Movie Review ~ The Girl in the Spider’s Web


The Facts
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Synopsis: Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.

Stars: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Cameron Britton, Stephen Merchant, Claes Bang, Christopher Convery, Synnøve Macody Lund, Vicky Krieps

Director: Fede Alvarez

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: When 2011’s U.S. remake of the 2009 Swedish phenomenon The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo failed to bring in the kind of audience Columbia Pictures and MGM was hoping for, the two planned sequels were put on an indefinite hold.  What a pity.  Though the remake had its share of detractors, it was a compelling mystery and expertly made film that took its time to explore the characters and wasn’t afraid to wallow in some dark material.  Director David Fincher is a master at what he does and the look and feel of the movie, not to mention the fantastic performances from Rooney Mara (who received an Oscar nom for her work) and Daniel Craig, has helped to keep the film a singular experience.

Deciding to skip the two direct sequels and start over with a new novel released in 2015 brought a challenge. With Fincher, Craig, and Mara all released from their contracts and on to different projects, when the time came to bring the franchise back to life for The Girl in the Spider’s Web the studio had to go back to the drawing board and find a new director and star.  Bringing on rising director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead) and hiring Claire Foy (Breathe) as the titular character were impressive gambles that don’t completely pay off.  The resulting film works fine as a standard thriller if you didn’t have any previous knowledge of the characters but as a continuation of what Fincher started back in 2011 (and what really began with the original film trilogy in 2009) it misses the mark by a longshot.

It’s been three years since the events of The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander has become a not-so-secret vigilante of sorts in Stockholm, coming to the aid of women wronged by men.  The opening of the film (spoiled, like much of the movie, by trailers that have given away far too many key plot points) finds Salander giving a wife beater a bit of sweet vengeance.  Foy plays the exchange like she’s buying carpet for her rec room at IKEA, it’s fine to be emotionally removed from these abusers but her monotone delivery suggests boredom rather than detachment.

Salander’s ally Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) hasn’t seen her since her wrote an exposé centered on her family.  Though his editor and sometime lover Erika (a sadly underused Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread) urges him to move on, he can’t forget the troubled girl. Much like Fincher’s film, Alvarez keeps Lisbeth and Mikael apart for a good half of the film but unlike the previous entry when they do share screen time there’s next to no spark between the two.  That’s partly because the dynamic in this movie feels like it’s shifted and Mikael is now more of a second banana to Lisbeth’s main character.

When Lisbeth is asked to retrieve a computer program that becomes a threat to the national security of America and Sweden, she’s thrown into a conspiracy that will bring her back to painful memories (and people) of her childhood.  If you’ve read the book The Girl in the Spider’s Web is based off of, be prepared for major changes.  For fun, after the screening I read the plot synopsis of the novel and was amazed at the liberties screenwriters Alvarez, Jay Basu, and Steven Knight took with David Lagercrantz’s original text, rendering it almost wholly new.  For what it’s worth, the novel sounded far more muddled and complicated, something that wouldn’t have translated easily to the screen.

That leaves Alvarez to cut his own course with the material, leaving out the connective tissue that helped make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo such an intriguing mystery.  There’s no real thought process from anyone in the movie, they either just “know” the answer to a perplexing puzzle or whatever methods they use to figure things out happen offscreen.  One example is a character in the U.S. who is trying to locate a hacker by tracing their location.  The location is narrowed down to Stockholm, at which time the character grabs his coat and runs directly to the airport…because Stockholm is so specific. Part of what makes these kind of films fun is playing detective alongside our lead characters but here we are so far removed that it’s like someone is reading us a story instead of inviting us to follow along.

The screenwriters also make a giant leap in turning Lisbeth into more of a superhero than a heroine.  She takes a licking and keeps on ticking, bouncing back from explosions and beatings needing little to no recovery time.  One moment Lisbeth has been drugged and the next she’s snorted some crushed opioids and is driving a car in pursuit of cybercriminals.  She also has a curious knack for knowing the right way out of dead end.

I’ve enjoyed Foy in her films so far in 2018.  She was great in the paranoid thriller Unsane and good in October’s First Man.  Here she’s merely OK and it’s mostly due to her being miscast as an edgy character lacking bite.  Mara and her Swedish counterpart Noomi Rapace played Lisbeth as damaged goods, alternately withdrawn and feral which led to her being unpredictable.  Foy isn’t afforded much in the way of surprise so we’re just tagging along for what is largely an unremarkable ride for the actress.

As a jumpy NSA agent on Salander’s trail, Lakeith Stanfield is even more of an enigma.  There’s no backstory to his character by way of an introduction nor do we get any blanks filled in along the way.  We get a sense he’s good at his job but how spectacular can he be if he’s constantly bested by Salander and the thugs on her trail?  By the time he’s somehow called on to be an expert marksman in an admittedly nicely constructed action scene, I sort of stopped asking questions.

The best performance in the whole film is Sylvia Hoeks as a ice blonde specter from Lisbeth’s past.  Dressed head to toe in red and never speaking above a child-like purr, she’s intimidating without even raising a finger.  It does veer toward campy Bond villainess at times (the whole film feels like a gender-bending Bond romp, actually) but Hoeks knows exactly what film she’s in and sinks her teeth into every bit of scenery she can get her hands on.  Much like she did with her unsettling character in Blade Runner 2049, she becomes the focal point of any scene she’s in.

Alvarez shows off some style in his eye for imaginative camera angles with the help of cinematographer Pedro Luque (Don’t Breathe) and slightly macabre visuals but he is far more restrained than he was in previous films.  Aside from one rather ghastly sight of a man missing a key piece of his face it’s relatively tame.  I appreciated that he included a brief title sequence, nicely echoing the unforgettable pulse-pounding nightmare credit sequence of the first film.  The music by Roque Baños (In the Heart of the Sea) helps to set the mood, even if that mood too often requires Baños to veer into action movie histrionics.

I’m not sure what the impetus was for the studios to revive this franchise again in 2018 (were they about to lose the rights?) but they’ve given us another chapter in the Dragon Tattoo collection that doesn’t even feel like it’s in the same universe as what’s come before.  The characters deserve better, the actors deserve better, we deserve better.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Synopsis: Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.

Release Date: November 9, 2018

Thoughts: Though 2011’s American remake of the Swedish sensation The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was well received by critics (earning an Oscar nomination for star Rooney Mara in the process), it didn’t do the kind of box office numbers that inspired Sony Pictures to keep the franchise going.  When a continuation of the original trilogy of novels was released, the interest in resurrecting the computer hacker heroine grew which is why we’re now getting an all-new take on Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.  With Claire Foy (Breathe) taking over for Mara and Fede Alvaraz (Don’t Breathe) assuming directing duties from David Fincher, this first look suggests the same dark vibe as the previous entry.  Foy looks to have morphed nicely into the rough and tumble Salander and I’m excited for Blade Runner 2049 breakout Sylvia Hoeks to be featured briefly in this teaser. 

Movie Review ~ Breathe

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The inspiring true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease.

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Diana Rigg, Miranda Raison, Dean-Charles Chapman, Hugh Bonneville

Director: Andy Serkis

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 117 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: If Breathe seems a bit familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve also seen The Theory of Everything.  That film, about the life of Stephen Hawking, has similar themes and won star Eddie Redmayne an Oscar for his miraculous portrayal of a man whose body is failing him with a mind still sharp as a tack.  I found that movie to be filled with good performances (co-star Felicty Jones was also Oscar-nominated for Hawking’s strong-willed wife) but lacking in overall emotional heft.  While Breathe was always bound to draw comparisons, the surprising news is that it has the same memorable performances and the resonance The Theory of Everything lacked.

Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield, The Amazing Spider-Man) is a newlywed living with his pregnant wife Diana (Claire Foy) who contracts polio before he has turned 30.  Paralyzed from the neck down and given mere months to live, Robin is resigned to his fate and unable to even look at his infant son.  Not content with letting her husband fade away without a fight, Diana becomes his advocate and helps him leave the hospital ward and into their house in the English countryside.

Over the next several decades Robin will defy all expectations for those with his same affliction and become a rare voice for patients with conditions that left them unable to move or enjoy the world like everyone else.  With advancements in technology that Robin played a part in helping to design, he is able to live a full life as a husband and a father.  There are setbacks along the way and painful realties that have to be dealt with, instances that the film doesn’t totally gloss over but does treat them as speed bumps instead of potholes.

The first film directed by actor and famed motion-capture performer Andy Serkis (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Breathe looks wonderful and has grand performances as well.  Garfield is charming throughout, even when he’s at his depressive worst, and he’s balanced nicely by Foy’s stalwart acting that maintains the dignity in both her character and Garfield’s.

It would be easy to let Breathe slip through your grasp and if you happen to miss it in theaters keep your eyes, ears, and heat open for it to pop up for home consumption.

 

The Silver Bullet ~ Rosewater

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Synopsis: A journalist is detained in Iran for more than 100 days and brutally interrogated in prison

Release Date: November 7, 2014

Thoughts: Writer/director Jon Stewart has a lot riding on his directorial debut centered around the true life story of a journalist suspected of spying and imprisoned in Iran. After all, a key piece of evidence in the trial was an interview he conducted on Stewart’s popular The Daily Show back in 2009. So it’s interesting that Stewart responded by crafting Rosewater, a film generating a nice amount of buzz as it screens on festival circuits before its release in early November. Always one to shine a light on the truth, as ugly as the truth can sometimes be, Stewart could accomplish a new stage in his varied career here while exposing audiences to a story they weren’t aware needed to be told.

Movie Review ~ Vampire Academy

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Rose, a rebellious Guardian-in-training and her best friend, Lissa – a royal vampire Princess – have been on the run when they are captured and returned to St.Vladamirs Academy, the very place where they believe their lives may be in most jeopardy.

Stars: Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry, Danila Kozlovsky, Gabriel Byrne, Sarah Hyland, Joely Richardson, Cameron Monaghan, Sami Gayle, Claire Foy, Ashley Charles, Olga Kurylenko

Director: Mark Waters

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 104 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review: Vampire Academy sucks.  It bites.  It’s a stake through the heart of YA adaptations capitalizing on the success of franchise films like the Harry Potter series and, to a lesser extent than you might imagine, Twilight.  It’s toothless in its construction and bloodless in its execution.  Yes, my fangs are bared and my bad puns are all but used up for this cheap looking, badly acted mess that could have gone so right but finds itself oh so very wrong.

With the director of Mean Girls (Mark Waters) and the writer of Heathers (Daniel Waters, yep, they’re brothers) involved I was expecting a nice mash-up of those two films with a little bit of Jawbreaker thrown in for good measure.  Sadly, none of the sparks that made those movies a pleasure (guilty or otherwise) exist here so we’re left to wonder what in the hell went askew.

When a film isn’t screened for critics it’s usually never a positive sign but there was something that compelled me to see the film anyway, possibly hoping that this high school fantasy was just not designed for critical consumption.  Based on the first novel in Richelle Mead’s popular series, the film follows Rose (Zoey Deutch, daughter of 80’s royalty Lea Thompson and director Howard Deutch) and Lissa (Lucy Fry), two girls bonded together by an age-old prophecy and their (mis)adventures in a prestigious boarding school for vampires.

An early prologue contains so much rote exposition to bring the audience up to speed that I half expected the actors to start saying things like “I’m opening a door. I’m sitting on a bed.  I’m looking dazed at the moment”.  Filmed in such non-descript locales suggesting the filmmakers secretly filmed in IKEA showrooms, it’s not long before Rose and Lissa are back on the ground of St. Vladimrs Academy and thrust back into a dangerous plot…the one thing Daniels Waters script doesn’t bother to flesh out.

Remember that scene in Showgirls where veteran dancer Cristal Connors asks newbie Nomi Malone to rehearse with her, only to have a cat fight stop rehearsal five seconds in?  There are at least three of passages like that here with Rose getting “trained” by the hunky Dimitri (Danila Kozlovsky) in enough time for the two to engage in badly timed fight choreography that ends with them staring longingly  at each other.  While Deutch has an Ellen Page vibe about her that’s mildly engaging, Kozlovsky is pretty much just an Aqua di Gio ad come to life.

This lack of personality in its characters is really where the film trips and falls, we can excuse Deutch’s milquetoast line readings for a while but when she’s paired with Fry the tone becomes incredibly deadly.  About as appealing as a glass of room temperature milk, Fry is supposed to be a regal princess but her cracking voice and penchant for wearing ankle length skirts gives off more Amish Princess than Vampire Royal.  The costume and make-up design is across the board awful and I can’t imagine any of the women in the film were happy that they wound up with rouged cheeks that suggest a playful three year old applied it.

The film earns two whole stars for including two bits of biting dialogue that hints at the direction the film should have gone.  Both occur too late in the film to save us from abject misery but in the hands of Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace, Oblivion) and Sarah Hyland they were the most memorable moments of an entirely forgettable film.  Never deciding if it wants to be a satiric black comedy or a dewey young adult fantasy, it winds up turning to dust the moment the lights come up.

Laughably (but laudably) ending with the promise of a sequel, this movie should never have happened.  Even if the airwaves are chock full of vampire series right now, this would have been much better suited as a weekly television series because the episodic nature would have made more sense.  To the big screen the money hungry producers went, though, leaving the film to go the way of other franchise non-starters like Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments: The City of Bones.  Terrible.

The Silver Bullet ~ Vampire Academy

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Synopsis: Based on author Richelle Mead’s worldwide bestselling series, Vampire Academy tells the legend of two 17-year-old girls who attend a hidden boarding school for Moroi (mortal, peaceful vampires) and Dhampirs (half-vampire/half-human guardians).

Release Date: February 14, 2014

Thoughts: If this adaptation of Richelle Mead’s popular YA novel looks a little bit like Mean Girls meets Heathers with vampire twist, you won’t be too shocked to hear that it’s directed by Mark Waters from a script by Daniel Waters and though the two aren’t related Mark directed Mean Girls and Daniel wrote Heathers.  It’s tough to say if audiences will line up for another vampire series so soon after the Twilight saga ended and the cinematic tide has changed to zombie love…but with a sassy bite to it the movie could turn out to be a harmless guilty pleasure.