'Unstoppable' is a fast-moving thrill

"Unstoppable" is a rocket. Actually it's a train the size of the Chrysler Building, an orange-and-black locomotive pulling a long string of cars carrying some very toxic materials.

Through a series of seemingly benign decisions, the train gets away from its engineer and conductor and is now rolling through rural Pennsylvania at speeds exceeding 70 mph, flashing past small towns, the local police scrambling to close off countless crossings. It's a beast, a primordial monster, and its cab is eerily empty as it races along. The problem posed is that at this speed it will soon reach a long elevated 15 mph S curve in Stanton, Pa., a good-sized city where the behemoth will certainly derail. The resulting wreck will be an environmental catastrophe of staggering proportions, rendering Stanton and surrounding environs a moonscape.

So, that's the adrenaline-laden premise, based, we're told, on a real event. Add to this mix director Tony Scott, who made last year's "Taking of Pelham 123." Scott is a consummate filmmaker who can create harrowing action sequences with smash cuts that convey rushing intensity and uses wide-angle, panning shots from helicopters to convey heart-stopping, out-of-control speed. No 3-D is required to pump up the volume. You're there, in the film, feeling, watching the game clock tick away as Stanton draws ever closer.

Of course, you could think of "Unstoppable" as the ultimate roadie movie. Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, as the engineer and conductor, are incrementally pulled into the crisis sharing the cab of a lumbering locomotive pulling 25 cars that is being moved to another yard. They talk, share some backstory (very brief) and then abruptly are in the thick of it.

"Unstoppable" is spare and menacing, raw and edgy. The story is almost entirely externalized — no one has time to reflect or sort much out. This is all about reacting, which is exactly what is required of a movie that's the quintessential action film.

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

If during the summer of 2010 you happened to discover the gripping Millennium trilogy — "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," "The Girl Who Played With Fire," and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest" — it's likely that you waited impatiently for the arrival of the first of the three films, if only to see how the central character, Lisbeth Salander, was cast.

Salander is one of the most compelling and improbable protagonists to appear in fiction and film of late. Emotionally inaccessible, pierced and tattooed, darkly goth, a child of late-night raves, crows on a long fence, she is scary smart, a waif of a young woman with the palest of skin and raven wing hair, and a chilling backstory filled with inexplicable pain and violation. She is, in a word, sensational. When Noomi Rapace debuted as Salander, in "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," well, it seemed a perfect fit. Rapace can communicate effortlessly with her deeply dark eyes, betraying her emotions with the barest hint of a smile before closing the curtain.

All three films are set in Sweden, and while the first can stand alone, a self-contained murder mystery, the following two are of a piece. But to truly comprehend the second and third movies, it is essential to begin at the beginning (true for the books as well) and follow what is a convoluted plot involving countless characters, delicious intrigue, harrowing violence, all with the ever-resilient and resourceful and courageous Salander at the center.

She's also a gifted hacker, connected to a web of hackers with names such as Plague, uses the Internet like an electronic roadmap, moving in and out of people's computers with ease but never with permission as she plumbs the corners of their lives. She also struggles to free herself from institutional evil that is relentless and insidious. It's a pitched battle that threatens to overwhelm her at every turn.

When the last page of the trilogy is turned, when the last scene of the film fades to credits, the wish is that there might be a fourth book out there, as rumored. Kept, we're told, in author Steig Larsson's laptop, now in the care of the woman he lived with (regrettably, Larsson died of a heart attack before the first book was published).

Meanwhile, take heart. Director David Fincher is in production to make the American version of the trilogy. Fincher, an Ashland High School graduate, is a top-tier filmmaker ("Seven," "Fight Club," "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," "The Social Network") and might surpass the recent Swedish films. It's release date is fall of 2011. We'll see. As for Lisbeth, well, it's not over until it's over.

Morning Glory

"Morning Glory" is sweet and funny while relying on the very recognizable template of a young working girl climbing up the corporate ladder.

In this case, it's Becky Fuller (Rachel McAdams), morning television producer who is filled with energy, a dimpled smile, lots of roll-up-your-sleeves grit and an impossible new job at IBC's morning show (think "Today") that is currently in the cellar when it comes to ratings.

She convinces her skeptical boss, Jerry Barns (Jeff Goldblum), that she can pull the show out of the doldrums and nail the ratings race. All she needs is a solid anchor to join Colleen Peck (Diane Keaton), who has been doing morning "chat 'em up" stories with aplomb and good grace.

Becky discovers that an old warhorse reporter, Mike Pomeroy (Harrison Ford), is hanging around collecting a huge paycheck but doing little else. She just needs to convince him to get on board. Ah, there's the rub.

Pomeroy is angry and petulant for most of the film, saying with regularity, "No, I don't do that." He actually refuses to say the word, "fluffy" on air, driving Becky to terminal distraction.

So, while Becky is all positive energy, a cheerleader for the show, Pomeroy is cantankerous, insisting that a news guy of his international credentials, a journalist who has been in the trenches, definitely doesn't do cooking. Apron? Right — he doesn't do that.

The tension between Becky and Mike, as well the inherent tension between hard news and news as entertainment, could have resulted in some great moments. There is a terrific movie inside this happy meal that is trying to get out. They could have had some wonderful arguments about what has happened to news over the last two decades and how it has devolved into stories that are nonsensical, interviews that are the definition of prurient and banal, absent any real investigative edge. Lead with blood, and if blood isn't available, go with the victims' families lost in a canyon of grief. "Can you tell us how you felt when you heard of your daughter's fatal car crash?"

Banal is what Becky is after, however, if it will elevate the ratings and save her job and the show. There is no discussion of creating a robust hybrid with Pomeroy taking the lead. It's all about kissing a frog (which is exactly what Colleen does, twice) if that's what it takes to get people watching.

So "Morning Glory" skirts some contemporaneous issues and settles for a predictable romantic comedy instead: working girl makes it in the Big Apple and finds love along the way in the person of Adam Bennett (Patrick Wilson). The movie is light-hearted and entertaining. It could have done some heavy lifting as well. The filmmakers chose not to.

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