Movie reviews: 'Tomb Raider' reshapes Lara Croft character
Published Friday, March 16, 2018 6:00AM EDT
TOMB RAIDER: 3 STARS
The last time we saw archaeologist-adventurer Lara Croft on the big screen she looked like Angelina Jolie and was seen dunking a bad guy into a pool of acid, dissolving him and saving the world in the process. A new film, simply titled “Tomb Raider,” takes us back. Back before the leather bodysuits and twin Heckler & Koch USP Match pistols, back to a time when Lara Croft was an emo twenty-one-year-old whose biggest adventure was navigating London’s busy streets as a bicycle courier. This time around she bears a striking resemblance to Swedish Oscar winner Alicia Vikander.
Although born and raised at the swanky Croft Manor, when we first meet Lara she is scraping by, studying MMA fighting, when she can afford the gym fees, and delivering food via bicycle. A fortune, courtesy of her late father Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), awaits but for seven years she has steadfastly refused to sign for her inheritance, fearing that if she does she will have to accept that papa, who disappeared without a trace somewhere in the Sea of Japan, is truly dead and gone.
“Your father is gone but you can pick up where he left off,” says Croft family executive Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas). “It’s in your blood.” “I’m sorry I’m not that kind of Croft,” replies Lara.
And yet, when she discovers a, “If you’re watching this tape I must be dead…” tape from dear old dad detailing his plan to find a remote Japanese island, home to a deadly ancient witch, the dutiful daughter sets off on a dangerous mission—to find the island and her father.
To do that she travels to Japan and recruits Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) who warns her of the danger ahead. “That’s right in the middle of the Devil’s Sea,” he says. “You may as well tie a rock to your leg and jump overboard.”
Armed with nothing more than a backpack and one of her father’s notebooks the pair find the island only to be met by a suspicious character named Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins). “You shouldn’t have come here,” he says. “But I’m glad that you did.”
“Tomb Raider” contains lots of backstory, mumbo jumbo about global genocide, Queen Himiko Witch of Death and supernatural organization that controls much of the world, but this is Lara’s journey from bike courier to international woman of mystery. At the beginning of the film she is nothing like the polished Croft of the Jolie films. She’s scrappier, undisciplined. Her two greatest powers are loyalty to her father and fearlessness. And jumping. Lots of jumping. As played by Vikander, Croft never met a chasm she couldn’t leap across and that skill sure comes in handy.
Unlike Jolie’s iconic, stylized take on the character, Vikander plays her as self assured and independent but directionless. A young person trying to make her way in the world, thirsty for life experience. It’s a nice reinvention of the character, although a post credit scene suggests she is headed toward Jolie territory should there be a “Tomb Raider 2: A Career in Ruins” next year. Still, she’s a spirited female action hero in a male dominated field.
There are big action sequences, but as the stunts get bigger they don’t necessarily get better. Vikander, flying through the streets of London, cutting through traffic while being chased by her courier friends, is as exciting as any of the CGI exploits that come later.
“Tomb Raider’s” story and action are fairly generic but Vikander carries the day, reshaping a character we already thought we knew.
THE DEATH OF STALIN: 3 ½ STARS
The Daily Telegraph calls writer/director Armando Iannucci "the hardman of political satire." As the creator of sardonic films and TV shows like “In the Loop” and “Veep” he’s a vitally caustic comic presence.
As the film begins it’s 1953 and Joseph Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin), the second leader of the Soviet Union, is alive and well. Under his watch death squads are rounding up his enemies, executions are common and the mere mention of his name strikes fear into the hearts of the people. The Central Committee, surround him. There’s the scheming Nikita Khrushchev (Steve Buscemi), the pompous Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), Old Bolshevik Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin) and secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale). When he suffers a stroke everything changes as his inner circle engage in a power struggle that will determine not only their futures but also the future of the Soviet Union.
The idea of chaos in the halls of power, though set sixty-five years in the past, feels almost ripped from the headlines. With jet black humour “The Death of Stalin” supercharges the farcical elements of a very dark time in history. With the cast using their natural accents—no one here tries to sound Russian—it feels surreal, like Monty Python gone amok. There’s doublespeak, jealousy and sight gags galore as this band of yes-men bumble around in an attempt to seize the Kremlin in the days following their leader’s passing.
Iannucci avoids the danger of trivializing the very real-life tragedy of the story—you hear gunshots off screen for much of the first half of the film—by not glorifying the villains. He takes a sharp knife to the reputations of Stalin, Khrushchev et al, portraying all of them as spoiled incompetents capable only of looking out for number one. In this historical context that approach works to show how absolute power corrupts absolutely.
“The Death of Stalin” is an audacious reimagining of history. Strong comic performances are highlighted in a film that is both frightening and funny at the same time.
THE LEISURE SEEKER: 2 ½ STARS
Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren are household names with an astounding 400 television and film acting credits between them. Before their new film, “The Leisure Seeker,” they have appeared onscreen together only once in 1990’s “Bethune: The Making of a Hero.” Here they prove the chemistry that worked when the first Bush was president is still intact.
Their latest pairing sees them play old married couple former English professor John and Southern belle Ella Spencer who still playfully call one another, “My love.”
Their relationship is healthy but they are not. He has Alzheimer’s and she has cancer. As memories fade and the reliance on pills increases they embark on one last road trip, from Massachusetts to the heart of Old Town Key West and the Hemingway Home & Museum. Hitting the road in their 1975 Winnebago, dubbed the Leisure Seeker, they begin their final adventure. “They are just doing the thing they have done their entire lives,” says daughter Jane (Janel Moloney). “Staying together.”
Based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Michael Zadoorian “The Leisure Seeker” is a so-so movie elevated by two endearing performances. Mirren emphasizes Ella’s warmth and strength, how she uses idle chatter to mask the uncertainty and frustration that churns inside her. Sutherland, as a man aware enough to know he wants to go out like Hemmingway when the time comes but getting foggier everyday, sensitively finds a balance between the glimpses of John’s former personality and his new diminished state. Both sparkle, and hand in engaging performances.
They glide through the spotty material finding humanity and the touching moments tucked away in this overly sentimental travelogue.
The moments that work really work. They handle the comedic passages expertly and real heft to exchanges like this:
“Who are you? My John is a young teacher. He’s charming. Very handsome. Educated,” she says to him. “I want him back. You stole him from me and I want you to give him back.”
“If I could I would,” he says. “Whatever is stolen from you is stolen from me too,” he replies.
It is just a shame the rest of the film doesn’t work on that level.
7 DAYS IN ENTEBBE: 1 STAR
It’s hard to know how to classify “7 Days in Entebbe.” It begins with an interpretive dance number but isn’t a musical. It’s about a daring real-life hostage rescue but it doesn’t contain enough combat to qualify as an action film. It’s about political ideology and yet so many points of view are on display it’s difficult to know what the film is trying to say. It’s a real life drama so slackly paced the drama evaporates into thin air.
Call it what you will. I call it a bad movie.
An international cast, including Daniel Brühl and Rosamund Pike as the German reactionaries and Eddie Marsan as Israeli Minister of Defense Shimon Peres, tell the story of what would become the Entebbe rescue operation.
On July 27, 1976 an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris via Athens was hijacked and forced to land in Entebbe, Uganda. On the ground the Jewish passengers were singled out and held hostage. The hijackers, two members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and two Germans affiliated with the left-wing extremist group Revolutionary Cells, demanded a ransom of $5 million and the release of prisoners from Israeli jails. If their conditions weren’t met by the deadline of Sunday, July 5 the terrorists would start executing hostages one by one. In response the Israeli government ordered a daring counter-terrorist hostage rescue operation.
It’s sometimes difficult to find a new spin on an old story. The raid on Entebbe has been told many times on the big screen, on TV, on the stage and even in videogames. There’s probably something left to say but “7 Days in Entebbe” doesn’t say it. It talks and talks and talks an endless stream of words, many right out of “Revolutionaries for Dummies.” “I want to throw bombs into the consciousness of the masses,” intones terrorist Wilfried Böse (Daniel Brühl) when, realistically, we would have been better served if that bomb had been better thrown at the slack-jawed script. Every time the movie finds some momentum the story’s forward movement is stymied by speechifying.
Add to that dubious artistic choices and you’re left with a Mulligan Stew of political ideology with no strong point of view. In what maybe one of the silliest flourishes in a film this year, and the director cuts back-and-forth between a dance performance and the military operation. “I fight so you could dance,” says a commando to his ballerina girlfriend. It’s meant to illustrate the art of war brought to life I suppose but I’m sure Chuck Norris—who starred in “Delta Force,” one of the better movies inspired by Entebbe—would approve.
“7 Days in Entebbe” takes a significant world event and reduces it to melodramatic pap and speechifying. And the dance. Don’t forget the dance.
LOVE, CECIL: 3 ½ STARS
Cecil Beaton, the subject of a new documentary called “Love, Cecil,” says he was determined not to be “just an ordinary, anonymous person.” To that end he distinguished himself as a diarist, painter, interior designer and an Oscar–winning costume designer but it was as a photographer that he made his grandest statements.
Director Lisa Immordino Vreeland (related by marriage to fashionista Diana Vreeland) presents a portrait of a serial multi-tasker, a man “tormented with ambition” who wonders aloud if he might have been more successful had he focussed on one discipline over the others. Still, it is hard to imagine the restless spirit shown in the film as anything but creatively unsettled. His iconic portraits of everyone from Greta Garbo and Marilyn Monroe to Mick Jagger and Queen Elizabeth are world famous but equally impressive, perhaps more so are his wartime photographs, pictures that captured the horrors of the German Blitz. His startling photo of 3-year-old bombing victim Eileen Dunne, laying in a hospital, clutching a ragged teddy bear became famous in the day, is thought to have helped push America into the war and remains an indelibly powerful image seventy-five years later.
The doc also showcases Beaton’s unsettled private life. Controversial, outspoken and publicly vengeful, he was once also fired from American Vogue for inserting anti-Semitic phrases into an illustration; an act he admits was inexcusable. His romantic life is lightly touched on. Affairs with Garbo and various men never did led to lasting love, a fact that hints at the great sadness that lay just beneath his polished exterior.
In the 1920s Beaton was one of the Bright Young Things, a bohemian group of young aristocrats and artists who exemplified the excesses of Britain’s Jazz Age. He was an active member and documenter of their short lived heyday but the spirit of creativity that fuelled his exploits as a young man stayed with him until his death in 1980 at age seventy-six.
“Love, Cecil” is a traditional talking head doc that features notables like David Bailey, designer Manolo Blahnik and artist David Hockney. It moves chronologically through the man’s life and there is none of the style Beaton brought to his own life on display in the filmmaking but narration by Rupert Everett, lifted directly from the photographer’s own diaries, brings intimacy to the proceedings.