*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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THE AGE OF ADALINE REVIEW

adaline

Lively and Huisman excel in an easygoing and endearing love story. Even if you may have seen it all before.

A young woman (Blake Lively), born at the turn of the 20th century, is rendered ageless after an accident. After many solitary years, she meets a man (Michiel Huisman) who complicates the eternal life she has settled into.

The concept is Forever (The recently cancelled immortal drama with Ioan Gruffudd). A freak accident and suddenly a young girl is unable to age. Predictable and a little corny BUT with an enigmatic cast and characters I actually cared about, I was happy to indulge.

Lively (Gossip Girl) delivered a sterling performance and wasn’t too bad on the eye either. What? Come on, ladies. You have Huisman’s torso to look at.

The film goes at an easygoing pace as we flick back and forth through the life of Adaline. The narration by Hugh Ross was okay to begin with. Filling in the blanks as we flash through the early years. Straight to the point and easy character building.

However, the ongoing commentary in every other scene soon got really annoying and a little unnecessary. His detailed explanation of how the lightning strike activated Adaline’s immortality just made the whole thing sound even more ridiculous. Some waffle about a scientific theory in 2035 proving this probability really didn’t help its case. Anyhoo . . .

It wasn’t long before people suspect something’s not right when Adaline hasn’t aged a day at 45. A simple traffic infraction with a local officer soon puts her on the run for the next 60 years! It was good how they tied in Adaline running from the law with the Communist witch hunt that consumed America in the 50s.

The paranoia, the questions, the reason why she stays living a life of secrecy but never truly living. She still has to make secret rendezvouses with her own daughter who has to pretend to be her grandmother. Yes, just like Forever. Ellen Burstyn (Interstellar) and Lively worked well together. To be honest, I would have been happy to see more of their relationship. Not enough of Burstyn.

We join Adaline as she is preparing herself another identity and a quiet peaceful life. That is until Ellis Jones arrives on the scene.

Huisman and Lively have fantastic chemistry and make the inevitable luvvy duvvy stuff that much more bearable. Huisman (Game of Thrones) was charismatic and made some of the cornier chunks of dialogue that bit more bearable. I don’t mind watching a couple inevitably get together as long as it isn’t too OTT and the characters are not irritating. So well done to the pair of them as we see Adaline desperately trying to turn down the advances of a man who is transfixed.

The courting ensues while the chemistry bubbles. Adaline finally lowering her guard. That is until (Not again!) she meets Ellis’ father, William. An old flame from her past.

Harrison Ford was brilliant. A return to form for Solo. He played the melancholic moper well. It certainly spiced things up as William refuses to accept that Adaline is a mere relation. The flashback sequences with younger William and Adaline melded with the present worked well.

Anthony Ingruber. I couldn’t believe how much he looked like Harrison Ford. It was uncanny. Did they have a good make up artist? CGI? If Lucas was considering bringing back the Indiana Jones franchise than look no further.

Amanda Crew (Sex Drive) was the only actress that I was disappointed with. But that was because her role was so unmemorable. If anything, her character wasn’t really needed. Other than to be another player in a family game of Trivial Pursuit. A shame.

Everything comes to a head and ends oh so predictably. BUT it was endearing, highly watchable and wasn’t the worst way to kill a couple of hours. Just don’t think too much into the not ageing thing because the explanations just made the plot hole even worse.

A great cast and great chemistry makes this one to give a go.

3/5

AS ABOVE SO BELOW REVIEW

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As I watched, the more it blowed. Now childish sulky comments aside. Another found footage “horror” film graces the big screen with cheap scares, poorly acted, badly written characters and a laughable premise. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the found footage film genre has died a death. MAKE IT STOP! The Blair Witch Project brought something new to the horror genre. Over-hyped to the max but suspenseful and tense. Paranormal Activity resurrected that format and made it a hit yet again.

But surely movie producers must have realized by the endless sequels that followed from Paranormal that the format was being milked dry. Look, I’m an old school horror nut. The Shining, The Exorcist, Psycho managed to haunt me. While these feeble attempts at “horror” if you can call it that, on the other hand, are laughable. Well, I can laugh. It doesn’t cost me anything but at 10 quid a ticket, it’s not good enough.

From the opening shaky handheld selfie shot, I could feel my head shaking. Here we go. Our posh toff archaeologist Scarlett (Perdita Weeks – Channel 4’s The Promise) explaining everything she is doing, killing all mystery and suspense. The opening sequence was pacey but the camera work was that shaky and erratic, I couldn’t see what was going on. It was giving me a headache . . . and the camera work as well. The jumpy moments merely equating to loud bangs and screams to make sure the audience are still awake after mind numbing exposition.

It all felt like a ridiculous Indiana Jones crusade. The Mummy through the eyes of Omid Djalili with the scarab beetle in his head. That is how frantic the camera work was. I never heard so many horror movie cliches in one opening scene; “Let’s split up”, “I have a family”, “I must complete my fathers work”, oh and the infamous “Don’t go in there”. It was certainly different with an Iranian cave demolition chase but as the film slowed down (boy did it), we are subjected to none other but a quest for the Philosopher’s Stone. No, you read that right.

You’re a wizard, Scarlett. A boring fable on Nicholas Flamel dragged the film further and further. Did they not watch or read Harry Potter? You could have nicked a quick synopsis and got to the catacombs so much quicker. I could feel my eyes drooping. Our lead heroine waffles on about degrees and Egyptology waffle. Credit where’s it due; the cast do their utmost to try and make it interesting but my word . . . Dull.

Ben Feldman. Why would you leave Mad Men for this? Your first film post Mad Men and it’s this? A cliched character with a “dark past” spewing cliched tripe with an inevitable and corny romance brewing him and Scarlett. It was all so tedious. I thought I was watching a straight to DVD sequel of National Treasure. All the historical mumbo jumbo was there. There was one cool but highly ridiculous trick involving a tablet, cleaning fluid and a lighter. We need ammonia. Conveniently while breaking into a church, the janitor has left all the chemicals and lighters your heart could contend. Brilliant!

When we finally get into the catacombs (after 40 minutes), there are moments but that is being generous. When the camera man gets trapped in a tight crevice (Come on, we’re better than that), it was done quite well as he struggles and wrestles through a passage decorated with bones. For any claustrophobic, a nightmare scenario. But unfortunately, I’m not claustrophobic. There is no tension. Random characters get bumped off left, right and centre without any background, interest or concern. Suspense. Naff all. Loud noises and screams may make me jump out of my seat but what do you expect when the story has put me into a coma, near enough.

Feldman’s character with a dark past who constantly keeps reiterating that he will not go down into the catacombs; inevitably gets pushed down into the cave and what is his big secret? He’s CLAUSTROPHOBIC! Why didn’t he say that in the first place? Idiot. Oh my God, it felt like something out of a comedy sketch. The final 15 minutes certainly took it up a notch with a mad dash for survival but it felt like a terrible mish-mesh of the Death figure from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal wafting around and brooding in a chair, demented statues that were ripped off from the Doctor Who angels popping out of no where and the frenetic first person POV (that was brought back and done so much better in REC and REC 2) rearing its ugly head in an act of desperation to keep us hanging on the end of our seats.

For me, I was already on the end of my seat getting ready to leave. This only made me want to watch The Descent. A film that I felt at the time was incredibly flat and over-hyped but in comparison to this monstrosity, at least that succeeded in suspense and real scares. The ending of As Above So Below was a surprise. But it only established how ridiculous and stupid this film really was. If you are after a claustrophobic cave horror film, invest in The Descent. Hell even the second one. Just not this.

Terrible. 1/5

The Monuments Men Review

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Not a monument that will stand the lengths of time in the huge backlog of war classics we’ve had before. It checked all the boxes but failed to deliver anything new or interesting. Hardly a bomb site, but it lacked the right execution for this operation.

George Clooney takes the helm yet again in an ambitious war effort that just fails to hit the mark. The Monuments Men is based on a real operation that was approved by President Roosevelt himself to help retrieve stolen art and relics from the Nazis and return them to their rightful owners. However, as World War Two is coming to a close, Hitler issues an order to destroy all the art, making it a race against the clock. Now, an intriguing premise that suggested a treasure hunt with a dash of Indiana Jones and a hint of Dad’s Army for good measure. Not at all, old sport. What came was a well acted, if meandering drawn out crusade that if not for a couple of twists, would have been dead in the water. It is difficult to criticize when this is based on a true story, but it still can’t be excused as it raised too many questions.

It reeked of the war movies of old. The sort of maritime viewing you get on a Sunday afternoon. A nice melancholic feel but the problem was that it felt dated before it had even begun. It does start off quite easy going and watchable. The cheeky winking and lighthearted pace as Clooney assembles a talented ensemble of retired veterans and soldiers consisting of Bill Murray, John Goodman, Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Jean Dujardin (The Artist) and the underrated Bob Balaban (who has always stood out for me after his turn in The Lady in the Lake with his speech on characters. One for the writers, that). And of course, not forgetting the regular Clooney collaborators, Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett.

It’s always going to be hard to make a war film after so many classics but looking at this as a sole text, the tone is all over the place. It has the cheeky twinkle that suggests a Dad’s Army and Allo Allo vibe, especially with Damon’s badly spoken French. A reverse twist that had the odd chuckle, with the French begging him to speak English. There is the occasional titter but the material fails to bring a lot of humour and the partnership between Balaban and Murray could have been so much more. We know Murray is funny, so why not let him apply a little bit of his spiel? He seemed restricted. Well, if we’re honest, they all seem restricted. There was potential with Dujardin and Bonneville, especially in an exchange as to why Hitler only bombs places with no art or culture. Bonneville retorts, “Well they bombed London”. Dujardin smiles, “Yes, I know”. A little bit harsh but there could have been a little rivalry or banter exchange between them, but the two get paired up with the wrong actors, to be honest.

That is also the main problem, the gang inevitably have to split up to cover more ground, which is more miss than hit. Damon aimlessly wonders around the beautiful French countryside before he finally meets his contact, Cate Blanchett. Clooney just drives around, barking orders and taking inventory with young recruit Dmitri Leonidas (you may remember him from the fantasy dud of a TV reboot, Sinbad).  Goodman and Dujardin do have the more interesting adventures with snipers and concluding battle scenes as the Germans were being pushed out. Murray and Balaban bring the odd chuckle and are a good pairing but their adventures are a little nothingy. When Damon meets Blanchett, it does pick up and there is some great chemistry between them but it all gets quite corny and hints at a needless and unnecessary romance. 

There are sobering moments that do bring it back home with some unexpected twists that did surprise, without spoiling, and once the group reunite, the film picks up after a drawn out hour. The land mine scene may have been corny, but was funny and suspenseful. There is a harrowing little touch when the group come across more than they bargained for, when they discover barrels of gold wedding rings and teeth. Clooney’s cigarette speech with the head German officer in charge of disposing the art was brilliant. We finally got to see Clooney come back to the fore and act well, after being quite absent. The pace quickens as the gang have to race against the clock to retrieve all the art before the Russians arrive. There is also a nice aside at the end with a fitting tribute. 

However, The Monuments Men felt more like an extension of the Points episode in Band of Brothers and unfortunately that got the point across a lot better and a lot more riveting in a condensed hour. I couldn’t help feel that in a time of death, loss and destruction, who would care about some pieces of art? Understandably, it is true that by removing the history and culture, you are truly removing the people but it seems less important to the lives that were already lost. A watchable, if drawn out, corny and predictable affair that may get lost like the art in the plethora of war classics before it. 2.5/5

Currently ranks #86 out of 142!