At The Movies: Tomb Raider

Way back in 2001 Angelina Jolie brought video game adventurer Lara Croft to life with the release of “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider.” Jolie made two “Tomb Raider” movies before everyone involved lost interest. They were decent, but not particularly impressive or engaging, action-adventure films.

Seventeen years later, Alicia Vikander steps into the role for a fresh start and a new adventure. The latest “Tomb Raider” is a decent, but not particularly impressive or engaging, action-adventure flick.

Lara is the daughter of wealthy Richard Croft (Dominic West), who disappeared some years ago and now Lara must find and rescue him. Wait. Didn’t I review this movie last week?


Richard went missing while searching for the tomb of Himiko, an ancient queen with strange mystical powers. Richard wanted to find the tomb before the evil Trinity organization does because if it gets to the corpse first they will do something evil with it — because that’s what evil organizations do.

Lara unearths a clue to her father’s whereabouts and, with help from ship captain Lu Rein (Daniel Wu), tracks him down to a deserted island. She and Lu are immediately captured by an expedition party sent by Trinity and led by  Mathias Vogel (Walton Goggins).

There’s a lot of running and chasing in this movie. It starts off with a bike chase, followed by Lara being chased around by a trio of young punks, then being chased through the jungle by Trinity agents. She spends a lot more time running than tomb raiding, but I guess “Lara Croft: Runner” wouldn’t be quite as big a draw.

I can’t say this new “Tomb Raider” is better or worse than the original. There is some beautiful scenery, your standard traps-in-the-tomb excitement, some decent action — but that was also true of the first one. Vikander is the real draw here as she has great screen presence. But then, so did Jolie.

“Tomb Raider” is a very by-the-numbers adventure movie with a twist at the end that makes no sense to me. It’s clearly set up as the start of a franchise but we’ll see how long “Lara Croft 2.0” will carry on.


At The Movies: A Wrinkle In Time

The new fantasy film “A Wrinkle in Time” is based on a beloved (or so I’m told) book by Madeleine L’Engle. I can only hope the book is much better than the movie, because the movie is a mess.

Oh, it’s very pretty to look at. Kudos to whoever did the special effects, costumes and makeup. But those are the only things this sappy, smarmy film has going for it.

Meet the Murry family: father Alex (Chris Pine), mother Kate (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), daughter Meg (Storm Reid) and son Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) (Why do they call him Charles Wallace, instead of just Charles or Charlie or Wallace? Who knows? This is just the first of many unanswered questions you will encounter).

The Murry family are all geniuses. And they love each other very, very much. I don’t know any family living or fictional that loves each other as much as the Murry family. I almost went out into the lobby for an insulin shot during the first 10 minutes of the movie.

But then one day dad disappears. Four years later dad is still gone and Meg is now a mopey teen who gets picked on by her classmates. Charles Wallace still loves her, and she loves Charles Wallace.


Charles Wallace has been hanging out with a trio of mysterious women with supernatural powers — Mrs. Which (Oprah Winfrey), Mrs. Whatsit (Reese Witherspoon) and Mrs. Who (Mindy Kaling). Where did he meet them? Who knows? When did he meet them? Who knows? How did he meet them? Who knows? Certainly not his mother and sister. Nor anyone in the audience.

The ladies show up in the backyard one day and inform Meg that their father used his mind to transport himself across the universe and they need to go bring him back. At least I think that’s what happened. Meg, Charles Wallace, and neighbor boy Calvin (Levi Miller) soon find themselves whisked away to a colorful, creative landscape.

Everyone’s enjoying a nice frolic when an ominous black cloud appears in the sky, with inky tendrils spiraling out from it. This, it turns out, is “The Black Thing” — aka IT, aka the Personification of Pure Evil.

Oh Lord, seriously?

Yep. The kids need to rescue dad from the evil cloud, or rather Meg does, because she’s a WARRIOR of some sort and the witches can’t help because, well, plot dynamics.

Somewhere around this time my mind checked out and never really checked back in. There’s a lot of talking, some trippy visuals, some heartwarming lecturing, an unsatisfying battle of good vs. evil, and a family reunited for lots of hugging.

I suppose this movie will appeal to young people, but I can’t imagine why. As I mentioned up top, the visuals are the real –and only — draw. The cast is fine but when the most captivating thing about a film is the women’s lipstick, there’s a problem.





On Stage: Chicago

If you’re in the mood for jazz, murder, and some of the finest songs in Broadway history, rush down to the Fox Theatre this weekend because “Chicago” is back — but only through Sunday.

Based on the play by Maurine Dallas Watkins, this tale of two vaudeville singers in hoping for celebrity success through murder was brought to fiery life as a musical in the 1970s by Fred Ebb, John Kander and Bob Fosse. It’s been winning cheers and accolades ever since — the current revival boasts holding the record as the longest-running musical revival and the longest-running American musical in Broadway history.

And it actually deserves those honors — as opposed to, say, “Cats.”


“Chicago” plays through March 4 at the Fox Theatre.

Set in Prohibition-era Chicago, Roxie Hart (Dylis Croman) has just murdered her lover in a fit of rage. Turns out lots of women in 1920s Chicago went around killing men — for such crimes as adultery or gum popping. In prison Roxie meets Velma Kelly (Lana Gordon), waiting trial for the murder of her husband and sister.

Murder is a good way to get your name in the papers, and the more spectacular the crime the more attention you can get from the press. Velma and Roxie see this as a way to jumpstart their flagging showbiz careers, but before they can take the stage they must first get off the hook. Helping them out (for a price) are prison warden Mamma Morton (Jennifer Fouche) and lawyer Billy Flynn (Brent Barrett).

I love “Chicago” and hadn’t seen it for a few years, so this is a welcome if all-to-brief return. The biggest change from previous productions is the stripped-down set. Everything takes place in front of the orchestra, set up in a large square on stage, with no scenery changes.

But you don’t need a lot of fancy set designs when you have a talented cast, orchestra and all that jazz. The musical numbers are the true stars here, including such memorable tunes as “Cell Block Tango,” “Roxie,” Razzle Dazzle” and “Class.”

Among the cast, I was particularly impressed with Paul Vogt as Amos, Roxie’s hapless, frumpy husband; and Brent Barrett as the smarmy defense attorney. The ladies are equally talented.

They say crime doesn’t pay but it can be entertaining. At least in “Chicago.”

“Chicago” runs through Sunday at the Fox Theatre.


At The Movies: Red Sparrow

If you’re tired of waiting for Marvel Studios to make that “Black Widow” movie you’ve been wanting, you might want to give “Red Sparrow” a try.

Now granted, it’s far more violent, dark, and you’re going to see more of Jennifer Lawrence’s naked body than you’re likely to see of Scarlett Johansson’s in a Marvel movie — but it’s the closest we’re going to come to a Russian-ballerina-becomes-spy movie for a while.

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Dominika Egorova, prima ballerina with the Bolshoi. She lives with her invalid mother (Joely Richardson) and life is fine until an accident ends Dominika’s dancing career.

Dominika’s uncle, Ivan (Matthias Schoenaerts), is a high-ranking official in Russian intelligence. He tells his niece that the only way for her and her mother to avoid poverty is if she attends and survives Sparrow School — a place where select young Russians are taught all the dirty tricks of espionage.


School is intense, brutal, and humiliating, but Dominika makes it through. Her first assignment is to befriend CIA agent Nate Nash (Joel Edgerton) and discover the identity of the Russian mole that is working with him.

Based on the novel by Jason Matthews, “Red Sparrow” is a decent spy thriller that is more about the psychological and personal toll of the spy game and not focused on the high action and gadgets one expects from a James Bond movie. It’s also significantly more harsh and graphic than your usual Bond thriller.

Like all spy movies it relies on multiple twists and turns and I’m not entirely sure how it all shakes out in the end. The movie is long (2 hours, 20 minutes) but entertaining enough that it didn’t matter.

A large part of what keeps your attention all that time is , of course, Jennifer Lawrence. The actress has such a compelling on-screen presence that you get drawn into her story even if it doesn’t really bring anything new to the spy film genre.

At The Movies: Early Man

I don’t go to as many animated feature films as I used to. There seem to be so many of them these days, and most of them just don’t appeal to me.

But I will always make time for an animated feature by Nick Park.

The British animator has given us such delightful fare as “Chicken Run,” “Shaun the Sheep,” “Creature Comforts” and his masterpiece — the “Wallace and Gromit” series.

So yeah, I was looking forward to his latest, “Early Man.”

But alas, it seems even the great ones can have an off day.

fid17453It’s not that ‘Early Man” is a bad film. It’s cute. It has its charm. Kids will probably enjoy it. The animation is as sharp as anything else to come out of Aardman Animations.

It’s just not that funny. Or witty. Or clever. Or smart. These are the key ingredients of a Nick Park film, and they are sadly missing here.

“Early Man” is the story of a small band of cavemen led by  Chief Bobnar (Timothy Spall). The tribe lives in a peaceful valley where they survive by hunting rabbits.

Their peaceful existence is disrupted when a highly advanced (by Neanderthal standards) army of Bronze Age types moves in and kicks Bobnar’s tribe out of the valley.

The hero of the tale,  Dug (Eddie Redmayne) wants the intruders out and goes to confront their leader, Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). If they want to win back their homeland, Dug and his friends must best Nooth’s champions in a game of football (or as we Americans call it, soccer).

Dug’s team doesn’t know the first thing about football, but since when has that ever been a detriment in a movie like this?

“Early Man” is, like I said, cute. It’s your typical underdog sports story that plays out just as predictably as you’d imagine. But I expect so much more from Nick Park. It does have a few brief moments of wit, but not enough to sustain an 89-minute movie.

At The Movies: Black Panther

Remember when superheroes were primarily of interest only to nerdy white boys?

I do. I was there. Showing your love for Batman did not make you a popular kid in elementary or high school, I assure you.

But somewhere along the line, things changed. And now we live in a world where people throw online fits because “Wonder Woman” didn’t get any Academy Award nominations. A world where an actor playing a superhero in a new movie is currently on the cover of “Time” magazine. A world where that film — “Black Panther” — is poised to earn more than $150 million at the box office this weekend. In February.

Welcome, rest of the world. We knew you’d catch up with us nerdy white boys eventually.

So, “Black Panther.” Marvel Studio’s 18th movie in 10 years and its first with a black lead and a majority black cast. This makes it important, if you haven’t got the word. A lot of people have waited a long time for this moment. Good thing it lives up to expectations.


Chadwick Boseman stars as T’Challa, soon to be crowned king of the mysterious African nation of Wakanda. T’Challa, also known as the Black Panther, joined the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2016 in “Captain America: Civil War,” where his father was killed in a bombing. Now, T’Challa has returned home to take his father’s place on the throne.

But first, a history lesson: Many years ago a large meteorite made of vibranium — the strongest metal in the world — crash landed in Wakanda. Over the decades the Wakandans used vibranium to create for themselves a technological utopia, far advanced and hidden away from the rest of the world. I’m not sure how a big hunk of rock can do all that, but hey kids, comics!

The only outsider to ever get into Wakanda, steal vibranium, and escape, is arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis). Klaue has formed an alliance with an American black-ops soldier named Erik “Killmonger” Stevens (Michael B. Jordan). Klaue wants more vibranium to sell while Erik wants to get into Wakanda for more personal reasons.

T’Challa is surrounded by a complex ensemble of characters, all played superbly by the actors involved: Angela Bassett as the regal Royal Mother; Letitia Wright as Shuri, T’Challa’s little sister and the country’s chief scientist; Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia, love interest and undercover operative; Danai Gurira as Okoye, head of security; Daniel Kaluuya as W’Kabi, the king’s confidant and head of his border guards; and Forest Whitaker as Zuri, elder statesman and longtime family friend.

Rounding out the cast are Winston Duke as M’Batu, chief of a rival tribe; and Martin Freeman as Everett Ross, a CIA agent who serves as the outsider (aka white person) point of view.

“Black Panther” is another solid entry in the Marvel canon and one of the better-made comic book movies. The villains (Klaue and Killmonger) are, for a change, more rounded and charismatic. The story has more depth and bite than usual. The movie isn’t afraid to address tough and uncomfortable issues.

But like so many superhero movies, the final reel is an overdone orgy of fighting and explosions. I’m still not sure what was going down with the Black Panthers’ throw-down on the rail line.

But what truly makes “Black Panther” stand out is how black it is. Directed by Ryan Coogler, the film revels in African landscapes (real and futuristic), costumes, music, attitude and style.




Trivia Night, Taco, And The Power Of 8

Friday night was the 16th annual Trivia Night to benefit the Center for Autism Education. We have been participating in this event for at least a dozen years, probably a couple more.

The greatest challenge of Trivia Night is not answering the questions, it’s putting the team(s) together. Each team sits around a long table, 4 chairs per side. That means you can have a maximum of 8 people per team. You can have fewer, but you’re still going to pay the same amount for the table so you might as well max it out if you can.

The tables are crammed into the Elks Lodge and if you have 8 people it’s going to be a tight fit, especially when you factor in winter coats, purses and snacks. You wouldn’t want 9 people even if you could have them.

27990576_10155916164430856_562729201_o (2)In the beginning it was just me and my Journal peeps. (Laurie goes to volunteer and occasionally sneak us answers. This year she was in charge of selling tickets for the booze basket. She didn’t sneak us any booze. That’s why they trust her.)



Over time we grew out of our table because someone would have to drop out one year so we’d bring in someone new but then the original person would want back in the next year and we couldn’t just punt the new person and we’ve never had the same lineup 2 years in a row, so, you know…expansion.

And then Laurie’s friends decided they wanted to participate so, you know, expansion. And then I wound up at the ARC and people there wanted to participate so, you know, expansion. We have it pretty much down to 2 tables a year, with lots of mixing and matching of people. Fortunately we all get along.

Usually I take charge of putting the teams together but last year Laurie jumped the gun on me, which was fine by me — let her deal with it. And all worked out fine, except she forgot to invite my ARC pals, and I heard about it later. So this year I made it a point to invite all the usual suspects and we quickly had our 16 participants.

Then Trent decided we needed 1 more.

“I’m bringing a friend. Is that OK?”

At first I thought she was joking. We went through this same conversation some years back and I had to politely explain to her how math works. As she continued to press the issue, I realized that she was serious.

Since we usually have at least one person bail before showtime, I just let it be. Sure enough, a week before the event Mary Beth had to bow out. And then Trent had to excuse herself as well. And then Yellow took a pass — for reasons that were TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE. “I had to work hard today and I’m tired” is not a valid excuse for leaving your teammates in a lurch.

Meanwhile, I started thinking maybe I should invite my new Etrailer buddies. After all, as long as there are enough of them for their own table, it should all work out. I invited Leah, who didn’t know what a trivia night was, then Amy, who used the excuse that she would be having a baby about that same time, then Victoria, who said she would be celebrating Christmas that night. Some people will do anything to get out of trivia.

I had given up on the idea when I was talking to my editor, the other Leah, who expressed interest in putting a team together. Does the CAE appreciate all that I do for them? I think not, it’s all about Laurie and how she volunteers all the time.

28033485_10155916164970856_1220847102_o (2)

Team Etrailer

Now I had to tell my current teammates that, in addition to competing with a bunch of strangers for trivia glory, we would be competing with Team Etrailer.

“Are they going to beat us?” says Erica.

“I doubt it. Unless there is a category on trailer hitches and automotive supplies we should be good. Besides, this is their first time — we’ve got a dozen years professional experience over these guys.”

Game night finally arrives and plays out like usual. It was the same guy running the show as always and creating the same issues: too many horse races, too many needless videos, too much time wasting in general…the thing just goes on too long. Is anyone at the CAE reading this? I point this out Every Year. I couldn’t even get everyone in the team photo because they were all in such a hurry to leave when it was over that I missed some people.


27654966_10102482333545794_2611231809675373539_n (2)Still, it is a fun time. My team started out strong but then we fell a few points behind and once that happens you can never dig yourself out. I blame Yellow and her slothfulness. She probably knew who Taco was.

Stevie’s team maintained a solid lead for most of the show but stumbled in the final rounds. I think it was Sports that did them in. And Taco.

So who came out on top in our group? You guessed it. Team Etrailer, in their first year of competition, finished in third place.

Once I let my jealousy subside, I pretended to be happy for them.

(In case you’re curious, Taco is the one-hit wonder who recorded a synth-pop remake of Irving Berlin’s classic tune “Puttin’ on the Ritz” back in 1982. You didn’t know that? Neither did anyone else.)