Spoiler Warning

Always assume Spoilers and possible profanity in context. These are often adult themed movies.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Wrestler

What if you had one thing in the world that you were great at doing, and then you were told you couldn't do it anymore? That's the question at the heart of "The Wrestler" I've heard director Darren Aronofsky compare it to writing, but it could be anything. For this movie we can say that wrestling is what Randy "The Ram" Robinson (Mickey Rourke) feels he was put on earth to do.

While the movie occurs in present day, it lives quite heavily in the '80's, opening with a collage of Ram centric headlines, back when the WWF was the biggest thing going. Ram was a superstar with his own action figure and everything. Nowadays he wrestles in high school gymnasiums and gets kicked out of his trailer on a regular basis for not paying the rent on time. He's addicted to pain pills and has to work a day job at a grocery store for a boss who clearly delights in making sport of him.

Despite the limited crowds for over the hill and beginning wrestlers, Ram and his fellow wrestlers go all out to put on a great show. Whatever indignities his real life offers, the applause and adulation of the crowd make up for. He's also very attached to a stripper in a similar situation, Cassidy (Marissa Tomei) He sees her on a regular basis, and he seems as into conversation as he is into lap dances. Having no other real relationships in his life, Cassidy is as close as it gets.

The Ram is a heavy steroid user, a habit which catches up with him after many years. After one ridiculously tough and bloody bout, he collapses in the locker room with a heart attack and wakes up in the hospital. His doctor tells him that he is not to take steroids or wrestle any more as his heart can't take it.  He takes this in stride at first, planning to retire, but realizing that he doesn't have much of a life to retire to, he reaches out to Cassidy, who despite some real affection, can't get past the customer/performer barrier.

He decides to look up the daughter, (Evan Rachel Wood) whose life he's been absent from since she was small. While it's clear she despises him, he does manage to break through her defenses and share a moment with her. He also takes on more hours at work and tries to setlle into the idea that his life is different now. We soon discover that, like many exceptionally talented people, the Ram's secondary great talent is destroying everything in his life that isn't wrestling, and that the world is not as predictable as a wrestling match. As great as he is at wrestling, he's that bad at life outside of it. When the prospect of revisiting his most famous match comes up, he has to choose which side he's on. As much as you wish he could be happy working at the grocery store, building new and repairing damaged relationships, the character makes us question if that's possible. What if wrestling is the only thing that makes him worthwhile?  What then would be a happy ending?

While the story is a metaphor, Aronofsky understands that for a metaphor to work it has to be authentically the thing itself, in this case it has to really be a story about a wrestler. To that end, he doesn't skimp on the detail, filming what appear to be real matches, using real wrestlers. (be advised there are some gruesome scenes) Combined with the documentary style filming, we feel that this may at times be a behind the scenes look at the wrestling world. We see not only the matches including the blood, but the all but deserted autograph tables, where the ex-greats sell their videos and autograph pictures displaying their wounds and colostomy bags. The locker room scenes, where the same wrestlers who beat each other mercilessly in the ring plan out the beatings together backstage carry a strong sense of brotherhood fell completely authentic.The world of wrestlers and ex wrestlers isn't a pretty one here, but neither is the world of the grocery store, where his manager gets pleasure from watching The Ram squirm. The realistic style adds to the sensation that these are not actors but real people we're watching. 

One remarkable thing in this film is the kindness and gentle spirit which the Ram maintains. Despite his many failures and constant threats of irrelevance, he plays his part for the most without complaint. The only times we see anger in him are when some young clients insult Cassidy, (over her age, perhaps hitting close to home) and when he's had enough of working the deli counter, although even there he has to borrow from his wrestling theatricality to manage an outburst. Much was made of this role being Rourke's "comeback," and it's easy to see why. We watch him hurt, bleed, screw up, and endure so convincingly that Rourke may as well be the character. He's a screw up that knows he's a screw up and the only thing that could save him is his talent. His weathered face tells us more about his character than any amount of acting lessons.

Marisa Tomei's commitment is also impressive, playing her part without any safety net. It's an interesting thing to see Rourke and Tomei both playing such physical performers, giving so much physical commitment to their parts. It really drives the reality of it home, that they work in fields which require youth, while being daily reminded that this is fading. While in my opinion, the love interest angle (one scene in particular) was the only part that strained my suspension of disbelief, it made perfect sense in terms of the story. Aronofsky also does an interesting thing, using music from the '80's throughout, to build the idea that the Ram is living in the past. He also got an original song, The Wrestler, from Bruce Springsteen, which closes out the movie in somber and moving effect. If you listen to the song, you get the whole story.

So if you can't do the the thing you love, the one thing you're great at, then what do you do? Can you live with that or is it worth giving everything. That's the question considered here. You may not like the way it's answered, but I thought it was profound, satisfying and honest.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Top Ten Anti Heroes

It always amazes me how many of our memorable modern lead characters are anti heroes, which is a main reason I started writing a blog about them. (That and the fact that I tend to enjoy such movies more than others) It seems to me that the hero has been all but replaced by his darker more complicated relation. We live much safer daily lives than we ever have, but as we get safer, our heroes get darker. 

Certainly we're more secure now than ever and any threats to our security are handled by government agencies, which isn't an altogether bad thing perhaps. But why do we still have such an attraction to these characters seeking justice on the outskirts of the law, or challenging the system for their own reasons? Is it a fear of losing our individuality, the thrill of excitement or something else entirely? Has Jesse James evolved into Tyler Durden? And if he has, why do we need him?

With that thought in mind and having run into many top ten lists recently, I decided to try my own. Keep in mind, it may be completely different tomorrow as there are so many great characters are out there. (Right off the top of my head, Travis Bickle, Snake Plissken, D-FENS) For the purposes of this list, the anti hero may certainly be a criminal, but doesn't include any outright villians (which is sometimes a matter of opinion) Even so, for every character included, there were probably three more I considered. Feel free to let me know your thoughts on my picks and tell me your own favorites. You're also welcome to discuss it on the new Facebook fan page which you'll see on the right.

10) William Munny (Clint Eastwood, The Unforgiven)

(Full review here)

William Munny has hung up his guns and successfully retired. The assassin in him never went away however, and the honest life leaves him struggling. When he hears a proposition to kill again for a "good cause" he has a hard time passing it up. He's "lucky when it comes to killin" but that's not really a blessing, and some things in life come harder. This is not a new character for Eastwood, as Munny could be a character from any of his earlier films, but this is him a little further down the road.

9) Jimmy Ringo (Gregory Peck, The Gunfighter)

Jimmy Ringo is tired. After a hard life of being the fastest gun alive he wonders if he could change his ways and find a little peace. Maybe, he thinks, he can be a husband and father and forget about his guns. However, a reputation that long and hard earned can't just be forgotten. Ringo's final scene looks like a man finally going to sleep after a long long day. And he proves that even if you shoot him in the back, he'll get his revenge. Sometimes being the best isn't what you think it is.

8)Walker (Lee Marvin, Point Blank)
(12 Reasons Why Lee Marvin Kicks Ass In Point Blank)

An unstoppable force of nature, so efficient you have to wonder if he's supernatural. You never wonder if Walker will get his revenge, even if he has to swim home while bleeding  from Alcatraz.  Betrayed by his wife and best friend, shot and left for dead, it might be enough to make some people give up, but it just makes Walker angry.

7) Hank Quinlan (Orson Welles, Touch of Evil)
(Full Review Here)

Although Charlton Heston is a bit hard to take seriously in his role. Welles' Hank Quinlan is the real star of the story. Sure he takes liberties getting criminals convicted, trusting his hunches enough to plant evidence if need be. Yeah he's pretty corrupt, and his methods force you to cringe, but what if he's always right? As we delve into his character, the corrupt cop character reveals more layers. And when he dies you may not like him but you can certainly agree that he was "some kind of man."

6) Philip Marlowe (Humphrey Bogart, The Big Sleep)

The quintessential wiseassed, hard-boiled private detective. He can't seem to stay out of trouble, but neither does it seem to worry him. Even if no one can figure out what exactly happened, he always looks like he's got it under control (unless Lauren Bacall is involved) All the women love him, and all the men worry about him. Bogart was the master of this character and we haven't seen anyone quite like him sense.

5) Jesse James (Brad Pitt, The Assassination of Jesse James by that Coward Robert Ford)

(Full Review Here)

Jesse James isn't the star of the show, but he's big enough to be. He's present even when you don't see him, which is fitting because James himself has left a similiar mark on our culture. One of the most celebrated anti heroes that ever lived, his character has been used in many films. He remains an anti hero who is larger than life and undoubtedly enduring.

4) Leon (Jean Reno, The Professional)

(Full Review Here)

As the title suggests, Leon is a true professional. He's not flashy and doesn't care about the wisecracks. He does his job and you'll never see him coming or going (unless you're about to die.) He's content with a self contained existence and reluctant to interfere in other's affairs, until a little girl's troubles force him to get involved with humanity again. And of course, once he's involved, he doesn't settle for half measures. Reno gives a tremendously powerful and compassionate performance which will leave Leon in your head for years.

3) The Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel, Bad Lieutenant)

(Full Review Here)

A cop who lost his way a long time ago and has no idea how to get back. He tries every vice imaginable and of course only gets more lost daily. He knows he's broken but can't fix it. Knowing he's worse than the worst criminal he arrests, he's constantly tortured and actively self destructive. It would take something pretty drastic to get through his constant agony and find anything good in him, and you have to wonder what could be enough?

2) Cool Hand Luke. (Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke)

(Full Review Here)

Luke embodies the spirit of the anti hero to me. Although he isn't the toughest guy around or the smartest, he is the most stubborn. He can't abide his spirit being crushed for no good reason and has to resist even if it kills him. He doesn't need a reason to resist, he'd love you to give him a reason not to, though force doesn't qualify. Luke's rebellion is just saying no.

1) Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt, Fight Club)

(Full Review Here)

What if you woke up and realized that what's been sold to you your whole life isn't really working, but you're so locked into your life that you can't even admit it? What if the life which you thought kept you safe really kept you from being alive? If you lived in the world of Fight Club, you might develop a Tyler Durden to force you to face this.  A unique role and movie that continues to grow in relevance.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

The movie opens with an elderly man opening a package, containing a wreath and a picture of a young girl. The package starts him sobbing. This sets up the movie perfectly as everyone in it is working on solving the past. This is a Swedish Film, so subtitles are at work. It should also be mentioned that while it's based on the novel The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson, the original name of the movie (and book) was "Men Who Hate Women"
We are next introduced to Mikael Blomkvist, (Michael Nyqvist) the publisher of Millenium magazine who has just been found guilty of libel against businessman Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Blomkvist accused Wennerstrom of gun running and other felonies. The verdict is controversial, as Blomkvist has a reputation for journalistic fearlessness and integrity among the public, yet he is sentenced to three months in prison and a fine paid to Wennerstrom.

Outside the courthouse, reporters ask Blomkvist, "What's it like to be found guilty." Blokvist reveals his stoicism and sense of humor by answering, "Fantastic."
His employees at Millenium, talk with him afterwards on Christmas night, about appealing the verdict. Blomkvist tells them, he's not appealing because he wants it to be over for the sake of the magazine. One of them suggests that he take a leave until the furor is over and Blomkvist agrees. He leaves to be followed by Erika, his lover (who is married). He explains that he hasn't been able to write and that he knows he was set up. They are clearly very familiar to each other and very close to embracing. They don't know that someone is taking pictures of their moment from just out of sight.

We are then introduced to Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace) a young woman dressed entirely in black in her hotel room downloading pictures of Blomkvist. The next morning Lisbeth is called into a meeting at the research firm she works for. Apparently the client, Dirche Frode, paying for her research work on Blomkvist is very important to the firm. Surprised by looking through her research and finding Blomkvist's text messages, emails, and bank statements, he asks her how she got these things. Lisbeth simply answers, "You order the goods, and I deliver them." He then asks Lisbeth for her opinion on Blomkvist and she tells him it's in the report. The client asks if Blomkvist has secrets, and how he'll be affected financially by the Millenium situation. Lisbeth just refers him to the report. He pushes for her personal opinion, and she finally adds that she thinks Blomkvist was set up and didn't use fake evidence in the Wennerstrom case.
Blomkvist spends some time with his sister's family, talking about the verdict and his coming prison time, when Dirche Frode (who'd just hired Lisbeth to research Blomkvist) calls to tell him about someone who wants to hire him. Blomkvist tells him to call Millenium after New Year's, but he's insistent. He says the client is Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) of The Vanger Group, a very powerful and well known company. Blomkvist replies that it's Christmas and Frode assures him he'll find it interesting. Frode drives him to an estate on a secluded island where Henrik lives with only his housekeeper, although once he had a large family there.

Henrik is the old man from the beginning, and he shows Blomkvist the picture, explaing that it's a picture of his brother Gottfried's daughter, Harriet Vanger. He tells Blomkvist that he's met her. Blomkvist's father worked for the Vanger's many years ago and while his father worked, his mother used to bring him to the Vanger's for visits. He produces a picture of Blomkvist as a little boy with his mother and Harriet smiling next to them.Harriet used to watch him while his mother visited. Henrik points out the water where they used to play. He soon remembers. Henrik never had children and thought of Harriet as a daughter and goes on to explain that he believes she was killed. Producing a photo of his large family at a board meeting, he explains his distaste for them all, believing that one of them killed her. When Blomkvist asks how she murdered, Henrik explains that she disappeared and no one knows. Henrik fills Blomkvist in on details of the day of her disappearance thoroughly, as he's examined it for thirty years.

Lisbeth meanwhile gets a call from her probation officer informing her that she has a new guardian as her last one had a stroke. She has to meet with him and he quickly makes some changes including taking control of her finances. She claims that her work for Milton Securities is making coffee and photocopies. He explains that her pay will now have to go into his account and she'll have to get her money from him other than a small amount every month. He then asks her personal questions about her nose ring, boyfriend's and sexual activity. When she won't answer he threatens to write down that she's uncooperative. He then persists in asking sexual questions like How many men she has had sex with. She responds, "2, ...200,...2,000,... 200,000." He continues asking inappropriate questions and she walks out.

Blomkvist and Henrik continue going over the disappearance. Henrik explains that Harriet used to give him a framed flower every year for his birthday and shows him a room in the attic full of these flowers, as he continued to get them every year from all over the world. Henrik believes that her killer sends them, believing his family is that cruel. Harriet's murder would give this person more power in the Vanger Group and knowing she was his favorite, sending flowers would be a perfect way to rub the wound and crush Henrik.

Henrik tells Blomkvist that he's familiar with his career and knows he's a great reporter. He says he doesn't expect him to solve the case, but at least to try in the six months before his prison sentence, for which he'll pay him very well. Back at the Millenium office, Blomkvist is confronted by Erika about his resignation. She's angry that he didn't discuss it with her. He maintains that only he could decide that. She is also upset that he'll be staying with Henrik, which means she won't see him. She leaves upset.

Although her job is finished, Lisbeth continues looking at her research on Blomkvist, and from her home computer connects to his laptop, taking full control of it but finding no new activity. She leaves and is brutally attacked by some random thugs for bumping into one of them accidentally. She attacks them back as brutally, cutting one of them and scaring them off with a broken bottle she clearly has no issue with using. In the attack her laptop was damaged and she's lucky to save the hard drive.

Blomkvist gets setlled at Vanger's estate, taking quarters away from the main house. Henrik provides him with boxes of materials related to Harriet's case. Blomkvist starts researching on his laptop computer, finding lots of unpleasant information on the Vangers. Henrik mentions Harald, who he despises, but has his own house on the estate. Blomkvist mentions that Henrik's brothers, Richard and Harald Vanger were both part of a Nazi group and Gottfried was a member of the Hitler Youth, all three becoming Nazis. Of the three, only Harald is alive. Blomkvist then meets Martin Vanger, Harriet's brother who is in charge of the Vanger group after Henrik. Henrik explains that his brother Gottfried (Harriet and Martin's father) was a miserable alcoholic, and their mother, Isabella, was the worst mother imaginable. That's why he took Martin and Harriet under his wing. Blomkvist asks Henrik who he suspects, to which he answers, "nobody and everybody, that's where you come in." Blomkvist posts pictures of all the Vangers on a wall deciding where to start. He starts poking around the estate and runs into Cecilia Vanger.

Prompted by Harriet's diary, Blomkvist checks out Gottried's cottage on the estate.He finds her Bible there and runs into Cecilia Vanger who tells him that Harriet spent a lot of time there, which was odd, as her father Gottfried died there, falling into the lake while drunk to be found dead the next morning the year before Harriet disappeared. He tells Cecilia that he thought she lived far away and Cecilia replies "I had to come home to hide Harriet's body." Back at his cottage, he discovers a code in Harriet's diary. He then questions the Morrell, the detective who was in charge of the case. Morell tells him there's nothing to find. He says Blomkvist that Harriet was his first case and he's thought about it every day since, only lettign it go now because he's about to retire. He urges Blomkvist to give it up.

Lisbeth meanwhile starts looking through the information on Blomkvist's computer. This is very difficult for her as she is using her friend's computer since her laptop was damaged. Frustrated, she goes to see her guardian to get money for a new computer. He insists that he can't just give her the money (although it is her own money) He closes the blinds, slaps her and tells her that if she gives him trouble he'll see to it that she spends life behind bars. He coerces her to give him oral sex to get her money, and afterwards only gives her half of what she asked for. She lets it go for the moment, not wanting to get herself in trouble.

Blomkvist finds another photograph from the day of the accident, which he thinks indicates more about the killer.Henrik is excited as it's their first new information in thirty years. Blomkvist, over coffee with Cecilia and Martin Vanger, tells them he hasn't found anything.They ask about the Wennerstrom case and he explains that he had all kinds of sources, until he wrote his story and they all disappeared and the documents they provided turned out to be forged. Cecilia walks him to his quarters and makes an advance, which he turns down, she assumes because of his case.

Lisbeth goes back to her guardian for money and tells him "I won't suck your dick every time I need money." He attacks her, cuffing her to the bed and raping her. She gets home badly hurt and we learn that she had videotaped the whole incident.

Blomkvist finds more information in the photographs, leading him to talk to a woman who had honeymooned on the island with her husband and taken snapshots. As he goes over them, Lisbeth, goes to meet her guardian again. This time she tases, strips and restrains him. She then rapes him with an object and kicks him. She shows him the video and makes him watch it before returning and telling him that they'll have a new arrangement giving her control of her finances. She also tells him to never contact her again or the tape goes to press and police. She then tattoos "I'm a Sadist Pig and Rapist"on his chest before going out to buy her new computer equipment. She goes back to Blomkvist's files and realizes that the codes are biblical references. She then e-mails the information to Blomkvist using the name Wasp.

One passage refers to Leviticus, and deals with bestiality, requiring both woman and animal to be put to death. Another is an instruction to put a medium to death, all are sacrifices. He runs to tell Henrik who has collapsed due to a heart attack. Frode is at the hospital and tells Blomkvist he should continue his search. He tells Frode that he got an e-mail containing his own files. Frode remembers Lisbeth's research and Blomkist is soon at Lisbeth's door. She wakes up next to a girlfriend to hear Blomkvist pounding on the door. She tries to close it but relents when he mentions his proof of her hacking his computer. He asks Lisbeth to help him. She declines but he suggests that her sending a traceable e-mail, despite knowing better as a professional hacker, might indicate she wants to be involved. He brings Lisbeth back to the estate and she starts picking everything apart. Using Harriet's code they find another unsolved murder nearby from the same time period. They get the details from a resident who confirms that the woman was killed as well as some animals nearby, tying it in to the Bible verse mentioned by Harriet.

Blomkvist is surprised at Lisbeth's proficiency, realising that she has perhaps a photographic memory. Some of Lisbeth's past is revealed while she sleeps in the car with Blomkvist driving. She dreams of herself as a little girl lighting a match and starting a large fire, then staring into it. He tries to wake her and she, startled almost attacks him. He clearly isn't sure what he's dealing with as she remains angry although insisting that she's okay. They sleep in a hotel in separate rooms, leaving for the estate the next morning. On the way back, they connect unsolved murders to each of Harriet's code entries.

Returning, Lisbeth realizes that someone has been in their room by picking up almost imperceptible differences in the pictures and objects around the room.Blomkvist, astounded that she realized this, asks if she has a photographic memory. This upsets her, although he doesn't know why, not considering that her memory is not always a gift, since her memories are traumatic. He makes a point of telling her he thinks it's wonderful. He leaves her to herself and goes to bed and is surprised when she wakes him and initiates sex. She keeps control and leaves promptly after her own orgasm. Blomkvist is a little surprised, perhaps expecting her to stay in bed with him.

At breakfast, neither acknowledges the incident, although Blomkvist can't supress a little smile.He tells her he's going to update Henrik, and she declines to go as she hates hospitals.Henrik suggests that he contact Morrell, the police detective. Morrell points out that the man who committed the murders must be very old which reduces the suspect list. The Vanger's call Blomkvist in for a meeting, confronting him with a headline in the paper about "his young girlfriend" They claim that this makes the Vanger Group look bad and encourage him to give up his work. Frode reminds them that he has a contract and can't quit while Henrik is alive. Blomkvist recognizes a necklace that Cecilia's wearing from an old memory and confronts her. Cecilia claims it was her sister Anita's (Harriet's best friend) necklace.

This points out to Lisbeth that Harriet and Anita looked a lot alike and one of their pictures turns out to be Anita, when they though it was Harriet which means she wasn't necessarily at the house on the day of her disappearance as Henrik thought. Blomkvist is soon shot at while running through the woods. When Blomkvist suggests calling the police, Lisbeth threatens to leave and he changes his mind. He talks to Morell, who suggests he leave, which Blomkvist again refuses to do. Lisbeth meanwhile has installed hidden cameras all around the cottage.

That night Blomkvist goes to bed in Lisbeth's bed and she questions him about it.
Lisbeth: What are you doing?
Blomkvist: Sorry?
Lisbeth: Go to sleep in your own bed
Blomkvist:I want to be close to you.
Lisbeth: (thinking for a moment) Fine. But I want to sleep.
After a moment he starts talking to her.
Blomkvist: What has happened to you? How did you turn out this way? You know everything about me. I don't know shit about you. Not a damn thing.
Lisbeth: That's the way it is.

Morrell knocks at the door in the morning, waking them with news that he's found the last murder. It turns out the woman was Gottfried Vanger's secretary. Since Gottfried died too before the disappearance, they don't suspect him, but Morrell suggests that she knew other members of the family. They realize that the victims were also all Jewish, which makes sense with the Nazi connections in the Vanger familt. They conclude that Harriet was killed for discovering the pattern. As Harald is the last surviving Nazi, they start looking at him. Blomkvist breaks into Harald's place at night while Lisbeth runs to the library to look for financial records linking Harald to the murder locations. Harald surprises Blomkvist in the dark with a shotgun. Martin shows up just in time to defuse the situation and brings Blomkvist back to his place.

Lisbeth discovers that Gottfried was in the murder locations, not Harald as well as a disturbing photograph. Blomkvist tells Martin what they've discovered as well as the fact that Lisbeth is looking through the records. Martin say he'll call the police and leaves the room. He then thinks to ask Martin why he was at Harad's, but finds Martin has stuck him in the neck with a sedative and is soon unconscious.Martin reveals that he's taken over his father's work, and that his father taught him how to strangle a girl. Lisbeth races back from the library. She spots Martin on her camera.

Martin details his depravities and toys with Blomkvist who is still sedated. He starts a winch designed to hang him while Lisbeth hopes to find them in time to save Blomkvist. She arrives at the last moment beating Martin with a golf club and freeing Blomkvist while Martin escapes. Lisbeth chases his car and Martin panicks losing control of his vehicle and tumbling down an embankment. He ends up trapped in the car upside down with fuel dripping all over. He begs Lisbeth for help and as as part of the car catches fire, we see more of the childhood memory she had dreamt earlier. This time we see the little girl running out of her house with a canister full of some accelerant, which she douses her father with and throws a match, watching sternly as he burns without looking away. Martin's car burns up while she watches and she runs back to meet Blomkvist, who has found pictures of Martin's murders. Upset when she hears police sirens, she informs Blomkvist that Martin died in a car accident and they don't know anything.

Blomkvist later asks for details on Martin's death. She admits she could have saved him, but let him burn. Having difficulty accepting the idea, as well as in pain from his injuries, He lies down and Lisbeth joins him.
He tells her that he wouldn't have done it, but understands why she did and ultimately he's just glad she's there. This moves her to say thank you and she displays tenderness for the first time.

Blomkvist informs Henrik, now out of the hospital, that Martin didn't kill Harriet. When he returns to the cottage he finds Lisbeth gone with a note on the last details of the mystery which he follows up.

Lisbeth visits a mental hospital to see her mother who she's afraid won't recognize her. She soon does though and they have a conversation about Lisbeth's father which reveals that he was abusing Lisbeth's mother and not Lisbeth.

Blomkvist concludes his business with Henrik, filling in all the remaining details. He then turns himself in to serve his sentence. He's told he has a visitor, and it turns out to be Lisbeth with a bag full of papers for him. "Reading material" she tells him, which turns out to be evidence against Wennerstrom which he uses to accuse him again in Millenium. Now free, he sees a news report that Wennerstrom committed suicide and a large amount of his money was wired to an offshore bank. An unidentified woman was caught on a surveillance camera at Wennerstrom's place, who Blomkvist recognizes as a disguised Lisbeth. Blomkvist smiles.

Be advised that this movie is a good 2.5 hours long, and most of that is devoted to characterization. That being said, if solid and complex character work grabs you, you'll be very pleased with this. The thing that I found most remarkable was that it took the traditional guy/girl partnership and spun it on it's ear. Lisbeth's character refuses to be a victim in any way. While she certainly suffers a great deal, she doesn't stop moving forward. She even anticipates the possibility of her own rape and plans in such a way that she gets revenge and clears an obstacle from her life. In the Lisbeth/Blomkvist pairing, Lisbeth is the ultra competent one, making the discoveries and saving the day.

While Blomkvist is capable in his own right, he is the more emotional one of the two, due to Lisbeth's extreme need for distance. He spends a great deal of time being amazed by her skill, and while no slouch himself is always a few steps behind her. While they come from morally very different places, Blomkvist struggles to understand her and accepts that those differences are legitimate. He desires to be close to her, while she has no frame of reference for that, falling back to the more typically male stance, "don't fall in love." She even uses him for sex and promptly gets out of bed when she's finished. She can fight like a man, sending some punks who attack her running to avoid getting hurt.  Still Blomkvist clearly means something to her and the few displays of tenderness are remarkable given the character of Lisbeth at the start of the film.

Lisbeth is alluring to him not in a cheescake induced physical way, but more as an emotional mystery which he wants to understand. While she doesn't hide her femininity, she doesn't accentuate it either, perhaps living more in her mind than her physicality. He finds her beautiful in the most idealized of ways, his fascination centered on how little he knows. Lisbeth only wants to be understood, but is smart enough to know that this is very unlikely if even possible, given her extraordinary mind. She gets some gratification from an effort being made, as even that appears foreign to her. Noomi Rapace gives a flawless portrayal, making Lisbeth a fascinating enigma. It's also notable that no matter how competent Lisbeth and Blomkvist are, they are both subject to the whims of an oppressive system, only stepping outside their constraints at great cost to themselves.

As far as the film itself is concerned, Niels Arden Oplev, keeps things very dark and gritty. He doesn't conceal much, leaving every line in his character's faces evident. His world is not romanticized in the least, whether presenting an ugly naked man being forcibly tattooed, or Blomkvist throwing up in shock from a narrowly missed shotgun blast. Every flaw is celebrated and as a result the characters feel more broken and fallible. This is a mystery that serves as a reason to develop it's characters and establish a mood. Presumably it's the first part of a trilogy and an upcoming American remake directed by David Fincher. It's perfectly satisfying as a stand alone piece though, and I only hope that the next chapters are as compelling as this one.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Punch Drunk Love

Punch Drunk Love is a great example of perfect casting. Adam Sandler's character, Barry Egan, feels like a natural extension of the characters Sandler has played in the past; the good hearted, immature, prone to outbursts, character he's played in his own films.

Barry is just a little different though, while still immature and socially inept, he strives at all costs to maintain a calm environment. Barry is busy running his own business, which is one aspect of his life that satisfies him. Initially, director Paul Thomas Anderson accentuates Barry's introversion with colors and sounds, focusing on cool blues, in Barry's suit jacket and heavily throughout the background. The beginning also starts out with almost no background noise, only the sounds of what actually occurs.

Barry is on the phone with the representative of a food company which is offering airline miles for proof of purchases. Barry can't help but obsess over the details of the promotion, realizing that the prize is worth more than the purchase. He clearly derives satisfaction from exercising control over small aspects of his life. He attempts to keep everything ordered and controllable., with clear terms and conditions.

However, Barry's first day here is not ordinary. It starts out with Barry walking outside his warehouse/office early in the morning to witness a car crashing out of control, on the otherwise empty street, followed by a taxi stopping to drop a harmonium on the street and then speeding off. This is soon followed up by Lena Leonard (Emily Watson)  parking her car in a rush to get somewhere and asking Barry to keep an eye on it. Barry is uncomfortable talking to her but quickly agrees to help her. Lena's appearance introduces more color to the film, her bright orange dress practically burns up the screen contrasted with Barry's deep blue jacket.

Once Lena leaves, Barry can't help but grab the harmonium still enchanted by it's appearance. He runs it into his warehouse as if being chased. The background music starts as Barry toys with it. He's soon interrupted when his employee, Lance (Luis Guzman) show up, opening the overhead door and starling Barry with the bright sunlight breaking into his serene world. A source of anxiety is soon exposed as Barry tries to deal with customers, while his seven sisters continually call to interrupt. They all speak abusively, trying to make sure he'll be at their party in the evening.

Barry is clearly bothered by the party, his seven sisters pressing him on how they used to call him"gayboy" He tries to avoid confrontations as much as possible, although at one point he realizes he's been walking around carrying a hammer for no apparent reason. When they ask him teasingly if he's still gay. He can only respond by mumbling "I don't know." They don't let up, teasing him relentlessly. Barry finally has an outburst and kicks some glass doors to pieces. Afterwards, he asks his brother in law Walter for help.
Barry: I wanted to ask you something because you're a doctor... I don't like myself sometimes. Can you help me?
Walter: Barry, I'm a dentist. What kind of help do you think I could give you?

Barry soon decides to relieve his loneliness by calling a 900 line to talk to a girl. He isn't very interested in talking dirty, although the girl, "Georgia" keeps pushing in that direction. He insists on a fake name and keeping everything confidential. He rebuffs every sexual innuendo as if he just wants to hear a woman's voice.  He does tell the girl that he has a girlfriend, and tells her he's doing well in business. He tells her "You sound very nice... and personable..." She calls him back the next morning as he's about to leave for work asking him for money. When he says he can't afford it, she continues pushing, even threatening to call back and talk to his girlfriend and reminding him that she has his credit card information. He quickly cancels his card at the office, eliciting escalating threatening phone calls. The music grows more frantic in the background as if to mimic Barry's state.

One of Barry's sister's arrives, with Lena, who it turns out is a friend she had wanted Barry to meet. Lena needs to pick up her car and his sister asks Barry to go to breakfast with them. Barry declines, presumably not wanting to make an impression on someone with his sister present.Barry shuffles harrassing phone calls, his sister pressuring him, and Lena trying to chat with him. In the warehouse, the workers start dropping things from the fork lift, adding to the chaos. Lena says she's going to Hawaii, and Barry mentions that he was thinking of going there too, thinking of his flier miles. Sensing how busy he is Lena and Barry's sister leave, but Lena turns around once his sister leaves and asks Barry out to dinner. Georgia, angered that he keeps hanging up, tells him that it's war now.

Georgia's boss, Dean Trumbell (Philip Seymour Hoffman) thinking Barry is rich, sends some guys out to visit Barry. Trumbell is  a total sleaze, who even cheats the guys he's sending out when they question him about changing their agreement for payment, he responds, "When it doesn't make sense think about it from a fair dealing sense." He directs them to "hit him at his house first."

Barry and Lena are out to dinner. Lena admits that she staged dropping her car off in order to meet him. They seem to hit it off well and Barry struggles through his difficulty, even telling jokes to her and letting her in on the pudding promotion (which he doesn't want people to become aware of as it might end the promotion) Lena relates a story Barry's sister told about him throwing a hammer through a glass door. This prompts Barry to go to the bathroom. While he's there he destroys the bathroom and is confronted by the manager on returning to the table. He pulls Barry to the side and asks him to leave while Lena waits at the table. They talk more as Barry drives her home,and she tells him as he leaves her apartment that she'll be back in a few days. She then calls for Barry at the front desk of her building, catching him just before he leaves, sending him running back up for a kiss.

Arriving home, Barry gets jumped by Trumbell's guys, who abduct him and bring him to an ATM. He withdraws $500.00 and one of them says "this is what you get for being a pervert." When Barry tries to set the record straight, explaining that he declined to help Georgia, one of the guys punches him and knocks him to the ground. Barry takes off running, although they chase him. He runs wildly through alleys for a while and running down the street, they pull up beside him in a truck and remind him that they know where he lives, before driving off.  Barry decides he's going to go to Hawaii to get away. He enlist Lance to help him buy more pudding to get enough miles to go. The pudding company, however informs him that processing takes 6-8 weeks prompting Barry to punch a wall and break down sobbing. Barry decides to pay for the trip himself, leaving Lance in charge with a reminder not to tell his sisters.

Barry arrives in Hawaii and asks his sister where Lena is staying. His sister browbeats him about it and he finally stands up for himself, threatening her.. He finds Lena, they meet and have a wonderful time together. He finally opens up to her, admitting he beat up the bathroom and expressing his affection uniquely:
Barry: I'm lookin' at your face and I just wanna smash it. I just wanna fuckin' smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You're so pretty.
Lena: I want to chew your face, and I want to scoop out your eyes and I want to eat them and chew them and suck on them.
Barry: OK. This is funny. This is nice.
Lena even takes a call from Barry's sister with Barry listening, keeping up with the pretense that he isn't there. Before leaving Hawaii, Barry leaves a message with Georgia's machine that he wants his money back. Lena asks if she can go home with Barry when they return and he agrees, forgetting that he has people looking for him.

As he's about to pull into his garage, the thug's truck sideswipes them. injuring Lena. Barry is too frantic to be timid and grabbing a tire iron, he beats all of them and smashes the window in their truck. He leaves Lena at the hospital and calls Georgia, now full blown angry. Georgia is coy, which angers him more and he demands a supervisor. Trumbell gets on the phone, but isn't very cooperative

Barry returns to the hospital, but Lena has been discharged. He finds the address for D and D Mattress Man which the 900 call showed as the biller.  He shows up to confront Trumbell, who isn't initally impressed. Barry won't be brushed off though and says:
Barry: I didn't do anything. I'm a nice man. I mind my own business. So you tell me 'that's that' before I beat the hell from you. I have so much strength in me you have no idea. I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine. I would say 'that's that', Mattress Man.

He then tracks down Lena, who's upset that he left her at the hospital. He explains the whole situation with the phone call and she forgives him. He explains that once he redeems his miles, he can go with her anywhere she travels.

Punch Drunk love is a movie which takes a lot of care constructing emotion. Anderson, layers his reality uniquely with colors and music, while relying on Sandler to sell the uncomfortability that goes with living in Barry Egan's skin. His constant distress can be painful to watch. He's a mess, but he also has a kind of sweetness and earnestness that you can't help but root for. Barry is where Sandler's character from his own movies could end up if forced into a more serious reality.  I don't know that another actor could pull off Barry Egan, as prior experiece with Sandler heavily informs your feelings towards this character. He's always the lovable screw up, only more repressed here and not nearly as humorous. His outburst here lead to destructive violence, far removed from the over the top for laughs fare you'd laugh at in Billy Madison or Happy Gilmore. And yet, like Sandler's past characters, you really want him to pull things together at the end, and when he does it's a little sweeter, because that ending was not guaranteed.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Suicide Kings

Four spoiled Ivy League college kids decide that the best way to solve a serious problem is to kidnap a rumored powerful former mob boss and force him to solve it for them. You might think that doesn't sound like a good idea and you're right. Christopher Walken is the mob boss, Carlo Bartolucci, now going by Charlie Barret, as he’s now a legitimate businessman.

The rich kids stage a meeting by "accidentally" sitting at Bartolucci's table at his regular restaurant. They're apologetic and respectful enough to set him at ease, even convincing him to let them drive him home. On the ride, they drug him and while he’s unconscious, they tape him to a chair. The kids are so used to being untouchable and in charge, due to their sheltered and privileged upbringing that they can't imagine that this could bring them consequences. They believe it's for a good cause, as Avery's (Henry Thomas) sister has been kidnapped and held for ransom. The kidnapper's are threatening to mail her body parts one by one until they're paid. Knowing that Bartolucci is very powerful, they reason that he can use his connections to get her back from the kidnappers. They promise that whatever happens to her will happen to him, until he gets her back. As Brett (Jay Mohr) the arrogant blowhard of the group tells Bartolucci (while doing his best to try and look menacing,)

"Listen, Charlie. Whatever condition Elise is returned home in is the exact same condition you will be returned to your home. If she loses an eye, you lose an eye. If she loses an ear, you get to lose an ear. If she gets hurt, you will be hurt. Listen to me, by saving Lisa you get to save yourself."
Brett clearly has no idea that he's way out of his league. Bartolucci takes everything in stride initially, offering them a way out, telling them,
"I'm going to give you an opportunity: get out of this. Now. Before it gets so fucked up nobody could ever recover."

Bartolucci soon realizes that they've cut off his finger to match the finger they received from the kidnappers. This upsets him of course, although his reaction is limited due to his being taped to a chair and drugged. Ira (Johnny Galecki), whose house they're using to hold Bartolucci, comes home and is shocked to realize what his friends are doing. They had agreed on a poker night, and not informed Ira about their kidnapping plans, anticipating his neurotic and worried reaction. Ira becomes panicked, realizing who Bartolucci is, but his friends won't listen to his protests.

Bartolucci, meanwhile, is calm as can be, and continues making fun of the boys, Brett especially. He calls his lawyer, Marty, to get information on Alyse’s kidnapping. Marty gets ahold of Bartolucci's employee Lono Veccio (Dennis Leary) who starts collecting information on both kidnappings. Marty soon calls Bartolucci back with information and informs him that there was an "inside player" involved. Bartolucci keeps the information to himself while in a flashback we see the kidnapper's discussing a debt with one of the boys, although it isn't made clear which one it was.
They're forced to gag and hide Bartolucci when a security patrol checking on the property insists on doing a walk through of the property. Lono gathers his information quickly as the boys didn't hide their tracks well at all. He leans on the bartender at the club where the boys met Bartolucci, who gives him what he has and directs him to a waitress who knows more.
The kidnappers are holed up in a hotel. Both are clearly stupid, psychotic and don't get along. One pulls a gun to the other's head and pulls the trigger (without a bullet) for not changing the TV station when he's asked to. We see them together but never see Elise.

Bartolucci asks for details on the kidnapping. He starts with Max (Sean Patrick Flanery) the suave lone wolf of the group who was with Elise when it happened. Max and Alyse were seeing each other in secret as her father didn't approve. Max describes a terribly romantic scene which starts with him getting lost in a bad part of town, and includes a marriage proposal (which is scored by romantic music) The romance is cut short by masked attackers pulling up in a van to grab Alyse. Max tries to go after them but is knocked to the ground.
Complications arise, as the drugs make Bartolucci bleed too much. T.K. (Jeremy Sisto) tries to attend to the problem, as his dad is a doctor and he himself has some medical school. Brett continues posturing and trying to act threatening, having found Ira's dad's gun. Bartolucci isn't impressed, In a moment alone with T.K., Bartolucci starts planting the inside player idea, causing T.K. to grow suspicious. T.K. reveals to the others that the problem is serious and that Bartolucci could bleed to death, as his blood isn't clotting.

Lono locates the waitress at the apartment where she lives with her father. He happens to arrive there as her Dad is abusing her. Lono confronts her father, telling him a story about how he beat his own father with a bat over similiar behavior, and when he doesn't appear moved in the slightest, Lono beats him brutally with a toaster.

Bartolucci gets some time alone with Max and asks Max to end it. Max fills him in on how tough his life is, and the power in the house goes out due to a storm. T.K. and Ira try to find the circuit breaker and discuss the inside player idea alone outside. Ira returns and assures Bartolucci that he'll get to the bottom of it. Marty is also out looking for help. Ira reveals the inside player notion to Max who dismisses it as impossible. Lono continues his search, beating information out of some guys in a strip club with a golf club. He obtains the phone number of the kidnappers. Marty calls them to set up an exchange. Avery tells T.K. that he can't stop thinking of how they cut his sister's finger off, since seeing the image of Bartolucci's finger get removed.
Bartollucci complains deadpan "Guys, if I don't bleed to death pretty soon, I'm gonna die of boredom." convincing them to play poker. Using the opportunity to toy with them, He sizes them up in front of each other exposing their weaknesses. He antagonizes Brett about being a control freak. Brett leaves, clearly rattled and Max takes the opportunity to disagree with Bartolucci, recounting a story about Brett gambling away $20,000.00 in Las Vegas. Bartolucci questions how Brett could pay the money back, reminding them that the interest would be astronomical. Ira and T.K. confront Brett about the debt, asking how he'll pay it back. Brett gets angry and refuses to answer. Avery and T.K. start demanding that they let Bartolucci go. Brett strongly protests, arguing that all criminals are the same.

"It doesnt matter! Theyre all alike! Whoever did the actual kidnapping... It's a fucking technicality!"

Bartolluci reminds them that they're going to pay for what they've done. He tells them a story about some neighbors from the past that he’d made into steaks and fed to their own dogs. This ratchets up their tension quite a bit.

Marty calls to get the go ahead on the exchange and Bartolucci uses the call to leverage them into arranging his own release at a nearby inn. While giving Marty directions to the inn, Max reveals that he knows the area where the kidnapping occurred thoroughly, although he had earlier claimed he didn't know it at all. Bartolluci puts the pressure on Max explaining a possible scenario that would lead to the situation where the kidnapping occurred. Max breaks down and apologizes, saying that he didn't know they'd cut her finger off.

Brett puts the gun to Max's head and starts getting ready to cut his finger off when Avery claims it was his debt, that he arranged it and Max had helped him. Ira gets angry and starts breaking his own things, despite all of his earlier concern over his parent’s things. They tape Ira to a chair to control him, Bartollucci says "Ira, you are the man." Lono has just located them and holding a gun to T.K., who he'd caught outside, he forces a stand-off in the house. Bartolucci directs Lono to shoot Brett in the leg, which he does. When Brett asks why, Bartlucci says, :"It was your idea." Avery continues the stand-off, worried that if they let him go he has no guarantee that they'll get his sister back, not to mention the retribution. Lono treats the group condescendingly. When asked why he doesn’t put his gun down, he simply says with a sneer, “I don’t put my gun down.”Bartolucci leaves with Lono agreeing to keep to the drop off they'd arranged.

Avery immediately runs to the hospital, believing his sister will be there. He's surprised when they tell her she isn't. Lono and Bartolucci are also surprised that she isn't at the hospital and they go visit the kidnapper's to as about this. Lono shoots one of them the leg immediately before they start asking questions. They claim they never kidnapped a girl and Lono soon shoots them both dead. Elsewhere Alyse and Max meet up and the scenario is revealed to be very different than was first presented, which Bartolluci and Lono also quickly figure out.
Suicide Kings is above all, an enjoyable movie. Christopher Walken proves that his delivery is so strong he can carry a movie while taped into a chair. His insults and deadpan wit are impeccable, devastating and hilarious at the same time. It's hilarious to watch him verbally take the boys apart whitout changing facial expression at all. But then, being Christopher Walken, this isn't surprising. Dennis Leary is similarly true to form, caustic and funny throughout. The two make a terrific pair although their screen time together is brief. The boys all play their parts well, each portraying believable rich kid stereotypes with enough personality to make each character a unique contribution to the group dynamic. Peter O'Fallon's directing is perfect for the movie, dark yet sensible with in-story reasoning, using rain and power outages to build the sense of darkness without drawing excessive attention to it. It's a truly enjoyable film which will make you smile, while knowing you shouldn't.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Dirty Harry

Dirty Harry is Clint Eastwood's first time portraying Harry Callahan, the shoot first and shoot a bigger gun police officer. Eastwood was far from a stranger to playing the anti-hero, but Callahan wore a suit and was just a bit more civilized on the surface than his western characters. A side effect of this is that Dirty Harry was more at odds with the established system than his characters were in the lawless west. Dirty Harry basically wrote the book on the "loose cannon that always gets results" type character.

Dirty Harry sets Callahan against Scorpio, (Andrew Robinson) a killer who opens up the movie shooting an innocent looking young girl from a distance. In a sign of the concerns of the day we also see a plaque at the opening commemorating San Francisco's fallen officers. Scorpio sends the Mayor (John Vernon) a note demanding $100,000.00 in order to stop him from killing again. Harry Callahan is in charge of the case and brought before the Mayor to discuss the note and his progress. His authority problem is quickly established here:

The Mayor: Well let's have it.
Harry Callahan: Have what?
The Mayor: A report! What have you been doing?
Harry Callahan: Well, for the past three quarters of an hour I've been sitting on my ass in your outer office waiting on you!

Harry is forced to interrupt his lunch by a couple of armed thugs in the street. Without even walking fast, he shoots his 44 Magnum at the right places and walks over to one of the thugs and utters his most famous line for the first time:

Harry is assigned a new partner, Chico Gozalez (Reni Santoni). In order to further drive home the "too soft on criminals" threat, Chico is college educated with a major in Sociology. Callahan warns him not to let his college get him killed. Chico asks why they call him Dirty Harry and another officer responds giving Harry an "I hate everybody equally" position, perhaps to preemptively keep Harry's sociopathic attitude from being labelled racist.
Gonzales: There is one question, Inspector Callahan: Why do they call you "Dirty Harry"?
De Georgio: Ah that's one thing about our Harry, doesn't play any favorites! Harry hates everybody: Limeys, Micks, Hebes, Fat Dagos, Niggers, Honkies, Chinks, you name it.
Gonzales: How does he feel about Mexicans?
De Georgio: Ask him.
Harry Callahan: Especially Spics. (Harry winks)

The Scorpio Killer gets back to work as Harry and Chico search for him. Chico scares off some guys beating on Harry, thinking he's a peeping Tom. Harry of course tells Chico to let them go to establish that as mean as he is, Harry only hurts criminals. They soon happen on a jumper, who Harry calmly disgusts into changing his plans by graphically describing what will happen when he falls. They quickly find a murdered ten year old, which saddens Harry into telling Chico, "Welcome to Homicide."

Chico is repeatedly established as a rookie, being left out of conversations between Harry and more experienced officers. They start looking along rooftops, knowing that the Scorpio Killer likes to kill long range with a sniper rifle. Knowing from the note that Scorpio may target a priest, they stake out a rooftop opposite where the best shot at a local priest would be. They do in fact spot him and Harry and Chico and Scorpio shoot at each other from their rooftops. Scorpio giggles maniacally during the firefight establishing his caricature of a sick killer with no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Scorpio gets away and they find out the next morning that Scorpio kidnapped a 14 year old girl, who he'll kill if he doesn't receive an increased demand of $200,000.00. The Mayor scrambles to get the money together,but the chief say "No tricks" This prompts Chico to empathize with Harry, telling the chief  "Now I know why they call him 'Dirty' Harry. He gets the shit end of the stick every time."

Harry is given the ransom to deliver and reminded  to simply deliver the money, no tricks. Scorpio sets up a phone booth to phone booth on foot routine to make sure Harry isn't followed (Chico is following him in the car.) Harry almost misses a deadline when he has to beat two would be muggers who want the bag he carries, but finally meets up with Scorpio who is hiding in the bushes with a gun on Harry. Scorpio in a bright orage ski mask tells Harry he's changed his mind and is going to let the girl die before beating on Harry and getting ready to kill him. Chico shows up just in time and starts shooting although Harry yells not to kill him so they can find the girl. Harry is able to stab Scorpio in the leg with a switchblade he'd taped to his leg. Of course everyone blames Harry that the trade went wrong, but they soon get a report from the emergency room doctor who treated a knife wound and can't remember the guys name but does know where he lives.

Harry and Chico are off to Scorpio's place (the groundskeeper's quarter's at a football stadium) looking for him as Scorpio watches with his maniacal bug eyes, from the darkness. Scorpio is still limping so Harry manages to catch him shooting him across a football field when a guard turns on the stadium lights. Scorpio changes his tune under the gun, crying, pleading for medical attention and his rights. Harry of course just wants to know where the girl is. Harry gets the girl's location from Scorpio and they find the girl's body. He brings Scorpio in, but is called into the DA's office, which is extraordinariliy clean and proper, due to his "unusual police work." The DA chastises Harry for his method's citing contemporary rights cases

District Attorney Rothko: You're lucky I'm not indicting you for assault with intent to commit murder.
Harry Callahan: What?
District Attorney Rothko: Where the hell does it say that you've got a right to kick down doors, torture suspects, deny medical attention and legal counsel? Where have you been? Does Escobedo ring a bell? Miranda? I mean, you must have heard of the Fourth Amendment. What I'm saying is that man had rights.
Harry Callahan: Well, I'm all broken up over that man's rights!

He then informs Harry that their only option is to let Scorpio go free, since they can't try him with no evidence because it was obtained illegally. They even have a Constitutional Law expert on hand to explain it to Harry.

Harry Callahan: Are you trying to tell me that ballistics can't match the bullet up to this rifle?
District Attorney Rothko: It does not matter what ballistics can do. This rifle might make a nice souvenir. But it's inadmissible as evidence.
Harry Callahan: And who says that?
District Attorney Rothko: It's the law.
Harry Callahan: Well, then the law is crazy.

After warning the DA that Scorpio will kill again, Harry stalks Scorpio waiting for him to slip up. Scorpio pays a guy to beat him up badly and gets himself hospitalized, claiming to the numerous press people escorting him into the hospital that Harry Callahan did it. Harry visits Chico who's still hurt from the previous Scorpio encounter, which gives Chico's wife a chance to tell Harry how hard it is to be a cop's wife and Harry then reveals to her that he's a widower.

It isn't long before Scorpio holds up a liquor store and then kidnaps a busful of kids, demanding money from the mayor again. The mayor of course submits to Scorpio's demands and tells Harry not to do anything. Harry then has no choice but to go outside the rules, take over the bus and finish off Scorpio, which gives him a chance to deliver his famous line again "Do you feel Lucky Punk"

As a movie, it's really hard to see past the anti-civil rights propaganda. If every cop was as good as Dirty Harry at picking out the "bad guys" it would be a more sensible stance. Of course, the bad guys here aren't difficult to spot either, just watch for the maniacal laugh. Presenting civil rights as a nuisance getting in the way of infallible cops is a little more than I can imagine. The great success of the movie is Clint Eastwood's character. He delivers bad ass one liners better than anyone and his Dirty Harry has left a huge mark on action movies ever since. Dirty Harry works wonderfully in the world as presented here, if it is a bit removed from ours.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Man On Fire

Creasy (Denzel Washington) is a former CIA assassin well past his prime, broken and consumed with regret as well as a self admitted drunk. His old friend from the CIA, Rayburn (Christopher Walken) has a bodyguard job lined up for him in Mexico City. Creasy has doubts about his own ability, given his drinking problem and general condition, but Rayburn assures him that "even at half speed,  you're pretty damn good."

Creasy needs the money and something to do and the client, Samuel Ramos (Mark Anthony) needs a bodyguard at a discount in order to renew his kidnapping insurance and keep his wife happy where they live and his daughter in the same school (they'll lose the house without the insurance) His business is in trouble but Samuel is scrambling not to lose what they have.

On first meeting Samuel, Creasy is upfront about his drinking problem. How does it affect you he asks, to which Creasy responds:
Creasy: Coordination, reaction time. Top professionals try to kidnap your daughter I'll do the best I can but the service will be on par with the pay.
Samuel: What if amatuers try?
Creasy: I'd probably kill 'em. That likely?

Samuel seems fine with it as long as his family doesn't know about Creasy's problem.

Creasey's job is to guard Pita (Dakota Fanning) and Lisa (Radha Mitchell) Samuel's daughter and wife. Lisa likes the fact that he's an American like her and Pita is immediately taken with him. Pita is very precocious and likes that Creasy asks her to just call him Creasy and not Mr. Creasy. Pita shows Creasy to his room . Once left alone, he quickly starts drinking and sets a caged bird they've kept there free when it won't stop squawking. He also regularly reads his Bible, remarking when asked about it that it "sometimes helps."

Part of his routine is to drive Pita to her Catholic School. During the ride, Pita asks a lot of questions, which he brusquely rebuffs, having no desire to get attached to the girl.  One of the nuns tells him, he's late and Creasy responds politely, revealing in Spanish his familiarity with the Bible:
Sister Ana: Do you ever see the Hand of God in what you do?
Creasy: No, not for a long time.
Sister Anna: The Bible says, "Do not be over come with evil, but overcome...?
Creasy: But overcome evil with good."
Creasy: [in spanish] That's Romans Chapter 12 Verse 21.
Creasy: I am the sheep that got lost, Madre.

On the ride home, Pita starts questioning him again, relentlessly this time, even calling him out when he lies about an injury. The personal questioning combined with a frustrating city traffic situation, pushes Creasy until he lashes out, sternly telling her that he's her bodyguard, not her friend. Pita is clearly hurt by this, but makes a point of telling Creasy that she's not crying about it. Lisa confronts him about the situation later on but he sticks to the position that his job is strictly protection.
He starts drinking again and it becomes clear that he's tormented by memories of what he and Rayburn had done in the past. A question he'd asked Rayburn at the beginning echoes through his head "Do you think God will forgive us for what we've done?" He's so tormented that he attempts to kill himself by shooting himself in the head, but the gun doesn't work. He is so puzzled by this that he calls Rayburn about it. Rayburn tells him that it's probably the firing pin.

There is little talking while driving Pita to school the next day, this time with Lisa along for the ride. Creasy picks her up from swimming in the afternoon and they begin talking about her swimming, which Creasy gives her some advice about, noticing that she loses time when pushing off.  Pita notices that the bird is gone and asks him about it, figuring he wanted it to be free. Creasy rebuffs the explanation, and says it was only because it was driving him crazy.

Creasy starts helping with her swimming, noticing that her main problem is that the starting gunshot startles her. He claps wooden blocks together loudly and has her yell "The gunshot holds no fear" They start bonding as Creasy helps her with her swimming and her homework, clearly dropping his "professional" facade and enjoying helping her. Lisa notices his new friendliness and clearly approves. Pita's swimming improves dramatically. He takes her to a swim meet and is clearly excited for her when she wins for the first time even allowing a hug.

Creasy takes Pita with him to a lunch with Rayburn, where conversation reveals that Rayburn stopped working with him when he met a girl in Mexico City. Pita gives Creasy a locket of St. Jude, in her words, "the patron saint of lost causes" which he accepts.

At home, Pita tells her father she wants to give up piano, so she can swim all the time, but he won't let her, because he claims her piano teacher is very prestigious. She complains to Creasy, telling him he should break her fingers, because then she couldn't play but could still swim. Creasy suggests that she just starts belching during the lesson, which will be sure to offend him enough to stop her lessons. Creasy waits outside as she takes her lesson and notices suspicious activity outside just before the end of it. Several cars, including police cars are waiting to abduct Pita as she exits the building. Creasy gets in a shootout with the abductors, killing many of them while telling Pita to run on his gunshot. She can't leave Creasy though, and when she comes back to check on him, the abductors grab her.

Creasy is arrested at the hospital for killing the corrupt police officers involved in the kidnapping and possible involvement in the act itself. The department gives no explanation for their involvement or presence at the scene only saying that "they died bravely." Mariana (Rachel Ticotin) a reporter, and Manzano (Giancarlo Giannini) a detective with some rank and connections, clearly know what happened and aren't satisfied with the department's actions.

Samuel's attorney Jordan (Mickey Rourke) takes charge of ransom negotiations, and seems upset that the police anti kidnapping unit insist on being involved. Rayburn and Miguel visit Creasy at the hospital. Rayburn tells him he's been out for two days and they're negotiating. The kidnappers demand 10 million dollars with specific drop off demands. Jordann starts talking to the kidnappers instead of Samuel. Miguel makes arrangements to move Creasy from the hospital, knowing that other corrupt cops will likely have him killed before he leaves. Samuel messes up the drop off and the kidnappers tell them it's too late for their daughter.

Creasy recovers at Rayburn's place. Rayburn fills him in on the botched exchange and that they assume Pita is dead. Miguel goes over mug shots with Creasy while he's laid up and when Creasy suggests he show him pictures of cops. Miguel tells him about the corrupt brotherhood that was involved. When he's able to walk Rayburn offers to get Creasy out of the country, but Creasy wants to return to the kidnap scene. Mariana  the reporter, meets him there and offers to help him, again informing him of the corrupt and untouchable brotherhood that she also believes is behind the kidnapping. She wants to expose them but can't get close enough. She offers to help him in return for what he digs up.

Rayburn again offers to get him out of the country, but Creasy is determined to get to the kidnappers. Rayburn reminds him that he's done killing but agrees to help however he can. Creasy returns to the house to look through Pita's things for clues. He runs into Lisa and claims he was looking for his Bible, which she says she borrowed. She is still devastated of course. And Creasy informs her that he plans to kill everyone remotely involved, telling her: "I'm gonna kill 'em. Anyone that was involved. Anybody who profited from it. Anybody who opens their eyes at me."

Rayburn sets up an arsenal and Creasy asks Mariana to trace a plate for him. Using the information, Creasy tracks down the first of his targets from the kidnapping. He sets up an elaborate torture to get information from the kidnapper, threatening to cut off his fingers one by one each time he lies, stopping the bleeding with a car lighter. When the kidnapper brags about being part of the brotherhood Creasy takes off a finger just to let him know he doesn't care. The kidnapper tells him exactly how their operation works and tells him about "The Voice" which gives them their orders and "The Guardians" who they delivered Pita to. Once he gets the information Creasy tells him "off to the next life for you. I guarantee you won't be lonely."

Creasy continues picking off targets and acquiring information while Miguel and Mariana keep track of his progress after the fact. He discovers that the cops in the anti kidnapping unit were also involved. Creasy recovers another kidnapped girl, turning her over to Mariana, and blows up one of the brotherhoods's clubs. Mariana continues to help Creasy with information in exchange for the story as it develops. Manzano and Rayburn talk meanwhile, as Manzano is concerned that Creasy is stepping on his territory. Rayburn fills him in about Creasy and the real situation:

Creasy soon discovers that the problem is even deeper than he thought, extending to Jordan the lawyer and finally to Samuel himself, who arranged the kidnapping to save his business. He confronts Samuel about it, revealing to Lisa in the process, that Samuel and Jordan set it up. Rather than kill him, Creasy gives Samuel the bullet that failed to kill him in his earlier suicide attempt. This time the bullet works. Manzana locates the voice, giving Mariana a picture of him, which she publishes in the paper despite an attack and death threat. Creasy tracks down the voices family but is shot again. His blood loss clearly begins affecting him as he takes the Voice's family hostage to force him to show himself. The Voice reveals that Pita is not dead, and offers to give up Pita in return for his brother and Creasy's lives.
Creasy changes plans now and sets up a trade, his own life and the Voice's brother for Pita. He informs Lisa where the trade will occur and she meets him there. He sets up the exchange, giving himself up for Pita, his blood loss by now making it difficult to even move. 
Man on Fire is an engrossing film, part character study, part revenge thriller, and finally a redemption story. The acting is solid all around, Denzel Washington making Creasy's lost man believable. He comes across as tortured without overplaying it even when pushing it to extremes. Walken is of course, terrific, if more subdued than usual, his very presence implying depth despite his relatively small role. Dakota Fanning gives her character enough depth to avoid feeling like a shallow play for the heartstrings. It's the believability of the relationship between Creasy and Pita that makes the film compelling. You may find the action a bit much with some graphic torture scenes, but these aren't so unbelievable for an ex cia assassin, and not graphic as much as implied. Tony Scott captures the lawlessness and oppression of the environment well, while giving the action scenes plenty of energy. It borders on sentimental, but due to the strong performances, I found it falling on just the right side of that border.
The only fault I could find with it is it does run a little long, but the character work is solid and the last two acts have enough action to keep you watching regardless. All in all, a touching movie about a "lost cause" that finds a last chance to do something worthwhile with himself and maybe earn his own forgiveness. Perhaps it's not quite a masterpiece, but a solid story told well enough that I cared about it and in this case, that's more than good enough.