The Horror of Following up a Massive Sucess: IT Chapter Two

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The first IT movie is the highest-grossing R-rated horror film with $700.4 million at the worldwide box office. Based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel, the movie became a critical and commercial success. The search for an adult cast to play the main characters- aka “the Losers”- was highly publicized and scrutinized. With a cast evenly divided between marquee stars and unknowns, IT Chapter Two has a lot riding on its shoulders. 

Did it succeed in bringing this grand epic to a satisfying conclusion? 

Yes and no. 

IT Chapter Two has more scares (in part because of its nearly three-hour running time) but they’re different than the first. For one, there is less Pennywise, and instead, IT takes different forms. The different forms are usually grotesque, vaguely-human forms that do gross things. The body horror element freaked me out, but some of the people I went with found it funny, so it just depends on your sense of humor. They’re creative, but not as psychologically disturbing as the first film. 

Besides the scares, there’s not much else that this second movie does that’s different than the first. When it comes to the character arcs, plot, and tone of the movie, everything is just about the same. In the first film, we meet the characters individually, then the team comes together, they split up for individual sequences where IT reveal more about their characters, and then they come together in the sewers to try to kill Pennywise. That’s exactly what happens in this film too. Add in all the flashbacks and callbacks to the first film, and this second feels like it’s just an expensive remake with an older cast. 

Readers of the book will no doubt be disappointed. The book spends time establishing the Losers in their adult lives, something the film doesn’t have time to do well. The book also develops the theme of the adult Losers losing their memories and having to re-learn about Derry and Pennywise (the film only tangentially explores this theme). By doing this, the reader understands how the Loser’s childhood traumas influenced their adult selves and how that changes their relationship to IT and to each other. To not have that in this second film creates a barrier between the audience and characters, and weakens the message the filmmakers are going for. 

Leah Schnelback writes in her excellent review of the film for Tor, “Your real life can turn into a horror story any time—the check didn’t clear, the doctor needs to speak with you in person… You remember again that your carefully constructed life is an illusion that can crack apart without warning. When we go to a horror movie we pay to have this experience…Part of the contract is that the nightmare moments might slip the bounds of reality—that we’ll become children again, in thrall to a fairy tale full of monsters and things that can’t possibly happen. This is what IT is about… The opening half-hour of the film is almost completely taken up with human monsters—psychotic homophobes, abusive husbands… This group of adults who have all experienced real-life horrors have to learn to be kids again so they can defeat a mythological monster.”

That opening half-hour is not enough time to explore these adult lives, and that blunder plagues the entire film. The “real-life horrors” feel inconsequential because we barely get to see them before we get to Pennywise.

It sure doesn’t help also that while the adult cast is incredibly well-matched with their teenage counterparts in terms of looks and mannerisms, they lack the same chemistry as the younger group. This is in part because they don’t spend that much time together in the movie. The plot keeps separating them, making the scenes when they are together and are talking about their close bond ring false. 

Also ringing false is the film’s explanations of Pennywise. Instead of letting him be terrifying because he’s mysterious and unknowable, the film tries to explain the mythology behind Pennywise and the demon-alien thing it comes from, the IT. It makes the plot more convoluted and the film fails to justify why we even need to understand his origins in the first place. In some cases it’s okay not to explain “the why”.  

~

IT Chapter Two starts out with a voiceover from Mike talking about how memory is selective and we are often just as much the things we make ourselves forget as we are the things we choose to remember. The whole film ruminates on the idea of memory, with the adult Losers spending the majority of the running time trying to reconnect and remember their childhood selves. 

There’s something interesting here about how it takes courage to confront the memories we’d rather forget, and how we aren’t fully ourselves until we can see all of ourselves. It’s only then when we can truly connect to other people. But because we don’t get a sense of how the Losers forgot their childhoods in the first place, or what they do with themselves after they kill Pennywise for good, and they spend little time connecting to each other in meaningful ways, this entire theme falls flat. Instead, we just get some new scares and scenes meant to remind us of the first movie. There’s very little substance. 

It seems like the knowledge that the first film was a success is what has kept this film from succeeding. The unassuming innocence of the first is lost, and this second entry feels like it’s trying too hard and won’t stray far enough to be unique. 

Yet, I have to admit, I had a great time watching it. It was the perfect escapist adrenaline kick for me with scares that were scary but not too scary, and not disturbing enough to stick with me late at night. But that also means nothing from the film is going to stick with me, and that’s a shame.

-Madeleine D.

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Hobbs and Shaw ft. Clifton Raphael

IMG_4353.jpegFrom left to right: Hobbs, Idris Elba’s White Doppelgänger, and Shaw

I am excited to be joined for this review by my former six-time teacher, Clifton Raphael. Mr. Raphael teaches screenwriting and filmmaking and film studies at Jenks High School. He has 24 years of experience in TV broadcasting and an MFA in screenwriting and film studies from Hollins University. His students have won two $5,000 grand prizes in the C-Span StudentCam documentary competition (the only school to have repeat grand prize winners), a regional Emmy, and thousands of dollars in other C-SPAN, YoungArts and Scholastic Arts awards. His class also has the first high-school produced program on OETA (Oklahoma’s PBS affiliate). Mr. Raphael has been a judge for numerous film festivals and competitions, has been interviewed on C-SPAN, and sits on the Board of Directors at Circle Cinema. You can watch his students’ films here.

He has been a great influence in my life and has always championed my work with his brand of tough-love, sacrificial dedication, earnest support, and occasional mockery. It’s about time he got to be featured here. 

Full disclosure: Neither of us have seen any of The Fast and the Furious films, but we believe this makes us uniquely suited to reviewing its spinoff, Hobbs and Shaw. He, as a film connoisseur, and me, as someone who likes things that go vroom vroom. 

Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Madeleine: Can you describe the events of this film in two sentences or less?

Clifton Raphael: Two guys learn to love each other in order to save the world. 

Perfect. But that’s only one sentence. 

Okay, so there’s a virus that could kill supposedly all the weakest people in the world, and there’s some benevolent force that wants this done. So Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson) and Shaw (Jason Statham) have to get together to find this woman, Shaw’s sister (played by Vanessa Kirby), and they have to get this virus that is implanted in her out and save her and save the world. 

Beautiful. 

It’s my understanding that you took a screenwriting class in high school. [He is, of course, referring to the class that Madeleine took with him.]

Why yes I did. 

And I understand there’s a thing called a character arc, where a character changes throughout the course of the story. How did these characters change? What character arcs did they go through in this movie?

Okay so first they didn’t like each other, right? ‘Cause Hobbs and Shaw have clashing egos and insecurities. 

Right. 

And then in the middle they don’t like each other, because they’re working together but they just… still, don’t, because of the previously mentioned issues. And then at the end, they still don’t really like each other and then in the last five minutes they realize that if they work together they can punch the living daylights out of the villain, and then the movie will end, so then they like each other. 

But then they sort of… don’t like each other. 

Right, they still don’t like each other. They like to neg one another. It’s their love language. 

What else did this movie do really well screenwriting wise?

You know it sets up a very clear “want” and “need.” The characters want to not need each other. 

But then they need to need each other!

Exactly! The film and screenplay also makes great use of character motivations that tie into the theme. Cause the theme is that tech- no, actually the first theme is family, because everyone needs a family. Second, the theme is that humans always beat technology. 

Yes, and actually I’m going to quote the movie. I wrote it down because [pulls out phone] it was such an amazing line [he says with the utmost sarcasm]. 

You were on your phone during the movie?!

Whoops, please don’t tell anyone.

That line is the thesis of the film. 

It’s delivered by the Rock. This is up there with Dorothy’s “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore,” and “Here’s looking at you, kid.” This will go into the immortal words of great lines.

And his Oscar reel. 

So he says, “You may believe in machines, but we believe in people.”

Boom!

Boom.

Idris Elba’s villain character lets go of his humanity for the pursuit of human evolution through technology, and Hobbs and Shaw use technology throughout the film but the thing is, underneath all of that technology, they’re still just guys who want to get down to their roots and just, [slams hands together] beat the living crap out of each other with their fists. 

That’s right. 

They don’t like the guns, they just use the guns, so that’s why they can say that.

 Let’s talk about Vanessa Kirby’s character. 

Right. What has she been in?

Mission Impossible franchise. And The Crown TV show. 

I was encouraged to see- and I think we’re seeing more and more of this in movies-  that she could hold her own with the men, in terms of the absolutely ridiculous things she was capable of doing. And it’s interesting to me, there’s this whole new trend of women in movies being in these positions of pulling off what would normally be considered “tough guy” roles or missions. So that’s pretty encouraging.

I agree that it is nice that she gets fight sequences and gets the same “cool” treatment as the guys. But what I really want to get to is the agency of her character. It looks like, from the surface, she has a big role. She’s in it a lot, and she has the main plot-

I see where you’re going with this, it’s that the guys still need to take care of her and save her because the woman has the virus injected into her.

Yes, but it’s more than that if you look at what she contributes to the film. Okay so first, she’s a Mcguffin. She literally has the MacGuffin virus in her. But there are only two scenes- I was keeping track- where she does something that advances the plot and changes the events of the film. In all of the other scenes, she either puts up a fight but the result is still the same as if she was, like, a lamp, or she contributes but they would have gotten to that place without her. Or, she’s literally picked up and carried to the next plot point. 

She doesn’t have the same level of narrative agency as the other leads, which is still a huge flaw if you’re really breaking the film down. I think that is something to consider because on the surface it looks like the movie is all, [does jazz hands] Oh yeah! Women! It’s important to interrogate these films that are so self-congratulatory about their “progress.”  I’m concerned that if we don’t, movies will keep barreling forward towards this faux-empowerment direction without any real substance, not changing the basic ingredients of these films in this genre. 

Yeah…baby steps? I don’t know. 

The fact that she’s in it is positive because she has cool fight sequences and she’s pulling her weight, but there’s a way to go, and I don’t want the film to pat itself on the back for, you know,  advancing that feminist agenda. 

[Contemplative silence is briefly kept]

You know, one of the criticisms of the latest Tarantino movie (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood), and a criticism in his other movies too, is that some of his violence is so exaggerated that you end up laughing at it. So are you then diminishing the impact of violence by doing that? Now this film isn’t as explicitly violent. People get hit a lot but you don’t see them necessarily die.

That’s the thing. We know they die. In real life, they would die, so it sure does undercut the idea of “you believe in technology but we believe in people,” when from the first scene, which is to establish how cool they are, to the last scene, Hobbs and Shaw are absolutely brutalizing people. Everyone who’s not a main character is completely dehumanized, they are props. And you’re supposed to laugh and enjoy these guys completely destroying people and yet at the very end, switcheroo because Dwayne Johnson has a daughter and Jason Statham has a sister, which kinda dehumanizes them as props too. They use the shorthand of, “he has a daughter, he’s human,” so they have to put no effort into anything.

You’re right. But you know, this is a trope of these kinds of movies. I remember this very well from Steven Spielberg’s War of the Worlds, that the movie established very early on that Tom Cruise is divorced and he’s got a daughter he has to take care of. Movies always have something that is trying to humanize them-

To make these protagonists relatable to the audience.

Even though you don’t have to do that to me for a movie like this, because I already relate to the idea of running cars off bridges and pulling helicopters out of the sky with my bare hands, these are the things I do on a daily basis [both laugh]. But I can understand for most people you would need to have a humanizing moment. Yet it makes it so that it’s not the pulling helicopter out of the sky moments that are hard to believe; it’s the human moments that are hard to believe. 

I don’t like to think that blockbuster filmmaking is useless, or it doesn’t mean anything, because I think it taps into the cultural zeitgeist, and what people expect of themselves and media more than any other genre. I want there to be a redeeming quality to Hobbs and Shaw that reflects our society, or humanity, or Hollywood. Do you think there’s any of that there? A redeeming quality for why people should go see it?

I suppose redeeming quality is that whole, “I have stresses and problems in my life, but they aren’t the problems of having to face ten guys with really, really tough weapons and 18 cars coming at me, and ‘look out, the bridge is out!’”

Wait, you’re saying this is an exercise in gratitude? 

[Laughs] Gratitude? Well, that’s not what I meant, but that whole escapism thing and wanting to go to something mindless. But seriously, we’re Americans, do we really put our minds to things that much? Are we really overstressing ourselves with the intelligence needed for our regular lives? But still, I can understand the desire to see something mindless. I’m the first person to go see any new monster movie that comes out- and I’m not talking about horror, I’m talking about like Godzilla or like Kong: Skull Island– because I grew up fascinated by those monsters. And then I’m one of the first people disappointed, wondering why I went to go see it, yet I will see the very next one. 

Is there anything you would want to tell the makers of Fast and Furious that they should do differently?

Well, I would definitely go if Godzilla is in the next one. 

The most ambitious crossover event of all time! Is there another movie that you would recommend that is less taxing on the brain but smarter than this one that’s out right now?

I liked Booksmart, and Long Shot, that’s a bit of a guilty pleasure. Probably just those two. You?

I can’t just give that information away, people have to read my review to find out! So we’re giving Hobbs and Shaw a free pass?

I’m giving it a free pass.

Nooo, we’re just giving it a free pass. 

It’s true.

The low expectations have gotten to us.

But seriously what they could do differently? Just, cleverer stuff? But I think they’re wearing out on that.

There’s only so far a car can go. 

I don’t know if we can improve the franchise in this discussion. I guess we’ll have to do that after we see the next one!

The next one? There’s going to be a sequel to this review? 

There’s always a sequel. 

 

-Madeleine D. 

December Round-Up, Part One

If you’re anything like me, December, with the holidays, relatives, and breaks from school/work, becomes the perfect month to catch up on all of your movie watching before Oscar season and a new year. In my case, this is also the month where I have the time and mind to catch up on some reviews, so let me offer some suggestions for what movies should be on your “nice” list. Here are six smaller films, some of which were released earlier in the year.

Sorry to Bother You

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It’s useless to try to describe this film to anyone who hasn’t seen it, so I’m just going to say this: if you want to see one of the most bizarre, memorable, and radical pieces of art this year, see Sorry to Bother You. A defiant and explosive mix of satire, parable, and horror, it embodies the chaos our nation felt this year. It feels like 2018 in movie form, and it does so while feeling completely fresh and wholly unique.

A Simple Favor

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The movie equivalent of a twinkie, A Simple Favor is ridiculous and completely over-the-top but is well anchored by a great performance by Anna Kendrick and twists that never stop coming. Its mysteries are not ones the audience is supposed to be able to solve alongside the protagonists, so the fun comes from the absurd escalation of stakes. It’s not a good movie, and but it’s a perfect addition to the emerging Gone Girl knockoff genre. I think it has been well-established by now that yes, women can be crazy, but if you need more evidence, this film will suffice.

The Spy Who Dumped Me

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There have been lots of great films starring women this year, but less starring multiple women and close female friendships (no, Oceans 8 is not enough). The Spy Who Dumped Me then is a fun surprise for its likable and hilarious center of best friends played by Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon. Sure, not every joke in this action caper comedy lands, and it doesn’t quite pay off in the end, but it’s hard for me to dislike a film that made me think of me and my best friend. It’s a solid perfect rental for a light movie night and despite some crudity and gory violence, it ends up being a sweet celebration of friendship.

The Grinch

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Dull. I’ve forgotten most of what happens in it. There is absolutely no reason to watch this instead of the original animated film.

Mowgli

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Thrown onto Netflix after seeing they wouldn’t be able to compete with Disney’s live-action remake, Andy Serkis’s version of the live-action Jungle Book is sadly in the right place, not on the big screen. I applaud the more mature tone and ambition of the film, but it ends up feeling like a joyless slog. Serkis’s effort to differentiate his version from the Disney versions means all of the characters are mean and without any strong characterization, making you wonder why Mowgli likes these unpleasant companions at all. The questionable choice of putting human faces on animals works against the film’s interest, actually keeping most of the actors from being able to get through, with the exception of Christian Bale as Bagheera, who is able to put in the strongest and tenderest performance. Mowgli is never able to give a spin on the story that justifies its existence.

Instant Family

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Instant Family, a movie about a couple (played by an extremely good Rose Byrne and Mark Wahlberg) who take in three foster children, isn’t a revolutionary family dramedy, but it gets the job done. It tells a sweet story that, while sanitized, is still able to get across many of the difficulties and complexities of its subject matter. I’ve been told by at least one family who fosters that the film is very realistic.

For what it’s worth, I cried at the end. True, I watched this right after finals, and its tear-jerker ending was the perfect outlet for my catharsis. But I also think it is just a good film without so much as a drop of cynicism, and I hope it is truly able to do some good and inspire people to accept the noble calling of being a foster parent.

 

-Madeleine D

Is It Really Stealing If It’s Fun?: Ocean’s 8

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Ocean’s 8 follows a simple premise, tried and true from the previous entries in the Ocean’s franchise (which disclaimer, I have not seen): head con gets crew of other cons, does dope stuff while being ridiculously cool and glamorous, gets away with it, everything is awesome.

This the perfect so-called “summer movie.” Was I surprised? No. Was I entertained? Yes. Did I assign the roles in the film to my real-life friends and begin imagining a heist of our own? I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about.

If you are reading this review, I have a feeling you have some interest in seeing Ocean’s 8, and if the above sounds like what you want, then I say go see it. All of the actresses are amazing, director Gary Ross is competent, and if you don’t see it soon, the handful of celebrity cameos and pop-culture references are already going to be outdated. This movie is about seeing Sandra Bullock and Cate Blanchett blow bubbles outside of a window where Helena Bonham Carter and Anne Hathaway are talking about Met Gala dresses (true scene) and that’s almost exactly what I expected and got.

But is Ocean’s 8 more than that? Watching the film, I tried to scour it for messages and hidden depth besides “crime is fun and kinda easy” and “if you use stolen money for personal satisfaction, and you’re a likable person, all is well.” Here’s what I found:

One of the reoccurring themes in the film is that of women being invisible- and how in this game, it’s an advantage. At one point, Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock) and her partner Lou (Cate Blanchett) discuss candidates for their crew and when Lou suggests a man, Deb says no because he’s “a him, and a ‘him’ get interest. A ‘her’ gets ignored.” Then throughout the film, the ladies show how their invisibility helps them, whether it’s using their bodies as a distraction, acting dumb and ditsy, or using the power of women’s bathrooms to hide. These women know how to use being ignored and silenced against others.

The film’s point is obviously to show that the joke’s on everyone who underestimates these women, including the moviegoer. You want to underestimate women? Okay, but now you’re 150 million dollars short and in jail. Take that, patriarchy.

Now that’s a serviceable message, but right now culturally we’re finally moving towards women being encouraged not to be silent. We’re are getting attention for all sort of things, getting interest for what we say and do. Leading up to its release, Ocean’s 8 had created a media narrative about being a part of this change, which is a good thing. Except, despite the fact that the film is about women who expect to be silent and ignored, and who use that to make a big statement (in the form of their successful heist), this film actually has nothing besides that to say. It’s thematically silent, pretty, and very shallow. So… you know…. like a stereotype of a woman?

Now to be fair, the Ocean’s franchise has always been a vanity project, first for Frank Sinatra and his buddies, then George Clooney and his buddies, and now Sandra Bullock and all these other famous ladies. There’s nothing wrong with making a sleek, fun, completely fantastical and glamorous film to make the rest of us feel inadequate.

So it’s wrong for me to ask this film to be extra, because as Ani Bundel says for NBC in her review of the film, “A women’s movie must be outstanding to get attention — especially if it’s funny. It cannot be a ‘Dante’s Peak’ style film; it must be ‘Bridesmaids’ or ‘Steel Magnolias.’” I don’t want to add to the pressure that films starring women must be extraordinary (and make millions at the box office) to be noticed.

But, as I try to do with all of my reviews, I assert that films should have something to say. And here the message goes no further than, “we can do it like the boys.” And that’s kind of disappointing, particularly since I think we’ve gotten past that as a culture. Women being “bad” is already chic right now.

I don’t love these full gender-swapped films because it causes the pendulum effect. Hollywood is high on girl-power right now, to right the wrongs of #MeToo, and so it’s going from the standard extreme all-male films to all-female films. Soon, it will hopefully settle in the middle, where everyone can be represented in media. But for now, this is what we’ve got, and while I wish it was a little more, it’s a fun ride and even has the potential to bring people together, as exemplified when my sister walked out of theater, turned to me, and said, “I would rob the Met Gala with you.”

As if I wouldn’t have been able to convince her otherwise.

-Madeleine D

Yell it out: A Quiet Place is great!

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One of the best parts of watching a horror movie is asking yourself, “Would I survive this? And if not, at what point would I die?”

I decided I would have probably died in A Quiet Place about halfway through. Emily Blunt’s character Evelyn lives in a post-apocalyptic world overrun with blind monsters with super hearing. She and her family live on a farm in constant fear of making noise. And she’s pregnant.

One night, with her family out, she hears the monsters come into the house. Then her water breaks. She goes down the stairs to hide, and steps on a previously upturned nail. It is at that point, I would scream and gladly let the monsters eat me.

But this scene, which my description gives no justice to, is one of the reasons A Quiet Place might be one of the most well-written films of all time. It does everything from a screenwriting perspective right. The stakes are constantly raised, all of the character have some kind of guilt, every scene has a purpose, every plant has multiple payoffs, and of course, it’s the epitome of “show, don’t tell.” And credit should go to director John Krasinski and cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen (Fences, The Hunt) for letting the script “speak” for itself with practical, purposeful, and restrained directing and cinematography.

I was afraid going in that my movie-going experience was going to be ruined by the audience. But A Quiet Place shows what film has the power to do as a medium. The audience I ended up in was one of the most well-behaved ones I’ve ever seen. A minute in and everyone was dead silent. I heard someone struggling to eat popcorn as quietly as possible. There was not a peep during the whole film. A Quiet Place immediately sucks you into its mindset and plays with your every emotion. Each action is deliberate and every facet of the film- the acting, direction, set design, score, and sound editing- is used to engage the audience and force you into the place of the characters. Sound becomes the enemy and a character of its own.

It’s hard to talk about A Quiet Place, not only because it’s best to go in without any big spoilers, but the film is prime material to be a metaphor for something. But determining what that something is is all the more difficult without dialogue. Krasinski and Blunt have said it’s a film about parenting, which is clear by the end. However, it could also be about childbearing, our obsession with sound, or how we adapt and function when disabled.

Or, it could simply be an excellent film that uses all of the horror-genre conventions to its advantage, and will take your breath away. But once you see it, don’t be afraid to exclaim how good it is.

-Madeleine D

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Tomb Raider

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*Mild Spoilers Ahead

In elementary and middle school, one of my favorite movie series was the Nicholas Cage National Treasure films. They were the perfect sleepover movies to watch with friends, to ooh and aww at the exciting chase sequences, and to laugh at the jokes. They weren’t great films, but they were fun, exciting, and tried to teach a little history and patriotism. I’m not familiar with the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider films, or the original video game this film is based on, so as I watched the new Tomb Raider (2018) it was not those images that came to mind, but National Treasure.

Now, this new film is fairly predictable. There were a few times that I found myself saying the next line of dialogue (“The tomb’s not trying to keep people out… it’s trying to keep people in!”), and a careful viewer can point out the twists a mile away. Yet, by the end I had decided that at my next sleepover, I was going to switch out National Treasure for Tomb Raider, because while it’s not necessarily a better film, it’s a smarter one, and I couldn’t help but fall a little in love with it.

Alicia Vikander makes a star turn as Lara Croft, who goes on a search for her missing adventurer father (Dominic West). She teams up with Lu (Daniel Wu) to travel to a secret island off the coast of Japan to find him. This is Lara Croft’s origin story, showing the younger, less experienced Croft come into her own as the Tomb Raider. The film screams “franchise,” even setting up a sequel at the end, but it knows its strength, which is not the plot but the character the plot is based around. Even when I didn’t much care for what was going on in the film, Vikander’s Lara Croft had me hooked.

It adds another level of engagement and excitement when you can relate to the person on screen so deeply. Sure, I will never be Lara Croft, as much as I would like to be. But Vikander made me believe perhaps one day I can at least meet a Lara Croft-esque person that I can be friends with. The film, different from the original Angelina Jolie ones, is shot through the female gaze. This term does not mean the men in the film are treated badly, or that it is a feminist manifesto (it was even directed by a man with the manliness of names, Roar Uthaug). It simply means the film appeals to the female audience by not sexualizing the female characters and providing complex portrayals of characters that can enact female fantasies and escapism. And this worked wonders for my viewing; it was impossible for my friend and me not to spend the entire movie talking (and by talking I mean sparse whispering, as I am a courteous theater attendee) to the screen as if Lara were one of our friends.
“No, Lara, don’t go in there!”
“Punch him in the adam’s apple! YESSSS- my mom told me about that move.”
“Don’t let him talk down to you like that, Lara! Okay good, you’re escaping. Good call pal, good call.”
“I want to borrow your leather jacket. Where did you get it?”
“How… how do you get biceps like that? I can’t even do one pull-up.”
“Now that’s a nice guy, be friends with him!”

Lara Croft is a video game action heroine for sure. She does impossible stunts, survives insane injuries, and is perfectly film-suave. She doesn’t change much over the course of the film- she starts out independent, adventurous, and smart, and ends that way as well. But, there are a few details thrown into an otherwise pretty conventional film that both point to what possibly could have been, but also elevate it significantly.

There is clear attention to detail regarding how Lara could realistically take down men twice as strong as her, and the movie makes it clear how challenging that is. And when she does have her first kill in self-defense, she sits by the body and cries. It’s a stunning moment of humanity in a genre that rarely ever treats the villain body count as something to care about.

The film also takes the father-daughter storyline and elevates it by swelling to the emotional reunion- and then creating sophisticated conflict between the two that isn’t really satisfyingly resolved. The rest of the film is spent with the two in unease and heartache, and watching Lara wrestle with forgiving her father, and vice-versa, added a level of emotional resonance and maturity, even as Walton Goggins yelled about mummies and curses during the finale.

I could talk more about Tomb Raider’s flaws and how it is indicative of the origin-story- video-game-adventure genre overall, but honestly, I had a great time watching this film. If you like movies like National Treasure and Raiders of the Lost Ark– and you know who you are- then I really think you’ll enjoy this Tomb Raider. It’s a step in the right direction for the franchise which I hope will get a sequel, and I’m excited for Alicia Vikander to get to play this character again and get more roles in the future. Sometimes, fun movies can be fun, and Tomb Raider is just that.

-Madeleine D

Rockabye Baby: Baby Driver

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Every year there is a film that blows up at a film festival. There is tremendous hype for it as it moves from the festival circuit to wide release. There is a wave of rave reviews, Oscar predictions, and the main actors start signing major deals. Sometimes the film rides to the Oscars and lives up to its hype. But more times than not, it disappears a few months later and becomes lost.

This year, the breakout star of the SXSW (South by Southwest) film festival was Edgar Wright (The Cornetto Trilogy, Scott Pilgrim Versus the World) with Baby Driver. Can the film about a getaway driver survive in a summer of superheroes, transformers, and minions?

Baby Driver tells the story of Baby (Ansel Elgort) a young man paying off a debt to crime boss Doc (played by Kevin Spacey). He is a getaway driver who uses music on his iPod to drown out a ringing he has in his ears from a childhood accident. When Baby meets Debora (Lily James) he decides he wants to get out of his line of work and run away with her. And he will, Doc assures him. He just has one last job.

Edgar Wright is a director known for directing. That sounds weird to say, but it’s true. A lot of directors helm fine movies and are good at orchestrating the production of a film. But when Wright directs, he directs. The film is his breathing, living organism. And that applies to Baby Driver. Every scene is handmade, every detail significant. It simply isn’t a film that could be made by anybody else. Because of that, Baby Driver radiates passion, and I love when a movie does that. The more it seems like the filmmaker was dying to make the movie, the more I’m dying to see it.

For those who are here for a particular actor, I’m happy to inform you everyone turns in good performances here. It’s an ensemble film, though, so it’s the energy and personality of all the actors together that make the film tick along.

Speaking of ticking along, a major selling point of the film is the soundtrack. Almost every scene is set to rock n’ roll, making it like a musical where nobody sings. While it sometimes dances towards the line of being a gimmick, it mostly gives the film a surreal quality.  It ends up serving the film well, and makes the crazy climax feel more grounded.

The best compliment I can give Baby Driver is that it is unique, and in a summer where there are a lot of movies that are retreading old ground, unique is refreshing. Edgar Wright has created something that is a complete blast while still being smart and thought-provoking. It made me want to run out to my car and drive  around with my favorite playlist.  Did I? You’ll never know. But try and tell me you don’t feel the same way when you see it.

-Madeleine D