Tomb Raider

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Roar Uthaug

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Derek Jacobi.

We’ve seen a Lara Croft movie before. The Angelina Jolie vehicle was a terrible adaptation of the video game, which has aged horribly. The sequel was even worse. In recent years the games have rebranded, with a more realistic feel, taking Lara’s story back to the beginning. Tomb Raider takes its cues from these more recent games, functioning as both a gritty reboot, and an origin story. Alicia Vikander is now in the lead role, transitioning from OSCAR darling to action star, and Norwegian director Roar Uthaug is the man behind the camera. I had a lot of faith going in, but it turned out to be a bumpy voyage.

Tomb Raider follows Lara Croft (Vikander), a young woman making her own way in modern day London. She regularly attends kick-boxing lessons, and struggles to make ends meet with a job as a bicycle courier. We soon find out that she’s actually the daughter of Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), who has been missing for 7 years. Lara is in line to inherit his fortune, but is unwilling to sign him off as dead. When she uncovers a secret room within the grounds of Croft Manor, she discovers that her father disappeared whilst searching for an ancient Japanese tomb, one which he believed housed a terrible evil. Lara sets off to Japan to uncover the truth behind her fathers disappearance.

This version of Tomb Raider is a hell of a lot better than the last one we got. The route they’ve decided to go down is the same one James Bond went down with Daniel Craig. If the Angelina Jolie movies were equivalent to Bond during the Pierce Brosnan era, than this is definitely Craig era. It’s gritty, and grounded in realism. It even shears off the supernatural edge that the games still retain. It strips Lara of everything that makes her iconic. There’s no ponytail, no dual gun toting, and definitely no shorts. This time around Lara has to earn all of it, and the film is better for it. We don’t even see inside Croft mansion. It’s a good place to start, but the film spends too much time layering on the grit, that it forgets that it’s supposed to be fun.

If the quick pitch for this film is Indiana Jones meets James Bond, with a female lead, than the final product doesn’t match the idea. We spend so much time with Lara wallowing in the loss of her father, that you wonder if the film makers realise they are making a film called Tomb Raider. It should be fun, it should be slightly ridiculous, and it should feature more tombs. When the film started I thought we might get a female empowerment movies along the lines of Wonder Woman, but the film never really plays up to that. The film makers make smart choices, the video game Lara became a nerd sex symbol, but they never sexualise Vikander, and they give her friendships not romantic relationships. It’s the story though that lets it down, by having her pining over her father for so long, it robs the film of its independent woman kicks-ass message.

The real joy of Tomb Raider is Vikander’s performance. She makes a fantastic Lara Croft. She’s talked about her extensive training regime to get in shape, and it’s paid off. She is completely believable in the role. If anything she is let down by the script. She gives Lara a charm which doesn’t seem to be there on the page, and the only reason half the jokes land seems to be through her just willing them to. Walter Goggins makes a great villain too, and when the two of them face off against each other it makes for some of the best scenes in the movie. The action is all serviceable, and they’ve matched the aesthetic of the new Tomb Raider games perfectly. It’s a shame that we’ve seen all the best bits in the trailer, including the last shot of the movie.

Tomb Raider is a serviceable action movie, but its majorly let down by the story and the script. It’s competently enough directed, but never gets the heart racing. If they had leaned more towards an Indiana Jones tone, they could have gotten so much more out of it. Alicia Vikander shines, but in a better film she could have made her version of Lara iconic.


Mom and Dad

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Brian Taylor

Starring: Nicolas Cage, Selma Blair, Anne Winters, Zackary Arthur, Robert T. Cunningham, and Olivia Crocicchia.


Nicolas Cage is hit and miss, but you can’t deny that he always swings for the fences. He always goes big. It doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s glorious, and when it doesn’t it can make terrible movies much more entertaining. It’s been awhile since his 90’s heyday, but every now and then Cage delivers a barnstrormer of a performance, such as his great Adam West impression in Kick-Ass. Here he teams up with director Brian Taylor, best known as one half of the director duo that bought us Crank, Gamer, and has previously worked with Cage on the disappointing Ghost Rider sequel. Taylor specialises in high energy, high concept films designed to offend, and they don’t come more high concept or offensive than Mom and Dad.


Mom and Dad is a very simple concept. It centres around parents Brent and Kendall Ryan, played respectively by Nicolas Cage and Selma Blair. They’re both going through their own version of a mid-life crisis, worrying about growing old, and dis-liking the people they’ve become. They have two children; teenage daughter Carly, played by Anne Winters, and young son Josh, played by Zackary Arthur. When American parents start randomly killing their own offspring, Cage and Blair are affected as well, and will do anything to murder Carly and Josh.


The aim here is to make a zombie movie, or a horror movie along the lines of The Crazies, but instead of the undead it’s parents after the kids. It combines elements of the Dawn Of The Dead remake, with Stephen Kings Cell, and a streak of satirical black comedy. It doesn’t hit the same heights as the former film, but is much more entertaining than the adaptation of the latter. I found there’s almost two films to review here, the first half of the movie, and the second half. The first half is terrible. Focusing on the relationship between Selma Blair’s Kendall and her on screen daughter Carly. The characters aren’t particularly likeable and the dialogue is generic, bordering on cheesy. There’s an attempt to give these scenes some kinetic energy with some fast paced editing, but it’s jarring, grating, and annoying.

It takes Taylor awhile to settle on a tone, trying to invoke 70’s exploitation movies, but the first half comes across as a stale horror movie. The satirical comedy is either just not funny, or too obvious. Wow, teenagers like iphones. The high bar for this kind of movie is still Shaun Of The Dead, and this film doesn’t come close.  The worst thing is the soundtrack, annoying and distracting in equal measure, it’s even more inconsistent in tone than the film. There’s also a distinct lack of Cage in the first half of the movie.


Its in the second half of the movie that you really get what you came for. If you’ve seen any of Taylor’s previous films you will know his style, innapropriate camera angles, quick cuts, and an almost over-exposed colour palette. Its bold, brash, and crude. The first half of the movie hints at violence but you don’t really see it, the camera cutting away at the last minute. In the second half Taylor really embraces the schlock factor of this b-movie. There’s an intense scene in a hospital room, which will thrill and offend in equal measure. We also get a lot more Cage, with him and Blair becoming a really good onscreen duo. Cage dials it up to 11, and the film is all the better for it. The films last half an hour is a great cat and mouse game between the parents and their kids. It’s fun, tense, gory, and funny. It’s in this last half hour that the film starts to really deliver on its premise.


This film isn’t great. If you’ve seen the trailer you kind of know what you’re going to get going in. It’s a shame that the movie takes so long to deliver on the promise of the trailer. It’s not for the easily offended, but if you can make it through the first 50 minutes, there is a lot of fun to be had in the last 30 minutes. Especially, a great overblown performance from Nic Cage,



Love, Simon

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Greg Berlanti

Starring: Nick Robinson, Jennifer Garner, Josh Duhamel, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Logan Miller, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Keiynan Lonsdale, and Tony Hale.


Greg Berlanti’s cinematic career may have gotten off to a bumpy start with 2010s Life As We Know It, but since then he’s gone from strength to strength on the small screen. He’s been the main creative force behind CW’s DC universe, producing Arrow, The Flash, Legends Of Tomorrow, and Supergirl, as well as working on shows such as Blindspot, and Riverdale. His return to the big screen sees him adapting the novel “Simon Vs the Homo Sapien Agenda.” I’m a fan of Berlanti’s TV universe but I’ve never read the book. I do know that Berlanti applies the same formula to all his shows, every episode has to have action, laughs, and a whole lot of heart. That formula is on full display in Love, Simon.


Love, Simon is the story of Simon Spier, a normal high schooler who enjoys hanging out with his friends, listening to music, and loves his family. He has a secret though, he’s gay. Whilst struggling to deal with how to approach his sexuality another kid at the school anonymously comes out on social media. Simon starts to privately email the individual calling himself Blue, using the pseudonym Jacques. As their online relationship begins to bloom, Simon starts to fall for his new pen pal, whilst trying to figure out who the person on the other side of the keyboard actually is. Along the way trying to figure out how to reveal his secret to his friends and family.


The film is completely warm, and charming. Berlanti balances the laughs and feels perfectly. The years of TV have honed his skills, and he takes his audience on an emotional rollercoaster of a ride. The characters are relatable, believeable, and immensely likeable. The casting is spot on, and by using some of the best young actors working on TV today, the friendships all feel honest, and there is a real sense of chemistry between them. When it first started, I was worried that the style of the film was cleaving to close to the generically perfect teenage life, but Berlanti uses this to show us the Hetero-normal life that Simon is living, and makes us feel both Simon’s dread at the idea of coming out, believing that everything he loves will change if he does, and the unfairness of the situation. If at times the film does feel too cookie cutter, it’s to serve a heart-warming story with a great message.


The direction is good throughout. Berlanti recalls recent coming-of-age story Perks Of Being A Wallflower, and rom-com 500 Days of Summer, balancing his teen drama with hilarious fantasy sequences. It’s a refreshing story as well. It’s something not seen too often, a great teen rom-com, viewed through different eyes. It’s incredibly refreshing. The performances are all good as well. Jennifer Garner and Josh Duhamel make the most of their supportive parents roles, whilst  Simon’s group of friends are a charismatic bunch. Nick Robinson though is fantastic. He carries the film incredibly well, bringing both the warmth and charm to the character of Simon, and makes him feel 100% real. I have to mention the soundtrack as well, executively produced by Jack Antonoff, it’s great, and actually seems like the songs teenagers listen to.


I was was completely charmed by this movie. It manipulated me in all the right ways. I laughed, I cried, and felt every moment of tension. It’s a fantastic coming-of-age story, combined with a great coming out story. It’s about a character finding his identity, and has a brilliant central message. Berlanti has owned his own corner of the small screen, here’s hoping that he continues to branch out and make movies as likeable as this one.




2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Duncan Jones

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh, and Robert Sheehan


This is another release where the movie almost seems secondary in the conversation. Following on from last months audacious release of The Cloverfield Paradox by Netflix, we are again discussing the streaming giants. Mute is Duncan Jones’ passion project. One he says he had in mind before he burst onto the scene with Moon, and one he’s been talking about ever since. The problem is no studio would fund the project. Netflix stepped in and rescued the film, and, as they seem to be setting themselves up as a creator driven company, gave Jones autonomy over the film. I loved Moon, and have been eagerly awaiting Mute ever since I saw the first bit of concept art years back. The experience of watching Mute was a far cry from the experience I had watching Moon. I saw Moon on its initial release at the cinema, becoming completely engrossed in it. Mute on the other hand, was watched in two halves, on two different screens, with a nap in between.


Mute is set forty years from now, in a futuristic version of Berlin. Flowing with immigrants, it’s become a cultural melting pot. We follow Leo, an Amish bar tender played by Alexander Skarsgård. Leo was involved in a boating accident when he was a child. His mother decided against him receiving any treatment due to her belief that God would heal him, and Leo is now left scarred and voiceless. When Leo’s girlfriend goes missing his search for her will lead him on a collision course with the seedy under-belly of Berlin, and two surgeons played by Paul Rudd, and Justin Theroux who work for the Russian mob.


Mute has has a lot of problems. One of them is timing. In terms of its future noir setting, it owes a huge debt to Blade Runner, it doesn’t help that we’ve just had a very good Blade Runner sequel which this film just can’t measure up to. We’ve also just had The Shape Of Water, where a mute lead character was used in a much more satisfying way. It’s biggest problems though lie with it’s lead character, and the story. Alexander Skarsgård is a charisma vacuum in this role, having him not speak doesn’t help one bit. The only time he interacts with other characters is to ask questions, which leaves him a complete enigma. He’s supposed to be the emotional pull for the film, but it’s hard to relate to him. His Amish roots don’t feel believable either. You can see why Jones has made this decision, when he interacts with future tech which requires voice activation it places him as an outsider, but these situations feel too contrived. He’s charaterisation is almost bi-polar, one minute being the gentle giant, and the next being an explosion of rage. There seems to be no motivation for these mood swings except to service the story, which in all honesty is hugely underwhelming. It meanders along from one scene to the next, there are moments of spark, but by the end I found it really hard to care.


There are some redeeming factors though. The cinematography is lush in places, and combined with another fantastic score by Clint Mansell, create moments of beauty and melancholic atmosphere that the film just can’t maintain. There’s also some ingenious worldbuilding. Justin Theroux standing out the roof of a car as his head passes through holographic road signs is a gorgeous sight to behold. In fact the film is at its best when following Rudd and Theroux, they maybe the films most repugnant characters, but there also the most interesting. There’s a manic energy when they’re on screen, which borders on black comedy, owning more to Terry Gilliam than to Ridley Scott. If only the rest of the film had the same energy.


Mute isn’t great, but nor is it wholly bad. It’s more of an interesting misfire from a talented director. There’s enough good moments that will win over some fans, and there’s a fantastic nod to Moon which, for me, made the movie worth watching. If the film was just based on Rudd and Theroux, I think it might have become a cult favourite, as it is there are too many moments which rob the film of any momentum, making it a rather dull affair. It’s a strange time for Netflix, they seem to be heavily investing in projects that other studios have avoided, and with the double hit of Mute and Cloverfield, you can’t help but feel they’ve been avoided for good reason.




Lady Bird

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Greta Gerwig

Starring: Saoirse Ronan, Laurie Metcalf, Tracy Letts, Lucas Hedges, and Timothée Chalamet.

Greta Gerwig is best know as an indie starlet favoured by American auteur Noah Baumbach, winning acclaim for her role in Frances Ha. Here, she breaks out on her own with her solo directorial debut, after co-directing Nights and Weekends, directing from a script she wrote herself. Whilst Gerwig has claimed that the film is not auto-biographical, there is no doubt that this is an incredibly personal story, and an incredibly personal film. It’s set in Sacramento, the place where Gerwig grew up, and is mainly concerned with the relationships Lady Bird has with both the place, and her Mother.

Lady Bird is a coming of age story centred around Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by Saoirse Roman. A teenage girl living in Sacramento, who is in her final year of high school, trying to figure out what to do with her future and what college to go to. Throughout the year she will have to navigate love, sex, friendships, class, and most importantly her relationship with her mother, played by Laurie Metcalf. She’s a girl who complains about not living in a place surrounded by culture, although she doesn’t know who Jim Morrison is, and wants to go to an Ivy League school despite not being academic. It’s a film about a young woman coming to terms with who she is, and accepting the things that define her.

Lady Bird is a completely charming film. It’s a film made by some one who obviously has such affection for her characters that you can’t help but share that affection. Gerwig has created a world with such well drawn and vivid characters, that even those you only meet briefly feel like old friends. Everyone in the film feels real, they all have a pulse, and each one is a piece of a puzzle that helps you understand Lady Bird, and that helps Lady Bird understand herself. There is a feeling of warmth, to and from the characters, that seems to radiate from the screen and wrap you in a tight embrace.

It’s a wonderfully constructed film too. Not one scene feels over-indulgent, it never over stays it’s welcome. Every frame is there for a reason, and what beautiful frames they are. Set in 2002, the film has the feel of a memory or a dream. The use of grain, and colour, adding to this sense of time capsule, like looking through old photos and saying this is who I was. It’s a feeling I’ve not had since seeing Boyhood. It’s also smartly edited, a scene where Lady Bird comforts a friend, cutting to her Mother, a nurse talking to a patient about depression. It’s this showing and not telling which makes Lady Bird stand out. Helping us understand why someone who so clearly loves their home town, their mum, their school, and their friends seems so intent in rebelling against it all.

If the characters are well drawn, then the actors colour them in exceptionally. Both Lucas Hedges and Timothée Chalamet shine with their limited screen time, but it’s Saoirse Rowan and Laurie Metcalf who really stand out. Their relationship feeling authentically lived in. You leave with the sense that these are people you’ve known your whole life. They both deserve all the accolades they are receiving. It’s hard to believe that Ronan is still so young, and this proves she’s one of the best leading actresses working today and will be for years to come.

If there are any complaints of the film, it comes from having such high expectations. For a best picture nominee, the story and subject matter are very slight. It reminded me of Richard Ayoade’s Submarine. It’s a coming of age story. An incredibly well made, funny, and moving coming of age story, which deals with everyday complexities very well, but still just a coming of age story. Lady Bird says she wants to have actually lived through something. She doesn’t really, but that’s the point. This is only a minor gripe though, and if I didn’t know anything about the film going in, I’m sure it wouldn’t have thought it.

Lady Bird is a warm, funny, and moving cinematic experience. Greta Gerwig has created a world which you want to spend time in, and her troupe of actors have populated that world with such well drawn, interesting characters, you feel like you’ve known them your whole life. I can see this being a film that I’ll return to again and again, like seeing an old friend.


Red Sparrow

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, and Jeremy Irons.

Red Sparrow might be the oddest film released this year. A Cold War-esque spy thriller, sold as a blockbuster, starring the biggest movie star on the planet, which also happens to be brutally violent. I had high hopes for the film, re-uniting Francis Lawrence with Jennifer Lawrence, the dream team behind the latter three hunger games. Some complained that the last two hunger games were too dour, I disagreed. Red Sparrow on the other hand, is a true sludge-fest.

Red Sparrow follows the life of Jennifer Lawrence’s Dominika Egorova, a prima-ballerina, who is looking after her sick mum. After an accident destroys her dancing career, she is offered a chance to keep the care her mum is receiving by her uncle, Vanya Egorova, played by Matthias Schoenaerts, a big shot in Russian intelligence. After accepting his offer her life spirals out of control and she has no choice but to attend Sparrow school. A place where young Russians are trained to use their bodies as weapons. Lawrence is soon sent on her first mission, to get close to Joel Edgerton’s CIA agent Nate Nash, in order to find out who his source is within Russian intelligence.

Francis Lawrence started off his career as a music video director. Directing some truly iconic videos for the likes of Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake. He’s a fantastic stylist and this film does look great. Lawrence knows how to frame an arresting image. Take a car driving through snow in the middle of nowhere, it’s a gorgeous image. Reminiscent of David Fincher’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo remake. The film is set in the modern day, but the use of muted colours, especially with the costumes gives it a Cold War era feel. There is an obvious desire here to establish atmosphere and tone. He hit that target with the hunger games as sweetly as Katniss could shoot her bow, but here he is well off the mark, and the tone settled upon is a monotonous one.

It was about ten minutes into the movie, when I turned to the person sitting next to me and whispered “this is going to be long.” The film plods along at such a god-awfully slow pace. It flicks between hotel rooms, to bleak looking streets, to torture scenes in such a monotonous fashion, it’s as if the film is trying to bore you into submission. It’s so much style over substance it robs the film of a pulse. It doesn’t help that we are never given any reason to route for Lawrence’s character. The film is a psychological thriller where we aren’t supposed to know when someone is manipulating someone else, or being truthful. It’s hard to connect to a character when you don’t know what their motives are. Lawrence plays it well, but she plays it so coldly, so dead eyed, you don’t know whether she’s shielding away her humanity or if she had no humanity to begin with.

This is a dark, grim, bleak, and nasty film. There’s a point around the beginning of the end of the second act, involving a torture where the film shifted from boring to unlikeable for me. The brutality of the movie feels like it’s revelled in too much. I’m not squeamish in the slightest, but I just couldn’t work out who could enjoy watching these scenes. It felt like torture for the audience. It’s these moments that make the film nasty. I know Jennifer Lawrence said there was a point during Mother! Where she asked Aronofsky if they’d taking it too far. She should have asked that question here. The only saving grace to the film is the final reveal which is pretty satisfying, but by that point it’s hard to even care.

Red Sparrow had a great team behind it. It’s an adult movie of the likes that doesn’t get made a lot these days. It is ultimately incredibly disappointing. It’s based on a book written by an ex-CIA operative, so you could argue that the grimness is all based on real life, but it’s just not enjoyable. It’s relentlessley brutal, and utterly boring at the same time.


I, Tonya

2018, Uncategorized

Dir. Craig Gillespie

Starring: Margot Robbie, Sebastian Stan, Allison Janney, Julianne Nicholson, Paul Walter Hauser, and Bobby Cannavale.


Being a Brit born after the events that take place in the film, I knew nothing about Tonya Harding until I saw the first trailer for this film. I’m not a particularly big figure skating fan, or someone who watches the Olympic every year. The subject matter of the movie, couldn’t be further from my interests. Lucky for me then, that none of that matters. In the same way that Rocky isn’t really about the boxing, this is a sports biopic way more interested in the characters than the actual sport. This is helped largely through the talking heads interviews, where if a character says they were the best figure skater in the world, you believe them, without the film having to put too much effort in showing you. The fact that these talking heads are wildly untrustworthy is all part of the films fun.


The film is based on interviews with Tonya Harding, and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, played respectively by Margot Robbie and Sebastian Stan. They have too very different points of view about what happened in their time together, and the film does its best to piece together a cohesive narrative which incorporates them all. It’s the story of how Tonya Harding came through an abusive relationship with her mum, LaVona, played by Allison Janney, and perhaps an abusive husband, to become one of the best figure skaters in America, on her way to the 1994 Winter Olympics. Her life is turned upside down when her husband Jeff intervenes, and one of  her competitors, Nancy Kerrigan is the victim of an assault.


I really enjoyed I, Tonya. It’s the kind of all absorbing movie you can just lean back and fall in love with. The film does a great job of building this time and place, early 90’s Portland, and placing you slap bang in the middle of it. The production design is great, the choice of music is toe-tappingly good, and it’s filled with characters you want to know more about. The Scorsese-esque direction and editing lends the film a kinetic energy, at least for the first 2/3rds of the movie, which propels you along the story at such a pace it’s impossible to get bored. The pace also comes with a light touch in direction, the film is incredibly funny even when dealing with darker subject matter. The performances are universally good as well. It’s nice to see Sebastian Stan shine away from the Marvel franchise, and Allison Janney is great, although with all the hype surrounding her performance I thought her role would have been a bit more demanding. The true standout here is Margot Robbie, producing here as well as starring, it’s a knockout performance which cements her place as a true female lead. It speaks to both the neutral approach that Gillespie took in directing the film, and Robbie’s performance that you can’t help but feel sympathy for Tonya by the end, even though the events that took place were so morally reprehensible.


I think the reason I liked the film so much, is that it’s not really about figure skating. It’s a film that explores the ideas of truth. The talking heads being interviewed, agree on certain aspects of events, but disagree wildly on others. Tonya says Jeff was abusive towards her, and Jeff says he never hit her. The film is called I, Tonya though so we see everything through Tonya’s point of view, which in this case means we see Jeff being constantly abusive, and we cut to him telling us this is all false. This style though is used to point the finger at us, and our obsession with celebrity culture, and the 24hr news cycle. It asks us to question believing everything we are told. The film also explores themes of class, Harding is an unapologetic red neck, trying to compete in a world which is all about appearance and class. In one emotional  scene we are told she won’t make the Olympics because the board want her to have a wholesome American family. Heartbreakingly she asks why it can’t just be about the skating, the irony is that it’s her viewership draw that allows her to go to the Olympics.


The film does falter a little bit after “the incident” takes place. It loses some of its pace, and starts to drag a little bit. Like a lot movies, this film could have lost half an hour of its runtime. We also see Margot Robbie taking a lot of abuse, which obviously has the intention of normalising the violence for the audience in the same way the abuse became normal for her, but I felt it was a little over done. The film does present us with the idea that it’s showing all the sides to the story, but it largely leans into supporting Tonya Harding, not necessarily supporting what happened, but  being behind her as a person. We generally hear from people who like Tonya, even Jeff comes across as remorseful. There’s a reason we don’t get a Nancy Kerrigan talking head.


I enjoyed I, Tonya a lot. It’s a kinetic, fast paced biopic, which made me interested in an event and a sport which I had no previous interest in. It’s filled with memorable characters, and great performances. Janney is getting all the press, but it’s Robbie’s film from start to finish. It’s a film which sets out to explore the truth, but you can’t help but feel manipulated by it. It’s stylish, fun, and well put together. You just have to take everything with a grain of salt.