Iain Glen

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

lara-croft-tomb-raider

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider is what it is, and that is not a film I would normally watch. But triggered by an urge to clean my Netflix queue and not use my brain yielded this gem. Well, not a gem exactly but also not the hardened lump of excrement I was expecting. I might even say I enjoyed it, some elements at least. The movie is campy fun, filled with bracing action but also economical in execution. Angelina Jolie doesn’t flinch in the title role and offsets some though not all of my concerns about the character, best known as the busty star of a popular video game franchise.

Since I’m unfamiliar with Lara Croft or her tomb raiding world, I was prepared to take everything at face value. So she’s a titled gentlewoman living alone, with the exception of her butler (Chris Barrie) and personal tech guy/hacker (Noah Taylor), on a vast estate inherited from her late father. Sure, that makes sense. So all nine planets (even you, Pluto) are set to align for the first time in 5000 years, possibly causing a lot of weird stuff to happen. Okay, whatever you say. So the Illuminati are trying to get their hands on a key, which is a clock, which will allow them to find two halves of a triangle, which together will give them unlimited power. Um, fine, why the hell not? Accept these truths and you are on your way to enjoying, or not hating, the movie.

It manages to keep a balance between serious action and pure silliness. The fight sequences come fast and furious, and it’s no wonder Lara is so fit. She sometimes engages in battle with nifty virtual simulation courtesy of her tech guy, but when she locks horns with Manfred Powell (Iain Glen), a member of the Illuminati tasked with retrieving the key, the action intensifies. Pursuit of the key and magical triangle things take the characters across continents. They travel to Cambodia, Italy, and Siberia, engaging in a mix of swordplay, gun fights, martial arts, and bungee dancing. The action makes good use of location and allows the story’s video game roots to show through. Occasionally these scenes drag on, but there’s enough kinetic energy to keep the film moving.

There’s also a good amount of levity, not all of it intentional. I was most amused by the droll demeanor of the sidekicks. During one intense fight when Powell’s men are trying to steal the clock from Lara’s mansion, the butler gamely gets kitted out for battle, only to miss the action. Julian Rhind-Tutt also has a small role as a kind of preening lackey that reminded me a little of Gollum and made me smile. This is a movie where ancient stone statues come to life and something called time storms, which are fiery orbs that can reverse time, are a thing, so hammy lines spoken seriously (“we’re going into the belly of the beast – and out of the demon’s ass”) come with the territory.

Jolie’s performance makes this film better than it might be. Lara Croft is clearly the product of dudes’ imagination and I’m not a fan of her needless sexualization. But if Jolie doesn’t downplay her character’s physical appeal, she at least plays up her other qualities. Lara is obviously an equal if not superior to the Illuminati, a bunch of old white dudes and cunning Iain Glen. Even James Bond acknowledges her intelligence and physical strength. Daniel Craig, testing his American accent, plays fellow tomb raider and Powell’s hired gun, Alex West. He and Lara share a history and don’t care much to hide their ongoing attraction. That lingering romance might create sparks for some, but I was more impressed that a male character in an action movie respected and deferred to a strong female protagonist. Do we still call that progress?

Released: 2001
Prod: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Colin Wilson
Dir: Simon West
Writer: Patrick Massett, John Zinman
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Daniel Craig, Iain Glen, Noah Taylor, Chris Barrie, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Jon Voight
Time: 100 min
Lang: English
Country: United States
Reviewed: 2016

Mrs Ratcliffe’s Revolution

mrs ratcliffes revolution

Mrs. Ratcliffe’s revolution begins, as I suppose many do, by accident. It’s 1968, and countries around the world are experiencing social and political changes of all sorts. But all is mostly well in Bingley where Dorothy Ratcliffe (Catherine Tate) lives with her husband Frank, two daughters, and brother Philip. Well, that’s not entirely true; Dorothy seems to have settled into a stasis, accepting the unhappiness around her but nevertheless trying to make the best of things.

Her eldest daughter, Alex (Brittany Ashworth), is an art student who’s embraced liberation of every kind and doesn’t appreciate her mother’s prudish attitudes. To her younger daughter, Mary (Jessica Barden), she’s a non-entity, her passionately communist husband (Iain Glen) on the receiving end of all Mary’s affections. She also looks after socially awkward Philip (Nigel Betts), who stays at home fiddling with his necktie contraption. When Frank gets an offer to teach English literature in East Germany, she casts the deciding vote that sends everyone packing.

Dorothy hopes that the change will have a positive effect on the family and jolt her out of her ennui. Perhaps with her husband happily living out his socialist dream, he’ll be less inclined to proselytize at home, and they can enjoy lazy dinners and jazz records instead of focusing on the problems of the proletariat. Of course, Frank’s imagined utopia doesn’t deliver on its promises, and it’s not long before things take a Kafkaesque turn, forcing Dorothy to wrestle back control of her family that has been hijacked in varying ways by paranoid government officials, including sexy homewrecker Frau Unger played by Heike Makatsch (Love Actually) in yet another sexy homewrecker role.

If you only know Tate from her variously offended and offensive characters in her self-titled sketch comedy show, you’ll be pleased to see her very able dramatic performance in this film. She is certainly funny, but the humor here is understated – one-liners and split-second expressions delivered more as punctuation than as loud capital letters. And while Tate shows that she can deliver laughs from across the comedic spectrum, she is just as effective as a mousy housewife, desperate to fulfill her role as wife and mother yet feeling like she has failed at both.

It’s through her eyes that we most clearly see the surreal world they’ve stepped into. Although the film begins with Mary as the narrator, her workers’ paradise perspective is dropped in favor of Dorothy’s neutral view. What she comes to learn about her new home is at first funny and peculiar. A phalanx of choristers materializes out of nowhere, for example, and greets them with a soulless rendition of “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean.” But you can’t take these crazy glasses off, and before she knows it, she’s assisting in defections and bribing her own way out of the country. But in the end, the film is less about the triumph of capitalism and more a testament to a woman who gets it done.

Released: 2007
Prod: Hugo Heppell
Dir: Bille Eltringham
Writer: Bridget O’Connor, Peter Straughan
Cast: Catherine Tate, Iain Glen, Brittany Ashworth, Heike Makatsch, Jessica Barden, Christian Brassington, Nigel Betts, Robert Daniel Lowe, Ottilia Borbáth, Fanni Futár, Imola Gáspár, Karl Kranzkowski
Time: 102 min
Lang: English, some German
Country: United Kingdom
Reviewed: 2015

Tara Road

t road

Maeve Binchy’s novel Tara Road appeared on Oprah’s Book Club list in 1999. Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities is also on that list, and I know which one I’d rather see adapted for tv and film. (Tom Hiddleston as Sydney Carton and Charles Darnay?!) But Maeve Binchy is a less taxing on the audience and the budget so Tara Road it is.

In typical Lifetime movie of the week fashion, it tells the story of two women who brood over man issues, do something wild, and discover their stronger selves. Irishwoman Ria (Williams) has it all – a husband who looks like Iain Glen, two talented kids, and a plush property. Just when she wants to expand the family, dastardly, duplicitous Danny (Glen) reveals he’s going to leave her for that sexpot from Love Actually (Makatsch).

On the other side of the Atlantic, Marilyn (MacDowell) can’t get over the death of her son from a motorcycle accident. She distances herself from her husband (Zirner) who would rather turn outward to deal with the tragedy. Alienated, alone, trapped by memories of her son, Marilyn does what any woman would do in her situation. She rings up a stranger on the other side of the world and proposes to switch houses with her for a couple months.

Off they go, hoping that new environs will provide some clarity and direction. Each woman is aided by the others’ friends. Ria finds a gaggle of loud and nosy but well-meaning neighbors – they are American, after all – who inject some spontaneity and spirit into her life. Meanwhile, Marilyn eases back into reality through quieter interactions with Ria’s charming friends, including restaurateur Colm, played by Stephen Rea.

And you might be wondering, why is Stephen Rea in this frivolous movie? I suspect if you were a woman who’s loved and lost, you would want his dulcet voice to calm you. He also had the more interesting backstory in Binchy’s novel, but that gets cut, to no ill effect. Another difference for fans of the book is a matter of focus; the movie is better balanced by giving equal screentime to the two stories. At least this way, it’s like two Lifetime movies, and all the feel-good lessons about friendship and self-empowerment, for the price of one. If that’s how you like spending a Saturday evening, this movie’s not a bad deal.

Released: 2005
Prod: Miron Blumental, Noel Pearson, and Sarah Radclyffe
Dir: Gillies MacKinnon
Writer: Cynthia Cidre and Shane Connaughton
Cast: Olivia Williams, Andie MacDowell, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Iain Glen, Stephen Rea, Brenda Fricker, August Zirner, Heike Makatsch, Virginia Cole, Sarah Bolger, Johnny Brennan, Bronagh Gallagher
Time: 97 min
Lang: English
Country: Ireland
Reviewed: 2013