Pixels (2015) – Film Review

Despite its undeniably-promising story and talented supporting cast, 2015’s ‘Pixels’ is sure to greatly disappoint any viewer hoping for a hilarious and nostalgic throwback to 1980s arcade classics. As due to heavy involvement from Adam Sandler and his production company Happy Madison Productions both on and off-screen, ‘Pixels’ massively stumbles in its transition from the low-budget short film it’s originally based on into an explosive blockbuster, losing all of its charm and creative ideas to become simply another Adam Sandler comedy with some inspired visual effects.

Plot Summary: When aliens misinterpret a satellite video feed of 1980s arcade games as a declaration of war, they begin a full-scale invasion of Earth using games like ‘PAC-MAN,’ ‘Donkey Kong,’ ‘Centipede’ and ‘Space Invaders’ as models for their various assaults. Eventually leading U.S. President: ‘Will Cooper’ to call on his childhood best friend, 80s video game champion: ‘Sam Brenner,’ to lead a team of old-school arcaders to help defeat the alien invaders and save the planet.

As previously mentioned, ‘Pixels’ is actually based on a 2011 short film of the same name by French director Patrick Jean, which since being uploaded to YouTube has racked-in well over two-million views. And whilst I personally believe the short film’s story of video games characters invading Earth is a superb set-up for sci-fi/comedy, ‘Pixels’ unique plot is quickly butchered by screenwriter Tim Herlihy’s continuous writing fall-backs, as the film is content to stick with the usual Sandler template, using its inventive premise as simply framework to focus on a tired romantic hook-up storyline. Not even director Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) manages to elevate the film’s story when the eight-bit antagonists aren’t on-screen, which is all quite frustrating when considering the film’s enormous budget of over £64 million.

Although the supporting cast of Peter Dinklage, Brian Cox and Sean Bean do feel as if they are trying their best considering the mélange of underwritten characters and awful dialogue they have to work with. Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad and surprisingly even Michelle Monaghan are all immensely irritating throughout the film, playing into their standard goofball personas without even a single attempt to lean outside of their comfort-zones as actors. Josh Gad certainly suffers the worst in this regard however, as his character: ‘Ludlow Lamonsoff’ serves as the cliché for video game enthusiasts, portraying ‘Ludlow’ as a loud yet awkward loner who spends all of his time playing games rather than socialising, a gag which gets old very quick.

The cinematography by Amir Mokri does allow for a few pleasant shots here and there, but whenever the film focuses more on dialogue than action, the camerawork seemingly takes a swift dive into drabness. Luckily, this is where ‘Pixels’ many, many visual effects shots come into play, adding a great level of colour and 1980s authenticity into the film just as the many arcade cabinets littering the sets do, even if games such as: ‘Asteroids,’ ‘Battle Zone’ and ‘Gravitar’ did cause issues on-set due to them being vector-class games, meaning the camera couldn’t pick-up their gameplay from certain angles without the use of a special monitor.

When it comes to the original score by Henry Jackman, ‘Pixels’ doesn’t improve much here either, as tracks like ‘The Invasion,’ ‘To the White House’ and ‘Sweet Spot’ only continue to empathise the true extent of the soundtrack’s bland and forgettable nature, and similar to Jackman’s score for: ‘Wreck-It Ralph,’ I couldn’t help but wonder as to why Jackman didn’t go for a more traditional eight-bit approach.

Whilst we never actually see the invader’s true form at any point during the film, ‘Pixel’s CG effects are consistent and by far the film’s finest attribute. As each iconic video game character is represented exactly as they were in their original game(s), just as colourful and robotic as when they first appeared to gamers during the 80s. And just like the original short film, when destroyed the various characters also explode, bursting into pixels (glowing multi-coloured cubes), before then configuring themselves back together to transform into another instantly-recognisable hieroglyph from video gaming’s past, which never fails to look enticing.

Overall, while I, like many others am not a Sandler fanatic, ‘Pixels’ is a film that truly baffles me as to just how far it is from its original inspiration. As even in spite of its annoying cast, childish characters and forced romantic subplot, there could still be a fairly enjoyable throwback to alien invasion flicks and 1980s gaming hidden somewhere within this mess. But when looking at the film head-on, I now think it’s just too hard to ignore all its problems, and while most had the common sense to stay clear of this abysmal sci-fi/comedy, I’m still amazed ‘Pixels’ managed to ruin all of its fleeting moments of eight-bit invaders wreaking havoc just to fall into Adam Sandler’s long list of detestable comedies. Final Rating: low 3/10.

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Hellboy (2019) – Film Review

In mid 2012, actor Ron Perlman once again endured the four-hour make-up routine required to transform him into his iconic character: ‘Hellboy’ and fulfill the Make-A-Wish request of a six-year-old boy with leukemia. Director Guillermo del Toro was so touched by this event that it inspired him to start production on a third: ‘Hellboy’ instalment. But following a dispute between del Toro and producer Mike Mignola, the project was soon cancelled, and instead, Mignola and his team began work on a reboot of the franchise, which finally released in 2019 to truly abysmal results.

Plot Summary: Whilst working side-by-side with his adopted father for the ‘Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence.’ ‘Hellboy,’ a supernatural creature who came into our world in 1944 as a result of a demonic Nazi ritual, struggles to accept which world he belongs to, that being one of monsters or one of men. All the while, an evil sorceress known as ‘The Blood Queen,’ returns to the modern world, eager to take her revenge on humanity for imprisoning her centuries ago…

According to Mike Mignola, the intention with this reboot was to replicant a style and tone closer to that of the original source material. As despite del Toro’s version of: ‘Hellboy’ often being light-hearted aside from one or two disturbing moments, the original comic series created by Mike Mignola is in reality, far darker and more gruesome. And whilst this goal of wanting to make a ‘Hellboy’ film more horror/fantasy-oriented rather than just a typical superhero blockbuster is commendable, this reboot of the series continuously stumbles due to this tonal-shift, even with talented director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers) overseeing the project. Yet this is only one of the film’s many problems, as its hard to sit through even a single viewing of: ‘Hellboy’ without noticing the film’s incredibly fast-pacing, awful comedic moments and beyond-messy plot, which for some reason draws from four different comic storylines.

‘Hellboy,’ or particularly, David Harbour’s performance as the titular character, is possibly the film’s finest aspect. As rather than just lazily mimicking Perlman’s beloved version of the character, Harbour displays a less mature interpretation of the superhero. Portraying the horned-hero as a conflicted character, younger and stronger than Perlman’s version, but unsure as to if he is a real hero, which is an interesting internal conflict to explore and about the only element of the film that is consistent. Then there is Ian McShane as ‘Hellboy’s father-figure, who is serviceable in his role alongside Milla Jovovich as the villainous: ‘Blood Queen,’ who unfortunately, gives one of the most over-the-top performances of her entire career here.

Aside from the small detail of the filmmakers ensuring the colour red is never present in the same scenes as ‘Hellboy’ himself (excluding scenes where blood is shed of course), the cinematography by Lorenzo Senatore is your usual affair for a superhero flick, having a handful of pleasant shots scattered amongst the plethora of bland hand-held camerawork utilised for action scenes and grand moments of destruction. But regardless of how impressive the cinematography may or may not be, there is no distracting from the film’s unappealing CG effects. As in spite of the creature department clearly trying their best with the detailed costumes/prosthetics on-display, nearly all of the CG effects throughout ‘Hellboy’ appear instantly-dated.

The original score by Benjamin Wallfisch is a peculiar concoction, being an odd mish-mash of orchestral and electronic tracks which only succeed in making the soundtrack feel quite dull when it’s not overly-loud and irritating. Or at least, that’s the score before mentioning it’s use of electric guitars, which try desperately to present the soundtrack as something ‘awesome,’ but only comes-off as annoying at best, with the film’s signature track: ‘Big Red’ being the biggest-offender for this.

However, an aspect of the film that is more in-line with del Toro’s previous ‘Hellboy’ adaptation is its creatures, as although the effects that bring them to-life aren’t impeccable, the actual creature designs are something be admired, with the ‘Hellboy’ comics clearly providing the filmmakers with plenty of visual-influence. Even ‘Hellboy’s redesign was inspired by David Harbour’s own features, with the crew adding a larger jaw and a heavier brow to further fit with Harbour’s facial structure.

To conclude, while I can appreciate the effort that went into ‘Hellboy’ in some areas, the film’s flaws are just so evident its near-impossible to ignore them. From its convoluted and overstuffed story to its dreadful CG effects, ‘Hellboy’s thrilling moments of action or amusing dark humour are minor when compared to its faults. Yet by far the most frustrating part of this reboot is that it stripped-away our final chance of seeing a third entry in the original: ‘Hellboy’ series, an instalment myself and many other fans of this beloved character had been wanting to see for quite sometime. Instead, we’re now stuck with this disappointing reboot, which failed miserably to reignite the spark of excitement in this superhero franchise. Final Rating: low 3/10.

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This Year in Film (2020) – Film List

Due to COVID-19, the film industry (much like the world itself) has deeply suffered this year, with many films be pushed-back or even put on-hold indefinitely. And while I obviously agree with all of the new precautions introduced for the safety of both the cast and crew for films currently in production, I’m also truly hoping that the film industry can recover by next year. Regardless, in no particular order, here’s my thoughts on what few films I did manage to see this year, which I will update in time as I get around to seeing any other films I may have missed.

Soul

A return to form for Pixar Animation, Pixar’s ‘Soul’ not only features the usual gorgeous animation the company is known for, but also delivers on an original and unique story with many fascinating ideas melded within. Although some of its concepts may be a little difficult for younger viewers to understand, ‘Soul’ is still a wonderful mixture of heart and creativity, and is such a breath of fresh-air for both the animated genre and Pixar themselves.

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Mank

Capturing the look and feel of a 1940s film, the sharply-written and brilliantly performed: ‘Mank,’ peers behind-the-scenes of one of the greatest films ever made, that being: ‘Citizen Kane,’ to tell an old Hollywood tale that is just as engaging as it is well-crafted. And while I don’t believe the film will end-up becoming a classic in its own right, as I could see general audiences finding the film quite dull, cinephiles will surely get a kick out of this remarkable drama.

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Tenet

Thrilling and distinctive yet very flawed in terms of its writing, ‘Tenet’ is nowhere near as compelling as many of Christopher Nolan’s other blockbusters, suffering from an incredibly undeveloped protagonist/antagonist as well as a handful of moments that feel like spectacle-over-substance. But through its impressive CG effects and exciting action sequences, ‘Tenet’ does certainly have plenty of entertainment-value even if it’s script was in need of some refinement.

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Mulan

Another of Disney’s live-action reimaginings of their beloved classics, the new incarnation of: ‘Mulan’ is beyond lacklustre, with its unlikable protagonist, dull filmmaking and more historically-accurate yet uninteresting story all being far less enjoyable than the original animated adventure. And with this film flopping at the box-office due to its purchasable release on Disney+, we can only hope that ‘Mulan’ is one of the last remakes Disney decides to force upon its viewers, but after looking at their current release schedule, this does seem unlikely.

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Scoob!

Serving as what was intended to be the first film in an animated Hanna-Barbara cinematic universe, ‘Scoob!’ Is an enormous missed opportunity for a reboot of: ‘Mystery Inc.’ As the film quickly becomes distracted by its singular goal of setting-up this interconnected universe and as a result, forgets to tell the entertaining and charming origin story its trailers promised, or even a classic spooky adventure more in-line with the original animated show.

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Onward

An intriguing idea/story quickly spoiled by its overly-fast-pacing and overstuffed world, before ‘Soul’ came along and redeemed their streak, ‘Onward’ simply felt like another disappointing film in the long-list of underwhelming Pixar flicks released in recent years. Whilst the modern-fantasy world the film takes-place within does take its opportunities to be amusing or charming, it also isn’t very memorable in the long-run.

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The Hunt

While the political-commentary throughout ‘The Hunt’ is quite easy to ignore if you only desire to see some dark comedy and intense violence. ‘The Hunt’ still somehow managed to be one of the most controversial yet also most neglected films of the year, eventually leading Blumhouse Pictures to use the film’s controversy to market the film, which really displays the company’s lack of faith in the film itself, which is nothing short of a slightly more comedic but just as bland ‘Purge’ flick.

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Possessor

From the son of David Cronenberg, Brandon Cronenberg. ‘Possessor’ may not be quite as ground-breaking as horror/sci-fi classics like ‘The Fly’ or ‘Scanners’, but this original and intriguing narrative is only complimented by its compelling themes and exceptional filmmaking, and serves as a brilliant second outing for this iconic director’s son, who I personally can’t wait to see more from.

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Extraction

Although ‘Extraction’ is very loose on story and characterisation alike, the film’s exciting action set-pieces will be more than enough to satisfy action fanatics. As Chris Hemsworth fittingly places all of his training and gruff-exterior to the forefront for the film’s many violent, exhilarating and occasionally even over-the-top moments.

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His House

A low-budget British horror with some intriguing themes, ‘His House’ is a terrifying and eye-opening look at the specters of the refugee experience. Directed by first-time filmmaker Remi Weekes, the film is certainly not for everyone, as it avoids many common horror clichés in favour of aggressively playing into its central concept, which usually works quite well aside from one or two moments where it can feel a little heavy-handed.

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Underwater

A fantastic throwback to 80s creature-features, ‘Underwater’ was undoubtedly one of the most overlooked entries into the sci-if genre this year. And although it’s story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, this simplistic yet flashy flick will surely please any fans of cult horrors and science fiction stories, having heavy inspirations of both H.P. Lovecraft and even the 1979 classic: ‘Alien.’

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The Gentlemen

Going back to his ‘Snatch’ roots, ‘The Gentlemen’ directed by the brilliant Guy Richie is simultaneously stylish, well-crafted and hilarious. Whilst I personally feel ‘Snatch’ still has a slight edge over Richie’s latest feature, it’s still a very enjoyable ride nevertheless, and is more than likely one of my favourites from this year.

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The Midnight Sky

Iconic actor George Clooney returned to directing this year with the Netflix Original: ‘The Midnight Sky,’ and even though it lacks the dramatic heft to match its narrative scale, its flaws are often balanced by its thoughtful themes and poignant performances from both Felicity Jones and George Clooney himself.

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The Invisible Man

Another one of my personal favourites from this year, this remake of the classic 1930s monster flick: ‘The Invisible Man,’ is a refreshing and very well-directed take on the iconic character. Remaining tense and entertaining throughout its mostly original storyline, all the while continuing to impress with its excellent performances, effective cinematography and impactful original score.

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We Can Be Heroes

Attempting to capture both the imagination of younger viewers as well as the nostalgia of older audiences who grew-up with colourful family flicks like ‘SpyKids’ and ‘The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl,’ ‘We Can Be Heroes’ had an opportunity to interject some light-hearted fun into this challenging year. But with its predictable and overly-marketed focus on superheroes, not to mention its clearly inexperienced young cast and abysmal CG effects and costume-design, ‘We Can Be Heroes’ ended-up being just as irritating as it was corny, lacking any of the charm those older films had for all their problems.

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Color Out of Space

A wonderful slice of cosmic-horror, ‘Color Out of Space’ explores this subgenre and its weirdly-fascinating story remarkably well. As although I personally adore cosmic-horror, this subgenre has always received little attention in modern-day cinema, yet this adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s novel of the same name is just as creative and disturbing as it’s source material, sometimes even more so despite a few moments of robotic dialogue and weak acting, resulting in a strange yet truly captivating experience.

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The New Mutants

Finally, after years and years of waiting, the horror-esque superhero flick: ‘The New Mutants’ was released in 2020. And it’s fair to say it made its way into cinemas with little applause, missing its train of anticipation by years at this point, and as a result, ‘The New Mutants’ seemed to have just gone unwatched by most, and for those who did see the film such as myself, simply experienced a dull, cheesy and messy film which felt unsure of what it even wanted to be by the runtime’s end.

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Sonic the Hedgehog

Jim Carrey makes his long-awaited return to the silver screen in this adaptation of the iconic video game character: ‘Sonic the Hedgehog,’ delivering an expectedly over-the-top performance as the film’s antagonist: ‘Dr. Robotnik.’ And while the film follows the usual formula many family films stick-to, never really doing anything unexpected or overly-impressive, it does remain enjoyable-enough for children and fans of the video game series alike throughout its simplistic story.

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The Devil All the Time

Gripping, tense and dramatic, ‘The Devil All the Time’s descent into darkness may be harrowing to the point of unwatchability for some, and isn’t a film I’d recommend to general audiences. Having a devilish mix of neo-noir intrigue and gothic horror based on William Hjortsberg’s page-turning novel, the film is a compelling feature only elevated by the strong work from its all-star cast.

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The King of Staten Island

This comedy/drama from director Judd Apatow isn’t one of the director’s best films to-date, as ‘The King of Staten Island’s uncertain tone and indulgent length stop this coming-of-age dramedy’s ability to find itself, but Pete Davidson’s soulful performance and the director’s usual flair for comedy do manage to keep the film afloat.

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The Babysitter: Killer Queen

Whilst this sequel to 2017’s ‘The Babysitter’ does delve more into the supernatural aspects only hinted at in the first film, ‘The Babysitter: Killer Queen’ is worse than it’s predecessor when it comes to both its comedy and it’s pacing. Ending-up as a mostly straight-forward and drawn-out chase sequence similar to the original film, only this time without the amusing jokes or clever horror satire to hold it up.

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The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

Aside from its attractive animation and extremely vibrant colour palette, the third major film focusing on the iconic cartoon character: ‘SpongeBob SquarePants,’ contains barley any story or hilarious moments. Instead, relying on bizarre celebrity cameos and strange dream sequences to fill it’s short runtime, which is sure to do nothing other than leave children bored, adults confused and fans of the beloved animated show immensely disappointed.

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Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – Film Review

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

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

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

For a large majority of the film, Tom Cruise actively plays against his usual type, as ‘Major William Cage’ is essentially the complete opposite of his character: ‘Ethan Hunt’ from the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, with most of the character’s screen-time being spent dying continuously in horrific (yet also somewhat comedic) ways, alongside his genuinely cowardly and untrained demeanour. Cruise also bounces-off his co-star Emily Blunt very well throughout the film, with Blunt portraying the complete opposite of Cruise’s character as ‘Rita Vrataski,’ a hard-as-nails solider who is a skilled as they come. And whilst a romantic subplot can sometimes derail a film’s story, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ manages to pull its off mostly due to the chemistry between its duo.

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

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

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

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

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The Hunger Games (2012) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Capturing the bleak and ominous tone of the story flawlessly, the original score by Michael Giacchino is also continuously brilliant, and personally I think very underrated. As immediately from the stylish opening sequence which informs the audience of all of the events that have taken-place prior to this film, the backing-track titled: ‘Level Plaguing Field’ really elevates the scene’s overall emotional impact, with later tracks like ‘Past Their Primates,’ ‘Along Simian Lines’ and the 1968 country-rock song: ‘The Weight’ continuing this trend. 

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

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

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Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) – Film Review

Matthew Vaughn, critically acclaimed director of: ‘Layer Cake,’ ‘Kick-Ass’ and ‘X-Men: First Class’ tries his hand at another comic book adaptation with ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service.’ Based on the comic book series of the same name by Mark Millar, and serving as a throwback to (and often parody of) classic spy/espionage films such as the ‘James Bond’ series and ‘The Bourne Saga,’ ‘Kingsman’ very quickly became a beloved franchise after just its first instalment, mostly as a result of its hilarious self-aware moments of humour and exhilarating action set-pieces.

Plot Summary: When the British spy organisation: ‘Kingsman’ recruits an unrefined, but promising London street teen into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program. ‘Eggsy’ begins to follow in his father’s footsteps as he takes-part in the organisation’s many dangerous training exercises. All the while, the twisted tech genius: ‘Valentine,’ begins to execute a master plan which will potentially put the entire world at risk.

Violent, thrilling and fun, the first ‘Kingsman’ film was actually made partly in conjunction with the comic book itself, as director Matthew Vaughn and comic book writer Mark Millar have been good friends for many years since they collaborated previously-on ‘Kick-Ass’ in 2010 to great success, prompting them to reunite for: ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service.’ Which aside from a few minor changes, is actually a mostly faithful adaptation of the first entry in the comic book series, alongside also being a superb gateway into the world for any non-fans of the comic series as the film establishes who the ‘Kingsman’ are and what they do, in little time.

Protagonist: ‘Gary Unwin,’ usually going by his nickname: ‘Eggsy,’ is portrayed by Taron Egerton in one of his earliest film roles, who does portray a reckless teenager very well, becoming an instantly likeable character within only a short amount of screen-time. Its Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson who both steal the film with their fantastic characters however, as both actors play completely against their usual type here, with Firth taking-on the deadly spy: ‘Harry Hart’ who rarely even smiles (creating quite a contrast from his usual romantic-comedies) and according to second unit director Bradley James Allan, even did 80% of his own stunts during filming. Whilst Jackson also gives one of his most memorable performances to date as the film’s antagonist: ‘Valentine,’ who throughout the film retains an aggressive lisp and occasionally childish demeanour, a big leap from much of his previous work.

Although not as outrageously creative as it could’ve been in my opinion, the film’s cinematography by George Richmond does serve the story very effectively. As many of the film’s over-the-top and exciting action scenes are displayed proudly and clearly without too much use of hand-held camera or excessive editing. During a few scenes, the camera even begins to spin around the characters as they fight, giving the film a real sense of movement.

The original score by both Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson has quickly become very beloved similar to the film itself, and it’s easy to see why. As the film utilises its trumpet-heavy orchestral score to create a soundtrack which would fit perfectly within a classic espionage series like ‘The Avengers,’ ‘The Ipcress File’ or ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ From ‘Manners Maketh Man’ and ‘To Become a Kingsman’ to especially ‘Valentine’s theme (which is noticeably more electronic to fit with the tech-savvy character). Nearly every track featured in the original score is both memorable, and usually, also cut in sync with the film’s stylish editing to great effect. 

Needless to say, the aspect that ‘Kingsman’ is most known for is certainly its variety of impressive action sequences, which as already mentioned, do away with the usual overly-shaky and chaotic execution of most modern action flicks in favour of more fast-paced and exaggerated fight choreography with plenty of graphic violence to-boot. Resulting in many entertaining action scenes even if they aren’t completely flawless, as the majority of these scenes do unfortunately still suffer from their overly-heavy usage of CG effects (usually for blood and severed limbs) which I feel does somewhat take-away from many of these thrilling moments, even if they are still sure to impress most on their initial viewing.

Overall, while many spy films may be far more focused-on delivering more grounded and gritty missions for their audiences these days, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ truly revels in its absurdity. As even in spite of the problems this stirring espionage film faces, it still manages to remain an amusing and exciting experience throughout its runtime. Combing its array of phenomenal action scenes with some outstanding stunts and a now-iconic original score, the first instalment in ‘The Kingsman’ series may have now launched a blockbuster franchise, but for many, I feel it will always remain their favourite part of this continuing story. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) – Film Review

Overstuffed with plot-lines, characters and ideas alike, this sequel to the ‘Spider-Man’ reboot from 2012 lacks much of anything to truly get invested in. As this time around, returning director Marc Webb alongside the long list of Sony producers seem to be far more focused-on setting-up future sequels and spin-offs for the franchise rather than the current story. Resulting in a superhero flick that’s just as muddled and inconsistent as it is forgettable, and while the film did receive fairly average reviews upon its initial release, I’ve personally always felt ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is anything but ‘Amazing.’

Plot Summary: Continuing the adventures of the wall-crawler, New York City’s hero is thrown-into action once again as he faces his newest threat: ‘Electro,’ whilst also balancing his normal day-to-day life as ‘Peter Parker’ with that of being ‘Spider-Man.’

It’s easy to see that throughout its production, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ faced the problem of having far too many creative minds involved, as director Mark Webb fought against producers constantly as to what would be featured and explored within the superhero sequel. This is why the film eventually ended-up having three separate antagonists, in addition to also focusing on ‘Peter’s various relationships and the surrounding mystery of his parents, which when all combined, make the film feel completely directionless, as the audience is given very little time to become invested in any specific aspect of the story before quickly moving on.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone return to their roles of: ‘Peter Parker’ and ‘Gwen Stacey’ for the sequel, whos romantic chemistry is still one of the film’s best elements similar to the previous instalment. New to the cast this time however, is Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and Paul Giamatti, who all take-on various roles as villains from ‘Spider-Man’s iconic rogue’s gallery, with the three portraying: ‘Electro,’ ‘Green Goblin’ and ‘The Rhino’ respectively. Yet despite all these actors giving some fantastic performances in the past, most of the cast give extremely over-the-top and sometimes even strange performances here, which is only made worse as a result of the film’s large amount of cringy dialogue and absence of a consistent tone.

The film’s decent yet not overly inventive cinematography by Dan Mindel is unfortunately also hurt by the erratic editing throughout the film, as whilst not always present, occasionally, the editing does result in quite rapid cuts, with some shots that utilise slow-motion even being cut to when the ones before/afterwards did not, stopping the film from ever obtaining a smooth flow. Of course, although its usually a no-brainer when it comes to modern superhero flicks, the film’s CG effects are one of its most impressive and visually pleasing aspects, with many of: ‘Electro’s shocking abilities being visualised as if they were ripped straight from the original source material.

One of the most bizarre original scores in Zimmer’s catalogue of work, the original score by both him and Pharrell Williams gives the impression it’s made-up of a number of different tracks from other unrelated films. As aside from the signature track: ‘I’m Spider-Man,’ which does suitably feel like a heroic and upbeat theme for the beloved superhero. Many of the other tracks simply don’t mesh together well when they manage to stray away from being generic. However, its the infamous track: ‘I’m Electro’ which certainly feels the most out-of-place, as the track employs electronic dubstep with vocals underneath by Pharrell himself that give voice to ‘Electro’s compulsive thoughts.

‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is even surprisingly poor when it comes to its action, as whilst the film does attempt to be very ‘large-scale’ with its action set-pieces, having many of them take-place within the centre of New York City (where nearly all of the sequel was actually filmed). Much of the action also heavily relies on slow-motion, cheesy quips/jokes and CG visuals, all of which give the film’s action scenes an insufficiency of tension due to their over-extravagance.

Overall, after ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s release, it’s fair to say that Sony was put into a tough situation. As in spite of the film doing fairly well at the box-office, it was clear that fans had no further interest in seeing Sony’s many planned franchise instalments. Eventually leading them to strike a deal with Disney to bring ‘Spider-Man’ into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now portrayed by the young actor Tom Holland. Although some may be saddened this version of the iconic web-head will more than likely never return to our screens, other than the comic-accurate suit and great chemistry between Garfield and Stone, I feel this sequel (and rebooted series in general) had very little to offer to begin with, and I’m thankful Marvel is now taking the character in a different direction rather than just regurgitating the same narrative we’ve seen before. Final Rating: low 3/10.

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Tron: Legacy (2010) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Venom (2018) – Film Review

Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Gangster Squad, Zombieland: Double Tap), ‘Venom’ follows in the footsteps of many other mature superhero flicks before it such as: ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Kiss-Ass.’ Attempting to focus more on the story of an anti-hero than the usual heroically noble protagonist we expect from this genre, all alongside some dark comedy and plenty of action scenes for good measure. However, just from the first half an hour alone, it’s clear that ‘Venom’ bites-off far more than it can chew.

Plot Summary: When investigative journalist: ‘Eddie Brock’ attempts a comeback by investigating recent illegal experiments in San Francisco, he soon end-ups accidentally becoming the host of an alien symbiote that gives him a violent super alter-ego known as ‘Venom.’ But after a shadowy organisation begins looking for a symbiote of their own, ‘Eddie’ must use his newfound powers to protect his planet.

Although it may surprise many, ‘Venom’ has actually an age rating of twelve in the United Kingdom, which is very bizarre as the film clearly tries to appeal to an older audience throughout its runtime, with ‘Venom’ constantly committing horrific acts like biting people’s heads-off, yet of course, in a completely bloodless manor. As ‘Venom’ has always been one of: ‘Spider-Man’s most violent and sinister villains, the film feels incredibly inconsistent as a result of this rating, and could’ve been so much more if it indulged further into its dark central character.

Tom Hardy sadly gives one of his weakest performances to date here, as throughout nearly the entirety of the film, Tom Hardy’s portrayal of: ‘Eddie’ is very over-the-top, with his overly-nervous reactions becoming a little obnoxious after a while. This is also due in part to the large amount of improvising Tom Hardy did on-set, usually from items he noticed in various filming locations, including the now infamous: ‘Lobster Tank’ scene, in which, ‘Eddie’ publicly climbs into a restaurant’s lobster aquarium after claiming he’s burning-up from a fever. The cast also features Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed as the film’s antagonist, who also give fairly underwhelming performances. Unfortunately, the characterisation isn’t much of an improvement either, as every character is nothing more than a cardboard cut-out, with the antagonist: ‘Carlton Drake’ in particular having a confusing and undeveloped motivation for his malevolent scheme.

The cinematography by Matthew Libatique is actually quite chaotic during a number of scenes, as the shots attempt to keep-up with ‘Venom’ as he tears his way through various buildings and enemies, yet when the film goes back to its more character-focused scenes, the cinematography is relatively bland, mostly relying on shot-reverse-shot for the majority of these moments. The writing throughout the narrative is also severely lacking, as aside from a couple of humorous conversations between ‘Eddie’ and ‘Venom,’ the film is truly dripping with line-after-line of cheesy dialogue, much of which has been heard time-and-again in other superhero flicks.

Although there are a number of forgettable superhero scores out-there, the original score by Ludwig Göransson is pretty dull overall. As aside from working decently during some of the more heroic moments within the story, the soundtrack is really nothing more than a straight-forward superhero affair with a few inclines horror thrown-in to fit more with the character of: ‘Venom.’ A few of these tracks do back-up the film’s action scenes well however, as ‘Venom’ does have its fair share of exciting moments despite its predictable story, many of which make great use of: ‘Venom’s unique symbiote abilities.

Without a doubt, the worst aspect of: ‘Venom’ is it’s CG effects, as throughout the film both ‘Venom’ and his symbiote antagonist: ‘Riot’ are far too shiny and continuously bounce around the screen as if they are animated cartoon characters, with nearly every visual effect feeling as if it has virtually no weight or density. Although it could probably go without saying, the lack of any kind appearance/reference from/to ‘Spider-Man’ himself is also quite distracting, as Sony didn’t actually obtain the rights to use the character within this film, nor have this film take-place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, despite the company’s many attempts at tricking its viewers into believing it does.

While ‘Venom’ is nowhere near as awful as some other superhero blockbusters, with ‘Catwomen,’ ‘Fantastic Four’ and ‘Suicide Squad’ all being far worse in terms of filmmaking. ‘Venom’ is simply a decent idea ruined by its poor execution, as aside from the film’s accuracy to the comic books its based on as well as it’s memorable action set-pieces, the film feels like nothing more than a cliché superhero story we’ve seen many times before, and I personally don’t feel it deserves the huge amount of praise it’s received from most audiences. Unless you’re an enormous fan of this iconic anti-hero, I’d probably recommend you give this character’s first individual outing a miss. Final Rating: 3/10.

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