• Tomb Raider (2018)

    I have been a fan of the Tomb Raider franchise for more than twenty years which means more than two thirds of my lifetime. I have played all the video games and watched the previous movies with Angelina Jolie. The first one was a little bit shallow while the second one had great pace and was an improvement. This reboot however is easily the best of the three films for numerous reasons.

    Let's start with the movie's only downside. The first fifteen minutes that are meant to introduce the protagonist and show us her tough life are overtly sentimental. If this were to be a drama, it would blend in nicely but it doesn't quite go along with an adventurous action movie. The movie's final twist is also foreshadowed so obviously in the first fifteen minutes that it almost feels ridiculous. Please take the viewers more seriously.

    Other than that, Tomb Raider is a stunning experience. The locations look gorgeous. The stormy sea, the mysterious island and the gloomy catacombs are fascinating. The number of traps, riddles and dangers that Lara Croft encounters are as challenging, diversified and intense as in the best video games. The story is closely inspired by the excellent video game that successfully rebooted the franchise five years ago. The special effects are absolutely stunning as this movie is one of the greatest visual experiences I have ever seen on screen. Still, the movie doesn't lift off and keeps a realistic edge thanks to precise camera work and light techniques as well as genuinely exotic locations. The acting performances are great. Antagonist Mathias is a pitiless lunatic, Lara Croft's sidekick is a resilient sailor with an alcohol problem and Lara Croft's father is meandering between cleverness and madness. I really appreciated Alicia Vikander's performance as she portrays a cultivated yet adventurous young woman with a strong moral compass who has to deal with demons of her past, shady family members and arrogant guys who constantly underestimate her. She is much closer to the essence of Lara Croft than Angelina Jolie's character that was rather built upon stereotypical physical appearances. Alicia Vikander's performance is as fresh as the movie itself and the rebooted franchise as it doesn't have anything in common with the quiet, one-dimensional superhero with the big breasts of yore.

    Fans of the Tomb Raider franchise should really love this movie as it offers everything that makes the video games so outstanding: a brave protagonist with an intellectual side, diversified exotic locations, a series of traps, riddles and dangers, a dangerous antagonist and a few cultural and historic references. The only reasons why this movie didn't get the highest possible grade are the unnecessary opening fifteen minutes and the fact that 2013's Tomb Raider game is even better than the movie. If you have played this game, you have to watch the movie. If you have watched this movie, you have to play the game. It's as simple as this. Enjoy the wild ride!

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  • Den of Thieves (2018)

    Den of Thieves might be a stereotypical movie about tough guys trying to outsmart one another but it's a really entertaining ride and worth the praise it gets.

    First of all, the story is fast-paced without any lengths. Each character is introduced appropriately, the tension slowly rises until a gripping climax and the final twist is quite impressive as well.

    Secondly, the acting performances are stellar. Gerard Butler fully impresses as tough and pitiless detective who convinces with unshakable determination but also shows his flaws with his aggressive recklessness. Pablo Schreiber offers a very solid performance as strong, intelligent and ambitious criminal who turns out to be much more complex than meets the eye. The secret protagonist of the movie is O'Shea Jackson Junior's character who goes through a spectacular development from being a curious bartender, becoming involved in a gang of highly trained criminals and ending up what seems to be an undercover collaborator with the local police force. Each character has important flaws and strengths which makes everyone of them particularly authentic. Identifying a clear protagonist or antagonist is nearly impossible which sets this movie apart from other genre flicks.

    Thirdly, the action sequences are quite spectacular, including car chases, gun fights and hand-to-hand combat but these elements are never overused and keep the movie diversified yet credible.

    Fourthly, the main heist is truly spectacular and nerve-firing as the clever criminals face quite a few serious challenges. The whole sequence lasts about half an hour but feels less than half as long because it's so gripping.

    Fifthly, despite being an action movie, this film doesn't overuse special effects, employs lighting techniques smoothly and utilizes calm camera work. Stylistically, this movie goes back to the great action movies of the eighties which is quite refreshing and not headache-inducing. Great action movies don't need shaky cameras and zombies but should stick to the simplest ingredients to fully convince. This is what Den of Thieves accomplishes very successfully.

    In the end, watching Den of Thieves was a surprisingly positive experience. I haven't watched such an overall enjoyable action movie in a very long time. Fans of action cinema with tough guys in the key of the Die Hard franchise just can't get around this film. I certainly don't aim to sound controversial but the only thing to point out is that this movie was made by men for men and might appear somewhat stereotypical to most women. On the other side, it's just the other way around with films like Pitch Perfect. If this movie seems to be right down your alley, you will enjoy it for sure but if it's not your type of movie, just ignore it.

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  • The Commuter (2018)

    The Commuter is another movie with Liam Neeson being Liam Neeson. This time, he plays a family father who loses his job and is about to lose everything he has. On his train ride back home, he gets approached by a woman who offers him twenty-five thousand dollars if he does her a favor. As soon as the desperate man takes the money, all hell breaks loose. He is supposed to find and eliminate a witness to a crime on the train or else his family will be in danger.

    Even though we have all watched similar movies before like Non-Stop, also involving Liam Neeson, that had a very similar story but took place on a plane, The Commuter is one of the most entertaining movies of its kind. It takes the time to introduce the main character and how his organized everyday life shatters from one day to another which makes us empathize and even identify with the character. 

    The plot is mysterious and tense, as more and more details about the background story emerge step by step to keep viewers focused from start to finish. Additional story elements add a few doses of energy at the right moments and even though the solution to it all isn't that hard to figure out, you still keep guessing until the end how it might all turn out.

    The movie obviously has a very special atmosphere, since more than three quarters of it take place on a train, in a closed environment, with a set of diversified characters. I have always liked the idea of movies, novels and theater plays based upon this idea and it's very well executed here.

    The special effects aren't overused which gives the movie an almost realistic touch which gets the viewers emotionally involved. Only the final twenty minutes or so are filled with spectacular action, leading to an appropriate showdown and its aftermath.

    The decent soundtrack complements the movie's gloomy atmosphere. The lighting techniques add a sinister tone as well. The at times claustrophobic camera angles are employed accurately. The makers of this movie clearly knew what they were doing.

    Even though The Commuter isn't a particularly original movie, it's a great ride and entertaining from start to finish. Go watch it at your local cinema.

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  • Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

    Kingsman: The Golden Circle is an energetic roller coaster ride similar to the first instalment three years earlier. It's basically a reinvention of the James Bond franchise for younger generations, especially teenagers and young adults. The mixture of relentless action, British humor, a tiny shot of eroticism, exotic locations, twisted scenarios and spectacular special effects still works very well. What makes the Kingsman franchise special are the young and geeky main character, the connection to contemporary phenomenons such as social media activities and robotics as well as a more extreme mixture between situation comedy to lighten things up and visually explicit images to impress younger generations.

    There are only a few minor elements that are wrong with this sequel which is on the same level as the predecessor. First of all, the movie includes a few continuity mistakes such as car doors getting torn off just to look perfectly intact one shot later. This shows that the filmmaking process was slightly rushed and sloppy. Secondly, the movie overuses the use of stereotypes about the differences between American and British cultures. Especially the song Take Me Home, Country Roads by John Denver is overused in this film, especially since the movie takes mostly place in Kentucky and not in West Virginia. Thirdly and most importantly, the plot is also somewhat incoherent. It never becomes obvious why Harry suspects Whiskey to be a traitor. The idea that the villain placed antidotes in secret locations all around the world without even one of them being discovered is quite ridiculous as well. The way the Kingsmen finally discover Poppy's hideout in Cambodia doesn't make much sense either.

    In the end, Kingsma: The Golden Circle is an energizing, entertaining and fast-paced spy flick for teenagers and young adults. If you are open to pardon some obvious filmmaking and plot mistakes and just want to switch your brain off, you will certainly enjoy this slightly shallow film for what it is. I really liked the vivid ride but I wouldn't consider this film or the franchise a contemporary classic as many other people seem to do. It's fun but lacking substance to be more than just that.

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  • The Foreigner (2017)

    Jackie Chan is an incredibly skilled actor but he has often chosen rather uninteresting roles that limit him to slapstick comedy and a few fight scenes in exchangeable family movies like Kung Fu Yoga and Chinese Zodiac. His last entirely interesting movie was the historical drama 1911 six years ago but even that movie was flawed due to its propagandistic vibe. 

    And suddenly, Jackie Chan is back with a bang in The Foreigner. Almost nobody saw that coming. And instead of focusing on gags and choreography, this film respects Jackie Chan as a serious actor. He plays a former special forces operator, refugee and family father who loses his single daughter in a terrorist attack and wants to track down the criminals behind this unspeakable act by any means necessary. Jackie Chan manages to find a perfect balance between playing a broken old man, a clever and strategic fighter with an intact moral compass and a pitiless avenger. As a viewer, you sympathize with this authentic and diversified character with authentic flaws and strengths. The Foreigner might actually be the best acting performance in Jackie Chan's incredibly long career.

    In addition to an outstanding Jackie Chan, this movie features other great actors such as the charismatic Pierce Brosnan. His performance as Jackie Chan's determined, influential and manipulative antagonist might be his best since his departure from the James Bond franchise one and a half decades ago. The different supporting characters of mostly Chinese or Irish origin are also quite convincing.

    As if that weren't enough, the story of the movie is so addicting because it's quite authentic. The topic of the Irish Republican Army has been used many times before but only very few films show the corruption, ideology and struggle behind it like this film does. The movie is based upon Stephen Leather's novel The Chinaman and the detailed movie shows that it's quite faithful to the source material.

    The film convinces with a balanced mixture of action, crime and drama elements and equally focuses on developing the main characters, offering diversified action sequences from exploding buildings over hand-to-hand combats to home invasions and perpetually raising the tension of the film until a stunning showdown. Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution are all cleverly developed.

    The skilled directing by an experienced Martin Campbell who had already collaborated with Pierce Brosnan in the past is the cherry on the cake of a flawless film. The locations are simple but efficient, the lighting techniques add to the respective moods of the scenes and the well-integrated soundtrack always blends in.

    In the end, The Foreigner deserves the attention and praise it already gets and would even deserve more. It's one of the very best movies of the year and a stunning return for Pierce Brosnan, Martin Campbell and especially Jackie Chan.

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