Review: Tomb Raider

I was going into this movie with low to no expectations whatsoever. I’m putting that on record.

A reboot, a film based on a video game, a director I’ve never heard of; films with these labels attached to them tend to require an open mind and since this incarnation of Tomb Raider falls under all three categories, I went in not expecting much.


Image by Warner Bros. and MGM

Tomb Raider stars Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft as her origins are explored by director Roar Uthaug and writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons. Young Lady Croft discovers a clue to the reason behind her father’s disappearance seven years ago and sets out to find answers only to find trouble in the form of the menacing Mathias Vogel, whose ambitions to open a mythic tomb could put the entire world in peril.

I cannot say that this movie is perfect. Far from it; it is a run-of-the-mill action flick with the usual twists and turns one might expect to see from an origin story. Simultaneously, even though this movie features tropes and clichés that you may see, this movie did hold my attention from start to finish. I’m in the camp that says Tomb Raider is pretty fun; not spectacular but safe and fun.

Ultimately, Vikander is this film’s biggest attraction and her performance demonstrates that she was 100% committed to the role of Lara Croft. She definitely delivered a physical performance that honored the spirit of the renowned video game character; I’m willing to go as far as say that Vikander made a badass Lara Croft.

Suffice to say that the rest of the players of the picture don’t exactly amount to much. Walton Goggins did alright as the antagonist, Dominic West is okay as Lara’s dad, Daniel Wu is relegated to something of a sidekick for Lara, Kristen Scott Thomas, Derek Jacobi, Hannah John-Kamen, Alexandre Williaume and the rest of the cast are extras who are reduced to the point of practical nonexistence.

Ultimately, the fault in this movie lies with the screenplay. It does enough to honor the spirit the video games and the character but it doesn’t do or offer anything else and in effect, everything about the film is weighed down.

What’s more is that everything that went into the production of this film was very bland. Junkie XL’s score, George Richmond’s cinematography, the editing of Stuart Baird, Tom Harrison-Read and Michael Tronick, Gary Freeman’s production design, Colleen Atwood and Timothy A. Wosnik’s costumes, the art direction, the set decoration courtesy of Raffaella Giovannetti and Maria Labuschagne and even the visual effects were pretty meh.

Tomb Raider may not be spectacular but it is gritty and has the clout to be a fun film if you go in with a clear head. In fact, the framework is there for a potential sequel and if a sequel does happen, with the right writing and director, Vikander can allow this character, whom she has really dedicated her time and energy into a rock-solid portrayal, to truly reach her full potential. It’s not the greatest adventure you will have at the movies but I was entertained by the presence of a strong and grounded female protagonist.


Review: A Wrinkle in Time

Madeline L’Engle’s beloved story is adapted to the screen at the hands of another prominent storyteller in Ava DuVernay. A Wrinkle in Time has been celebrated for decades in print and like so many great literary works, it finally made its way onto the big screen.


Image by Disney

In DuVernay’s adaptation, the heroine is Meg Murray, played by the very strong newcomer in Storm Reid, the daughter of two brilliant and respected NASA scientists. Meg is still reeling from the disappearance of her father, played by Chris Pine, who was on the verge of discovering a means of faster than light travel before his sudden disappearance.

Meg is approached by three celestial beings named The Mrs., Which, Whatzit and Who, and inform her that her father is in a distant region of the universe and may be in grave danger. Meg, her classmate Calvin, and her adopted brother Charles Wallace must venture out into the universe to find her father before an evil force finds him first.

I found A Wrinkle in Time, tedious, uncomfortable and sloppy and in my disappointment, I remembered that directors like Ava DuVernay are human; for every great movie like Selma, there is a movie in a director’s body of work that just doesn’t work and A Wrinkle in Time is a movie that just doesn’t work.

Visually, this is a very pretty movie but the plot is a lot to wrap your head around; these concepts of warriors of light, “The It”, tessering, it just doesn’t mesh well with the aesthetic of this picture and it doesn’t flow seamlessly like in other fantasy adventures like The Chronicles of Narnia for example. Ava DuVernay wanted this movie to feel like a labor of love, but in reality, this movie is just a haphazard mess once the inciting incident occurs.

Jennifer Lee and Jeff Stockwell wrote this movie for the screen and it was difficult to follow. The plot and the pacing felt drawn out, devoid of wonder and I wasn’t enthralled by what was going on.

The cast of the film was decent enough. I liked Storm Reid, Pine, Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kahling, Zach Galifianakis and Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Others like Deric McCabe, Levi Miller and Michael Peña left me very underwhelmed and other actors like André Holland, David Oyelowo, Belamy Young, Rowan Blanchard and Conrad Roberts, I felt as though were wasted.

On a technical level, this movie is its own worst enemy with so many factors that went into its production as positives were zeroed out by the negatives. The positives include the films visual effects, Paco Delgado’s costumes, Naomi Shohan’s production design, the art and set decoration and the makeup and hairstyling team.

The negatives? Oh boy! The cinematography and camerawork courtesy of Tobias A. Schliessler felt awkward and discomforting, Spencer Averick’s editing was more miss than hit as the film felt difficult to keep up with, Ramin Djwadi’s music and the soundtrack of the film was too heavy throughout and it felt like it was there just because of want more than need and didn’t enhance the quality of the picture.

A Wrinkle in Time is a story that was designed to take its audience away to new worlds and was set up to be this grand adventure about a battle between light and darkness. Unfortunately, it falls short of both taking audiences away and it was more misadventure and a losing battle. I felt as though my time was wasted more than wrinkled.

Review: Annihilation

Have you ever seen a bug zapper work? Insects are drawn to the alluring light, pulls them in closer and closer to the source of the device and when they get close enough, BOOM! The life is shocked right out of them.


Image by Paramount Pictures

Alex Garland’s newest feature Annihilation works exactly like a bug zapper! Natalie Portman stars as Lena, a soldier-scientist who signs up to discover what is happening inside an ongoing, expanding, inexplicable phenomena called The Shimmer. Lena is part of a five-person team of scientists to determine what The Shimmer is, why it formed, why nothing ever comes back from it. Once inside, everything that Lena and her team, know about the laws of nature and human sanity is turned on its head, for danger lurks around every inch of The Shimmer.

How does Annihilation work like a bug zapper? The audience are like insects, drawn to the beauty and mystery of the light of this film. As the film progresses with each passing moment, the audience is drawn in further by the mesmerizing and tantalizing visual splendor, only to be jolted by the shocking imagery and detail that strikes when least expected. This movie is designed to prey upon the audiences senses and thrill!

Just when you have a clue as to how good a filmmaker Alex Garland can be, he ups the ante by delivering a game-changing science fiction thrill ride. He has beautifully adapted Jeff VanderMeer’s gripping novel and transformed it into a feature that audiences won’t dare to forget.

The attention-to-detail, the heightened level of suspense, the pacing, the execution of the movie is utterly nailed in every detail. Garland is a filmmaker that movie buffs NEED to keep an eye because the idea of his potential is scary after watching not only Annihilation but his previous film Ex Machina as well; both are films that damn near impeccable!

Natalie Portman is superb as the soldier-scientist Lena, compelled to uncover the mystery of why her husband disappeared into the Shimmer and what happened to him. The rest of the cast including Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tessa Thompson, Tuva Novotny, Oscar Isaac, Benedict Wong, David Gyasi and Sonoya Mizuno are all terrific.

Garland’s suspenseful storytelling prowess is balanced equally with the overall aesthetic of Annihilation. Rob Hardy’s cinematography is so simplistic and effective in seizing the beautiful peril of the film; frame by frame is non-stop beauty and shock-and-awe. Barney Pilling’s editing is methodical, designed to disorientate the audience as the team in the film. Mark Digby’s production design is utterly outstanding, Michelle Day’s set design is superb and the art direction is jaw-dropping.

Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury’s music is tense but I feel that this movie may have been better served without a score, to truly turn the tension of the film to a higher level, but the film feeds of tension regardless. Sammy Sheldon’s costumes are solid enough for a mention as well.

Annihilation is one of those movies that not only lives up to the reputation of its creator and its acclaim, but its name as well, for this movie is designed to enchant and destroy its audience. This is another groundbreaking achievement in the sci-fi genre if you ask me!

Review: Black Panther

I don’t even know where to start! Often, I believe that is either the sign of a good review or a bad one but I frankly don’t know where to start but I suppose it’s best to start out with the simplest fact: Black Panther is damn good! Not perfect, but damn good.

The film starts out a week after the events of Civil War, with T’Challa picking up his on-again, off-again girlfriend Nakia on his way home to the technologically advanced and isolated nation of Wakanda, to ascend the throne. T’Challa will inherit the mantle of the chieftain and protector of his homeland, but in this film, he will also inherit the sins of his father.

One in the form of a fugitive that has eluded Wakandan capture for decades in Ulysses Klaue and the other in the form of an American black-ops soldier named Erik Stevens, whose career has dubbed him the moniker of Killmonger. Both foes present a challenge for T’Challa as he must navigate between upholding his father’s legacy and creating his own.


Image by Marvel Studios

I’ve waited a long time to see this movie but it was worth it for I truly enjoyed what I saw. Ryan Coogler has crafted a film that not only carries on the already incredible momentum that Phase Three of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is riding but also a film that feels so organically original and independent from Marvel’s grand design. What’s more is that the film itself is a rock-solid foundation for what’s to come of Chadwick Boseman’s character; this is probably the first true MCU origin story I enjoyed since Iron Man!

Having said all of that, I did find that Black Panther left too many aspect of its story unresolved. Perhaps that was intentionally designed by Coogler and screenwriter Joe Robert Cole so that those unanswered questions can be answered in a future Marvel picture or in a Black Panther sequel but the fact that so many open-ended details in this story were left behind just hampered my enjoyment of the film that and that held Black Panther back just a little.

Despite a story that left its share of loose ends, this movie had everything it needed to succeed. Great direction that really gave this character and this movie a strong sense of identity and independence in this grand universe, an amazing cast spearheaded by Chadwick Boseman, Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Danai Gurira, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Daniel Kaluuya, Andy Serkis, Letitia Wright, Winston Duke, Sterling K. Brown, John Kani and Florence Kasumba, great visual effects, the pacing was steady, the action and humor was balanced; Black Panther is another product of the Marvel machine but it has its own unforgettable flavor.

Rachel Morrison’s cinematography is superb, Debbie Berman and Michael P. Shawver’s editing couldn’t be more on point, Ludwig Göransson’s music melded the right blend of superheroic theme with African influence and the soundtrack compiled by Grammy winner Kendrick Lamar was superb, Hannah Beachler’s production design was outstanding, the art direction was beautifully conceived, Ruth Carter’s costumes were stupendous and beautiful, I could tell that a lot of love went into the production of this picture to get this iconic character and his world exactly right and they did it! They truly did it.

Can I say this is the best film to come out of the Marvel Cinematic Universe? No, but what I can take away is that Ryan Coogler built Black Panther a rock solid foundation to build on for future films. Hail to the king!

My Thoughts on Get Out

*Disclaimer: this is not an official review but it is my thoughts and perspective on a film of interest that I saw in 2017.*

I never had the opportunity to write a review about one of the best reviewed films of 2017. When it was in theaters in February, I passed over seeing it because of a lack of interest. On first blush, I didn’t know what it was based on the trailer; if it was a horror flick or a comedy in a horror’s cover or a satire and I was uninterested because of the familiar name that was attached to it: Jordan Peele. I don’t really watch any programs on Comedy Central but I was familiar with Key & Peele and I was just not interested in seeing Get Out when it was in theaters.

Still, the overwhelming positive reviews were difficult to tune out and it wasn’t until a few months later did I take the time to watch what all of the fuss was about. I rented the film via digital download and viewed the film on my computer.

Director and Writer: Jordan Peele

Cast: Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, Caleb Landry Jones, Marcus Henderson, Betty Gabriel, LilRey Howery, Lakeith Stanfield, Stephen Root, Ashley LeConte Campbell, Caren L. Larkey and John Wilmot

Crew: Toby Oliver (cinematography), Michael Abels (music), Gregory Plotkin (editing), Rusty Smith (production design), Chris Craine (art direction), Leonard R. Spears (set decoration), Nadine Haders (costume design).

What did I think?

Overall, Jordan Peele did a outstanding job with his directorial debut. Get Out was unpredictable, shocking, suspenseful and very well put-together. The cast did a great job, technically it was very well done and I think I misjudged it based on the previews and the figures behind it.

Does it live up to the hype as one of the best films of 2017?

Definitely! This is a movie that certainly caught a lot of people by surprise and held its attention long after it ended. I wish I gave it a chance sooner but I’m definitely glad I managed to take the time and see it when I did.

What did I enjoy the most about it?

The writing! Jordan Peele took on a very serious subject in racial stereotypes and prejudice and took it to a place where no other filmmaker has taken subjects such as that and the execution was damn near flawless! Jordan Peele was Get Out‘s greatest strength as this film was written to an excellent degree.

What flaws did I notice?

As the film ended, I wondered if enough of the story was resolved. As Rose layed dying in the middle of the road and her family home was burning, and Chris was exhausted from escaping his (ex-)girlfriend’s sadistic family clutches, I wondered what about the rest of that community who looked to that family’s “practices” and the other black victim’s who fell prey to that family’s scheme. I reiterate, Get Out was excellently written but I wondered if they left any unresolved subplots unresolved on purpose?

Any final thoughts?

I doubt that Jordan Peele would read this, but if he did, I would owe him a significant apology because I underestimated and misjudged this movie. Get Out truly is one of the best films of the year. The writing and direction ranks among the best that 2017 had to offer, the cast was great, technically it was very astute. I think Get Out deserves all of the praise it can receive.


Review: The Post

Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep have built legendary careers as actors and Steven Spielberg? I’m pretty sure you all know who he is. The moment I saw Hanks and Streep share the screen for the first time in a scene from Spielberg’s new film, The Post, I knew that I was in for a treat.

Streep is Kay Graham, publisher of the Washington Post and Hanks is editor Ben Bradlee. During the Nixon Administration, the New York Times landed the scoop of a lifetime: how the U.S government has been lying to the American people about their intentions and standing in the Vietnam War for the past 30 years. The Post details how Bradlee and his team had to get in front of this groundbreaking story, acquired the infamous Pentagon Papers and how Mrs. Graham had to wrestle with the decision whether or not to publish when her newspaper was in the midst of a transitional tempest.

The Post made a helluva argument to call itself the most phenomenal, timely and relevant film of 2017 and won me over! Spielberg, screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer and a phenomenal cast led by Streep and Hanks have a hand in crafted a brilliantly executed love letter to the power of the free press and its role in a free society. I was hooked on this movie from start to finish and loved every second of what I was experiencing!

I think The Post should be hailed as one of Spielberg’s best works period. The man has crafted some of the greatest films of the last two, maybe three decades, and this film should be counted among the best he has ever done. Not hyperbole. Truth.

Screenwriters Liz Hannah and Josh Singer have crafted the best written film of the year. Very engaging, smart, sharp, powerful with themes that resonate to today’s audience and I think The Post is a film that today’s audience needs to see, especially in today’s political and societal climate.

Meryl Streep is outstanding (as usual), Tom Hanks is superb (no surprise there), the rest of the cast including Bob Odenkirk, Tracy Letts, Bradley Whitford, Sarah Paulson, Bruce Greenwood, Matthew Rhys, Jesse Plemons, David Cross, Allison Bree, Carrie Coon, Michael Stuhlbarg, all a great collection of actors who give depth to this riveting depiction of a title-bout between the press and the government.

Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is excellent, John Williams does no wrong when it comes to the score, Sarah Broshar and Michael Kahn’s editing is precise and allows the film to flow seamlessly, Rick Carter’s production design is fitting and authentic as it can be, Rena DeAngelo’s set decoration is superb, the art direction and costumes fit the period of this picture perfectly; The Post is exquisitely put-together as it can get!

I majored in journalism in college and I got my masters degree in film studies and for me, The Post was everything I could possibly ask for and I loved every minute of what was going on. I can confidently say that The Post is truly the best film I’ve seen in 2017, bar none; absolutely phenomenal in every detail!

Review: Phantom Thread

As I walked out of the theater after viewing this feature, I felt a bittersweet pang in my heard because this is it for this leading man who has built nothing but a stellar career in acting. Phantom Thread is the final curtain call for the legendary Daniel Day-Lewis, who once again pairs up with Paul Thomas Anderson to deliver a grand slam of a film.

Day-Lewis steps into the skin of Reynolds Woodcock, a renowned fashion designer who built his house in 1950s London, with the assistance of his older sister Cyril. Prominent figures from the world over flock to the House of Woodcock to be tailored to the finest degree of fashion as Reynolds himself is an artiste and a creature of habit who likes to stay in his peculiar daily routine.

While in the countryside on a bit of a break, Reynolds’ eye is fixed on a charming waiter named Alma, who would become his muse and his lover but as their relationship grows, challenges emerge in Reynolds’ routine which threaten to throw him off his game as a designer. Reynolds Woodcock’s carefully tailored life runs into a stitch he didn’t expect: love.

Paul Thomas Anderson has written and directed an exquisitely geared featured that is mesmerizing and coherent. Phantom Thread is certainly a well-weaved and stunning film to experience as we delve into the psyches and perspectives of its two leading stars.

I’m not going to lie, I will miss seeing Daniel Day-Lewis in film and I certainly respect his decision to retire from acting. In Phantom Thread, he delivers nothing less than a true tour-de-force performance as Reynolds Woodcock as his method performance gives great depth and dedication to his characters’ mannerisms, movements, quirks; his last time truly stepping into the skin of his character leaves audiences in awe of his talents.

His co-star Vicky Krieps holds her own as Alma. I thought her performance as Alma was lovely, tender, vulnerable and watching Krieps and Day-Lewis’ on-screen chemistry evolve from something sweet, to almost toxic was the true driving force of the film.

Lesley Manville is also very strong as Cyril and though there isn’t much to say about the rest of the supporting cast, including Sue Clark, Joan Brown, Camilla Rutherford, Gina McKee, Brian Gleeson and Emma Clandon, the acting of Phantom Thread should be evaluated on quality more than quantity and the acting quality of this film is very high.

Anderson’s cinematography and camerawork is gorgeous! Jonny Greenwood’s score is superb, Dylan Tichenor’s editing is very well detailed, the production design of Mark Tildesley is simple but beautiful, the costume design of Mark Bridges is perhaps the best of the year, the art direction is Dennis Schnegg, Chris Peters and Adam Squires is lovely, the set decoration of Véronique Melery is very nice, the technical acumen of this picture amazed me from start to finish.

Phantom Thread is a very tantalizing and beautifully woven film from Paul Thomas Anderson but its greatest strength is that utilizes Daniel Day-Lewis’ extraordinary talents to the fullest and he can ride off into the sunset on the highest of notes. Bravo!