Jack Reacher: Never Go Back Review: Punch drunk


Director: Edward Zwick

Writers: Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz (screenplay), Lee Child (novel)

Stars: Tom Cruise, Cobie Smulders, Aldis Hodge, Danika Yarosh
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Release date: October 20th, 2016

Distributor: Paramount Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 118 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Cruise’s charisma.

Worst part: The daughter subplot.

A-list megastar Tom Cruise has had a career most actors could only dream of. He has led some of the 20th and 21st century’s most compelling films, delivered multiple killer one-liners and lifted forgettable material. The man puts 110% into every role and production. However, his off-screen antics -Scientology, failed marriages etc. – have made him a polarising figure.

Since his last marriage’s decline, he has turned his attention to the silver screen. Almost every year since, he has delivered one critically and commercially viable actioner after another. 2013’s Jack Reacher, based on Lee Child’s seminal book series, delivered whip-smart dialogue and gritty drama. Sadly, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back is merely a serviceable action-adventure. It begins with our titular character (Cruise) on the lam. Shifting between assignments, he finds solace in his and Major Susan Turner(Cobie Smulders)’s phone calls. He heads to Washington DC to take her on a date. However, Turner is arrested for espionage after botched military dealings in Afghanistan. Predictably so, he takes the case to uncover the truth.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back has little to do with the original. The events of that film are not even thought about here. Instead, like Child’s books, this is a pure standalone adventure. Sequel and blockbuster fatigue set in like rot. From the get-go, the story delivers limited stakes or tension. The opening scene defines Reacher: a superhuman with nothing to fear or even be mildly miffed about. The screenplay provides broad, simplistic characters and plot points. Reacher switches clunkily between personalities. As the plot kicks in, and more baddies show up, he becomes more powerful and stoic. On the other hand, after meeting his potential daughter (Samantha (Danika Yarosh)), he turns into a wise-cracking buddy-cop archetype. The mystery plot-line is infinitely less interesting, defined only by rushed flashbacks and exposition.

Director Edward Zwick once excelled with action sequences and tight story-telling. Many of his works – from crime-thrillers (The Siege, Blood Diamond) to historical-epics (Glory, The Last Samurai) – are compelling. The original set the bar for deftly handled fist-fights and shoot-outs. However, despite having worked with Cruise before, Zwick brings nothing new to the table here. The sequel’s set-pieces are few and far between. Worse still, it commits to quick-cut, shaky-cam hand-to-hand combat. The movie’s biggest flaws rest on the villain’s ultra-white shoulders. The movie delivers an even-blander Jai Courtney clone (The Hunter (Patrick Heusinger)) and nondescript military/government figures. Thankfully, Cruise and Smulders elevate said woeful material. Their back-and-forth sparring is suitable. Meanwhile, Yarosh is stuck with an idiotic, unlikable character.

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back, like most of 2016’s blockbusters, is forgettable but not terrible. Cruise’s raw intensity turns a tough-guy cliché into a fun lead badass. However, Zwick and co. drop the ball. The movie’s bland action, story and characters make for another disappointing sequel.

Verdict: A serviceable action-thriller.

Inferno Review: Hanks for nothing


Director: Ron Howard

Writer: David Koepp (screenplay), Dan Brown (novel)

Stars: Tom Hanks, Felicity Jones, Omar Sy, Ben Foster

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Release date: October 13th, 2016

Distributor: Columbia Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 121 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Tom Hanks.

Worst part: The confusing flashbacks.

Some franchises are truly baffling. The Twilight, Transformers and now Da Vinci Code series’ warp source material and fan interests for a cheap buck. Despite making serious coin, they all gain negative attention from critics and wider audiences. Yes, this is mean. However, you could feed millions of African children with each installment’s budget.

Of course, taste is subjective and makes for good discussion. Even for the majority of author Dan Brown, Director Ron Howard, and Star Tom Hanks’s biggest fans, however, trilogy-capper Inferno could be a franchise killer. This one, based on Brown’s fourth (latest? who cares.) franchise novel, does kick off promisingly. Harvard professor Robert Langdon (Hanks) wakes up in a hospital in Florence, Italy. Langdon – armed with a spotty memory and gash across his head – and Dr Sienna Brooks (Felicity Jones) quickly escape from an assassin. Meanwhile, transhumanist scientist/multi-billionaire Bertrand Zobrist (Ben Foster) commits suicide before unveiling his master plan to obliterate half the world’s population.

Inferno is yet another 2016 sequel no one asked for. 2006’s Da Vinci Code and 2009 sequel Angels and Demons resembled baffling and bloated extended episodes of Criminal Minds. Here, Howard and Hanks were (allegedly) contractually obligated to return before world’s end. Inferno, indeed, is a waste of the cast, crew and audiences’ time. Like previous installments, Brown’s shaky understanding of history and religion shines. Aiming for Indiana Jones‘ rollicking thrills, it forgets one thing – simple equals effective. The plot, thanks to screenwriter David Koepp, sporadically jumps from A to B to C.  Its non-linear timeline sees Langdon and the audience piecing everything together. The mystery-thriller elements deliver a myriad of contrivances and plot holes. It quickly becomes bogged down by World Health organisation agents (Omar Sy and Sidse Babett Knudsen) and spooky government facilitators (Irrfan Khan).

Howard is a hit-and-miss filmmaker with little to say. Beyond 2013 smash Rush, the past decade features these flicks, The Dilemma and In the Heart of the Sea. Inferno sees Langdon and co. in some of the world’s most beautiful locations. Florence, Venice and Istanbul get their due (and I’m sure everyone had a blast making it). Howard’s stylistic flourishes are eyeball-achingly obnoxious. Throwing in visions, flashbacks and narration/exposition willy-nilly, he delivers an equally rushed and sluggish product. As the trailers suggest, it also features a half-baked commentary on overpopulation. the actors put 100% into woeful material. Hanks shuffles to yet another pay-cheque. Jones, waiting for Rogue One‘s December release, is just fine. Sy and Khan elevate cliched roles. Sadly, Foster is wasted in flashbacks and YouTube clips (Easiest. Payday. Ever).

Inferno is yet another 2016 uninspired sequel/reboot/prequel release. The two-and-a-half-star rating is definitely not a recommendation. However, thanks to the overabundance of terrible blockbusters, this ain’t too bad. Hanks and Howard certainly deserve better.

Verdict: A franchise killer.

The Girl on the Train Review: Pretty people problems


Director: Tate Taylor

Writers: Erin Cressida Wilson (screenplay), Paula Hawkins (novel)

Stars: Emily Blunt, Rebecca Ferguson, Haley Bennett, Justin Theroux

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Release date: October 6th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 112 minutes


2½/5

Best part: Blunt’s miasmic performance.

Worst part: The predictable plot twists.

Beach-reads and airport novels are central to the literature business. The genre, packed with international best-sellers, cater to multiple audiences and basic desires. They are simply easy to indulge in – throwing in debauchery and plot twists willy-nilly. Romance, crime and drama have gotten the beach-read/airport novel treatment. Crime-thriller The Girl on the Train is…yet another one.

The Girl on the Train, written by Paula Hawkins, became an overnight sensation last year. The best-seller got movie-adaptation honours mere months after release. The book was revered and criticised for its twisty-turny narrative and gender politics. The movie version tries to reach those grand heights. It  chronicles divorced alcoholic Rachel (Emily Blunt). She spends every second in a booze-fuelled rage, taking the train from the suburbs to New York City and back. Whilst on the train, she peers into two particular homes. One belongs to her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) and new wife Anna (Rebecca Ferguson). The other belongs to sexy married couple Scott (Luke Evans) and Megan (Haley Bennett). One day, Rachel flips out after seeing Megan having an affair with her psychologist Dr. Abdic (Edgar Ramirez).

The Girl on the Train resembles several much-talked-about erotic-thrillers. Basic Instinct, Fatal Attraction and 2014 smash Gone Girl provide intriguing set-ups, unique characters and unsettling twists. Sadly, this novel adaptation lacks the finesse of said movies’ writing and direction. The movie lingers on Rachel’s misery in the first third. Her repetitive lifestyle is fascinating and sickening simultaneously. Her actions – bumbling in front of concerned train-goers, filling her water bottle with vodka etc. – fit standard full-time-drunk tropes. Her dynamic with frustrated roommate Cathy (Laura Prepon) gives the character added depth. However, the novelty eventually wears off. Of course, Megan becomes a missing persons case. As Rachel delves into the mystery, plot turns and red herrings keep popping up. Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson makes every character creepy and decrepit. The ‘drama’ merely involves women crying while the men grunt and scowl.

Director Tate Taylor(The Help, Get On Up)’s po-faced adaptation makes conventional choices at every turn. Thanks to the limited number of characters, it becomes obvious who the culprit is. The character’s sinister entrance and peculiar behaviour make it all too clear. Pointless flashbacks and exposition further dilute the plot. Despite the predictable structure and lack of thrills, it delivers a fine commentary on alcoholism. Rachel’s plight is arresting. However, with a better script and director (David Fincher, maybe?), it could have been so much more. Blunt’s performance is the standout element; rocking gently between drunk mess and sincere being with aplomb. Ferguson and Bennett re-introduce themselves to modern audiences in underwritten roles. Character-actresses Allison Janney and Lisa Kudrow provide valuable performances. Theroux and Evans are still completely lifeless!

The Girl on the Train lacks the keen-eyed direction and whip-smart writing of similar fare. Despite Blunt’s solid performance, the movie’s ultra-serious tone and bland performances distort an otherwise intriguing premise. The all-too-predictable narrative makes it yet another 2016 disappointment.

Verdict: A meandering, disappointing melodrama.

The Legend of Barney Thomson Audio Review: Great Scot!


Director: Robert Carlyle

Writers: Colin McLaren, Richard Cowan (screenplay), Douglas Lindsay (novel)

Stars: Robert Carlyle, Emma Thompson, Ray Winstone, Ashley Jensen

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Release date: July 24th, 2015

Distributor: Icon Film Distribution 

Country: UK

Running time: 96 minutes


4/5

Review:

The Loft (Home Release) Audio Review: High-rise Hijinks


Director: Eric Van Looy

Writers: Wesley Strick, Bart De Pauw

Stars: Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet

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Release date: January 30th, 2015

Distributors: Open Road Films, Kinepolis Film Distribution 

Countries: USA, Belgium 

Running time: 103 minutes


1½/5

Review:

Gone Girl Review – Till Death…


Director: David Fincher

Writer: Gillian Flynn (screenplay & novel)

Stars: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Tyler Perry


Release date: October 3rd, 2014 

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 149 minutes


5/5

Best part: Fincher’s direction.

Worst part: Minor book-to-film translation issues.

Movies and relationships – despite the major differences between fantasy and reality – share one vital similarity. Oddly enough, these two ‘necessities’ rely on first impressions. A good first impression can make for blissful rewards, while a bad one can turn smiles into frowns. Tinseltown’s latest smash hit crime-thriller/marriage deterrent Gone Girl makes it mark within its first few moments. In its second scene, one of our two lead characters, standing next to a wheelie bin, looks around the neighbourhood before skulking back into his/her house.

Ben Affleck as struggling journo/murder suspect Nick Dunne.

Analysing this one uneventful moment, Gone Girl‘s audience could piece a million ideas together to create a billion different interpretations. In a year of shlocky actioners and dodgy biopics, the movie pick critics and film-goers up off the ground. We can all rest easy, thanks to this pulsating crime-thriller. We can now look forward to a potentially ingenious Oscar season. Obviously, I fell in love with this movie and might never let go. Thanks to its commendable cast and crew, this is 2014’s best movie. So, what is it about? Well, that is certainly an interesting question. The aforementioned lead is Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), a disgruntled writer dangling on the thinnest moral tightrope imaginable. The bin scene delivers only a minuscule look into his existence. Kicking off in the present, the narrative scours through his hit-and-miss past. Early on, we witness a younger, more confident Nick introducing himself to alluring femme fatale Amy (Rosamund Pike). Hitting it off immediately, our cute characters ignite the ultimate topsy-turvy relationship. At first, our lovebirds float through life in each other’s arms. Bolstered by kinky sex and likeable personalities, their coupling seems perfect. However, soon after Nick and Amy’s wedding, life swings the one-two punch of a recession and mass lay-offs. Following Nick’s twin sister Margo(Carrie Coon)’s advice, our leads move from New York to his hometown of North Carthage, Missouri. On their fifth anniversary, Nick comes home to find a crime scene. Amy has been kidnapped, and detectives Boney (Kim Dickens) and Gulpin (Patrick Fugit) are on the case.

Rosamund Pike as mousey housewife/victim Amy Elliot Dunne.

From here, I promise to stick to my specific criticisms about the final product. In doing so, I will be avoiding Gone Girl‘s jaw-dropping twists and turns. Based on tabloid journalist turned novelist Gillian Flynn’s best-selling beach-read, the movie elegantly tackles several genre tropes and thrilling ideas. Faithful to said momentous page-turner, Gone Girl hands screenplay duties over to Flynn. Gracefully, Flynn develops a straight-to-the-point translation of her own material. The novel – telling a slinky and cynical story about marriage’s ups, downs, and left turns – tip-toes between plot-points and chapters. This adaptation, though aided by Flynn’s succinct screenplay, is bolstered by mega-successful psychological-thriller filmmaker David Fincher (Fight Club, Seven). Along with the aforementioned modern classics, Fincher’s no-nonsense direction has delivered such gut-wrenchers as The Game, Panic Room, Zodiac, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Social Network, and the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo remake. Like his Stieg Larsson adaptation, his take on Flynn’s novel amplifies the emotional resonance and stakes. Examining the text’s denotations and connotations with microscope-like focus, his style aptly suits the narrative. Amy – the missing gorgeous, white woman – sends the world into a tailspin. Meanwhile, Nick, a handsome journalist sulking inside their McMansion, becomes the prime suspect. The first half, setting up its story and character threads, omits the fat and lovingly nurtures its more-important concepts. Thanks to Fincher’s non-linear style, aided by chapter-defining fade-ins/outs, the narrative peels back story-lines with fingernail-like sharpness and intensity. Relishing in Amy’s oppressive diary entries, Fincher and Flynn craft an alarming tale of regret, temptation, monogamy, and gender politics. Adding to the overbearing cynicism, the story even pits Amy against her mother’s notorious literature creation ‘Amazing Amy’. Slithering around one another, these people are despicable, desperate, and just plain fascinating!

“I will practice believing my husband loves me. But I could be wrong.” (Amy Elliot Dunne (Rosamund Pike), Gone Girl).

Tyler Perry as top-shelf attorney Tanner Bolt.

As a pulpy, trashy, and intriguing mystery-thriller, Gone Girl makes airport novels, Hollywood cinema, and Affleck look so damn irresistible. Affleck, coming off an Oscar win and a major career resurgence, makes the most of this experience. Shedding his polarising persona, the A-lister succumbs to the character. However, credit belongs to Pike for perfecting her indelible role. Delivering multiple turns within one performance, the British character actress deserves the Oscar win. In addition, the stunt casting works wonders. Neil Patrick Harris goes full ‘One Hour Photo‘ in his disturbing role. Tyler Perry delivers a charismatic turn as ego-driven attorney Tanner Bolt. Boosting everyone’s careers, Fincher is the all-seeing, all-knowing God of big-budget filmmaking. Dissecting Nick and Amy’s marriage like a water-logged body, the movie delivers several arresting surprises and hurl-inducing moments. Certain scenes, testing each viewer’s tolerance levels, lodge themselves in the consciousness. Throughout the second half, in which character psyches are repeatedly broken and remoulded, the narrative delves into its own unabashed insanity. In fusing 1940s film noir, 1980/90s Brian de Palma/Paul Verhoeven fare, and modern kidnap-thrillers, this mystery-thriller crafts an unconscionable swagger. As the cameras and Nancy Grace-like newscasters obliterate Nick’s life, Fincher – like with previous efforts – beheads 24-hour news media, police ignorance, and studio-driven dross. In fact, the movie points out its own quirks; calling attention to everything meta, symbolic, and cliched. Matching Flynn’s sarcasm, Fincher’s blackly comedic humour is worth the admission cost. Gone Girl‘s technical precision stands out above almost anything else in 2014. Jeff Cronenweth’s handsome cinematography, highlighting Fincher’s signature style, lends pathos to this gruelling experience. In addition, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score boosts their already impressive oeuvre.

Despite the wheelie-bin scene’s infinite importance, the scene before it sums up Gone Girl‘s insatiable   prowess. Nick, looking at the back of his wife’s head, discusses his overwhelming desire to break her skull and learn her many saucy secrets. The following two hours does this with style, gusto, and chills. Thanks to Flynn’s taut screenplay and Fincher’s vigorous direction, this adaptation succeeds where similar efforts fail. Like Fincher’s previous efforts, Gone Girl takes the genre, eviscerates it, reshapes it, and dares others to do better. It’s a worthwhile experience…just don’t watch it with your significant other!

Verdict: A pulpy and confronting mystery-thriller.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Review – Fincher’s Finesse


Director: David Fincher

Writer: Steve Zaillian (screenplay), Steig Larsson (novels)

Stars: Daniel Craig, Rooney Mara, Christopher Plummer, Stellan Skarsgard


Release date: December 20th, 2011

Distributor: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Columbia Pictures

Country: USA, Sweden

Running time: 158 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The atmospheric direction.

Worst part: The twists.

Having only been two years since the release of the acclaimed Swedish adaptation of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Director David Fincher (Fight Club, Se7en) has used his gritty, low grade visual style and themes describing decaying humanity, to create an even more affecting and alluring version than the original.

Daniel Craig.

In a case of journalistic integrity gone awry, investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Daniel Craig) has been shamed, charged and fined after losing a libel case to a corrupt businessman. Trying desperately to clear his name while ignoring his recent downfall, he is hired by Henrik Vanger (Christopher Plummer), retired CEO of Vanger Industries, to investigate the missing persons case of Vanger’s niece Harriet, who disappeared almost 40 years ago. With Henrik convinced that one of his extended family is responsible and with the possibility of incest and ritualistic murder, Blomkvist must use everything at his disposal to solve this case. Hot on his tail is the gothic yet vulnerable Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), hired to run detailed  background  check on Blomkvist. After discovering her intrusive behaviour, and unbeatable investigative and computer hacking abilities, he hires her to help solve the case and cases of other women murdered in the area. Tensions are raised between the two of them as both the investigation and their emotions reach boiling point.

Rooney Mara.

In this quick-fire American remake of the first in Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, Fincher injects his themes and visual style into this story of graphic depictions and emotional explorations. His decayed look at murder from a psychological perspective and the world of investigative journalism is reminiscent of his earlier work; in making the viewer both disgusted and intrigued at the same time. The sparse lighting, bleak colour pallet; featuring a particular use of green, and the grungy opening credit sequence accompanied  by Led Zepplin’s Immigrant Song make this recently adapted story a strong statement of Fincher’s creativity. Fincher directs the violence and rape scenes with a greater intensity than in the original. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo delves deeper into the method behind the madness as we see the depths of the human psyche and its sometimes severe descent into hell. Fincher’s focus on the reactions of these atrocities delivers a greater emotional impact. The rape scene involving Salander and her handler is both thought provoking and disgusting based on its constant documentation of the emotions displayed. During the ordeal, the camera focuses to certain extent on Salander’s face, showing her as both a deeply scarred and tough personality. Despite some of the plot-twists becoming slightly anti-climactic towards the end, Fincher’s adaptation benefits from strong pacing, a gritty, creepy score from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (who also scored Fincher’s The Social Network), the beautiful cinematography capturing the cold, inhumane conditions of both the murders and the snow covered Swedish setting, and an extraordinary level of character depth.

“Hold still. I’ve never done this before, and there will be blood.” (Lisbeth Salander (Rooney Mara), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo).

Christopher Plummer.

Unlike the original, in which both lead characters were interesting but still could have been defined to a greater extent, Fincher delves deeper into the state of affairs surrounding Blomkvist and his struggle to fit into present society after the trial, and Salander’s disturbed personality and anti hero status. Daniel Craig delivers another great performance, adding a lot of emotion through his facial expressions as well as his convincing delivery. While Rooney Mara delivers an oscar calibre performance that will be remembered as both a symbol of female empowerment and an individual going against the system in almost every way. Her frail physical structure covered in changing hair styles, bleached eyebrows, piercings, tattoos and black eye liner creates a distressing, alien look for Salander, adding to her lack of both normality and socially acceptable attributes more so than Noomi Rapace’s portrayal in the original. Her scene of physical torture upon her cantankerous handler is the focal point, showing a vengeance and lack of humanity reminiscent of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Her revenge-fuelled fantasies and feminine charms, highlighted at the end of film, deliver a very damaged yet human portrayal. Her physicality and experimentation with sexual desires defining her inner angst makes Mara’s performance an absolute stand out.

Fincher having his chance to adapt this bleak and brutal material has worked. Despite copying many scenes from the original, he has still created an impressive work of art that rivals his other films. With The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the blackened world of conspiracy and malice has seen his characters conform to their own set of rules through their frightening actions.

Verdict: A visceral and enthralling american remake.