Tag Archives: crime

The Girl in the Spider’s Web

8 Nov

‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web’: Spy Salander brings work home in ‘Dragon Tattoo’ film

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As in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (either version), female revenge fantasies reign in “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” as hacker/punker/private investigator-cum-vigilante Lisbeth Salander (Clair Foy, “The Crown” and “First Man”) takes down rich abusive husbands (emptying out their bank accounts, giving the spoils to the abused and sending that video of the miscreant shagging the boss’ wife to said employer), deals with even deeper daddy and family issues than previous cinematic installments and, well, pretty much saves the world James Bond-style. Yeah, it’s a hive (nay, a web) of activity and a lot is asked of Foy, who’s not given much of a skin to fill — though she’s every bit as fierce and feral as Noomi Rapace and Rooney Mara were in earlier incarnations.

The story, adapted from the first posthumous adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” trilogy by novelist David Lagercrantz, centers around a rogue black market mob called the Spiders (sans Ziggy) in possession of a encryption program called Firefall that gives them the keys to every nuke around the globe. They’ve hijacked the master switch from Lisbeth after she, at the behest of its creator, a conflicted NSA agent (Stephen Merchant), hacks it away from the NSA to destroy it. To get the keys to the doomsday device, there are big chases, cloistered struggles and improbable getaways – Swedish cops make the Keystones look adroit – and the baddies are all fetching statuesque blondes, namely Sylvia Hoeks, so cold and steely as the relentless replicant in “Blade Runner 2049” and more of the same here.

Lisbeth has to handle a package – the savant son of said NSA genius (Christopher Convery), who is the key to Firefall going live. In all the crash-bang Bond-esque thrills, the nuance and dark gothic brooding that made the Swedish series and the American remake by David Fincher so compelling never gets switched on here. Foy looks the part, but her Lisbeth is nearly as cold and aloof as Hoeks’ sadistic stalker in red. (The smackdown-in-stilettos thing, which worked for Charlize Theron in “Atomic Blonde,” does not work here.) Plus, Lisbeth’s skills are so top-notch and she’s so well known, how is it Google or Amazon haven’t hired her away? I mean this “girl” is sharp and resourceful in a way that would make McGyver look inept. She’s able to hack an airport security system with a cache of dildos, and while driving a car she uses her iPhone to take control of the vehicle she’s pursuing – while careening across a bridge at a breakneck speed in a snowstorm.

Even when it winds back to the big family estate in the cold icy hinterlands, made so iconic and visually alluring by Fincher in 2009, the film’s still all about high-tech oneupmanship and soft-core, bind-torture shenanigans. Lakeith Stanfield, so good in “Sorry to Bother You,” drops in as the U.S. agent out to recover Firefall. His Needham allegedly is one of the greatest hackers of all time, yet we never see him at a keyboard, just behind the trigger of a very big gun. The script by Steven Knight (“Locke”), Jay Basu and director Fede Alvarez tries to strap too much in. It’s sleek but overloaded. As built, this web’s a fun, passing fancy too emotionally inert to snag anything worth caring about.

Bad Time at the El Royale

13 Oct

‘Bad Times at the El Royale’: You can check in, then suspect no one in this noir gets out alive

 

“Bad Times at the El Royale” is a knuckleball-noir, a den of thieves stuffed with double agendas. The star of the film, besides the ripped abs of Chris Hemsworth or sexy boot-wearing waif Cailee Spaeny, is the remote resort of the title, once a grand casino straddling California and Nevada (there’s a red line down the middle of the lobby, and you can drink only on the California side). It’s seen better days, but lost its gambling license. Needless to say, few people check in; by the time the movie is over, even fewer check out.

The time is the Nixon-tainted ’70s, so cellphones are not a thing, but wiretapping and one-way mirrors are. An amiable reverend (Jeff Bridges) and a backup soul singer (Cynthia Erivo) check in first. Then there’s Jon Hamm, right out of “Mad Men” as a vacuum cleaner salesman, and Dakota Johnson, who zips in Tarantino-hip in a mod model muscle car with a bound bundle in the trunk. Not everyone’s whom they pretend to be, and the skittish hotel manager (Lewis Pullman, son of Bill, excellent in a role that seems designed for the late Anton Yelchin) bears the weight of past horrors in the hotel and has demanding owners to answer to. The inn has a few secrets as well.

As the sands shift and the mother of all storms descends, the tension rises. What’s buried under the hotel? Who is the mysterious being fled by Johnson’s Emily Summerspring and her sister Ruth (Spaeny)? Plus there’s the gruesome murder of a couple nearby that we hear about over and over on TV, with the killer still on the loose. Deep Purple and some lesser-known Motown kick up the scene – something that’s needed, because at almost two and a half hours “El Royale” is nearly an hour too long (but stylish nonetheless). And though directed by Drew Goddard, whose debut, “Cabin in the Woods” (2012) was a breath of fresh air to the horror genre, the film overplays moments. The plot, which in premise bears much in common with James Mangold’s 2003 Nevada hotel thriller “Identity,” loses its enigmatic edge a little over halfway in, and many of the more likable souls perish far too soon. But fear not, everyone gets a flashback, and certain scenes get replayed from multiple POVs. They’re neat devices, but not every character comes out feeling fully sketched. 

Hemsworth, who played beautifully against his Thor persona in “Cabin in the Woods,” isn’t given much to do here as a Cali-sun god and cult leader – Jim Morrison infused with the cocky cold-bloodedness of Charles Manson. It’s a big, hammy bone, and it gets well gnawed. The camp mostly works, while Bridges and Johnson hold the fort, Spaeny and Pullman add flourishes of manic quirk and Erivo adds soul, social context and glorious chops. The Watergate fiasco and a MacGuffin that could be tied to JFK loom at the corners, but they’re mostly distractions; the film is best when characters sit and banter over whisky, even if their hands are tied and a gun is to their head.

Peppermint

9 Sep

‘Peppermint’: Jennifer Garner takes her turn in not-so-fresh parental revenge action genre

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There’s nothing minty or fresh to “Peppermint,” the hard-boiled throwback from Pierre Morel who covered similar terrain with “Taken” back in 2008. That psychological actioner starring Liam Neeson as a relentless pa out to reclaim his daughter from kidnappers proved a surprisingly effective B-grade thriller. Here, unfortunately, the amiable Jennifer Garner spreading her wings as an avenging angel has a lot less to work with in terms of nuance and character, though the film far exceeds “Taken” in brutality and head count. Comparisons to “Old Boy” or “John Wick” would be fair.

The film begins accordingly with a bloody struggle inside a boxy sedan in predawn Los Angeles. In those tight confines, Garner’s Riley North eventually gains the upper hand and lets a bullet fly into the cranium of a highly tatted gangbanger. The thing you admire most about the whole affair and its aftermath is Riley’s steely resolve and professional efficiency. You know she’s done this before. The how and why of that get answered quickly as we flash back five years, with Riley now a Girl Scout-leading soccer mom. Things are pretty tight for the Norths: Riley works part time in a bank while her loving yet flawed husband Chris (Jeffery Hephner) labors in a garage while figuring out his next big move. Unwisely, he listens (just listens) to an offer to be part of a crew to rob a drug lord by the fantastically generic name of Diego Garcia (Juan Pablo Raba), who, as the film says over and over, is the Mr. Big of the L.A. crime scene. The offer gets turned down, but Garcia’s already caught wind of the job and takes out Chris and Riley’s 9-year-old daughter (Cailey Fleming) in a drive-by. Riley sees the whole ordeal – in repeat slow-mo – and even though she IDs the shooters to the police, once in court, the defense attorney smugly flips the case. The judge won’t listen to Riley’s plea and the prosecutors don’t seem to care. The shooter goes free. An enraged Riley is cuffed, dragged out of court and prepped for a mental institution. Continue reading

BlacKKKlansman

13 Aug

‘BlacKkKlansman’: True story of infiltration that hardly has to sneak in a modern message

 

If someone told you there’d be a movie about a black man who infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, you’d probably call BS. I mean, how could that ever be? But what if the infiltrator were Jewish? You’d likely double down on your BS card – after all, these are the two bloodlines that drive the rallying hate of the white knights whose mission has been to keep America pure and white. Continue reading

Hotel Artemis

9 Jun

 

At the Hotel Artemis, you can check in any time you’d like but – like the Eagles tune tells us – it’s pretty damn hard to leave. Why? Well for one thing, it’s a safe house for criminals. And two, outside in the grubby L.A. streets, mobs are rioting over the privatization of water.

“Hotel Artemis” takes place in the near dystopian future, though it’s hard to get a full register of what that’s really like; similar to Wes Anderson’s “Grand Budapest Hotel,” the film’s mostly an inside job. Lording over the den of thrives is a boozy, disheveled Jodie Foster, referred to as The Nurse, with a Master Blaster of an orderly at her side by the moniker of Everest (played by hulking former wrestler Dave Bautista, so winning in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Avengers” films) who enforces house rules and metes out small doses of medical aid. Among the potpourri of personalities checked in are Sterling K. Brown’s dapper bank robber, Charlie Day channeling his inner Joe Pesci as a jabber-jawed arms dealer and Sofia Boutella’s super sleek assassin (she played a similar role in “Atomic Blonde”). About halfway in, a banged-up capo known as the Wolf King of L.A. (played by a game Jeff Goldblum, who’s onscreen too little) shows up to raise the stakes. If the invocation of another “Wolf” in L.A. crime doesn’t seem like a grab at something from Tarantino’s hip criminal universe (Harvey Keitel’s fixer from “Pulp Fiction”) then maybe the fact that all the “guests” are referred to by their room name – substitute “Niagara” and “Waikiki” for “Mr. Pink” and “Mr. Black” and you get the picture – might tell you what screenwriter/director Drew Pearce is angling for. “Artemis” even has its own McGuffin (a mysterious pen) and a wounded cop (Jenny Slate) with information to share. 

Much is packed into a lean 93-minute runtime. First-time helmer Drew Peace, who wrote the screenplays for “Iron Man 3” and “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation,” shows a knack for snappy action the way stuntman turned filmmaker David Leitch demonstrated with “Atomic Blonde” and “Deadpool 2.” The rub, however, is that as a narrative, “Artemis” jumps around too much, and not everything quite fits (perhaps over-enthusiastic editing had a role to play). As a result, the only characters that resonate even faintly are Foster’s wheezing hotelier and Brown’s remorseful perp saddled with a blundering older brother. It doesn’t help that in an era of grand set designs, the glimmers of the outer-scape feel cheap, plastic and uninspired – not in the cheesy, good way that “Logan’s Run” made so indelible, but more like the stagy street riots in David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis” (2012) or the Orwellian future-scape in “Equilibrium” from 2002, if you even remember that one. Peace is blessed with a great cast, and the actors all provide above-the-bar turns. It’s just too bad in execution “Artemis” feels more like a staged (and very promising) concept than the mean teeth of true criminal intent.

You Were Never Really Here

15 Apr

 

Seven years ago Scottish director Lynne Ramsay served notice with the psychological thriller “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” In that film, a family is torn apart by a son’s increasingly disturbed behavior. Things proceed edgily and eventually go off the rails, violently and shockingly. In her latest, “You Were Never Really Here,” audiences don’t have to wait long for an eruption of carnage when an equalizer/hitman is employed to retrieve a state senator’s daughter from a high-end brothel in midtown Manhattan.

If that sounds like the boilerplate to “Taken” or “Taxi Driver,” you’d be right to think so – at least on paper – but for Ramsay, getting at her protagonist’s state of mind and backstory is anything but a linear exercise. In wisps we catch Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) in military fatigues within the confines of a desert encampment feed a candy bar through a chain-link perimeter to a youth who is promptly shot dead by a surprising source. Later, ostensibly in the FBI or some investigative law enforcement unit, Joe uncovers a van full of dead bodies. And then there are the flashbacks to a highly abusive father and Joe’s attempts at suicide via asphyxiation (dry cleaning bags being the impermeable of choice). These images are littered throughout, giving brushstrokes of insight to the enigmatic Joe, bearded, burly and employing the peen end of a hammer to bash his way through his first assignment. To save the senator’s daughter (Ekaterina Samsonov), he employs the same implement – a new one of course, selected carefully from the hanging racks of a Home Depot, Ace Hardware or the like – working his way through the Manhattan brownstone in a more “Old Boy” style than Travis Bickle might consider. Continue reading

Death Wish

7 Mar

 

I like Bruce Willis, I do. But, sorry Bruce, you’re no Charles Bronson, not even close, and even more to the point, Eli Roth is no Michael Winner.

Who might Micheal Winner be, you ask. He’s the guy who directed the original “Death Wish” back in the 1970s with Bronson as a New York City architect looking to avenge the death of his wife and rape of his daughter. Winner was also responsible for two of the series’ feeble follow-ups (“Death Wish II” and “Death Wish 3”) and “Won Ton Ton: the Dog who Saved Hollywood” (1976). Weak tea to be sure, but that said, that 1974 collaboration yielded a palpable revenge fantasy chock full of sharp, witty commentary and a Bronson brimming with nonchalant machismo. In the Roth/Willis updating, motive, cathartic process and emotion get tamped down in favor of staging and contrivance.

While much of the narrative bare bones based on Brian Garfield’s novel remains, much has changed as well. The setting has flipped from New York to Chicago, and the avenging Paul Kersey is no longer an architect but a surgeon who’s been witnessing the city’s 20 year high crime rate firsthand via his operating table – the opening scene of a cop rushed into the ER feels a bit heavy-handed and becomes an omen as to how Roth, the gore-meister behind “The Green Inferno” and the “Hostel” films, wants to go. There’s a wealth of technological advancements from the past 40-plus years (PCs, cellphones, social media, GPS and smart cars to name a few) that feed nicely into the plot. Willis’ Kersey too is not an urban dweller, but lives in the affluent ’burbs. The crew that take out his wife and daughter early on are less cruel than the Bronson versions (the incident is on his birthday, but there’s no rape that we see) but the violence that Kersey ultimately dishes out is far more decisive and sadistic. Continue reading