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.

A struggling alcoholic screenwriter in the process of writing a script based around seven separate psychopaths soon becomes inadvertently entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends 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 fairly well-written film overall. In fact, the script for: ‘Seven Psychopaths’ was actually featured in the 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 camera-work 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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This Year in Film (2019) – Film List

Personally, I feel this year in film has been a bit of a mixed-bag, as while I do feel we’ve had our fair share of great films this year, I also feel we’ve had plenty of disappointing entries as well. Obviously, I haven’t had the chance to see every film this year, and I will most likely update this list as time goes on. But for now, in no particular order, here are my thoughts on a variety of films I saw this year.

Joker

Without a doubt one of my favourite films of the year: ‘Joker’ directed by Todd Philips (The Hangover, Old School, War Dogs) is an interesting take on the comic book genre. Focusing more on being an engaging character piece with themes of untreated metal illness rather than your usual barrage of CGI action and explosions, all shown through some beautiful cinematography and an eerie original score.

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Knives Out

Director Rian Johnson proves himself a brilliant filmmaker once again after his smash-hit: ‘Looper’, as although I personally wasn’t an enormous fan of: ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’. I knew this director had talent elsewhere, and this was proven to me by ‘Knives Out’. A hilarious and clever twist on the classic murder mystery, with some great performances from the huge cast, plenty of plot twists and a well-written narrative. I feel you’d struggle not to enjoy ‘Knives Out’.

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In the Tall Grass

One of many Steven King adaptations from this year, ‘In the Tall Grass’ comes to us from ‘Cube’ director Vincenzo Natali, and with that sci-fi classic being a personal favourite of mine, I had high-hopes for this Netflix thriller despite its somewhat weak source material. However, as the runtime continued-on, I soon realised the film was far more interested in attempting to explain its bizarre and messy plot rather than experiment with any of its unique ideas.

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Marriage Story

Standing out mostly for the fantastic performances from the all-star cast of Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, director Noah Baumbach takes on this wonderful story of a couple broken apart by relationship troubles and long distances, which, despite not being anything outstanding in regards to filmmaking, still manages to be entertaining, emotional and very enjoyable from start-to-finish.

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The Silence

Easily one of the worst films I’ve seen this year, ‘The Silence’ directed by John R. Leonetti, mostly known for the awful: ‘Annabelle’ and ‘Wish Upon’. Is another generic horror with weak performances, dreadful CGI effects and a plot which feels as if it’s been ripped straight from: ‘A Quiet Place’ released back in 2018.

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Haunt

Although the plot of a group of teens heading into a haunted house on Halloween only to get more than they bargained for may initially sound incredibly over-done, ‘Haunt’ is actually one of the hidden gems of the year in my opinion. Utilizing some visually impressive sets and lighting in addition to an array of tense moments and creative ideas, the film is certainly one of the better horrors/thrillers from this year despite its issues.

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Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari)

After directing one of my favourite films of 2017: ‘Logan’, director James Mangold now takes on the real-life story of the creation of one of the fastest race cars ever built in order to win the iconic: ‘Le Mans ’66’. Featuring some excellent performances from the main cast in addition to some great cinematography and high-fueled racing scenes, ‘Le Mans ’66’ is a true thrill-ride of a film.

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Toy Story 4

‘Toy Story 4’ is definitely one of the most disappointing films of the year for me, as the original ‘Toy Story’ trilogy is (in my opinion) near perfect, and this film seems to do nothing but continue the story for the sake of it. As although the animation is incredible throughout the film, and the performances and original score are also pretty great, the narrative and character-arcs simply let the film down and make it the weakest of the ‘Toy Story’ series for me.

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I Am Mother

This slick science fiction thriller had me excited for quite some-time leading up to its release. However, when I eventually watched: ‘I Am Mother’ I found myself a little disappointed. As the beautiful visuals and solid sci-fi soundtrack are sadly let down by a drawn-out and sometimes bland story. As while not boring by any means, I felt the film was a bit of wasted potential overall.

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It: Chapter 2

Director Andy Muschietti returns to once again bring the demonic clown: ‘Pennywise’ to life in this sequel to the ‘It’ remake from 2017. This time around however, I personally found the film to be a bit of a letdown. As although there were plenty of entertaining scenes and great character moments throughout the film’s extremely long runtime, there were also plenty of ridiculous moments alongside the barrage of enormous CGI monsters.

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Crawl

Going off the initial reviews, I originally had high hopes for: ‘Crawl’, hoping it would be an extremely tense, edge of your seat kind of experience. But unfortunately, the film felt like a mostly standard thriller by the end of its runtime. Having nothing more than a few tense scenes and a couple of effective jump-scares to make up for its mediocre CGI effects and mostly dull characters.

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Yesterday

Whilst definitely not on the same level as many of the others films from director Danny Boyle’s catalogue, ‘Yesterday’ was still a pretty entertaining feel-good comedy which I felt had an enjoyable upbeat tone, and enough likeable characters to carry it through many of its cheesy moments and sometimes overly predictable story.

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The Platform

Definitely a futuristic thriller fans of: ‘The Belko Experiment’ should check out, ‘The Platform’ is just as violent as it is suspenseful, as this Spanish sci-fi thriller deals with a variety of dark themes and ideas, all whilst keeping the viewer engaged through its interesting plot, decent performances and surprising turns.

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Aladdin

This year’s first entry from the usual barrage of pointless live-action Disney remakes: ‘Aladdin’ is exactly what I expected it to be. The classic story most know and love but incredibly dulled-down, trying to capture the adventure of the original film through an enormous amount of CGI visuals, nostalgia and a new cast lead by Will Smith which are all rather bland.

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The Hustle

Although I may not have been the target audience for: ‘The Hustle’, judging by the dreadful reviews from critics and audiences alike, it seems as if I wasn’t alone in finding this comedy just as bland as it was unfunny, with many of the jokes feeling extremely lazy as the film takes all the obvious hits anyone would expect at Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson without attempting much else in terms of humour.

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Velvet Buzzsaw

Despite ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ not quite being the hilarious, gory and extremely weird horror/comedy I was initially hoping for, in addition to going off the back of director Dan Gilroy’s other film: ‘Nightcrawler’ (which is one of my all-time favourites). I still found the film interesting enough throughout its story to keep me watching, despite it not being overly memorable in its entirety.

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Avengers: Endgame

Marvel finally bring their enormous franchise of superhero flicks to an end (for now that is) with ‘Avengers: Endgame’, a blockbuster spectacular which gives many viewers the conclusion they’ve been desiring for many years, and although it isn’t one of my personal favourite Marvel films, I enjoyed: ‘Avengers Endgame’ for what it was. As the film provides some endings for characters alongside plenty of comedic moments, fan service and thrilling action set-pieces.

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Dolemite Is My Name

Based on the real-life story of Rudy Ray Moore, Eddie Murphy makes his awaited return to film after a long break. As this brilliant comedy/drama makes all the right moves to keep its audience engaged within its story through plenty of humour, style and emotion throughout its runtime.

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Jumanji: The Next Level

A sequel to ‘Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle’ from 2017, as well as the original: ‘Jumanji’ from 1995. ‘Jumanji: The Next Level’ is very similar to the previous instalment in regards to its tone and story (with some elements mixed-up of course) and despite some humour and story moments going a little too over-the-top for my taste. The film is still enjoyable enough for those seeking another fun family adventure from this franchise.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Unable to actually decide what I thought of the film initially, ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ is a true mixed-bag of a blockbuster, having some fantastic monster action with flawless CGI effects and a surprisingly ranged colour palette be completely bogged down by weak characters, cheesy moments and at points, a very messy story.

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Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Director Quentin Tarantino returns to the silver screen once again with ‘Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood’. Bringing us a slight subversion of some of his usual film tropes, to focus more on a story of a man seeking his return to fame in Hollywood, all shown through some beautiful cinematography and an excellent 1960s soundtrack.

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Terminator: Dark Fate

Of all the franchises dragging themselves out in an attempt to drawn-in whatever loose profits still remain, ‘Terminator’ has been by far the worst, with ‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ only further proving this. Being extremely bland and cliché throughout, this time-travelling sci-fi series truly feels as if it’s got nothing more to offer, even with a talented director at the helm and James Cameron back on-board as a producer, this franchise is now really just a shadow of its former-self.

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John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

In another one of this year’s biggest disappointments, ‘John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum’ is the third entry in the ‘John Wick’ series, which sadly, leaves a lot to be desired. As many of the trilling and well-executed action scenes are dragged down by a messy and uninteresting story, as well as a variety of extremely out-of-place comedic moments.

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Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Arguably the most disappointing film of the year for many, ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ attempted to close the enormous legacy of the ‘Star Wars’ saga, which unfortunately failed quite miserably. As overly fast-pacing and an extremely messy (and unsatisfying) narrative really dragged the film down despite its fun moments and exciting action scenes, further proving that this franchise needs a long-rest before it’s inevitable return.

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Spider-Man: Far From Home

Most likely my favourite Marvel film of this year, ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ hardly breaks new ground when it comes to superhero flicks. But the main cast’s great performances mixed with plenty of exciting action and a surprisingly interesting antagonist, leave ‘Spider-Man: Far From Home’ an enjoyable and mostly faithful comic book adventure for the iconic web-head.

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The Lion King

The second of this year’s live-action Disney remakes: ‘The Lion King’ directed by Jon Favreau, is definitely one of the worst in my opinion, as although the film’s CGI visuals are nearly flawless, the film simply lacks any of the charm, heart and overall personality of the original film. Resulting in the remake being nothing more than an overall boring experience.

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Little Monsters

Although the film is help-up by some strong performances and some interesting ideas, ‘Little Monsters’ never manages to break the structure of your usual zombie film. Coming off as an occasionally fun yet mostly bland horror/comedy, which is just as predictable as it is dull, despite many of its decent comedic moments.

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Serenity

Whilst I personally didn’t dislike ‘Serenity’ as much as many others, the film still suffers from a variety of issues. As director Steven Knight attempted to achieve something very different with this film, which at some points works quite well, and at others doesn’t work at all. As many of the unusual performances and can really drag down the film’s great cinematography and editing.

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Fractured

Overly predictable and formulaic, ‘Fractured’ focuses on the potentially compelling narrative of a father’s family mysteriously disappearing within the walls of a hospital, yet despite its few effective scenes, ‘Fractured’ soon ends-up feeling like a path nearly every-viewer has been down before. Resulting in the film becoming just another forgettable Netflix Original.

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The Lighthouse

Despite my dislike of director Robert Egger’s other film: ‘The Witch’ from back in 2016, ‘The Lighthouse’ had me gripped to the screen throughout its runtime. As the film’s black and white colour palette along with it’s eerie original score and intriguing story, leave the ‘The Lighthouse’ a film that’s just an interesting to discuss as it is to watch.

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Parasite

I went to experience Korean director Bong Joon Ho’s ‘Parasite’ mostly due to its outstanding reviews rather than due to its trailers (which I personally found quite poor). But yet, with some absolutely gorgeous cinematography and brilliant performances, ‘Parasite’ is now definitely up-there with some of my personal favourite foreign flicks such as: ‘Oldboy’, ‘Veronica’ and ‘The Host’, in addition to possibly being my favourite release of this year.

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Captain Marvel

One of the blandest Marvel films I’ve seen for a while, ‘Captain Marvel’ focuses far too much on pushing on themes of strong female empowerment that it forgets to actually create a likeable protagonist or an interesting origin story, making the film overall feel simply forgettable more than anything else.

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Zombieland: Double Tap

Surprisingly, Zombieland: Double Tap’ was more enjoyable than I was initially expecting. As while far from as memorable or as enjoyable as the original for me, there were more than a few moments of humour between the cast that had me laughing, despite the film’s tone going even more over-the-top than before.

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The Irishman

Iconic director Martin Scorsese (Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street) returns to bring us another tale of crime and regret with ‘The Irishman’, and while the over three-hour-long runtime can definitely make the film drag at points, the brilliant performances and phenomenal filmmaking are sure to keep those paying attention engaged for the majority of the film’s runtime.

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Us

Director Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his 2017 smash-hit: ‘Get Out’, was a far cry from excellent for me. As despite the brilliant reviews, I personally found the film’s story to be bloated with rushed ideas and ridiculous scenes, all adding up to a horror flick that placed more focus it’s themes than it’s narrative. Resulting in a film which was just as inconsistent with its tone as it was with its story.

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Hellboy

The latest superhero to get his own remake is the iconic: ‘Hellboy’, with the remake this time falling far, far from the mark. As a ridiculously messy story mixed-with poor CGI effects and dreadful comedic moments, leave the film pleasing no-one, despite David Harbour’s decent performance as the horned anti-hero.

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1917

Made to appear as if it was filmed entirely within one shot, ‘1917’ is a brutal, gripping and engaging story involving two soldiers who set-off in a race against time to save thousands of men from a doomed battle, and while not flawless, the film is definitely impressive for both it’s narrative and filmmaking.

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Fighting with My Family

Directed by actor and comedian Stephen Merchant, ‘Fighting with My Family’ is a light-hearted British comedy-drama based on the true story of WWE wrestler: ‘Paige’ portrayed extremely-well throughout the film by Florence Pugh, and despite a few cringy scenes, ‘Fighting with My Famly’ was a huge surprise for me. As a very investing story and some brilliant moments of humour leave the film a genuinely enjoyable experience that seemingly went under most people’s radars upon its intial release.

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Jojo Rabbit

Heartfelt, emotional and brimming with comedic charm, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is another one of my favourites from this year. Being a completely different take on the war genre by giving the audience a new view of the events of the Second World War through the eyes of a child. All under the excellent direction of Taika Waititi (What We Do in the Shadows, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Thor: Ragnarok).

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Missing Link

From Lakia animation studio, the production company that brought to life many of my favourite stop-motion animated films, such as: ‘Coraline’ and ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ comes another fun family adventure. Shame this one couldn’t have done better at the box office, as the film is wonderfully put together, featuring plenty of humorous moments alongside the great voice acting and beautiful animation.

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Ready or Not

One of the most surprising films of the year for me, ‘Ready or Not’ may have your usual cliché plot for a modern-horror, but somehow the film manages to carry it through. Managing to be extremely funny, gory and fun throughout nearly the entirety of its runtime.

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Doctor Sleep

The long-awaited sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s classic: ‘The Shining’, ‘Doctor Sleep’ attempts to continue the story of the ‘Overlook Hotel’, and does so with mixed results. As although the film does pay plenty of the respect to the original film, I couldn’t help but feel the film doesn’t stand on its own very well, having a mostly predictable story with some pretty bland characters within its nearly three-hour runtime.

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Child’s Play

From the producers of the ‘It’ remake from 2017, this reimaging of the horror classic: ‘Child’s Play’ does have some great elements, such as: some hilarious scenes of dark comedy, gory and creative death scenes and even a pretty memorable voice performance by Mark Hamill as the iconic killer doll: ‘Chucky’, and yet, the film never quite manages to escape its remake roots and goofy original idea, usually feeling more unnecessary than anything else.

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Wounds

Regardless of its atrocious reviews from both critics and audiences, I actually quite enjoyed: ‘Wounds’. As although this psychological horror may have some bland cinematography and an overreliance on jump-scares at points, the film’s weirdly unique narrative and main performance by Armie Hammer simply won me over by its end, despite the film being nothing that memorable in the long-run.

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Pet Sematary

In this new remake of Steven King’s classic novel, Jason Clarke and Amy Seimetz portray: ‘Louis’ and ‘Rachel Creed’ a couple who move to rural Maine only to soon discover a mysterious burial ground hidden within the woods near their new home, and aside from the dark and interesting plot the film provides. ‘Pet Sematary’ is nothing more than a bland jump-scare fest with little focus on building character or atmosphere.

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I Lost My Body

This unique animated French film co-written by the writer of the beloved: ‘Amélie’, is very charming and beautifully crafted throughout the entirety of its tight runtime, with a variety of stunning shots and plenty of creative ideas, ‘I Lost My Body’ is certainly worth a watch despite being overshadowed by many other films released this year.

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Uncut Gems

After many poor attempts at comedies in recent days, Adam Sandler gives one of his best performances in years with ‘Uncut Gems’, portraying a shady jeweller who’s actions and consequences carry the film brilliantly from start-to-finish, despite the film’s shaky cinematography and bizarre original score being a little distracting at points.

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Midsommar

Although I quite enjoyed: ‘Hereditary’, director Ari Aster’s other film from 2017, ‘Midsommar’ was most certainly not for me. Feeling far too pretentious at points with a slow-paced narrative and weak characters, the film’s unique ideas and attractive visuals simply couldn’t save from becoming the boring experience it eventually ended-up being for me, with the exception of another excellent performance by Florence Pugh from this year.

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Unicorn Store

Led by a mediocre and sometimes irritating performance by Brie Larson, ‘Unicorn Store’ attempts to be a fun, colourful and heartwarming tale of a grown woman letting go of her childhood. Yet unfortunately, the film falls far off the mark for most of these goals, as ‘Unicorn Store’ is more dull and forgettable than the whimsical tale it set-out to be.

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Whilst I definitely would’ve prefered an anthology-type structure when it comes to an adaptation of the ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ children’s book series, this horror film for a younger audience certainly has its fair share of flaws. As although not awful by any means, the film is simply just a very mixed-bag overall.

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The Kid Who Would Be King

A decent fantasy adventure for families, ‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ directed by Joe Cornish (Attack the Block) definitely has some areas in need of improvement. As the film is brimming with cheesy moments and a very out-of-place original score. Despite this however, the film still manages to utilize its fun story and exciting action scenes to the best of its advantage, resulting in an entertaining if not perfect family flick.

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Ghost Stories (2018) – Film Review

‘Ghost Stories’ is a British horror directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, featuring many tension-filled scenes and plenty of clever story elements throughout, it’s not quite the cliché horror you might expect. As the film definitely takes a unique approach with its storytelling and ideas, and I would say I enjoyed the film quite a bit due to this, although I feel this may not be the same for every viewer.

We follow sceptical professor: ‘Phillip Goodman’ as he embarks on a trip into the terrifying world of the paranormal, after being given a file with details of three unexplained cases of apparitions.

Whilst nothing incredibly original for a horror narrative, this story does allow the film to have almost an anthology-like structure in a way, with the three separate case files all being their own contained story. The film also takes a very interesting direction for the majority of its runtime, mostly focusing on the paranoia and imagination of the human mind, and how certain tragic events throughout life can lead the mind to wander. Whilst I personally think this is a very creative way to explore paranormal encounters and the horror genre in general, I can definitely say not every horror fan would enjoy this element, as I can see many hating this film mainly due to its exploration of these ideas.

Andy Nyman portrays the main protagonist of the film (Phillip Goodman), and I’d say he does a pretty great job with the arrogant character he is given, especially being a mostly unknown actor. Then, of course, we also have Phil Whitehouse, Alex Lawther and Martin Freeman as the various victims of the cases, who I also quite enjoyed watching. All the performances here are also backed up by the writing in the film, as I feel the writing is pretty on point here. Having many elements of dark comedy along with giving some development to the various characters and having some little pieces of information hidden within dialogue for later in the narrative.

The cinematography by Ole Bratt Birkeland is pretty impressive throughout, only having a few shots throughout the runtime which I thought were a little bland. ‘Ghost Stories’ also utilizes many wide-shots throughout the film which really lend themselves to the eerie atmosphere, alongside the hauntingly beautiful original score which also lends itself to the film. This time being handled by Haim Frank Ilfman, a composer who I actually hadn’t heard of before this film. But I do hope to see his name in credits more following on from this, as the soundtrack works perfectly throughout the film. Changing from emotional to tense, to chaotic, without ever feeling too rushed.

My main criticism of the film is the usual issue I have with modern-horrors, as while I do feel this film builds up a lot more of an eerie atmosphere than many other horrors. The film is still littered with jump-scares, and while I do believe jump-scares can work if used to a minimal extent, here I felt many of them were just thrown in a points without much reason, the film does have plenty of visual horror however which I appreciate. Another small issue I have is the design of one of the creatures we see in the film, as to me it’s design felt very out-of-place when compared to the other paranormal entities we see within the story, but again this is only a small issue.

Overall, ‘Ghost Stories’ is a very distinct horror film, as while I don’t think the film is perfect, I did find it pretty entertaining for the majority of my watch. Having an original story and great direction as well as many attractive shots along with some great writing and a terrific original score, I’d say the film is a definite watch for someone seeking something a little different from the horror genre. Overall, a low 8/10 for: ‘Ghost Stories’.

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The Belko Experiment (2016) – Film Review

An intense thriller with elements of dark comedy thrown-in for good measure, ‘The Belko Experiment’ is written by ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ director James Gunn, and directed by: ‘Wolf Creek’ and ‘Rogue’ director Greg McLean. A strange combination which works surprisingly well in my opinion, as it results in a tense, unique and very fast-paced film.

In a twisted social experiment, eighty American employees are locked in their high-rise corporate office building in Bogotá, Colombia, and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed. Throwing every employee of the company into a state of panic, and a question of morals.

As you can probably tell from the plot, the film doesn’t hold back from throwing the audience straight into the gory chaos after only about ten to fifteen minutes of screen-time. From here, the film continues to build tension and a dreading atmosphere throughout the remainder of the film.

John Gallagher Jr and Adria Arjona are the main two protagonists of the film, as well as Tony Goldwyn and John C. McGinley as the antagonists. Who are all great in their varied roles, due to there being an entire building worth of employees involved in the main story however, there’s an enormous amount of characters, which of course means barley any of characterisation for most of them aside from a couple of lines or the occasional scene.

Whilst the cinematography by Luis David Sansans isn’t any overly impressive, it is decently pleasing throughout the runtime and does manage to show off many of the practical gore effects within the film to their best extent. The same can not be said for the CGI throughout the film however, as despite not always being noticeable, there are a few moments where the CGI becomes extremely obvious due to the film’s smaller budget and can take the viewer out of the film for a moment or two. In addition to this, the original score by Tyler Bates is not very memorable or unique despite doing a decent job of building tension throughout the film, as the soundtrack rises and changes over-time to fit the more tense and chaotic feel of the narrative. However, the score can also feel a little out-of-place when some of the more comedic scenes come into play, but this issue is also noticeable when it comes to the tone of the film, as despite much of the comedy actually working fairly well, the film sometimes changes from horrific imagery to humour a little too quickly.

One of the main elements of the film is obviously the gory deaths, as the story resolves pretty much completely around the deaths of the various characters, and while the film does have a few memorable moments and kills. I was a little dissatisfied with the variety, as the majority of the characters seem to die simply from gunshots, rather than the film getting creative and making better use of the office location it’s set-in, perhaps by having characters use office/everyday equipment and supplies as improvised weapons.

As you may also expect with a violent set-up such as this one, ‘The Belko Experiment’ also delivers on plenty of underlining themes and messages. Focusing mostly on how we react as humans to traumatic events and give-in to our most primal instincts and selfish desires, and while I do wish these ideas were delved into a little further. They are present throughout the film regardless, and I did find the way the film explored the ideas of human survival pretty interesting. Even my personal favourite scene within the film (which takes place in the main reception of the building) excels at expressing these themes in pretty a brutal way.

If all you’re searching for on your Saturday night is a bit of gory, comedic excitement with a few underlining themes mixed-in good measure. Then ‘The Belko Experiment’ happily delivers, as the film is an enjoyable thrill-ride with some quick-pacing and practical gore effects, regardless of some of its weak characters, CGI visuals and relatively simplistic story. Although it may not appeal to all, for me, it’s a decent 7/10.

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Get Out (2017) – Film Review

Comedian and actor Jordan Peele tests his hand at directing for the first time with this intelligent thriller, with a very original story and some great performances. The film is a definite step-up for Blumhouse Productions’ usual standard for films. However, although many viewers think this film is phenomenal throughout it’s most of it’s runtime, I personally don’t agree, as I actually feel there is more than a few areas in need of some improvement.

When a young African-American man visits his white girlfriend’s parents for the weekend, his simmering uneasiness about their reception of him eventually reaches an extreme boiling point. Leading ‘Chris’ to believe more sinister forces may be at work.

As already mentioned, the film’s narrative is original, and any regardless of quality, I always appreciate originality when it comes to storytelling. Despite ‘Get Out’ being initially pitched and advertised a horror however, the film is really anything but, as the film actually has many inclines of comedy mixed-in with some tension-filled moments here and there, and although the film is entertaining, ‘Get Out’ never really manages to build-up an eerie atmosphere or becomes particularly creepy, which is why I believe that the film is now classed as a thriller rather than a horror by most.

The best aspect of the film for me is by far the performances by the cast, as Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener are all exceptional throughout, with Daniel Kaluuya as the protagonist: ‘Chris Washington’ in particular really keeping me engaged. As he gives a very ranged performance, managing to portray a very likeable and realistic character within only a short period of time. Unfortunately, not all of the supporting cast quite level-up to this standard.

The cinematography by Toby Oliver is a decent throughout the film, as although there are plenty of attractive shots (most of which make great use of the large open spaces the majority of the story takes place-in (especially in the opening scene of the film, which is executed perfectly). There are also a variety of fairly bland shots, this may also be due to the film’s colour palette however, as throughout the film the use of a very restrictive colour palette results in the film feeling a little visually dull, rather than using its colours to play into its story or genre.

Personally, the weakest element of the film for me is the original score by Michael Abels, as the entire soundtrack itself feels very unusual, and although unique, it usually comes-off as incredibly distracting throughout many scenes within the film. Using an orchestra as well as vocals, the score attempts to reflect some of the more surreal scenes nearing the end of the film, and although I appreciate the attempt, I simply don’t think it works, with the track: ‘Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga’ feeling particularly out-of-place as a result of its bizarre lyrics.

Although the original score may be lacking, the writing throughout the film is brilliant throughout. As director/writer Jordan Peele balances the comedy and tension well, in addition to building-up an engaging mystery throughout the story, as every piece of dialogue contains many subtle clues and hidden meanings which come into play later in the narrative. Of course, with a plot such as this one, there is also an enormous amount of themes and social commentary underneath the story itself, and while I did find the majority of the film’s ideas very interesting and thought-provoking, I also found that some of the themes of racism and social issues can sometimes overshadow the film’s main story.

In conclusion, ‘Get Out’ is a decent thriller, as despite the fact that the performances and writing on-display throughout the film is definitely impressive, I still feel the lack of an eerie atmosphere in addition to a suitable original score for the film’s tone really hurt the film. Regardless of this, ‘Get Out’ is still a decent 7/10 overall, while nothing absolutely amazing, the film definitely has it’s moments, and I would say the film is a solid watch if you enjoy the occasional thriller.

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Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) – Film Review

A weird, violent and very unpredictable film, Dan Gilroy director of one of my all-time favourite films: ‘Nightcrawler’, works all his charm and creativity into this horror/drama/mystery/dark comedy? It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly what the genre of this film is. Alongside this, similar to some other films I’ve reviewed, I’d say this is definitely not a film for everyone. But for those who it will appeal to, you will surely enjoy yourself.

After a series of paintings by an unknown artist are discovered, a supernatural force enacts revenge on those who have allowed their greed to get in the way of art. With an original and unusual narrative like this, you are sure to find many memorable scenes and characters, and this is what the film truly delivers on.

The film is mostly built around the shocking deaths throughout the film, as various characters get killed off in different ways. Leaving the rest of the characters in a state of confusion and panic, this allows the film to delve into bits and pieces of characterisation (granted not a lot) in addition to exploring various ideas of what ‘art’ actually is and we criticise and commercialise it, and despite the film not going incredibly in-depth with these ideas, I did still find many of them and the themes of greed and ego interesting.

Jake Gyllenhaal is essentially the main protagonist of the film: ‘Morf Vandewalt’ a very eccentric and strange character who seems to be a parody of over-the-top art critics. Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Toni Collette, Natalia Dyer and John Malkovich also all lend their talents to the film. Along with the decent writing, their great performances really help give each character a distinct personality. Unexpectedly however, Zawe Ashton is a true standout of the film for me, only really knowing her from Channel 4’s ‘Fresh Meat’, here she portrays a very different character than ones before.

The cinematography by Robert Elswit also gives the film a very clean look, utilizing many different shots throughout. I still do think the film could’ve done more with the camera work though, especially when compared to Dan Gilroy’s previous films. The does also combine cinematography well with the beautiful sets and locations, giving the film a great visual appeal overall. The original score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders also lends it’s hand to the creepy atmosphere at multiple points throughout the film, yet can also change to more calming or light-hearted when it needs to. 

Although the tone can really vary throughout the film, it never comes off as unbalanced. Comedy is used at points during the story but never to the point of ruining the eerie atmosphere or character moments. When the film does shift into full horror however, we get easily my favourite moments of the film, as it’s these moments we get some very cool CGI effects and unique visuals. As well as a great build-up of intrigue and tension, with the eventual death at the end of the scene usually being very creative, despite not always being very gory.

My main two issues with the film resolve mostly around the pacing of the film, as the film can come off as very slow and can really drag the story down at points. As well as the use of John Malkovich’s character: ‘Piers’, as this character appears in the very first scene of the film and then again later into the runtime. However, he doesn’t really have any impact on the overall narrative, and really felt to me like the film was just using his bland character to fill up screen-time.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought of: ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ on my initial viewing of the film, as the film does suffer from some problems and isn’t quite the incredibly entertaining piece of gory fun I wanted it to be. But I still enjoyed myself through its weird atmosphere and interesting ideas, and it is a film I could maybe see myself returning too at some point. A decent 6/10 overall.

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) – Film Review

The western genre used to be extremely popular back in the golden age of Hollywood, but in recent years however, westerns have mostly died off, as aside from a few honourable mentions such as: ‘True Grit’, ‘The Sisters Brothers’ and ‘Django Unchained’. The western genre as a whole has run mostly dry… until now that is. As beloved directors Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (The Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men) return to the silver screen for this brilliant western anthology.

Consisting of six different stories of life and violence in the Old West, the film follows tales of a singing gunslinger, a bank robber, a travelling impresario, an elderly prospector, a wagon train, and a perverse pair of bounty hunters.

This diverse set of stories and characters really keep the film engaging from start-to-finish, as the film constantly jumps between characters and locations all whilst ensuring that it keeps its decent pacing and usual Coen Brother’s dark sense of humour intact. Resulting in the film feeling extremely refreshing, as superhero blockbusters and jump-scare filled horrors have really taken over the film industry in recent years. So revisiting an old yet classic genre (especially with this modern spin) is truly a breath of fresh air. Especially with the Coen Brother’s brilliant direction.

The performances by every member of the enormous cast are pretty excellent all around. As Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Thomas Waits, Zoe Kazan, Jonjo O’Neill and Brendan Gleeson (just to name a few) are all brilliant when portraying their varied and interesting characters, with Tim Blake Nelson definitely being the clear stand-out for me with his extremely funny and charming portrayal of the title character: ‘Buster Scruggs’.

Throughout the runtime, the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is almost flawless, as the film utilizes a variety of beautiful shots which perfectly capture the visual appeal of classic westerns. The original score by Carter Burwell is also pretty great, as the soundtrack uses slow guitar stings and an enormous list of classic country songs to build-up atmosphere, with the best of these definitely being: ‘When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings’.

One aspect of the film I absolutely adore is the Coen’s usual style of writing, as every character throughout the film is given plenty of comedic moments and memorable lines, which really helped make many of the characters with slightly-less development more likeable. Another element that also really drew my attention during my first viewing was the incredible sets and costumes the film had on full-display, as considering the locations/costumes are some of the main factors of engaging the audience into the story and it’s time-period. It was clear they were pulling-out all the stops. As every location always felt very real and lived in, with the character’s clothes being no different.

My personal favourite narrative of the six would most likely be the opening story, sharing the same name as the title of the film: ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’. This opening was just such as joy to watch, balancing dark humour with a classic western set-up brilliantly, in addition to the fantastic performance from Tim Blake Nelson as already mentioned. However, this is also where my biggest criticism of the film comes in, as although they definitely aren’t awful, the last two stories are easily the weakest of the film. As although we do get some great character moments and fun scenes within these stories, I couldn’t help but feel they simply weren’t as memorable or as charming as the others leading-up to them. Perhaps if these two stories we’re placed earlier in the film it wouldn’t be such an issue, but it simply leaves the viewer with a bad taste in their mouth afterwards.

‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ proves once again that westerns are far from gone when it comes to film, as the Coen Brothers once again take the audience for a trip into the wild west with complete success. As this anthology is just as hilarious as it is visually impressive and well-acted, regardless of whether or not the stories are quite on the same level, the film is still an 8/10 overall from me.

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Mom and Dad (2018) – Film Review

I was very disappointed upon my initial watch of: ‘Mom and Dad’, as I originally went into this one anticipating an extremely funny, gory and over-the-top dark comedy. Featuring an equally over-the-top performance by Nicolas Cage. However, I soon found out this wasn’t the case at all, as the film didn’t deliver enough on most of the elements I was expecting, resulting in an extremely weird film for the wrong reasons.

When a teenage daughter returns home after a day at school, she and her younger brother must try to survive a twenty-four hour period in which a mass hysteria of unknown origins causes parents to violently kill their own children. Although never fully explored, I personally feel this strange yet unique idea for a narrative is one of the best elements of the film.

But with a plot sounding this insane, and of course featuring Nicolas Cage (a man known for his crazy and very memorable performances) I expected something truly special for the comedy-horror genre. But I was very underwhelmed. As the film didn’t really deliver on any of it’s best aspects for me, with the story is very simple and barely getting any development beyond the initial idea, with the same sadly being said for the characters.

The film also gives nowhere near enough screen-time to Nicholas Cage, as although he does have a few memorable moments throughout the story. It’s his co-star Selma Blair who takes up the majority of the scenes, and considering his name is all over the marketing, and his over-the-top style of acting would suit a film like this perfectly, it’s not unfair to have expected more from him. The children in the film portrayed by Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur are both decent but very forgettable.

In regards to the actual filmmaking, the film is nothing too impressive. As film contains mostly bland cinematography by Daniel Pearl, relying on large amounts of shaky-cam for the majority of the runtime. The editing in the film is also very distracting, as aside from the opening title sequence of the film which is framed very similar to the opening of a family sitcom, which I found quite amusing. Unfortunately, everything after this intro I did not. As the film’s editing comes off as very messy and out-of-time at points, as it feels to me like director Bryan Taylor was trying to capture a similar tone to his ‘Crank’ series of films. With the film feels very energetic and fast-paced, but it simply comes off as unusual to me.

One of the element of the film I did sum-what enjoy however is the original score composed by ‘Mr. Bill’. As the film’s soundtrack does help to build tension during many of the chase scenes. However, although I do like this score for its’s originality, it doesn’t always fit within the film or it’s pacing. Alongside this, the film also seems to shy away from more violent scenes, as we only see a few actual deaths on-screen. The remainder of the violence is usually off-screen, only showing small bits of blood to the audience now and then, for a fun comedy-horror like this, I believe that’s a huge mistake. As I feel the film should have gone all-in on the gore/fun factor.

In conclusion, I wasn’t very impressed with ‘Mom and Dad’, I feel a film like this would’ve been extremely entertaining if done correctly. But the film really falls short of being the fun gore-fest it set out to be. If the film was more along the lines of something like: ‘Shaun of the Dead’ or ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’ I think it could’ve been something really enjoyable. As I do believe director Bryan Taylor is somewhat talented, being both the director and writer of this film, I could see him directing another strange comedy like this in the future (hopefully one a little better though). I’d give the film a low 3/10 overall.

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The Cabin in the Woods (2011) – Film Review

A personal favourite horror classic of mine, Drew Goddard (Bad Times at the El Royale) directs his first feature film with this creepy yet hilarious original story. The plot alone is enough to watch this film, as without spoiling anything, it near enough becomes impossible to predict where this film is going. The more the film unravels, the more interested you become, and by twenty minutes in I found myself incredibly entertained.

We begin the story with the usual horror set-up, a bunch of teens all fitting the stereotypes of the slasher genre head up to an old cabin in the woods for a weekend of partying. Yet things soon turn out to not quite be what they seem, as it appears someone (or something) is manipulating events.

The film overall is basically a dissection of horror films and the clichés that come with them, whilst also being a horror film at the same-time. However, although the film does build-up a decent atmosphere throughout, the horror aspect of the film is easily its weakest element. As I always found myself laughing far more at its comedic scenes, rather than finding myself on edge over during the tension-filled ones.

Being a typical horror story like this however, always comes the risk of using young unknown actors for the teens, with the exception of maybe Chris Hemsworth of course (who was mostly unknown at this point). Yet I think the entire cast did a phenomenal job, especially Fran Kranz as ‘Marty’, who got many laughs out of me and completely nailed the ‘Stoner’ type attitude, mostly as a result of the extensive prop and behaviour training he went through before filming in order fo further fit his character. Richard Jenkins from: ‘Step Brothers’ and ‘The Shape of Water’ is also great within the film as ‘Sitterson’, as for his role in the story, I’ll leave that a mystery for now.

Many of the visuals in the film come off as your usual standard horror flick, alongside the cinematography by Peter Deming, which of course is nothing special. But there is the occasional pleasing shot, or even a throwback shot to classic horror film every so often, with ‘Friday the 13th’ being the most noticeable. However, the actual design of the cabin set itself, as well as many of the creatures throughout the film, is easily one of my favourite elements. As the costumes are nothing short of incredibly detailed, and really help give each creature it’s own distinct look and feel.

The original score by David Julyan is your standard horror film soundtrack, further playing into the idea of a dissection of the genre, and despite being very bland it does back-up many of the eerie scenes regardless. The editing is also nothing phenomenal, but with a narrative this original and the writing being as hilarious as it is. I’m willing to give them a thumbs-up. Especially when you consider the last twenty minutes of the film, which is probably some of the most fun I’ve had watching a horror flick.

Another weaker aspect of the film is also related to the visuals, as the film was made on a smaller budget the CGI in many of the scenes is very noticeable, and although it doesn’t completely ruin a scene, it can take you out of the film for a second or two. Thankfully, CGI isn’t used very heavily throughout the film. I also feel this smaller-budget might have had an impact of the runtime, as the film feels a little short to me and could’ve done with being slightly longer to further flush elements out.

In conclusion, I love ‘The Cabin in the Woods’, from the wonderfully crafted creatures to the way the story unfolds, to the various nods to previous entries in the horror genre. I think Goddard has made a flawless dissection of why we love horror films and the traits within them. Although not prefect, I’m still eagerly anticipating his next film and I really hope he keeps this trend of interesting filmmaking going. An 8/10 from me, a definite watch for any horror fan.

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The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014) – Film Review

Wes Anderson’s visually spectacular tale of murder, elegance and crime is far more light-hearted than I was initially expecting. Utilizing a bright colour palette, unique cinematography and a wonderful score by Alexandre Desplat. The film brings all the usual elements of Wes Anderson’s style that I adore, especially coming straight off the back of his two previous films that I have seen (Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs).

‘Gustave H’, a concierge of the legendary ‘Grand Budapest Hotel’, alongside his new lobby boy: ‘Zero’. Embark on a dangerous journey following a mysterious murder and the disappearance of a priceless Renaissance painting, soon leading them into the middle of a feud over an enormous family fortune.

The film definitely does have a particular artistic flair which his animated flicks do not carry, as in nearly every wide-shot in the film we are greeted with what almost looks like a painting. These paintings are almost used as backdrops throughout the film, and blend seamlessly with the bright pale colour palette of the film. Even with this colour palette and mostly up-beat tone however, the film is not afraid to dive into darker territory if needed in order to serve the story. This is definitely a change from his previous flicks, ‘Fantastic Mr. Fox’ mostly in mind here, but it was a welcome one regardless.

In addition to his style, Anderson also does a brilliant job when it comes to the writing, as the film is gushing with hilarious and memorable lines throughout. Many of the comedic lines caught me completely off-guard, with some of the humour being extremely dark. But with a cast this large and talented, you’re almost guaranteed to get comedic gold. In particular, I really enjoyed the performances by Ralph Fiennes, Bill Murray and Willem Dafoe, who you could really tell they enjoyed their time on set.

Robert D. Yeoman handles the cinematography within the film, which is of course brilliant. As not only does it contain the usual style expected from Anderson, but the cinematography even backs up the narrative of the film, as many characters within the story feel isolated, and as a result are framed completely alone. But pretty much all the cinematography throughout the runtime is fantastic of course. The original score by Alexandre Desplat is also a great aspect of the film, as he creates a very memorable soundtrack here which fits the tone of the film perfectly and really backs up many of the comedic scenes, with the tracks: ‘Mr. Moustafa’ and ‘The Cold-Blooded Murder of Deputy Vilmos Kovacs’ being my personal favourites.

For the most part, the protagonists of the film are well-written, we understand who they are within the early stages of the story. Yet as the story continues along, we continue to learn more about them. However, if I had to point out a flaw in the film it’s definitely the antagonists of the film, William Dafoe does an excellent job as the deadly hitman, whilst Adrien Brody also does a decent job as his boss. Beyond that however, the characters are very flat and are given little to no development throughout the film.

Director Wes Anderson once again also pays serious attention to detail, as in many shots there’s always small hidden gags or visual references hidden away to spot. The filmmaking itself is also used for a lot of visual storytelling e.g. the lonely characters and their framing within the shots as already mentioned.

In conclusion, I was very impressed with ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’, as aside from the issue I have with the antagonists of the narrative, the film succeeds in nearly every category for me, and was a very enjoyable watch throughout. Combining Wes Anderson’s great visual style with a brilliant main and supporting cast as well as many comedic moments. The film is definitely worth a watch, and definitely worth a 9/10. It’s fair to say Wes Anderson will always have a viewer from me going forward.

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