Welcome to JoeBakerReviews.com

Hello, my name is Joe Baker. In addition to being a current filmmaking student at Nottingham Trent University, I am also a passionate film fan and film reviewer. As ever since I first watched classics such as: ‘Alien’, ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Jaws’ during my younger days, I’ve always been obsessed with the filmmaking craft and the true wonders of storytelling.

So I decided to create this site in order to share my various thoughts and opinions with film fanatics around the world through a variety of different content, so feel free to explore and remember keep-up-to-date with the site via either an email subscription or my social media pages, as I post new content weekly. The latest post is listed below.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) – Film Review

Matthew Vaughn, critically acclaimed director of: ‘Layer Cake’, ‘Kick-Ass’ and ‘X-Men: First Class’ tries his hand at another comic book adaptation with ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’. Based on the comic book series of the same name by Mark Millar, and serving as a throwback to (and occasional parody of) classic spy/espionage films such as: ‘James Bond’ series and ‘The Bourne Saga’, ‘Kingsman’ very quickly became a beloved franchise after just its first instalment, mostly as a result of its hilarious self-aware moments of humour and exhilarating action set-pieces.

When the British spy organization: ‘Kingsman’ recruits an unrefined, but promising London street teen into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program. ‘Eggsy’ begins to follow in his father’s footsteps as he takes-part in the organization’s many dangerous training exercises. All the while, the twisted tech genius: ‘Valentine’, begins to execute a master plan which will put the entire world at risk.

Violent, thrilling and fun. The first ‘Kingsman’ film was actually made partly in conjunction with the comic book itself, as director Matthew Vaughn and comic book writer Mark Millar have been good friends for many years since they collaborated previously-on ‘Kick-Ass’ in 2010 to great success, prompting them to reunite for: ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’. Which aside from a few minor changes, is actually a mostly faithful adaptation of the first entry in the comic book series, alongside also being a superb gateway into the world for any non-fans of the comic series as the film establishes who the ‘Kingsman’ are and what they do, in little time.

Protagonist: ‘Gary ‘Eggsy’ Unwin’, usually going by his nickname, is portrayed by Taron Egerton in one of his earliest film roles, who does portray a reckless teenager very well, becoming an instantly likeable character within only a short amount of screen-time. Its Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson who both steal the film with their fantastic characters however, as both actors play completely against their usual type here, with Firth taking-on the deadly spy: ‘Harry Hart’ who rarely even smiles (creating quite a contrast from his usual romantic-comedies) and according to second unit director Bradley James Allan, even did 80% of his own stunts during filming. Whilst Jackson also gives one of his most memorable performances to date as the film’s antagonist: ‘Valentine’, who throughout the film retains an aggressive lisp and occasionally-childish demeanour, a big leap from much of his previous work.

Although not as outrageously creative as it could’ve been in my opinion, the film’s cinematography by George Richmond does serve the story very effectively. As many of the film’s over-the-top and exciting action scenes are displayed proudly and clearly without too much use of hand-held camera or excessive editing. During a few scenes, the camera even begins to spin around the characters as they fight, giving the film a real sense of movement.

The original score by both Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson has quickly become very beloved similar to the film itself, and it’s easy to see why. As the film utilises its trumpet-heavy orchestral score to create a soundtrack which would fit perfectly within a classic espionage series like ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Ipcress File’ or ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’. From ‘Manners Maketh Man’ and ‘To Become a Kingsman’ to especially ‘Valentine’s theme (which is noticeably more electronic to fit with the tech-savvy character). Nearly-every track featured in the original score is both memorable, and usually, also cut in sync with the film’s stylish editing to great effect. 

Needless to say, the aspect that ‘Kingsman’ is most known for is certainly its variety of impressive action sequences, which as already mentioned, do away with the usual overly-shakey and chaotic execution of most modern action flicks in favour of more fast-paced and exaggerated fight choreography with plenty of graphic violence to boot. Resulting in many entertaining action scenes even if they aren’t completely flawless, as the majority of these scenes do unfortunately still suffer from their overly-heavy usage of CGI effects (usually for blood and severed limbs) which I feel does somewhat take-away from many of these thrilling moments, even if they are still sure to impress most on their initial viewing.

Overall, while many spy films may be far more focused on delivering more grounded and gritty missions for their audiences these days, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ truly revels in its absurdity. As even in spite of the problems this stirring espionage film faces, it still manages to remain an amusing and exciting experience throughout its runtime. Combing its array of phenomenal action scenes with some outstanding stunts and a now-iconic original score, the first instalment in ‘The Kingsman’ series may have now launched a blockbuster franchise, but for many, I feel it will always remain their favourite part of this continuing story. A low 8/10 from me.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) – Film Review

Over-stuffed with plot, characters and ideas alike, this sequel to the ‘Spider-Man’ reboot from 2012 lacks much of anything to truly get invested in. As this time around, returning director Marc Webb alongside the long list of Sony producers seem to be far more focused on setting-up future sequels and spin-offs for the franchise rather than the current story. Resulting in a superhero flick that’s just as muddled and inconsistent as it is forgettable, and while the film did receive fairly average reviews upon its initial release, I’ve personally always felt ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is anything but ‘Amazing’.

Continuing the adventures of the wall-crawler, New York City’s hero is thrown-into action once again as he faces his newest threat: ‘Electro’, whilst also balancing his normal day-to-day life as ‘Peter Parker’ with that of being ‘Spider-Man’.

It’s easy to see that throughout its production, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ faced the problem of having far too many creative minds involved, as director Mark Webb fought against producers constantly as to what would be featured and explored within the superhero sequel. This is why the film eventually ended-up having three separate antagonists, in addition to also focusing on ‘Peter’s various relationships and the surrounding mystery of his parents, which when all combined, make the film feel completely directionless, as the audience is given very little time to become invested in any specific aspect of the story before quickly moving-on.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone return to their roles of: ‘Peter Parker’ and ‘Gwen Stacey’ for the sequel, whos romantic chemistry is still one of the film’s best elements similar to the previous instalment. New to the cast this time however, is Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and Paul Giamatti, who all take-on various roles as villains from ‘Spider-Man’s iconic rogue’s gallery, with the three portraying: ‘Electro’, ‘Green Goblin’ and ‘The Rhino’ respectively. Yet despite all these actors giving some fantastic performances in the past, most of the cast give extremely over-the-top and sometimes even strange performances here, which is only made worse as a result of the film’s large amount of cringy dialogue and absence of a consistent tone.

The film’s decent yet not overly inventive cinematography by Dan Mindel is unfortunately also hurt by the erratic editing throughout the film, as whilst not always present, occasionally, the editing does result in quite rapid cuts, with some shots that utilise slow-motion even being cut to when the ones before/afterwards did not, stopping the film from ever obtaining a smooth flow. Of course, although its usually a no-brainer when it comes to modern superhero flicks, the film’s CGI effects are one of its most impressive and visually pleasing aspects, with many of: ‘Electro’s shocking abilities being visualized as if they were ripped straight from the original source material.

One of the most bizarre original scores in Zimmer’s catalogue of work, the original score by both him and Pharrell Williams gives the impression it’s made-up of a number of different tracks from other unrelated films. As aside from the signature track: ‘I’m Spider-Man’, which does suitably feel like a heroic and upbeat theme for the beloved superhero. Many of the other tracks simply don’t mesh together well when they manage to stray away from being generic. However, its the infamous track: ‘I’m Electro’ which certainly feels the most out-of-place, as the track employs electronic dubstep with vocals underneath by Pharrell himself that give voice to ‘Electro’s compulsive thoughts.

‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is even surprisingly poor when it comes to its action, as whilst the film does attempt to be very ‘large-scale’ with its action set-pieces, having many of them take-place within the centre of New York City (where nearly all of the sequel was actually filmed). Much of the action also heavily relies on slow-motion, cheesy quips/jokes and CGI visuals, all of which give the film’s action scenes an insufficiency of tension due to their over-extravagance.

After ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s release, it’s fair to say that Sony was put into a tough situation. As in spite of the film doing fairly well at the box-office, it was clear that fans had no further interest in seeing Sony’s many planned franchise instalments. Eventually leading them to strike a deal with Disney to bring ‘Spider-Man’ into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now portrayed by the young actor Tom Holland. Although some may be saddened this version of the iconic web-head will more than likely never return to our screens, other than the comic book-accurate suit and great chemistry between Garfield and Stone, I feel this sequel (and rebooted series in general) had very little to offer to begin with, and I’m thankful Marvel is now taking the character in a different direction rather than just regurgitating the same narrative we’ve seen before. Overall, a low 3/10.

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The Magnificent Seven (2016) – Film Review

After taking-on a number of exciting action flicks in recent years such as: ‘Training Day’, ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ and ‘The Equalizer’, director Antonie Fuqua brings this remake of the original 1960 ensemble western to the silver screen. Combining a superb cast with some explosive moments of action and plenty of highly-detailed costumes and sets, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ manages to remain an entertaining remake of the beloved classic despite its few faults.

In 1897, seven gunmen from a variety of different backgrounds are brought together by a vengeful young widow in order to protect her hometown of: ‘Rose Creek’ from the private army of a destructive industrialist.

Other than a few changes to the names of its characters, the remake of: ‘The Magnificent Seven’ follows a very similar storyline to the original film, which was essentially just a retelling of the iconic Japenese film: ‘Seven Samurai’ but now set in the Wild West. As the remake avoids making-any definite changes to the narrative in favour of simply just updating the story for a more modern-audience, meaning the film has much faster-pacing and more of a focus-on creating thrilling action set-pieces than the original, which is both a good and a bad thing. As whilst the film does still pay homage to many classic westerns, the film occasionally also adopts many of the issues that plague plenty of modern blockbusters today, the most notable of which being the film’s overabundance of cheesy/predictable dialogue.

Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawk, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier all give splendid performances as the line-up of: ‘The Seven’, each portraying a different personality and skillset between them. But of course, similar to many other films lead by a group of characters rather than just a single protagonist. ‘The Magnificent Seven’ suffers from a lack of equal development for its cast as a result of Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt as ‘Chisolm’ and ‘Josh Faraday’ hogging most of the screen-time, with the film’s antagonist: ‘Bartholomew Bogue’ portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard, also having a deficient intimidating presence when on-screen due to this.

Whilst the film’s cinematography never falls into the category of being exceedingly bland, the cinematography by Mauro Fiore is only above-average overall. As although the film does feature an array of attractive close-ups and wide-shots alongside its many suitably barren locations, the film also has quite a heavy overreliance on shot-reverse-shot during many of the conversations between characters. However, a smaller detail that I felt added to the film’s visual appeal (and realism) is definitely its use of nature surrounding/within its various locations, as the film’s main setting of: ‘Rose Creek’ is littered with trees and tall grass rather than just continuous desert similar to many other westerns, with some areas of Baton Rouge, Louisiana (where filming took place) even having to be relandscaped to further resemble the Old West.

Being the last film Horner worked-on as a composer before he sadly passed away in 2015, the original score by him and Simon Franglen does suitably feel like the score of a traditional western for the majority of the film’s runtime. Although there are still a few tracks that feel fairly generic, the soundtrack redeems itself through the great tracks: ‘Rose Creek Oppression’ and ‘Seven Riders’, in addition to also bringing back the original film’s theme composed by the late Elmer Bernstein for its end credits.

As the remake of: ‘The Magnificent Seven’ focuses more-on action over anything else (with the entire final act of the film essentially being one long action sequence) a lot of pressure lies-on the film to live-up to this intent, which thankfully, it does. As all of the stirring moments throughout the film make fantastic use of their impressive stunt work and subtle CGI effects. That being said, nearly-all of the action scenes are also distinctly missing an element of both grittiness and violence, which can be fairly distracting. As despite many of: ‘Bartholomew Bogue’s guns-for-hire being shot, stabbed and blown-up, blood is barely ever-seen, and whilst I understand classic westerns also didn’t really revel in violence, I’ve always seen that as more of a restriction of the time-period rather than just a skimp to lower the film’s age rating.

In conclusion, while ‘The Magnificent Seven’ may not fully deliver-on the ‘Magnificent’ part of its title, the film is still is an enjoyable throwback to the westerns of old with plenty of exhilarating action set-pieces to boot. As even when taking-into account all of the remake’s issues and general lack of memorability, I’d still say the film is on the better side of reimagined classics in recent memory and is worth a watch if you’re a true western enthusiast or perhaps just desire to see a remake that doesn’t attempt to simply recreate the original shot-for-shot. A 7/10 overall.

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Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) – Film Review

An unexpectedly memorable romantic-comedy from 2011, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ tells an engaging and touching story of a selection of good-hearted people finding love in their lives and experiencing the many hardships that come along with it, and although romance has always been one of the lesser-interesting genres of film for me personally, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ almost acknowledges what kind of film it is. Always taking a simple yet effective approach to its filmmaking and placing its well-written characters and narrative before anything else.

When a middle-aged husband (Cal Weaver) discovers his wife has had a recent affair with one of her co-workers, his perfect life quickly begins to unravel. But after encountering the handsome womanizer: ‘Jacob’ in a bar, ‘Cal’ is soon taken-on as his wingman and protégé as ‘Jacob’ opens his eyes to the many new opportunities that lie before him.

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris, Focus, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) and written by Dan Fogelman, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ actually has a fairly strong script for a rom-com, and although this shouldn’t be too surprising considering Fogelman has written a number of superb animated Disney flicks in the past such as: ‘Bolt’, ‘Cars’ and ‘Tangled’, before later moving-on to more adult-focused comedies with ‘Last Vegas’ and ‘The Guilt Trip’. ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ only features a handful of characters, with every-one of them receiving a decent amount of characterisation and becoming quite likeable over the course of the runtime. The film even manages to feature a couple of unexpected reveals later-on within the story, which only further elevates the script.

The all-star cast of Ryan Gosling, Julianna Moore, Emma Stone and Marisa Tomei are all brilliant in their respective roles, but of course, with three Oscar-winners as well as two Oscar-nominees among them, this isn’t much of a shock. Its the film’s protagonist: ‘Cal’ portrayed by Steve Carell that is the obvious stand-out though, as ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ was actually one of the first films that Carell put aside his usual goofball schtick in exchange for a more grounded-character, as he portrays a miserable divorcee now with little direction in his life, before his eventual transformation into an ego-driven womanizer similar to ‘Jason’ himself. However, on the opposite side of this, Kevin Bacon as ‘David Lindhagen’ (aka. the romantic rival) is the obvious weak link of the cast, as aside from only two shorts scenes, his character and the threat that he poses to ‘Cal’s ruptured marriage is barely explored, making him feel incredibly under-utilised.

The cinematography by Andrew Dunn never displays anything that will leave its audience in awe, yet does still feel like a slight step-up from the usual bland camera work of many other romantic-comedies. The cinematography truly reaches its peak in the scene: ‘Great Dress’ however, in which, ‘Cal’ (now with his newly-found manhood) flirts with various different women on a number of different nights, all the while the camera gently glides through the bar displaying the passage of time through ‘Cal’s large wardrobe of stylish outfits.

Christophe Beck and Nick Urata take-on the original score for the film, which for the most part, does suitably back-up the film’s story and displays a large amount of range in regards to instruments that are used, despite the score overall being far from astonishing. Yet bizarrely, the film’s soundtrack was never officially released by production company Warner Brothers, resulting in many fans of the film having to create their own playlists to combine the film’s many recognizable songs once again.

Although ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ does primarily focus on its aspects of romance and comedy, the film also handles its drama fairly well. Never interrupting any of its more-serious moments with scenes of over-the-top humour, most of which usually coming from the film’s main subplot which focuses on ‘Cal’s son: ‘Robbie’ as he lusts after his older babysitter. Occasionally, the film also indulges in a variety of more self-aware jokes, as the film references some of the many over-done clichés that infest films like ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Love Actually’ through its dialogue, e.g. an immediate rainstorm after a heartbreaking argument/break-up.

In my opinion, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ is more than successful in its attempt to craft an emotional and amusing story even in spite of the little innovation the film displays when it comes to its cinematography or original score. As the film’s upbeat approach to its tight plot leaves it an enjoyable flick that fully embraces what genre it’s only a small-piece of, serving as somewhat of a homage alongside remaining quite a leisurely watch itself. A low 8/10 altogether. Whether you usually drift towards this genre or not, I feel most viewers would struggle to dislike ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’, as simply put, the film is just a delightful experience to sit through.

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Seven Psychopaths (2012) – Film Review

This slick self-aware crime/comedy from writer and director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) may not appeal to everyone as a result of its over-the-top violence and occasionally absurdist tone. Yet for me, due to its great cast, fantastic writing and endless list of quotable lines, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ is certainly worth its runtime and then some. As the film always remains just as entertaining as it is unconventional, even if the film isn’t quite as pristinely crafted as the rest of McDonagh’s work.

A struggling alcoholic screenwriter in the process of writing a script based around seven separate psychopaths soon becomes inadvertently entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends kidnap a psychopathic gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.

Filled with plenty of sly, witty and memorable dialogue throughout, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ constantly uses its clever writing to create an array of stories within the main narrative. As the screenplay writing protagonist: ‘Marty’, reels-off many of his early ideas for different psychos to get his friend’s opinions on them before implementing them into his latest script. The film also uses this structure to engage in plenty of meta humour, as the characters continuously list-off various tropes and clichés of similar action and crime flicks, which the film itself actively avoids, resulting in a fairly well-written film overall. In fact, the script for: ‘Seven Psychopaths’ was actually featured in the 2006 Blacklist of the ‘most liked’ unmade scripts of that year, before it was obviously green-lit many years later.

One of the best elements of the film is undeniably its cast, as Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken as ‘Marty’, ‘Billy’ and ‘Hans’ never fail to be hilarious together. As all three of them share some excellent chemistry, portraying their characters as if they’ve been friends for many years before the current story begins. Woody Harrelson and musician Tom Waits both also make an appearance within the film as the mostly-intimidating criminal: ‘Charlie’, and ‘Zachariah’, one of the psychopaths that inspires ‘Marty’s script, who is constantly creepy and bizarre whenever he is on-screen. Yet despite the film’s admirable performances and writing, the female characters within the film are noticeably quite poor. As while the main cast do point this out through some sarcastic dialogue, the few female characters that do appear receive barley any development and feel mostly pointless in the long-run.

Although ‘Seven Psychopaths’ cinematography is nowhere near as impressive as the camera-work throughout ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ for example. The cinematography by Ben Davis is serviceable, with the occasional pleasing shot in between many of the more average ones. However, this is where another one of my criticisms comes into play, this being the story’s setting. As whilst I understand the film’s protagonist is a screenplay writer so it links to the idea of building a career in Hollywood. McDonagh’s other films both manage to make exceptional use of their beautiful and distinct locations, making the city of Los Angeles where ‘Seven Psychopaths’ takes-place feel fairly dull in comparison.

The original score by Carter Burwell isn’t overly-memorable yet does suitably fit the film, adding tension to scenes where necessary in addition to feeling quite subtle when in contrast to the film’s outrageous self-aware humour, as according to composer Carter Burwell, his intent with the soundtrack revolved more around wanting to create an emphatic ambience for the film rather than just being your standard generic action score, this is most obvious in the tracks: ‘Zachariah’ and ‘Billy’s Diary’ (my personal two favourite tracks from the film).

Personally, although the story works fine without, I would have desired a little more style when it comes to the film’s visual presentation, in particular, in the editing and titles. As with the exception of the typewriter text that is utilised to inform the audience of each psychopath from one-through-to-seven, the filmmaking actually displays barley any style throughout. That being said, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ does still feature a number of dark comedic moments similar to the rest of McDonagh’s filmography, displaying a couple of dramatic scenes alongside plenty of extremely graphic deaths.

Overall, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ definitely isn’t the best director Martin McDonagh has to offer, with both ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ being far superior films in my opinion. ‘Seven Psychopaths’ still delivers on a creative plot and some tremendous writing/performances even in spite of its lack of style and weak female characters. A suitable 7/10 in total. If you’re a fan of this director’s other films, I’d say ‘Seven Psychopaths’ is worth a watch, just don’t have your expectations too high when going-in for the first time.

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The Dark Crystal (1982) – Film Review

Despite the success of the recent prequel series: ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ on Netflix, most audiences still seem relatively unaware of the original: ‘Dark Crystal’s existence, which unfortunately, received mostly lukewarm reviews and massively underperformed at the box-office upon its initial release. Yet regardless of its age, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is still in my opinion, an extraordinary family adventure. Creating an intriguing and developed fantasy world brimming with plenty of memorable characters, spectacular locations and terrifying creatures, all flawlessly brought-to-life by the film’s enormous array of brilliant practical effects and detailed puppets.

Centuries-ago on the world of: ‘Thra’, the mysterious: ‘Dark Crystal’ was cracked and brought-forth two races. One, the villainous bird-like creatures known as the ‘Skeksis’, who now rule over the planet with an iron-fist, and the other, a peaceful race known as the ‘Mystics’. But after a young ‘Gelfling’s ‘Mystic’ master passes-on, ‘Jen’ is sent on a quest to locate the missing shard of: ‘The Dark Crystal’ and save his homeworld.

Directed by legendary puppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz, most known for their creation of the beloved ‘Muppets’ franchise. ‘The Dark Crystal’ is known by many for being rather frighting for younger viewers, as the film always explores its fantasy world without ever shying away from any of its darker elements. Resulting in many who experienced the film at a young age only recalling it due to being ‘traumatised’ by the film’s menacing antagonists, the ‘Skeksis’. However, despite ‘The Dark Crystal’ giving this ghastly depth to the world it’s narrative takes-place within, the film still suffers from the occasional story cliché. As while I’m sure these ideas were less-familiar in the early 1980s, the concept of: ‘Jen’ being the last of his kind and having to undertake an epic journey does feel fairly overdone by today’s standards.

Stephen Garlick and Lisa Maxwell lend their voices well to the two protagonists of the film: ‘Jen’ and ‘Kira’, alongside the voice of Billie Whitelaw and the late Jim Henson and Frank Oz themselves as puppeteers, and while Jim Henson and Frank Oz both do a fantastic job as usual when it comes to their work with puppeteered-characters. It’s the late Barry Dennen as the most devious of the ‘Skeksis’, ‘The Chamberlain’, who is truly superb. As ‘The Chamberlain’ soon becomes a very memorable antagonist heavily in-part because of his obnoxious high-pitched voice and now-iconic whimper.

Whilst the cinematography by the late Oswald Morris does serve the film’s story effectively, many shots throughout ‘The Dark Crystal’ are a little restricted due to the focus primarily being placed-on the puppets themselves (especially when there is a large number of characters on-screen). That being said, the cinematography does still manage to provide plenty of beautiful wide-shots to establish the story’s various locations, the majority of which are elevated through some incredibly impressive matte paintings and miniature sculptures.

Although I do prefer the original score by Daniel Pemberton for the Netflix prequel series, the score for the original film by Trevor Jones is still terrific. Feeling like a mixture between a classic fantasy score along with some sinister undertones to help build tension. From the film’s signature track: ‘Overture’, through the track that plays-over one of the film’s final moments: ‘The Great Conjunction’, the film’s original score is still an enjoyable piece to hear even if it seems many viewers prefer the soundtrack of Henson’s other 80s fantasy flick: ‘Labyrinth’.

Of course, the main draw of: ‘The Dark Crystal’ is (and will always be) the puppets themselves, as while the idea of not a single human appearing within a live-action film may sound daunting to some, the film’s huge variety of practical effects from the different creatures that prowl the forests/swamps to each one of the detailed and intricate sets for: ‘The Castle of the Crystal’. Every single creative aspect of the film in regards to its designs constantly feels as if great talent and effort has been put-into each of them, with much of the film’s visuals actually being inspired by the illustrations of Brian Froud, who would eventually join the production as a conceptual designer.

To conclude, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is truly a film of its time, as despite the new prequel series helping the unique fantasy series reach a wider-audience, I’m not too surprised this ambitious film has been largely forgotten in modern pop-culture. As the film’s fascinating and fleshed-out world alongside its entertaining story and huge number of amazing practical effects sadly weren’t enough to save it from its eventual neglected fate. Still, an 8/10 for: ‘The Dark Crystal’. Even if this fantastical family adventure didn’t receive the praise it deserved when it was released in 1982, I feel it certainly can now from modern viewers, if just for its painstaking puppeteering work and great character designs alone.

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Hidden Figures (2016) – Film Review

Based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, the film adaptation of: ‘Hidden Figures’ serves as compelling and entertaining delve into the past as it tells the true story of the mostly unknown women who helped push-forward the space program. Through its brilliant performances from Taraji P. Henson and Kevin Costner (among the rest of the cast) alongside its magnificent writing, the film manages to keep its audience constantly invested in spite of its occasionally bland filmmaking.

Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three brilliant African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s cross all gender and race barriers within their workplace to follow their dreams and inspire generations, serving as the brain-force to help send astronaut John Glenn into Earth’s orbit.

Despite focusing on three separate stories of three separate characters, ‘Hidden Figures’ never feels unfocused, as each of the three protagonists receive a decent amount of development as well as at least one or more memorable scenes between them. As the film displays its main theme of female and black empowerment proudly, without ever becoming overly cliché as it avoids many of the over-done tropes that other films built-around the racist barriers of the 60s can begin to rely-on. For example, the film’s opening scene in which the trio of women are confronted by a white police officer, as this moment could’ve easily felt like overly-familiar ground should it have been handled-poorly, yet aside from some inappropriate stereotyping at first, the scene actually results in the three of them heading to NASA without any horrific racial ridiculing.

The three protagonists portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are all excellent throughout the film, as each of them remain determined and outgoing despite the world’s many attempts to drag them down, always fighting against the unfair judgement of them simply for the way they look, repeatedly with a lack of preachy dialogue. Alongside them, the supporting cast of Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kristen Dunst and Mahershala Ali are all great even if some of their characters are a little under-utilised within the narrative. One of the reasons the performances within the film are as accurate as they are is due to some of the cast actually having the opportunity to meet with the story’s icons before production began. Most notably Taraji P. Henson, who met with the real Katherine Johnson (who was ninety-eight-years-old at the time) after she signed-on for the role.

The cinematography by Mandy Walker is serviceable overall, as while the film features a good number of attractive shots, they are dragged-down by its many mundane ones. However, ‘Hidden Figures’ does actually make effective yet subtle use of colour throughout its runtime. As the film’s colour palette constantly reflects the mood within each scene, with the many of the sets at NASA where calculations and preparations take-place utilising mostly sterile whites, greys, and silvers, which creates a sharp contrast to the warm/inviting colours of the ladies’ homes.

Hanz Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch handle the original score for the film, which is an incredibly mixed-bag overall. As whilst the film does have some decent tracks such as: ‘Katherine’, ‘Mission Control’ and ‘Hidden Figures’, the soundtrack also features a number of pop-songs by Pharrell Willaims, which don’t remotely fit the tone of the film or the story’s time-period. Usually resulting in it feeling very forced and sometimes even takes-away from the film’s dramatic moments. This is most likely a result of Pharrell Willaims overseeing all aspects of the film’s soundtrack, which I personally feel is a huge misstep as his style of music really isn’t suited for a drama.

In addition to portraying the female heroes of the real-life story as accurately as possible, the film also makes substantial use of its time-period. As to keep the viewer up-to-date with what knowledge that the American public had at the time, ‘Hidden Figures’ occasionally cuts-away to stock footage of rocket testings or president John F. Kennedy making public announcements, both which are surprisingly effective despite not being used continuously. Personally however, I still would’ve preferred a bigger presence of songs from the 1960s rather than the constant barrage of pop-songs the film contains, as mentioned previously.

In conclusion, I feel ‘Hidden Figures’ is an important film many should experience. As whilst there has been an array of films based around the misogynistic/racist nature of the 1950s/1960s, ‘Hidden Figures’ is for sure a stand-out through its engaging and thought-provoking narrative. Although films like ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘BlacKkKlansman’ may be slightly more powerful with their message(s), I feel ‘Hidden Figures’ is fairly underrated when it comes to historical dramas, as the film is simultaneously both informing and touching. Overall, a high 7/10.

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Tron: Legacy (2010) – Film Review

Although Disney has had more than enough success when it comes to its animated filmography, the iconic production company has seemingly always struggled with its live-action endeavours. As aside from ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise, many of Disney’s attempts to kick-off a live-action film series such as: ‘John Carter’, ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and ‘Tomorrowland’ have all been relative flops (with the exception of their remakes of animated classics). ‘Tron: Legacy’, the action-packed sequel to the ground-breaking cult sci-fi: ‘Tron’ from 1982, is a slight improvement in this area, yet still results in a film more focused on style-over-substance.

After the tech-savvy ‘Sam Flynn’ begins looking into his father’s disappearance. He soon finds himself pulled into a digital world where his father has been trapped for over twenty years. All while the malevolent program: ‘CLU’, who rules ‘The Grid’, plans to prevent the pair’s escape and take the real world for himself.

Being set in a virtual world, nearly every-scene within ‘Tron: Legacy’ takes place in fully CGI locations, and although most of the film’s CGI effects do hold-up well and are visually appealing. The digital world of: ‘The Grid’ does begin to feel quite unvaried after a point, as whilst it may look unique at first glance, the illuminated buildings and vehicles throughout the city of: ‘Tron’ feel fairly repetitive despite the film’s variety of different locations. In fact, its the film’s CGI visuals that actually made ‘Tron: Legacy’ the most expensive film ever made by a first-time director at the time of its release, with the costume budget alone costing over £10 million.

Garrett Hudlund portrays the film’s protagonist: ‘Sam’, alongside the supporting cast of Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde and also Michael Sheen in a small role. Who all give decent performances despite their dull characters, as ‘Tron: Legacy’s story and characters follow many of the same-beats as any-other sci-fi adventure. However, easily the worst element of the film when it comes to its characters is the film’s antagonist. Known only as ‘CLU’, a corrupt program created by Jeff Bridges’ character: ‘Kevin Flynn’ as a digital copy of himself, this villain not only suffers from a barley-developed motivation but also due to him being a program which doesn’t age, the film utilises CGI to make Jeff Bridges appear a similar age to that of his in the original film, which is one of the few CGI effects that really hasn’t aged-well, appearing almost laughably-bad at points.

Claudio Miranda handles the cinematography throughout ‘Tron: Legacy’, and although the film definitely puts far more of an emphasis on its CGI effects than its cinematography, there are still a fair amount of interesting shots including plenty of stunning wide-shots to display the true scale of the digital world. The cinematography also makes great use out of the film’s few sleek futuristic sets despite their very limited screen-time, most notably: ‘Flynn’s Safehouse’ located on the edge of: ‘The Grid’.

The original score for the film is actually composed by the techno band: ‘Daft Punk’, whose type of music does suitably fit the sci-fi genre, and whilst some tracks do feel a little too similar to an actual techno album in my opinion. For the most part, the soundtrack does back-up the film’s narrative and adventurous tone very effectively. ‘Daft Punk’ themselves even make a short cameo within the film as a pair of DJs in the ‘End of Line’ nightclub, wearing their iconic helmets as they play one of the film’s most memorable tracks.

Another great aspect of: ‘Tron: Legacy’ is certainly its action set-pieces, as although many of the action scenes throughout the film aren’t anything incredibly inventive. The original: ‘Tron’ did introduce the creative concepts of: ‘Identity/Light Disks’ and ‘Light Cycles’, both of which return in the sequel and result in plenty of thrilling and fast-paced action sequences as ‘Sam’ is thrown-into an array of gladiator-esque challenges near the beginning of the film. The various costumes worn by the characters who live within ‘The Grid’ are also worth a quick mention, as most of the characters wear a ‘Light Suit’, which usually feature fluorescent-like glowing strips that illuminate each suit in a range of colours, which never fails to be visually-striking.

‘Tron: Legacy’ overall is by no means a terrible film, when it comes to Disney’s other ventures into live-action, ‘Tron: Legacy’ could even be seen as a success for some. But with its fairly by-the-numbers story, bland characters and onslaught of over-done clichés, this sci-fi sequel ends-up becoming more of a display for its impressive CGI visuals and electronic original score rather than an exhilarating sci-fi odyssey. A low 6/10 from me. If you’re a fan of the original: ‘Tron’ I feel you will surely enjoy this follow-up, if not, maybe look elsewhere for your fill of original science fiction.

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Inside Out (2015) – Film Review

From the iconic animation studio Pixar, who brought-us animated classics such as: ‘Toy Story’, ‘Monsters, Inc.’, ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Ratatouille’ among many others. Comes another emotional and beautifully animated adventure with some surprisingly deep concepts and ideas to boot. As ‘Inside Out’ takes-place nearly entirely inside the mind of a young girl, focusing on how her various emotions handle new and unexpected changes within her life.

After young ‘Riley’ is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions: ‘Joy’, ‘Sadness’, ‘Fear’, ‘Anger’ and ‘Disgust’ all being to conflict on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school. But after a freak accident causes ‘Joy’ and ‘Sadness’ to be flung from ‘Headquarters’ with ‘Riley’s core memories, the two have to find their way back before its too late.

Even though ‘Inside Out’ usually streamlines many of its story’s concepts and themes to make them more understandable for children, the animated flick also never fails to remain both very imaginative and very colourful throughout its runtime. As with the film’s story taking-place within the mind of an eleven-year-old girl, ‘Inside Out’ doesn’t hold-back from bringing-to-life the world within a child’s head, a world not confined by the barriers of logic and psychics. From ‘Imagination Land’ to ‘The Train of Thought’ and ‘Long Term Memory’, ‘Inside Out’ constantly explores plenty of amusing locations and is always building on its enchanting ideas.

Despite some characters not receiving quite as much screen-time as others, ‘Riley’s various emotions are portrayed superbly by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling, with Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith as ‘Joy’ and ‘Sadness’ being the true stand-outs of the cast. As their two characters bounce extremely well of each other due to the polarity of their friendship, which also makes for plenty of humorous moments. Richard Kind also makes an appearance within the film as ‘Bing Bong’, ‘Riley’s imaginary friend from when she was younger, who in many ways is the true heart of the film. As alongside his variety of entertaining quirks (some of which do result in a few immature jokes). ‘Bing Bong’ also ends-up becoming a very likeable and charming character mostly as a result of the scene: ‘The Memory Dump’, easily one of: ‘Inside Out’s most impactful and heartbreaking moments.

Filled with plenty of inventive shots throughout, the animated cinematography does add to the film’s already incredibly vibrant colour palette and varied locations, with a constant array of attractive shots, the film’s visuals are always appealing to look at when inside ‘Riley’s mind. Yet when the viewer is thrown back into the real world, the colour palette is far more pale and tame, creating a clear visual contrast between the two.

Featuring a number of memorable tracks such as: ‘Bundle of Joy’, ‘Team Building’, ‘Rainbow Flyer’ and even the track that plays over the film’s ending credits: ‘The Joy of Credits’, the original score by Michael Giacchino is truly one of the best scores Pixar has to offer, even when taking into account their already impressive list of soundtracks. As nearly all of the film’s best moments whether comedic or emotional are elevated by the film’s wonderful score, with many of the tracks throughout ‘Inside Out’ displaying great variety and talent.

Similar to many of the other films from Pixar’s catalogue, the animation throughout ‘Inside Out’ is simply gorgeous. As not only do all of the designs of the different emotions differ drastically depending on which emotion they representing, but the level of detail on every-character and location throughout the film is astounding, with the individual particles that make-up each emotion even being visible during many of the film’s close-ups. Interesting, when ‘Inside Out’ was in the very early stages of its development, many other emotions were also considered as characters (around twenty-seven in total). After it was eventually settled on the core five to make the narrative less complicated, leaving many other emotions to be left on the cutting-room floor, e.g. ‘Surprise’, ‘Pride’, and ‘Trust’.

Overall, ‘Inside Out’ is definitely worth an 8/10. Although this animated flick isn’t without its faults, ‘Inside Out’ still remains a delightful experience from start-to-finish, mostly due to its unique story, great voice performances and extraordinary visuals, the film really feels as if there isn’t the slightest ounce of laziness put-into crafting it. Whilst there has been plenty of other exceptional animated classics produced by Pixar in the past, their fifteenth animated feature is certainly one of their most experimental yet least discussed to date, which I think is a shame. As while ‘Inside Out’ may be aimed mostly towards children, I feel this film might speak an even deeper volume to adults.

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The Purge (2013) – Film Review

The first instalment in the now-iconic horror franchise, the original entry in ‘The Purge’ series is a fantastic idea quickly ruined by its poor execution. As whilst the film’s main concept of one night a year where all crime is legalised is both a terrifying and intriguing notion, the entire series (in particular the first film) seem to explore the horrific world its story is set within in all the least-interesting ways.

In the near future, America celebrates ‘The Purge’ once a year, a national event in which all crime is legal for twelve hours. On this night of chaos and murder, a wealthy family soon find themselves hostages for harbouring the target of a murderous syndicate after he gains access into their fortified home.

Directed by James DeMonaco, this director has actually taken-on every instalment of: ‘The Purge’ series from the original film through to the latest entry: ‘The First Purge’ in 2018. According to DeMonaco, the idea for the film first came about during a moment of road-rage when he and his wife were cut-off in traffic by a drunk driver, resulting in DeMonaco wishing you could have one free murder a year after witnessing the driver’s complete lack of regret. While a creative and disturbing concept by itself, ‘The Purge’ series has also captivated many through its many themes. Although mostly focused-on in later films, the various themes of this horror franchise could be interpreted by viewers in a number of different ways, from political to psychological.

Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane portray the main family of the film: ‘The Sandins’, who unfortunately, with the exception of Ethan Hawke as the father: ‘James Sandin’, all give relatively weak performances, portraying the family as excessively mundane throughout. However, this is also heavily due to their characters, as nearly every-character within the film is written as either very peculiar or very cliché, with the son: ‘Charlie Sandin’ having a medical problem which he takes medication for, in addition to having a strange character quirk for building and driving a remote control car attached to a disfigured baby doll, which ‘Charlie’ uses to navigate his way around the house. But due to how specific the latter is, he (and his sister) end-up seeming like nothing more than plot devices to put the rest of the family in further peril.

Aside from one or two shots, the cinematography by Jacques Jouffreet is unsurprisingly quite bland. Mostly unitising mid-shots and close-ups, ‘The Purge’ never really attempts to do anything overly inventive with its cinematography, usually relying on rough hand-held shots. Alongside this, the lighting throughout the film is immensely dark. As after the murderous syndicate cut the power to the family’s home, the remainder of the film’s runtime is spent in nearly-total darkness, which can become a little irritating after a point as the constant dark corridors make the characters even harder to follow than they already were, as the cinematography doesn’t allow the viewer any understanding of the house’s convoluted and confusing layout.

Even though many modern horrors lack an ingenious score, the original score by Nathan Whitehead is fairly uninspired. As in spite of the soundtrack helping to build-up a tense atmosphere during a few scenes, the original score simply isn’t memorable in the slightest and is barely distinguishable from any other generic horror/thriller soundtrack, despite the huge list of tracks the film has to offer.

The most obvious issue ‘The Purge’ has been criticised for is its focus on being more of a home-invasion thriller than what most would imagine (and desire) a ‘Purge’ film to be, as the original film is actually extremely contained, being set nearly entirely within the family’s home and relying on only a small group of characters. While director James DeMonaco has stated this was mostly due to the film’s small-budget and lack of shooting days, you can’t help but feel the film isn’t exploring its chaotic world as effectively as it could whilst watching. Of course, being a modern horror, ‘The Purge’ is also littered with jump-scares throughout, many of which are very predictable due to the build-up to each-one, eventually making them feel nothing but tedious.

Whilst I personally don’t feel ‘The Purge’ series improves much even throughout its future entries. There are still some aspects I enjoy within this modern horror, from its interesting ideas and themes to its decently entertaining performance from Ethan Hawke and array of menacing costumes/masks, ‘The Purge’ does have great potential, but I simply feel it was just never fully-realised. Overall, a high 3/10 for the original: ‘Purge’. While this horror series does have a devoted fan-base, I’ve never quite understood its appeal. As for me, ‘The Purge’ franchise will always have its intriguing ideas spoiled by its dull filmmaking.

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