The Girl with the Franchise Complex, the wildest movie of the year and just in time for Armistice Day, a powerful tribute to the men who fought in the trenches
The Girl in the Spider’s Web
A miscast Claire Foy may have spiked her hair and stuck on some spectacularly ugly fake tattoos, but even with Lizabeth Salander’s signature monosyllabic grunts in a clipped Swedish accent, she hasn’t quite managed to shake off Her Majesty. Assuming, that is, we can imagine the Netflix Queen padding around Buckingham Palace in a flimsy singlet with the slogan “Give me head till I’m dead”. When not decked out in black leather, she always seems to be clad in tight little panties and tank tops – pretty well completing this once honourable character’s transformation into a spotty teenage boys’ graphic novel fantasy. #MeToo-ers will be particularly disappointed too that the “bad male rapists” revenge fantasy – the one that that plays out pretty much in its entirety in the trailer – is not what Fede Alarez’s (Don’t Breathe) reinvention of the franchise is about. That scene is dispensed with before the opening credits, then for the rest of the movie (based on one of David Lagercrantz’s sequels to Steig Larsson’s Millennium series) Liz is blown up, tied up, shot at, encased in latex and subjected to some particularly sadistic punishment at the hands of a brutal criminal syndicate run by her sister-gone-bad Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks).
There’s a very silly nuclear codes plot too, which involves her racing about on Stockholm’s icy streets under its perpetually dark and leaden skies in sleek Ferraris and souped-up Ducatis, her hacking skills now so far advanced she can disable entire nations’ security networks with a single swipe of a smart phone without even having to slow down. Wow, what a cool babe, she can do anything! Everything Ethan Hunt, James Bond and Jason Bourne do in any number of other action blockbuster franchises… But she doesn’t have any of their fun, and neither do we. MA15+ from Nov 8. On at Palace Norton St, Central, Dendy Newtown and everywhere else. ★★1/2
Luca Guadagnino’s return to our screens this week may not be what his arthouse fans expected. Or wanted, in fact it’s critical reception has varied from rapture to revulsion, and audiences will be divided too. (Hey, relax, Call Me By Your Name-II is progressing just fine…) This time the daring Italian auteur decided on a very personal long-time passion project of his own – a remake of Dario Argento’s neon and blood-soaked fantasy Suspiria. The plot is the same as the 1977 original – it’s still that batshit crazy one about a dancer joining a dance troop which is also a coven of witches. But there the similarities end: This is a completely reimagined new movie – a provocative and gloriously demented one – quite the wildest thing you’re likely to see this year, or in any other…
The garish riot of colour and the pulsing score of the original has here been replaced by the subdued greys and frozen skies of a brutalist Cold War Berlin and the more muted angelic tones of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. It’s 1977, and the city is still being impacted by the Red Army Faction’s terrorist campaign – itself an echo of the ghosts of Germany’s fascist past. Other than to add ominous atmospherics to a film already overloaded with heavy-duty symbolism, it’s not obvious what that addition signifies. The two other plot-lines are a bit more straight-forward – the main one concerns Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), a young and naive but brilliantly talented American dancer and her relationship with the troop’s mysterious head choreographer, Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton); the other is about an elderly psychoanalyst called Klemperer with a guilty past (Lutz Ebersdorf, but really Swinton again with heavy make-up – and reportedly equipped with a prosthetic penis just so that she could get right into the part) who is investigating what happened to another dancer (Chloë Grace Moretz) who has suddenly vanished after raving crazily to him about witches.
Smarter people than me may understand, and you can listen to an intelligent discussion of its thematically loaded issues (feminism, terrorism, fascism, religion, guilt – all the big ones) on Jason di Rosso’s Hub on Screen program on ABC-RN here. But anyone who pretends to “get it” on their first viewing is probably faking, and deserves to be called out… One thing is clear, this is a gob-smackingly strange and enigmatic movie with some thoroughly unpleasant body horror. More than a single viewing may indeed be needed, and I do intend to brave it again – as soon as I’ve recovered from the first time… But Susie’s own words may explain my reluctance… As she says of her dancing, “I feel like what it must feel like to fuck.” “You mean a man?,” someone asks. “No,” she replies, “I was thinking of an animal.” MA15+ from Nov 8. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central and Dendy Newtown. ★★★1/2
One hundred years ago the “war to end all wars” itself ended, and yeah, didn’t that work out well… R.C. Sherriff’s play on which Saul Dibb’s fine film is based was written a decade later in 1928, and in its day, had a stunning impact. It was the first time the concept of PTSD came into focus, though of course, the condition didn’t have the respectability of a medical diagnosis back then. Those who suffered from being “shellshocked” by the nightmarish and hopelessly deadlocked battles in the stinking mud-sodden trenches of France and Belgium were generally thought of as either cowardly or “weak”. The manly thing to do was to endure the unendurable, and die when you were told to without complaint. And yeah, didn’t that work out well too…
The story begins with Raleigh (Asa Butterfield), a fresh-faced young officer excited to be posted into the company lead by an old chum Capt Stanhope (Sam Claflin), his monitor at one of those posh schools the Brits recruited their leaders of men. Stanhope was also the suitor of Raleigh’s sister. But as the boy is warned by another officer Osbourne (Paul Bettany), “Stanno” is not the head prefect anymore, instead he’s a sozzled wreck. Knowing full well that his “mission” is to commit suicide (and one by one, order the death of his men in pointlessly insane reconnaissance missions – one Raleigh volunteers for towards the end), Stanhope is drowning in booze and hardly pleased to see an old face from his past. Other officers deal with the situation in different ways, but even at their best like the impeccably mannered Osbourne, able to put a wearily resigned philosophical spin on it all – flowery invocations of glory, bravery and brotherhood aren’t particularly useful. They’re not at all helped by their cook’s (Toby Jones) apparently limitless supply of liquor. During the Vietnam War, US soldiers had pot and heroin, and nowadays our warriors have crystal meth, so who’s not to say we’ve “progressed”?
But even though Stanhope’s nerves have been shredded by despair, he’s still able to pull himself together when necessary, and retains a modicum of courage and charm. And Claflin’s is only one of many exemplary performances – there isn’t a dud amongst them. The excellent cast, skilful production design, economic script and atmospheric direction don’t hammer the point – no one surely on the eve of Armistice Day needs to told about the horrors of war and its attendant costs. And yet, and yet… in all those one hundred years the bellicose blustering and posturing of generation after generation of political populists has never stopped. So maybe we do. M from Nov 8. Local cinemas include Palace Norton St, Central and Dendy Newtown. ★★★★
Also opening this week
Gay conversion therapy is virtually unknown in Australia, and yet we’ve had two movies dealing with the subject this year. The latest, Boy Erased has a strong Australian contingent on board too – Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman both star, while Joel Edgerton directs (not previewed)
Reviews – Russell Edwards