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AP Photo/Warner Bros. Pictures, Daniel Smith
Robert Downey Jr., Noomi Rapace, and Jude Law are shown in a scene from “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows.”

Two different mysteries intertwined

Posted: January 5, 2012 - 10:15am
AP Photo/Sony, Columbia Pictures, Merrick Morton
Rooney Mara is shown in a scene from “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo.”

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"
Columbia Pictures
2 hours, 38 minutes

"Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows"
Warner Bros. Pictures
2 hours, 9 minutes

It was the last week of the year, one in which I traditionally try to cram in as many of the Christmas blockbusters as I can before they go away and the January doldrums begin. This year I'd gotten to see just about all of the major releases that came to the Peninsula, excluding the ones I'd studiously avoided like "The Sitter," or films that inexplicably haven't come yet, like "War Horse" or "We Bought a Zoo." Happily, I was able to cross the last two available films off my list, each of them involving a girl with a dragon tattoo, just in radically different circumstances.

The first movie I saw this week was the American version of the Swedish runaway smash novel, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." I waited until after Christmas, however, not wanting to sully my celebration with the rape and torture that MGM thought it so appropriate to grace the holiday season with. I honestly cannot imagine what they were thinking when they picked a Christmas Day release for that movie. Oscar nominations, I suppose, and while that's certainly possible, it could also have been possible with an early November release date -- even late October. I contend that the release date's got as much to do with the surprisingly tepid box office this movie is seeing as the subject matter. "Merry Christm-yikes!"

Daniel Craig is Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist down on his luck after losing an expensive libel suit against a corrupt billionaire who set him up. When a shadowy family in an out-of-the-way part of Northern Sweden contracts him to solve a 40-year-old murder, it seems like the perfect distraction from his troubles. Little does he realize that the investigation will land him in bigger trouble than he could possibly imagine. 

Rooney Mara (the girlfriend from "The Social Network") is Lisbeth Salander. Salander is a computer genius, but certified anti-social psychotic who does occasional background checks for a large security firm in Stockholm. Though intellectually brilliant, the government has deemed her emotional instability worthy of monitoring through a guardianship program. Salander has all freedom she desires, however, until her long-term guardian, possibly the only man she trusts, suffers a debilitating stroke, and she is reassigned to a man far less sympathetic. I'll not give any more details about their interactions, but suffice it to say it goes badly for everyone involved. Eventually, the author gets around to uniting our two protagonists and together they tackle the decades-old murder case, with shocking results.

I say shocking, because that's what I assume it would be if I had just wandered into this movie without any prior information. That's how I wish I had seen it -- fresh, without having previously read the entire series of books, seen the Swedish versions of said books, and read article after innumerable article about the making of the American version over the course of the last year. The movie is well-made, the acting good, and the story above average, but I am just tired of it, to be honest.

As far as quality goes, this version, directed by auteur David Fincher, is by far the best of the bunch, including the novels which, while interesting, are not all that well written. The Swedish films were bland, in my opinion, with the exception of the performance of Noomi Rapace as Salander. She was pretty amazing.

Rooney Mara is also, if not equally so, amazing as the current Lisbeth, and her parts of the story are by far the most interesting. There are two more stories in the series, and I think I'll enjoy the American versions of these more so than this first outing, if only because I'm not so inundated with the story.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is not for everybody, not by half, and Fincher tells you that right up front with a striking, if somewhat obnoxious, title sequence involving naked computer generated women covered in melted black plastic, exploding into flowers or snakes or whatever. If the opening sequence freaks you out, you should just go ahead and leave.
Grade: B+

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is rated R for graphic violence, graphic nudity, sexual situations, extreme language, and a depiction of rape.

The second movie of the week is the "Sherlock Holmes" sequel, "Game of Shadows," which stars Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, and, wouldn't you know it, Noomi Rapace, turning in a far less amazing performance as a gypsy who joins forces with the dynamic detecting duo of Holmes and Watson. That's not to say she's bad in the film, just that nothing in this movie feels like it was given any kind of deep consideration. "Game of Shadows" is one you've seen played before a million times, often better than it is here.   

This time around Holmes is even zanier, as director Guy Ritchie foolishly decides to go the cliche sequel route and amp up all the popular parts of the first film. People liked the disguises in the first film? Let's have him in disguise in almost every scene. Remember the cool boxing match where Holmes pre-visualizes the entire bout before it even happens? Here we see our hero employ that trick at least four times, once in an odd and, not surprisingly, dull chess match.

The story, in a nutshell, is thus: With Watson's wedding on the horizon, Holmes has been left to his own devices and is attempting to tie a series of nefarious activities, occurring world-wide, to one man, the evil genius Dr. Moriarty. Moriarty, then, takes it upon himself to destroy both Holmes and Watson before they can disrupt his big plans, and the game is afoot!

Overall, the film is pretty silly, not at all as well-done as the first movie, but somehow manages to maintain the fun. As somewhat mindless entertainment, "Game of Shadows" works well enough, though not quite enough to assure a third outing. It might just be curtains for Holmes and dear Watson, unless, of course, the foreign market coughs up enough cash to make it worth the studio's while.
Grade: B-

"Sherlock Holmes: Book of Shadows" is rated PG-13 for action violence and lots of explosions.

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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