(Capsule reviews by John Patterson, Ella Taylor, Dan Kois and J. Hoberman)
The Girl Who Played With Fire This grim and bloody adaptation of the second volume of the late Stieg Larsson's bestselling Millennium trilogy--featuring journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace)--moves the story into a very different register from the stand-alone murder mystery of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Larsson's The Girl Who Played With Fire is a cliffhanger whose resolution comes only in the third volume, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which makes for certain structural infelicities in the adaptation (suggesting that the best way to enjoy the trilogy would be as weekly episodic television). This time, we navigate the innermost recesses of post-Cold War Sweden's secret state. Lisbeth, a semi-criminal adult ward of the Swedish state, gets her biography painstakingly backfilled, revealing disturbing connections with the main narrative, in which Mikael hires two investigative journalists with a bombshell story on child-sex abuse in high places.
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Predictably, this pair is soon murdered, and their killer, equally predictably, is linked with baroque psychopaths from Lisbeth's past. Stripped of Larsson's social/political minutiae and slimmed down to its thriller chassis, certain clichés become more glaring: Lisbeth's superhuman hacking skills, overfamiliar from a zillion TV procedurals; an exploitative lesbian sex scene that mightn't have pleased the feminist Larsson; the secondary villain, a blond giant incapable of feeling pain--gah!; and the too-comfy manner in which the twin narratives finally interlace. As with the Twilight franchise, fans of the novels will eat it up while newbies may wonder what all the fuss is about. (J.P.)
Sex and the City 2 Sarah Jessica Parker is now 45 years old, and, frankly, I cannot stomach another moment of the simpering, mincing, hair-tossing, eyelash-batting little-girl shtick she's been pulling ever since L.A. Story. While her BFFs struggle on with work-life challenges (Miranda), child-care dilemmas (Charlotte), and cougar body-maintenance (Samantha), Carrie Bradshaw carries the movie's big-ticket question: How do you hang onto your marital bling once the newlywed bliss is over, especially if you don't want children and your husband has turned into a homebody? Why, talk it to death in ever-decreasing circles of inconsequential angst, then head for Abu Dhabi. There await the four F's--fashion, food, furnishings and fornication--plus scads of cringe-making Middle Eastern stereotypes wrapped in a nominal shout-out to oppressed Arab women who, guess what, like Versace and suffer from hot flashes just like us. Having raked in $400 million for the first SATC, Michael Patrick King can write his own ticket, which may explain why SATC2 runs a crushing 146 minutes of not very funny gag-lines wrapped in episodic mini-scenes that generate more embarrassment than sympathy. I get that "dignity be damned" is some kind of feminist mantra for King. But it's one thing to create pop icons as beloved as Mary Richards and Rhoda Morgenstern were in the late 1970s. It's quite another to drag them well into middle age, dress them like mutton passing as lamb, and lumber them with female troubles culled straight from the mommy and single lady blogs. (E.T.)
Winter's Bone "Never ask for what ought to be offered," 17-year-old Ree Dolly (Jennifer Lawrence) tells her brother in Winter's Bone, Debra Granik's dark and flinty Ozark fairy tale. Those are words to live by for Ree and her people, scattered across the hardscrabble southern Missouri woods. But in Winter's Bone, a tough-minded girl is forced by circumstance to demand exactly what no one wants to offer: the truth. Ree lives in a small house with her siblings and their mentally ill mother. When the sheriff brings news that Ree's father put the family's house up as bond after an arrest for cooking meth--and that he has subsequently gone on the run--Ree goes looking for Dad to convince him to turn himself in. Met at every turn by narrowed eyes and tight lips, Ree soon gets the picture that asking questions is, as one neighbor puts it, "a real good way to end up et by hogs." But while the first half of Winter's Bone is essentially a slow-paced procedural with a pint-size detective, Ree is no Nancy Drew. She gets by on instinct and determination rather than wit, and we come out the other end of Ree's quest impressed, but also disquieted, by her strength. It's uncertain to what end that strength might be used. Ree is tough enough, and mean enough, to rule those woods in a few short years if she sets her mind to it. (D.K.)
Wild Grass Alain Resnais's Wild Grass has plenty of fans--it copped an award at Cannes in 2009--but I don't see what they see. The 87-year-old filmmaker's latest is an insufferable exercise in cutie-pie modernism, painfully unfunny and precious to a fault. Georges (Resnais regular André Dussollier) finds a bright red wallet stolen from Marguerite (Sabine Azéma, the director's reliably irritating muse). A middle-aged man with a suburban chateau and a beautiful, adoring wife Suzanne (Anne Consigny), Georges has an active fantasy life with a sense of indignation to match; he becomes fixated to the point of stalking the mysterious Marguerite. Especially as played by Azéma, she is a fanciful creature--a maladroit dentist and a weekend aviatrix. Marguerite initially rebuffs and then pursues her admirer in a tedious dance of attraction-avoidance scarcely relieved by the movie's fatuously self-mocking narrator and full panoply of coy narrative tricks. Irrationality rules, but Suzanne's acceptance of Georges's foibles and his passion for Marguerite pale beside Resnais's devotion to the actress who plays the role. Azéma's hoarse quaver is extolled in the movie as uniquely charming; her mangy orange bouffant hairdo, less quirky than wildly unflattering, suggests a road-show production of The Lion King. When, soon after the zillionth exasperating view of Azéma's desiccated dandelion coiffure, she appeared in a tailored marching jacket, I entertained myself by mentally casting her as a passé British rocker, a degenerate dandy debauching her way to the Greek. (J.H.)