Tag Archives: Rooney Mara

David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

If you think about it, the source material for a story like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo is the perfect kind of thing for director David Fincher to have a whack at. It’s dark, kinky, and riddled with detailed clues, any of which could spell survival or a scary end for the two protagonists, and there’s an overall misanthropic edge as well. Not to say that Fincher deliberately picks dark, fucked up projects in his work, but there’s a definite gravitation towards the macabre, he has an eye for it. I love this film a lot, it’s among my favourites in his stable and I think he improved on not only the book by Stieg Larsson, but also made a better film version than the first adaptation. The original was serviceable but in a mystery like this I feel like atmosphere is key, and Fincher provides enough to get lost in. This is a story spanning decades, outlining years of dark deeds and unearthing secrets buried within secrets and as such it should feel eerie, ambient, be lit in ways that evoke the passage of time and have a soundscape that not only freaks you out but guides your focus and has you searching for clues right alongside the heroes. I feel like he definitely has those boxes solidly checked off.

Rooney Mara makes a more detached, colder Lisbeth Salander than Noomi Rapace’s hot blooded take and you could argue all night who was better in the role, but I don’t think that’s really the point. What matters is Mara is a fantastic Lisbeth, emotionally complex, seemingly shut off yet injecting pockets of warmth in where you least expect it and losing none of the caged animal or ruthless survival instinct that is so important to the character. Daniel Craig has the perfect jaded half smirk to play a guy that enters the story disgraced and surrounded by scandal, I think he rocks his role too and the chemistry between both is as tangible as the spooky Swedish ambience that Fincher turns them loose in. There’s a killer out there, one who has been operating with relative impunity for many years and right under the nose of the spectacularly dysfunctional Vanger family, whose industrialist patriarch (Christopher Plummer, excellent) enlists Craig’s help in finding the truth. His daughter went missing from their secluded island home some thirty years before as we see in dreamy flashbacks where Julian Sands steps in for Plummer. Craig’s Mikael and Mara’s Lisbeth are a pair of introverted workaholics who both come from rocky pasts and understand the kind of risk involved with this type of work, but neither are prepared for the brand of sick horrors that revolve around this mystery. Fincher carefully casts the film with impressive talent including Joely Richardson, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Yorick van Wageningen, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter, Embeth Davidzt, Alan Dale, Geraldine James and scene stealer Stellan Skarsgard as another key member of the Vanger family.

One of the most effective aspects of the film is the original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, a subtle atmospheric composition that brings on feelings of dread, unseen danger and anticipatory anxiety wonderfully. As Craig’s car snakes along the long driveway of Plummer’s extravagant yet isolated mansion, a strange warble of tubular bell style music fills the snowy air, giving off incredibly creepy vibes and in turn giving me chills every time. Fincher cranks up the dial on violence and sex about as far as one could in a Hollywood film and as such you get some deeply disturbing scenes to sit through, especially involving Lisbeth’s deranged legal guardian, who really made me question the foster system in Sweden. None of it is glorified though and all serves to tell this dark story in the most affecting way. There’s a shadowy blanket over the film, everything seems frosty and frigid thanks to the cinematography from Jeff Cronenworth, as if there’s some spell of dark magic laying over the land and protecting those hiding within it as Lisbeth and Mikael race to find them. This is a perfect tale to get transported away by, a nightmarish yet strangely picturesque mystery to get lost in like a snowy night, until you arrive at the wrong doorstep alongside our heroes and then the real thrills begin. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects

I’m usually a nut for anything that Steven Soderbergh has made, but Side Effects was a big ol’ dud. I think it had something to do with expectations, really; I was sold on a smart, scary psychological thriller that explored the unnerving fallout behaviour of trial drugs and shady products snuck into consumerism by Big Pharma. What I got turned out to be a lurid, trashy exercise in deception and Basic Instinct shenanigans, the kind of back end to a film you’d find Eric Roberts or Mark Harmon starring in on HBO back in the day. Not that that’s a bad thing per se, it was just definitely not what I expected from a filmmaker as thoughtful as Soderbergh, but I guess this was his playful side taking over the wheel in the third act. Rooney Mara plays a young woman whose husband (Channing Tatum) has just been released from prison, an event which seems to coincide with her recent depression and suicidal behaviour. Her psychiatrist (Jude Law) prescribes her an experimental new drug, likely not yet even approved by the FDA, and things go from bad to worse when she kills hubby in a freaky sleepwalking episode. The drug is shelved, Law is disgraced, the trial stops right there. End of story, right? I wish. The good doctor just has an inkling that something else is going on, something involving both Mara and another shady practitioner played by Catherine Zeta Jones. If I had some idea going in that this was inevitably going to ditch the ideas it claimed to be making a film about and get cheap and sleazy I might have been more receptive, but as is the plot gets so steamy and ridiculous I couldn’t believe I was watching the same film that I started out with. There’s a few twists too many, a lack of believable character action and and a kinky subplot that had me laughing, and not in the good way either. Hard to say much more without spoiling it, but it’s one outlandish turn of events, like a car on the way to a college conference that suddenly veers off an exit to the strip club without warning. I expected more from everyone involved.

-Nate Hill

Garth Davis’s Lion

True stories like the one Garth Davis’s Lion is based on always make affecting films, but with this one they’ve done something really special. Using narrative pacing to make the passage of years feel tangibly real, being as minimal with emotional swells to let the actors tell the story in long, careful takes and evoking meticulous mood of time and place for both India in the early 80’s and present day Australia, both vividly captured. The story this is based on is something of a miracle: One day a young boy called Saroo from a poor farming village in rural India gets separated from his brother while buying supplies, ends up on the wrong train and is carried half across the giant country to a region he doesn’t know. Lost, scared and alone, he sets out as best he can to get by, but it’s a big scary overpopulated country and fairly soon he slips through the cracks into the social services system and ends up orphaned. The beauty of the film is in its structure and pacing; for almost half of the film we see this playing out as he’s a young boy, one long hypnotic passage of time that puts you in a trance until you feel like you’re right there beside him through all of it. Flash forward twenty years or so, he has grown up into a young man played by Dev Patel, and has been adopted into a new home half across the world in Australia by a kindly couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham). Given a fresh start and a new life, he has become a successful, smart young scholar with big dreams and a bright future. Except he never, ever forgot his tiny village somewhere out there in India, and the mother, brother and sister he left behind. “I’m not from “, I’m lost” he hauntingly tells his girlfriend (Rooney Mara, excellent) who does her best to help him. So begins a complicated, frustrating and determined search to find the tiny village he once lived in, and his family. Using google earth and a host of other resources he’s able to trace his roots and the dangerous journey he took as a child, memories of which have come flooding back to him as he grows older. It’s an extraordinary story, beautifully acted and told with grace and spirit, anchored by Patel’s earnest portrayal of real life protagonist Saroo Brierley.

-Nate Hill

David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints


Downbeat yet beautifully moving, David Lowery’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was a surprise for me, a visual and emotional bouquet of muted style, lighting and music that instantly transports you to the time and place it lives in, as well as beckoning you straight into the characters’s hearts, hearts which all have the capacity for love and reverence, or the blackest of deeds. The people in this film are just that: human beings, not caricatures moulded by the written word, you feel every pang left by a violent act in both victim and perpetrator, and sit alongside them as they wade through heartbreak. A soulful Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play two outlaw lovers who cause a deafening shootout with police in the stunning prologue, both killing and wounding multiple officers. The outcome sees Affleck jailed hundreds of miles away and Mara left alone to give birth to and raise a daughter he may likely never meet. He does get out though, and meanders his way through rural Texas to find them, when trouble arrives once again, as it always does. A local policeman (Ben Foster) has grown fond of Mara, while her stern father (Keith Carradine) takes notice of Affleck’s return and bristles up real good. At it’s heart this is a tragedy, even if on the surface one sees potential for a love story. There’s a Bonnie and Clyde vibe to be sure, but it’s as if we are privy to what happens in a ‘lovers on the run’ tale after the fact itself, as if the film begins at the end of a conventional such story, and achingly shows us that happy endings simply don’t exist, especially for people like this. Now, there’s been obvious comparisons to Terence Malick’s work, which are of course somewhat warranted, but this film is it’s own beast. Brought to shimmering life by the lens of cinematographer Bradford Young and blessed with a mournful lullaby of a score from Daniel Hart, this one shakes and stirs the viewer with a gorgeous look at beauty through the crystalline prism of sorrow. 

-Nate Hill

Terrence Malick’s SONG TO SONG

It is getting more and more difficult to quantify Terrence Malick as a filmmaker, particularly with his abstract and introverted narratives with his last three features.  TO THE WONDER, KNIGHT OF CUPS, and now SONG TO SONG are a trilogy of films that are visual interpretations of fragmented memories that Malick holds within his psyche.  The picture (filmed back to back with his previous film KNIGHT OF CUPS) centers on three major characters woven within the music scene in Austin, Texas.  Rooney Mara is the wannabe musician, working her way up through the ranks of Michael Fassbender’s production company, and Ryan Gosling is a musician who falls deeply in love with Mara.  A tragic and tangled love story ensues, and we watch as these three people zigzag throughout each other’s lives.

Michael Fassbender Song to Song

The film is very much a natural progression of Malick’s previous two films.  It is as if you’re trekking through a reflection of someone’s memories.  We see prominent moments, with a slurry of small, yet important details that bridge together a kaleidoscope of a narrative.  Where KNIGHT OF CUPS was playfully sensual and very erotic, SONG TO SONG is brutally perverse at times, seeing and experiencing a very dark portrayal of sexuality.

The actors assembled are remarkable.  There are a few carryovers from KNIGHT OF CUPS, Cate Blanchett and Natalie Portman in particular, but the bulk of the cast is a new Malick ensemble.  Michael Fassbender is nasty as ever as the record producer who is without emotion.  He constantly pushes himself in transgressive ways.  He forces threesomes upon his acquired lovers, he experiments with drugs, and he undercuts anyone whose support he has gained.

Natalie Portman Song to Song

Ryan Gosling is very different than we’ve seen him in a film before.  He’s very sweet, he’s very romantic.  While he maintains his stoic cinematic image, he sheds the mystery and hamminess that we’ve become too used to.  His interactions with Rooney Mara are wonderfully beautiful.  He gives a very touching and soft performance, a clear contrast to the menace and dirtiness of Michael Fassbender.  Natalie Portman gives yet another completely vulnerable turn as a young woman distracted by Fassbender’s charm and monetary value, ultimately suffering from it.  Val Kilmer and Holly Hunter briefly show up.  Kilmer is a singer, who greatly plays off his Jim Morrison persona, and Holly Hunter is the mother of Natalie Portman’s tragic darling.

What separates this from the previous two people twirling features, is that for the first time Malick has used popular music, while still using classical numbers.  Del Shannon’s RUNAWAY was prominently featured in the trailer and in an important scene in the film.  Along with his use of popular music, the film also features cameos from the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Rotten,  a significant scene between Michael Fassbender and Iggy Pop, and a narrative affecting performance from Patti Smith who acts as a mentor to Rooney Mara.

Ryan Gosling Song to Song

The collaboration between Malick and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is a pairing that is cinematic nirvana.  It’s a match that tends to not be talked about nearly as much as it should be.  The picture looks and feels organic, it doesn’t look like a movie, nor does it feel emulated; it is real life.

If you haven’t been with Malick on his last two pictures, it would be difficult to recommend this film to you.  Yet the film is powerfully filled with beautiful and transgressive emotions.  The film is an experience, it’s as unorthodox as one might think.  The film is challenging, it is an experience that is worthy of anyone’s attention.  If that album cover of Pink Floyd’s WISH YOU WERE HERE were a film, it would be SONG TO SONG.

 

STEVEN SODERBERGH’S SIDE EFFECTS — A REVIEW BY NICK CLEMENT

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Side Effects is a slick, smart, and deceptively layered thriller from Steven Soderbergh and writer Scott Z. Burns, who before this under the radar gem crafted the irreverent comedic masterwork The Informant! Side Effects is an extremely stylish head game that loves toying with the audience at all times, and it also happens to be very sexy, which is something that Soderbergh isn’t routinely known for; this is one of the more juicy and nervy offerings from this most eclectic filmmaker. Rooney Mara was absolutely terrific (not to mention disturbingly hot) and Jude Law was the perfect chump to get pulled into her web of potential deceit with possibly dangerous ramifications. The entire cast shines due to an unpredictable narrative that makes your head spin during the final reel, and as usual for Soderbergh, the film is just as interesting for what it doesn’t do than for what it does do. Upending conventions is Soderbergh’s typical stock in trade, and while this film was marketed as one thing, it really was something totally different than what had been suggested or what might be expected. This is one to watch again and again in order to fully appreciate all of the cinematic sleight of hand on display; it’s Soderbergh’s ode to Hitchcock. Also, Vinessa Shaw, as usual, was fantastic – she needs more work!

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