*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* THE HATEFUL EIGHT REVIEW *NEW*

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Well, I didn’t hate it. QT is back and bigger than ever. But better?

In the dead of a Wyoming winter, a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) and his prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) find shelter in a cabin currently inhabited by a collection of nefarious characters.

From the beautifully shot opening, I was entranced. The 70mm film format capturing the picturesque cinematography of QT stalwart Robert Richardson perfectly. The credit sequence accompanied by an original Ennio Morricone score (The first in 30 years) brought back that old school nostalgia of the classic Westerns.

However that nostalgia soon dissipated when Russell’s John Ruth crossed paths with Samuel L Jackson’s Major Warren sitting on a cushion of dead bodies. After an initially tense and intriguing introduction with QT’s chapters popping up left, right and centre, the first hour soon churned along at an agonizing snail’s pace.

There wasn’t enough tidbits, stylish dialogue or suspense to keep me going. It was almost mind numbing. I felt a sick feeling in my stomach. Russell, Leigh and Jackson were doing their best BUT it wasn’t entertaining enough. A running joke about Jackson receiving a letter from Lincoln did the job BUT I found the first act lacking. That was until they reached Minnie’s Haberdashery.

A grotty shack with even grittier lodgers. It really was a case of the waiting game. BUT was it going to be worth it? Trapped for the next few days during a blizzard, the tension bubbling. Each shady individual casually interrogated.

Russell and Jackson were superb. They had a real rapport and ran the show for me. Leigh was brilliant. A real rough looking menace with an acid tongue. It was great to see a good portion of the QT regulars popping up in this. What a supporting cast. However, some characters didn’t quite deliver as much as I had expected.

I have been a big fan of Walton Goggins for some time after some cracking turns in The Shield and Justified. QT finally gave him the platform he deserved as the gullible dim wit Sheriff Chris Mannix. He was perfect. His dumb theorizing and poor deducting skills delivered the laughs.

Tim Roth was great as the delightfully flamboyant Oswaldo Mobray. If anything, I wanted more of him in this.

Bruce Dern (Nebraska) and Michael Madsen weren’t quite as interesting as I’d hoped. Once Jackson delved into Dern’s past a little more, things got going BUT Madsen was a highly unmemorable red herring. Mumbling and grimacing away to no avail this time.

I was more entertained by James Parks (Kill Bill) as the unlucky stage coach driver O.B. and Demian Birchir’s (The Heat) Senor Bob.

At first, it had my curiousity. BUT once Jackson’s Major began to suspect foul play and connect the dots, it finally got my attention. It was funny how convenient everyone’s back stories were. Ruth conveniently bumps into the town’s new sheriff and hangman at the same time that he’s bringing in a huge bounty? Hmm . . .

After that insufferable and completely unnecessary intermission*, the second act redeemed itself. A tense little nail biter with a few twists here, some grandiose Jackson monologues there, and all the demented mayhem you could expect from a QT flick. It was bloody, violent and ridiculous. Typical of the man and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You really couldn’t take your eyes off it. Lulled into a false sense of security. The finale was every bit as outrageous and brilliant as I could hope for.

I was ashamed to doubt QT. It was always going to be tough to top Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction BUT this certainly wasn’t QT’s weakest effort. That honour goes to Jackie Brown or Death Proof.

Overlong and a little patchy in parts BUT once it going, it was everything you could want from a Tarantino penned Western.

3.5/5

*The intermission was a joke. I don’t know whether in the States QT did something special in those 15 minutes BUT over here, it did nothing. Probably didn’t help that the cinema had already closed the food and drink stand. Logic? None, apparently.

*NEW* AMERICAN ULTRA REVIEW *NEW*

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Ultra-boring, more like.

A stoner (Jess Eisenberg), who is in fact a government agent, is marked as a liability and targeted for extermination. But he’s too well-trained and too high for them to handle.

Eisenberg and co do their best BUT for all the promise, it fails to reach anything you could have expected.

The slow opener didn’t get things going BUT it suggested a Burn After Reading meets Pineapple Express vibe. Unfortunately it offered little on both. Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart reunite (Adventureland) and make a watchable couple. BUT it wasn’t long before I got bored of all the pot smoking and arguing. Especially when it wasn’t even funny.

The first 20 minutes was mind numbing. Connie Britton did her best to make the CIA back room melodrama seem interesting BUT it was dull as dishwater. Some waffle about a “project spring clean” and Eisenberg’s sleeper agent facing termination. This was thankfully reprieved by a fantastic turn from Topher Grace (That 70s Show). There wasn’t enough of him. He really took things up a notch and played the douchebag supervisor brilliantly.

I prayed for Eisenberg’s “activation” to come quicker. Watching the stoner smoke pot and battle his fear of flying while doodling graphic novels about a monkey astronaut was just terrible. Trust me. I’m making it sound a whole lot better than it was.

FINALLY after Britton’s funny rendezvous with a stoned Eisenberg, the film appeared to offer more of what I expected from the get go. Emphasis on the word appeared.

Eisenberg proved he can do fight sequences and do them well. I actually had doubts about the chap playing the iconic role of Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman Vs Superman movie but the supermarket shoot em up sequence reassured any anxieties I had. He looked sinister and completely bad ass as he crept out of the smoke grenade ridden mist.

Normally I’m a fan of Britton BUT her character was far too serious for its own good. Arrested Development’s Tony Hale, who played her partner in crime, was tragically unfunny and completely irrelevant by the time the credits rolled. Shame.

John Leguizamo was also incredibly annoying as Eisenberg’s dealer Rose. He had one funny exchange with Eisenberg and then went on far too long. The bullets not coming quick enough.

It felt like the writers didn’t know what tone to take with the piece and tried a dab hand at everything. The action scenes were fantastic. The kitchen ambush sequence involving a bullet and a frying pan was cool. BUT they were few and far between.

As were the gags. It wasn’t funny enough. The best gags were heavily flogged in the trailer. Stewart and Eisenberg’s relationship was put to the test BUT their bickering just hampered things terribly. There was a twist half way through the film that was so dreadfully predictable that it added nothing to the mix.

Walton Goggins’ (Justified) Smiler had the potential to be a decent little villain with his hyena-esque laugh BUT it was a wasted opportunity and the character was far too weak.

The finale did deliver some frantic fist fighting and utterly bonkers shoot em ups. BUT it felt like a case of too little, too late. And it was still light on the laughs. DISAPPOINTING.

Unfortunately, American Ultra was very much like its protagonist; messy, all over the place and annoying.

2/5