Review: The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Claire Foy is the latest actress to tackle the role of punk-hacker extraordinaire Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, a drudging and woefully unexciting Dragon Tattoo story adapted from materials by Steig Larsson and David Lagercrantz. Foy herself does a good job as the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo but the film is weighed down by shoddy camerawork, pacing problems and hit-and-miss execution from director Fede Alvarez.

Lisbeth is approached by a man named Balder, who conceived a computer program capable of giving a single individual sole control of every missile launch protocol and program on the planet. Balder seeks Lisbeth’s aid and talents to steal it from the Americans and destroy it but finds herself ensnared in a tangled web of corrupt government officials, cyber-spies and mercenaries orchestrated by Lisbeth’s long lost sister Camilla.

There were times when I felt this movie didn’t know what it was or what it wanted to be. The plot and how this movie set itself up, felt as though it was derived from a James Bond movie and I wasn’t sure if that was what Alvarez wanted to do with this movie but the film just lacked a true sense of identity, especially since we’re all a few years removed from David Fincher’s adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.

Lisbeth Salander is a strong female protagonist and this movie makes a sincere effort to showcase her strength, intelligence and independence and I credit Alvarez, Jay Basu and Steven Knight for adapting that strength and intelligence from Lagercrantz’s novel and into this movie and again, Claire Foy does a fine job with the character. The problem is that there were times where I didn’t believe that this plot was out of place with this character; maybe that is an issue when it comes to the book, but I just felt as though the movie is out of step with the strengths of that character.

The cast is alright. Foy does a good job, as does Lakeith Stanfield, Sverrir Gudnason, Stephen Merchant and Sylvia Hoeks but the rest of the cast is reduced to just background. If anything, you go see this movie if you are a fan of Claire Foy.

Technically, this movie is hit-or-miss for the most part. Pedro Luque’s cinematography and camerawork is probably the worst I’ve seen all year. The use of Steadicam and the tracking shots are painful to watch in places because the camerawork is so unbalanced and shaky and it hurts the appeal of the film.

Tatiana S. Riegel’s editing makes up for the bad camerawork though, if that is any consolation. Roque Baños’ music is forgettable, Eve Stewart’s production design is mediocre, the art direction fades into the background, the set decoration is okay, Carlos Rosario’s costumes are decent; there are things to like when it comes to the technical aspects of The Girl in the Spider’s Web but that is countered by significant flaws in its design.

It was nice seeing Lisbeth Salander return to the big screen but I don’t believe The Girl in the Spider’s Web was the right vehicle for her to make her comeback.

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Review: Suspiria

Watching Luca Guadagnino’s take on the 1977 Italian horror classic Suspiria is like witnessing a heathenistic, satanic blood ritual you have no business watching and when it is done, it’s going to take a while to shake off, beauty, trauma and all.

The acclaimed director of the Oscar-winning Call Me By Your Name, pays homage to Dario Argento and Daria Nicolodi’s nightmarish tale of a grieving psychotherapist and an American dancer enrapt in the company of a prominent German dance troupe, where every move that is made is ultimately an extension of devilish enchantment, in other words, witchcraft. Beauty can only be found on the surface of this company’s walls and floors and dance studios, where it’s interior beyond and beneath can only be described as black and sinister as the searing fires of hell.

Anyone who says that this movie is enjoyable to watch, is lying; that is to say that if you can stick it out to the end, which will require a strong stomach. This is an upheaval cinematic festival of cringing and gore, masked by beautiful, symmetrical motions and jarring storytelling from screenwriter David Kajganich. I can imagine that Guadagnino wanted to honor the horrors the original Suspiria but this is torture to watch; it’s a movie told in six parts with an epilogue and each part just drags the viewer deeper and deeper into horrifying and skin-crawling madness.

I reiterate, this isn’t a movie you to see to enjoy. This is a movie you go to experience and the experience is one that will stay with you long after the lights go up! Guadaganino certainly made a chaotic movie that mirrors the appearance of the studio in the film; precise, riveting and captivating on the exterior but the inside is chaotic, depraved and sickening.

The cast certainly put in the work to add to the overall shock-value of Suspiria. Dakota Johnson, Tilda Swinton-who portrays three characters, one of which is an elderly man-, Chloë Grace Moretz, Doris Hick, Malgorzata Bela, Mia Goth, Angela Winkler, Alek Wek, Vanda Capriolo, Elena Fokina; I’m pretty sure that the cast is all or predominantly female and all of them are strong, menacing performers, whether their role is to dance, create death, descend into dark insanity or all simultaneously.

Radiohead front-man Thom Yorke provides the chilling music of Suspiria, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s cinematography is piercing, Walter Fasano’s editing is jolting, Inbal Weinberg’s production design, Merlin Ortner and Monica Sallustio’s art direction and Christin Busse and Merissa Lombardo’s set decoration is precise, menacing and impactful, Giulia Piersanti’s costumes were striking; the technical acumen of Suspiria was meant to provoke and horrify and it succeeded.

Final thoughts: if you are 50-50 on deciding whether to see Suspiria, maybe it’s better if you stayed away because this movie is NOT for the weak willed or faint of spirit, it requires a lot of conviction stay to the end, it is a LOT to digest as it goes on and if you happen to be brave enough to elect to see it, I hope you are ready to embark on a paralyzing experience and have time to recover from it.

Review: Bohemian Rhapsody

Rami Malek headlines Bohemian Rhapsody, a biopic depicting the meteoric rise to rock-and-roll immortality for the legendary band Queen and its once-in-a-generation front-man Freddie Mercury. That is to say, Malek does his utmost to elevate this picture with a respectable likeness to Mercury but the film’s uneven pace and its hot-and-cold delivery left some sour notes that still ring in the ears.

Bryan Singer is credited with directing the film, even though behind-the-scenes controversy ultimately led to his removal from the feature. Anthony McCarten scribes the film, collaborating with Peter Morgan on the story which follows Malek’s take on Mercury, from the band’s beginning upon meeting Brian May and Roger Taylor and chronicles the major moments of the band’s prolific career; everything from bringing on John Deacon as their bass-player, going rogue against the BBC to broadcast their iconic, operatic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, to addressing Mercury’s sexual orientation, Freddie coming to grips with his AIDS diagnosis, to the unforgettable performance at Live Aid.

Don’t get me wrong, I liked the movie and I was fascinated by the events depicted in the film and seeing the origins of so many of Queen’s iconic anthems but I didn’t believe Malek captured the gravitas and presence that Mercury possessed, the story was a roller-coaster of tone and mood and the fact that a story that had such legendary individuals settled for conventional story-telling prowess was such a disservice.

Furthermore, I felt that the story was a bit unbalanced in telling whose story this truly was. At times I was wondering if this was supposed to be more Freddie Mercury’s story rather than the story of Queen and while both felt connected, it ultimately lacked cohesion that I could not see past.

The cast is good for the most part. Again, I thought Malek did his utmost in replicating the persona of Mercury rather than embody it. Lucy Boynton, Ben Hardy, Gwilym Lee, Joseph Mazzello, Allen Leech, Aiden Gillen, Tom Hollander, Mike Myers, Aaron McCusker, Ace Bhatti, Meneka Das, Priya Blackburn, Dermot Murphy, this is an okay collection of actors and while Malek is the star of the show, everyone else falls in the “fair-enough” category; I wasn’t overly impressed by anyone but I can get over that.

The work done behind the camera and behind the scenes wasn’t bad but barely noteworthy. Newton Thomas Sigel’s cinematography is good, John Ottman’s editing is decent, Aaron Haye’s production design is fine, the art direction team under the supervision of David Hindel and Stuart Kearns did a nice job, Anna Lynch-Robinson and Lucy Howe did a splendid job decorating the sets, and I thought Julian Day did a great job with the costumes.

As far as biopics go, this isn’t the best I’ve seen. In fact, considering what happened behind the scenes regarding the fallout with Bryan Singer, I came away with the impression that this could have gone so much better.

I was really looking forward to Bohemian Rhapsody for a long time! I love Queen’s music, I was fascinated to learn more about who these remarkable and talented individuals came from and how they left their mark of music history and in the end, I felt that this movie didn’t do enough to truly rock me.

Review: First Man

Americans know the name Neil Armstrong. The world knows what he did on July 20, 1969. It’s a story that has been told over and over but in the film First Man, we get to see who Neil Armstrong was before he set foot on the moon and what drove him to make American history.

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Image by Universal Pictures

First Man begins by taking us back to 1961, when Armstrong bounced around Earth’s atmosphere and successfully made it back home, a feat that the United States took pride in as they were trying desperately to catch up with the Soviet Union and their advances in space travel. The film chronicled Armstrong’s involvement with N.A.S.A.’s space programs from the project Gemini, to Apollo, leading up to Apollo 11, and documented the figures in and out of the programs that played a key role in history being made from Ed White, Dave Scott, Jim Lovell, Deke Slayton, Buzz Aldrin, to Neil’s family, including his wife Janet, his sons, Rick and Mark, and the families of Neil’s friends and co-workers. First Man details every step, every hand, every detail leading up to the most legendary walk in American history.

The detail that director Damien Chazelle and screenwriter Josh Singer put into adapting James R. Hansen’s acclaimed book, is exquisite, extensive and nothing short of extraordinary. I was riveted by the meticulous craftsmanship that went into the production of this picture and what made it truly special is that the movie was made to be Armstrong’s account of everything that led up to this; this was Armstrong’s story and it was done honestly, it was done with great reverence and though the moon landing was an American milestone, it was done to be an extension of what Armstrong wanted to accomplish.

Damien Chazelle truly is on-his-way to becoming one of the all time great filmmakers if he isn’t already. With First Man, La La Land and Whiplash, he is truly a cinematic storyteller who should be at or near the top of the list in his field; he dove into the crux of the story and unearthed the essence of what made the events that led to the moon landing and what made Armstrong so driven to get to the moon so special and with superb writing from Josh Singer, told an exhilarating and brutal tale that needs to be seen to be believed!

Ryan Gosling is superb, Claire Foy is outstanding, the rest of the cast are great; Jason Clarke, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Ciarán Hinds, Kyle Chandler, Corey Stoll, Olivia Hamilton, Luke Winters, Lucy Stafford, Connor Blodgett, this is a big ensemble cast but they each contribute to telling a remarkable story.

Knowing Chazelle, I had a feeling that he would be surrounded by his usual crew and they did not disappoint in the slightest. Justin Hurwitz’s music was exceptional, Linus Sandgren’s cinematography was stupendous, Tom Cross’ editing was top-notch, Nathan Crowley’s production design was excellent, the art direction team supervised by Erik Osusky did a fine job, Randi Hokett and Kathy Lucas nailed the set decoration, Mary Zophres’ costumes were top-of-the-line, the sound effects and visual effects were amazing; I could not be more impressed by the skill and expertise that went into the production of First Man!

A thorough and intense amount of work went into the production of First Man and the result is like watching spacecraft achieve perfect launch, liftoff and touchdown. If the mission was to deliver Neil Armstrong’s account and experience leading up to the Moon, in a stunning, heart-stopping manner, then by all means, mission succeeded!

Review: Beautiful Boy

Addiction is ugly, it’s corrosive, it sinks its teeth into someone and almost never lets go and it can happen to almost anyone at any time. Addiction can be as powerful as the unconditional love a parent has for his or her child; a parent almost always goes the distance to help his or her child when called upon, a parent is there to do what needs to be done for his or her child to be safe. The film Beautiful Boy is a story about addiction clashing with a parent’s unconditional love and the fallout that follows.

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Image by Amazon Studios

Director Felix von Groeningen takes the incredible true story of real-life father and son David and Nic Sheff and shares it on the big screen. David is a freelance writer/reporter going to great lengths to save his troubled son Nic from his inner demons as he dives deeper and deeper into addiction. Nic is gifted with tremendous talent as a writer, like his father, and the two are remarkably close but Nic has a hole in him, which he fills with crystal meth and alcohol and copious drugs and David goes tremendous lengths to save his eldest son from himself and restore the strong bond between the two.

I do believe that von Groeningen and screenwriter Luke Davies definitely brought the pain and tension from the Sheff’s bestselling memoirs and adapted it faithfully to big screen. The portrayals of Beautiful Boy‘s leading men, Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, are heartbreaking and honest, but ultimately I feel that the film definitely gets this compelling story across but I would have liked to see it done with more finesse and more structure in how it was told.

The film abruptly jumps from period to period throughout and it doesn’t really seem to settle in any particular fashion, which is troubling at times but I believe it is used to illustrate how strong the bond between the Sheffs truly are, from the period of Nic’s childhood to his early adulthood. The way this story is told is messy but it is effective.

Carell and Chalamet deliver two of the most authentic and piercing performances I’ve seen this year. Watching the dynamic between the two, it just cuts you deep; I was riveted by Carell’s interpretation of David Sheff trying to save a son, who does not exhibit signs of wanting to be saved and Chalamet was outstanding as Nic Sheff, either sober and stable, or slipping and sinking into himself.

The rest of the cast are respectable to say the least. There are good spurts of character from Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Christian Covenry, Oakley Bull, Kaitlyn Dever, Stefanie Scott, Andre Royo, Jack Dylan Grazer, Kue Lawrence and Julian Works.

Ruben Impens’s cinematography is respectable, Nico Leunen’s editing is jumpy, Ethan Tobman’s production design is very good as is the art direction Patrick M. Sullivan Jr., Jennifer Lukehart’s set decoration is well done, Emma Potter’s costume design reaches well for authenticity. This is a technically stable picture.

Beautiful Boy will linger with the story it tells and the performances by two exceptional actors. Not the best film you will see this year but very respectable in telling a story about a father’s unconditional love pitted against the evils of addiction and respectful in it’s attempt to get its message across.

Movies of the Week: Beautiful Boy & First Man

We’ve come to another double feature Friday everyone! This week I will be going a great distance to partake of two features that may be well-celebrated in a few months and I cannot wait any longer to see them both. Our first feature takes a look at the bond between a father and son and how strong and tenuous it can be over time and when substance enters the equation. Based on the highly acclaimed memoirs by father and son David and Nic Sheff, Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet walk in the footsteps of the Sheff family in this chronicle of heartbreak, addiction and reconciliation in Beautiful Boy.

Director: Felix von Groeningen

Written by: Luke Davies and Felix von Groeningen

Starring: Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, Amy Ryan, Christian Covenry, Oakley Bull, Kaitlyn Dever, Stephanie Scott, Julian Works, Kue Lawrence, Jack Dylan Grazer and Timothy Hutton

What am I expecting to see?: When I first caught wind of Beautiful Boy, I was riveted by the incredible chemistry between the two leading men (Chalamet and Carell) and I honestly believe that this could be their best performances. I think this movie will be dramatic and emotional as we explore seeing a father trying to save his son from himself and guiding him towards an emotionally stable path. I believe Beautiful Boy will be something to behold, if it is told with the same raw honesty the Sheff family depicted in their books.

The second feature of our double feature also borrows from the pages of history but that history of more widespread and known moreso than personal, but still from a personal perspective. In school, I believe we all learned about the space race; about how the United States was spurred into beating the Soviet Union by putting a man on the moon. We all know the legendary accomplishment N.A.S.A. and Neil Armstrong achieved in 1969 but despite all that we know now, I don’t think we saw the impossible story of the space race from the eyes of the man himself. Damien Chazelle teams up with Ryan Gosling once again in First Man.

Director: Damien Chazelle

Written by: Josh Singer

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, Jason Clarke, Corey Stoll, Ciarán Hinds, Ethan Embry, Shea Whigham, Pablo Schreiber, Christopher Abbott, Patrick Fugit, Cory Michael Smith and Olivia Hamilton

What am I expecting to see?: There was no way I was going to miss Chazelle’s follow-up to La La Land! After seeing Whiplash and La La Land, no one needs to tell me that Chazelle is definitely one of the best young filmmakers working today and him taking on the story of the moon landing and exploring the perilous dimension of it certainly sounds exciting! I’m curious to see what Gosling can bring to portraying a prolific American figure in Neil Armstrong and I don’t think I’ve seen Claire Foy perform before, so I’m excited to see what she can do. First Man has been a must-see for me for some time and I can’t wait to see what’s in store!

Review: A Star is Born

Going into this, you hear good-to-great things and leading up to it, you reinforce high expectations and from start to finish, you are held in awe and when it’s done, it’s an experience you will never forget!

I first heard about this remake for A Star is Born years ago and I’ve been keeping track of it as best I could leading up to its release. When I first heard about the project, I heard that Clint Eastwood was directing and Warner Bros. was courting Beyoncé to play the lead but as time went on, everything changed and what audiences were given is thus:

Bradley Cooper plays country-superstar Jackson Maine. After a gig, he pops into a drag bar to wet his whistle and catches a young performer named Ally, played by Lady Gaga, dazzle the crowd with her rendition of “La Vie en Rose”. For the rest of the night Jackson and Ally talk about songwriting and a deep connection forms between the two from then on.

Jackson encourages Ally to write her own songs and pulls her onstage for the world to hear what she can do. Eventually Ally becomes a superstar in her own right and her life with Jackson is laid bare; the ups, the downs, the struggles with Jackson’s demons and Ally’s rising fame and ultimately it takes an inevitable toll on their relationship.

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Image by Warner Bros., Live Nation Productions and MGM

A Star is Born is sublime! I was floored with this picture from start to finish and I can honestly say that this movie has earned its reputation as one of 2018’s most excellent pictures.

I’ve held Bradley Cooper in high esteem for many years! He’s starred in some excellent movies and delivered great performances but his immersion into the character of Jackson Maine is undoubtedly the best performance of his career to date. The lengths he went to truly become this character-from learning to play guitar, singing lessons, the Southwestern drawl of his voice-is nothing short of authentic and the fact that THIS was his debut as a director?! Cooper did a damn good job for his first run as a director for this movie was beautifully paced, raw, honest and truly powerful!

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Lady Gaga has always been one for theatrics and this was my first time sampling her talents as an actress and she nailed her performance as well! One could say that she may have been playing off her strengths as an entertainer but she her vulnerability, power, authenticity, she’s incredible to watch! Her and Cooper together probably deliver the best actor-actress tandem in a movie I’ve seen since Viola Davis and Denzel Washington in Fences!

The rest of the cast are exceptional as well! Andrew Dice Clay, Sam Elliot, Rafi Gavron, Anthony Ramos, Dave Chapelle, Greg Grunberg, Rebecca Field, Michael D. Roberts; one could say that most of them are reduced to the background but I like the fact that they are where they need to be to propel the story to proceed.

And I have to say that this movie is written so beautifully. I like how Cooper, Eric Roth and Will Fetters have taken elements from the prior incarnations of this film and from the original source material written by William A. Wellman and Robert Carson and given it such a modern day feel.

Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is excellent, Jay Cassidy’s editing flows so naturally, Karen Murphy’s production design is marvelous, Matthew Horan and Bradley Rubin’s art decoration is good, Ryan Watson’s set decoration is great and Erin Benach’s costumes are great as well. Also, the soundtrack and music of this picture? It’s very likely to be celebrated for a while, so keep that in mind!

A Star is Born indeed and it shines courtesy of excellent direction, execution and radiant performances from Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga! See this movie A.S.A.P.!