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: Treasure Planet (2002)

When Jim Hawkins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) discovers a map to a legendary pirate’s treasure, he embarks on a journey with a crew led by Captain Amelia (Emma Thompson) to find it. But danger is close with John Silver (Brian Murray) on board.

Everything about this film is wonderful!

Treasure Planet is an adaptation of Robert Lewis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and it’s a story that works surprisingly well in space with it’s larger than life characters and the action and intrigue. Jim is a great character as his experiences shape him, he grows from being a young rebel dreaming of adventure to someone who puts his life on the line for others.

Jim’s relationship with John Silver is brilliant too. The film does a great job of showing how Silver isn’t a one-dimensional villain and while he may be desperate for treasure, he may also start to care about Jim as well.

The animation style is great as it’s a mixture of traditional hand-drawn and computer animation. The human characters are hand-drawn while more mechanical characters are made from CGI, these two styles along with the gorgeous colours of space makes everything on screen look beautiful.

The two songs featured in Treasure Planet by John Rzeznik from the Goo Goo Dolls are fantastic and I’ve been listening to them almost non-stop since I watched the film. I’m Still Here is like a gut-punch when you hear it during the film as you really see and feel what Jim is yearning for. The score is also great and it’s suitably epic and beautiful.

I missed Treasure Planet when it was first released over 15 years ago. I didn’t watch a lot of early 2000’s Disney films – I think I thought I was too old for them – and I’m annoyed at my younger-self as I was missing out on a thrilling adventure with great characters and stunning worlds and technology. Treasure Planet is now one of my favourite Disney films, it’s up there with The Lion King and The Beauty & the Beast for me. Treasure Planet is a great adventure and I loved every second. 5/5.

REVIEW: Sky High (2005)

Son of superhero parents, the Commander (Kurt Russell) and Jetstream (Kelly Preston), Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) is about to start Sky High – a school for kids with superpowers. The only problem is, he doesn’t have any yet and fitting into high school has never been tougher.

When Will and his best friend Layla (Danielle Panabaker) don’t fit the typical superhero mould, they get relegated to sidekicks which are generally seen as the losers of the school. This is where you get your typical high school dynamic of the popular kids vs the unpopular kids, and you’re introduced Warren Peace (Steven Strait), the Bad Boy who has hidden depths. There’s a lot of fun scenes with characters using their different powers, whether that’s in fights or in training and seeing all the powers and technology like ray guns together can be entertaining.

Sky High blends a lot of typical high school movie clichés with superhero ones and they work well together to make a fun film. At some points it’s as if Sky High knows it’s almost a spoof of both the teen comedy genre and the superhero one. Characters wear clothes in colours that relate to their powers or to people they’re associated with, and there’s a great gag with the popular yet mean cheerleader squad.

Sky High’s not too different to the norm but it’s different enough with the elements it pulls from both genres and the entire cast looks like they’re having a lot of fun – Kurt Russell especially. Sky High is a fun-family film, it’s got comedy, drama and superhero shenanigans, definitely a fluffy easy-watch kind of film. 3/5.

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: Coco (2017)

Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is an aspiring musician but due to his family’s belief that music is a curse, he’s forbidden to follow his dream. When he attempts to play in his towns talent show, he ends up in the Land of the Dead where he meets his ancestors and goes on a quest to find his musical idol and great great grandfather Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt).

Coco is Pixar’s latest film and they have once again upped their animation skills. Coco is a beautiful looking film. The Land of the Dead is one of the most alive places I’ve seen on screen for a long time. The colours are bright and glowing and the whole place looks and feels magical.

In the Land of the Dead, Miguel meets Héctor (Gael García Bernal) a kind of scoundrel but a guy who says he’ll help Miguel out. As the film progresses you learn there’s much more to Héctor than meets the eye and it makes him one of the most interesting characters. That being said, all of the characters are interesting, and you can understand where they’re coming from – even the members of Miguel’s family who are so against music. This is a family who was hurt in the past and fear being hurt again, even if that means stopping one of their loved one from doing what they want to do.

The themes in Coco are incredibly important and relatable, and are shown in a story that’s relevant to everyone. While Coco is about a Mexican family and features a lot of Mexican culture, especially Dia de Muertos (the Day of the Dead), at it’s heart it’s a story about family, following your dreams, and of life and death. There’s some heavy stuff in Coco about death and remembering loved ones when they’ve gone but it’s all handled very well.

Coco features some lovely songs too. While none of them are the kind of songs that get stuck in your head, the songs and the score, composed by Michael Giacchino, are beautiful and fits the tone of the film perfectly. That’s the thing with Coco, nothing about it seems rushed. Yes, there’s action and humour but it really feels like your just following this boy on his journey and it goes at a pace where you can take in all the magical sights and the emotions it gives you along the way.

Coco is a wonderful film. There is a very good chance it will make you cry, but it won’t be due to sentimentality, and that’s the best kind of tears over a film. 5/5.

REVIEW: Iron Man (2008)

After escaping from being held captive in Afghanistan, billionaire engineer Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) attempts to right his wrongs by building a high-tech suit of armour.

Iron Man is a fast-paced film that’s a lot of fun, but has its characters at its heart. After quickly showing Tony’s convoy being attacked, it jumps back a few days to show you not only how Tony got into this situation, but gain an insight into his character before he goes through this traumatic event. This snapshot of life gives you brief introductions to his friend Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard), assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and business partner Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges). Seeing Tony’s life before, and after, he’s kidnapped gives you the chance to see not only how much he grows as a person during the course of the film, but also how his relationships may change.

Downey Jr. is so charismatic as Tony Stark that you do don’t mind spending the majority of this film with him out of the suit. Downey Jr. balances Stark’s narcissistic tendencies with his vulnerabilities, making him an unusual and surprisingly layered hero.

The action sequences in Iron Man are great. The film makes you wait a while to see the proper Iron Man suit in action, but it’s worth it. The CGI is top-notch, as are the pyrotechnics which are used in abundance.

Iron Man does offer a commentary on the War on Terror and America’s involvement in the Middle East, but it never delves too deeply into the issue. Instead, it packages into a story that will reach a wider audience and let them make their own opinions if they want to consider it for longer. One of the big themes of Iron Man is accountability. It’s something that Tony Stark struggles with and, knowing what happens in future films in the MCU, is an important part of his character.

Iron Man is a pretty perfect superhero film. It has a good script, that has witty lines but also does a good job at pacing itself with the big reveals, has a great cast, and blends action with suspense. Iron Man is the foundations the Marvel Cinematic Universe is built on, and those foundations are strong. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

It’s Midwinter’s Eve, the night before Will Stanton’s eleventh birthday. But there’s a threatening atmosphere all around him in the familiar countryside. Will is about to make a shocking discovery – he was born with the power of the Old Ones, he is the Seeker and a guardian of the Light, and he must begin a dangerous journey to vanquish the evil magic of the Dark.

The Dark is Rising is the second book in the Dark is Rising Sequence, but much like how you can read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe without reading the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia, the same can be said for how this series works. I read The Dark Is Rising as a part of #TheDarkIsReading, a Twitter readalong set up by Robert Macfarlane and Julia Bird. As I’ve had a big bind up collection of the series sitting on my shelf for about ten years, this was the push I needed to delve into the series.

The Dark is Rising is a creepy and atmospheric book. The description is incredibly vivid and often raised a chill down my spine. It’s set in the heart of Winter and over the Christmas period and it artfully blends together the dark, eerie nights with the family and warmth of Christmas. Having these two elements juxtaposed adds an extra level of danger and consequence to the task Will must complete.

Will is a young boy that has a heavy burden on his shoulders. Once he learns that he is the last of the Old Ones and what that means, he is embraces his role, but he never stops being a child. He’s an incredibly brave character who often act on his gut instinct alone.

The Dark is a truly evil and foreboding force that’s present throughout the book. The Black Rider is often the visible foe for Will and his allies, but the Dark is so much bigger than the Rider. Everything the Dark can do adds a sense of wrongness to Will’s life in the countryside, the way animals act strangely or attack people, and how harsh the weather can be, it’s all influenced by the Dark.

I’m pleased I’ve finally read The Dark is Rising and can see why it is a beloved children’s classic. It has good themes, a strong mystery and a real sense of peril. Perhaps I’d like it more if it was a formative book of my childhood, but it’s still a spooky seasonal read with an intriguing and fantastical adventure. 3/5.