Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – Film Review

Exceeding expectations in more ways than one and combining the star-power of both Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is an explosive summer blockbuster which re-imagines the comedy classic: ‘Groundhog Day’ into a thrilling sci-fi flick to fantastic results. Directed by Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity, American Made) and based-on the Japanese manga: ‘All You Need is Kill’ by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ or ‘Live Die Repeat’ as its now more commonly referred, manages to succeed in nearly every aspect an exciting science fiction film would need to.

When an alien race invades Earth and releases an unrelenting assault unbeatable by any military unit in the world. ‘Major William Cage’, an officer who has never seen a day of combat, is unceremoniously dropped into the front line. Getting killed within minutes, ‘Cage’ now finds himself inexplicably thrown into a time-loop forcing him to live out the same battle over and over. But with each reset, ‘Cage’ soon learns to defend himself with the help of Special Forces soldier: ‘Rita Vrataski’, who together, hatch a plan to defeat the creatures… permanently.

Taking inspiration from sci-fi war epics such as: ‘Aliens’, ‘Starship Troopers’, ‘Independence Day’ in addition to the previously mentioned: ‘Groundhog Day’. ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ may have initially had disappointing returns when it released in cinemas in 2014, but mostly through word-of-mouth, the film has since continued-on to become a modern science fiction classic, keeping itself distinct through its signature ‘resetting the day’ idea and couple of amusing moments in between its action-packed story.

For a large majority of the film Tom Cruise plays against his usual type, as ‘Major William Cage’ is essentially the complete opposite of his character: ‘Ethan Hunt’ from the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, with most of the character’s screen-time being spent dying continuously in horrific (yet also somewhat comedic) ways, alongside his genuinely cowardly and untrained demeanour. Cruise also bounces-off his co-star Emily Blunt very well throughout the film, with Blunt portraying the complete opposite of Cruise’s character as ‘Rita Vrataski’, a hard-as-nails solider who is a skilled as they come.

Although the cinematography by Dion Beebe does rely heavily on hand-held camerawork, this hand-held approach does remarkably add to many scenes within the film. Replicating the chaos of the constant war that surrounds ‘Cage’ as he tries different tactics in an attempt to survive on the battlefront, not to say that the cinematography doesn’t still allow for the occasional attractive shot however. Much of the film’s CG visuals are also up-to-par, excluding the ‘Exo-Suits’ of course, which are actually practical costumes for the most part. This was done so the suits would appear more real to the audience, which does stop the film from feeling too CGI-heavy during many of the film’s action sequences, even if the suits did weigh between eighty-five to ninety pounds on-set.

The original score by Christophe Beck is certainly no where near as memorable as the film itself, being a mostly typical soundtrack for a action blockbuster with little charm or even a slight sci-fi twist to help the score stand-out. This unfortunately, even applies to the best track of the score: ‘Solo Flight’, which does at least utilise what sounds like metal clanging audio effect to add a little more impact wherever it can.

The film’s main issues mostly revolve around two particular areas, firstly, the designs of the alien creatures known as ‘Mimics’. As whilst the CG effects that bring the creatures to life do look superb, the creatures feel a little too similar to video game enemies, as their different breeds are only distinct by colour (being either red or blue), with the remainder of their design being almost identical. While this is slightly redeemed by their unique sound design, it can become difficult to even tell the creatures apart when they are in large groups. My other complaint with the film is with its final act, as whilst the narrative throughout most of the runtime remains engaging and rousing. The film’s final portion ends-up becoming a little more generic after losing its main time-looping concept.

Since even my first viewing of: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ I’ve always been impressed by this science fiction flick, as while the film isn’t flawless and does still suffer from its cloned creature designs and weak final act. ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is still a far more enjoyable and enthralling sci-fi than many may initially think. Even though the film didn’t thrive at the box office on its release, it seems with its change in marketing to ‘Live Die Repeat’ that many more science fiction fanatics have now stumbled across this underrated gem, and with a blockbuster as riveting and surprisingly clever as this one is, I feel it can always be praised further. Overall, a low 8/10.

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The Hunger Games (2012) – Film Review

While nowadays ‘The Hunger Games’ may be known as an iconic blockbuster franchise, there was a time when most were unfamiliar with ‘Katniss’ and the sovereign state of: ‘Panem’. That until the first adaptation of the novel series by Suzanne Collins was released in 2012, kicking-off a new film franchise which would receive bigger and bigger budgets with each entry. Yet even with all this success, this science fiction series has always had more issues than most care to admit, which is mostly why I’ve never found as much enjoyment in this franchise as many others.

In a dystopian future, ‘Katniss Everdeen’ voluntarilers to take her younger sister’s place in ‘The Hunger Games’, a televised competition in which two teenagers from each of the twelve districts are chosen at random to fight to the death in a forest arena. Now ‘Katniss’ and her male counterpart: ‘Peeta’, find themselves pitted against larger, more fearsome opponents, some of whom have been training their entire lives.

Alongside the ‘Harry Potter’ series, ‘The Hunger Games’ is one of the main films responsible for creating the rise of: ‘teen adaptations’ in recent years, such as: ‘Divergent’, ‘The Maze Runner’ and ‘Ender’s Game’ to name a few. However, similar to many of these other franchises, ‘The Hunger Games’ has always suffered in my opinion from attempting too much at one time. As whilst the world the story takes-place within is certainly intresting, many ideas and elements feel fairly undercooked or even completely unexplored due to a lack of time, in particular, the aspect of: ‘Districts’ within the story, or even the centric: ‘Hunger’ part of the film’s title, which along with the many intriguing side characters, is barely developed during the runtime.

Mostly known for her work-on indie films at the time, Jennifer Lawrence leads the cast as ‘Katniss Everdeen’, and while many of the performances she has given throughout her career do tend to filp-flop in quality. She is mostly solid in her role as the film’s protagonist, serving as a likeable character through her actions in addition to also being a strong female icon for young girls. The rest of the cast of Joshua Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Hemsworth all give passable performances, despite not being given much to do in this first entry of the series.

The cinematography by Tom Stern is definitely the weakest element of the film, being almost chaotic at points, the cinematography relies nearly entirely on hand-held camerawork. Almost giving the impression the filmmakers had some-kind of a phobia of utilising tripods, as aside from the initial moment of: ‘Katniss’ entering ‘The Hunger Games’, I felt the hand-held approach was very necessary, and resulted in plenty of shots losing their alluring potential. Although not often, occasionally, the cinematography even slips in-and-out of focus mid-scene, which alongside the CG effects (which also range throughout the film) can be quite distracting.

Despite James Newton Howard’s original score not becoming as iconic or as beloved as many other signature scores from blockbuster franchises like ‘Star Wars’, ‘Jurassic Park’ or the previously mentioned: ‘Harry Potter’ series. Tracks such as: ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Entering the Capital’ and ‘Rue’s Farewell’ do all serve the narrative well, adding to the drama and tension throughout the film even if they aren’t some of the most distinctive tracks this talented composer has to offer.

Although ‘The Hunger Games’ doesn’t develop its world as much as I would’ve have personally preferred, there is one detail I did admire within the world of the film. This being the visual contrast between the poverty-stricken and starving: ‘District 12’ and the wealthy and futuristic: ‘Capital’, even if this more futuristic setting allows for more outlandish sci-fi dangers like genetically engineered hornets and dogs. This alternate version of Earth even plays into the costume design within the film, as many of the wealthy citizens of: ‘The Captial’ wear colourful (and even slightly bizarre) suits and dresses, which excellently displays the difference between the two locations purely through clothing.

To conclude, ‘The Hunger Games’ does have its entertainment value here-and-there, but just like many other blockbuster franchises, I feel many hardcore fans of the novels and films alike do seem to overlook the flaws this adaptation and its sequels have. From its cheesy and predicable dialogue, to its unexplored story aspects and its absence of both realistic violence and innovative filmmaking. ‘The Hunger Games’ is certainly not the worst sci-fi adaptations has to offer, but is still far from the best. A high 5/10 overall. If you’re a passionate fan of the novels then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this new interpretation, but if your just looking an exciting science fiction flick, maybe look towards some older franchises or possibly even the Japanese thriller: ‘Battle Royale’, which shares many of the same ideas.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – Film Review

The second outing of the revamped: ‘Planet of the Apes’ series and in my opinion, the best of the most-recent trilogy. ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ takes-place a decade after the previous film, now taking the story into an apocalyptic world where humans and intelligent apes co-exist. Featuring another spectacular performance from Andy Serkis as ‘Caesar’ as well as a much larger role for the vicious ape: ‘Koba’ this time around (now portrayed Toby Kebbell), this thrilling and propulsive sci-fi blockbuster is sure to keep most viewers gripped to the screen.

Many years after ‘Caesar’s escape from captivity and the outbreak of: ‘Simian Flu’ that followed, the clan of intelligent apes and chimps now resident within the Muir Woods just outside a derelict San Francisco. Living a peaceful existence amongst themselves until a group of human survivors journey into their territory in order to find a solution to their colony’s lack of power, soon leading both sides to consider the possibility of war.

Now giving directorial control over to Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), Reeves would write/direct both this film and the following entry in the series: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’, allowing Reeves to really give a sense of continuity within the story and style (not to say the sequel doesn’t retain continuity from the first film). Yet what makes this sequel stand-out when placed against the first entry in the trilogy is its narrative focus, as ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ continuously builds tension throughout its runtime, with much of the film leaning-on the two species as they balance-on the brink of a war that could desolate both parties.

Andy Serkis leads the motion-capture cast of apes once again as ‘Caesar‘, developing his character even further after the first film as ‘Caesar‘ now cares for the clan of apes alongside his newly-found family, and just like the first film, Serkis once again manages to make an animalistic ape a far more interesting and likeable character than would initially seem possible. Its the criminally underrated actor Toby Kebbell who shines most within the film however, as the sequel provides the war-mongering ape: ‘Koba’ with a much larger role, having the ape serve as the film’s main antagonist. In addition to the apes, the film also features a number of human characters portrayed by Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman, who are all great in spite of their limited screen-time.

Whilst ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ did feature plenty of attractive shots, Michael Seresin’s cinematography is actually an improvement over the previous entry, as the sequel manages to utilise its dim lighting and overgrown/dilapidated cityscape of San Francisco to fantastic results. The cinematography also helps add too much of the film’s action, as despite the film only containing two action set-pieces, both scenes manage to feel like an excellent pay-off to the large amount of build-up before them. Yet personally, I believe one of the most impressive aspects of the film has to be its practical sets, from the overcrowded ‘Human Colony’ to the decrepit streets of San Francisco, nearly all of the film’s sets are breathtaking in both size and detail, with the ‘Ape Village’ being the clearest example of this superb craftsmanship.

Capturing the bleak and ominous tone of the story flawlessly, the original score by Michael Giacchino is also continuously brilliant, and in my opinion, very underrated. As immediately from the stylish opening sequence which informs the audience of all of the events that have taken-place prior to this film, the backing-track titled: ‘Level Plaguing Field’ really elevates the scene’s overall emotional impact, with later tracks like ‘Past Their Primates’ and ‘Along Simian Lines’ continuing this trend. 

Although it could go without saying, the visual effects throughout are the film are fantastic, while still perhaps not as pristine as ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’s effects, the CG visuals do still hold-up very well since 2014 and contain an immense amount of detail in areas. In fact, the company that created the apes, Weta Digital, were even brought-back to bring-to-life a variety of other animals for the film including: deers, horses and a grizzly bear, each sharing the same high-level of detail.

To conclude, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is another remarkable instalment in this new series, upping the stakes and visuals from the previous film alongside continuing the story in a meaningful and entertaining fashion. This science fiction sequel is certainly worth a high 8/10, and whilst I would recommend watching the entire trilogy in order to experience the full story of: ‘Caesar’ as a character, if you have limited time or perhaps don’t usually enjoy sci-fi, then I’d say the middle chapter of this trilogy is truly the most exciting/memorable of the three.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) – Film Review

Matthew Vaughn, critically acclaimed director of: ‘Layer Cake’, ‘Kick-Ass’ and ‘X-Men: First Class’ tries his hand at another comic book adaptation with ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’. Based-on the comic book series of the same name by Mark Millar, and serving as a throwback to (and occasional parody of) classic spy/espionage films such as the ‘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 CG 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 CG 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 CG 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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Tron: Legacy (2010) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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