Thursday, May 27, 2010

Quick Takes

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

I don’t belong in the cult camp of Niels Arden Oplev’s “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”… a Swedish import based on some sort of best-selling trilogy novel (much like “Twilight” I suppose) that already has its fangs in legions of readers. I’m always so disconnected with this type of thing, so I only have the film itself to judge, and it’s a fairly compelling murder mystery that digs into some deep, dark family secrets. With its central narrative concerning the disappearance and possible murder of a beautiful, blond girl 40 years ago, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” treads on the stuff of obsessive murder-mystery-kinsmen such as David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks”, James Elroy novels or “The Black Dahlia”. Less successful is the ancillary parts of the story that deal with the torturous aspects of the titular character (Noomi Rapace) and just exactly how she comes to help journalist Mikael (Michael Nyqvist) delve into the investigation of a very powerful family. Seeing as how the alternative title for the film is “Millenium 1: Men Who Hate Women”, the lecherous ordeals of the tattooed and pierced tough girl seems a bit more central, yet still off-putting, against the more soundly realized whodunit aspect of the film. All in all, it’s well made and involving, but ultimately a bit trivial.

Robin Hood

Ridley Scott’s “Robin Hood” is a prime example of slick commercialism that fails to excite or energize. There’s nothing inherently wrong- the acting is fine… Scott can clearly direct action scenes in his sleep… the story of Robin Hood before he morphed into a pop culture reference of the great defender of the poor is compelling- yet the whole film just ceases to really satisfy. Just when it begins to take off, it sputters and leaves the viewer with an anti-climactic feeling, none more so than a scene towards the end when Scott begins what could be an amazing sweeping shot as a group of horses descends into the final battle, then safely cuts away just as the emotion of the grandeur builds.

Take Out

Sean Baker and Shih-Ching Tsou’s “Take Out” is a film of quiet beauty, employing a fly-on-the-wall immediacy as it follows the adventures of a Chinese food bike delivery man struggling to come up with the cash to pay off a loan shark. Over the course of one soggy New York afternoon and night, Ming Ding (Charles Jang) solemnly trudges from delivery to delivery while Baker and Tsou slowly ratchet up the tension into something unbearable. With every new door opening and food delivered, there’s a small slice of life revealed or different personality explored. Likewise, the banter and daily process of the small shop where the food is prepared emanates a striking portrait of the immigrant lifestyle. Highly reminiscent of the films by the Dardennes Brothers or Ramin Bahrani, “Take Out” is an uber-indie that succeeds in dutifully presenting the American experience in all its highs and lows, stretching a simple act of daily work into an earth-shattering event.

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