Tag Archives: alicia vikander

Tomb Raider (2018) Review

There is a criminal offence on the UK statute books, specifically section 35 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861 (subsequently amended by section 1(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 1948) which reads: ‘Whosoever, having the charge of any carriage or vehicle, shall by wanton or furious driving or racing, or other wilful misconduct, or by wilful neglect, do or cause to be done any bodily harm to any person whatsoever, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor, and being convicted thereof shall be liable, at the discretion of the court, to be imprisoned for any term not exceeding two years …’. The last prosecution under this law was for wanton and furious cycling in 2009 a crime the new “Tomb Raider” movie gleefully replicates during its tedious and inexplicably unnecessary first act which exists purely to explain why Lara has no money when there’s literally no reason for her not to.

Following the disappearance of her father, Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) rejects her title and privilege to eke out a living as a bicycle courier until the need for money leads her to take up a bet which eventually lands her on the bonnet of a police car covered in paint. Bailed out by her aunt (Kristen Scott Thomas), Lara reluctantly agrees to sign the papers which will confirm her father’s death and bring her the inheritance she has so long rejected. But when an obscure artefact bequeathed to her by her father reveals a key to his secret workshop, Lara sets out to discover exactly what happened to Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West).

“Tomb Raider” reboots the movie franchise in much the same vein as the video games its based on, taking us back to Lara’s beginnings and taking a much more grounded, stripped back approach to the character. In Alicia Vikander, the movie has a star who is more than up to the task, so it’s a profound shame the story treats her quite so shabbily. Gone are the pneumatic super-heroics of Angelina Jolie’s take on the character and in their place is a more flesh and blood, fallible heroine. Unfortunately, that fallibility is embraced to a fault, meaning that Lara lacks any real agency and spends much of the film being a punching bag or bystander, defeated or outwitted by sparring partners, pawnbrokers, street thugs and nearly every bad guy she encounters. That is until she flat out kills a guy in a fight, during which she suffers a mysterious ‘stab wound of competency’ and is suddenly able to take on machinegun armed goons with nothing but a bow and arrow.

For a movie called “Tomb Raider”, the actual tomb raiding is confined to a mere twenty or so minutes towards the end of the movie. They’re a good twenty or so minutes, even though they feature some of the dumbest mercenary archeologists (after accidentally setting off two separate death traps by stepping on the wrong part of the floor, nobody thinks to proceed cautiously or look down to watch where they’re putting their feet as they saunter through the rest of the tomb) to grace the silver screen since “The Pyramid”.

The real problem with the twenty minutes of tomb raiding, though, is the hour and forty minutes of underdeveloped and clumsily exposited daddy issues you have to sit through with only the Zack Snyder-esque slow motion ‘look at this shot it’s exactly like that scene from the video game’ moments to break things up. I’ve never played a Tomb Raider game yet they’re signposted so obviously I’m pretty sure I spotted every single one.

Vikander has the potential to be a great Lara Croft, but she’s going to need a much better script with more focus on creating an exciting cinematic adventure than this slavishly cautious and unforgivably dull attempt to bring Square Enix’s fading cash cow back to the multiplexes.

5/10 

Jason Bourne (2016) Review

“Jason Bourne” sees the reluctant super-spy facing his deadliest foe yet: the irrefutable sense of unnecessariness.

When Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles) reaches out to an isolated and off-grid David Webb Jason Bourne (Matt Damon), it kicks off a chain of events that leads the CIA to try once again to capture or kill the errant spy. Meanwhile, a secret collaboration between the state and private sector nears its fruition.

In its desperation to find something topical to justify its existence, “Jason Bourne” ends up rehashing the exact same plot McGuffin which propelled “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and – in a  slightly more bloated and boring way – “SPECTRE”, but it does so in a lazy and unfocussed way, failing to land any of its flailing punches on its thematic target.

The whole film reeks of obligation which is hardly a surprise given Damon and director Paul Greengrass’ longstanding reluctance to return to the franchise. Universal’s relentless pursuit of the pair fails to pay dividends though as they both phone it in for this flat and lethargic sequel.

The shakycam gets old really fast, which is the only fast thing about this tedious movie that manages to take the stripped down kinetic action which is Bourne’s trademark and make it feel dull and repetitive. Even the set piece car chase through the streets of Vegas feels monotonous and pointless as the truck ploughs through traffic which is clearly made of flimsy shells. Nothing has weight, from the plot to the props.

Even the usually effervescent Alicia Vikander fails to enliven proceedings and Tommy Lee Jones – who has clearly entered the anything for a payday phase of his career – picks up another cheque for a few days of weary hangdog mumbling.

The Bourne series’ continued reliance on the idea that there are secret black ops projects within projects within projects has become a millstone around its neck, as the idea that the US Government’s intelligence services are constructed like a set of bureaucratic Matryoshka dolls strains credibility at this point. Jason Bourne’s story is done. It was over at the end of “Ultimatum” and the constant grasping for a reason for Bourne to be involved gives this movie a chore identity.

5/10 

The Danish Girl (2016) Review

Adapted from David Ebershoff’s 2000 novel, “The Danish Girl” brings us a fictionalised account of the life of Lili Elbe, one of the first people in the world to undergo gender reassignment surgery. The film, like its source novel, is much less an exploration of the prejudices and societal attitude towards sexuality and transgender issues in 1930s Europe than it is an examination of the evolution of an unconditionally loving marriage under extraordinary circumstance.

When portrait artist Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) asks her celebrated landscape painter husband Einar (Eddie Redmayne) to stand in for a female model who is running late, it awakens an initially hesitant but ultimately unstoppable emergence of Lili and the abandonment of life as Einar.

Much has been made of the departures from the actual life of Lili Elbe in this heavily dramatized and romanticized tale, but many of these changes are not the work of the film makers. This is an adaptation of a novel which was itself largely a work of fiction, albeit based on true events. The most significant – and some would say egregious – change is the heteronormalisation of Gerda’s character although at least the film allowed her to retain her real nationality and did not Americanise her as the novel did. In real life, Gerda was at least bisexual and her relationship with Einar/ Lili was closer to that of sisters/ friends than spouses and lovers. This is completely ignored in the film, as is a large body of her work as an artist. Taken as a work of fiction, though, this is an absorbing and poignant romantic drama studying the effect the transition has on the two people it most directly affects.

Eddie Redmayne is, of course, excellent as Einar Wegener / Lili Elbe, predictably excellent even. While he’s very convincing as Lili, there’s a repetitive nature to his mannerisms and physicality which starts to wear thin after a while. It’s still a very good performance, and the subtle intricacy of it is revealed in an impressive sequence where he plays Lili trying to pretend to still be Einar. While Redmayne will undoubtedly attract applause for yet another intimate and immersive performance, it’s actually his co-star who really deserves the plaudits.

Deprived of the cosmetically transformative costumes, make-up and gimmickry afforded Redmayne, Vikander delivers on her promising breakthrough last year with a powerfully honest and emotionally naked performance as the wife who loves unconditionally yet struggles to come to terms with what is happening to the person she loves. The two leads are joined by Ben Wishaw as Henrik, an artist with a romantic interest in Lili and Matthias Schoenaerts (who must surely be a shoe-in for any forthcoming Vladimir Putin biopics) as Hans Axgil, a Paris Art Dealer and Einar’s childhood friend.

Beautiful to look at and blessed with fine performances all around, there’s still something lacking from “The Danish Girl”. It struggles to get under the skin of its characters, only ever superficially engaging with its subject matter instead of coyly distracting us with a demure flutter of the eyelashes and a simpering smile.

7/10 

Seventh Son (2015) Review

*MINOR SPOILERS*

Like a lot of people, I’ve spent the past few weeks binge-watching “Game Of Thrones” all the way from Robert Baratheon pitching up at Winterfell to Bran Stark finally reaching the Weirwood Tree home of the Three-Eyed Raven, so the bar for sword and sorcery was set pretty fucking* high when I went to see “Seventh Son”.

When a long-imprisoned witch Mother Malkin escapes from captivity, veteran Spook (demon hunter) Master Gregory (Jeff Bridges) must track her down and kill her before the imminent blood moon returns her full power to her. When his apprentice is killed during the initial skirmish, he recruits Tom (Ben Barnes), the seventh son of a seventh son, to be his new apprentice and aid in defeating the witch once and for all.

For such an unreconstructed B-movie, this film has certainly managed to attract an impressive cast. I hadn’t really looked into the cast before I sat down to watch it so Kit Harrington’s cameo appearance as Master Gregory’s apprentice came as a bit of a surprise. John Snow may know nothing, but he knew enough to bail out on this half-cooked turkey at the first opportunity, leaving his master to find a new sidekick. Ben Barnes makes for a suitably generic hero figure, although someone should check his attic to see if there’s a grotesque painting of him stashed away, because not only has he not aged, he looks even younger than he did in 2008’s “The Chronicles Of Narnia: Prince Caspian”.

But Tom didn’t choose the Spook life, the Spook life chose him and so we are required to watch him dutifully trudge along the well-trodden hero’s journey of lowly farmboy discovering his destiny under the tutelage of a wise old mentor. Admittedly, Jeff Bridges plays the gruff, curmudgeonly warrior mentor character in a uniquely bonkers way, oscillating wildly between grimly portentous and flamboyant parody. His dialogue is delivered in a bizarrely accented fashion reminiscent of someone who’s affixed their upper dentures with peanut butter and the only reasonable explanation for a performance which brings to mind the Grail Knight from the end of “Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade” as interpreted by Keith Lemon, is that someone bet him he couldn’t come up with something even more unhinged than his turn in “R.I.P.D.

Having recently won an Oscar for her work in “Still Alice”, the last thing Julianne Moore needed was for this pulpy nonsense to tarnish her CV but, to give her her due, she tackles the melodramatic theatricality of it all with a certain relish and, at times, seems to be the only one actually enjoying herself. Her henchmen, on the other hand, Djimon Hounsou especially, seem more focussed on picking up their paychecks and getting the hell out of there. Even Alicia Vikander, so radiant and commanding in “Ex Machina” struggles to make an impact amongst the CGI and lavish costumes.

Unfortunately, even the high quality cast can’t make up for the fact that this is yet another Young Adult adaptation that fails to disguise its origins’ derivative and unoriginal nature. Visually, its reminiscent of such classics as “The Beastmaster” and the old Sinbad movies, making you yearn nostalgically for a bit of Ray Harryhausen stop motion magic instead of the impressively polished but personality-free CGI creatures which plague our heroes whenever the story runs out of steam.

Director Sergei Bodrov does a decent job but he can’t quite make the forets and mountains of Canada look as cinematic as “Game Of Thrones” makes Northern Ireland look and the sweeping vistas of New Zealand’s Middle Earth are completely beyond the work here. The script is choppy and uneven, bearing all the hallmarks of beign a longer work which was cut down considerably on the page and then patched together in the edit. Even the finale is a bit of a limp let down, despite most of the film being about how it will be nearly impossible to defeat Mother Malkin, it all happens with the ease and anti-climax using the cheat code for god-mode.

Taken as a Saturday matinee-style B-movie from a bygone era brought up to date, it’s actually not too bad but unfortunately it goes out of its way to petulantly alienate what should be its target audience by including a gratuitous and entirely unnecessary f-bomb quite early on (*so I allowed myself one too). I’m sorely tempted to use another.

5/10 

Ex-Machina (2015) Review

How can you be sure this Ex-Machina review was written by a human being?

Cinema‘s fascination with the concept of the technological singularity shows no sign of abating, with recent entries ranging from the sublime (“Her”) to the ridiculous (“Transcendence”). But despite the crowded field Ex-Machina, Alex Garland’s directorial debut manages to find something new and disquieting to say about it in this stylish and well-crafted thriller.

When young coder Caleb (Domnhall Gleeson) wins a corporate competition to spend a week with Nathan (Oscar Isaac), the CEO of his company, he doesn’t know what to expect. Arriving at the remote facility, he’s required to sign a wide-ranging and severe non-disclosure agreement before Nathan introduces him to his experiment: an artificial intelligence called Ava (Alicia Vikander). Caleb is assigned to perform an enhanced ‘Turing test’ but over the course of the week, he begins to realise that Nathan is not being completely honest with him.

Garland’s screenplay is a masterful exercise in economy, essentially a four-part ensemble piece which would be equally at home on the stage as it is on screen. The remote setting, despite its modern Apple-esque technological comforts, is used to terrific effect to create a claustrophobic and unsettling atmosphere that drives a creeping sense of paranoia, bolstered by Gleeson, Isaac and Vikander all delivering skilfully nuanced performances that amplify the uncertainty. The film is a cautionary tale of humanity’s hubris with a strong feminist undertone and, despite the title, has an ending which is as heartbreakingly logical as it is earned. This is top notch sci-fi fare marrying social commentary and technological speculation to create a chilling and all-too-plausible glimpse of the future.

The Fifth Estate (2013) Review

When I went to see “The Fifth Estate” last night, the first thing I did was log into Facebook, check-in to the cinema and share where I was and what film I was watching. I’d be lying if I said I did this without an ironic smirk.

Wherever you stand on the issues raised by Wikileaks, whatever your political or moral viewpoint, it’s difficult to argue with the statement that Julian Assange is a difficult man to like. You may think he’s courageous, reckless, dangerous or even inspirational. But likeable? Hardly. And “The Fifth Estate” will do little to change your perception of him, largely because he is not the central character of the film. He is, by turns, an instigator, partner, friend and ultimately enemy of our real protagonist: Daniel Domscheit-Berg, played by Daniel Brühl (almost unrecognisable from his role as Nikki Lauda in “Rush”).

The story begins with the meeting of Daniel Berg and Julian Assange as they hide out in the dark recesses of an abandoned building occupied by a hacker commune. A building so stylishly and comfortably furnished and provisioned that I have trouble believing they really exist like that in the real world. Assange recruits Berg into his Wikileaks ‘team’, giving him an initiation assignment of verifying some information on the tax avoidance shenanigans of a Swiss Bank which is subsequently published onto the Wikileaks website. From there, we follow the pair on their journey as they use their bespoke submissions platform (explained with a brief bout of technobabble and conversational hand waving) to gather, verify and subsequently publish an increasingly important and controversial information culminating in the release of over a quarter of a million diplomatic cables in 2010.

The central performances are strong, and inevitably focus is drawn to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Assange himself. The film doesn’t shy away from showing Assange’s arrogance, abrasiveness and underlying hypocrisy as a self-appointed champion of truth and justice who is perfectly happy to lie and dissemble to get his own way or protect his own secrets. Cumberbatch does an excellent job of not only capturing the voice of Assange but the physicality and mannerisms and it’s hard to believe that at one point they were considering Jeremy Renner to play Assange. Although Assange has distanced himself from the film and pre-emptively declared it ‘a massive propaganda attack’ the film stops short of demonizing him. By focussing the story on the rise of Wikileaks rather than zeroing in on the fall of Julian Assange and his asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy, it probably does him less harm than it could have, although it does briefly touches on his equivocating response to the allegations facing him in Sweden right at the end.

Everyone except Brühl and Cumberbatch are short-changed by the script and direction and when ‘everyone’ means Anthony Mackie, David Thewlis, Stanley Tucci, Laura Linney, Alexander Siddig, Peter Capaldi and the stunning Alicia Vikander, it’s hard to view “The Fifth Estate” as anything but a missed opportunity.

It desperately wants to be a tense journalism thriller or maybe a counter-culture techno-thriller and instead ends up being a fragmented, incoherent and underwhelming mishmash of both. There are attempts to inject tension and flair into it but they feel like half-hearted imitations of better films and filmmakers.

Director Bill Condon tries his best but more than once, I said to myself ‘I wish David Fincher had directed this…’ and “The Social Network” is a good yardstick against which to measure this film in terms of how you can make a gripping and fascinating film about a relatively dry and technical story. Here, we have the juicy subject matter of corporate and governmental cover-ups and wrongdoing which Condon somehow manages to render sterile and lifeless. Perhaps he hasn’t quite shaken off the two “Twilight” films he directed, where sterility, lifelessness and narrative incoherence were desirable qualities but he’s produced much better work than this in the past. Condon tries to bring the visual flair and creativity of Fincher in the early part of the film but seems to get bored with the flourishes and quirky touches and settles for clichéd scenes of scrolling text on laptop monitors and the rapid tippy-tappy sound of keyboards which would have seemed passé during the brief fad of 1990’s hacker movies.

He isn’t helped by a script which chops and changes its focus without ever letting the drama or conflict build in a way that propels the story forward or makes the audience really care which is again surprising given screenwriter Josh Singer previously worked on ‘The West Wing’. The makers assembled a great cast and with a better writer and director, this could have been up there with the likes of “Zero Dark Thirty” or “The Social Network”. Instead, it’s a bit of a damp squib; an ever-so-slightly boring sequences of earnest conversations and moodiness salvaged by the performances of Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Brühl.

Assange will probably be pleased about one thing: there’s no hiding the truth – “The Fifth Estate” isn’t all that good.

5/10