*NEW* TOMB RAIDER REVIEW *NEW*

Vikander was brilliant BUT was everything else?

Lara Croft, the fiercely independent daughter of a missing adventurer, must push herself beyond her limits when she finds herself on the island where her father disappeared.

In a nutshell, flawed but fun. Something these video game movie adaptations (of late) have failed to achieve (Sorry Fassbender, the less we say about Assassin’s Creed, the better).

The opening set to it with some supernatural guff about a tomb entrapping a Chinese sorceresss and Lara’s father (Dominic West) being the only one who knows how to open it.

Thankfully it didn’t delve too much into that hokey stuff too early. Instead we watched a ripped Vikander (Seriously those abs put my beer belly to shame) taking a pummelling in a mixed martial arts punch up.

But that scene established her character. Resilient, feisty and stubborn to boot.

I knew Vikander wouldn’t disappoint. She had tough shoes to fill after Jolie. She was the perfect incarnation. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Jolie efforts BUT they lacked something.

The first act was spent on Lara refusing to accept her father’s death. Despite all the search parties declaring him dead after a seven year absence. Scraping by as a bike courier despite being the sole heir to a rich inheritance (And an incredible mansion!).

It was nice to see Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi pop up in this BUT their characters were wasted . . . In this entry. If there are to be sequels than there is potential for (at least) Thomas’ role to grow.

Initially Dominic West was reduced to cheesy flashbacks BUT they still fared a lot better than Voight/Joile’s disjointed “dream” encounters.

You could argue that the “fox hunt” was unnecessary and cheesy BUT it was fast paced and entertaining as the couriers chased Lara around London for a cash prize. Showing how mischievous  and resourceful the heroine can be.

I liked that Lara was younger. It added a vulnerability to her. Unlike Jolie’s bad ass. Still learning the ropes and introducing her to the chaos as much as the audience. Different.

The film zipped along and I wasn’t bored. As soon as that old Japanese puzzle box was handed to Lara at the will signing, the game was afoot. The hidden rooms in Croft Manor, the cryptic messages.

Cheesy but the right amount. The more video messages and audio recordings Richard left droning on about Himiko, the more far-fetched the supernatural stuff got.

Thankfully there was enough high-octane action to keep my grumbling at bay. The set-pieces were tense and exhilarating. Even if the CGI left a little to be desired in places. Especially when Lara’s boat rode through the Ordeals of Himiko.

In one shot, the jaw dropping visuals impressed as the giant waves bombarded the old barge. The next . . . Ridiculously cartoony. It didn’t spoil the intensity of the scene but it was just a little messy.

BUT that still didn’t stop me wincing as Lara free-run across a rusty war plane balanced over the edge of a waterfall. Like I said, cheesy. BUT riveting.

I thought Daniel Wu played the drunken showboat captain Lu Ren well. And I was happy to see Walton Goggins as (the Weirdo with a beardo) Matthias Vogel and his band of meaningless mercenaries.

It was just a shame that Goggins was a little weak after such a creepy introduction. Nonchalantly declaring that he killed her father. A man obsessed with achieving his mission no matter the cost.

BUT he was pushed into the background far too much.

Junkie XL’s score was fantastic. The Mad Max maestro perfectly composed each scene with the frenetic action.

I liked how Lara wasn’t a believer of the supernatural. Refusing to believe in the mythology of Himiko.

There was depth in her character. Her remorse at having to dispose of a mercenary in a brutal manner (for a 12A) was a surprising moment. That was until she clocked up the body count with her bow and arrow 30 minutes later.

The father/daughter dynamic worked a lot better with West and Vikander, And surprisingly the actual tomb raiding didn’t happen until the 75th minute marker.

I did laugh when Richard and Lara chanted an incantation that hadn’t been mentioned throughout the film.

And this was where the film began to buckle, the final act felt rushed and slapped together.

The Himiko subplot wasn’t that interesting and when things finally came to a head, it was breezed over so quickly that I found myself wanting.

Recycling Indiana Jones territory with the booby traps (hidden spikes, crumbling floors etc) and throwing in everything but the kitchen sink for an explosive finale as it ran out of steam.

“I’ll take two”.

However, despite its flaws, this promising reboot was a solid effort that delivered in thrills, action and left areas to explore.

And if there was to be another, I wouldn’t grumble.

Vikander was flawless. We just need a more interesting mythology and a stronger villain for our heroine to take on.

3/5

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*NEW* LIVE BY NIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

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Alright, alright.

The pace may have been a killer and we might have seen it all before BUT Affleck’s crime caper still packs a punch.

A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.

The opening 20 minutes didn’t mess about. It set up Joe’s (Ben Affleck) past and got straight to business as he worked through the ranks from a petty thief to a bootlegger.

Being a noir nut, I was always going to be a little biased. It helps when some of Affleck’s better works; The Town, Gone Baby Gone (and now Live By Night) are heavily influenced by that very genre.

I’ve been impressed with Affleck’s transformation as a director. A maturity from his 90s blockbuster phase. And yes, I do think he will be a good Batman! Enough of these sad Affleck memes.

It was everything I expected from an Affleck penned gangster flick. I was already ticking noir traits off my imaginary checklist; embittered war veteran (check), disillusioned with the law (check), falling for a girl that can only mean trouble (CHECK! CHECK! CHECK!).

I say Affleck penned. He did have a little help from Dennis Lehane’s crime novel (Thank you @TheMarckoguy). A noir author I intend to read up on. A man that has penned such works as: Shutter Island, Mystic River and The Drop.

I was engrossed in Joe’s game. Playing off the Irish against the Italians in their turf war. Just to get a piece of the action and stay out of the cross-hairs. BUT it wasn’t long before the protagonist had to make a choice.

Always felt that Robert Glenister was a very underrated TV actor. Just watch BBC’s Hustle. I didn’t expect to see him feature as Albert White, the Irish kingpin. He was brilliant. I wish he was in this more. A callous adversary if ever there was one. A ticking time bomb.

The fuse? A woman, of course. Sienna Miller (Foxcatcher) wasn’t in the film as much as I thought. Especially after all the interviews and heavy advertising.

She delivered a good performance as the moxy Emma BUT somehow I think if she had more screen time with that strange Irish accent, she might have overstayed her welcome very quickly.

Brendan Gleeson made a much more memorable impression as Joe’s father. A relief after his dire cameo in Assassin’s Creed (The less we say about that, the better). Sheesh.

Another character I would have been happy to see more of. His fractious relationship with Joe was an interesting angle that wasn’t explored enough. A copper desperate to see his criminal son on the right path.

“So you’re threatening me with people that are more powerful than you? So who am I talkin’ to you for?” Affleck was fantastic. Another powerhouse performance. He looked like a tank with that Bat bulk.

The pace did meander in parts with the middle act taking the biscuit BUT thankfully that was relieved by cracking dialogue, great action pieces and fantastic cinematography.

No, really. Robert Richardson’s cinematography was something else. The sweeping shots across Miami were breathtaking alone.

The car chases were brilliantly shot. It felt like you were in the car with the robbers as they evaded capture. And of course, no gangster flick would be complete without bodies being bullet ridden by Tommy guns.

I was a little disappointed with the female roles. Miller didn’t really come across as a strong femme fatale and Zoe Saldana (Guardians of the Galaxy) was completely wasted in her role.

The pair had good chemistry BUT there just wasn’t enough drama. Affleck missed an opportunity for sparks to fly when an old friend from Joe’s past crept out of the woodwork. Shame.

At first, I kept wondering why Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) was reduced to such an unnecessary cameo as the sheriff’s daughter. However, there was an interesting turning point with her character that took me by surprise and allowed the actress her moment to shine. A good performance.

Despite my niggles, Affleck perfectly captured a gritty criminal underworld full of rich and dark characters. Chris Cooper (American Beauty) played the holistic sheriff with aplomb. Happy to turn a blind eye on Joe’s “business affairs”. Appropriately calling him, “The Mayor of Evil”.

The tense encounters with the KKK saved a labouring middle act. The suspense and heated exchanges soon brought me back into the fold. The only problem with a noir is that the end game is always the same.

The fiery final act was worth the wait. Nail biting, gripping and action packed. Even if Affleck gave us umpteen false endings. Seriously, I kept thinking the film had finished. Only for something else to pop up.

A little predictable, long at the tooth BUT tense, gritty and still a bloody good watch.

3/5

*NEW* ASSASSIN’S CREED 3D REVIEW *NEW*

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For the love of all that is holy, AVOID this movie.

Another failed video game adaptation bites the dust.

When Callum Lynch (Michael Fassbender) explores the memories of his ancestor Aguilar and gains the skills of a Master Assassin; he discovers he is a descendant of the secret Assassins society.

We’re only a couple of weeks into the new year and I already have a nominee for worst film of 2017.

On paper, I honestly thought we had a winner. Oh how wrong I was. What is it about video game movies? Why are they so bad?

They have the fan base, the concept, a plot. All packaged and ready to go and yet it still doesn’t cut the mustard.

I’m a big fan of the AC franchise. It was a crazy premise. BUT when you’re jumping off towers and free-running up buildings while disposing of targets with cool gadgets, who cared?

BUT somehow this dull and meandering affair managed to make that concept seem even more far-fetched and uninteresting.

From the opening 10 minutes, you knew what you were in for. A disappointing, disjointed and poorly CGI’d movie.

Now credit where it’s due. The writers actually kept to the story line. The only problem was that (as a gamer) those were the bits I’d skip. If it didn’t have anything to do with training or the Assassins, that START button was getting a hammering.

It didn’t help that it took itself too far seriously. Cal’s drawn out back story didn’t really set the tempo. And that was the problem, it never really got going!

His mother was bumped off (for no valid reason). We had mindless exposition and dull dialogue as Fassbender did his utmost to keep things watchable.

I still think he was the right choice for the role. I just wish he had better material. I was 30 minutes in and already nodding off!

Even when Cal was picked up by the sinister Illuminati-esque Abstergo Organisation, it was hard going. They managed to make all the fun stuff with the Animus a bloody chore.

A talented cast squandered. Not even Jeremy Irons and Marion Cotillard could save the day. Cotillard was wasted in her role. Anyone could have played her.

Irons did fare a little better and could have been an excellent adversary. BUT he was pushed into the background far too much. And by the time he was brought back for the shambolic finale, he was nothing more than a quick witted panto villain.

Charlotte Rampling was completely unnecessary as the leader of the Illuminati . . . Or whatever she was supposed to be. Brendan Gleeson actually looked like he was on drugs in his meaningless cameo.

There was one thing that bugged the hell out of me the most. What’s the title of the film? ASSASSIN’S CREED. So where the hell were the ASSASSINS?!

The mixed CGI effects and frantic camera work may have been disorienting to watch BUT, at least, it was entertaining.

When the assassins were able to do their thing, it was watchable. The rooftop chase was exactly like the game play. A real shame that we had only two or three sequences. Not enough wall sprinting and hay jumping for my liking.

The 3D was a waste of time. It definitely wasn’t worth the money for bits of wood and the occasional arrow flying out at you. Dreadful.

Every time that blasted eagle soared across Adam Arkapaw’s horribly grainy 15th Century Madrid, it just reminded me how much of an eye sore the visual effects really were.

Even the infamous “leap of faith” was a massive let down. It was either disrupted by a quick flick back to Cal messing around with the Animus or hampered down with blurry CGI.

It failed to impress on both fronts with the present AND the Assassin stuff. Throwing in characters you couldn’t care about.

There was a really flimsy and cliched relationship between the assassins Aguilar and Maria (Ariane Labed) that went no where. No memorable villain. Just a stocky armour-clad henchman and a lechy monk with a really bad bald piece.

Michael Kenneth Williams (The Wire) and his highly unmemorable bunch of Abstergo inmates were a complete waste of time. All they did was moan at Cal and waffle on about the Apple. A stupid relic that can end free will. Yawn.

IT JUST DIDN’T WORK. By the time the closing credits rolled, I felt as empty and angry as the protagonist.

And once Justin Kurzel’s name flashed across the screen, the die was cast. Reuniting with Fassbender and Cotillard to fail with another adaptation. First Shakespeare, now one of the highest grossing video game franchises in the last decade.

Third time’s the charm? I wouldn’t bank on it.

The cast did their best BUT they were always going to fall short. Poorly executed, dreadful CGI, a meandering pace makes this one to AVOID.

The only good thing to come out of this was that it made me want to revisit the old games.

2/5 (Just)