2018 has been a brilliant year for rising star Claire Foy - appearing in Steven Soderberg's critically acclaimed psychological-thriller Unsane and most recently as Janet Armstrong in Damien Chazelle's First Man. Although neither of those films are particularly ground-breaking, it's evident that the industry has fantastic new talent on their hands. And It's pretty much the same case with The Girl in the Spiders Web - Foy stars as the crafty young hacker Lisbeth Salander, aka the girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In this second reboot - following the original and David Fincher's 2011 remake - Salander is hired by an ex National Security Agent to steal Firewall - a computer program that can access codes for worldwide nuclear weapons.
Foy is entangled in the web of a conventional though fairly watchable crime thriller. Even if you weren't aware before hand, it's blatantly obvious that this is the third construction of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This reboot - like a vast number of Sony remakes - is somewhat aimless and inconsequential, but in difference to something like Flatliners (2017) - The Girl in the Spider's Web is easily accessible and not a complete a waste of time. By the time the rudimentary plot and substandard action begins to knock your interest, there's still a range of somewhat intriguing establishing shots and dutch tilts to keep you wrapped up in Lisbeth's off kilter world of espionage and deception.
Most if not all your engagement with the film will be down to Foy's performance. For the third time running Foy demonstrates her versatility as a serious on screen presence. Though there is, yet again, little artistic brilliance to work with - even more so than First Man - Foy does a great job of making an iconic film and literature character her own. She captures the distanced essence and nimble mindedness of the crafty computer hacker Lisbeth. Despite her film lacking in quality, this interpretation of the character would look great if you were to compare her to Rooney Mara and Noomi Rapace - previous girls who have worn the same dragon tattoo.
Logic is not on the table for this crime romp. The Girl in the Spider's Web incorporates some of the silliest, glossy Hollywood action set pieces. One sequence follows Lisbeth dive into a bath tub for protection from a colossal explosion in her apartment. Moreover she later escapes on a motorbike and rides off across a frozen lake. The execution is nothing if not in the spirit of Bond and the camera work becomes particularly goofy - then again, it's hard to tell what level of seriousness The Girl in the Spider's Web is trying to reach.
At the end of the day, this crime thriller isn't as bad as people have claimed it to be. In contrast to an extensive number of mediocre films released this year, The Girl in the Spider's Web is "meh" but amusing. You certainly won't be won over by the simplicity of the film's story telling - nuclear weapons, as relevant current subject, aren't explored here any differently to anything before. Then again, if Sony are itching for an extra cash grab and Foy's game for a sequel, then I'm game too.
The Girl in the Spider's Web :
Luca Guadagnino - known previously for I Am Love and A Bigger Splash - broke through at this year’s academy awards with his oscar winning adaptation of André Aciman’s immersive and sensesual novel Call Me By Your Name. Making a less than smooth transition from coming of age romance to art-house psychological horror, Guadagnino takes a stab at (no pun intended) Dario Argento’s 1977 Suspiria. This remake follows the same story, but not the same formula as the original. A passionate dancer named Susie moves to Berlin to audition for a prestigious dance academy, however she soon becomes engulfed by the dark, sacrilegious spirits that shroud the centre of the school and its teachers.
Suspiria is disturbing and mesmerising even if, at times, somewhat pretentious and over the top. Guadagnino threatens to rip the envelope in half with his very out there, very evocative remake of a classic Italian chiller. With a gruesome artistic flare, Suspiria knows no bounds and provokes that uneasy, sickening feeling from the depths of your stomach - it’s a particularly intense and distressing experience. In fact sometimes these soul-stirring images cross the line between what we perceive as art and that of pure insanity. Nonetheless Suspiria is buoyed by Guadagnino’s absorbing direction, Sayombhu Mukdeeprom’s bewitching cinematography and Thom Yorke's haunting score. Suspiria is a rare beast, so sinister in themes but so rich in visuals - tormenting you as to whether you should be transfixed by the screen or shade your eyes from the horrors that play before you.
Whilst a host of people worked hand in hand to make Call Me By Your Name the film it was, the cinematography was one of its most extraordinary, standout achievements. Mukdeeprom drew you into Elio’s blazing hot summer with the juicy tang of ripe, fuzzy peaches and the dappled sun which danced between tree branches. He visioned a dreamy world that, similarly to Elio, had you beginning for more. Mukdeeprom does the same here, and whilst it’s decidedly not dreamlike we feel the cold isolation echo through the halls of the academy and the evil that lurks amid the spiralling stairwells. Moreover he cleverly mimics typical camera movements from the period the film is set; crash zooms specifically capture characters' sharp glares and are reminiscent of a particular style that is rarely now in fashion.
Tilda Swinton plays not one, not two, but three characters. Her main role as Madame Blanc is all about stern facial expressions and darting eye contact. Whilst this may seem like no compliment Swinton is the quintessential Wicked Witch of the West, her calm muted approach feels all the more unsettling. For her next two performances Swinton is dressed in heavy prosthetics. Firstly, extremely convincing as Dr. Josef Klemperer, her depiction of a male character is the stuff of pure witchcraft. Her final character - Mother Markos - is simply used to service the head scratching and monstrous finale. Swinton is certainly a favourite of Guadagnino, appearing in a number of his works - and he definitely draws the best out of this unique, method actress. Dakota Johnson is otherwise forgettable - but Mia Goth turns in an excellent performance as Susie's suspicious dance buddy Sara.
Though it doesn't touch what the director has done before, something about Suspiria really sticks with you - whether that is down to the sickening violence, disturbing imagery or engrossing cinematography. Alas it takes a sudden nose-dive in the flamboyantly artistic finale, yet Guadagnino successfully puts his own spin on Suspiria - with far bleaker visuals and a more psychological twist.
The Crimes of Grindelwald - the second chapter in JK Rowling's five-part story - welcomes us back to the Wizarding World of Newt Scamander and Co. Though his beasts may be fantastic, this cumbersome sequel/prequel threatens to obliviate the entire franchise. Grindelwald escapes captivity and plans to raise pure-blood wizards to rule over all non-magical beings. A much younger Albus Dumbledore enlists magizoologist Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) to make a stand against Grindelwald.
Over-stuffed and half-baked - The Crimes of Grindelwald couldn't be any less spellbinding. J.K Rowling's need to service the more hard-core Potterheads takes priority over making a half-decent adventure for wider audiences. She crams in big third act reveals and easter eggs that are sloppy, awkward and occasionally eye roll worthy - unfortunately Rowling is clearly struggling to write straight for the silver screen. The film suffers from feeling completely and utterly aimless - full to the brim of impenetrable sub plots and characters - The Crimes of Grindelwald has too much going on. There is so much content that doesn't make sense, this outing is way more complicated than it needs to be despite the fact that it all feels so inconsequential anyway.
The year is 1927, on a stormy night the American ministry of magic is transferring Grindelwald to Europe by mystic sky-borne horse drawn carriage. Easily the best set piece in the entire feature the opening scene is dark, thrilling and instantly engaging - swooping dangerously across a dazzling New York skyline. Johnny Depp is just about so-so as antagonist Grindelwald, better than any of his recent roles but in his attempt to be less over-the-top he mumbles the majority of his dialogue and isn't particularly threatening. Moreover, Grindelwald doesn't commit enough crimes throughout this episode nor do anything particularly evil to warrant his name being in the title. I think Fantastic Flop: The Groans of Grindlebore would be a more fitting name.
Despite eleven new additions to the main cast very few make a lasting impression: Zoe Kravitz is wonderful as the compassionate though seriously disturbed Leta Lestrange but Jude Law is completely unconvincing as Dumbledore. Though Newt Scamander is a more original type of lead avoiding most standard hero conventions, in this second chapter Rowling emphasises him as an awkward but loveable introvert with regard for neither politics nor people. Rowling deepens Queenie's character too, Alison Sudol perfectly captures her seemingly bubbly though troubled lonely soul. However it becomes clear that Dan Fogler as Jacob Kowalski really is a muggle in a world full of wizards and whilst Katherine Waterson is great as Tina Goldstein she is still a significantly underdeveloped character.
The great and truly magical elements of this feature are in very short supply. There are a few brilliant set pieces that prompt some entertaining action, but that's the limit of where this film goes. The Crimes of Grindelwald is bogged down in a boring and completely aimless story that has no structure, it really feels like a "fill in the gaps" feature. JK Rowling's writing is genuinely vague here - with characters force feeding you exposition, twists that have no real punch and references that try to appeal to Potter fans over the heads of most of us. As always the music and visuals are excellent but the only magic spell The Crimes of Grindelwald with cast on you is disenchantment.
The Crimes of Grindelwald:
Cinema delivers three iconic McQueens: Lightning McQueen, The Great Escape's Steve McQueen and a mighty British director of the same name. However I'm certain the McQueen who helms this picture has never won the Piston Cup, nor has he escaped Nazi's on a Triumph T60. That said, this Steve McQueen is the genius behind the moving period drama 12 Years A Slave, with an Oscar to show for his efforts. Five years on he returns with Widows - a gripping crime thriller based on Lynda La Plante's iconic 1985 Television series.
Following a heist gone wrong a group of notorious criminals are killed in the streets of Chicago. Caught up in the turmoil of their husbands corrupt lives, four wives - who share nothing in common - join together to attempt to pull off a dangerous job that will hopefully pay the debt their husbands left behind.
McQueen visions a hauntingly bleak portrait of modern-day society. Widows takes you off guard in such cunning and unforeseen ways, but you have to concentrate on the big picture, beyond the standard revenge thriller set-up. McQueen's visual storytelling reveals a great deal about contemporary America - a nation engulfed in crime, corruption, racism and particularly gun violence. Doing what all great filmmakers should do, McQueen shows you what's happening rather than telling you; incorporating brutally honest elements from the real-world into his story. With a stellar cast, Widows epitomises though-provoking cinema; but it's a film that voices its themes quietly.
McQueen's direction guides us along this brutally honest and harrowing journey. In one of the most vigorous moments, the camera - mounted on a car bonnet - tracks across the city from an area of extreme poverty to a wealthy, white picket fence neighboroughood within a single continuous take. In the space of three minutes McQueen has established the stark social divide. Later a crane shot adjacent to the Subway projects the bright lights, hope and prosperity of Chicago before skulking down to the dark and perilous streets, firmly reminding you of the bitter reality.
The widows each bring their own challenges, enriching the story in diverging ways and deepening the difficult themes McQueen tackles. Elizabeth Debicki turns in her best performance as the abused and tormented Alice, Michelle Rodriguez presents the difficulties of singlehandedly raising two young children, but most expert of all is Viola Davis as Veronica. She portrays the stoic, balls of steel leader of the group - a woman with a gut wrenching past who has become characterised by her husband. Amongst many things, the heist is a means for her to prove herself as an individual in an otherwise doomed society.
Widows reveals the cracks in American politics without being ham-fisted or preachy. With McQueen's potent direction and Gone Girl's Gillian Flynn's momentous screenplay - Widows is packed with racial, social and political commentary. This crime drama, heist thriller may be thick skinned like its lead character but underneath there's all manner of pain and suffering. In point of fact, Widows is a defining feature for this year - and possibly for many years to come.
Christmas is typically everyone's favourite time of year - but for Dr Seuss' Grinch it's an annual nightmare. We're all familiar with the not so jolly, holly furry green grouch who remains an essential Christmas tradition for many of us, and from the Minion company Illumination Entertainment we have a new Grinch voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch. Just as before, The Grinch despises everything associated with Christmas, and plots to ruin it for the all of the residents of nearby Whoville.
This rendition of The Grinch is given a vibrant, candy cane glisten but it makes a bit of a hash of Dr Seuss' remarkable and enduring tale. Although Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas is at times uncomfortably bizarre, it's a quintessential Christmas film with bags of character, commenting on the commercialism of the holiday, which has only increased and lengthened in recent years. In this retelling of The Grinch Illumination neglect these key messages, echoing the shenanigans played out in Howard's version. As a result it's enjoyable but it couldn't feel anymore undistinguished.
We're not challenged to care about the Grinch's motivations to ruin Christmas since his backstory is dumbed down, told through only a few seconds worth of flashbacks. Cumberbatch in an excellently voiced Grinch but in being toned down he loses the grumpy character's violent mean-streak, whilst we are told his heart is two sizes too small we don't really see it in his manner. He struggles to manipulate the Whos of Whoville in the way Jim Carry did so meticulously - quite simply this story lacks any new ideas.
All that being said The Grinch has clearly laid off the mouldy mince pies since he and his world have never looked better. Even when Illumination don't always hit the mark with their stories (think The Secret Life of Pets and The Lorax) their animation is always top notch. Whereas How the Grinch Stole Christmas is grainy and fuzzy in quality, The Grinch is bright and bold very much in the spirit of Dr Seuss - in this aspect it really does improve on its predecessor.
He's not such a mean one, this Mr Grinch. Whilst Cumberbatch is great as this seasonal sceptic he doesn't bring the expected negative energy, although he is pretty miserable. As per usual this Illumination flick looks so splendid you can't not get into the Christmas spirit, but The Grinch literally adds nothing to the traditional story and consequently will be forgotten as quickly as last year's stuffing.
Up until now there have been no notable film adaptations of E.T.A Hoffman's two hundred year old Christmas classic. The Nutcracker has long existed as a Yuletide ballet, but by adding four additional "realms" Disney are determined to put their own spin on the 1816 tale. However, fitting into the modern Hollywood trend whereby every odd blockbuster must be plagued by studio issues even The Nutcracker and the Four Realms has been torn between two very different directors. Set in Victorian London on Christmas Eve, a young girl named Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is transported into a fantastic and enchanting world divided into four different realms.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is a magical, if early, step into Christmas. Whilst it may not jingle all the right bells Disney have outdone themselves like never before with amazing and original production and costume design. This festive flick delivers magic that has been absent from Disney live-action since 2016's The Jungle Book, and even if the story leaves you a little flat emotionally you'll be swept away in the dazzling Christmas spectacle that sparkles in front of your eyes. The Nutcracker and the Four Realms is very on the nose with its message, although whilst the plot has about as much zing as a stale fruit cake strangely none of that particularly matters as the product remains an elegant and easy going family adventure.
Remarkably the London setting is as chock full of entrancing visuals as that of the four realms, November blues are instantly diminished as the camera takes you through a sweeping aerial tracking shot across a snowy London. The Christmas Eve party - swathed in rich shades of red - cleverly keeps the audience invested in reality, not just the gorgeous fantasy world yet to come. You feel visually in touch with this film from the very beginning, there is never a dull moment as there is always something shiny to keep you interested. Disney even incorporate Tchaikovsky's iconic melody deep in the fabric of the Four Realms - it could've been utilised a tad more but what we're given will surely keep your Christmas spirits high.
Foy promises even greater things to come as the indomitable inventor Clara. The life lessons she supposedly learns throughout the film aren't established clearly enough but Foy powers through a moderately weak script. Kiera Knightley turns in a gloriously over-the-top performance as Disney's - erm - peculiar take on the Sugar Plum Fairy. This cotton candy chomping pixie is pulled off by Knightley with enough unusual moments for us to appreciate what she's trying to do.
Helen Mirren is a wasted talent as Mother Ginger and it's a shame that the Nutcracker is such an inconsequential character in a film titled The Nutcracker and the Four Realms. Sometimes it draws uncanny comparisons to Alice in Wonderland and Narnia, but the magical Nutcracker and the Four Realms impresses with glitzy Christmas set pieces. Though it definitely lacks substance, it's sweeter than sugar and (despite its seven year old girl demographic) this merry adventure appeals to the whole family.
The Nutcracker and the Four Realms:
Pinch of info
Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.