Girl Power with Sting, Morning Glory is a breezy charmer, Skyline misses the mark

by Mark Burger

Opening Friday, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is the third and final installment of the original, Swedish-language adaptation of the late Stieg Larsson’s international bestsellers, tying up the story and character threads of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire.

For those who have followed the complex, treacherous journey undertaken by magazine journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) and the title character, the forceful and fierce computer hacker Lisbeth Salander (Roomi Napace), this is the film that ties all the loose ends together, and does so in satisfying fashion. Fans of the series will not be disappointed.

Although the first two films stood easily on their own individual stories (to say nothing of their individual and collective merit), this one picks up immediately where the last one left off, and is clearly designed to bring closure to the overall narrative, a complex web of international intrigue and espionage that could well have devastating consequences for the government. (That’s the “hornet’s nest” of the title.)

Thus far, Blomkvist and Lisbeth have been able to stay one step ahead of the game — and therefore stay alive — but that’s no guarantee of continued survival, which lends the film its considerable measure of suspense.

The villains that Blomkvist and Lisbeth are pitted against are powerful and nefarious, and they don’t play fair. But as we’ve already seen, Lisbeth is herself capable of playing down and dirty. No matter her opponent, she’s a formidable force — tough, smart, resourceful and even able to bounce back after being shot in the head(!).

All told, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest is an exciting capper to what has been an exceptionally good film series. The American version of the franchise, directed by David Fincher and starring Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara as Blomkvist and Lisbeth, is currently in production. As noted before, it will have its work cut out for it. The Swedish trilogy has set a very high standard.

(In Swedish with English subtitles)

With an all-star cast and a sunny disposition, Morning Glory is a bright, funny excursion that, at its best, recalls “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and the 1987 film Broadcast News (both created, incidentally, by James L. Brooks). It has a charm and effervescence that doesn’t sacrifice its intelligence for cheap laughs.

Even at its worst, Morning Glory is more than adequate entertainment. The film’s latter stages are problematic, as the story spins its wheels (and the momentum sputters) in its search for an ending that makes everyone happy. Still, this is such a likable endeavor that it’s hard not to accentuate the positive over the negative.

Rachel McAdams tops the bill as Becky, the zealously ambitious new producer of a once-popular morning show that has bottomed out in the ratings and is currently on life support. With little to lose, Becky is determined to turn the show around from the bottom up — and that starts with landing anchorman Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), once the network’s shining star and now at the end of his career tether, to cohost the show with daytime diva Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton).

Mike doesn’t want the job.

Colleen doesn’t want Mike there at all, and the resulting sparks do indeed have the desired effect of increasing the show’s ratings. But is that enough to keep the show on the air? (The suspense is hardly a killer.)

Ford, enjoying a rare foray into comedy, brings a refreshingly flinty gruffness to the role of the newshound-gone-bad, and Keaton is every bit his onscreen match — although it would have been nice to have a little more of her. There’s also nice work from Jeff Goldblum as the cynical (but not unlikable) network executive who’s ready to pull the plug, Patrick Wilson in the utterly thankless role of McAdams’ love interest, Patti D’Arbanville as her mom, and John Pankow, quietly making his mark as the wise director who’s seen it all and done it all — but keeps coming back for more.

Skyline is the latest film from the Brothers Strouse (Colin and Greg), the special-effects wizards who made their feature directorial debut with Alien vs. Predator: Requiem (2007), easily the worst of that franchise, or franchises if you will. This film isn’t much better.

Skyline, a jumbled amalgam of earlier, successful science-fiction films (including Independence Day, Cloverfield and the best of the three, District 9), sees an average day in sunny Los Angeles rudely interrupted when giant spaceships descend upon the city and start blasting away. Evidently, it’s taking place simultaneously around the world. No one is sure where the aliens come from or what they want, but clearly they do not come in peace.

Eric Balfour, Donald Faison, Scottie Thompson, David Zayas, Robin Gammell and beauteous Brittany Daniel are among those imperiled by the invasion, forced to hole up in their high-rise apartment building while destruction and madness reign outside. (Incredibly, for all the damage done by the alien warships, the building’s electricity remains in working order for much of the film.)

The special effects and cinematography in Skyline are not unimpressive, but the dialogue, acting and plotting are uninspired. The characters’ personal travails — and their predictable bickering — are boring. One can hardly wait for the spaceships to show up and the mayhem to begin.

One by one, the human contingent is reduced, either obliterated outright or turned into mindless, glassy-eyed zombies beholden to the aliens’ bidding. Older fans may remember the 1964 black-and-white sci-fi thriller The Earth Dies Screaming, which isn’t a particularly good film but whose story bears some resemblance to this one.

The end of Skyline is a direct set-up for the next installment — a proposition more frightening than anything else depicted here — and, indeed, sequels are already in the planning stages.

Note to filmmakers: If you’re going to make a franchise, make the first film good — otherwise, as in the case of Skyline, no one will care if there’s a follow-up. This critic, for one, is rooting for the aliens to finish the job as quickly as possible.

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