The Shallows (2016) – Film Review

Ever since the release of the original blockbuster: ‘Jaws’ in 1975, shark films have never quite managed to reach the same heights, with flops such as: ‘Deep Blue Sea’, ‘Bait’, ’47 Meters Down’ and ‘Shark Night’ feeling quite distant from reality as they present the animals as nothing but blood-thirsty monsters that devour brain-dead characters. And while ‘The Shallows’ does feel like a slight improvement over many of these other flicks (mostly in regards to its protagonist), the film still falters at many turns.

Plot Summary: After losing her mother in an accident, medical student: ‘Nancy’ dumps her responsibilities in Galveston and travels to Mexico, hitchhiking a ride to a hidden beach that her mother loved when she was young. But following her discovery of a whale carcass whilst surfing, ‘Nancy’ is attacked by a great white shark, leaving her bleeding and stranded on a small rock, with no sign of rescue.

Releasing in 2016 to great success, ‘The Shallows’ was one of the first major shark films released into cinemas in quite some-time, but as well as being a creature-feature, the film also serves as a survival thriller, along the same lines of: ‘127 Hours Later’. As ‘Nancy’ has to face not only the shark, but also hunger, thirst, weather, and of course, the severe leg injury she receives when she first encounters the apex-predator. Yet despite this focus making for a far more engaging experience, the narrative simultaneously tries its hand at character development, with ‘Nancy’ receiving plenty of charactersation in the film’s first act, which is sadly made less interesting as its delivered through some immensely corny dialogue.

Blake Lively, who is by no means a renowned actress, with only two films throughout her career featuring her in the top-billed cast, carries the film solo, and her commitment to this role is certainly admirable, as Lively gives a very intense performance as a result of: ‘Nancy’ being in agonising pain for most of the runtime. Additionally, Lively did most of her own stunts for the film aside from her character’s surfing. In fact, in one particular scene, where ‘Nancy’ crushes a crab and then proceeds to eat it raw, Lively is actually eating a real crab that the production crew found dead on a nearby beach, so her reactions of disgust are genuine even though the crab initially getting crushed was achieved through CGI. This is all made even more impressive by the fact that Lively was pregnant with her second child at the time of filming. 

Flavio Martínez Labiano’s cinematography does provide a handful of attractive and memorable shots when not focusing on the characters, these usually being when the shots revolve more around the shark lurking beneath the water, or when the camerawork effectively uses framing to display how far ‘Nancy’ is from safety. And of course, with the film being shot off the Gold Coast of Australia (excluding a few scenes which were shot in a large water-tank), the film’s signature beach and crystal-clear waves are always an alluring sight, which is a superb visual-clash with the horror that lies within.

The original score by Marco Beltrami serves the story well enough, as the film’s soundtrack drifts from beautiful calming tracks like ‘Paddle In’ and ‘Nancy and Dad Facetime’, to much more tense tracks such as: ‘Main Title’ and ‘Towards the Dead Whale’. However, its when the story shifts into full on threat that the score begins to feel extremely generic, most notably, the track: ‘Underwater Attack’, which is barley distinguishable from any other thriller soundtrack as it doesn’t encapsulate either the beauty or isolation of the ocean as many of the other tracks do.

Unlike ‘Jaws’ or even ‘Deep Blue Sea’ during a few moments, ‘The Shallows’ exclusively uses CGI to bring its shark to-life, which is unfortunate. As while there was clearly a huge level of detail put-into the shark, as director Jaume Collet Serra (Orphan, Unknown, Non-Stop) worked closely with the art department to ensure a sense of realism in the shark’s design, having the team do thousands of hours of research. This all sadly goes to waste due to the demands of the film’s script, as the shark in ‘The Shallows’ rarely acts like a real animal, often feeling like just a hulking murderous monster whose CG effects drastically vary depending on the shot.

To conclude, ‘The Shallows’ is a step-up from a number of other shark flicks, but even with its above-average filmmaking and solid performance from Blake Lively. The film still falls into many of the common issues shark films do, as the story favours the idea of using its shark as a monster of the ocean and that alone, and this on-top of the film’s occasionally strange stylistic choices, shoddy CG effects and cheesy dialogue, result in the film becoming just another poor attempt at revitalising the great white shark as a cinematically enthralling antagonist. A high 4/10 overall.

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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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The Babadook (2014) – Film Review

Surreal, engrossing and truly terrifying during some scenes, ‘The Babadook’ is in my opinion, one of the best modern horrors released in quite some-time. Through its excellent filmmaking, astounding performances and horrifying yet also intriguing creature, ‘The Babadook’ attempts to do something different with its horror, going-about its story with far more depth than many other films within its genre, soon becoming an experience that’s just as immersive as it is disturbing for anyone who stumbles upon it.

Plot Summary: Following the death of her husband in a car-crash, the now-widow: ‘Amelia’ struggles to cope as a single mother, as her son’s chaotic behaviour and constant paranoia of monsters makes her friends become distant and even her sanity begin to fade. Until one night, after the pair read a mysterious pop-up book titled: ‘Mister Babadook’, they soon discover a malevolent creature has manifested itself into the dark corners of their home.

Directed by Jennifer Kent (The Nightingale), ‘The Babadook’ is a horror film that has much more to offer beneath its surface, with themes of family, grief and trauma throughout. Based-on the short film: ‘Monster’ also directed by Jennifer Kent, ‘The Babadook’ actually takes much of its inspiration from one of Kent’s real-world friends, a single mother whose son was traumatised by a monstrous figure he thought he saw everywhere in the house. So Kent imagined a scenario in which this creature was real, eventually leading her to create her short film, before then wanting to expand-on the idea further.

The main area ‘The Babadook’ excels where most modern horrors fail is the characters. Only featuring a main cast of two terrific actors, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, with Wiseman only being six-years-old at the time of filming. The mother and son of the film are both compelling characters for very different reasons, as the mother: ‘Amelia’ struggles to cope as a single parent. Alienating her friends/collogues and becoming more lonely and sexually-frustrated as time passes, mostly due to her son: ‘Samuel’. Who continuously struggles with anxiety and his absence of a real father, which makes it challenging for him to mix with other children. This all adding-up to making the film just as effective as a family drama as it is a supernatural horror.

Although Radek Ladczuk’s cinematography isn’t quite as impressive as the film’s magnificent editing, which allows for plenty of quick visual storytelling in addition to giving the film a level of style that I personally didn’t expect. ‘The Babadook’ does still feature a number of attractive shots, which are enormously enhanced by the film’s dread-inducing lighting. As not too dissimilar to the horror flick: ‘Lights Out’ from 2016, ‘The Babadook’ himself only appears within the shadows. So with nearly the entire runtime being set within a dark run-down house (usually also at night), the creature could be lurking within any shot, and occasionally, even is.

Slightly fairytale-esque in parts, the original score by Jed Kurzel may not be a stand-out horror score up-there with the likes of: ‘Halloween’ or the original: ‘Psycho’. But the score is still a fair amount more creative than many other modern horror scores, with tracks such as: ‘Trippy Television’ and ‘It’s Only a Story’ giving the film a very dreamlike feel, sounding almost as if they were composed for a Tim Burton project at points. That is, before the soundtrack becomes a little more of the standard horror affair with tracks like ‘The Playground’ and ‘Re-Writing the Story’, despite these tracks still helping to build tension throughout.

Immensely creepy throughout the film, ‘The Babadook’ himself is a very memorable and frightening presence in spite of his fairly goofy name. As every one of his appearances is always elevated by his bone-chilling sound design, which is very uncanny in a similar fashion to the original score. The only major issue I take with the film is the lack of encounters the characters actually have with the creature, as while many of his scenes are extremely well-executed, ‘Mister Babadook’ just doesn’t have quite enough screen-time for me. However, this problem also extends to nearly all of the film’s side characters, as ‘Claire’, ‘Robbie’ and ‘Mrs. Roach’ all feel under-utilised within the narrative, even though the story’s main focus is very clearly the mother and son relationship.

To conclude, ‘The Babadook’ is a brilliantly-crafted horror, mostly as a result of its atmospheric cinematography/lighting and masterful editing, alongside its great performances and array of tension-filled moments. Whilst perhaps not for every horror-addict due to its sparse amount of jump-scares and very low body-count. Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is certainty a horror flick I’d recommend to most, and considering Kent has stated that the film will never receive a sequel, its clear the film was a true passion project that won’t fall into the trap many successful horrors do of milking themselves into a over-blown franchise. Overall, an solid 8/10.

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Midnight Special (2016) – Film Review

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud, Loving), ‘Midnight Special’ may not be one of the most original or imaginative science fiction films to be released in recent years. But regardless of its many recycled story elements and unexplored ideas, this low-budget sci-fi drama/thriller still manages to retain a sufficient amount of entertaining scenes, impressive CG effects and terrific performances to-boot. All equalling to a fairly enjoyable experience, even if the film never quite reaches its full potential.

Plot Summary: ‘Alton Meyer’ is a boy unlike any other, a child with powerful abilities and strange weaknesses alike. But after ‘Alton’s abilities attract the attention of both an isolated cult and the U.S. government, ‘Alton’s father: ‘Roy’, vows to protect his son as the two rival forces pursue the pair across the country.

Although ‘Midnight Special’ was Nichols’ first film made in-conjunction with a large production company, Nichols wanted to ensure he had full creative control over the project just as he had previously with his low-budget indie films. So despite Nichols originally considering making the film with an independent film studio rather than with Warner Bros Pictures. During his last meeting with the company, the producers actually agreed to all his demands, due to the small-budget needed for the film. Meaning Nichols got his complete-control, and the film was more successful at the box-office as a result of its wider release. This did however, mean many audience members were left a little dissatisfied with the film, as ‘Midnight Special’ doesn’t follow the usual sci-fi clichés many would expect.

Michael Shannon leads the film as the concerned father: ‘Roy Meyer’, and as per-usual, excels in his role as this simple yet engaging character, wanting to protect his son at any cost, occasionally even at the expense of others. Playing into the age-old theme of doing anything to protect your child. Then there is also Jaeden Martell as ‘Alton’ himself, which considering his young age of twelve during filming, gives a competent performance. As even though ‘Alton’ may look like a normal child, he acts in a very robotic and eccentric manner. Whilst this is completely intentional, this type of performance does sometimes make it quite difficult to resonate with ‘Alton’ as effectively as his father. The supporting cast of Joel Edgerton, Kristen Dunst and Adam Driver are all also great additions to the film, even though their characters don’t add much to the overall narrative.

Well shot throughout, Adam Stone’s cinematography for: ‘Midnight Special’ may not be some of the most astounding camerawork ever seen within the sci-fi genre, but due to the film mostly being set at night, the film does manage to enhance many of its already attractive shots through its dim lighting. In addition to the cinematography, the film also makes fantastic use of its many CG effects, with the majority of them being used quite sparsely to ensure they all appear as detailed as possible without going over-budget.

The original score by David Wingo also isn’t too memorable when compared to some other scores composed for science fiction flicks, yet it still greatly adds to the film. Alternating from slow piano-focused tracks to more electronic pulse-pounding tracks when necessary, the entire soundtrack is both atmospheric and suitably sci-fi, with my two personal favourite tracks: ‘Doak and Levi’ and ‘New World’ being the perfect two examples of this change in tone when it comes to the score. The film also features a new rendition of the classic folk song: ‘Midnight Special’ during its end credits, which is actually where the film gets its title.

Yet in spite of its appealing cinematography and remarkable original score, the area where ‘Midnight Special’ falls flat is its story. As whilst many stories similar to this have been executed-well in film before, most notably the sci-fi classic: ‘Starman’ from 1984. ‘Midnight Special’ revels in not providing its audience with much information, keeping many aspects of: ‘Alton’s character, his abilities, and the world the story takes-place within a mystery. This is most evident when it comes to the (presumably) sinister cult known as ‘The Ranch’, as while the cult does play a small role in the story, they remain mostly underdeveloped throughout the film, and as the runtime approaches its end, soon disappear entirely.

To conclude, ‘Midnight Special’ is a sci-fi film that will appeal to a more niche audience. As whilst a simple pitch of the plot may sound both familiar and interesting to many fans of the genre, its the way ‘Midnight Special’ goes about its story that will divide many viewers. If the film was to provide a little more backstory/exposition here-and-there, perhaps the story would’ve felt more fleshed-out and matched with the brilliant efforts of its filmmaking. But as it is, ‘Midnight Special’ feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity, as it remains a decent film that could’ve been so much more. All in all, a high 6/10.

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Where the Wild Things Are (2009) – Film Review

Although its themes and ideas may go over many younger viewer’s heads, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ feels like a film that reflects what many felt whilst being a child themselves. As writer/director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Her) creates a moving, thoughtful and occasionally even woeful experience that dramatically elevates its original source material, with a charming soundtrack compiled by musician ‘Karen O’ and plenty of wonderful creature designs and locations. ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is truly a unique yet uncompromising film that sends its audience back to the innocent days of childhood.

Plot Summary: Following a fight with his mother and yearning for adventure, a young boy runs-away from home and sails to a mysterious island filled with creatures who take him in as their king after ‘Max’ makes a promise to solve all their problems.

As previously mentioned, the film adaptation of: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is a large step-up from the original children’s book it’s based on by Maurice Sendak. As while the classic story of a young boy visiting a land of fantastical creatures in order to escape reality has always been a staple of children’s literature, Jonze manages to deepen the overall narrative with his adaptation. Having themes of maturity, imagination and balancing ones own emotions (all of which are presented in a mature and subtle way). In fact, the film’s production company, Warner Brothers, were initially so unhappy with the final product (as it was far-less family-friendly than they imagined) that they wanted Jonze to reshoot the entire film, instead, the two agreed to satisfy both parties by giving the film more time in production.

Max Records leads the cast as the excitable and resentful: ‘Max’, who gives a genuinely brilliant performance considering the actor’s young age at the time of filming. Alongside him of course, is the group of creatures portrayed by the voice cast of Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker and Paul Dano. Whose voices all match their respective characters flawlessly. Its the late James Gandolfini as ‘Carol’ who really shines within the film however, having the most memorable design of the all the creatures within the original book, ‘Carol’ serves as a reflection of: ‘Max’s childish attributes, from his tantrums to his jealously and sadness, all of which is given such life through Gandolfini’s performance.

While the film’s colour palette remains fairly vibrant throughout despite featuring a large amount of beiges and browns, the cinematography by Lance Acord is sadly the weakest aspect of the film. As ignoring the large array of stunning sunrise/sunset shots, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ utilises hand-held camera for the majority of its runtime, which when combined with the film’s occasionally chaotic editing can make some scenes feel a little impetuous. Yet despite not having an overly large-budget, the film’s CG effects do still hold-up remarkably well, with all of the facial expressions of the creatures and extensions to many of the island’s locations not seeming even remotely out-of-place.

The film’s soundtrack complied by musician ‘Karen O’ really benefits to the film’s already calming and mature presentation. From the opening track: ‘Igloo’ through to the more upbeat tracks: ‘Rumpus’ and ‘Sailing Home’, to even the film’s more lyric-based tracks with ‘All is Love’ and ‘Hideaway’. The soundtrack for: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ doesn’t feel like a traditional film score in the best possible sense, giving more of an impression of a slow-paced yet beautiful acoustic guitar album, which just like the film itself, is immensely underappreciated.

However, one of my personal favourite elements of the film and certainly the most visually-striking has to be the many different designs of the creatures who live on the island. As not only do the designs fit each character’s personality, but every design is also a perfect live-action recreation of the creature’s original appearances within the pages of the book, with all of the creatures being brought-to-life using enormous and heavily-detailed suits from the Jim Henson Company rather than just simply using CGI. The Jim Henson Company are known of course, for the creation of: ‘The Muppets’, whose familiar charm isn’t lost here.

‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is to me, an incredibly underrated modern classic. Despite its few flaws, the film surpasses its source material and then some, creating a genuinely gut-wrenching experience at points. Whilst the film has been criticised by some since its release mostly as a result of being seen as too mature and possibly even a little frighting for younger viewers. I believe the film gets across a number of important messages for children, and I appreciate the film’s more in-depth approach to crafting an imaginative family adventure. Overall, a low 8/10. Even though Spike Jonze may not have an extensive catalogue of films as a director, his work never ceases to impress me, and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is just another piece of the puzzle.

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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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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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Hidden Figures (2016) – Film Review

Based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, the film adaptation of: ‘Hidden Figures’ serves as compelling and entertaining delve into the past as it tells the true story of the mostly unknown women who helped push-forward the space program. Through its brilliant performances from Taraji P. Henson and Kevin Costner (among the rest of the cast) alongside its magnificent writing, the film manages to keep its audience constantly invested in spite of its occasionally bland filmmaking.

Plot Summary: Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three brilliant African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s cross all gender and race barriers within their workplace to follow their dreams and inspire generations, serving as the brain-force to help send astronaut John Glenn into Earth’s orbit.

Despite focusing-on three separate stories of three separate characters, ‘Hidden Figures’ never feels unfocused, as each of the three protagonists receive a decent amount of development as well as at least one or more memorable scenes between them. As the film displays its main theme of female and black empowerment proudly, without ever becoming overly cliché as it avoids many of the over-done tropes that other films built-around the racist barriers of the 60s can begin to rely-on. For example, the film’s opening scene in which the trio of women are confronted by a white police officer, as this moment could’ve easily felt like overly-familiar ground should it have been handled-poorly, yet aside from some inappropriate stereotyping at first, the scene actually results in the three of them heading to NASA without any horrific racial ridiculing.

The three protagonists portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are all excellent throughout the film, as each of them remain determined and outgoing despite the world’s many attempts to drag them down, always fighting against the unfair judgement of them simply for the way they look, repeatedly with a lack of preachy dialogue. Alongside them, the supporting cast of Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kristen Dunst and Mahershala Ali are all great even if some of their characters are a little under-utilised within the narrative. One of the reasons the performances within the film are as accurate as they are is due to some of the cast actually having the opportunity to meet with the story’s icons before production began. Most notably Taraji P. Henson, who met with the real Katherine Johnson (who was ninety-eight-years-old at the time) after she signed-on for the role.

The cinematography by Mandy Walker is serviceable overall, as while the film features a good number of attractive shots, they are dragged-down by its many mundane ones. However, ‘Hidden Figures’ does actually make effective yet subtle use of colour throughout its runtime. As the film’s colour palette constantly reflects the mood within each scene, with the many of the sets at NASA where calculations and preparations take-place utilising mostly sterile whites, greys, and silvers, which creates a sharp contrast to the warm/inviting colours of the ladies’ homes.

Hanz Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch handle the original score for the film, which is an incredibly mixed-bag overall. As whilst the film does have some decent tracks such as: ‘Katherine’, ‘Mission Control’ and ‘Hidden Figures’, the soundtrack also features a number of pop-songs by Pharrell Willaims, which don’t remotely fit the tone of the film or the story’s time-period. Usually resulting in it feeling very forced and sometimes even takes-away from the film’s dramatic moments. This is most likely a result of Pharrell Willaims overseeing all aspects of the film’s soundtrack, which I personally feel is a huge misstep as his style of music really isn’t suited for a drama.

In addition to portraying the female heroes of the real-life story as accurately as possible, the film also makes substantial use of its time-period. As to keep the viewer up-to-date with what knowledge that the American public had at the time, ‘Hidden Figures’ occasionally cuts-away to stock footage of rocket testings or president John F. Kennedy making public announcements, both which are surprisingly effective despite not being used continuously. Personally however, I still would’ve preferred a bigger presence of songs from the 1960s rather than the constant barrage of pop-songs the film contains, as mentioned previously.

In conclusion, I feel ‘Hidden Figures’ is an important film many should experience. As whilst there has been an array of films based around the misogynistic/racist nature of the 1950s/1960s, ‘Hidden Figures’ is for sure a stand-out through its engaging and thought-provoking narrative. Although films like ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘BlacKkKlansman’ may be slightly more powerful with their message(s), I feel ‘Hidden Figures’ is fairly underrated when it comes to historical dramas, as the film is simultaneously both informing and touching. Overall, a high 7/10.

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Inside Out (2015) – Film Review

From the iconic animation studio Pixar, who brought-us animated classics such as: ‘Toy Story’, ‘Monsters, Inc.’, ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Ratatouille’ among many others. Comes another emotional and beautifully animated adventure with some surprisingly deep concepts and ideas to-boot. As ‘Inside Out’ takes-place nearly entirely inside the mind of a young girl, focusing on how her various emotions handle new and unexpected changes within her life.

Plot Summary: After young ‘Riley’ is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions: ‘Joy’, ‘Sadness’, ‘Fear’, ‘Anger’ and ‘Disgust’ all being to conflict-on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school. But after a freak accident causes ‘Joy’ and ‘Sadness’ to be flung from ‘Headquarters’ with ‘Riley’s ‘Core Memories’, the two have to find their way back before its too late.

Even though ‘Inside Out’ usually streamlines many of its story’s concepts and themes to make them more understandable for children, the animated flick also never fails to remain both very imaginative and very colourful throughout its runtime. As with the film’s story taking-place within the mind of an eleven-year-old girl, ‘Inside Out’ doesn’t hold-back from bringing-to-life the world within a child’s head, a world not confined by the barriers of logic and psychics. From ‘Imagination Land’ to ‘The Train of Thought’ and ‘Long Term Memory’, ‘Inside Out’ constantly explores plenty of amusing locations and is always building-on its enchanting ideas.

Despite some characters not receiving quite as much screen-time as others, ‘Riley’s various emotions are portrayed superbly by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling, with Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith as ‘Joy’ and ‘Sadness’ being the true stand-outs of the cast. As their two characters bounce extremely well of each other due to the polarity of their friendship, which also makes for plenty of humorous moments. Richard Kind also makes an appearance within the film as ‘Bing Bong’, ‘Riley’s imaginary friend from when she was younger, who in many ways is the true heart of the film. As alongside his variety of entertaining quirks (some of which do result in a few immature jokes). ‘Bing Bong’ also ends-up becoming a very likeable and charming character mostly as a result of the scene: ‘The Memory Dump’, easily one of: ‘Inside Out’s most impactful and heartbreaking moments.

Filled with plenty of inventive shots throughout, the animated cinematography does add to the film’s already incredibly vibrant colour palette and varied locations, with a constant array of attractive shots, the film’s visuals are always appealing to look at when inside ‘Riley’s mind. Yet when the viewer is thrown back into the real world, the colour palette is far more pale and tame, creating a clear visual contrast between the two.

Featuring a number of memorable tracks such as: ‘Bundle of Joy’, ‘Team Building’, ‘Rainbow Flyer’ and even the track that plays over the film’s ending credits: ‘The Joy of Credits’, the original score by Michael Giacchino is truly one of the best scores Pixar has to offer, even when taking into account their already impressive list of soundtracks. As nearly all of the film’s best moments whether comedic or emotional are elevated by the film’s wonderful score, with many of the tracks throughout ‘Inside Out’ displaying great variety and talent.

Similar to many of the other films from Pixar’s catalogue, the animation throughout ‘Inside Out’ is simply gorgeous. As not only do all of the designs of the different emotions differ drastically depending-on which emotion they representing, but the level of detail on every character and location throughout the film is astounding, with the individual particles that make-up each emotion even being visible during many of the film’s close-ups. Interestingly, when ‘Inside Out’ was in the very early stages of its development, many other emotions were also considered as characters (around twenty-seven in total). But after the writer’s decided to just settle-on the core five emotions to make the narrative less-complicated, many other potential characters had to be left-on the cutting-room floor, e.g. ‘Surprise’, ‘Pride’, and ‘Trust’.

Overall, ‘Inside Out’ is definitely worth an 8/10. Although this animated flick isn’t without its faults, ‘Inside Out’ still remains a delightful experience from start-to-finish, mostly due to its unique story, great voice performances and extraordinary visuals, the film really feels as if there isn’t the slightest ounce of laziness put-into crafting it. Whilst there has been plenty of other exceptional animated classics produced by Pixar in the past, their fifteenth animated feature is certainly one of their most experimental yet least discussed to date, which I think is a shame. As while ‘Inside Out’ may be aimed mostly towards children, I feel this film might speak an even deeper volume to adults.

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Whiplash (2014) – Film Review

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (La La Land, First Man). This indie drama appeared almost out of nowhere to incredible reviews from both critics and audiences alike in 2014, featuring some unbelievable performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons alongside an engaging narrative and well-written script. ‘Whiplash’ truly raises the bar for quality when it comes to the independent film sector and small-budget filmmaking in general.

Plot Summary: A promising young drummer (Andrew) attending a prestigious music academy finds himself under the wing of the most respected professor the academy has to offer who has gained an infamous reputation over-time due to his constant abuse towards students who aren’t reaching their full potential.

Being shot in only nineteen days, ‘Whiplash’ feels a true passion project for director Damien Chazelle, with large portions of the film even being based-on Chazelle’s own experiences of being part of a band during his high school days. Despite this promising inspiration, to even receive funding for: ‘Whiplash’ Chazelle actually had to turn a small portion of the script into a short film, which he then submitted to numerous different short film festivals. In which, J.K. Simmons played the same character whilst Miles Teller’s character was originally known as ‘Johnny Simmons’ before later being changed.

Miles Teller (who has actually played the drums since he was fifteen) portrays the film’s protagonist: ‘Andrew’ very well. Presenting ‘Andrew’ as a likeable and talented drummer who soon becomes incredibly self-righteous as he begins to dismantle his own life after becoming more and more obsessed with trying to perfect his musical talent. However, its the criminally underrated J.K. Simmons who truly steals the film. Portraying ‘Andrew’s tutor: ‘Fletcher’ as a strict and sometimes even intimidating presence, usually resulting in ‘Andrew’ (as well as his many other students) being eager to impress him despite his constant ridiculing of them, a large amount of which the writing actually manages to make quite humourous without taking-away from the film’s drama. Melissa Benoist also makes a short appearance within the film as ‘Nicole’, a young girl who ‘Andrew’ has an affection for, yet despite her decent performance, ‘Nicole’ ends-up feeling very under-utilised due to her extremely short screen-time.

The cinematography by Sharone Meir is fairly solid throughout the film, while nothing overly extraordinary. The film’s various close-ups of the different drum kit pieces (as well as many other instruments) really gives the film an element of style, in addition to making for a number of memorable and visually pleasing shots. Alongside this is also the film’s colour palette, which mostly consists of dirty yellows and oranges, giving the film an almost rustic appeal, not too dissimilar to a drum kit cymbal itself.

Throughout the runtime, the original score by Justin Hurwitz is predominantly based around drums (obviously due to the story’s focus on-such) aside from a few tracks which utilize various trumpets and piano. Meaning all of the tracks feel very Jazz-like, which fits perfectly with the film as nearly every-song that is performed by ‘Andrew’ and his fellow band members is always within this genre of music. My personal favourite from this long list of impressive work is more than likely the signature track: ‘Overture’, simply due to the track’s enormous amount of range.

As previously mentioned, Miles Teller has played the drums since he was fifteen, and throughout the film, ‘Andrew’ receives numerous blisters on his hands due to his vigorous and unconventional style of jazz drumming. While most are aware of this, it may surprise some viewers to know that this style of drumming is Teller’s own. Meaning some of the blood that appears on his hands and drumsticks within the film’s more intense scenes is actually real. Despite this commitment however, ‘Whiplash’ still suffers from one major flaw, this being the film’s overly fast-pacing. As due to the film’s tight runtime, ‘Whiplash’ does sprint through its story without much hesitation. Although it doesn’t feel rushed per-say, the film’s fast-pacing does begin to make certain aspects of its story feel undeveloped as a result, e.g. ‘Andrew’s various relationships and his life outside of music.

‘Whiplash’ may be a low-budget indie flick, but through its marvellous performances, brilliant writing and attractive cinematography. Chazelle manages to craft a very entertaining film focused around music that isn’t simply an adaptation of a classic theatre performance. Whilst it may not feature the vibrant and varied colour palette of: ‘La La Land’ or the stunning CG visuals of: ‘First Man’, Damien Chazelle’s directorial debut is certainty an astounding effort and a memorable musical experience to say the least. Overall, very a well-deserved 8/10.

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