Premium Rush (2012)

“I like to ride. Fixed gear. No brakes. Can’t stop. Don’t want to, either.”

Directed by David Koepp

Just when you thought that Joseph Gordon-Levitt couldn’t be more versatile he becomes Lance Armstrong (recent circumstances notwithstanding). David Koepp’s new action/thriller, Premium Rush, is about a young bike messenger named Wilee, who winds up entangled in a conflict surrounding a package he has been charged with delivering. The story involves a dirty cop, a motherless child and an interesting network of personal relationships within the bike messenger community. (Light spoilers)

Wilee: Brakes are death.

Firstly, we are presented with a cliche character in Wilee, whose name gives us an idea of his characteristics. Young guy, scared to death of the grey suits walking up and down Wall Street. He lives fast, and without reservation. These character traits are extended to the way in which Wilee rides his bike (literally, with no breaks).

Michael Shannon as Bobby Monday

The story escalates quickly into a frenzy over a letter Wilee is charged with delivering, and from then on the film become increasingly anachronistic. We are introduced to different parts of the storyline as they become relevant. The story of the dirty cop, Bobby Monday, who gets in deep with the gamblers. The story of Wilee and his girlfriend Vanessa. Ten finally the story of the letter’s sender and Vanessa’s roommate, Nima, whose fate relies on the delivering of the letter to the proper recipient.

The film was paced rather well. Many scenes feature Wilee pausing and determining the best route to go in New York City traffic. In theses moments the directing and cinematography have the feel of a video game, which is something I enjoyed and also found effective, seeing as Koepp seemed to want the viewer to understand Wilee’s intuition, and reliance on adrenaline and instinct.

Joseph Gordon Levitt as Wilee and Dania Ramirez as Vanessa

I was personally impressed with the volume of ethnic actors and actresses in the film. Aside from JGL and Michael Shannon, all primary players were ethnic minorities. This includes X-Men: The Last Stand’s Dania Ramirez, who is Dominicana, as the love interest of the main character, Wilee; Aasif Mandvi, an Indian-American as Wilee’s boss; Black actor Wolé Parks as Manny, the cocky bastard whose role teetered between playful antagonist and reluctant comrade; and finally Korean-American Jamie Chung, who played the women at the center of the controversy. I’d like to take a moment to commend Koepp for the inclusion of such an uncommonly diverse arsenal of actors and actresses. I wish it weren’t so unusual, but credit is due.
When it comes down to the actual story, ultimately, Wilee is the sympathetic character. He wants to live free, and ride uninhibited. And while he suffers an injury because of this ideology, he eventually ties up the loose ends of the story and comes out on top. Even Vanessa, who represented a sort of incentive for Wilee to reconsider his ways, eventually comes around to his way of thinking. There’s even a flashback to the night when Wilee first wins his bike in a raffle of sorts. There is somethings about the presentation that glorifies that night; he gets the bike, and he meets his girl, the only two things he seems to care about. Koepp’s intention to give this way of life an allure is ever present.  While the movie ends with Wilee making some concessions, the take away still seems to be that real freedom is in the choice to live without breaks.

The movie is fun, fast-paced, funny and charming. Everything you can hope to enjoy on a slow Friday night. In terms of reaching its goals, this was a very solid film, and you’ll probably like it as much as I did.

Rating: 8/10


The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

“If a woman approaches any beast and lies with it you shall kill the woman and the beast. Their blood will be upon them.”

Directed by David Fincher

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a film adaptation of Swedish author Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular Millennium Series, directed by The Social Network’s David Fincher. The film is unique in that it is not only adapted from a book, but also from the Swedish version of the film, directed by Niels Arden Oplev. I will try not to spoil too much, as I am a huge fan of the books and wouldn’t want to ruin them for anyone. (But I’ll totally ruin movies for you!)

Henrik Vanger: You will be investigating thieves, misers, bullies. The most detestable collection of people that you will ever meet – my family.

The story is one of great intrigue and mystery. Lisbeth Salander is a young woman who works for a security company. She is an insanely skilled hacker, which lends itself to her job, and she is also a ward of the state. The story starts with her report of a investigation of journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Mikael is being charged with libel for making unsubstantiated claims against one wealthy and corrupt businessman Hans-Erik Wennerström. Eventually Lisbeth’s and Mikael’s paths cross and Mikael recruits Lisbeth to work on a murder investigation with him. Spoilers lie ahead.

Dragan Armansky: She’s different in every way. 

In this film newb actress Rooney Mara not only steps into the big shoes of Lisbeth Salander the character, but into the shoes of her predecessor, the powerhouse acting phenomena that is Noomi Rapace. Oplev’s films feature Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who was a mirror image of Salander’s on-paper character. Younger, less Swedish, actress Rooney Mara ended up doing what all smart actresses must do when cast in the role after someone great: make the character their own (it even got her an Oscar nom). Mara’s deadpan portrayal of Salander is spot on. It takes a subtle touch to successfully pull off the calculating, errant, apathetic, genius, pure laine survivor that is Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, but Mara comes very close and does it all with bleach blonde eyebrows.

Since Larsson’s story relies very heavily on plot, he provided film makers with a clear line of story progression. The pacing of the story is what makes it so exhilarating. I’ll start by saying that I feel that Oplev botched the pacing of the story. Fincher (along with Steven Zaillian) made some  disconcerting  alterations to the story line. But in terms of pacing, Fincher managed; at least enough to build the mystery a bit.

Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) and Erika Berger (Wright)

Daniel Craig is perfection in the role of Mikael Blomkvist. He and his beautiful smoldering blue eyes stayed very true to the character. The rest of the main cast, including the wonderful Stellan Skarsgård, Robin Wright, and Christopher Plummer all contributed greatly to the story, and honored the characters they were playing.

Martin Vanger: The fear of offending is stronger than the fear of pain. 

As for the story’s presentation, Fincher has a way of getting a littler bit too gimmicky and showy. The opening bit with Mara and Craig sort of gesticulating in what looks like liquid titanium was a little garish. The styling of Salander was a bit overplayed, considering she doesn’t really give a shit what she looks like I doubt she would go to the trouble of bleaching her eyebrows. Fincher leaned too much into the ‘psychopath goth chick’ thing. There’s a scene in the movie wherein Slander approaches her guardian Nils Bjurman (who violently raped her) and informs him not to fuck with her because she is crazy (“No, it’s okay. You can nod because it’s true. I am insane.”). Now, the character Lisbeth Salander would never say something simply to make an impression.

Academy Award Nominee Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander

She says what she means, and she didn’t think she was crazy, so she would have never said that. Other than my nit-pick criticisms that stem from my love of the book I’d say that Fincher did a good job of capturing the mood. Through a collection of panoramic landscapes, a stream of seamless editing and deliberate and skilled performances on the part of all the film’s actors and actresses I’d say Fincher was a part of a worthy collection of talented people who were able to make a solid movie out of a great book.

The story retains its mystique in the American telling. The scenes most focused on the murder investigation being carried out by Salander and Blomkvist  are chilling and well-executed. Unfortunately, the journalistic logistics are half of this story and Fincher, in all his Lisbeth-enthusiasm, allowed the story

Lisbeth Salander (Mara) and Mikael Blomkvist (Craig)

to rely to heavily on her plotline (or rather the plotline she shared with Mikael), making Mikael’s secondary. The juxtaposition of the the orderly (albeit corrupt), vast, world of politics and journalism and the secluded town of Henrik Vanger, a cesspool of broken personal relationships, deceit, and unsolved mysteries is what balances the story and makes it work. So the imbalance of Fincher’s focus disturbed the story’s equilibrium.

My initial reaction to this film was a positive one. Mostly because I was overjoyed that it wasn’t as bad as the Swedish version. But after time to consider it, it wasn’t the movie it could have been, given the talent involved. That being said, it stands as something separate from the book and Oplev’s interpretation and it’s a good watch.

Rating: 6.9/10