Friday, March 16, 2018

Tomb Raider review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider

            World-famous video game adventurer, Lara Croft returns to film in Tomb Raider, based on the Square Enix (The current owner of the property) video game series of the same name. This isn’t the first time Lara Croft fell victim to the video game movie cash grab craze, the role was previously portrayed by Angelina Jolie in the 2001 film, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and its sequel, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.
            Now Academy Award® winner, Alicia Vikander (Ex-Machina, The Danish Girl, Jason Bourne) dons the blue tank-top, bow, and arrows under direction by Roar Uthaug (Magic Silver, Escape, The Wave). I was expecting something terrible as video game film adaptations have a very negative reputation, but for what they’re doing with the source material, Tomb Raider surprisingly isn’t half bad.
            Why does a film adaptation of Tomb Raider work compared to other video game movie attempts like Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and the upcoming Sonic the Hedgehog movie (and trust me, we’ll get to that along the road)? Well, Tomb Raider is a perfect fit for a movie, the games were adventure based and very reminiscent of Indiana Jones or even the Brendan Fraser Mummy movie, and for the most part it translates to film quite nicely.
            The movie captures the look and feel of Tomb Raider literally right down to having scenes recreated from the games in live-action. Obviously, the filmmakers have done their homework and gave us a decent adaptation of the game and a flawed but fun adventure movie to boot, take several notes Boll.
            The film follows, Lara Croft (Vikander), the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West-Chicago, 300, Punisher: War Zone) who left her when she was a little girl and vanished without a trace. Now a 21-year-old woman without any real focus on purpose, Lara believes her father is still alive and discovers a puzzle that could help her solve the mystery behind his disappearance.
            Going against her father’s “Final Wishes”, she leaves everything she knows and loves behind and embarks on an adventure in search of her dad’s last-known location, an ancient tomb on a mysterious island somewhere off the coast of Japan with the help of a ship captain named Lu Ren (Daniel Wu-House of Fury, Tai Chi, Overheard). But her mission will not be easy, just getting to the island will be extremely treacherous and the stakes getting higher as Lara must push herself beyond her limits into the great unknown to save her father and possibly the world.
            The film also stars Walton Goggins (The Bourne Identity, Predators, Lincoln) as Mathias Vogel, Kristin Scott Thomas (Four Weddings and a Funeral, The English Patient, Darkest Hour) as Ana Miller, Hannah John-Kamen (Killjoys, Ready Player One, Ant-Man and the Wasp) as Sophie, Antonio Aakeel (Skins, City of Tiny Lights, Eaten by Lions) as Nitin Ahuja, Derek Jacobi (Gladiator, The King’s Speech, Cinderella (2015)) as Mr. Yaffe, Nick Frost (Cornetto trilogy, Paul, The Boxtrolls) as Max, Jaime Winstone (Wild Bill, Powder Room, Love, Rosie) as Pamela, and Duncan Airlie James (Starred Up, ID2: Shadwell Army, Autumn Never Dies) as Terry.
            Overall, Tomb Raider isn’t a great film (it’s debatable whether or not it’s even a good film) but it’s certainly the best video game movie adaptation we’ve gotten so far. It succeeds where most adaptations fail, representing the source material and being faithful to it while still being an adventure movie.
            We’ve had several adaptations in the past that tried to be so different from its source material to the point where they were unrecognizable to fans like Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, and pretty much every single video game movie directed by Uwe Boll. On the other hand, there have been video game film adaptations that were extremely loyal to the source material but never really delivered much to the mainstream like Final Fantasy VII: Advent Children, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV, or the Ratchet & Clank movie that came out a couple years ago.
            Tomb Raider finds a decent middle ground between fan-service and being an entertaining movie, and I had fun with it, which is more than what I could say about other game adaptations. It doesn’t shove the game references in your face or completely destroy them, even if you’ve never played the Tomb Raider games you can watch this movie and figure out visually what was probably taken from the games.
            Specifically, this film takes more references from the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot game than the original, which I think is for the best. Don’t get me wrong, I have fond memories of playing the original games on PlayStation as a kid and will always hold a place in my heart but let’s face it, the reboot gave Lara Croft more of a character than the original where they passed her off as a sex symbol with pixelated breasts for teenage boys and that’s it.
            I was concerned at first with Alicia Vikander being chosen to play Lara since the 2001 Angelina Jolie film is admittedly a guilty pleasure of mine, but after seeing her take on it, she plays the part quite well. She’s strong but has her limits, adventurous, can deliver a one-liner or funny joke once in a while, arrogant but never to the point where she’s unlikable, and Vikander already won me over as an actress with two of her movies in a row.
            But like all video game adaptations, Tomb Raider does have its flaws, the very beginning of the movie is pointless and doesn’t really connect to the story (Like a less enraging Killing Joke opening), the dialogue is really bad and corny, and the story gets predictable at times and falls victim to a lot of adventure movie clichés. If you’ve seen Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Mummy, or even the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movie, you pretty much know the plot of this one.

            Fortunately, the problems don’t ruin the movie and as a whole, it’s fun and proof that a decent video game movie can be made with the right amount of care. Plus, we got Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One, Rampage, and Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2 coming out later on this year, maybe Tomb Raider was the movie that made Hollywood wake up.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A Wrinkle in Time review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: *** out of 4
Reese Witherspoon, Oprah Winfrey, and Mindy Kaling in A Wrinkle in Time

            Oprah is a goddess, Reese Witherspoon is a flying leaf of cabbage, and Chris Pine is the human incarnation of Gary from Team America: World Police….A Wrinkle in Time everyone! Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere, Selma, 13th) makes her leap to fantasy film directing with the film adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s best-selling children’s novel, A Wrinkle in Time.
            This wouldn’t be the first time L’Engle’s book was translated to live-action film, there was also a 2003 Wrinkle in Time mini-series on ABC’s The Wonderful World of Disney with Alfre Woodard, Kate Nelligan, and Allison Elliott. Unfortunately, that adaptation was widely despised even by Madeleine L’Engle herself, makes perfect sense because if you include stock footage from The Neverending Story III in your project, it’s already dead on arrival.
            Can Ava DuVernay bring the enchantment and wonder of the book to life and finally give us the perfect adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time? Not exactly, but it’s fine enough as a fantasy movie.
            The movie gets elements of the book right, the visuals are gorgeous and leap off the screen, the acting for the most part is solid, and has some real legitimate drama. But at the same time, the film does fall flat with plot holes in its narrative, some “Not so good” performances, and it feels like half the time the movie’s trying to be the next Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland when it really doesn’t need to be.
            The film follows a young girl named Meg Murry (Storm Reid-12 Years a Slave, Sleight, NCIS: Los Angeles) struggling with issues of self-worth and trying desperately to fit in at her school. She is the daughter of two world-renowned physicists and is intelligent and uniquely-gifted as with her little brother, Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe-Stephanie), but she just doesn’t know it yet.
            Suddenly their father, Dr. Alex Murry (Chris Pine-Star Trek (2009 trilogy), Into the Woods, Wonder Woman) mysteriously disappears, who was on the brink of discovering the secrets of the universe. To make things stranger, Meg, Charles Wallace, and their neighbor, Calvin (Levi Miller-Terra Nova, Pan, Supergirl) are greeted by three odd-looking women, Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey-The Oprah Winfrey Show, The Princess and the Frog, Selma), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon-Legally Blonde, Walk the Line, Wild), and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling-The Mindy Project, Wreck-It Ralph, Inside Out) who inform them that their father is alive and trapped in another world.
            Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin must journey across space and time to rescue their father and possibly even save the entire universe from an evil entity known as the IT (and I ain’t talkin’ about no killer clowns here!). Can they rescue their father in time or will IT destroy all life in the universe?
            The film also stars Zach Galifianakis (The Hangover trilogy, Dinner for Schmucks, Puss in Boots) as The Happy Medium, Michael Peña (End of Watch, Ant-Man, The Lego Ninjago Movie) as Red, André Holland (Selma, The Knick, Moonlight) as Principal James Jenkins, Rowan Blanchard (Girl Meets World, The Goldbergs) as Veronica, David Oyelowo (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Selma, Queen of Katwe) as the IT, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Miss Sloane, Beauty and the Beast (2017), The Cloverfield Paradox) as Dr. Kate Murry.
            Overall, A Wrinkle in Time is a beautiful but clumsy re-telling of the book that delivers a strong message about female empowerment and diversity, much like Wonder Woman or Black Panther. The film’s visuals are stunning to look at, the worlds are imaginative, and the cast ranges from good, bad, to complete madness (for better or for worse).
            Most of the cast I thought did a decent job but Levi Miller, I’m sorry and I’m sure you’re a nice kid, but his performance in this is terrible. He’s supposed to be the popular boy at school who befriends Meg on their adventure, but wow, do they make him stupid? There’s a scene where the three of them are eating sandwiches on a mysterious beach and the little brother exclaims that it tastes like sand and he still eats it, you’re like a hybrid of “Shyamalized” Mark Wahlberg from The Happening mixed with Ed from Ed, Edd n Eddy…and somehow you put them both to shame.
            Thankfully Miller’s performance doesn’t kill the movie and there’s plenty of things to appreciate about the film. As previously mentioned, the worlds and visuals are beautiful and have kind of a Wizard of Oz, Dark Crystal, and Avatar vibe to the designs of the environments and creatures, and if you’re watching on a large-screen, you feel entranced.
            The movie also has some pretty effective drama with themes of trying to fit in, loss, and family. You feel for Meg in the beginning of the movie after her father goes missing, she pretty much shut herself out from her classmates and the school bullies don’t cut her any slack.

            A Wrinkle in Time isn’t a perfect adaptation of the book but it’s miles ahead of the mini-series, even if it doesn’t quite live up to the magic and emotion of the novel, it’s a decent attempt. If you’re a fan of the book or looking for a strange and odd adventure in another world, you might enjoy A Wrinkle in Time.

And now because I don't know any better, here are the Top 10 Jokes I Made While Watching This Film:
1. Had no idea Charles Wallace knew the Force
2. Laughing at the overacting child
3. When the three kids enter the creepy-looking cul-de-sac where the kids are bouncing balls all at the same time "Oh my God, they found Purgatory!" 
4. You were the chosen one! 
5. The IT is the Nothing from Neverending Story
6. Levi Miller can't act to save his life!
7. Oprah the Goddess, surprisingly fitting!
8. Chris Pine is the human incarnation of Gary from Team America
9. Obvious Pennywise joke
10. Girl Meets Pwnage!

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Red Sparrow review

By Nico Beland
Movie Review: ** ½ out of 4
Jennifer Lawrence in Red Sparrow

            Superstar, Jennifer Lawrence (X-Men franchise, The Hunger Games franchise, Silver Linings Playbook) re-unites with director, Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Water for Elephants, The Hunger Games 2-3.2) in the latest spy thriller, Red Sparrow, based on the novel of the same name by Jason Matthews. Going into this movie I knew nothing about the book so I’m not sure how accurate the film follows it, but as an enthusiast of Jennifer Lawrence as an actress and the film looking interesting to me, I gave it a watch…even if it looked like a graphic version of Marvel’s Black Widow’s origin story from Avengers: Age of Ultron, but I digress.
            While the film is shot beautifully and has its moments of legitimate thrills, it falls flat with bland characters and a convoluted story that really isn’t that interesting. On the plus side, even when she’s in bad or mediocre films, Jennifer Lawrence gives it her all and never half-asses her performance.
            My thoughts on Red Sparrow as a whole is rather similar to what I thought of Jennifer Lawrence’s previous film, Mother! Where I didn’t know what to make of it. But unlike Mother! Which I thought “Don’t know what to say about it, leaning towards good”, Red Sparrow was more leaning towards bad, could be worse I could have been watching Fifty Shades Freed.
            In modern day Russia, the film follows a young woman named Dominika Egorova (Lawrence) who is many things at once, a devoted daughter protecting her mother at all costs, a successful ballet dancer who pushed her body and mind to the absolute limit, and a master of seductive and manipulative combat. After a career-ending injury, Dominika finds herself manipulated into becoming the newest recruit for a secret organization called Sparrows.
            At the Sparrow School, Dominika is trained to use her mind and body as weapons through perverse and sadistic processes and becomes the strongest and most dangerous Sparrow the program has ever produced. But when her life and the lives of everyone she cares about are at risk, she must reconcile the person she was with her new power to save them.
            The film also stars Joel Edgerton (Star Wars: Episodes II and III, The Gift, It Comes at Night) as Nate Nash, Matthias Schoenaerts (Rust and Bone, The Drop, The Danish Girl) as Ivan Vladimirovich Egorova, Charlotte Rampling (Spy Game, The Duchess, Assassin’s Creed) as Matron, Mary-Louise Parker (Weeds, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, RED) as Stephanie Boucher, Jeremy Irons (Die Hard with a Vengeance, The Lion King, DC Extended Universe) as General Vladimir Andreievich Korchnoi, Ciarán Hinds (Road to Perdition, Munich, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) as Colonel Zacharov, Joely Richardson (The Patriot, Anonymous, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)) as Nina Egorova, Bill Camp (12 Years a Slave, Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Black Mass) as Marty Gable, Thekla Reuten (Lost, The American, How to Train Your Dragon) as Marta Yelenova, Hugh Quarshie (Highlander, Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Doctor Who) as Simon Benford, Sakina Jaffrey (Raising Helen, The Manchurian Candidate, House of Cards) as Trish Forsyth, Douglas Hodge (Vanity Fair, The Descent: Part 2, Robin Hood (2010)) as Maxim Volontov, and Kristof Konrad (Independence Day, Angels & Demons, Chernobyl Diaries) as Dimitri Ustinov.
            Overall, Red Sparrow is an ambitious movie that takes risks in its subject matter and graphic themes of sex and violence, unfortunately not so much in its story. I appreciate the attempts at trying to be this sexy but intense spy thriller in similar veins as James Bond or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but there’s not much to set it apart from the rest.
            But with that said, there are good elements in here, the film is shot very beautifully, some of the thrills got a decent reaction out of me, and despite being written bland, Jennifer Lawrence’s performance kept me invested. Had she been replaced by Kristen Stewart from Twilight or Dakota Johnson from Fifty Shades, under similar direction as the Fifty Shades movies I’d probably fall asleep and/or walk out.
            I have yet to see a movie with Jennifer Lawrence where she’s not trying in her performance, it seems like even if the movie she’s in happens to be trash, she always puts effort in her role and manages to make an impression. Thought she was good in Passengers, doesn’t mean I liked the movie.
            I’m sure this movie looked good on paper but execution wise, boy does it fall flat? Clocking in at over 2 and a half hours with long, drawn-out scenes that could have been trimmed down to be more effective, scenes that go nowhere, and plot elements that don’t make a whole lot of sense.

            Red Sparrow isn’t the worst I’ve seen, but in terms of an erotic spy thriller starring Jennifer Lawrence, I was expecting more. If you’re a fan of the book or a fan of watching good girls going bad, then Red Sparrow might be up your alley.