''The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,'' ''Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,'' and more

By EW Staff
Updated August 12, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

We Bought a Zoo

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo
Rooney Mara was about to fly to New York City to do a photo shoot when she got the call: Director David Fincher wanted her to come to his L.A. office for yet another screen test for his American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. She’d been chasing the hotly sought-after role of troubled heroine Lisbeth Salander for months, and the actress was, frankly, getting tired of it. ”At that point I was just superfrustrated,” says Mara. ”I was like, ‘You have to decide. Either you think I’m the girl or you don’t. There’s not much more I can do to prove it to you.’?” Even so, the actress, who had a memorable turn last year as Mark Zuckerberg’s short-lived girlfriend in Fincher’s The Social Network, ditched the trip and headed to the director’s office. ”I went in there sort of ready to fight. I was pissed. But David sat me down and gave me this long speech about the part. Then he handed me his iPad, and it had the press release on it. He said, ‘I’m prepared to send this out. You have half an hour to let me know if you want the part.’?”

She did, of course, and now Mara’s at the center of one of the holiday season’s most anticipated movies. Fincher’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s gigantic international best-seller — about crusading Swedish journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) and antisocial computer hacker Salander (Mara), who team up to solve an old mystery — promises to be violent, creepy, and deeply scrutinized by the book’s legion of passionate fans. ”Some people are going to come to it with a preconceived notion of what it is,” says screenwriter and executive producer Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List), who’s also currently writing the script for the follow-up, The Girl Who Played With Fire. ”At the end of the day, it is and it isn’t those things. The way that David has directed it, the way the actors have performed it, the way I’ve written it, it’s all its own thing.”

Mara’s transformation into the angry and oft-abused Lisbeth was no small undertaking. She had her hair chopped and dyed, her eyebrows bleached, and several sensitive body parts pierced. She learned how to skateboard, kickbox, and ride a motorcycle. She watched gritty films like Kids and Irreversible. She even visited a center for rape victims and a school for autistic kids in L.A. ”She’s brilliant,” says Craig. ”She impressed me more and more each day as I watched her create this character. Her commitment and hunger to get the part right were massively impressive.”

Just how intense is Fincher’s film? ”As intense as it’s possible to be,” says Craig. ”You know, it’s about abuse: emotional and physical abuse. That’s in the book, and it’s in the movie.” The most harrowing sequence is likely to be the novel’s infamous scene in which — SPOILER ALERT — Lisbeth is brutally assaulted by her guardian (Yorick van Wageningen). ”It was incredibly intense,” says Mara, using that word again. ”We did it all in a week — the week of Valentine’s Day, oddly enough. We were working 16 hours a day, and it was really, really challenging, not just emotionally but physically. But it’s such an important scene. We wanted to do everything we could to get that right.” Fincher, who directed films like Se7en and Fight Club, is known for his unflinching vision, and there’s little doubt that the movie will push at the edges of its inevitable R rating.

Even the first poster, released online in June, caused a minor uproar with its stark image of Mara, haunted-eyed and unabashedly topless. ”I was supportive of it,” says Mara. ”I understand why there was a lot of controversy. People have a hard time with strong females and with nudity. But I think had I been doing something incredibly violent on the poster, people wouldn’t have had a problem with it. That sort of says a lot about the world that we live in. It’s just a teaser poster. I think it did just that. It teased people.” If that early taste is an indication of just how provocative Fincher & Co. intend to be, we’d better brace ourselves. —Rob Brunner Dec. 21

War Horse
Over the years, Steven Spielberg has worked with some unusual protagonists: sharks, extraterrestrials, robots. But in War Horse, he centers a harrowing survival story on a steed named Joey who’s sent into the nightmarish battlefields of World War I. The story begins with Albert (newcomer Jeremy Irvine), a British farm boy who nurtures Joey as a pet and workhorse until Albert’s father (Peter Mullan) sells Joey to the British army. Soon Albert enlists as well, hitting the trenches in the naive hope of finding Joey and returning home to a prewar sense of calm.

Though Joey is the catalyst for the drama, the film focuses on the people he encounters on his journey. ”Every character recognizes parts of themselves in Joey,” says Spielberg. ”Joey is both a companion and a reflection of how we treat each other and how we hope to be treated by others.”

Joey’s story has been told before, first in a 1982 young-adult novel by Michael Morpurgo and then in a hit play that’s still running in London and New York City (using life-size puppets to portray the animals). In fact, Spielberg only became involved after his longtime producer Kathleen Kennedy and her children were wowed by the stage show — despite the heavy subject matter. ”That’s why Steven so specifically wanted to make a PG-13 movie,” says Kennedy. ”Families were going to this play. I took my two girls, who are 12 and 15. Kids were enjoying the experience as much as the adults.”

In addition to the tricky aspect of working with horses as actors, there was the extensive location shoot in Europe. Spielberg admits he hasn’t made as much use of the physical world on film since Jaws 36 years ago. ”The big skies of Devon, the fertile farmland of Dartmoor, and the blasted countryside of the Somme in France have to almost be listed in the cast of characters,” he says. And unlike his four-legged stars, they don’t bite or kick. —Anthony Breznican Dec. 28

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows
Unlike 2009’s Sherlock Holmes, which revolved around an occult conspiracy plot, the sequel delivers a more grounded adventure for Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed detective, again played by Robert Downey Jr. ”We have left the supernatural behind, more or less,” says Guy Ritchie, who returns to direct. This time, Holmes comes to the aid of a fortune-teller (Noomi Rapace) threatened by the malevolent math whiz Professor James Moriarty (Mad Men‘s Jared Harris). As always, Holmes is joined by his partner, the soon-to-wed Dr. Watson (Jude Law). Despite the impending nuptials, the heroes’ bromance remains ”the driving force of the narrative,” says Ritchie, and the film allows Downey to have continued fun with quips and disguises: ”Robert was quite keen on dressing up as a woman.” For his part, Harris was keen on playing Holmes’ long-standing archenemy, Moriarty, though the challenge was to do so with a minimum of mustache twirling. ”You have to be careful playing villains because you’re always one line away from becoming Dr. Evil,” says Harris. Will the Holmes/Moriarty conflict culminate in a fateful fight at Reichenbach Falls, as it does in the legendary Conan Doyle story ”The Final Problem”? Teases Ritchie: ”Let’s just say there is some form of water in the equation.” —Jeff Jensen Dec. 16

Young Adult
Four years after Diablo Cody and Jason Reitman’s first date ended in Oscar noms (and a statuette for her), the writer and director of Juno reteam for a bruise-black comedy about a successful young-adult novelist (Charlize Theron) who flips out when her high school beau (Patrick Wilson) sends a birth announcement. She jets to rural Minnesota to bust up his marriage, win him back, and re-create her popular-girl past. ”She’s still living like an adolescent in her 30s, something we’ve seen male characters do a lot,” says Cody. ”We haven’t really seen a woman who’s still living that kind of selfish, childish life. I’m sure there’s a rom-com version of this script somewhere, but this isn’t it.” —Chris Nashawaty Dec. 9

The Sitter
Adventures in Babysitting meets After Hours” is how star Jonah Hill (Get Him to the Greek) describes The Sitter, the racy new comedy from Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green. Hill plays a college dropout who winds up chaperoning three kids on a wild night in New York City. ”It’s a hard R,” Hill says of the film, ”the punk-rock crazy version of what’s usually a soft, corny comedy. Part of the plot involves my girlfriend [played by Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist‘s Ari Graynor] making me buy drugs for her, and I end up taking the kids with me. I bring a bunch of children to a drug deal.” If there’s a sequel, perhaps he can take his young charges to rehab. —Benjamin Svetkey Dec. 9

New Year’s Eve
As with director Garry Marshall’s last film, the ensemble rom-com Valentine’s Day, New Year’s Eve isn’t short on stars or story lines. The film follows two dozen interconnected New Yorkers as they look for love before the big ball comes crashing down in Times Square. Though none of the characters from Valentine’s Day show up, two of its stars — Jessica Biel and Ashton Kutcher — join the humongous cast, which includes Zac Efron, Lea Michele, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Robert De Niro. After making two holiday movies in a row, Marshall says no calendar date is off-limits. ”I can do any holiday,” he says. ”If you ask me, I would like to do Father’s Day or Mother’s Day next — or a combination of the two.” Let’s just hope the result doesn’t involve four dozen characters. —Kevin Sullivan Dec. 9

Carnage
Kate Winslet loved the riotously funny 2009 Broadway production of God of Carnage, in which James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels, and Hope Davis played two sets of Brooklyn parents who try — and fail — to be civil to one another after their tween sons get into a playground fight. ”I actually peed my pants, and not just once,” she says. For the film adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning play, director Roman Polanski gathered three Oscar winners (Winslet, Jodie Foster, and Christoph Waltz) and one mere nominee (John C. Reilly) to embody the bickering quartet.

Even without a live audience, the cast worked hard to capture Carnage‘s often absurd comedy. ”It’s very difficult to take that level of theatrical humor and bottle it and put exactly that on celluloid,” notes Winslet, who assumes Davis’ queasy-stomached character. Since all the action unfolds in one apartment, Polanski placed particular emphasis on the film’s set decoration. ”It could be things that decorate a piano, or the angle of the curtains,” Winslet says. ”We all appreciated that attention to detail, because we made a film about four people in one room. If we’re not interesting enough, then please, God, tell us that people will be looking at the tulips!” —Dave Karger TBA

In the Land of Blood and Honey
For her writing and directing debut, Angelina Jolie didn’t choose something easy. In the Land of Blood and Honey, a melancholy drama set during Bosnia’s 1992-95 civil war, follows a Christian Serb man (Goran Kosti´) and a Bosniak woman (Zana Marjanovi´) whose lives are torn apart when violence flares between ethnic and religious groups.

”It’s about what happens to people, not just a couple,” says Jolie, who doesn’t appear on camera. ”It’s a father and son, it’s sisters, mother and child, friends. What happens to all of these different relationships when you live inside [war] — even if they’re great, strong, loving, tight relationships.”

Even now, sensitivities about the conflict remain high, and Jolie almost lost her permit to shoot in Bosnia when false rumors spread about the contents of her script. (The country’s cultural ministry ultimately approved the production.) Adding to the first-time filmmaker’s challenges, she shot in both English and the local Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian language, so two versions of the movie will be released. ”I felt like I didn’t make a film about people,” Jolie says. ”I tried to make a film with people from this country.” —AB Dec. 23

We Bought a Zoo
To persuade Matt Damon to play We Bought a Zoo‘s Benjamin Mee — a real-life London newspaper columnist who moved his family to a decrepit rural zoo and, after the death of his wife from cancer, worked to reopen it — director Cameron Crowe visited the actor on the Texas set of last year’s True Grit with a care package. ”I’m going to give away my age because I would call it a mixtape even though it was all on a computer,” says Damon of the gift, which Crowe assembled to evoke the mood of the film he wanted to make. ”There was lots of Eddie Vedder and Neil Young. I downloaded it, and the day after I got home, I went for a long run in Central Park and listened to all 15 songs. At the end of that run I was like, ‘Well, that’s a feeling I really like.’?”

Working with coscreenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna (Morning Glory), Crowe moved the action from England to California and cast Scarlett Johansson as a zoo worker who helps Mee cope with his wife’s death. Then came the hiring of 200-plus nonhuman costars. ”Some species are really good actors, like lions and tigers,” says Crowe, making his first narrative feature since 2005’s Elizabethtown. ”It’s great, the scuttlebutt that animal trainers will tell you. They’ll be like, ‘Are you working with primates? Get ready. They’ll do nothing you tell them to.’ Monkeys are like Mickey Rourke.”

But it’s the human relationships that Crowe & Co. want to emphasize. ”There’s a scene when Matt’s tucking his daughter in that is truly an Atticus Finch moment,” says producer Julie Yorn, citing the upright hero of To Kill a Mockingbird. Could Damon be Hollywood’s new Gregory Peck? ”I don’t think I’m quite tall enough,” says the star. ”But if you’re handing that out, I’ll take it.” —DK Dec. 23

Pariah
Alike (newcomer Adepero Oduye), the 17-year-old Brooklyn high schooler at the heart of writer-director Dee Rees’ debut dramatic feature, can’t keep up the charade much longer. When she hangs with her boisterous friends, she’s a butch, do-rag-donning lesbian, but at home with her traditional parents, Alike is the conventional good student. ”She’s basically just juggling multiple identities and trying to figure out who she is,” Oduye explains. Pariah, an award winner at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, explores the tenuous relationship between Alike and her disapproving mother (Kim Wayans), who can’t even understand why her daughter would want to wear baggy jeans. —Grady Smith TBA

A Dangerous Method
When it came to playing Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, Viggo Mortensen did his homework. ”We’d have discussions about exactly which cigars Freud smoked,” says director David Cronenberg (A History of Violence), ”and suddenly Viggo would be checking out cigars in Brazil.” A Dangerous Method examines the friendship between Freud and psychiatrist Carl Jung (X-Men: First Class‘ Michael Fassbender), which ultimately dissolved after Jung’s affair with a young Russian patient (Keira Knightley). Given Cronenberg’s history of outré sex scenes, can we expect some onscreen kink? ”That depends on what’s normal for you,” quips the director, ”but yeah, there’s a little S&M going on.” —John Young Dec. 9

The Iron Lady
Casting an American to play a public figure as quintessentially British as former prime minister Margaret Thatcher was a gamble — even if that actress is Meryl Streep. ”The stakes were high,” admits Phyllida Lloyd, who directed the star in 2008’s Mamma Mia! ”It’s like an English actress coming to America to play Hillary Clinton. All eyes are on you, and one slip and everyone is going to be going, ‘You come over here and take our jobs…’?” No surprise that Streep rose to the occasion. ”It’s not an impersonation in any way — it’s an incarnation,” says Lloyd. The Iron Lady spans seven decades but focuses on the peak of Thatcher’s power in the 1980s. Even moviegoers who don’t warm to Thatcher’s conservatism may find something to cheer. ”As much as the film is about the roller coaster of her extraordinary political career,” says Lloyd, ”it’s also about family and love and loss and bereavement.” And, of course, one trailblazer’s strict, nonnegotiable policy about wearing pearls. —Sara Vilkomerson Dec. 16

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Arriving 10 years after 9/11, the adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s best-selling 2005 novel follows a precocious, hyperverbal 11-year-old New Yorker named Oskar Schell (newcomer Thomas Horn) and his quest for the lock that fits a mysterious key left behind by his dad (Tom Hanks), who died in the terrorist attacks. Although 13-year-old Horn had never acted before — let alone in a film starring Academy Award winners like Hanks and Sandra Bullock (who plays Oskar’s mom) — he wasn’t a complete stranger to the camera. Last fall, he won $31,800 on the kids’ edition of Jeopardy!Josh Rottenberg Dec. 25

Albert Nobbs
Back in 1982, Glenn Close starred in an Off Broadway play about a woman who masquerades as a male butler in 19th-century Ireland. Nearly 30 years later, the five-time Oscar nominee is bringing the role to the big screen — and already generating awards buzz for her uncanny physical transformation. For her character, though, cross-dressing was a matter of survival. ”Women had absolutely no rights if you had no money and no family,” says Close. ”You were a prostitute or you were in the workhouse. She finds this niche where she just disappears and becomes this invisible person who is an extremely good butler.” —Tim Stack TBA

The Adventures of Tintin
Tintin, the plucky boy reporter whose adventures were written and drawn by Belgian cartoonist Hergé (1907?93) starting in 1929, is a mass phenomenon all over the world — except in America, where he’s merely a cult item. ”When I was 8 years old, I wanted to be Tintin,” says British actor Jamie Bell. Well, now he is — as the voice and model for the hero in a 3-D motion-capture CG animated feature directed by Steven Spielberg. The story takes elements from three Tintin books, particularly The Secret of the Unicorn. ”He’s caught up in a search for a treasure, unafraid of the consequences, searching for clues to a riddle,” says Bell, who at 25 faced some challenges playing a 16-year-old. ”I had to regress a bit,” says the actor. ”At the same time, he’s a mature fellow, able to hold his own with both his ally, Captain Haddock [voiced by Daniel Craig], and his foes,” which include pirates. Bell feels Spielberg was destined to direct Tintin. ”Steven said that Hergé’s drawings are so meticulously detailed, they served as mini-storyboards for the action,” says the actor. ”And Hergé was a huge fan of Raiders of the Lost Ark.” —Ken Tucker Dec. 23

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol
Five years after Mission: Impossible III marked a box office low for the franchise (though it still earned $134 million), superagent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is choosing to accept another assignment. His secret weapon this time? Pixar vet Brad Bird (Ratatouille), making his nonanimated directing debut. ”I’ve never made a spy movie before,” says Bird. ”But anybody who saw The Incredibles could tell that I like them.” While Ghost Protocol will honor the franchise’s DNA — the plot finds Hunt tracking the culprits behind a bombing at the Kremlin — Bird wants to emphasize the personal element. ”The size of the explosion doesn’t matter unless you care about who’s jumping away from it,” says the director. ”That said, it’s a Mission: Impossible movie. These films are designed to fly.” Luckily, Cruise can get a movie airborne. ”He’s got so much energy on and off screen, it’s crazy,” says Jeremy Renner (The Town), who joins the series as an analyst with a top secret background. According to Bird, Cruise was especially pumped about the scene, featured in the trailer, that required him to hang from Dubai’s iconic Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. ”I had him swinging a mile in the air, held by a tiny wire,” marvels Bird. ”When we finished, the one guy who wasn’t happy was Tom — because he had to come down. He loved it up there!” —Adam Markovitz Dec. 21

Episode Recaps

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