Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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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Joker (2019) – Film Review

Since even the first day of its release, ‘Joker’ has seemingly split audiences straight down the middle, being hit with numerous reviews all with varied ratings. Everything from the film’s violence to its intricate themes to especially its Oscar-nominations, have all been brought-up in recent conversation, as this film’s character-driven narrative focuses on the origins of: ‘The Joker’, arch-nemesis of the caped-crusader: ‘Batman’. Yet ultimately, becomes far more of an affecting and compelling drama/thriller rather than your standard superhero affair.

Set in ‘Gotham City’ during the 1980s, mentally troubled comedian: ‘Arthur Fleck’, is disregarded and mistreated by society. Over-time, this leads him to embark on a downward spiral of revolution and bloody crime, eventually bringing him face-to-face with his chaotic alter-ego: ‘The Joker’.

Being directed by Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover, War Dogs). Throughout the film you really get the sense that Phillips truly puts his all into it, pretty much leaving behind the realm of comedy flicks entirely to craft a film which puts more of an emphasis on character and filmmaking. As every-aspect of the film from its performances to it’s writing, cinematography and even original score, all feel as if they’ve been thought-over profusely. ‘Joker’ also attempts to back-up its story with plenty of thought-provoking themes of mental health and the cruel nature of modern-day society, which I feel are represented very well throughout the film, giving Phillip’s version of this iconic character more depth beyond him being a mysterious and lawless antagonist.

From ‘Joker’s laugh to his broken mental state, Joaquin Phoenix gives a true powerhouse performance as the classic comic book villain. Making the character sadistic and dangerous yet also sympathetic wherever possible, as even though ‘Arthur’ commits many horrible acts as the runtime continues-on. You can’t help but feel sorry for him, being beaten relentlessly by the world he lives within. In my opinion, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of this iconic character truly elevates the film as a whole, and I’d even argue is up-there with Heath Ledger’s beloved performance in ‘The Dark Knight’ many years earlier. The supporting cast of Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Brett Cullen are all also great within the film, with Robert De Niro’s character: ‘Murray Franklin’ being an obvious throwback to his character from the classic Scorsese film: ‘The King of Comedy’ from 1982.

All of the cinematography by Lawrence Sher throughout the film is very impressive, which is actually quite surprising considering ‘Joker’ is shot by the same cinematographer as the rest of Phillip’s work (which all contain mostly bland shots due to their focus on comedic writing). Featuring a variety of both stunning and memorable shots throughout, ‘Joker’s cinematography does serve its narrative and dark tone very well, with the now-iconic scene: ‘Staircase Dance’ since becoming one of the most recognized and celebrated moments of 2019 pop-culture.

Despite feeling a little unfitting during some scenes, the original score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is both very beautiful and also quite tragic. As the score really enhances the viewer’s journey into ‘Arthur’s depressing and broken state of mind. However, that being said, some of the tracks can begin to feel a little too similar over-time, with the signature track: ‘Bathroom Dance’ almost beginning to feel replicated later within the film, despite the soundtrack’s many attempts to do otherwise.

The main criticism ‘Joker’ has faced since its release has been its overreliance on borrowing elements from other films, most notably classic Martin Scorsese films such as: ‘Taxi Driver’ and the previously mentioned: ‘The King of Comedy’. As ‘Joker’ utilizes a style very reminiscent of: ‘Taxi Driver’ whilst also featuring a protagonist not too dissimilar to the protagonist from: ‘The King of Comedy’, and while I definitely understand these complaints, I also feel many films throughout history have always borrowed elements from others, and in addition to having Martin Scorsese himself on-board as an executive producer, ‘Joker’ does include some aspects of its own making to help it stand-out.

In conclusion, ‘Joker’ certainly isn’t perfect, but I do feel the film is successful enough, as while its occasional cheesy dialogue and derivative aspects may drag the film down, its stunning cinematography and haunting original score really lend themselves effectively to the already gripping story. Not to mention Joaquin Phoenix’s captivating performance, all of which leave ‘Joker’ an impactful and refreshing origin story for this cherished comic book character, and a low 8/10 overall. If you’re a huge fan of this iconic antagonist or just have a fondness for character studies/intense dramas in general, I’d recommend you give ‘Joker’ a watch in spite of its mixed perception.

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It (2017) – Film Review

Finally, after many years of waiting, horror and literature fans alike got their wishes granted. As director Andy Muschietti (Mama) signed-on to direct a new remake (or readaptation) of one of Steven King’s most iconic and beloved horror stories, this of course, being ‘It’, with some great cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung, and a very memorable portrayal of the demonic clown: ‘Pennywise’ from Bill Skarsgård. The film is one of the better King adaptations in recent years, even with the array issues the film still suffers from.

In the summer of 1989, a group of unpopular kids band together in order to destroy a shape-shifting monster known only as ‘Pennywise’, a creature which can disguise itself as whatever it’s victim fears most.

Following the film’s incredibly successful release in 2017, ‘Pennywise’ has quickly become a modern horror icon despite only having about four minutes of dialogue in the entire film. But its easy to see why, as not only does ‘It’ share the familiar fun tone of classic films of the 1980s such as: ‘The Goonies’ and ‘The Monster Squad’, but ‘It’ also manages to adapt the novel’s antagonist: ‘Pennywise’ fairly closely from its original source material, resulting in a mostly entertaining novel-to-screen transition.

The main cast of: ‘The Losers Club’ features Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs and Wyatt Oleff who all share pretty great chemistry with each other, as alongside the film’s terrific writing, the children truly feel like an actual group of kids, with the group constantly cursing and sharing-in plenty of quippy banter with each other. In addition to the younger cast, ‘Pennywise’ is this time around portrayed by Bill Skarsgård, and while I have always loved Tim Curry’s cheesy yet menacing portrayal of the iconic clown. Bill Skarsgård is a stand-out aspect of the film for sure. Capturing the eerie qualities of the character as well as his unworldly nature perfectly, really embracing the idea that ‘Pennywise’ isn’t just a psychotic clown, but something far stranger…

The cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung is surprisingly brilliant for a modern horror, featuring a number of attractive shots which blend extremely-well with the film’s story. The film does have one recurring shot which is quite irritating however, as during many of the scenes where ‘Pennywise’ appears to his victims, the film utilizes a shot in which the sinister clown approaches the camera straight-on, sprinting directly towards the screen, and while I understand what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with this shot, I feel it only comes-off as fatuous and looks very out-of-place when compared to the rest of the film’s visual pleasing cinematography.

The original score for the film is admirable for the most part, being composed by Benjamin Wallfisch, the score ranges from being your typical horror soundtrack to eventually becoming more emotional for the more character-focused scenes. The only issue I have with the original score are some of the tracks which feature deep bass-like sounds, as I feel these tracks really don’t fit with the film’s time-period. Regardless, the tracks: ‘Paper Boat’ and ‘Derry’ do serve the film’s story delightfully well, with one of the film’s final tracks: ‘Blood Oath’, also being a beautiful send-off for these characters before their inevitable return.

From ‘Pennywise’s uncanny appearance to the abandoned house ‘It’ lives within on ‘Neibolt Street’, many of the film’s designs are also pretty memorable despite their limited screen-time. These fantastic designs are dragged down by the film’s poor CGI effects however, as the film always seems to resort to CGI visuals during many of its more tense moments, which can take away from their impact. This is also where ‘It’s most substantial problem comes into play, as ‘It’ has really split audiences down the middle when it comes to its focus on horror. As while the film does have a few eerie scenes and creepy visuals, this adaptation seems to be more focused on being the coming-of-age story the novel mostly is. Although many viewers may be disappointed by this, desiring a narrative based more around the story’s darker elements, I feel the film’s distracting CGI effects and constant barrage of jump-scares are made-up for by its interesting delve into the themes of childhood fears and growing-up.

In my opinion, ‘It’ is a pretty solid Steven King adaptation, as while certainly let-down by its weak CGI visuals, overreliance on jump-scares and occasionally inconsistent tone, the film still is a pretty enjoyable watch throughout its two-hour runtime, mostly due to the film’s great performances and general memorability, and with ‘It: Chapter Two’ turning-out to be an underwhelming experience for most. I’d say it further proves that this film is the direction to go when it comes to adapting King’s work, and is a decent 7/10 overall.

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Iron Man (2008) – Film Review

Before ‘The Avengers’ or the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ hit the silver screen, director Jon Favreau began the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its first character: ‘Iron Man’. Blowing audiences away with some incredible visual effects, thrilling action scenes and a very charismatic lead performance by Robert Downey Jr. as the egotistical: ‘Tony Stark’. Considering the film was self-financed by Marvel and had a mostly improvised script, it’s incredibly impressive that ‘Iron Man’ is as entertaining and as exhilarating as it is by today’s standards.

After being held captive by terrorists in an Afghan cave for months, billionaire and weapons engineer: ‘Tony Stark’ builds a weaponized suit of armour to fight his way out after discovering his weapons are being used for a more sinister purpose. Yet even after safely returning home, ‘Tony’ soon uncovers a nefarious plot with global implications, forcing him to don his new suit once again and vow to protect the world as ‘Iron Man’.

Although most now know ‘Iron Man’ as a superhero icon, at the time in 2008, ‘Tony Stark’ was a relatively unknown character. Similar to ‘Thor’ and ‘Captain America’, many of Marvel’s ‘B’ characters truly owe their now enormous fan-bases and iconic statuses mostly to their first appearances in Marvel’s live-action film franchise, with the first ‘Iron Man’ in particular adapting his comic book origins fairly closely from the comics to a now-successful action-blockbuster.

The supporting cast of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Clark Gregg and Shaun Toub are great throughout the film despite only serving small roles within the story. However, it should go without saying that Robert Downey Jr. as ‘Iron Man’ himself absolutely nails it throughout the film, as he delivers every line of dialogue as an arrogant pretentious genius. ‘Tony Stark’ even gives the narrative an engaging thread with his character-arc throughout the film, becoming more likeable as the plot continues-on, and although done many times before, it still feels pretty satisfying by the end of the runtime. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with Iron Man’ is the same issue that most Marvel flicks suffer from, this being the film’s weak antagonist. As although Jeff Bridges does attempt to give his character: ‘Obadiah Stane’ as much depth as possible, his transformation from a greedy executive to murderous psychopath feels extremely rushed and undeveloped.

Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is fairly creative throughout the film however, from the various tracking shots of: ‘Tony’ soaring through the sky in his suit, through to shots of: ‘Iron Man’ taking down groups of terrorists. A large majority of the cinematography backs-up the quick-pacing of the film and utilises movement very effectively. Whilst the film isn’t ever overly-focused on its science fiction elements aside from the suit itself, the CGI effects throughout the film still hold-up very well to say that was it was released in 2008, aside from the occasional shot of: ‘Tony Stark’s head being placed on-top of the suit.

The original score by Ramin Djawadi is a soundtrack which perfectly fits alongside the character of: ‘Iron Man’, as the score makes excellent use of electric guitars and a drum kit to match ‘Tony’s young rock-star-like personality and taste in music, as there are multiple scenes of: ‘Tony Stark’ listening to rock songs such as: ‘Back in Black’ and ‘Institutionalized’ throughout the film. Not to mention ‘Black Sabbath’s now-iconic: ‘Iron Man’ played-over the end credits.

Even though all of the action scenes throughout the film are quite short, each action set-piece is always exciting from start-to-finish, as ‘Iron Man’ takes-down his enemies with style every-time, utilising an array of different weapons and gadgets the film manages to still represent ‘Tony Stark’s cocky personality through these suited-up action scenes. ‘Iron Man’ was also the first film that kicked-off Marvel’s typical style of humour, and while not as noticeable as some of Marvel’s other films, the film still contains plenty of scenes in which ‘Tony’ makes sarcastic comments or degrades those around him, and while many of these moments do make for some decent comic-relief, I could see many of these scenes becoming irritating for those who don’t enjoy this type of comedy.

Despite its few flaws, ‘Iron Man’ was one hell of an opener for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As without this film, we truly wouldn’t have what is now considered one of the most successful franchises in cinematic history, even with this ignored however, the film is still exceedingly fun and is filled with plenty of memorable moments on its own, all of this of course held-up by the brilliant performance from Robert Downey Jr. Overall, a solid 8/10. If you finally want to get around to watching this long-running film series, I’d say the original: ‘Iron Man’ will definitely prepare you for what’s to come.

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Nocturnal Animals (2016) – Film Review

Part thriller, part drama and part art-house film, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ may not appeal to every-viewer, but those it will, it will certainly leave an impression. As this extremely underrated thriller lead by some excellent performances from Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal is incredibly dark and compelling from start-to-finish. Directed by former fashion-designer turned director Tom Ford (A Single Man) and based on the novel: ‘Tony and Susan’ by Austin Wright. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ may not be flawless in its execution, but it is definitely worth a watch.

An unhappy and lamenting art curator (Susan Morrow) begins to imagine herself within the pages of a novel manuscript sent to her by her former husband, whose negative associations of their relationship takes-on a fictionalized violent direction in a symbolic revenge tale.

Split between two different storylines, one set in the real-world and one set within the pages of the fictional novel. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ definitely has some changes in tone, as every-scene with ‘Susan’ usually focuses on her broken marriage and current lifestyle, which feels very different when compared to the tense revenge story of the novel, and yet, neither of these stories ever feel dull, as they both are engaging for different reasons. Director Tom Ford also makes brilliant use of this structure, as for those more keen-eyed viewers, there are a variety of visual links between the two narratives, the most obvious of which being how ‘Susan’ imagines ex-husband: ‘Edward’ as the father character within the novel, meaning Jake Gyllenhaal takes on two separate roles.

The main cast of Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber and Armie Hammer are all brilliant throughout the film. As everyone one of the film’s characters gets plenty of development, usually all playing a crucial role within the film regardless of whichever storyline they are in. Although Jake Gyllenhaal does a pretty great job taking-on two separate roles, the plot of the novel mostly takes-place within the Texas desert, meaning the father character: ‘Tony Hastings’ does have a Texas accent, and whilst not terrible, it is a little inconsistent. This is easily redeemed by the stand-out performance by Aaron Taylor-Johnson as ‘Ray Marcus’ however, as this usually bland actor gives an amazing performance as a redneck delinquent who is just as intimidating as he is erratic.

Although the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is nothing extraordinary overall, there are still plenty of attractive shots throughout the runtime. As the film uses its cinematography fairly effectively to create a contrast between the two stories, as the film uses an array of wide-shots when focusing on the story within the novel adding too many of its tense moments. Whereas the majority of the scenes within the real-world mostly uses a large number of close-ups and mid-shots to add to the film’s drama.

Without a doubt however, my personal favourite aspect of the film is the original score by Abel Korzeniowski. Utilizing an ensemble of violins, the score for: ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is very memorable and excellently builds tension throughout the film, as the soundtrack always remains very beautiful despite also feeling quite haunting. The original score even manages to capture the feeling of loneliness and sadness from ‘Susan’s storyline, with the tracks: ‘A Solitary Women’ and ‘City Lights’ fitting this idea perfectly, yet neither of these two tracks beat-out my personal favourite: ‘Revenge’. Referred to by most as the film’s signature track.

Throughout either of the two plots, the film is also filled with plenty of themes and underlining messages, many of which relate to the idea of expression through art, which does help distract slightly from the main issue I have with ‘Nocturnal Animals’, this being the editing. As although it may be intentional. At points, the editing throughout the film becomes very fast-paced, usually cutting between shots quite rapidly, sometimes even using jump-cuts during some of the more drawn-out shots. If this style of editing was present continuously throughout the film, then perhaps it wouldn’t have been as noticeable, but as it was only occasionally, I personally found it quite distracting.

‘Nocturnal Animals’ may not be a masterpiece, but I do believe this film is very overlooked when it comes to thrillers, as the outstanding performances from the cast mixed-in with the array of very tense moments and wonderful original score make for a genuinely gripping and interesting experience, and overall, an 8/10. Whilst some audience members may not completely understand the themes and messages behind the story. I do feel this film will leave an impact on those it does appeal to.

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The Snowman (2017) – Film Review

Despite being directed by Tomas Alfredson, head of some great films in the past such as: ‘Let the Right One In’ and ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy’. ‘The Snowman’ is a complete mess of a thriller from start-to-finish. Mostly as a result of the variety of issues it faced during its production, from a rushed shooting schedule to plenty of scenes and story elements being left on the cutting-room floor. Although the film’s isolated location alongside the visually pleasing cinematography by Dion Beebe may be very effective at points, they simply aren’t enough to save the film from its weak writing and boring/confusing narrative, even with the film’s decent source material.

As a rough detective (Harry Hole) investigates the disappearance of a woman whose scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman, he begins to fear an elusive serial killer may be active again. So with the help of a brilliant recruit, ‘Harry’ must now connect decades-old cold cases in the hopes of outwitting this threat before the next snowfall.

‘The Snowman’ is based on the novel of the same name by Jo Nesbø, also known as: ‘Snømannen’ in Norwegian. However, although this is the first time audiences are seeing the character of: ‘Harry Hole’ portrayed on-screen, ‘The Snowman’ is actually the seventh entry in the character’s novel series. Making the narrative itself feel very underdeveloped and even a little out-of-place, almost as if the viewer hasn’t been informed of any of the film’s in-world events before the current story begins (this may also be why the film is brimming with overly-long flashbacks).

Michael Fassbender portrays the protagonist: ‘Harry Hole’ within the film, which is unfortunately one of his weakest performances to date, not only due to his poorly-written character (who is incredibly cliché as an uncaring alcoholic detective) but also as a result of his fairly bland line delivery. The rest of the cast featuring Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson and even a short appearance from J.K. Simmons, are all decent with what they are given, although they also suffer from similar poorly-written characters. Many of the characters throughout the film also never seem to react very realistically to situations, as characters usually just shrug-off horrific sights with ease. Never really delving into how traumatic these experiences would actually be for a person to witness.

The cinematography by Dion Beebe is undoubtedly the best aspect of the film however, as the beautiful yet isolated locations of the story really add to the film’s enormous array of wide-shots and uncomfortable close-ups. Needlessly to say, this doesn’t really help with the lack of tension within the film, as although the film makes more than a few attempts at crafting tension-filled moments when ‘Harry’ investigates various crime scenes, the film never quite manages it, usually failing to build-up much of an eerie atmosphere.

Marco Beltrami handles the original score for the film, and although this composer usually does terrific work, his score for: ‘The Snowman’ is mostly very dull. As with the exception of the tracks: ‘Main Titles’ and ‘Down the Harry Hole’, the entire soundtrack feels as of it could’ve been taken from almost any other generic thriller, which is a huge shame, as I personally feel a more impactful score could’ve really helped with the film’s overall lack of tension.

The film’s location probably intrigued a large number of viewers just on itself, clearly taking inspiration from films such as: ‘Deadfall’ and the dark comedy classic: ‘Fargo’ from 1996, the film’s snowy Norway setting really gives the film a distinct look, with the bright red blood from many of the killer’s victims standing-out immensely amongst the white snow. These visuals also help to distract from the film’s slow-pacing, as the film’s main mystery usually feels like quite a drag, with clues only being revealed very slowly over the course of the film.

In conclusion, ‘The Snowman’ definitely fails in more categories than one, as despite its interesting location and pretty fantastic cinematography, the film’s messy story and bland performances make the film pretty unappealing when considering it’s over two-hour runtime. Whilst I’m sure ‘The Snowman’ had the potential to be a great semi-Noir thriller at some-point in time, especially considering it was initially going to be directed by the legendary Martain Scorsese, who eventually left the film to pursue other projects. ‘The Snowman’ is still far from the chilling crime tale it attempted to be, and overall is a disappointing 3/10.

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