‘The Drop’ makes compelling descent; ‘Honeymoon’ pops scary question about connubial bliss

The Drop posterThe Drop

It’s a terrific cast: Tom Hardy as Brooklyn bartender Bob Saginowski (a bit of a doofus with a weakness for stray dogs); the late James Gandolfini as Bob’s cynical cousin Marv, who runs the bar; Noomi Rapace as Bob’s scarred and streetwise love interest; Matthias Schoenaerts as a menacing psycho and John Ortiz as a smart, smooth-talking cop.

It’s a tense, top-notch script, written by neo-noir stalwart Dennis Lehane based on his short story called “Animal Rescue,” and it’s well directed by Michaël R. Roskam. The “drop” refers to cash bundles that are left surreptitiously at bars and kept safe until mobsters stop by to collect them. When Marv’s bar is robbed and the gangsters’ cash seized, a series of double-crosses and brutalities ensues.

These characters live and breathe before us – Gandolfini in particular easily inhabits a guy who wants the Christmas decorations in his bar down by December 27, who knows which whiskey will seal a deal and who unwinds by parking himself in front of a mindless TV show.

It’s a good-looking film, capturing the feel of a bleak midwinter, shot by cinematographer Nicolas Karakatsanis.

With much in its favor, the entertaining “The Drop” isn’t a great film because the storytelling becomes a bit too convoluted, there are too many questions left unanswered by the end. It feels like something is missing – perhaps the layers of Bob’s character have not been peeled back far enough.

Still, “The Drop” is a thoughtful, mesmerizing, sometimes funny fall into neo-noir darkness.

Honeymoon posterHoneymoon

For some couples, the honeymoon phase might last months, even years. Not so much in the creepy sci-fi flick “Honeymoon,” an impressive effort from first-time director and co-writer Leigh Janiak.

For Brooklynite newlyweds Paul and Bea, ensconced at an idyllic lake cottage far from the city, tenderness and romance are quickly replaced by tension, then terror.

At first, of course, everything seems perfect. Bea (played by Rose Leslie of “Game of Thrones” and “Downton Abbey”) chirpily recites the couple’s dating rituals and the cherished moment Paul (Harry Treadaway of “The Lone Ranger”) proposed. They can’t keep their hands off each other.

Several hours later, late at night, Bea wanders off alone. Paul finds her and brings her back to the cottage. It soon dawns on him, though, that this version of Bea is not the girl he married and their relationship unravels. Heather McIntosh’s haunting score and crisp cinematography by Kyle Klutz help set the uneasy, eerie mood.

Rooted in psychological fear and grounded with solid performances, the film asks how well we can really know anyone, even those to whom we are intimately attached. As Treadaway put it at a recent press day: “The very process of committing to someone – you love them with all of yourself and trust them with everything you have – is opening up the possibility of this person breaking that trust or not being the person you hoped they were.”

And few things are more frightening than waking up next to a stranger.

“The Drop” and “Honeymoon” are playing in theaters.

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Brian De Palma’s ‘Passion’ fails to ignite critics

Neo-noir master Brian De Palma’s latest film, “Passion,” starring Rachel McAdams and Noomi Rapace, was released today. It’s a reworking of a French film called “Love Crime,” which I reviewed last summer and thought was rather good. (“Love Crime” was directed by Alain Corneau and starred Kristin Scott Thomas and Ludivine Sagnier).

I haven’t seen “Passion” and am wondering if it behooves me to see it, having not been contacted re: screenings arranged by the film’s publicity team. It’s bloody hot out, it’s a holiday weekend and I do have to live up to my nickname, Lazy Legs.

The NYT’s A. O. Scott said the film was “often sleek and enjoyable, dispensing titillation, suspense and a few laughs without taking itself too seriously.”

Justin Chang of Variety puts it this way: “By the time it reaches its overwrought final act, the picture has generated neither the tension of its forebears nor the audacity that would allow it to transcend its silliness.”

And the New York Daily NewsJoe Neumaier pretty much hated it. “With no heat at all and a woefully disjointed cast, De Palma’s danse macabre never catches fire,” Neumaier writes.

Anyone out there seen it? Let me know what you think. I’m going to ponder, while sipping a cool & refreshing cocktail, whether I can get fired up over “Passion.”

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Does ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ need Noomi Rapace to survive?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo/2011/Columbia Pictures/158 min.

By Michael Wilmington

Noomi Rapace

When it comes to playing dark heroines with burning eyes, black jackets, multiple piercings and deadly temperaments, Rooney Mara is alas no Noomi Rapace. But the American actress (Rooney), who put down Jesse Eisenberg so effectively in “The Social Network,” proves surprisingly adept at putting down (and messing up) chauvinists and uncovering serial killers in Noomi’s old role of hacker/heroine Lisbeth Salander, in David Fincher’s remake of the Swedish sensation, “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

It’s a very effective Hollywood movie as well, even if it’s one that, at least for “Dragon Tattoo” veterans, has few surprises. That’s because director Fincher (“The Social Network,” “Zodiac,” “Se7en”) and screenwriter Steven Zaillian (“Schindler’s List”) stay remarkably faithful to the original novels and the three hit Swedish movies made from the books.

Lisbeth of course is the astonishingly anti-social but utterly compelling heroine of the late Swedish journalist/novelist Stieg Larsson’s worldwide best-sellers: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played with Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.”

Those novels, all published posthumously, follow the investigations of fictional journalist Mikael Blomkvist (a character many feel was modeled on Larsson) into the mysterious disappearance, 40 years earlier, of Harriet Vanger, beloved great-niece of Mikael’s employer, Henrik Vanger. The elite Vanger clan has many skeletons rattling around in their mansion closets.

In turn, Mikael (played in the original Swedish films by Michael Nyqvist and by Daniel Craig in Fincher’s film) hires the unorthodox Lisbeth as his researcher because of her incredible Internet skills. Soon the two are swimming in a whirlpool of family secrets, scandal and dread – a multi-plotted terror trap that Larsson kept up though all three of the novels.

Some critics have complained that Fincher and Zaillian haven’t changed the story enough. But it should be obvious by now that the vast audience for these stories doesn’t want them changed.

Hewing to the original as much as possible: That was super-producer David O. Selznick’s rule on adapting beloved best-sellers and classics to the screen, from “David Copperfield” to “Gone with the Wind” to “Rebecca.” And Selznick was usually right.

The more important things about the new “Dragon Tattoo” are that it’s been smartly and deftly adapted, extremely well cast, and beautifully and excitingly filmed. The movie has serious themes, a strong social/political dimension and engaging characters as well as an intricately assembled and finely crafted story that’s also pulpily lurid. Overall, it’s the sort of intelligent entertainment we don’t usually get from blockbusters.

Adding greatly to that intelligence, and to the entertainment value, is the new film’s excellent cast. In addition to Mara and Craig, there’s Robin Wright as Mikael’s editor-lover Erika (the original’s Lena Endre role), Christopher Plummer as Mikael’s employer, Henrik Vanger; the always-superb Stellan Skarsgard as genial Martin Vanger; Joely Richardson and Geraldine James as Vanger family members Anita and Cecilia; Steven Berkoff as the dour family attorney Dirch Frode; and Yorick Van Wageningen as Bjurman, Lisbeth’s amoral nemesis and subject of the trilogy’s most shocking and notorious scenes: the rape and anti-rape.

Why do murder mysteries and detective yarns, film noirs and neo noirs, still captivate audiences, usually the smarter audiences, so intensely? Perhaps it’s because the best of these stories imply that the world, in all its mysterious tangles, can be fathomed – that justice, in all its vagaries, is not as fragile as it sometimes seems, that life’s chaos and horrors can be straightened out or at least understood.

That’s the appeal of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” in all its forms: as addictive novels, as arty foreign films and now as a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s a movie that doesn’t really need Noomi to survive, though it’s nice to know that she’s still around. And that Lisbeth still has her tattoo.

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