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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Spree (2020) – Film Review

The world of social-media influencers vying for clicks, likes, views and retweets all to achieve viral fandom is a twisted one, and ‘Spree’ is far from the first film to delve into this subject matter with a satirical lens. What makes the film different is its secondary inspiration, being based on the true story of an Uber driver who went on a killing spree in 2016, ‘Spree’ has plenty of comically-violent scenes to accompany its social-media commentary. Yet even in spite of Joe Keery’s magnetic screen-presence, ‘Spree’ is a film that always feels as if its on the verge of being something exceptional, but it’s reach far exceeds its grasp.

Plot Summary: Desperate for an online following, twenty-three-year-old wannabe influencer and rideshare driver: ‘Kurt Kunkle’ devises a malicious scheme to go viral, installing a series of cameras inside his rideshare car in order to film his unsuspecting victims as they meet a gruesome end…

Co-written/directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko (A Wonderful Cloud, Wobble Palace, We Are), ‘Spree’ was initially envisioned as a claustrophobic horror based-around the story of the previously mentioned serial killing Uber driver who claimed a “Devil Figure” inside of the rideshare app was controlling his actions. And although this terrifying true story would have certainly provided enough inspiration for an indie horror, Kotlyarenko and co-writer Gene McHugh soon began to swerve more into dark comedy after giving the killer an intense craving for attention. This eventually evolved into the film’s central theme of social-media obsession, which while often used to great effect to mock online influencers, does frequently feel underdeveloped and retracts from the film’s tension, pushing ‘Kurt’s killing spree into the background in exchange for awkward character moments, which will inevitably disappoint those hoping to see plenty of grisly kills.

Joe Keery portrays the film’s psychotic protagonist: ‘Kurt Kunkle,’ who is suitably just as upbeat and inappropriate as many real-world influencers. This realism is most likely a result of Eugene Kotlyarenko and Joe Keery’s research, as the pair watched many cringe compilations of people online without a big following to help create the character, and this comes across through Keery’s body-movements and relentless optimism, making for an occasionally irritating yet charismatic protagonist as ‘Kurt’ always remains hopeful his night of murder will increase his follower-count after trying (and failing) for the past decade. Its just unfortunate that ‘Kurt’ doesn’t receive much development over the course of the runtime aside from one or two scenes, with ‘Kurt’s life outside of the internet intentionally being left a mystery.

The cinematography by Jeff Leeds Cohn is obviously in the style of found-footage, but rather than simply having ‘Kurt’ film his every move similar to most found-footage flicks, the camera itself takes on numerous forms as the story is seemingly spliced-together through iPhone cameras/screens, dash-cams, body-cams and even CCTV footage. Yet despite this ever-changing camerawork ensuring ‘Spree’s visuals stay varied, there does come a point when it begins to feel as if the film is simply piling on footage, even sometimes having three shots displayed at once through a spilt-screen effect which does become slightly overwhelming, especially when combined with the film’s rapid-editing.

Whilst there a few found-footage films that have successfully integrated an original score without taking-away the sense of realism the subgenre provides, ‘Spree’ is most definitely not one of those films. As although the pulsing-electronic score composed by James Ferraro does help to build excitement, the film’s soundtrack often plays-over scenes with no clear source, which does greatly dampen the illusion of the film being found-footage. 

Of course, with ‘Spree’ having a heavy focus around all things social-media, it would be crucial that the film stays truthful to what the internet is actually like (even through its cynical view). And while the film does have many scenarios that feel as though they lack realism, whether that’s due to incredibly forced dialogue or ‘Kurt’s beyond-moronic actions when trying to avoid the Los Angeles police force, anytime the film displays a phone-screen there is a certainty that every app/website will be a real brand and will be overflowing with detail. For example, ‘Kurt’s constant living-streaming never shies away from reality, meaning his stream’s comments are always rapidly unfurling with insults, jokes and questions all from distinct usernames.

In short, Joe Keery’s entertaining performance can’t distract from ‘Spree’s shallow critique of social-media. As whilst some may argue the story’s lack of depth is precisely the point, for me the film feels as if its unsure as to what to do with its concept, which is greatly disappointing. As I personally think a dark comedy revolving around the obsessive culture of social-media is ingenious, and films like ‘Ingrid Goes West’ prove this idea can be executed well. ‘Spree’ however, fails to deliver on this or its even promise of a violent and comedic thrill-ride. So, while I do still believe the film will have a niche appeal, ‘Spree’s apparent flaws are likely to stop most from hitting the subscribe button. Final Rating: high 4/10.

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Easy A (2010) – Film Review

Taking inspiration from romantic coming-of-age comedies like ‘Sixteen Candles,’ ‘Clueless’ and ‘Mean Girls,’ ‘Easy A’ released in 2010, certainly has its ups and downs. As despite Emma Stone leading the film with an extremely lively and charismatic performance, its hard to ignore the film’s immensely corny tone and many, many moments of humour that fall completely flat. Still, for those looking for a light-hearted morality tale about how a small lie can ramify out-of-control, ‘Easy A’ should suffice.

Plot Summary: After being prompted by her best friend to spill details of her boring weekend, ‘Olive Penderghast,’ a clean-cut seventeen-year-old high-schooler, decides to spice things-up by telling a little white lie about losing her virginity. But when the high-school busybody overhears their conversation and spreads it all over campus, ‘Olive’ suddenly becomes popular for all the wrong reasons…

Written by Bert V. Royal and directed by Will Gluck (Friends with Benefits, Annie, Peter Rabbit), ‘Easy A’ doesn’t strive too far from what we usually expect to see in our teenage romantic-comedies, taking-place primarily in a high-school and focusing on the rippling effects of: ‘Olive’s constant lies and her growing popularity after she fully-embraces her new persona as the school tart. And while I wouldn’t call ‘Easy A’s portrayal of an American high-school realistic per-say, many of the teenage characters we meet throughout the story are purposely represented as over-the-top stereotypes or even just one-note jokes through the film’s witty writing, which does vary from being hilarious to tiresome depending on the scene.

Possibly being the biggest role of her career at the time, Emma Stone’s performance is undoubtedly the film’s finest aspect, as Stone truly brings her all to the role, portraying ‘Olive’ with such self-assurance that she elevates the game of every actor/actress around her. Having perfect comic-timing and a strong yet not irritating playful attitude that ensures ‘Olive’ will remain a likable and intelligent character for viewers to follow. Then there is the supporting cast of Amanda Bynes, Penn Badgley, Stanley Tucci, Patricia Clarkson, Thomas Haden Church and Lisa Kudrow, who all attain at least one or two amusing moments even if many of their characters serve little-to-no purpose within the actual narrative.

With its story being set in California, ‘Easy A’ does utilise its West Coast setting for a handful of attractive wide-shots. But aside from these few shots, nearly all of the film’s cinematography by Michael Grady fails to display anything overly-interesting or creative. However, with that said, the film does flaunt its opening titles in a pretty imaginative fashion, having every cast/crew credit placed inside the shots themselves, whether that’s on the ground where characters are walking or placed on signs above the character’s heads, which is a fairly inventive way to avoid having each piece of text simply appear at the bottom of the screen.

Although the original score by Brad Segal is barley noticeable, ‘Easy A’ fills a large majority of its short runtime with a huge assortment of various pop-songs, from ‘Change of Seasons’ to ‘Cupid Shoot Me,’ ‘Trouble is a Friend,’ ‘Bad Reputation’ and of course, ‘Pocketful of Sunshine’ by Natasha Bedingfield (which essentially becomes a running joke within the film as a result of the song’s catchy nature). Yet regardless of how widespread or beloved many of these songs may be, the sheer amount of licensed music that appears in the film is almost overwhelming, and when combined with the film’s editing, soon begins to feel quite choppy when rushing from song-to-song.

While the plot of: ‘Easy A’ does parallel the romantic novel: ‘The Scarlet Letter’ in more ways than one, ‘Easy A’ isn’t exactly a film that’s subtle about its influences. So, just as the film embraces its similarities to that story with ‘Olive’ continuously mentioning both the novel and film in addition to wearing the scarlet letter ‘A’ on her clothes, ‘Easy A’ also takes clips from many of the films its directly inspired by. In particular, when it comes to John Hughes’ iconic filmography, as everything from ‘The Breakfast Club’ to ‘Ferris Buller’s Day Off’ to the previously mentioned ‘Sixteen Candles’ is not only referenced, but eventually, even sampled into the film during a clip-montage, which while unique, I couldn’t but think is a just a clever tactic of escaping criticisms regarding the film’s lack of originality in some areas.

Overall, whilst ‘Easy A’ owes an enormous debt to older (and in all honesty, better) teenage romantic-comedies, it is enjoyable in bit-size chunks, particularly for those who are fond of Emma Stone. As in many ways ‘Easy A’ was unknowingly a showcase for the actress, alluding to her future career in Oscar-winning films such as: ‘La La Land’ and ‘The Favourite.’ And even though I’m certain its underlining cheesiness and subplots that feel like afterthoughts will annoy some, in my opinion, ‘Easy A’ has its moments, but its unlikely to leave a strong impression. Final Rating: low 6/10.

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The Voices (2014) – Film Review

This obscure horror-comedy released in late 2014 will certainly make for a divisive viewing, as while ‘The Voices’ does feature an inspired use of colour and set-design alongside a stand-out performance from Ryan Reynolds, the film is also far more disturbing than much of its marketing would lead you to believe, swerving from absurd moments of humour to visceral moments of gore in a heart-beat. The resulting film essentially becoming a parody/throwback of/to classic horrors like ‘American Psycho,’ and is a far-cry from a realistic study of psychosis for better, and for worse.

Plot Summary: After working a nine-to-five job at his local bathtub factory, the mentally ill: ‘Jerry’ finds comfort in returning home to his beloved pets: ‘Bosco’ and ‘Mr. Whiskers.’ Until one day, with the help of his psychiatrist, ‘Jerry’ decides to pursue his office crush: ‘Fiona.’ But when their relationship takes a sudden, murderous turn leaving ‘Jerry’ with the corpse of his co-worker, he tries desperately to strive for normalcy, only to fall deeper into instability…

Early in the pre-production of: ‘The Voices,’ director Mark Romanek, best known for the 2002 drama: ‘One Hour Photo’ was attached as the film’s director, before Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken with Plums, Radioactive) later took-over as the head of the project. And whilst ‘The Voices’ does feel like quite a large shift from Satrapi’s usual work, its hard to know exactly which director would’ve excelled with a screenplay as original as this one is. As while ‘The Voices’ does share some similarities to other serial killer flicks, many of the film’s ideas are just brimming with personality, as everything from ‘Jerry’ showing symptoms of OCD when cutting-up the bodies of his victims, to ‘Jerry’ living above an abandoned bowling alley, the film just has such a unique appeal.

Ryan Reynolds really gets a chance to shine portraying the film’s mentally ill protagonist, as whilst ‘Jerry’ does commit many horrible acts over the course of the runtime, Reynolds manages to capture the idea of: ‘Jerry’ being a man forced down a road of violence. He is a distinct serial killer in the sense that he desires companionship and happiness, and doesn’t receive any pleasure from killing. So when its eventually revealed what happened to him as a child, you can’t help but sympathise with him, invoking a level of emotion that many murderous characters struggle to achieve. But unfortunately, the film’s side characters portrayed by Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick and Jacki Weaver, all feel quite thin as a result of them only being in the story to serve as ‘Jerry’s potential victims.

Maxime Alexandre handles the film’s cinematography well, as the camerawork throughout ‘The Voices’ remains fairly creative. The film’s visuals are most impressive most however, when it comes to the film’s colour palette and set-design. As with nearly the entirety of the story being seen through ‘Jerry’s perspective, the film displays the true extent of: ‘Jerry’s delusions through its use of colour/sets. For example, when not on his prescribed medication, ‘Jerry’ views his apartment as very clean and organised, giving the location a much more comfortable feel, whereas when ‘Jerry’ does take his medication, he sees the grim reality of his home.

The original score by Olivier Bernet is similar, never reaching into full-on horror, but being a mixture of cartoonish dreamlike tracks such as: ‘In the Woods’ and ‘Jesus Dad,’ before then moving onto more upbeat tracks like ‘Don’t Mess with Milton’. A seemingly a ironic track focused around the fictional woodland town of: ‘Milton’ where the story is set, claiming the town to be nothing but a friendly and welcoming place.

The main aspect of: ‘The Voices’ that I feel could make or break the film for many is likely to be its comedy, as whilst it is revealed fairly early on that many of the film’s bizarre moments such as: ‘Jerry’s pets speaking to him or ‘Jesus’ appearing on a forklift are all taking-place within his mind, much of this strange humour is very hit-or-miss. However, an interesting yet small detail regarding the talking pets is that Ryan Reynolds actually voices each one of the animals himself, with each pet having a different accent, furthering ‘Jerry’s delusions. In fact, Reynolds actually modelled the voice of: ‘Mr. Whiskers,’ a.k.a. ‘Jerry’s cat, after a Scottish friend he knew for over twenty-years.

Overall, while ‘The Voices’ is overflowing with both charm and wit, it also has many issues. From its quickly altering tone and many jokes that fall-flat, the film is far from a perfect horror-comedy. But it does redeem many of its faults through its great performances and eccentric style, all playing into the film’s quirky personality. And its due to all of this that the film feels as if its made for a very niche audience, yet for those ‘The Voices’ does appeal to, there is a fair amount to enjoy here. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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About Time (2013) – Film Review

Written and directed by Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Pirate Radio), ‘About Time’ would go on to be the final outing for Curtis as a director, as after this time-travelling drama’s release in 2013, Curtis would return to exclusively being a screenwriter, which I feel is probably for the best. As whilst ‘About Time’ does manage to keep itself afloat thanks to its captivating writing and wonderful performances, the film is often let-down by its fairly bland presentation and apparent disinterest in exploring its unique time-travelling concept, ensuring the film’s eventual confusion with many of the other romantic-dramas seen in recent years.

Plot Summary: At the age of twenty-one, the timid: ‘Tim Lake’ is informed by his father that men in their family have the unique ability to travel through time. Although this ability is restricted to the window of their own lives, it can be used to undo any past mistakes, so ‘Tim’ decides to use his newly-found ability to escape his current lonely existence, visiting all of his past loves to find the one who could be his future.

Due to Richard Curtis writing a number of iconic rom-coms from ‘Love Actually’ to ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ and ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ in the past, it comes as no surprise that ‘About Time’s screenplay is certainly its finest aspect. As in many scenes, the film chooses to push ‘Tim’s time-travelling ability aside in favour of delivering sincere character moments, playing into the story’s theme of life itself being the greatest experience. Yet while I do like both of these ideas, its a shame that the film barley touches upon the great deal of consequence time-travelling can have, as scenes focusing on time-paradoxes/the butterfly effect could’ve made for some of the film’s most impactful story-beats. Sadly, they are incredibly sparse and only appear when the story necessitates them.

The main couple of: ‘Tim’ and ‘Mary’ portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams do share a good amount of chemistry and have plenty of charming moments together, as ‘Tim’ tries desperately to impress ‘Mary’ by recalling everything he remembers about her from his past encounters. The supporting cast of Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hollander and Margot Robbie are all also great, as each member of the cast serve an important purpose within the narrative whether big or small. But its ‘Tim’s father portrayed by Bill Nighy who is the true emotional core of the film outside of: ‘Tim’s love-life, with Nighy doing a fantastic job as usual.

Despite visuals never being the main focus of rom-coms, the cinematography by John Guleserian is the film’s worst element. As any even somewhat-creative shots are rarely seen throughout the runtime, with the film usually just relying on mid-shots or close-ups to enhance the drama. The film’s colour palette doesn’t help in this regard either, as the pale colours almost present the film as if each scene is an extension of a photo framed in the family’s home, which is ingenious if that was the filmmakers’ attention, yet I’m not entirely sure it was. ‘Tim’s time-traveling ability however, is a little more visually-interesting in spite of its simplicity. As the film makes use of rapid-editing to cut between many different events during ‘Tim’s life, a straight-forward but understandable method of displaying how ‘Tim’ is flicking-through his memories.

Although ‘About Time’s cinematography is lacking, the original score by Nick Laird-Clowes is far more enthralling, as the film’s soundtrack utilises ticking clocks and heart-beating sound effects to relate to the story’s aspect of time-travel. And when focusing more on the story’s characters, the score switches things-up to be piano-focused, depicting a variety of experiences of life such as joy, heartbreak, reflection and confusion. ‘About Time’ also features a number of recognisable songs similar to much of Richard Curtis’ other work, which luckily, never distract from the story.

While ‘About Time’ does eventually continue on to cover a fair number of years throughout the character’s lives, much of the early portion of the film leans on ‘Tim’ trying to ignite the spark with ‘Mary,’ and with Rachel McAdams’ previously portraying the titular character in ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ from 2009, this should seem like familiar ground. However, unlike McAdams’ character in that sci-fi flick, ‘Mary’ is never made aware of: ‘Tim’s time-bending secret, which might make some viewers a little uncomfortable regarding the absence of honesty in their relationship.

To conclude, ‘About Time’ is enjoyable overall, it just doesn’t quite live-up to its interesting ideas or nearly two-hour runtime. As unfortunately, whilst the film’s many humorous and heartwarming moments do excel, the story’s huge missed opportunities are always ever-present, and the mostly dull cinematography/colour palette simply can’t be ignored. Although I would personally only recommend ‘About Time’ to those who have a sweet-tooth for light-hearted romantic-dramas, I can’t deny that the film is heartfelt, with a fragile sort of sincerity at its centre. Final Rating: 6/10.

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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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Krampus (2015) – Film Review

Whilst most Christmas films get across their message about how family is the true meaning of the holiday in a wholesome and light-hearted fashion, ‘Krampus’ takes quite a different approach. As director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r Treat, Godzilla: King of the Monsters) crafts a cynical and amusing horror-comedy based-around: ‘Krampus,’ a creature from European folklore with origins stretching back to the days before Christianity, serving as essentially the sinister twin of jolly ‘Saint Nicholas,’ punishing those who misbehave in various odious ways. And while the film is far from perfect, ‘Krampus’ creative ideas and impressive practical effects make the film worth it’s runtime.

Plot Summary: When his dysfunctional family clash over the holidays, young ‘Max’ finally decides to turn his back on Christmas, tearing-up his letter to ‘Santa Clause’ in a fit of rage. Little does he know, his lack of Christmas spirit has unleashed the wrath of: ‘Krampus,’ an ancient demon who punishes those who don’t celebrate the festive season. Forcing ‘Max’ and the rest of his family to fight for one another if they hope to survive.

Although there are plenty of enjoyable films out there to watch over the festive season, I usually always find myself craving something new around the Christmas-period, as the cliché narrative of children helping ‘Santa Claus’ save Christmas gets very old quick. ‘Krampus’ however, does certainly attempt something new, even if it isn’t always successful. As whilst the original outline for the film was closer to a straight-forward horror, focusing mostly on ‘Krampus’ picking people off throughout ‘Max’s town, it was eventually decided to make it more of a dark retelling of a traditional Christmas film. This is why the plot is kicked-off with a letter to ‘Santa.’ and why the film’s first act begins much like a family film would, before then having a drastic turn towards horror and dark fantasy.

The film’s large cast of Adam Scott, Toni Collette, Emjay Anthony, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, Stefania LaVie Owen, Conchata Ferrell and Krista Stadler are all serviceable in their roles, even though many of their characters aren’t developed nowhere near enough. Additionally, ‘Tom Engel,’ a.k.a. ‘Max’s father, also has many moments where he doesn’t seem to take their life-threating situation that seriously, almost as if he is acknowledging how bizarre the story is, which does diminish the film’s tension at points. But with ‘Krampus’ featuring moments of humour and fright alike, the film obviously has many shifts in tone between scenes.

Jules O’Loughlin’s cinematography is nothing amazing altogether, as in spite of the film having quite a few memorable and attractive shots, there are also a large amount of bland shots whenever the camera is focusing on the actors themselves. What is far more admirable though is how the camerawork enhances the film’s set-design, making the audience believe that the film was shot inside a real house and outside on a real wintry street. When in reality, over 95% of the film was shot on a soundstage, with the snow covering the ground being made from a material that’s commonly used for making nappies.

Composer Douglas Pipes handles the film’s original score, and he described his soundtrack as “A Collection of Twisted Christmas Carols with Pagan Thrown in.” As the score incorporates everything from the sounds of chains, bells, bones and animal-skin drums in addition to having choirs chant and whisper in different tongues, making for a foreboding but suitably Christmassy score. The track: ‘A Cold Wind’ also does a phenomenal job of reiterating ‘Krampus’ as the ominous shadow of: ‘Santa Clause’ through its use of sleigh bells. However, the film’s actual sound design features some incredibly strange choices for a horror, as many goofy/cartoonish sound effects can be heard within the film, feeling immensely out-of-place every-time they are.

One of the finest aspects of: ‘Krampus’ as a film has to be its effects, as rather than having an over-reliance on CG visuals, ‘Krampus’ brings all of its uniquely-creepy creatures to-life through detailed costumes and animatronics, harkening back to classic 80s horror-comedies like ‘Gremlins.’ Many of the film’s terrifying monsters also share wonderfully-horrific designs, with the final design for: ‘Krampus’ and his elves being distilled from various postcards and illustrations seen over-time. Or in the case of the malevolent toys, taking inspiration from the 1992 low-budget horror: ‘Demonic Toys,’ with the angel ornament, teddy bear, robot and Jack-in-a-box that attack the family sharing many similarities to that obscure film.

In conclusion, ‘Krampus’ is a rollicking ride of a Christmas film even if it isn’t quite as polished as Dougherty’s Halloween flick: ‘Trick ‘r Treat.’ As the film’s excellent practical effects, menacing creature designs and great original score all lend themselves very well to the distinctive story, despite the narrative itself often feeling like wasted potential considering ‘Krampus’ doesn’t fully appear until near the end of the runtime. Regardless, this horror-comedy is still the best on-screen interpretation of: ‘Krampus’ and his minions as of yet. Final Rating: 7/10.

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Jojo Rabbit (2019) – Film Review

From Taika Waititi, the now-esteemed comedy director behind: ‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ comes a beautifully-crafted war film with a strangely pleasant sense of humour. As ‘Jojo Rabbit’ really stands-out within the war genre for being one of the first films set during World War II to be an anti-hate satire, telling it’s heart-warming and optimistic story in an amusing yet respectful fashion, soon cementing itself as one of the most noteworthy releases of 2019.

Plot Summary: Nearing the end of the Second World War, a lonely German boy named: ‘Jojo’ aspires to be a Nazi, hoping to one day fight on the front-line. But ‘Jojo’ soon finds his world-view turned upside-down when he discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend: ‘Adolf Hitler,’ ‘Jojo’ must confront the girl, and in doing so, confront his blind nationalism.

Originally based on the novel: ‘Caging Skies’ by Christine Leunens, the screenplay for: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ was actually written back in 2011. Putting it in between ‘Boy’ released in 2010, and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ released in 2014 in the chronology of Taika Waititi-penned films. And while ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is certainly one of Waititi’s finest films to date, it is also one of his most controversial. As whilst I personally feel the film goes about its comedy in a tasteful manner, never undercutting the story’s message and mostly just poking-fun at ridiculous Nazi protocols and beliefs. ‘Jojo Rabbit’ did receive plenty of flack from critics as soon as it was even announced the film would contain any-kind of humour, which I find quite unfair on behalf of the film.

The young and impressive Roman Griffin Davis leads the cast excellently as ‘Jojo,’ portraying the young boy as simply a regular kid who has a fascination with this ideology the Nazis are fighting for, even though he has little understanding of it nor its horrific consequences. Then there is Thomasin McKenzie, who portrays the opposite side of this, as her character: ‘Elsa’ is a resourceful and intelligent Jewish girl who attempts to open ‘Jojo’s eyes to the real-world, rather than the warped-reality his fellow Nazis have burned-into him. Scarlett Johansson is also fantastic in the film as ‘Jojo’s mother: ‘Rosie,’ having the most consistent German accent of the cast by far. But it’s the director himself, Taika Waititi, who takes the short-straw portraying the infamous Adolf Hitler, or at least ‘Jojo’s imaginary interpretation of him. As ‘Hitler’ is always presented in a very discriminating way, with Waititi portraying the dictator like a complete tool, only ever having as much information/maturity as ‘Jojo’ does, and occasionally, even less so.

Oppose to many other war films, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ features a very vibrant colour palette, as Waititi actually discovered through much of his research that Germany during World War II was both colourful and fashionable, and was interested in shying away from war films only ever displaying World War II as dark and dreary. So through this, as well as the fairly creative cinematography by Mihai Malaimare, ‘Jojo’s small town is presented as a seemingly celebratory place with stylishly-dressed citizens. Almost as if the town is attempting to ignore the impending threat, only semi-aware that the Third Reich is crumbling beneath them.

The film’s original score by Michael Giacchino is another wonderful effort from the composer, as the score features a number of memorable tracks, from ‘Jojo’s Theme’ to ‘A Butterfly’s Wings’ and ‘Rosie’s Nocturne.’ In many ways, the score for: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ almost sounds as if it’s a military march composed by a group of children, which works perfectly considering the film’s story is told through a child’s perspective. Furthermore, the original score also utilises German vocals to more accurately fit with the story’s setting.

Although the supporting cast of Archie Yates, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant and Alfie Allen are all brilliant within the film, I really do wish their characters were featured more throughout the narrative. As aside from Sam Rockwell’s ‘Captain Klenzendorf,’ who receives a respectable amount of screen-time. Many of the story’s side characters are seemingly only in the film for the sake of a couple of humorous scenes, which is unfortunate, as every member of the cast portrays their Nazi characters as hilariously over-the-top as possible.

Altogether, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ isn’t only another extraordinary entry into Taika Waititi’s catalogue of comedy flicks. But I’d argue it’s his best project thus far, a daring and charming film that simultaneously explores the horrors of war, yet also the compassion in people. And while the film may not be for everyone, with many reviews clearly indicating how divisive the film is with its implementation of comedy, I feel the film juggles its humour and emotional moments immensely well, with its remarkable original score and bright colour palette only helping the film stand further out from the crowd. Final Rating: 8/10.

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The Babysitter (2017) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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