Friday, August 26, 2016

Against the Crowd Blogathon

It's that time of year again, folks! Time for Dell On Films's Against the Crowd Blogathon - this year co-hosted by KG (of KG's Movie Rants). In case this is your first time hearing about it (this is the THIRD ANNUAL blogathon), the rules as laid out by Dell are like so:

1. Pick one movie that "everyone" loves (the more iconic, the better). That movie must have a score of at least 75% on Tell us why you hate it.

2. Pick one movie that "everyone" hates (the more notorious, the better). That movie must have a score of less than 35% on Tell us why you love it.

I had a hard time finding movies for the second part of this last year, and this year, I had a hard time finding movies for the first part. Go figure. Anyway, I wanted to come up with something a BIT more universally beloved that I hated, but discussion of this movie happened to come up recently thanks to Thursday Movie Picks and, well, let's just say I had something to get off my chest...

I HATE David Fincher's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Sorry 'bout it.

But also, #SorryNotSorry.

I can at the very least concede that formally, on the level of pure technique, this is hardly a terrible movie. In fact, the cinematography in particular has a lot going for it, as does the score. But at the basic levels of construction and character, Fincher and his team make a couple of absolutely terrible decisions that the film simply cannot recover from. The first is also arguably the best part of the movie:

Fantastic, right? OF COURSE IT IS. David Fincher got his start making music videos, so it shouldn't be a shock that he can make a fantastic opening credits sequence that can stand completely apart from the movie it introduces (a trick he also pulled on Se7en). But that's actually a huge problem for the movie that follows. As anyone who's read the Steig Larsson novel will tell you, the first hundred or so pages are a SLOG, an endurance test of slowly advancing plot and character development before we even get to the mystery at the center of the narrative. So putting a sequence with this much energy right at the front of the film sets an impossible bar that the film by its very nature can't even begin to climb over until it's a third of the way through - and it's a LONG movie - and even then, won't really reach until the climax. It's a lie, a promise of things that aren't going to come, and amazing as it is, it's an awful choice.

The second thing, and I fully expect to get some pushback for this (and PLEASE DO, as long as you can refrain from nastiness), is the film's treatment of Lisbeth Salander and Rooney Mara's portrayal of her.

By the time Fincher started making The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, the entire Millennium Trilogy had become a publishing sensation, and the original Swedish film had become as big of a hit as any movie with subtitles is allowed to become these days. Lisbeth Salander, the reclusive genius computer hacker at the center of Larsson's novels, had already become a bit of a cultural phenomenon in her own right. And so Fincher does what Hollywood does best: He cast a relative unknown in the role and gave her entrance in the film one hell of a big build-up, following her from behind as she walks into her office building while her boss talks her up on the soundtrack, and then shoots her entire first dialogue scene from far away, so she's completely isolated one side of the frame. Great sequence, right?


The sequence is ENTIRELY WRONG for the character, and it sets the stage for what is essentially an act of character assassination. In the books, Lisbeth has issues - a full subscription's worth - but she's also a strong, independent woman. She may get abused by some men in her life, but she is never EVER a victim. She is smart, resourceful, and when she is wronged, she takes her time planning her vengeance... but she's NOT a superwoman. She's not larger than life. She simply IS. As set up by Fincher and as played by Mara, though, Lisbeth becomes an all-caps CHARACTER. Not quite to the point of "look at this freaky girl! Isn't she a FREAK? But a LOVABLE ONE?" but pretty damn close. And in the film (and novel)'s most gut-wrenching scene, Lisbeth's rape at the hands of her guardian, Fincher makes no mistake that his camera views her as the ultimate victim (who later becomes a variation on the "woman scorned"), and Mara responds in kind. It's not a bad performance, but it's an utter betrayal of the character Larsson wrote in the book, lacking the subtle dimensions of the page and, it must be said, the Swedish film and its star-making performance by Noomi Rapace.

Look, I'm all for adaptations of books and plays and even other movies ACTUALLY ADAPTING the source material, but at a certain point it becomes a different piece entirely, and Fincher's film is one of the worst offenders of this that I've seen. It's dumbing down a character that the audience already knows and loves in a really base, insulting way, and I honestly thought that David Fincher would have known better.

So, in short, after that energetic blast of an opening, the film is a (well-shot and scored) slog, and its central performance is completely misjudged.

Neither of which are problems that plague my second choice of movie for this project...

I LOVE Jerome Sable's Stage Fright

Yes, I do! And not even in a guilty pleasure way.

Look, I fully acknowledge that a musical comedy/slasher flick hybrid is going to have some tonal issues to overcome right from the get-go, but... well... this movie tackles them pretty much as well as they could ever be tackled, by setting itself up as a spoof.

And yeah, that's pretty much the easiest way to deflect any criticism of your bad movie (to set it up as making fun of bad movies), but Stage Fright is just so winning, thanks to an incredibly game cast (including Meat Loaf and Minnie Driver) and REALLY clever songs:

I mean, COME ON. That's HILARIOUS. And really sweet and sincere at the same time.

As you might have guessed, Stage Fright takes place at a summer musical theater camp, where sweet young ingenue Camilla Swanson works in the kitchen with her brother Buddy. The main production at camp this year is The Haunting of the Opera, a Phantom of the Opera knock-off musical made legendary by the grisly murder of its star (Driver) on opening night, by an assailant who wore the mask of the play's main villain, the Opera Ghost, and has never been performed again.

And as you might have guessed, our heroine just so happens to be that star's daughter, ten years after her mother's murder, and as you might have guessed, she auditions for the play and (as you might have guessed) gets cast in her mother's role, much to the chagrin of the camp's owner (Meat Loaf), who, as you might have guessed, was her mother's lover. AND, as you might have guessed, this new production gets a haunting of its own - by a killer who hates musicals and sings exclusively "heavy metal" songs.

The film had me right off the bat with its opening title card: "The following is based on true events. While the names have been changed to respect the victims and their families, the musical numbers will be performed exactly as they occurred." Perfect. Just a subtle enough hint of the tone of what's to come after the more straight horror opening. And from there, all the film's disparate elements are brought together REALLY well in set-piece after set-piece, blending together horror, comedy, and good-to-great songs almost perfectly. It is a loving throwback to 80s slasher flicks and to movie musicals, playing to the conventions of both in (amazingly) groaningly obvious ways... BUT THAT'S THE POINT.

No, Stage Fright isn't GREAT cinema. And no, it may not even be GOOD cinema. But it's made with a clear love for two genres that couldn't be farther apart and manages to bring them together far better than it has any right to. Add in some winning performances (and some perfectly teen-in-an-80s-slasher-flick BAD performances), and you have a really enjoyable movie that will leave you recommending it to all the friends who have the exact same taste in movies as you do.


  1. I actually like The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but I have not read the books nor have I seen the original film so I can only go by the one I saw but I do see what you mean. I have not seen this musical but Minnie Driver is in this?? Oh boy but I suddenly feel gay all of a sudden:)

    1. Admittedly, when I saw the American Girl With the Dragon Tattoo it was my third time through this story (after the book and the Swedish film), so there was little if anything to surprise me, but I had been excited about it ever since the first trailer which was quite impressive. So the whole thing ended up being a really huge letdown despite its great craftsmanship on many levels.

      YES! Minnie is indeed in Stage Fright - she plays the actress who gets murdered, so it's basically a glorified cameo, but she sings! And she has quite a lovely singing voice.

  2. I haven't seen Stage Fright, but I agree with a lot of what you said about Dragon Tattoo. I'm not crazy about it in general,and while I though Mara was good, Noomi was leagues better.

    1. LEAGUES BETTER. I was ANGRY when Mara got the Oscar nomination.

  3. Awww man...I love The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo...both versions, actually. I get your point, but I'm in pain right now, lol. Haven't seen Stage Fright, yet, but you make it sound pretty good. Thanks for doing this, Dan!

    1. I am DYING to know your thoughts on Stage Fright, because it seems like something that should be right up your alley. Thanks for hosting this again! It's a lot of fun to do.

  4. Hi Daniel,

    I'm a bit late weighing in on these because I saw that Stage Fright was streaming and I wanted to catch it before commenting.

    Well now I have and while I see some of what you're saying about the balancing of the opposing genres it was just too bloody for me to fully embrace. Loved Minnie's cameo and the song you clipped but none of the other cast members really thrilled me. It was an interesting experiment though for the director to try and pull off.

    I've only seen this version of Dragon Tattoo and haven't read the book. I thought it was okay, didn't LOVE it but it was actiony and a reasonable time passer. Haven't watched it since though and I don't get Rooney Mara's appeal. She did nothing for me here or in Carol and made no impression on me in the other films I've seen her in.

    1. Hi Joel!

      I'm SO glad you watched Stage Fright, especially since I know it's not really your thing. Yes, it does get bloody, and no, none of the leads are really any good (the lead girl is SO wan she almost makes Rooney Mara look like Meryl Streep), but I enjoyed the hell out of it anyway. I'm glad that you did get something out of it at the very least.

      I am SO GLAD to hear someone else say that Rooney Mara did nothing for them in Carol, since I found her performance to be just as somnambulant as her performances usually are. I don't really get her appeal, either. Sure, she has a great face, but that's pretty much it. The only movie I really liked her in was Soderbergh's Side Effects, in which she plays a sleepwalker. Which to me is perfect casting.