Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – Film review

When Tom Cruise adapted the thriller One Shot in 2012 as the film Jack Reacher, not everybody had heard of Lee Child’s lone gun for hire. 
Four years on and it’s a different story. Reacher is now an established hero, and as fans of the first film will know, he’s not a man to take any prisoners. Tom might not be the perfect Reacher, coming in the way under the novel character’s height, but he has an intensity that makes the films work.

Re-teaming with The Last Samurai director Ed Zwick, Cruise once more wisely teams up with a young, attractive heroine, in this case Cobie Smulders. Obviously as Cruise is now in his 50s, he cleverly lets younger, intelligent actresses do a lot of the hard work and physical stunts. It’s what helped make the last Mission Impossible film one of the most enjoyable so far, and Smulders does a terrific job here.

When her character is arrested, Reacher smells a rat, breaks her out of military prison, and they go on the run. Thrown into the mix is Danika Yarosh as a blonde teenage girl who Jack may or may not have family connections with.

After a terrific opening in which it looks like Reacher is going to be arrested in a diner having taken down several men in a fist fight, he sets out his stall for newcomers by bringing corrupt policeman to justice.

Once he and Smulders go on the run, the scene is set for much of the rest of the film. A little exposition, a lot of running, a fight, more exposition, and then a lot more running.

Child’s coffee-guzzling hero is a throwback to the 1970s, when men were men and fist fights were the norm without a lot of character development. Having explored that aspect of Reacher’s character in the 2012 original, here we get a proto-family as our hero gets a girlfriend of sorts and the adoptive daughter character spend a lot of time pinching money, busting heads, and trying to find enough essential information to get them to the next scene.

Lee Child and I. Harrogate, 2015

Aside from Cruise and Smulders, Zwick wisely casts a bunch of relative unknowns. All great vehicles go from a to b with maximum effiency with a minimum of baggage, and this movie is no exception.

Will it change your life? Definitely not, but if you’re in the mood to get away from your troubles for a couple of hours, then it does the job perfectly.


Inferno – Film Review

Most third films in any series usually suffer from too many trips to the well, but considering the calibre of The Davinci Code and Angels and Demons, Ron Howard’s previous chapters in the Dan Brown saga, Inferno could only get better, couldn’t it? Well, the good news is yes, it is better than those two films. Though that’s not saying much.

Once more the drama centres on Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), the boffin who is an expert on all things historic, and seems to have an uncanny ability of attracting svelte brunette European ladies. 

This time, it’s medic Felicity Jones that helps him from the outset. 

When Inferno opens, Langdon is suffering from a head wound and has awakened in an Italian hospital. He is experiencing apocalyptic visions, while the editor seems to be suffering a serious case of attention deficit disorder.

So what is the connection between the bearded bloke (Ben Foster) who recently topped himself and Langdon’s bizarre visions? Why does a fake Italian police woman keep trying to kill him? Oh, and why does the ubiquitous Sidse Babett Knudsen (from The Duke of Burgundy and Westworld the TV series) keep chasing after everybody?

Obviously all becomes clear in the couple of hours that follows. 

This is a essentially Mission Impossible II with A-levels, only twice as annoying in places.

Composer Hans Zimmer ensures there’s rarely a dull moment on the soundtrack, signposting every dramatic element like his life depended on it.

Of course Hanks is as watchable as ever, and Jones gives a good performance as his knowledgeable sidekick. Solid support comes from the cast of international actors and the whole thing ticks over with such speed we rarely get a chance to stop and think how ridiculous it all is. 

But when a twist comes towards the latter third of the movie, we are dealt a plot development that makes you go “Hang on a minute, this is stupid”.

And yes, the whole thing is ridiculous. But as a cinematic version of a page turner goes, it’s not a bad way to spend a couple of hours, even if you emerge from the cinema not remembering much or caring about what went before.

The Comedian’s Guide to Survival

Mark Murphy’s new movie bravely tackles the art of funny, taking its hero on a comedic odyssey across America.
By the finale I was desperate for more. And that cast is a Who’s Who of international comedy talent.


Movies about comedy can be a minefield. Analysing the art of what makes people laugh is like driving a tourist bus down a cul de sac. It may be lined with fascinating, colourful characters, but the destination is ultimately a dead end and your passengers hoping to reach a final destination beyond that immediate horizon will be disappointed.
I respect drivers of said cinematic bus. Especially when they attract some of the best international comedic talent around.

It’s proof that even when you have the best ingredients for a project given a modest budget, if that magic yeast-like reaction that makes baked goods rise isn’t present, you wind up with an odd dish.

Excuse one more baking analogy, but writer/director Mark Murphy is a film maker on the rise.

His previous film Awaiting reworked classic horror themes to fine effect, utilising a small budget and a good cast generate an effective shocker.

Once he laid out his stall, Murphy pulled off a glorious third act which gripped me.

The same magic occurs in TCGTS, but the problem is journalist James Mullinger, played by The Inbetweeners’ James Buckley. He’s already doing a dream job working for a GQ-style men’s mag, but seems bored by the experience. His real passion is stand-up comedy, but getting his big break in the business is far from easy, especially as he’s trying to land an interview with a big comedy star.

Paul Kaye is on good form as his foul mouthed boss. Those piercing eyes and zero tolerance attitude to failure summing up what both makes a good and bad editor in one frame of film. However a running gag about breaking the fourth wall falls flat because it’s been done before. Yes, everything has been done before, but with tighter editing, and as more of a throwaway, it could have worked.

And a gag about the protagonist partner’s delayed reaction is equally mis-judged. A thrilled, jaw drop works for a few seconds on film, not the depicted hours we are led to believe.

The presence of the ever reliable Mark Heap as a hillbilly trucker adds wry smiles, but that stereotype would have been better had he been anything but the generic psycho. A well read hillbilly trucker, or someone with a fondness for art would have been welcome. The mix of high and lowbrow always works. That’s one rule of comedy that never changes, as French and Saunders’ operatic version of I Should Be So Lucky once proved.

The MVP is Myanna Buring as the movie’s most interesting, alluring character. A glacially cool cog in the film’s workings, she lifts the project with every appearance. Just a shame she didn’t have a bigger role.

As most Britcoms these days seem to fall into two camps: reworking the Richard Curtis romcom formula or The Inbetweeners’ gross out success, it’s intriguing to see a film that sticks a toe in the latter’s waters, but tries to walk its own path.

Is it successful? Not really, but had Mullinger seemed less bored and more hungry, and worked in a dead end newspaper job in the first act, then a style mag, we would have had more of a character arc so the audience could root for him.

(Thankfully the version I saw last Christmas is now much tighter and Mullinger comes across as a lot more appealing).

It’s still an intriguing curio, and by the finale I was desperate for more as Mullinger had grown on me.

Alas, just as that magic happened, it ended.

Getting any movie made is remarkable, especially in the UK, but I know Murphy has great work in him. This might not be one of them, but give me this over cookie cutter blockbusters with shape-shifting automatons any day of the week.

Let’s hope pending chiller End of Term (above) which he’s currently working on, is more on the money.

The Girl on the Train Movie Review

Films adapted from books are always going to be disappointing. They go too fast, too slow, the lead actor isn’t who you’d wanted and the finale is a let down or there’s a tagged on bit. Of course words on paper are cheap and film is expensive so compromises are inevitable. 

The Girl on the Train, adapted from Paula Hawkins’ best seller is transplanted from Blighty to the US fairly effectively, though in doing so it now feels more cinematic but less credible. There’s less claustrophobia inherent in British suburbia. The mechanics are the same Rear Window on a commuter train with Emily Blunt’s alcoholic voyeur Rachel obsessing over the seemingly perfect couple, a possible affair and disappearance. 

The second act drags like a wet weekend and though faithful to the book, the finale feels like a let down. 

Blunt is as mesmerising as ever as the troubled protagonist. Light years from the book’s dowdy lush Rachel, but she has the power to sustain the attention though out. Rebecca Ferguson is equally watchable, while Luke Evans is okay as the missing woman’s other half. 

Due to the nature of the story, most of the characters come across as broken, brutal or unlikeable, but it’s a good watch for the most part even if the finale is reminiscent of James Dearden’s 1991 remake of A Kiss Before Dying. 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Review

It takes a while to settle into Tim Burton’s latest, a sprawling fantasy adventure lurching from Florida to a remote Welsh island, and then jumping from 2016 to 1943. Oh and there’s also about 20 characters to get your head around. 

Lemony Snicket’s X-Men First Class is perhaps the best way to describe the concept and tone as Asa Butterfield comes to terms with his Polish grandfather’s eyeless demise at the hands of a shadowy figure. His folks, including Chris O’Dowd with a pretty good US accent, thinks the lad has lost his marbles, while his psychiatrist Dr Goldman (Allison Janney) thinks a trip to the home his late grandfather spoke of (in a clumsy scene of exposition) will do him good. 

So the young hero and his birdwatching dad head to said island, where we discover the home is locked in a time loop. To reveal more would be spoilerific but thanks to some snappy editing from master cutter Chris Lebenzon, the whole thing knits together beautifully. 

This is one of Burton’s best films in years with some gloriously twisted monsters and scenes. It also feels like a greatest hits of the director’s best flourishes, from topiary dinosaurs, to the villain’s Judge Doom-style look. Yes, different director but you get the idea. 

Sam Jackson is a wonderful bad guy while Eva Green shines as the eponymous pipe-smoker. 

Weird to see Wales and Blackpool feature in a Hollywood fantasy, but a real treat for the whole family though I imagine adults will have more nightmares than their kids. 

Westworld – TV review

When you have the dream team of Jonathan Nolan, JJ Abrams and HBO, there’s a good chance the resulting TV series should be pretty special. And for the most part the Westworld pilot was. 

Westworld – 2016 style 
Inspired by the cult Michael Crichton movie from the early 1970s, once more we found ourselves in a theme park where nothing could go wrong, the concept Crichton reworked for Jurassic Park. 

Westworld – 1970s style 

It being HBO there was lashings of nudity and violence, while the presence of heavyweights Ed Harris and Anthony Hopkins lent it some much needed gravitas. 

However, get past all of that and a terrific bank robbery set to the strains of Paint it Black, and there wasn’t much we hadn’t seen before. Part Deadwood, part Groundhog Day, its robot protagonists and possibly human antagonists did a fair job of engaging the viewer, though hopefully things will pick up as the saga unfolds.