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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, Sep 11 2017 05:43PM

2017 Movie Catch-Up Blog Part 4

Unlocked (2017) Dir. Michael Apted

After the awful ‘Rupture’ and the fantastic ‘What Happened To Monday’, Noomi Rapace is one of my favourite actresses but boy does she need a decent film (and some consistency) for her to attach her multiple talents to. Sadly, this action thriller falls way short of quality entertainment as Rapace’s ex-CIA interrogator is tricked into getting involved in a suspected terrorist chemical attack in London. The film is not short of talent with support coming from a sleazy Michael Douglas, a phone-in/hammy performance from John Malkovich (which this film needed much more of) and Toni Collette’s MI5 head who has more in common with Annie Lennox with her blonde buzz cut, than James Bond’s M. “Hey, that large nameless goon looks like Orlando Bloom” I screech before realising it is Orlando Bloom yet whose ‘acting’ and accent is so bad I almost stopped watching. Rapace’s thoughtful dark performance in ‘Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' shows she can bring depth to characters, whilst her turn in ‘What Happened to Monday’ shows she can handle the lead in an action flick. So her involvement in two of the worst films of 2017 is much like this film – a huge HUGE disappointment. Avoid this dull, stilted and ponderous thriller like the biological plague. 4/10

Risk (2017) Dir. Laura Poitras

Laura Poitras new documentary is a solid if slightly amateur looking exposé on Wikileak’s founder Julian Assange. What is interesting is how it reveals the inherent conflicts of Assange’s work (and more fascinatingly his character) as the film flips from a behind the scenes look at the machinations of the organisation to the complexities of his impending extradition. The film contrasts the support for making public potential war crimes and surveillance with a critique of Assange and the shady sexual abuse claims. Sadly the brief-ish 91 minutes drags owing to a mix of constant shaky cam (which is less “intentional choice” than simply the only option and bad camerawork) in addition to the constant presence of Assange whose arrogance is unpalatable to say the least. Director Poitras wisely changes tack when she claims Assange sent her a message calling certain scenes a "threat to his freedom", with Assange missing the irony completely with this censorship request. Although his real-life escape to the Peruvian Embassy has a certain excitement to it, the film is unable to construct itself to create a meaningful narrative that’s more engaging. Difficult questions are approached, multi-sides of the story are presented and the work of Wikileaks analysed from various perspectives which is testament to Poitras’ investigations. Yet all the people involved are so inherently unpleasant that the interesting political and moral ramifications of these revelations are lost amongst the obnoxious posturing from insufferable people. 5/10

Hidden Figures (2017) Dir. Theodore Melfi

“If we keep labelling something 'a black film,' or 'a white film'— basically it's modern day segregation. We're all humans. Any human can tell any human’s story”. Theodore Melfi, Director.

Based on the real life 1960s story of African American female mathematicians working at NASA, Hidden Figures is a powerful drama about an important part in not just the history of the USA but for the work which helped build towards that “giant leap for Mankind”. With Soviet space supremacy on the horizon the internal pressure rises and genius mathematician Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson) is headhunted to assist the lead space team during a time of demeaning segregation.

From resolving issues about heat shields to solving equations about trajectories, Katherine fights objections, prejudices and her own anonymity in the reports she creates and it’s this conflict which gives the film its engaging power. Henson’s stoic performance channels a humble woman attempting to fulfil her role against a tide of narrow-mindedness. And there is also great support from Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan who is being denied a supervisor role and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson who has to go to court to attend a white-only night school to train as an engineer. Kevin Costner plays the director of the Space Task Group and he brings back his 60s ‘JFK’ Jim Garrison with similarly framed glasses and a focus on the injustices of the world, whilst Jim Parsons is simply his ‘Bing Bang Theory’ Sheldon Cooper with an added ignorance.

The trio of put-upon lead women are outstanding and portray a proud magnificence – and some warm light-heartedness in their car journeys together – as they all attempt to become first-rate workers in a world full of social barriers. It reminded me somewhat of Race (our 2016 review here) which I enjoyed immensely but here the narrative momentum replaces a track race with the space race. The film takes some liberties with facts from the era but a 2 hour run time is going to need to use composite characters, conflated timelines and a more simplistic explanation of NASA management structures but the importance of these ladies – both in their small steps and giant leaps – should not be underestimated. Well photographed and with enough cinematic flourishes, Hidden Figures utilises the multiple talents of its terrific cast to portray the efforts and toil that moved the world towards a more “human”-kind. 8/10

Bloodrunners (2017) Dir. Dan Lantz

A 1930s b-movie prohibition flick with Ice-T as a gangster vampire has to be a lot of fun, right? Er, sadly no as this schlock horror fails to love up to its ridiculous description. Clearly low budget, my low expectations were not even fulfilled as we follow a corrupt middle-aged cop trying to make sense of the visitors and owners of a whore house and speakeasy in his town. The film takes a vampire’s life-time to get going as the film promises blood and guns (it’s a vampire gangster flick after all) but it takes nearly 2/3rds of the film to get any real action. The high concept-low budget set up cries out for silly action yet takes itself far too seriously with nods to spousal abuse, class conflict and a soppy story of love between two youngsters from opposite sides. Some cool swing music cannot hide the TV-show style sets, awful stock characters (the “crazy” priest who isn’t believed) and hackneyed writing. Again, the concept isn’t the worse idea in the world and with (a lot of) tinkering, there is an enjoyable thrill-ride in here somewhere but unfortunately Bloodrunners will make your blood run cold with its amateur delivery. Absolutely toothless. 4/10

Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Aug 25 2017 11:02AM

What Happened to Monday (aka Seven Sisters) (2017) Dir. Tommy Wirkola

Also known as the more blatant, and ridiculous in my opinion, ‘Seven Sisters’ in the UK, comes a new sci-fi from Tommy Wirkola, the Norwegian director of Dead Snow and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters.

In a montage opening we find that in 2037 the future has led to a world on the brink of collapse as overpopulation and the resulting starvation has forced global governments to introduce a one-child policy. This Child Allocation Act forces any siblings to be put into a 'sleep stasis' until the crisis has passed. However, one father (a strong as always Willem Defoe) hides the birth of his septuplet children after the death of his wife and brings them up to 'play' (and act) as one individual in the oppressive outside city.

Named after the days of the week the children learn to adapt to the one persona and the film picks up with seven Noomi Rapaces playing each of the older siblings in a technical tour de force. The second ‘star-of-Prometheus’ cloning films of the year (Alien: Covenant saw Fassbender play “just” 2 versions of himself) Rapace infuses each sister with their own personality with differing styles and costume. Far from the early Back to the Future 2 and Nutty Professor effects where actors also played multiple roles in locked-off camera shots, Rapace (and the CGI geniuses) completely immerse us in a world where the special effects and performances are seamless and the camera can wander as much as it likes.

The plot revolves around the disappearance of Monday who fails to return after a day out, with the sisters soon attempting to uncover her whereabouts. Yet before too long the illegal siblings are subsequently hunted by the authorities themselves. With elements of dark humour and a smattering of explicit violence and heavy themes, the film is held together with some twisting of sci-fi tropes but the sole praise is Rapace’s alone. With her solid performance in the truly awful Rupture, the actress had a huge amount of redeeming to do after that misstep from earlier this year.

But she does so in spades here. In addition, the film’s chases, fire-fights, explosions and shoot-outs will satisfy fans of action. Its well-constructed editing alongside fast-paced narrative and character development, help these exciting action sequences have an emotional weight that's so often missing - and also allows an audience to side with the siblings’ plight.

Again, Netflix has shown that it can (along with Okja and others) invest in original ideas that are a much needed balm from the over abundance of multiplex franchises. That said, with its themes of cloning, birth and re-birth, plus machine gun shootouts, the film has echoes of an Alien film that never was. Rapace was sorely missing from Ridley Scott’s latest and his film fails to have half the imagination shown in this lower budget film.

Not without its flaws – a slightly too long 2-hour runtime drags in the middle - the film uses its support cast well but Glenn Close as Nicolette Cayman head of the C.A.B. is menacing but somewhat underused.

However, for a fun but not throwaway thrill, you could do a lot worse than What Happened to Monday. A career high for the director and Rapace returns on a high from her earlier cinematic stinker. The film sits alongside Snowpiercer and Predestination as a trio of fantastic under-valued science fiction films that have been released under the radar in the last 5 years and one that provides an emotional resonance in a future not so distant.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jan 22 2017 09:23PM

Rupture (2017) Dir. Steven Shainberg

This new film from Steven Shainberg has personal fave Noomi Rapace as a mother who is abducted at random and taken to a secret laboratory to be experimented on for reasons unknown. A set of mystery captors including Michael Chiklis torment and test on her and poor Noomi (as Renee) attempts to escape the clutches of the nefarious group.

Opening with simple scenes of suburban life, there is a weird sense of dread that culminates in a tense and frightening scene where Rapace is drugged and bound in the back of a truck seemingly out of the blue. Before long we are whisked to a facility where she begins to be tortured on a trolley with her deepest darkest fear - which turns out to be a rather unimaginative and common phobia of spiders.

More narrative and story development was needed at this point as 20 minutes in we’re still unsure of the puzzle pieces and the director seems in no rush to start putting these together. The inherent strangeness that is supposed to be intriguing is frankly annoying and is not helped by the tediously slow pace. Rupture director Shainberg was interviewed about the film and said he wanted “To take a character to a place where she doesn’t know what’s happening to her for a really long time, and to see whether or not the audience can be held.”

I can telly you straight away that this low budget film definitely fails on that front. The director has also said he intended to make a film more like The Shining than Saw. Well he certainly hasn’t achieved that either. In fact not even close.

It is far more similar to something like Hostel and these “people enclosed in a room” dramas (Phone Booth, Cube, Buried etc) require a lot of dialogue or exposition to make up for the lack of location and the obvious physical limitations of that structure. This film however doesn’t deliver any clues as to why she is in the situation and when you don’t know the “why” then the terror and torment is meaningless. Torture to transcend can be horrific – see Martyrs – but this is simply a bad X-Files episode at best.

The choice to light the film in an endless red-light which saturates each frame, and is no doubt intended to represent danger, is constantly present and becomes another of the film’s many annoyances. There’s no light or shade just a constant drone of crimson. And so most of Rupture makes little sense and combined with zero tension Rapace’s skills are wasted as she meanders through corridors avoiding who-know-what and oh look, Peter Stomare, shows up as some quirky scientist as he always does. Yawn.

Rapace strapped to a bed asking if she is ill is better done dramatically in Prometheus but Rupture’s biggest weakness is that you simply cannot make a film where everything is unknown – characters, location, motivations, context. All are absent here and therefore makes the first half of the film impenetrable. By the halfway point most of the audience would have tuned out owing to frustration. And when a story twist finally does come out of the blue, it’s laughable and has some truly awful CGI.

A huge waste of talent, I cannot recommend Rupture to anyone as it fails in all the genres it touches upon and in the end, the director’s choice of structure and the movie’s absence of information is less intriguing than it is utterly infuriating.


Midlands Movies Mike

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