7 July 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

There's something about the cold Scandinavian climate that makes it the perfect backdrop for murder. Well, fictional murder at least, as SBS's steady stream of ice-cold murder series proves. Based on the first of a series of best-sellers, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (which is soon to be re-made by Hollywood ) is a solid thriller that manages to keep the many twists and turns easy-to-follow without losing any of the grim and foreboding atmosphere.

Crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) is heading for prison after losing a big-time defamation case, but before he's locked up he's offered a bit of freelance investigating work from a reclusive millionaire who believes that the killer of a long dead relative is taunting him. He wants to know who's sending him mementoes that only the dead girl knew about, but while Mikael is good at old-fashioned investigating he's not so flash with computers - which is where the titular girl Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) comes in. A hard-boiled hacker with a fashion sense that runs to leather and piercings, she's just the woman for the job - if she can get out of her parole officer's greasy grasp, that is.

Much of this movie, while slickly done and always engaging, is by-the-numbers conspiracy material; it's only Lisbeth's presence that really shakes things up and gives this film its edge. It's no wonder she became the star of the series, as while this is a good thriller, she's the only truly memorable thing about it.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #476)


The words "American remake" are usually enough to send a chill down the spine of even the toughest movie-goers. But with Brothers - a remake of a highly acclaimed 2004 Danish film - the whole thing comes off, due in no small part to the sheer class of the cast. The story begins in America's heartland, with Tommy (Jake Gyllenhaal) getting out of prison just in time to see his brother Sam (Tobey Maguire), a lieutenant in the Marines, off on another tour of duty in Afghanistan. Their father (Sam Shepard) takes every opportunity to remind Tommy just how useless he is in comparison to his brother, and Tommy's wife Grace (Natalie Portman) isn't his biggest fan either. But when Sam is reported dead, Tommy gradually steps up to take care of his brother's family and make a new man of himself. The good news is, Sam isn't dead - he's just a captive of the Taliban. The bad news is, both he and his family are going through so many changes that when they ever get back together again, there's a good chance they might not fit.

Maguire has the flashy role here, going from his usual nice-guy to a gaunt, mentally-scarred vet, but Gyllenhaal is equally impressive as he goes through his own changes. Portman too is excellent as a grieving widow and mother who can't allow herself to fall apart. It's a gruelling film at times, but director Jim Sheridan strikes just the right balance to keep a glimmer of hope running throughout. It's simplistic to say that as one brother falls the other rises, but there is a balance in this film, and it's not until the hard-hitting final scenes that this balance is finally broken.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #476)

The Rebound

You know what makes The Rebound stand out in the sea of current romantic films? The way the male lead (Justin Bartha) keeps his shirt on (mostly). Disappointing though it may be for some segments of the audience, it's a sign that this particular romance is more interested in what's inside its characters than how good they look.

It's an approach that's also reflected in the relatively slow start to proceedings, as writer / director Bart Freundlich takes the time to firmly establish both our 40 year-old and newly single mother of two Sandy (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and our 24 year-old and newly single after being tricked into a Green Card marriage Aram (Bartha). While Sandy is soon starting a new life in New York , Aram - who works in the coffee shop below her new apartment - has pretty much given up on both love and life. why else would he take a job as a baby-sitter for Sandy ? Of course, feelings soon develop between the two, but will their relationship survive the age difference and the different stages they're at in life?

It's to this film's credit that you really do want to see this couple make it, thanks largely to excellent performances from Zeta-Jones and Bartha. The chemistry between them more than makes up for a fairly thin story - unfortunately, it's not quite enough to make up for a muddled ending that clearly wants to say one thing but can't really figure out how.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #476)

The Bounty Hunter

Make no mistake, there's nothing exactly wrong with the idea of basing a romantic comedy on Midnight Run - it's just that this romantic comedy based on Midnight Run is just not that good. Midnight Run, for those who don't know, is a classic 80s comedy in which a bounty hunter (Robert DeNiro) and his captive (Charles Grodin) get into a lot of pretty hilarious trouble. And it's easy to see why the idea of taking the basic concept and putting a romantic spin on it would seem like a god idea: it's a buddy movie where the buddies can fall in love. But again, here it just does not work.

It'd be easy to blame the casting, but while Jennifer Aniston does have a string of duds to her name there's no denying that she can actually do good work even decent material. The same goes for Gerard Butler, even though to date the only examples of his good work have been in straight dramas (The Ugly Truth was just plain ugly). And the story itself moves along nicely, throwing in a decent amount of twists and turns as Aniston's hard-boiled journalist finds her investigation of a suspicious suicide constantly interrupted by the need to escape out of the boot of the car of her ex-cop turned bounty hunter ex-husband (Butler) as he tries to claim the bounty for her skipping bail over an assault charge.

But the characters are mostly annoying, the jokes almost never work, there's almost no chemistry between Butler and Aniston, the overly complicated and totally predictable story never once threatens to become exciting and the whole thing feels like a chore long before the final credits. Midnight Run isn't hard to come by; if you're looking for something to watch, The Bounty Hunter proves you could do a lot worse.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #476)

Cop Out

Ok, so Cop Out looks exactly like a bad 80s buddy cop movie. But let's give the producers some credit here: they at least thought that by teaming Bruce Willis with 30 Rock's Tracy Morgan and director Kevin Smith, somehow some kind of cinematic magic would take place and all the old clapped out buddy cop cliches would magically seem fresh and new. It's not the worst idea to come out of Hollywood... unfortunately, all that results from this wishful thinking is scene after scene after scene that, while sort of entertaining individually, soon take on a dully predictable rhythm as it becomes obvious that there are no surprises whatsoever on offer here.

The story itself ticks over nicely, as Jim (Willis) and his partner Paul (Morgan) run around Brooklyn trying to retrieve Jim's fifty thousand dollar baseball card and maybe take down a Mexican crime lord on the side. At first, seeing Morgan doing his patented stream‑of‑consciousness yammering as a cop is kind of funny (the opening interrogation scene where his 'bad cop' act consists of ripped off lines from every movie ever made is pretty good), until it turns out that this movie has nothing else for him to do. Willis, on the other hand, just gets to be the same tough guy / angry dad (he's selling the baseball card so he, and not his daughter's sleazy stepfather, can pay for her wedding) that he always plays. Basically, Willis plays his Die Hard character and Morgan plays his 30 Rock character, only Cop Out is nowhere near as exciting or funny as either. The only high point is Seann William Scott as the world's most annoying cat burglar, and even his big scene is a throwaway one.

Kevin Smith does a surprisingly good job as an action director, and if – somehow – you’ve never seen a buddy cop movie before chances are you’ll have a good time here. But seriously, after twenty years of the genre, this brings nothing new to the party – which is also surprising, as you’d expect Smith to try and inject more of his style of humour into proceedings. It's doubtful any film could revive the buddy cop genre at this stage: it's just a shame Cop Out didn't try a little harder.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #476)