At The Movies

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

(Sequel “The Girl Who Played With Fire” opens at The Crest on August 6)
Directed by Niels Arden Oplev

When you really love a book, it’s perhaps inevitable that the movie version won’t live up to your expectations. But now I know how all those “Lord of the Rings” fans felt a few years ago.

“Dragon Tattoo” is the first of the Swedish techno-thriller that has been dominating bestseller lists. The writing can be clunky, but they’re just as addictive as you’ve heard: intricately plotted, unsentimental, deadpan and truly exciting, with one of the best heroines to come along in awhile. Lisbeth Salander is a 24-year-old, 4’11’’, 90 lb. punk rocker computer hacker with Aspergers and a tendency to ruthlessly dismantle much larger men who have the bad sense to attack her.

Overall, this film was ok, but I have problems with the casting, the mood and the script. Noomi Rapace does a credible job as Salander, even though she’s way too tall and a bit too old. A far worse choice was Michael Nyvquist as crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist. He’s just not handsome enough to credibly play a guy who, in the books at least, is a real ladies man. Though in the film, he’s not so much. While some of the free-love sex stuff in the books gets a little tiresome, the film entirely eliminates one of his romantic connections – never mind that it’s integral to the plot and essentially removes a strong and interesting female character from the proceedings.

Blomkvist is also not nearly as competent in the film. I get that it’s hard to translate a sprawling book into film where much of the action involves the two leads poring over computer records and old files, and where little actually happens in the first 200 pages. But in the book Blomkvist makes many key discoveries that are ignored this time around. The script mainly sticks close to the book. But some of the minor changes – see above – really aren’t that minor as you move into the next two books.

I was also really distracted by the overdramatized and overused mood music (something I also hated about “Lord of the Rings,” and I’ll generally take any opportunity to say that I think Peter Jackson sucks). If I was going to do a Jar-Jar Binks-style “Phantom Edit” on this one, I’d entirely remove the soundtrack. It’s unfortunate the director didn’t model more on the brilliant 1997 Swedish thriller “Insomnia,” which used silence to great effect. Speaking of, it’s also too bad that film’s star, Stellan Skarsgård (familiar to Americans in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies), has gotten too old to play Blomkvist.

Speaking of “Insomnia,” make sure to skip the Al Pacino/Robin Williams American remake and go right to the original. In the case of “Dragon Tattoo,” I’m actually looking forward to the American version, due out early next year.

Inception (Now playing at the Esquire IMAX)

Directed by Chris Nolan

Some films are just made to be seen on the really, really big screen. By that regard, “Inception” may be this year’s “Avatar,” a film so visually delicious you almost don’t care if it’s any good.

Except if you strip away the spectacle, “Inception” is a better film. It’s the kind of film that some college students may have come up with during a chemically-aided late night BS session in a dorm room, except beautifully realized, Charlie Kaufman combined with “The Matrix”  inside an Escher painting.

The plot involves corporate espionage carried out within dreams within dreams within dreams (within dreams…). This is not only an opportunity to show cityscapes folding in on themselves, waves crashing on ruined skyscrapers, a Paris café scene dissolving before your eyes. It also makes for some filmmaking that takes some brainpower to keep track of. The final sequence seems to take up nearly half the film, with the action taking place simultaneously, with non-synchronized timeframes, across multiple different realities.

Not that it’s perfect. “Inception” could have used some clever, Kaufman-style dialog. Some of the action sequences get a bit silly – though this can be excused, since most of them aren’t actually “real.” But the cast and pacing are excellent. It’s 2.5 hours that doesn’t drag, and that’s saying something.

Sacramento Film & Music Festival Sneak Preview 2: The Sequel

By Tony Sheppard
Last week we highlighted opening night (Friday, July 23 – reception with free food, award presentation, feature film, after party with more free food – all for $15), the immigration and Native American documentary night (Tuesday, July 27 – free dinner by Rubio’s and a double-bill of film programs – all for $10), and the special David Garibaldi evening (Thursday, July 29 – documentary, performance, and charity auction – $20).

The weekends also offer special day passes for half the price of the individual programs. Sunday, July 25 has a diverse program of international shorts, followed by a Hungarian feature film, two documentaries about cancer fundraising and expanding horizons for people with disabilities, and a Mario van Peebles feature film about a struggling blues musician. Weekend day passes are just $20.

A program co-presented by the Sacramento International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, Monday, July 26 features two documentaries – “Gen Silent” about discrimination of LGBT in healthcare settings and “Riots Acts: Flaunting Gender Deviance in Music Performance,” which bills itself as a “trans-fabulous rockumentary.” Live music during the double-bill intermission is provided by New Helvetia Theater and the whole evening is covered by a single $10 ticket. More information and ticket at


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