Posts Tagged ‘Film reviews’

Directed by: Mike Newell. Starring: Lily James, Michiel Huisman, Katherine Parkinson, Matthew Goode, Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton.

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“Down it! down it! Down it!”

It’s 1946 and the war is over. Juliet Ashton (James) is an author who’s found success writing amusing tales under the pseudonym of Izzy Bickerstaff, but she yearns to write something with more substance. When she’s contacted by a pig farmer on Guernsey named Dawsey Adams (Huisman) she thinks she’s found the story she’s been looking for. Adams found her name and address in a book he liberated from a bookstore after he and a group of friends were forced to invent a book club to cover up for the fact that they were out after curfew.

Ashton is intrigued by the story of the society, and how they kept their morale up under German occupation by reading, and she persuades her long-suffering agent, and friend, Sidney Starke (Goode) to let her take a trip to the Channel Islands, but before she can leave her American boyfriend Mark (Glen Powell) proposes, and Juliet accepts.

On the island Juliet finds that the members of the society are not all pleased to see her, in particular Amelia (Wilton). She also discovers that the founder of the society, Elizabeth McKenna (Jessica Brown Findlay (is mysteriously absent, leaving her young daughter Kit living with Dawsey, who Kit calls daddy. Fascinated by the mystery Juliet remains on Guernsey and becomes fast friends with the society members, in particular Isola (Parkinson) and Dawsey, but can she learn the secret of what really happened to Elizabeth during the occupation?

 

Few films have a title that’s as much of a mouthful as this one, but the film does at least hang a lantern on this by having a character refer to it as a bit of a mouthful. If it seems a whimsical title then fair warning, it’s kinda a whimsical film, and whilst not unenjoyable, it’s never as good as it should be given the experience of its director, its subject matter, and the talent of its cast.

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Part of the problem is down to a script that’s so on the nose at times as to be painful. As an example there’s a scene early on where Juliet has a flashback to her bomb damaged flat. We see her clutching a photo of herself with an older couple, and then see her terrified that a paperweight might fall and be destroyed. You’d think the meaning of this would be obvious, but apparently not because Juliet then exclaims “Father’s paperweight” which is the sort of expositional dialogue real people just don’t utter. Again and again Juliet verbalises her thoughts in this way and I found it jarring.

I’m not really the target audience for this film of course, and though it’s predictable that isn’t always a bad thing in itself, but given the subject matter it’s a shame the film didn’t take a few more risks. The occupation of the channel islands was a harsh time for those who lived there, but whilst the film does veer towards these darker elements at times—collaboration, slave labour, starvation—such detours are short lived, as if the film makers didn’t want to distract from the quaintness of the film, and too often it feels like the occupation was just an excuse for some jolly japes.

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It isn’t all bad. It looks gorgeous (even though not filmed in Guernsey) and the period detail is spot on. And whilst the script may offer no surprises, it’s hard not to be charmed by the easy chemistry of the talented cast (four of whom were in Downton!). James’ jolly hockey sticks demeanour annoys on occasion but on the whole she’s a solid lead, and Game of Throne alumnus Huisman similarly does the best he can in a sub-Heathcliffe role. Wilton proves yet again (if proof were needed) what a fine actress she is, and Powell does his very best to imbue Mark with enough pathos that we feel more than a little sorry for him. Courtenay is very amusing, but the standout is Parkinson who gets some of the best lines, and made me laugh out loud more than once.

For a film this lightweight the two-hour runtime feels a trifle excessive, but damn if the cast aren’t so good that I almost didn’t mind.

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Avengers: Infinity War

Posted: May 1, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by: Anthony Russo and Joe Russo.  Starring: almost anyone who’s been in a Marvel film in the last ten years! Including Robert Downey Jr, Chrises Hemsworth/Evans/Pratt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Scarlett Johansson and Josh Brolin.

**Spoiler Alert**

I’m going to go out of my way not to spoil the film, but obviously I may give some things away, so if you really want to see the film with zero preconceptions or knowledge why not come back here after you see it!

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I just realised what’s wrong with this picture!

 

Thanos (Brolin) is an unstoppable alien supervillain intent on acquiring the six infinity stones that will make him omnipotent and allow him to fulfil his dream of killing half the galaxy’s population. He’s already acquired several and will stop at nothing to complete his task.

Fresh from a devastating encounter with Thanos, Thor (Hemsworth) teams up with the Guardians of the Galaxy to try and find a weapon that could stop Thanos, meanwhile on Earth Iron Man (Downey Jr) Dr Strange (Cumberbatch) Spider Man (Tom Holland) and Wong (Benedict Wong) face off against one of Thanos’ minions, intent of reliving Dr Strange of the infinity stone he wears.

Strange isn’t the only superhero in possession of a stone, because Vision (Paul Bettany) has one embedded in his skull and more of Thanos’ goons go after this one.

As all out war with Thanos’ army draws ever closer, the disparate groups of heroes must try and find a way to defeat Thanos, but even if they can thwart his plans, the battle will not be without its casualties…

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Tony and Dr Strange were focused on Thanos, but Peter Parker had spotted a fly…

It’s hard to get your head around the fact that this is a film ten years in the making. When Iron Man first surprised everyone in 2008 by being actually really good, I doubt even it’s most ardent fan would have believed that a decade later Downey Jr would still be playing Tony Stark, and would team up with a cast of thousands (hey factor in the extras and I bet it comes close) and practically every other Marvel superhero (there are a couple of exceptions) to battle Thanos.

But here we are, and as far as I’m concerned Marvel’s long game pays off, and then some! Infinity War is superb. I can imagine it will probably be confusing for those poor souls who haven’t seen much of the Marvel oeuvre, but for anyone invested in the Marvel universe, and these characters, Infinity War is pretty much everything we could have hoped for, and compared to Justice League…well let’s just not ok, because it’s a fight more unfair than Thanos taking on Ant Man (which you won’t see in this film) suffice to say that DC’s best hope is to invent time travel and start making their films way sooner.

Back to Infinity War. It’s hard to talk about the plot (and I guess some critics may say “what plot” but it’s there all the same.) without giving stuff away. Suffice to say that, whilst at times simplistic, everything hangs together pretty damn well for a film that has this many characters and this many plot threads to juggle. In fact it’s amazing that any film made under those auspices can be this coherent, let alone this good.

I did mention Infinity War is freakin’ amazing, right?

I know I said we needed to move away from it, but damn let’s look back at Justice League again, a film with only a handful of heroes, and a run time only thirty minutes shorter than Infinity War, yet one with a shaky narrative and a villain who couldn’t be more two dimensional if he were a sheet of A4. By contrast Infinity War has, what three or four plots going on at any given time, and maybe 25 main characters (don’t believe me, count em!) and still manages to give us a three-dimensional villain who probably got more character development on his own than Bats and co put together.

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Cool story bro(lin)

Because make no mistake, from a certain perspective this is Thanos’ film. He might be a homicidal lunatic, but he’s a homicidal lunatic with a backstory, a homicidal lunatic who has a logical (if insane) reason for wanting to wipe out half the galaxy’s population, and a homicidal lunatic you almost feel sorry for on occasion. There are plenty of films made each year whose protagonists aren’t as developed as this film’s antagonist is.

Of course this isn’t really Thanos’ film, it’s the Avengers’ film, and the Guardians of the Galaxy’s film, and those other guys who aren’t either but will probably end up joining one or the other if they don’t die’s film!

Sure some of the characters feel a little short changed (as a Black Widow fan there isn’t nearly enough Scarlett Johansson here) but to a greater or lesser degree everyone gets their moment in the sun, and some of the characters who get a larger role will surprise you. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is pretty integral, and Vision and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) get an emotional subplot. There’s a lot of Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and the fact that the tone lifts when the Guardians turn up is testament to how loveable that bunch of idiots are, and I don’t care what anyone says, for me Drax (Dave Bautista) is the funniest character in the Marvel Universe.

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You’re supposed to go inside the bus, Peter!

Downey Jr, Hemsworth and Evans are as solid as always (Hemsworth in particular is a joy to watch) and is it just me, or is Cumberbatch more fun as Strange as part of an ensemble than he was when he had a whole film to himself?) Tom Holland also continues to impress as Peter Parker, and when Karen Gillan shaved her head people expected Nebula to be a one off character, now here she is for her third outing and with quite a character arc over those films.

I can’t mention everyone, but everyone is great. Seriously, no one puts a foot wrong.

The effects are great and the battles truly epic. I saw it in 3d IMAX which was intense, but I’m looking forward to a second viewing in 2D, because I think some of the fights may look a little less frantic.

Let’s come back to the plot though, or more specifically the narrative choices the writers/producers/directors have made. Remember how in The Last Jedi Luke says “This isn’t going to go the way you expect” well he could have been talking about Infinity War, because whatever you expect going in, whoever you think will die, I guarantee you’ll be surprised. They’ve made some bold and downright astonishing choices at times here. I mean sure, comic books are always bringing people back from the dead, but I have a hunch that in this case some of the dead are going to remain that way.

No film is perfect, and with so many characters and threads going on some are left dangling, or aren’t given enough prominence, and sometimes it feels like you haven’t seen certain characters in ages, and yes it’s a film made for those of us invested in the universe…

But for me it was pretty much everything I could have wanted (apart from more Black Widow obviously) Exciting, hilarious, heart-breaking; I loved it from start to finish and I didn’t want it to end, and it’s going to be a long year waiting for Avengers 4!

Make mine Marvel, to infinity (war) and beyond!

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Ghost Stories

Posted: April 23, 2018 in Film reviews, horror
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Directed by Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson. Starring Andy Nyman, Paul Whitehouse, Alex Lawther and Martin Freeman.

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Phillip Goodman (Nyman) is a professor who specialises in debunking fraudulent mediums and explaining the unexplainable. He wants to prevent people’s lives being ruined by superstition, and was inspired by a 1970s paranormal investigator named Charles Cameron, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances decades ago, and is now believed dead.

When Goodman is contacted by the very much still alive Cameron he’s thrilled, but when he visits the old man in a ramshackle caravan, he is dismayed to learn that Cameron now believes in the supernatural. He passes three cases he could never debunk to Goodman, challenging him to explain them.

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The first involves a night watchman (Whitehouse) who encountered something unearthly in a disused sanatorium, the second is a teenager (Lawther) whose life has been turned upside down after he drove into something inhuman in the woods. Finally there is a rich financier (Freeman) who was plagued by a poltergeist on the eve of the birth of his child.

Goodman can explain each incident, but is he merely deluding himself? Is the supernatural actually real, and if so will Goodman survive his own encounter with the paranormal?

 

For those of us of a certain age, there are fond memories of kind of portmanteau horror stories that used to be on BBC2 late on a Friday or Saturday night. Best known producer of such films was Amicus productions, who churned out multiple such films in the 1960s and 70s, films like Dr Terror’s House of Horrors, Tales from the Crypt and Vault of Horror. Such films usually followed a familiar pattern, a series of stories linked by a framing story that would invariably contain a twist in the tale. Of course even before Amicus got in on the act there’d been the 1945 Ealing classic Dead of Night. There have been American takes on this too; Creepshow for example, but for me it’s those old British chillers I have affection for, and so on a purely nostalgic basis I was excited to see Ghost Stories.

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Adapted by Nyman and Dyson from their own stage play I can’t call Ghost Stories an unqualified success, but even beyond a nostalgic yearning for those old-fashioned portmanteaus, there’s enough here to make this a scarily enjoyably film, just not a perfect one.

As with any anthology, in film or print, some stories work better than others, and the first two tales on offer represent the highlights of the film. Once you get past expecting him to go all Fast Show on you, Whitehouse is actually very good as the night-watchman all alone yet not really alone. There’s a palpable sense of unease as he makes his rounds through the dilapidated building, and the directors really ratchet up the tension here. They almost take it too far, there’s a limit to how long you can conceivably stay on the edge of your seat waiting for the scare you know is coming, but they stay just the right side of it.

The second story is almost as creepy, especially once you factor in Goodman’s visit to the teenager’s house which is genuinely unsettling. Anyone who’s seen the Black Mirror episode Shut Up and Dance will know how well Lawther can do on the edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown levels of terror, and Nyman and Dyson make good use of it here, it’s a wonderfully fragile performance from Lawther and the lonely forest makes an equally scary counterpoint to the deserted sanatorium.

Sadly it’s kind of downhill from this point. Freeman is very good but the third tale feels limp in comparison to the first two (though there is one really effective jump scare as Goodman and Freeman’s character walk the moors) and from here on the film enters its final act and reveals the twist, and this is where the film falls down, because the ending has a bit too much going on, it feels baggy and in some respects unearned. There are elements that are utterly predictable (seriously if you don’t see one particular twist coming a mile away you need to go to Spec Savers) and others that aren’t nearly predictable enough, although there is a lot of foreshadowing and it’s possible that I might appreciate the final act more upon second viewing.

At times genuinely terrifying, with great performances, assured direction and a palpable sense of old school dread, there’s a lot to like here, I just wish the second half of the film had lived up to the opening segments, but that’s anthologies for you.

Anyway, I must go, it’s time for me to tell my story to Peter Cushing and my other fellow travellers on this old steam train. As for Ghost Stories, it’s flawed but recommended.

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“Who are you calling a hobbit?”

A Quiet Place

Posted: April 17, 2018 in Film reviews, horror, science fiction
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Directed by John Krasinski. Starring Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe

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One downside to this film, you’ll see people doing this a lot!

In the future humanity has been almost wiped out by the appearance of a deadly species of predators that, although blind, have incredibly sensitive hearing. Lee Abbott (Krasinski) and his wife Evelyn (Blunt) along with their children have survived by embracing a near silent existence, communicating mainly through American sign language which they learned because their daughter Regan (Simmonds) is deaf.

After an early encounter with a creature the family set up home in a remote farmhouse, doing everything they can to stay safe by being as quiet as possible, but their survival is threatened by the fact that Evelyn is pregnant, and about to give birth any day. The family make plans to mask the sound of the impending birth, and the noise the baby will make, but stress is affecting each member of the family, especially Regan and one of her brothers, Marcus (Jupe) and all it takes is one inadvertent loud noise to draw the lethal hunters towards the family…

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“Look we can’t get you an X-Box so stop asking!”

In many ways horror shares traits with comedy. Scaring or amusing people is equally hard. In this respect good horror films, like good comedies, are rare.

A Quiet Place is a good horror film.

When I first saw the trailer I wasn’t too impressed, but following on from a lot of positive word of mouth I decided to watch this and I’m so glad I did.

A Quiet Place is a short sharp shock of a film, with a refreshingly lean run time, an original script that doesn’t overload the audience, inventive direction and sound design and great acting from a small cast, this is a film that belies its minimal budget and, much like last year’s Get Out, kinda came out of nowhere.

Kudos must be given to Krasinski who not only directs, but also rewrote the original script by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, and stars. This is a simple story, but a simple story told very well, and each choice Krasinski made feeds into a whole that is in many ways more than the sum of its parts. The decision to start the film in the middle of the action, and to end in the midst of a confrontation works perfectly, emphasising that what we’re seeing here is a snapshot of Armageddon and how one family survives it. Krasinski wields silence so effectively that the absence of sound is almost a character itself, as much as the creatures, and when I came out the world seemed impossibly loud all of a sudden (thankfully my fellow patrons were mostly quiet during the film which aided in creating the right atmosphere). This means that when noise comes it can’t help but shock, even if it isn’t the imminent arrival of one of the terrible beasties.

What’s amazing is that even in this world of silence Krasinski quiets things even more at times, and the decision to completely mute the soundtrack whenever we’re seeing things from the point of view of Regan is another spot on choice, emphasising how different the world seems to her—and in many ways she’s the most vulnerable because she can’t tell if she’s making noise, can’t tell if there’s a creature right behind her—and in the casting of a deaf actress (and Simmonds is truly phenomenal in this, essaying a frustrated teenager who isn’t only trying to fathom her place in the world as she grows up, but is having to do it with a disability and in a post-apocalyptic setting where monsters are real!) he adds and extra layer to the story. I can’t say whether this was a good onscreen portrayal of a disability, all I can say is that, to me, it felt like a very good one, and one we need to see more of.

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Don’t you just hate it when you go for a bath then realise you’ve left your clothes on?

As the father Krasinski is as good in front of the camera as he is behind it. Blunt is a great actress so its no surprise that she’s great here, and she looks truly terrified at times, yet still managed to imbue Evelyn with strength. Rounding out the cast Jupe does a good job as the younger child, who clearly wants to be brave yet who is scared to death much of the time (can’t blame him for that).

Best of all they feel like a family. Sure, Krasinski and Blunt are married, but often couples with a genuine relationship find it hard to replicate that on screen. Not so these two and they share some lovely scenes.

Krasinski’s direction is top notch, especially considering he’s relatively new to directing, and given he freely admits he’s never been a big horror buff. Maybe that distance allows a new perspective? Not that this is a film that necessarily has anything new to say, but in Krasinski’s hands it feels fresh. Maybe it’s the use of silence, maybe the focus on character. The world building is also excellent, especially given how short the film is, but the family home feels real, care has been taken to come up with solutions to the problem of how you raise the alarm when you can’t make a noise, for example, and note the elegance with which Krasinski makes it clear there are multiple other communities of survivors, without needing more than a single extra.

Best of all is the way he creates tension; when the film enters the final third it’s a masterclass in edge of the seatness, and be warned, it features one of the most wince inducing foot related scenes since Die Hard!

There are flaws. The first act is a little slow, a certain (presumably noisy) event occurs off screen and there’s a pretty big plot hole, but none of that dented my enjoyment one iota. There are a lot of terrible horror films out there, but Krasinski shows what you can do with a limited budget if you have a great script, an inventive director and a great cast.

I’m sorry but I can’t stay quiet, I’ve got to shout from the rooftops about how good this is!

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Surely the kids will be safe in here…

Unsane

Posted: April 3, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Starring Claire Foy and Joshua Leonard.

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“Seriously, mom. I keep telling them I’m the Queen of England but they refuse to let me out.”

Sawyer Valentini (Foy) is a young woman who’s recently moved cities to take a new job. This has taken her away from friends and her mother Angela (Amy Irving). Sawyer’s supposed reason for moving is that the job was too good to turn down, but what her mother doesn’t realise is that Sawyer actually moved because she was being harassed by a stalker named David Strine (Leonard).

After a panic attack Sawyer seeks help from a support group at a local hospital that specialises in helping victims of harassment. During a meeting with a counsellor she admits to sometimes having suicidal thoughts, and when given papers to sign to inadvertently commits herself to the psychiatric ward for 24-hours. Despite trying to back out, and even calling the police, she isn’t able to leave the hospital, and after a violent run in with a fellow patient named Violet (Juno Temple) her 24-hour stay is extended to seven days.

She finds an ally in a man named Nate Hoffman (Jay Pharaoh) who’s in the hospital recovering from drug addiction. He lends her his contraband phone and Sawyer is able to call her mother. Despite Angela’s arrival, getting her out of the hospital still proves difficult, and Sawyer has to face up to the fact that she’ll have to stay in for the full seven days, but things take a dark turn when one of the orderlies appears to be her stalker…or is he? Confused, and increasingly paranoid, is Sawyer imagining the presence of Strine in the hospital, or is she trapped in a building with a man who’s obsessed with her, and will do anything to posses her, even resort to murder?

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“Look all I’m saying is, maybe ease up on the Queen of England thing…”

Shot on an iPhone 7, Steven (didn’t you retire?) Soderbergh’s Unsane is a queasy, stripped back B-Movie that provides a showcase for Claire Foy to demonstrate that she can do much, much more than just play Queen Elizabeth II.

In almost every scene Foy is superb, and I suspect the film wouldn’t be half as good without her in the lead role. At times incredibly fragile, at times extremely resilient, she breathes life into a character who could have been just another stock final girl style heroine. Instead she wrings every last bit of character from the script, making Sawyer someone we can root for, whilst also making her seem real—she isn’t always the nicest of people, she’s manipulative when she has to be, and emotionally distant, using a dark sense of humour to spar with her co-workers (understandable given what she’d been through, but still a brave choice to not make her innately likable).

The decision to film on an iPhone allows Soderbergh to give Sawyer’s experiences an extra twist of the surreal. Foy and other actors are often viewed in closeup, adding to the sense of claustrophobia, and the iPhone lens further skews the images, adding to the Kafkaesque nightmare Sawyer finds herself in. In particular a scene where Sawyer is drugged is incredibly well shot to give us a glimpse into how disorientated Sawyer is.

I’ve never been a huge Soderbergh fan, though I’m not sure I could tell you why aside from the fact that his films always feel a trifle clinical, and despite the emotional intensity of Unsane it has that same, somewhat detached feel about it, but for the first two thirds of the film Soderbergh does a great job of discombobulating the viewer. Unfortunately in the third act things take a downward turn and the film becomes far more predictable. It wouldn’t have been so bad except for several elements that seem way too similar to a certain Stephen King adaptation to be coincidental, and these especially jarred, as did the inexplicable cameo appearance of a big name actor, which only served to pull me out of the story and remind me that I was watching a film.

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As a stripped down, exploitation horror/thriller Unsane works well due to its decent cast and inventive cinematography, and you have to admire a B-movie that actually has something meaningful to say about the American healthcare system, it’s just a shame the more intriguing and nuanced elements are pushed aside when the film reveals all and from then on treads a very well worn path.

Tomb Raider

Posted: March 24, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Roar Uthaug. Starring Alicia Vikander, Dominic West and Walton Goggins.

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You won’t believe what the robot from Ex Machina looks like now!

Lara Croft (Vikander) is a young woman living hand to mouth in London. She can’t afford to pay the gym where she kickboxes, and her job as a cycle courier barely pays the bills. Of course, given she’s the heir to the vast Croft fortune it’s strange that she’s struggling, but in order to inherit the fortune she’d have to sign the papers declaring her father Richard (West) legally dead. Richard, a noted adventurer, disappeared in mysterious circumstances seven years before. Lara is reluctant but after she’s arrested when an urban cycle race goes wrong, she’s bailed out by her father’s former partner Ana (Kristin Scott Thomas) who encourages her again to sign the paperwork and let her father go.

Lara agrees, but after she does she finds evidence that her father had travelled to a mysterious island where a mythical Japanese queen, Himiko, was supposedly entombed. Himiko was known as the ‘Death Queen’ and Richard feared her powers would fall into the wrong hands. In a video he encourages Lara to destroy all his work, so no one can locate Himiko, but instead she travels to Hong Kong in hopes of discovering what happened to her father.

Enlisting the help of drunken sea captain Lu Ren (an engaging turn from Daniel Wu) whose father vanished along with Richard, Lara travels into the Devil’s Sea. She locates the lost island but fierce storms shipwreck her. On the island she finds a group of mercenaries led by the villainous Mathias Vogel (Goggins) who have been desperately searching for Himiko’s tomb. Suddenly Lara finds herself in a battle for not only her own life, but potentially for millions more should Himiko’s curse escape the island…

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Computer game adaptations are always tricky business, and whilst it wouldn’t be fair to say they all fail, on average the bad outweigh the good. Lara Croft, of course, has been on celluloid before, twice in fact, both times played by Angelina Jolie essaying the then voluptuous, somewhat more sexualised video game version. I’ve seen both but could barely remember anything about them aside from the fact that Chris Barrie was quite amusing as her butler, of and one of them starred a future James Bond!

The 2018 version of Lara Croft owes more to the more modern version of the game, with Lara as a grittier, more grounded character, but despite the hiring of a great actress, the results are as uneven as they were back when Jolie played the part.

The trouble is that computer games are made to be played, and films are meant to be watched, and if you make a film too much like a game, what you end up with is viewers feeling like they’re watching someone else playing a game (this of course reached a nadir a year ago when in Assassin’s Creed we watched Michael Fassbender watching someone else playing a video game!).

Too often with Tomb Raider it feels like we’re watching Lara tackle different levels, each with increasing levels of difficulty. So first she has to cycle through London, then escape some muggers in Hong Kong, then things get more serious as she has to escape from the wreck of a plane that’s about to drop over a waterfall…and so on and so on…

All of this is fine, and most action films will throw their protagonists into increasing amounts of danger. It’s just that it feels so contrived and obvious in this case. At times I almost felt like I could pick up a joypad and make Lara run a bit faster or jump a bit higher if I could just tap a button fast enough.

The other problem with Tomb Raider is, of course, the fact that we’ve seen this all before, and usually we’ve seen it done better. The film tries, with an Asian-centric myth at its heart, but in the end Himiko’s tomb isn’t that radically different from the Well of Souls or the last resting place of the Holy Grail.

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“Hey I’m the star so how come I get the bow and arrow and he gets the assault rifle?”

Vikander is a great actress, it’s just a shame that she’s in a film that doesn’t require her to do a great deal of acting. She has her moments, notably after the first time she kills someone, it’s a great little scene and it would have been nice to see more of the psychological impact of her actions, but sadly this isn’t that kind of film, so soon enough she’s off firing arrows into men’s chests without a second thought, and much of her acting is relegated to looking slightly miffed, as if someone in the supermarket ahead of her just nabbed the last jar of humus. Kudos for the effort she put into her training through because she really does look like she could run/jump/fight like that.

Tonal problem dogs the film throughout. The early scenes in London are especially painful, playing out like a not very subtle romcom, but even on the island the film can’t quite decide how gritty it wants to be, so it very much falls between two stools. Not harsh enough to stand out, but a little too violent to be multiplex friendly.

The cast surrounding Vikander aren’t terrible, but nobody has to make much effort. West is reliably stoic, Goggins reliably villainous, Scott Thomas is reliably Machiavellian, and Derek Jacobi is reliably, well reliably Derek Jacobi. It’s just a pity as I know they’re all capable of so much more.

The stand outs, Vikander aside, are Wu as Lara’s sidekick, who manages not to be either a bumbling idiot or a potential love interest, and Nick Frost, whose cameo might be the best bit of the film.

It’s not terrible. The set pieces on the whole are well done, it’s coherent and I was never really bored, but overall it’s just terribly average, and given a great actress and an iconic character we deserve better.

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“Aren’t you a little short for a tomb raider?”

You Were Never Really Here

Posted: March 17, 2018 in Film reviews
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Directed by Lynne Ramsay. Starring Joaquin Phoenix.

methode_times_prod_web_bin_ca63efc0-22d8-11e8-8ccc-a83211a65142Joe (Phoenix) is a contract killer with a very particular specialism. He rescues children from sexual exploitation and, if required (and it usually is), exacts a brutal and bloody revenge on those responsible for the child’s torment. He’s no clean-cut hero however. He’s a broken man suffering from PTSD, not only from his experiences in the Gulf War, but also from his own childhood trauma.

After completing a job in Cincinnati he returns home to New York and his aged mother (Judith Roberts). He has little time to relax however, because all to soon he’s made aware of another job. Senator Albert Votto’s teenage daughter Nina (An eerie Ekaterina Samsonov) has disappeared, but the Senator has learned that she’s being held in a brothel catering to powerful men with a desire for underage girls.

Taking on the job Joe prepares himself for the task, purchasing his weapon of choice, a hammer, but there’s more going on than he thinks. Can he rescue Nina or will he fall victim to a vile conspiracy?

 

In some ways You Were Never Really Here is a very familiar kind of film, and yet in others it really isn’t that familiar at all. It has more than a passing resemblance to Taxi Driver, and in it’s burley, bearded, broken protagonist endeavouring to protect a younger female character it echoes more recent films such as Logan and Mel Gibson’s Blood Father.

What is different is Ramsey’s approach to the subject matter. This isn’t always an easy film to watch, but that’s not in the way you might imagine. Yes, it deals with a harrowing subject, and yes it’s violent, but when I say it isn’t an easy watch, in part this is because Ramsey doesn’t give you what you expect, subverting all your expectations of what a film like this should be like.

Take the violence, and yes some of it is very gruesome, yet Ramsey rarely shows it head on, instead we view it obliquely; sometimes via CCTV footage, sometimes its seen only in reflection, and sometimes it occurs off screen altogether. For the viewer this lends the film an odd lack of catharsis, because we’re conditioned to want to see the hero mete out justice to the vile villains. Which doesn’t mean that justice isn’t meted out, just not in the way you might imagine, and on occasion the viewer’s frustration might mirror Joe’s, and that’s uncomfortable because it suggests we want to see the violence, and what does that say about us?

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“What’s in this body sized bag? Er…would you believe Koi Carp?”

Though there are other characters, really this is a one man show, and Phoenix is mesmerizingly good. A broken bear of a man, Joe is at once painfully human, and at others frighteningly inhuman. Witness him tenderly sing along with his mother, or gently comfort Nina, whilst at others he dispenses violence as casually as one might wave hello to a vague acquaintance spotted across the street. His brooding presence is supplemented by an intense thousand-yard stare. If you saw Joe on the tube you’d probably want to sit as far away from him as possible, and yet despite the similarity to Taxi Driver, Joe is no Travis Bickle, he’s infinitely more noble.

In showing us the broken nature of a man suffering from PTSD Ramsey’s direction is all about chaos, from fragmented imagery to an incredibly discordant soundtrack, and she provides no glib answers, leaving it up to us to piece together the precise nature of the traumas that have shattered Joes psyche. There are several moments of symbolic suicide for Joe, as if she’s showing us a man who’s constantly being reborn yet never seems to get the redemption he probably deserves.

A short sharp hammer blow to the head of a film, but one that Ramsey isn’t afraid to slow down at times, You Were Never Really Here is an intriguing entry into the genre, and one that will probably reward repeat viewings, but if Joaquin Phoenix ever asks if you’d like to go to B&Q, I’d pass if I were you!

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Joe liked his knife, but he really wanted a hammer.