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Sunday, November 11, 2018

Outlaw King



Outlaw King is a lot like Braveheart but is missing Braveheart's gross historical inaccuracies. It's also missing that thing Braveheart had that enraptures your emotions, that rousing, uplifting feeling it gives you while William Wallace is being drawn, quartered, and dismembered - but still urging "FREEEDOOOOMMM!!!" Speaking of William Wallace and his members, parts of him do make a cameo in Outlaw King. His severed arm makes an early and pivotal appearance in the first act, which incites the Scottish people to riot against England once again, and in turn makes Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine) decide maybe he should press his claim to become King of Scots, after all, never mind the fealty he swore to King Edward I (Stephen Dillane). William Wallace's severed head (but not Mel Gibson's) also appears; it's mounted on a pike at London Bridge. Good to see you, old friend!

Essentially, Outlaw King is about the end of Mel Gibson's narration that closed out Braveheart: "They fought like warrior-poets... and won their freedom." Except Outlaw King isn't quite as rosy; Robert the Bruce's rise to lead Scotland begins with cold-blooded mur-diddly-urder when he kills the guy who also has claim to the Scottish throne, John Comyn (Callan Mulvey). In the Bruce's defense, Comyn was totally gonna rat Robert out to Edward. From there, Robert becomes King of Scots and everything works out for him, except for the humiliating defeats he suffers in battle, how his army is ambushed in the middle of the night and again as they flee, and how his brothers are executed and his wife Elizabeth (Florence Pugh) and daughter Marjorie are imprisoned in England. But all of that just means Robert the Bruce can mount a brave, heroic comeback and emerge victorious in the end.

As King Edward, Dillane isn't as ostentatiously evil as Patrick McGoohan was when he played "King Longshanks" in Braveheart, but he sure does love Greek fire (almost as much as Stannis Baratheon liked wildfire). The ostentatious evil is delivered by his son, Edward, Prince of Wales (Billy Howle), a scheming weakling who fancies himself a military strongman and ruthless conqueror. The Prince of Wales seems to only exist because he wants to duel Robert the Bruce; after their opening act 'friendly contest' is disrupted, Edward II finally gets his rematch at the climactic Battle of Loudoun Hill. The Prince totally blows it and scuttles off in a pukey panic. Good times. 

As Robert, Pine is mournful and contemplative rather than dynamic. The real Bruce was said to be more of a politician and schemer, but Pine plays him as almost reluctant to do all the things he has to do to lead a united Scotland. As Elizabeth, Pugh is loyal, intelligent, and far more interesting, but she's relegated to a supporting role as she has no place on the battlefield. As James "The Black" Douglas, an almost-unrecognizable Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a powderkeg. The battle scenes are visceral and bloody but the film only sporadically feels epic. Returning to the unavoidable Braveheart comparison, thanks to Mel Gibson's Oscar-winning myth-making, William Wallace remains the grander movie presence. Outlaw King, while truer to history, still doesn't elevate Robert the Bruce to an equal stature.

For the history of what happened after Outlaw King's ending and how Scotland won their independence, I wrote about it at Screen Rant.

For that scene involving Chris Pine's pine cone, click here.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Girl in the Spider's Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story



The Girl in the Spider's Web would like to know: Have you seen David Fincher's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo? You have? Great. How well do you remember it? Not that well? Even better. A few more questions, if you wouldn't mind: Do you remember Skyfall? Yes, the James Bond one. You liked Skyfall? Good. What about Jason Bourne? Of course, you do. Excellent. Okay, before you go and watch the new movie, how much do you like bleak, colorless, snowy shots of Stockholm that invoke foreboding and dread? You're good with that. Well, terrific, that about wraps it up. You should have a pretty good time at Girl in the Spider's Web, then. Wait, one last question: You're not one of those 'critical' types who like to think too much about the movie you're watching, are you? Hmm, well, just try to enjoy it anyway. Okay, off you go. Roll the picture.

In Spider's Web, Claire Foy steps into the iconic (Sony hopes) role of Lisbeth Salander, taking over for Rooney Mara, who took over for Noomi Rapace in the Swedish-made Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Three Lisbeth Salanders in five movies in under ten years - even James Bond or Batman can't touch that recasting feat. Speaking of the Batman, that's essentially who this soft rebooted Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is when she's reintroduced in Spider's Web - she's Stockholm's silent guardian and watchful protector, specifically "the woman who hurts men who hurt women" (and in the late Steig Larsson's universe of books and films, Lisbeth is perpetually busy and business is always booming because Swedes are a nasty, abusive, misogynistic piece of work). 

'Implausible' is the word that comes to mind when watching The Girl in the Spider's Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story. Lisbeth was always a gifted hacker, driven, relentless, and not one for idle chitchat or human interaction (besides needing regular sex), but Spider's Web refashions her as a little Swedish Terminator. Now a full-fledged action hero who can ride her motorcycle across a frozen lake, Lisbeth takes multiple beatings and keeps on ticking. She's also apparently clairvoyant: her ability to, say, walk into a crowded airport, know where to leave luggage, and know the exact time airport security will pick it up and bring it to the back, which happens to be the same room as an imprisoned NSA hacker (LaKeith Stanfield) whose help she needs is waiting so that the cell phone she planted in the bag can cybernetically take over the security system and free Stanfield so that he'll walk by the exact garbage bin at the exact moment she calls him so he can be at her location two minutes later to punch out the cop who has her cornered holds up not at all to any logical dissection. But Lisbeth can do all of that. She knows how to control a bridge to raise it and thus escape from the bad guys pursuing her. She knows everything all the time. And if she's momentarily surprised, she's then instantly and suddenly five steps ahead of the people who just surprised her. 

To her credit, Foy is all-in as Salander and while this mostly involves her looking deer-in-headlights alarmed, she digs into Lisbeth's internal life to try to convey the complexity of this character - but it really helps if you've seen the other Dragon Tattoo film(s) to fill in the blanks as to why Lisbeth does anything she does - or  why she even cares. Instead of a dense, character piece like Fincher's film, the new movie is interested in propulsive, violent action above all else; it doles out backstory and subtext in a perfunctory manner, and this especially holds true for the villain of the story: Camilla Salander (Sylvia Hoeks), the sister Lisbeth left behind to be raped and abused "for 16 years!" (so nice, she says it twice) by their crime lord father when she ran away from home. Hoeks was so charismatic and frightening as Luv, the evilest Replicant in Blade Runner 2049 - here, she provides what menace she can with what little she's given. 

This is where all the Skyfall comes into play. You remember Skyfall, right? Girl in the Spider's Web sure does! Skyfall made Sony a billion dollars - let's do it again! Like Bond and Silva (Javier Bardem), Lisbeth meets a twisted, evil version of herself who now runs a shadowy criminal organization bent on cyber terrorism - Camilla wants "Sky -" sorry, "Firefall", a program that allows an individual to control the world's nuclear arsenal. This whole sordid plot is deeply rooted in Lisbeth's origin and the violent, guns-blazing climax of Spider's Web even takes place at Skyfall - or rather, the dilapidated Salander family mansion - in the middle of winter, which Lisbeth makes sure is blown up by the end. If that doesn't hammer it home enough, Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), Lisbeth's journalist ex-lover, even goes to meet with a guy to get info, and the guy peels off his nose to reveal he's missing parts of his face - just like Silva showed Bond when MI-6 captured him. It's enough to make you wonder why Adele isn't crooning Lisbeth Salander's theme.

Finally, let's talk about Mikael Blomkvist- why is he even in the movie? Dragon Tattoo was about Blomkvist and Lisbeth learning to work together and trust each other to uncover the sordid truth behind Harriet Vanger's disappearance. That film was an equal partnership. In Spider's Web, Blomkvist is wholly unnecessary - even the tiny thing Lisbeth asks him to investigate she could have easily done herself along with the dozen other implausible things she was handling solo. It's not even like this is the character Dragon Tattoo fans might remember - he isn't! He's Mikael Blomkvist in name only; he's now inexplicably younger than Daniel Craig's version, Gudnason barely has any scenes and no chemistry with Foy, and Blomkvist doesn't even publish the story about "The Girl in the Spider's Web" in his magazine Millennium. This is probably because there's no Mikhail Blomkvist in Skyfall, so the filmmakers really had nothing for him to copy in Spider's Web but they still felt they had to include him. One thing's for sure: the guy who will eventually replace Daniel Craig as James Bond won't be Sverrir Gudnason. (Or Lisbeth Salander for that matter - but they sure are trying.)