Film Review: THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB (USA 2018) **

The Girl in the Spider's Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story Poster
Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.


Fede Alvarez


Jay Basu (screenplay by), Fede Alvarez (screenplay by) |3 more credits »

After a hiatus so long that audiences have likely forgotten the story of men-hating bi-sexual heroine Lisbeth Salander, THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB appears with all the Hollywood aplomb.  But one should be aware, at least briefly of the history of Lisbeth Salander.

Lisbeth Salander is the Swede heroine of the trilogy of Millennium’ books (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl in the Hornet’s Nest) all made into Swedish films with only the first remade by David Fincher into an English Hollywood version.  But the author Steig Larsson has passed away (Dragon Tattoo was published posthumously) and the new book which this film is based on is penned by a new author, Larsson’s successor, David Lagercrantz.

Computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) and journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) find themselves caught in a web of spies, cyber criminals and corrupt government officials.  The rough story involves her hacking computers trying get code belonging to Frans Balder (Stephen Merchant) while her code is stolen.  At the same time, Edwin Neeham (LaKeith Stanfield), a National Security Agency (NSA) security expert is tracking Salander.  Things get complicated with Camilla Salander (Sylvia Hoeks), Lisbeth’s estranged sister, who is the head of a major crime syndicate.

The best of all the films is the original Swede version of THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO that shocked with its violence and theme where the audience really felt Lisbeth’s trauma, being raped and abused by several men before merging a female vigilante killer.

Uruguay director Nede Alvarez’s (DON’T BREATHE) version shows Lisbeth instead as a female James Bond.   Her job is to save the world just as is the job of Bond in all the Bond movies.  He is less interested in Lisbeth’s drama but more in the film’s action set-pieces that involve countless car chases and explosions. 

Alvarez does not bother about continuity either. In one action scene, Salander fires on a car driven by a kidnapper and the autistic son.  The car is stranded on a bridge and Salander gets the boy out of the car.  Where is the man at this point in time?  He appears two minutes later firing bullets rapidly at them from a machine gun.  The suspended bridge is then lifted.

Not much sense can be made of the technology or gimmicks either.  When the logic of the password is revealed – some spill about prime numbers – the dialogue is so fast as if to prevent the audience from catching on that all this makes no sense.  Anyone can get killed and with Salander almost invincible, the film generates no suspense.  Even the sex scenes, between Salander and her female lover creates no surprise, the audience already aware of her bi-sexuality.

The film is set mainly in Sweden with all the actors speaking with an English or with a Swedish accent.  There is an American character, a black tech expert who has to turn out to be a good guy.

All the originality of the Lisbeth Salandar’s previous films is gone.  What is left is a slick and sloppy thriller, with too many scenes not making much sense.  Don’t get tangled up with this one!   


Film Review: FIRST MAN (USA 2018) ***

First Man Poster

A look at the life of the astronaut, Neil Armstrong, and the legendary space mission that led him to become the first man to walk on the Moon on July 20, 1969.


Damien Chazelle


Josh Singer (screenplay by), James R. Hansen (based on the book by)

FIRST MAN tells the trials and triumphs of astronaut Neil Armstrong as he trains, tests and finally lands on the moon.  The film is written by Oscar winner Josh Singer (SPOTLIGHT) adapted from James. R. Hansen’s book with cinematography by Linus Sandgren whose visuals are the best thing about the movie.  It is best seen in IMAX, as the screen jolts during the segment of the moon landing, as if to remind the audience of the glorious IMAX format.

The film opens with Armstrong (Ryan Gosling) in the cockpit of a rocket as it tries to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere.  It has troubles as it is bouncing off the atmosphere with altitude rising instead of decreeing.  The ship rattles like crazy.  It is a long 15-minute or so sequence with screeching metal and jittery frames, enough to give anyone a headache.  It is clear that director Chazelle wants the audience to realize the absolute torture that the astronauts endure, which he repeats more than once again during his film.  Subtlety is clearly not Chazelle’s strong point.  Chazelle loves to inflict torture on his subjects like in Armstrong as in Miles Teller’s drummer in WHIPLASH and career bound musician Ryan Gosling in LA LA LAND – two of Chazelle’s previous outings.

The film unfolds during the period of 1961 to 1969, ending with the success of the moon landing and of course Armstrong’s famous words: “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  But the euphoria is again diminished by Chazelle insisting on reminding the audience (though flashback) that Armstrong lost his little girl, Karen through cancer.

FIRST MAN is extremely choppy in its storytelling.  It requires that titles onscreen to tell the audience the year a segment is set and and what point NASA is at in its testing.  There are scenes that are disorienting that the audience is left for a while not knowing where the film is at.  An example is the wife Janet (Claire Foy) distraught at her husband’s survival followed by a scene when all is well.

Chazelle’s film and Singer’s script capture both the intimacy of Armstrong’s family life and camaraderie of his fellow astronauts more effectively.  The confrontation between Janet and Neil where she loses it, forcing her husband to talk to the boys makes one of the film’s best segments as in the astronauts beer drinking segment.  The choice of the musical score and the songs chosen by the astronauts to play in space is also interesting,

FIRST MAN is Chazelle’s biggest project and it looks superb not only for the moon segments but the ones on earth.  No expense has been spared to provide the 60’s atmosphere from the vintage cars, clothing, wardrobe and 60’s dialogue.

FIRST MAN is visually more arresting than most space movies, excepting Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.   But Philip Kaufman’s THE RIGHT STUFF remains the best space movie about astronauts and their families.  A little lengthy at 2 hours and 20 minutes, FIRST MAN is a solid experience demonstrating what Armstrong went through for success but unlike the other two aforementioned films, seeing FIRST MAN once is more than enough.


Film Review: UNSANE (USA 2018) ***1/2

A young woman is involuntarily committed to a mental institution, where she is confronted by her greatest fear–but is it real or a product of her delusion?

Director Steven Soderbergh alternates between making big budget Hollywood blockbusters like OCEAN’S ELEVEN, ERIN BROCKOVICH and small budget personal movies.  UNSANE falls into the latter and shows the director in playful mood.  His playful mood translates to genuine scares and twisted humour in UNSANE, the story of a businesswoman institutionalized against her free will.

UNSANE contains touches of Soderbergh’s past films like a female heroine discovering a conspiracy (ERIN BROCKOVICH) and even has a welcome appearance of a cameo from a famous actor from one of his blockbuster films, even if not for more than a minute.  The film is updated to a scene similar to what the heroine would face if placed in a Harvey Weinstein like situation.

The heroine of the piece is Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy), a young, pretty and bright but troubled businesswoman.  She begins to find out that her past is catching up to her when she encounters a stalker. To ensure her safety, Sawyer signs up for a support group that helps people tackle stalking problems.  She also moves to a different city leaving her mother and friends behind, leading an excluded life that would likely bring her paranoia.  She gets help from a stalking support group.  Unfortunately, Sawyer finds out that she has involuntarily placed herself in a mental institution with strict rules that there should be no contact with the outside world.  The message here is to be careful what you sign.  Never sign what you have not read!  Now, Sawyer is alone and trapped against her will.

According to the film’s ad, Sawyer must fight her own demons within the twisted asylum as the visions of her stalker begin to take over.

There are are two main questions posed in the film’s premise:

what the reason is for her to be institutionalized against her own free will

whether she is imagining the stalker now or is it the real thing

To avoid any spoilers, the answers will not be revealed in this review, safe to say that they are revealed to the audience quite early in the film.  Nevertheless, director Soderbergh devises other means to scare his audience.  And quite effectively too.  One is the placement of another scary, mental patient in the bed next to Sawyer.  Olivia (JunoTemple) is not all there and carries a sharp object which she threatens Sawyer with.  Her mother (Amy Irving) inadvertently lets Sawyer’s stalker into her apartment as he poses to be the maintenance man.  (Message: Never let strangers with no identification into you home.”  The element of audience anticipation is cleverly evoked.

The film has a few flaws.  The monologue that Sawyer delivers to her tormentor that results in his breaking down garnered a few laughs in what was supposed to be a dead serious segment.  UNSANE contains a few ultra-violent scenes reminiscent of another kidnapping film, Stephen King’s MISERY.

Coming out of the film, I heard a member of the public complain that she had watched a dissatisfying movie.  There is nothing dissatisfying about this movie.  Great premise, apt performances and scary atmosphere – no complaints in these departments!  UNSANE is a genuinely scary, well executed movie that brigs closure to all the issues tendered.  What she saw was a less commercialized movie she and many are not used to.