The Babysitter (2017) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) – Film Review

Both a stylish Guy Ritchie comedy as well as a reimagining of the classic 1960s espionage show of the same name, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ is a mostly-successful modern-take on the classic spy-caper. Capturing a familiar tone in spite of its unremarkable story, which the film tries to distract from through its charismatic cast and many exciting set-pieces. Equalling overall, to a decently entertaining 60s action/comedy even if it may be on the lower-side of Ritchie’s filmography, with ‘Snatch’ and ‘The Gentlemen’ still being far superior in my opinion.

Plot Summary: In the early 1960s, CIA agent: ‘Napoleon Solo’ successfully helps ‘Gaby Teller’ escape East Berlin despite the intimidating opposition of KGB agent: ‘Illya Kuryakin’. Later, all three unexpectedly find themselves working together on a globe-trotting mission to stop a private criminal organisation, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.

Being co-written/directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes, The Gentlemen), ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ takes-in much of the director’s usual style/humour, having an abundance of witty and amusing dialogue (much of which is brimming with innuendos), in addition to plenty of editing flair. But ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ also serves as the first film interpretation of the 60s espionage show, which Warner Bros. Pictures had actually been trying to adapt for over a decade, director Steven Soderbergh was once even attached to the project with George Clooney, Channing Tatum and Emily Blunt all set to play the three main characters. The film’s story isn’t just a recreation of a specific episode from the show however, as Ritchie and his story-team actually decided to create an original narrative based-around the origin of: ‘U.N.C.L.E.’, a backstory that was only hinted at in the show.

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer portray the film’s protagonist duo, and while neither of their characters are exactly memorable, they do both give great performances, sharing many comedic moments together and bouncing-off each other very well. The film even gives its characters a sufficient amount of development early-on in the story, though it is delivered through mission briefings and expositional dialogue. Yet its the third member of the cast where some issues begin to arise, as Alicia Vikander as ‘Gaby’ is supposed to be the emotional-centre of the story, as her father is being forced to make nuclear weapons. But the film makes it quite hard to resonate with her due to her lack of characterisation and inconsistent German accent, which seemingly disappears at random. Elizabeth Debicki also appears in the film as antagonist: ‘Victoria’, but similar to Hugh Grant’s character: ‘Waverly’, she has little impact on the viewer.

Aside from the occasional CGI-enhanced shot, the cinematography by John Mathieson is pretty creative throughout the film, having many unique shots alongside plenty of shots which feel like throwbacks to classic espionage flicks. The film also makes excellent use of Ritchie’s signature editing style, cutting between scenes in a variety of visually interesting ways as well as colourfully implementing the film’s Russian/German subtitles, all of which are displayed in a bright yellow text almost as if they are taken from a 1960s cinema poster, not too dissimilar to the film’s opening and ending credits, which are reminiscent of the original show’s intro whilst also feeling fresh.

Daniel Pemberton’s original score is in keeping with the film’s tonal integrity, as Pemberton sought to capture a sound that combined the crispness and sophistication of today with a distinctly 1960s flavour. The first-step of which was the venue, as ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ score was actually recorded in Studio 2 at Abbey Road, where even the most casual music fan likely knows that this is where ‘The Beatles’ recorded their iconic albums. Yet apart from the tracks: ‘His Name is Napoleon Solo’ and ‘Escape from East Berlin’, the soundtrack feels well-crafted but still falls-short, becoming fairly forgettable in the long-run.

However, the world of: ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ isn’t as forgettable, as the film’s 1960s time-period mixes-together the elegant class of the era with more futuristic spy technology/gadgets. One of the reasons the film stayed in the 60s time-period was to allow the film to have its own reality, setting it apart from films like ‘The Bourne’ franchise and other recent spy thrillers, according to director Guy Ritchie. Obviously, this means that the film constantly revels in its period-accurate vehicles, set-design and costumes, a few pieces of which were actually vintage.

In conclusion, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ isn’t a film that will surpass expectations, as while the film delivers on what it sets-out to for the most part, displaying some fantastic action scenes and enjoyable gags. Its hard to ignore the film’s uninteresting story, which simultaneously feels drawn-out and dull, even branching into convoluted at points with the sheer amount of characters/locations mentioned. But for myself and any other classic espionage enthusiasts, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ will suffice, even though it could’ve done with some refinement in certain areas. A high 6/10 altogether.

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Happy Death Day (2017) – Film Review

Another horror flick from production company Blumhouse Pictures, ‘Happy Death Day’ released in 2017, does at least extend-out of the usual range of Blumhouse horrors to become more of a horror-comedy than just a straight-forward teen slasher. But similar to the rest of their associated franchises e.g. ‘Insidious’, ‘The Purge’ and ‘Paranormal Activity’, both ‘Happy Death Day’ and it’s sequel definitely have their fair share of issues, with some being far more severe than others.

Plot Summary: Waking-up in the dorm room of a boy whose name she can’t remember after a night of heavy-drinking, self-centered college student: ‘Tree Gelbman’ intends to continue her trend of avoiding her birthday, but little does she know that later that night on her way to another party, someone is waiting to murder her. Only after being killed, ‘Tree’ awakens in the same dorm room, soon realising she is being forced to relive her brutal night of murder over-and-over again until she discovers her killer’s identity.

‘Happy Death Day’ similar to many other day-repeating stories in the past, takes most of its inspiration from the comedy classic: ‘Groundhog Day’ from 1993. Yet unlike many of the other films that are inspired by this beloved comedy flick, it becomes clear over-time that ‘Happy Death Day’ is quite derivative of: ‘Groundhog Day’. As the film’s story not only utilises the comedy’s plot without much innovation (only throwing a killer into the mix). But the film even steals the main point of the narrative, that being its main character and their correlating character-arc, using the time-looping concept to in a way punish the protagonist for their cruel behaviour towards others.

In spite of this however, the protagonist: ‘Tree’ portrayed by Jessica Rothe, is by far the best element of the film. As while ‘Tree’ does go through a character-arc that is all too familiar as previously mentioned, Rothe makes a fantastic first-outing as an actress through her very enjoyable performance. Then of course, there is the killer, whose identity remains a mystery throughout most of the runtime. Known as ‘The Babyface Killer’, the killer’s outfit is actually the mascot of: ‘Bayfield University’ where the film takes-place, and although the costume itself is far more goofy then intimidating, the mask/costume was actually designed by Tony Gardner. The costume designer behind the now-iconic: ‘Ghostface’ costume from the ‘Scream’ series, which does help redeem to the killer’s undoubtedly petty motivation.

The film’s cinematography by Toby Oliver isn’t anything amazing overall, but does still back-up the story effectively in a variety of scenes. Whether that’s through its use of wide sweeping-shots when the characters are in an intense chase, or when more shaky hand-held camerawork is used to reflect ‘Tree’s break-down when she first realises she is stuck in her current crisis. Yet similar to much of its story, the film never leans enough into a more outlandish/experimental nature when considering what the film could accomplish with its cinematography.

Talented composer Bear McCreary handles the film’s original score, which isn’t very distinctive from most of his other work within the horror genre. But despite the score’s lack of memorability, it still does feel as if there is a decent amount of effort put-into it, as the soundtrack actually has quite a lot of range even if some of the tracks don’t always fit with the tone of the film. This also goes for many of the songs used throughout ‘Happy Death Day’, as nearly all of the film’s song choices massively differ in both their genre and general popularity.

But still, the biggest problem ‘Happy Death Day’ suffers from is the inconsistency of its tone. As although the film does attempt to have scenes featuring both scares and humour alike, many of the film’s jump-scares and jokes range in quality, and occasionally even cancel each-other out. Additionally, the film also takes an unusual approach to its violence, as while ‘Tree’ dies countless times throughout the film in a number of different ways. The film never allows for any creative or darkly amusing deaths due to its lack of any blood or gore. Yet this wasn’t always the case, as the original script for the film did actually include more violence, so much so that it would have gained the film a higher age-rating, with plenty of scenes having much grislier deaths that were later altered by director Christopher Landon during pre-production.

Altogether, a 5/10 for: ‘Happy Death Day’. Whilst the stand-out performance by Jessica Rothe does help to make the film far more enjoyable, alongside the film’s idea of being murdered repeatedly having plenty of potential for a horror-comedy. The film just doesn’t do enough with its story, feeling almost as if its a little restrictive on-itself, never delving enough into being either funny or freighting respectively. So if you desire an amusing horror-comedy to stick on one evening, maybe just go-back to your more accustomed choices over this mediocre slasher.

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Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) – Film Review

Taking heavy inspiration from the smash-hit comedy: ‘The Hangover’ released a year prior, this 2010 comedy revels in its absurdist tone and nonsensical plot right from its earliest scenes. As despite featuring some very dull cinematography and a completely forgettable original score to-boot, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ does manage to escape some of its flaws due to the original story and amusing moments its ludicrous title would imply.

Plot Summary: When a group of friends impulsively decide to take their low-life pal: ‘Lou’ back to the ‘Kodiak Valley Ski Resort’ after a potential suicide attempt, a place that was once their hotspot for thriving party-filled weekends. The group soon find themselves being sent back in time to 1986 after a drunken dip into their malfunctioning hot tub, allowing them to relive one of the best weekends of their entire lives.

Although comedy as a genre has always been quite divisive, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ is a film that values its comedy over anything else, as the film continuously throws-in as many jokes and references as it possibly can throughout its runtime. Most of which do come at the expense of messing with the film’s overall structure and pacing (regardless of how comical some of them actually are). As the film goes about its narrative mostly by jumping from comedic scene to comedic scene with most of the character’s different shenanigans having minuscule impact on the others, resulting in the film feeling mostly like a collection of individual comedy skits with little connection.

At a first mention, John Cusack seems like a slightly odd choice for a straight comedy in my opinion, as the actor while talented (and even quite amusing at points during the film) usually specialises more in dramas, thrillers and occasionally even romance over comedies. Whereas the rest of the cast of Rob Corddry, Graig Robinson, Clark Duke, Chevy Chase are all very experienced within the realm of comedy, which is most likely why many of the film’s funniest moments belong to their characters. The film even features a short appearance from a young Sebastian Stan as the angsty teenager: ‘Blaine’, many years before his breakout role as ‘The Winter Soldier’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Similar to many other modern comedies, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ nearly always places far more of an emphasis on its comedic writing rather than its cinematography, usually resulting in a large majority of the film’s camerawork being fairly bland. In the case of: ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’s cinematography by Jack N. Green, this means having a variety of scenes shot through hand-held camera, in addition to a few moments where shots can make some of the rooms within the ski resort feel far more like sets than they should, usually leave a lot to be desired in terms of visuals.

The original score by Christophe Beck is immensely generic (even in spite of it barley being utilised throughout the film). Yet while the score’s lack of memorability is a missed opportunity, it certainly isn’t its biggest. As with the film being set within the 1980s, I felt it was a pretty obvious choice to have a synth/rock soundtrack which would meld perfectly with the long list of iconic 80s songs that also populate the film, the most notable of which definitely being: ‘Safety Dance’ when the gang first realise they have arrived in the past.

However, even if ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ doesn’t always make the most of its time-period, the film does at least have an interesting location on-itself, as the ‘Kodiak Valley Ski Resort’ temporary home of the music festival: ‘Winterfest 86’, allows for plenty of visually pleasing locations when covered in the snow and vibrant colours alike. Yet sadly, this still doesn’t manage to make-up for what is easily the film’s biggest misstep. As whilst I would say ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ lands more jokes than it misses, the film does overly-rely on gross-out humour for sure, having a number of scenes where simply having a character getting covered in urine/faeces (or something even worse) is the entirety of the joke, which obviously fails to do anything other than disgust its audience through its idea of comedy.

Overall, a 5/10 for: ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’. Even though I personally feel the film is far more problematic than many other modern comedies, I appreciate the film’s effort to scale-up the preposterous nature of many other comedies, taking its ridiculous story concept and managing to make it work better then many would initially think. But just like many other films within this genre, the bland filmmaking on-display and simply unnecessary amounts of gross-out humour leave it a very mixed-bag for me, with that said however, I could still see the film being enjoyable for anyone in search of a raunchy comedy for a Saturday night with friends.

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) – Film Review

Based on the novel of the same name by Jenny Han and releasing around the same time as many other Netflix original rom-coms such as: ‘The Kissing Booth’ and ‘Sarah Burgess is a Loser’. ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ may have a fairly formulaic structure in addition to feeling a little cliché at points as it closely follows its source material, but mostly through its charm and great cast, this light-hearted teenage romantic-comedy manages to retain some entertainment value for any admirers of the genre.

Plot Summary: Since she was young, ‘Lara Jean’ has always lacked the confidence to tell any of the boys she liked her true feelings, choosing instead to write them down within individual letters for her eyes only. Until one day, the letters meant for her alone are released, throwing her life into chaos as her foregoing loves confront her one-by-one.

Although definitely not a must-see for Netflix subscribers, ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ does feel like a slight improvement over the other previously mentioned attempts Netflix has made within the realm of romantic flicks. As while the story is far from original, the film’s basic concept of a teenage girl locking-away her thoughts and feelings only for them to eventually be released, is at the very least, a plot that entices some interest into how things will turn-out for her in the end, and interestingly, all of the letters seen throughout the film were physically written by Lana Condor herself whilst on-set, with the actress writing a total of seven copies for each letter, as ‘Lara’ later tears them-up.

This leads-in to the best aspect of the film for me, Lana Condor’s portrayal of the film’s protagonist: ‘Lara Jean’, as much of the film’s overall charm is really owed to Condor’s lead performance, as the actress excellently balances ‘Lara’s timidity with her likability without much issue. Noah Centineo also shares quite a large role within the film as ‘Peter’, one of: ‘Lara’s earliest loves, and while Centineo does give a decent performance throughout the film, he does ultimately play the same character he has portrayed countless times before in other rom-coms both before and after, the same also goes for Israel Broussard as another of the ‘Lara’s past loves: ‘Josh’.

The cinematography by Michael Fimognari is serviceable overall, with the film’s thought-out editing usually making-up for the large number of bland shots through its clever cutting from past to present. The film also tries to implement a little style into its filmmaking by having text/emojis appear on-screen whenever ‘Lara’ is texting, which unfortunately, is executed a little sloppily. As whilst I understand what the filmmakers were going for, the final design they chose is quite odd, as rather than having ‘Lara’s phone screen appear beside her, or have text bubbles appear above her head, the text is simply displayed in the same font as the film’s opening titles, which I feel is both distracting and confusing.

Expectedly, the original score by Jon Wong is quite forgettable, but does still serve the film’s narrative well. Its the huge variety of modern pop-songs that rule over most of the soundtrack however, with next-to-nearly every scene featuring at least one or two different songs, and whilst some scenes do benefit from this, a large majority of the time it does feel as if there is an overabundance of songs thrown into a singular scene.

Yet the most obvious flaw the film suffers from is the way it utilises its supporting characters, as although the film does remain focused on the life of: ‘Lara Jean’ for the most part, the film also places emphasis on many of: ‘Lara’s friends and family, and even though the film tries its best to convince its audience otherwise, many of the supporting characters serve very little purpose to the story, and by the end of the film, are virtually forgotten as most are given no conclusive scene with ‘Lara’. But its ‘Lara’s sister and father who I personally found the most obnoxious, as these two characters deliver a large portion of the film’s occasionally cheesy dialogue and cringy humour, as sadly the film does feature plenty of awkward comedic moments in between its few successful jokes.

So while certainly not as diverting or as original as many other reviews may lead you to believe, ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ does still have some value, as the film retains many of the novel’s faults as well as its merits, and in spite of many of its problems, I imagine most fans of upbeat romantic-comedy/dramas will be satisfied with the film by its end. If you don’t usually drift towards rom-coms however, I’d probably suggest you check-out some of the other original films Netflix has to offer. A high 5/10 overall.

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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 often 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.

Plot Summary: 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 Unwin’, usually going by his nickname: ‘Eggsy’, 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-shaky 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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Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seven Psychopaths (2012) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Chef (2014) – Film Review

Even after working in blockbuster franchises such as: ‘Star Wars’ and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Jon Favreau (Zathura, Iron Man, The Lion King) crafts one of his best films to date with this clear passion project. Being obsessed with food and cooking in his spare-time, Favreau puts his kitchen knowledge to perfect use as his film ‘Chef’ focuses on the story of a middle-age man taking his wonderful tastes across America, and whilst fairly simplistic, this indie flick still manages to remain a pretty charming comedy/drama from beginning-to-end.

‘Carl Casper’ is an acclaimed chef with a family life that seems as decaying as his artistic freedom. But after being fired from his restaurant job due to an aggressive confrontation with a snarky food critic, ‘Carl’ decides to travel across America selling his own dishes in a second-hand taco truck.

Although not directly based on a true story per-say, ‘Chef’ does take inspiration from plenty of real-world figures in addition to Jon Favreau’s own history in cuisine. The main source of inspiration for the film however, was the professional food truck chef Roy Choi. Who actually agreed to give Favreau further chef training for the film under the exception he agreed to present a truly authentic portrayal of the life of a chef, and considering the film’s focus on ‘Carl’s struggling funds and the impact the cynical words of food critics can have, I feel the director certainly succeded.

Jon Favreau portrays ‘Carl’ superbly throughout the film, giving the protagonist a decent amount of range despite him never receiving an enormous amount of characterisation. The rest of the cast of John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony and Sofía Vergara, as well as Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman for a short period, are all decent within their respective roles, with Robert Downey Jr. also making a short appearance in the film as ‘Marvin’, which interestingly he agreed to do for free as a favour to Favreau for the decision he made to cast him as ‘Tony Stark/Iron Man’ years earlier, which most now believe to be his most iconic role.

While ‘Chef’ does have a fairly bright colour palette, the cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau is ultimately nothing above-average. As while the film does have some interesting shots, they’re fairly infrequent throughout. However, this is with the exception of the many close-ups of the food itself, as ‘Chef’ does a superb job at making the viewer’s mouth-water through the delicious food it presents. As the film features a variety of both very creative and very tasty-looking dishes. The film even manages to contain a little stylistic flair with Twitter being represented by animated bluebirds which fly off into the sky whenever a character tweets, which actually plays into the story quite well.

The original score by Lyle Workman isn’t anything overly memorable, but the soundtrack’s Mexican feel does back-up the film’s story effectively and really fits with many of the locations the food truck stops-off at as ‘Carl’ travels across the states of America. ‘Chef’ also utilises a huge range of iconic songs throughout its runtime, most of which also stick to the film’s Mexican aesthetic. From: ‘I Like It Like That’ to ‘Lucky Man’ and even ‘Sexual Healing’, the film’s long list of songs really add to its mostly upbeat tone.

Unfortunately, ‘Chef’ is mostly dragged-down by its overall emotional depth, as although the film is usually entertaining and engaging throughout, the film sometimes lacks the real emotional weight a drama needs, as ‘Carl’s rough relationship with his ex-wife receives little-to-no development, with most of the narrative’s focus being placed-on ‘Carl’ reconnecting with his son: ‘Percy’, which mostly makes for amusing and somewhat relatable scenes rather than any real dramatic moments. Whilst it doesn’t hurt the film really, some characters throughout ‘Chef’ also seem to disappear without a trace, in particular, the character: ‘Jen’ portrayed by Amy Sedaris, who only appears in a single scene and has virtually no impact on the plot, which can come-off as a little odd.

Altogether, a low 8/10 for: ‘Chef’. While there are definitely more memorable comedy/dramas out there, ‘Chef’ delivers-on exactly on what it sets-out to, featuring some likeable characters portrayed by its great cast, alongside its fantastic soundtrack and scrumptious-looking food, the film is truly a treat whether your an expert in the kitchen yourself or not. It is a shame the film’s more dramatic-side doesn’t fully deliver, as I do genuinely feel ‘Chef’ is a perfect example of Favreau’s filmmaking/acting talent outside any of franchise.

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Ted (2012) – Film Review

Written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of: ‘Family Guy’ and ‘American Dad’. ‘Ted’ is a modern comedy which takes the childhood desire many had of wishing their teddy bear was alive and gives it an adult comedy spin, and while the film does miss a large number of its jokes. ‘Ted’ is a mostly enjoyable watch through its fun story and entertaining cast, alongside being a pretty strong first outing for MacFarlane’s transition to live-action entertainment.

Plot Summary: When ‘John Bennett’ makes a Christmas miracle occur by bringing his stuffed teddy bear to life, the two grow-up together and form a life-long bond. But after ‘John’ moves-in with his girlfriend: ‘Lori’ a few years later, he’s forced to choose between them.

Although its story is very simple, ‘Ted’ actually balances its comedy and drama surprisingly well, as the film focuses heavily on the rift ‘Ted’ causes between ‘John’ and his girlfriend. Considering MacFarlane’s other work rarely takes itself seriously, the majority of the drama is actually quite effective, as the film does a decent job of keeping the viewer invested in its characters. Similar to most modern comedies, the jokes throughout the film do range however, with some scenes featuring plenty of humourous moments, whilst other scenes can come-off as if they are trying far too hard, sometimes even having lines of dialogue which could be seen as a little ‘risky’ (especially if you’re watching the unrated version). But this is pretty familiar ground for Seth MacFarlane.

Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis portray the main couple of the film, who do share some decent chemistry and funny moments together, with Mark Wahlberg also doing an excellent job interacting with ‘Ted’ throughout the film considering he is a fully CG character. As ‘Ted’ was brought to life through various teddy bears props on-set, in addition to Seth MacFarlane’s movements being mirrored through motion-capture. Joel McHale and Giovanni Ribisi also make appearances within the film as ‘Lori’s obnoxious and inappropriate boss: ‘Rex’, and the film’s antagonist: ‘Donny’, a shady father who intends to kidnap ‘Ted’ for his son. Both of these characters do have their moments for sure, yet they also both share the same issue of their characters completely disappearing after their purpose to the story is served, which does make the narrative feel a little inconsistent.

The cinematography by Michael Barrett is mostly bland throughout, with film’s focus being placed nearly entirely on its comedic dialogue. Although there is still the occasional appealing shot here and there, its nothing overly interesting. However, the CG effects used to create ‘Ted’ are solid for the most part, as despite the few shots where the film is beginning to show its age, the combination of the film’s visual effects and Seth Macfarlane’s very entertaining vocal performance do result in ‘Ted’ becoming a crude yet likeable character.

One of the biggest issues ‘Ted’ suffers from in my opinion is the film’s lack of personality, as a result of the film having little-to-no style, ‘Ted’ sometimes feels too-similar to MacFarlane’s other works. This is most noticeable in the original score by Walter Murphy, as the score feels almost identical to the score used throughout FOX’s ‘Family Guy’ series. Whilst this is most likely due to director Seth MacFarlane wanting to work with the same composer as his animated shows, the original score just doesn’t feel even remotely memorable or unique to the film it’s part of.

For me, some of: ‘Ted’s funniest moments come from its more absurdist humour, as although the film has plenty of obscure references to celebrities and present-day events similar to kind of humour that’s become rather standard in ‘Family Guy’. ‘Ted’ is truly at its best in scenes such as: ‘Ted’s Party’, in which Sam J. Jones, the actor who portrayed ‘Flash Gordon’ in the 1980 sci-fi classic, begins envisioning ‘Ted’s next-door neighbour as the super-villain: ‘Ming the Merciless’ whilst high on cocaine, or when ‘Ted’ engages in a fist-fight with a duck named after actor James Franco. As these moments are usually hilarious simply because of their outlandish nature.

Overall, I think ‘Ted’ is a decently fun comedy flick, as whilst there is definitely room for improvement, Seth Macfarlane does a pretty great job considering this was his directorial debut. While I could see many not enjoying ‘Ted’ mostly due to their preference when it comes to humour (or because of its admittedly average filmmaking). I personally feel that ‘Ted’ is Macfarlane’s best film to date, as ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ and even this film’s sequel: ‘Ted 2’, were both very disappointing for me. A 7/10 in total. Although it needs work, I’m sure most will find ‘Ted’ amusing over the course of its runtime.

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