Kristen Scott Thomas

Tomb Raider

 

23/03/18

Has there ever been a decent video-game movie adaptation? From Super Mario to Assassin’s Creed, the concept seems somehow doomed  to failure. Tomb Raider has, of course, already been tried before – with middling results and Angelina Jolie in the title role. Now here’s Alicia Vikander staking her claim to that fabled bow and arrow, and to be fair to her, she certainly looks the part. She’s clearly put in hours down the gym honing the old biceps and triceps. She’s also ditched the ridiculous hot pants of her video avatar in favour of clothing more suitable for jungle exploration, which is, I think, a good thing. I’m not sure about the posh boarding school accent, though.

We first meet her in London, where she’s earning pennies as a bicycle courier, rather than signing the paperwork that will entitle her to the Croft mansion and its accompanying billions. (Yeah, right, like that would happen.) You see, her father, Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West), has been missing for seven years, but Lara, always a bit of a daddy’s girl, isn’t quite ready to give up on his possible return, despite her legal guardian, Ana (Kristen Scott Thomas), continually urging her to sign on the dotted line. It seems that Lord Richard has disappeared while looking for a legendary island off the coast of Japan, the last resting place of an evil Empress, reputed to have the power to destroy the world. When Lara discovers her father’s secret lair in the cellar of his stately home, she also finds a map of the island and a video of her father urging her to destroy it. Does she follow his advice? Well, it would be a pretty short and dull story if she did…

Instead, she heads to Japan and enlists the help of ship’s captain Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) – somebody else with father-issues – to take her to the island. Once there, she discovers that an evil organisation is also looking for the tomb of the Empress and has sent the ruthless (and very sweaty) Mathias Vogel (Walter Goggins) to oversee the operation. But who will reach the tomb first? And what kind of welcome are they likely to receive?

For all the running, leaping, swimming and fighting that Lara is regularly called upon to perform, the film feels curiously turgid and only fizzes into life intermittently. The blend of Indiana Jones-ish high adventure mixed with a touch of the paranormal is probably a fair encapsulation of the original game but, no matter how high the production values employed by director Roar Uthaug, there’s a terrible sense of ‘seen it all before’ hovering over nearly every scene. And… does it really matter that the storyline doesn’t make an awful lot of sense? It does to me, anyway. But I’m finicky like that.

This is a thick-eared slab of undemanding light entertainment that never really cooks up the necessary head of steam needed to power its own concept. A post-credits sequence optimistically sets up a possible sequel but, based on this, I certainly won’t be the first in the queue to watch it.

And I ask again. Has there ever been a decent video-game movie adaptation? If so, I haven’t seen it.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

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Darkest Hour

 

12/01/17

Biopics can be a bit like buses. No sooner has Brian Cox’s Churchill drifted over the horizon than it’s Gary Oldman’s turn to don the homburg hat and wave a zeppelin-sized cigar in Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. While Cox made a perfectly good fist of his portrayal of the infamous war leader, Oldman submits a simply astonishing performance, a stellar tub-thumping object lesson in how to act everyone else off the screen. Despite several nominations down the years, he’s never won an Academy Award, but this should surely be the role to rectify that situation.

It’s May 1940 and the British forces in France are being disastrously defeated by the might of Hitler’s Germany. The unpopular (and ailing) Neville Chamberlain (Ronald Pickup) opts to step down from the post of Prime Minister and a coalition government looks around for somebody to take his place. It’s a poisoned chalice and nobody on either side makes any secret of the fact that Winston Churchill is not their preferred choice, particularly after his key involvement in the military disaster that was Gallipoli. Nevertheless, he is chosen, and is faced with the almost impossible task of rallying the country to fight on, when most of his colleagues are intent on making a deal with Mr Hitler. Elizabeth Layton (Lily James, looking uncannily like a younger Gemma Arterton) is assigned to be Churchill’s secretary and so has an inside view on how he operates, often dictating his famous speeches from the toilet (why not, his initials are on the door?) and explosively losing his temper whenever she gets something wrong. Meanwhile, the British expeditionary force is surrounded and fleeing towards Dunkirk and it’s starting to look as though they are about to be completely annihilated…

Wright has already dealt with Dunkirk in Atonement, so that side of things is kept very much in the background – or, more often, glimpsed from aeroplanes as bombs drop on the British forces. Here, the director concentrates on a character study of a complex man, chronicling his struggles with depression, his occasional lapses into bluster and his almost overpowering sense of isolation. Again and again Wright shows him enclosed in small spaces – riding in a tiny elevator, framed by the outline of a window, making important phone calls from the smallest room in the house. As well as that stellar performance, Oldman is aided by an incredible transformation, achieved entirely by ace Japanese prosthetics artist Kazuhiro Tsuji. Even in extreme close up, his efforts are utterly convincing.

If there’s a price to pay for such grandstanding, it’s inevitably the fact that the rest of the cast – Ben Mendlesohn’s turn as King George VI aside – are relegated pretty much to the sidelines. Even the usually dependable Kristin Scott Thomas as Clementine is reduced to wandering on to give her hubby the occasional pep talk; it would have been nice to see her given a little more to do.

But, niggles aside, Darkest Hour is pretty enjoyable, and probably worth the price of admission just to see Oldman give that speech.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Party

26/10/17

Shot in stark (and very unforgiving) black and white and confined pretty much to one set, The Party feels like the kind of thing that Mike Leigh has done so brilliantly in the past – indeed, if it resembles one of his works in particular, it certainly has echoes of Abigail’s Party about it. With a sprightly running time of one hour and eleven minutes, this film, written and directed by Sally Potter, canters amiably along but, though it can’t be accused of overstaying its welcome, it never entirely manages to blow you away.

Janet (Kristen Scott Thomas) is in the mood to celebrate. She’s just been appointed shadow health minister for the ‘opposition’ and has invited some close friends around for vol au vents and bubbly. They are: her snarky best friend, April (Patricia Clarkson), and her partner, the hippy-dippy faith healer, Gottfried (Bruno Ganz); feminist university lecturer, Martha (Cherry Jones) ,and her wife, Jinny (Emily Mortimer), who is currently expecting the patter of er… little triplets; and, definitely the odd one out at this gathering, handsome young property developer, Tom (Cillian Murphy), who explains that his wife, Marianne, will be ‘along later for dessert… or maybe just coffee.’ But it’s not destined to be a happy occasion, because Janet’s morose husband, Bill (Timothy Spall), has something he really needs to get off his chest…

Relentlessly middle class in its themes, the story is mostly about people being unfaithful to one another and, though the performances are generally pretty good, the protagonists cannot seem to help slipping into caricature. April can’t open her mouth without insulting somebody, Martha and Jinny say things in public that any rational person would surely save for later on, and Gottfried is so glib it hurts – but then maybe that’s entirely the point of him. Only Tom seems to have convincing reasons to act the way he does and, indeed, Murphy’s performance is the strongest one here – a man driven by jealousy to do something unspeakable.

Mind you, there’s a conclusion that I really don’t see coming and, all in all, this film makes a decent antidote to the steady diet of superhero movies we’re constantly being offered. I can’t help feeling though, that given the same set up and the same cast of characters, Leigh would have knocked this out of the park.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney