Foreign Films for Xenophobes

12 04 2010

We at Steven Spielblog – and by we, we mean I – try not to see many Foreignese films. If those foreign filmmakers were so good, they’d have the talent to have been born here in the U.S.A., I always say. Hell, if that Pedro Almodovar had the chops those pinkos at the Jew Yorker say he does, his name would be Pete Adamson, and he’d be hard at work on a Marvel superhero franchise to call his own. (ALL ABOUT MY MUTANT?) But, there’s a place for everything, I s’pose, even foreign films. And at the Spielblog, that’s why we’ve got our ‘Furrin Film Corral,’ where we put a fence around movies from other countries, and poke at them with a pointy stick.

The first detainee in this week’s corral is THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, Sweden’s answer to Brett Ratner’s RUSH HOUR series – except instead of a fast-talking LA cop teaming up with a kung-fu’ey Hong Kong detective, it’s up to a badass bisexual hacker and a disgraced left wing journalist to join forces and get to the bottom of a mystery, the details of which I’ll not divulge – because I am both kind, and lazy.

Jennifer Aniston and Gerard Butler in the upcoming American remake of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

Word has it that director David Fincher’s already planning a 100% American remake of DRAGON TATTOO , and it’s not hard to see why; this is a work of intelligence, brutality, and style, and Fincher could get his dark groove on in the reworking of it, mining the killer vein he knows well for a film just as entertaining as this; but it’s unlikely he’ll produce a better film, if only because there’s such genre perfection on display here. The look of DRAGON TATTOO is atmospheric but understated, underscoring revelations of banal evil. The plot’s lean and unpredictable, leading to a climax that’s action-packed without being far-fetched (a problem in the finales of many thrillers…) Best of all though, are the characters of the detectives themselves. Director Niels Arden Oplev (furriner) provides just the right amount of background for heroes Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. And what history he does provide resonates with the murder plot they uncover in the present. Here’s an object lesson in how to fashion sympathetic, yet complicated protagonists – neither simple do-gooders nor walking counterpoint caricatures, in the American “two-hander” tradition. After all, what’s the point of engaging in a mystery if you don’t care about the people solving it?

Shheeeeeeiiit! I sounded like a fan of furrin’ films there for a minute, didn’t I? Sorry, folks. What is it about these imports what makes me go all illuminati-pants? Someone, put on a middle-period Stallone movie, quick! Ahhhh, that’s better. You soothe me, COBRA.

Next in the corral, prison epic A PROPHET, from Fraaaaaance. Hey France, you think you can just foux-du-fafa on in here and make a prison movie better than America’s own SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION? Well-! Shit! … You happen to be right, France. This time.

As much as it pains me to admit, Jacques Audiard’s A PROPHET is probably the best movie set in a prison since PAPILLON – a film that sounds French, but is actually American. (Suck it.) A PROPHET is enthralling from the start – and though it is long, I defy you to check your watch. The story follows Malik, a nineteen year-old Arab sentenced to six years in French jail (like American jail, but with baguettes.) As soon as he arrives in prison, Malik’s forced by the head of the Corsican mob to kill a fellow Arab. Malik and the mobster Cesar form a bond built on subjugation and protection; though as Malik begins to pull away and establish himself among his fellow prisoners, Cesar’s hold on his ward becomes tighter and more desperate.

Gerard Butler and Gerard Butler in the upcoming American remake of A PROPHET

What’s so unique about A PROPHET is that unlike most fictions set in the slammer, this one has nothing to do with escape. Rather, it’s about the forging of identity – personal and religious – behind bars. It’s Malik’s violent coming-of-age story, and it’s never less than hypnotic in the telling. The plotting is dense yet clear, thanks in large part to the editing by Juliette Welfling. Even as huge chunks of time are spanned in single cuts, her work propels the story, without ever pulling out to that wide shot of the prison at sunrise, subtitled ‘Two Years Later dot dot dot…

As Malik, Tahar Rahim conveys appropriate fear and naivety in early scenes, then refines that towards the end of his sentence, without hardening beyond recognition or sympathy. His performance is reminiscent of – and worthy of comparison to – Al Pacino in the original GODFATHER. Even as he commits murder, and more murder, Malik is our man. Most amazing of all, is the fact that A PROPHET contains a not-insignificant supernatural element – and, in spite of the skepticism this at first elicited from your Spielblogger, this element works. The power of a film like this is, it’s so vividly and confidently imagined, it can take you anywhere, and you’ll go along for the ride – even if it means meeting a contemplative ghost, and foregoing a big third act jailbreak…

Hey, if you can’t beat American movies at their own game, you might as well try to do something, you know, totally original.

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25 12 2011
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO: The Remake with the English Accents « Steven Spielblog

[…] is a tough one to write, this Christmas morn. I haven’t read the books by Stieg Larsson, but I’ve seen the Swedish film series, and at this point, if you aren’t somewhat familiar with the DRAGON TATTOO craze, it’s clear […]

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