The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Based on the first part of the Millennium Trilogy by Swedish author Stieg Larsson, and following on from the original Swedish film version Man som hatar kvinnor by Niels Arden Oplev, the English-language version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was originally regarded with some skepticism. As it is, director David Fincher’s track record with high concept thrillers (Se7en, Fight Club, Zodiac) and a convincing star turn by Daniel Craig as investigative reporter Mikael Blomkvist have done much to generate a positive buzz. The production is unquestionably stylish, and Fincher manages the labyrinthine mystery with flair, though some critics have found Rooney Mara’s performance as the deeply damaged computer hacker Lisbeth Salander too shallow and gimmicky. With a story-telling style and appearance quite different from Oplev’s film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo seems to have done enough to lift itself from being merely a Hollywood bastardization of a European classic.
Puss in Boots
The character Puss in Boots made his first appearance in the second Shrek movie, played a part in the increasingly unfunny subsequent movies of that franchise, and now has a film all of his own. Publicity material describes the film as the story of Puss before he met up with Shrek and his friends, but it is just as well to think of Puss in Boots as a stand-alone production in which Puss (voiced by Antonio Banderas), has a chance to show himself as a complete cat. Other members of the outstanding voice cast include Salma Hayek as Kitty Softpaws (the love interest of the piece), and Zach Galifianakis in an inspired interpretation of Humpty Dumpty. Witty dialogue, some sensational set pieces and a sense of good fun appealing to both children and adults save the film from its rather episodic structure.
The Rum Diary
Adapted from an early novel of the same title by Hunter S. Thompson, The Rum Diary sees Johnny Depp as Thompson’s alter ego Paul Kemp, who discovers his literary self through a combination of literary ambition, dirty politics, and heavy boozing in San Juan. This is no Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, but much more of a joyful, if rather disreputable, romp, as the young Kemp entrenches himself with two colleagues against their editor (Richard Jenkins) and a corrupt property developer (Aaron Echhart). There are some slight echoes of Withnail and I, also directed by Bruce Robinson, but in The Rum Diary Depp is hampered by his own massive star power in producing a truly convincing portrait of befuddled idealism. While the support cast is often humorous, there is a lack of focus to the ensemble.
A Ghost of a Chance (Suteki na Kanashibari)
Feel-good comedy from the hand of director Koki Mitani, one of Japan’s most successful comedy writers and directors. A Ghost of a Chance, his most recent work, with its hearkening back to the golden age of Frank Capra and of Hollywood comedy, might be a delight at 90-plus minutes, but Mitani spins out the tale with complex subplots, and the comic momentum of the movie is lost. An absurd story about a bumbling lawyer who is required to ask the ghost of a long-dead samurai general to testify for the defence in a murder trial takes substantial comic risks. Strong performances by Eri Fukatsu as the lawyer and Kiichi Nakai as the buttoned-down prosecutor lift the film slightly, but ultimately it sags under its own weight.