Film preview – The Revenger: An Unromantic Comedy 

Film preview

The Revenger: An Unromantic Comedy

Starring Robert Kazinsky, Samantha Barks, Tony Way

Directed by Mark Murphy

Comedies are like soufflés. You might have the best butter, sugar and eggs, but there’s something in the cooking that leads to the confection either being light and fluffy or collapsed like a deflated balloon. Not enough sugar or sweetness and it obviously ends up bitter. Too much and it becomes hard to swallow. Too many eggs and half can end up on the cast’s face.

Thankfully writer/director Mark Murphy, who made Howden and Bubwith-shot chiller Awaiting, has scored a bull’s eye with his new movie The Revenger: An Unromantic Comedy.

It’s another feather in the cap of local film outfit Goldfinch Entertainment (formerly GSP Studios), Yorkshire-based film producer Alan Latham and Eric Woollard-White.

The Revenger is due for release later in 2018, but I was given a sneak peek at the tale of one man, his scheming bride-to-be and the characters who orbit around them.

Now I won’t give too much away, but the skill of the movie is pushing certain characters to breaking point, and just when you start to lose sympathy with a key protagonist, the plot changes course.

“If it bends it’s funny, if it breaks it’s not,” is a good comedic rule of thumb that always stands up, and The Revenger bends just enough to ensure the comedic snapback is perfect. (No, that’s not a funny baseball cap).

It helps that the casting is wonderful. Robert Kazinsky (Pacific Rim/Warcraft) is spot on as Mark, the lovelorn hero, while Tony Way (Edge of Tomorrow) is excellent as his best mate, Tim. Some actors have funny bones, and Way is one of them. His face has the comedic appeal of a clown car’s airbag. He’s in danger of stealing the show if it weren’t for Samantha Barks’s Connie, the axle on which part of the vehicle rests. Her mix of sex appeal and comic timing is irresistible, especially during a scene reminiscent of Carry On Camping. But despite her character being capable of horrible things, one tear-streaked scene in a car can also break your heart. If there was any doubt after Les Miserables that a major talent had arrived, this should prove the naysayers wrong.

The film also has a dash of Wedding Crashers, and while some will be reminded of Four Weddings and a Funeral, not least because of the presence of Anna ’Duckface’ Chancellor at her outrageous best, it also feels like a comedy from centuries ago. Amorous in-laws and a sidekick will leave many howling while others watch through latticed fingers.

Solid support comes from Ivan Kaye (Vikings), Rachel Hurd-Wood (Peter Pan) and Edward Speleers (Downton Abbey).

In short, The Revenger is a witty, snappy, stylish comedy which deserves to do well here and overseas.

There are now two major British weddings to watch in 2018, and as we wait for the royal one, here’s a four-word review of a fun, fictional diversion that’s crucial given the title.

I laughed. A lot.

8/10

Advertisements

Bright – Movie Review

Bright

Directed by David Ayer

Starring Will Smith, Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace

So, after months of plugging, Netflix unveil their highest profile streaming movie to date.

Bright has the production values of a major motion picture, the heavyweight star appeal of Will Smith, and a high concept premise: an alternate LA, filled with orcs, elves and fairies.

Will Smith is Ward, the foul-mouthed cop teamed with Joel Edgerton’s Jakoby, the long suffering Orc crime buster who spends most of the movie being sworn at, beaten up or worse.

Their chalk and cheese partnership forms the backbone of the story involving a magic wand, a dark lord and an endangered elf.

Which is all very Harry Potter meets Lord of the Rings with Ayer’s previous movie End of Watch thrown in and a heroine reminiscent of Leeloo from The Fifth Element.

It’s brutal, bloody stuff which for 90 per cent of its running time is hard to stomach. The seemingly endless macho posturing, face offs with gang members and swearing is so abrasive, i’m worn down by the sheer nastiness of the whole production.

Smith is usually good value for money, but even his charm can’t save this Christmas turkey.

Edgerton is okay as his sidekick and Noomi Rapace adds malevolence as the big bad.

So, 30 years after Alien Nation posited an LA filled with ETs, and mismatched cops tackling bad guys,this unofficial remake makes that bad film look a lot better.

It’s toxic stuff alleviated only by some great photography and flashes of excitement. The whole time I’m watching it I want it to get better, and be less brutal, but it feels like crawling through a two-hour long tunnel of offal.

The only bright bit comes at the end.

The music is yawnsome, the script mostly dreadful with the odd decent one liner from Max Landis, and on the whole a horrible experience.

No matter how much you may love the Fresh Prince, or the good ideas, avoid at all costs.

2/10

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Spoiler Free Review

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Directed by Rian Johnson

Starring Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver

Certificate 12A

There was a time the average gap between Star Wars movies was three years. But when Disney took over the franchise in 2012, they planned on releasing at least one Star Wars-related movie a year. And with Kathleen Kennedy in charge, 2015’s The Force Awakens proved the franchise was in safe hands.

Now we have the eighth chapter in the saga (ninth if you count the sublime episode 3.5, Rogue One).

And with JJ Abrams passing the baton to Looper’s Rian Johnson, we’re off on another dazzling adventure.

The opening space battle is pure Star Wars. Dizzying, thrilling and glorious cinematic magic accompanied by John Williams’ bombastic score.

Seconds after the opening crawl, I have a big stupid grin as Rebels fight the bad guys; a familiar face pops up as an evil officer, and the whole thing slots together beautifully.

But that space battle is just the eye candy-laced doorway to one of the most complex, divisive and bold chapters in the saga.

Safe to say The Last Jedi will leave die-hard fans emerging from the theatre processing what they’ve just seen.

Johnson takes the saga to interesting places, and though the script could have done with some polish, one scene involving a key character’s actions against insurmountable odds definitely needed rejecting at the script stage. Some force-related feats push things too far.

The new cast we met in The Force Awakens feel a lot more at home here. Not that they did a bad job in TFA, but it’s good to see the likes of John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac given a chance to flex their acting muscles.

Obviously given the passing of Carrie Fisher, the whole movie feels like a tribute in all the right places, but if the film belongs to anyone it’s Mark Hamill. The hermetic Luke Skywalker is now as weathered as the craggy island he calls home.

Giving a terrific performance as the hero millions grew up with, to see him back in action for the first time since 1983 is a treat fans never thought they’d witness.

And while old beloved droids like C-3PO and R2D2 are also back, BB-8 steals the film once more.

There are inevitable nods to The Empire Strikes Back, but at times it also feels like the first episode of the revamped Battlestar Galactica, with a touch of The Two Towers’ Helm’s Deep thrown in for good measure.

There’s also a low tech clunkiness to the props. Maybe it’s hi-def cameras showing more than film ever used to, but some gadgets and sets feel a bit Blue Peter. Then there is Snoke’s lair, a blood red screen which looks striking but temporary, like a stage set.

And the Vegas-style Canto Bight features a few too many weird characters in the now obligatory cantina-style scene that adds colour to most SW movies.

As it’s the longest of the saga, my oft-repeated comment of it being 20 minutes too long is completely on the money.

The Last Jedi is still a compelling sci-fi adventure, but kids will be restless in the second act, and their parents nursing aching legs by the finale.

So, a flawed but fascinating chapter which fails to match the dizzy heights of Empire and Rogue One, but is still a must see on the big screen. The 3D is pretty effective, the sound design excellent, and that shot of fighters soaring over salt flats, leaving scarlet scars in the Earth is unforgettable.

Who knows what’s in store for Episode IX, but with JJ Abrams back at the helm, it should be much tighter than this ambitious curio.

8/10

Film review: Paddington 2

Paddington 2

Starring Hugh Bonneville, Hugh Grant, Sally Hawkins

Certificate PG

Directed by Paul King

Perfection, as we all know is an elusive quality. We may strive for it, but despite Fairground Attraction’s foot-tapping pleas, few things are rarely perfect.

Except occasionally a film comes along where everything clicks. The right producer hires the best director and the ideal cast and crew, together with spot-on effects technicians. And the story is strong enough to carry the weight of expectation from start to finish. Every second of celluloid is a well-crafted dream; finely tuned, expertly crafted and dovetails with the next scene.

It’s a film with a start, a middle and end. It makes sense. There’s a cross generational appeal, so those pushing 50 can enjoy what’s on screen as much as those in the spring of youth and the winter of their years.

Paddington 2 is one of those movies, a film so utterly wondrous, it feels like a dozen Christmases rolled into one.

Three years to the day after seeing the first Paddington movie on the big screen, I’d hoped the sequel would live up to that wonderful starter of a motion picture. A film which introduced us to the eponymous bear from darkest Peru who finds a new home in London with the Brown family and proceeds to steal the hearts of almost everyone around him.

Film one was a toe in the water, a brilliant mix of wry humour, sight gags, action scenes and delightful musical segues. It was everything I’d hoped for from the bear who stole my heart as a six-year-old kid reading Michael Bond’s books for the first time.

With the ideal casting of Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Julie Walters as key members of the family who take Paddington under their collective wing, the inevitable move for the sequel was to pluck the bear from his adoptive family.

While trying to save up enough cash to buy a pop-up book for his Aunt Lucy, so she can experience a flavour of London in Peru, Paddington embarks on a window cleaning round, which owes a spiritual debt to Wallace and Gromit and countless silent movie stars.

There are so many gags in Paddington 2, it’s hard to keep count of the amount of times I giggled, but it’s a lot.

When ham actor Phoenix Buchanan (Hugh Grant, in a career-best performance) pinches said book, for reasons which eventually become clear, there’s no prizes for guessing who’s framed for the crime and winds up doing a long spell inside.

So most of the movie is a prison caper, but the likes of which you’ve never seen. Brendan Gleeson gives another of his effortlessly brilliant performances, this time as a fearsome prison chef.

Paddington, seeing the best in everyone, proceeds to change the lives of those inside, while back in that moneyed region of London he had to leave behind, the locals are falling apart without him.

Writers Paul King and Simon Farnaby construct such a beautifully crafted screenplay, there’s no lull in the story from minute one to the breathtaking final few minutes. In terms of emotional sucker punches, the finale is up there with ET for the most tear-jerking final 15 minutes of any film I’ve seen. Yes, it was dusty in that cinema, and yes, I did get something in my eye. A lot.

And as with film one, Farnaby leaves me giggling like an idiot as the amorous security guard who takes a shine to Grant’s disguised nun. (In film one, Farnaby’s flirting with Hugh Bonneville in drag was one of the funniest scenes of 2014).

Director King proved he could tell a beautifully touching and original tale with The Bunny and the Bull many years ago, and armed with a bigger budget three years ago, he adapted that indie quality with great success. I’d wondered if Paddington was a fluke and he’d drop the ball with the sequel, but with the training wheels off, he’s now become the Chris Hoy of British comedy directors. A more assured but no less brilliant film maker whose lightness of touch is astounding. And that pop-up book scene with Paddington and his Aunt is among the best things you’ll see on screen in this or any other year.

There no doubt it’ll land technical awards for effects, and maybe production design, but if there’s any justice, this should also land a BAFTA nod for Best Film. It won’t of course. That will be reserved for a socially conscious, political drama deemed far more worthy, but for me Paddington 2 is easily the best British film of 2017.

Michael Bond, the little bear’s much missed creator, would be more than proud.

9/10

Film review – Justice League

Film review

Justice League

Certificate 12A

Directed by Zack Snyder

Starring Ben Affleck, Gal Gadot, Ciaran Hinds

Apparently Justice League, the long awaited conversion of the hit DC Comics series, is one of the most expensive films ever made at a reported $300m. At times you can see where the money went, though there are scenes where the visual effects look like they were knocked up with a £1.99 app.

Going in, my expectations were at rock bottom. After all, Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice had lowered the bar to almost Superman IV/Batman and Robin levels of badness, so in the words of Yazz or a lift attendant in a basement, the only way is up.

Director Zack Snyder has long been one of the genre’s premier visual stylists, who came tantalisingly close to cracking sublime graphic novel Watchmen, and did a fine job with 300, while Man of Steel was hit and miss.

Rocked by a personal tragedy, Snyder left the movie early in 2017, so Joss Whedon stepped in to finish it, adding his own flourishes.

There’s a scene in a graveyard where I half expect Buffy to turn up singing Going Through the Motions from the peerless Once More With Feeling episode.

But that will have to wait for Whedon Buffy/Batman crossover episode, of which we can but dream.

Back in the real world, and here’s the plot.

Millennia ago, bad guy Steppenwolf (an unrecognisable Ciaran Hinds) and his legions of Parademons attempt to conquer the planet via the combined power of three ’Mother Boxes’.

However, thanks to the forces of Olympian Gods, Amazons, Atlanteans, humans and Green Lanterns, Steppenwolf’s army are repelled, the mcguffin boxes are separated and hidden in locations around Earth.

Fast forward to now, and Superman’s death at the end of Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (BvSDoJ) has left the world in mourning.

The Mother Boxes reactivate; Steppenwolf returns to terra firma and starts collecting DC’s answer to the MCU’s Tesseract.

In one of the best action scenes, he attempts to retrieve one from Wonder Woman’s idyllic island of Themyscira.

Queen Hippolyta warns her daughter, Diana Prince, who joins Bruce Wayne, and they go off to recruit other metahumans (aka superheroes) for their mission.

Wayne seeks out ripped surfer dude Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa) and Big Bang-worthy nerd Barry Allen (though Sheldon Hofstadter might be a better name), while Diana tries to find emo-cyborg Victor Stone, a man blinged up with shiny metal attachments perfectly fused to his skin.

Socially awkward, lightning-fast Allen jumps at the chance to team up, while the others are more reluctant. (Hmm, wonder if that will lead to some last minute saving the day posturing. Possibly).

As Steppenwolf continues to wreak havoc during his box-hunting, the scene is set for more action set pieces in which the Justice League slowly comes together.

To reveal much more would be spoilerific, but despite the overly complex plot and generic bad guy who looks like a hybrid of Thanos and a Thor villain from the Marvel movies, this is not the car crash I’d feared. One of the many problems is the exposition. While en route to tackling the bad guys, Bruce, Diana and company stand around talking. A lot.

Exposition is always best during action scenes, so even Wayne fixing bits on his Batship would be better than just character A talking to character B.

Bruce may be loaded, but who builds and maintains his armoury? Jeremy Irons’ Alfred, who spends most of his scenes dispensing quips and operating a keyboard? Unlikely. I’m guessing Wayne Industries has an army of interns working behind the scenes, but that’s worthy of another movie.

As the third act arrives, and our heroes face off against the big bad and his army of demonic soldiers, I find I’m enjoying the ride. It’s obviously not Whedon’s peerless superhero team-up Avengers Assemble or as empty as David Ayer’s cosplay-friendly “Hey, we’re the bad guys” Suicide Squad.

Yes, some of the effects are ropey; JK Simmons’ Jim Gordon is given a woeful lack of screen time; Amy Adams’ Lois Lane is utterly wasted, and as with BvSDoJ and Wonder Woman (2017), the generic finale involving mostly empty streets is hampered by too much CGI and green screen work. But I’ve no doubt Whedon’s involvement helped immensely.

A shame Ben Affleck looks like he’d rather be anywhere else, but hey, it’s still Batman, the comic book character I’ve loved for most of my life up there on the big screen, wrecking every vehicle he pilots or drives, and still looking uber cool as he crashes from scene to scene.

Some of his colleagues may be second-rate heroes, but like the age-old tradition of the pretty girl befriending a less attractive lass to make her look better, the Dark Knight is still magnificent, eclipsing his less alluring second rate allies.

Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman (definitely not in the second rate category), continues to shine, even if this project lacks the emotional heft of her blockbusting solo movie.

Jason Momoa’s Aquaman looks great, and can carry a scene, so his pending standalone movie is not too horrific a prospect, though I doubt Cyborg or The Flash will land solo films. They’re just a bit too bland.

Without the chorus of seat-kicking kids talking all the way through it, I’ll happily watch this again when it arrives on TV in a few months. Some scenes and characters might even make more sense.

This has been a terrific year for superhero movies. And while Justice League may not match the dizzy heights of Thor: Ragnarok, Logan, Spider-Man Homecoming, and Wonder Woman, like all good fantasy cinema, it’ll help take your mind off real world problems for a couple of hours.

For that alone it’s worth the price of admission.

7/10

Gig review – Koyaanisqatsi with Go Go Penguin

Gig review – Koyaanisqatsi with Go Go Penguin

Hull City Hall

I can’t remember the last time I saw Koyaanisqatsi, Godfrey Reggio’s stunning art house film from the early 1980s. I remember buying it for a friend’s birthday or Christmas present in 1994, so it was way before then. In fact it’s been so long, I feel like I’m watching a different film when it’s screened at Hull City Hall.

The major difference this time is the score. Philip Glass’s seminal soundtrack is absent, replaced by an original live performance by Go Go Penguin. And boy do they earn their money.

The three-piece tackles such a labour intensive work, I’m exhausted for them during some of the full on bits. Or maybe that’s the painkiller kicking in for my broken wisdom tooth. Either way it’s like watching a new film.

When the movie was released, time lapse footage of anything was a rarity. Cities and landscapes on fast forward were a stunning sight, with cars flowing to and from cities like red and white blood cells pumping through a heart. These days I shoot time lapse all the time on my iPad or phone. Back in the days before digital, I imagine the process cost a fortune. Little wonder the movie needed a big backer and few were bigger than Francis Ford Coppola in the days when he was a force to be reckoned with.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a huge fan of the maestro, but when a sniffy wine salesman shot me down in a Californian vineyard back in 1995 for trying to buy a ’small’ bottle of Coppola’s wine, I’ve had a chip on my shoulder about the name.

(In retrospect the Scooby Doo tee-shirt and Hawaiian shorts probably didn’t help my case in such a buttoned up, conservative vineyard).

I digress.

Koyaanisqatsi without the Glass score feels like watching Jaws without John Williams’ masterful soundtrack. It’s good but it’s not right.

However, as an accompanying film for a fine chunk of jazz, it works a treat. A shame nobody has shot a homage in Hull to celebrate the City of Culture. (I did film some great time lapses outside the venue in the spring, which almost begs for a highbrow classical score. Great way to pass the time if you love people-watching and are waiting for a friend or relative to arrive).

Did it wow me? Yes and no. Love the film, great new score, but I’ll admit I was sidetracked by earache, and not because of the excellent musicians.

I’m glad I went, but I wouldn’t rush to see it again. Koyaanisqatsi is one of those movies worth a look every few years, or in my case decades, preferably with the original score. I’d like to see Go Go Penguin provide backing for other arthouse classics without much dialogue.

That said, maximum respect to Chris Illingworth (piano), Nick Blacka (double bass) and Rob Turner (drums) for their bold interpretation of a 1983 classic.

Book review – Miller and Max

Book review

Miller and Max

By Luke Buckmaster

I was a fan of Mad Max before I even managed to see any of the films. In the early eighties, a time before I could watch what I wanted, when I wanted, I wondered how good Mad Max was based on magazine photos and movie posters.

In 1982, when the sequel was released, the 14-year-old me was given tantalising glimpses of the stunning production design and explosive action sequences.

In an age of video nasties, Mad Max was lumped along with other notorious offerings such as The Evil Dead as a movie which would corrupt youth and ’was capable of bringing down society as we knew it’.

Of course there was far more to the Max saga than just amazing stunts and cool costumes.

Thanks to Miller and Max, Luke Buckmaster’s book about creative genius George Miller and the movies which made his name, I finally get a warts-and-all insight into one of the most influential movie sagas ever made.

Without Mad Max, there would’ve been no Wild Boys video by Duran Duran; Gary Numan’s early 1980s look would have been very different, and pretty much every post-apocalyptic straight-to-video offering would have been erased from history. (Give Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone a look, and ignore the rest).

Like Star Wars before it, the first two Max movies rewrote the book on fantasy cinema.

Understanding how it came about is obviously a compelling read. Buckmaster, like any good biographer, starts his tome with an action scene (involving an out-of-control rocket car) before flashing back to Miller’s youth.

It’s occasionally a hard read because of the Australian slang that slips in, but as someone who’s loved Aussie cinema for decades, it’s great to get a fresh, Antipodean take on a filmmaker and franchise that changed the world.

Buckmaster’s tone at times is ’telling you over a pint down the local’ rather than some highbrow document designed for academics, though he does slip into the realms of purple prose occasionally.

In retrospect, the ’pub chat’ is exactly the right way to go even if it lacks the panache of superior director biogs such as Dale Pollock’s George Lucas tome Skywalking, or Peter Biskind’s peerless Easy Riders Raging Bulls (a must for any fan of seventies cinema).

Miller and Max is also a fascinating guide on how to get a low budget movie off the ground, though more photos would help boost the book immensely (there are a few colour stills in the middle). The Mad Max saga has never been something which can be assessed entirely in words. Action scenes are a purely visceral experience and translating them for novelisations for example is often a futile experience. (Amazingly Terry Hayes, who wrote the first movie’s novelisation, was hired to co-write film two).

I love other nuggets of trivia gold, such as the fact that when actor Tim Burns auditioned for a part in the first movie, he told a Tommy Cooper gag. Miller’s casting process involves actors telling him jokes so he can see whether they understand structure, drama and the climax of a story. Smart move.

I’m also amazed by the chaos that ensued in October 1977, the first day of shooting, when around a thousand cars had to be stopped on the Geelong Freeway for the inaugural scene. The man in charge of doing so had not figured out where the production crew were going to park, let alone deal with such an enormous logistical nightmare.

It’s stories like the Cooper joke and this nightmare scenario that help Buckmaster’s book come alive. He’s certainly interviewed plenty of cast and crew for the 273-page offering, and for the most part, the whole thing ticks over like a finely tuned engine.

I love the fact a 21-year-old Mel Gibson, fresh out of drama school, was genuinely scared of his ’villainous’ co-stars. They took method acting to another level by biking huge distances before day one of filming, and staying in character when the cameras weren’t rolling.

Like any first time filmmakers, thanks to a huge amount of naïveté, getting that modestly budgeted action thriller from script to screen involved a lot of blind luck, hard work and occasionally life threatening mistakes, but while cast and crew may have sufferered a steep learning curve, they also raised the bar to stratospheric levels for the sequel.

Film one became a monster hit, and until 1999’s The Blair Witch Project, the most lucrative movie ever made based on the tiny budget and huge box office returns. A sequel was inevitable, and seeing how that was put together, inspired by Joseph Campbell’s 1949 book The Hero with a Thousand Faces (which also inspired George Lucas while making Star Wars) is fascinating.

Until 2015’s Mad Max: Fury Road was released, Mad Max 2 was easily the finest post-apocalyptic action adventure ever made. Renamed The Road Warrior for America (as many folks in the US had never seen the first Mad Max), it left audiences around the world gobsmacked. The mash up of Road Runner, Peter Weir’s cult seventies movie The Cars That Ate Paris, and classic Western Shane fast tracked Miller and Gibson into the big leagues.

A shame film three was more style than substance, and Miller’s career in the 30 years between Beyond Thunderdome and Fury Road was an unusual mix of Faustian fantasy (the excellent Witches of Eastwick), little-seen medical drama Lorenzo’s Oil, (based on the pioneering work of Hull biochemist Don Suddaby), and kids’ offerings such as Babe 2 and the Happy Feet movies.

Given the fact Fury Road was another huge success, and both Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron gave such terrific turns, I, like countless fans, are desperate for a fifth Max film.

For a man in his seventies, George Miller is still showing up-and-coming film makers how to make the best action movies on the planet, and I’m thrilled there’s finally a book that pays tribute to his work.

Just a shame Miller himself doesn’t shed any light on his oeuvre, like one of Faber and Faber’s excellent film biogs, but this is still a well crafted tome which is well worth the investment.

Film Review – ‪Geostorm‬

Geostorm

Starring Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Ed Harris

Directed by Dean Devlin

Certificate 12A

Geostorm might well be the stupidest film of 2017, but it’s also one of the most enjoyable. It stars Gerard Butler, so you know you’re not going to need many brain cells to understand the plot. And as it’s co-written and directed by Dean Devlin, you also know there’s going to be plenty of fireballs, scenes of chaos in international locations and cars trying to outrun carnage.

And the film does not disappoint. Every few years, either Roland Emmerich and Devlin, together or separately, seem to remake their 1996 classic Independence Day, using assorted plot devices to cash in on that movie’s success.

So after the not bad The Day After Tomorrow in 2004 and the wonderfully silly 2012 in 2009, we now have a scenario in which Butler is Jack Lawson, a genius mechanic who created Dutch Boy, an orbiting platform capable of preventing or creating bad weather for the sake of the world. Or something.

This is a world where revamped space shuttles now have the ability to fly like star taxis to the International Space Station, and self-driving cars are designed to make life easier. (Hmm, self-driving eh? Wonder if that’ll come in handy later).

However, when Dutch Boy apparently malfunctions and a village is wiped out by a frozen death ray, Butler, a sort of multi-tasking Desperate Dan in civilian clothes, is assigned to put things right. Trouble is, he’s been sacked from his own project and his brother Max has taken over, leading to much bad blood between the Lawson siblings.

So Butler sets up home in Florida in a shiny steel caravan (which looks like it was delivered to site and unwrapped the same day) and Max turns up in a car, which looks like it was driven straight from the showroom, to recruit him. Funny how I buy the outlandish effects more than everyday weathering on vehicles.

Max (Jim Sturgess) is dating a member of the American Secret Service, and she may or may not be a spy. In fact every other character may or may not be involved in a major cover up which causes things to malfunction and lots of people to die.

Is the American president (Andy Garcia) in on the conspiracy? Who knows?

Okay, I do, but this is one of those movies where half the fun is guessing who’s the bad guy or girl.

I’ve never been a huge fan of Butler, but he does a good job here, lumbering around, spouting B-movie dialogue while Sturgess is fine, but as one dimensional as a cardboard standee of himself that might advertise the film in some far-off cinema.

Good support comes from Alexandra Maria Lara, an actress who reminds me of Marion Cotillard. Could she also be a spy? Yes, everyone could. Well, almost everyone. (*Spoiler at the end).

Of course the real stars of the film are the effects, a series of explosions and set pieces either on the ISS (think Gravity meets Moonraker via 2017’s Life, turned up to 11) and you get the idea.

Providing some kick-ass glamour is Abbie Cornish, who looks like she’s escaped from the series of 24 set in Washington DC. She’s a fearless, sexy, smart, invincible force of nature who you definitely want on your side when people are trying to kill you, or the elements are.

Oh, and it’s nice to see other of the world’s major landmarks that weren’t wiped out in the Independence Day movies, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow under assault from huge waves and the like.

There’s a basic rule of thumb with these movies. Dry places get wet. Cold places get hot. And so on.

For all its faults, stupid dialogue and convoluted action scenes, on a dull November afternoon, it brightens my day a treat, not least because there’s only two of us in the cinema, and the other bloke sat several rows away is polite enough not to spend any of the movie surfing the ‘net like most screenings these days.

There’s at least 30 seconds when I actually feel something for the characters, which is remarkable considering how much like computer game avatars they all are. And full marks to Ed Harris and Andy Garcia for keeping straight faces throughout. But that’s why they get paid millions of dollars.

This will crop up on ITV2 or Channel 5 every few weeks in the future, but if you get the chance, see it while you can on a big screen with decent sound.

Oh, and if you want to rule one person out of the mystery, here’s a dreadful spoiler of a pun.

*It’s not much of a shock to discover (the) Butler didn’t do it.

7/10

Film Review- ‪Murder on the Orient Express (2017)‬

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)

Directed by Kenneth Branagh

Starring Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley

Certificate 12A

How good is a joke when you know the punchline?

Well, that depends on the comedian of course, but though not a joke, the ’punchline’ or denouement in Murder on the Orient Express has been around for decades, and knowing the outcome of Agatha Christie’s classic thriller does derail the latest version somewhat.

It’s 1934, and in a terrific opener, famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Kenneth Branagh) solves a theft in Jerusalem, and travels to Istanbul. Receiving a telegram from London about a pending case, Poirot must return home, with his friend offering him a place on the Orient Express.

Once on board, we meet the eclectic characters, including unpleasant American businessman Samuel Ratchett (Johnny Depp). He’s received threatening letters from a mystery party, and after Poirot refuses to become his bodyguard, the eponymous atrocity occurs.

However, the killer cannot escape as fate intervenes. The train is derailed during bad weather and shudders to a halt on a bridge.

Among the suspects are Caroline Hubbard (Michelle Pfeiffer), Governess Mary Debenham (Daisy Ridley), Dr John Arbuthnot (Leslie Odom Jr), Edward Henry Masterman (Derek Jacobi) and Princess Dragomiroff (Judi Dench).

No shortage of possible killers then, and while the first act is like a glorious Christmas present of a film, boasting stunning wrapping, lavish bows, glitter and tinsel, once the content is revealed, the drama is almost as stationary as the train. Suspects are interviewed, backstory fleshed out and there’s the occasional jump scare.

Branagh may be an unlikely Poirot, but he does a great job as the ’tec with the extravagant ’tache.

For a third of the movie, it’s hard to take my eyes off that astonishing facial hair. It could star in a spin-off movie, it’s so voluminous and characterful.

As ever, his direction is fascinating, especially an overhead scene in which the body is discovered.

By the time Ken reveals his third act, the movie gathers a little steam again as the big reveal is unveiled.

It’s certainly not a bad movie, oozing class and style. The players, including a perfectly cast Daisy Ridley and Judi Dench (whose eyes seem to X-ray the soul) are especially terrific, but there’s just something about that second act which nags me as much as my toothache.

At one point Poirot sympathises with Masterman for his own toothache, and it feels like one of those fantasy scenes in Last Action Hero or The Purple Rose of Cairo where characters on screen start talking to a cinemagoer.

It might be sacrilege to suggest that the story isn’t as great as Branagh’s 1991 blockbuster Dead Again, which remains a stunning, often hilarious thriller. This ticks enough boxes to make it well worth a look, including Poirot’s chuckles over Dickens and a mirthsome use of the word ’fudge’, but CG cold air for exterior talking scenes in the frozen wastes would have helped, and there’s no escaping that Polar Express feel during some of the train shots.

So, great cast, beautifully shot, terrific Patrick Doyle score and a nice nod to another Christie classic near the end. But not quite the masterpiece I’d hoped for.

7/10

Film review – Numb

Film review

Numb

Starring Jamie Bamber, Stefanie von Pfetten and Aleks Paunovic

Directed by Jason R Goode

Husband and wife Will (Jamie Bamber) and Dawn (Stefanie von Pfetten) are in dire financial straits. The job he was counting on to salvage their future has disappeared due to a market collapse. (Not that she’s aware of that until later).

They head home on the winter highway back to their city, and pick up siblings Lee (Aleks Paunovic) and Cheryl (Marie Avgeropoulos), hitchhikers on their way to start a new life.

In the best jump scare of the movie, they nearly collide with an old man wandering on the highway, hypothermic and frostbitten.

While searching for his ID, they discover a pile of cash, a hand-drawn map with GPS coordinates, and a single gold coin inside his coat.

Will and Dawn reluctantly go along with Lee’s plan to report him to the police as a John Doe and pocket the money.

Venturing into the snowy wilderness in search of the buried gold, what unfolds is a tale as old as the hills. It’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre for the geocaching credit crunch generation.

I’m reminded of the superior Wind River, not least for the vast wintry landscapes and eclectic characters in search of a goal. In that case it was a murder mystery. Here’s it’s good old fashioned gold.

For the most part it’s a pretty solid thriller with good performances. There’s clearly an expert attached, telling the filmmakers what a savvy protagonist needs to survive in the wild, but at times there are huge leaps of logic. A knife through a boot doesn’t generate much of a response from a lead character, but it hardly matters.

It’s the sort of film that might crop up on Channel 5 around 9pm. A straight-to-VOD or DVD offering that is competently made, well acted and the script isn’t bad. The finale is a tad cheesy, but the Canadian landscapes are impressive and it keeps me watching throughout. It also makes me yearn for superior similar offerings like No Country for Old Men and marvellous 1988 Sidney Poitier thriller Shoot to Kill (aka Deadly Pursuit), which sadly never seems to be on TV or Netflix.

This won’t change your life, but if you want a chilly chunk of escapism for a frosty night, then it ticks the box admirably. and at 90 minutes it certainly doesn’t outstay it’s welcome.

7/10