THE GIRL WHO KICKED THE HORNETS' NEST * *
Cert 15, 147 mins
From the extraordinary promise of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in March to summer’s comparatively disappointing sequel The Girl Who Played With Fire, this is the most disappointing end to a trilogy since Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 (2007).
Noomi Rapace remains one of the more interesting leading ladies of recent years, but her Lisbeth Sandler character is now grounded when she should be flying.
When we first met her in Dragon Tattoo back in March, Lisbeth sparkled as a hacker helping journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) to solve the case of a woman missing for decades.
During that 153-minute film she also recorded herself being raped in a scene of such brutality it deserved an increasingly rare 18-certificate.
Her plight was compounded when we learned more about her relationship with her father in the 129-minute, 15-certificate sequel – The Girl Who Played With Fire.
As the trilogy ends, Sandler and Blomkvist spend very little time on screen together and the deluge of subtitles about which of the older male characters is after who and why becomes rather wearisome.
So where did it all go wrong?
Perhaps the fact that the first movie was directed by Neils Arden Opley and the second two weren’t is the simple answer.
Opley’s successor, Daniel Alfredson, has shrouded a place of excitement with a fog of confusion.
Based on the best-selling Millennium Trilogy of the late Stieg Larsson, Hornet’s fails on two key counts.
It didn’t satisfy a colleague, who gamely read the books in advance to how much would get chopped out (answer: lots!), nor me.
As a good rule of thumb, I would never advocate reading bestsellers that are about to become films.
If you think it will enhance your cinemagoing experience then Hornet’s Nest – or Luftslottet som Sprangdes to give it its original title – is a fine example of why such expectations are likely to go unrealised.
Stick with Al Pacino in Christopher Nolan’s version of Insomnia (2002) if you want to see an Anglicised Swedish thriller done well.
Or try the vampire story Let Me In which is still out in cinemas.
UNSTOPPABLE * * * *
12A, 98 mins
Ever since the masterful nuclear submarine thriller Crimson Tide had our hearts in our mouths 15 years ago, actor Denzel Washington and British director Tony Scott have been a formidable transatlantic team on the silver screen.
Unstoppable is their fifth collaboration and the result is another highly-watchable, enjoyably-preposterous, testosterone-laden thriller.
How much longer they can go on together delivering kinetic thrills like these is anyone’s guess.
Tony, the younger brother of South Shields’ sibling Ridley Scott (who used Denzel himself opposite Russell Crowe in American Gangster), is now 66.
Denzel himself will be 56 next month.
Time then, in the words of the TV commercials, to let “the train take the strain”.
Based on a true story about a US engine which was powering along under its own steam – and ultimately without serious consequences – this is the story of a train which is powering along under its own steam.
So far so straightforward. Keep pressing the knobs.
A train heading along a track without the ability to whizz around a few side-street detours while dodging red lights, pedestrian crossings and the usual assorted plethora of sidewalk market stalls which go flying into the air cannot be anything but predictable. Agreed.
Yet there is so much more to this film.
Rolling-stock news crews can cover every inch of the scene almost instantaneously.
The police can fire away merrily, without thought for the consequences of their own actions.
Amid the mayhem, you’ll enjoy the extraordinary, Black Country-style industrial landscape imagery.
And then there’s Denzel, a true master craftsman.
Now working out what’s left of his notice after being fired, his rescue driver character Frank is still loyal to the railway he knows inside and out – a topical poke in the eye for anyone fancying a UK winter of discontent.
Under his wing, the inexperienced Will is played by Chris Pine, the impressive Captain Kirk of last year’s exciting Star Trek reboot.
Is there something up Will’s sleeve which justifies Pine playing the subordinate character here, while Sin City star Rosario Dawson’s character Connie tries to mastermind operations from the control room?
Last time out together, Scott and Denzel paired up for a 2009 remake of the underground train thriller The Taking of Pelham 123 and this time around there’s an equal emphasis on the hardware. Delightfully so, in fact.
Even if you’re every trainspotters’ worst nightmare, you’ll find the heavy metal monsters in this movie are blood-pumping, jaw-dropping titans of the track.
What a pity we can’t take pioneering engineer James Watt down from his statue in Birmingham’s Chamberlain Square to come and watch this with us.
He just wouldn’t believe his eyes.
THE AMERICAN * * * *
15, 105 mins
Forget the weather forecast, here’s a severe star warning instead.
George Clooney’s latest film isn’t really worth the four stars I’ve given it, but he’s the X factor who will convince people to hand over their cash.
When he opened Star City 10 years ago last July, even Birmingham’s Lord Mayor Teresa Stewart couldn’t stop herself from touching George’s lapels.
Heaven knows what she’d make of his surprisingly-adventurous sex scene here as he bears down on top of a hooker it would appear he can’t believe he’s fallen for...
In the film’s shadowlands, there are news stories about prostitutes being murdered.
Up front, George is watching his back while making weapons to order on behalf of a shadowy figure.
Based on a novel by the late Lancastrian Martin Booth, the central plot is all rather confusing and doesn’t add up to much. Unlike the magnificent Italian scenery, which is almost like Scotland meets the Lake District for sheer beauty.
But so what? George just keeps purring along.
As the mysterious Jack, he’s directed with great restraint by Dutch filmmaker Anton Corbijn, whose main diversion away from making music videos for the likes of Depeche Mode, Metallica and U2, has been the Ian Curtis (Joy Division) movie, Control.
The greatest singular joy of The American is the fact that it’s less complicated than Clooney’s 2007 thriller Michael Clayton and we’re never sure if George is going to explode into life.
Imagine Sean Connery making do without all of the 007 paraphernalia – Miss Moneypenny, Q etc – and we might have had a James Bond something like this – From America With Style.