Reel Critics: Not a big 'Reach,' but fast-paced fun

Tom Cruise already has a successful action movie franchise in the "Mission: Impossible" films. But he makes a serious bid to start up a similar action series as "Jack Reacher," a hard-boiled operative in the mold of Jason Bourne. Jack lives off the radar screen after a career as a military police investigator.

A former army sniper Jack knew in Afghanistan becomes the prime suspect in a shooting spree that kills five people in Pittsburgh. Jack's efforts to solve the crime cause problems for the police investigation. He teams up with the suspect's defense attorney, played by the smart and sexy Rosamund Pike, to unravel the mystery.

This premise is the excuse for all the intrigue and mayhem that follows as they are both put in harm's way. Jack is forced into situations where he must demonstrate his outstanding martial arts and black ops skills. Heads are crushed, bones are broken and dead bodies pile up.

Robert Duvall has a nice cameo as a grizzled old Marine running a shooting range. As expected, there is high tension with high-speed chases to keep the adrenaline flowing. It's a great example of this action-packed genre. If this is your cup of tea, you'll enjoy the violent ride.


'Les Miz' earns its tears

Musicals by their very nature are prone to excess, and "Les Miserables" is no exception, but that doesn't mean it's not a beautiful movie.

The beloved stage show-turned-movie is known for haunting melodies and tear-stained drama. Listen closely to the lyrics to understand the moral choices each character faces. I noticed the audience was totally enrapt, and at some points, it seemed there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

Led by Hugh Jackman as long-suffering Jean Valjean and Anne Hathaway as the truly miserable Fantine, the actors sing with searing emotion. Russell Crowe, as relentless Inspector Javert, is a surprise with a pretty decent voice. For comic relief, who better but Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen as the notorious Thenardiers, deliriously grungy and wicked innkeepers.

The holidays are a time to reflect on hope, love and charity. I can't think of a better way to spend them than watching "Les Miserables," even if a few tears are shed.


Skip trip to 'Hyde Park'

In the disappointing "Hyde Park on Hudson," there's a definite "ick" factor in seeing Franklin Delano Roosevelt having an intimate relationship with distant cousin Daisy.

Set in 1939, Bill Murray is charming as FDR but both Laura Linney (as Daisy) and Olivia Williams (as wife Eleanor) seem uncomfortable and dull.

There's a great private conversation between the president and visiting King George VI (Samuel West), that was like a mini follow-up to "The King's Speech." What a film this could have been if the focus stayed on these future real-life allies, rather than on some sordid fiction.

JOHN DEPKO is a retired senior investigator for the Orange County public defender's office. He lives in Costa Mesa and works as a licensed private investigator. SUSANNE PEREZ lives in Costa Mesa and is an executive assistant for a company in Irvine.

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