The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – Film Review

Dealing with heavy themes of loneliness, mental health and suicide, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ may not astonish when it comes to its visuals. But through its strong performances, heartfelt story and well-written script (aside from one or two cliché lines), the film soon becomes a very sincere and captivating adaptation of the acclaimed coming-of-age novel many grew-up with when it released in 1999, now being seen as one of the best teenage dramas in recent years.

Plot Summary: Fifteen-year-old: ‘Charlie’ is a socially-awkward teenager heading into his first year of high-school, used to watching life from the sidelines, ‘Charlie’ soon discovers the joys of friendship, love and music as the free-spirited: ‘Sam’ and her stepbrother: ‘Patrick’, open his eyes to the real-world. But when his friends prepare to leave for college after graduating high-school, ‘Charlie’s inner-sadness threatens to shatter his newly-found confidence.

In a rare scenario, the film adaptation of: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is not only based on the novel of the same name by Steven Chbosky, but is actually written and directed by Chbosky himself. As originally, beloved writer/director John Hughes, the comic genius behind: ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Sixteen Candles’ amongst many other 80s teen flicks, was intended to direct the adaptation, initially wanting to make the film into more of a dark comedy with Shia LaBeouf set to play ‘Charlie’, Kirsten Dunst as ‘Sam’, and Patrick Fugit as ‘Patrick’. But with Hughes sudden-death in 2009 stalling the project, his script was eventually scrapped as he’d not completed it before his passing, leaving Chbosky to take the reins.

Throughout the entirety of the film, the main trio of friends are portrayed wonderfully by Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson, in one of her first roles following the end of the ‘Harry Potter’ series. As each member of the young cast display plenty of range with their respective characters receiving an almost-absurd amount of characterisation alongside, resulting in all three of the central protagonists soon forming a real bond with the audience through their lovable yet realistic portrayals of high-school teenagers. Well-known comedy actor Paul Rudd also appears within the film as ‘Mr. Anderson’, using his natural charisma to portray a genuinely kind-hearted teacher, guiding ‘Charlie’ to what he believes is his future career as a writer.

The film’s cinematography by Andrew Dunn is noticeably where the filmmaking dips in quality, as despite the camerawork occasionally allowing for some interesting framing, such as when ‘Charlie’ is framed alone with only bare walls surrounding him, visually presenting him as an outcast due to his anxiety when interacting with others. Most of the film’s cinematography feels fairly mundane, with the colour palette in particular, seeming very confined, always utilising quite warm/calming colours regardless of what’s happening within the narrative. However, with that said, near the end of the runtime, the film does manage to impress with its editing as ‘Charlie’ begins to suffer from a panic-attack, represented through the film cutting rapidly between an array of previous scenes, ensuring a feeling of being overwhelmed within any viewer whilst watching. 

From iconic songs such as: ‘Heroes’ and ‘Come on Eileen’, to the beautifully somber original score by Micheal Brook. The entire soundtrack for: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is both graceful and immensely under-appreciated, capturing the film’s many alternating tones, whether that’s its unrelenting isolation, or its upbeat bliss. But my personal two favourite tracks have to be ‘Charlie’s First Kiss’ and ‘Shard’, a pair of tracks that are both truly touching pieces of music, invoking emotion in any listener in spite of their simplicity.

Another aspect of the film I adore is how it represents high-school, as while many coming-of-age flicks usually lean into the idea of high-school being an often chaotic but satisfying experience. ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ never glorifies school, refusing to represent it as either a positive or negative place. This all backed-up of course, by the story’s interesting themes which the film handles with care, never overemphasising it’s concepts in a similar fashion to the source material. Also in-line with the original novel is the film’s apparent 1990s setting. Yet with the exception of the numerous mix-tapes the characters listen to, you’d be forgiven for being unaware that the film even takes-place within this time-period, as its neither mentioned nor plays-into the film’s style in any-way.

Overall, a well-deserved 8/10 for: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’. While the film’s cinematography does leave room for improvement, for a directorial-debut, Stephen Chbosky really knocks-it out of the park here. Bolstered by its brilliant performances and very underrated original score, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is truly an adaptation to be admired, as regardless of whatever time-period its story is set within, many of its themes/messages are timeless, and I personally believe this is what any other films focusing on troubled teenage characters should strive to be.

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Super 8 (2011) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

Plot Summary: 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 this is, 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 the 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 utilises 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 CG effects however, as the film always seems to resort to CG 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 CG effects and constant barrage of jump-scares are made-up for by its interesting delve into its 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 CG 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 worth a 7/10 overall.

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Film Review

Although it may not quite reach the heights of some of his other work, director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel) crafts another wonderful story with ‘Moonrise Kingdom’. As throughout its tight runtime, the film is filled with plenty of heartfelt moments and mature humour all backed-up by an effective original score by Alexandre Desplat. Resulting in a very enjoyable comedy/drama, despite Anderson not utilising his style to its best extent.

Plot Summary: On a small island off the coast of New England in the 1960s, a young boy-scout and the eldest daughter of unhappy household fall in love after a few weeks of back and forward letters. Soon inspiring them to run away together, leading various factions of the island to mobilise in search of them.

The story itself is definitely one of the best aspects of: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’, as although the film is brimming with plenty of the usual Wes Anderson style. The film’s story is always so enjoyable to watch, as the film’s two protagonists carry the narrative with great comedic charm and an almost child-like innocence. The dialogue throughout the film is also very well-written, as every character is usually extremely specific about everything they say, leading to many quirky moments.

Initially, the thought of a film lead by two very young actors did concern me, as there has been plenty of films throughout history that have been severely let-down when it comes to child actors in important roles. ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is certainly an exception to this however, as Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are both brilliant as the young couple: ‘Sam’ and ‘Suzy’. As the two have excellent chemistry and perfectly fit the hilarious awkwardness of usual Wes Anderson stories. In addition to the two leads, the supporting cast of Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman are all fantastic within their various roles. Yet even with these brilliant performances, the film still does suffer from a mostly pointless adultery subplot, whilst this does provide some characterisation at points, it felt mostly meaningless to me by the time the film’s credits rolled.

The cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman is your standard affair for a Wes Anderon film, having the usual array of very appealing shots, most of which make great use of some of the beautiful natural locations the film’s story takes place-in. Also featuring a variety of panning shots and perfect symmetry wherever possible, the cinematography even manages to make an ordinary room look far more interesting purely through it’s framing and use of colour. In spite of this however, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ did actually have a smaller-budget than some of Anderson’s other flicks, which does result in the film feeling slightly held-back from taking its visuals all of the way.

Whilst fairly simplistic when compared to some of his other scores, the original score by Alexandre Desplat is somewhat unique and does suitably fit the tone of the film pretty well. As ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ attempts to add a more scout-troop feel to further add to the film’s narrative. In particular, with the track: ‘The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe Parts 4-6: Thunder, Lightning and Rain’ (what a mouthful that is). As this track uses trumpets and horns throughout, almost reflecting how the scouts are woken-up by their scout-master each morning.

One of the most striking elements of: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ certainly has to be it’s bright colour palette, as the film is constantly dripping with beautifully bright colours. From greens to yellows, to blues, the film is always incredibly vibrant and extremely visually appealing to the eye, and of course, as the film’s tone is already fairly fun and light-hearted, the colour palette doesn’t feel even remotely out-of-place. However, I do feel the film could’ve indulged further into the 1960s time-period, as aside from the occasional mention of the date, or piece of technology, the film never really makes use of the 60s era its set within.

In my opinion, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is definitely an underappreciated gem in director Wes Anderson’s collection, as although the film does have phenomenal reviews from critics and audiences alike. I can’t help but the feel the film never gets talked about enough, as ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ has all the unique style of Anderson’s other films alongside a heartfelt story and plenty of memorable scenes/dialogue. Overall, an 8/10. Despite not being my personal favourite film from Wes Anderson, the film is undeniably worth a watch if you’re a fan of this talented director.

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Adventureland (2009) – Film Review

This comedy/drama from 2009 is an underrated classic in my opinion, as director Greg Mottola (Superbad, Paul, Keeping Up with the Joneses) brings-us a simple yet effective story of two young people from different worlds meeting over one memorable summer, and while it may not be as hilarious as some of his other films. I do feel Mottola has brought-us a much more emotional story this time around, with the comedy not too far behind.

Plot Summary: In the summer of 1987, a young college graduate (James Brennan) takes a ‘nowhere’ job at his local amusement park as he awaits to leave his home town. Only for him to soon find it’s the perfect course to get him prepared for the real-world, meeting new friends and sending him down a different life path.

For a film like this, it’s crucial that the characters are likeable and are given plenty of development, as in my opinion, drama really only works within film if the characters are developed enough to be invested-in. Luckily, the film does succeed here, crafting some very funny and (mostly) realistic characters within only a short amount of time. As the film doesn’t waste screen-time setting up it’s narrative and characters, but always does so in a way that doesn’t feel too fast-paced.

All of the cast are also pretty great here, as Jesse Eisenberg, Kristen Stewart, Kristen Wiig and Ryan Reynolds all have decent chemistry with each other, and don’t simply treat their characters as joke machines. Despite Bill Hader as the park manager: ‘Bobby’ definitely being my personal favourite however, purely through his hilarious dialogue leading to many brilliant moments throughout the runtime.

Being set in an amusement park local to the home of the protagonist, this is where the cinematography by Terry Stacey really shines. As the film really uses the different rides, games and attractions as well as the colourful lighting as a beautiful backdrop for many great scenes, as the film is always very inventive with the different locations of the park, exploring new areas in each scene, with some locations even being used to reflect a character’s personality. The film also uses a bright orange, yellow and blue colour palette throughout the story, which really helps to enhance the film’s visuals, and meshes perfectly with the film’s more light-hearted tone.

The original score by Yo La Tengo also helps add to the 1980s atmosphere, being mostly subtle yet still effective in many scenes in spite of its lack of memorability overall. Various songs from the 80s are also used throughout the film, everything from iconic classics to more unknown songs get a short appearance, with all of it eventually adding-up to a pretty fantastic soundtrack, as well as another link back to the time-period.

The main issue with the film for me is it’s comedy, as already mentioned, as although the film does have plenty of comedic moments throughout. I simply feel the film has far more in regards to drama than comedy, as the majority of it’s memorable moments are for more emotional purposes. There was also a subplot between two characters which I personally felt was a little rushed over, but as this was near the ending of the film, this may have been done to avoid a lack of focus and conclusion.

Although ‘Adventureland’ is nothing incredible in regards to its filmmaking, I personally really enjoy the film. As I’ll always find myself turning back to it when in need of a more upbeat comedy/drama, as with a unique location and a great cast of characters, there isn’t really much to dislike here. As although some of the film’s comedy could be improved, I wouldn’t say this drags the entire film down, and overall, I’d say this one is an 8/10. Definitely check this one out if you can, I feel it really deserves more attention from audiences.

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