Browsing Tag

stieg larsson

My EXTREMELY LOUD Thoughts on the WAR HORSE WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO

OK, my thoughts aren’t THAT loud and there are no tattoos on Joey, the horse in War Horse (there is a birthmark), but I am combining my thoughts on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, and War Horse in this post. I’ve been traveling and it’s been planes, trains, and automobiles for the past twenty-four hours, so the following won’t be full-length reviews but lists of the pertinent points I want to make about each movie.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

If you’re curious about this movie at all, it’s probably because you’re a) a diehard fan of the books and/or Swedish movies and want to compare, b) you haven’t read or seen any of the other versions but are thinking about checking this out to see what all the Stieg Larsson and Lisbeth Salander hubbub is about, or c) you’re a David Fincher fan. So here’s what you want to know:

  1. Rooney Mara is convincing but her Lisbeth is different than Noomi Rapace’s. Rapace was fiercer, with an undercurrent of anger even when she was still, whereas Mara’s Lisbeth is cooler, as in detached. She also looks younger and more waifish, closer to the book’s description. Bottom line, though, Rapace’s performance leaves a much more indelible impression.
  2. If you’ve read the books and seen the Swedish movie, you don’t need to see this one (my review of the book is here and the Swedish movie here). It’s faithful, down to the sluggish exposition in the beginning. There are no surprises because you know everything. The change in the ending, a source of controversy, is not a big deal and it works. Without it, the two-and-a-half-hour movie would’ve been even longer.
  3. Except for the dark, freaky title sequence, you can’t tell this is a Fincher movie, though after The Social Network and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, the Fincher style seems to be expanding.
  4. The biggest laugh at the screening I attended came from a T-shirt Lisbeth is wearing when she first meets Mikael.
  5. Daniel Craig is a sexier Mikael Blomkvist, which justifies his ladies’ man status in the novels. The actor starts out doing a slight Swedish accent but abandons it fairly quickly (everyone else keeps theirs on). This isn’t about him, though. It’s Mara’s movie. And while she does just fine, Rapace left combat boots that are hard to fill.

Nerd verdict: Fine film, but redundant for those previously Tattooed

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

The protagonist of this movie, based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, might also be autistic or have Asperger’s, like Lisbeth. Eleven-year-old Oskar Schell, whose father died in 9/11, finds a key the senior Schell left behind and goes on a quest to find out where the key fits, believing it’s a clue to a puzzle his dad would’ve wanted him to solve.

  1. Thomas Horn, who has never acted before, is an amazing find as Oskar. His role is extremely difficult, for not only does he carry the movie, but he has long monologues spouting facts and figures that would twist the tongue of actors twice his age and experience. Horn is a Jeopardy! kids champion and obviously has the smarts to make the dialogue convincing, but he also has emotional intelligence, a harder thing to access, especially on cue. You can see him thinking, and then feel what he feels.
  2. Tom Hanks plays the dad in jovial Hanks fashion, and Bullock has some moving moments as the mom. It’s nice that it’s no longer a surprise when she turns in strong dramatic work. Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright, and Max von Sydow also have standout scenes, but their roles are all small.
  3. It might still be too soon (it may always be) for a wide audience to accept a movie about 9/11. Scenes of people falling from the sky in slo-mo don’t help.

Nerd verdict: Perhaps too Loud, too soon

War Horse

An English lad named Albert raises and trains a horse named Joey that his father bought at auction to help around their farm. It’s quite clear, though, that Joey is much too spirited for mundane farm life, and when WWI breaks out, Albert’s father sells him to the cavalry. The movie is Joey’s journey through the war and the people—civilians and military from all sides—whose lives he touches.

  1. The horses who play Joey are great actors, displaying such a vivid personality, you can almost tell what Joey would say if he could talk. If you’re not invested in his fate, then your heart is smaller than the Grinch’s.
  2. Director Steven Spielberg thankfulky holds back on the war depiction instead of giving us the full Private Ryan, but some of the scenes are no less traumatic. Yes, awful things happen to the horses. I wept more than once, but didn’t feel manipulated because of Spielberg’s restraint.
  3. Tom Hiddleston (Loki!), Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock!), and Emily Watson have small roles but make the most of them. Their absense is felt when they’re not on screen.
  4. The most memorable scene is one that shows the ridiculousness of war, how people wouldn’t want to kill each other if they could see they’re not that different when standing eye to eye instead of gun to head. The scene is more striking because it uses humor in the middle of a tense situation, and the point is made while we’re laughing, which is sometimes a more effective way to communicate than making others cry.

Nerd verdict: Star Horse

What are you looking to seeing this weekend? If I don’t see you here again before Sunday, I wish you a holiday that makes you feel like a kid waiting for Santa to come the night before. Smile big, spread joy, and may it come back to you tenfold.

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My Life as a Book 2010

Last year, I did this fun meme in which I described myself by completing sentences using only titles of books I read in 2009. It was based on something I’d seen at Reactions to Reading. I’ve finished more than 50 books this year and thought I might have enough choices to do it again, making up my own sentences this time. (I did it before reviewing my list of books so I wouldn’t tailor them to my titles.) I’d love to see your answers in the comments or on your own blog.

In high school I was: Girl in Translation (Jean Kwok)

People might be surprised I’m: Innocent (Scott Turow)

I will never be: Caught (Harlan Coben)

My fantasy job is: Messenger from Athens (Anne Zouroudi)

At the end of a long day I need: Drink the Tea (Thomas Kaufman)

I hate it when: They’re Watching (Gregg Hurwitz)

Wish I had: The Cleaner (Brett Battles)

My family reunions are: The Survivors Club (Ben Sherwood)

At a party you’d find me with: The Imperfectionists (Tom Rachman)

I’ve never been to: London Boulevard (Ken Bruen)

A happy day includes: 61 Hours (Lee Child)

Motto I live by: My Name is Memory (Ann Brashares)

On my bucket list: Love in Mid-Air (Kim Wright)

In my next life, I want to be: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Stieg Larsson)

OK, your turn!

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Movie Review: THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE

I loved this book, thought it was better than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because there was no opening exposition; it just hit the ground running. Since the Tattoo movie blew my pants off, I was expecting big things for the Fire adaptation.

Hate to say it—I was a little disappointed. Though the story remained mostly faithful to Stieg Larsson’s novel, which moved like a flame on a trail of gasoline, the movie’s pacing was oddly plodding. It’s as if some scenes were held a beat too long when a quicker cutaway was needed to maintain the urgency of the situation. After seeing it, I remembered reading last year that this movie and the next, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, had been intended for TV, which explains the rhythm and by-the-book procedural feel. Some scenes were probably meant to fade out into commercials while others were intended to come back from them. This impeded the movie’s overall momentum.

It probably didn’t help that there’s a lot of ground to cover here. After Lisbeth becomes the number one suspect in three brutal murders, she goes on the run while Blomkvist tries to find her and clear her name, unearthing secrets about her past, including why she was committed to an asylum when she was twelve. Whereas the revelations are shocking in the book, they lose their punch when disclosed via long, static conversations between characters. Since cinema is a visual medium, I wish director Daniel Alfredson (taking over from Niels Arden Oplev) had found a way to show, not tell.

But it’s not all bad because the electrifying Noomi Rapace returns as Lisbeth Salander and truly, there’s no one better for this role. Lisbeth experiences hell and Rapace goes there. Her performance is devoid of vanity; she does whatever it takes to bring Lisbeth to life. There’s a long stretch when she doesn’t talk but you can read all her thoughts through her eyes, a sign of a smart actress. Lisbeth is softer this time around; she’s often makeup-free (I’m so glad she didn’t get a boob job as she does in the novel) and has a tender scene with her former guardian, Holger Palmgren (Per Oscarsson), showing that our girl is perfectly capable of caring for someone as long as that person isn’t a sadistic rapist pig.

Michael Nyqvist is also back as Mikael Blomkvist, looking even less believable as a handsome ladies’ man than in the previous film (keeping my fingers crossed for Daniel Craig in the American version). He gets Blomkvist’s doggedness across, but doesn’t have the journalist’s fire-in-the-belly righteousness. The rest of the cast is serviceable, with Micke Spreitz credible as the giant monster Ronald Niedermann.

The last quarter of the movie is the strongest, breathholdingly suspenseful despite my knowing what would happen. I jumped as much as the couple next to me in the theater, who probably haven’t read the books since they gasped at every revelation, especially about Zalachenko and Niedermann. The ending differs from the novel’s in several small details and is a little less abrupt, wrapping up with a scene that’s actually the opening of the third book. It’s still open-ended but that’s not why I left the theater feeling dissatisfied.

Nerd verdict: Fire doesn’t quite ignite

Photos © Music Box Films

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Book Review: Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNET’S NEST

It was with a sense of melancholy that I closed the cover on Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Knopf, May 25, U.S. release) after finishing the last page. For it is the last page; there will be no more Lisbeth Salander, a character I’ve been rooting for from the moment I met her in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, someone I’ve enjoyed spending time with, as antisocial as she is. I tried to prolong the experience, reading slowly and in small spurts, but failed miserably.

The events of the previous books in the Millenium trilogy have led to this (spoilers for those who haven’t read the other two books): Lisbeth being captured and put on trial for attempted murder, aggravated assault and other trumped up charges. She has to face Dr. Peter Teleborian, the nefarious psychiatrist who conspired with a maverick faction within the Secret Police to have Lisbeth sent away to an asylum when she was 12. Teleborian and his colleagues once again attempt to have her committed, neutralizing all claims of how they’ve abused her civil rights, but this time Lisbeth fights back with the help of her journalist friend, Mikael Blomkvist, and his lawyer sister, Annika Giannini, who decides to rep Lisbeth.

Meanwhile, the police are searching for her murderous half-brother Ronald Niedermann, who has unfinished business with Lisbeth. The two share the blood of their father, a depraved Russian spy defector, and in the end, Lisbeth must decide how much she’s willing to sacrifice in order to stop the evil from spreading. (End spoilers.)

While misogyny has been a running theme in these books, the other two also had strong mysteries built in. There are mystery elements here (who’s sending hate mail and stalking Erika Berger, former editor of Millenium magazine?) but I felt Larsson finally going all out with his condemnation of how some men still treat women, of how absolute power corrupts when there’s no one to watch the watchers (it’s convenient that one of the heroes is a journalist, as Larsson was). A dirty police inspector thinks the following while looking at Lisbeth:

She’s fucking retarded, [he] thought…He reminded himself that she was a lesbian and consequently not a real woman.

The fight Lisbeth now has on her hands is less a physical one than an intellectual one, for she must prove she’s not only mentally competent now but always has been. She must convince the judge that she and her rights have been repeatedly violated by men in power, not just because she’s a woman but a smart and resourceful one, a threat to those with malicious intent. These are big claims from a petite girl and I’ll just say her day in court is immensely satisfying.

Before she can get there, Lisbeth spends much of the book in seclusion (though she’s hardly idle), first in a hospital with a police guard then in jail awaiting trial. Because she’s such a badass, I wanted her out putting the hurt on those who deserve it. But she does have a final confrontation in which she makes a surprising decision, one which shows how her travails have changed her. And while I was sad to say goodbye, it’s good to leave her in a hopeful place, one in which she may no longer need to play with fire or kick hornets’ nests.

Nerd verdict: Girl finishes strongly

Buy The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest from Amazon
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The Girl Who Watched Tattooed Girls

Even though I looked forward to seeing The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I held on to a small amount of skepticism so I wouldn’t be too disappointed if it turned out crappy. I’m happy to report the concern was unwarranted. The movie is exactly as I wanted it to be—a tight, tense thriller which stays faithful to Stieg Larsson’s book while bringing Lisbeth Salander, the extraordinary character at its core, vividly to life, hot as the fire she plays with.

The movie strips away a lot of exposition at the beginning of the novel by jumping right into the plot of an old wealthy businessman, Henrik Vanger, summoning disgraced journalist Mikael Blomkvist to his estate to look into the 40-year-old disappearance of Vanger’s niece, Harriet. Salander, tattooed girl and brilliant computer hacker, does the background check on Blomkvist for Vanger but continues to secretly track the writer’s progress in the case even after her job is done. When she finally reveals herself by e-mailing him an important lead, the two team up to solve the mystery, one much more deviant and deadly than they imagined.

Reading the book, I thought it might be impossible for any actress to do justice to Lisbeth, who’s punked out, idiot savant-y, waifish, ferocious, antisocial, and unpredictable but utterly captivating. It’s amazing, then, to see how spot-on Rapace is, nailing all of Lisbeth’s complexities, disappearing completely into her skin (in real life, Rapace is much softer looking; she shaved her hair and got multiple piercings for the sake of authenticity). Even though Lisbeth doesn’t speak much, her thoughts and emotions come out through Rapace’s eyes, telling us what pages of dialogue probably couldn’t. Whoever takes over this role in the American remake has giant shoes—or rather, black leather shit kickers—to fill.

Everything else in the movie also comes pretty close to my mental pictures, including Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist and the violent scenes between Lisbeth and her sadistic legal guardian. Yes, they are disturbing to watch, but they are necessary to depict Larsson’s original title for this book, Men Who Hate Women, and director Niels Arden Oplev doesn’t linger on them any longer than Larsson did. Several subplots are pared down or eliminated altogether, but I didn’t miss them, nor did I feel the movie’s two-and-a-half-hour running time.

Nerd verdict: A dark, striking Tattoo.


The other movie I saw this weekend, The Runaways, about the rise to fame of the eponymous all-girl band in the ’70s, could’ve taken a lesson or two from Lisbeth when it came to exuding real girl power. Instead, Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett and Dakota Fanning as lead singer Cherie Currie come across as blank little dolls putting on a tough act with no growl behind it. This isn’t their fault; both are fine actresses who were failed by an inadequate script and director Floria Sigismondi, who focused more on music-video-style flash than character development.

The movie starts with Jett buying a leather jacket right off a man’s back in a store and telling record producer Kim Fowley (Michael Shannon) at a club she’s going to form a band with only girls. Once Fowley plucks Currie’s jailbait blondness out of the crowd to front the band, however, the focus shifts away from Jett, which is a major misstep. Since Currie quickly disappeared from the spotlight, I didn’t care about her story; it’s like asking me to be invested in what happened to the lead singer of, say, Kajagoogoo. Jett had huge success post-Runaways and is still touring and making music today. I want to know what makes her tick but the movie gives me no clue.

Stewart, with her jet-black shag, has Jett’s looks down cold (she’s rumored to head Sony’s list to play Lisbeth) and probably could’ve done more for the movie if she’d been given a story arc along with a guitar to play. Fanning, on the other hand, should’ve just said no. She tries hard but is too soft to make a convincing sexpot, punk-rock singer. She’s not dirrty enough. The romantic scenes between her and Stewart, perhaps meant to be provocative or edgy, are simply confusing because it’s never clear what kind of relationship they had. Similarly confounding is how Lita Ford, the band’s lead guitarist who went on to have a few hits as a solo artist, wasn’t even mentioned in the where-are-they-now end notes. Not only couldn’t the film be bothered with its characters’ backstories, it left out their future stories, too.

Nerd verdict: Stay away from Runaways.

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My Life as a Book

I based the following on something I saw at Reactions to Reading. The idea is to finish the following sentences using only titles of books I read this year. Considering I read mostly crime fiction with “death” in the title, this was difficult to do without sounding like I’m a creepy person or badly in need of Prozac.

I reworded some sentences, skipped a couple I had absolutely no relevant answer for, and added one of my own. It turned out kinda interesting.

Note: Authors’ names are in parentheses and if a title is underlined, click on it to see my review or author interview.

I am: The Girl Who Played with Fire (Stieg Larsson)

I feel like: Twenties Girl (Sophie Kinsella)

I live in: This Wicked World (Richard Lange)

If I could go anywhere, I would go to: The Four Corners of the Sky (Michael Malone)

My friends and I are: The Renegades (T. Jefferson Parker)

What life is to me: Hothouse Flower and the 9 Plants of Desire (Margot Berwin)

I fear: The Face of Betrayal (Lis Wiehl and April Henry)

I know: The Way Home (George Pelecanos)

Best advice I can give: Trust No One (Gregg Hurwitz)

Thought for the Day: Beat the Reaper (Josh Bazell)

How I would like to die: Nothing But a Smile (Steve Amick)

My soul’s present condition: Awakening (S.J. Bolton)

Are you up to the challenge? How many sentences can you complete with only book titles you read this year?

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Winner of GIRLy Giveaway

Using Random.org to make the selection, I have a winner: Reader#9! You get a hardcover copy of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Played with Fire and dragon tattoos. Send me your details, please (click on “Contact” in upper right corner).

But wait—there’s a twist! (Can’t have a mystery without one, right?) Due to the number of entrants, I felt bad I could have only one winner so I decided to give away my softcover ARC, too. This was no easy decision since I love this book so much. But, like the cheesy saying goes, I love it enough to let it go, because it needs to go out into the world and be read by as many as possible.

So, I went back to random.org and had it pick out another winner for me. And the second winner is: Eddy! If you don’t mind getting an ARC (it’s quite close to the finished version), e-mail me your addy and I’ll get this out to you.

Thanks to all for entering and telling me about great foreign titles I need to check out. Keep your eyes peeled for more giveaways soon!

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Giveaway: Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE Plus Dragon Tattoos!

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I love the Millenium books about Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist. Stieg Larsson originally wrote them in Swedish and they’ve been translated into more than 30 languages.

The good people at Knopf have sent me a hardcover copy of the latest entry, The Girl Who Played with Fire (read my review here) and a bunch of temporary dragon tattoos (referencing the first book in the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) to give away to one of my readers. I tried the tats out on myself; all the neighborhood kids wanted them!

To enter, you just have to:

  • Be a subscriber or follower on Twitter
  • Leave a comment answering the following question: What’s the best book you’ve read that wasn’t originally written in English?
  • Be a resident of the U.S. or Canada (apologies to Shelley P, Poncho, Julien and other international readers!)

I’ll take entrees until Sunday, 8/30/09, midnight PST.  Good luck!

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Review: Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE

When I read the first book in Stieg Larsson’s Millenium trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (see my review here), I finished it in a two-and-a-half-day marathon. I beat my own record when I swallowed Fire in 34 hours minus 6.5 hours for sleep.

The books’ heroine, Lisbeth Salander, might appreciate these details since she’s some kind of mathematical savant who enjoys working with numbers. But that’s only one of her talents. She’s also a genius computer hacker, boxer, and master of disguise, a skill which, in this latest adventure, helps her elude a massive police manhunt after she becomes the prime suspect in a triple murder. The only person who believes in her innocence is Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist from Tattoo whom she helped crack a case. He comes to her aid this time by hunting down clues which might lead to the real killer(s).

As the investigation progresses, details from Salander’s past slowly come to light, specifically about incidents she calls “All the Evil.” I was already captivated by her in the first book though she was maddeningly opaque at times, behaving in ways I couldn’t understand. After much of her attitude and unique code of ethics are explained in this book, I’m more deeply drawn to her, though pity is not amongst the emotions I feel since Salander would never want that from anyone.

As with Tattoo, you’re getting a lot of bang for your buck here. This book is a thriller, police procedural, exposé on sex trafficking, and psychological study. The exploration of Salander’s psyche makes Fire an even more compelling book than Tattoo, The Empire Strikes Back to Tattoo’s Star Wars in more ways than one. Unlike Star Wars, though, the bad guys in Larsson’s books tend to be one-note evil (even Vader was cool to Luke in the end). I’m talking super nasty, the most depraved bastards you could possibly imagine with no recognizable human traits. Then again, that makes it much more fun and satisfying when they have to face Salander’s wrath. This girl doesn’t just play with it; she’s on fire.

Nerd verdict: Raging hot Fire

Want a copy of this book plus some dragon tattoos? Enter my giveaway here.

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THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO Gets Under Your Skin

Over the holidays, I stumbled upon a book called The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in my brother-in-law’s library. After gobbling it down in a few days (if eyeballs can swallow, that is), I was glad I read it on break when I didn’t have much to do. As it was, I was angry at myself every time I had to stop to eat, bathe or sleep.

At first, Stieg Larsson’s novel seems like two stories in one book—a financial journalist hired to investigate a 40-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance of a teenaged girl from an island (very “Ten Little Indians”-ish), and a waif with possible Asperger’s Syndrome who works part-time at a security firm while trying to get out from under an abusive legal guardian. These two plotlines eventually converge when the titular girl gets hired by the journalist to help him with his investigation, which starts out as just a front for him to get back at a greedy and powerful businessman who put him in jail, but turns out to be a very dangerous task which puts the journalist’s life at risk.

If all that sounds confusing, don’t worry. Larsson explains everything to you in 465 pages and even includes a helpful chart of the missing teenager’s family (relatives who were on the island the day she disappeared are suspects). There’s a lot of story to tell, a lot of themes and characters to juggle but Larsson does it masterfully. He makes it clear how he feels about misogynists, sadists, cowards, and corrupt bastards. The book is smart, unflinching, twisty in its mystery and—the most obvious sign it’s a notable tale—haunting. Lisbeth Salander, the girl with said tattoo, is a singular creation. She’s difficult, brilliant, aloof, tough, scary and I can’t stop thinking about her long after I finished the book.

It’s a good thing I’ll get to see more of her since Tattoo is only the first book in Larsson’s Millenium trilogy. Luckily, he turned in all three manuscripts to his publisher at the same time so the wait between books won’t be long (the second installment, The Girl Who Played with Fire, will be available in the U.S. this July and is already out in the UK). Tragically, Larsson died of a heart attack before the first book could be published and become an international bestseller (the books were translated from Swedish to English by “Reg Keeland,” a pseudonym of Steven T. Murray). Larsson the man may be gone but his compelling, searing voice resonates in the work he left behind.

Rating: Brilliant

(UPDATE: Read my review of the Tattoo movie here.)

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