Howl Inside the Hornet’s Nest (Weekly Links)

James Franco as Ginsberg, burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night

Reviews I wrote for the Herald this week.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

In the space of the last six months or so we’ve seen the release of all three Swedish-language adaptations of the best-selling “Millennium” trilogy by Stieg Larsson.

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.

I like the way they’ve been released close together, but these brutal, full-bore pictures have left bruises aplenty. The first U.S. remake (helmed by “Social Network” director David Fincher and due in December 2011) has room to improve, particularly when it comes to subtlety. The final installment is “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” which is a direct continuation from the ending of the previous film, “The Girl Who Played with Fire.” You won’t be able to make sense of “Hornet’s Nest” if you haven’t seen that—it’s complicated enough even for fans.

One of this film’s big challenges is that its heroine is reduced to a less assertive state than before. Lisbeth, the tattooed, spike-haired sprite played by Noomi Rapace, begins the movie in a hospital, and spends much of the running time in deliberate muteness. That’s a major frustration for a series built on her ferocious personality. While Lisbeth is constricted, her sometime partner in truth-telling, journalist Mikael Blomqvist (Michael Nykvist), is hunting around for answers that could exonerate her from the crimes she’s accused of—and shed light on a larger conspiracy that envelops the series.

The biggest new pleasure from “Hornet’s Nest” comes from watching the sneaky scheming of an old group of former Soviet operatives, who I guess are still dreaming of a Communist comeback. We also get to watch the creepy presence of a doctor who not only testifies against Lisbeth today but was instrumental in declaring her crazy during her horrible childhood. There’s also the return of a hefty character named Ronald Niedermann (Mikael Spreitz), a blond giant impervious to physical pain. He’s wacky, he’s indestructible, and he tips the movie into the realm of pulp fiction.

If you’ve stuck with this trilogy throughout, the events of the third installment should be enough to tie a few strings together and deliver a satisfying enough resolution. On its own, “Hornet’s Nest” never gets better than its broad style, like a middling-quality TV cop show (director Daniel Alfredson also did the second film in the series).

With all the social criticism and convoluted storytelling, the main draw still comes down to that most reliable of movie attractions, the people on screen. On that score, both Nykvist and Rapace bring the goods. His rumpled integrity and her bony pluck are as charismatic as ever. Good characters matched up with good actors—this will keep a lot of people watching even over the clumsy storytelling. And now, Hollywood, it’s your turn.

Inside Job. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

There will be no shortage of jokes about “Inside Job” opening at Halloween time, nor should there be. Here’s a real-life horror story with far more damaging consequences than anything Dracula ever did.

Director Charles Ferguson (whose “No End in Sight” examined the management of the Iraq War) has created a summary of the financial meltdown of 2008, and the astonishing mischief that caused the system to collapse.

If you’re a dedicated news consumer, some of this might be familiar. But even if you are, the array of information presented in methodical fashion will make you want to open a window and start screaming in the (apparently futile) hope of creating outrage about the people and policies that allowed this to happen. Ferguson takes time to explain how certain crooked policies worked, so that those of us who took one Economics class in high school can follow the diseased chain of events.

Therefore, you can see how Goldman Sachs figured out a scheme that would let them profit when stocks went up, and profit when stocks went down. Sort of a perfect system, really, if you’re untroubled by things like ethics. Throughout Ferguson’s argument, there’s an overwhelming sense of foxes being hired to guard chicken coops, a weirdly incestuous world that allowed these criminals to run rampant. And he carefully lays out how much money the people at the top received, staggering sums that were safely tucked away when companies began falling apart.

These charts and graphs are helpful, and the calm, steady voice of narrator Matt Damon builds the case. Ferguson gets some drama into the mix with his interviews, which become increasingly frustrated as the film goes on.

Some of the people who sat in front of his camera clearly had no idea what they were in for. Glenn Hubbard, chief economic advisor in the Bush administration and later Dean of the Columbia business school, finally gets wise and orders Ferguson to wrap things up after admitting he’d made a mistake in agreeing to the interview; more than one interviewee begins spouting non sequiturs while scrambling to explain bad behavior and conflicts of interest.

And Ferguson has two strong punches saved for the late going. One is to explore how university professors, who are preaching certain economics philosophies, are passing back and forth between the boardroom, the government, and the classroom (including payments from financial institutions), without apparent regulations.

We also get a detailed account of how some of the main henhouse monitors have now foxed their way into key positions in the Obama administration, including Lawrence Summers and Timothy Geitner. This final blow is extremely effective.

“The rich get rich and the poor get laid off,” as the lyrics to “Ain’t We Got Fun” go. Some people certainly did go on a spree, which everybody else will be paying for for a long time. “Inside Job” isn’t the whole story of this sorry spectacle, but it’s a good start.

Douchebag. (Dead link; review below)

By Robert Horton

If a movie is going to be called “Douchebag,” it better have a notably unpleasant character to live up to the title. And this film delivers that, albeit in a modest, offhand sort of way.

A low-budget offering not much more than 70 minutes long, “Douchebag” (I promise that’s the last time I’ll use the title) is both hampered and strengthened by its slimness. There’s barely a story, more of a situation: prospective bride Steph (Marguerite Moreau) would like to meet the brother of her fiancé Sam (Andrew Dickler). For reasons unclear, the brothers haven’t talked in a while. So Steph gets the brother, Tom (Ben York Jones), to come stay for a few days before the wedding—but in a bizarre turn, Sam decides the two guys will drive off to Palm Springs, supposedly in search of Tom’s childhood flame.

It doesn’t take long to realize that the brotherly road trip has more to do with Sam’s cold feet about the wedding, and about sticking it to his brother, and about getting into trouble. Man, what a…well, you know.

What’s initially interesting about director Drake Doremus’s film is the casting. The experienced Moreau is spot-on as the ultra-organized Steph, and while Jones seems like too much the drippy dweeb at first (Tom is sponging off his parents to nurture a painting career), he hangs in long enough to gain credibility. Andrew Dickler, heretofore a film editor without an acting career, is a truly unusual presence as Sam. Tall and skinny, with a balding head and a gigantic beard that suggests religious fanaticism (or vanity), he looks as though he just stepped out of a hippie commune.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Dickler creates a new kind of rogue, and you even begin to believe that women might find this guy irresistible, after a fashion.

Because there’s so little going on, and because it contains so few surprises, this film would be a mistake with a longer running time. But it lasts just long enough to establish a mood, create a handful of distinctive characters, and then move along. Doremus has a decent sense of timing with the dialogue scenes (a tricky prospect with a movie that appears to have been partly improvised), and a nice eye for telling Southern California locations. It never matches the immediacy of its title, but then it really doesn’t want to.

Howl. “Ginsberg didn’t ask anybody’s permission to be liberated; he simply declared it.”

On KUOW’s “Weekday,” I talked with Marcie Sillman about scary movies for Halloween. That’s archived here; the movie bit kicks in at the 14-minute mark.

Weekend things: Sunday afternoon I introduce a free screening of Carl-Theodor Dreyer’s Vampyr at the Frye Art Museum; details here.

And the authors of Rotten will be hanging around the ZomBcon this weekend at the Seattle Center. George Romero and Bruce Campbell also on the scene.