“Tomb Raider” (2018) review PLUS exploring the “video game movie” problem

Strives to put cinematic storytelling first and video game representation second, but still comes across as tropey and borrows heavily from Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Last Crusade. However, in all fairness, it does provide this generation with a moderately good action-adventure film based on a best-selling video game series. Alicia Vikander’s Lara Croft differs from that of Angelina Jolie’s in that she comes across to audiences as someone who’s impulsive, reckless, and experiencing difficulty in managing her life. Furthermore, she does not excel at everything she is trying to do to survive life and make ends meat. Those qualities give this Lara Croft a level of humanity that allows her to connect more with audiences. Moreover, she is a believable character–she feels real. In fact, that is probably the best element that this reboot has going for it–the realness of the adventure. Not that the film is without exaggerations and fantasy elements; but, the story almost feels like an adventure that could take place under the right circumstances and with the right tools. The realness might have been increased by not feeling like, at times, you were sitting there playing the video game version. Although this initial return to the video game turned motion picture adaptation is frocked with predictable plot beats and turning points, it does show promise for a solid franchise if tweaked. Moving forward, the stories need to be stronger, original, and leave room for SUBTEXT.

Lara Croft is the fiercely independent daughter of an eccentric adventurer who vanished years earlier. Hoping to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance, Croft embarks on a perilous journey to his last-known destination — a fabled tomb on a mythical island that might be somewhere off the coast of Japan. The stakes couldn’t be higher as Lara must rely on her sharp mind, blind faith and stubborn spirit to venture into the unknown. (IMDb)

Video games turned motion pictures aren’t anything new. From Super Mario Bros to Mortal Kombat to Resident Evil to this year’s Tomb Raider, there have been many attempts to adapt interactive media (video games) for scripted/narrative cinematic storytelling. Ultimately, it has proven to be nearly impossible to create a successful motion picture from a video game. In short, Hollywood simply cannot seem to crack the code for a movie adaptation of a video game. There has yet to be a video game to film adaptation that has even encroached upon the fresh threshold of Rotten Tomatoes. But why is that? Often, movie adaptations of video games fail because their is more emphasis placed upon video game brand representation than the art of cinematic storytelling. In its defense, 2018’s Tomb Raider shows an effort to overcome that obstacle. Today’s Tomb Raider made a solid effort to spend time worrying about it’s quality as a film, but still fell victim to being too grounded in its interactive media roots. If studios who either own or license a video game intellectual property (IP) can spend time analyzing the source material for purposes of tapping into what makes the story itself work, then perhaps a successful video game movie can be produced.

Not just limited to interactive media –>film adaptations, but anytime there is a well-established franchise, the writers and director struggle to find where the happy medium is in satisfying the core of the fan base and translating the story between two forms of media. As much as modern interactive media has in common with films (referring to the cut scenes), there is still the human component that cannot be translated for the screen because there is no “choose your own adventure;” it’s this disconnect that often contributes to the poorly written plot for the screen. Much in the same way that movies based on comic books struggled for a long time until Iron Man, with the brilliant exceptions of Tim Burton’s Batman (a Barman movie directed by Burton) and Batman Returns (a Tim Burton movie that happens to have Batman characters), interactive media based movies will eventually find the sweet spot. I feel that this sweet spot will be found when writers and directors take the characters from a video game IP and place them in an original cinematic story that skews more towards the focus being on the cinematic storytelling than adhering to brand recognition and the existing story that can be played, and has been played, on the console or computer. Take Burton’s approach to Batman Returns. Create a story that works for the screen that happens to have the characters from the video game.

Movies aren’t the only adaptations of interactive media; themed entertainment has also spent time adapting a game for an entire attraction. According to Theme Park Tourist (2014), popular seasonally operating Paramount’s Kings Island (purchased by Cedar Fair in 2007 and all Paramount property removed) spent $20MIL on a ride that lasted a mere five years. Based on the hit video game and blockbuster action movie Tomb Raider: The Ride was on par with Disney and Universal in respect to story, setting, and special audio/visual effects; however, after Paramount sold off its theme park investments to Cedar Fair, the ride got rebranded as The Crypt, a generic theme, and all direct associations with the movie and game Tomb Raider were removed following the 2007 operating year. Interestingly, the ride attendance continually dropped following the rebranding, and the ride was eventually moved to Kings Dominion in Virginia in 2012. Although there may be other reasons as to why the ride became less popular and eventually moved to another park, it is conceivable to conclude that there is a special relationship between the characters and story of the game and a themed entertainment attraction. Both the attraction and the game have the advantage of the human component–the ability to truly experience the elements of the game. 

Over all, I found the new Tomb Raider to be a fun watch! Certainly don’t feel that my time or money was wasted. I remember playing Tomb Raider on the original Playstation and Playstation II (it was soon after that, that I lost interest in gaming), and as a mild fan, I feel that this film did the characters and story justice. By the end of the movie, it is obvious that MGM’s intention is to attempt to produce a blockbuster franchise. And to the film’s credit, this first installment had a satisfying ending plus it quickly setup the next movie. If you like action-adventure movies or even a fan of the video game series, I feel that you will enjoy Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider!

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Star Wars and Nintendo: Battle of the Parks

The big question is which will be the bigger draw??? Although it first debuts in Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics, Universal Studios Japan’s Super Nintendo World is one of the most highly anticipated theme park expansions, rivaled only by Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge (Star Wars Land) at Disney parks in the US debuting next year! Two enormous intellectual properties (IPs) that will undoubtedly drive up guest attendance by exponential amounts. But which will prove to be the more popular expansion? Arguably, both lands will significantly impact the attendance of, character meet-and-greets in, and merchandise of the parks. The competition is heating up between Universal and Disney parks and resorts–reminds me of the US and Russian space race of the mid-1900s. While there is no doubt that both lands will be major successes, therein lies a question of which one will prove to be more popular. Not that it truly matters in the grand scheme of things, but it’s one of those things that is interesting to talk about and synthesize some research.

After the opening of both Wizarding World of Harry Potter (WWoHP) lands at Universal Studios Florida (and subsequently the Hollywood expansion), it was no surprise that Disney World was running to catch up, hence the opening of Pandora: the World of Avatar. As amazingly beautiful and detailed as Pandora is, it has not managed to draw the continued crowds and fandom that the WWoHP has been doing since 2010. According to the website Touring Plans, the increase from 2015 to 2017 attendance at Animal Kingdom rose marginally on the average whereas the Miami Herald reports that the increase at Universal Orlando during this same time period was more significant, and the forthcoming TEA Connect and AECOM reports are predicted to show greater growth at Universal than Disney World. Suffice it to say, the fanbase for Harry Potter far exceeds that of Avatar; however, the great battle for the crowds is currently between Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge combined with Toy Story Land and Super Nintendo World with further Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts developments in the worksTo understand which is likely to out-perform the other, one has to delve into the individual fanbases and economic impact of both properties primarily in question–Star Wars and Nintendo.

Unfortunately, there is little to no empirical way to quantify the number of fans either property has because of all the variables. Furthermore, movie ticket DVD/BluRay/VOD sales cannot be weighed against video game console and interactive media (video games) sales to determine fanbase size because it would not be an equitable means of measurement. Understanding the fanbase is crucial to predicting which property will be the bigger draw, which will have the biggest economic impact on its respective park. At the end of the day, both expansions are winners. Both will prove to provide vast positive affects upon the parks. Still, the friendly competition gives rise to the question which will be the bigger success. While the number of fans cannot be realistically quantified, the amount of revenue generated by Star Wars and Nintendo CAN be quantified, and that is precisely what Statista does. According to Statista (and the more than 18K sources from which the company compiles the information), Star Wars has generated $7.5B in revenue compared to Nintendo‘s $75B. What??? Yes, that’s right. Nintendo exceeds Star Wars in revenue 10x. While Nintendo may far exceed Star Wars in revenue generation, it’s important to note that Star Wars is the leading movie franchise in terms of merchandise sales. Yes, more than Harry Potter (and I’m house Ravenclaw). And merchandise sales is a HUGE component of theme park operations and sales.

Since park guests base their visit on more than just a single land, the presence of Toy Story Land at Disney World and Wizarding World of Harry Potter should also be taken into account when determining whether Disney World or Universal Orlando will see the bigger boost to attendance and increase in revenue. Arguably, Harry Potter (inclusive of Fantastic Beasts) is the bigger franchise family based on book sales, ticket sales, current theme park attractions, etc. Therefore, Star Wars land has to be big enough to not only compete against Nintendo World but also Harry Potter. One of the biggest advantages that Star Wars has over Nintendo and Harry Potter is merchandise sales and collections. Star Wars has exponentially more memorabilia and collectors than Nintendo, mostly because of the success of the films and the fact that Star Wars predates Nintendo by several years. But I imagine that Universal will continue to rely upon WWoHP for the bulk of the merchandise sales at the park since it can compete with Star Wars Land on that playing field. Analyzing the fandom of Nintendo is a little more difficult than that of Star Wars because Star Wars is the big umbrella under which all the movies, video games, and merchandise fall. Fans identify themselves as a Star Wars fan, whereas the fans of Nintendo’s product line are more prone to identify with a particular game franchise (Mario, Pokemon, Zelda, etc) more so than identifying with Nintendo proper. All evidence points to both brands being strong, viable candidates that will provide a close competition.

Both Star Wars and Nintendo are worldwide phenomena–no question. Combine Star Wars with Toy Story and conversely Nintendo with Harry Potter, and you have two powerhouse destinations for theme park fans. With the recent expansions at Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood, Disney World/Disneyland needs to ramp up their game–go into hyperspeed. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge pulls into space dock in 2019 just in time for episode IX. We are still a few years away from a domestic Super Nintendo World, and do not know much about it; however, we do have an idea of what to expect at the Universal Studios Tokyo and can by extension apply that knowledge to Universal Orlando. From what we know so far, Star Wars land will be a completely immersive environment that will essentially transport park guests to a “galaxy far far away.” If the WWoHP is the best example of the successful translation from book to screen to theme park for a world of fantasy, then Star Wars land will be on par with the best.

An interesting element to think about is the future of both Star Wars and Nintendo. It’s old news at this point that the most recent Star Wars movie The Last Jedi was not popular with longtime fans–new fans, yes–longtime fans, no. Nintendo is successfully holding onto both the old and new fans because the video games and consoles continue to appeal to those who had an NES as a kid or just bought last year’s Switch. Even legacy properties are holding onto what made them popular, but incorporating trends in interactive media (the term now often used to define that which was formerly video games). Mario Builder is an example of the aforementioned concept. If Star Wars continues to lose its longtime fans, abandons them for the new fans, then the new land may not fair as well as Nintendo World. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a new generation Harry Potter movie that largely appealed to BOTH the old and newer fans. Therefore, it could be said that Universal Orlando’s most popular themed lands may have a longer life than Star Wars if the movies keep dropping the older fans. Just something to think about.

The Battle of the Parks is hot, and will just keep getting hotter! Fortunately, healthy competition breeds innovation, so whether or not Universal or Disney has the better new land expansions, the real winner in this battle is the consumer! Both parks will greatly benefit from the expansions and only time will be able to tell which one wins this race to be the best.

“Kubo and the Two Strings” movie review

kuboAbsolutely beautiful! A dazzling display of the best that cinema can be! Laika and Focus Features’ Kubo and the Two Strings is truly a testament to the art of motion pictures! Brilliantly animated in an eye-catching stylistic way, this film provides audiences with a simple and intimate journey through a dynamically epic world of adventure, laughter, and tears. Directed by Travis Knight, from the opening to the final fade to black, Kubo is arguably the best animated feature length film to hit theaters in a long time. It contains the incredible storytelling that few films, live-action or animated, strive for but often fail to accomplish. Rarely, do audiences witness a perfect film, but this one comes very close to being perfectly written, directed, acted, shot, edited, and produced. With an A-list of vocal talent behind the characters in this immaculately animated world, Kubo will surely impress all those who watch this fantastical story. In some ways, I could argue that this film displays signs of being self-aware. Self-aware in that this simple but effective visual story is all about the very concept of storytelling. Cecil B. DeMille said, “the greatest art is the art of storytelling;” and this film proves that, in a world of high concept blockbusters that are produced to simply generate revenue at the sacrifice of storytelling, there are films with beautiful imagery, writing, and even a great message that hold true to the very idea what launched more than 100 years of cinema.

Following a daring escape from an unknown enemy across a treacherous ocean of tsunami sized waves, a young women survives a nearly fatal crash and washes upon the shore of a beach in the shadow of an imposing mountain with her infant. Many years later, Kubo (Art Parkinson) has grown up to be a young man with a passion for storytelling that he learned from his mother. Never having fully recovered from the accident, so many years ago, Kubo has the responsibility to take care of his mother. Harnessing his talent for magical origami, a stringed instrument, and storytelling, Kubo makes a little money each day for him and his mother. Little did Kubo know that his mother’s warning to not stay outside of their home after dark was for good reason. Soon, Kubo will find himself on an epic journey to unlock a secret legacy that he could have only dreamed of. Along his journey, he meets up with a monkey (Charlize Theron) and a man-beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who protect and teach him along the way. Don’t blink, even for one second, because you may very well miss something of grave importance.

The first thing you will observe in this movie is the exquisite and stylistic combination of two different animation methods. Claymation, which most are familiar with, and the lesser used papermation. Although typically used by themselves to tell an animated story, the brilliant combination of both methods to concurrently tell this epic story will leave a lasting impression upon you. There is a beauty in this film unmatched by any other in recent times. In many ways, the visual appeal of this movie reminds me of the early Walt Disney and Pixar animated films. Audiences can easily witness the absolute passion in every movement, detail, and landscape. I was completely sucked into Kobo’s fantastic world of Japanese influence. In addition to outstanding technical achievements in animation, lighting, and cinematography, Kubo is a film that is equally outstanding in its ability to tell a simple but inspirational story. It is the epitome of an ideal relationship between artists and engineers. This film successfully combines an artisan handcrafted charm with the precision of sophisticated visual storytelling technologies in a dazzling display of cinematic art that will surely be cherished for a lifetime.

Simple. The plot is so simple but yet very much profound. While so many studios are cranking out franchises, adaptations, complex plots, and young adult dramas, the Laika production company chose a different route. It chose a route that proves that the mastery of visual storytelling that showcases the art of cinema is still alive. In a world of the business of moviemaking, Kubo returns us to the art of filmmaking. Not confined to art house theaters in Greenwich Village or West Hollywood, this film is evidence that truly artistic masterpieces are still desired by the American audience. “The art of making art, is putting it together” (Sunday in the Park with George). Knowing that just the leaf ship sequence at the turning point between the first and second acts took 19 months to create, design, and produce, it is clearly apparent that a tremendous amount of time, love, and energy went into every frame of this stunning movie. As someone who has a passion for the very concept of storytelling, this film brought tears to my eyes because of the sheer beauty of the film and the experience of watching it on the big screen. Although it is an endearing film filled with love and adventure, it is also quite scary during some of the intense conflict between Kubo and those who wish to do him harm. From Kobo’s magical origami birds and samurai warrior to the playful banter between Monkey and Beetle, I was awestruck at the brilliance of the film in both writing and visuals.

I highly recommend this film for those who have not seen it yet. I only wish I had made it to the movie before last night. After hearing what others have said and written about this movie, I have come to the same conclusion that many have voiced: this film is exceptional by any known measurable means of evaluating a film. If any animated film this year is destined for an Oscar nomination or win, this one is it.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter or email him at RLTerry1@gmail.com! You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, feel free to catch a movie with him!

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“The Forest” movie review

The ForestInto the woods…off to find a body. The Forest is a brilliant example of January’s reputation as a movie graveyard. Banking on its ability to over-utilize the cliche jump-scare to get a heightened emotional response from the audience, this film demonstrates little uniqueness in this sub-genre of horror; however, I gotta give it a little credit. It was successful in causing me to jump in my seat a few times and even cringe a little. If for no there reason, this film will possibly prompt you to lookup the legends of the Aokigahara Forest, surrounding the foothills and floor of famed and picturesque Mount Fuji in Japan. Starting off as a movie that feels as if it will have a slow burn but then pick up in the second and third acts, The Forest is more like an annoyingly dripping faucet that has a perpetual clog that you wish would eventually explode with excitement. There is definitely a sense of anticipation and anxiousness, but the movie fails to provide a thrilling release. The only intriguing element of the movie is that this fictional story is indirectly connected to true stories of the Aokigahara Forest. Unfortunately, the stories of people going into the forest with the intent to either commit or contemplate suicide is all too true. Furthermore, a friend of mine who lives in Japan told me that the forest really does seem to have a mystical power that compels people to harm themselves or others. Interesting. If you ever visit Aokigahara Forest, be sure to stay on the path and never remain in the forest after dark.

The Forest is about a young American woman named Sara (Natalie Dormer) who senses something has terribly befallen her identical twin sister Jessica. With the intent on finding her sister, Sara flies to Japan and begins to investigate the whereabouts of Jessica. Learning of the legends surrounding the mystical Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji, Sara starts to develop a plan to rescue her. Unfortunately, the reputation of the forest scares the locals so much that she is unable to find anyone to help her. Just when all hope is nearly lost, Sara meets local Austrailian travel expert and writer Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and he contacts his guide friend Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to lead them into the dark and twisted pathways of the forest. Against the recommendation of locals and Michi, Sara and Aiden remain in the forest after dark to find Jessica, but they have no idea that they are about to encounter the tormented souls of those who are looking to add to their numbers.

The characters aren’t the only ones who stray from the pathway, the film itself strays from the pathway of a well-paced and developed plot. I am not sure if the movie is supposed to be self-reflexive in that it is about exploring dark, repressed memories that subconsciously torment the soul or if it supposed to be a superficial cliche horror flick that provides an hour and a half of mild to moderate entertainment. From poorly written dialog to including too many poorly placed flashbacks, this film is all over the place. I have often commented on my dislike for films that rely on flashbacks to support or tell the story. Every once in a while, there come films that actually utilize the flashback in a way that works extremely well–but those are few and far between–this is definitely not one of them. The first several minutes of the film feels like a ping pong match because the audience is constantly tossed back and forth between present day and 20-30 year old flashbacks.

I feel strongly that this is a horror film that could have really used much more character development for Sarah. Not that horror films are the place to find development amongst its lead characters, but the story being told here was actually a good platform for integrating that element into the narrative. It’s almost like the writers were going that direction, but failed to see it through. Films like this one are not produced to add to the artistic medium of visual storytelling or offer up any degree of legitimate critical value, but still these types of horror films should continue to the library of other horror films by adding something new–even a small contribution. That being said, the fact that the film does integrate true elements of local folklore and true stories of suicide in the forest does give the film a little something that many do not have–a direct connection to the horrific reality of a place that anyone can visit on their trip to Mount Fuji. After talking with my expatriate friend who resides in Japan, I do look at this film a little different since the narrative appears to hit very close to home for many who live with news of the dark side of that forest as part of their lives.

For what it’s worth, it’s a fun movie to watch if you are looking for some cheap scares. Like with most horror films, it is best enjoyed or appreciated in a group setting.