Child’s Play – review (Netflix)

Brief synopsis: When a disgruntled employee in the factory that creates the Buddi doll, a wifi enabled, learning computer, small toy boy, decides to adjust the setting on the doll, removing all its safety features, it has dire consequences after it ends up in the home of a poor single mother who gets it for her son.

Is it any good?: No. Based on the 1988 film of the same name, this modern update of Child’s Play is another lazy attempt from Hollywood to tap into the nostalgia of the pop culture of the eighties, adding elements of WestWorld and Carrie. There is no good reason to sit through this film. Unless, like myself, you are reviewing it.

Spoiler territory: The Kaslan company, fronted by there founder, Henry Kaslan (Tim Matheson), have created an extremely popular toy, Buddi, that connects to all of Kaslan’s home products. It’s a walking, learning Alexa. Like Alexa, their fictional Buddi doll can connect to all the homes smart devices and control them with an E.T glowing finger, because there was not quite enough eighties nostalgia in the film.

In Vietnam, where the dolls are produced, one of the factory workers (Phoenix Ly) gets bawled out by his supervisor (Johnson Phan) for daydreaming. He is told to finish up with the doll he is working on and to leave. It seems you can get fired in a Vietnam factory for daydreaming, a bit harsh.

The factory worker, peeved by his boss’ treatment of him, removes all of the safety protocols on the CPU that controls one of the dolls. This includes removing the language and behaviour safeguards, also the violence inhibitors.

Violence inhibitors? Why would a doll have violence capabilities? Anyhow, after he removes all the safeguards on the doll and puts it together, he commits suicide by swan diving from a window onto the always conveniently placed parked car that movie corpses land on. This does not slow the doll business and the Buddi dolls are shipped, including his altered one.

In Zed department store, single mother, Karen (Aubrey Plaza), is dealing with a disgruntled customer (Eddie Flake). The man is not happy that the Buddi doll, he has waited three weeks for, has ginger hair and not blond like the picture. Karen tells him that the version he is after is the Buddi 2 – so the upgrade in this film is from the much-maligned ginger hair colour to the Aryan race hair colour of choice. Okay. – the disgruntled customer gets a refund.

Karen returns home and is ogled by the creepy building attendant, Gabe (Trent Redekop). In her home, her son, Andy (Gabriel Bateman), who has a hearing aid, greets her. The two have recently moved and she asks him why he has not unpacked a box. The rest of the apartment seems to be perfectly lived in already. Andy, the ungrateful tike, complains about his broken mobile.

Karen points out to him that she is already doing double shifts to purchase a new hearing aid for him. He says to her that the phone is his primary source of education. Karen takes the phone off of him, threatening not to give it back to him.

He has a screensaver that has a Buddi doll singing on it. Karen is sick of seeing the Buddi doll. She tells Andy that he should make friends. She says she will give him his phone back if he goes out and makes friends. – it’s night time and she wants to send her thirteen-year-old child out to socialise with a couple of kids she spots out of the window. Do not follow parenting advice from this woman!

The next day at the store, another customer returns a Buddi doll. She says it is faulty and she will wait for the new model. Karen asks her supervisor, Wes (Amro Majzoub) if she can take the faulty doll for her son because it is his birthday next week. After some blackmail related coercion, Wes lets her take the doll.

The next day, Andy comes home from school and Karen is with Shane (David Lewis), her boyfriend. Andy does not like Shane. He decides to leave them alone. He goes and sits in the hallway and meets police detective, Mike (Brian Tyree Henry) who he asks what he is doing in the corridor. Mike’s mum, Doreen (Carlease Burke), comes into the hallway and calls for him to come in. Mike comets visit his mother for dinner once a week.

Karen comes and finds Andy speaking with Mike in the corridor. Mike introduces himself, telling her he is a detective. Karen and Andy return home. She tells him she has a surprise and gives him the faulty Buddi doll. Andy is initially underwhelmed by the doll but switches it on and connects it to his phone. The doll comes on and scans him, imprinting Andy to its memory.

The doll talks and Andy wants to call it Hans Solo but the doll thinks he says Chucky (Mark Hamill) because the names sound so similar obviously. Andy is frustrated that the doll does not seem to work properly. Karen reads the instructions and tells him he needs to download data from the cloud for it to integrate with all the Kaslan systems.

It still does not work properly but Andy, not wanting to offend his mother, takes it to his room – it walks along like a small child – and shows the doll around. Andy gets ready for bed and Chucky asks if he wants to sing the Buddi song. Andy declines but the doll sings it anyway. Chucky asks if they are going to have fun the next day. Andy hesitantly says yes.

Andy turns over in the middle of the night to find Chucky staring at him. The doll starts singing again. As he gets ready for school the next day, Chucky copies his movements. When Andy returns from school, Chucky is waiting at the front door. Shane is with his mother again. Andy rants about Shane, convinced he will leave them eventually. Chucky tells him he will never leave him.

Andy is playing a board game with Chucky when one of the pieces fall to the floor next to the cat. When he goes to pick up the piece, the cat scratches him. Andy goes to clean the scratch and get a plaster. When he returns to Chucky, he finds the doll strangling the cat. Andy stops him killing the cat. He tells him that he can’t keep doing weird things. Shane comes and tells him to clean up his room. Andy decides to play a trick on him with Chucky.

Whilst Andy works on getting Chucky to make scary expressions, Falyn (Beatrice Kitsos) and Pugg (Ty Consiglio), two local kids, come and meet him. Pugg swears in front of the doll and it repeats his expression. Pugg and Falyn are surprised because they think it should not be able to swear. Andy tells them the doll does what it likes. No alarm bells there then.

He tells them that he plans to scare Shane. Pugg and Falyn are immediately on board. They scare Shane and the three begin to hang out together. Andy watches an extremely violent horror film with Falyn and Pugg and all three laugh at the excessive violence. Chucky, who is watching the film, goes and grabs a kitchen knife. He slices Andy when he tries to restrain him.

The next day, Chucky turns up on the kitchen counter. He repeats Andy’s words about Shane, calling him an asshole. Karen tells Andy that she is going to restrict his time with the doll to an hour a day. She puts Chucky in a cupboard. Andy goes to school. When he returns home, Chucky has killed the cat. He tells Andy he killed the cat because it made Andy unhappy.

Andy gets rid of the cat’s corpse. Chucky goads Shane again and Shane takes it out on Andy thinking he is messing about with him. He confronts Andy and asks what his problem is with him. Andy tries to call his mother but Shane stops him. Chucky records it all. Karen and Shane row about him telling off Andy. Shane goes home. He puts on his wedding ring. He has a wife and family.

Later in the evening, Shane goes to take down some Christmas lights from around the house’s gutter. Whilst he is on the ladder, it gets knocked from under him. He falls and breaks both legs. Prostate on the ground, Chucky starts up a bladed lawnmower. Shane tries to scramble to his mobile. He is forced to stop as he has to hold the mower to stop it from going into his head.

Chucky walks on to his chest brandishing a kitchen knife. Shane lets go of the mower and gets killed by the mower, it chopping into his head and skull. Chucky stabs him multiple time to make sure he is dead. Andy wakes up to find Shane’s severed head looking at him from his dresser. Chucky tells him they can play now.

A spooked Andy calls Falyn and Pugg. They decide to warp the head in wrapping paper. As they are leaving, they are stopped by Karen. Andy tells her that he got a gift for Doreen. She insists that they go and give it to her. Andy goes and gives her the head and Doreen, for some reason only known to her, plays along with his ruse, even agreeing not to open it until his birthday.

The three kids get Chucky and Falyn pulls out his power supply. Andy throws him in the garbage. Gabe finds the discarded doll in the garbage and decides that he can make some money by repairing it. Detective Mike tells Karen that Shane is dead. Later, Andy goes to dinner with Doreen and Mike.

Gabe, who has cameras on everybody in the building, leaves a partially animated Chucky on the table. Chucky watches Andy talking to Doreen about a driving app. Gabe finishes fixing Chucky and is distracted as he watches Karen undressing in her bathroom. Chucky interrupts the video signal and kills Gabe in gruesome fashion.

Omar (Marlon Kazadi), another kid on the block, ends up with Chucky. The kids all go to the Zed store for the launch of the new Baddi doll model. Chucky tells Andy that if he won’t be his friend he won’t be anybody’s friend. Andy tries to destroy the doll but Omar comes and stops him. The two fight. Andy ends up with Omar’s mobile, which is linked to Chucky. He sees the doll go after Doreen through the car app.

Chucky controls the driverless taxi that Doreen orders. He takes her to a car park and crashes her into a parked car. He then kills her with a kitchen knife. Andy tries to tell his mom about Chucky but she does not believe him and takes Omar’s phone to give it back to him. When she returns, she finds Andy smashing up the furniture.

Falyn thinks Andy might be telling the truth and gets Omar’s phone off of him to check the video feed. They see that Chucky is after Andy. Andy is at the new Buddi doll launch because Karen is working. Mike is told they found the head of Shane. Mike recognises the wrapping paper and heads to the Zed store and handcuffs Andy.

A worker in a Buddi costume gets stabbed in the neck by Chucky. As Mike goes to help him, Chucky takes over the store. And the lighting. Chucky begins to kill people with drone helicopters, using the blades to slice up the now frightened patrons of Zed. They start running for the exits and Chucky begins to shut down the store.

A new Buddi doll, that is furry and looks like a bear, comes to life and goes after Andy. Falyn smashes and frees Andy from the handcuffs. Andy, Falyn and Pugg go to escape the store but Chucky takes Karen hostage. Andy goes back for his mother. Chucky puts a noose around Karen’s neck, the rope attached to a hydraulic crane, slowly rising. He goes to kill Andy. Andy starts singing to distract him and knocks him off to one side. Andy goes to try and cut his now dangling mother down.

Chucky attacks him again, leaving Karen hanging by the neck with both Andy and Chucky hanging on the rope above her. Andy cuts the rope and they all fall to the floor. Andy stabs Chucky through the chest with a kitchen knife and then goes looking for his mother. Chucky comes back at Andy, flying through the air at him. Mike shoots him. Karen rips the doll’s head off.

The kids smash the remnants of Chucky and burn them. Zaslan comes on television and denies any culpability for the issues with the Buddi doll. As a store person puts a doll on the shelf, its eyes flash red. The end.

Child’s Play is rubbish and an absolute waste of time. The original version is not even very good but was at least novel for its time and spawned several sequels. This ‘re-boot’ – a lazy excuse for a film – adds nothing and does not improve on the original even slightly. Unlike the remake of Carrie, which was up against a horror classic, Child’s Play actually had scope for improvement.

Instead, written by Tyler Burton Smith from a story by Don Mancini, the writer of the original film, Smith makes very little effort to stamp his own personality on proceedings. The script is pedestrian at best, with many of the story elements making very little sense.

Some of the killings are shoved in just to make up the numbers – Gabe, Doreen – the Korean opening was nonsensical, taking the safety elements off of a toy as though it were a nuclear missile.

If the film had gone for parody it might have worked. Directed by Lars Klevberg – who also directed the far better Polaroid – walks us through this horror by numbers, with barely any of the scares working and easily predictable. The acting is fine given the material and nobody on show is noticeably awful but I suspect that, unless they were big fans of the original, most of the adults at least only turned up for the pay cheque.

Child’s Play is a lazy, uninspired, pointless remake of an okay horror that did not need to be remade. Definitely, one to give a miss.

Shaft [2019] – review (Netflix)

     Back in 1971, a seminal blaxploitation film was released. Gordon Parks’ Shaft, starring Richard Roundtree in the lead role as John Shaft, was a landmark film in cinema. Shaft was a character that was unashamedly black, embracing black culture and attitudes of the times against the backdrop of an America trying to find an identity after the upheaval of the sixties, a decade that saw the civil rights movement, the assassination of John F Kennedy and the last years of the Vietnam war. 

      The 1971 version was a gritty story, where Shaft is employed by a drugs kingpin, Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn) to find his kidnapped daughter. More famous for its legendary score, by Issac Hayes, than for its story, Shaft, nonetheless has found itself to be a landmark in black cinema. 

    As with many a beloved film, Shaft has been given the remake treatment. In 2000 Samuel L Jackson, the go-to for being a cool black man and, more pertinently, bankable, appeared in a remake of the film, with Roundtree playing his uncle. Directed by the late John Singleton, the film stayed pretty much true to the spirit of the original, with Shaft looking to take down a tycoon after a racially motivated murder. 

   Nearly two decades later, Jackson reprises the role in 2019’s comedic take on Shaft. Directed by Tim Story, from a script by Kenya Barris and Alex Barnow, this modern version of Shaft is a very different beast from the two previous versions. 

     When Shaft and his girlfriend, Maya (Regina Hall) are caught up in a shootout in Harlem in 1989, Maya takes their young son, JJ, and moves out of Harlem and New York. Fast forward twenty-eight years and JJ (Jessie T Usher) is all grown up and working for the FBI as a data analyst back in New York.

    Childhood friends, Karim (Avan Jogia) and Sasha (Alexandra Shipp) come to visit him in New York. Karim is a military veteran and recovering drug addict. Sasha is a doctor. Whilst out to dinner, Karim gets a message and says he has to leave,

   The next morning Maya calls JJ to tell him that Karim is dead. Apparently, he died of a drug overdose. JJ is not sure, he believes Karim was clean. He decides to go and investigate himself. He goes looking for ‘Manny’ Manuel Orozco (Ian Casselberry), the local drug dealer of the area where Karim’s body was found. 

   JJ gets a beatdown for his troubles and realises he is a bit out of his comfort zone. He gets patched up by Sasha and shows her the toxicology report on Karim’s body. She tells him that the drug amounts are too high to have been self-inflicted. He goes looking for his estranged father for help get Manny to talk. 

   John’s approach to getting information is a little more effective and they get pointed in the direction of a group Karim was part of, Brothers watching Brothers, a support group for veterans. They go to see Karim’s friends; Major Gary Cutworth (Matt Lauria), sergeant Keith Williams (Robbie Jones) and staff sergeant Eddie Dominguez (Aaron Dominguez). They tell the Shafts about Karim’s affiliation to a mosque and how he had a new girlfriend, Anam (Almeera Jira).

    John takes JJ to a club. JJ gets drunk and gets in a fight. It turns out he is an amazing fighter when drunk. John is getting some information from Freddy P (Cliff ‘Method Man’ Smith). He sees a chance to take down Gordito (Issach De Bankolé) a man he has been after for over thirty years. 

    JJ meets up with Sasha. He introduces her to John, she is not impressed, seeing him as the absent father. They all go down to the mosque to find Anam. As they talk to her, her father, who is also the Iman, kicks them out. 

   JJ finds another lead which takes them to Bennie Rodriguez (Luna Lauren Velez). She does not tell them anything but John recognises her. He find an old photo with her and Gordito in. JJ goes to dinner with Sasha. John interrupts Maya’s date with Ron. At the restaurant Maya is having her date, men come and try to kill John. He kills them all and then takes Ron’s car to go and find JJ. 

    JJ, who does not like guns, is also attacked whilst out with Sasha. He uses her gun to kill all of the assailants. JJ thinks he has evidence connecting the mosque to the drug activity going on in Harlem. He takes the information to his superiors and the FBI arrest the Iman. Unfortunately, there is no concrete evidence and the bureau is made to look bad. JJ is suspended. 

    John finds out that it was Bennie who put the hit on them and that Eddie is her cousin. The Brothers watching Brothers a front for drug running. JJ finds out that John was using him to get to Gordito. He decides he will get the evidence to bring down the drug gang on his own. He takes Sasha along to watch out for him. JJ sees Gary kill Eddie and films it. He drops his phone alerting Gary and Keith to his presence. John turns up to help JJ escape, but Gary grabs Sasha. He and Keith escape. 

        JJ tracks Sasha’s phone to find out where they have taken her. John says they need more firepower. They go and see his father, John Sr. (Richard Roundtree). John Sr has a lot of guns. They go and rescue Sasha and John kills Gordito. JJ leaves the FBI. The end. 

       Shaft, the 2019 Netflix comedy version, is not very good. The story is weak and predictable, the characters are paper-thin and the plot convoluted and confusing. The only reason Shaft is not a complete car-wreck of a film is Samuel L Jackson. With Jessie T Usher a good foil, Jackson goes full-on Jules in this film. Cussing is turned up to eleven and the chauvinism is at full throttle. 

    At one hour and fifty-four minutes long, it is a little long for a comedy. Once Jackson enters the fray however, the pace of the film picks up. The story is secondary to Jackson’s performance, with the film more a collection of ideas for scenes than a coherent film, it is hard to care about the story or its resolution. 

   The main villain, Gordito, does not talk until ten minutes before the end of the film and the Brothers watching Brothers ruse was just plain rubbish. The decision to make Shaft a comedy follows the likes of Starsky and Hutch and more recently, Thor Ragnarok, in taking a property that was always viewed as serious and reworking it for laughs. 

   Because of the nature of the original Shaft, its machoism, violence and sexual references, it was perhaps easier to fashion it as a comedy, rather than neutering Shaft for a modern, easily offended audience. Shaft is worth watching if you are a fan of Jackson and want to watch him phone in a performance. If you are hoping for a good film, you will probably be disappointed.  

Le Jeu – Netflix (review)

    Nothing to Hide or Le Jeu, to give it its French title, is a film about seven adult friends, three couples and one man whose partner cannot attend, who meet up for a dinner party. The film explores the dynamics not only between the friends but also that of each couple and individual.

     A quick peruse of IMDB shows that it is actually a remake of a 2016 Italian film, Perfect Strangers ( Perfetti Sconosciuti). It has also been remade in Spanish – Perfectos desconocidos – so that is the same film in three years, three different languages. People really do not like reading subtitles.  Having said that, further investigation shows it even has a Mexican version, which is just lazy! 

   In this French version of the dinner party story, the host, Marie and Vincent,  (Bérénice Bejo and Stéphane De Groodt), are a professional couple with a teenage daughter. Margot (Fleur Fitoussi). They invite Charlotte (Suzanne Clément) and Marco (Roschdy Zem), Thomas (Vincent Elbaz) and Lea (Doria Tillier) and Ben (Grégory Gadebois). 

    Marie, a psychotherapist, and her daughter have a difficult relationship. Margot rebels against and resents her mother’s professional approach to parenting. Vincent is more relaxed. Charlotte and Marco have two young children that are being looked after by Marco’s mother whilst they are out, something that does not seem to sit well with Charlotte. 

    Charlotte also is somewhat passive aggressive towards Marco, with her barely concealed displeasure at him more apparent as the wine flows. Thomas and Lea have no children and are not long married. They are both relaxed and happy, no signs of tension in their relationship. 

   The group are all curious about Ben’s new girlfriend, eagerly awaiting his arrival. When Ben does arrive, he is alone. He tells the group that his girlfriend has stomach flu. After a bit of chat and Ben’s insistence on a group photograph, they all sit down to dinner. 

    As the talk continues, Marie remarks on how wed to their phone everyone is. After a brief discussion, she proposes a game of sorts. They are all to place their phones on the table and whatever messages they receive have to be heard or read out to all who are present. After some push back, most notably from Marco, they all agree to join in. 

   What unfolds after that is an intriguing look at the many tenets that underpin relationships. Not only the spousal relations, but those between friends and the sexes. The things that are never said. The true thoughts and views they hold. The secrets they keep. The uncomfortable choices that are made, hoping that no one notices or finds out about them. 

   The entire film takes place in Marie and Vincent’s apartment, with separate, one on one conversations, taking place in either the kitchen or on the balcony. When the entire group are together, the film is at the dining table. 

    With the alcohol flowing and the whole group committed to the game, insisting on every text, email and voice call or message being public, the tensions in the room continue to build. With the dynamics of all the characters – Marco always stirring, Charlotte drunken and emotional, Lea innocently playful, Thomas unaccountably anxious and Ben quiet and watchful. 

    Vincent considerate but feeling somewhat emasculated by his wife Marie who, even though he is a doctor, a plastic surgeon, does not respect his medical practice. 

    There is a scene in the film when the daughter rings and speaks to her father, voicing her disappointment at the fact that her mother does not understand her or listen to her. It is a brilliant scene, a conversation between father and daughter, where she, as a seventeen-year-old girl, needs to talk about a situation with a boy. Marie’s pain at the fact that her daughter cannot speak to her, much more comfortable talking to her father, is obvious and heartbreaking. 

    After that scene the film just accelerates from one drama to another. Every message, every text, every call, another bombshell or catalyst to a revelation, to more prejudices exposed. Le Jeu is an ensemble masterclass in acting, every performance is flawless. The script is an absolute joy and you believe that all involved could, in some universe, be longtime friends. 

   The way the film ends is probably not for everyone, as it can be seen as a bit of a cop-out. Personally, I found the film’s end to be perfect, concluding proceedings without leaving any questions unanswered.

   Filippo Bologna’s story is obviously very strong and compelling having spawned four films in as many years. I, having only seen the French interpretation, can only recommend that you add Le Jeu to your Netflix watch list. Superb. 

    

Overboard (2018) Netflix – a review

      Anna Faris is the hardworking, blonde comedic actor, known for her roles in Scary Movie, the House Bunny and – slightly, unfortunately – better known for being the ex-partner of Chris Pratt. 

As I have always enjoyed her somewhat ditzy performances and I wanted to watch a movie that I did not have to think too much about and could possibly get me in the mood to write my own script, I decided to delve into the murky world of Netflix films.

     With Disney dominating the multiplexes – Star Wars or Marvel – actors not connected to those cinematic juggernauts are looking for other avenues and platforms to keep working. Netflix has become one of the world’s leading streaming services and as such is attracting the productions and films from companies that use to look to the multiplexes.

Initially, a platform that showed readymade shows from external production companies, Netflix is now producing and co-producing an increasing amount of their own content.

    Following the likes of Will Smith, Sandra Bullock, Kurt Russell, and Goldie Hawn, Anna Faris has found her way to the streaming platform. In a mildly ironic way, she follows in the footsteps of two of the aforementioned stars – Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn – playing Kate Sullivan, a widowed mother of three in a remake of their 1987 comedy, Overboard. 

    The 2018 version of Overboard, a story of an obnoxious millionaire who, after falling overboard whilst on their yacht, gets temporary amnesia and is tricked into to believing they are part of a low-income family, differs from the original with the male and female roles being reversed.

    In the original film, Goldie Hawn was the obnoxious millionaire, with Russell playing a struggling labourer. In the 2018 version the obnoxious millionaire, Leonardo Montenegro, is played by Eugenio Derbez and Faris is the hardworking commoner. It is an interesting reversal of roles, especially as Faris is almost the perfect modern-day homage to Goldie Hawn’s many kooky blonde characters of years gone by. 

    In Overboard she leaves the silly comedy mostly to Derbez. This is one of the many good decisions that were taken in making this film. The 1987 film is not the sort of film that would be necessarily thought of as ripe for a remake. In fact, when I saw the title show up on Netflix, I thought it was the original. Then I saw it was a remake and thought ‘ that’s a terrible idea!’.

    As the holiday period passed and I flicked through various channels and worked my way through Agents Of Shield’s season’s four and five – both brilliant – I thought I would work on my own script and put on some light fluff in the background. The Overboard remake was my choice for background noise.

   Ten minutes into the film, I was engrossed. Overboard is the perfect easy watching film. Captivating enough to keep watching, but not so cerebral that your head hurts trying to follow the plot. The two leads have the perfect chemistry. Different enough for one to believe that they come from different world’s, but not so opposed that one could not see them together.

   The supporting characters are all very strong and amusing, with Eva Longoria and John Hannah being the two most recognisable faces in the supporting cast. Derbez is the standout performer in the film, however. His turn as the obnoxious millionaire who is tricked, whilst in an amnesiac state, into becoming an everyday guy is, ridiculous as the premise is, believable. 

    With upward of twenty thousand votes on IMDB, Overboard scores a paltry five point nine, giving the impression that it is an unwatchable mess. That is not the case at all. By way of comparison, the risible Tomb Raider – my review here – scores six point three. 

    The film is funny and hopeful and leaves you with all the feels you would want from a film such as this. It won’t be challenging any of its peers in awards season, but as a pleasant distraction for a couple of hours, Overboard is one of the better little-known films to watch on Netflix.

      

   

Tomb Raider – should have stayed buried. – a review

     I have great admiration for actors. The ability to bring to life, believably, words written by someone else and craft a character that is real and emotive and exist in a make-believe scenario is an extraordinary, precious talent. 

     As a would-be writer myself, I also hold writers in high regard when they demonstrate, especially in scripts, an ability to craft a compelling story with free-flowing, realistic dialogue. Tomb Raider, the Alicia Vikander headliner, is not a good example. 

    Tomb Raider crashes into my list of high budget films that I just could not get through. Along with the abominable Terminator Genysis and the God-awful, A Good Day To Die Hard – both films, incidentally, star Jai Courtney, but that is an entirely different blog! – Tomb Raider is a film I could not get through on first viewing. For the purpose of this blog, I watched the entire film. You’re welcome.

   The film opens with A voiceover from Lord Richard Croft, played by Dominic West, telling the story of his necessary – for the sake of mankind –  expedition to Himiko, a secret Japanese island. Unfortunately, he must leave his young, beloved daughter, Lara, to undertake this trip.

   We first meet Vikander’s Lara Croft in a boxing ring, having a mixed martial arts sparring session. The scene displays Vikander’s fantastic, physical condition – her trainer, Magnus Lygdback, did a great job – but that is about all. The fight choreography is weak, the camera work not much better and the script for the scene is woeful. Every actor looks bad. 

    Hannah John-Kamen’s Sophie – she also appears in 2018’s fun, but slightly farfetched, Ant-Man And The Wasp as the antagonist Ava/Ghost – is her friend, cheering on as she gets a beatdown from a stereotypical looking lesbian, I’m-a-dyke, sparring partner. I think the scene is meant to show her stubbornness. I think I actually displayed more stubbornness by continuing to watch this film.

   The boxing gym trainer, Terry (Duncan Airlie James), points out that she owes money for her use of the gym. She is broke, making what little money she has, working as a bike courier. When at the courier base she hears a couple of the other couriers discussing a ‘Fox-hunt’ race, she is intrigued.

   They tell her that it is not a real fox-hunt, they just all chase a courier who has a paint trail to follow. Whoever wins, catches the ‘fox’ or if the ‘fox’ escapes, wins the cash on offer. Of course, she volunteers to be the ‘fox’. 

   We are subjected to a mildly exciting, though still not quite believable, ‘fox-hunt’. Lara is fast and clever and manages to outwit the chasing horde. She is distracted by a businessman who reminds her of her father. When she sees it is not him, she narrowly avoids a taxi door before crashing into a police car. 

    Her guardian, Ana – the always regal Kristin Scott-Thomas – turns up to bail her out and burdens us, the audience, with clunky and ham-fisted exposition. Her father, Richard, has been dead, or missing, for seven years and Lara is the sole heir to his estate, which seems to consist of a sprawling country mansion, grounds – that includes a massive mausoleum for all of the dead Crofts – and his secret hideaway, where all of his mission obsession/secrets are kept. No money though.

    Lara sells a jade necklace to raise funds to follow her father’s obsession. Led by an old letter to Hong Kong, she tracks down a man called Lu Ren (Daniel Wu) in an effort to find the mystery to her father’s death/disappearance.

At this point, after another pointless action scene, Lara meets Lu Ren and they take his rust bucket of a boat, just the two of them, and sail off in search of the island. Two people on a big boat, one a novice sailor, have to navigate stormy waters to get to the island. It does not go well.

    The boat gets wrecked in the storm, they end up in the hands of Mathias Vogel – reliable, rent-a-villain actor, Walter Goggins – who is the head of a mercenary band who, seemingly, forces random ethnic people to work mines for them. Mathias tells Lara he killed her father – I do not believe it and I have never even played the video game! – and one of his henchmen takes her to work the mines. Shortly afterward, they move camp.

    An old man starts coughing and Lu Ren and Lara try to help him. Mathias shoots him dead because he’s a mean dude. Lu Ren then hits a henchman with a spade so as to allow Lara to escape. She outruns bullets, bounces off of rocks and trees and is thrown into rapids, taken by the currents toward a waterfall. She is saved by a rusty plane wedged at the top of the fall. Her massive fifty-five-kilo frame, causes a two-tonne plane, that has been battered by harsh currents for what looks likes years, to dislodge. 

   As she struggles not to die, she grabs a parachute – really? Yes – just as she falls. Surviving the fall, she is hunted by one of Mathias men, who catches up with her. He grabs her and she bites him. He throws her around like a rag doll for a bit and then she kills him. With her bare hands. Really. Then her father turns up babbling and she clears his mind with a hand gesture. They reconnect.

    Meanwhile, Vogel has found what he is searching for. Back with the Crofts and papa Croft, his mind clear and now completely lucid is not happy at all. Lara’s stubbornness has led Vogel to exactly what he was after and now the world is in danger. Lara decides she must go back. 

    Now equipped with a bow and arrow – where it has come from is anybody’s guess – she makes Oliver Queen and Hawkeye seem as though they never carried a quiver in their lives, such is her proficiency with a bow. After freeing the rebels, she goes after Vogel to….I have no idea why she goes after Vogel, but she does. 

    Richard, who had been somewhat reluctant to get involved with any sort of rescue mission, turns up to put a spanner in the works and force the resurrection of Himiko. Under threat of death to her father, Lara, who of course remembers the secret code that is needed to get into the tomb – it’s always a tomb – opens the tomb. 

   Inside the vast tomb is an elaborate Raiders-Of-The-Lost-Ark-esque deathtrap, killing random henchmen and throwing up puzzles to overcome so as to get to the tomb proper. They open the tomb and find a…corpse. Unfortunately, the corpse is highly toxic and as soon as one of the henchmen touches it he dies horribly. Well, he starts to and is shot by Vogel. 

    Vogel, unperturbed by the thought of unleashing a deadly plague into the world, severs a finger of the corpse and tries to make his escape. The Crofts fight to stop him. Richard ends up infected and Lara must leave him to die. Lara pursues Vogel. Papa Croft decides to seal the tomb with explosives.

   Lara catches up with Vogel and decides a fist fight is the way to go. He throws her around like a rag doll – she really doesn’t learn – she punches him in the groin. He proceeds to hand out another beat down on her, before being distracted by papa Croft blowing himself and the tomb up, giving Lara the opportunity to free herself, feed him the severed finger and kick him into a ravine. 

   Lara then outruns the collapsing masonry of the tomb to escape to Lu Ren and his band of freed ethnic slaves and miscreants who had come back to find her. They did not help at all with anything else. A military helicopter finds the island and rescues everybody. Yeh. 

   Back in London Lara, who has given up her bike for product placement, I mean a Volvo, finds out her guardian, Ana, is the power behind the unknown about conspiracy that her father was investigating. This is where the film ends, hoping to set up a sequel. 

   Dear god, I hope not! This film is not good. The best scenes are when she goes into the pawn shop and one really could not make an entire film around those. The biggest problem with this film is it takes an extraordinary story and does not make it believable at all. 

   Lara does not seem to have a life or friends or a purpose. We have no idea why she learns to fight or wield weapons. We have no idea what drives her. Her grief over her father’s disappearance makes her shun her inheritance, why? There is no mention of a mother or how the family came to be so wealthy. Not that it is important, but it would, perhaps, give one a sort of connection to the Crofts. 

   The actors are, as ever, game enough and with the quality on show, one would expect nothing less. The chemistry between Vikander and West is believable and – aside from the ridiculous reconnecting scene – you can see them as being related. Why Daniel Wu’s Lu Ren would risk his life for her is less clear. He, however, is an instantly likable character, his roguish charm apparent. 

    The film is directed by Norwegian Roar Uthaug, which is probably the nicest thing I can say about his directing. With the exception of the ‘fox-hunt’ scene, every other scene is okay or meh. 

    Geneva Robertson-Dworet’s script and story are lazy and too reliant on bad exposition. The exchanges between characters, especially in the first half of the film, are horribly mechanic. 

     Worryingly, a quick peruse of her IMDB credits shows Tomb Raider as one of her few writing credits. Somehow she got the Captain Marvel writing gig. One can only think she knows someone in the business because there is no way she would have got the job on the strength of Tomb Raider. One can only pray she does a far better job on Captain Marvel.

    

    

The New Legends of Monkey – review

Monkey was a late seventies Japanese television series that aired in the early eighties here in the UK. Quickly gaining popularity, it became a cult hit, with every teenage schoolboy – as that is what I was when it aired – rushing home to see it. Less violent than another martial arts series of the time, The Water Margin, Monkey told the story of three gods – Monkey, Pigsy and Sandy – and a monk – Tripitaka – who journey across China in search of ancient scrolls in order to save the world from demons. 

    As is the modern way and – some would say – the laziness of present-day production companies, remakes are a popular and – as long as they remain lucrative – will always be used as a proven route to a successful show. 

   The Legends of Monkey is the modern remake of Monkey. Though not a beat for beat remake, The Legends of Monkey is inspired by the cult classic and takes not only the premise but also retains the same characters, with even the boy monk, Tripitaka, being played by a woman. Originally played by the late Japanese actor, Masako Natsume, the modern incarnation of Tripitaka is played by Luciane Buchanan, a New Zealander of Tongan descent. 

   The production is a joint venture between the Australian Broadcasting Company, Television New Zealand and Netflix, reflecting the affection and popularity of the original show in that part of the world. 

   Chai Hansen takes the title role of the mischievous and egocentric Monkey, with Josh Thomson being Pigsy and Emilie Cocquerel, the only notable departure from the original series, with her taking the role of Sandy originally played by the male actor Shiro Kishibe. 

   This Antipodean interpretation of the show retains other elements of the original that made it so beloved around the globe, namely the fighting and the humour. Having made the decision to keep the central story premise and setting, there was the very modern and not at all unexpected furore over the casting of the actors. Wherein the original show had an entirely Japanese cast portraying a Chinese story – it was, after all, a Japanese production – the show was made in a very different time. It was pre the internet age, before social media, it even predates Netflix by almost twenty years. 

    That being said, the production boldly decided against casting any Chinese actors, casting predominantly from New Zealand and Australia. Not being Chinese myself and having little knowledge of how even how the original series was received in China – if it was even aired in China – this is not really an issue I feel I can confidently comment on. From my point of view, however, maybe it is the heightened sense of race-erasing that is in the media or my love of the original series, but when the show was initially announced and the cast was made known, this was the first thing that I noticed. 

   Still, I wanted to watch the show and give it a chance. I am glad that I did. The series is, as is the Netflix model, a ten-episode binge-able watch. Like the original show, they keep it short with each episode less than half an hour in length, comfortably sitting in sitcom territory. As it is a martial arts comedy, the drama is kept to a minimum, being just enough to carry the story but not so much as to be heavy or overwhelming. Truth be told, none of the elements that make up the show are dominant. The comedic moments are chucklesome as opposed to laugh-out-loud, the martial arts is competent without ever becoming truly dynamic. 

   The sets and costumes are good and show good production values, whilst the effects, though not of a Hollywood standard, are credible enough so as not to pull you out of the story. The strongest thing in Monkey is the aforementioned cast. They all inhabit the roles in a way that pays homage to the original show without parodying it. The supporting cast is also very good, with Rachel House as Monica, the gruff cyclopic innkeeper, a standout.

   Though not an unmissable show, I do feel that The New Legends Of Monkey is good enough to deserve a second season. I for one would be happy to see the further adventures of Monkey, Tripitaka, Pigsy and Sandy. Here’s hoping.