The Girl in the Spider’s Web


Lisabeth is not someone you want to cross.

(2018) Suspense (MGM/ColumbiaClaire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, LaKeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Beau Gadsdon, Carlotta van Falkenhayn, Stephen Merchant, Christopher Convery, Claes Bang, Synnøve Macody Lund, Cameron Britton, Vicky Krieps, Andreja Pejic, Mikael Persbrandt, Thomas Wingrich, Andreas Tietz, Paula Schramm. Directed by Fede Alvarez

One of the most intriguing literary characters to come along in the last fifteen years is Lisbeth Salander, the avenging angel/hacker/righter of wrongs/badass from Stieg Larson’s Millennium trilogy and the David Lagerkrantz novels that succeeded it after Larson’s death. While the Swedish Millennium films ended up being massive art house hits, the two big budget attempts from MGM/Columbia both flopped. It wasn’t because of the lead actresses.

Lisbeth Salander (Foy) is living off the grid, using her uncanny computer skills to help out a security firm. In her spare time, she punishes the abusers of women, as she herself was a victim of sexual abuse from both her father and her guardian. It’s enough to make you hate men – and I’m a man!

She get involved with a remorseful computer programmer (Merchant) who wants her to steal his program from the American military, which will gain too much power from it. She is assisted by an NSA agent (Stanfield), crusading journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Gudnason) and fellow hacker Plague (Britton). Opposing her are the Spiders, a global criminal gang and one of their finest operatives (Hoeks) – who happens to be Lisbeth’s sister.

There is definitely some post-feminist anger deep in the DNA of this series and Alvarez manages to capture it without blunting its impact too much. The veteran horror director also proves he’s no slouch with action sequences, including a thrilling motorcycle chase. Alvarez has a very strong visual style – the white and grey of a Swedish winter is juxtaposed with the bright red attire of the Spider Queen.

Sadly, neither this film – a “soft reboot” of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo – nor its predecessor measure up to the Swedish trilogy. Maybe Hollywood just doesn’t get the subtleties that make the Swedish versions superior; sometimes, a big budget is actually detrimental to a film. That isn’t to say that this is a bad movie – it’s certainly entertaining, and Foy does a magnificent job. It’s just not as high-quality by comparison.

REASONS TO SEE: Well-staged action sequences.
REASONS TO AVOID: Neither American film holds a candle to the Swedish film series and Noomi Rapace.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity, some violence and brief sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stieg Larson, who created the Millennium series of novels, originally planned for ten books in the series but passed away in 2004 after writing only three. His partner Eva Gabrielson has possession of his notes outlining the remaining books, but because they were never married the literary rights passed to his father and brother. With both sides unable to agree on what direction the series was to take, the family commissioned writer David Lagerkrantz to continue the series. This book is based on his first effort, the fourth official book in the series.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/20/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 40% positive reviews, Metacritic: 43/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Atomic Blonde
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Gelateria

The Wife (2017)


An expression that says it all.

(2017) Drama (Sony ClassicsGlenn Close, Jonathan Pryce, Christian Bale, Max Irons, Harry Lloyd, Annie Starke, Elizabeth McGovern, Johan Widerberg, Karin Franz Körlof, Richard Cordery, Jan Mybrand, Anna Azcarate, Peter Forbes, Fredrik Gildea, Jane Garda, Alix Wilton Regan, Nick Fletcher, Mattias Nordkvist, Suzanne Bertish, Grainne Keenan, Isabelle von Meyenberg, Morgane Polanski. Directed by Björn Runge

 

The Wife isn’t just about the dynamics of a 40-year marriage, although that is an important component. It isn’t just about gender inequality within the traditional marriage, although that is certainly a major theme. There are a lot of layers going on here.

Joe Castleman (Pryce) has won the Nobel prize for literature and is excited at the honor. His wife Joan (Close) to whom he has been married to for 40 years seems oddly tepid about the ceremony, unwilling to take part in the activities set up for the spouses; in fact, she doesn’t even want to spend much time with Joe, who is egotistical and a serial adulterer. From outside, the marriage appears to be a warm, loving one but cracks are beginning to appear in the facade. There is a secret, you see, that the husband and wife both share, a devastating one that is about to force them both to confront it.

Glenn Close has had a long and distinguished career; to say that this might just be her best performance yet is indeed saying something. Much of Joan’s anguish is shown on the face of the veteran actress; this is one of her most expressive performances and again, that’s saying something. The last act is a triumph of understatement and inner fire which leads to a conclusion which is a bit of a let-down in many ways.

The script is extremely literate and that works to the film’s advantage – but also to its detriment as it veers over the line from time to time into pretension. Still, strong performances by Close and Pryce buoy this film and make it memorable. This is a fine movie made better by the performances of the leads. Definitely worth checking out.

REASONS TO SEE: Close gives an Oscar-worthy performance. A very literate script.
REASONS TO AVOID: Occasionally crosses the line into pretension.
FAMILY VALUES: There is profanity as well as some sexual content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Starke, who plays the young Joan, is the daughter of Glenn Close who plays present-day Joan.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Redbox, Sling TV, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/13/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 85% positive reviews: Metacritic: 77/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Collette
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
Night School

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2011)


The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Lisabeth Salander has Mikael Blomkvist in stitches.

(2011) Thriller (MGM/Columbia) Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Robin Wright, Stellan Skarsgard, Steven Berkoff, Yorick van Wageningen, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Goran Visnjic, Donald Sumpter, Ulf Friberg, Julian Sands, Moa Garpendal, Embeth Davidtz. Directed by David Fincher

 

Sometimes a movie is so good when it is originally made that it seems virtually unthinkable that it be remade. Most of the time, those remakes fall far short of the mark. Once in awhile however, the remake comes out with a voice of its own that offers something to the original, enhances it even.

Purists were aghast when the hit Swedish film The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was set for an American remake. There was some comfort in that Fincher, whose pedigree includes Se7en and Fight Club would be behind the camera but still there were shudders to think of what liberties and watering down Hollywood would do to the source material, the late Stieg Larsson’s novel (the first in a trilogy, all of which have been translated to film in Swede and all of them reviewed elsewhere on the site) which was grittier and more brutal than Hollywood tends to be.

Mikael Blomkvist (Craig), a crusading journalist and co-publisher of the left-leaning Millennium magazine has been convicted of libel against a wealthy Swedish venture capitalist named Hans-Erik Wennerstrom (Friberg). The judgment against Blomkvist essentially empties out his savings and puts Millennium at risk of failing. His co-publisher and lover Erika Berger (Wright) confesses that the magazine may have three months of life left at best.

Wennerstrom isn’t the only one looking into Blomkvist. A security firm is hired by lawyer Dirch Frode (Berkoff) to investigate Blomkvist and the operative of the security firm, Lisbeth Salander (Mara) is asked to turn in her report in person, something that makes her uncomfortable. It turns out that her report is pretty thorough and the few things that are missing are best left that way.

Berkoff represents reclusive industrialist Henrik Vanger (Plummer) who wants to hire Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance of his grand-niece Harriet (Garpendal) whom he believes was murdered by a member of his family 40 years earlier. There are certainly plenty of suspects; ex-Nazis who may not be as ex as they might have you believe; bitter, jealous and greedy, grasping money-grubbers, torturers, rapists and pederasts. Makes for quite a Christmas list.

At first Blomkvist is met with hostility from nearly everyone other than Martin (Skarsgard), Harriet’s brother who is skeptical that Blomkvist will find out anything new. Martin is running the family business now and not running it with much success. The once-vast Vanger empire is shrinking; once a great steel and railway manufacturer, they make most of their profits from fertilizer these days. Considering all the BS that is fed to Blomkvist, I’m quite certain he must have thought that appropriate.

As Blomkvist discovers that his e-mail was hacked by Salander (whose identity he doesn’t yet know), he is infuriated but begrudgingly realizes he needs a research assistant as he is making a little bit of progress but needs someone who can help him dig things up from corporate records at Vanger Industries. He meets Salander who proves to be skittish but intrigued; she isn’t very fond of men in general, having been raped brutally by her state-appointed guardian Nils Bjurman (van Wageningen). She did get her revenge however and proved herself someone not to mess with in the process.

Blomkvist and Salander turn out to make a formidable team and the lies and prevarications of 40 years of silence begin to slip away and they discover Harriet’s disappearance may be the gateway into a much more hideous secret – and that Harriet may not be the only victim. Worse yet, the killer is fully aware of their discoveries and has them both firmly in their sights.

When I found out about this remake, I was like most fans of the books and the Swedish versions somewhat troubled. I couldn’t see Hollywood allowing a movie to include scenes of graphic rape and torture, all of which were at the heart of the previous versions. I fully expected something sanitized and vapid. Then I heard that it was Fincher directing, and to be honest my reaction was “He’s probably the only director in Hollywood who could pull it off,” but I thought he might have difficulty getting the studio to allow him free rein to make the movie he wanted.

Surprisingly he did and we might have The Social Network to thank for it. The runaway commercial and critical success of that film has given Fincher greater clout than he’s had previously and might have allowed him to shut down studio interference in the project. Certainly the rape sequence and the torture sequence late in the film are as disturbing as those in the Swedish film and the book.

Craig was only able to do this film because of the delay in filming the latest James Bond. Here he plays a man unused to action, one more cerebral than some of the heroes he’s played lately and quite frankly Craig is up to the task. It is as different a role from Bond as you can get but equally as heroic, and if this franchise is successful will really put up Craig among the elite stars working today.

Mara is the breakout star here. One had to worry if she could fill the shoes of Noomi Rapace, who was so very central to the success of the Swedish trilogy.  Not only does Mara fill those shoes, she may well surpass them and will herself into stardom; this is a star-making performance to say the least. Salander is a tortured soul and certainly Mara captures that, but she’s also no longer willing to be a victim and the inner strength that makes Salander one of the most interesting heroines of all time is very much evident here as well. She may wear outlandish hair styles, provocative t-shirts and smoke far too much but she is also brilliant as well.

The movie is a bit longer than three hours long which was nearly more than my poor bladder could take – theater sodas are so darn large these days! It also fleshes out the Swedish film quite nicely, although the Swedish version ends with the death of the killer more or less with a brief coda showing a television report that covers the denouement between Blomkvist and Wennerstrom. The American version plays that out a bit further which frankly was unnecessary for my taste.

Still, this is some terrific filmmaking buttressed by some great performances, particularly in the case of Mara (Plummer and Skarsgard, both veteran actors, also deliver solid performances). It may be too intense for some, a bit too long for its own good but by and large this is a really good movie that doesn’t disgrace its source material in the least; if anything, it enhances it nicely and makes for a worthy addition to Larsson’s legacy.

REASONS TO GO: Mara does a star-making turn here. Based on one of the best-written thrillers in recent years. Great cast and production values.

REASONS TO STAY: The violence and sexuality can get very intense. Doesn’t measure up to the original in several critical areas. Overly long.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some very disturbing content here, including graphic rape and torture. There is also plenty of nudity and sexuality and a surfeit of naughty words.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The piercings that Rooney Mara sports as Lisabeth Salander are real; none of them are cosmetically or digitally enhanced. Mara got them for the movie.

HOME OR THEATER: Some of the empty vistas of Northern Sweden seem best on the big screen but it might not be a bad thing to see this at home in front of a roaring fire on a cold night.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

TOMORROW: The Artist

The Girl Who Played With Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden)


The Girl Who Played With Fire

A couple of old friends get re-acquainted.

(2009) Thriller (Music Box) Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Peter Andersson, Michlis Koutsogiannakis, Annika Hallin, Sofia Ledarp, Jacob Ericksson, Reuben Sallmander, Yasmine Garbi, Ralph Carlsson, Georgi Staykov, Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl, Per Oscarsson.  Directed by Daniel Alfredson

There are those of us who have causes and are passionate in pursuing them. The trouble with tilting at windmills, however is that often we find ourselves face to face with our own demons – and some of those demons have wicked claws.

Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is on the run following the events of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She has leased out her apartment to an attractive woman named Miriam Wu (Garbi) and has paid a visit to her old abuser Bjurman (Andersson), threatening him with his own gun. When that gun is used to murder him later, as well as two reporters for a left wing magazine, Salander is framed for the crimes.

It so happens the two reporters worked for Millennium, the magazine published by Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) who doesn’t believe for a second that Salander murdered his people. Blomkvist decides to follow the investigation they were working on into a ring that brought Russian girls into Sweden to be used as sex slaves for wealthy Swedish men.

As corruption at the highest level of government begins to resist the investigation, Salander who is doing some looking into of her own discovers that her own past is very much a part of the murky shadows involved in these crimes. As Lisbeth and Mikael find their investigations are beginning to point to the same place, Lisbeth’s past threatens to collide head-on with their present which may leave either of them with no future.

The second book in the Millennium trilogy is definitely on the transitional side. You get a sense that events are being set up for the third installment (and they are). Alfredson takes over from Niels Arden Oplev who helmed the first movie, and lacks some of the visual style of the first. It also lacks the intensity and stress level of the first movie. It’s certainly more laid-back in tone, with more exposition and less action.

Still, the movie is redeemed by Rapace who continues to make Salander one of the most interesting characters to come along onscreen in decades. We get to see much more of her – she and Nyqvist barely appear onscreen together and only then near the end of the film. In many ways this is very much her show and while Nyqvist is a capable actor, his role is certainly secondary to Salander’s as it is in the book.

Purists may again wish the movie hewed a little closer to the book, but of course that’s not really possible – as it is the movie runs a little long to me. There are some significant plot changes but by and large the book and the movie are similar enough to get by.

There are a lot of complexities in the plot, with lots of subplots running through the movie. That’s both good and bad. Good in that it makes the movie more of a thinking person’s movie – and God knows we need more of those – but also it makes the movie unnecessarily convoluted. While those plotlines are necessary, still it can make the movie feel cluttered at times. However, in the defense of the filmmakers, I’m not sure there’s a way around it without either creating a fourth movie or making the third a lot more confusing.

Still, while this movie isn’t quite as good as the first, it’s still miles ahead of most of the competition. This is still a well-written and taut thriller and while the ending leaves it feeling a mite unfinished, that’s often true of most second films in a trilogy anyway. There are some definite gotcha moments and the performances continue to be strong. It left me eager to see the third and you can’t ask much more than that from a second movie in a trilogy.

WHY RENT THIS: Rapace continues to impress as Salander. Taut and well-written.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A little bit blander than the first. Too much exposition and not enough action.

FAMILY VALUES: More of the same – brutal violence, much of it directed at women. Sexual violence including a rape, a bit of nudity and a few bad words scattered here and there.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the only book and film in the trilogy where the Swedish title is the same as the English one (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was titled Men Who Hate Women in Sweden and the third movie The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest was titled The Castle in the Sky That Was Blown Up in Sweden).

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $67.1M on an unreported production budget; the movie was very likely a hit.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Man som hatar kvinnor)


The Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo

This is not the girl you want to mess with.

(2009) Thriller (Music Box) Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Sven-Bertil Taube, Peter Haber, Peter Andersson, Marika Lagercrantz, Ingvar Hirdwall, Bjorn Granath, Ewa Froling, Annika Hallin, Georgi Staykov, Tomas Kohler.  Directed by Niels Arden Oplev

My wife was often heard to say to my son (and she heard this herself often as a child) that the truth will find you out. It usually does, too – although sometimes it can take many years before it finally shows up at your door.

Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) is the publisher of Millennium, a left wing magazine in Sweden that goes after corporate and government officials mostly of the right wing variety. Blomkvist has just lost a libel trial against a wealthy Swedish industrialist and in six months time, will be sent to jail for it. He has temporarily stepped down from his position because of the scandal.

In the midst of this, he gets an intriguing offer from an aging Swedish industrialist. Henrik Vanger (Taube) is in his 80s, the patriarch of a wealthy Swedish family living in isolation on an island near Stockholm. 40 years previously, his niece Harriet (Froling) disappeared and is presumed dead. Nobody knows what happened to her although everyone assumes she was murdered. Who done it? Well there’s a whole family of suspects.

As it turns out, Mikael isn’t the only one investigating. Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) was hired to investigate Blomkvist and as she checks up on him, gets drawn in to his own investigation. She is one of Sweden’s best hackers and she has no trouble finding information Mikael can’t access. As time goes by, they discover that the Vangers have a couple of not-so-closet Nazis in the family tree. Salander turns out to have some dangerous secrets of her own and as Mikael closes in on the truth, nothing is what it seems – and it seems there may be something rotten in Sweden.

This is from the first book of the late Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy which is wildly popular in Scandinavia and more recently worldwide. The motion pictures based on the trilogy are among the most popular ever in Sweden and are due to be remade by Hollywood, the first due out at Christmas directed by Oscar winner David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara.

So should you see these before seeing the remakes? I say yes. This is a world class movie, right up there with the best of Hitchcock and De Palma. The bleak Swedish winter landscapes create the perfect mood, with just the right number of twists – not too many, not too few.

The leads couldn’t be more different. Nyqvist is understated as Blomkvist. He is capable and intellectual but not what you’d call the typical heroic sort. He is more heroic in his convictions and ideals rather than as a physical purveyor of derring-do. He is a decent man caught in a situation that is way over his head, one he’s not nearly mean enough to handle.

Rapace however delivers a star turn as Salander. Lisbeth is a bundle of contradictory characteristics. Quiet and withdrawn in many ways, she also dresses in outlandish punk hairstyle and leather which inevitably calls attention to herself. There is a rage in her that’s just below the surface, a rage that comes out brutally when she’s raped graphically early in the movie. It’s a brutal scene that’s not for the sensitive and is anything but sexual. There are those who are disturbed by it, but considering the importance of the event in the series, it is a necessary scene.

I like the mood the movie weaves; it is a mood that contains the comfort of Scandinavian homes, the overwhelming fog of uneasy dread, the air of mysteries buried deep in the Swedish soil. While there is an Agatha Christie-like vibe to the first act, this is definitely the work of a mind whose roots are deep in the land of the Northern climes, where winters are deep, bone-chilling and soul-sucking. One can almost hear “Finlandia” playing on the soundtrack.

Even more to the point, these are characters that are real and compelling. Even the evil neo-Nazi bastards aren’t caricatures; there is flesh on all of these bones.  Lisbeth Salander may be one of the most interesting heroines to come along since Ellen Ripley in Alien. She has demons deep within her, most of them barely hinted at. She’s not always an easy character to like, but she’s always an easy character to be fascinated by.

There are people who won’t see this because it’s subtitled. That’s a shame; those who love thrillers will love this one. It’s not the most original plot; it’s just done in an original style. There’s a realism to it that works, as well as an air of melancholy that makes it Swedish. It’s not Hitchcock, but as this style of movie goes, it’s as good as anything that’s come along in the last decade.

WHY RENT THIS: Well-acted, well-filmed and well-structured – nearly an ideal mystery-thriller.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The story is not really ground-breaking and the ending is not too hard to figure out.

FAMILY VALUES: There’s a lot of violence and some grisly images. There’s also a graphic rape, nudity, some sexual material and a bit of bad language (in Swedish but nonetheless).

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Noomi Rapace got her eyebrow and nose pierced for the film. She also learned kickboxing and lost weight. Incidentally, the actress playing her mother in the movie is also her mom in real life.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There is a Vanger family tree that may prove helpful in keeping up with the plot. There’s also an interesting interview with Rapace in which she discusses how she came aboard.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $104.4M on a $13M production budget; the movie was a blockbuster.

FINAL RATING: 8/10

TOMORROW: The Girl Who Played With Fire