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Another brief one.  I’ll be resuming full reviews as soon as time allows it.

A small unit of military men get betrayed by an unknown in the CIA, left for dead in Bolivia before encountering an agent who can get them back for revenge.  Sounds like everything you’ve seen before, right?  Well, it is, but it has enough wit and humor to keep you entertained.  The action is fast paced and frenetic at times, and the characters are well rounded enough that you can care for all of them (though when they had to float their names in the beginning, I was worried: normally floating names to point out who is who doesn’t bode well for a movie).  More enjoyable than it should have been.

Now, I just need to go back and find the comics for this series.  The movie definitely had the look for it, even though it’s hard to pull off Jock’s illustration on the big screen.  Kudos to the production team for doing that.

B-

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Brief review, cause I’m behind and overwhelmed right now.

Vincere is an Italian film about the unknown wife of Benito Mussolini, Ida Dalser.  Obsessed with Mussolini before he became the fascist dictator, Dalser was eventually committed to a mental institution when she refused to say that she lied about being married to Mussolini and having a son born from him.  More historical drama, as history has a tendency to erase and rewrite itself, depending on who you have in power (just ask the Russians during Lenin and Stalin), but incredibly powerful.  The movie acts at time as a propaganda piece, interspersed with footage of Italy during the first World War, up until the start of the second World War.  It’s Giovanna Mezzogiorno that drives the movie as Ida Dalser, displaying her obsession with Mussolini while trying to convince everyone that she is married to him, eventually failing and dying in a mental ward.  Completely captivating and well worth seeing.

Vincere means “win”, by the way.  Something to consider with Mussolini in general.

A-

Actually, I like this trailer.  The American one was pretty cool too (and I’ll maybe find that one to add at some point), but the voice over for the American one was also a bit… meh?

Beginning actual review: for future reference, I really need to not read the book and finish it a day before I decide to see the movie.  I’ll either need to read the book after seeing the movie (ie. The Road, A Single Man), or prior to the movie and give it enough time before actually going to see it (ie. Harry Potter 4-6, and the upcoming 7.1 and 7.2).  I did the same thing with The Golden Compass as I did with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but that was a pretty bad movie anyway, so I didn’t need the book to influence my overall remarks about the film.

So, for The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest, I will read the books before the movies get released here, and they will: the whole trilogy has been filmed in Sweden (and released throughout Scandinavia), so it’s only a matter of time before the sequels come state side.  Maybe one per year, many consecutively filmed trilogies tend to be released. (Note: Wikipedia said that the US film distributor is going to release the films later this year. Score.)

But I digress: I read the book and saw the movie, and while watching the movie, I kept referring to certain events in the book, trying to figure out the similarities and differences between the two types of media.  Obviously the novel is going to be the fuller work: there’s much more room to play with in a 400 page novel than you will have in a two hour movie (in this case, two and a half hours).  Stuff works and stuff doesn’t work, but that is what everyone would come to accept for movies based on novels.

So, it is my duty to try and separate the two, and as such, I will review as much of the film as possible as a movie itself, and nothing with regards to the book (this site wouldn’t be called Boyo at the Movies if I did in fact review other things, now would it?).

Ready?  Let’s begin.

Is this movie good?  Yes, quite good in fact.  It’s neo-noir/detective thriller at its finest.  The plot is easy enough to grasp: Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist facing jail time for libeling a giant corporation in his magazine Millenium.  He gets contacted by Henrik Vanger, of the Vanger Corporation, who requests his help in discovering the murderer of his favorite niece, Harriet, which occurred forty years prior.  Mikael starts discovering new clues within Henrik’s personal collection of information received from the police and other sources during the investigation.  He also receives help from Lisbeth Salander, a young, introverted goth who knows everything about Blomkvist, investigating him for Vanger, but also for herself, or for the case, which intrigues her just as much as it does Blomkvist.  There’s more to her beyond being an introvert though, which Blomkvist slowly but surely picks up on.

Oh, and no one wants them around either.  No one being pretty much the entire Vanger clan, which Henrik despises.

In terms of detective style nuances, Blomkvist and Salander pick up on things naturally as they flow along.  Blomkvist picks up on one clue, which start leading into other clues.  A discovery of Harriet’s personal bible with initials and numbers has a certain importance, but Salander, who is a genius computer hacker, puts it together from her memory.  They investigate old sources, and it takes time to do so.  This isn’t detective work like TV, where the one hour time requires that everything be solved in two days or less, with the best equipment available.  This is getting your hands dirty detective work, searching for days and turning up dead ends but finding something that may in fact be useful later.  Weeks and months pass with either very little or a lot of progress.

These are ordinary people too: Blomkvist is in his forties.  He’s thorough in his work as a journalist, and it translates for him here while he’s looking for Harriet’s killer.  He has six months until his prison sentence.  He has time (and he’s even told that he himself may not find out who the killer is), and he’s getting paid well from Henrik to investigate.  Salander is something completely different: 24 years old, thin, covered in tattoos and piercings (the dragon on her back is intimidating, to say the least), largely unattractive, and yet highly attractive in her own way, secretive and withdrawn, but is sharp and knows how to handle herself.  She hates men, or at least abusive men (the original Swedish title converts to Men Who Hate Women, which I think wouldn’t fly well here in America).  Her back story and her encounter with her guardian, her new one, suggests just as much, and the trailers for the second and third film look to expand upon those plot threads.

It goes without saying that the actors who plays these characters do them well, and they fit them perfectly.  I actually looked at pictures of Noomi Rapace: the transformation between what she looks like in real life and as Salander is staggering.  She’s a terrific actor too, not just how she speaks but how she really acts.  Salander speaks more with her actions: her eyes are constantly roving, her mouth twitches constantly, she’s impatient and irritated often, and Rapace pulls it off.

The film is not rated, and probably for good reason: there is a lot of sex and violence in the film, both sometimes going together.  None of it is snuff though, or torturous for that matter.  It’s bound to upset some viewers, but it’s necessary in that it drives the film by driving the characters and their motivations, especially Salander.  Her history suggests sexual violence.  Still, because of the non-rating, only the independent theaters and the art houses will be playing this.  In Philly and the suburbs, it’s downtown, but it’s also in Ambler and Doylestown, as of this writing.

So yes, this movie is well worth it.  Don’t expect everything to be on the screen that was in the book though.  You won’t be disappointed either way.

A-

Do you know how impossible it is to find an all-rated trailer (at least an embeddable one?), and not a R-rated one?  Damn… anyway, I think this may be the international trailer, but I’m not certain.

Without sounding horribly cliched with the name (which is impossible to, but what do you expect with America today?), Kick Ass was certainly, well, kick ass, in a way.  You do certainly get what you paid for: manic amounts of action and bloody violence, barrels full of cursing, and the enjoyable pleasure of wishing (or not) that your parents trained you in the martial arts at a young age so you could go around slaughtering people at 11 years of age.

If that’s what you’re expecting (and all that you’re expecting), then congrats, you have an easy ‘A’.

But…

First off, this movie is surprisingly dark.  It really doesn’t move that way until maybe halfway through the film, when other subplots start kicking in, but things do get dark.  They mainly involve the back story of Big Daddy, but the violence also g0t relentless, not in that over-the-top sense, but the “I’m killing you and you stay dead” sense that you’re killing people just to kill them.  I did a quick scan of review blurbs and found someone who suggested comparisons to Shoot ‘Em Up, and I certainly see the connection.  Kick Ass has more plot though (Shoot ‘Em Up was a bloodbath every five minutes, and quickly grew boring about half way through).

The movie drags at times too, mainly through the middle section.  I started not liking the film at that time, and I can’t really place my finger on it: too slow, or too much action, or just the fact that I didn’t find it entirely funny that an 11 year old has the mouth of a cracked out Pop-Eye the sailor (maybe I’m getting old…?).  The final act was good, but I didn’t entirely like the concluding action piece.  The music didn’t seem right to me, and there was too much CGI special effects occurring.  That said, the choreography was sound, and the movements of a highly trained eleven year old seemed quite believable.

Actually, the better action sequences came before that one.  Two of them in fact, and I think the music attributed to that.  Thinking back on it, the music draws the film into that dark territory I mentioned earlier.  The first sequence involving Big Daddy played off of his character’s subplot (which is a common plot, but I won’t reveal it here), but watching it and feeling it makes you almost sympathize with the character, even as he efficiently kills a dozen people.  The second sequence with Hit Girl is well shot as well, the music again adding to the dark overtones (the scenes before that lend themselves to this sequence).  There’s a video game feel to it, but by the end, you can see what Hit Girl would do for Big Daddy.

There’s one other nagging thought that keeps recurring when I think about this film: the use of media and the internet and America’s response to it.  You can see in the trailer that Kick Ass becomes a media firestorm when he defends one defenseless guy against three attackers.  The point of Kick Ass the superhero is to become a hero and fight crime, or die trying.  He’s being a hero while people stand by and watch (and, being 21st century America, taking out their iPhones and Blackberry’s and the like and recording everything) and don’t act, almost being the good Samaritan and the vigilante at the same time.  I know this film isn’t the first one to use such an underlying theme of media and good citizenship, but this one does it effectively, mainly because it falls within the conventions of the comic book genre.

But you’re really not seeing this movie for those reasons, right?  I mean, come on, you’re there to see action and violence and a potty mouth 11 year old.  What other reason is there to see it?

B

Note: there was a similar film that came out recently in limited release – Defendor, starring Woody Harrelson as a vigilante crime fighter – with some of the same themes.  It came out on DVD a week or two ago, so at some point, I may consider renting it and writing about that as well.

There are some things that, despite my continued viewing of movies, I still find myself learning.

I never knew about the Pentagon Papers, or Daniel Ellsberg, or how he and the papers tied into Richard Nixon and Watergate.

I also discovered just how much more of a rat bastard Richard Nixon was (which, considering history already viewed him as one, this just adds more to the fire).

This doesn’t bode well for me, mostly because I am a student (read: was) of history (read: European history).  So, in pursuit of understanding the world, I may just have to get myself a book on the Pentagon Papers.

This documentary is a good starting point, though more of a one-sided affair.  It isn’t that bad actually, the one-sided-ness.  That stems from the fact that Daniel Ellsberg narrates the documentary: he was the one that broke the papers to the media, so it would only seem right to have a film based on his points of view, which are largely in line with the view of history in general.  Five presidents took part in a pursuit of democracy in Indochina through many unscrupulous means: I can’t remember what Truman did (I take responsibility because I should have written this sooner, not five days after seeing the movie), but Eisenhower put in a puppet dictator, Kennedy took some part in this as well, Johnson built up troops without Congressional consent, and Nixon kept the troops in Vietnam mainly to save American face.  Defense Secretary McNamara (under Johnson) blatantly lied on national television about the progress of the war, and Kissinger (under Nixon) was pretty much the reason why Nixon didn’t just drop a nuclear bomb on a Vietnam village.

But the documentary is about Ellsberg as much as it is about the war and the papers.  It goes through his life in a non-linear fashion, focusing on his job in the Pentagon and the RAND Corporation, the beginnings of his second marriage, his dramatic shift from hawk to dove, and the untimely loss of his mother and sister in a car accident.  That last incident also served to shape his views of people in general: he needed to watch people in authority not because they were necessarily bad, but largely because they were inattentive.

His shift from hawk to dove is dramatic in how large of a shift it was.  Ellsberg was in support of the war from the early stages, though opposed to the napalm bombing tactics that dominated a large portion of the war (which, in the general flow of things, he was largely responsible for).  He went to Vietnam for two years and reported to McNamara about the progress of the war (which is the part where McNamara lied about the war progressing well).  He started attending anti-war rallies too, and described his shift as a result of a draft resister’s commitment to going to jail, in spite of his love for his country.  It was then that Ellsberg realized that, if he was going to end an unjust war, he needed to be prepared to go to jail.

Which almost happened, if not for Nixon.  I have to research Nixon more beyond Watergate (and wonder why he won either the first or second largest landslide victory in American history), but Nixon’s legacy is forever marred by the Watergate scandal.

As for Ellsberg (and what I find I admire about him most after leaving the theater), he continued his anti-war activism.  He made public speeches, marched and rallies, and, yes, was arrested at times for general civil disobedience (the movie actually showed one such incident, recorded in 2008).  He just turned 79 last week, and I imagine, even at that old age, he’ll continue being an activist.

Probably the only concerns with the documentary is that one-sided direction the movie goes through, but it doesn’t diminish from the movie at all.  This is about Daniel Ellsberg, his life, and his decision to bring to light the decision making that several American presidents took to bring an unjust war to Vietnam that couldn’t be won, and in the end cost nearly 60,000 American lives.

B+

Note: when Ellsberg went to Vietnam for those two years, he actually led a platoon.  He was a Marine, and graduated first in his class.  He’s also ridiculously smart too (the Ph.D. he has is something borderline crazy, which is a good thing).