The Grinch (2018) – Film Review

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as his pen-name: ‘Dr. Seuss,’ is recognised today as one of the best authors in children’s literature. Through his whimsical writing, memorable characters and surreal illustrations, many of Geisel’s stories have become truly timeless as a result of how original they were compared to other children’s books released around the same-period. So of course, it would only be a matter of time till Geisel’s various characters began making their way to the silver screen, with one of his most villainous characters: ‘The Grinch,’ receiving many adaptations, the most recent of which possibly being the worst to-date.

Plot Summary: In the town of: ‘Whoville,’ the residents known as ‘Whos’ excitedly await the arrival of Christmas Day. But just north of: ‘Whoville,’ on the top of: ‘Mount Crumpit,’ the cantankerous and green-furred: ‘Grinch’ begins to hatch a plan with his pet-dog: ‘Max,’ crafting a scheme to steal Christmas from the ‘Whos’ in an attempt to silence their irritating holiday cheer once and for all.

This 2018 readaptation of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ is animated by Illumination Animation, the animation company behind modern family flicks like ‘Despicable Me,’ ‘Sing’ and ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ in addition to a previous ‘Dr. Seuss’ adaptation: ‘The Lorax’ in 2012. This isn’t surprising of course, as Illumination Animation have truly exploded in popularity since 2010, mostly due to their creation of: ‘The Minions.’ And whilst I personally don’t despise the company as a whole as I feel many of their films are entertaining-enough for younger viewers, its fair to say their film catalogue is spotty at best, with many of their films bosting extremely predicable humour and usually attractive yet repetitive-looking animation, and ‘The Grinch’ is unfortunately no exception.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the title character, and although Cumberbatch is usually an actor I adore, having given an array of brilliant performances throughout his career. ‘The Grinch’ is without a doubt one of his weakest, as his performance somehow manages to feel both minimum effort and also far too cartoonish. Resulting in this version of the nefarious characters becoming instantly forgettable, especially when put in comparison with Jim Carrey’s beloved performance. Then there is also Cameron Seely and Rashida Jones who portray ‘Cindy-Lou Who’ and her mother: ‘Donna,’ who this time around have their own subplot mostly unrelated to ‘The Grinch’s scheme, which serves little purpose aside from one particular scene. And finally there is Pharrell Williams as the story’s narrator, which is some of the most bizarre casting I’ve ever seen, as his typical American-accent doesn’t remotely fit the role of a traditional storyteller.

Similar to the rest of Illumination Animation’s films, ‘The Grinch’ is visually-impressive at a first-glance, as the film’s animated cinematography and extremely vibrant colour palette is likely to catch any viewer’s eye. Yet also in-line with their other films, Illumination Animation’s style does feel very repetitive after so long, as each character/location does little to make itself stand-out. A perfect example of this is ‘The Grinch’ himself, as while ‘The Grinch’ is implied to have very poor hygiene similar to other adaptations of the story, neither ‘The Grinch’ nor his home within ‘Mount Crumpit’ are ever displayed as unpleasant, even though ‘The Grinch’s home being dark and filthy serves as an extension of his vile personality.

Aside from ‘Tyler the Creator’s abysmal new rendition of: ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,’ the original score by Danny Elfman is completely unremarkable. From ‘A Wonderful Awful Idea’ to ‘Stealing Christmas,’ all of the film’s tracks lack both memorability and charm, barley embracing the fantastical nature of: ‘Dr. Seuss’ stories or the festive season itself, with the rest of the film’s soundtrack just relying on other modern renditions of classic Christmas songs.

Undoubtedly the most disappointing aspect of this readaptation however, is the actual animation style. As one obvious benefit that this new adaptation has over the live-action adaptation of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ is simply being animated, as this allows the film’s designs to greatly lean-into the wonderful illustrations of: ‘Dr. Seuss,’ as his sketches are incredibly difficult to recreate in real-life as result of their harsh curves and gravity-defying arictecture. But strangely, the film doesn’t take advantage of this, with many designs only having a slight ‘Seuss’ influence in spite of the clearly-inspired rhyming dialogue.

Overall, ‘The Grinch’ is a worst-case scenario for a readaptation, as I feel this animated film falls-flat in most areas, never reaching the emotional or comedic heights of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ from 2000, or even matching-up to the delightful hand-drawn animation seen in the original 1966 short. So whilst its visuals may appear pleasant at first, it quickly becomes apparent something is missing. As this new adaptation gives the impression it was made by a team of producers rather than just one director, and as a result, fails to breathe new life into this age-old Christmas tale. Final Rating: 3/10.

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Krampus (2015) – Film Review

Whilst most Christmas films get across their message about how family is the true meaning of the holiday in a wholesome and light-hearted fashion, ‘Krampus’ takes quite a different approach. As director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) crafts a cynical and amusing horror-comedy based-around: ‘Krampus,’ a creature from European folklore with origins stretching back to the days before Christianity, serving as essentially the sinister twin of jolly ‘Saint Nicholas,’ punishing those who misbehave in various odious ways. And while the film is far from perfect, ‘Krampus’ creative ideas and impressive practical effects make the film worth it’s runtime.

Plot Summary: When his dysfunctional family clash over the holidays, young ‘Max’ finally decides to turn his back on Christmas, tearing-up his letter to ‘Santa Clause’ in a fit of rage. Little does he know, his lack of Christmas spirit has unleashed the wrath of: ‘Krampus,’ an ancient demon who punishes those who don’t celebrate the festive season. Forcing ‘Max’ and the rest of his family to fight for one another if they hope to survive.

Although there are plenty of enjoyable films out there to watch over the festive season, I usually always find myself craving something new around the Christmas-period, as the cliché narrative of children helping ‘Santa Claus’ save Christmas gets very old quick. ‘Krampus’ however, does certainly attempt something new, even if it isn’t always successful. As whilst the original outline for the film was closer to a straight-forward horror, focusing mostly on ‘Krampus’ picking people off throughout ‘Max’s town, it was eventually decided to make it more of a dark retelling of a traditional Christmas film. This is why the plot is kicked-off with a letter to ‘Santa.’ and why the film’s first act begins much like a family film would, before then having a drastic turn towards horror and dark fantasy.

The film’s large cast of Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Emjay Anthony, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Stefania LaVie Owen, Conchata Ferrell and Krista Stadler are all serviceable in their roles, even though many of their characters aren’t developed nowhere near enough. Additionally, ‘Tom Engel,’ a.k.a. ‘Max’s father, also has many moments where he doesn’t seem to take their life-threating situation that seriously, almost as if he is acknowledging how bizarre the story is, which does diminish the film’s tension at points. But with ‘Krampus’ featuring moments of humour and fright alike, the film obviously has many shifts in tone between scenes.

Jules O’Loughlin’s cinematography is nothing amazing altogether, as in spite of the film having quite a few memorable and attractive shots, there are also a large amount of bland shots whenever the camera is focusing on the actors themselves. What is far more admirable though is how the camerawork enhances the film’s set-design, making the audience believe that the film was shot inside a real house and outside on a real wintry street. When in reality, over 95% of the film was shot on a soundstage, with the snow covering the ground being made from a material that’s commonly used for making nappies.

Composer Douglas Pipes handles the film’s original score, and he described his soundtrack as “A Collection of Twisted Christmas Carols with Pagan Thrown in.” As the score incorporates everything from the sounds of chains, bells, bones and animal-skin drums in addition to having choirs chant and whisper in different tongues, making for a foreboding but suitably Christmassy score. The track: ‘A Cold Wind’ also does a phenomenal job of reiterating ‘Krampus’ as the ominous shadow of: ‘Santa Clause’ through its use of sleigh bells. However, the film’s actual sound design features some incredibly strange choices for a horror, as many goofy/cartoonish sound effects can be heard within the film, feeling immensely out-of-place every-time they are.

One of the finest aspects of: ‘Krampus’ as a film has to be its effects, as rather than having an over-reliance on CG visuals, ‘Krampus’ brings all of its uniquely-creepy creatures to-life through detailed costumes and animatronics, harkening back to classic 80s horror-comedies like ‘Gremlins.’ Many of the film’s terrifying monsters also share wonderfully-horrific designs, with the final design for: ‘Krampus’ and his elves being distilled from various postcards and illustrations seen over-time. Or in the case of the malevolent toys, taking inspiration from the 1992 low-budget horror: ‘Demonic Toys,’ with the angel ornament, teddy bear, robot and Jack-in-a-box that attack the family sharing many similarities to that obscure film.

In conclusion, ‘Krampus’ is a rollicking ride of a Christmas film even if it isn’t quite as polished as Dougherty’s Halloween flick: ‘Trick ‘r Treat.’ As the film’s excellent practical effects, menacing creature designs and great original score all lend themselves very well to the distinctive story, despite the narrative itself often feeling like wasted potential considering ‘Krampus’ doesn’t fully appear until near the end of the runtime. Regardless, this horror-comedy is still the best on-screen interpretation of: ‘Krampus’ and his minions as of yet. Final Rating: 7/10.

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Chronicle (2012) – Film Review

Despite its short runtime and novice director, ‘Chronicle’ is both a unique and refreshing take on the found-footage sub-genre. Diverting from the usual teen horror stories that have completely overtaken the found-footage style for a more sci-fi-esque narrative, which overcomes its gimmicky camerawork and occasionally dated CG effects through riveting moments of action, fast-paced direction and charismatic performances from its young cast.

Plot Summary: After three high-school friends venture into a mysterious hole which travels deep beneath the Earth, they reemerge with incredible telekinetic abilities, with introvert: ‘Andrew’ becoming the most powerful of the three. But as ‘Andrew’ struggles to cope with his mother’s terminal illness and his father’s alcoholic abuse towards him, his friends ‘Matt’ and ‘Steve’ soon realise ‘Andrew’s abilities are beginning to consume him.

Directed by the infamous Josh Trank (Fantastic Four, Calpone) and written by Max Landis, most known for his work on Netflix’s ‘Bright’ and ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.’ ‘Chronicle’ takes a lot of inspiration from modern superhero blockbusters, which in a way is ironic, as cast members Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan would later go on to star in big-budget superhero films, with DeHaan portraying ‘Harry Osborn/The Green Goblin’ in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2,’ and Jordan going on to portray ‘Johnny Storm’ in the ‘Fantastic Four’ remake as well as the antagonist: ‘Killmonger’ in 2018’s ‘Black Panther.’ So for DeHann and Jordan, ‘Chronicle’ essentially served as the jumping-off point for their future careers.

Before filming actually began on ‘Chronicle,’ director Josh Trank had actors Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan live in a house together for fifteen days, and its due to this (in addition to Landis’ teenage-accurate writing) that you do feel a genuine bond between the three. As the group of friends act like real teenagers, reckless and immature yet not totally unlikable, which was an important area to succeed in as a large majority of the story early on leans on their antics as they share banter and test how far their abilities can truly go. However, even with all three characters having quite diverse personalities, it’s ‘Andrew’ who really steals the film as a character. As his descent into hysteria serves as a compelling character-arc within the story, and is well-executed aside from one or two lines nearing the end of the runtime, which are reminiscent of a cheesy supervillain quote from an early 2000s blockbuster.

While the film’s cinematography by Matthew Jensen does begin as your standard affair for a found-footage flick, when it comes to the film’s final act it can be quite difficult to tell where (or what) the camera is actually supposed to be. As its during the final act the characters fully embrace their abilities, allowing them to fly, tear through buildings, make objects float with ease and even throw vehicles, with many of their impowered actions being seen through various CCTV footage or onlooker’s floating phones and tablets, resulting in a fairly chaotic conclusion in spite of its creativity.

Also as a result of its found-footage style, ‘Chronicle’ lacks an original score, yet the film still features many songs through sources within the world of the film itself like radios and phones. And while the film does have a more realistic feel because of this, the film’s constant overreliance on glitchy edits/transitions have the complete opposite effect, as the overuse of glitches soon becomes just as irritating as it is distracting considering ‘Andrew’ is often filming through a contemporary camera.

Sadly, in the years since it’s release, much of the CGI throughout ‘Chronicle’ hasn’t aged well. As while some of the CG effects still hold-up, there is such a huge number of effects seen within the film that it would’ve been difficult for all of them to remain unblemished. These dated CG visuals might also relate to the film’s budget of £8.9 million, which may seem like a large amount, but is actually quite thin when taking into account what is required of it. The film’s budget also played a part in where it was filmed, as ‘Chronicle’ was primarily shot in Cape Town, South Africa, with American-designed vehicles needing to be shipped-over for the production, even though the story takes-place in Seattle.

To conclude, whilst the film has its issues like many other found-footage flicks, ‘Chronicle’ is certainly an under-appreciated entry in the subgenre, excelling in many different ways. And since the film’s initial release, there have been plenty of rumours regarding a sequel, with Max Landis constantly being attached and then unattached as its writer. But I think it’s pretty evident now that we’ll probably never see a sequel to this underrated science fiction story, which I believe is a good thing. As although the film does have some concepts which could be further explored, I feel the story of: ‘Andrew’s psychotic downfall will always be the main focus of: ‘Chronicle,’ and without his character, it would seem incomplete. Final Rating: 7/10.

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Non-Stop (2014) – Film Review

Although ‘Non-Stop’ has been heavily overshadowed by a number of other films within the thriller genre, being mostly forgotten amongst the strew of critically-acclaimed films that released in 2014. I personally feel this high-altitude thriller is one of the better stories set within the confines of an aircraft, utilising Liam Neeson’s action expertise to craft a compelling mystery with occasional moments of excitement, even if the film is noticeably lacking in both realism and memorability.

Plot Summary: While on a flight from New York to London, ‘Bill Marks,’ a worn and alcoholic air marshal, receives an anonymous text message, informing him that unless one-hundred and fifty-million dollars are transferred into an offshore account within the next twenty-minutes, someone aboard the plane will die. Now finding himself in the middle of this deadly cat-and-mouse game, ‘Bill’ desperately searches for the suspect, unintentionally implicating himself into a hostage crisis unfolding at thirty-thousand feet.

‘Non-Stop’ is actually the second of four films directed by Jaume Collet-Serra that feature Liam Neeson, beginning with ‘Unknown’ in 2011, then ‘Run All Night’ in 2015, and lastly ‘The Commuter’ in 2018. And whilst Collet-Serra’s other films also contain a central mystery, ‘Non-Stop’ certainly has the most interesting location of the bunch, using its tight and claustrophobic setting of an aircraft to great effect. As the film never cuts-away from the plane itself, even when ‘Bill’s contacts his superiors we the audience remain inside the aircraft with the characters, adding to the suspense. The film also attempts to integrate themes of airline safety and security into its story, which are intriguing though they are never fully explored, nor is the terrorist’s motivation when its finally revealed.

Liam Neeson leads the cast as ‘Bill Marks,’ giving his standard action film performance as a mostly straight-faced action-hero. But just as he is in the ‘Taken’ franchise and every other explosive blockbuster, Neeson is an easy protagonist to root for, and ‘Bill’ is given a fair amount of development for what is required. Julianne Moore also makes an appearance in the film as ‘Jen Summers,’ who similar to the rest of the supporting cast of Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Corey Stoll, Jason Butler Harner, Nate Parker, Omar Metwally and Lupita Nyong’o, is given limited characterisation and is mostly in the film to serve as a potential suspect, but I suppose considering this is the basis for the story, it would’ve been an enormous challenge to development the huge array of passengers and crew aboard the flight.

The cinematography by Flavio Martínez Labiano is serviceable for the most part, as whilst the film features a few attractive shots and focus-pulls throughout its runtime, the majority of the film’s camerawork focuses on hand-held shots, which aside from lending themselves effectively to action sequences and scenes where the plane experiences turbulence, do become a little monotonous. ‘Non-Stop’ also features a couple of scenes that were filmed entirely within a single-take, most notably, from the moment ‘Bill’ begins his announcement to the passengers about his phone inspection, through to the moment he duct-tapes a suspect’s hands together, there isn’t a single cut.

John Ottman’s original score does suit the film well, with tracks like ‘Non-Stop,’ ‘Welcome to Aqualantic’ and ‘Reluctant Passenger/Blue Ribbon’ having a nice fusion of synth sounds, percussion, strings and brass, adding-up to simplistic yet competent soundtrack. Constantly pushing or creating the tension in a simple and confined environment while simultaneously fitting with the modern set-design of the plane and ‘Bill’ as a reluctant hero forced into action.

But with 95% of the film taking-place within an aircraft, the set for the plane itself was certainly a crucial detail to get right. Luckily, ‘Non-Stop’ does succeed here, as despite the set having to be built slightly larger than a standard commercial airliner to accommodate for equipment and Liam Neeson’s 6’4′ height. The set does feel like a real plane, having both sleek business-class and first-class areas as well as lavatories and a crew rest-compartment, all of which are very crampt and dimly-lit, as the story takes-place over the course of one night. This realism is even more impressive considering that the aircraft and airline are clearly fictional, as the aircraft type is never referred to yet its cabin interior and flight deck layout doesn’t match any real aircraft design.

So even though films like ‘Red Eye’ and ‘Flightplan’ have taken the enclosed setting of an airplane and made it work before, I still believe ‘Non-Stop’ has slightly more entertainment value. As whilst some viewers may find the story’s absence of realism quite frustrating at points, the film distracts from its over-the-top ideas and bland side characters through its tense and fast-paced narrative, making for a thrilling mystery for those that can suspend their disbelief for a few elements. And with Liam Neeson and the rest of the cast helping ‘Non-Stop’ to collect plenty of air-miles for enjoyability, I’d say the film is worth a watch. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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Moonlight (2016) – Film Review

Directed by Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy, If Beale Street Could Talk) and based on the unproduced play: ‘In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue’ by Tarell Alvin McCraney. ‘Moonlight’ has been heavily praised since its initial release in 2016, being just one of the films from adored production company A24, who also brought-us modern indie classics like ‘Hereditary,’ ‘Waves,’ ‘Eighth Grade,’ ‘The Witch’ and ‘A Ghost Story’ just to name a few. And although ‘Moonlight’ may not be the company’s greatest film to-date, it is certainly one of the finest examples of visual storytelling and subtle characterisation in recent memory.

Plot Summary: Through three different time-periods, young adolescence, mid-teen and young adult. An African-American man (Chiron) grapples with his identity and sexuality as he grows-up in Miami. His journey to manhood being guided by the kindness, support and love of the community that help raise him.

In addition to receiving almost universally positive reviews, ‘Moonlight’ also won three Oscars for Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Supporting Actor in 2017. And with the film only having a budget of around £1.1 million, ‘Moonlight’ has the lowest-budget of any Best Picture winner since ‘Rocky’ in 1976, which cost only £820,000. However, even with this smaller-budget, director Barry Jenkins and writer Tarell Alvin McCraney always had a clear-vision as to what the film would be. As both men had similar childhood experiences living in Miami, with mothers who had both struggled with drug addiction. So it was decided early on to replicate those experiences, with roughly 80% of the film being shot in the same neighbourhood the pair originally grew-up.

Alex R. Hibbert, Ashton Sanders and Trevante Rhodes portray ‘Chiron’ across the three different time-periods of his life, and all do a great job in spite of them not sharing many of the same mannerisms outside of: ‘Chiron’s manner of speaking, yet this doesn’t stop the trio from still making ‘Chiron’s quiet and sheepish personality shine. The supporting cast of Mahershala Ali, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monáe and André Holland are all also fantastic, but with all four being such skilled actors who have given few bad performances throughout their careers, it was unlikely this indie drama would ever be an exception, it’s just a shame their characters aren’t featured more within the narrative.

Despite a large amount of James Laxton’s cinematography consisting of shaky hand-held shots, the film’s camerawork does allow for plenty of movement, as the camera rarely remains still during conversations between characters, making many of the story’s dramatic moments far more visually-interesting and giving each scene a consistent flow through the many revolving shots. Additionally, the film also utilises its cinematography to reflect ‘Chiron’s emotional state at many points, combining with the film’s original score for some very impactful story-beats. All of this working in-synch with the film’s bright colour palette and smooth editing, which both make superb use of the beautiful setting of Miami.

Another masterful and memorable aspect of: ‘Moonlight’ is its original score by Nicholas Britell, as the film has a very diverse yet gentle score with tracks ranging from orchestral to more piano-focused. As Britell decided to ‘Chop and Screw’ the orchestra to create a new kind of sound, this technique can be seen throughout the tracks: ‘The Middle of the World,’ ‘Chiron’s Theme’ and ‘Chef’s Special,’ with director Barry Jenkins stating that he always wanted the film’s score to be distinctive, as he actively tried to avoid the cliché of black-lead films featuring exclusively hip-hop soundtracks.

Much of: ‘Moonlight’s story was also inspired by Barry Jenkins’ own childhood in Miami, where he was surrounded by lush green grass and stunning golden sunsets, yet also lived in a neighbourhood where some tragic events took-place, declaring his childhood: “A Beautiful Struggle.” And whilst the film’s slow-pacing allows this story to be fully-explored, this shouldn’t put viewers off, as the narrative doesn’t move along at a brutally slow-pace, only slow enough to fully-immerse its events/characters in realism. Then of course, there is the film’s visual/minimalist storytelling, which is some of the best-executed I’ve seen in a long-time. As the film hides many small visual/audio details for those paying close-attention, presenting its themes of embracing yourself, addiction and masculinity in such a fashion where I feel different viewers will interpret the story in their own way.

To conclude, ‘Moonlight’ is a prepossessing coming-of-age story even if it isn’t one of the best films A24 has to offer, as while the film is still is an incredibly entertaining and well-written drama with an equally well-crafted original score and some creative cinematography to-boot. A24 simply has such a vast and exceptional range of indie films to choose from, as the production company is never hindered by genre, style or tone for projects they green-light. But if you enjoy dramas or are a fan of Barry Jenkins’ other work, then ‘Moonlight’ will surely be a captivating watch followed by a fascinating discussion, just be sure your paying full-attention. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Southpaw (2015) – Film Review

Raw, dramatic and gripping, ‘Southpaw’ released in 2015, may suffer from feeling a little too-familiar at points. Following an almost identical structure to many other boxing flicks like ‘Rocky,’ ‘Warrior’ and ‘The Fighter,’ in addition to featuring some fairly bland filmmaking. But through Jake Gyllenhaal’s powerhouse performance alongside the story’s strong grasp on realism, ‘Southpaw’ rolls with the punches to become a mostly enthralling watch throughout its typical rags-to-riches narrative.

Plot Summary: Professional boxer: ‘Billy Hope’ lives a life of luxury with his supportive wife: ‘Maureen’ and their daughter: ‘Leila’ after winning forty-three consecutive fights in a row, becoming a world-famous champion in light-heavyweight boxing. But after the zealous contender: ‘Miguel Escobar’ publicly challenges ‘Billy,’ a violent confrontation breaks-out between the two, during which, ‘Maureen’ is fatally shot, sending ‘Billy’ down a rampant-path of self-destruction. Months later, ‘Billy’ is forced back into the ring, now fighting to revive his career and reclaim his daughter from child protective services.

Directed by Antonie Fuqua (Training Day,  The Equalizer, The Magnificent Seven), ‘Southpaw’ is quite a diversion from Fuqua’s usual trend of directing action-heavy blockbusters. However, strangely, ‘Southpaw’ was originally conceived as an unofficial follow-up to the film: ‘8 Mile,’ which was based on the real-life story of iconic rapper: ‘Eminem,’ with the rapper himself also set to return as the film’s protagonist. But as a result of both the evolution of the film’s script and ‘Eminem’s music career conflicting with the film’s production schedule, the idea was eventually scrapped. Yet ‘Eminem’ still has an appearance within the film having worked on the soundtrack, performing the songs: ‘Phenomenal’ and ‘Kings Never Die’ alongside being an executive producer for the rest of the film’s music.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is for most, the best element of: ‘Southpaw’ as a whole, and it’s clear to see why. As Gyllenhaal makes the film far more engaging through his portrayal of: ‘Billy Hope,’ displaying a huge range of emotions for the boxer from intense rage to devastating loneliness. Gyllenhaal’s performance even hints to the idea his character may be suffering from a traumatic brain injury, as early on in the film, after ‘Billy’ is brutally beaten during a fight, he struggles to have a simple conversation with his wife or answer questions from the press. Gyllenhaal has stated that he was inspired by real-world boxer Miguel Cotto, which might explain why his portrayal is so accurate. Forrest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams and Oona Laurence are all also excellent within the film, with each character undertaking an important role within the story.

When it comes to ‘Southpaw’s editing or it’s cinematography by Mauro Fiore, the film doesn’t really allow for anything overly creative or surprising. As while many close-ups are effectively utilised for when ‘Billy’ fights his opponents within the ring, with the camera paying close-attention to the sheer amount of sweat, spit and blood that protrudes from the pugilists. Most of the film’s camerawork consists of standard close-ups of character’s reactions or mid-shots of dimly-lit rooms. That is, before the story travels to the Las Vegas and Madison Square Garden stadiums, which are both much larger in scale and therefore, also spectacle.

Sadly, the second to last film to be composed by James Horner. ‘Southpaw’s original score doesn’t receive too much focus during the runtime, despite being a decently emotional and impactful score even if it isn’t all that memorable. Interestingly, director Antonie Fuqua actually had no money to pay James Horner to compose the film as a result of: ‘Southpaw’s budget running short. However, Horner didn’t care as he adored the script, and eventually (and generously) decided he’d compose the film for free.

In spite of the film pummelling viewers with genre clichés, I did find a few of: ‘Southpaw’s story-beats interesting. Most notably, the concept of: ‘Billy’ dealing with everything from severe grief to anger issues to drug abuse throughout his career, which all eventually cause him to lose custody of his daughter. As I feel these personality flaws make the audience resonate with ‘Billy’ far more as a character and as a father, rather than just being a boxing champion who fails to beat an opponent due to his pride. The screenplay also gives the impression that writer Kurt Sutter did his research into the world of professional boxing, as the film continuously displays how unforgiving the sport can be, with ‘Billy’ receiving serious bruises/wounds after each-fight, and when training, has to perform an abundance of techniques beyond just hitting a punching-bag.

In conclusion, although ‘Southpaw’ does have its issues and isn’t likely to become a drama recognised for generations to come, Jake Gyllenhaal’s spectacular performance certainly raises the film higher, and makes for an enjoyable time whether you’re a fanatic of sport-based dramas or not, with the film’s grimy realism and commentary on the harsh world of boxing (as underdeveloped as it may be) simply being extra-additions to the mixture. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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Jojo Rabbit (2019) – Film Review

From Taika Waititi, the now-esteemed comedy director behind: ‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ comes a beautifully-crafted war film with a strangely pleasant sense of humour. As ‘Jojo Rabbit’ really stands-out within the war genre for being one of the first films set during World War II to be an anti-hate satire, telling it’s heart-warming and optimistic story in an amusing yet respectful fashion, soon cementing itself as one of the most noteworthy releases of 2019.

Plot Summary: Nearing the end of the Second World War, a lonely German boy named: ‘Jojo’ aspires to be a Nazi, hoping to one day fight on the front-line. But ‘Jojo’ soon finds his world-view turned upside-down when he discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend: ‘Adolf Hitler,’ ‘Jojo’ must confront the girl, and in doing so, confront his blind nationalism.

Originally based on the novel: ‘Caging Skies’ by Christine Leunens, the screenplay for: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ was actually written back in 2011. Putting it in between ‘Boy’ released in 2010, and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ released in 2014 in the chronology of Taika Waititi-penned films. And while ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is certainly one of Waititi’s finest films to date, it is also one of his most controversial. As whilst I personally feel the film goes about its comedy in a tasteful manner, never undercutting the story’s message and mostly just poking-fun at ridiculous Nazi protocols and beliefs. ‘Jojo Rabbit’ did receive plenty of flack from critics as soon as it was even announced the film would contain any-kind of humour, which I find quite unfair on behalf of the film.

The young and impressive Roman Griffin Davis leads the cast excellently as ‘Jojo,’ portraying the young boy as simply a regular kid who has a fascination with this ideology the Nazis are fighting for, even though he has little understanding of it nor its horrific consequences. Then there is Thomasin McKenzie, who portrays the opposite side of this, as her character: ‘Elsa’ is a resourceful and intelligent Jewish girl who attempts to open ‘Jojo’s eyes to the real-world, rather than the warped-reality his fellow Nazis have burned-into him. Scarlett Johansson is also fantastic in the film as ‘Jojo’s mother: ‘Rosie,’ having the most consistent German accent of the cast by far. But it’s the director himself, Taika Waititi, who takes the short-straw portraying the infamous Adolf Hitler, or at least ‘Jojo’s imaginary interpretation of him. As ‘Hitler’ is always presented in a very discriminating way, with Waititi portraying the dictator like a complete tool, only ever having as much information/maturity as ‘Jojo’ does, and occasionally, even less so.

Oppose to many other war films, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ features a very vibrant colour palette, as Waititi actually discovered through much of his research that Germany during World War II was both colourful and fashionable, and was interested in shying away from war films only ever displaying World War II as dark and dreary. So through this, as well as the fairly creative cinematography by Mihai Malaimare, ‘Jojo’s small town is presented as a seemingly celebratory place with stylishly-dressed citizens. Almost as if the town is attempting to ignore the impending threat, only semi-aware that the Third Reich is crumbling beneath them.

The film’s original score by Michael Giacchino is another wonderful effort from the composer, as the score features a number of memorable tracks, from ‘Jojo’s Theme’ to ‘A Butterfly’s Wings’ and ‘Rosie’s Nocturne.’ In many ways, the score for: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ almost sounds as if it’s a military march composed by a group of children, which works perfectly considering the film’s story is told through a child’s perspective. Furthermore, the original score also utilises German vocals to more accurately fit with the story’s setting.

Although the supporting cast of Archie Yates, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant and Alfie Allen are all brilliant within the film, I really do wish their characters were featured more throughout the narrative. As aside from Sam Rockwell’s ‘Captain Klenzendorf,’ who receives a respectable amount of screen-time. Many of the story’s side characters are seemingly only in the film for the sake of a couple of humorous scenes, which is unfortunate, as every member of the cast portrays their Nazi characters as hilariously over-the-top as possible.

Altogether, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ isn’t only another extraordinary entry into Taika Waititi’s catalogue of comedy flicks. But I’d argue it’s his best project thus far, a daring and charming film that simultaneously explores the horrors of war, yet also the compassion in people. And while the film may not be for everyone, with many reviews clearly indicating how divisive the film is with its implementation of comedy, I feel the film juggles its humour and emotional moments immensely well, with its remarkable original score and bright colour palette only helping the film stand further out from the crowd. Final Rating: 8/10.

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The Shallows (2016) – Film Review

Ever since the release of the original blockbuster: ‘Jaws’ in 1975, shark films have never quite managed to reach the same heights, with flops such as: ‘Deep Blue Sea,’ ‘Bait,’ ’47 Meters Down’ and ‘Shark Night’ feeling quite distant from reality as they present the animals as nothing but blood-thirsty monsters that devour brain-dead characters. And while ‘The Shallows’ does feel like a slight improvement over many of these other flicks (mostly in regards to its protagonist), the film still falters at many turns.

Plot Summary: After losing her mother in an accident, medical student: ‘Nancy’ dumps her responsibilities in Galveston and travels to Mexico, hitchhiking a ride to a hidden beach that her mother loved when she was young. But following her discovery of a whale carcass whilst surfing, ‘Nancy’ is attacked by a great white shark, leaving her bleeding and stranded on a small rock, with no sign of rescue.

Releasing in 2016 to great success, ‘The Shallows’ was one of the first major shark films released into cinemas in quite some-time, but as well as being a creature-feature, the film also serves as a survival thriller, along the same lines of: ‘127 Hours Later’. As ‘Nancy’ has to face not only the shark, but also hunger, thirst, weather, and of course, the severe leg injury she receives when she first encounters the apex-predator. Yet despite this focus making for a far more engaging experience, the narrative simultaneously tries its hand at character development, with ‘Nancy’ receiving plenty of charactersation in the film’s first act, which is sadly made less interesting as its delivered through some immensely corny dialogue.

Blake Lively, who is by no means a renowned actress, with only two films throughout her career featuring her in the top-billed cast, carries the film solo, and her commitment to this role is certainly admirable, as Lively gives a very intense performance as a result of: ‘Nancy’ being in agonising pain for most of the runtime. Additionally, Lively did most of her own stunts for the film aside from her character’s surfing. In fact, in one particular scene, where ‘Nancy’ crushes a crab and then proceeds to eat it raw, Lively is actually eating a real crab that the production crew found dead on a nearby beach, so her reactions of disgust are genuine even though the crab initially getting crushed was achieved through CGI. This is all made even more impressive by the fact that Lively was pregnant with her second child at the time of filming. 

Flavio Martínez Labiano’s cinematography does provide a handful of attractive and memorable shots when not focusing on the characters, these usually being when the shots revolve more around the shark lurking beneath the water, or when the camerawork effectively uses framing to display how far ‘Nancy’ is from safety. And of course, with the film being shot off the Gold Coast of Australia (excluding a few scenes which were shot in a large water-tank), the film’s signature beach and crystal-clear waves are always an alluring sight, which is a superb visual-clash with the horror that lies within.

The original score by Marco Beltrami serves the story well enough, as the film’s soundtrack drifts from beautiful calming tracks like ‘Paddle In’ and ‘Nancy and Dad Facetime,’ to much more tense tracks such as: ‘Main Title’ and ‘Towards the Dead Whale.’ However, its when the story shifts into full on threat that the score begins to feel extremely generic, most notably, the track: ‘Underwater Attack,’ which is barley distinguishable from any other thriller soundtrack as it doesn’t encapsulate either the beauty or isolation of the ocean as many of the other tracks do.

Unlike ‘Jaws’ or even ‘Deep Blue Sea’ during a few moments, ‘The Shallows’ exclusively uses CGI to bring its shark to-life, which is unfortunate. As while there was clearly a huge level of detail put-into the shark, as director Jaume Collet Serra (Orphan, Unknown, Non-Stop) worked closely with the art department to ensure a sense of realism in the shark’s design, having the team do thousands of hours of research. This all sadly goes to waste due to the demands of the film’s script, as the shark in ‘The Shallows’ rarely acts like a real animal, often feeling like just a hulking murderous monster whose CG effects drastically vary depending on the shot.

To conclude, ‘The Shallows’ is a step-up from a number of other shark flicks, but even with its above-average filmmaking and solid performance from Blake Lively. The film still falls into many of the common issues shark films do, as the story favours the idea of using its shark as a monster of the ocean and that alone, and this on-top of the film’s occasionally strange stylistic choices, shoddy CG effects and cheesy dialogue, result in the film becoming just another poor attempt at revitalising the great white shark as a cinematically enthralling antagonist. Final Rating: high 4/10.

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The Babysitter (2017) – Film Review

Originally filmed in 2015 with the intention of playing in cinemas, the horror-comedy: ‘The Babysitter’ didn’t actually release until 2017 after Netflix acquired the rights to the film for streaming. And although ‘The Babysitter’ doesn’t exactly break any of the rules we’ve come to expect within the horror genre, this horror-comedy with splatters of style must’ve been entertaining enough for those who decided to watch it, as the film would eventually spawn a Netflix-exclusive franchise with two later sequels.

Plot Summary: Riddled with anxiety, twelve-year-old: ‘Cole’ has always been bullied and picked on due to his constant panicking, only finding comfort around the one person who understands him, his attractive babysitter: ‘Bee.’ That is, until one night, after ‘Cole’ secretly stays up past his bedtime to discover she’s actually part of a satanic cult, forcing ‘Cole’ to spend the rest of his evening evading ‘Bee’s band of killers who will stop at nothing to prevent him from spilling their dark secret.

Directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator: Salvation, This Means War) or ‘McG’ as he usually goes by, ‘The Babysitter’ as a film has received a number of alterations since its pre-production. As in the original script, ‘Sonya’ was actually a cheerleader, ‘Allison’ was a journalist for her school paper, ‘John’ had the nickname: ‘John the Baptist’ and ‘Max’ had dreadlocks. Before the characters were later reimagined to more closely reflect the common stereotypes of victims in slasher flicks, only in this film, they’re the antagonists. This idea is one of the film’s best aspects in terms of its writing, as it gives the film a real-sense of self-awareness in addition paying respect to what came before it. Most notably, the ‘Friday the 13th’ series, which ‘Max’ references directly at one-point when he chants: “ch-ch-ch-ah-ah-ah” whilst chasing ‘Cole.’

Judah Lewis does manage to leave an impression in his first film role, portraying protagonist: ‘Cole’ as an innocent twelve-year-old with few friends aside from ‘Bee,’ even if a large portion of his anxious characterisation feels far too over-the-top. Then there is also Samara Weaving as the titular babysitter: ‘Bee,’ and her cult followers: ‘Max,’ ‘Allison,’ ‘Sonya’ and ‘John’ portrayed by Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Hana Mae Lee and Andrew Bachelor. Who are all wonderfully devilish throughout the film, having plenty of dark comedic moments between them making their deaths quite unfortunate, as while I’m sure most could’ve guessed their characters do die at some-point within the narrative, we don’t get to spend enough-time with any of them to get a strong grasp on their exaggerated personalities or any understanding of their malevolent cult.

In spite of the usually dull cinematography by Shane Hurlbut, ‘The Babysitter’ still manages to be one of the more visually-interesting Netflix Originals through its unique style. As the film continuously implements different text, graphics and colours to give it a distinct stylistic appeal, not too dissimilar from (although nowhere near impressive as) ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ from 2010. Many of these editing decisions also help to redeem the film’s humour, which is extremely inconsistent, bouncing from hilarious cut-aways and meta horror jokes to embarrassing lines of dialogue which try far too hard.

Whilst composer Douglas Pipes has crafted some great scores in the past like ‘Monster House’ and ‘Trick ‘r Treat,’ ‘The Babysitter’ is certainly not one of them, as even with the film having many serviceable tracks. The overall soundtrack just lacks anything overly-distinctive, and I believe that if it was ever compared to any other score from Pipes, or even just a couple of random comedy/horror scores, I doubt most would be able to tell it apart. The film also throws-in the iconic ‘Queen’ song: ‘We Are the Champions’ nearing the story’s end, which feels immensely out-of-place and comes-out of nowhere.

For a large duration of its tight runtime (which the film breezes-through as a result of its unrelentingly fast-pacing), ‘The Babysitter’s story is predominantly just one long chase sequence, and whilst occasionally tense, I couldn’t help but feel that the film’s script could’ve taken better advantage of its evil babysitter concept or its supernatural elements, despite the series second entry: ‘The Babysitter: Killer Queen’ delving more into the latter. Yet the film doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its violence, having plenty of fantastically gruesome gore effects which are all successfully played for comedy.

Overall, I could see ‘The Babysitter’ being an enjoyable experience for some and possibly just a boring viewing for others. As when ignoring the film’s graphic gore and fun stylistic choices, the story leaves a lot to be desired, and can often feel derivative of horror classics even if this was the film’s intention to an extent with its focus on horror tropes/clichés. For me personally, although I do admire the film’s ridiculous tone and dark humour, the disappointing story can often feel sluggish, diminishing the film’s memorability and rewatchability. Final Rating: 5/10.

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Now You See Me (2013) – Film Review

Quite a unique film within the crime genre, ‘Now You See Me’ is seemingly a magician’s rendition of: ‘Ocean’s Eleven,’ as director Louis Leterrier crafts an entertaining film following the story of a group of four illusionists, all with different skillsets, robbing establishments across the globe before then vanishing without a trace. And although some viewers may have to suspend their disbelief for a few elements regarding the film’s plot, the film still manages to remain a mostly enjoyable affair throughout its two-hour runtime.

Plot Summary: After four small-time magicians are anonymously invited to attend a meeting in a run-down apartment. They reappear one year later as ‘The Four Horsemen,’ performing a live-show in Las Vegas in which they claim they are going to rob a bank in Paris from the stage and distribute the money to the audience. But after the French bank is found empty following the show, F.B.I. Agent: ‘Dylan Rhodes’ is assigned to the case with his partner: ‘Alma Day,’ where the two begin to suspect that the heist was just a distraction for a bigger scheme…

Even though ‘Now You See Me’ prioritises its story over anything else, the film does still feature a couple of exciting action sequences including a car-chase and a fist-fight respectively. Both of which stick with the idea of the magicians performing magic-tricks, utilising many of the age-old illusions we know in creative ways, yet this shouldn’t be too surprising, considering director Louis Leterrier has worked on action flicks like ‘The Transporter’ in the past. However, ‘Now You See Me’ does miss a big opportunity to say anything interesting about the actual profession of magic, as with very few films focusing on characters with this skillset, it would make sense to delve further into figures with this expertise.

‘The Four Horseman,’ portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco are all splendid in their roles as the signature group of magicians. As despite Dave Franco’s ‘Jack Wilder’ feeling a little neglected at points as the forth member of the group, all of the cast give very charismatic performances to where you could believe they perform live-shows most evenings. The group also spends most of the film being hunted by a F.B.I. detective duo portrayed by Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent, and although both actors are great within their roles, the film does attempt to build-up a romantic relationship between the two, which comes-off as nothing other than forced and underdeveloped.

Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong’s cinematography is competent overall, having an overeliance on mid-shots to focus on the actor’s performances first and foremost. But when taking-into account the film’s constant emphasis on eye-contact and slight of hand, I did feel the camerawork wasn’t used very effectively to display that trickery, which would’ve surely placed the film’s audience in the same position as ‘The Four Horseman’s live-audience. The cinematography does still allow for plenty of stunning wide-shots during each live-show however, as the camera glides over the huge crowd giving an impressive view of the massive audiences that attend each night.

The original score by Brian Tyler is a jazz-style soundtrack in the same-vein as other crime/heist films such as the previously mentioned: ‘Ocean’s Eleven.’ In particular, the tracks: ‘Now You See Me,’ ‘The Four Horseman’ and ‘Welcome to the Eye’ are all deeply-rooted in jazz, fitting a familiar tone to many real illusionist shows. So much so, that it soon becomes quite evident that Tyler has done his research as his score fully embraces its funky percussion and snappy brass motifs.

Throughout the film, there are also a number of magnificent effects, CG and practical alike. In fact, near the beginning of the film when ‘Daniel Atlas’ is performing an extraordinary card-trick, we see the hands of Dan or Dave Buck digitally composited with Jesse Eisenberg’s face. These twin brothers are actually acclaimed sleight of hand artists, as well as pioneers in the art of cardistry. Their skills have also been seen in the film: ‘Smokin’ Aces’ from 2006, performing tricks for Jeremy Piven. Cardistry is an open display of skill with cards, similar to juggling, and the sequence of moves performed in ‘Now You See Me’ is called a ‘Pandora,’ which at the time of filming, was considered one of the hardest moves to perform in cardistry.

Taking all this into account, I feel ‘Now You See Me’ serves its purpose as a crime/mystery thriller, telling an engaging and mostly well-written story that doesn’t take itself all too seriously. While the film does disguise many of its obvious flaws through smoke and mirrors, I believe the vast majority of viewers will enjoy this film for what it is. And if you have already seen this flick and relished it, then I’d strongly recommend you watch ‘The Prestige,’ another magician-related film which I personally think surpasses ‘Now You See Me’ (and its uninspired sequel) in many ways. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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