REVIEW: TOMB RAIDER (2018)

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TOMB RAIDER (2018)

Reboot finds a young, down and out Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander from Ex Machina) refusing to accept her inheritance by declaring her missing father (Dominic West) dead in absentia. When finally forced to do so, she gets a key and clue that sets her on a quest to find out what happen to him. It leads her to the uncharted island of Yamatai where the mysterious Order of Trinity has Archeologist Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins) searching for the tomb of Japanese sorceress Himiko. The woman was said to be of incredible power and Trinity wants use of it. As Lara seeks to find her father’s fate, she must now also find a way to stop Trinity from accomplishing their goal.

Do-over is directed by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (Cold Prey, The Wave) from a script by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons and is wisely an origin story that starts fresh after the previous films. It’s also refreshingly down to earth in terms of it’s story telling with Uthaug going back to basics with the action and avoiding the bombastic, over-the-top spectacle that has become the status quo. Some may find the action routine, but it evoked the old fashioned action films before digital software allowed for things to become so much larger than life and in some cases, out of control. The pace is fairly swift with an almost two hour running time and just when it starts to drag a bit, we head into the last act tomb raiding finale. The South African locations look good substituting for a Pacific island and the interiors of Himiko’s tomb are interestingly designed, though with all the previous adventure flicks in this vein, the whole traps and puzzles thing is getting very old hat. Possibly why it’s kept at a minimum. Otherwise we get some solid gun-play and fisticuffs and it makes for an entertaining night at the movies with the hope that this franchise has new legs.

Alicia Vikander makes for a solid heroine as young Lara. Purists may feel her petite frame does not suit the statuesque video game character she’s portraying, but she is quite the spitfire and gives Lara both a strength and a vulnerability that make her more than just megapixels. She does action scenes as good as the boys and was convincing as a young woman coming into her inner adventurer. Walter Goggins is a serviceable enough villain. He could have had a bit more gusto, but they were going for a more grounded approach, so he is not the usual pontificating, cackling villain that most movies of this type feature. Dominic West is fine as Richard Croft in flashbacks, which provide backstory and exposition and Daniel Wu is solid as drunken sailor and Lara’s back-up, Lu Ren. We also get appearances by veterans Kristin Scott Thomas and Derek Jacobi, as well as, fan favorite Nick Frost.

Overall, this was a solid action adventure that stripped away the over-the-top overindulgence of today’s action films and settled for a more back to basics approach. Alicia Vikander made for a strong Lara Croft and overcame her petite stature with a tenacity and vulnerability that really worked here. The whole tomb of traps and puzzles thing is kind of worn out at this point, but there was plenty of chases, gunfire and brawling to keep us entertained. A fun flick from Roar Uthaug.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 bullets.

 

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REVIEW: CENTURION (2010)

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CENTURION (2010)

Neil Marshall’s Centurion is a fictional film based on the legend of Rome’s Ninth Legion, who are said to have marched thousands strong into the Scottish wilds to conquer the land from savage warriors known as the Picts…and allegedly disappeared without a trace. This film takes this historical mystery and turns it into a tale that is a fast paced and bloody action adventure about the slaughter of Rome’s 9th and the remaining handful of soldiers who are now fighting for their lives behind enemy lines. Adding fuel to their already perilous situation is that one of them murdered the Pict King’s son while they were infiltrating the Pict village and trying to rescue their captive general (Dominic West). Now they are stalked relentlessly through hostile territory by vengeful Pict warriors lead by vicious and cruel hunter Etain (Olga Kurylenko) and must fight for their lives every step of the way. Leading the beleaguered band is centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender), a rescued POW who is now forced to take command of the surviving members of Rome’s 9th in an effort to get to friendlier soil with their throats uncut.

As directed by The Descent’s Neil Marshall, Centurion is a fast paced and savagely violent tale of survival on deadly ground. He gives us a group of noble heroes to root for and also instills the Picts with doses of savage menace making them a foe to be feared, as they hunt down the fleeing survivors. It’s a no nonsense action adventure that is filled with some gorgeous visuals courtesy of director Marshall and cinematographer Sam McCurdy and a lot of fierce and brutal action. Marshall gives us a lot of tension and suspense to go along with the battles and keeps things moving, but not too fast that we don’t get to know our characters enough to care. 

As for the excellent cast, including Fassbender, West, Kurylenko and Walking Dead’s David Morrissey, they do well taking the characters from the scripted page and making them very three dimensional, and thus giving the film some added emotional resonance as this small group of survivors become quite endearing. We root and fear for them, as they are mercilessly pursued and cut down one by one.

Beautiful Scottish locations are host to the blood soaked story and with a reported $12 million budget, the film is far smaller scaled then 300 or Troy, but is all the more better for it, as our focus is on our embattled band of soldiers than epically scaled war scenes. Neil Marshall crafts a solid and entertaining action/adventure with refreshingly minimal CGI and no pretentious overindulgence. Highly recommended for fans of action and historical based drama.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) war axes!

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REVIEW: JOHN CARTER (2012)

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JOHN CARTER (2012)

As a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Martian Chronicles, I have been waiting for someone to adapt these nearly 100 year-old pulp sci-fi adventures to film since I was a boy. Now after years in development hell, Disney finally brings the adventures of Earth-man John Carter and his adventures on Mars to life. And it’s not quite the classic epic I was hoping for, but definitely not the bomb it’s sadly labeled.

The simply named John Carter takes a lot of liberties with Burroughs’ stories, too many to list here and in result comes up with a tale that is a bit talky and more plot heavy than needed. Burroughs’ books were short, action packed and to the point. So should have John Carter been. The book based story tells of Confederate Captain John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) who is whisked unintentionally by a series of events to the planet Mars, where he finds an ally in four-armed, green warrior Tars Tarkus (voiced by Willem Dafoe) and love with beautiful princess Dejah Thoris , who has now graduated from the damsel in distress in the books to also being a scientist and woman warrior here, played by Lynn Collins.

Adaptation is directed by Andrew Stanton (director of Finding Nemo and Wall-E) and is not bad. Stanton may have written a lot of dialog scenes, but when there is action, it is fast moving, epic in scale and exciting and he gets good performances out of all his cast. He does set a good pace for a film with an over-complicated plot and he does capture some of the pulp charm nicely in many scenes as well. It‘s too bad he couldn’t follow Burroughs’ lead and keep John Carter a bit simpler and get to the spectacular action a bit sooner. It’s never boring, but there is a lot of traveling back and forth before the plot really gets moving and Carter, with his enhanced abilities due to Mars‘ thinner atmosphere and lesser gravity, gets to the business of saving Mars and his lady love from the devious Therns, who weren’t even in the first John Carter novel A Princess Of Mars. Plot and character development are obviously important, but I still feel the film’s 132 minutes could have been better managed.

Criticisms aside, the film is sumptuously, though somewhat derivative-ly, designed. The SPFX are flawless and spectacular and there is nice atmosphere from Michael Giacchino‘s (Star Trek 2009, Super 8) beautiful score. Stanton does give the film a lot of charm and charm is what makes those century old books it’s based on still so enjoyable. The enormous budget is on screen and despite it’s flaws, the end had me wanting to see more of Carter’s adventures on Barsoom (their name for Mars) as there are 11 books and now that the central characters have all been introduced, we can get right to the fun. And John Carter wasn’t without fun, it just needed a bit more of it and a little less of the politics and conspiracy elements which fill it.

The film also stars Mark Strong as Matai Sheng, Dominic West as Sab Than, James Purefoy as Kantos Kan and a vocal performance by Thomas Hayden Church as Tars Tarkus’ dangerous rival, Tal Hajus. Despite it’s flaws I like John Carter and it has grown on me even more with repeated viewings and it’s status as a box office bomb gives it a bad reputation that it doesn’t really deserve. It’s a good movie, but just not the great one that the source material warranted. But I still recommend you give it a chance if you haven’t seen it.

3 Woolas!

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE AWAKENING (2012)

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The Awakening is a charming and spooky old-fashioned ghost story set in England after WWI that tells the story of paranormal investigator, Florence Cathcart (Rebecca Hall) who specializes in debunking supernatural occurrences. When Florence is called upon to investigate reports of a ghost at a boys boarding school, she finds that there are more then one definition of haunted. Director Nick Murphy crafts a very effective and quite spooky tale that explores that people can be haunted by their pasts as much as a home can be haunted by spirits. Aside from building some chilling atmosphere and providing a nice dreary visual style to enhance it, he also gets good performances from all his cast with Hall portraying a woman whose motivations may stem from her own past and Dominic West as Robert, a man haunted by the war time guilt that he lived when others didn’t. These personal issues are played out against the mystery of what exactly is going on in this massive house. And once we find out, the film gives us some nice revelations and surprises along with the chills and thrills. A very entertaining and delightfully old school haunted house story.

A solid 3 spooks!

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