Movie Monday: ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest’

‘Hornet’s Nest,’ the final film in the Millennium Trilogy, is a talky, gloomy affair

If you haven’t read one of Stieg Larsson’s books in the Millennium Trilogy, centered on a bisexual, semi-autistic, tattooed Swedish computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), you’ve missed the literary event of the decade. Since they emerged, Larsson’s books have sold better worldwide than John Grisham and Stephen King.

If you haven’t seen one of the film versions, however, you’re not so bad off. So far, the three films — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and the latest, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — have been, at best, moderately entertaining disappointments. All are Swedish-made (American versions start coming out next year), and while the stories don’t require a Hollywood gloss to be interesting, they could use some punching up as movies.

Director Daniel Alfredson has created a style that’s gloomy but without a sense of moodiness. From the photography to the pacing of the courtroom scenes to the unsatisfying final moments, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest more closely resembles an installment in a rambling made-for-TV miniseries than a punchy feature film. Where’s the crescendo, the heart-racing action, the “big reveal?” Even a thinking man’s thriller can try to get the blood boiling. (Rapace, who had a steamy lesbian sex scene in Played with Fire, doesn’t have any sex this time — a definite hole in the structure.)

Hornet’s Nest really doesn’t stand alone, at least not as well as the other two. It’s a direct sequel to the second film, with Lisbeth recovering from injuries after she fought off her father, a Russian gangster who survived her attack. If any of that confuses you, it’s not much clearer watching it onscreen.

For more about the film, click here.

DEETS: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest with Noomi Rapace, Michael Nyqvist. Rated R. 145 minutes. Now playing at the Angelika Film Center Mockingbird Station.

—  Rich Lopez

The Bjorn supremacy

‘Hornet’s Nest,’ the final film in the Millennium Trilogy, is a talky, gloomy affair

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

SWEDISH MEATBALLS  |  An assassin tries to kill muckraking journo Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, right) after bisexual hacker Lisbeth Salander ‘Kicks the Hornet’s Nest.’
SWEDISH MEATBALLS | An assassin tries to kill muckraking journo Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist, right) after bisexual hacker Lisbeth Salander ‘Kicks the Hornet’s Nest.’

If you haven’t read one of Stieg Larsson’s books in the Millennium Trilogy, centered on a bisexual, semi-autistic, tattooed Swedish computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), you’ve missed the literary event of the decade. Since they emerged, Larsson’s books have sold better worldwide than John Grisham and Stephen King.

If you haven’t seen one of the film versions, however, you’re not so bad off. So far, the three films — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and the latest, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest — have been, at best, moderately entertaining disappointments. All are Swedish-made (American versions start coming out next year), and while the stories don’t require a Hollywood gloss to be interesting, they could use some punching up as movies.

Director Daniel Alfredson has created a style that’s gloomy but without a sense of moodiness. From the photography to the pacing of the courtroom scenes to the unsatisfying final moments, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest more closely resembles an installment in a rambling made-for-TV miniseries than a punchy feature film. Where’s the crescendo, the heart-racing action, the “big reveal?” Even a thinking man’s thriller can try to get the blood boiling. (Rapace, who had a steamy lesbian sex scene in Played with Fire, doesn’t have any sex this time — a definite hole in the structure.)

Hornet’s Nest really doesn’t stand alone, at least not as well as the other two. It’s a direct sequel to the second film, with Lisbeth recovering from injuries after she fought off her father, a Russian gangster who survived her attack. If any of that confuses you, it’s not much clearer watching it onscreen.

All of Larsson’s books, and the movies from them, are concerned with social justice as much as crackling plots. And while set in Sweden, many of those issues feel influenced by American politics (although cultural differences, such as the legal system, make the story much harder to identify with): Creepy older men abound, all corrupt, conspiratorial doctors, policemen, lawyers, cops or politicians. It’s easy to tell the good buys from the bad guys — the only good guy is Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), a crusading journalist out to uncover all the baddies targeting Lisbeth.

Nyqvist makes for an implacable, slightly dull leading man. When the first real action of the film comes 90 minutes in, his cred as an action hero starts to emerge, but it’s a little too late.

Almost more intriguing is Christer, the gay co-owner of the magazine Millennium, who is upstaged by Blomkvist even though he craves some action.

I know how he feels.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 29, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

Docu, no drama

Franco fascinating as Ginsberg in convoluted ‘Howl’

Arnold Wayne Jones | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

After 30 years of making non-fiction films, using interviews, newsreels and stock footage, documentarians Jeffrey Friedman and Rob Epstein have taken a dive into the deep end of the filmmaking pond with Howl. They don’t drown, but they need a stronger stroke to keep from treading water.

On the surface, it shares much with their documentary output: Like The Celluloid Closet, Common Threads: Tales from the Quilt and The Times of Harvey Milk, it tackles a high-profile moment in gay rights history: The writing of (and obscenity trial over) Allen Ginsberg’s incendiary longform poem Howl. It’s a rangy movie, flitting between Ginsberg’s (James Franco) relationships leading up to his writing of it, the initial reading at a San Francisco coffeehouse in 1955, the trial and an interview with and older Ginsberg about what it meant. In between, the directors use animation to capture the dreamy nonsense of the images.

That’s a lot to digest, with various visual styles that never coalesce: The supersaturated colors of the poem’s imagery contrast with the black-and-white hand-held shots of Allen at home, film noir moodiness of the café and flat, Mad Men-esque stuffiness of the courtroom scenes. It’s as if Friedman and Epstein, finally freed of the constraints of the reality of a documentary, got lost in the vast techniques at their disposal.

They have not, though, presented the drama with the intensity it warrants. The poem itself is compelling if pretentious, yet radical and historically significant; the lawsuit claiming it was pornographic for its depiction of homosexual longing was noteworthy but hardly precedential. Still, it’s plump with dramatic potential … which the film fails to take full advantage of. Even the trial, adequately handled with Jon Hamm and David  Strathain facing off over obscenity, doesn’t have the pop of a good episode of Law & Order. It feels compartmentalized, removed from the realities of Ginsberg’s creative process.

Still, Franco’s performance is enough to recommend it. Franco has become one of the most daring and inventive young stars in Hollywood, taking huge career risks with a happy quietude that suggests a real artist. His cadences as Ginsberg, and the brave way he throws himself into the gay situations, give him an ethereal quality, wafting through the movie like a guiding spirit.

Two and a half stars

—  Kevin Thomas