(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) I have several issues with modern Science Fiction cinema, but one of the biggest ones is how even savvy filmmakers will use the SF label to completely disregard anything looking like logic or verisimilitude. Add an unexplained global catastrophe between now and the film’s putative date and that seems to be enough to justify the worst world-building atrocities. While particularly pronounced in the Young Adult dystopias, the same tendency can also be found in so-called more serious work with What Happened to Monday being a case in point. Here, the creaky overpopulation bugaboo takes centre stage as the justification of a draconian one-child policy and other assorted dystopian business. Our heroines, predictably, are seven identical sisters kept hidden and educated by their grandfather. When one of them goes missing, it’s not just about finding her, but exposing the incredibly obvious lies of the government. Premise-wise, this is a dud. Where it gets more interesting is in the execution, as all sisters are played by Noomi Rapace in the kind of acting tour-de-force opportunity that actors crave. Each sister is differentiated in looks, personality and abilities even as they are strictly regimented to appear as one in order to fool the authorities. The various plot machinations required to keep the premise running can be ingenious even if the overall situation makes no sense, and that’s probably the film’s saving grace, along with occasional good action sequences from director Tommy Wirkola. What would have been a low-budget disaster becomes a mildly diverting Netflix “original” (aka: not theatrically distributed in North America), with a few intriguing moments and a remarkable lead performance but not something you can really count as good Science Fiction. There’s been worse, but What Happened to Monday could have been much better.
(First attempt, Video on-demand, August 2015) My wife and I paid for this video on-demand movie, stuck through its first dreary fifteen minutes, then gave up: The movie apparently starts three times, but without any kind of compelling narrative hook or moment-to-moment narrative rhythm. We never went back to the film. Child 44 got horrible reviews from the film-critic community, and I can understand why: Even months later, I’m not exactly in any hurry to go back and see what we missed.
(On Cable TV, November 2016) Re-watching Child 44 and sticking to it until the end did it absolutely no favours. It’s still an unimaginably dull movie. Viewers suffocate under the weight of the Soviet regime, and the movie does its best to make the suffering last as long as possible with subplots that go nowhere, glacial pacing, uninteresting characters and a direction that does its best to kill whatever tension, suspense or interest that the movie may hold. Even for a historical thriller in which our disgraced heroes track down a detestable child murderer, Child 44 is unbelievably boring. The top-notch cast (Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnerman, Vincent Cassel, etc.) isn’t given anything interesting to do or to say. There is potential in the premise of the film, and sometimes in the picture it shows—but that potential does not extend to anything approaching entertainment or viewing pleasure—the film takes forever to start, take forever to build and forever to end. I’ve seen far worse movies this year, but even the bad one still had more entertainment value than Child 44. Complete dud.
(Netflix Streaming, August 2015) I don’t think I have fallen asleep during this film, but on the other hand so little happens through it that I can’t be sure. Adapted from a shorty story by Dennis Lehane, The Drop concerns itself with an unassuming man stuck between warring organized crime lords, trying to rescue a dog and keep his job at the local bar when that bar, used as a money drop, is brazenly robbed. Pay attention to “adapted from a short story”, because The Drop feels like a fifteen-minute segment of a longer story stretched over an entire feature film. The rhythm is maddeningly slow, and Tom Hardy fails to do much more than growl and be underestimated. Meanwhile, Noomi Rapace’s role feels a lot like the one she had in Dead Man Down. There is an overall feeling of empty familiarity about The Drop that makes it feel far longer and duller than it should have ben. There’s a thing about making gritty dramas, but sometime, they end up too gritty and unpalatable as a result.
(On Cable TV, October 2014) For some reason, I expected a bit more oomph from this thriller. Colin Farrell isn’t the big star he used to be, so it’s not as big a surprise to find him in a quasi-direct-to-video thriller. Still, much of Dead Man Down has the unfortunate tendency to combine a dreary-dull atmosphere with far-fetched plot beats: New York in the rain, disfigured heroine, brooding protagonist on one side; intricate revenge plan, grandiose crime bosses, rat torture, pickup crashing into a house on the other. Director Niels Arden Oplev is best-known for the Swedish The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film, but there’s a mild-mannered lack of edge to his style that make the film a bit boring to watch despite its outlandish elements. Everything’s gray and grimy… except for Noomi Rapace, looking good despite being supposedly disfigured to a point where kids shout “Monster!” at her. Dead Man Down surely won’t make waves or history despite finding a few interesting shooting locations near New York City: it’s a bit too sedate for the wild story it’s trying to tell, and not quite deep enough to masquerade as a character drama beyond the shootouts. At best, it’s a competent time-waster, the kind of thriller you find late at night and can’t find any better choice.
(In theaters, December 2011) It goes without saying that sequels often aim to replicate the elements that made the success of their predecessor, and add something more. In this light, this follow-up to 2009’s Sherlock Holmes is an unqualified success, and maybe even a more enjoyable film than its predecessor. Front and center, of course, is Robert Downey Jr.’s fast-witted take on the title character, complete with instant-strategy monologues and slashy repartee with Jude Law’s dependable Watson. More importantly, though, Game of Shadows ups the ante by providing an antagonist that is strong enough to present a challenge to Holmes: Jared Harris’ Moriarty lives up to its literary namesake, and makes for a formidable opponent. It all leads to a climactic chess game that plays off a few of the series’ signature motifs. (Literary fans will see Reichenbach Falls appear and nod at where the film is going.) Casting Stephen Fry as Mycroft is a bit of a coup, while it’s nice to see Noomi Rapace’s high cheekbones get a bit of Hollywood gloss after her role as “The Girl” of the Millennium trilogy. Director Guy Richie once again provides an action-adventure take on the basic premise, along with light steampunk esthetics and slow-motion action sequences. (A blue-tinted run through a forest provides a quasi-impressionistic sequence of almost-still images.) While the end result doesn’t transcend the Hollywood holiday blockbuster genre, it’s a well-executed example of the form, keenly aware of its audience’s demands and almost eager to satisfy them.
(On DVD, August 2010) This third and (presumably) last entry in the Millennium trilogy is best appreciated by fans of the lead characters: Picking up moments after the events of the second film, the narrative depends almost entirely on character quirks, plot follow-ups and existing tensions established during the second movie. It’s not quite as slow to begin this time around, but it’s just as “carefully paced” (which quickly becomes “long and repetitive” if you’re not a fan) as the two previous films in the series, something which, in turn, can be traced back to Stieg Larsson’s procedural novels serving as source material. For fans of the series, though, this marks an effective entry in the series as prickly protagonist Lisbeth Salander goes up against powerful renegade groups within the Swedish state’s security establishment while undergoing a trial that will determine her independence. No fear, though: Sweet justice is measured onto those who deserve it, and Mikael Blomkvist even gets a chance to fight back in an action scene of his own. The film itself in directed unspectacularly, which isn’t as disappointing as you may think given how it allows the actors, particularly Noomi Rapace as Salander and Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist, to underplay their roles in typical Scandinavian fashion. There’s even an interesting moral point made at the end, as a competent democratic government takes care of its renegade elements without any typical American-style cynicism or overblown violence. For a series cut down abruptly by the author’s untimely death, this third volume ends on a satisfying note that allow viewers to let go and imagine Blomkvist and Salander’s next adventures without anxiety. Reflecting upon the entire trilogy, there’s no doubt that the first volume is quite a bit better, more unusual and more rewarding than the last two. Still, it’s not a bad series, and the sheer magnetic power of Rapace as Salander makes it a recommendation. Who knows what the Americans will do with their remake? DVD-wise, the R1-Quebec release regrettably has no extra features whatsoever.
(In theaters, July 2010) Fans of Stieg Larsson’s massively successful trilogy will be reassured to find that the second film adaption from his novels is almost as good as the first one. “Almost” because a bit of the originality of seeing two unusual characters fighting crime in modern Sweden has faded a bit. But what The Girl Who Played with Fire has over its prequel is character familiarity, and much of the pleasure of this second entry is in seeing past plot threads being weaved into a complex thriller. Millennium 2 is slightly more traditional in form than the first film (one character is framed for murder and must fight to find the true murderer, helped along by the other protagonist), but don’t presume that it’s all back to formula: The structure of the film is cleverly manipulated (even modified from the original novel) so that the two lead character only meet at the very end of The Girl Who Played with Fire, while the mid-film car chase and fight sequence are amusingly delegated to secondary characters. Screenwriters should study the choices made in bringing the novel to screen, because an amazing amount of careful streamlining took place to fit the novel’s procedural excess into barely more than two hours’ worth of film: It’s no accident if much of the novel’s first half is abstracted. Many of the pacing issues of the first film also carry over, although the lengthy coda of Millennium 1 is here truncated into an abrupt ending that leads viewers straight to the third film. But plot aside, this is still Noomi Rapace’s show as the longer-haired but no less mesmerizing Lisbeth Salander; Michael Nyqvist is reassuring as the boy-scout journalist Mikael Blomkvist, but it’s Salander who’s the compelling core of the story and its protagonist. It’s a solid film, maybe a bit too slow although surprisingly nimble compared to the original book. Fortunately, viewers won’t have to wait a long time before the third film comes out.
(In theatres, May 2010) Already a monster hit everywhere in the first world, Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy is slowly conquering the American market, the belated release of this first movie preparing the terrain for the release of the third volume in translation, and maybe even an Americanized version of the films. It’s no fair betting that the eventual remake will be a lot less distinctive than the Swedish original, which does quite a few things differently from what we’d expect. For one thing, it starts slowly. Really, really slowly: While the mystery is suggested early on, there isn’t much of an investigation for the first hour of the film, and its main characters are kept apart for a long while. The film later moves very leisurely, and takes forever to wrap up after the action climax of the story. But those who have read the original novel know that it’s even worse at pacing than the film. Fortunately, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo places so much emphasis on its characters that the plot doesn’t reign supreme: Instead, we can be fascinated by the odd pairing of a pudgy reporter (Mikael Blomkvist, appropriately underplayed by Michael Nyqvist) and a prickly hacker (Lisbeth Salander, incarnated definitively by Noomi Rapace) in unravelling a decades-old mystery by the slenderest of threads. The thematic underpinning of the story is all about violence against women (the original title translates at “Millennium: Part 1 – Men Who Hate Women”), and the film finely upholds the original’s progressive political outlook. The Swedish setting only adds to the interest of the picture, as we get to see the character dig through decades of local history and travel throughout Sweden. It all adds up to a crime thriller that works in unusual ways, taking advantage of strong characters to paper over a weak structure and inconsistent pacing. It all adds up to a fascinating thriller, and one that flows quite a bit better than its 158-minutes running time and slow pacing would suggest. Bring on the sequels!