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 CG 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 CG 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 CG 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 CG 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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Whiplash (2014) – Film Review

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (La La Land, First Man). This indie drama appeared almost out of nowhere to incredible reviews from both critics and audiences alike in 2014, featuring some unbelievable performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons alongside an engaging narrative and well-written script. ‘Whiplash’ truly raises the bar for quality when it comes to the independent film sector and small-budget filmmaking in general.

A promising young drummer (Andrew) attending a prestigious music academy finds himself under the wing of the most respected professor the academy has to offer who has gained an infamous reputation over-time due to his constant abuse towards students who aren’t reaching their full potential.

Being shot in only nineteen days, ‘Whiplash’ feels a true passion project for director Damien Chazelle, with large portions of the film even being based-on Chazelle’s own experiences of being part of a band during his high school days. Despite this promising inspiration, to even receive funding for: ‘Whiplash’ Chazelle actually had to turn a small portion of the script into a short film, which he then submitted to numerous different short film festivals. In which, J.K. Simmons played the same character whilst Miles Teller’s character was originally known as ‘Johnny Simmons’ before later being changed.

Miles Teller (who has actually played the drums since he was fifteen) portrays the film’s protagonist: ‘Andrew’ very well. Presenting ‘Andrew’ as a likeable and talented drummer who soon becomes incredibly self-righteous as he begins to dismantle his own life after becoming more and more obsessed with trying to perfect his musical talent. However, its the criminally underrated J.K. Simmons who truly steals the film. Portraying ‘Andrew’s tutor: ‘Fletcher’ as a strict and sometimes even intimidating presence, usually resulting in ‘Andrew’ (as well as his many other students) being eager to impress him despite his constant ridiculing of them, a large amount of which the writing actually manages to make quite humourous without taking-away from the film’s drama. Melissa Benoist also makes a short appearance within the film as ‘Nicole’, a young girl who ‘Andrew’ has an affection for, yet despite her decent performance, ‘Nicole’ ends-up feeling very under-utilised due to her extremely short screen-time.

The cinematography by Sharone Meir is fairly solid throughout the film, while nothing overly extraordinary. The film’s various close-ups of the different drum kit pieces (as well as many other instruments) really gives the film an element of style, in addition to making for a number of memorable and visually pleasing shots. Alongside this is also the film’s colour palette, which mostly consists of dirty yellows and oranges, giving the film an almost rustic appeal, not too dissimilar to a drum kit cymbal itself.

Throughout the runtime, the original score by Justin Hurwitz is predominantly based around drums (obviously due to the story’s focus on-such) aside from a few tracks which utilize various trumpets and piano. Meaning all of the tracks feel very Jazz-like, which fits perfectly with the film as nearly every-song that is performed by ‘Andrew’ and his fellow band members is always within this genre of music. My personal favourite from this long list of impressive work is more than likely the signature track: ‘Overture’, simply due to the track’s enormous amount of range.

As previously mentioned, Miles Teller has played the drums since he was fifteen, and throughout the film, ‘Andrew’ receives numerous blisters on his hands due to his vigorous and unconventional style of jazz drumming. While most are aware of this, it may surprise some viewers to know that this style of drumming is Teller’s own. Meaning some of the blood that appears on his hands and drumsticks within the film’s more intense scenes is actually real. Despite this commitment however, ‘Whiplash’ still suffers from one major flaw, this being the film’s overly fast-pacing. As due to the film’s tight runtime, ‘Whiplash’ does sprint through its story without much hesitation. Although it doesn’t feel rushed per-say, the film’s fast-pacing does begin to make certain aspects of its story feel undeveloped as a result, e.g. ‘Andrew’s various relationships and his life outside of music.

‘Whiplash’ may be a small-budget indie flick, but through its marvellous performances, brilliant writing and attractive cinematography. Chazelle manages to craft a very entertaining film focused around music that isn’t simply an adaptation of a classic theatre performance. Whilst it may not feature the vibrant and varied colour palette of: ‘La La Land’ or the stunning CGI visuals of: ‘First Man’, Damien Chazelle’s directorial debut is certainty an astounding effort and a memorable musical experience to say the least. Overall, very a well-deserved 8/10.

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Prisoners (2013) – Film Review

Combining some incredible performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal with some phenomenal cinematography by the legendary Rodger Deakins alongside an effective original score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. ‘Prisoners’ is truly a masterclass in both filmmaking and storytelling. Although some audience members may be turned-off by the film’s depressing subject matter and few graphic scenes, this story of two family’s lives being turned upside-down is nevertheless an enthralling thriller/drama throughout.

Shortly after their Thanksgiving dinner, ‘Keller Dover’s six-year-old daughter and her best friend go missing. After their families contact the authorities, the driven: ‘Detective Loki’ is assigned to lead the case. But as hours turn into days, knowing his daughter’s life is at stake, the frantic father: ‘Keller’ begins to take matters into his own hands.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner: 2049). Villeneuve is in my opinion, one of the best filmmakers currently working. As every-one of his films is always engaging and visually breathtaking, with ‘Prisoners’ being no exception. As throughout the entirety of its lengthy runtime, ‘Prisoners’ manages to be a compelling, tense and emotional experience that will leave most viewers on the edge of their seats. Making the audience long for the truth just as much as the film’s characters do, with the film’s main theme of parenthood even exploring the idea of how far a parent would truly go to protect their child, most notably through ‘Keller’s questionable actions later within the story.

The film’s main pairing of Hugh Jackman as ‘Keller Dover’ and Jake Gyllenhaal as ‘Detective Loki’ is the perfect combination of two talented actors, as both give brilliant performances as their respective characters with Hugh Jackman in particular, giving one of the best performances of his entire career. Especially in the scene: ‘The Interrogation’. In which, ‘Keller’ repeatedly tortures the potential kidnapper of his daughter, resulting in the scene soon becoming one of the film’s best moments mostly through Hugh Jackman’s incredibly intense performance. In addition to the two leads, the supporting cast of Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Dylan Minnette, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo are all excellent, with each member of the main cast adding to the film’s realistic portrayal of two concerned families, going days without rest as their thoughts dwell purely on their missing children.

From the opening shot through to the very last, the cinematography by Roger Deakins is nothing short of phenomenal. As ‘Prisoners’ elevates its already gripping narrative through its many stunning shots, alongside the film’s absolutely superb lighting, which makes fantastic use of darkness and silhouettes wherever possible (a staple of Roger Deakins’ cinematography) which only backs-up the film’s grim tone and tense atmosphere further. Another element of the film that also adds to its visual aesthetic is its use of weather. Being set in a small town in Pennsylvania, ‘Prisoners’ makes great use of the state’s dreary weather for a number of scenes, meaning many shots are enhanced due to the constant barrage of rain and snow within them.

The late Jóhann Jóhannsson handles the original score for the film, most known for his work on: ‘The Theory of Everything’ along with plenty of other films from director Denis Villeneuve. The film’s score really adds to many of its dramatic moments, as the soundtrack mostly focuses on the story’s more emotional and tragic aspects, and while not overly memorable, the tracks: ‘I Can’t Find Them’ and ‘Through Falling Snow’ both fit the bleak tone of the film flawlessly. While the track: ‘The Keeper’ is also worth a quick mention simply due to its impactful feel.

Although it isn’t a major problem, my only real issue with the film is the lack of depth for some of its characters, as ‘Detective Loki’ and ‘Alex Jones’ both have many interesting traits, with ‘Detective Loki’ having a variety of tattoos, rings and facial ticks (many of which were actually Jake Gyllenhaal’s ideas). Whilst ‘Alex’ has the I.Q. of a ten-year-old due to his learning difficulties. Yet, even with these unique traits, I never felt like either of these two characters were explored enough, even with the film’s many attempts at subtle characterisation.

In short, ‘Prisoners’ is not only one of my favourite films from 2013, but one of all my all-time favourite thrillers in general. Through its spectacular cinematography, tense atmosphere and compelling plot among many, many other elements, ‘Prisoners’ is honestly unmissable. Being just another piece of the beyond-excellent filmography of director Denis Villeneuve, this thriller is certainly one I’d recommend to anyone in need of a memorizing mystery. A 9/10 overall. If you’ve never seen a film by Villeneuve, I’d say ‘Prisoners’ is a tremendous place to begin, despite the film not quite beating-out my personal favourite film of his, ‘Blade Runner: 2049’.

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Tangled (2010) – Film Review

Disney’s first CGI animated fairytale is both incredibly funny and heartwarming. As ‘Tangled’ brings to life the classic fairy princess: ‘Rapunzel’, now updated for a new generation of children. Through some beautiful animation, wonderful original songs and an incredibly vibrant colour palette. ‘Tangled’ feels almost as if it’s an enchanting classic restored from Disney’s golden age of animation, despite its few small problems here and there.

When the kingdom’s most-wanted and most charming bandit: ‘Flynn Rider’ hides-out in a mysterious tower, he’s taken hostage by ‘Rapunzel’, a feisty tower-bound teen with magical golden hair. Eventually leading the two of them to strike a deal so ‘Rapunzel’ can achieve her long-desired dream of seeing the annual release of the kingdom’s lanterns.

Heavily praised since its release, ‘Tangled’ was created by Walt Disney Animation Studios, which have produced a variety of fantastic animated films in recent days. Releasing films such as: ‘Bolt’, ‘Zootropolis’, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’, ‘Moana’ and of course, the mega smash-hit: ‘Frozen’ in 2013. Many of which even beginning to surpass Disney’s other animation company over-time, this obviously being Pixar, who now seem to be far more focused on creating constant sequels, prequels and spin-offs rather than original stories.

Mandy Moore and Zachary Levi bounce extremely well-off each other as ‘Rapunzel’ and ‘Flynn Rider’, with both the characters having plenty of amusing moments in addition to some surprisingly great chemistry (considering they are fully animated). The cast also features Donna Murphy as ‘Mother Gothel’ and Ron Perlman as one of the ‘Stabbington Brothers’ aka the antagonists of the film, and although neither of these two villains ever become quite as memorable or as iconic as some other Disney antagonists. They do serve their roles within the story effectively and are intimidating enough. During the story, ‘Rapunzel’ also receives a character-arc, growing as a character to become more confident and independent as the runtime continues-on, which I feel is not only executed well but also gets across an important message for children.

Featuring an array of stunning wide-shots, the animated cinematography throughout ‘Tangled’ is decent overall. While nothing overly imaginative, the animated cinematography works really well for many of the film’s fast-paced action sequences. The animated cinematography is also improved by the film’s incredibly colourful visuals, as many scenes throughout the film are dripping with bright colours and magnificent lighting. Some of the colouring of character’s clothing even reflect their personalities, as ‘Rapunzel’ wears purple, a colour often associated with royalty and ‘Flynn’ wears blue and white, colours that often stand for goodness. Whereas ‘Mother Gothel’ wears red, a colour that usually symbolizes evil.

The original score by Alan Menken is certainly the weakest element of the film, as ignoring the actual songs within the film, most notably: ‘When Will My Life Begin’ and ‘I See the Light’. The score is mostly generic and little bland at points when it comes to animated flicks, as I feel the soundtrack could’ve been greatly improved if the score would’ve embraced the more fantasy-esque aspects of its narrative. Occasionally, the film can also over-rely on musical cues, as during a number of scenes the film feels the need to accompany every-action or piece of humour with a trumpet cue, which feels nothing but unnecessary throughout.

Being many years-on from the film’s initial release, it’s inevitable that the film’s animation would begin to age. However, although a couple of the close-ups on character’s faces may look a little out-dated. ‘Tangled’s animation predominantly holds-up well since 2010. In particular, the CGI effects on ‘Rapunzel’s long-hair, which still look marvellous even today. The film’s humour is also fairly excellent, as the film has a large amount of range when it comes to its jokes, usually having plenty of humour that will appeal to older viewers as well as young children. ‘Tangled’ also gets some great comedic moments out of its horse character: ‘Maximus’, who quickly ends-up becoming one of the film’s greatest characters through his constant drive to catch ‘Flynn Rider’, with many of his movements being presented as if he is a large dog or even a human.

Although it may not be one of Disney’s best, ‘Tangled’ is still very enjoyable from start-to-finish. Despite its sometimes overly fast-pacing and slightly dated animation. The film has more than enough to please families, with some likeable protagonists, plenty of memorable songs and an overall joyful and adventurous tone. ‘Tangled’ is in my opinion, on the higher-level of fantastical family films, and whilst some may feel the film is aimed more towards one gender with its story being based around a fairy princess, I’d argue otherwise. A low 8/10 in total.

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Maniac (2012) – Film Review

Shot nearly entirely through a first-person perspective and lead by a timid yet creepy performance from Elijah Wood. ‘Maniac’ is in my opinion, a pretty creative and unique slasher that has been enormously overlooked when it comes to modern horror. While the film does still have its issues, I feel most horror fans will get something out of this discomforting dive into the mind of a serial killer should they give it a watch.

After working his day job at a mannequin restoration store, the mentally ill and isolated: ‘Frank’ takes to the dark streets of Los Angeles as a serial killer with a fetish for female scalps. But when a young artist asks him for help with her new exhibition, ‘Frank’s obsessions begin to consume him.

Although it takes a different approach to its story, ‘Maniac’ is actually a remake of the classic 1980 slasher of the same name. However, this is one of the rare occasions where I believe that the remake is possibly an improvement over the original film. As while the 80s flick does feature plenty of over-the-top gore, the film never manages to elevate itself from being just a fairly straight-forward slasher, and although it’s maybe not always successful. The remake does attempt to develop ‘Frank’ more as a character alongside exploring themes of mental health and loss of identity effectively throughout its runtime.

Elijah Wood, best known for his role as ‘Frodo’ in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series, portrays the serial killer protagonist: ‘Frank’ as awkward and almost quite dry at points, making ‘Frank’ feel incredibly deranged when he interacts with other characters. Most notably, the artist and photographer: ‘Anna’ portrayed by Nora Arnezeder, who is a clear contrast to ‘Frank’ in the way she portrays her simplistic yet likeable and innocent character, completely unaware of: ‘Frank’s dark deeds as she grows closer and closer to him. The performances are slightly dragged-down by writing throughout the film however, as whilst the dialogue is decent for the most part, the film does still have the odd unusual line.

As previously mentioned, the remake of: ‘Maniac’ is also shot nearly entirely through P.O.V. shots, and its this cinematography by Maxime Alexandre that really makes the film stand-out from many other slashers. As whilst watching the film, you can’t help but feel the tension as ‘Frank’ goes on dates or has conversations with women who we know will soon meet a gruesome fate, as we as the audience are aware of his sinister intentions, the film almost makes you feel hostage to ‘Frank’s mind. That being said, the film does sometimes take you out of the experience when it leaves the P.O.V. format for a few seconds. While I understand why the film does this (as it’s usually at crucial points within the narrative). I personally feel keeping the audience restricted to looking through ‘Frank’s eyes would’ve made the film more compelling overall.

Serving as a great throwback to the classic 80s film its based-on in addition to adding too many of the film’s best moments. The original score by Robin Coudert or ‘Rob’ for short, is a synth soundtrack. Utilizing electronic waves, this underrated score is certainly a high-point of the film, with my two favourite tracks: ‘Doll’ and ‘Haunted’ both being incredibly memorable in their own right, almost feeling as if they were ripped straight from any of the iconic horrors of the 1980s.

Extremely violent and disturbing throughout, ‘Maniac’ truly pulls-no-punches when delving into the mind of its serial killer, meaning many viewers may be put-off by the film’s extremely gory deaths and unnerving murder scenes. As ‘Frank’ disposes of his victims with little remorse, as dark memories of his mother during childhood fuel his violent actions. This is also where many of the film’s more bizarre moments come into play, as although it may surprise some viewers, ‘Maniac’ is partly an art-house film as well as a slasher, as the film’s themes as well as ‘Frank’s broken mind is usually displayed visually throughout the film in a variety of ways. This unfortunately does lead onto the film’s weakest aspect however, as during many of these anomalous scenes, the film’s editing can become quite erratic, sometimes even placing cuts mid-conversation.

In conclusion, I really do enjoy ‘Maniac’. While the film is still quite problematic in areas, mostly in regard to its editing choices and occasional lines of strange dialogue. ‘Maniac’s memorable original score, intense violence and of course, captivating cinematography through its use of P.O.V. The film stands as definitely one of the better remakes in recent memory. Overall, a high 7/10. Although I probably wouldn’t recommend ‘Maniac’ to everyone, if you’re preferred realm of the horror genre is gory slashers, then this indie flick is certainly not one to miss.

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Super 8 (2011) – Film Review

A few years before ‘Stranger Things’ hit our Netflix accounts, director J. J. Abrams (Mission Impossible III, Star Trek, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) tried his hand at creating an 80s sci-fi throwback with ‘Super 8’. While the film did get mostly positive reviews from both critics and audiences alike on its initial release, I’ve never been a huge fan of this science fiction flick, with many strange decisions at play in addition to its overreliance on borrowing story elements from classic films of the 1980s, ‘Super 8’ has always seemed more like pandering than an enjoyable and nostalgic throwback for me.

During the summer of 1979, a group of young friends shooting a short zombie film are witnesses to a devastating train crash. Soon after, the group find themselves investigating the subsequent unexplained events throughout their small town.

Even with legendary director Steven Spielberg on-board as a producer, ‘Super 8’ mostly lacks the fun tone many of Spielberg’s classics usually overflow with, taking itself pretty seriously aside from a few short moments. Although ‘Super 8’ may not feature this aspect of Spielberg’s work however, the film does utilize many different ideas from his filmography. As while most throwbacks do usually contain a few story elements taken from the films they are inspired by, ‘Super 8’ begins to feel a little derivative at points, eventually developing a plot which feels almost identical to ‘E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ without much experimentation.

Although Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Gabriel Basso, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee and Zach Mills all do a great job at portraying their young characters, the writing throughout the film definitely has room for improvement, as many of the younger characters never quite manage to become incredibly amusing or likeable, with most of them receiving barely any development at all. Following this, as the film’s narrative becomes more tense and dangerous nearing its end, the group’s frustration and panic begins to surface, which although realistic, does result in them becoming rather irritating after a while due to their constant screaming and arguing. Kyle Chandler also makes an appearance within the film as ‘Jackson Lamb’ one of the group’s parents, who does give a decent performance as a strict yet caring father even with his limited screen-time.

The cinematography by Larry Fong is visually pleasing for the most part, creating many different and attractive shots throughout the film. Due to its colour palette and lighting however, the film’s visuals are dragged-down by simply how dark the film is, as a large majority of the story takes place at night, ‘Super 8′ relies heavily on dim lighting and shadows (alongside Abrams’ continued obsession with lens-flares). The film’s CGI effects are also serviceable, with many of the film’s more CGI-heavy moments taking-place at night, meaning any of the CGI visuals which may be lacking are usually saved as a result of them being covered by darkness.

Michael Giacchino is a composer I usually adore, from his astonishing work on films such as: ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Jojo Rabbit’. He normally succeeds far beyond expectations. However, in the case of: ‘Super 8’, his score is simply just ‘okay’, as although it does serve the film’s story decently well, the film’s soundtrack isn’t very unique or memorable. Being a traditional orchestral like many other modern blockbusters, I couldn’t help but feel a classic 80s synth score more along the lines of: ‘Stranger Things’ would’ve worked extremely well for this kind of film, even with the film’s narrative technically being set in the 1970s.

An aspect of: ‘Super 8’ I do truly enjoy is the film’s sound design, an aspect of filmmaking that I rarely mention, ‘Super 8’ actually does a fairly brilliant job of building tension or mystery through its eerie sci-fi noises. In particular, in the scene in which the young group of friends are attacked by an otherworldly creature whilst on-board military transport, as mostly in part to its sound design, this is in my opinion, one of the most effective and memorable scenes of the film.

‘Super 8’ overall feels like a huge waste of potential, as whilst the film is far from awful and does have some interesting aspects scattered throughout its runtime. The film’s weak writing and forgettable original score make the film feel a little bland in areas. In addition to its lack of anything truly original (which is the film’s biggest flaw in my opinion). As unlike ‘Stranger Things’ where the show’s story at least introduces concepts like ‘The Upside Down’ which are somewhat creative, ‘Super 8′ lacks much of anything that hasn’t be explored in sci-fi before. While this film is still a perfect example of J. J. Abrams’ talent for visuals, ‘Super 8’ never really manages to elevate itself beyond being just a simple nostalgia-fest. Altogether a high 5/10.

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Venom (2018) – Film Review

Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Gangster Squad, Zombieland: Double Tap) ‘Venom’ follows in the footsteps of many other mature superhero flicks before it such as: ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Kiss-Ass’. Attempting to focus more on the story of an anti-hero than the usual heroically noble protagonist we expect from this genre, all alongside some dark comedy and plenty of action scenes for good measure. However, just from the first half an hour alone, it’s clear that ‘Venom’ bites-off far more than it can chew.

When investigative journalist: ‘Eddie Brock’ attempts a comeback by investigating recent illegal experiments in San Francisco, he soon end-ups accidentally becoming the host of an alien symbiote that gives him a violent super alter-ego known as ‘Venom’. But after a shadowy organisation begins looking for a symbiote of their own, ‘Eddie’ must use his newfound powers to protect his planet.

Although it may surprise many, ‘Venom’ has actually an age rating of twelve in the United Kingdom, which is very bizarre as the film clearly tries to appeal to an older audience throughout its runtime, with ‘Venom’ constantly committing horrific acts like biting people’s heads-off, yet of course, in a completely bloodless manor. As ‘Venom’ has always been one of: ‘Spider-Man’s most violent and sinister villains, the film feels incredibly inconsistent as a result of this rating.

Tom Hardy sadly gives one of his weakest performances to date here, as throughout nearly the entirety of the film, Tom Hardy’s portrayal of: ‘Eddie’ is very over-the-top, with his overly-nervous reactions becoming a little obnoxious after a while. This is also due in part to the large amount of improvising Tom Hardy did on-set, usually from items he noticed in various filming locations, including the now infamous: ‘Lobster Tank’ scene, in which ‘Eddie’ publicly climbs into a restaurant’s lobster aquarium after claiming he’s burning-up from a fever. The cast also features Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed as the film’s antagonist, who also give fairly underwhelming performances. Unfortunately, the characterisation isn’t much of an improvement either, as every-character is nothing more than a cardboard cut-out, with the antagonist: ‘Carlton Drake’ in particular having a confusing and undeveloped motivation for his malevolent scheme.

The cinematography by Matthew Libatique is actually quite chaotic during a number of scenes, as the shots attempt to keep-up with ‘Venom’ as he tears his way through various buildings and enemies, yet when the film goes back to its more character-focused scenes, the cinematography is relatively bland, mostly relying on shot-reverse-shot for the majority of these moments. The writing throughout the narrative is also severely lacking, as aside from a couple of humorous conversations between ‘Eddie’ and ‘Venom’, the film is truly dripping with line after line of cheesy dialogue, much of which has been heard time-and-again in other superhero flicks.

Although there are a number of forgettable superhero scores out-there, the original score by Ludwig Göransson is pretty dull overall. As aside from working decently during some of the more heroic moments within the story, the soundtrack is really nothing more than a straight-forward superhero affair with a few inclines horror thrown-in to fit more with the character of: ‘Venom’. A few of these tracks do back-up the film’s action scenes well however, as ‘Venom’ does have its fair share of exciting moments despite its predictable story, many of which make great use of: ‘Venom’s unique symbiote abilities.

Without a doubt, the worst aspect of: ‘Venom’ is it’s CGI effects, as throughout the film both ‘Venom’ and his symbiote antagonist: ‘Riot’ are far too shiny and continuously bounce around the screen as if they are animated cartoon characters, with nearly every-visual effect feeling as if it has virtually no weight or density. Although it could probably go without saying, the lack of any kind appearance/reference from/to: ‘Spider-Man’ himself is also quite distracting, as Sony didn’t actually obtain the rights to use the character within this film, nor have this film take-place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, despite the company’s many attempts at tricking its viewers into believing it does.

While ‘Venom’ is nowhere near as awful as some other superhero blockbusters, with ‘Catwomen’, ‘Fantastic Four’ and ‘Suicide Squad’ all being far worse films in regards to filmmaking. ‘Venom’ is simply a decent idea ruined by its poor execution, as aside from the film’s accuracy to the comic books its based-on as well as it’s memorable action set-pieces, the film feels like nothing more than a cliché superhero story we’ve seen many times before, and I personally don’t feel it deserves the huge amount of praise it’s received from most audiences. Overall, a 3/10 for: ‘Venom’. Unless you’re an enormous fan of this iconic anti-hero, I’d probably recommend you give this character’s first individual outing a miss.

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