GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB: FROM ANGSTY BOOK TO ACTION ADVENTURE MOVIE

 

I am delighted to present another review by my sister, Wynne, this time co-authored with her friend Mike.

Click on the title to check out Wynne's previous review of another unusual movie, The Florida Project.

SHORT TAKE:

Action adventure based on the fourth of five books from the Millenium series and sequel to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

WHO SHOULD GO:

Older teens and up for violence, sexual content, and language.

LONG TAKE:

The Girl in the Spider's Web is based on the fourth book in the Millennium series. The first three books were written by Stieg Larrson. After his death the series was continued by David Lagercrantz. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is Lagercrantz’ first installment in the series. This is the second American movie from the series, the first was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The book and the movie follow the same characters but the movie does have a different story line.

Lagercrantz seems to have studied the Larrson books. The characters have perhaps evolved but not changed. Where there is evolution in the characters or relationships, it is natural, as any author might do with characters created in previous books, such as Michael Connelly's detective creation Harry Bosch. Lagercrantz emulates Larrson's complex and intriguing plots quite well.

Three actresses have played Lisbeth Salander, and each brings a slightly different take on the character. Naomi Rapace starred as Lisbeth in the Swedish production of the first three books: The Girl: With the Dragon Tattoo, Who Played with Fire and Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, as well as the TV miniseries Millenium. Rooney Mara plays Lisbeth in the Hollywood production of the first book The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Now Claire Foy takes on the role of Lisbeth in the Hollywood production of the fourth book in the Millennium Series, The Girl in the Spider's Web. We have read four of the books in the Millennium Series. There is a fifth book, An Eye for an Eye, which we have not read yet. All three actresses are similar physically to the Lisbeth in the book: slight in stature, tough, dark figures, who can effectively convey plenty of angst.

Naomi Rapace, in the 2009 Swedish production of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, portrays a more vulnerable Lisbeth, with angst and grit. The movie had thirty-five nominations and eighteen wins from various awards, with Rapace winning BAFTA’s Best Leading Actress award in 2011. Rotten Tomatoes gave the movie 86%. Reviews in Rotten Tomato applauded: "Rapace's gripping performance makes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo an unforgettable viewing experience" and admired that she was a "haunting, enigmatic Lisbeth".

We have not seen the Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, so we will rely on reviews. Rooney Mara won an Oscar as Best Actress in 2012. The movie had a total of ninety nominations and twenty-eight wins for various awards. Rotten tomatoes gave the movie an 80%. Reviews in Rotten Tomatoes stated that Mara gave "total role commitment" and a "brilliant, revelatory performance".

When a re-boot of the Millennium Series, with The Girl in the Spider's Web, was considered, the Swedish actress, Naomi Rapace, decided to pass. Rooney Mara said she wanted to return as Lisbeth, but the studio decided to go with a different director and cast.

In the latest production, Lisbeth Salander is brilliantly portrayed by Claire Foy of The Crown. Foy has played three different roles in movies that we have seen. In The Crown she plays The Queen, Elizabeth, as a young woman. She portrays Neil Armstrong's wife, who supports her husband in his endeavor to be an astronaut in First Man, giving a strong performance depicting the stress of being an astronaut's wife. And now she is Lisbeth Salander.

Lisbeth and Camilla Salander are fraternal twin sisters, raised by their father, a Russian crime lord and head of the Spider Society. He physically and psychologically abused them both. Lisbeth wants them both to escape, but Camilla chooses to stay with her father. So Lisbeth escapes alone. The choices made at that moment result in the twin sisters taking different life paths. Much like in the old classic Angels With Dirty Faces, the question hangs over both the characters' lives and the movie of: had they both escaped (in Angels, from the police, in Spider, from their abusive father) would their lives have been different?

In the first book, Lisbeth's first guardian is a kind man. When her first guardian becomes ill, she is turned over to a second guardian who sexually and physically abuses her. As a teen she decides to take matters into her own hands and not be abused any more. With her abilities as a tech genius and computer hacker she becomes a vigilante, taking the law into her own hands. She will stop at nothing to bring justice to the abused and mistreated. She chooses the path of good.

Left alone with a sadistic and abusive father, Camilla evolves into a cold-blooded killer, becoming the head of the Spiders, following in her father's footsteps. The Spiders are a ruthless group that will stop at nothing to get what they want, including murder. She chooses the path of evil.

Camilla did not enjoy the few short years of kindness that Lisbeth had. Did this difference push each into the direction that their lives went? Camilla blames Lisbeth for the years of abuse she underwent with her father and questions why Lisbeth did not rescue her. Camilla cannot understand that the real villain is their father.

The movie's main theme revolves around who can get control of the computer program, Firewall, a program that can access codes for nuclear weapons worldwide. There are four groups in the race. One of the players is Lisbeth working for Frans Balder, played by Stephen Merchant, (mostly known for his comedy in shows like The Big Bang Theory and the British version of The Office), whose autistic son, August (Christopher Convery), is gifted and sought after by competing interests. Another is Camilla Salander, played by Sylvia Hoeks, (the evil replicant Luv from Blade Runner 2049) who is hired by the Swedish Security Police (SAPO). Then there is deputy director of SAPO, Gabriella Grane, played by Synnove Macody Lund (previously a model, journalist and film critic). Finally, an American National Security Agent (NSA) programmer and sniper, Ed Needham, played by Lakeith Stanfield, (appearing in the acclaimed Get Out and recently in Sorry to Bother You) is also in the hunt. All want to obtain Firewall for different reasons.

Frans Balder wrote the program, then was fired from the NSA. He hires Lisbeth Salander to steal it back. Camilla, the leader of the Spiders, the bad guys, wants control of the program to launch nukes and frame Lisbeth. The Swedish Security Police wants the program because Sweden has not been in a war in recent history and considers itself a neutral country, which will keep the world safe. The American NSA programmer and hacker, Ed Needham, wants the program returned to the United States.

It would be difficult to compare the book with the movie because they are so different. The characters are the same, Frans is still murdered, and poor August is still the pawn going back and forth between the groups. While the book’s plot has no computer program like Firewall, it does include a chase after government secrets. We liked both the movie and the book. We did think the movie had more action. The book was more mental.

August in the book and the movie has two savant talents. One is mathematics and another is drawing. In the book, August’s talent as an artist is used to help find his father's killer. In the movie, his talent as a mathematical genius is the key to cracking the code that will open Firewall. We thought it was interesting that each version highlighted a different talent.

When the two sisters come face to face, toward the end of the movie, Camilla blames Lisbeth for how her life evolved and the years of abuse she endured. She is out for revenge. Lisbeth tearfully replies that Camilla chose to stay with their father. Again, if Camilla had chosen to escape with Lisbeth as children would her life have been different? Would Camilla still be a psychopath? The debate of nature vs. nurture plays out with the two sisters.

The movie got a 41% from Rotten Tomatoes. They felt that the movie had an "uninspired story and poor character development," and that the movie turned Lisbeth into a "generic action hero". Rolling Stone noted that Claire Foy was "killer good" as Lisbeth Salander.

We liked seeing Lisbeth come to life on the big screen, done especially well by Claire Foy. The movie had plenty of special effects – lots of explosions and fires, stabbing people with needles delivering different serums to sedate or blind or kill, and the use of a cattle prod is very popular in the movie. The sequence with the sniper, Ed Needham, shooting the thermal images of men inside the walls of a building shown in 3-D was truly exceptional. There are car chases over beautiful Scandinavian scenery, with dark old buildings giving an eerie affect in contrast. Many special tech devices are used and you wonder if they really do exist somewhere. Lisbeth has an endless supply of devices that can operate just about anything electronically, any of which would inspire envy among the Star Trek crew.

In an interview by Aubrey Page on HUFFPOST done with the director Fede Alvarez, he states, "It's not Lisbeth Salander the assistant or Lisbeth Salander the muse. This time it's Lisbeth Salander the main character that really drives the story". He wanted to place Lisbeth in the forefront and not as Blomkvist sidekick.

Reviews compare the movie to the James Bond series. Except for the massive explosions and techy gadgets, We did not make the connection. The two characters are very different. James Bond is a suave, martini drinking, secret agent, who always ends up with the woman. Lisbeth is a dark, bisexual, tech savvy loner whose only friends are Mikael Blomkvist, a former lover, played by Swedish actor Sverrir Gudnason, and a computer geek, Plague, played by Cameron Britton.

In reviews there is also reference to Lisbeth being portrayed as an action figure. This somewhat trivializes her abilities and makes her appear as a comic book character. Will there be action figures coming out for Christmas? This would be sad because there is a lot more to Lisbeth than that.

Another complaint from reviewers is that Camilla's character is not fleshed out more, that she should be presented as a more interesting and complex character than Lisbeth. But Camilla only even shows up in the second half of the movie. The movie missed an opportunity in this regard. Nor does the movie portray Lisbeth with as much depth as do the books. We believe the movie was more into action and special effects than character portrayal. But we really enjoy action movies, so this is why we enjoyed both the movie and the book for different reasons.

In the book, Camilla did not die at the end. Maybe she didn't in the movie, we only see her step off a cliff and fall through the clouds.

Another reference in reviews is made to the #METOO movement, but remember the book was written in 2015 before #METOO. A scene near the beginning of the movie does show Lisbeth has become: "the girl who hurts men who hurt women". But in the rest of the movie she is on a different quest.

As we stated earlier, we like the book and we liked the movie. For the movie, you have to turn your brain off a bit and live in her world and just believe she can do all she does. We agree with critics that this is mainly an action movie and characters could have been developed more. But good special effects on the big screens are great fun. Of course, (this is Wynne now) my favorite kind of movie has bad ass dinosaurs creating havoc in the world. But that is not in this movie.

The movie is rated R because of violence, language and sexual content. So, take your older teens to go see this movie but leave the kiddos at home.

FIRST MAN – THE WRONG STUFF

America

SHORT TAKE:

Incredible acting can not save this tedious and pseudo-"reality TV show" style rewriting of history aimed at devaluing American exceptionalism, American accomplishments and American heroes.

WHO SHOULD GO:

No sexuality, a handful of mild profanitites (and one quite vulgar but understandable cuss word muttered off screen by someone feeling very ill) and a lot of visually disturbing images including prolonged scenes of extremely violent shaking and people trapped in a fire in an enclosed space. Were this an accurate inspiring portrayal of the space race I'd say it was worth it, but as it is there's really NO POINT.

LONG TAKE:

I was 10 years old when the first man – an AMERICAN – walked on the moon. I remember it being late in the day – 9:56 pm CST to be precise – where we were, so I had my P.J.s on. And when Neil Armstrong uttered those now amazing words for the first time: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind," I SAW it on TV. Then everyone in the house – Mom, Dad, my brother and sister and her fiance all ran outside. I was barefoot, so my future brother-in-law swept me up and carried me outside with our group and we all just stood near Metairie Road, because nearer to our house the view of the sky was obstructed by trees – and we just looked and waved to Neil Armstrong. And we were not alone. People all over the WORLD cheered and cried and laughed and were simply amazed at the INCREDIBLE event that AMERICA had accomplished, putting the FIRST MAN – an AMERICAN man – on the moon.

America was the FIRST country, and to date the ONLY COUNTRY, to make an extraterrestrial manned landing, was AND IS the FIRST AND ONLY country to have a man step out ONTO  extraterrestrial property, and frankly is the FIRST and ONLY country in the world or in HISTORY to legitimately lay CLAIM to an extraterrestrial piece of land. In a fit of historic re-engineering to downplay the obvious American exceptionalism in such a feat, First Man pointedly neglected to show the planting of the American flag – a symbol as synonymous with our achievement as the image of the booted human footprint or Lieutenant Armstrong's step off the module.

Their excuse is that they think Armstrong didn't see himself as an American hero but that it was an accomplishment of the world…..NO! The world didn't pay for it. The world didn't chip in men or time or money or blood or industry or lives in plenty for our AMERICAN space program. No one but AMERICAN men died in our test planes and shots and explosions. The UN had nothing to do with it. And I don't really care what the filmmakers think Armstrong's opinion was. This was ENTIRELY an American adventure against which we were in competition with other countries. And even if I bought into the vacuous "world accomplishment" POV – which I do not – the fact is the flag was planted. Our AMERICAN flag was visible in places and photos where the director – Damien Chazelle – deliberately chose, in an act of sheer arrogance, to inauthentically, blatantly and unilaterally eliminate our AMERICAN flag from the picture. And yet they CLAIM to be historically accurate emphasizing its FALSE historicity with the documentary style footage. This is an affront to every man who died, to every widow who had to raise their children without one of the men who perished in a test plane or capsule, to every man, woman and child who devoted their prayers, tax money, sweat, enthusiasm and attention to this DISTINCTLY AMERICAN program.

Before I went to see First Man I had heard about this flagrant insult to the memories and sacrifices of our country. I had been concerned I would have to chide what I had been sure would be an otherwise excellent movie about the space program.

I needn't have been concerned.

SPOILERS

There are PLENTY of other egregious flaws with First Man. Insulting the planting of the American flag by ignoring it was just one of many.

To start, however, the acting was excellent. In Claire Foy I think we're seeing the making of a British Meryl Streep – a woman who can so artfully immerse herself in character that you don't recognize her from one performance to the next. She is a true actor – as defined by Alan Swann in My Favorite Year when he explains in comic desperation that he is "…not an actor, I'm a MOVIE STAR!" (For more examination of this point please see the first paragraph of my blog Operation Finale). Whether the Swedish Girl in the Spider's Web, the crazed American in Unsane, Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown or as Janet Armstrong, Foy nails it. There is a scene at the end, brilliantly performed, of almost complete silence, visually emphasizing Armstrong's inability to connect with anyone, where Gosling and Foy say more in subtle looks and gestures than most movies do in pages of script.

Unfortunately, while Ryan Gosling is excellent too – he expends his talent creating an extremely unpleasant person.

Were I Neil Armstrong's descendants I would be thoroughly perturbed at the portrayal of the famous astronaut in First Man. It is also just poor script writing. We all know the outcome of the story: It took years, there were a number of Gemini shots which made sure we could safely get a man into space, dock with another vehicle and return him home alive. Then Apollo 1 blew up, Apollo 11 made it to the moon and there were a number of successful Apollos in between. In order for such a pervasively well known story to work you have to care about the characters. And the Neil Armstrong in First Man is not only unlikeable, he is unapproachable. Cold, distant, unfeeling, harsh, abrasive even to his best friends, his wife and his sons, the writer chalks his personality issues down to his inability to overcome the death of his toddler daughter by brain tumor. He flees the funeral of a fellow astronaut, to run away home, without a word to his wife, ignoring the fact she is in pain as well, and leaving her, humiliated, having to beg a ride from a friend. He shuns his friend's offers of counsel, as he stands staring into space in his backyard with: "Do you think I came out here because I wanted to talk? Do you think I left the funeral because I wanted to talk?" He not only refuses to answer his worried wife's inquiries when he returns home bloodied and burned after an almost fatal crash, but immediately runs away claiming to have "forgotten something at the office". Janet has to bully, berate and throw things to get him to say goodbye to his own children, for possibly the last time, before he goes to the Moon. He seems immune to the agony of his dead friend's widow. And the flashbacks of his dead daughter, which cripple him into apathy, become redundant in their predictability at crisis moments. I've seen serial killers, devoid of empathy, portrayed as more emotionally engaged than poor Ryan Gosling's Neil Armstrong. It is difficult to believe NASA would put someone so emotionally and psychologically damaged in charge of THE one and only first ever in all of human history –  moon landing.

The retro historians were out to trash an established American hero. Basically they portray Neil Armstrong as a body part reserved for proctologists. And even if this were true, the story of the First Man, who was landed on the moon by AMERICA, was NOT the place to put it. If you want a tell-all, soap opera bio pic of Neil Armstrong, then by all means, go ahead. But don't pretend this tortured portrait of an American hero is a reflection of the American Spirit or play fast and loose with history while claiming to be accurate. Don't make a psychologically crippled version of Neil Armstrong the center of a movie about the space race.

Either show Armstrong's whole life warts and all or put the uplifting endeavor that was and is the AMERICAN space program in the correct light. The only reason to have it "both" ways and put it ALL in a negative light is because you wish to undermine and treat with dismissiveness the AMERICAN moon walk in particular and AMERICA in general.

Nowhere in the entire movie is the joie de vivre, the enthusiasm, the sheer joy of exploration and discovery that was and is the American space program, not even in the more realistically portrayed Gus Grissom (Jason Clark) or  Buzz Aldrin (Corey Stoll). 
Where is the comraderie from The Right Stuff? Where is Ed Harris' John Glenn who exemplified that genial excitement or Dennis Quaid's  cocky and arrogant but infectiously confident Gordon Cooper in the movie about the lead up to the moon shot? Harris and Quaid's Glenn and Cooper, respectively, personified why charting the unknown was worth the trials and terrors and tears that it cost us.  

By contrast First Man makes it look like the space program was the unwanted chore of a beleaguered group of government bureaucrats with which we foolishly burdened the American taxpayer. Chazell even rudely shoehorned in "Whitey on the Moon," an anthem against the space program. Playing it along with scenes of racially inspired protest marches, the film makers tried to make it appear as though this bitter song was a reflection of the "popular" sentiment during the years leading up to the moon shot. This song, with all its resentment and anger, was neither a representation of the mood of the country concerning the space program NOR even published until AFTER the first landing on the moon took place. Its anachronistic insertion was amateurishly spliced in, as though from an entirely different movie and had no bearing on the outcome of the story.  

The obvious intent of First Man was to make it appear as though the American public was against the program, when, in fact, the approval for the space program was enthusiastically positive along all the —isms you can imagine because it was a unqiuely AMERICAN program of which every AMERICAN could be proud! In the end the entire WORLD was rooting for AMERICA and these three AMERICANS to get to the moon, land and return alive – which AMERICA accomplished FIRST.

Instead of the exciting, energizing program that created jobs, inspired innovations and injected new levels of patriotism across our country, First Man tried to portray the space program as a draining, painful, horror movie. The audience has to sit through interminably long, difficult to endure, near real-time length scenes in the capsule, including the  deafening roar from inside of the relatively primitive Gemini 1 and the monster-like screaming of the exploding rocket fuel and distressed metal as it strains to not come apart in Apollo 11. The director's choice of near home movie found-footage semi documentary-style makes the movie feel even more harsh and barren, especially as we walk often through dated, sparsely adorned versions of the military housing where these men and their families lived.

And slow! Oh my goodness! It was as though Stanley Kubrick became enamoured of The Blair Witch Project, and insisted on the acting techniques of HAL from 2001 to make a sequel to The Right Stuff.

First Man is yet another obvious attempt by the intelligentsia to target and try to downplay, trivialize and sully the achievements that highlight America's genuine and unique exceptionalism. They emphasize the space program's problems and failures without celebrating their successes and astonishing one-of-a-kind accomplishments.

And – guess what – when last we looked "…our flag was STILL there!"

Poland should be rightly proud of Madame Curie's discoveries. The world should be grateful to France for producing Louis Pastuer. The world admires and loves Mother Teresa, a native of Skopje (now Macedonia). Humanity is better for the beautiful music of Russia's Tchaikovsky. Japan's Kurosawa's movies are considered classics. All these countries love their native sons and daughters and take every opportunity to extol them to the world.

What is WRONG with some Americans?! The country of their birth, which has given them and the world so many blessings through the grace of God is unappreciated by many whose thriving is owed to the freedoms for ingenuity and success that America affords. Other countries seem to appreciate and respect our flag more than do some of her native peoples, and it is infuriating. If you do not appreciate the many many blessings of living in America and being an American then, as another blessing of living in America, you are free to go to some other country for which you have more respect. If you wish to make movies about American history then  I don't expect perfection or for it to be shown without mistakes, for no human endeavor can be done without them, but I do expect that it would be created with respect.

In short First Man is the LAST place you want to go for a good uplifting (pun intended) movie about the space race. Instead, just go watch The Right Stuff again!!