This is the re-launch of the Tomb Raider franchise with a new, fit for 21st century, Lara Croft.
Gone are the pneumatic charms of the video game Lara, or the superwoman Angelina Jolie.
We now have a hero in the mould of GoT’s Arya Stark or Star Wars Rey.
Alicia Vikander’s performance alone raises this from just another high adventure into the story of a real human being struggling with circumstances that would defeat most of us.
Unfortunately, she is surrounded by cardboard cut-out friends and villains who add nothing unique to the story.
I enjoyed the early scenes, shot in and around London and Hong Kong, that were beautiful, exciting and totally believable. The later scenes descend in the now over familiar CGI scenery and perils. These could have been from any number of similar films and require a great effort of imagination to accept.
I am sure that this film will appeal to the less jaded cinema audiences, especially young women, who have traditionally been underserved in such dramas.
For that reason I have raised my assessment to give this film 4 out of five stars.
Red Sparrow is a very contemporary play set against the rising threat of Russian expansionism. The cold war of old has been re-kindled but old spy craft is still a primary tool used against the West.
Enter Jennifer Lawrence as one of the nails used by the Russian hammer against, in this case, the Americans.
The story continues with great pace and gusto that gives the initial impression of being an exciting and gripping story. However, this is no Le Carré or Deighton story. There is no light and dark in the characters. The bad guys are all super-bad and the good guys could almost be wearing white hats.
The viewer is kept guessing about the true motivations of Miss Lawrence’s character till the end, but you can see within the early scenes who is going to lose the most.
On top of this plot is laid a visual assault of violence, gore and sex that is unprecedented in my experience in the legitimate cinema. Many scenes were bordering on the pornographic both in violence and nudity.
This may be artistically justifiable, indeed the presence of several A-List actors would indicate they felt it was justified, but not for me.
This would have benefited from clearer story telling, deeper characterisation and less visual exploitation.
Just 3 out of five stars.
The Shape of Water is an adult fairy tale, of monsters and lovers, sacrifice and hatred.
We are taken to the post WW2 anti-communist paranoid America, coloured with a dark palate, giving an impression of an old gothic horror.
Emotions are all ramped up to the maximum with no time for nuance or subtlety.
Thankfully the plot moves quickly as a result and the 2 hour 3 minute duration flies as quickly.
This film is probably the director Guillermo Del Toro’s best work (I haven’t seen them all so cannot be certain).
The performances by actors Sally Hawkins, Octavia Spencer, Richard Jenkins and Doug Jones are all excellent.
I would particularly pick out Doug Jones who inhabits the central creature around which the story revolves. He brings the full range of emotions to his character without benefit of language, purely by his body language, which shines through his latex prosthetic body. (You may have seen him recently in Star Trek: Discovery, similarly cloaked in alien costume.)
As the story reached the ultimate and predictable conclusion, I felt this to have been a satisfying experience.
This will not be everybody’s cup of tea; indeed I resisted seeing it until after its Bafta success.
It is well worth 4 out of five stars.
Three Billboards is an intriguing tale about a mother unable to come to terms with the murder of her daughter and the failure of the local police to solve the crime.
We are given a brief history of the offence and the events surrounding it but, the true story is about a mothers drive for justice and what that costs her and her remaining family. The title refers to the method she chooses to put a firework under the local sheriff after 7 months of apparent inaction.
Casual violence and abuse of authority punctuates the various intertwined family histories to give a grim picture of modern day life in the southern United States. Life in rural Missouri is dominated by casual extreme violence, racial and gender hatred, abuse of power and ignorance.
The performances throughout this film are very belieable. The three lead actors, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, will be recognised from their previous films and television roles but their combined performances are so good you totally see them as the characters.
By the end of the film there is redemption for some and sadness for others. Nobody leaves this tale unscarred by the events.
A remarkable and enjoyable film worth 5 out of five stars.
The latest offering from the Marvel universe, Thor Ragnarok, sees the return of Thor, as brought to life by Chris Hemsworth.
Aimed at the 12-year-old audience, the violence is almost bloodless and profanities are kept to the mild end of the spectrum. Layered on top of this is a plethora of adult targeted jokes and characterisations that should keep most grownups laughing.
In this story Thor faces two different baddies. The first is Cate Blanchett as Thor’s very bad, big sister Hela. The second is Jeff Goldblum as possibly the funniest and campest dictator in cinema history.
I felt rather sorry for Ms Blanchett, great actor as she is, because Goldblum dominates the story with a far richer and funnier part.
The action sequences are very impressive as is normal now, but for once, the script is equally good, blending the various story lines smoothly, while keeping the plot moving and maintaining the very funny humour.
I laughed out loud frequently and left the cinema feeling refreshed and happy.
I can’t expect much more than that from any film.
The result is therefore 5 out of five stars for this outstanding superhero tale.
The Death of Stalin has bee created by Armando Iannucci and David Schneider. You can expect the foul language and biting dark humour of Iannucci’s various television projects for which he is famous.
A large cast of recognisable actors inhabit the characters at the top of Russians political and military hierarchy. These include Jason Isaacs, Andrea Riseborough, Steve Buscemi, Jeffrey Tambour, Michael Palin and Paul Whitehouse.
The events before and after the death of Stalin are treated as a pantomime of opposing ambitions, jealousy and incompetence. However, custard pies are replaced by copious numbers of executions. Running in parallel are stories of families torn open by divisions, massacres and exploitation.
On top of this is the paranoid fear of Stalin that is ingrained into the population, from politicians to musicians and housekeepers who looked after him. This is made believable by not making the actors adopt stereotypical Russian accents. Their natural voices are used to great effect to portray the mix of regions they came from within Russia. It also makes the cacophony of arguing voices easier to follow.
In our age of less than conventional politicians, it is only too easy to suspect the events as shown in this film, may be underplaying the reality of what really happened when Stalin died.
This is a well made political satire. Four out of five stars awarded.
You certainly get value for money from Blade Runner 2049, running at 2 hours 44 minutes.
Fortunately the director has filled that time to great advantage. Weaving a complex and compelling tale, this story is set in same dystopian world of the original Blade Runner.
If you liked the original, this film answers many of the questions raised by the first.
Ryan Goslings performance is very good, encapsulating his character very well. It has to be said that the film only comes to life towards the latter part when Harrison Ford appears.
If you haven’t seen or did not like the original, I fear this would not impress you and probably leave you wondering why you bothered.
I would strongly recommend seeing the original first if you have not already done so or just to refresh your memory.
So this is a good, possibly great and definitely cult movie.
As a fan, it gets 4 stars out of five from me.