Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Last night I gave myself a nice double feature of two of the biggest Oscar-bait films to come out in 2011.  The plan originally was to see "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", but ultimately I left so profoundly annoyed with David Fincher and his slow humorless movie that I had to find myself a cure with some proper Stephen Spielberg sentimentality with "War Horse".  "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is two and a half hours long, and it feels that long.  You'd think a movie with three rapes and at least one attempt at rape wouldn't be boring, but yeah, its boring.  I have no idea why this movie is being so badly courted for Oscars, or why everybody else seems to like it.

However, as a positive, I could have watched "The Tree of Life" again.  So "Dragon Tattoo Girl" will always be superior to that, at least.

Honestly, I don't get why the late-Stieg Larsson gets as much praise as he does.  His novels aren't particularly revolutionary, he just wrote three mystery-crime novels starring a glamorized version of himself and a goth chick.  I read "Dragon Tattoo" this fall, was entirely unimpressed with it.  Mostly the book was a detective story with characters I didn't particularly like with way more padding than I needed.  I won't speak ill of the dead, so I'll just say that Stieg Larsson's books aren't for me.  I expected something more substantial from these books, especially with all the buzz they've been getting*.  He's a good writer, his subject matter just isn't all that meaningful.

And I expected more out of David Fincher.  What happened to you, man?  You used to make movies that kicked ass like "Fight Club", "The Game", and "Seven".  Heck, even "Alien 3" was incredibly stupid and a disaster by all accounts, but it was entertaining.  Then he did "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", a slow dreary cynical Oscar Bait movie of the lowest order, and suddenly Fincher realized he could win Best Picture.  That's become his obsession now.  Its no longer cool R-rated thrillers you could sink your teeth into, its slow humorless movies.  And "Dragon Tattoo" is as slow and humorless as you can ever get in a movie.

I didn't love "The Social Network" last year because I thought its main character was a douche and Mark Zuckerberg (who is even more of a detestable douche in real life) didn't need the ego boost that would come with a Best Picture win for a movie about himself.  But I could appreciate the movie making, it was a funny movie.  There were fun characters in it and the dialog was constantly clever.  David Fincher is a good director... when he wants to be.  I don't know what the heck he was doing here in "Dragon Tattoo".  Is Sweden really such a grey sullen place where nobody smiles and people have sullen depressing sex?  Republican pundits constantly list Sweden as a liberal wasteland that America can never turn into.  I figured that such a crazy country would have people that knew how to smile a few times.

"Dragon Tattoo" isn't much more than a thriller movie with a long-running mystery plot.  So I have no idea why this counts as Oscar Bait, but David Fincher and his corporate overlords, Sony made this movie entirely for the purpose of courting the Academy, so it is indeed Oscar Bait.  Its like "Black Swan" last year which was a huge Best Picture contender even though it was really a basic horror movie.  The difference is that "Black Swan" was amazing, legitimately creepy, and a lot of fun, while "Dragon Tattoo" is plotted with all the excitement of a funeral to a profoundly boring person nobody particularly loved.  Everything is so subtle, so muted, nobody seems like they're having fun at all - even when they're fucking.  Even the serial killer and the sadist psychologist don't really seem to be enjoying themselves.

There's something to be said for subtlety in acting, sometimes the most understated performance can be the most amazing.  But if you're making a thriller with a villain trapping the main character down in a torture dungeon, you can let the actor overact a bit.  I was wishing somebody would cut loose and go nuts.  If you're a maniac psychokiller, you can play it up a bit.  "Hostel" was an extremely violent movie full of people doing horrible things to each other, but at least that movie managed to have a few moments that made me smile.

"Dragon Tattoo" opens with a bizarre sequence of CG black oil rolling over black robotic people dancing around to a techno remix of 'Immigrant Song' while being set on fire.  The black oil people fuck, they hit each other, they fuse together, its all very weird and sadly, the best part of the movie.  Its like some kind of intense torture-themed acid trip, it was awesome... and had nothing to do with anything.  Did they mix up the opening credits to this movie with the new James Bond?  My friend next to me asked "are we in the right movie?"  I don't care what anybody else says, this opening sequence is awesome.  David Fincher wasted all his talent in these two minutes, the rest of the movie is dull.  Its like a delicious appetizer to a meal of cold noodles and crackers.

Daniel Craig is the hero of the story, a reported who double-crossed the wrong corrupt industrialist and now has no choice but take on a forty-year-old mystery from a less corrupt industrialist.  Christopher Plummer plays that guy, and his niece disappeared decades ago.  Eventually Craig teams up with the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a goffic bisexual autistic hacker chick named Lisbeth Salander (who I'll now call Salamander).  Salamander earlier in movie was raped by her court-appointed guardian, so she paid him back by shoving a three-foot metal dildo up his ass and then tattooing on his body "I am a rapist pig".  That is the most entertaining part of the movie, by the way, its only downhill from there.  The rape scene is especially brutal, but it all makes up for it when Salamander gets her payback.  So since this is a mystery plot, you don't know if the killer is the Butler, the Brother, the Nazi Dad, the Sister, or Mother.  It doesn't matter, because you don't know the characters well enough, the mystery, honestly, isn't very good.  Even in the book the mystery wasn't very good.

It really doesn't help that the girl playing the disappeared niece is played by an actress that looks almost exactly the same as Salamander.  This is a hugely distracting design choice, and it bugged me all movie.  These girls don't exactly look the same, but with Lisbeth wearing all her stupid goffic piercing and shaved eyebrows, I couldn't tell.

Now Daniel Craig in this movie acts like he just woke up from a two-year nap.  He could not be less of an interesting main character, which is a real shame.  Craig always has been the most understated James Bond, but that was a good thing there, it was a good contrast to the Pierce Brosnan pointless arrogance.  Here Craig is so understated that he is dozing off between his lines.  Salamander isn't much better either, she's too quiet for her own good.  Sadly, these characters do sometimes have a decent banter, but it doesn't happen nearly enough.  Fincher should have just let their personalities bounce off each other instead of having endless scenes of characters flipping through photographs and records.  As somebody who has done historical research in dusty basements, I can tell you with all certainty:  its soul-crushing in real life, and even with a talented director at the helm, its boring in a movie.  Even the main villain, for all his love of soft 90s New Age music, is boring.  PLEASE, SOMEBODY ENJOY YOURSELF.  LIFE IS NOT THIS DULL.  WE LIVE IN A BEAUTIFUL WORLD FULL OF POSSIBILITIES, THERE IS SO MUCH TO LOVE ON THIS EARTH.  STOP BEING SO FUCKING DULL.

Salamander at least wears the funniest T-shirt I've ever seen in a movie:  "fuck you you fucking fuck".  That was fun, little else in this movie is.  She gets naked a lot too, so if you like skinny girls (like I luckily do), this movie will make your sexual organs entertained at least.

I desperately wanted to leave the theatre by the hour and a half mark.  My seat was uncomfortable, the moving was dragging endlessly, and Daniel Craig was acting like an idiot.  He basically solves who the killer is, then wanders into the guy's house, all alone and unarmed.  So suddenly I'm eight-years-old again and I'm talking out loud to the screen telling Daniel Craig to stop being so stupid.  Its like in any bad horror movie when the big-titted murder victim wanders into the haunted house that is obviously full of serial killers with chainsaws.  That's when I realized this movie wasn't just boring, it wasn't very bright either.  Craig even manages to leave, then walks back into the house when the killer invites him in.  Guess what?  Craig's now in a torture chamber, genius.  Then the killer mocks Craig by pointing out how the hero broke every horror movie rule.  What is this a "Scream" movie now?

Why can't anybody get their accents right?  The entire film is in English, but there is no consistency in the accents.  Some people might be Swedish I wouldn't know.  Others just sound vaguely Eastern European, Salamander is doing a great Russian accent - only her character is supposed to be a Swede.  Daniel Craig isn't even trying.  I bet Craig told Fincher at some point:  "I'm a James Bond, Sean Connery never did a damn accent in his movies, neither do I!!"  Craig didn't care about this movie one bit, and neither do I.

Worse this movie is friggin' long.  At two and a half hours it is brutal to its audience.  A lot of details have been cut from the novel, like all the pointless scenes of Daniel Craig's character getting laid and cooking duck.  But more should be cut!  A lot more!  This movie should have been a lean 90 minutes, if that, at its current length it is beyond abusive.  If it had been an hour shorter I might have actually liked it.

With movies like "The Tree of Life", I have no idea why people like them.  I suspect its so that they can fool themselves into thinking that they're so sophisticated they can like obviously fake arty crap, so that they can be the top 1% of movie fans.  With "Dragon Tattoo", I really have no idea what the appeal is.  This isn't a very good thriller, and that's all it is:  a thriller.  This isn't an ambitious or even particularly smart movie.  I really hope this gets snobbed by the Academy because "Dragon Tattoo" really was a giant waste of time.  Yes, David Fincher is a good director and the movie is very pretty.  The rape scene is really horrifying.  This isn't one of the worst movies of the year, but its definitely boring.  I just wish the actors could have come alive at some point.  "Dragon Tattoo" could have been decent, and it wasn't.  And that's the biggest fault of this movie.

So afterwards, I was really pissed about life, the universe, and everything.  Luckily "War Horse" was opening, so I went over to see that.  And that was much better.

* I also judged the book by its title.  "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" sounds like some kind of grand epic drama or a fantasy novel of some kind.  I was hoping the girl could transform into a dragon or ride dragons or breath fire or something that I would like to happen.  Or even be a stirring story about a girl with a dragon tattoo overcoming all kinds of odds in a dark world.  Instead it was just a well-written James Patterson-style novel from Sweden, nothing amazing.  The hero is obviously Larsson's idealized version of himself, and the main heroine is an obvious sexual fantasy the author had, that the entire story comes off as extremely forced to me and really made me dislike the book.


  1. david fincher has massively lost his touch since the heady days of fight club, can't watch any of his films without suffocating from the smug

  2. It's not just that Immigrant Song makes any movie better. Any Led Zeppelin song will make anything better.

  3. ROFL
    My Immortal reference anyone?

  4. I want the 2 1/2 hours of my life back which I spent watching this show. That's not including the next 2 hours I spent trying to figure out what just happened.

    Too long - should have been 90 min.
    Sooo much information - help me follow along and tell who's who. I had to use subtitles just to understand some of the dialog.