FOUR years ago Journey to the Centre of the Earth was among the first big budget action movies to exploit the new 3D technology and now we get a belated sequel with Journey 2: The Mysterious Island (Cert PG).
The Jules Verne novel on which it is loosely based describes an island where scale is reversed which gives plenty of scope to flaunt the special effects with pet elephants, giant bumblebees which our heroes can buzz around on and scary lizards the size of dinosaurs.
Josh Hutcherson returns as the young adventurer Sean Anderson, now a stroppy 17-year-old, who resents the presence in his life of a new stepfather Hank (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson) But when he picks up a coded distress signal which he believes is coming from his long-lost eccentric grandfather, it is Hank who helps him work out the location in the South Pacific and stumps up the cash for both of them to go on an expedition.
After chartering Luis Guzmán’s rickety helicopter, with his alluring daughter Kailani (Vanessa Hudgens) along as guide, they crash-land on the island that no one knew existed – apart from its sole occupant, Sean’s granddad (Michael Caine).
Journey 2 gives us knockabout comedy including a bizarre scene in which The Rock flexes his pecs to ping berries at all and sundry, there are brief moments of excitement, some spectacular fantasy landscapes and a chuckling white-bearded Michael Caine which is all good fun in a lazy, undemanding way.
A fugitive ex-cop checks into a New York hotel, orders a last supper, scrawls a note proclaiming “I will exit this world as I entered – innocent” and steps out on to the window ledge.
So, intriguingly, starts Man on a Ledge (Cert 12A).
As crowds gather in the street below and TV news crews hover, the police identify him as Nick Cassidy (Sam Worthington), one of their own until he was convicted of stealing a $40m diamond from a property tycoon (Ed Harris). Elizabeth Banks plays the negotiator tasked with talking him down.
Gradually it emerges that this is no suicide bid but a ruse by Cassidy to clear his name in the glare of publicity with the help of his younger brother (Jamie Bell) and his scantily-clad girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) performing Mission Impossible-style stunts in a bank vault down the street.
This is an implausible fast-paced action thriller with a plot that does not merit close inspection, relying on uncharacterstically obliging or incompetent cops and defying the laws of both logic and science.
In many ways Martha Marcy May Marlene (Cert 15) is a frustrating film in that so many questions remain unanswered but its ambiguity is its strength and what makes it stay with you afterwards.
Elizabeth Olsen (younger sibling of the former American child star twins Mary-Kate and Ashley) is Martha, a young woman who escapes from a rural cult (where she was renamed Marcy May) and is taken in by her older sister (Sarah Paulson) and her toffee-nosed English husband (Hugh Dancy) who, while sympathetic, are incapable of understanding the depth of her psychological problems.
She is clearly traumatised by her experience and slowly in flashback we begin to see why. The true horrors of what seemed a tranquil refuge for damaged souls and its charismatic leader (a creepily unsettling John Hawkes from Winter’s Bone) are gradually revealed.
Olsen has rightly earned praise for a performance which ranges from the wide-eyed innocence of her early days in the commune to terror and paranoia. At one point, Martha asks: “Do you ever have that feeling where you can’t tell if something is a memory or if it’s something you dreamed?” Director Sean Durkin leaves us wondering the same thing about what we are watching.
Yasmin Reza’s stage play, The God of Carnage. has been translated to the screen by Roman Polanski as Carnage (Cert 15).
After their 11-year-old son has been injured in a playground fight, well-to-do New Yorkers Jodie Foster and John C Reilly invite the parents of the boy who inflicted the damage, Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz, over to their swish apartment to discuss the matter.
What starts out as a polite and reasonable discussion turns into angry recriminations and by the end of the day each of the characters lays themselves bare.
There are four first-class performances but with the action confined to the apartment (bookended by brief long-range shots of the boys in the playground) it cannot avoid feeling like a film of a play rather than a piece of cinema.
Screenwriter Diablo Cody showed with the Oscar-winning Juno an ability to get inside the mind-set of a teenage girl and does it again with Young Adult (Cert 15), except it applies to a 37-year-old woman.
The essential joke of this dark comedy is that its protagonist has never grown up but definitely not in a happy-go-lucky sense.
Recently divorced Mavis Gary (Charlize Theron), a ghost writer of teen literature, returns to her small hometown in Minneapolis where she was once prom queen with the romantic aim of getting back together with her high school sweetheart Buddy (Patrick Wilson).
With a teenager’s self-obsession, she refuses to allow the fact that he is now a happily married dad to de-rail her devious plan of seduction. Her crass insensitivity to everything eventually turns from funny to tragic.
Observing her antics is another former classmate Matt (Patton Oswalt) who has also been unable to escape the scars of his schooldays and not grown up but has retained a sense of decency.
He and Theron give terrific performances but ultimately the film, also from Juno’s director, Jason Reitman, is perhaps a little too unremittingly sour.