The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Though he wrote one of the more harrowing rape scenes in popular fiction, Stieg Larsson clearly had more on his mind than sensationalism. It’s a little jarring to learn, for instance, that the original title of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo translates unambiguously from the Swedish as Men Who Hate Women. It’s a confrontational (and, you’d think, curiously uncommercial) phrase, but it’s a clear signal of the seriousness of Larsson’s intent. Violence against women is neither titillating or simply a convenient fear factor to work some urgency and shock value into a story that’s primarily about Swedish industry, Nazis, 40-year-old crimes, and who gives a shit. (It does serve that function, of course.) In this book, and in the two that followed it, Larsson means to indict his own nation for its attitudes toward women.

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The Maltese Falcon

This prototypical _film noir_, which saw rookie director John Huston adapting Dashiell Hammett’s only Sam Spade detective novel, was the last movie I watched in 2010. Warner Home Video’s recently released Blu-ray version had been calling to me from the depths of my to-watch stack, and anyway it’s always been one of my favorite movies — immaculately designed, evocatively photographed, and easy to watch but also spiky, morally complex, and ultimately unsettling. Humphrey Bogart is so beloved a figure in American film history that it always catches me a little off-guard to realize that the superficially charming character he’s portraying here isn’t the dedicated moral crusader that convention might lead one to suspect. Arguably, he’s rather a glad-handing sociopath.

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The Killer Inside Me

Casey Affleck in <em>The Killer Inside Me</em>

It’s impossible to really film The Killer Inside Me. It’s a question of medium — you can’t replicate the book’s suffocating interior monologue, the puffed-up rant and ramble of a serial killer, because as soon as you dramatize the events in question for a movie camera you make them real in a way that they’re not, quite, when they’re still sitting on the page. It’s the old question of show versus tell.

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No Country for Old Men


No Country For Old Men is, probably,

the single most critically lauded film of the Coen Brothers’ career.

It’s also a departure, especially in that it largely subjugates their

own exhibitionist hallmarks of style and characterization to those

established in the source material–in this case an expertly grim

genre potboiler by Cormac McCarthy.

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Half of Atonement is a great tragic romance set on a sizable English estate on the eve of World War II. Poor little rich girl Cecilia Tannis (Keira Knightley, lean of body and full of lip) briefly consummates a love affair with sweet-faced son-of-a-groundskeeper Robbie Turner (James McAvoy, coming on as a cross between Brendan Fraser and a more boyish Russell Crowe) as Briony, Cecilia’s teenaged sister (Saoirse Ronan, with pinched, choirgirlesque good looks) watches, appalled and uncomprehending. The other half of Atonement comprises a highly routine men-at-war effort that follows a trio of soldiers trying to make their way out of occupied France during the Dunkirk evacuation as well as narrative bits showing the Tallis sisters (Briony is now played by Romola Garai), now nurses, tending to wounded soldiers.

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So I just saw the Saturday-night sneak of The Golden Compass and I have to say that while the film’s signature polar-bear smackdown is much cooler than just about anything on current release, the last reel represents one of the dumbest things a Hollywood studio has done all year. Yes, Philip Pullman’s novel had a cliffhanger ending — but it was an actual ending, and a pretty great one at that. The movie has no ending; it only has a swelling of strings, an extended VFX shot, and a slow fade to black. Kid-flick audiences are likely accustomed to their status as second-class citizens, and non-readers of Pullman’s trilogy don’t know just how egregious the elision really is (basically, the story’s emotional payload has been excised, or at least deferred to the opening reels of a potential second film), but there’s something deeply unsatisfying about an ending that explicitly promises a confrontation that it declines to deliver. It represents, I think, a failure of nerve. If Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was the product of a studio with big, swinging cojones, this is a release from a studio that’s scared of its own shadow — a studio that had no business adapting the notoriously problematic His Dark Materials trilogy in the first place.