Mini-Movie Review: Tomb Raider (2018)

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Okay, so this weekend I watched Tomb Raider, the 2018 version, and I actually found that I liked it much more than I thought I would based on the low Rotten Tomatoes score.  While it isn’t a perfect movie, there is more to like (for me at least) than I thought.

Lara Croft

Okay, so I kind of like Alicia Vikander’s performance of Lara Croft, almost more so than I do the one presented in the “rebooted” timeline.  I still think the “posh” Lara from the games such as: Tomb Raider II and Tomb Raider: Legend are the best versions of the character (the ones that Angelina Jolie based her performance of the character on in her set of movies).  However, I think this particular Lara Croft is closer to the original conception that the one portrayed in the “rebooted” games (that I’ve played so far).  Lara seems both competent and sympathetic at just the right moments.

The Script

Okay, so if Vikander’s performance is so good, why the low score on Rotten Tomatoes?  For me,  the script, or more to the point, the story.  In this story, we’ve seen variations on it many, many times.  Daughter loses father, daughter goes on quest to find father, father seems to have delusions of mysticism tempering his judgement, daughter ultimately finds her destiny after her quest to find her father.  I can think of this particular story “form” for half-a-dozen Hollywood movies.  Essentially, the 2nd “reboot” of Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-man (with Andrew Garfield) tells the same story–Peter loses his family, Peter discovers his powers, but also discovers that something nefarious happened to his parents.  At the end, Peter ultimately finds his destiny.  Again, this particular plot strand has happened multiple times in Hollywood movies.

Overall Verdict: 81 (B-)

By my grading scale 0-100, this would earn an 81.  A performance that I like, with (fairly) obvious CGI special effects, but those effects are at least clever and inventive, saddled with a plot sequence that we’ve seen multiple times, means that this is just barely above average in terms of quality, but not the best, nor most emotionally engaging fiction around.  However, for me, it was certainly better than the 51% it currently has on Rotten Tomatoes.  With a more inventive story (that doesn’t crib so much from Hollywood and that isn’t a simplified rehash of the “rebooted” game–which it also is to an extent–this one could have been great, rather than simply passable.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 28)
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Kubo and the Two Strings (No Spoilers)

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Image Source: Amazon.com

Kubo and East Lake Academy

Before I get into my impressions of the movie proper, I wanted to note the context of my seeing this movie.  I first heard about it from trailers and during the Oscars where it was nominated for a couple of awards (just checked via google and it was nominated for Best Picture and Best Visual Effects for 2017).  I then saw that after its theatrical run, it had come to Netflix and I intended to see it.  At the end of the 2017 semester, I went back to East Lake Academy during the final week of school just to see how things were going with my former 6th grade teammates.  They raved about Kubo and the Two Strings and told me how much the kids loved it.  I had always intended to see it, but one thing led to another and I would put it off again and again.  Finally, this week, it is set to go off Netflix the 6th (?) of this month here in the United States, so I thought I’d better make it a priority.

Kubo = A Great Animated Movie

I really liked the movie.  It is one in which the main character doesn’t complain about his circumstances.  He doesn’t always want to do as he’s told, but from the characterization and editing of the movie, you can see that he very much loves his mother and wishes that he could help her more than he is able to because of his young age.  He also wants to know his father better and that touches off the beginning of the story’s central plot.  While the humor is isn’t as laugh-out-loud funny as, say a Pixar movie, still it has quite a bit of humor and their are a ton of verbal gags and quips that could easily become referential or memes in the future.

Kubo = A Film with a Message

Now, most films have a message or theme that they are imparting to the audience, regardless of whether it is explicitly made clear or not.  In Kubo, the theme is explicitly spelled out at the end, so if that type of thing bothers you, be aware that is there.  However, there are other themes, like fidelity, family (both the good and bad of familial life), and disability/ability that one can glean without having it told to the audience.  I personally don’t mind when movies do that in most cases (really, the only animated movie that I’ve actively disliked is Happy Feet which presented its theme in a very confusing way and in an utterly unrealistic ending).  Kubo isn’t like that–however, as its theme always derives from its story and the actions of its characters.  So, Kubo always makes sense in its formulation of story, plot, and characters.  And its fun, too, without being mean-spirited, which is ultimately what I think Happy Feet is–albeit unintentionally.

Overall Grade: B+

I think Kubo and the Two Strings is a strong entry in the animated movie field.  There are other movies that I like more than this one, but as both a story and a life-lesson, I think that it really has strong narrative and visual elements that help to make it a must-watch movie at some point.  As a Fantasy movie, it also works well, in that it allows the hero to access “magical powers” that are unique to the Eastern Tradition.  While the movie doesn’t fully explain his powers, it does explain the hero’s origin, which then suggests how Kubo can do magic (to explain further would probably be “spoilery” so I’ll leave it at that).  I really liked it and I only wish that I would have seen it earlier (when the teachers at East Lake were raving about it as I feel it would have been more impactful at that time because I wouldn’t have seen as many Disney animated movies and Pixar movies with which to compare it to.

Annihilation Movie Review (No Spoilers)

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Annihilation Movie Poster.  Image Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annihilation_(film)

Annihilation is a movie that I’ve wanted to see every since it was released–however, I could tell that, while Sci-Fi, it was not one that falls within my preferred genre of Action Sci-Fi, or Space Opera.  It is generally described as an “idea” Science Fiction movie, meaning that the ideas and concepts are what takes precedence.  In my experience, I find that while there is some character development and some light action, generally speaking, they tend to be on the slower side in terms of narrative flow.  Not complaining, just an observation–unless it is farce, I generally like all types of Sci-Fi.

Alex Garland

So, this movie was directed by Alex Garland, and he has a visually striking style.  The problem is, based on the movie’s narrative, I’m not sure yet whether I find his style to my liking.  I’ve tried several times to watch his other Sci-Fi movie, Ex Machina, but I only have managed to get through about half an hour so far (probably just going to have to watch it in half-hour “spurts”).  However, while I appreciate his style, it was hard going to try to get through the movie.  I knew that if I stopped at any point, I probably would not come back to it and it would be another recent Sci-Fi movie that I abandoned mid-stream (Inception and Looper), so I just plugged on through.  I don’t think Alex Garland’s narrative style works for me . . . his visual style is arresting and very distinctive, but I’m not sure that story-telling-wise, that I like the way the narrative connections come together.

Science Fiction of “Ideas”

Yes, Sci-Fi is a genre of ideas and is driven by great ideas.  The problem is that one should also really focus on characters and characterization and setting.  The problem that occurs is that while their are characters in peril and/or crisis, we are often held at a distance from these characters (especially in Annihilation) and it is hard to form a bond with the characters.  While I’m not the best with names in real life, I’m usually pretty good with character’s names, yet I’m struggling to remember the names of the major characters and I just saw the movie 3 or 4 days ago.  I remember them, what their actors looked like, what occupation/role they fulfilled, but I don’t remember them as characters and I think this is where the movie ultimately failed for me.  Even the ending has a twist (that I won’t spoil) that changes the way the characters might be perceived at the end, but because I didn’t really care about the characters, the ending didn’t work for me because I just didn’t care.  The story, as presented, focused too much on the visual effects and the mystery of the “Shimmer” and not enough on the characterization and why I should care.  Even the mystery of the Shimmer, while sufficiently explained during the course of the film, didn’t lead to a moment of Epiphany for the main character, but was rather presented as simply a random, if extraordinary event, that was ultimately rendered moot by the main character’s actions during the story.  As much as critics dislike The Cloverfield Paradox, I feel that ultimately, while Annihilation is a movie with better special effects and better overall logical storytelling plot points, I find that I enjoyed The Cloverfield Paradox more because I could understand and get behind the characters and their motives.  In Annihilation, there was simply too much distance between the viewers and the characters.y

Overrall Grade: C

For a .99 rental, it was at least worth seeing, but I’m glad that I did not pay full theatrical price to see it.  Too much focus on the visuals and the ideas behind the visuals and not enough on characterization really dampened my enjoyment of the movie.  It also shows some graphic content with the deaths of a couple characters (I guess the director wanted to show the the brutality of the world–but it came off, to me, as unnecessary and exploitative–violence for violence sake and it pulled me out of the narrative when those two scenes occurred.

Sidney




  • Current Work-in-Progress: The Independent (Sci-Fi Short-Story – 2nd Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Project Star (Sci-Fi Short-Story -1st Draft)
  • Current Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows (Sci-Fi Graphic Novel – Script, Issue #1, Currently on Script Page 28)

 

 

Avengers Infinity War — Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

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Image Source: https://www.technobuffalo.com/2018/09/03/avengers-4-where-are-the-avengers/ (Possible Spoilers-tells where everyone ends up AFTER the movie, click at your own risk!)

Not Your Typical Marvel Movie

So, I’m just going to assume that most people who are interested in Marvel movies or comic book movies has already seen this movie, but just in case people haven’t, this is a Marvel movie like no other.  It has been setting up since the very first Avengers film.  It is essentially the entire Marvel universe (with exceptions) in multiple storylines fighting against the “big bad” of the movie, Thanos, to keep him from getting the Infinity Stones (various items that have been teased in Marvel movies like the Tesseract).  However, this movie doesn’t follow the typical Marvel formula because it has multiple heroes in multiple places trying to keep Thanos (or his agents) from getting the stones. While some times wildly inventive, these multiple storylines are also wildly disjointed and make the movie feel more disjointed than it probably should be.

People Keep Dying

For me, I’m just going to come right and say it (don’t worry–no spoilers), people just keep on dying in this movie.  Here’s the thing, deaths in movies are sometimes justified (such as the death that occurs in Star Wars.  Each death of each of the characters (both major and minor–I’m thinking of the Death Star scene and the “Trench Run” scene especially) either propel the movie forward or increase the tension and make us feel that the main character’s lives and mission are in serious peril.  In this movie, characters keep dying, but it doesn’t feel earned.  It feels like the filmmakers wanted to be shocking and provocative.  See, look who can kill, now just wait and watch who we kill next.  While guaranteed to keep you glued to your seats to see who’s dying next, it doesn’t really make for compelling drama, nor does it really engender repeat viewings (I’ve owned the movie for a week now and I’ve not rewatched it once–by this time with the other Avengers and the later Captain America movies (which are essentially Avengers 1.5/Avengers 2.5 movies), I would have rewatched them multiple times by now.

Avengers: Infinity War (part 2)

Next year, we will have the resolution to this story with part 2 of this movie.  I’m pretty sure the “solution” to the movie was sown by “seeds” planted in this movie (pay particular attention to the scene where Stark and Doctor Strange discuss possible outcomes after Strange looks into the future), but it is possible that this is a misdirect by the filmmakers.  Either way, I’m not sure how much “fun” I’m going to have with the second part based on the “bad taste” the first part left in my mouth.  Unfortunately, this isn’t a case of Empire Strikes Back, where the second entry is by necessity darker than the first, but rather one where I feel the filmmakers tried to use shock value to enhance the tension rather than going with heroic and meaningful deaths.  In closing, I also have to say I wasn’t a fan of Thanos’s motivation. Genocide, for any reason (and that includes population control) is still Genocide.  While he was “a bad dude,” there was a surprising amount of sympathy given to the character for this movie that 1) wasn’t earned, 2) other movies featuring him in scenes didn’t show/highlight and 3) wasn’t actually relevant to the character. Sure, you don’t want a scene chewing villain, but in my mind, Thanos lacks the cold, calculated terror of a Darth Vader, who while there is good inside of him, does some personally horrific things to get his motives accomplished.  Thanos is from the newer, Kylo Ren school of villainy, where he has to whine, emote, and act like a petulant child before he can enact his twisted schemes because, by golly, we (the audience) gotta’ feel sorry for the poor slob as he’s only trying to do the “right” thing by his way of thinking.  Oh, boo hoo.  Sorry, I (personally) don’t care for this particular type of villain and it throws me out of the movie every time I encounter one like that (Syndrome from the Incredibles has a similar effect on me).

Overall Score: B-/C+

Okay, so I’m being charitable with the B- as there are some very inventive and terrific fight scenes (as usual for the Russo Brothers).  However, some characters do some pretty dumb things (especially for Marvel movies) and I really didn’t care for the way Thanos was sometimes handled/depicted.  It is a spectacle, no doubt, and is pretty much required viewing to stay relevant with popular culture, but as a movie, it isn’t nearly as strong as several other Marvel movies.  I’m not sure where I’m going to place it on the list, but I can give you a preview here: it will not unseat my top 3 Marvel movies currently.  Not slagging on the movie per se, but it just didn’t connect with me. Too much emphasis on cheap, unearned deaths, not enough on true characterization and story pretty much sums up my reaction to it in one sentence.  This is the first Russo Brothers Marvel movie that has been a swing and miss with me.

Mini-Review: Supernova

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Movie poster: Supernova. Image Source: https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Film/Supernova

Not Good, Not Terrible

So, I watched this movie a couple of weekends ago, and I wasn’t as disappointed as I thought I was going to be. Yes, I know that is damning with faint praise, but I found my time the in universe of Supernova to be more mindless than mind-numbing. The problem with the movie is simple: too formulaic without real thought behind what makes the characters tick and what is happening in the universe. I recognize this because (I think) this is what do when I write and submit my first drafts. Pretty much everything we need to know is told to via dialogue (exposition) and there is a lot of telling rather than showing. The universe outside the ship barely exists and it only does so when the plot calls for it.

A Walk on the Not So Wild Side

So, what went wrong with this movie. This movie is all about concepts rather than story. For instance, in a twist on Alien and Aliens where people “hypersleep” in the underwear, in order to be titillating, Supernova, says no, in this world everyone sleeps in the nude. Now, they don’t show anything in the movie (at least not what I saw on streaming), but there’s no explanation or rhyme or reason as to why this is necessary (if there was a scene explaining this, it either never made it into the rewrites or was left on the cutting room floor). Way, way too much of the movie is like this: interesting concepts thrown out there and then poorly explained/explored, if explored at all.  It is as if there were three different sci-fi movies happening, but the creators said, “hey, Aliens was marketable, let’s take this jumble and run it through the Aliens template and see if our movie can be successful, too.” Sadly, it just didn’t work.

A Black Eye for Afrofuturism

So, one of the main characters in this story is an African American female. She is intelligent and determined. However, the story continually undermines her agency as it depends upon the main character to “save” her. There are situations in which she “saves” herself, but again, because we have formula, rather than form, there has to be a male hero (who happens to be white in the story, but any male of any race–including African American–would have been just as bad) to save her. As the male is cut from the formulaic “silent, brooding type,” the woman’s role is by far the most interesting and really could have been something special if she had to both save the ship and outwit the antagonist at the same time. This is something that I’m striving for in my own work, and I hope that I will not allow Tana (or any other female character) to be “saved” by males (and vice versa when I write male characters). Supernova needed to pick the most interesting character (the woman) and let her be the hero of the story rather than trying to delegate hero duties between the two main characters.

Overall Grade: D+

This could have been so much better had the creators just trusted their most interesting character and threw her into a situation where she had to battle herself, battle the floundering ship and possessed crew, and the antagonist at the same time. As it stands, it is just a formulaic sci-fi action movie that simply doesn’t explain its world or characters in enough detail to be truly enjoyable.

Sidney

Mini-Review: Saban’s Power Rangers (2017)

Over the weekend, I was in the mood for some lighter fare, so I streamed Saban’s The Power Rangers (2017)–which is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime.  It had a four star rating and didn’t look terrible so I thought I’d give it a try.  While not a great movie, it still wasn’t the absolute abomination that the last Turtles movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows turned out to be last year when I watched it.

A Typical “Teen” Movie

One of its faults (& strengths, I suppose if you’re a part of that demographic) is that it is like any other “teen” movie you’ve seen a thousand times before.  A group of misfit teens must overcome their differences and band together to become much more than they could be on their own.  While the characters aren’t really new and interesting, the actors portraying them do a fairly good job of showing the characters’ emotions.  The script, however, leaves a lot of things to be desired: chiefly, more time spent on fleshing out the characters, less on silly jokes that are more than a little cringe-worthy.

A Typical “Team” Movie

Also, like any other “team” movie, you’ll find that they don’t fully “gel” as a team until the end of the movie because they’ve got “issues.”  What those issues are, I won’t spoil, but while they are “major” to the characters, I got to say, it didn’t really feel like they were major to the audience.  Similarly, much of the destruction by and against our heroes is largely ignored until the plot calls for it.  Remember the scene in the trailers where Rita attacks one of the Rangers alone in her bedroom?  Well, that was part of a longer five minute scene which the bedroom and surrounding walls were pretty much trashed, yet no parent or sibling ever came to check to see what the heck was going on, let alone cops being called at the sight of a crazy witch-lady assaulting one of your kids in your own home.

Krispy Kreme Much?

Lastly, product placement.  Look, I like Krispy Kreme donuts as much as the next person (we have one in Chattanooga that I frequent at least twice a year), but the “product/brand” placement was over the top in this movie.  So much so, that it took me out of the movie when we found out that’s where the movie’s macguffin is hidden.  It is like the only major product that we see in the movie and it really calls attention to itself in an obnoxiously obvious way.  No donuts for you!

Overall Grade: C (+/- depending on whether you like or dislike these types of movies)

It is a competently made movie that you’ve likely seen a dozen or more times in other genres or places.  It isn’t stellar but it isn’t completely horrible either.  You might like it (or hate it) more than I did depending on your taste for these types of movies (which is why I added the +/-), but for me it is solidly average.  At least, it wasn’t as bad as TMNT: OotS (for me, at least) and I was able to have a fairly good time with Power Rangers once I shut off the analytical part of my brain and enjoyed it for the teen super hero/nostalgia movie that it was trying so hard to be for fans of the original show.

Sidney



Updated Marvel Ranking Post with Black Panther

 

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So, this is a super short post.  I had to go to the Driver’s License Center this morning to renew my Driver’s License.  For those not in America, your Driver’s License in America is SUPER-IMPORTANT!  We don’t have a “universal ID,” in America, but this is pretty close.  It functions as the ID for employment, for (obviously) driving, for banking, for home ownership, for voting, etc.  There’s very little you can do without it, so that’s where I was this morning.

I noticed that over the weekend, people were interested in the Ranking of Marvel Movies post, so I thought I’d fast track my ranking with Black Panther.  I should also note that I forgot that I’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, and while I didn’t have time to add it in, I will in fairly short order, so the only Marvel movie I haven’t seen is Thor: Ragnarok which I hope to see in May.  Well, that’s all I have time for today!

Sidney