Tag Archives: spy

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

Image result for the girl in the spider's web movie

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.

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Red Sparrow

7 Mar

 

Plots within bloody plots fill this thinking person’s spy thriller that’s two parts “Atomic Blonde” and three-fifths “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” Forget all the flap about the dress – Jennifer Lawrence is a big screen star. If there was any question (as after 2016’s sci-fi miscue, “Passengers”), “Red Sparrow” should squelch doubts. We all knew the outspoken actress could bring mettle and grit from the “The Hunger Games” series, but here, in this chilly bit of Cold War espionage rewarmed – and aptly so, given the Mueller probe – she takes it up a notch. Much must be delivered to the screen: ballet dancing, full frontal nudity (close enough) and a Russian accent, and Lawrence does it all convincingly so, at least for the most part. Not that she or the film are going to make off with an Oscar, but they may knock “Black Panther” from its box office roost, though the R rating makes that an extra tough go.

Steamy and ever shifting, “Red Sparrow” takes us back behind the curtain, ostensibly of Putin’s Russia, where the commoners live hand-to-mouth and at the mercy of the state. It’s there that Lawrence’s Dominika lives a cut above as the lead dancer of the elite Bolshoi Ballet, but just as we drink her in, up on the stage beguiling a packed house, a freak accident ends her career and she’s suddenly on the cusp of being evicted from her cozy pad and there’s no money to care for mum (Joely Richardson) who’s suffering some kind of illness. No worries, uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts), an intelligence officer, steps in and gives Dominika a “one-off” job that will solve her problems. All she’s got to do is lure an admiring fan and enemy of the state into a sting. The grand hotel where it all goes down, draped in red and gold, is regal and inviting; the mark, not so much. Needless to say, things veer off script, but in the end, Dominika gets it done. From there she’s in too deep – an intelligence liability, so to speak – so it’s either back to school or into the harbor. Continue reading

American Assassin

20 Sep
American Assassin assembles a crew short on character but high on laptops

Courtesy CBS Films

American Assassin assembles a crew short on character but high on laptops

It’s got to be more than just a tad coincidental that the jingoistic revenge fantasy American Assassin comes out on the tail of the 16th anniversary of one of the most ominous days in our country’s recent history — you can almost see the studio bean counters hovering over the calendar and rubbing their hands together. Bristling bravado and vengeance drive the film based on Vince Flynn’s best-selling novel directed by reliable TV helmer, Michael Cuesta, who showed such promise with his edgy coming-of-age drama L.I.E. (2001). It’s a fairly straight-ahead go that reaches for the technocratic wizardry of Tom Clancy and frenetic energy of Robert Ludlum, but only succeeds in aspiration. The one thing the posse of screenwriters and Cuesta leave out is character development — it’s hard to have a hard-boiled thriller if your hard ass is a cardboard cutout with nothing interesting to say. Running at just under two hours, Assassinfeels longer than it should and you never get that necessary pang of empathy to keep your head in the game.

Atomic Blonde

2 Aug
Charlize Theron is a literal knockout in this fast-paced spy thriller

Action and intrigue abound in this hyper-stylized spy thriller that takes the former quite seriously, boasting some of the best fight choreography on screen in recent years and a car chase worthy of Baby Driver. It’s also violent as hell and makes no apologies as it punches its way through end-of-the-Cold War Berlin — on the eve of the Wall coming down — where a crucial “list” of British intel assets is up for grabs with the KGB, MI6, and other interested middlemen locked in a bloody game of chess to procure it.

The driving fear at British HQ is that if the list falls into Russian hands, it could extend the Cold War by decades, and while that might have factored mightily in Antony Johnston and Sam Hart’s 2012 graphic novel that the film’s based on, The Coldest City, it’s nothing more than a McGuffin here and a catalyst for Charlize Theron’s MI6 operative, Lorraine Broughton, to drop from one gonzo battle royale to the next — even a same-sex hookup in a night club bathroom ends at the barrel of a gun.

The film begins inauspiciously enough as a British agent with the list on his person is stalked through the streets of Berlin and taken out smash-bang style. We then catch up with Lorraine 10 days later in London rising naked out of a tub of ice and covered in bruises. The connection between the two events and the framework for the film becomes a jigsaw puzzle of slow reveals fed to us in flashback snippets as Lorraine’s debriefed by her MI6 higher up (Toby Jones, who seems made for the part) and a curmudgeonly CIA handler (John Goodman). Part of the fun here is drinking in Lorraine’s sultry resistance to their inquiry, which bears a certain familiarity to Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell — another can-do blonde under the thumb of authority — in Paul Verhoeven’s Basic Instinct. Continue reading

Snowden

18 Sep

‘Snowden’: Political Oliver Stone returns with whistle-blower’s uncloaking of spies

Oliver Stone’s become something of a softie, wrapping “World Trade Center” (2006), his 9/11 tale of heroism, in red, white and blue sentimentality, and making “W” (2008) a strange, off-the-mark lob with the surreal puffiness of “Being There” without the biting social undertones. His most recent effort, “Savages” (2012) showed signs of the lean, mean Stone who tapped out “U Turn” and “Natural Born Killers,” but it buckled under to contrivance and a weak storyline. So for the Stoned faithful, there’s good news: “Snowden” marks something of a comeback, a return to the realm of political and historical dramatization that powered “JFK” (1991) and “Nixon” (1995), in which controversial subjects provide a foundation for the filmmaker’s strong political leanings to seep in. It’s also a bit schmaltzy at turns, but so was Clint Eastwood’s “Sully,” which was a rock-solid piece of filmmaking. (If there’s one thing I learned this summer, it’s to let the old cutting-edge guys engage their inner sentimentality; they’ve earned it, and they inject it into films without torpedoing them.)

091516i-snowdenIt’s been only a few years since the disclosures by former intelligence worker Edward Snowden and subsequent firestorm ripped opened a debate on privacy and security. During it all, documentarian Laura Poitras captured the real-life Snowden holed up in a Hong Kong hotel as he readied exposure of the CIA and NSA for spying on U.S. citizens without cause, hacking and mining private Facebook posts – even accessing computer cameras to look in on citizens of interest, should they care. Her film, “Citizenfour,” went on to win an Academy Award. Poitras makes her way into Stone’s “Snowden” as a character, played by the ever-graceful Melissa Leo, sitting in a room shooting Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and “Guardian” journalist Glenn Greenwald (Spock player Zachary Quinto). Stone wisely doesn’t retrace much of Poitras’ steps, but makes the story about Snowden the man, his roots in the military, his nerdy proclivities, his cut-above skill set and capabilities and his on-again, off-again relationship with girlfriend Lindsay Mills (a vivacious Shailene Woodley) – for the two, it’s love at first IP trace. Continue reading

Jason Bourne

1 Aug

Bourne’s back, but he’s not the same enigmatic killing machine addled by amnesia that we met almost 15 years ago in “The Bourne Identity.” Nope, now the brainwashed CIA operative knows mostly who he is. Gone too is that foggy edge of not knowing who’s good or who’s bad as covert contacts and handlers pop out of the shadows. Back then, being in Bourne’s reprogrammed brain trying to reboot itself was a thrill even without the parkour acrobatics and resourceful use of spare objects as random tools of dispatch.

072916i Jason BourneBasically in the new “Jason Bourne” we’re a long way from the Robert Ludlum material that was so organically and intricately concerned with spy games and double dealings at the highest levels, with Jason Bourne caught up as the harried fly in the ointment. In the five installments – four starring Matt Damon and now three of those helmed by chaos choreography maestro Paul Greengrass (“Captain Phillips” and “United 93”) – the impetus has moved from an internal struggle driven by outside forces to dubious machinations in those external structures (the CIA and its splintered sub-organizations) looking for any excuse to put Bourne in someone’s crosshairs. In this case it’s those of CIA director Robert Dewey (a craggy Tommy Lee Jones, inheriting the role of heavy from Albert Finney) who doesn’t want Bourne (and his long-running inside collaborative, Nicky Parsons, played again by Julia Stiles) to pull a WikiLeaks dump of the Treadstone file (listing all the behaviorally engineered Bourne-like assassins). Plus he’s got his hooks into social media mogul Aaron Kalloor (Riz Ahmed), an amalgam of Zuckerberg and the Google guys, and wants to leverage the company’s Deep Dream network platform (think Facebook) as a tool to acquire info on anyone, anywhere, anytime. Continue reading

Bridge of Spies

16 Oct

James Donovan (Tom Hanks) must go to great lengths to rescue U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers from Soviet Russia

Courtesy of Dreamworks Pictures

James Donovan (Tom Hanks) must go to great lengths to rescue U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers from Soviet Russia

When people think about the body of work Steven Spielberg has put out over his illustriously long and celebrated career, most gravitate towards the fantastical fantasies imbued with childlike wonderment (ET and Close Encounters of the Third Kind) or the satiating swashbuckling adventures (Raiders of the Lost Ark andJurassic Park). Before all that however, Spielberg minted the blockbuster with Jaws and later, with stark, visceral effect, crafted the preeminent cinematic portrait of the Holocaust (Schindler’s List), a film which still resonates as an exposed nerve. Recently, the solemn lessons of history, more so than adolescent curiosity or high adventure, have become the inspiration for Spielberg’s creative vision.

Spielberg’s last history lesson, Lincoln, was a plumbing of a stout character standing tall and resolute in the face of grave opposition and the tenuous society hanging underneath. The director’s latest,Bridge of Spies, follows the same blueprint, but unlike Abraham Lincoln, few have ever heard of James Donovan, an insurance attorney from Brooklyn, N.Y. More relevant from the history-book perspective perhaps is Francis Gary Powers, the U2 pilot shot down over Soviet airspace and taken prisoner in 1960. Continue reading