Tag Archives: Stephen Merchant

The Girl In The Spider’s Web (2018) Movie Review By Philip Henry

The Girl in the Spiders Web

Director: Fede Alvarez
Writers: Fede Alvarez, Steven Knight & Jay Basu, based on characters created by Stieg Larsson
Stars: Claire Foy, Sylvia Hoeks, Stephen Merchant

So after kicking the hornet’s nest and playing with fire, the girl with the dragon tattoo – Lisbeth Salander – is back. This time in the guise of Claire Foy who is probably best known for her starring roles in TV period dramas like The Crown, Wolf Hall and Upstairs, Downstairs. The actress clearly wanted to do something different and by swapping corsets for corpses she has done just that. A lot of critics have complained that Foy is too empathetic in a role already made famous by Noomi Rapace in the original Swedish version and later by Rooney Mara in David Fincher’s Hollywood remake, but I can only see this as a positive aspect of this film. Lisbeth still has very few lines and a huge chip on her shoulder, but the decision to give her less facial piercings and let her keep her eyebrows goes a long way to helping the audience identify with her.

The Stieg Larsson novels were published posthumously after the author died when he was just 50. His publisher was in possession of a huge manuscript which she later chopped into three novels and hoped they might sell 10,000 copies to cover the publication costs, but to date they have sold in excess of 80 million, so it’s no wonder they wanted to keep this franchise alive, even if its author was not. So a fourth (and fifth) novel was written by David Lagercrantz using Larsson’s characters. Diehard fans were not impressed by in large, and the fact that the screenplay for this film messes with the canon of the original novels has upset them even further.

I haven’t read the new novels, and to be honest I wasn’t that impressed with the originals either. The stories are good, but they all need a hell of an edit. To the best of my memory, the first book starts with 20-30 pages of pointless information and after the story climaxes and the baddie gets his just desserts, the book goes on for a further 100 pages of tedious epilogue. So I won’t be judging this film on how well it stands up against the books, just how it stands up as a film.

And I think it does pretty well as an action/ thriller. The story begins with a scene from Lisbeth’s childhood, revealing yet another fetish that these books love to tell us is going on in Swedish homes right below our noses. Young Lisbeth escapes leaving her sister with her perverted father. Then we skip ahead to present day and Lisbeth is doing what she loves to do; making men who hurt women pay. It’s a nice introduction to the character for newbies, but somewhat misleading as she is then hired for some James Bond style espionage and what should be her character’s main focus is sidelined to the B story.

Stephen Merchant has escaped Ricky Gervais’s clutches and written a piece of software that can access any country’s nuclear launch system via a laptop, but he’s having Oppenheimer-levels of regret now, thinking this thing he created isn’t safe in anyone’s hands and should be destroyed. So he asks Lisbeth to steal it from the NSA server in Washington, which she quickly does, and then some very sinister parties come looking for it, and some not so sinister, like the Swedish government…

‘Who do you think should have it; the Americans who are involved in every war, or Sweden, who has never gone to war with anyone?’ I suppose you can’t argue with that logic.

Cue some nice action, explosions and chases on Lisbeth’s famous motorcycle, on foot, and in a lovely Lamborghini Aventador. About half way through the movie things take another twist as someone from Lisbeth’s past shows up also wanting this software – go on, guess who it is!

OK, so the movie isn’t perfect. Some things you can see coming a mile away, and you could argue that Lisbeth’s ease at hacking anything with a microchip makes life very easy for her, but the film rattles along at a great pace and certainly from a commercial point of view I think it’s more accessible to the masses. Much as I think Fincher is a genius, I wouldn’t be surprised if this beats his adaptation at the box office just because it isn’t as bleak.

I must flag up a pet peeve of mine at this point: stupid kids in movies. You know that scene in nearly every thriller where the adult says: ‘Just stay here and you’ll be safe,’ and as soon as the adult is out of sight the kid moves towards danger right away, quite often for no apparent reason. I see this so often in films and TV shows and it drives me nuts! It’s really lazy storytelling. It happens in this film, too, and the kid in question is supposed to be a genius, but when his phone rings and the caller ID says it’s someone the kid saw with his brains blown out a few hours earlier, he doesn’t for a second think this might be an attempt to track him, he just answers expecting the dead man to be on the other end of the phone! Come on!!!!

Stupid kid aside, I enjoyed this incarnation of Stieg Larsson’s anti-heroine. The action scenes are well executed and the plot weaves like a Lamborghini through Sunday drivers. The end mirrors the beginning, leaving a big plot strand open and paving the way for a sequel if this one should deliver at the box office. I hope it does, as I could quite happily sit through another adventure with Lisbeth.

Logan (2017) Movie Review by Stephen McLaughlin


Director: James Mangold
Writers: James Mangold (story by),  Scott Frank (screenplay)
Stars: Hugh Jackman,  Patrick Stewart,  Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook, Richard E Grant

After two excellent trailers “Logan” is the movie everyone has been anticipating for the last year or so. Again Logan (The Wolverine) is using his birth name of James Howlett in the year 2029 trying to lead an ordinary existence driving a limo as a driver. whilst in his spare time looking after his old friend and mentor Charles Xavier (Professor X) who is now sick and old and is having seizures that are so blinding they are effecting the last reminisce of the mutants on earth that Logan tries to contain by giving Charles his medication on time. Accompanying both the Professor and The Wolverine is the albino mutant Caliban (Stephen Merchant) whose ability is sensing and tracking others of his kind. All three of them live in the outskirts of nowhere on a run down old farm leading a recluse life in which seems to me just living out the remainder of their lives.

Logan has been tracked down by a lady named Gabriela (Elizabeth Rodriguez) asking for his help to get a young girl to the Canadian border for her own safety as both have been pursued by Donald Pierce played by Boyd Holbrook. We first meet Gabriela at one of Logan’s driving jobs (at a funeral service) where Logan doesn’t want to know anything about what she is asking as he is trying his best to keep a low profile and  Gabriela knows more than enough about Logan being The Wolverine and his abilities to protect and handle himself.

Pierce’s first intervention with Logan is short and at times shows a respect for the one time well known X-Men and makes it clear that he isn’t tracking down The Wolverine or Professor X (who he admits would like to meet) but the Young Girl who goes by the name of Laura (Dafne Keen) who is labelled X-23.

You visibly see Logan is old and a shadow of his former self but by going on this reluctant mission he unlocks some of the old Wolverine inside of him and we see snippets of this throughout the movie and involving X-23 when she’s more capable than Logan and Professor X thinks and she’s able to fend for herself.
Logan also begins to realise things about himself through the vision of this little girl because they have striking similarities.

It has to be said that every scene in this film feels necessary and not shoehorned in from the character development to the humour and action. Nothing feels forced and everything comes off natural which is refreshing and a great testament to these characters that we have grown and loved for the past 17 years in the cinematic world and especially as it is both the original actors Stewart and Jackman who just fit right into their characters as if they have never been away (especially Stewart who apart from limited time in X-Men: Days of Future Past and a cameo in X-Men Origins: Wolverine hasn’t really played the part for a good decade) and I was very pleased with that.

Hugh Jackman gives it all in this his final performance as Logan and I don’t think many people will disagree he has saved the best for last after than disappointing Origins story and the okay “The Wolverine”. I don’t think we have seen The Wolverine this vulnerable. He’s now old, he’s beaten and walks with a slight limp. He doesn’t  heal like he used to and this is down to the conviction from Hugh Jackman in the movie. Jackman has always stood out from the rest in the X-Men franchise with his portrayal as Wolverine/Logan and that’s partially down to the Character but mostly down to the actor portraying his take on the character. He hits the nail on the head with this somber performance and you just know he wants the character to go out with a bang.

The real surprising standout performance is from Dafne Keen who plays Laura (X-23). She gives Logan a run for his money on the brutality who is this mysterious young girl born with a same clawing-wielding gift as Wolverine. At first Keen didn’t talk and I thought this was going to be for the rest of the movie with some nods and shakes of the head for conversation in between going on violent rampages and the occasional Spanish-spoken lines, but it’s the subtly in her character that stands out as you begin to see she cares for Logan and Charles and I think by the end of watching the movie the audience want to see more of Keen as Laura in her own stand alone movie or as part of a new generation of x-men….or in this case x-children. I can see why a lot of folk would want this as there is that potential to continue the story in this universe now that Jackman, Stewart etc are hanging up their boots as mutants and it also looks like the First Class mutants have finished their trilogy with the bitterly disappointing Apocalypse. So why not continue the story instead of a reboot?

Patrick Stewart who proudly reprising his role as Charles Xavier has done what is needed for his character and he does it with perfection. With the aged Xavier now handicapped without his ability to walk, Stewart gives a blissful, if occasionally humorous portrayal as this signature role and there is a particular scene that is so touching as he lies in his bed after being taken in by a family who feed and give Logan, Charles and Laura a room for the night that hints at why there isn’t any mutants anymore and how this is the happiest he has been in as long as he can remember. Stewart as I previously mentioned just slips back into the role but with a bit of cutting humour it must be said that will make you laugh out loud in disbelief with “did he just say the f-word?”

If I had one gripe with this movie it is main villains in Donald Pierce (Boyd Holbrook).Who isn’t the kind of villain that tries to scare you. He just messes around with Logan but will become nasty if needed. Holbrook is a suitable villain for this movie but really is just a bounty hunter who doesn’t have too much to do. We are then introduced to Doctor Rice (Richard E. Grant) who is behind Pierce and who is clearly desperate to retrieve X-23 and take her back to his lab for experimentation I felt was a little villain-light and really just served as the ‘Mad Scientist” behind the plan but with no real punch.

James Mangold manages to capture every element which thrives on the edge of this conflict that he creates. it is beautiful and the talk on the street is whispers of Oscar nominations…..“in March?” you say? Yeah it’s that good. Don’t get me wrong, Director and Writer James Mangold has crafted a very fine film.  He certainly knows how to keep the action flowing and all that bad wire work we saw in the origins movie is nowhere to be seen in this beautifully shot film. Not only are the visuals stunning but the development of all ready established characters might appear to be an easy thing to pick up but Mangold is dealing with “Old Logan” and a decrepit Charles Xavier here and still manages to capture the essence of the characters from the previous movies but adds to their story, sadness, regret and above all…hope for the future of mutants alike.

I believe that this movie will be very well received by fans as the early indications are looking good and some critics are already labelling “Logan” as one of the best comic book movies of all time. I personally consider the film more in the superhero western genre? as it has that gritty feel and texture about it. I highly recommend this movie for all those reasons mentioned because it distinguishes itself from the usual superhero movies. I have all the x-men films and i liked most of them but none of them managed to reach this movie’s level of action or emotion .