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Based on the 2013 video game, Tomb Raider is Hollywood's latest attempt at bringing Lara Croft to the big screen. Alicia Vikander plays the iconic character in a prequel story that has Croft travel to a Skull Island-like location in order to find out what happened to her father, who is presumed dead.

Whenever anything is rebooted, it tends to divide fans quite a bit as some embrace the new take on their favourite character and others reject it entirely. The recent game gave Lara Croft a new look, a bow and arrow instead of her usual two guns as well as more of a backstory. Those hoping for a movie reboot to the Angelina Jolie-starring Lara Croft: Tomb Raider films, which were very much inspired by the older games, might have to wait a lot longer as this new movie aims to tell a modern and somewhat more grounded story. Vikander's Lara Croft is no witty super-spy or Indiana Jones-type explorer, she's a normal person who just happens to be very smart (when the plot demands it), who is capable of taking care of herself in a fight and who is nearly ready to accept her father's exorbitant inheritance. The film goes to great lengths to prove to us that Lara Croft isn't just some rich girl superhero who raids tombs for fun: the opening 20 minutes see Croft living on a modest budget in London working a job as a... renegade cyclist (?) and rejecting the wealth that's rightfully hers. It's all rather forced and unnecessary but, luckily, the actual plot finally does kick in.

There are a lot of good ideas in this movie and, of course, the game. The mythology behind the main tomb explored here is genuinely interesting and it's fun to learn more about it as the film develops. Lara's relationship with her father (played by Dominic West) is convincing and adds a welcome heart to an otherwise bland action movie. Plus making the villain (an intimidating Walton Goggins) part of a bigger plot is a clever way to set up a potential sequel. Gamers should appreciate the puzzles that Lara Croft has to figure out and the traps she's faced with as they all feel true to the games, along with the many falls, jumps and grunts you'd expect from that character. Unfortunately, while it is satisfying to see Lara Croft find mysterious keys or avoiding spiky stone logs Matrix-style, those few moments are not enough to elevate what is a disappointingly vapid film to something above average. This is a surprisingly generic approach to a character that could easily command a genuinely iconic franchise. The action presented here mostly works and you can tell there's a great story in there somewhere but the film is bogged down by irritating filler, a weak script, a general lack of ambition and a Lara Croft who may be worthy of a run-of-the-mill blockbuster but who just isn't cool.

Substance-wise, it's a touch above the rather one-dimensional 2001 film but, by rejecting what worked in that one, namely its campy fun quality, it denies itself a chance to be consistently entertaining and truly memorable. As it stands, this Tomb Raider isn't altogether bad but it is vastly uneven and often quite dumb, which would be fine if it was more tongue-in-cheek but, alas, it isn't.




A Netflix-distributed release, The Ritual is a British horror film about a group of friends who decide to go hiking in Sweden (and soon find more than they bargained for) following the shocking death of one of their friends when a liquor store robbery goes off the rails.

The lost-in-the-woods subgenre of horror movies is one that tends to either surprise (for better or for worse) or fall completely flat. The Ritual aims to be a modern take on The Blair Witch Project crossed with Deliverance as the protagonists encounter strange twig-made structures in the woods then get picked off one by one by an unknown element. The film mercifully doesn't attempt a hand-held shaky-cam style of storytelling: this is a well paced and acted movie with some excellent cinematography throughout, especially near the climax. Some dream sequences give certain scenes a surreal quality but, unfortunately, they fail to add much in the way of substance. And this is probably the film's biggest shortcoming: it has everything it needs to tell a unique, memorable and rewarding story but it never quite gets there. The themes the film touches upon are interesting and so is the mythology behind the mysterious creature lurking in the woods but they are dealt with in an unimaginative way, leaving you on a surprisingly underwhelming note.

There's a good, or even a great film in The Ritual somewhere but it's sadly bogged down by a restrained script that, granted, gives the solid cast some convincing banter, which is rare in horror films, and brings up some good ideas but it runs out of steam pretty quick. We know very little about each character so losing them doesn't have the impact that it should, especially since they all go basically the same way. Our main character, Luke, (Rafe Spall), has a lot going on in his head, one would imagine, and some attempts are, indeed, made to mirror that with the monster's disturbing routine but it's all rather predictable and empty by the end. The design of said monster is compellingly odd and ultimately very creative, which makes for an entertaining third act, even if parts of it are unintentionally amusing and slightly reminiscent of the Wicker Man remake. This is a more effective film, however, predominantly thanks to a strong build up. Ultimately, this is about as good as 2008's Eden Lake but a bit bolder and... not borderline offensive.

While The Ritual isn't quite the unforgettable horror gem it easily could have been, it remains a decent enough Netflix release and it's admittedly better than a lot of films in that genre. But for all its good ideas and slick presentation, it's just not scary or substantial enough to make it a must-see.

Not bad.



Based on the novel by Jeff VanderMeer and directed by Alex Garland, Annihilation is a science fiction film about a team of researchers who are sent into the mysterious Area X: a gradually expanding coastal area surrounded by an inexplicable shimmer.

Unlike the book, the film slowly builds to the team's entry into Area X, instead of throwing you into the unknown right off the bat. Natalie Portman is Lena, a biology professor and ex-US Army soldier whose husband (played by Oscar Isaac), who was believed to be dead, comes back to her one day after going into the "shimmer" himself. Lena and four others, including Jennifer Jason Leigh's psychologist, are sent in to explore as increasingly unexpected events start to occur. Adapting this story was never going to be easy as there's a myriad ways you could approach it. This could have been a very arty, impenetrably abstract affair or an Alien-style straight-up horror movie or even something else entirely. Garland may take some liberties with the original novel but he captures the right tone, meaning it's both a horror movie and something a bit more out-there. This is a surprisingly brutal film with some beautiful visuals surrounding the grittier and more disturbing elements of the story. Think Alien or The Thing if Michel Gondry was directing.

Natalie Portman captures the desperation and curiosity of her character perfectly in one of her best performances to date. Lena is trapped between a past filled with regrets and a possibly doomed future so getting the contradiction (her need to explore and her consuming guilt) right was key and Portman does an amazing job with that. While the visual effects help sell the incongruous look of the Area X setting, they never overpower the film which feels, at times, like a far less artificial take on The Hunger Games in that the flora and the fauna appear to be at odds with the team we're following. This is a fascinating science fiction story about interconnectivity and other existential themes. It's somewhat more cerebral than most modern sci-fi films and it never holds your hand through it, which is refreshing, plus it never rushes through anything. This makes it a tough film to get into if you're not ready for it. It's as if the slow start-and-stop pacing is almost daring you to stick with the film but, like Lena, you can't help yourself because something is pulling you in somehow.

It might prove too odd or even gory for some but Annihilation should please sci-fi fans looking for something a tad more challenging and unique than the usual blockbuster fare. It may not be quite as overwhelming as it probably should have been but it's still a bold and ambitious watch.

Compelling stuff.



Directed by Ben Affleck, Gone Baby Gone was a 2007 neo-noir mystery starring Casey Affleck as a private investigator hired to solve a missing person case along with his girlfriend, played by Michelle Monaghan.

This Boston-set drama follows street-smart P.I. Patrick Kenzie (Casey Affleck) as he conducts his own investigation, occasionally sharing his information with the police. He gets closer and closer to the truth about the missing little girl's whereabouts through his, often dodgy, contacts. His ability to talk to people on their level, without sounding condescending or too much like a cop, means he manages to get a lot more information from locals, criminals and other suspects. The plot is set into motion when the missing girl's mother makes an emotional plea for someone to find her daughter on television and the child's aunt soon hires Patrick, despite his initial reluctance to take on the case. The deeper he gets into this story, the more secrets he discovers leading to some disturbing red herrings and a few big revelations. Gone Baby Gone feels a bit like Chinatown with its noir puzzle-like intrigue and dark tone. It is also just as compelling since it cleverly sends you in the wrong direction quite a few times and the end twist is rather unexpected and effective.

This was Ben Affleck's first big writing gig since he proved himself to be a talented writer with Good Will Hunting back in 1997. This confirmed that he was not a one-hit-wonder in that department and that, indeed, he knows how to tell an intense, original and interesting story. The dialogues and humour have a genuine feel and the plot is carefully crafted yet never over-the-top or too labyrinthine. This is a complicated story told in a simple enough way that you can easily follow it but with enough nuance that it remains a mystery until the third act. What starts off like a standard missing persons case ends up in a tough moral debate: is it right to do the right thing if the way that you get there is wrong? A lot of the characters in this film mean well and, ultimately, their goal is an admirable one but their path is so flawed that you can't help but wonder if the ends justify the means or not. This is a remarkably well written and directed film with an excellent cast that includes Ed Harris, Morgan Freeman and Amy Ryan, who received an Oscar nomination.

If you needed proof that Ben Affleck is most definitely a valid all around filmmaker then this is certainly a good place to start. Gone Baby Gone is a suspenseful drama that manages to stay fascinating until the very end and raise a lot of interesting questions along the way.

Good Baby Good.



Based on the popular anime series, Fullmetal Alchemist is a 2017 live-action adaptation from Japan following Alchemist brothers Elric and Alphonse as they encounter a range of powerful enemies and search for the Philosopher's Stone. The film was recently released on Netflix.

We first meet the two brothers as children when an alchemy experiment aiming to bring their dead mother back to life goes wrong. Cut to years later and we learn that Alphonse's body somehow vanished after the botched experiment and he now inhabits a knight's empty armour indefinitely, hence the nickname "Fullmetal Alchemist". Unless Elric, who has himself lost limbs, can somehow recover the Philosopher's Stone, he might not be able to ever summon his brother's body back. A big action sequence early on depicts the brothers fighting against a man whom, they believe, is using the Stone nefariously and the scene boasts some big CGI effects, something the film fails to match before its busy third act. That said, this is admittedly a good-looking movie with some colourful visuals and a perfect Alphonse. The anime series had a lot of charm, not only because of the brothers' bittersweet relationship but because it was epic yet had a cosy feel at times, it had good sense of humour, a lot of fun side characters and it felt rather original as a story. This live-action adaptation tries hard to capture some of that at least but it falls short on every account. For one thing the cast is altogether bland and the characters around the Elric and Alphonse are basically just decorative.

One of the things that live-action feature films based on anime seem to struggle with is tone. The slapstick style of humour and melodramatic story elements present in a lot of anime doesn't really translate well to a live-action film. Usually the solution is to either go serious throughout (Casshern) or go silly throughout (Yatterman) but Fullmetal Alchemist wants it both ways. We yo-yo from boring expositional conversations in rooms to overdramatic and soulless "emotional" scenes, kid-friendly jokey moments and ambitious blockbuster action sequences in a way that doesn't gel at all because we never really get to know these characters, the humour is simply not funny and the action scenes are too few and far between. Perhaps taking a page out of the (mostly) tonally consistent and action-packed Pirates Of The Caribbean movies would have been wise. There are brief moments when the film captures something key to the anime such as the chimera subplot and a couple of twists near the end but, for the most part, this feels rather bare plot-wise, which is disappointing considering how much of the source material the filmmakers had to work with.

There are decent anime-to-live-action movie adaptations out there but Fullmetal Alchemist, sadly, isn't one of them. A sequel could potentially improve on a lot of what doesn't work here but it's unclear whether that will happen considering how dull and forgettable this first effort is.

Watch the anime.


Ang Lee's Hulk proving somewhat too ambitious and out-there for audiences in 2003, Marvel decided to reboot that franchise in 2008 with The Incredible Hulk. It followed Iron Man as the second film in the MCU and starred Edward Norton as Bruce Banner, a role he would not revisit.

Directed by Louis Leterrier, this sort-of sequel finds Banner hiding out in Brazil after he's already been exposed to the Gamma radiation that turned him into The Hulk. He's been learning to control his rage and keeping a low profile working in a bottle factory but General Ross (William Hurt) has been hunting him down in order to harness his powers and turn him into a weapon. Liv Tyler replaces Jennifer Connelly as Bruce's love interest Betty (and Ross' daughter) but her role is sadly limited to making sad cry faces, actually crying and the odd awkward conversation. To be fair, the writing in The Incredible Hulk is mostly a little strange as it's not only poorly structured but the dialogues never ring true and it's very easy to imagine the same sort of story being told in a far more interesting way. The main villain in the film is The Abomination (aka Emil Blonsky), played by Tim Roth who hams it up throughout and feels a bit miscast, much like the rest of the cast, frankly. No-one appears to be acting in the same movie as anyone else and this makes the film feel just off all the time.

As for The Hulk himself, the redesign which gives the character a more natural green skin tone, a less chunky body shape and more muscles works fine and it's a good effect overall. The Abomination's look is a little more sketchy but, since most of the action sequences are shrouded in darkness and shot at pretty close range, this doesn't become too distracting. The film's few playful moments such as the Lou Ferrigno and Stan Lee cameos, musical cues from the classic TV series and the appearance of Tony Stark right at the end, suggest that there was a fun and worthy MCU movie in there somewhere but a mediocre script, awkward performances and an uneven, gloomy tone means it sadly fails to capture the comic-book feel it was going for, not to mention the energy a film like Iron Man managed to bring to the table that same year. Ang Lee's Hulk might have been too bold and cerebral for its own good but it presented The Hulk in a unique, memorable and entertaining way whereas this movie, while relatively slick on the surface, doesn't seem to know what it wants to be and it ends up as little more than a thoroughly dull, messy and disappointing experience.

Considering the talent involved and the characters' potential, The Incredible Hulk is quite possibly the MCU's biggest wasted opportunity and worst film. It's not unwatchable and it looks pretty good but it is, quite simply, charmless and nowhere near on the level of the Hulk film that preceded it.


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