October movie reviews: a guide for parents

Robinson Crusoe: The Wild Life, the animated adventure comedy for the whole family.
Robinson Crusoe: The Wild Life, the animated adventure comedy for the whole family.  Photo: Rotoscopers

JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK (M)
Released: October 20

American action drama based on Lee Child's book. Retired soldier-loner Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise) discovers a fellow soldier (Cobie Smulders) is about to be court-martialled. Reacher investigates and finds a military conspiracy involving ex-mercenaries and murders in Afghanistan. Complicating matters is the appearance of the teenage daughter (Danika Yarosh) he never knew he had. Directed by Edward Zwick who made The Last Samurai with Cruise.

  • Language: Twenty-four swear words.
  • Romance: None.
  • Violence: Blows, fights, shoot-outs, chases, deaths.
  • Ages: 3 – 6: Out of their reach.
  • 7 – 12: Ditto.
  • 13-plus: Although this likably lean film includes fine cinematography by The Bourne Identity's Oliver Wood (and very Bourne-inspired theme music), this is a film only a Cruise fan could love. The plot feels tele-feature-sized, with too many dull interiors, which won't please most teens. Pluses include occasional memorable one-liners, and an excellent performance from Smulders (star of television's How I Met Your Mother). Thumbs up for her energetic and realistically capable character.
  • Adult Compatibility: Best for those who like their action stripped to fist-fight basics and their drama understated. A trim script cleverly fast-forwards through unnecessary explanations in many scenes; an unexpectedly stylish finale is reminiscent of old Hollywood thrillers. Cruise is as committed as ever, which is always a bonus.
  • Critic's rating: 6/10

KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES (M)
Released October 20

American action comedy. Suburban couple Jeff (Zach Galifianakis) and Karen Gaffney (Isla Fisher) tell themselves they love their humdrum life in a quiet cul-de-sac. But that all changes when their glamorous new neighbours, the Joneses (Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot) turn out to be much more than the travel writer and cooking blogger they claim to be.

  • Language: Twelve swear words.
  • Romance: Kisses, bedroom scenes, sexual references.
  • Violence: Blows, falls, explosions, chases, shoot-outs, deaths.
  • Ages: 3 – 6: No.
  • 7 – 12: No.
  • 13-plus: Fans of The Hangover star Galifianakis should know his latest has occasional funny moments, and a respectable number of explosions and shoot-outs. However, it's targeted at older (married) viewers looking for date night entertainment. Hamm and Gadot supply the glossy action; Gadot easily proves why she's been cast in the upcoming Wonder Woman movie. Without these two stars, the film would have been really annoying.
  • Adult Compatibility: The plot feels like it has been done a thousand times before. There's little here for female viewers: Fisher's character is so badly written, she's illogical. Unlike Tina Fey and Steve Carell's Date Night, the Gaffneys are never especially likable. Some scenes, including one in a lingerie-shop, are so blatantly written (and drool-y), they are cringe-worthy.
  • Critic's rating: 5/10

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL (M)
Released: October 20

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Prequel to the 2014 horror hit Ouija. In 1960s suburban Los Angeles, a widow (Elizabeth Reaser) makes money by hosting home séances, helped by her teenage daughter Paulina (Annalise Basso) and younger sister Doris (Lulu Wilson). When the family uses a Ouija board for their act, they seem to summon up the girls' dead father. But a concerned priest (Henry Thomas) is not sure this spirit is friendly. Produced by Jason Blum (the Insidious and Purge series).

  • Language: Five swear words.
  • Romance: A kiss.
  • Violence: Threats, falls, blows, poltergeist attacks, deaths.
  • Ages:   3 – 6: The spirits say … no way.
  • 7 – 12: Ditto.
  • 13-plus: Surprisingly well-crafted, well-cast horror thriller is tailor-made for older teens. A confident set-up carefully establishes the characters which makes later plot twists more involving; young Wilson is especially good. The backgrounds and clothes, and a nicely handled romance between Paulina and a handsome classmate (Parker Mack), boost the classic shocks; female teen viewers especially won't feel they have seen it all before (a major achievement for horror movies these days). Stay for another scene after the end credits.
  • Adult Compatibility: Good, thanks to appealing Reaser (the Twilight movies) and Thomas (whose 35 year film career includes making E.T. as a child).
  • Critic's rating: 7/10

INFERNO (M)
Released: October 13

Hollywood action drama based on Dan Brown's novel. Professor Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks) is on the run in Italy with a British doctor (Felicity Jones). Pursued by assassins, the pair searches art museums to locate a deadly virus hidden by a crazed billionaire (Ben Foster). Directed by Ron Howard who also made the Langdon adventures The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons.

  • Language: Seven swear words.
  • Romance: Kisses.
  • Violence: Stabbings, blows, falls, fires, shootings, deaths.
  • Ages: 3 – 6: Mamma mia, no!
  • 7 – 12: The plot is James Bond-lite but violent, medieval-inspired images are too much for all but mature tweens.
  • 13-plus: This big budget Ron Howard production delivers glossy visuals and globe-trotting action but its plot is creaky and familiar. Langdon's habit of running (literally) about with age-inappropriate female companions feels equally tired. Fans of the novel are griping on social media about plot changes. Pluses? Likable Hanks (as always), and occasional moments of real suspense.
  • Adult Compatibility: More puzzle, please, and less chasing. Pity those tender scenes with Borgen television star Sidse Babett Knudsen arrive too late to help; she and Hanks are terrific together. Da Vinci Code music riffs are atmospheric but still can't make this film as involving as its prequel.
  • Critic's rating: 5/10

BOYS IN THE TREES (M)
Released: October 20

Australian teenage friendship drama. On the last day of high school, suburban lad Corey (Toby Wallace) is bored by the usual pranks with his skateboarding friends. He meets up with Jonah (Gulliver McGrath), a former best friend from primary school, and Romany (Mitzi Ruhlmann) who wants to get out of Australia as much as Corey does. But what starts as light-hearted Halloween partying spins out of control. Produced by Mushroom Records.

  • Language: 41 swear words 
  • Romance: Kisses, explicit sexual references, bedroom scenes.
  • Violence: Punches, threats, death themes. Bullying themes.
  • Ages: 3 – 6: No.
  • 7 – 12: No.
  • 13-plus: This sometimes feels like an over-extended short film. However, the themes – about not wanting to grow up, having to join the wolf pack to survive, and not being there for friends when you yourself are scared – should score with teenagers.  The acting gets better as the film plays; these age-appropriate stars nail the real physical danger many kids face every day – from each other.
  • Adult Compatibility: Adults are less likely to commit to a familiar plot; trimming could have tightened some scenes. Still, the well-sustained suspense and brooding atmosphere, frequently striking visuals and poignant flashbacks, will keep grown-ups in their seats, as will the excellent soundtrack, with songs from Garbage, Blur and more. 
  • Critic's rating: 7/10 

DEEPWATER HORIZON (M)
Released: October 6

Based on fact American action drama. In April 2010, uncontrolled pressure caused explosions and fires on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig. Caught up in the disaster are an electronics technician (Mark Wahlberg), the rig boss (Kurt Russell), a safety officer (Gina Rodriguez) and a visiting BP company executive (John Malkovich). 

  • Language: 57 swear words.
  • Romance: Discreet adult references, kisses. 
  • Violence: Explosions, lethal flying debris, falls, woundings, deaths.
  • Ages: 3 – 6: Too deep and dark for them.
  • 7 – 12: Mature tweens who know Wahlberg from the Transformers movies will enjoy this slow-boil disaster movie which spends time putting viewers there on the rig. Screen text labels the key components, backed by flavoursome dialogue that feels lifted from real working life ("the drill shack"; "no mud, no flow, we're good to go"). Excellent aerial photography and impressive rig recreation boost the usual Hollywood disaster formula.
  • 13-plus: Yes, for all the above reasons. Director Peter Berg showed he could mix classic close-ups with exciting handheld camerawork in his Friday Night Lights (the film and later tele-series). Kudos for Rodriguez's believable female presence.
  • Adult Compatibility: High. Wahlberg is always good at playing working men. Early, tender family scenes make later action all the more gripping.  
  • Critic's rating: 8/10

JOE CINQUE'S CONSOLATION (M)
Released: October 13

Based on fact Australian drama thriller, adapted from Helen Garner's book. In Canberra, 1997, law student Anu (Maggie Nouri) is convinced her long-standing illness is the result of being poisoned by her boyfriend Joe (Jerome Meyer). So she organises a 'farewell' dinner party, telling some guests that she and Joe have decided on a suicide pact and other guests that she will murder him. Thus begins a week of increasingly bizarre behaviour from all concerned. 

  • Language: 14 swear words.
  • Romance: Kisses, sex scenes.
  • Violence: Threats, death themes, drug injections.
  • Ages: 3 – 6: No.
  • 7 – 12: No.
  • 13-plus: Probably only older teens could understand the weird pressure-cooker 'bubble' which this group of friends seems to have fallen into. Older teens are most likely to see this as a twisted love story although the deliberately understated approach and steady pace may make them restless. What will keep audiences interested is waiting for at least one of Joe's friends to warn him.
  • Adult Compatibility: The mind-boggling weirdness of what happened dresses up what often feels like an efficient tele-feature. Adults will still have plenty of unanswered questions, possibly because key players refused to comment to author Garner. The result is talking-point entertainment: you won't feel emotionally involved but you will discuss it later.
  • Critic's rating: 7/10

ROBINSON CRUSOE: THE WILD LIFE (TBC)
Released: October 29 (limited run, weekend screenings)

Animated Belgian-made English-dubbed version of Daniel Defoe's castaway story. When Crusoe (voiced by Matthias Schweighöfer) is captured by pirates, his parrot companion Tuesday (David Howard) relates his story. Robinson had been shipwrecked on a small island nearby; he teamed up with local animals to fight off a gang of feral cats.

  • Language: Two swear words.
  • Romance: Discreet references only.
  • Violence: Falls, threats, gunfire, hunting themes, explosions, chases, deaths.
  • Ages:      3 – 6: A muddled set-up and threats, plus the abrupt disappearance (don't ask) of a likable dog, will be too much for this lot.
  • 7 – 12: Targeted audience. Once Crusoe lands on the island, the funny animals deliver upbeat slapstick; scenes featuring Crusoe's elaborate tree house are winners. Those sly cats are genuinely creepy. The animation ranges from mediocre (the humans all look like computer-generated tele-show knock-offs) to the impressive (detailed fur and vibrant feathers).
  • 13-plus: Lacks the break-out songs and big name voice stars to hook them.
  • Adult Compatibility: This Belgian production scores points with parents for presenting kid viewers with a different take on a classic tale. However, child-less adults will find the music and voice actors dull and should skip it. 
  • Critic's rating: 6/10

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN (MA)
Released: October 6

Romantic thriller based on Paula Hawkins' best-selling book. Depressed divorcée Rachel (Emily Blunt) fixates on the seemingly perfect lives of Megan (Haley Bennett) and Scott (Luke Evans). When Megan disappears, drunken Rachel meddles in the investigation, attracting the attention of a suspicious detective (Allison Janney) and further alienating Rachel's ex-husband (Justin Theroux) and his new wife (Rebecca Ferguson). Directed by The Help's Tate Taylor.

  • Language: 40 swear words.
  • Romance: Kisses, torrid sex scenes, nudity. 
  • Violence: Threats, blows, slaps, deaths.
  • Ages: 3 – 6: No.
  • 7 – 12: Ditto.
  • 13-plus: Older teen fans of glossy murder thrillers and enraged-wife tales should enjoy this sleek melodrama. Terrific Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) dominates; the film would fail without her. Unlike the Gone Girl movie version, this retains the female point of view; it's a she said/she said tale. However, cramming the book's multiple narrators and time jumps makes this feel increasingly jumpy. It possibly needed another 20 minutes to flesh out Rachel and Scott's relationship.
  • Adult Compatibility: Good, if you know what you're getting. This is a generally classy production which will remind viewers of over-the-top crime thrillers such as Basic Instinct and Presumed Innocent. First class photography, music and luxurious settings are bonuses. 
  • Critic's rating: 7/10