Tomb Raider

Posted on March 15, 2018 at 5:03 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence and action, and for some language
Profanity: Some strong language (s-words, one mouthed f-word)
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence, chases, guns, fights, explosions, many characters injured and killed, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 16, 2018
Copyright Warner Brothers 2018

A video game needs just enough narrative to add some stakes to the challenges. We care more about getting the avatar from A to B if there is a reason — a treasure, escaping the bad guys, revenge. And the action scenes need just enough complexity to hold our interest. The “reason” equivalent is our own skill and seeing if we can do better than an opponent or better than our last attempt. But a movie needs a story and characters and dialog that have to be familiar enough to be believable and new enough to hold our interest. And that is why it is much harder to translate a game to the big screen than it is a book or a play. And that is also why so far none of the attempts to do so have worked very well. It may be tough to get a video game avatar over a chasm or through a labyrinth, but it is even tougher to make her into a movie star, even when she is as appealing a character as adventurer Lara Croft.

The good news is that this reboot stars Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander, a less remote, more real version of the character first played on screen by Angelina Jolie in two earlier “Tomb Raider” films, and by a bunch of pixels in a video game series. While the game version was idealized and the Jolie version was similarly polished, curvy, and near-all-powerful, swinging (literally) through her fabulous manor and ordering around her Alfred-like nerd-of-all-trades, this Lara is a little bit vulnerable and a little bit lost. We first see her losing a boxing match, forced to tap out before she loses consciousness in a choke hold. Because she will not sign papers declaring that her father is dead, though he has been missing for seven years, she cannot access his fortune or that fabulous manor.

Lord Richard Croft (Dominic West) loves his daughter (though he calls her “Sprout,” a truly awful nickname). But devastated by the loss of his wife, he has spent most of his time away from Lara as he seeks some way to connect to the supernatural. He disappeared on an expedition to a remote island where the legend has it that an Egyptian queen with powers of life and death is entombed. Since the movie is called “Tomb Raider,” you know where this is going.

And you also know that who cares about the story, this is about the chases and stunts. There’s a good chase on a bicycle “fox hunt.” And there’s a great stunt in the middle of the film involving a rusted-out crashed plane stuck on a branch over a waterfall. Walt Goggins is a nicely creepy bad guy. But once they actually make it inside the tomb it gets too game-ish, and by the time it hints at another chapter, well, it’s game over.

Parents should know that this film include extended peril and violence, chases, guns, fights, explosions, many characters injured and killed, some graphic and disturbing images, some strong language

Family discussion: Why wouldn’t Lara sign the papers? How did growing up without a father influence her choices?

If you like this, try: the earlier “Tomb Raider” films with Angelina Jolie and the Brendan Fraser version of “The Mummy”

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Action/Adventure Based on a video game movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews

The Angry Birds Movie

Posted on May 19, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for rude humor and action
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Cartoon action-style peril and violence, no one hurt
Date Released to Theaters: May 20, 2016
Date Released to DVD: August 15, 2016 ASIN: B01EK44M64
Copyright Sony Pictures 2016
Copyright Sony Pictures 2016

Like the wildly addictive Finnish app/game/toys that inspired it, the Angry Birds movie is colorful, with some silly humor and imaginative settings. And like the many, many attempts to make games into movies that have gone before it, this one has strong visuals, game talent, and yet never quite sustains itself as a story. It’s a rare movie for kids that endorses legitimate anger, but in these touchy times, it is peculiarly xenophobic.

Bird island is something of a flightless bird sanctuary, with no predators and a mostly happy, companionable community. Red (a perfectly cast Jason Sudeikis) is a bright red bird with Eugene Levy eyebrows, a tendency to defensiveness and snark, and a serious anger management problem.

Red is late to a “hatch-day” party he was supposed to work at as an entertainer. He insults the young bird’s parents and is accidentally standing in the wrong place when their new chick hatches, so that the baby imprints on Red instead of his parents. Red has an angry outburst leading to a court appearance presided over by Judge Peckinpah (Keegan-Michael Key), who sentences him to anger management classes conducted by the New Age-y Matilda (Maya Rudolph), where his classmates include the explosive Bomb (Danny McBride) and excitable Chuck (Josh Gad).

A ship arrives at Bird Island, carrying a cheerful pig named Leonard (Bill Hader), who oozes charm and promises friendship and merriment. He even puts on a show, in order to both pad and juice up the storyline.

Red is skeptical, but he is always skeptical. The other birds embrace their new friend, even after Red tells them Leonard has lied about coming alone. He has lied about his purpose, too. The pigs want the eggs. And…now the game part comes in: the birds need to get angry so they can get the eggs back. The whole part about foreigners/those different from us being evil and scary and wanting to eat our progeny, that’s pretty much glossed over as all in good fun, mingled with shout-outs to The Eagles (get it) and Rick Astley (because why not; it’s an easy laugh).

The birds have a possibly mythical leader, Mighty Eagle, the only bird on the island who can fly. Red, Bomb, and Chuck ascend to ME’s aerie and find that he is not as heroic as they hoped. If anyone is going to save the day, it will be the intrepid trio themselves. They have to find a way to get to the pigs’ island and get the eggs back.

It’s all bright and cheerful, but under-plotted and overproduced. Stunt-casting Oscar winner Sean Penn for a few grunts, throwing in pop songs and faux swearing to amuse the parents and bird poop humor to amuse the kids left me feeling a bit angry myself.

Parents should know that this film includes a lot of cartoon-style action and peril, with no serious injuries, some schoolyard language, and some bodily function/gross-out/crotch hit humor.

Family discussion: When is it helpful to be angry? How can you make the best use of anger?

If you like this, try: “The LEGO Movie”

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3D Based on a video game Comedy DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Fantasy Talking animals

Ratchet & Clank

Posted on April 28, 2016 at 5:50 pm

Copyright 2016 Focus Features
Copyright 2016 Focus Features

Roger Ebert famously declared that a video game could not be art, giving rise to howls of protest. I believe that videogames, like movies, can and will rise to the level of art. But movies like “Ratchet & Clank” will continue to be compelling arguments to the contrary. Video games have striking visual design and some promising characters, though, in my limited experience, they are superficially sketched in to give the player room to inhabit them fully. If most of them don’t have what we might consider a plot, they have as much of a plot premise as many action movies: the world is under attack! And yet, so far no video game has successfully made the leap to a movie with enough of a story to succeed even as mildly entertaining.

Playstation’s Ratchet & Clank games, with names like “Full Frontal Assault” and “Tools of Destruction” are renowed for their varieties of weaponry. “With all that hardware at hand, it’s no wonder Ratchet, a wrench-wielding Lombax, and his robot buddy Clank, have itchy trigger fingers. Think about it. You can choose from burning, bombing, exploding or obliterating your enemies. So go ahead, blow it up. Blow it all up. It isn’t the size of your weapons that count. It’s how many you have and better yet… How you use ’em.”

So, not much by way for storyline or character and not exactly child-friendly. So, I am not sure what inspired Focus Features to turn that into a movie that is rated PG (“for action and some rude humor”) and intended for children.

Ratchet (James Arnold Taylor) is a well-meaning but not entirely competent Lombax, a talking fox-like orphan of mysterious origin who works as a mechanic in a garage owned by Grimroth (John Goodman). His heroes are the Rangers, an elite fighting squad led by the preening, jut-jawed Captain Qwark (Jim Ward). When the planet is under attack from the evil Chairman Drek (Paul Giamatti) and mad scientist Dr Nefarious (Armin Shimerman), the Rangers decide to take on another member and Ratchet is determined to be the one to join the team.

That slight framework leads to a lot of shooting scenes with different weapons and some minor plot developments about shifting loyalties as a runt robot created for Drek becomes Ratchet’s partner, Clank (David Kaye), and Qwark, his feelings hurt by Ratchet’s popularity, is lulled by Drek’s promises of support. And then more shooting.

Without the interactive element of a game to make up for the thin characterization and repetitive plotline, the settings and action scene set-ups are generic and under-imagined, only reminding us of how much better original films like “Megamind” and “Monsters vs. Aliens” were in handing similar material.

Parents should know that this movie has a lot of sci-fi, action-style peril and weapons, with the entire galaxy at risk, though the film makes it clear that the planets being blown up are not occupied. There is brief bodily function humor.

Family discussion: Why was Qwark the leader of the Rangers? How many characters changed their loyalties in this movie, and what were their reasons? Why didn’t Qwark listen to Elaris?

If you like this, try: “Monsters vs. Aliens” and “Megamind”

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Animation Based on a video game

Hitman: Agent 47

Posted on August 20, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015
Copyright 20th Century Fox 2015

Maybe someday there will be a good movie based on a videogame. But there’s no evidence of that possibility in the tiresome “Hitman: Agent 47” based on the first-person shooter Hitman Trilogy. The game keeps the player’s interest through challenges involving dexterity and problem-solving.

The movie has striking images and competently staged fight scenes, but a movie needs some reason to care about what is going on, and that never happens. The one interesting twist in the storyline is revealed in the trailer, so if you’ve seen that, you’ll be spending a lot of time looking at your watch. Even by the low standards of the dog days of August, this one is a slog.

“Hitman: Agent 47” is another in a long series of films — and one of two this week — with the same theme. There’s a secret government program to create enhanced humans with better-than-human reflexes, sight, hearing, and survival skills. But other human qualities like emotion, fear, and remorse, have been eliminated. They are called Agents and they have numbered barcodes tattooed into their heads. This is explained by a droning narrator at the beginning, more likely to induce somnolence than dread. So, the program has been shut down, the only person who knows the secret formula has disappeared, and the head of an evil corporation called the Syndicate wants the scientist, he wants the formula, and he wants to create an army of Agents.

Meanwhile, Katia (Hannah Ware) is trying to find a man, and all she has is an out-of-focus photo. She is not making any progress and then a mysterious man named John Smith (Zachary Quinto) shows up for one of those “follow me if you want to live” moments. He says he will protect her from a man who is trying to kill her and help her solve the mystery. The man he promises to protect her from is Agent 47, played by Rupert Friend, with a shaved bullet head and razor-sharp cheekbones.

After that, it’s just a lot of bang bang in exotic locations and not-surprising surprises about who is what and who fights whom. When you have characters with superpowers, we have to have a thorough understanding of their abilities and vulnerabilities for any dramatic tension about the outcome of a fight. There is literally a shot of a staircase in this film that is more arresting than any of the blood-spurting injuries inflicted along the way. It’s basically a “Terminator” rip-off (as if “Terminator” sequels haven’t already provided us with enough of those) — emotionless killing machine pairs with human and takes on battalions. One of his superpowers apparently includes not mussing his clothes. His red tie stays neatly knotted and his crisp white shirt stays tucked in. He also sleeps sitting up. In the theater, checking my watch, I envied that superpower most of all.

Parents should know that this film includes extensive and very graphic and bloody peril and violence, shootouts, explosions, knives, chases, torture, many characters injured and killed, disturbing images, some strong language, medication, and a sad parental death.

Family discussion: Why does John say his name is Brian? Why doesn’t he get up the first time he is shot? Is it inhuman not to have remorse or sorrow?

If you like this, try: “Hanna,” “The Bourne Legacy,” and “Resident Evil”

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Action/Adventure Based on a video game
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