Film Review: Tomb Raider (dir by Roar Uthaug)


It seems somewhat appropriate that the new Lara Croft is played by an actress best known for starring in a (very good) movie about artificial intelligence because the latest Tomb Raider film is so generic that it feels as if it could have been written by a robot.

Now, before I get too critical,I should acknowledge that the first 30 minutes of the film is actually a lot of fun.  When we first meet Lara Croft (Alicia Vikander), she’s making her living a bike courier in London.  She delivers food to the hungry, except for when she’s boxing or engaging in bicycle races.  Despite the fact that she comes from a fabulously wealthy family, Lara refuses to accept her inheritance because accepting it would mean acknowledging that her missing father, explorer Richard Croft (Dominic West), is dead.  For those 30 minutes, the film has a fun, kinetic feel to it. As I watched those scenes, I realized that I’d actually be more than happy to watch a full-length film just about people racing around London on bicycles.

(Of course, there’d have to be some dancing, too.  There always has to be dancing.)

But then Kristin Scott-Thomas shows up and informs Lara that, unless she claims her inheritance, Andrew’s estate will be sold off.  At this point, the whole film starts to go downhill.  Naturally, before signing the papers that would declare Andrew to be deceased, Lara stumbles across one final message from her father.  In the message, he asks her to destroy all of his research.  Instead, Lara decides to go to Hong Kong so that she can investigate her father’s disappearance.

(Before she can leave, she has to get money from a pawnbroker who is played, in a rather lengthy cameo, by Nick Frost.  Frost mostly seems to be there so that the audience can go, “Hey, it’s Nick Frost!”)

You can probably already guess everything that happens once Lara arrives in Hong Kong.  It’s hardly a spoiler to inform you that Richard’s not dead and that he’s spent the last few years on an isolated island, trying to prevent the bad guys from tracking down an ancient tomb, one that Richard believes will destroy the world if it’s discovered.  It’s also not a spoiler to tell you that Lara spends a lot of time running through the jungle and trying to escape from collapsing caves.  That’s pretty much what you would expect from a movie called Tomb Raider but, even though the film is presumably giving the audience what they want, it just falls flat.

The problem is that, with the exception of those opening scenes in London, this version of Tomb Raider just isn’t much fun.  As good an actress as she is, Alicia Vikander never really seems comfortable in the role of being an action girl.  Vikander’s great when she’s racing around London and refusing her inheritance but, once she finds herself in the jungle, she just seems lost.  In fact, the only person who seems to be more lost than Alicia Vikander is Walton Goggins, who goes through the motion’s as the film’s villain but who never seems to be that invested in the character one way or the other.  Among the main cast, only Dominic West appears to be enjoying himself.  There’s nothing subtle about West’s performance but that’s exactly what a film like this needs.  Director Roar Uthaug is obviously comfortable with directing action scenes but there’s little of the wit or attention to detail necessary for this film to truly make an impression.

It’s not a terrible movie, don’t get me wrong.  Though it seems like it takes forever for Lara to actually reach it, the tomb is nicely realized and the film features a great score from Junkie XL.  But, ultimately, the most memorable thing about this new Tomb Raider is how forgettable it is.

So, I Finally Watched Grace of Monaco…


Grace_of_Monaco_PosterWell, I finally saw Grace of Monaco and…

Oh God.

Seriously, I am sitting here right now and I am just thinking to myself, “Oh God, do I really have to try to think up something interesting to say about this movie?”  Grace of Monaco is not a good movie but, at the same time, it’s bad in the worst way possible.  It’s not so bad-that-its-entertaining.  Instead, it’s just a dull misfire.

In fact, probably the only really interesting thing about Grace of Monaco is that it is the first film to go from opening Cannes to premiering on Lifetime.  Though it may seem impossible to believe now, there was a time in 2013 when everyone was expecting Grace of Monaco to be a major Oscar contender.  It seemed like everyone was saying that Nicole Kidman was a lock for a best actress nomination and maybe more!

Then the film’s American release date was moved from November of 2013 to June of 2014.  Rumor had it that the infamous Harvey Weinstein was chopping up the film and destroying the vision of director Olivier Dahan.  “Bad Harvey!” we all said.  (Of course, having now seen the film, I can understand why Harvey may have had some concerns…)

Okay, we told ourselves, Grace of Monaco probably won’t be a best picture contender.  But surely Nicole Kidman can get a nomination.  Surely the costumes and the production design will be honored…

And then the film played opening night at the Cannes Film Festival and it was greeted with less than appreciate reviews.  In fact, the reaction to the film was so negative that it has since become somewhat legendary.

And so, the American premiere was canceled.  The film opened in Europe, where it made little money and received scathing reviews.  But it was destined to never play in an American theater.  Instead, Grace of Monaco was sold to the Lifetime network.

And, after all of the drama and the waiting, I finally got to see Grace of Monaco tonight and … well, bleh.

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a pretty movie.  I loved looking at what everyone was wearing.  I enjoyed looking at the ornate settings.  Whenever Grace Kelly stopped to look out at the view from the palace, I appreciated it because it was a beautiful view.  If I had hit mute and simply enjoyed the film as a look at beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes and living in beautiful houses, I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more.

But, unfortunately, Grace of Monaco has a plot that gets in the way.  The evil French, led by Charles De Gualle (played by Andre Penvern, who gives a performance that would probably be more appropriate for a James Bond film), want to take over Monaco because the citizens of Monaco don’t pay any income tax.  (I was totally Team Monaco as far as this was concerned.  Everyone should stop paying their taxes.  If we all do it, we’ll be fine.  They can’t prosecute all of us!)  Only Princess Grace Kelly can stop them but first, she has to convince her headstrong husband, Prince Rainier (Tim Roth), to listen to her opinions.  She has to convince her subjects that she’s more than just an opinionated American.

But Grace doesn’t just want to keep the French out of Monaco!  She also wants to return to her film career.  Alfred Hitchcock (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) wants her to star in Marnie.  (Hitchcock is always filmed as being slightly out-of-focus.)  Rainier doesn’t want her to return to acting.  And neither does a priest played by Frank Langella…

What was Frank Langella doing in this movie?  I have no idea.  He was some sort of advisor.  I understand that he’s based on a historical figure but honestly, the film was so boring that I can’t even bring myself to go on Wikipedia to find out who exactly he was.

But really, the main issue with Grace of Monaco is that it tells us absolutely nothing about Grace Kelly.  The film doesn’t seem to know who she was or what it wants to say about her.  And Nicole Kidman is a good actress and I hope that I look as good as she does when I’m 47 and after I’ve given birth to two children but seriously, she seems to be totally lost in this film.  Olivier Dahan fills the film with close-ups of Kidman’s face but for what reason?  Never for a minute do we believe we’re looking at the face of the star of High Noon, Rear Window, or To Catch A Thief.  Instead, we’re always aware that we’re looking at Nicole Kidman and she doesn’t seem to be sure just what exactly she’s supposed to be doing.  We learn nothing about Grace, Monaco, France, royalty, or movies.

And it’s a shame really.  Because the story of Grace Kelly would make a great film.  But Grace of Monaco doesn’t really tell you anything about her life.

It’s just boring and a film about an actress like Grace Kelly has absolutely no right to be boring.

What If Lisa Marie Was In Charge of the Golden Raspberry Awards


If you’re following the Awards ceremony, you know that two major events are coming up next week.  On Tuesday, the Oscar nominations will be announced.  But before that, on Monday, the Golden Raspberry Award nominations will be announced.  For 32 years, the Golden Raspberries have been honoring the worst films of the year and they’ve always served as a nice counterpoint to the self-congratulatory nature of the Academy Awards.

Now, on Monday night, I’ll be posting what I would nominate if I was in charge of the Oscars but first, I’d like to show you what I’d nominate if I was solely responsible for making the Golden Raspberry nominations.

Now before anyone leaves me any pissy comments, these are not predictions.  I know that these are not the actual nominations.  I know that the actual Golden Raspberry nominations will probably look a lot different.  These are just my individual picks.

(My “winners” are listed in bold print.)

Worst Picture

Anonymous

The Conspirator

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

The Rum Diary

Straw Dogs

Worst Actor

Daniel Craig in Dream House, Cowboys and Aliens, and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Aaron Eckhardt in Battle: Los Angeles

James Marsden in Straw Dogs

James McAvoy in The Conspirator

Brandon Routh in Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Worst Actress

Kate Bosworth in Straw Dogs

Anita Briem in Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Claire Foy in Season of the Witch

Brit Marling in Another Earth

Sara Paxton in Shark Night: 3-D

Worst Supporting Actor

Paul Giamatti in The Ides of March

Mel Gibson (as the Beaver) in The Beaver

Sir Derek Jacobi in Anonymous

Giovanni Ribisi in The Rum Diary

James Woods in Straw Dogs

Worst Supporting Actress

Jennifer Ehle in Contagion

Amber Heard in The Rum Diary

Willa Holland in Straw Dogs

Vanessa Redgrave in Anonymous

Oliva Wilde in Cowboys and Aliens

Worst Director

Roland Emmerich for Anonymous

Rod Lurie for Straw Dogs

Kevin Munroe for Dylan Dog: Dead of Night

Robert Redford for The Conspirator

Bruce Robinson for The Rum Diary

Worst Screenplay

Anonymous, written by John Orloff.

Another Earth, written by Mike Cahill and Brit Marling

The Beaver, written by Kyle Killen

Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, written by Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer.

Straw Dogs, written by Rod Lurie.

(That’s right, it’s a tie.)

Worst Screen Couple 

Rhys Ifans and Joeley Richardson in Anonymous

Rhys Ifans and Vanessa Redgrave in Anonymous

Brit Marling and any breathing creature in Another Earth

Mel Gibson and The Beaver in The Beaver

James Marsden and Kate Bosworth in Straw Dogs

Worst Prequel, Sequel, or Remake

Arthur

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

Scream 4

Straw Dogs

Transformers 3

Film Review: Anonymous (dir. by Roland Emmerich)


Earlier today, I saw Roland Emmerich’s new film Anonymous and wow.  I don’t even know where to begin with just how thoroughly bad a film Anonymous is.  Yes, I know that this film has gotten good reviews from mainstream sellouts critics like Roger Ebert.  And yes, I heard the old people sitting behind me and Jeff in the theater going, “So, do you think Shakespeare really wrote those plays?” after the movie ended.  I’m aware of all of that and yet, I can only say one thing in response: Anonymous is the worst film of 2011 so far.

In its clumsy and rather smug way, Anonymous attempts to convince us that the plays of William Shakespeare were actually written by a boring nobleman named Edward De Vere (Rhys Ifans, giving a very boring performance).  De Vere, you see, is obsessed with writing but as a member of a noble family, he cannot publicly do anything as lowbrow as publish his plays himself.  So, he pays playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) to take credit for the plays.  However, Johnson has moral qualms about taking credit for another man’s work.  However, Johnson’s sleazy (and, the film suggest, sociopathic) friend Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall, who at least appears to be enjoying himself in the role) has no such qualms and, after murdering Christopher Marlowe, Will is soon the most celebrated “writer” in England. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave, giving a performance so terrible that you know she’ll probably get an Oscar for it) is growing senile and De Vere starts to realize that he can use his literary talents to attempt to determine who will sit on the English throne after Elizabeth dies.

However, before we can even start in on that plot, we have to sit through the film’s opening sequence.  Taking place in the modern day, we watch as actor Derek Jacobi (and not Malcolm McDowell, I’m sad to say) delivers a lecture on why he thinks that Shakespeare didn’t write a word.  His argument basically comes down to the fact that Shakespeare was “the son of a glovemaker” and therefore, how could he have become the world’s greatest writer?  How could he have written about royalty when he himself was a commoner who didn’t go to a prestigious university?  How could he have been a genius when we know so little about his life?  And blah blah blah.  I understand that Jacobi actually frequently gives lectures like the one we hear in this film and I, for one, will make sure never to attend one because, quite frankly, Jacobi comes across like something of a pompous ass here.  It doesn’t help that Emmerich films Jacobi’s lecture in much the same way he filmed the world falling apart in 2012.  Seriously, a boring old man ranting on a stage is still a boring old man regardless of how many times the camera zooms into his boring, old face.

This introductory lecture pretty much sets the tone for the entire film to follow and, by screwing this up, Emmerich pretty much screw up everything that follows.  However, Jacobi is not entirely blameless for the film’s failure.  Number one, he delivers the lecture with all the righteous fury of someone talking about something … well, something more relevent than whether Edward De Vere wrote Shakespeare’s plays.  Secondly, Jacobi comes across as if he’s sincerely convinced that he’s telling me something that I haven’t already heard from a high school English teacher, a college creative writing instructor, and a drama professor.  Seriously, guys — the whole idea that some people claim Shakespeare was a fraud is not that mind-blowing.  Thirdly, and most importantly, Jacobi’s main argument seems to primarily be an elitist one.  Shakespeare is not “one of us” so therefore, Shakespeare must be a fraud.  In short, Derek Jacobi comes across as a snob, a bore, and an upper-class twit.  He’s the type of blowhard that you secretly dread will end up moving in next door to you.   I can imagine him now coming over and saying, “Hi, my name’s Derek Jacobi.  Might I borrow some salt and while you get it, I’ll explain why I hate glovemakers so.”

Both the film and Sir Derek George Jacobi reveal next to no regard for the wonders of imagination when they argue that Shakespeare couldn’t have written about royalty because he himself was not of royal blood.  But, I wonder — how hard is it to write about royalty, really?  Is Hamlet really a play about a prince or is it a play about a man who is struggling to maintain his idealism in an increasingly harsh world?  Is Henry V really about royalty or is it about a formerly irresponsible boy who is being forced to grow up?  To take Jacobi’s argument to its logical conclusion, why could Shakespeare not write about royalty but apparently De Vere could write about gravediggers and loan sharks? 

The answer to that question is not to be found in Ifans’ glum, humorless performance.  As played by Rhys Ifans, Edward De Vere is a blank slate who seems to be incapable of the joy and the love of life that is apparent in some of the plays that Jacobi credits him with.  The film’s version of Edward De Vere doesn’t seem to be capable of telling a good joke, let alone writing one.  Yet, we are to believe that he is the author of Much Ado About Nothing?  It’s enough to make you wonder if anyone involved in this film has ever bothered to read Shakespeare or do they just use his work (and a wikipedia-level understanding of British history) as a roadmap for their own conspiracy theories?

Once you get past the whole Shakespeare-as-fraud thing, it’s a bit difficult to really talk about the plot of Anonymous because there really isn’t much of a plot.  There’s a lot of people plotting things and there’s a lot of scenes of distinguished looking men standing in ornate waiting rooms and either whispering or yelling about who deserves to succeed Elizabeth as ruler.  I’m an unapologetic history nerd and I usually love all the soap opera theatrics of British royalty (both past and present) so I should have taken to these scenes like a cat pouncing on a bird but I didn’t.  All of the palace intrigue left me cold and bored, largely because it all just felt as if they were being randomly dropped in from other, better films about the Elizabethan era.  The plot of Anonymous doesn’t so much unfold as it just shows up uninvited and then refuses to go home.

Storywise, Anonymous tells us the following (and yes, these are spoilers):

1) Queen Elizabeth, the so-called “virgin” queen, was apparently something of a slut and had a countless amount of illegitimate children who apparently all ended up living next door to each other as if they were all in the cast of some sort of renaissance sitcom.  “This week on Tyler Perry’s Meet the Tudors…”

2) Her first bastard son was none other than Edward De Vere who several years later — unaware of his true parentage — would become Elizabeth’s lover and would end up impregnating Elizabeth with the Earl of Southampton.  The Earl of Southampton would eventually grow up to become De Vere’s ward though he would never realize that he was also De Vere’s son and half-brother.  (And all together now: Ewwwwww!) 

3) The Earl of Southampton would then go onto to become an ally of the Earl of Essex, yet another one of Elizabeth’s unacknowledged sons and when Essex would attempt to claim his right to succeed to the English throne, De Vere would attempt to aid in his efforts by writing Richard III

4) Oh, and finally, William Shakespeare personally murdered playwright Christopher Marlowe.  In real-life, Marlowe was murdered in 1593.  The film takes place in 1598 so I’m guessing that either the filmmakers are just stupid or else they “embellished” the story in order to give us another reason to hate Shakespeare.  However, seeing as how Emmerich and Rhys Ifan and Derek Jacobi have been out there bragging about how authentic and scrupulous this film is, it’s hard to really forgive the “whole embellishment” argument when they’re essentially accusing Shakespeare of committing a very real crime against a very real contemporary.  It’s especially odd that the film pretty much drops the whole Shakespeare-as-murderer subplot right after bringing it up.  It’s hard not to feel that the filmmakers assumed that nobody would either bother or be smart enough to catch them on this.

Needless to say, this material is all so melodramatic and over-the-top that it should have been great fun, a so-bad-its-good masterpiece of bad dialogue and tacky costumes.  Well, the film is full of bad dialogue and the costumes are tacky but yet, the film itself is never any fun.  The film’s sin isn’t that it’s ludicrous.  No, this film commits the sin of taking itself far too seriously.  This is a film that has fallen in love with its own delusions of adequacy.  In short, this is a film directed by Roland Emmerich.

Indeed, there’s many reasons why Anonymous fails as a film.  John Orloff’s screenplay is ludicrous, the film’s premise is never as interesting as it should be, the film’s version of 16th Century London is so obviously CGI that it resembles nothing less than a commercial for Grand Theft Auto: The Elizabethan Age, and the film is full of overdone performances.  (Vanessa Redgrave might get an Oscar nomination for her performance here but seriously, she’s beyond terrible.)  Ultimately, however, all of the blame must be given to Roland Emmerich.  As a director, he is just so damn literal-minded that he doesn’t seem to be capable of understanding just how stupid this movie truly is.  At first this film might seem like a change of pace for Emmerich but after watching just a few minutes, it quickly becomes apparent that we’re dealing with the same idiot who had arctic wolves running around New York City in The Day After Tomorrow

I’ve seen a few interviews with Emmerich in which he has said that the question of Shakespeare’s authorship is something that “many people don’t want to discuss.”  If I remember correctly, he said the same thing about the Mayan prophecy that the world would end in 2012 and I wouldn’t be surprised if he trotted out that line in regards to climate change back when he did Day After Tomorrow.  Sadly, what Roland Emmerich doesn’t seem to get is that people are willing to discuss all of those topics.  They just don’t want to discuss them with him.