Quick Movie Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

tomb raider2018.jpg

If you look at the first two Tomb Raider films from 2001 and 2003, and then look at this one, you’d never guess they’re from the same franchise unless you take note of the names of the movies or characters.

But this new installment is an origins story. Instead of Angelina Jolie in the role of Lara Croft, we get Alicia Vikander. Vikander is much better for this vulnerable version of Croft, as opposed to Jolie’s smooth arrogance. Here we see her coming to learn her identity as the tomb raider, whereas before, we jump right in and her identity has already been established.

This film serves as an origins story, but is the fan base large enough for anyone to care about an origins story? I suppose it doesn’t really matter these days.

Here, Croft is an aspiring kick boxer who’s in debt to her gym and is barely making ends meet as a bike courier. Her father, Richard (Dominic West), has been missing for 7 years. She refuses to sign the inheritance papers that would guarantee her over a billion dollars, because that would mean that he’s really dead. I guess I can empathize with that sentiment, but it still doesn’t make much logical sense for someone as smart as Croft apparently is.

Her father was obsessed with the supernatural and the hereafter. And Lara finds a clue left behind that sends her on a hunt to find out how he died. And now, apparently she has money to fly to Hong Kong to investigate. (One example of the small details that go lazily overlooked in this new movie.)

As well as a script hits its marks in a macro sense, it needs to hit them in the micro sense, too. That’s where Tomb Raider falters. Overall, the script gives us an extremely intriguing story with a lot of fun twists and turns, but it’s these little things that keep it from being better.

However, it’s not all the script’s fault. Director Roar Uthaug has issues handling emotions properly. In an early scene, Lara is seen watching a video that her dad has left her, speaking to her in a “If you’re watching this, I must be dead” type of way. There are no welled up tears, or bittersweet smile–just an apathetic look on Vikander’s face like she was expecting to hear all this. This great opportunity to evoke emotion out of the audience never gets taken advantage of, and we’re left wanting more from it, as well as our lead. If that doesn’t make our hero cry, what will? And do we want to invest our emotions in someone who seems void of them, herself?

But here’s the biggest issue of all: As entertaining as the Vikander Tomb Raider is, her version of Croft isn’t Lara Croft at all. She shares the same name, sure, but nowhere in this film does she show the same passion in digging up and collecting old artifacts, a la Indiana Jones. This version of Croft desperately wants to find her father, but expresses zero interest in historical relics or tombs at all. So what makes her a tomb raider? Nothing. Her dad was. But she is not. It’s hard to say that it does is source material proud.

In a standalone movie of a different name, half of these mistakes would be non-existent, but simply because it calls itself “Tomb Raider” they become irritants. Like, for this review, I’m not even going to go into detail on the legend discussed in this film, because Lara Croft doesn’t care, so why should it matter?

The film is actually highly entertaining with impressive–albeit unrealistic–action scenes, but it just doesn’t feel like a Tomb Raider movie.

Twizard Rating: 79

Advertisements

Quick Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003)

tomb raider 2.jpg

Compared to its 2001 predecessor, The Cradle of Life is much more along the lines of the films (Indiana Jones) it’s trying to emulate. It’s sleeker, more engaging, and has a much better villain, among other things.

Rather than wasting time in the beginning with contrived banter to set up character, this one jumps right into it. It gives less backstory, yet somehow provides us with more depth.

In The Cradle of Life, Lara Croft (Angelina Jolie) is on a mission to find Pandora’s Box before an evil bio-terrorist finds it and unleashes its contents, killing millions of people.

This one actually does have the potential to be a really good film in the traditional sense, but unfortunately most people will compare it to the action movies of today and standards will be too high.

It’s not only highly entertaining, but knows how to stray away from formulaic beats when it counts the most.

The film also tries to fill in much of the dead space with a love story between Croft and a character played by a then-unknown Gerard Butler. But this actually serves a purpose other than just a desperate attempt to grasp for more depth.

Jolie seems even more comfortable with the character the second time around, and this director actually knows what to do with her. He doesn’t try as hard to manufacture her coolness–which actually makes her even more cool. It allows her persona to speak more for itself.

While the first Tomb Raider was decently entertaining, this sequel is a large step above. The humor is more organic and appropriate. And less forced.

The story just moves along a lot more fluidly here too. It doesn’t just complete the story with a paint-by-numbers storyboard. You can tell the filmmakers are having fun, which helps the audience join in on that.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

tomb raider.jpg

Watching Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, it’s very evident how different humor in action films was in 2001 compared to now. This is before Iron Man. Before having refreshing levity in your movies was an obligation. Back then you could make a dry, self-indulgent blockbuster that takes itself too seriously and still doubles its budget at the box office. In 2018, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider would be a flop. It tries to be funny a couple times, but it never succeeds. Luckily it’s fairly entertaining regardless.

Lara Croft, played by Angelina Jolie, is an expert collector of ancient artifacts. In this adventure, her deceased father (played by Jon Voight–seriously) leaves her a key that will help reunite two halves of a triangle that will allow whoever posses it to travel through time. She must find the two pieces before the Illuminati do. The Illuminati want to misuse the triangle’s power.

Despite some unclear motives, the premise is pretty straightforward and easy to follow. Yet, everything happens with convenient punctuality. And it feels like the director is merely completing mandatory steps to further the plot rather than letting it all move along fluidly.

Jolie does a pretty good job with her role, but the movie is short on supporting talent to offset Croft’s brooding demeanor. The villain is lackluster and Croft’s goofy sidekicks aren’t necessarily C-3PO and R2-D2.

Everything about this movie tells you that the filmmakers aren’t comfortable with any sort of humor they’re given or supposed to include.

And based on the unnecessary shower scenes and the skintight clothes that Jolie wears, you’d think that Tomb Raider was directed by a 13-year-old boy. It’s just way too cool for itself.

I don’t really have any problems with the unrealistic Fast and Furious-type action, but here it’s mostly uninspired. Not quite as slick or original.

I can see people in 2001 viewing this film as below them, but we can watch it now and enjoy it as a product of its time. If nothing else, it’s fairly entertaining.

Twizard Rating: 72

Quick Movie Review: Road House (1989)

road house.jpg

Often times, the hero of an action movie is broodingly void of any human emotion. Too cool to laugh or smile. But Patrick Swayze knows just how to make his character realistic so that we can actually relate. He doesn’t just make himself a cookie cutter of every other action hero before him.

Swayze’s charisma carries the somewhat uninspired dialogue that tries to sound deeper than it is. And maybe it is a little deep. Surprisingly. Perhaps even philosophical. Some lines come off as cheesy, but you hardly notice when it’s Swayze saying them. But most other actors can’t handle them quite the same.

James Dalton, played by Swayze, is a famous bouncer, who is hired by the owner of a notorious bar in small-town Missouri to help clean up the bar and eliminate all the fighting. Along the way, he develops relationships with people in this town, attempting to protect them from a corrupt businessman who is the de facto town dictator.

Road House is the very definition of a guilty pleasure movie. It’s a movie about bar fights. Yet somehow it manages to take it one step further than that. It actually makes a lot of nice artistic choices, which is interesting considering that, on the surface, it’s a cheap action flick.

And at times it’s obvious. Even losing itself for a minute, nearly becoming unraveled about halfway through. It realizes that there haven’t been any fights for awhile, so it throws in a couple in vain, even though we stop needing them. As it turns out, we actually become genuinely invested in these characters and the story around them.

The fight scenes are actually amazing. They’re well-choreographed and very realistic. But what keeps the film afloat is still Swayze himself. His demeanor helps the movie not take itself too seriously, even when you know it probably wants to.

Twizard Rating: 85

Quick Movie Review: Thelma & Louise (1991)

thelma louise

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a film that so beautifully depicts the great American road while also showing it’s unforgivingness at the same time. A dichotomy that’s a consistent theme in Thelma & Louise.

Two best friends fed-up with the men in their lives and looking for a weekend away, set out on a road trip to exercise their freedom. But along the way they realize that exercising their freedom may also cost them their freedom as well.

Thelma (Geena Davis), a somewhat naive young woman with a neglectful and unappreciative husband, is looking to let her hair down and live a little, while Louise (Susan Sarandon), a brash waitress who sits around impatiently waiting for her boyfriend to commit, is sort of the adult in the room with Thelma. However, both women are constantly looking out for each other, reinforcing each other’s bad decisions.

While it’s not usually too preachy, there are very obvious feminist overtones. Although it takes some subtle, and perhaps unaware, stances on whether putting a gun to a cop’s head and locking him in the trunk is not as bad as a truck driver making suggestive gestures at women from his cab. It’s not as black or white as the characters make it seem. And while men might relate to the characters otherwise, these types of quasi-contradictions may keep some of them distanced still–aware that perhaps the filmmakers’ personal opinions might be getting in the way of the integrity of the story.

But the true key to appreciating Thelma & Louise is to not quite put its characters on a pedestal. Instead accepting that they, too, make horrible mistakes. Maybe the characters have black or white opinions, but the film wants the audience to question them. Coincidentally, that’s the conflict that often happens when you’re out on the open road learning about yourself and about life.

Towards the beginning, not long into their trip, the characters find themselves in a honky tonk bar in their home state of Arkansas. Thelma finds herself dancing closely to a man, who later attempts to rape her, which eventually leads to Louise killing him. Fearing that the cops won’t believe their story, their road trip turns into a run from the law.

With the seal of crime now broken, Thelma and Louise now find it easier to commit even more felonies. So badly that they cause it to escalate into something much bigger than they had originally anticipated, unearthing aggressions that they previously kept tame.

Opposed to other road films where the events that take place on the road feel outlaw-ish and unregulated, this one features a manhunt for the two women, led by Detective Hal Slocumb (Harvey Keitel).

At one point, Detective Slocumb states that eventually Thelma and Louise’s luck will run out. It’s funny to think that they’re lucky, when it’s a lack of luck that gets them here in the first place.

A road movie is far from an original concept, however Thelma & Louise manages to add just enough to it so that it stands on its own–putting it towards the top of the list. While candid and gritty as road films most often are, this story also has heart. Not in a sappy way, but in a way that lets you connect with these characters who find themselves down a rabbit hole.

Much of the emotion stems from Keitel’s character, who has empathy for these women and understands that it isn’t, in fact, black or white. While every cop in a 3-state radius is looking for them, Keitel is begging the girls to come in for questioning. Not like a normal movie cop would, but like he’s sincerely invested in their wellbeing. And he is. He grounds the film and shows that at least the screenwriter knows that not all men are bad.

Callie Khouri’s script is refreshing. The humor is so organic and the scenes never feel contrived.

And how the two leads manage the script is what makes the film take off. Both Sarandon and Davis are convincing. They feel real and you forget that they’re acting. Davis is transformed here, and her character continues to do so seamlessly over the course of the movie.

The film creates such a cool vibe that lets us know we’re still holding onto the 1980s. It was released in 1991, but most everything about it screams “’80s”. Proving that the ’90s didn’t fully kick into gear until ’92 or ’93.

It was a time with real maps and no cell phones. For this and less obvious reasons, Thelma & Louise simply couldn’t be made these days with the same clamor or spirit.

My biggest gripe is that it doesn’t quite give us the ending we want. Instead, giving us one that doesn’t make as much sense, and that doesn’t properly justify some of the events leading up to it.

But Director Ridley Scott does an excellent job, otherwise, of making a film that will evoke any memory of an amazing road trip through the United States. Which is interesting, considering how the story is somewhat about misfortune. But it’s also a little about the personal growth that comes out of that misfortune. A bittersweet lesson that the road won’t ever let us forget.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Game Night (2018)

game night

Rachel McAdams is a really good actress, but she’s never been in straight-up comedies. In fact, if you think about it, she hasn’t really been in one since 2004’s Mean Girls–the movie that catalyzed her stardom. So putting her opposite Jason Bateman in Game Night is a smart choice. The two of them have great chemistry. In fact, it’s so good that it nearly overshadows the rest of the film. Luckily, the well-crafted script helps to keep it together.

The comedy often falls apart when they aren’t on screen. And while McAdams does a superb job on her own, it’s Bateman who is the thread holding it together with everyone else. He changes the dynamic of their jokes. Others are funnier when Bateman is in the scene merely because of his presence–the anticipation of how we expect him to react. That tension is what makes him one of the best straight-men in this era of comedy.

Bateman plays Max, who has inferiority issues with his brother, Brooks, played by Kyle Chandler. Everyone loves Brooks and is constantly affirming Max’s insecurities. And from early on, we get a sense that the whole film is going to be one of those spit-on-the-protagonist stories.

But it’s not. Brooks is very obviously not a nice person, yet everyone is still blinded by his apparent coolness. However, Max’s wife, Annie (Rachel McAdams), sees right through Brooks’ nonsense and the film wisely never pins her against her husband.

Every week Max and Annie host a game night at their house. Usually it consists of charades or Pictionary, but this time Brooks puts together an elaborate murder-mystery game for them to play. However, they don’t realize that they’ve embarked on a real-life mission to solve an actual kidnapping.

It’s not that the other actors in the film aren’t funny, it’s that they’re just given too many one-liners, making them one-dimensional. One of the characters, Ryan (Billy Magnussen), is the stereotypical dumb guy. In the movie he’s funny, but tragically overused. Almost as though they had too many jokes for him and just couldn’t decide which ones they liked best. Many of them fall flat. Not because they aren’t funny, but because the audience doesn’t know they’re funny.

But on the plus side, the characters’ jokes always fit the characters, and there was obviously some sort of archetypal distinction between each one.

Game Night has some nice deep moments. The sentimentality isn’t forced or cliched or obviously pointed to. It’s well-written.

And I would be remiss not to mention the always-great Jesse Plemons as Max and Annie’s creepy neighbor, Gary, who always tries to invite himself to their game nights. He’s featured in the film a perfect amount and it’s always a treat when he’s included in the scene.

Twizard Rating: 89

Quick Movie Review: Lady Bird (2017)

lady bird

I’m curious how people who can’t relate to Lady Bird will interpret it. They will see a good, well thought-out film with a very intentional and inspired script. But will they be able to see the deceiving magnitude of this small story? Filled with scenarios that may seem random and non-cohesive, but actually aren’t, coming together to serve a symbiotic purpose in the end. There are films, like Get Out, where seemingly random events take place and you obviously know they will all come together in the end. Whereas Lady Bird has these events that seem more like they’re organically just telling a story. And we smile when we realize their purpose. Or perhaps consciously we won’t. And that’s where director Greta Gerwig’s brilliance shines best here.

Saoirse Ronan plays Christine, AKA Lady Bird, a high school senior who is still discovering how to rebel against her mother, with an attitude that’s oddly reminiscent of Claire Danes’ Angela Chase. Amongst the unpopular kids, she’s a little edgier and worldly, but with the popular kids, she’s obviously out-of-place.

Attending Catholic school, Lady Bird toys with liberal ideas for the sake of them being liberal ideas. Often times liking the concept of their existence rather than actually having a full grasp of them–haphazard arguments and all.

Personally, I find the film extremely relatable. Growing up Catholic at Catholic schools in liberal California, most of my friends no longer practice their faith–or never have. From talks with many of them, I know that, although they’ve strayed, it’s something that stays with them in their hearts and their conscience.

Lady Bird is also Catholic by upbringing only. Basically. The disciplines learned. The idea of sacrifice. When she’s in the comfort of her school and her family, she rebels against it, but once she leaves and is no longer encapsulated in it, she’s able to better understand it all and grow from it–actually using it as a remedy for her homesickness.

A huge part of the movie is Lady Bird’s relationship with her mother, eloquently played by Laurie Metcalf. Metcalf’s character is a study of neurotic OCD before it was trendy (the film takes place in 2002). She has an obvious complex. Outwardly, her daughter can never do good enough. She mirrors her own insecurities onto Lady Bird, often insulting the way she walks or dresses. To everyone else, it’s obviously some sort of deep-rooted jealousy, but if you called her out on it, she’d probably say she doesn’t do any of it at all. She’s a true nuisance. Yet she has so much vulnerability that you still seem to love her. And Gerwig shows her in a way only capable of being shown by someone who’s loved someone just like this in her own life. Perhaps.

The film and the narrative have an extremely indie feel to it. The script is poignant, but sometimes a little too expository. A result of the raw disjointedness that comes with the genre’s territory.

Lady Bird may feel like many other films, but the beauty of it is that once you dig deep, it’s not. It’s largely about the title character and her mother, yes, but it also makes you pay attention to those around them. Gerwig creates all these little subplots within this universe. They don’t all necessarily have a direct impact on the main storyline, but they all help to serve a greater purpose. They shape Lady Bird’s life and give it a bigger meaning. While as teenagers, we think the world revolves around us, we (hopefully) realize as we get older that it definitely doesn’t. Gerwig reminds us of that. The best line in the movie is, “Don’t you think, maybe, they are the same thing? Love and attention?” Well said. And a good reminder these days.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: Black Panther (2018)

black panther

Unlike other Marvel films, Black Panther’s premise isn’t convoluted or confusing. The fluid storytelling helps, but it also does away with aliens and paint-by-numbers villains. It doesn’t require any esoteric knowledge or a following of every previous Marvel movie up until this point. In fact, you barely remember that it’s part of that universe at all.

The story follows the African nation of Wakanda and its heir to the throne, T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Wakanda is thought to be a third world country by the rest of the world, but it secretly has an infinite supply of the metal called Vibranium. Vibranium can cure disease, supply unlimited energy, and is used to make indestructible armor and the most powerful weapons you could ever imagine. T’Challa’s conflict is whether or not to share this technology with the rest of the world to help them. Will the world use it peacefully, like the people of Wakanda? Or will they abuse its power, invoking greed?

Boseman does an excellent job as the title character, proving once again that he’s one of the most reliably consistent actors in Hollywood. He carries the film well, showing us both earnestness and pride. There may not be anyone else who could have done this convincingly, properly giving us as good of a character transformation as he has.

On the other side of T’Challa is Killmonger, an Oakland-born villain who knows of Wakanda’s Vibranium and thinks it should be used to help the oppressed conquer their oppressors. Killmonger comes from the streets and has turned his frustrations into violence–like many do–but this time, he has somewhat of an “in”.

You get where he’s coming from and agree that Vibranium should be used to help people, but don’t necessarily like his violent approach to getting it done. In fact, T’Challa gets it too. The hero and the villain have the same end goal, but their way of going about it is just different. One is a tyrant while the other is a compassionate leader.

Killmonger is one of the most intriguing Marvel villains to date. He and X-Men’s Magneto. We dislike them, yet are given empathy for them. Killmonger is willing to sacrifice everything, including people he loves, for his beliefs, while the Wakandans are willing to sacrifice beliefs and morals for their own country. It’s subtle, but extremely poignant.

Wakanda has a lie that’s gotten out of hand. Like any big and necessary change, there needs to be conflict and civil disagreement beforehand. And that’s what happens here. Some serve their nation because of their own personal obligation, while others see that this is about much more than that. It’s about serving the greater good.

As far as surface-level stuff, Black Panther isn’t entirely unflawed. Other than a cool car chase sequence towards the beginning, the action scenes are lacking a bit of originality. However, the score by composer Ludwig Goransson and its utilization by director Ryan Coogler makes them feel epic. The whole movie has this feel. Maybe more than any other in this cinematic universe. And that’s with the subpar action.

The film is so nuanced. It helps that it has a director rooted in the independent film world. Coogler conducts the drama on the same level as the best we’ve ever seen in an action film. He knows how to build conflict and tension, and how to make the audience think. A little food for though is always good.

Twizard Rating: 100

Quick Movie Review: The Cabin In The Woods (2012)

cabin in the woods

In The Cabin In the Woods, cliches turn to genre subversions almost seamlessly. By the end, you look back 90 minutes and can’t believe where it started.

With a setting that arbitrarily gives off the vibe of late-’90s/early-’00s teen horror films, we get five vicenarians with slasher film archetypes going away on a trip to a relative’s cabin in the woods. At the same time, in an undisclosed location, there are a couple of government employees, played by Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, who are involved in what immediately comes next in these young adults’ lives.

Written by Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, it brilliantly detaches the audience from any of the characters, both becoming like the many slasher films it mimics, and fulfilling a vital part of its satire. If we cared too much about the characters, we would, in turn, be alienated once bad things start happening to them–being more invested in them than in the film’s point. But actually establishing certain appealable traits also prevents the movie from becoming flippant.

The film gets very close to actually becoming self-aware–to where the satire becomes parody–but never does. Jenkins and Whitford’s characters mirror the audience, providing the subtle commentary for us. In fact, becoming commentary for audiences of horror films in general–getting too excited when someone dies or when a woman’s blouse comes off. Their perspective is the satire–but luckily that’s not its sole purpose

What’s great is that the film is about more than just critiquing the horror genre. It also gives us a fresh new story.

Visually, it’s very appealing. Narrative-wise, it’s a blast. The payoff is worth it. Whedon and Goddard give you exactly what you want and what you want to know, answering mostly all of your questions by the end.

The film isn’t without its holes, but I don’t think it really cares. And neither do we, because that’s never the point. It’s a throwback to when horror movies were simple. This time with a more involved premise–proving that it’s possible for the genre to survive and grow.

Twizard Rating: 95

Quick Movie Review: Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

maze runner 3

Hunger Games is, hands down, the most famous post-apocalyptic YA film series. And it’s ironic that only half of the series is good. The first two Hunger Games are fantastic, but the last two are pretty bad, with the 3rd film being borderline unwatchable. Maze Runner should be the real star of the genre. And while this final installment is a slight step below the previous two, it’s entertaining at the very least.

Even that aside, the series has a lot going for it. The characters are way more likable. We can relate to them more since they don’t just spend hours of the film brooding. I know it’s probably more realistic in these dire circumstances, but it’s just not very entertaining to watch someone mope about on screen for that long. In Maze Runner, we also don’t get some forced love triangle that turns out to have an even more forced resolution. Hunger Games may be filled way more with edgy political commentary and a grand philosophical meaning, but Maze Runner has stuff to say itself. Hunger Games began as a cool concept but didn’t know where to go from there. It almost wanted too badly to be artsy, which just made it seem self-indulgent. While the Maze Runner films know how to be entertaining and never really try to be pretentious.

With that said, the impact of this film, as well as the driving purpose for the characters in it, will only seem worth it to those of us who are fans of, and have an invested interest in the previous two movies.

Minho has been captured by WCKD so they can torture and run tests on him, so Thomas and his crew attempt to break him out of their headquarters. Pretty much the whole movie is based on this premise–including an elaborate and action-packed scene at the beginning where they steal a train car, hoping that Minho is inside. But it turns out it’s all for naught since they got the wrong train.

It’s an event that’s created to justify a nearly two and a half hour movie, but at least what follows is entertaining and gives us nice closure to the series. Even if it wouldn’t have happened at all if they hadn’t stolen the wrong train car.

It does get a little frustrating and confusing at times because you have the tendency to over think it. When reality is, there’s not much to think about. It’s a basic plot that takes 142 minutes to be accomplished. And while much of it turns out to be unnecessary and in vain, it never actually feels that long. Mostly because it’s really entertaining all the way through.

The only derailment of that enjoyment is when we get confused or lost due to the film relying too much on the audience remembering details from its predecessor. But even if you do remember, it gets slightly convoluted with the plot holes that keep popping up.

There’s nothing countering the tension–not enough at stake. Or at least, you don’t realize what’s at stake until the very end. It’s not quite as poetic and masterful as its predecessor, but that’s a really hard act to follow.

With the first movie being a great jump-off point for the series, creating mystery and intrigue, and the second movie being a near-perfect follow-up that not only improves on its predecessor, but becomes an amazing standalone film in its own right, this finale may not quite be the one we’ve been waiting for. However, they could have done the unthinkable and tried to separate it into two terrible films and it could have been much, much worse.

Twizard Rating: 79