4 stars

REVIEW: Tomb Raider (2018)

When Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) goes in search of what happened to her father (Dominic West), who’s been missing (presumed dead) for seven years, she ends up on a mysterious island run by mercenaries led by Vogel (Walton Goggins).

Tomb Raider is the latest adaptation of the video game series of the same name. I’ve not played any of the Tomb Raider games since the late 1990s but from my understanding, this film is an adaptation of the rebooted video game franchise, wherein it’s more dark and gritty and grounded in reality.

We meet Lara Croft in this film as she’s striving to be independent and won’t except her father’s death. She’s a normal young woman (though admittedly one who is fitter than most) so seeing her be pushed to her emotional and physical limits as she struggles to discover the truth is great. Lara is capable but she’s also hurting, Vikander plays her complexities brilliantly. Throughout the film you could tell Vikander was doing the majority of her stunts and fights, adding to the excitement.

Once Lara arrives on the island the pace of the film slows down a bit, relying more on the intrigue of what Vogel’s looking for than fast-paced action. That’s not to say there aren’t any action sequences on the island. The sequence with the rusty plane is tense and thrilling, with Lara herself referring to the fact that everything seems to keep getting worse for her. This, amongst other reasons, makes Lara a character you root for.

The thing in the tomb that Vogel and his employer are looking for is a bit on the far-fetched but all the boobytraps are a joy to watch unfold. Also, Vogel’s motivations aren’t that clear and he and his men aren’t fleshed-out villains. There could’ve been any bad guy really, as this was Lara’s, and Vikander’s, movie and time to shine.

While it almost feels strange to hope for a franchise in this day and age, I really hope Tomb Raider is the start of a franchise. Alicia Vikander was a great Lara Croft and as Tomb Raider is Lara’s origin story, it would be great to see Vikander’s Lara go on a proper adventure of her own choosing. 4/5.


REVIEW: Gringo (2018)

On a work trip to Mexico, mild-mannered businessman Harold (David Oyelowo) finds himself caught between his shady bosses Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Elaine (Charlize Theron), the Mexican cartel, and an ex-mercenary (Sharlto Copley). After a rash decision, Harold fights to survive as a chain of increasingly dangerous events unfold around him.

Gringo doesn’t exactly reinvent the crime genre, with its shady businessmen and drug dealers it’s mostly a story that’s been seen before, but it’s execution and cast make Gringo a lot of fun.

The cast is brilliant, making each of their somewhat clichéd roles into something more substantial and entertaining. Who knew David Oyelowo had such great comedy chops? With his high-pitched screams as he’s thrust into more and more life-and-death situations, you can’t help but laugh at Oyelowo’s nice guy Harold while still feeling sympathetic towards him because he really doesn’t deserve the bad stuff that keeps happening to him. A lot of the tension in Gringo comes from having a lead like Harold who’s so normal and relatable that you are almost constantly worried about what’s going to happen to him next. Theron’s Elaine is another great character, wrapping men around her finger while spitting out many non-PC but hilarious lines. She’s unlikable but surprisingly admirable.

Some characters are a bit of an afterthought. Sunny (Amanda Seyfried) and Miles (Harry Treadaway) have their own subplot which eventually entwines with what’s happening with Harold, but they never really feel fleshed out, while Bonnie (Thandie Newton), Harold’s wife, is just used as a punchline in the end.

Gringo’s plot is over the top and outrageous and so is its humour. It’s darkly funny with laughs coming from some of the unexpected violence and witty dialogue between characters. The situations these characters get into are bonkers but still stupidly funny, the stunts look great too, making Gringo an exciting action/crime/comedy hybrid. 4/5.

REVIEW: Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

My original review of Guardians of the Galaxy, written and posted in August 2014 can be found here.

When intergalactic terrorist Ronan (Lee Pace) threatens the galaxy, an unlikely group of heroes – all criminals of some kind – are forced to work together to stop him.

Guardians of the Galaxy is the first proper foray into space and beyond for the MCU. Each world our dubious heroes visit is its own unique place. The design of each of these worlds and their cities have so much personality and all look like real-lived in places. The special effects make space look beautiful and the whole film is full of colourful worlds, costumes and characters.

The so-called Guardians of the Galaxy are formed of Peter Quill aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) a man who was kidnapped from Earth when he was a child and has grown up to be a thief, Gamora (Zoe Saldana) an assassin, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) who takes everything literally, Rocket (Bradley Cooper) a genetically engineered racoon and Groot (Vin Diesel) a large talking tree. They are an odd mix of characters who certainly don’t get along all the time, but their dynamics are often both compelling and hilarious.

I can’t not mention the soundtrack. Music makes up a huge part of Guardians of the Galaxy and all the songs add something to the action on screen, whether it adds to the humour or to the emotion these characters are feeling. The soundtrack is just as fun as the film is.

The only thing that really lets down Guardians of the Galaxy is its villain. Ronan is your typical bad guy and forgettable one really. It’s other antagonistic characters like Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Yondu (Michael Rooker) who are more convincing adversaries as they both have history with our heroes. Also the plot itself is quite cliché but the way its executed makes it more unusual and entertaining.

Guardians of the Galaxy is so much fun. It’s really a near-perfect mix of humour, action and larger than life characters who each get their moment to shine and who forge a surprising connection. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – New Zealand: All Day at the Movies by Fiona Kidman

*I received a proof copy of this book from the publisher upon request it, in return for an honest review*

In 1952, war widow Irene Sandle travels to the tobacco fields of New Zealand in the hope of building a new and better life for her daughter Jessie. But this bold act of independence triggers a ripple effect whose repercussions resonate long after her death, forever shaping her children’s lives – for better or worse.

All Day at the Movies spans over sixty years and three generations, following Irene’s children Jessie, Belinda, Grant and Janice. The story spans their lives, romances, mistakes and their own children’s lives too, and slowly you begin to see the lasting impact of Irene’s choices. Some of the consequences of her actions are horrific but she was just as much a victim of circumstance as her children would be, and there’s no way she could have predicted what would happen to her children. At the time she, was doing what she thought was best for her and her daughter, struggling to survive any way she could.

Each chapter is like a snapshot in time, looking at where a member of the family or people adjacent to them are and how they’re doing. As the years jump forward, anywhere between one to ten years, you see how time has affected this family. These snapshots are an interesting way to tell these characters stories, and it does make All Day at the Movies a quick read, but it does sometimes make it harder to connect to these characters and who they encounter. For example, you might be following Belinda in one chapter and then not be with her till three chapters later and fifteen years have passed, her life may have changed a lot in that time and it’s through memories and conversations that you learn what’s happened in that time you’ve been away from her.

All Day at the Movies is well-written and features a lot of complicated characters. Some are downright unlikable, but many of them feel like real people who make mistakes but still try their best. There’s some characters who seem awful but when you learn more about them, you feel some sympathy for them, but the story never absolves them of their actions. This book allows characters to have layers and flaws without redeeming them, giving you a story about people who occupy shades of grey.

All Day at the Movies is about family, how people can drift a part but also can come back together if they try. It’s about how one act can shape a generation and how they in turn see their loved ones and their own value. It’s a story that can be uncomfortable and harsh, but one that also offers a sense of hope that things can get better. 4/5.

All Day at the Movies is released today, 8th March 2018.

REVIEW: Zorro by Isabel Allende

A child of two worlds – the son of an aristocratic Spanish gentleman and a Shoshone warrior woman – young Diego de la Vega cannot bear to see the brutal injustices the helpless face in late-eighteenth-century California. And so, a hero – skilled in swordplay and acrobatics and with a persona formed from the Old World and the New – the legend known as Zorro is born.

My knowledge of the character Zorro solely comes from the films starring Antonio Banderas, especially The Mask of Zorro (1998) so this was a nice insight into the potential origin story of the masked vigilante. In the original stories, Zorro was already a hero for the downtrodden, so this book is more about the boy who would become Zorro.

I really enjoyed the historical setting of this book. It spans from 1790-1815 and takes place in both California and Barcelona. I knew little about the history and politics of late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century California and Spain, especially how the California was a Spanish territory and what happened to the Native American who lived there. The book is rich in the historical details without it ever really taking away from Diego’s story.

I enjoyed Zorro more as it progressed because you first see how Diego’s parents meet and I wasn’t too interested in that, but once Diego is born and you start to follow his adventures and how he slowly begins to learn about the good and evil in the world it became more interesting to me. Diego’s relationship with Bernardo, a boy who is more like his brother than a friend, is great because they have an almost telepathic connection. How their friendship develops over time is wonderful because Bernardo acts as a foil for Diego’s exuberance and his schemes probably wouldn’t be a success without Bernardo’s input.

The action, when it happens, is exciting and the sword fights are thrilling. Zorro is a mixture of a lot of different genres, family drama, romance, and action and adventure. The story is of Diego’s first twenty years and he fits a lot into them and it’s interesting to see that as he evolves, he is becoming the hero we’ve heard of before.

Zorro is a well-written story about an adventurous young man who is a purveyor of justice, destined to become a legend. It’s always fascinating to read an origin story of an almost mythic character and Isabel Allende does a brilliant job with this one. 4/5.

REVIEW: Iron Man 3 (2013)

Suffering from a series of panic attacks after the events of The Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) also must deal with the threat of the terrorist known as the Mandarin (Ben Kingsley).

Shane Black takes over as director in Iron Man 3, and as cowriter as well, his influence is all over this film and that’s not a bad thing. It is funny while still pushing its characters to the edge. It introduces some interesting new characters such as Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce) who you’re never really sure if you can trust, and Harley (Ty Simpkins) a boy who helps Tony out in his time of need and there’s some great dialogue between the two of them and JARVIS (Paul Bettany).

One of the great things about Iron Man 3, is that it allows its hero to suffer. Tony is not the same man after what he experienced in New York, he has nightmares and can’t stop making more and more of his suits of armour. He’s frightened of losing those he cares about, namely his girlfriend Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and his friends Rhodey (Don Cheadle) and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau). Most of the time we spend with Tony during this film, he’s out of the suit and has to rely on his own wits and mechanical ability to save himself, never mind the rest of the world. The scenes of Tony making gadgets to take on the bad guys really reminds the audience just how smart and capable this guy is – after all, he’s the guy who built a miniaturised arc reactor in a cave with a box of scraps.

While Iron Man 3 is more of a serious film compared to Tony Stark’s previous outings, it’s not dark and gritty, instead it’s fun and witty while still showing a different side to these characters. The film speeds along with action sequences that use the Iron Man suits like we’ve not seen before and has some surprises too.

Ben Kingsley is brilliant in this as the villain of the piece. It’s not faithful to the comic books, and some people probably don’t like that, but personally I think this version of the Mandarin is genius. It turns the character on its head and puts a different face to terrorism to that we usually see in big Hollywood films.

Iron Man 3 is an entertaining adventure with some impressive action sequences and a whole lot of heart. If you weren’t a Tony Stark fan before this film, then I’m sure you will be by the time this film is finished. 4/5.

REVIEW: Black Panther (2018)

Still reeling after his father’s death, T’Challa (Chadwicke Boseman) returns to the secretive country of Wakanda to take up the mantle of King. Soon his judgement and resolve are tested when old enemy Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) resurfaces and brings with him a perhaps even deadly foe – Erik Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan).

Black Panther is a lot of firsts – first film in the MCU with a black superhero as the titular character, first film in the MCU not directed by a white guy, and first big budget superhero film in general that brings this many talented black actors into a place in our world that’s never been colonised nor had any outside influence throughout its history.

Wakanda is a vivid and fleshed-out country – so much so it’s like it’s its own character. The buildings, the vehicles, the technology and the clothes are all a mixture of the future and the traditional. Merging the real and the imaginary helps make Wakanda feel like a real, lived-in place and overall special effects in Black Panther are incredibly well-done. Subsequently when there are those moments where the CGI isn’t to the same level as the rest of the film, it’s more jarring which is unfortunate. Wakanda is a place that has been left to thrive by the rest of the world and thanks to its many scientists and inventors, including T’Challa’s younger sister Shuri (Letitia Wright). Shuri is a character who steals just about every scene she’s in with her humour and relatability. She and T’Challa feel like proper siblings, and with their mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett) are a strong family unit.

In some ways Black Panther feels like more of an ensemble film because there are so many great, fleshed-out characters surrounding T’Challa. There’s Okoye (Danai Guria) the head of the Dora Milaje, Wakanda’s all female security force, who is such a badass, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) a spy for Wakanda, and M’Baku (Winston Duke) leader of the Jabari Tribe who is a surprisingly layered character. Every single one of them have their moments to shine but T’Challa is rarely upstaged thanks to Boseman’s stoic yet compelling performance as a man trying to be both a king and a superhero. Killmonger is a great villain and a worthy adversary for T’Challa. He’s a fascinating villain because while it’s clear he’s the bad guy, the way he states his reasoning makes you get where he’s coming from. His actions are in no way condonable but the reasons for his actions are understandable.

The pacing in Black Panther is a little uneven at times. There is a lot to set up in showing Wakanda and introducing this society and its people which is great and very enjoyable, but there’s something’s that could either have had more detail or have been briefer and have still gotten across the same information.

Black Panther is a great film. It’s exciting and surprisingly funny – it perfectly balances the humour, which is mostly character-driven, and its serious moments. Black Panther covers a lot of genres, it’s political, it’s like an espionage thriller in some ways, it’s about family and legacy, as well as being an action-packed superhero movie. 4/5.