Review – Tomb Raider

I get excited about some films – who doesn’t? However there are some that I get more excited about than others, even if critical acclaim isn’t guaranteed. Tomb Raider was absolutely one of those films.

Anyone who has been paying attention to my Twitter activities recently will know that I was buzzing for the release of this film. I was also desperately hoping that it would succeed where more or less every other mainstream video game movie had failed before. The odds were stacked against it, but I still kept the faith.

What we have here is a film that rises, I believe, head and shoulders above all others that we’ve seen within the video game genre. I honestly do think that the bar has been raised here. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means saying that Tomb Raider is perfect because it certainly is not. It won’t win Oscars and it won’t be remembered as one of the greats, but it is a damn site better than anything we’ve been offered before.

The film is based on the 2013 reboot of the game franchise that showed us the character of Lara Croft before she really became the Tomb Raider we all know now. Alicia Vikander takes on the role of a 21 year-old Lara who is working as a bike messenger to avoid going broke as she refuses to accept her inheritance following her father’s disappearance seven years before. Just as she is about to bite the bullet and sign his death certificate, she becomes aware of the circumstances under which he disappeared, and decides to pursue the mystery herself. Before long, she’s on a mysterious island, and it is there that she embarks upon the journey that sees her blossom into the character that everyone the world over is aware of.

I’ll do what I always do and talk about the performances first. I really think Alicia Vikander has done a good job as Lara here. I know her casting was met with a lot of criticism, especially when the first looks at the character came out, but she has brought a far more relatable character to the table than we’ve seen with any other version in the past, in both the films and the games. What I liked about Vikander’s performance is the journey she took the character on. You start off with someone who is very naïve and essentially still a child, something that is captured at it’s best in the scene where Lara arrives in Japan and almost falls foul of a group of pick-pocketers when looking for Lu Ren (Daniel Wu), who is her companion throughout this film. By the end of the film, you’re presented with someone who has matured immensely because of their experiences, and the character you see in the very final scene of the film is almost a completely different person.

As far as the cast goes, Vikander is definitely the main star of the film. There are a few notable names involved, but they all play roles that sort of make up the scenery around Lara. Dominic West plays Richard Croft and I think it’s a role he was dead suited to to be completely honest. It would have been nicer to have possibly seen slightly more of him because he has a lot of talent to put to use, however, where we did get to see him, he and Vikander really captured the father/daughter dynamic that is so important to this franchise, and that’s the main thing.

Walton Goggins looks like he has fun playing Mathias Vogel. Rather like a James Bond villain, we’re first introduced to him around the halfway point of the film, and straightaway you know that he’s absolutely one of the bad guys. As much as Goggins lavishes playing this character and his form in playing some other unsavoury guys in a couple of other well-known films, I must admit that Vogel is quite forgettable. I’m someone who can name a lot of villains from a lot of the films I’ve, but when pitched against a hero as iconic as Lara Croft, the people creating the bad guy and the person gifted the task of playing that character really has to go above and beyond to stand out and be remembered. Goggins put in a good effort, but it didn’t quite stand up for me.

One of the main reasons this film is better than many others before it is that it has a story that is actually isn’t completely nonsense. The adaptation from video game to big screen has happened a lot more smoothly here than it has in the past, perhaps because the source material, as far as I’m aware, was acknowledged a hell of a lot more with this film. There are scenes that have been lifted straight from the game, and there are a lot of nods to the game – both the 2013 reboot which this is largely based upon, but also the games that came before it – with a number of moments throughout the film. For example, there is a point here where Lara pulls a massive splinter out of her side, and this is something that is clearly inspired by a sequence right at the start of the 2013 game. There are a few plot holes here and there, and definitely some things didn’t quite add up for me, such as the ‘reveal’ at the end of the film, but when it comes to comparing what we have here with what we’ve been given in the past, I really shouldn’t be complaining too much because this really is on another level to what we’ve seen previously.

I also just want to add that I really like the fact that nobody tried to sexualise Lara in any way here. She is purely an action hero in this film. She gets hurt, she gets dirty, she gets scared, and she doesn’t get romantically involved with any of the men in the film, which I think has always been one of the (many) downfalls with the Angelina Jolie films. Dare I say it, she’s been portrayed in a way nobody would think twice about if she was a bloke?

So, while it does have it’s faults, I am honestly so happy to say that they’re finally gone and done it – Tomb Raider is the video game movie that we’ve been waiting for, and is 100% the adaptation that this beloved character deserves. Vikander brings us a realistic Lara Croft and maintains focus on the qualities that made her such treasured character in my eyes. The many tips of the hat to the games are also very welcome here. Yes, there may be some terrible dialogue buried in here, and some of the finer details don’t come together quite as neatly as I’d like, but this has triumphed in many places and we truly should celebrate that.


Review – 50/50

50/50 is another of those films that I’ve heard a lot of people say good things about, and also one that I’ve had recommended to me more than once.

The film is about a guy who gets diagnosed with cancer in his 20s and is given a 50/50 chance of survival. On the surface, it sounds like a somewhat depressing watch, but the story is told in a way that is actually very entertaining, and because of this it feels very authentic too.

I really loved the performances from Joesph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen in this. Gordon-Levitt played cancer-fighting Adam brilliantly. He captured a whole range of emotions with his performance. Rogen played his best friend Kyle, who I believe was supposed to represent Rogen himself in the film, which is based on one of his real-life friends. Both actors were really great on their own, but when they were together on screen, whether in their scripted scenes or the more impromptu stuff, together they took it to a whole other level. You were watching best friends going through hard times, not two people pretending to be buddies, and that was a key element in making this film as good as it was.

I’ve already touched upon how realistic this film felt. While it had it’s fair share of down moments, it wasn’t too dark overall. At the same time, it didn’t try to be laugh-a-minute – I think the tone of the film was just right, which is another reason why it felt so real. Every situation in life is made up of many elements no matter what it is, and often when these are portrayed on-screen, especially when showing real-life events, the tendency can be to depend more heavily on one of those elements. I don’t feel like at any given point 50/50 played up too much to the happy or the sad parts of the story. It just took everything as it was, and didn’t make it any more than it needed to be, which was very true to the nature of our protagonist here (does that make as much sense to you as it does to me?). I’m also pleased to say that, for once, I’m glad the film had a happy ending, which I think stands testament to how it portrayed it’s lead character and his situation.

On the whole, I’d definitely say you should give 50/50 a go. It’s a film about so much more than a guy with cancer, and everyone who watches it will be able to relate to it in some way or another, which is why you should see it.

Review – Black Panther

There’s always a huge amount of anticipation surrounding Marvel films. Black Panther was no exception.

It would seem, however, that excitement for this film was on another level entirely. On the film’s opening weekend, people seemed to struggled to get seats unless they were booked well in advance. This begs a massive question.

Did the film truly warrant such high levels of anticipation?

Almost immediately Black Panther sets the tone for what we can expect. The film’s first sequence centres around Prince T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), but he is flanked by two terrific women in the form of Lupita N’yongo as Nakia and Danai Gurira as Okoye. One of the biggest takeaways from the film for me was that the women, although not necessarily the main characters here, all had very prominent roles and not once did any of them feel like a token piece.

I really liked the cast and all of the performances from each member. Obviously Boseman takes centre stage as the Black Panther himself. He was very good, but what I especially like, and I’ve kind of said this already with my point about the women in the film, was that so many of the other performances were allowed to shine just as brightly. Letitia Wright gave us one of those performances and she was simply terrific. She absolutely nailed the little sister role here as Sheri, and is definitely one of the many highlights of the film.

There was, or course, a smattering of very familiar faces that were part of this film, and a couple in particular I thought were cast very well, even if they didn’t feature too heavily. Forest Whittaker and Angela Bassett both got to play two of the most well-respected figures in their community, and given some of the roles and films they’ve been part of, I thought that was a very nice touch, regardless of how intentional it was.

I was slightly disappointed Andy Serkis didn’t stick around for longer. He was a loose cannon and was brilliant because of this fact – it’s a shame we didn’t get to see more of him.

Another thing I’d have liked to have seen a tiny bit more of was the combat scenes. I thought these were so well choreographed. They looked awesome! I really would have loved to have seen one or two of the bigger action sequences swapped out for some more of these because I really thought they looked great.

There were some very interesting creative choices made about what was featured in the film and how it was portrayed. One thing that comes to mind is the female warriors fighting for T’Challa’s tribe. It made me think of how it’s lionesses that hunt for a pride of lions, and although the film is obviously technically more about panthers (it’s in the name I guess), I still thought it was a subtle nod to the women involved here. I also liked the internet culture references made, but also how there was a real tribal feel to the entire film – it was a fantastic way to marry old and new customs together and is something that hugely contributes to the wider greatness that the film has.

So, you might have worked this out for yourself by now, but Black Panther gets a very strong seal of approval from me. There was so much about this film that I completely fell in love with that I can forgive it for the flaws that it had in a couple of areas. It’s a really well-rounded film that delivers on everything it set out to do, and then does a bit more when you read between the lines. Was I right in anticipating it so much? Absolutely so.

Review – The Shape Of Water

Probably one of this year’s most talked about and most hotly anticipated awards season films is The Shape Of Water. It’s a film that I hadn’t been too fussed about seeing initially, but one thing led to another and I ended up going to see it anyway.

Well, AREN’T I GLAD THAT SUCH A FORTUNATE SERIES OF EVENTS OCCURRED AND I DECIDED TO GIVE IT A SPIN! What a wonderful film it turned out to be! Very moving, surprisingly funny and gloriously original. I can’t quite believe that I almost gave this one a miss.

Perhaps what had put me off seeing this film was the premise. Essentially, it follows a woman who falls in love with a merman. Any regular visitors may know that I am not a hopeless romantic, hence why this wasn’t a film that popped up on my radar. However, I did feel that, for the most part, The Shape Of Water wasn’t dead soppy with the way it portrayed any of the relationships in the film, and I can’t complain about that one bit.

i really loved the some of the performances in the film, and also what a golden bunch of characters was featured. Sally Hawkins is delightful as Eliza. There was something about her performance that meant it was just really lovely to watch. The pairing of her and Octavia Spencer’s very chatty character was genius, and I think the two really brought out the best in each other on-screen.

Michael Shannon plays a good bad guy, I’ll give him that. There were countless times where I thought he just absolutely owned the role of Richard Strickland. I actually despised his character, and that was a wonderful feeling to have. To put it simply, he was a nasty man with an agenda, and Shannon played it brilliantly. Loved it!

No matter what you think of this film, you can’t deny that it is original. Writer and director Guillermo Del Toro does what I believe he’s quite famous for by now by treating us to a story that is rather like an adult fairytale. It is a superbly fantastical with some romance, friendship and a bit of violence and brutality thrown in for good measure. It’s a real mix, but nothing that’d be a far reach from anything that any of us would’ve had read to us as kids I don’t think. It was definitely very different, and I liked that about it very much.

So, after enjoying The Shape Of Water far more than I had expected to, it would seem that all I can do is sing it’s praises. I loved the characters and the performances that went into bringing them to life. There was terrific variety in what I got to see in the film too, and as for originality – well, this ticks all the boxes on that front for me. The Shape Of Water gets a solid recommendation from this girl at least.

Review – Berlin Syndrome

Some of the best films centre around entirely plausible events. Berlin Syndrome is one of those films.

This film caught my attention when I saw a trailer leading up to it’s release however after seeing that trailer, I didn’t really see much else about it. Fast-forward a few months and good ol’ Netflix has come to my rescue.

At the heart of Berlin Syndrome is Clare (Teresa Palmer), an Australian photo-journalist who partakes in a holiday romance with Andi (Max Riemelt), but who wakes up in his apartment the next morning unable to leave.

This is a film with many plus points. First of all, I thought the two main performances were terrific. Both were really authentic-feeling and came together as one element that contributed wonderfully to the rest of the film. I thought Teresa Palmer’s performance was great – you got to witness near enough every emotion known to man whilst watching her. It was also nice to her survive based more or less all on her own wits.

Of course, we all know by now that I have a soft spot fo the bad guys in most films, so it’s inevitable that I spend time gushing about Max Riemelt’s performance. He made Andi so complex, but ultimately made it very clear what sort of mentality he was in. Long story short, he was a psychopath, and anyone who reads these blog posts regularly, if such a person exists, will know exactly how I feel about that.

Another big plus point of this film is how intense it is. Yes, it is slow burner, but I think even the most impatient will stay the journey with it because of how it played with tension. Right from the start of the film, you know two things are going to happen – Clare is going to get kidnapped and she is going to get out. But everything that happens in between, and how it happens, is a mystery. Berlin Syndrome thrives on this, and so does the viewer, who goes from scene to scene without really knowing how things are going to play out.

I thought the hints that were dotted throughout the story as to Andi came to be how he is here were a nice touch. But what I thought was the best thing about it was the fact that these possible explanations were never thrown in your face. In fact, this is a point that just came to me as an afterthought when writing this review, which I guess proves the subtlety.

There you have it then, my take on Berlin Syndrome. For me, the film’s a real winner. You have two brilliant performances and tension by the bucket load in a story, that in all seriousness, could happen very easily, which only adds to the experience as you’re watching it. Definitely worth a watch if you ask me.

Review – Sleeping With The Enemy

I’m a big Julia Roberts fan. I’ve seen a few of her films now, and I’ve enjoyed the majority of them. Sleeping With The Enemy was not really part of that majority though.

The film follows a woman who fakes her death in order to escape an abusive husband, but who ultimately makes enough mistakes to enable him to track her down in her new life. I liked the idea of the storyline – I think that had Roberts not have been front and centre in the film it would still have appealed to me because of this. As I was watching it, there were parts of the film that I think could have influenced other stories such as Gone Girl. I have to say though that I thought it could have been done better. There were certain elements of the plot that were a little too good to be true and worked too well in the favour of some characters. Now might also be a good time to point out that I didn’t find the ending to be very satisfying at all. I’d have preferred a more drawn out, more climactic final showdown that the one we got. What happened was a bit predictable for me – I’d have preferred something with more shock and awe to be honest.

This wasn’t my favourite Julia Roberts film, not by a long way. I don’t think there was anything that was majorly wrong with it, no crimes against film were committed, I just didn’t like it that much. Her character here was a far cry from Vivienne in Pretty Woman or Erin Brockovich in, well… Erin Brockovich. Instead, she was bit of a wet lettuce who you struggled to pull of the things she did. As for some of the other actors in the film… I haven’t got a clue who any of them were to be completely honest (all I know is the guy who plays Roberts’ husband here has recently made a prolonged appearance in Eastenders which tells you all you really need to know about him). Again, I didn’t think anything I saw was particularly stunning, but they were performances. I think I’ll leave it at that.

So those are pretty much all the thoughts I have on Sleeping With The Enemy. In short, I’d advise spending your time watching one of the numerous films similar to this but finished to a higher standard. This was rather average, and I think we all deserve better.

Review – Chicago

I’m not a massive fan of musicals, but that didn’t seem to have much bearing on my thoughts on Chicago. For a while something had been drawing me to this film, but it was only recently that i got a chance to watch it.

The film follows murderesses Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Roxie Hart (Renée Zellweger) as they attempt to escape the hangman’s noose. Velma is a veteran showgirl, while Roxie is a wannabe. Both hire Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), a hot-shot lawyer who has never lost a case, to get them off death row.

I thought the three lead performances were very impressive here. As far as I’m aware, everyone did their own singing and dancing here, and given some of the numbers throughout the film I was quite awe-struck by this fact. Zeta-Jones was devilishly good as Velma Kelly. You really got the impression that she was willing to do absolutely anything to be in the limelight. Zellweger was great as she took Roxie through the transition from bit of a no-hoper to someone who saw the full potential of the situation they were in and sought to exploit it. She blossomed into a character who was an apt rival to Velma and she knew it. Watching the pair trying to figure out how to get one over on each other was very entertaining, and definitely one of the main plus points of the film.

Richard Gere also fitted right in as Billy Flynn. He fancied himself as as a big as the likes of Velma which created an interesting dynamic. Gere captured the smugness and egocentricity of Billy perfectly, meaning there were three main character with huge personalities all fighting for centre stage. Terrific!

Chicago is a fully immersive film. It’s full of 1920s glitz and glamour and really enables you to lose yourself inside the story. There was a lot of attention to detail involved in the whole production, and it all paid off. The costumes, hair and makeup are fantastic, and the sets completely fit into the 1920s landscape. It’s such a visual feast, and as a result you’re never in any doubt about when these stories are taking place, and this works very well in the film’s favour.

The entire film was full of so many amazing scenes, however two stood out for me. The ventriloquism with Gere and Zellweger’s characters was awesome! This was another of those moments where the hair and makeup crew came into their element. They made Zellweger look like an actual puppet and I had thought they’d had a giant Zellweger ventriloquist dummy made. That’s how good it was. The second scene that blew my socks off was the final number where Velma and Roxie perform together. It was a great way to end the film, simple as.

All there is left to say really is that Chicago is an absolute knock-out. It really took me by surprise by how good it was. All of it’s elements work together in a wonderful symphony that truly is very well put together. I can’t remember what this film was up against at the Oscars in 2000, but I have to say that I think was probably well deserving of it’s Best Picture win.