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'Dragon Tattoo' is riveting, while Muppets is a feel-good family film

Date: 3/27/2012

March 26, 2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

This week's review features a look at two mainstream hits plus a documentary with an unlikely appeal.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I've not read the original novels, but when I first saw the American version by director David Fincher, I was bowled over. I've yet to see the original Swedish films, so I can't compare the two versions, but I'm willing to say the American one is solid and riveting entertainment.

Daniel Craig plays Mikael Blomkvist, an investigative journalist who loses a libel case. Disgraced, he receives an offer from a powerful Swedish industrialist, Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), to help solve a 40 year-old mystery about the disappearance of a family member.

Blomkvist realizes he needs help in his work and turns to the person he knows assembled information on him, a computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara).

This film is more than just a mystery; it is also a character piece focusing on Blomkvist, Vanger and Salander. Mara does a lot with what could have been pretty much a one-note role as she allows us to see a small, but vital, amount of her character's motivation.

What I liked as well is how the plot travels to places I really didn't expect it to go. There are a lot of surprises in this film.

This is not a film for everyone, though, as it earns its R rating with several rough sex scenes, which are not gratuitous, but actually fairly essential to the story. This is a dark story that is not for kids.

Having said that, "Girl" is an adult film in the very best sense of the word.

The Muppets

I've been a Muppet fan for most of my life — I remember seeing Kermit perform on the "Today Show" when I was a kid — and I was overjoyed that the characters were back on the big screen.

I was hoping the film would match my expectations and thankfully star Jason Segal, who co-wrote the script, is as big a fan as I am. Segal guided this production into reality and the film shows the creative team thoroughly understood what had to be done to "update" the Muppets without taking the very elements away from the puppet troupe that have made them audience favorites for decades.

The new film revolves around Gary, Segal's character, a small town guy, and his brother Walter, who looks like a Muppet. Both brothers are huge fans, and Walter desperately wants to go to Los Angeles to see the legendary Muppet studio complex. Once there, Gary, Walter and Gary's girlfriend Mary, played with great charm by Amy Adams, decide to attempt to reunite the Muppets.

I loved how Segal's script and director James Bobin created this wonderful reality where the Muppets are "real." It's a great gag and we all go along with it.

In an attempt to create controversy out of nothing, some right wing commentators expressed horror that Chris Cooper's bad guy is an oilman. They contended the movie was some sort of anti-corporate anti-oil propaganda designed to corrupt the youth.

It isn't, of course. It is a great feel-good for the whole family.


Could there ever be a subject as potentially dull as following a piano tuner around Vienna, Austria, for a year? Well, I'm willing to admit the premise seemed pretty iffy, but I'm happy to report that if you give this film a chance, you'll find a pretty compelling piece of work, especially if you're a musician or a fan of classical music.

Stephan Knüpfer is not just any piano tuner. He is a chief piano technician for Steinway & Sons and it is his job to make sure the pianos played by some of today's top talents are tuned to their specifications.

In my ignorance, I had no idea just how much variation there was for sound from a piano and Knüpfer is asked to do some challenging things. At the film's center is how he prepares for the recording of pieces by Bach. Some of the pieces were written for piano, while others for organ and clavichord. Pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard wants to replicate the sounds of these other instruments as much as he can with the Steinway piano he will be playing.

Knüpfer is amazingly patient and is able to discern what the musicians want even when their descriptions are far from technical. He sometimes frets a bit, but never loses his cool. I loved the scene in which he cheerfully views these artistic demands as an experiment he enjoys performing.

Directors Robert Cibis and Lilian Franck do a capable job conveying Knüpfer's career without narration or even too many interviews.

"Pianomania" is an offbeat documentary that sheds light into a life that few of us would ever consider.

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