“ The Girl In The Spider Web”

The “me,too” movement has a good push with “The Girl In The Spider Web”. Despite its over-powering music, “ The Girl In The Spider Web” shows especially what child abuse can do to the psyche. Revenge takes over in this film with techno skills celebrated and with a chessboard metaphor.

If you have not read the Stieg Larrson trilogy, the characters are a tad blurry. Lisbeth Salander is played by Claire Foy, not Rooney Mara, nor Noori Rapace before her. Like a female James Bond, the Lisbeth Salanders vie for our favorite. Claire Foy shows more emotion, yet Rooney Mara remains my favorite. I liked the impenetrable facade.

Here, in the fourth Salander movie, Foy gives us Lisbeth’s backstory, and it is not pretty. Incest and betrayal forge her childhood into a morphed techno-dragon, who is out to seek revenge on deplorable men: the kind who beat and ravage.

The first sequence has our protagonist rescuing a beaten wife and stringing her apologizing husband upside down in their posh condo. Lisbeth uses her hacking abilities to transfer their fortune to his wife and child. We hear Salander’s harsh, “ Take your child and go!” She complies. When the upside-down spouse demands to know who Lisbeth is, she cooly replies, “You should ask yourself that question.”

While Lisbeth is fighting wrongs, her sister Camilla,(Sylvia Hoeks) has woven a web to make Lisbeth suffer further for leaving her with their incestful father. An even colder fish than Lisbeth, Camilla, always dressed in red couture, seeks to suffocate her sibling. The heavy, black neoprene, womb-like contrivance with its attached placenta that is used to do this is symbolically cool. Camilla cuts a slit over her sister’s mouth and then glues it shut. She is a mess of push and pull, a psychopath for certain. Game board moves keep us guessing.

The writing and wayward plot could use some tightening. The avenging angel trope is mixed with Ducati flair and techy brilliance. When a client asks for the impossible to vaporize his project, Firefall, his young son is kidnapped. The god-like power for a single user gets National Security Agencies honing in for the technologically rich abomination. The chase is on.

Fire and ice imagery and dark sets keep the cinematography interesting. The most explosive scene being when Lisbeth’s loft is firebombed, and she saves herself by diving into her milky bath water. Bathtub safety wins again.

While all of this is a tad James Bond silly, there is a psychological thread that excentuates how “the past can be a black hole”. Director Niels Arden Oplev stays true to “The Girl With The Dragon Tatoo”, “ The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest”, and “ The Girl Who played With Fire”, by adding more bi-sexuality and cult fun. Pink suitcases full of dildos mesh with cement bunkers, safe room elevators, and mutilated faces cut up by spider-tat-scalpel wielders. “The itsey bitsy spider” is hummed alongside gas masks and electric prods.

Writers Frede Alvarez, Jay Badu, and Steven Knight could have written a better script, but they kept Lisbeth and journalist Mikael Blomkvist alive for another sequel.

“First Man” 2018

Director Damian Chazelle of “Whiplash” 2014 and “ La La Land” 2016 has another winner in this year’s “First Man”. Emotionally satisfying, if a bit long, this retrospective of the NASA ‘s space program highlights Neil Armstrong’s path to becoming the first man to walk on the moon’s powdery surface.

The film begins with Ryan Gosling as Armstrong bouncing  off the atmosphere and through monstrous sound and tremendous vibrations fighting the space capsule and returning to Earth. He is an engineer who knows how to get home. Home plays a big part of this film. Claire Foy, of Queen Victoria fame, plays Neil’s wife, Jan. They lose a toddler daughter to brain cancer, and we grieve with them. They are a couple that use words sparingly. They dance; they touch; they stare into each other’s eyes, and they understand and are committed to their individual goals, be it supportive wife or space adventurer. The early nineteen sixties it is!

The screenplay written by Josh Singer is based on James Hansen’s biography of Armstrong. Hanson is a retired history professor and taught at Auburn University in Alabama. Hanson helped produce the film of America’s most famous astronaut. We hear Neil say little. When asked by a Gemini interviewing-committee-member if the recent death of his daughter would affect his performance, he replied that “ it would be unreasonable to think it would not have some effect.” Later, and not very surprisingly, we see him place his daughter’s bracelet on the moon. Why it doesn’t float away is unclear.

The lunar topography is what we have come to expect, but Armstrong’s thoughtful comment about how its vantage point changes your perspective is well-taken. There is a reverence for creation that I like. Competition with the Russians and the politics of NASA spending seem almost secondary to the thirst to know more about our world.

There are some good cinematic shots of wet shadows on the floor in NASA garage facilities, as well as moon shots. The sound editing is relentless in relaying every creak  and groan and brain-shaking vibration. We experience becoming one with the machine. It is not pleasant. When floating quiet does come, we are relieved.

The back and forth rhythm between the familial and the astronautical is well-paced. When Jan is cut off from hearing her husband’s and the station’s chatter, she balks. She demands to be privy in present time. “ Don’t give me that this is protocal” , she seems to be saying. “  Protocol is for making people think you have things under control.” Neil’s hatch opening, his tethered breathing, his boot imprint, and his panoramic reflections are more respectful than euphoric. We remember neighbor’s thumbprint cookies and his small son’s questions, and his wife’s laugh. The film ends with Neil in quarantine and Jan sitting outside the glass partition. She waits for him to initiate. Non-verbally, he does. We feel he has reached his destination.

This is a film championing, as Walter Cronkite called them, “sailors of the sky”.  Somber in sacrifice and majestic in intent, NASA seems to be asking us not to push “ the abort” button on space exploration.