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Tomb Raider

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Director:

Roar Uthaug

Cast:

Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas

Run time:

118 mins

Rating:

Diet blockbuster : they’re marketed like a traditional tent pole release, they also tend to look like the 200-million dollar eyegasm releases of the US Summer cinema season, they’re usually clad with a couple of matinee idols and a hefty effects budget, and they’re generally released in the month before that season begins – say March or April (past diet blockbusters might include last year’s “Kong : Skull Island”, and before that, releases like “Godzilla”, “Jack the Giant Slayer” and “John Carter”). Sure, the ingredients aren’t as top-rate as your Spielberg or Marvel blockbuster, but the many spoons of artificial sweetener crammed into said diet blockbuster will usually suffice even the more fussier of cinemagoers. Just excuse the sometimes unpleasant aftertaste of the excessive Sam Jackson one-liners and CGI ships, they tend to repeat on you.

Warner’s “Tomb Raider” was always going to be a lo-cal blockbuster – particularly since it’s the third in a film franchise that, let’s admit it, appealed to cinema goers about as much as adopting a twelfth African child did Brad Pitt at the end of his marriage to the film’s star. Those two films, released by Paramount, and starring Angelina Jolie as a more buxom, more cartoonish take on video game heroine Lara Croft were bottom-of-the-shoe grime smeared across a theater screen. The new “Tomb Raider” – which shares little connection, besides a character with a hefty drawer of short shorts, with the previous films – doesn’t exactly have its work cut out for it, but it also doesn’t come with an audience seething at the gates to see the film. As such, we’ve a modestly budgeted, rather intimidate no-name reboot that’s releasing before all the better stuff does.

But you know what? For its squat budget, lack of a name cast, and slightly tarnished title, “Tomb Raider” can consider itself a success- it’s the little engine that could and does.

Young rebellious Brit Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) lives from paycheck to paycheck, seemingly use to surviving on her own wits and wallet since her father’s mysterious disappearance years before. After she unintentionally stumbles upon a clue that shines more light on Lord Richard Croft’s (Dominic West) hobbies and last known days, the plucky, flexible Lara sets off to Japan where she persuades a sailor (Daniel Wu) to help her find a mysterious island off the coast of Japan. There, supposedly, lies a fabled tomb – her father’s last-known destination. In between battling bad guys (Walter Goggins at his rascally best as their leader), skirting across plain wreckage on waterfalls, dodging bullets through the jungle, and participating in predictable reunions, Lara becomes the ‘Tomb Raider’ we know her best.

Taking its cue from Christopher Nolan’s “Batman Begins”, which planted the cartoon hero in a real world scenario, one that audiences could empathize with, Director Roar Uthaug‘s “Tomb Raider” takes a more realistic (and more ‘traditional’ looking young woman, who, though beautiful, does look more like the girl-next-door than Jolie did) and grounded approach to the source material (a long-running video game franchise), excising as much of the ridiculous and over-the-top (from the original films) and instead keying in an old school popcorn matinee template that’s more Indiana Jones and Wonder Woman, where the characters seem as important as the well-crafted stunt sequences. Sure, “Tomb Raider” is nowhere near as good as an Indiana Jones or last year’s ”Wonder Woman” – but considering what’s come before, it’s a pleasant surprise.

It’s the effort that’s been put into Uthaug’s reboot that results in such a fun timepasser – from the stuntwork (there’s some amazingly choreographed action sequences and set pieces here), to the casting (The charming Alicia Vikander gives us the first truly realistic and somewhat relatable take on the iconic adventurer. As opposed to Jolie’s take, Vikander’s Croft seems like a real person – she hurts, she cries, she’s flawed, and she doesn’t always know which ways which. If anything, she’s the audience) and the production design (it’s a slick production – the visuals and terrain reminiscent of last year’s “Kong”), the film seems determined not to be another ‘Cradle of Life’.

Sure, the script by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons is full of plot holes, and it’s bogged down at times by a couple of unnecessary yak scenes and a middle act that doesn’t quite deliver on the promises set out by its first (origin stories seem to always suffer from a bit of ‘blah’ in the middle), but for a film most of us had unfairly written off long ago, “Tomb Raider” is one of the surprise packages of the year. Leave your bow and arrow at the door and just enjoy.

Film Reviews

Spider-Man : Far From Home review : One of the year’s best!

Fresh, fun and exciting, it’s Hughes meets Frankenheimer!

Caffeinated Clint

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If ‘’Avengers : Endgame’’ was therapy, then ‘’Spider-Man : Far From Home” is the ice cream cone on the way home.

Hankies get a welcome rest here as Peter Parker transports audiences on a fun cage-match across the globe with his buddies. The result is a refreshingly different, very enjoyable genre-mesh that will be appreciated by a much wider, broader audience than your standard superhero offering. And unlike the brilliant but heart-hurting “Avengers” culmination from earlier this year – the last place we see this incarnation of Spider-Man – you won’t need a referral from your doctor to see a specialist afterwards, due to the issues it raises to the surface.

Just like it’s predecessor, Jon Watt’s “Spider-Man : Far From Home” melds two usually disparate types of films : the superhero action-adventure flick & the coming-of-age teen comedy. It’s John Hughes and John Frankenheimer hanging out for one night only, if you will.

Watts’ take on Stan Lee’s beloved web-slinger embodies all the tried and true elements of the “Spider-Man” films that came before it, sure – Peter Parker’s ineptness, the relationship between our hero and his treasured ‘MJ’, and the unaccustomed balancing act of trying to preserve a normal teenage life while moonlighting as a costumed hero – but it’s more finely tuned focus on comedy, and in particular the uneasiness of Peter Parker’s teenage years, sees this recording play on a whole different speed to the Sam Raimi and Mark Lawrence films. And it’s that perky light touch, combined with the very relatable teenage trials of passage that Parker finds himself caught up in, that may make Watt’s the most successful and faithful screen adaptation of the source material to date.

“Far From Home” -or “National Lampoon’s Spider-Man Vacation”, as it might otherwise be called – sees a post-“Infinity War” Parker (Tom Holland) joining his class on a school trip to Europe. But soon enough, Peter – who is more interested in having some ‘off’ time from hero duty so he can charm the lovely ‘MJ’ (Zendaya) – is assigned the task of bringing down some colossal new villains with a strange new ally: Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).

What Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers’ “Far From Home” script does so very well, not just as a comic book movie but as a stand-alone comedy and fantasy film, is that it’s determined to do something very, very different -both visually (wow, I tell you! Wow!) and thematically, while never tipping the audience off as to where it might be going. An unpredictable, eye-gasm that’s full of laughs, thrills and genuine suspense? Almost unheard of in 2019!

While it’s the hoots and incalculable witticisms you’ll likely be able to recite in the weeks to come, the film revels in its effects and fight sequences, serving up niftily crafted VFX biffo bits that are truly applaudable.

The film’s large cast are as steady as a flame on a well-placed Bunsen Burner.

Holland proves, once again, to be as equally fun a Peter Parker as he is a Spidey, Zendaya gets to effectually explore her tangible onscreen chemistry as her MJ grows closer to classic comic book love Peter, and both Samuel L.Jackson and Jon Favreau have fun, and aren’t afraid to poke fun at their personas, with their long-standing MCU parts – usually performed more seriously – of Nick Fury and Happy Hogan, respectively.

Adding real gravitas to this round is the always-solid Jake Gyllenhaal, playing the mysterious new superhero in town. The backstory on this guy is not only brilliantly written but a lot of fun, and Gyllenhaal seems to be genuinely enjoying letting loose here.

The support cast, particularly those that help make up the rest of Parker’s class – notably Jacob Bartron, Angourie Rice, Remy Hii, and Tony Revolori – and also the teachers – J.B Smoove and Martin Starr, just stupendous – are as equally as memorable as anyone in tights, too, with the writers dividing up the quality dialogue between all.

Sure, Parker doesn’t advance too much here – ending the film in much the same place he started it in – but he does learn to deal with the death of a mentor, does learn to tap further into his “tingles” as a result of understandable naivety, and further perfects those cool-ass flips and fight manoeuvres- which, being Spidey, is super important. Considering the deep, emotional brow beating “Endgame” put us through, most will be perfectly fine with Spidey skipping most of the lesson plan this time around.

This is just big, exciting and shockingly fresh fun – a film that’ll have you cheering right through to the killer mid-credits sequence.

Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man 2” might finally have been popped off the throne. Wear the crown proud, “Far From Home”.

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Film Reviews

Yesterday review : a splendid time is guaranteed for all

Mike reviews Danny Boyle’s latest

Mike Smith

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Dear Readers – If you would please indulge me:

AN OPEN LETTER TO RICHARD CURTIS – Sir, in the trailer for your 2003 film “Love Actually,” you include a scene of Andrew Lincoln holding up a card to Kiera Knightley which reads HELLO FATSO. This scene is NOT in the film. What did that mean? I know her character liked sweets. Did her husband complain she was getting a fat arse??? If Richard Curtis is reading this, or if anyone knows the answer, please reply to me via this website. Thank you. We now return to your scheduled review.

I’m 58 years old. I grew up with the Beatles. The very first record I ever purchased was “Hello/Goodbye.” I wept when John Lennon died. So to imagine a world where the Beatles and their music never existed would be horrible to me. But it works out well for Jack Malik (Patel) an aspiring musician who, despite having some talent, cannot make it into the music business. After a disappointing gig he announces to his manager Ellie (James) that he’s hanging up the guitar and going back to teaching. Unable to talk him out of it, Ellie watches as Jack pedals his bicycle into the night. However, soon their lives will change forever.

Directed by Oscar-winner Danny Boyle (“Slumdog Millionaire”), “Yesterday” is a lot like the Beatles songs that fill the soundtrack – an emotional rollercoaster. After an accident with a bus, Jack gets out of the hospital to discover that things are different. When he asks for a Coke he is given quizzical looks. When he plays the song “Yesterday” to Ellie and her friends, they are amazed by the song, asking him when he wrote it. He tells them that it was a song by the Beatles, but only gets blank stares. When he Googles “the Beatles” on the Internet, he is directed to the bugs. Curious, he tries other bands and is relieved that the Rolling Stones are still around. He is even more relieved when he learns that the band Oasis isn’t. Realizing the situation, he begins performing Beatles songs and soon catches the ear of musician Ed Sheeran, who challenges Jack to a spontaneous song writing contest. 10 minutes later, Sheeran delivers a sweet song about love. Jack counters with “The Long and Winding Road.” Boom! Mic drop!

Patel is very strong as Jack. He has a pleasant enough voice and, when he sings from the Beatles catalog, he isn’t just covering the songs, he invests an emotional weight into them, as if he HAD written them. When he performs “Help” in front of a huge crowd, he’s literally begging for someone to help him get off of the rollercoaster he has found himself on. James and Sheeran are also quite good, with Sheeran having fun at his own expense, even going so far as to suggest that Jack rename “Hey Jude” as “Hey Dude,” which apparently he finds cooler.

The film also packs an emotional punch with a scene that had many in the audience, myself including, tearing up. Boyle’s direction is brisk and screenwriter Curtis is at the top of his game. And you can never go wrong with a soundtrack consisting of 17 of the Beatles’ greatest songs. As John Lennon sang in Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite, “a splendid time is guaranteed for all!”

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Film Reviews

Annabelle Comes Home review : a swing and a miss

The third film in the Annabelle series seriously lacks the terrors that the Conjuring films are famous for

K.T Simpson

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We needed another entry into the “Conjuring” universe like we needed a hole in the head, but alas – here we are. “Annabelle Comes Home” is the third “Annabelle” flick, and the 7th “Conjuring” film, but I think we can all agree that sometimes less is more. About as unique as mini bar milk, “Annabelle Comes Home” again reminds us that James Wan is to the “Conjuring” universe what Steve Gutenberg was to the “Police Academy” series. Without the special ingredient, the dish never turns out as good.

Committing the same crimes as “Smokey and the Bandit 3”, “D3 : The Mighty Ducks” and “Superman III”, the third in the “Annabelle” series is as deceitful as it is dull. Passing itself or something more by featuring the floating heads of “Conjuring” stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, reprising Ed and Lorraine Warren, on the poster, the duo’s work in the film likely consisted of a lazy weekend and change. Only minutes after the opening title pops on the screen, the “stars” are written out of the movie – leaving a trio of teens to anchor proceedings. Groan.

Essentially a “son of…” (or in this case, “daughter of”) spin-off movie, the likes of which use to align the bottom shelves of Blockbuster video back in the day, “Annabelle Comes Home” pits the daughter of the Warrens (as opposed to the dynamic duo themselves) against the titular demon doll. The film begins with the Warrens bringing home the creepy marionette, and placing it behind glass in a locked box so that the evil it conjures cannot be released. When her parents leave for a night, Judy Warren (Mckenna Grace) and babysitter Mary-Ellen (Madison Iseman) settle down for a night in, only to get disrupted by Mary-Ellen’s frustrating friend Daniela (Katie Sarife), who really only comes by to annoy everyone and fiddle with all the haunted stuff within the Warren’s household. When she gets her hands on the keys to the locked room with all the terrifying trinkets inside, she quickly becomes that girl we all want to slap and touches all the things and releases Annabelle, in the midst of an effort to contact her dead father.

While the first in “The Conjuring” and “Insidious” franchises were brilliantly paced, extremely well written character dramas doused in the occasional, earned scare, the unremitting sequels and spin-offs this ‘universe’ has churned out since have left much to be desired. Where “The Nun”, “The Curse of La LaRona” and the “Annabelle” films flounder is in their execution. Rather than weave together a compelling, motivated ghost story with equally interesting characters that the audience cares about, the latter installments rely on paper-thin plots, inane jump scares and the same style monster-lurking-in-the-corner-of-the-screen style gimmicks to get by. What James Wan – who no longer directs these films, resigning himself to only producing them – did with the first couple of “Conjuring” films and “Insidious” films, for example, was take an interesting story, cast solid actors as equally interesting characters and throw in the odd, smartly and sparingly-used scare device. His films were tense, terrific and at times, truly terrifying.

Where “Annabelle Comes Home” differs, for example, is that it’s devoid of any real suspense, motivation or creativeness. It’s the kind of generic teen horror film that, without the big brand name, would otherwise have went direct to a streaming channel. Rather, the film moves painfully in slow motion and if you weren’t in a theatre you’d probably find yourself screaming “hurry the f*ck up!” Gary Dauberman has seemingly seen a lot of horror movies, evident by all the familiar shots and smoke machine-lit boo moments here,  but he lacks James Wan’s skill as a master storyteller. He’s more button pusher on a ghost train at a discount fair here – throwing any cheap gimmick at the audience, hoping they’ll jump. Cue: random ghostly werewolf.

The cast don’t come off looking much better – largely due to their underwritten, bland characters – but Grace (“Captain Marvel”, the upcoming “Ghostbusters”) hints at talent in several scenes…  before the dawdling joke of a story takes precedence again. Again, their slow movements override any sense of uneasiness, as they tiptoe from room to room with little to no sense of urgency despite the horrors happening around them. In a film that’s already on the short side, it reeks of an attempt to lengthen the runtime. The thing to note is, it doesn’t need to do this as the flick goes from zero to one hundred awfully quickly, rather than building suspense effectively.

With the first few entries in “The Conjuring” universe such exceptional genre pieces, it’s a shame the franchise had to get cocky and think it could wing a few additional elements by way of shadow puppets, a loud bass and creepy props. Warner : time to put the “Annabelle” franchise back in the box for good and let another capable, unique horror artist have the floor.

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