This years seasonal offerings reviewed by Paul Byrne including THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE GHOST PROTOCOL & more

THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO (USA/Sweden/UK/Germany/18/158mins)
Directed by David Fincher. Starring Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Stellan Skarsgard, Christopher Plummer, Steven Berkoff, Robin Wright, Joely Richardson, Geraldine James, Donald Sumpter.
THE PLOT: Having just lost an expensive libel case against a corporate giant (Ulf Friberg), Millenium magazine’s top reporter, and co-owner, Mikael Blomkvist (Craig) is more than happy to get the hell out of Stockholm when elderly billionaire Henrik Vanger (Plummer) offers him a lucrative and highly intriguing live-in job – reinvestigate the disappearance of his teenage great-niece, Harriet, forty years ago. Moving into a house on the property, Blomkvist is surrounded by members of the Vanger family – and each is as suspicious as the other. And they’re all suspicious of outsiders. Especially anyone Jewish. But help is at hand in the shape of goth hacker Lisbeth (Rooney; think Neo’s Emo psycho sister)…
THE VERDICT: Always difficult, watching a remake of a great film that’s only just been through your local multiplex (Let Me In was never going to better Let The Right One In), but two years after Niels Arden Oplev’s fine film took on the first of Stieg Larsson’s acclaimed Millenium novels, David Fincher has somehow managed to produce a film every bit as powerful as the Swedish original. It helps, of course, to have a cracking story to tell, and a fine dry run, to work from, but Craig and Rooney are perfectly cast here too. Even if Rooney’s Moe haircut makes her look a little simple at times. The thrills are all present and correct though, and it’s surprising how effective they still are second time out. Now Fincher and co. are free to remake Larsson’s two sequels, happy in the knowledge that the Swedes failed to do them justice.

Directed by Brad Bird. Starring Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Paula Patton, Michael Nyqvist, Anil Kapoor, Lea Seydoux, Josh Hollowy, Tom Wilkinson.
THE PLOT: Starting off with an escape from a Moscow prison that’s part The Great Escape and part Oldboy, top IMF agent Ethan Hunt (Cruise) is quickly informed that he’s a wanted man, and therefore has to go fugitive in his mission to both clear his name and bring down, hey, a megalomaniac hellbent on starting a nuclear war, one Kurt Hendricks (Nyqvist). To help him in his renegade mission are two trusty IMF cohorts – tech expert Benji (Pegg) and ass-kickin’ Jane Carter (Patton) – plus, after an ambush, intelligence analyst William Brandt (Renner). But there are secrets to be revealed behind all the globe-trotting, death-defying stunts (such as hanging 2,723ft off the Burj Khalifa in Abu Dhabi, the world’s tallest building) that eventually lead the foursome to their man…
THE VERDICT: Cruise hits new heights here, and you can’t help but feel that he has to, not only to revitalize the Mission: Impossible franchise (2006’s M:I3 nabbed the series’ lowest box-office) but, more importantly, his own faltering career. With that Michael Jackson smell having sunk pretty much every Cruise movie since his raving heterosexual routine on Oprah, M:I4 is nothing less than a comeback fight. And Cruise has got some wonderful people in his corner, not least the great Brad Bird, making the leap here from animation (The Iron Giant, The Incredibles, Ratatouille) to live action. And Bird does a fine job, keeping the pedal to the metal throughout, whilst the supporting players (especially Renner and original Dragon Tattoo’s Nyqvist) all deliver. Which just leaves Cruise, all smouldering silence, ridiculous stunts and great teeth. It’s the Cruise that has made billions at the box-office, the kind of performance that has made the man Hollywood’s most successful leading man alive today. This is probably the slickest of the M:I outings so far, but there’s still a niggling sense throughout that this film is really, really trying to impress.
RATING: 4/5 

Directed by Guy Ritchie. Starring Robert Downey Jr., Jude Law, Jared Harris, Noomi Rapace, Rachel McAdams, Stephen Fry, Kelly Reilly.
THE PLOT: Watson (Law) is about to get married, but Baker Street’s finest Sherlock Holmes (Downey) has more pressing matters than his sidekick’s upcoming nuptials. Such as the diabolical Professor James Moriarty (Harris) and his latest evil plan – to start a world war whilst owning the bulk of the armory on the market. Hooking up with Sherlock’s wry, crisp and dry brother Mycroft (a well-cast Stephen Fry), Holmes comes in contact with gypsy girl Sim (Rapace), who appears to have a vital clue. Because someone has just tried to kill her. All poison darts point to one direction gay man…
THE VERDICT: A definite improvement on 2009’s $529m-grossing original, here Guy Ritchie turns everything up to 11. So, the arch, rapid-fire banter is that little bit more arch and rapid-fire (even if the humour is sometimes about as subtle as Family Guy). The action sequences are far more Wachowskian than Victorian. Even the new supporting players (Rapace cool as ever, Fry a delight) offer more bang for your buck. Still, the real bump in quality entertainment here is all down to Jared Harris’ Moriarty, Holmes’ notorious nemesis finally creating some true narrative grit. The sparks between Downey and Harris work wonders. Despite the great leap forward though, there’s still something stilted and not-quite-wonderful about this franchise so far.

Directed by Mike Mitchell. Starring Jason Lee, David Cross, Justin Long, Amy Poehler, Anna Faris, Jesse McCartney, Christina Applegate.
THE PLOT: Joining Dave (Lee) on a luxury cruise liner, Alvin (voiced by Long), Simon (Matthew Gray Gubler) and Theodore (McCartney), plus their three equally sassy female Chipette counterparts (voiced by the sassy Poehler, Faris and Applegate) find themselves on the wrong end of a kite – which is how our millilitre-sized heroes end up on a desert island. There, they’re eaten by Tom Hanks. One by one.
THE VERDICT: Pretty close to Couple Retreats for kids, as the six all-singing, all-pratfalling chipmunks find themselves on a tropical island, with only their wits, and their collection of much-loved r’n’b pop hits, to keep their spirits up. As much Jersey Shore as Walt Disney (Eleanor’s skirt is way, way too short), it’s taken just about everyone by surprise that this novelty 1950s cartoon creation should find an audience in the 21st century. But find an audience they have, some riding the kitsch value, others genuinely moved by the rockin’ rodents. You’ll know full well before sitting down whether you’re going to like this or not. RATING: 2/5