Movie reviews: The Journey, A Dog's Purpose, Harmonium, Mindhorn
- The Journey (12A, 94mins), 2 Stars
- A Dog's Purpose (PG, 120mins), 3 Stars
- Harmonium (No cert, IFI, 124mins), 4 Stars
- Mindhorn (15A, 88mins), 4 Stars
The death of Martin McGuinness revived memories of the unlikeliest friendship in Irish politics. The bond between Martin and Ian Paisley made the peace process possible, and Nick Hamm's timely film The Journey imagines how that might have come about.
The St Andrew's talks of 2007 are about to break down when Reverend Paisley (Timothy Spall) announces he's going home to celebrate his wedding anniversary. At the last minute, Martin McGuinness (Colm Meaney) decides to travel to Edinburgh Airport with him. Meaney is well cast as McGuinness, who does his best to strike up a conversation with the old warhorse but initially gets nowhere. Eventually, shared geographical roots help break the ice as common ground is tentatively found.
Timothy Spall manfully tackles Paisley's mid-Ulster twang, the late John Hurt plays a nervous mediator, and there's nothing wrong with anyone's acting. The problem here is the concept, which seems absurdly forced. There might have been a good way of telling this story, but this isn't it.
Do dogs understand us? Have they got souls? These are the weighty philosophical questions tackled by A Dog's Purpose, Lasse Hallstrom's bizarre drama that starts off like your average family yarn before taking an odd turn. In 1950s America, a stray puppy is just getting used to the world when he's rounded up by dog-catchers, and put down. I was just reaching for my coat when I realised the creature was still talking (courtesy of Josh Gad) and has been reincarnated as a lovable golden retriever.
Pretty soon he's in trouble again, but a young boy called Ethan comes to the rescue. Christened Bailey, the dog leads a long and happy life before making his inevitable final journey to the vet. He comes back again (as a police dog) and again (as a lady's lapdog), and again (as a neglected Bernese mountain dog), but continues searching for Ethan. This all sounds sickeningly mawkish, but the hovering presence of death adds salt to the proceedings, and Hallstrom and his actors have made this film oddly watchable.
There's nothing sentimental about Harmonium, a hard-edged Japanese drama that starts sedately before veering into horror. Everything seems reassuringly orderly in the home of couple Toshio (Kanji Furutachi), Akie (Mariko Tsutsui) and their daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa): they live in a small house in Tokyo's suburbs, where Toshio uses his garage for his metalwork business. Hotaru plays the harmonium (badly), and the ticking metronome that guides her lessons grows louder, more ominous when a stranger appears. Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano) is an old acquaintance of Toshio's, and is immediately offered a job, and a bed. But Toshio seems uneasy about his sudden intrusion, all the more so when Akie takes a shine to him. Harmonium builds uneasiness masterfully, and midway through a shocking act changes the film's direction entirely.
From the dark to the ridiculous: Mindhorn is the brainchild of Mighty Boosh veterans Julian Barratt and Simon Farnaby, and stars Barrett as an impossibly vain TV actor who's now on his uppers. Back in the 1980s, Richard Thorncroft was the star of the hit show 'Mindhorn', in which he played an Isle of Man detective armed with an artificial eye that acts as a kind of lie detector.
He's all washed up, until he gets a call from the Isle of Man. A crazed killer is on the loose, and will only negotiate with Mindhorn, whom he assumes is real. So Thorncroft returns to his greatest role, but instead of helping police, is hell-bent on reviving his career. It's very silly, and very funny, and Steve Coogan, Kenneth Branagh and Simon Callow give their all in hammy cameos.