A Week in the Life of a Film Geek (May 10-16, 2010)
His Girl Friday (1940) ****
Directed by Howard Hawks
His Girl Friday (1940)- Nonstop energy along with Rosalind Russell's brilliant acting help make this dark screwball comedy work. **** of 5
Just once in my life, I want to participate in the kind of banter heard throughout His Girl Friday, a screwball comedy that's light on the screwball but heavy on intelligence. The back and forth dialogue of this 1940 classic helped to invent a more realistic style of movie conversation where characters are willing to talk over each other and not wait for one person to finish talking before speaking their next line. It could be argued that we wouldn't have the mumblecore movement today without the early influence of His Girl Friday.
The film does suffer from what I call "one room play adaptation syndrome." When plays with settings limited to one or two rooms are translated into films, the product tends to feel visually stifled--see Butterflies Are Free as a later example. His Girl Friday's two extended sequences take place in an office in a newspaper company and in a meeting room for the press which neighbors the city courthouse. There are short scenes that take place in a restaurant and a prison, but these moments come and go way too quickly. If only the film's locations could have been as dynamic as its dialogue, then the momentum would have really been something to behold. Instead, the whole thing feels a bit like ultra-caffeinated people are locked inside of a room and are almost begging to be freed in order to release their pent up energy.
Rosalind Russell absolutely steals every scene she's in as Hildy Johnson, a former reporter who's looking forward to getting married to insurance salesman Bruce Baldwin (Ralph Bellamy) and live a life as a "normal woman." This frustrates newspaper editor Walter Burns, played adequately by Cary Grant in a performance I wouldn't call one of his best, for two reasons. First of all, Hildy's a truly excellent reporter, but also, more importantly, she's Walter's ex-wife with whom he wouldn't mind reuniting. Walter schemes in order to get Hildy to agree to cover one final story, and from there, things get completely out of control. Though much of the film is played for laughs, there's an undertone of corruption, injustice and scandal which adds an element of frustration and a shade of darkness to the whole ordeal. I'd argue with anyone who calls His Girl Friday a light comedy.
I've recently come across They Shoot Pictures Don't They's Top 1000 Films list which you can see here. They call His Girl Friday the 106th greatest film of all time, above such masterpieces as The Grapes of Wrath and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Though it's a solid film which everyone should see, I do not believe it belongs in the company of such nearly perfect classics. Maybe voters focused on Russell's performance and the innovation of the dialogue. If so, then I suppose I can at least respect the film's ranking even if I don't think it belongs anywhere near the top 100.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010) **
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2010)- Novels take hours/days to read. Why inflexibly stuff EVERY DETAIL into 150 minutes? Absurd. ** of 5
Sometimes there's nothing better than curling up with a good book and immersing oneself so very deep inside the world inhabited within hundreds upon hundreds of pages. Books are better than movies at ascribing precise detail through its rich prose which has the ability to wash over the reader until submerged into a plot containing familiar characters, some of whom, albeit temporarily, become our closest friends and others our worst enemies. The best books are the hardest to put down. Everyone who enjoys reading knows that feeling of betrayal and borderline depression which occurs when an especially riveting book or series of books ends with the final words on the very last page.
From everything I've heard, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is one of these very books. It's become an international best seller, and not since The DaVinci Code have I had so many different people recommend that I read a single book. The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo couldn't have become a sensation by accident. Certainly something has connected with so many readers all over the world.
Perhaps this very success is the reason why the Swedish film version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is such a misfire. For 150 minutes, I wasn't watching a movie as much as I was watching a book slavishly transposed to the screen. From its first 45 minutes of non-stop character exposition through its twisty second act involving an investigation of brutal sex crimes and murders to its conclusion after conclusion after conclusion, I felt as I was watching that I could easily mark in the screenplay precisely where every corresponding chapter in the book began and ended.
Novels absolutely must be adapted if they are going to be made into autonomous films, no matter how popular. Novels take hours, often days, to read from cover to cover. A quintuple homicide, which is the investigation at the center of the book/film, is easy to spread out over a number of chapters. Here, it seems the investigations are solved before we even realize that the investigations have begun. Whole chunks feel painfully rushed, while character expositions and conclusions are tediously drawn out. From a standpoint of pure pacing, the murders are solved before they should have been solved and the movie doesn't end until well after it ought to have ended.
Our two main characters are a reporter named Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and a bisexual goth computer hacker named Lisbeth (Noomi Rapace). The film takes its time introducing us to these protagonists who meet after Lisbeth hacks into Blomkvist's computer. He's a reporter who's about to go to jail on libel charges after attempting to expose a powerful executive. Awaiting his jail sentence, he's got nothing better to do than answer a phone request to visit a house he used to frequent as a little boy where he begins an investigation concerning the disappearance of a 16 year old girl forty years prior.
Meanwhile, Lisbeth, who happens to be the girl with a dragon tattoo, has her own problems to put it mildly. She's a freed convict being sexually assaulted by her new state-appointed guardian. Sounds pretty awful right? Makes you angry, huh? Well, just in case the idea isn't enough to boil your blood, the film shows us a rape scene that is gratuitously brutal, followed by a revenge spectacle that puts the rape scene to shame. The profound problem with these two shocking sequences is that neither is necessary at all. Personally, the implication that a sexual assault has taken place would have been enough to get me on board with the motivations of Lisbeth without the lingering sadism. I imagine that Oplev's goal was to bring the brutality written on the printed page to life; however, he forgot the fact that, no matter how explicit words are on a page, readers picture things in their minds based on what they choose to dwell on or ignore. In a movie, these choices are taken away, and the result here is a nasty little pair of scenes which detract from everything that comes before and leaves a putrid stench on everything that follows.
Yes, the plot about a serial killer murdering young women is bound to make for a disturbing film. The rest of the movie's graphic, grisly violence does not pull focus from either the mystery or the character development. Sadly, though, both the mystery and the characters play out as they would in a novel, and the result is something less than cinematic. Too bad since there's a potentially satisfying mystery/thriller at the film's core. If this sort of thing is your cup of tea, then keep going past the movie theater and don't stop until you get to a bookstore--at least that's what people keep telling me.