Saturday, March 17

Tomb Raider Review

Tomb Raider

Dir: Roar Uthaug

Starring: Alicia Vikander, Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu, Kristen Scott Thomas, and Derek Jacobi

Lara Croft has been running through jungles, caves, and ancient ruins, solving all manner of puzzles and problems since 1996 when the character made her first appearance for avid gamers. More than twenty years later and Lara Croft is making her third appearance on the silver screen, this time replacing Angelina Jolie with Alicia Vikander in the second franchise building film simply called “Tomb Raider”. 

Director Roar Uthaug, director of somber-toned disaster film “The Wave” in 2015, takes Lara Croft back to the beginning, establishing an introduction to the character before she becomes the double-gun toting character gamers identify. This adventure film plays just like a video game during action scenes and functions narratively like a film eager to start production on the sequel. 

Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander) is a bicycle riding food delivery courier who refuses to give up hope concerning her father’s (Dominic West) mysterious disappearance. Lara is scrappy and tough, an attitude that has her taking a beating while refusing to tap out during a training scene and outsmarting a group of male bicyclists during a city chase scene. Lara is being coerced into taking over the Croft fortune and when a puzzle box reveals a secret about her father’s final adventure, the young adventurer is taken to an isolated island populated by a dangerous organization.

Alicia Vikander is working overtime here, providing Lara Croft with a charisma that makes the character work better than the script gives her opportunity. Still, Ms. Vikander makes the character likable while also displaying the physical toughness that allows her to do a majority of the action scene stunt work. It’s also refreshing to see the character, which has become an over-sexualized avatar throughout the years, stand on her own without a forced romantic relationship or the dependency of men to solve her problems.

Unfortunately, much of what transpires narratively in “Tomb Raider” falls all over itself in an attempt to push the character towards the next movie. This leaves much of the emotional core of the film, which exists between Lara and her father’s relationship, to be surmised through sloppy flashbacks. The villain here, played by Walton Goggins, doesn’t have much of a purpose in the second act beyond getting to hidden tomb before Lara does. This is the point in the film when “Tomb Raider” turns into a video game, providing missions for Lara to accomplish in order to get to the next dangerous level of the movie. It works in small amounts but quickly loses its effectiveness.

“Tomb Raider” is a decent action film, which unfortunately isn’t saying much in today’s superhero heavy cinemas, but Alicia Vikander is good enough to keep everything moving from scene to scene. “Tomb Raider” is clearly a launching platform for a bigger franchise, and this obvious emphasis leaves the film void of the qualities that would have established a better hero to journey into future adventures with. 

Monte’s Rating

2.00 out of 5.00

Love, Simon Review

Love, Simon

Dir: Greg Berlanti

Starring: Nick Robinson, Katherine Langford, Alexandra Shipp, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Logan Miller, Josh Duhamel, and Jennifer Garner

Teenage romantic comedies are formulaic; two young people in high school find themselves thrust into some kind of situation that ends with the two smooching amidst swelling pop music, it’s been done many times in many ways. What makes Greg Berlanti’s, the mind behind the recent DC Comics explosion on television, “Love, Simon” different is something that seems so obviously aware that it might be surprising that it hasn’t happened yet. The titular lead Simon, played by Nick Robinson, is a well-liked high school senior who leads a typical, normal life except for the fact that he is gay.

Simon has a group of great friends, one of which is his best friend Leah (Katherine Langford) who he has known nearly his entire life. Simon has great parents (Josh Duhamel and Jennifer Garner) who are still together in a loving relationship, they even sit around the television to watch movies together. Simon lives a life some might only expect to see in the movies, but Simon has a secret that he hasn’t told anyone.

Berlanti tackles “Love, Simon” with a nice blend of humor and a fair amount of heart. Simon is a likable main character but he is far from perfect, he’s a teenage student trying to traverse the already tumultuous terrain of the high school hallways while trying to determine how, when, and if he will reveal his true feelings to those around him. This creates a struggle as high school bullying and a gossip website place Simon in a difficult situation where his choices hurt and manipulate those close to him. Still, even when Simon isn’t making the best decisions it’s hard to blame the character for his selfishness.

Berlanti does a great job of composing the characters within the film, never over emphasizing the narrative themes and keeping everything simplistic while always remaining fun. In most stories that have gay protagonists things don’t always have the best outcomes; these characters don’t always have such good lives, and in the end of these tales it often feels like life is still going to be a struggle compared to the struggles of people who aren’t in gay relationships. Film manipulates expectations, and in the case of gay cinema the results are often disheartening and sometimes tragic for the characters wanting to express how they feel to people they love. The fact that Berlanti takes the all too common formula of a teenage romantic comedy and places a gay male character in the lead role without succumbing to the manipulations of hatred that force people into places of fear and shame for their choice of relationship is refreshing and necessary in the world we live in today.

“Love, Simon” is a heartfelt, familiar tale of first love. Greg Berlanti does a exceptional job of creating engaging characters and placing them in a situation that doesn’t exploit the topic of sexuality or oversimplify the aspect of youth. “Love, Simon” is a enjoyable film that demonstrates that stories and experiences, though they may seem different from different populations, are the same when stripped down to its most basic emotion. 

Monte’s Rating

4.00 out of 5.00

Friday, March 16

Red Sparrow Review

Red Sparrow

Dir: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Joel Edgerton, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlotte Rampling, Mary-Louise Parker, Ciaran Hinds, and Jeremy Irons

At this point in the career of Jennifer Lawrence it’s pretty easy to imagine her playing almost any kind of character no matter how preposterous it might look like on paper. Body morphing blue mutant, home shopping network tycoon, talented archer in a dangerous game; it all seems possible for the Oscar winning actress. In “Red Sparrow” Ms. Lawrence plays a Russian professional ballerina turned deadly spy, the actress’s performance keeps this meandering and familiar spy film afloat.

Dominika Egorova is a talented ballerina in Moscow; she is at the peak of her career when an catastrophic accident leaves her unable to dance ever again. With no way to care for her ailing mother (Joely Richardson) she is forced to take an unsavory job offer from her uncle Vanya (Matthias Schoenaerts) who is a high-up official in the foreign intelligence agency for Russia. The job is to seduce a target by any means necessary, things go terrible wrong and Dominika is forced to join a secret agency of young, attractive spies known as Sparrows.

Director Francis Lawrence, who has worked with Jennifer Lawrence (no relation) in all the “Hunger Games” films, paces the film in the beginning with the twists and turns one would expect from a spy film, it’s unfortunate that this doesn’t maintain throughout the film as the narrative elements settle into the mundane. Still, the director does some interesting things when it comes to the character of Dominika who undergoes the change from ballerina to spy in a viscous way. The push for control and manipulation means that the Sparrows are constantly forced into uncomfortable sexual situations and torturous head games for training purposes. The weapon for the Sparrows is much more than simple guns and knives, instead they are trained to manipulate and exploit the desires of their targets to accomplish their mission. 

Jennifer Lawrence shines in the lead role, playing the character with a thick accent and providing all the confidence to make Dominika come to life. Ms. Lawrence moves easily throughout some of the rough terrain in this film, dancing elegantly one moment then brutally beaten the next, it’s her performance that makes these moments feel convincing. Also making some of the paper thin Russian characters make an impact are veteran actors Jeremy Irons and Charlotte Rampling, making throw away characters have more purpose than they should. Joel Edgerton plays an American operative who has his cover blown but cleverly stays in the mix by having connections with a secret Russian operative. Mr. Edgerton’s character is somewhat misused throughout the film, mostly left to provide a clue or pathway for Dominika to follow.

“Red Sparrow” doesn’t feel like James Bond, instead it feels more akin to the Jason Bourne films or the “Atomic Blonde” film from last year. Jennifer Lawrence is the highlight here, playing a character that operates for self survival amidst numerous opportunities to bend to the will of the powerful, the moments to let men have control over her life, or the numerous times to follow the gender roles established within this specific environment. It’s unfortunate that “Red Sparrow” doesn’t do more to compliment this intriguing character. 

Monte’s Rating

2.75 out of 5.00