Tomb Raider

tomb_raider_(2018_film)This reboot of the video game adaptation is neither better nor worse than the previous one with Angelina Jolie. Unfortunately, the story is not very inspiring, but it offers good action (despite the impossible stunts typical of Lara Croft), as well as very nice acting from Alicia Vikander and Daniel Wu. I was quite annoyed by the fact that all the aspects of the supposedly Japanese ancient culture presented in the story is completely bogus and actually looks more Chinese than Japanese. (WTF!?) However, [SPOILER ALERT] I like that the ancient curse turned out to be a disease [SPOILER END]. It offers a nice breath of realism in the movie. Unfortunately, to make it cinematically palatable they had to make the disease’s symptoms completely, absurdly improbable. 

It is safe to say that Alicia Vikander comfortably slips into the Lara Croft character (despite not having her exaggerated physical attributes which she thankfully compensate with great stamina and charm) and delivers a performance that saves the movie from a complete wreck. The movie received mixed reviews (6.3 on IMDb, 51%/56% on Rotten Tomatoes). All in all, it’s an average action movie that offers brainless entertainment. It’s worth watching, whether you are a fan or not, but only if you have time to spare. stars-2-5

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Damn! The trailer is showing all the best scenes of the movie!

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Pacific Rim Uprising

pacificrim2-posterAs bad as this movie is you cannot but love it if you are a mecha (or giant robots) and a kaiju fan — which I am. There’s plenty of action (although not very realistic and playing loose with the laws of physics), not much story, a hint of human drama, and a bit of humour. There’s not much originality either, but let’s call it an “hommage.” The term Jaeger reminds me a little of Heavy Gear (although it could come from so many other sources: it means hunter in German, could refers to infantry troops, a bird, a car, or several anime or manga), some designs seems inspired by many giant robots anime (Giant Robo, Mazinger, The Big O) and, of course, the kaiju part if inspired by Ultraman, Godzilla and Gamera, but the biggest “influence” is without contest Neon Genesis Evangelion — and this is probably the closest we’ll ever get to an Evangelion live-action movie. The alien monster attacking Earth, using alien technology to develop weapon against them, the synchronization part, the tall slender design similar to the rogue jaeger Obsidian Fury (damn! I love that design!): that’s seems all “inspired” by Evangelion. Although they’ve gutted all the really interesting stuff (mystical bits and human drama) it is still pretty entertaining.

There is plenty of cool stuff in this movie. No transforming robot but instead a combining kaiju. Not a bad idea. And I’ve certainly LOL when the pilots of Bracer Phoenix have to eject and land at the feet of a statue of a… Gundam! Beautiful and really funny. I couldn’t fail to notice the heavy Chinese presence in the cast and crew (not surprising since producer Legendary was bought by the Chinese Wanda Group and some of the shooting was done in a studio in China). It did relatively well at the box office but was not particularly liked (rating of 5.6 on IMDb and 44% / 41% on Rotten Tomatoes !).

All in all, it offers brainless sci-fi action and lots of mecha & kaiju nostalgia. If you are a fan. stars-3-0

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Transformers: The Last Knight

TransformersTheLastKnight-covThis story literally puts Earth against Cybertron. It’s Megatron versus Unicron. The Transformers have been here since the night of time. They fought with King Arthur, they fought in World War One, and even against Hitler. But we didn’t know about it because their existence has been occulted by a secret society started by Merlin himself, as he was entrusted with a power staff to control them all (or at least the three-headed dragon made of the bot-knights of the round table!). And Stonehenge is a weapon (more or less; maybe more a socket for a weapon…)!

Under the influence of Quintessa, Optimus has become Nemesis Prime! However, Yeager’s Autobot partner, Bumblebee, turns him around and, with the help of the bot-knights, they fight back against Quintessa and Megatron’s plan to destroy Earth. But it is far from over as the fight will continue with yet another movie (no, please, make them stop!)…

This movie offers a few good ideas (transformers in the past, steampunk influences, introduction of interesting new characters like Viviane or Izabella), but they are unfortunately slapped together in a messy way. The editing is horrendous, the dialogues terrible and don’t even get me started with the bad humour! At 2h34, the movie is way too long and the action is going too fast — transformations are just a blur and it feels like you’re watching a movie in fast-forward! Definitely entertaining but also rather annoying (particularly Cogman, the Bot-ler). I guess it is mostly for the hard-core fans.

The movie made plenty of money but it was disliked by viewers (with a mere 15% critic rating and 44% audience score at Rotten Tomatoes and 5.2 on IMDb — strangely the next film, standalone prequel Bumblebee, did very well with a Rotten Tomatoes critic rating of 94%). Maybe it’s time to pause and rethink the franchise… stars-2-0

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Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo-covThe latest Star Wars movie offers us quite an interesting (but simple) story with the usual (improved?) special effects. It’s the story of someone who gets out of the slums, with audacity and a bit of courage, doing what’s need to be done. A story of love and betrayal. It has a moral (hey, it’s Disney after all), lots of action and great humour. It also has a bunch of very interesting characters (and excellent acting to go with it). It’s sort of a growing-up story, about how a slum kid become… well… a kind of accidental hero. For the Star Wars fans it also offers lots of back story: how Han got his name, how he met Chewbacca and, later, Lando, how he got the Millenium Falcon and what makes it such a special ship, and, finally, how the rebellion started. 

It might not have the depth of the original movies (although that fame might be due in part to the legend, greater music and fantasized childhood memory) but it is, in itself, a good movie. It might not be THE Star Wars movie but, as the title says, it is A Star Wars movie. However, it is a fact that it didn’t performed well at the box-office, barely breaking-even, and was less appreciated by the fans than the critics with an audience score of 64% versus a critical rating of 70% on Rotten Tomatoes.  It’s a little blend, yes, but it’s still quite entertaining and well worth watching. stars-3-0

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Mary and the Witch’s Flower

Mary_and_the_Witchs_Flower-covThis smooth and beautiful animation was produced by the Studio Ponoc, staffed with people who worked at the famous Studio Ghibli. The movie is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (who was a key animator at Studio Ghibli and director of The Secret World of Arrietty [2010] and When Marnie Was There [2014]), with a screenplay by Hiromasa Yonebayashi & Riko Sakaguchi and character designs by Akihiko Yamashita. It is based on Mary Stewart‘s 1971 children’s novel The Little Broomstick (although it is never mentioned in the staff interview included with the Dvd).

Mary and The Witch’s Flower (メアリと魔女の花 / Meari to Majo no Hana) offers a good storytelling and quite a cute story but it doesn’t really look original at all. It rather feels like it is a mishmash of every Ghibli designs: the witch part is vaguely reminiscent of Kiki’s Delivery Service, the witch school in the sky reminds me a little of Laputa: Castle in the Sky, a herd of animal fleeing seems similar to a scene in Princess Mononoke, a costume design evokes Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, the girl being away from home with some distant family members is similar to When Marnie was There, etc. This could be explained by the fact that most animators learned their skills while working at Ghibli. However, the influences are not limited to this source: Doctor Dee’s design makes me think of Dragonball’s Master Roshi and even Harry Potter makes a cameo appearance in one of the school classroom! I guess it was all intended as hommage or humour.

If I found this a little odd, I was not really annoyed by it. The movie is good entertainment (critical rating of 87% on Rotten Tomatoes) and, if you don’t feel the same depth as in Ghibli’s productions,  I was still quite glad that another major studio (even if this is their first real movie) would continue to produce traditional full length anime. Indeed, with the closing of Studio Ghibli after Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement, I really hope that Studio Ponoc will become its rightful heir… So, all in all, it is definitely worth watching. It is available on Netflix and on Dvd. stars-3-0

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Ready Player One

ReadyPlayerOneIn a dystopian future (Is it? It realistically could be just our future or it could be a “trumpian” future), the reality is too tough to take and people are looking to forget their troubles. What was originally created as a virtual reality game become the perfect source of escapism for the people. In virtual reality they can be whoever or whatever they want! It is based on the novel by Ernest Cline. 

This is a typical fantasy story where the hero (with a group of companions) must find an artifact to save the world from an evil overlord (or a nefarious corporation plotting to control the world). The only difference is that, this time, the artifact is a legendary Easter Egg in a virtual reality video game. It is also a quest to find the heir to the Halliday’s fortune and ownership of the entire virtual world, known as OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation). The movie improves on the book by providing a great visual: the part inside the virtual reality (60% of the movie) was created with motion capture CGI. It is certainly not very original, but it’s brilliantly written and well orchestrated.

For me, what makes the movie interesting is that it’s a treasure trove of popular culture references (mostly related to movies and video games) from the 80s (including a few anime like Akira, Dragon Ball, Godzilla, or Gundam !) that plays on the nostalgia of a long gone era. In that aspect, it can particularly appeal to two different audiences: those who grew up in that era (the Millenials or Generation Y) or those who grew up hearing stories from their parents and have a glorified impression of the era (the Generation Z or iGen, Centennials). It is so rich in references that you could see the movie a dozen time and still discover new ones! 

The movie was well received (with a Rotten Tomatoes critical score of 72% and a slightly better audience score of 78%) and did well at the box office (bringing back in revenue three time its budget of $175 millions). Unfortunately, even if it’s directed by Spielberg, it has the usual flaws of most teenage action movies: it offers an heroic but superficial story (and characters) where the exploding action (full of car races, fights and magic!), a shared cultural trivia, visual overload and an expedited storyline replace the depth and richness that usually make truly excellent movies. However, it remains a great and funny movie that celebrate geek culture. It is entertainment at its best. I enjoyed it immensely and, if you are in the right demographic, you will certainly too. stars-3-5

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Winchester

Winchester-DvdI am not a big fan of horror movies but I like Helen Mirren. So I watched the movie with the expectation that I would not like it. It is not a bad movie after all. Not a great movie, but a good entertainment nonetheless. 

The heiress (Helen Mirren) of the Winchester Repeating Arms Co is cursed and haunted by the spirits of all the people killed with a Winchester rifle. To appease their spirits and help them moving on she built for each of them a replica of the room where they were killed so her mansion is in constant construction, resulting in a huge building that doesn’t make much sense. The board of the company think she’s crazy and hires a doctor (Jason Clarke) to evaluate her mental state. He was himself widowed and almost killed in an incident involving a Winchester rifle and became addicted to laudanum as a result. Of course, the moment of his arrival at the mansion coincide with the appearance of an evil and vengeful spirit seeking pay back on the Winchester family! Will the rational mind of the doctor let himself be convinced and help fight against the murderous supernatural forces at play? Or is it all the result of the convergence of natural events and the power of suggestion of their own minds?  

It is quite an interesting take on the legend of the Winchester mansion and of Sarah Winchester. I also like the way they used other events of the era to add to the story, so it is really based on “real” events. After all, the mansion is well known for being the most haunted building in America. The storytelling is good and managed to follow the Todorov definition of the fantastic genre (if the characters seem to believe in the supernatural aspects, at least the viewers are well aware of the possible rational explanations for them). The acting is respectable, and the visuals are good considering that this is a very low budget production (shot in Australia for $3.5 million). So it is nothing to get excited about (besides the cheap scary tactics), but it is still worth watching. Although the reception was not very good (the critics’ score on Rotten Tomatoes was 14%, with an audience score of 35%) the movie still managed to make over ten times its production cost at the box office! stars-3-0

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