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Second 'Girl Who ...' is a must-see for fans

The summer of 2010 will always be, in part, defined by the arrival of what is known as the Millennium Trilogy — "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played With Fire," and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest" — three novels, written by Stieg Larsson, that have caused a small tsunami in the publishing world.

Thus far, two films, shot in Sweden, have been released, with the third due in the fall.

The first book (and film) is a stand-alone murder mystery that initially focuses on Mikael Blomkvist, a muckraking journalist living in Stockholm, who is hired by a patrician industrialist in northern Sweden to investigate the disappearance of his young niece more than 20 years ago. Though her body was never found, it's believed she was murdered.

It's in book one Lisabeth Salander appears, initially as a secondary character. She's a superb researcher and investigator, a computer hacker, possessing a photographic memory, and is hired by Blomkvist as an assistant.

Salander, played to perfection by Noomi Rapace, seems, at first blush, an unlikely choice: she's skinny — five feet zip, 90 pounds — New Age gothic, seemingly feral, her back covered with a dragon tattoo, nose pierced and fearless.

Salander's childhood was a nightmare. Committed to a psychiatric hospital at the age of 12 for trying to kill her pathologically abusive father — she throws gasoline on him, followed by a lighted match — where she was raped and tormented by the very people who were charged with her care.

She is instantly enigmatic and hugely appealing and gradually, as the book evolves, emerges as the central character, proving to be one of the strongest female characters to emerge in literature in a decade or more.

While "Dragon Tattoo" is a whodunit procedural, the recently released film, "The Girl Who Played With Fire," though it involves the same central characters — Salander and Blomkvist — is really the beginning of a two book and two film series, ending with "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest." The stories merge, hence "Played With Fire" is prologue to what will be the climactic and perhaps best film in the trilogy.

Of course, for fans of the Millennium Trilogy, which has proven to be a cultural phenom, this second film is a must-see. It possesses a building intensity, taut and often violent, while Rapace continues to create an unforgettable character.

One final comment about these books being adapted to the screen: for those who have read the trilogy, it becomes quickly evident that narratives as complex and multi-layered as Larsson's pose a challenge. Movies are only two hours. It is impossible to explore the countless cul-de-sacs, the many characters, their backstories and all of the elements that make the books so satisfying telescoped into a screen adaptation. Hence the films may feel spare and a bit truncated. That's not to say that they're not compelling. They're a wonderful adjunct to the books. Rapace is Salander. Blomkvist is perfect.

Of course, Hollywood will also adapt the trilogy. Daniel Craig, of James Bond fame, has been, reportedly, cast as Blomkvist. The role of Salander is going to Rooney Mara.

The Expendables

OK, hang on. Here's the scene: it's the end of act III, Sylvester and the Family Stallone, ex-Special Forces, have just rescued a lovely, buxom señorita from the small island of Vilena, somewhere in the Caribbean. Said damsel is, maybe, 24, the daughter of a rogue general who sold out for drugs and power. Her chest is heaving, her face is filled with regret. Why?

Sly is leaving, getting ready to board a stripped-down Sikorsky S-40, also known as the Pan Am Clipper, his job done, a small banana republic army hammered, his six-guy crew all intact.

The señorita looks at him teary-eyed, her long, dark hair falling across her shoulders. She asks, "Will you be back?" Sly works up a smile, that signature, Rocky smile, pushes her thick hair back from her damp forehead and says, "I'll always be around." At 64, well, maybe not so much. But then a guy can hope. And if he's having an existential crisis, hey, write and direct a fantasy movie about being immortal, inviolable, unsinkable and unstoppable. But please, no dialogue, other than, "Dude, is that an AA-12 auto-assault 12-gauge shotgun in your pocket, or are you just happy to still have your short-term memory?" Please, Sly, no talking. Mickey Rourke, as it turns out, does have the most to say in the movie, delivering a weepy soliloquy with a long, static tight shot of his greasy hair and ravaged face while he recalls a moment of trembling regret when, geez, he shoulda stopped that lonely, spectacular girl from jumping off that bridge instead of being in such a darned hurry to get home to watch "Wheel of Fortune."

Look, Sly, enough with the male bonding while you carpet bomb an island or stick people with knives. There has to be another way to feel all jacked up and gangsta-motorcycle-club tight with your best buds. Those halcyon, CGI, green screen days are over. Dig? And don't tell me this is satire. I don't want to hear it.

Go to the park and play some checkers or shuffleboard. Try not to hit anyone. Stop wearing designer Kevlar. Please don't blow up the senior center. Eat lots of fiber. Take pleasure in the small things: the early bird special at The Molting Parrot Restaurant, a shot of Metamucil with a splash of rum.

And try and internalize — it's time to make peace with this, Sly, no kidding — that all movie stars who started in the early 70s are, eventually, expendable. Swear. Or become governor of a really big state.