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By midlandsmovies, Mar 14 2019 02:18PM



The Girl in the Spider's Web (2018) Dir. Fede Álvarez


As a big fan of the original Swedish version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009) – which had terrific introductory performances (to me anyways) from Michael Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace – I was greatly looking forward to The Girl in the Spider's Web which is an adaptation of the 4th book in the Millennium series.


After the author of the first three books, Stieg Larsson, died of a heart attack in 2004 Swedish author and crime journalist David Lagercrantz was commissioned to continue the stories of Goth-hacker Lisbeth Salander and political investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist.


This is an adaptation of the first of Lagercrantz's two books he has had published so far, and the film follows Salander as she hunts down a file that could access the world’s nuclear arsenal whilst protecting a young boy who is the key to accessing its precious secrets. Along the way we get a flashback to Salander’s abusive past and plenty of intrigue as multiple parties – from the State to terrorist goons – try to get their dirty mitts on the electronic bounty.


If that sounds a bit too far-fetched for what began as a drama-thriller then you’d be right. Fresh from an amazing performance in First Man, Claire Foy dons the dark leathers of the rebellious Salander and despite her multitude of talents cannot raise the sub-Mission Impossible material. Which is certainly a weird direction for the franchise to go in.


Gone are the dark machinations of political and family drama and in comes a Bond-pastiche of nuke codes, bike chases and villainous lairs. Combined with a series of sequences that has Foy tazering and brawling, by the end we are exhausted from the chaotic action as a team made up of a sniper and a computer hacker support Salander beat up a clan of henchman.


Also disappearing from view is the simplicity of the first novel – a whodunit in the main – and Sverrir Gudnason is monstrously miscast as a far-too-young Mikael Blomkvist. The father-figure/mentor character which operates as an antidote to Salander’s wayward impulses was a highlight of the Swedish originals – and Fincher’s US remake – and its absence here is sorely missing. Salander’s mysterious character too has been replaced with a spousal revenge superhero of sorts with her Bat-belt of tricks and black hoodie “cape”.


The Bond-lite developments continue with car chases, gadgets and codebreaking along with duplicitous double-agents and an albino-haired henchman. There was also not enough dialogue to flesh out the characters, their motivations or to create drama. And I yearned for the powerful verbal sparring of the earlier incarnations that would have punched up this bland screenplay.


So despite many of the great ingredients and with Claire Foy doing well as Salander, sadly it all just doesn’t gel. A passable time for a few hours, this ‘facsimile of Fincher’ means only (super) fans of the book should clear their diary and make time for this unremarkable, and highly disappointing, adaptation.


★★ ½


Michael Sales



By midlandsmovies, Oct 21 2018 08:28AM


First Man (2018) Dir. Damien Chazelle


For a man who is probably one of the most famous who ever lived, Neil Armstrong was sure a modest guy. Shunning the spotlight after his infamous trip to the moon and back, the human who took one small step decided to take a step back from the limelight after his legendary voyage. And it is that low-key confidence that director Damien Chazelle (of La La Land and Whiplash fame) tries to tap into in his new film First Man.


We are thrown into the cockpit in Chazelle’s opening scene as Armstrong’s pilot comes unstuck during a test flight of an experimental X-15 rocket which he struggles to gain control of during a re-entry. Chazelle’s tone throughout combines two recurring themes – the cool-as-a-cucumber Armstrong and the technical feats of NASA during the 60s. The opening is a claustrophobic and exciting action sequence where buzzing alarms, broken throttles and life-threatening science all go hand in hand.


After successfully getting back to earth, although Armstrong is not entirely seen as successful, the film begins to expose how Armstrong however was viewed as extremelt dependable in times of crisis. Ryan Gosling’s slightly one-trick “moody wanderer” shtick (see also Blade Runner 2049 and Only God Forgives) works here to show Armstrong as a contemplative and serious man whose one goal is the success of any challenge placed in front of him.


Attempting to get more emotion from him is Armstrong’s wife played by an excellent Claire Foy. After the loss of their young daughter, Armstrong adds a metaphorical distance in their relationship. Burying his emotions deep, the film follows Armstrong in times of solace – again, reiterating his lonesome and contemplative nature. Foy brings depth to what could be a “caring wife” cliché – giving her some real toughness which was also seen in Unsane and no doubt in the future Dragon Tattoo spin off.


As their family stresses adds to Neil’s woes, Chazelle uses the “space” between words to explore the difficulties they are both facing. As the Apollo missions gain pace, more and more fellow Astronauts are killed during tests and flights which constantly plays on the couple’s fragile minds.


Whilst Chazelle uses the quiet moments to say so much the film really has two sound modes: Bombastic noise with a symphonic score (excellently composed by Justin Hurwitz) but in contrast stark silence. The audience is reminded of the omission of sound in space but space is both the empty void between the stars AND the gap between husband and wife.


Chazelle’s involvement in such “sound films” like Grand Piano, La La Land and Whiplash has given him huge dexterity in using sound as another character – one that comes to the forefront when it is there and also when it isn’t. Alongside this, the acting of the support cast is great and the whole film is shot very naturally, and at times with an improvisational style especially with the child actors.Filmed on both very grainy and authentic 16mm and 35mm film stock., further authenticity is added the inclusion of real footage from the era in 3:4 ratio which alongside the subtle but well used wardrobe, further adds to its time period credentials.


As the film edges closes to the infamous Apollo 11 launch, the constant presence of death – loss of young child, loss of colleagues, loss of friends – continues to permeate throughout. In many ways, as this occurs, Armstrong experiences an increased loss of emotion. With Chazelle’s almost point-of-view shots from the astronaut’s positions in their spacecraft, their confined position is an apt coffin itself.


The film returns to his daughter’s death as Armstrong avoids people at a colleague's funeral and he tracks his daughter’s illness in a log book and is as meticulous about his work as his family – sometimes to both their detriment.


As we enter the final third, Chazelle’s great film even raises the stakes despite us all knowing the expected outcome. The noise of creaking metal and shots of shaking rivets show how these men are simply in a controlled but very dangerous explosion. The risk to life is very real and the long pauses throughout the movie create a tension that sticks during its moon landing ending – spectacularly filmed in IMAX sequences. And as the eagle lands on the surface, one of the most well-known parts of our shared history is given new life and we rediscovers its importance – to us all and to this one humble man.


First Man therefore is a fantastic voyage of both a mythical yet somewhat conventional man. Ever the reluctant hero and considering he completed one of the most, if not the most, infamous achievements in human history, his commitment to science, family and getting the job done comes across in Chazelle’s portrayal. A uniquely earnest and simple man, Armstrong may have sought a low profile later in life, but I hope First Man reignites interest in this hugely exciting period.


And Chazelle has no need to bow down to the audience to ensure everything is a projection of their experience. This is Neil’s experience. And First Man is a first-rate biography mixing an amazing directorial confidence in cinematic techniques to explore what drives us all to unimaginable personal and public feats of endeavour.


9/10


Mike Sales



By midlandsmovies, Jul 19 2018 07:33AM



Unsane (2018) Dir. Steven Soderbergh


Infamously filmed on an iPhone 7 Plus in 4K using the FiLMiC Pro app, director Soderbergh shows again that he’s an exciting and experimental filmmaker jumping from project to project with both blockbusters (Ocean’s 11, Logan Lucky) sitting alongside indie fare like The Girlfriend Experience.


Here we get more of the latter rather than the former as Sawyer Valentini (Claire Foy) is a distressed and anxious woman who visits a counsellor but unwittingly commits herself to a mental institution. Once inside, she struggles chaotically to get herself out, whilst also claiming a man who once stalked her is now working there as a staff member. But is he just a figment of her imagination?


Well, Soderbergh uses the handheld anamorphic lens to visually stretch reality and her believability, as she is tormented either by her mind, the hospital and/or her stalker. A fellow patient Nate (Jay Pharoah) shares an insurance company conspiracy with her whilst Juno Temple’s Violet is a sassy inmate with gossip and brainwaves of her own.


The director keeps each scene off-kilter by throwing the audience into a world of confusion, sedition and (sometimes) sedation. The knotty narrative helps keep the intriguing premise up, questioning who or who may not be the nutty players in this secure unit, but at times it simply feels jumbled and disorganised.


The home-made ambience owing to the technology used would have been great if used sparingly but had me going mad by the film’s rather preposterous and baffling conclusion.


Certainly made with bold and creative passion, Unsane is a solid and quirky thriller looking at enduring psychological torment. But if nothing else, by using a format that is so often seen as a last resort for aspiring filmmakers, Soderbergh has demonstrated that high quality and interesting work can be more than achieved for a low budget.


6.5/10


Midlands Movies Mike

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