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film_girl1Larsson's 'Girl Who Played With Fire' makes an incendiary thriller
There's good news for fans of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. The two protagonists in that film (played by the same terrific actors) return in the sequel, The Girl Who Played With Fire, the second Swedish film adapted from the international bestselling crime suspense trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson. But those expecting the kind of conventional buddy-buddy sleuthing arrangement found in most mystery franchises will be surprised. While both characters are drawn into the same investigation this time, they never dare to team up—the stakes are too high.

It's just another original touch that makes Larsson's books (and the film and TV versions they spawn) so compelling. The Girl Who Played With Fire was made by a different director than the first film, Daniel Alfredson, who crafts a fleet, taut thriller from a smart script by incoming screenwriter Jonas Frykberg. Larsson's three novels tell one large, intricate story, and Fire is very much the second act, a bridge between major plot threads established in the first installment and foreshadowed elements to be resolved in the last. (It even dares to conclude with a cliffhanger ending.) But the combination of dark, disturbing themes (sex, violence, abuse), kinetic action, and the deepening of the characters and their relationship keeps it as riveting as its predecessor.

Noomi Rapace, an actress of astonishing intensity, is back again as tattooed loner Lisbeth Salander—former abused child, ex-con, genius computer hacker, and implacable avenger against men in high places who victimize women. (It's always useful to remember that Larsson's original title for the first book was "Men Who Hate Women.") Last seen heading for the tropics with dirty money siphoned out of a corporate bank account, Lisbeth is back in Stockholm a year later to take care of some business with the slimeball lawyer who assaulted her in the first film.

Meanwhile, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (played with shrewd, rumpled affability by Michael Nyqvist)—one of the few males on earth Lisbeth trusts, and, briefly, her lover—is back at Millennium magazine, the prestigious muckraking journal dedicated to exposing corruption in Swedish society. But their plans to publish an exposé of a sex-trafficking ring with connections to Sweden's power elite are interrupted by three grisly murders. The next thing Mikael knows, Lisbeth's face is plastered all over the tabloids as the prime suspect.

Despite mounting circumstantial evidence, Mikael is unwavering in his certainty that Lisbeth is innocent. Although they have had no contact in a year, he launches an investigation of his own, hoping to find Lisbeth before the police do, to expose the real killer. Meanwhile, Lisbeth, an expert at living off the grid (the apartment she rents under a false name is rigged to alert her cell phone with live digital feed if anyone else tries to get in), is also searching for the murderer—a trail that leads her to an inevitable showdown with her oldest enemy.

The mystery plot is a bit more straightforward here than in Dragon Tattoo, while Lisbeth's backstory becomes more complex with each new revelation about her past. (In one of Alfredson's most effective dual montages, a witness tells Mikael a story from Lisbeth's past while we see her, miles away, revisiting the same information in an old dossier.) It's entertaining to compare Mikael's and Lisbeth's different investigating techniques—he wields the power of the press with sly audacity, she's an efficient terrorist (although not an assassin). But the sinister subtext that connects both installments is how deeply-ingrained anti-female prejudice is in all strata of society —from the wealthy and powerful sex trade clients who think nothing of using a woman chained to a bed, to trash-talking young beat cops on stakeout outside Lisbeth's flat.

film_girl1Not everything makes complete sense. (There's scant motivation for a spectacular fire in the woods at night, except that it looks cool.) But overall, Alfredson's dread-inducing thriller powers to a bang-up finale, while leaving plenty of loose ends for the last installment (due this fall): villains still at large, the identity of one pivotal character, and the fate of others. Stay tuned.

THE GIRL WHO PLAYED WITH FIRE ★★★1/2 Watch film trailer >>>

With Noomi Rapace and Michael Nvqvist. Written by  Jonas Frykberg, from the novel by Stieg Larsson. Directed by Daniel Alfredson. A Music Box release. Rated R. 129 minutes. In Swedish with English subtitles.

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The Thought Form of Solution

It’s our last week of Leo before the sun enters Virgo (next Friday/Saturday). The planets this week make complex patterns and relationships (vibrational cadences and rhythms) with the outer planets, mainly Neptune—the planet that veils, obscures, protects and finally refines us. Neptune offers us entrance into a deeply spiritual sense of comfort and solace. Neptune is the personality ruler of Pisces (saviors of the world) and soul ruler of Cancer (world mother). “The fish goddesses who leapt from earth (Virgo) to water (Pisces) unitedly give birth to the Fish God (Christ, the Soul) who introduces the waters of life  (Neptune & Aquarius) into the ocean of substance (matter, mother bringing light to the world. Thus does Neptune work.” (Esoteric Astrology).

 

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Best of Santa Cruz County

The 2013 Santa Cruz County Readers' Poll and Critics’ Picks It’s our biggest issue of the year, and in it, your votes—more than 6,500 of them—determined the winners of The Best of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll. New to the long list of local restaurants, shops and other notables that captured your interest: Best Beer Selection, Best Locally Owned Business, Best Customer Service and Best Marijuana Dispensary. In the meantime, many readers were ever so chatty online about potential new categories. Some of the suggestions that stood out: Best Teen Program and Best Web Design/Designer. But what about: Dog Park, Church, Hotel, Local Farm, Therapist (I second that!) or Sports Bar—not to be confused with Bra. Our favorite suggestion: Best Act of Kindness—one reader noted Café Gratitude and the free meals it offered to the Santa Cruz Police Department in the aftermath of recent crimes. Perhaps some of these can be woven into next year’s ballot, so stay tuned. In the meantime, enjoy the following pages and take note of our Critics’ Picks, too, beginning on page 91. A big thanks for voting—and for reading—and an even bigger congratulations to all of the winners. Enjoy.  -Greg Archer, EditorBest of Santa Cruz County Readers’ Poll INDEX

 

Have Mercy!

Looking for a frisky summer wine at a reasonable price? Look no further than Mercy Vineyards’ 2013 Sauvignon Blanc ($20). Richly textured “with an exotic flavor profile,” the wine reveals aromas of honeydew melon and honeysuckle, with anise appearing as a star attraction. Smidgeons of pineapple and honeycomb add a touch of sexiness to this well-balanced, easy-drinking wine, which pairs well with a variety of cuisine —especially ceviche, calamari and other not-too-heavy foods.