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Archive for March 14th, 2010

This is an update of an blog from last March about the movies of Kathryn Bigalow, at the time I was looking forward to the release of The hurt locker. I am now republishing it here as part of the LAMB’s “in the Director’s Chair” with an update to include The Hurt Locker.

Her first feature was The Loveless (co directed with Monty Montgomery) Starring Willem Dafoe as the leader of a Motorcycle gang. Made in 1982 the film was released in America but not the UK. There is a similar story with the DVD, it came out in 2004 in America but we are still waiting in the UK. Consequently I have not seen the film and can’t tell you much about it other than to say it was the début for both director and star (other than as an un-credited extra in Michael Cimino’s Heaven’s Gate) and has been described as a loose remake of The Wild One.

Her genre blending and bending horror masterpiece Near Dark has already been mention in my Vampire blog a couple of weeks ago. As I said at the time it is possibly one of the best vampire films ever made. Made in 1987 it offered a stark near realism to a normally supernatural genre, blending this with a modern western and a road movie. This was in complete contrast to other movies being made at the time such as Joel Schumacher’s teenage vampire flick The lost boys. Lance Henriksen is great as the head of the vampire family. Look out for: A young Adrian Pasdar (Nathan Petrelli in Heroes) in the lead role. In a lot of ways this is Bigalow’s best film.

Of all the films mentioned Blue Steel (1989) is probably the one that has not aged well. A stockbroker (Ron Silver) witnesses a cop (Jamie Lee Curtis) shooting a robber and becomes obsesses with her. He takes the robbers gun and starts killing people at random at the same time starting an affair with the unsuspecting cop. Jamie Lee Curtis is a good showing both a tough and vulnerable side but it is far from her best performance, the same can be said of the director!

Point Break (1991) is probably her best known film. The story of an FBI agent (Gary Busey) and his new young partner Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) who goes undercover to catch a group of surfing bank robbers. Taking surfing lessons from a local girl (Lori Petty) who turns out to be the ex girlfriend of prime suspect (Patrick Swayze). Utah quickly becomes embroiled in the culture and the people getting too deep into his cover. Does this plot sound familiar? It is remarkably similar to The Fast and the Furious (2001) but borrowing plots is nothing new! and it works better here in the original. The film is the main reason I took up surfing (it took me 12 years from when I first saw the film!) it had a similar effect of Reeve’s, he learnt to surf for the film and still surfs to this day. Don’t underestimate this as a mindless action flick or a Keanu Reeves “Dude” movie. It is a modern classic that has been much imitated and provides some of the best parts for all actors involved. Also look out for a cameo from The Red Hot Chilli Peppers as rival surfers.

Strange Days (1995) is a much underrated film. Set at the turn of the millennium, former cop Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes) turned black market dealer in an illegal new technology. He unwittingly gets involved in a web of murder and blackmail that brinks him into contact with characters from his past. Ralph Fiennes seems a strange choice for this film but is brilliant in the role but the real star of the show is Angela Bassett as a female bodyguard and friend of Lenny. The film is set on the eve of the new millennium a few years after in was made, so it is now set in the past but the near future themes are probably more relevant than ever now. Set in LA and made at a time when the riots of the 90’s were still fresh in the memory.

The Weight of Water (2000) is a very different film for Bigalow, based on a novel by Anita Shreve. The story is told in two different era’s the first is based around an actual double-murder on the Isles of Shoals in 1873. The other is set in the present day as a photographer (Catherine MaCormack) researches the murder. This is a very character driven story with little action. As you would expect there are great performances from the ever reliable Sean Penn and Sarah Polley but there is also a really good turn from the usually wooden Elizabeth Hurley. This is not a film about society like her previous films, this is a film about people and relationships. It is as if the director has taken her usual subject matter and looked at a small part of it with a microscope.

K-19: The Widowmaker (2002) is based on the true story of Russia’s first nuclear submarine. When things go wrong on the maiden voyage the crew have to prevent a nuclear disaster. The film is high on drama and tension but not on action. This is a probable reason why it sunk at the box office (sorry I couldn’t resist). When looking at the cast and the Russian Sub setting I think a lot of people expected a film more like The Hunt for Red October, this is a very different film. Taking a military setting and Communist one at that Bigalow is able to look at both individuals and the collective group making a far more intimate film than you would expect.

The Hurt Locker (2008) is by far the best movie about the war in Iraq and for me it is the first great war movie in a generation. It is also a contemporary film Platoon (1986) and Full Metal Jacket (1987) were looking back at events twenty years before. The Hurt Locker is set just a few years before it was made and during a conflict that was still going on. It is a very different film than other great war films, but it needs to be it is about a very different war to any other war fought in the past. The film doesn’t have a strong narrative, it plays out as a set of stand alone scenarios very much like the daily lives of the characters in the movie, this gives a real heightened sense of realism. Then around three quarters of the way through a plot thread appears to be developing making the film seem to lose its way, it is only when this thread doesn’t develop that you suddenly realise how important it is to the overall film. Along with the ending it perfectly but simply frames and makes sense of the film if not of the war.

Although her early work included two of my favourite movies, Point Break and Near Dark I can see that Kathryn Bigalow has matured as a director in recent years. The films she has made to get to this new found maturity have not always been successful, they haven’t always been brilliant but they have all being interesting and more importantly stepping stones to her masterpiece The Hurt Locker. She has always been a director whose films have cast a critical eye on society and more importantly the people who make up that society, when talking about the film Strange Days she said “If you hold a mirror up to society, and you don’t like what you see, you can’t fault the mirror” this is as true today as it was then and is a good way to look The Hurt Locker. There was a rumour last year that she was in line to direct the next James Bond movie, unfortunately that didn’t turn out to be true but one day maybe?

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Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I watch a lot of subtitled movies, I firmly believe that European and Asian cinema is more original inventive and interesting than most things that comes out of Hollywood. Most people tend to disagree with me taking the path of least resistance to Hollywood’s latest serving of generic crap. It therefore came as a surprise to discover how busy an afternoon screening of a two and half hour subtitled Swedish movie was. But then The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has never been conventional. Based on a novel by Stieg Larsson, although a successful journalist Larsson was unpublished as a novelist at the time of his death in 2004. His millennium trilogy was subsequently published posthumously and as of January this year has sold 26 million copies. With the film being released in the UK this week and in America next week that number is sure to rise.

Journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) has just been convicted of libel, before his prison sentence begins he is hired by aging industrialist Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) to look into the disappearance and possible murder of his niece nearly forty years earlier. Vanger’s lawyer hires computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) to look into Blomkvist before hiring him. In the meantime Salander has her own problems, for reasons that will be revealed in later films she requires a legal guardian who has a large degree of control over her life. When her existing guardian suffers a stroke she is assigned a new one who turns out to be a sadistic misogynist. As Blomkvist looks into the disappearance he discovers that the old mystery goes even deeper than first thought.

Casting Blomkvist and Salander is a near impossible task but with Noomi Rapace and Michael Nyqvist the film makers have got it spot on, something that the Hollywood remake is sure to get wrong. Salander is probably the harder of the two to characters to cast but amazingly is actually the most successful. Noomi Rapace is absolutely electrifying and impossible to take your eyes off, she really has captured the essence of the character to the extent that as a viewer you really miss her when she isn’t on screen. The strength of her character is shown in two key scenes where Blomkvist is a virtual passive bystander to her actions. Noomi Rapace has stated that she will not reprise the role in the remake, probably a wise move but Hollywood should pick this girl up, she really can act.

In comparison to the book the story is thinned out as you would expect, even at 152 minutes it wouldn’t be possible to fit an entire 533 page book into a movie. It also wouldn’t work, when people say a movie isn’t as good as the book they forget that they are different mediums and what works on the page can be tedious on the screen. Whilst the investigations moves along at a rapid pace making some of the solving of clues a little too much like Dan Brown revelations for me, some of the other changes improve on the book. Some characters have been completely omitted and those that remain have all had their part reduced making more room for Blomkvist and Salander and centre stage. The ending is wisely truncated, with around a hundred pages remaining after the main plot is resolved, there was lots going on to keep the book going that wouldn’t have worked on screen. What could so easily have become something like the end of Return of the King actually gets over all the key information from a hundred pages in just five minutes. I do worry about how changes to characters and their relationships could affect future storylines but an sure they will work them out. There are also a few scenes that come from the second book, taken out of context it is hard to be sure how much plot they give away. 

The film is often difficult to watch with images of rape and violence that are altogether more vivid on the screen than on the page. There is a moment of revenge/retribution in the movie that resulted in an audible response from many audience members, many were shocked, others amused and some sounded like they were holding back a cheer. The original Swedish title translates to Men Who Hate Women it is more pointed and actually very apt title directly relating more than one character in the story. The film did receive an 18 certificate but was passed without any cuts, it is worth remembering the most shocking and violent scenes however brutal are completely integral to the plot.

Like its source material the thing that sets the film above its competition is its great characters particularly Salander. The plot is pretty good but I fear it may be too predictable, it is hard for me to say having read the book and knowing exactly what would unfold. Comfortably the best movie I have seen so far this year, it just fails to become my first five star movie as it doesn’t quite live up to my absolute favourite films. I would however recommend it to anyone, even those who normally don’t watch subtitled movies.

Four Stars Out of Five

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