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Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Tomb Raider

“The Strangers: Prey at Night” and “Sherlock Gnomes” are also new to Blu-Ray this week.

Those of us who know Lara Croft from previous “Tomb Raider” movies and the popular video game series most likely remember certain key aspects about her: the British accent, the pony tail, the money and the mansion, as well as her acrobatic abilities, well-honed fighting skills, and prowess with wielding dual pistols. As played by Alicia Vikander in this version of “Tomb Raider,” all she has is the British accent. The rest she needs to work on. Even the pony tail.

Director Roar Uthaug’s movie takes us back before Lara Croft became the one we all know. This is an origin story that begins with Lara getting pummeled in a boxing ring by an opponent, stealing an apple because she can’t afford anything to eat, and getting arrested because she crashes into a police car during an illegal bicycle race. The reason she is in the race in the first place is because she needs the money.

After getting bailed out of jail by Ana Miller (Kristin Scott Thomas), her late (or is he?) father’s business manager, Lara is ready to sign the papers to declare him dead once and for all. Before she does, she is handed a Japanese puzzle box. She figures it out with ease. Contained in it are a clue and a key. She needs to solve the clue to figure out where to put the key to reveal the secret passage to her father’s hidden lair, which will reveal where he went when he disappeared seven years prior. This is one of those complex and imaginative plot devices that are dreamt up by movie and video game writers. It makes for compelling entertainment and creates an air of awe and wonder, but the impracticality of such an ornate ordeal is obvious. In real life, the father would have left a key to a safe deposit box with an attorney, who would have given it to Lara after he didn’t return, and all she needed to know would have been in there. Also, of course, her father (Dominic West) had an inclination that he may not come back so he recorded a video diary for Lara to play after she discovered his secret room. The battery life on that camcorder is astonishing. It must have been made by the same manufacturer who makes clips and magazines for guns in movies that never run out of ammo.

The main clue she discovers is her father’s diary. It has notes about an evil ancient Japanese Empress who was exiled to a remote island off of the coast of Japan. It comes with incredibly accurate and detailed sketches. Going back to the diary in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” it has always amazed me at what fantastic sketch artists archaeologists are. Are they taught how to draw so well in archaeology classes? Or is a drawing class one of the requirements for their major? Just once I’d like to see a movie archaeologist draw some horrible looking stick figures that no one else can figure out.  

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Minor nitpicks aside, what “Tomb Raider” is first and foremost is an adventure movie. At that, it delivers the goods. There are numerous set pieces that find Lara in an incredible amount of danger and literally hanging on for her life. My favorite was one that involved Lara surviving from going over a waterfall by making her way across the rusted out shell of an airplane. One thing after another happens to her to put her in danger, to the point where she actually says, “You’ve got to be kidding?!” when yet another problem occurs.

I also appreciate writers Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons for really putting Lara through the ringer. It’s a common problem with screenwriters that they fall in love with their protagonist and don’t want to hurt them too much. This is one of the first obstacles writers learn to overcome. Robertson-Dworet and Siddons have overcome it and then some, since Lara gets beat up, cut, scraped, impaled, and tossed around like very few protagonists do.

She is also a bit clumsy at fighting, weapons, and acrobatics. These are skills that she develops as the movie progresses, and the key here is that there is development. She starts off as mediocre, then through the trials she is put through in the movie becomes more adept. As I was making notes for this movie, I wrote, “This is what we want!” I recommend anyone out there looking for an entertaining movie to check this one out, but in particular I would like those complaining about Rey in “Star Wars” being a Mary Sue to see this movie. Lara Croft in “Tomb Raider” is the antidote, and proof that Hollywood can still write female characters who actually earn their abilities. It’s invigorating. Rent it.

The Strangers: Prey at Night

Once again, a group of weirdos in masks stalk a family. Rather than having the action take place in one home, like 2008’s “The Strangers,” this time the action takes place throughout a mobile home park.

“The Strangers: Prey at Night” is a bit of a slow burn. A lot of time is spent with the family getting to the park and the troubles of sullen teen Kinsey (Bailee Madison). The movie is a mostly boilerplate affair, except that it has its moments. I have to say, once the movie gets going and the carnage ensues and the moments start happening, they are captivating and memorable. There is one moment involving dad Mike (Martin Henderson) being unable to move that is particularly unnerving, and in spite of the fact that a truck on fire most likely cannot still be driven, the visuals are glorious. While these moments don’t make the movie a must-see, they do elevate it to the point where it is worth checking out. Stream it.

Sherlock Gnomes

If someone told me five years ago that Ozzy Osbourne, Mary J. Blige, Michael Caine, and Johnny Depp would all be in a movie together, I’d have thought they were crazy. I also would have been super excited to see it.

Excitement such as this should always be tempered with caution. I’ve been watching movies long enough to know this, which is why I went into “Sherlock Gnomes” with an open, yet well-guarded mind. Good thing. At least the aforementioned actors just supply voices for their animated avatars and aren’t physically in it themselves.

That’s not to say that “Sherlock Gnomes” is terrible, it’s just plain and forgettable. After moving into a new garden, Gnomeo (voice of James McAvoy) and Juliet (voice of Emily Blunt) are ready to take over as king and queen of the garden. However, before the official ceremony to crown them can take place, all of the gnomes—except for them—are stolen. The pair seek out Sherlock Gnomes (voice of Depp) and his partner Dr. Watson (voice of Chiwetel Ejiofor) to find their friends—or, subjects. Not really sure which.

This plot is basically a hook on which to hang some feminist propagandizing (Juliet is a “tough” gnome who insists on getting her way; at one point a character says that she don’t need a man) and teaching life lessons about the importance of valuing the people in your lives and not taking them for granted. These are adult themes. It’s doubtful that children—presumably the target audience—are really grasping these concepts—or need to grasp them.

I’ll give the movie credit for one thing, plot-wise. There is a fairly obvious twist that I called within about the first 5 minutes of the movie. I was right about it, but there is another twist that I have to admit I didn’t see coming. Are these twists enough to make this movie worth watching? Nope. Skip it.

More New Releases: “Love, Simon,” about a young gay teen who takes a novel approach to coming out to his classmates.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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