The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (2010)

I'm going to cheat here and quote our well-known American author Stephen King, regarding one of his must-read picks for the summer of 2010: “Lisbeth Salander is one of the great female characters in fiction, dangerous as hell in spite of her waiflike appearance; she karate-kicks as well as computer-hacks. The best thing about the late Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy is that the three books form one long, interconnected tale. And like Jo Rowling’s Harry Potter series, it’s a relentless, unputdownable narrative.”
And like Steig Larsson's phenomenally best-selling books, these three Swedish movies (English captions) are equally compelling. This one picks up where the last one left off, with a critically wounded Lis being transported to a hospital for medical aid. She has suffered three gunshot wounds, so is fairly well immobilized while many moving pieces of plot ricochet across the screen. No face is so closely scrutinized: we examine her features, searching for tiny hints of emotion. Maybe pain? Maybe relief? Maybe fear? Maybe affection? The teeniest glimmer is savored.

As portrayed by Noomi Rapace however, our Lis is anything but passive. We watch as she painfully sets about regaining mobility, strength and flexibility, using any equipment she can contrive in her heavily guarded hospital room and then later in her prison cell, where she awaits trial for murder.

Her loyal friend Mikael Blomkvist, as played by Michael Nyqvist asks his sister, who is a civil attorney, to take Lis' criminal case. She is heavily pregnant, but she too, is made from pretty stern stuff. In addition, Mikael is smart enough to enlist Plague, her brilliant hacker friend, so we see much more of his essential character in this exciting conclusion.

Special mention should go to the screenwriter Jonas Frykberg for his brilliant adaptation of all three books. Loyal readers will note some items that have been judiciously eliminated or combined with others, but the changes are needed to avoid long running times. Moviegoers who have not read the books won't suspect a thing!

Don't leave early. Just when you think the movie is over, there is one more exciting episode, which serves to wrap up the rest of the loose ends. By the way, this film works better if you are familiar with the other two, because as Mr. King says, "...the three...form one long, inter-connected tale...."



It's that time of the year again, time for Clint Eastwood ("Invictus" and "Million Dollar Baby") to release this year's Academy Award contender. Well, I suspect he won't be in the running this time. His latest outing is very good but not very involving, and Mr. E. himself has set the bar so high....

As the title implies, we explore his perception of the "Hereafter" through the eyes and minds of three widely disparate people, linked only by their individual experiences with death on three different continents. Of course this movie isn't limited to just three characters, so let's look at the cast and their roles in this story:
  • Matt Damon ("The Informant!") is a blue-collar worker in the United States cursed with the power to see "beyond." After a brief notoriety for this ability, he now lives in semi-seclusion, unable to forge any meaningful relationships.
  • Jay Mohr (mostly TV) is his brother, eager to exploit the possibilities...
  • Bryce Dallas Howard ("Eclipse") is his cooking class teammate, who serves to illustrate why Damon sees his ability as a curse.
  • Cécile De France ("Avenue Montaigne") is a television journalist on vacation in Indonesia with her lover when the tsunami hits.
  • Frankie and George McLaren, in their film debut, are inseparable identical twins who live with their drug-addicted mother in London.
Over his brother's protests, Damon's character just wants to live a normal life; our French journalist is compelled to seek an understanding of her near-death experience; the identical twins are desperately lonely.

Of course there are many things to applaud, e.g., the performances are terrific and the tsunami is masterfully done, I just wish they hadn't stooped to that old cliché, the teddy bear! Aarghhh! On the other hand, the dialog leaves much to be desired. I have hearing problems, so I liked the French episodes best because there were subtitles. I'll probably check this out of the library when it is released on DVD to see what I missed.


We're talking about two definitions of the word "Conviction": Kenny Waters, played by Sam Rockwell ("Moon"), is convicted of a horrific murder; his sister Betty Anne Waters, played by Hillary Swank ("Amelia"), is convinced he didn't do it. Therein lies this tale, based on their true story.

After a gruesome pan of a bloody crime scene, followed by the arrest of the accused, we flash back to a series of childhood vignettes in which we see Kenny, with Betty Anne loyally tagging along, get into one scrape after another. Their derelict mother is neglectful at best, so the two siblings can only depend on each other. We quickly learn that Kenny has an explosive temper and Betty Anne is always trying to save him from himself.

At the time of the murder, the best tool the forensic team has is blood type. The murderer has Type O blood, and so does Kenny; in addition, several witnesses testify that he confessed after they saw him in a bloody shirt; AND the prosecuting attorney is running for higher office. Based on these three elements, he is sent to prison for life with no parole.

After trying desperately to appeal the case, Betty Anne realizes her only hope is to get a law degree and do it herself. To the chagrin of her neglected husband (they soon divorce) and sons, she does just that. The only other "old woman" in law class is Abra Rice, played by Minnie Driver, who insists on becoming Betty Anne's friend. We get to watch these two chums wade into water waaaay over their heads as they try to re-open the case with help from a bungling bureaucracy and a non-profit group led by the durable Peter Gallagher ("Center Stage" and lots of TV).

We are treated to lovingly long closeups of both Hillary Swank and Sam Rockwell. His character ages believably, while hers never changes. Hmmm... It's nice to see Minnie Driver ("The Riches") again; plus Juliette Lewis ("The Switch") does a chillingly effective job as one of the witnesses. I can't tell you more at risk of revealing too much, but I was impressed.



A few days ago I was describing this marvellous 1996 little film to a friend and promised to send a link to my review. Imagine my shock when I discovered that I have never written one. Shame on me!

Here goes:

This award-winning French drama focuses on a four-year-old girl who is in a car accident with her mother. The mother is killed but the little girl only suffers a broken arm. Her distraught father works a job that entails a lot of travel, consequently as soon as she is out of the hospital, he parks her with a benevolent aunt and two lively cousins, who are about her age.

When Ponette sleeps she dreams about her mother, but is grieved to learn that she can't "keep" her when she awakens. This prompts MUCH discussion with well-meaning folks, both children and adults, about what happens when a person dies.

Little Victorie Thivisol, who plays our eponymous and much-loved heroine, tries to cobble together some semblance of meaning out of these various religious beliefs, but still grieves. She withdraws from everyone and tries chanting, praying, confronting her fears, taking risks, anything that might bring her mother back.

Director Jacques Doillon does brilliant work with children. There is only one fleeting moment on a school playground where one of the extras seems a bit self conscious, otherwise these little actors are flawless, the script is authentic, and our little Ponette demonstrates a wrenchingly strong character.

I've owned this French DVD (English captions) for years, so it must be available from the standard outlets; it certainly deserves a look. You can't go wrong!
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Please watch this trailer:
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Well, THAT was the most fun I've had in a movie in a long, long time! This thing is intricately plotted, perfectly photographed, and extremely well cast! Although there was little or no profanity and no sweaty bodies, we did see a lot of gunfire, car chases and blowie uppie stuff. The audience ate it up!

First, let's talk about that cast:
  • Bruce Willis ("Cop Out") is a former CIA black-ops agent, now he's Retired, Extremely Dangerous...get it? He's trying to deal with boredom and inertia, and has taken to calling a particular gal in a call center about a check he keeps insisting never arrived.
  • Mary-Louise Parker ("Weeds") is that gal (see above). She reads bodice-rippers like Love's Savage Fury and dreams of having a manly man come into her life and sweep her away to excitement, passion and exotic locales. She is hilarious!
  • Morgan Freeman ("Invictus") is another retired agent, now relegated to a nursing home where he is dealing with a terminal illness. He too, is bored and lonely; this is NOT the way he expected his life to end.
  • John Malkovich ("Secretariat") is also part of this bunch. He spent a few years being injected with LSD, so his hold on reality is a bit shaky, but he LOVES guns, ammo and explosives! Talk about a loose cannon!
  • Helen Mirren ("The Last Station") isn't quite as retired as her buddies; she admits she still "takes a side job or two." She can wield a machine gun with the best of them and still packs a yen for an agent she had to shoot.
  • Ernest Borgnine ("SpongeBob SquarePants") should have retired years ago, but he's still working in the CIA's top-top-secret archives.
  • Richard Dreyfuss ("My Life in Ruins") is an industrialist who knows WHY a mysterious list was made of people who MUST die.
  • Karl Urban ("Star Trek") is absolutely perfect as a new-generation black-ops agent, every bit as well trained and deadly as his predecessors. I'm always impressed by him.
This terrific film was beautifully directed by Robert Schwentke ("The Time Travelers's Wife"). When every scene is deliciously shot, with guts, glamor and LOTS of giggles, we naturally look to the director. Let's keep an eye out for this guy, okay?


You Again

Okay, here's the deal:
  • Betty White? ("The Proposal") I like her; although she's a tad overexposed.
  • Jamie Lee Curtis? ("Freaky Friday") I like her; she has an unusual "look."
  • Sigourney Weaver? ("Avatar") I like her; her ultra-sophisticated persona works here.
  • Victor Garber? ("The Town") I like him; he makes a convincing paterfamilias.
  • Patrick Duffy? (Lots of TV) I like him; although I can't say when I last saw him.
  • Cloris Leachman? ("New York, I Love You") I like her; her appearance is a delightful surprise.
  • Kristen Bell? ("When in Rome") Not so much....
  • Kristin Chenoweth? ("Four Christmases") Not at all!
The moral of this story? High school grudges should probably stay in high school, although your worst enemies in those anxious days may be the biggest contributors to your success in adulthood because you've just gotta "show those guys!!!"

Other than a sterling cast, this movie doesn't have much to recommend it: The plot is puerile; the multi-generational grudges start cute, but fizzle out; the high-school flashbacks are painful; the humor is forced; the acting is dreadful; the dialogue stinks; and self-centeredness seems to be on display ... again.



Never Let Me Go

If you have seen the trailers you already know our main characters have been raised since infancy in an institution which provides organs for transplants. Is that upsetting enough for you? This is a horror film with very little blood and is a poignantly romantic film with very little sex.

We see the gentle methods used to raise and educate these passive children, consequently we are not surprised to see that they are childlike even as adults. Why have them feel agitated when eventually they comprehend the reality of their situation?

There is a telling episode where two more worldly chums take our three main characters into a "normal" village. They don't know how to cross a street or order a meal. They cluster together like a gaggle of geese. It would be funny if it weren't so sad.

This stellar cast is anchored by:
  • Carey Mulligan ("An Education"), who is the odd girl out in what becomes a romantic triangle;
  • Keira Knightley ("The Duchess") gets the boy;
  • Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network"), is wrenchingly effective as the man-boy who is the object of their affections.
Even though this is beautifully shot and well acted, I had a devil of a time hearing their murmured dialogue. The DVD will be much, much better, because there will be captions. I'll own it just to see Garfield's wonderful performance again.
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Here is a preview:
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You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger

In this, Woody Allen's latest outing, we hop on a marriage-go-round for two couples which falters when four monkey wrenches are thrown into the works. Woody has taken to shooting many of his films in Europe ("Match Point" and "Vicky Cristina Barcelona"), this time it's London. I was happy to see he used cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who is worth every penny!

First our two couples:
  • Anthony Hopkins ("Fracture") has been married long enough that he is starting to feel the itch for a second youth. To that end, our wealthy fellow gets a divorce, buys a sports car and starts chasing young women (augmented by generous doses of Viagra).
  • Gemma Jones ("Harry Potter") is the discarded wife. She has been married the same number of years, but is devastated and starts going to a "seer," a charlatan who realizes that she has struck the mother lode.
  • Naomi Watts ("The International") is their daughter, married and wanting a child but forced to work in an art gallery for a very appealing boss.
  • Josh Brolin ("Jonah Hex") is her husband, a one-trick pony: a doctor who refuses to practice medicine because he wrote a best seller; he is trying to catch lightening in a bottle a second time. I should note that Mr. B. plays a real husband, not some sculpted Adonis with a six-pack. Kudos for his courage!
Now the monkey wrenches (it's the UK, so they are called "spanners"):
  • Judy Punch ("Dinner for Schmucks") is the hooker with the heart of lead who captures our hero in the midst of his mid-life crisis. Her name is Charlaine but the angry daughter calls her Chow Mein!
  • Freida Pinto ("Slumdog Millionaire") lives across the alley from Josh and Naomi; he can't help but notice that she rarely pulls her blinds.
  • Antonio Banderas ("The Other Man") is the dashing owner of that art gallery.
  • Pauline Collins ("From Time to Time") is the scotch-pouring money-grubbing charlatan...
Several of the cast members do a credible job of duplicating the patented Woody Allen stammer; I just wish it wasn't quite so obvious. The domestic scenes have a ring of authenticity and we enjoy long single takes, clearly an economical way to make a movie if a cast is professional enough to meet the challenge; this one is. The end credits show Woody used a very small crew compared to the armies it usually takes to make a film these days, and he adds a traditional jazz sound- track; that might be Mr. A. himself on the clarinet. The narrator Zak Orth sounds like Tom Hanks.

I found this to be a light, satisfying 98 minutes.


Life as We Know It

Romantic comedies are a great tradition; my thanks to Jane Austen and William Shakespeare for starters....

If you've seen the trailers, you know Katherine Heigl ("27 Dresses") and Josh Duhamel ("When in Rome") suffer through one of those catastrophic blind dates and swear they will NEVER do THAT again! We follow a montage of scenes which illustrates their close bonds with two friends who marry and have a child (they were the ones who arranged that awful date), only to die in a car wreck. When the will is read, those best friends have named our stunned and grieving duo co-parents for their baby.

Duhamel plays a motorcycle-riding chick magnet who is in no hurry to grow up. Heigl is back in her familiar role as the über-organized scold who tries to get everything under control.

Much of the fun in this delightful frolic is to watch two inexperienced adults take on the complicated business of child rearing under the watchful eye of the busybody neighbors. In reality, both Heigl and Duhamel are clearly at ease with little 'uns, and the triplets who take turns as the baby are equally relaxed. One seems to specialize in crying and the other two are charming in the sunnier episodes.

Director Greg Berlanti (lots of TV, particularly "Everwood" and "Brothers and Sisters") offers a generous helping of closeups and some unexpectedly subtle shadings in some choice scenes.

Both Heigl and Duhamel are easy on the eye and do a fine job projecting the emotional arc we expect. Plus, Duhamel in his whitey tighties is worth the price of admission!

Lots of comedy. Lots of romance. No big surprises, but certainly no letdown, either.


Goose bumps!

This terrific film is beautifully presented with a great cast, great photography and a great, great story. I already knew that "Secretariat" was, in 1973, the first winner of the Triple Crown of horse racing in 25 years. I did NOT know that his record in two of those three races still stands today. He won at Belmont by an astonishing 31 lengths!

Let's talk about the wonderful cast:
  • Diane Lane ("Nights in Rodanthe") is Penny Chenery Tweedy, the beautifully coiffed daughter of the owner of a failing horse farm; she wins a big red colt on the toss of a coin.
  • John Malkovich ("Burn After Reading") is Lucien Lauren, the cantankerous trainer she is determined to hire; he tends to spout his invectives in French when irritated and wear outrageous clothes; he plays terrible golf and none of his horses have ever won at Belmont.
  • Margo Martindale ("Million Dollar Baby") is my favorite character actress. This time she is Miss Bess, the long-time faithful secretary at the Chenery stables. She is the one who names the red colt Secretariat.
  • James Cromwell ("W") is Ogden Phipps. When he won first dibs in the coin toss, he opted for a filly with a great blood line but, as it turned out, no racing spirit.
  • Dylan Walsh ("Nip/Tuck") is Jack Tweedy, the husband who keeps the home fires burning while she manages her race horse; they have four children.
  • Nelsan Ellis ("The Soloist") is Eddie Sweat, Secretariat's devoted groom. He spent more time with the horse than any other living person; there is a statue of him with jockey Ron Turcotte in the winner's circle at Kentucky Horse Park holding "Big Red" (his name for Secretariat).
Of course there are other cast members but the pleasure is in the races and a couple of slow-motion shots of a powerful race horse in full stride.

This is a PG movie with the only sweaty bodies being those of the horses, and the only gunshots being those at the starting gate. Sound systems in movie houses have improved so much the floor shakes as tons of straining horseflesh pound past. They were kind enough to include some "Rest of the Story" snippets during the final credits so we know what has happened since the film. Our screening audience applauded this one!


The Social Network

This involving and fascinating film is the story (and the trial) that surrounds the development of the social phenomenon, Facebook.

We start in 2003 (was it that recent?) as we watch Harvard undergrad Mark Zuckerberg clumsily derail a potential date. He is brilliant, thoughtless and socially incompetent (maybe a touch of Asperger's?). Oblivious to the hurt he inflicts in that perfectly fine young woman, his first on-line venture springs from his desire to strike back at her.

This perfectly cast film boasts the following characters:
  • Jesse Eisenberg ("Zombieland") IS Zuckerberg: smart, ambitious and emotionally isolated.
  • Andrew Garfield ("Boy A") is perfect as his patient and much-exploited roommate and would-be friend. It looks like this guy might be our new Spiderman in 2012...
  • Rooney Mara ("Girl With the Dragon Tattoo" US version, 2011) is that unfortunate date.
  • Armie Hammer (TV credits) is amazing as the conflicted Winklevoss twins; Harvard gentlemen don't sue other Harvard gentlemen just for stealing an idea. He (they) look like taller versions of young Prince William.
  • Justin Timberlake ("Alpha Dog") is Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, who wants a piece of the action.
  • John Getz (Lots of TV) is Zuckerberg's lawyer. I'm only including him because I've liked him ever since "Blood Simple."
A lot of the action takes place on a college campus, so we see stereo-typical parties, drug use and general misbehavior which is mostly ignored by our computer hacker/nerd, Zuckerberg. The contrast is nicely depicted by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin ("Charlie Wilson's War") and director David Fincher (he'll be doing the American version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo"). There is plenty of humor because we have 20/20 hindsight and KNOW what happened with Facebook. The tagline for this movie is: You don't get to 500 million friends without making a few enemies.

Once again, we are treated to snippets of what happened after the trial which is central to the film. I always appreciate that!