Movie review: Tomb Raider

Movie reviews

Hello!

And welcome to Hollywood’s gazillionth try at making video game movies into a thing. This is Tomb Raider!

IMDb summary: 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.

Writing

Tomb Raider was written by Evan Daugherty (of Divergent, The Huntsman, and TMNT), Geneva Robertson-Dworet (according to IMDb, hasn’t written any movies before this one but has 7 announced projects including MCU’s Captain Marvel), and Alastair Siddons (writer of Trespass Against Us – a movie with Michale Fassbender/new Lara Croft’s real-life husband. Fun connection). This film is based on the famous game series (which I have never played) and also acts as the reboot of the previous Lara Croft movie franchise from the early 2000s (which I don’t remember at all but plan on rewatching in April when I have some more free time). The writing for the new Tomb Raider wasn’t bad but it also wasn’t great either. The narrative itself was structured well enough and the story was interesting too. However, all of us have seen this movie before and more than once. We have also previously heard a good portion of the film’s by the numbers dialogue too.

The movie started promising. The set-up was interesting and I did like how contemporary it was (Lara being a deliveroo type of food courier). The only part of the set-up that sort of came out of nowhere was the invention of the villain – Trinity organization was mentioned in passing and was never developed more throughout the film. There were a plethora of hints at it in the closing scenes of the picture but whether the sequel will happen for those hints to result in anything substantial is a big question. No one is sure whether we will get to see Lara with her two signature guns either, which she acquired in the last scene of the film (I did like her with bow and arrows a lot, though). Thematically, Tomb Raider toyed with the ideas of history and the supernatural. I did like the historical quest/puzzle element of the film and I do appreciate the fact that they didn’t go the full supernatural route like The Mummy did. In general, the picture was an okay origin story and a good-enough reintroduction of the character but with so many other big franchises currently being produced, I don’t really know whether there is space for Lara Croft.

Directing

Tomb Raider was directed by a Norwegian director Roar Uthaug and, as far as I can tell, this film was his English language/Hollywood debut. I thought he did a good job realizing the flawed script. The pacing was okay too. I mostly had problems with the tone and the action of the film. The in-camera/on-location action was executed really well and made the movie feel like a tight action film. I especially liked the opening bike chase sequence, the chase on the boats in Hong Kong, and all the hand-to-hand combat in general. However, some other action scenes were really CGI heavy and had so many unbelievable moments that made them laughable. The shipwreck scene was super dark and filmed in a really shaky fashion, while the plane/river sequence just had way too many lucky coincidences. Those over the top, unrealistic action sequences made Tomb Raider feel like a video game movie, which I guess was the point. The final action sequence in the tomb was a mixed bag of good realistic action of an action movie and over the top CGI of a video game movie. I can’t really comprehend why somebody would make a movie lean more towards video game-ness, when the quality and the reaction to all the previous video games was so poor and when that same movie would be so much much better if it went the more classical/grounded action movie route.

Acting

Alicia Vikander played the lead and was actually really good as Lara Croft. Just the physical shape alone that the actress was able to achieve for this role was incredible, worthy of praise, and a bit inspiring. Made me want to do a couple of more extra crunches at the gym. I have always been impressed with Vikander’s indie/awards’ work (like The Danish Girl for which she won an Oscar and even Tulip Fever – the film was bad but she was good in it) and I was really glad to see her cast in a more mainstream/bigger budget/higher profile film. She has had supporting roles in mainstream films before, like – The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Jason Bourne, but this is the first time she is headlining a movie of this scale and hopefully, a whole franchise. Still, I do doubt whether this movie will spawn a franchise but I also don’t think that it will damage Vikander’s career in any way if it doesn’t.

Walton Goggins (The Hateful Eight) was fine as the typical power hungry and blind-to-everything villain and I think I have seen Goggins in this role before (like in The Death Cure just a month ago). Dominic West (Genius, Money Monster) played the role of an equally delirious man and was okay in it. The writing didn’t make either of these characters sympathetic or understandable in any way, shape or form. Daniel Wu (Geostorm) had a small supporting role in the picture and, while he had some neat moments, his character was also forgotten in the third act. Wu has already starred in one video game movie – WarcraftKristin Scott Thomas (Darkest Hour, The Party) appeared too with the promise of a bigger role in the sequel (when and if it happens).

In short, Tomb Raider was an entertaining but forgettable film. It didn’t do much for the video game movie genre but didn’t damage it further (if that is even possible) either.

Rate: 3.3/5

Trailer: Tomb Raider

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5 ideas about a movie: Finding Your Feet

Movie reviews

Hello!

It seems that lately, I’ve been reviewing quite a few small and unknown British films. This post is no exception. This is Finding Your Feet.

IMDb summary: On the eve of retirement a middle class, judgmental snob discovers her husband has been having an affair with her best friend and is forced into exile with her bohemian sister who lives on an impoverished inner-city council estate.

  1. Finding Your Feet was written by Nick Moorcroft and Meg Leonard and directed by Richard Loncraine. This film was my introduction to all of these filmmakers and it certainly wasn’t a bad first impression on their part. Even though I, a university student, certainly wasn’t the target demographic for this movie, I still found it quite enjoyable. The other cinemagoers in my screening (all of whom were at least 20 years older than me) were really into this movie: I heard quite a few laughs as well as emotional snivels.
  2. Thematically, the movie was both inspiring and cliche. The inspiring parts were the messages about living at any age and having a life outside of marriage. The cliches were mostly all related to the ending of the romantic arc of the film – the arc itself was cute and did have another nice message of giving love a second chance. This feel-good film was also quite funny, especially when it poked fun at British upper-class identity (though, it was still very much rooted in British culture, both in the setting and slang).
  3. From the structural point of view, some of the writing elements were somewhat mediocre. One portion of the movie was set in Italy and it didn’t really have to be. Also, the second act took place during the Christmas season: those extended sequences, plus, the whole feeling and tonne of the picture made it seem a bit like a holiday movie, which begs the question: why didn’t it come in December (instead of February)? Also, the movie took a tiny bit too long to wrap up after its big emotional scene had already played out.
  4. From the directing point of view, Finding Your Feet was a fine film. It was slow but not too slow (not counting the ending). The comedic timing was fine, while the cinematography was that of a typical narrative drama film. The picture also had some adorably amateurish dance sequences, which were fun enough.
  5. Finding Your Feet has assembled a great cast of seasoned British actors. Imelda StauntonTimothy Spall (The Party), and Celia Imrie (her character’s name was Elizabeth, shortened to Bif – never heard that abbreviation before) played the three main characters and were a pure delight to watch. Staunton was especially great, though I didn’t particularly appreciate her anti-blockbuster comments during the promotion of this movie. They sounded especially ironic knowing that she herself is best known to worldwide audiences because of a blockbuster franchise – she played none other that Umbridge in HP films. Her co-star in this film – T.Spall – has also starred in that series as Peter Pettigrew.

In short, Finding Your Feet was equal parts heartfelt and cheesy dramedy that will delight your grandparents/parents. You might enjoy it too!

Rate: 3.2/5

Trailer: Finding Your Feet trailer

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Movie review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure

Movie reviews

Hello!

The last of the YA dystopias is coming to an end. This is Maze Runner: The Death Cure.

IMDb summary: Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as the “Flare”.

Writing

The Death Cure was written by T.S. Nowlin (the writer of the two previous pictures in this series and the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising film), based on the book of the same name by James Dashner. I’ve read the original trilogy more than 5 years ago now, so I hardly remember its plot details (I might have remembered a bit more a year ago, when this film was supposed to come out but, as it was pushed back due to Dylan O’Brien’s injury on set, I’m now more in the dark than I’ve ever was). However, this movie franchise has gone so far off the books (especially in the second film) that my background of having read and not remembering the book hardly impacts the motion picture watching experience. Having said that, I did recount two major things from the last book that managed to stay with for 5+ years and both of these developments were preserved in the film. I was quite upset that the filmmakers kept the first thing (from the selfish fan perspective) but quite glad that they retained the second one (from an objective-ish reviewer perspective). Let me elaborate. Also: SPOILERS!

The first thing I had in my mind was the death of probably my favorite character from the series – Newt. I distinctly remember being very sad after finishing the book and hoping that, when this novel will finally reach the big screen, Newt will be allowed to live. However, I’m not surprised that the screenwriter kept such an ending for one of the main character’s, as his final scene was pretty emotional and made for a great and powerful moment on screen. His nickname for Thomas – Tommy – was heartbreakingly sweet too. The second development that I’ve mentioned as having liked from a more objective point of view was the movie’s (and the book’s) ultimate ending. The film ended with all the surviving characters living on an island (a more realistic version of the safe haven from the books. In the original novels, a portal had to be taken to reach safety rather than just a boat). I’m glad that the screenwriters didn’t change the ending into fairytale/happy one but kept it ambiguous: what will Thomas do with HIS gift? In addition, I feel like a happy ending (like a sequence of the cure being spread to everyone) would have undercut all the losses that the surviving characters had to go through.

Now, having explored some of the narrative details, let’s look at some themes. One of the major topics of discussion for the film was memory (and my musings about remembering or forgetting certain details of the plot somehow feel more appropriate). Another big concept for this series has always been friendship, which was on display here once more (Thomas, Newt, and Minho are one of my favorite trios in YA fiction). The shades of the love triangle (Thomas, Teresa, Brenda) were present too, though, they weren’t on display that much.

My few slight criticism towards the writing were mainly just two and both of them had to do with the antagonists of the series. For one, I have never fully understood the hierarchy within the WCKD. In this film, Ava Paige had to ask somebody else for the permission to start the human trials of the cure as if they haven’t been experimenting on humans for years already to get the vaccine in the first place?! Also, I’m still not entirely sure whether I buy Teresa’s shifting allegiances or it might be that I just don’t understand her character and the scale she uses to judge what is right on.

 

 

Directing

Wes Ball directed The Death Cure (he also did The Maze Runner and The Scorch Trials) and did quite an amazing job, especially with only around $60 million budget. The last entry into the franchise was highly action-packed. The said action was also quite varied: the film had a variety of sets (all brown and broken but still cool looking) and a ton of CGI that looked quite good (I’ve seen movies that cost double what this one did and looked four times worse (*cough, cough*, Geostorm). The focus on the action in this film also allowed this series to finally differentiate itself from the other YA dystopias, mainly The Hunger Games. While THG finished off as more of a political thriller, TMR series seems to have always been more about the spectacle and only then about the ideas. The ideas – the attempt to go the political thriller route with the cure only being meant for the privileged – were present but they did feel like an afterthought. The Maze Runner series should not have tried to shy away from its action roots, as these sequences were the best ones in the movie. Having said that, the characters had to break into The Capitol-like city in this film, so maybe these two series aren’t that different after all. I wonder how the Divergent/Allegiant situation is going on? That series probably won’t end ever.

Anyways, the fact that this movie had a lot of action, also helped it with the pace, which was quite fast. The only dip came in the second act, however, the first and the third acts were rapid and intense.  My only critique of the action sequences was that, at times, they were filmed with a bit too much of the shaky cam. Nevertheless, those moments were far and few in between, while the majority of the action was captured by a handheld but steady enough camera, while the mobile frame helped with the intensity. I also loved how the action scenes in the first act (the maze and the grievers; the cranks) were used as a slight reminder of what happened in the previous pictures. Lastly, how nice was it that they the filmmakers (and the suits) didn’t divide the finale of the trilogy into two parts!

Acting

The Death Cure saw the return of all the favorites. Dylan O’BrienThomas Brodie-Sangster, and Ki Hong Lee were all great as my favorite trio: Thomas, Newt, and Minho, respectively. I only wish that they would have shared more scenes together. O’Brien’s TV show – Teen Wolf – has ended last year but he has been steadily racking up movie roles (in this series, Deepwater Horizon, and American Assasin) and seems to be fairing much better than the actual lead of his TV show – Tyler Posey. I really hope that the relative financial success of this franchise will allow Thomas Brodie-Sangster and Ki Hong Lee to be cast in more projects too.

Will Poulter (The Revenant, Detroit) also returned as Gally, while Dexter Darden had some neat moments (operating a crane) as FrypanKaya Scodelario (Pirates 5) was okay as Teresa, while Giancarlo Esposito’s (OkjaJorge and Rosa Salazar’s Brenda were neat to watch in their father-daughter-like relationship. On the villain side, Patricia Clarkson (The Party) was still immaculately dressed in white as Ava Paige, while Littlefinger – Aidan Gillen (Sing Street) as Janson – was doing his thing as usual. Another GOT family member (who also stars in Fast&Furious franchise) Nathalie Emmanuel (as Harriet), as well as ShadowhuntersKatherine McNamara (as Sonya), appeared too, although the film didn’t really know what to do with them, after having introduced them in The Scorch Trials as members from a different maze/test group.

In short, Maze Runner: The Death Cure was an entertaining finale to the, overall, surprisingly strong YA franchise, that pleased my heart and mind. And this praise comes from somebody who was once the biggest fan of the book and this genre in general.

Rate: 3.8/5

Trailer: Maze Runner: The Death Cure trailer

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Movie review: Darkest Hour

Movie reviews

Hello!

I’ve finally found time to watch Gary Oldman’s Oscar picture Darkest Hour and this is my review.

IMDb summary: During the early days of World War II, the fate of Western Europe hangs on the newly-appointed British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who must decide whether to negotiate with Hitler or fight on against incredible odds.

Before we start discussing this film, let me link you to another Churchill biography from 2017 titled, surprise surprise, Churchill. That film focused on the closing moments of WW2 (in contrast to this movie, which explores the opening chapters of it). Also, if you want more context for Darkest Hour, you can watch Dunkirk, also from 2017: the events in that film happen at the same time as the ones in Darkest Hour.

Writing

Darkest Hour was written by Anthony McCarten (writer and producer of The Theory of Everything and a novelist) and he did a spectacular job writing for the character of Churchill (less of a stellar job constructing the story of a film but, then again, the character was the story in the case of this movie).

Churchill was presented as a complex and layered figure, one that had both flaws and redeeming features. He was basically the last choice for the position of PM and, yet he became the hero of the nation and half of the Western world. He came from a privileged background (didn’t even know the correct hand gestures) and, yet was also the man of the people (the underground scene was a great visualization of his transition from being the PM for the government to being the PM of the people). He was also a patriot through and through and, yet he decided to lie to his nation (is there ever a good enough cause to withhold the truth?). He also has worked with people with diverging opinions and personalities all his life and, yet have never really learned to comprise. In addition to being a leader, who deeply felt the loss of his troops (the fact that it is the leader’s main objective to bear the loss is as true in real life as it is in fiction, a.k.a. The Last Jedi), he was also a husband and a father, who sacrificed his family life for the public one. And yet, Churchill’s and his wife Clementine’s relationship was portrayed as a very loving and caring one. The moments of confrontation were present in it too, but the shared feeling between the two individuals was love, at its purest.

The screenwriter also did a very good job with the inclusion of Churchill’s actual speeches into the film. However, while those speeches were truly inspirational, especially the final one, probably not one of the initial listeners (other politicians) were that inspired to do any actual fighting. The scriptwriter also wrote some brilliant dialogue for Churchill and King George VI (yup, the one from The King’s Speech – this is a well cinematized period of the British history) – I especially liked the King’s change of heart moment. Darkest Hour also explored or hinted at some of the wider implications of war. The moment with Churchill calling Franklin D. Roosevelt was a perfect signal of the reversal of fortunes of the former colony and the empire. Speaking about the empire: every WW2 (or any war) movies I watch raise me a question: is there ever the good side in the war? Yes, Hitler was a monster but the British Empire was an empire, that oppressed millions of people around the globe for way longer than Hitler was in power. How do count who is worse? By human loss? By time? By subjective and personal evaluation? Lastly, some historical events portrayed in the film, when put in contemporary context, made me chuckle ironically, like the fact that the majority of the British politicians were ready to compromise, while they are not known for their ability to do the same nowadays (*cough, cough*, Brexit).

Directing

Joe Wright (of such literary adaptations as Pride & Prejudice, Atonement, and Anna Karenina and mainstream missteps as Pan) tackled the Churchill biopic and was quite successful. Darkest Hour was truly a character piece, and a specific glimpse into, rather than a full-on recreation of a historical event. I loved how the camera’s focus was always on Churchill and how he occupied the center of the frame most of the time (I loved the images where Churchill was framed in doors, windows, rooms). I also thought that the drama was constructed quite well, though a film did felt a bit long. Lastly, I reached a sort of a personal epiphany that probably wasn’t intended by the director, when watching the picture. Seeing all the rooms of white old men in the positions of power was all good and appropriate for a historical drama but as soon as I saw them, I had a sad realization that this image has changed very little in the governments of today.

Acting

Gary Oldman (The Hitman’s Bodyguard was his last film – what a step-up in quality this one is) absolutely nailed the titular character. He fully transformed himself into Winston Churchill. While the physical transformation (the make-up and the prosthetics) were impressive, what I found most intriguing (and transformative) about Oldman’s performance was his demeanor, emotional intensity, and his way of speaking. I also appreciated the fact that Oldman played Churchill as a real person rather than a historical figure. By treating Churchill as a person, Oldman (and the director) found room for humor and sarcasm within the character – two things that don’t really come across in the history textbooks. Oldman has won every major acting award so far, thus, an Oscar win is almost a sure bet too.

Kristin Scott Thomas (The Party) brought warmth and strength to Clementine Churchill, while Ben Mendelsohn (Rogue One) was really good as King George VI and portrayed the royal as a real person rather than a larger than life figure too. Lily James (Cinderella, Baby Driver) was good as the secretary Elizabeth Layton but her character wasn’t really necessary for the film. Also, I feel like a secretary type of character (with either a boyfriend or a family member being at war or in another kind of peril) has been included in alongside portrayal of Churchill: e.g. Ella Purnell played PM’s secretary in Churchill, while Kate Phillips played one on The Crown. Lastly, Ronald Pickup and Stephen Dillane were good as the two main antagonists of Churchill: Neville Chamberlain and Edward Wood, 3rd Viscount Halifax, respectively.

In short, Darkest Hour was a brilliant character piece that featured a truly magnificent performance by Gary Oldman.

Rate: 4/5

Trailer: Darkest Hour trailer

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BEST, WORST, and MISSED movies of 2017

Movie previews, Movie reviews

Hello!!

Happy New Years Eve!

For most people, it’s a day/night of celebration: partying and drinking. Well, I’m also celebrating but in my own way – by posting my cinema round-up of the year. Like in 2015 and 2016, I’m providing you with my personal list of best and worst films (and I’m linking all of their reviews). A new development for this year is the fact that my top 5 list of obscure, small, ‘missed’ movies/honorable mentions is expanding into a 10 just because I’ve seen too many pictures this year that I want to bring to your attention once again! As always, please don’t bear any hard feelings if our lists don’t match! This post was written in the name of fun and I’m really looking forward to reading your picks in the comments!

BEST Movies:

  1. Logan
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. Wonder Woman
  4. Blade Runner 2049
  5. Thor: Ragnarok
  6. Beauty and the Beast
  7. Spider-Man: Homecoming
  8. War For The Planet Of The Apes
  9. Wind River
  10. It

Those who read my blog somewhat regularly probably aren’t surprised by the fact that my list contains 4 comic book movies. As much as I love the genre in general, what I loved about these particular films was the fact that they expanded the status quo: Logan brought the sophistication that we haven’t seen since The Dark Knight, while Wonder Woman was a game-changer for the female characters. Thor 3 fixed the weakest MCU trilogy, while Homecoming achieved what was deemed impossible – told the first good Spidey story in a decade. Joining the comic book films, are the three sci-fi juggernauts: Star Wars 8 (no surprise here, though, maybe it is a surprise as I seem to be one of the few who truly enjoyed the picture), Blade Runner sequel (visual and narrative masterpiece), and Apes 3 (an underappreciated finale of a great trilogy). The last 3 pictures bring some more variety genre-wise. Wind River represents drama (as well as my anthropological interests), Beauty and the Beast symbolizes my love for live-action fairytales (and my choice to remain a kid inside), while It is the biggest surprise of the year – the first horror movie that I’ve ever enjoyed.

WORST Movies:

  1. Snatched
  2. Transformers: The Last Knight
  3. Rough Night
  4. The Emoji Movie
  5. Geostorm
  6. Tulip Fever
  7. Suburbicon
  8. The Snowman
  9. American Assasin
  10. The Dark Tower

My worst list has it all: awful comedies (Snatched and Rough Night), confused dramas (Tulip Fever and Suburbicon), and underwhelming action thrillers (American Assasin and The Snowman). It also showcases a genre that should die (disaster films – Geostorm) and a franchise that should do the same (Transformers). The infamous cash grab for the millennials (The Emoji Movie) and the bad kind of Stephen King adaptation (The Dark Tower) finish of the list!

Honorable mentions/Movies you’ve MISSED:

I’ve decided not to number these and divide them into 3 levels of obscurity, from the least known to almost mainstream (or even actually mainstream) films.

To begin with, in the most obscure category, I’ve put The Death of Stalin, The Party, and Free Fire. First is a British adaptation of a French graphic novel, which itself is a reimagining of Russian history; second is more of a character piece than a movie with the shortest runtime of a feature film I’ve seen; and the third is an action movie that builds its story around the main action sequence that last the whole picture.

The second trio of more well known movies consist of The Killing of a Sacred Deer, Their Finest, and T2: Trainspotting. The first is an extraordinary revenge story from a proven director, the second – a romantic take on war and the movie business, and the last is everything I love about my adoptive country of Scotland!

Lastly, the 4 final movies that the majority of moviegoers have heard about and which couldn’t necessarily make my top 10 list but were so unique that they deserved to be mentioned are Paddington 2(a bundle of joy in these dark times), John Wick 2 (a successful sequel in a not that big of a franchise), mother!(the picture that was more fun to analyze than watch), and The Big Sick (a romantic comedy like no other).

And that is it for 2017 cinema! I hope you enjoyed reading my lists! Every year, its gets harder and harder to decide on my picks because of the sheer amount of new movies I’m able to see. Please don’t be mad if your favorite/least favorite movies were not on my lists! Also, if you missed some awards contenders in this post, they might have been excluded because I haven’t seen them yet or because I expect to talk about them a lot during the next two months. Hence, they will get enough praise then, it’s what I’m saying.

Anyways, have a happy 2018 in the cinema and in life!

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