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Tag Archive: Christopher Plummer


This one looks like it could be the next holiday classic.

Although he’s had theatrical roles in 2013’s The Fifth Estate, 2014’s A Walk Among the Tombstones, 2016’s Colossal, and this year’s Beauty and the Beast remake, Dan Stevens is better known for his British TV roles like Matthew Crawley throughout the run of Downton Abbey.  But the genre world really took notice of Stevens this year when he headlined a new X-Men TV series, playing David Haller, a crazed wielder of superpowers on FX’s new series Legion.  His next role takes him back to jolly old England and a character that can’t possibly be more classic and British: Charles Dickens himself.

Although the last time we saw someone play the part of Charles Dickens in a major film it was Gonzo in The Muppet Christmas Carol, Stevens’ off-kilter, frenetic kinetic sense, and quizzical expressions make for an intriguing take on Dickens in the first preview for The Man Who Invented Christmas.  Stevens looks like he’s channeling Gene Wilder from Young Frankenstein in one scene from the movie’s first trailer.

And we get to see Academy Award-winning actor and Shakespearean great Christopher Plummer (Twelve Monkeys, Up, Wolf, Dragnet, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Somewhere in Time, Return of the Pink Panther, The Sound of Music) join the likes of Alastair Sim, Albert Finney, Michael Caine, Patrick Stewart, and Bill Murray as Ebenezer Scrooge.  This take on Scrooge focuses on Dickens writing the novel A Christmas Carol and getting a spell of writer’s block.  And speaking of Finney, the view of the film in the preview looks like a mash-up of style from the comedies Tom Jones and Shakespeare in Love

Here’s a fun preview for The Man Who Invented Christmas:

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We’re back today with the second part of my interview with Nicholas Meyer, director, screenwriter, and storyteller, as we celebrate the 35th anniversary of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and its return to theaters next month as part of the Fathom Events series.  Meyer directed Star Trek II and Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and he was a screenwriter on both movies as well as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.  He chatted with me about his films and more this past week.  If you missed part one of the interview, check it out here.

CB:  You’ve written words spoken on-screen by Lawrence Olivier (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution), David Warner (Time After Time, Star Trek VI), and Christopher Plummer (Star Trek VI).  Are there any other great actors you maybe fantasize, or would like to write, dialogue for?

NM:  I’ve also worked with Jason Robards and John Lithgow (both in The Day After).  I’ve worked with some really wonderful actors.  Fantasizing about working with actors is interesting.  When I listened to the Chandos recording of the music from Henry V–the Olivier film with Christopher Plummer reciting or acting out the various Shakespeare vocal parts–I thought, “Wow, I’d really love to work with this man.”  And I wrote the part of Chang in Star Trek VI specifically for him.  That’s the first time I’ve ever written for an actor other than the Star Trek cast.  I said to my casting director Mary Jo Slater, “Whatever you do, don’t come back without him.  Because there’s no movie unless it’s him.”  It would take me longer than this conversation to rustle around in my brain other actors I’d love to work with–Benedict Cumberbatch–sure, of course.

Nicholas Meyer directing the production crew, with Christopher Plummer as General Chang, on the Klingon courtroom set of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

CB:  Your Time After Time co-star Malcolm McDowell joined Star Trek in the seventh movie in the series, Star Trek Generations, after you were no longer with the franchise, and it always seemed to me to be an obvious choice to get him into the Star Trek universe.  Did he ever contact you about taking on a Star Trek role?

NM:  No… we never discussed it.  David Warner, who actually has been in two Star Trek movies (as Chancellor Gorkon in The Undiscovered Country and St. John Talbot in Star Trek V: The Final Fronter), was the great post-war Hamlet with the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company), and I think Malcolm at one point was a spear carrier in that company at the time when David was this huge star.  In Time After Time they used to kid each other about those times.  Something about carrying a pack of cigarettes under your costume.

CB:  You have said you see yourself first as a writer and have been writing and telling stories since you were five years old.  Are you as excited today to sit down and craft a story as you were in 1982?

NM:  I think when I get going the answer is yes, and if it’s going well the answer is yes, and the hours can go by and I look up and it’s a week later.  But as I’ve gotten older, the process of actually starting, of facing what used to be a blank page, which is now a blank screen, having done it again and again and again…  Most of the stuff I’ve written has never been produced.  Most of the stuff I’ve written for books I’m happy to say has been published, but I haven’t written that many books.  But most of my screenplays–including probably my best screenplays–have never been done.  So as you get older and you embark on this again and again and again there is a kind of a weariness of picking up the yoke and putting it on your shoulders.  That said, getting paid for telling stories beats work any day.

On the Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Engineering set, that’s Catherine E. Coulson (later Twin Peaks’ Log Lady) with the camera, director Nicholas Meyer (in Starfleet captain’s jacket) and James Doohan as Scotty, filming the emotional finale.

CB:  In your memoir The View From the Bridge, you mentioned some of your best ideas or solutions when writing come while doing laundry, while in the tub, or even building a model boat.  What was your biggest revelation and strangest place you found it?

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Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan–a member of that fabled Class of 1982’s “best summer of movies”–turned 35 this year, and to celebrate, the film is returning to theaters as part of the Fathom Events series.  It has been said the film’s director and screenplay writer Nicholas Meyer saved Star Trek.  Meyer was well-known as the author of the New York Times bestselling novel The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and its screenplay, which earned him an Oscar nomination, and for directing and writing the screenplay for the fan-favorite, time travel thriller, Time After Time.  After the lukewarm response at the box office to Star Trek: The Motion Picture, executive producer Harve Bennett tapped Meyer to take the franchise in a bold, new direction, and the result, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, became the best reviewed film of the franchise and a classic among all science fiction.  Many details about Meyer’s work have been recounted in Allan Asherman’s The Making of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Meyer’s own memoir, The View from the Bridge.  Meyer has also shared a trove of his thoughts and work on the film in director commentaries accompanying the film’s various home releases.  He’s not quite finished with Star Trek yet–he’s back again as a writer and producer on the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, premiering next month.

I was ecstatic to interview Nicholas Meyer this past week and listen to him reminisce as director and screenwriter of The Wrath of Khan for the approaching anniversary theatrical release, and ask him questions I’ve had for years about his long writing career.  Meyer sees himself first as a storyteller.  In addition to The Wrath of Khan, he wrote the screenplay for Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home and he directed and wrote the screenplay for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.  I think you’ll discover—or rediscover—that in Meyer’s selections of leading stage and screen actors like Christopher Plummer, Meyer provided gravitas to the Star Trek universe, and by infusing classical literature into the voices of characters from the likes of Shakespeare, Doyle, and Melville, he elevated Star Trek’s story beyond mere popular science fiction.  Everything that would come after The Wrath of Khan in the Star Trek franchise exists as a direct result of Meyer’s success on that film.

Director Nicholas Meyer observing final detail work as Ricardo Montalban’s headwrap is applied, filming the first appearance of Khan in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

CB:  Welcome to borg.com.  Thanks for chatting with me and borg.com readers today and congratulations on the 35th anniversary of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

NM:  Thank you so much.  It’s a real pleasant surprise—As Kirk said to Scotty, “That’ll be a pleasant surprise.”

CB:  Let’s talk about Ricardo Montalban as Khan.  I have always loved this line: “I’ll chase him ‘round the Moons of Nibia and ‘round the Antares Maelstrom and ‘round Perdition’s flames.”  When you write something like that, do you know that you’ve got it, and when you see Montalban saying it and it appears on the screen, do you get any satisfaction of seeing that all come together?

NM:  Absolutely!  I have to say, first of all, I didn’t write it.  Herman Melville wrote it.  I substituted a few planets or something.  This is all Ahab.  I just cribbed it.  I remember with some satisfaction what I took to be at the time my cleverness (which turns out to be the curse of Kirk: “I patted myself on the back for my cleverness”).  It wasn’t until I saw Ricardo actually do it that I got goosebumps, and thought, “Holy cow.  This is wonderful!”  And I said to him actually at some point during the movie, “You really should be playing Lear.”  He sort of looks like Lear–with a big set of pecs.  Because he has been on stage, he was on Broadway, he did legit plays.  He was very touched, I think, that I had told him this, and he made some disparaging remark about his Hispanic accent.  I said, “That’s all bullshit.  You enunciate perfectly.  You could do this.”  I think Khan was as close as he ever got to doing it.

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12 Monkeys Syfy

Terry Gilliam’s 1995 sci-fi thriller 12 Monkeys is every bit a genre classic.  Starring Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, and Brad Pitt–each in one of their best film performances–Willis plays James Cole, a time traveler from the future, Stowe plays Kathryn Railly, a psychologist in the past, and Pitt, in a supporting actor Oscar-nominated performance, as a mental patient who masterminds a terrorist group called the Army of the 12 Monkeys, and is the son of the wealthy Dr. Goines, played by Christopher Plummer.  So how about 12 Monkeys as a television series?

How would you approach it?  Use the same world but send another group of people back to try to “prevent the future” by trying again to pinpoint the source of a virus that will destroy everyone?  Or would you use the same characters?

Aaron Stanford star of 12 Monkeys

In the January 2015 TV series 12 Monkeys, James Cole will return, played this time by Aaron Stanford, who played X-Men mutant Pyro in the Marvel Comics movie series.  And this time Cassandra Railly (not Kathryn), played by Amanda Schull (Suits, Psych, Grimm) sends Cole back in time (is this Kathryn’s daughter?  Coles’ daughter?) to meet with… Cassandra, to try to change the future.  Character actor and guest actor of every other series on TV, Zeljko Ivanek (White Collar, Argo, House, M.D., Live Free or Die Hard, Lost, Bones, Homicide, Donnie Brasco, The X-Files, and Tex) will play a lead role as Leland, who is key to changing the future.  Kirk Acevedo (Grimm, Fringe, Walking Dead, Rise.. and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) plays a friend of Cole.

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Interview by C.J. Bunce

One of my favorite people in the Star Trek world is Penny Juday.  Not only is she a great person, she is always willing to share interesting stories about her days working for Paramount on Star Trek.  As a former U.S. Navy Submarine fleet detailer, Penny Juday staffed the Navy’s sub-fleet with crew assignments.  She joined the Star Trek Deep Space Nine decorating department in 1991.  Penny was soon hired as the personal assistant to the production designer of Star Trek, which then led to becoming the art department coordinator of Star Trek for the next 18 years, where she also served as Star Trek archivist.  During her off hours Penny attended art school at Otis Parsons and earned her certificates as designer and illustrator.  borg.com is happy to welcome Penny here today.

CB:  Penny, you have a pretty unique college background, studying art and design, as well as computer science and physics.  And you were on your way into Intelligence in the U.S. Navy.  You seem to be cut out for your role as guardian of the secrets behind the Star Trek franchise.  How did that background help you move into the role as Art Coordinator and Star Trek Archivist at Paramount Pictures?

PJ:  I was a submarine fleet detailer.  They wanted me to go into INTEL when my tour was up but they would not agree to anything I asked for in return.  In retrospect it was not such a good idea on my part, of course.  I assigned submariners to their duty stations as they came out of school in Groton and kept track of all the available positions for enlisted crew for all the submarines.  I had to make sure they were properly and completely staffed at all times.  If one were taken ill or sadly, killed, I had to find the replacement ASAP.  I studied computer science and physics while in the Navy.  Another decision gone wrong.  If I had stayed with that, I could have been the girl Steve Jobs!  At the time computer programmers worked nights and weekends since it was still reel to reel and we worked while others didn’t.  I just couldn’t do that.  How it helped with my Star Trek job?  You have to be extremely resourceful to get a lot of military jobs done for many reasons.  My boss on Trek, Herman Zimmerman (who we called “Z”) often told just about anyone who would listen that I was the most resourceful person he had ever met.  I could find just about anything we needed to get a job done, or anyone, for that matter.  If a prop guy told Z we couldn’t find a particular product I would get the task.  Now that’s fun and interesting.  One of my favorite things was when I would call a company and tell them who I was and who I was with.  Usually there was a minute of total silence because they did not believe me, of course.  Then when it sunk in I was telling the truth…  I can’t tell you how much I could achieve with vendors just because I worked on Star Trek.  They would jump through a lot hoops to help us.  And the undercover Trekkies that I would run across!

Penny in her Star Trek “toybox” warehouse at the Paramount set.

The archives–being a personnel person in the Navy I took care of thousands of records, copied thousands of pages of documents, records and cared for the same, so making an archive was cheese cake.  Again finding anything… I was sent to Long Beach Naval Station to finish my Navy tour.  There had been a serious lack of commitment to record keeping, and personnel records were a mess so I was sent to help redo and get it smooth again.  Within days this Chief Petty Officer comes to my desk, almost in tears, very upset, telling me his records had been missing for weeks, meaning, he doesn’t get paid, can’t move forward in any capacity–remember this was before documents were scanned and kept on computer.  Some info was in Washington on OCR documents but the bulk of your records were still just paper in a manila folder in a real filing cabinet.  If that went missing you were in serious trouble.  So Chief tells me the story… he had been in day after day, asking someone—anyone—to search for his records.  “They cannot be found,” they tell him.  Knowing full well how badly the records in Long Beach had been stored, mostly by young “kids” who just didn’t care and wanted to get through their tour period.  I asked him his full name, was there any known misspellings, etc.  I take the “intel,” go to the records room and start the search… yup, under his middle name.  Chief hung his head in silence.  I still cry when I think of how happy it made him.  I got a letter of appreciation for that one, which is a small Navy award.  My work at the station was awarded several times with a scholarship, award letters, and I was the only female side boy at the station to pipe the leaving Captain away and pipe in the new Captain.  Side boys are the crew who line the plank at attention and one blows the pipes–a very great honor.

Star Trek cadet piping in Captain Kirk on the USS Enterprise refit (one of Penny’s duties in the US Navy).

CB:  You worked for several years with the Star Trek franchise but also worked on other notable films.  How did your work on Star Trek compare with your project and art coordinator daily duties on other action films like The Hunt for Red October and Alien Resurrection and comedies like Naked Gun 33 1/3 and Wayne’s World II?

PJ:  I have to start by saying nothing compares to Trek.  Nothing.  However, that being said The Hunt for Red October was my first film.  Poor Anthony [Penny’s husband, Anthony Fredrickson] is tired of watching it.  It is near and dear to my heart not only being the first film but they used the USS Houston, in the film known as the USS Dallas.  I was the detailer who put the original enlisted crews on board all the Los Angeles class boats as they were being built.  Eventually I got to see the Houston in dry dock in San Diego.  All the Los Angeles class subs look a like so they could easily get by with using one for another.  The first thing I saw walking on set was the missile silos.  I told the decorator I didn’t remember seeing neon around the bases on the real subs.  “Shuuuh,” he said.  But then standing next to Sean Connery was the memory any girl would cherish, whew.  Can’t believe I was still standing when he walked away.

The Hunt for Red October production photo.

CB:  As art coordinator for Deep Space Nine through Star Trek: Nemesis and Enterprise, you were second in command to art director and production designer Herman Zimmerman, known not only for his incredible futuristic sets on Star Trek but also work on Happy Days, The Land of the Lost, The Tonight Show and Cheers.  What’s the secret to running a multiple Emmy-nominated art department?

PJ:  First, I used to watch Land of the Lost all the time, even at my age it was just fun.  So on a Deep Space Nine episode we had a very rustic cottage with a fairly short door.  Z and a lot of us are inside, the special effects guy, Joe, comes in who was well over six feet tall.  The way Joe came in for some reason Z said you remind me of a Sleestak.  I said I was shocked that he knew this word.  I asked him how he knew what a Sleestak was.  He said, “I designed him.”  I had no idea.  So I was constantly learning of Herman’s accomplishments and shows, and awards, and the list goes on of things he has done throughout time, even working on one of my favorite soaps.

Original Herman Zimmerman Sleestak (display by Tom Spina Design).

As far as running art departments, whew!  Especially on larger shows like films.  I can’t make the list long enough of what your job title is.  You are the middle girl between most of the departments and the art department.  You are the coordinator for just about everything the art department needs.  The art coordinator is one of the first people in—meaning we are given a blank space to fill right down to the pencils.  You have to get it all, the phones, the phone lines, desks, copiers, papers all the supplies, set up the kitchen, often interview or find staff to be interviewed by the art director, depending on who that is, usually my production designers know me well enough that I hire the staff and set the deals.  Then research, finding things, orders, craft service kitchen, oh, boy!  Talk about egos–and the special needs of each and every one of the artists.  Can you say “four different kinds of coffee?”  I had a set designer who constantly demanded their own office because this person didn’t want to hear others talking.  Production meetings, usually keeping all the budgets for set decorating, often construction, and the art department.  Time cards for all of the above.  Location tours, call sheets, scripts, clearances (which I have no idea when the art coordinator became responsible for making sure everything was cleared but that happened somewhere in time).  Product placement, but I have to tell you… talk about fascinating… your every minute is different.  Alien 4 was one of my favorite films to work on at Fox.  Huge art department, sets, budgets, construction, and a lot of people from Star Trek, however, one of the first things the production designer told us was: “I see anything that looks like Star Trek, you’re fired!”  Ok, but he was a lot of fun to work for.

Filming the Baku Village at the Lake Sherwood set.

Sometimes things would go wrong or go missing.  When we were out at Lake Sherwood for the Baku village in Star Trek Insurrection, Worf’s teeth came up missing.  They were very expensive to make so there was one set at the time.  So the hunt was on and of course we were still shooting Deep Space Nine at the time.  That created quite the stir to have a whole lot of people searching for Worf’s teeth.  So yes, they were found, but at great cost to both productions.

Penny Juday (far right) as an extra in Star Trek Generations, in Ten Forward on the USS Enterprise-D. Also in this scene were Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard, Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan and Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Soran.

CB:  You were able to work with the Star Trek original series cast on Star Trek Generations, and even performed on camera as an extra.  What kind of interaction did you have behind the scenes with the original Enterprise crew?  Any lasting impressions?

PJ:  I met Mr. Kelley on Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country as they were walking out of the Klingon courtroom.  He had had a long day but stopped and introduced himself to me, shook my hand.  What a lovely, gracious man.  Shatner ran past, couldn’t leave the set quick enough, which is understandable.  I later met him on Star Trek Generations.  We were in the Valley of Fire, north of Las Vegas.  I was put in the crew van which was traveling to the site in the desert where the bridge set was.  I was in charge of taking orders for the crew gift bomber jackets.  He had never heard of a bomber jacket.  So that was a great fun thing to do, he got a laugh out of the whole thing.  Ms. Nichols, I interviewed her for Star Trek: The Magazine.  Again just so warm, friendly, kind, happy to talk to me.  I think I have met them all at one time or another and what an experience to meet your idols from your favorite show and then get to work with them.

Energy beacons used by The Borg that Penny helped to create for Star Trek: First Contact.

CB:  Part of your many roles for Star Trek included locating found props in the real world, such as purchasing furniture for sets or odd bottles to get re-dressed for use in Quark’s bar in Deep Space Nine.  What were some of the stranger creations you were asked to come up with?

PJ:  Wow, there are so many!  I think the Borg energy packs in Star Trek: First Contact—where they are on the dish—the Borg pull out these long acrylic tubes that glow… those were bird feeders that we put fluorescent tubes in, wrapped them in the mess they are shipped in, then wrapped those in a lighting gel.  When I called the company, because we needed a lot of them, they were so excited and it was hard for them to believe how they were going to be used.  I think the second is all the vacuum packaging we used.  If you look at the packages your cookies, candy, make-up, anything with a molded part, you will see a great deal of interesting usable shapes.  We had stacks of packages friends and family would save up for us, just in case we needed something on the run.  Anthony had a kludge closet in the art department where we would store found objects for instant prop and model making.  Then I think the Picard family album was probably one of my favorites.  I worked on that for weeks digging through flea markets, yard sales, antique shops, asking crew for items, family photos and such.  I would get French newspapers and make up articles, soak them in coffee or tea then run over them with the car.  So much fun!

Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) and Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) flipping through the Picard family album Penny Juday created. The original album was on display for years at the Star Trek Experience in Las Vegas.

Please come back tomorrow for part 2 of our interview with Penny Juday.

Review by C.J. Bunce

As major mainstream movies are concerned, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo leaves the viewer with a lot to think about.  Some good, mostly bad.  At the end of the movie we are left with a new super heroine of sorts.  As viewers, we uncomfortably accompanied her on an ugly and brutal path.  But at the end, we are left wanting to see what happens to her next.  The plot of the movie itself is complex but not complicated, yet the picture gets spun out of control into just another piece of shock cinema, and despite some good storytelling in building up the mystery, the climax is absurd, leaving us with a lackluster payoff.  There’s too much of everything in this picture, and not enough of what it does best.

I’m not sure this was meant to be a likeable movie, as it was too disturbing to be “likeable”.  Some parts were entertaining.  Some parts were done very well.  Other parts weren’t.  Look for spoilers ahead about what you will see in this movie, but I’ll give none of the actual story and mystery away.

At one level, it’s hard not to get sucked into an investigative reporter mystery.  And the unusual private eye-type job of the female lead in the movie was the coolest feature.  But ultimately we don’t really get to know much about her, and what makes her tick, except that she’s repeatedly been a victim of the system.  The director didn’t get into the daily job she had at the beginning of the film as much as I would have liked and the story meandered into other areas I cared less about instead.

Having watched the first third of the original Swedish version based on the late Stieg Larsson’s novel, I stopped to wait and watch this U.S. theatrical release first.  The original version is up there with the most graphic, disturbingly real-life violent movies ever made.  This new version is not substantially different, and beyond the first third of the movie the violence only builds.  Think of the most disturbing parts of Deliverance, Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, Fargo, and Silence of the Lambs.  Like all these films, I would expect this one to do well around award season.  Movies that shock the conscience of the mainstream tend to succeed that way.  If you’re sensitive at all to true-life violence, skip this picture.  If you go, you’ll see graphic rape and torture scenes, numerous crime scene photos and dialogue about torture, rape, and murder.  And you’ll see several full-on sex scenes, none of which substantially contribute to the plot.  As we mentioned here in our first look at the movie trailer, you may recall that the original novel’s name translated from Swedish is Men Who Hate Women.  Ultimately, in both the main story, the back story and the subplots, that is all this movie is about, backed up with a corresponding vengeance story.

Beyond the shock factor of the violence, there is more to discuss, both good and bad.

Rooney Mara (Social Network, remake of Nightmare on Elm Street) playing the title role’s Lisbeth Salander as a down in the dumps, arguably insane yet intelligent, Goth street urchin is pretty much perfect for this role, and there was obviously a lot for this actress to go through, both as a character and in real life as an actor.  For what I saw of the original film, Noomi Rapace in the same role was equally good, however.  In fact all the scenes tracked the original as far as I watched the original version and the actors were all equally good.  For this American version, an Oscar nomination for Mara is certain.  Her best scene is in the final 20 minutes, a denouement that sets us up nicely for a sequel.  We can hope the continuing adventures of Salander in the next movie are better than in this one.

Another contender for an Oscar should be Christopher Plummer (Star Trek VI, Sound of Music, Wolf, Twelve Monkeys, Dragnet, Dreamscape, Somewhere in Time), who took a fairly minor role and made us care about him (maybe more than anyone else) from the beginning of the film to the end.  I was a little concerned about his character being a bit laughable, as in the movie previews he reminded me of Hume Cronyn’s dying character in Brewster’s Millions, yet Plummer’s skill as an actor brought some overall necessary credibility to the picture.  And he gets to utter the classic phrase “The enemy of my friend is my enemy.”

Unfortunately, Daniel Craig (Golden Compass, Road to Perdition, Layer Cake, Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall) didn’t get a lot to work with in the screenplay as the lead male but secondary character, a journalist named Mikael Blomkvist.  His character makes stupid choices and he is hard to like, other than saving a stray cat (and yes, as with several other predictable components of the movie, whenever there is an animal in a film like this, you can be sure it doesn’t make it to the last scene).  Like literally every named character in the film, Craig’s character’s life is a mess.  He is flawed and weak, yet his character never gets beyond that state, where in another story it would be cause for some good character growth.  His partner/love interest is played by Robin Wright (The Princess Bride, Forrest Gump, Unbreakable, State of Play), who is the only lead character to sport a Swedish accent.  I wouldn’t blame Wright for this–it was an odd directorial choice, and similar oddities and inconsistencies are peppered throughout the film, with some signs and papers in English and others in Swedish.  Usually a director will pick a path and stick with it.  I’ve always loved the way this was done in The Hunt for Red October, where dialogue begins in Russian, then subtly switches entirely to English.

And speaking of The Hunt for Red October, that movie’s co-star Stellan Skarsgard (Thor, King Arthur, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Avengers) gets a lot of screen time here as one of Plummer’s creepy family members.  Skarsgard is a good actor, and it’s no surprise seeing him cast in this film.  The rest of the cast performs well, too, and there is both a current cast of characters and a younger set shown in flashback.  In fact at the beginning of the film you can’t help be hopeful for a Clue-like whodunnit.  We get a mystery, but it has too many components, with riddles answered too conveniently, to make this a great picture.

The payoff in the film should not be surprising considering every crazy thing leading up to it.  Yet we get there and everything is too nicely tied up, too convenient, too quickly the riddle is solved and it’s just not as satisfying as it should be.

Some nit-picking:

The opening credits may be the worst opening I have ever had to sit through for a mainstream movie.  They consist of bodies plunging in and out of black oil, oil that makes you think the key to the riddle will somehow involve oil, and when you see an overturned tanker halfway through the film it makes you over-focus on it.  Were this a James Bond movie of pure fantasy, this elaborate opener might be appropriate, because it obviously took great skill to create, but for this kind of real-life subject matter it was just long, annoying and irrelevant.

The soundtrack and overall sound effects were too loud and obnoxious throughout–so loud that it often drowned out the dialogue of the actors and contrasted with, instead of amplified, the power of each scene.  Maybe this was the fault of the sound editors.  It was as if the final editors realized that telling us the story in long explanatory sentences quietly was too boring, so some wild, jumpy background music would somehow make us think this was exciting.  It didn’t work.  The setting of the movie is ugly.  A travelogue for Sweden, this is not.  As setting is concerned there is no relief, no light at the end of the tunnel.  Humorously one character gets to have a good line mentioning an IKEA table.

You’ll ask yourself questions after the film.  The biggest is:  Do you need to fully show viewers the full extent of real-life violence to feel complete sympathy for victims of violence?   I think most of the shock was unnecessary to tell this story.  Others may think you need this blatant depiction of violence to get the audience inflamed enough to cheer for the unlikely heroine.  I think we’d cheer for her either way.  How far could you go if you had to fight back?  How much would you help someone like the main character in real life?  What the heck does the dragon tattoo have to do with anything?  Yes, the girl has tattoos, but they are irrelevant to the story.  Ultimately it’s just a catchy title to lure us into the theater.

Is this just an updated version of the La Femme Nikita story?  I was reminded of it several times and it was fun seeing what the Internet can now do to contribute to the investigative process in a mystery movie.  I have to say I found Bridget Fonda’s version of Nikita, Point of No Return, although a lot thinner film, more entertaining than this movie.  And for a real-life mystery, the often overlooked Zodiac, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Robert Downey, Jr., and Mark Ruffalo, is a far better and scarier, whodunnit and suspense thriller.

Ultimately what is in store for the viewer is a mixed bag of opposites.  The negatives are very negative, and the positives are pretty positive.  Unfortunately the negatives left me disappointed with this film.  I can’t over-stress the violent content, and if you don’t believe me check out this great summary on the Internet Movie DatabaseThe Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is Rated R, but years ago would have easily been an NC-17.   3 of 5 stars.

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