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The Helena Arkansas Daily World - Helena, AR
  • Movie Man: Dragon tattoos, Muppets, Mildred and more

  • Quick takes on some recent releases, including "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," "The Muppets," the HBO miniseries "Mildred Pierce" and the 1960s campus drama "The Strawberry Statement."

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  • Quick takes on some recent releases:
    “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”: Based on the best-selling book (which I have not read) and already released as a Swedish movie (which I have not seen) this thriller from director David Fincher is good — but not great. A notch below Fincher’s best films (for instance, “Fight Club” and “Zodiac”), it’s still a slick, well-made exercise in smart suspense. Rooney Mara is surprisingly good in the title role, bringing a real sense of humanity to a pierced-and-dyed hacker who could’ve been little more than a cliché.
    The supporting cast — especially Daniel Craig, Stellan Skarsgard and old pro Christopher Plummer — is solid, but the real star here (besides Mara) is Fincher, who brings a sense of chilly intelligence to the story. As you might have heard, there are a couple of tough-to-watch scenes in “Dragon Tattoo,” but they’re also the most memorable moments in the movie and, strangely enough, they’re when the whole film really comes to grim, gruesome life.  
    “The Muppets”: If you grew up watching “The Muppet Show,” you’re going to love this movie, and you’ll be smiling nostalgically no matter how many times your offspring insist on watching it. The plot involves a man (Jason Segel, who co-wrote the film) and his Muppet brother traveling west to meet Kermit and company, only to discover the Muppets’ studio has been closed and will be sold unless someone (guess who?) can raise $10 million. This, of course, is the excuse for the whole gang to get back together and (what else?) put on a show. It’s a lot of fun, with some great songs and a few genuinely surprising twists at the end. The performance of “The Rainbow Connection” is like a laser-beam aimed at aging Generation X tear ducts, and if that doesn’t get you, wait a few minutes. There’s a moment near the end when Kermit opens a door that darn near took my breath away.
    “Mildred Pierce”: Kate Winslet put an Emmy on her shelf with her performance in this HBO miniseries, and she’s very good. So is the rest of the cast (including Guy Pearce and Evan Rachel Wood), the direction (by Todd Haynes) and the whole 1930s look of the thing (dead solid perfect). So why does “Mildred Pierce” feel vaguely unsatisfying? Maybe it’s because it’s so darn long — more than five hours — and so relentlessly grim. Poor Mildred sacrifices everything for her thankless daughter (Wood), who repays her with a stab to the back every 10 minutes or so. That sort of melodrama worked fine in the 1945 Joan Crawford film based on the same book, but here, in lush, loving detail, it’s all a little depressing. It’s all on Blu-ray now, though, so at least that perfect recreation of 1930s California will look spectacular on your TV.
    Page 2 of 3 - “The Strawberry Statement”: Released in 1970, just a few weeks after the shootings at Kent State University (which, incidentally, is my alma mater), this was MGM’s attempt to capture all the college campus chaos on the big screen. Watching it from a distance of four decades, it’s ... well, it’s interesting. Directed by Stuart Hagman, the film focuses on college student Simon (Bruce Davison), an average guy who just wants to row on the crew team and find himself a girlfriend. When he falls in with a group of campus radicals who have seized the president’s office, the movie takes a much darker turn, winding up with a surprisingly violent confrontation between a riot squad and some chanting hippies. The meandering plot and endless “groovy” visual tricks might wear you down, but stick around for that ending — it’s a doozie. (From Warner Archives, warnerarchive.com)
    Read Will Pfeifer’s Movie Man blog at rrstar.com/blogs/willpfeifer/ or email him at wpfeifer@rrstar.com.
    Some new DVDs out Tuesday:
    “The Iron Lady”: Meryl Streep took home a Best Actress Oscar for her portrayal of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Critics said her performance was one of the only good things about the movie, but when Meryl’s at her best, that’s enough to make it worth watching.
    “A Trip to the Moon”: If you saw the movie “Hugo” and want to see more of the work of pioneering director Georges Melies (portrayed by Ben Kingsley in the film), check out this Blu-ray. It features a restored version of the 1902 film along with a documentary about its production.
    “A Streetcar Named Desire”: Marlon Brando changed the face of movie acting in this 1951 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ acclaimed play. He gets strong support from Vivien Leigh (aka Scarlett from “Gone With the Wind”), Kim Hunter and Karl Malden. This is a deluxe book-format release from Warner Bros., so it’ll look good on your shelf.
    “Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series”: If you recall, “Dark Shadows” was a daily soap opera, so this is a BIG boxed set — 131 DVDs, 450 hours of content and a whopping $599.98 price tag. I’m guessing it’s aimed at very dedicated fans of the show and not someone who’s merely a little curious about that new Johnny Depp movie. (There are also smaller sets of selected “Dark Shadows” episodes available.)
    And CDs
    Bonnie Raitt, “Slipstream”: This is Bonnie’s first studio album since 2005’s “Souls Alike” and her return to performing after the deaths of her parents and brother. The CD was recorded with her longtime touring band plus some guest musicians, including Bill Frisell.
    Page 3 of 3 - Monica, “New Life”: Monica’s been splitting her time between recording this album and working with Cee Lo Green on “The Voice,” so she brought in plenty of extra producing help for “New Life,” including Jermaine Dupri, Bryan Cox, Pop & Oak, Salaam Remi, Polow Da Don, Lamb and Missy Elliott.
    Counting Crows, “Underwater Sunshine (Or, What We Did on Our Summer Vacation)”: This disc features cover versions of some of the band’s favorite songs, including “Amie” by the Pure Prairie League and “The Ballad of El Goodo” by Big Star. Says singer Adam Duritz: “‘If you wonder why we didn’t just write our own record, it’s simply because we wanted to do this one.” So there!
    — Will Pfeifer
    Sources: thedigitalbits.com; tophitsonline.com

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