Welcome to the House of Crouse. Julie Taymor brought the animals of The Lion King to life on Broadway, creating one of the biggest hits ever on the Great White Way. She’s the director of movies like “Frida” and “Across the Universe.” In “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” she blends the two, presenting a film of her acclaimed stage production. It’s beautiful, magical stuff and we spoke about it at length. Then the HoC pays tribute to the great Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist who recently passed away at age 56. The “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” star talked about everything from Proust to George Clooney. It’s good stuff, so c’mon in and sit a spell.

“Gone Girl’s” David Fincher has an unerring eye when it comes to casting

gone-girl-600x450The internet helped Ben Affleck land the role of Nick Dunne (Affleck), the prime suspect in his wife Amy’s (Rosamund Pike) disappearance, in this weekend’s mystery thriller Gone Girl.

Director David Fincher told Playboy he’s very concerned about what facial expressions actors can bring to his movies so when casting Gone Girl he imagined a scene where Nick Dunne smiles while standing next to a poster of his missing wife.

“I flipped through Google Images and found about 50 shots of Affleck giving that kind of smile in public situations,” Fincher told writer Stephen Rebello. “You look at them and know he’s trying to make people comfortable in the moment, but by doing that he’s making himself vulnerable to people having other perceptions about him.”

There is already Oscar buzz surrounding Gone Girl’s actors. Chris Nashawaty of Entertainment Weekly called Affleck’s work “the most natural performance of his career,” while Digital Spy’s Simon Reynolds said Pike’s performance, “should bag her an Oscar nomination come awards season.”

Fincher’s careful casting has bagged Oscar nods for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’s Brad Pitt and Taraji P. Henson, Rooney Mara of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Jesse Eisenberg of The Social Network.

The director has an unerring eye when it comes to casting, but it’s not always a smooth process. When he signed on to direct The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo he had actress Rooney Mara in mind to play hacker Lisbeth Salander. She won the role, but not before auditioning five times and beating out better known hopefuls like Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johansson and Jennifer Lawrence. “We didn’t make it easy for Rooney, and there was no way to dissuade her.”

Recently Fincher walked away from a big budget remake of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea when the studio rejected his casting choice Brad Pitt or Channing Tatum in favor of Chris Hemsworth.

One of the director’s best-known films, Se7en, starred Kevin Spacey as serial killer John Doe who offed his victims in the order of the Seven Deadly Sins. He’s fantastic but he wasn’t Fincher’s first choice. The director wanted Ned Beatty, a shorter, rounder character actor who starred in Deliverance and Nashville. “He should look like a postman,” said Fincher. Beatty turned down the role—“This is the most evil thing I’ve ever read,” he said.—opening the door for Spacey. Trouble was, Spacey wanted too much money. It wasn’t until star Brad Pitt intervened and called the studio to ask that Spacey be hired. The moral of the story? “It pays to be blond,” says Fincher.


Girl-with-the-Dragon-Tattoo-2011-Movie-Posters-1During the tent pole seasons, and no that’s not an Anthony Weiner joke, movies are driven by marketing as much as by stars or storyline. Summer and Christmas releases (again, not a Weiner gag) are lavished with marketing budgets that in some cases dwarf the overall cost of the movie. This weekend, for instance, it’s been reported that Super 8 (which I think is super great) cost $45 million before Paramount’s salesmen and women got a hold of it and spent an additional $50 million to raise awareness.

Movie posters are just one way to grab the public’s attention and this week two very different posters caught my eye. They’re weren’t the fancy-dancy new “motion posters” studios are now using to grab bored commuter’s eyes in the subway, but studies in contrast as to how two different advertising campaigns can be used to grab the same audience.

Super 8, J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg’s homage to 80s action adventure is aimed directly at the 18 to 45 year-old market and is tracking best among audiences over age 30, who have fond memories of E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial or Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

For different reasons David Fincher’s upcoming Christmas release , the R-rated The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, is also looking for a piece of the 18 to 45 year-old pie. Billed by Sony as “The feel bad film of Christmas” the international poster is so provocative the only fond memories it’s likely to invoke are of an S&M dungeon.

Hence the tale of two posters.

Super 8’s artwork is a throwback to the great hand-painted posters Drew Struzan did for the holy box-office trinity of Lucas-Spielberg-Zemeckis movies. Evoking a late 70’s, early 80s vibe it blows apart the contemporary idea of poster design, replacing one central image with a photo-realistic painted collage of faces placed against a backdrop of locations pulled from the film. It’s a warm and fuzzy illustration that by its connection to the posters of E.T. and Indiana Jones subconsciously promises a Spielbergian good time.

In stark contrast the teaser poster for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a bleak black and white image, complete with star Rooney Mara’s pierced nipples and Daniel Craig’s hangdog facial expression. Unless you live in Sweden you’re unlikely to see this Robert-Mapplethorpe-by-way-of-Helmut-Newton placard hanging in your local multiplex, but it’s available online and has already set tongues waggling. Sex sells—one blogger even posted, “You don’t get to 500 million dollars worldwide without showing a few nipples.”—but it remains to be seen if this brand of hypersexualized art will attract or repel audiences.

Either way, both posters do a great job of contextualizing the appeal of the movies they represent.

Super 8 is all innocence, a throwback to a time before sexting when the world had a beautiful blue camera flare every now and again (on film anyway).

The Dragon Tattoo poster is more a character study. Lisbeth Salander, one of the great female characters of recent years, is portrayed as dangerous, defiant with a flash of menace in her eye. It’s a take no prisoners picture that dares you to see the movie.

These two very different marketing visions prove that even in our busy lives, bombarded as we are by images and information, that pictures can still elicit strong, intuitive feelings.

Need more proof? Just ask Anthony Weiner.


girl-with-the-dragon-tattoo-poster-uk-poster-01In book form the “Millennium series,” Stieg Larsson’s trio of novels about the adventures of investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist and hacker Lisbeth Salander sold tens of millions of copies. The original set of Swedish films made Noomi Rapace s star and Salander an icon. So the news that Hollywood was doing a quick-draw remake of the Swedish noir was met with skepticism.

And in some cases hostility.

One writer said the movie should be called “The Girl with a Knife in Her Back.” Tensions eased when David “The Social Network” Fincher was announced as director and Daniel Craig as star.

The remaining question was, who would have the unenviable task of reshaping the Salander character?

Rooney Mara, that’s who. Get used to the name. After this, you’ll likely be hearing a lot about her. More about her later.

The original series of “Girl” movies started strong with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and rapidly went downhill in parts two and three. There’s no way of knowing how future installments of the Anglo franchise will go, but it’s off to a good start.

The crisp crunch of the snowy Swedish setting is still there, maintaining the stark, icy feel of the original stories. The movie begins with Blomkvist’s (Daniel Craig) humiliation, a loss in a libel case brought against him by a Swedish industrialist. The verdict endangers everything he has worked for, in particular Millennium magazine, where he’s editor-in-chief and head muckraker.

In the midst of this he accepts an intriguing job. Hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), the scion of an industrial dynasty, he is charged with solving a forty-year-old murder. In the late sixties Vanger’s favorite niece disappeared, leaving no trace except for framed, pressed flowers which arrive every year on Henrik’s birthday. It is a cold case, one that the police haven’t been able to solve, but Vanger feels that Blomkvist’s dogged style might be able to uncover some new clues. Aiding the journalist in his search is Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), a trouble computer hacker with a massive tattoo of a dragon on her back.

Purists can relax, Fincher’s version of the story doesn’t take many liberties with the story. But where the original film was a pulpy exercise in lowbrow thrills—Nazis! Bondage! Revenge Tattooing!—Fincher has smoothed out some of the edges to make a more elegant film.

All the original elements are more or less in place, but he has trimmed down the story shards from the book (and the original movie), condensing the source material’s myriad characters into a more streamlined package.

But he hasn’t taken away the edge. This is a brutal story, no matter how elegant the execution. Rape and violence are part of the tale’s vocabulary and despite a few discreet camera cut-a-ways Fincher doesn’t soften the tone. Months ago they were calling this The Feel Bad Movie Of Christmas, and they weren’t far off (only “New Year’s Eve” disturbed me more, but for different reasons).

The film’s main asset is Mara, who finds the balance between giving the people what they want—the goth clothes, tats, piercings and attitude—and making the part her own. Her take has the same kind of quiet menace Rapace radiated, but adds in a healthy dose of vulnerability and complex anti-social sexuality.

Who’s better, Rapace or Rooney? Who cares? The role is the thing and each woman brings something interesting to one of the most interesting female characters the screen has seen in a long time.

Plummer and Craig do predictably good work and Fincher brings his unerring sense of style, but the movie is Mara’s.


The-Girl-with-the-Dragon-tattoo1If you think Swedish cinema is all isolation and despair, a tortured Bergmanesque look at the human condition, think again. In recent years directors like Lukas Moodysson and films such as “Let the Right One In” have redefined Scandinavian movies; quietly leaving behind the icy introspection typical of the best known filmmakers from that part of the world. The latest Swedish film to gain international notice is “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” a truly thrilling thriller based on a best selling novel.

In the opening minutes of the film Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a muck raking journalist for the controversial Millennium magazine, loses a libel case brought against him by a Swedish industrialist. Before he begins his three month prison sentence he is offered an intriguing job. Hired by Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), the scion of an industrial dynasty, he is charged with solving a forty-year-old murder. In the late sixties Vanger’s favorite niece disappeared, leaving no trace except for framed, pressed flowers which arrive every year on Henrik’s birthday. It is a cold case, one that the police haven’t been able to solve, but Vanger feels that Blomkvist’s dogged style might be able to uncover some new clues. Aiding the journalist in his search is Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), a trouble computer hacker with a massive tattoo of a dragon on her back.

“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” is a pulp thriller, complete with Nazis, bible references and bondage. There’s nothing terribly highbrow about it, but there is a certain elegance to how director Niels Arden Oplev slowly unfurls the clues, stretching the story tautly over the two-a-half-hour running time. The plot shouldn’t work; it has story shards all over the place—the verdict in the libel case, the hacker and her evil parole officer, the disappearance—but Oplev keeps the storytelling as crisp as the sound of a boot crunching on the snow that envelopes the landscape.

Top it off with some terrific performances—particularly from Rapace and Taube—some melodrama and as twisted a bad guy as we’ve seen since “Silence of the Lamb’s” Buffalo Bill and you have a slow burning mystery that builds to an explosive climax.

If this was an American film (and it will be soon) the disgraced, but dogged reporter might be played by Jeremy Renner, the computer hacker by Kristen Strewart and the obsessed industrialist by Christopher Plummer, and you know what, it wouldn’t be any better than the Swedish version. See it in its original language before Hollywood snaps it up and ruins it.