Playing Catch-Up —The Girl in the Spider’s Web; Old Boyfriends; Hotel Artemis

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The Girl in the Spider’s Web (Fede Álvarez, 2018). I have no firsthand familiarity with the Lisbeth Salander novels penned by Stieg Larsson, but I’m beginning to suspect, whatever their merits, they might repel earnest efforts to turn them into Hollywood entertainment. First, the series felled director David Fincher, who got utterly lost in the lurid mechanics of the story in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The most recent attempt is an even bigger miss. Adapted from the first novel written by David Langercrantz, chosen by Swedish publisher Norstedts to keep the money machine going after the death of Larsson, The Girl in the Spider’s Web finds Lisbeth (Claire Foy) routinely performing acts of vengeful justice against bad men. She is hired by a computer programmer (Stephen Merchant) to retrieve a powerful piece of software that can access the full arsenal of major weaponry around the globe. That assignment draws her into a tangle of dueling international factions and makes her a target, necessitating a reunion with her old journalist pal, Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason, making practically no impression at all). The film is plodding and borderline nonsensical, desperately cloaking its potboiler soul in an arch aspirational coolness that plays as deadening self-regard. Director Fede Alvarez’s provides workmanlike oversight and little else. Even inspired chaos agent Lakeith Stanfield, as an NSA agent on his own mission to retrieve the computer program, is reduced to an interchangeable game token, in service of tedium.

 

boyfriends

Old Boyfriends (Joan Tewkesbury, 1979). The sole feature directorial effort from Joan Tewkesbury, co-writer of Robert Altman’s Thieves Like Us and Nashville, this odd drama casts Talia Shire, between Rockys, as Dianne, a woman going through her old diary and visiting some of the males who once occupied her time, leaving emotional scars in the process. The film has a bedraggled cynicism of the late-nineteen-seventies, whatever insurrectionist hope that once beat in the heart of young U.S. citizens rotted to a rueful resignation. It’s never entirely clear — perhaps intentionally, without a doubt effectively — what motivation drives Dianne, in part because it seems fairly fluid, less out of adherence to an internal narrative logic and more to suit an interest in covering a lot of dramatic ground. The thesis of Old Boyfriends grows more confused when it slumps to an entirely unconvincing conclusion, though it’s hard to fathom exactly what ending would be completely satisfying given the episodic nature of the film. Shire has some fine moments, but the role begs for an actress that could bring a greater capacity for depth to the performance. Still, there’s plenty of insight and cunning to Tewkesbury’s work. It shows promise. That the readily evident possibility went unfulfilled is an indictment of the film industry’s longstanding aversion to female auteurs.

 

hotel artemis

Hotel Artemis (Drew Pearce, 2018). I’ll can see how Hotel Artemis might have been enticing in screenplay form, pages begging to be turned as an amalgamation of a Tarantino-style assemblage of wisenheimer thugs and glum, stylized near-future science fiction unfolded. In execution, it’s a dismal slog through tepid posturing and strained backstory anguish, portrayed by an overqualified cast flailing for any sense of purpose like lumbering bears trying to retrieve salmon lunches from a briskly flowing stream. A decade in the future, society teeters on a steely edge. Serving a criminal element prone to workplace injuries that are best not taken to conventional elements, the Hotel Artemis is presided over by a woman known only as the Nurse (Jodie Foster, whose genuine greatness as an actress seems as distantly past as the Gettysburg Address). On a particularly busy night, a multitude of conflicts come to a head, including the personal hardship she’s long buried. In his feature directorial debut, Drew Pearce offers a style that is frenetic and pushy, exposing the glib superficiality of the whole endeavor. Only about ninety minutes long, Hotel Artemis is the rare modern film that feels a little too short. Unfortunately, character development and logic were the main sacrifices to the digital editing software’s delete function.