Inception (2010) – Film Review

After directing the superhero smash-hit: ‘The Dark Knight’ in 2008, established director Christopher Nolan wanted to tackle something far more ambitious, a screenplay that he’d been working on for over nine-years focusing on a mind-bending journey through dreams and reality alike. This of course, was ‘Inception,’ a sci-fi-thriller many now regard as one of the finest films in the science fiction genre, and for good reason, as ‘Inception’ combines striking-visuals with an all-star cast and a phenomenal original score by legendary composer Hans Zimmer, all tied-together by an enthralling narrative, securing the film as one of Nolan’s most revered efforts.

Plot Summary: When ‘Dominic Cobb,’ a thief who steals corporate secrets through the use of dream-sharing technology is approached by a wealthy business magnate, ‘Cobb’ sees his shot at redemption as he is offered his freedom for accomplishing a seemingly-impossible mission: plant an idea inside the mind of a powerful C.E.O. If he succeeds, it will be the perfect crime, but a dangerous enemy anticipates ‘Cobb’s every move…

As its title implies, ‘Inception’ is a film about traveling through dreams, or more accurately, dreams within dreams, which is a very creative concept, yet could leave some viewers confused upon their first viewing, as the characters travel through multiple dreamscapes, each one effecting the others in some way. This complicated style of storytelling may also be why ‘Inception’ took so long to become a reality, as although Christopher Nolan first pitched ‘Inception’ to Warner Bros. Pictures in early 2001, Nolan decided to give himself more time to refine the screenplay, even in spite of the initial interest from Warner Bros. Yet this extra-time payed-off in the end, as when ‘Inception’ eventually released it went to be one of the highest-earning films in history, grossing over £600 million worldwide.

Featuring a prominent cast of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jason Gordon-Levitt, Tom Hardy, Ellen Page, Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, Dileep Rao, Marion Cotillard and Michael Caine, ‘Inception’ is never short on entertaining performances. However, whilst every actor is given their chance to shine, many of the film’s characters suffer as a result of the film’s attention being placed almost exclusively on ‘Cobb,’ pushing his inner-struggle of coping with his wife’s suicide to the forefront of the narrative. And while ‘Cobb’s character-arc is certainly captivating, its unfortunate that many members of: ‘Cobb’s crew don’t receive any of their own scenes (unrelated to the plot that is).

Cinematographer Wally Pfister, who has collaborated with Christopher Nolan for every film of his since ‘Memento’ in 2000, is once again behind the camera for: ‘Inception,’ and although much of the camerawork throughout the film isn’t anything exceptional outside of the film’s stylish visual effects, it is still competent. With that said, much of the cinematography does lend itself effectively to the film’s numerous riveting action sequences, as many of these moments (in particular, the snowbound action sequence in the third dream level) are brimming with wide-shots that display the true-scale of each thrilling set-piece. Then there is the film’s colour palette, which subtlety changes as the characters enter each new dream level, almost becoming a guide for viewers, informing them of what dream they are currently in.

In spite of the film’s signature track: ‘Time’ being vastly over-played nowadays, ‘Inception’s original score by Hans Zimmer was nothing short of ground-breaking at the time of the film’s release, as the score went on to be become incredibly iconic in of itself, with the score’s most recognisable motif: a booming foghorn-like brass, being mimicked thereafter by nearly every action blockbuster. But its easy to see why this is, as ‘Inception’s soundtrack adds to both the tension and drama of the film, focusing less on themes and motifs and more on ambience, blurring the lines between reality and the dreams with layers of electronic pulses and synthesised chords.

Should ‘Inception’ have been directed by any other filmmaker, I can imagine a large amount of the effects seen during the film would’ve been created entirely through CGI, but in true Nolan fashion, many of the effects in ‘Inception’ including the snowbound avalanche, the Penrose stairs and the zero-gravity sequence were all completed practically. The most well-known of these prodigious effects has to be the rotating hallway however, an effect that was achieved through an enormous hallway rig which spun-around as the actor’s fought inside, making for one truly unforgettable set-piece. Due to these practical effects, ‘Inception’ only had around five-hundred visual effects shots, a tiny number compared to most blockbusters, which can feature over two-thousand.

To conclude, ‘Inception’ is worthy of its paradigmatic status for Christopher Nolan’s filmography, as even though the film isn’t flawless, often stumbling from its lack of compelling side characters and drawn-out blocks of exposition, ‘Inception’ still remains a multilayered, self-reflexive sci-fi-thriller that fires on all cylinders, manipulating time through meticulous editing to deliver a hard-hitting cinematic experience. And with production companies usually relying on sequels, remakes and franchises these days, ‘Inception’ did a difficult thing, being a wholly-original blockbuster that succeeds viscerally as well as intellectually. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Saw (2004) – Film Review

Before it became the colossal horror franchise we know it to be today, ‘Saw’ was originally just a low-budget thriller ingeniously co-written by Leigh Whannell and debuting horror director James Wan. Boasting an intricate structure consisting of flashbacks-within-flashbacks, the original: ‘Saw’ was far more focused on crafting a compelling (and occasionally confusing) mystery that takes-place primarily within a single location rather than plainly indulging in blood and guts similar to its many sequels, and as a result, still remains the best entry of the ‘Saw’ franchise to-date.

Plot Summary: When two strangers awaken in a grimy bathroom with their ankles chained to pipes and no recollection of how they got there, the pair soon discover they’re pawns in a deadly game perpetrated by the notorious serial killer: ‘Jigsaw.’

Despite the ‘Saw’ series being predominantly known for its constant display of extreme violence, with the franchise even becoming infamous at one time for introducing the ‘Torture Porn’ subgenre to general audiences. The original: ‘Saw’ actually contains very little in the way of gore, as director James Wan never intended to make an immensely disturbing film. It was not until the sequels that the films became what he describes as “More Explicitly Nasty.” Still, this wouldn’t stop ‘Saw’ from its rampant train of success, as the first film alone would go on to earn over £90 million on a budget of only £1 million, instantly providing Wan and Whannell with the funds for their next project(s) in addition to placing ‘Jigsaw’ among the ranks of: ‘Jason Voorhees,’ ‘Freddy Kruger’ and ‘Michael Myers’ as a horror icon.

Cary Elwes and Leigh Whannell lead the film as ‘Dr. Lawrence Gordon’ and ‘Adam Stanheight’ respectively, and whilst neither actor gives a truly poor performance, Elwes easily outshines Whannell in many scenes. Obviously, this is due to Whannell being a writer (and now director) first and foremost, but with a better actor in Whannell’s place I feel many moments during the narrative could’ve been greatly enhanced. And while Danny Glover, Monica Potter and Tobin Bell all do a serviceable job, due to Elwes and Whannell’s performances taking-up nearly the entirety of the film’s runtime, any faults in the actor’s portrayals are tremendously hard to ignore.

The cinematography throughout ‘Saw’ ranges from brilliantly clever to simply irritating, as director James Wan and cinematographer David A. Armstrong wanted the movement of the camera to reflect the central character’s emotions and personality, meaning ‘Dr. Gordon’ is displayed through steady, controlled shots while ‘Adam’ is seen exclusively through hand-held shots. Yet even with this attention to detail, ‘Saw’s camerawork suffers from its repeated inclusion of the ‘Bullet Time’ shot, first introduced in the sci-fi classic: ‘The Matrix’ in 1999. As although this shot was very impressive when it first appeared, by 2004, this overused technique of having the camera rapidly rotate around a subject feels nothing but exasperating, especially when combined with the film’s chaotic editing and unpleasant colour palette.

Aside from the film’s signature track: ‘Hello Zepp’ which would go on to become a staple of the series, being utilised for each film’s final scene, the rest of: ‘Saw’s original score isn’t anything special. Being a mostly by-the-numbers horror soundtrack consisting of a variety of tense tracks with the occasional metallic effect thrown-in to further relate to the industrial nature of: ‘Jigsaw’s many traps and devices. The sound design itself however, significantly adds to the horror, implying much of the gruesome violence that isn’t directly seen.

As a result of its smaller-budget, there are many occasions where director James Wan had to get quite creative with how to execute certain scenes. For example, the car chase that appears later within the film was actually filmed inside of a warehouse garage, with the illusion of being outside being achieved by turning-off all of the lights, adding some fog and shaking the cars whilst filming from the front. This thin budget is also why the film contains no exterior shots whatsoever, as nearly all of the film was shot in a converted warehouse where the bathroom set was built, while any other locations were simply existing rooms redressed. However, even with this restrictive budget, the production crew actually made ‘Jigsaw’s now-iconic puppet: ‘Billy’ completely from scratch instead of pre-buying an antique puppet from a local store.

To conclude, the original: ‘Saw’ is far from flawless, but considering the film started-out as just a low-budget short before attracting the attention of Evolution Entertainment, who immediately formed a horror-focused subcompany with Twisted Pictures, the ‘Saw’ franchise has truly come a long way. And although the series’ first instalment is certainly plagued with many problems, there is a clear level of passion and effort poured into the project, and whilst I wouldn’t say it deserves to be one of the most profitable horror films of all time, I would say it deserves a watch even if your planning to pass-up the rest of the progressively-grotesque franchise. Final Rating: 6/10.

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Hotel Artemis (2018) – Film Review

Easily one of the most overlooked and commercially-underwhelming films of 2018, ‘Hotel Artemis’ is one of those rare releases that feels very unsuited to the genre its actually a part of. As whilst this enclosed story set within the walls of an illegal hospital is certainly interesting, ‘Hotel Artemis’ also bizarrely serves as a science fiction flick. Boasting plenty of futuristic technology alongside its snappy dialogue, charismatic performances and gorgeously-designed central location. Its just a shame the film doesn’t always know what to do with any of the above.

Plot Summary: In the riot-torn, near-future of Los Angeles, 2028. Disgruntled thieves and criminals make their way to ‘Hotel Artemis,’ a secret members-only hospital operated by ‘The Nurse,’ a no-nonsense doctor who tends to their injuries under the condition that anyone who enters the hotel sticks to the set-rules. But after ‘The Nurse’ receives word the notorious crime lord: ‘The Wolf King’ is in-bound with a gunshot wound, ‘The Nurse’ is forced to break her own rules as the hotel is thrown into violent chaos…

Written and directed by Drew Pearce, ‘Hotel Artemis’ is actually Pearce’s directorial debut, as before this film Pearce had exclusively worked as a screenwriter, writing blockbusters such as: ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ as well as the ‘Fast and Furious’ spin-off: ‘Hobbs and Shaw’ later down the line. This might explain why ‘Hotel Artemis’ is as compellingly-written as it is, as in spite of its quick-pacing and very limited number of locations, the script manages to squeeze a fair amount into its extremely tight runtime. As the film explores some of world outside of the hotel in addition to developing many of the hotel’s criminal inhabitants, all the while the film remains tense as a result of the interactions between the characters and the impending arrive of: ‘The Wolf King.’

Jodie Foster leads the cast as ‘The Nurse,’ her first acting role since the sci-fi film: ‘Elysium’ in 2013. And her all too-rare screen-presence is a pleasure to see again, as she gives a convincingly mournful performance, portraying ‘The Nurse’ as an elderly women refined to the sanctuary of her work following the tragic death of her son. Then there are also the criminals, assassins and thieves (and hotel security) portrayed by Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Zachary Quinto and Jeff Goldblum, who are all enjoyable to watch as the various scum of the futuristic Los Angles, and all receive a fair amount of development although many characters don’t receive a payoff.

The film’s greatest strength is without a doubt its setting, as the penthouse floor of: ‘The Artemis’ is rich with atmosphere as the hotel’s design is incredibly reminiscent of the Art Deco style of 1930s hotels, almost giving the impression its a building from day’s past. From the velvet cushions to the green slightly-teared wallpaper, ‘Hotel Artemis’ is a very memorable location, its just unfortunate the film attempts to weave-in sci-fi wires and screens etc. The cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung also greatly adds to the film’s visuals, as the film keeps its shots and colourful lighting as diverse as possible and avoids utilising too-much hand-held camerawork.

Cliff Martinez’s original score is another superb element of the film, as the soundtrack features plenty of noteworthy tracks like ‘It Smells Like Somebody Died in Here,’ ‘Hands Off the Gooch,’ ‘I Only Kill Important People’ and ‘Don’t Cross My Line,’ all of which elevate both the tension and style of the film. ‘Hotel Artemis’ also integrates a few songs from the 1970s such as: ‘California Dreamin’ and ‘Helpless,’ which whilst catchy, further adds to the idea of the film seeming out-of-place as a science fiction flick, but then I suppose without the link to that genre we wouldn’t have the rest of this fantastically-computerised score.

As mentioned many times, the biggest flaw of: ‘Hotel Artemis’ for me is its near-future setting, as due to many of the film’s characters feeling like modern-day criminals in their actions and personalities, it soon becomes clear that with just a few small alterations the entire narrative could really be switched to fit within a modern time-period, making the sci-fi aspects ultimately pointless. However, with the idea of a hotel for criminals already being explored with the ‘Continental Hotel’ in the ‘John Wick’ series, its possible that these characteristics were introduced as a way of avoiding too-many similarities with that franchise.

So, whilst some characters may not quite get the resolution they deserve and a number of concepts do feel undercooked, ‘Hotel Artemis’ is still a tense and engaging story with many exciting moments of action in-between. Although I personally would only recommend the film to viewers who specifically enjoy intense sci-fi-thrillers, it is a pity that ‘Hotel Artemis’ mostly received lukewarm reviews and was an utter box-office failure, because there is clearly a level of effort put into the film, and I do feel its worth a watch should it seem appealing. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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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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Now You See Me (2013) – Film Review

Quite a unique film within the crime genre, ‘Now You See Me’ is seemingly a magician’s rendition of: ‘Ocean’s Eleven,’ as director Louis Leterrier crafts an entertaining film following the story of a group of four illusionists, all with different skillsets, robbing establishments across the globe before then vanishing without a trace. And although some viewers may have to suspend their disbelief for a few elements regarding the film’s plot, the film still manages to remain a mostly enjoyable affair throughout its two-hour runtime.

Plot Summary: After four small-time magicians are anonymously invited to attend a meeting in a run-down apartment. They reappear one year later as ‘The Four Horsemen,’ performing a live-show in Las Vegas in which they claim they are going to rob a bank in Paris from the stage and distribute the money to the audience. But after the French bank is found empty following the show, F.B.I. Agent: ‘Dylan Rhodes’ is assigned to the case with his partner: ‘Alma Day,’ where the two begin to suspect that the heist was just a distraction for a bigger scheme…

Even though ‘Now You See Me’ prioritises its story over anything else, the film does still feature a couple of exciting action sequences including a car-chase and a fist-fight respectively. Both of which stick with the idea of the magicians performing magic-tricks, utilising many of the age-old illusions we know in creative ways, yet this shouldn’t be too surprising, considering director Louis Leterrier has worked on action flicks like ‘The Transporter’ in the past. However, ‘Now You See Me’ does miss a big opportunity to say anything interesting about the actual profession of magic, as with very few films focusing on characters with this skillset, it would make sense to delve further into figures with this expertise.

‘The Four Horseman,’ portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco are all splendid in their roles as the signature group of magicians. As despite Dave Franco’s ‘Jack Wilder’ feeling a little neglected at points as the forth member of the group, all of the cast give very charismatic performances to where you could believe they perform live-shows most evenings. The group also spends most of the film being hunted by a F.B.I. detective duo portrayed by Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent, and although both actors are great within their roles, the film does attempt to build-up a romantic relationship between the two, which comes-off as nothing other than forced and underdeveloped.

Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong’s cinematography is competent overall, having an overeliance on mid-shots to focus on the actor’s performances first and foremost. But when taking-into account the film’s constant emphasis on eye-contact and slight of hand, I did feel the camerawork wasn’t used very effectively to display that trickery, which would’ve surely placed the film’s audience in the same position as ‘The Four Horseman’s live-audience. The cinematography does still allow for plenty of stunning wide-shots during each live-show however, as the camera glides over the huge crowd giving an impressive view of the massive audiences that attend each night.

The original score by Brian Tyler is a jazz-style soundtrack in the same-vein as other crime/heist films such as the previously mentioned: ‘Ocean’s Eleven.’ In particular, the tracks: ‘Now You See Me,’ ‘The Four Horseman’ and ‘Welcome to the Eye’ are all deeply-rooted in jazz, fitting a familiar tone to many real illusionist shows. So much so, that it soon becomes quite evident that Tyler has done his research as his score fully embraces its funky percussion and snappy brass motifs.

Throughout the film, there are also a number of magnificent effects, CG and practical alike. In fact, near the beginning of the film when ‘Daniel Atlas’ is performing an extraordinary card-trick, we see the hands of Dan or Dave Buck digitally composited with Jesse Eisenberg’s face. These twin brothers are actually acclaimed sleight of hand artists, as well as pioneers in the art of cardistry. Their skills have also been seen in the film: ‘Smokin’ Aces’ from 2006, performing tricks for Jeremy Piven. Cardistry is an open display of skill with cards, similar to juggling, and the sequence of moves performed in ‘Now You See Me’ is called a ‘Pandora,’ which at the time of filming, was considered one of the hardest moves to perform in cardistry.

Taking all this into account, I feel ‘Now You See Me’ serves its purpose as a crime/mystery thriller, telling an engaging and mostly well-written story that doesn’t take itself all too seriously. While the film does disguise many of its obvious flaws through smoke and mirrors, I believe the vast majority of viewers will enjoy this film for what it is. And if you have already seen this flick and relished it, then I’d strongly recommend you watch ‘The Prestige,’ another magician-related film which I personally think surpasses ‘Now You See Me’ (and its uninspired sequel) in many ways. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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Seven Psychopaths (2012) – Film Review

This slick self-aware crime-comedy from writer and director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), may not appeal to everyone as a result of its over-the-top violence and occasionally absurdist tone. Yet for me, due to its great cast, fantastic writing and endless list of quotable lines, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ is certainly worth its runtime and then some. As the film always remains just as entertaining as it is unconventional, even if the film isn’t quite as pristinely crafted as the rest of McDonagh’s work.

Plot Summary: A struggling alcoholic screenwriter (Marty) in the process of writing a screenplay based around seven separate psychopaths soon becomes inadvertently entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends accidently kidnap a psychopathic gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu…

Filled with plenty of sly, witty and memorable dialogue throughout, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ constantly uses its clever writing to create an array of stories within the main narrative. As the screenplay writing protagonist: ‘Marty,’ reels-off many of his early ideas for different psychos to get his friend’s opinions on them before implementing them into his latest screenplay. The film also uses this structure to engage in plenty of meta humour, as the characters continuously list-off various tropes and clichés of similar action and crime flicks, which the film itself actively avoids, resulting in a well-written film overall. In fact, the screenplay for: ‘Seven Psychopaths’ was actually featured in a 2006 blacklist of the ‘most liked’ unmade screenplays of that year, before it was obviously green-lit many years later.

One of the best elements of the film is undeniably its cast, as Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken as ‘Marty,’ ‘Billy’ and ‘Hans’ never fail to be hilarious together. As all three of them share some excellent chemistry, portraying their characters as if they’ve been friends for many years before the current story begins. Woody Harrelson and musician Tom Waits both also make an appearance within the film as the mostly-intimidating criminal: ‘Charlie,’ and ‘Zachariah,’ one of the psychopaths that inspires ‘Marty’s screenplay, who is constantly creepy and bizarre whenever he is on-screen. Yet despite the film’s admirable performances and writing, the female characters within the film are noticeably quite poor. As while the main cast do point this out through some sarcastic dialogue, the few female characters that do appear receive barley any development and feel mostly pointless in the long-run.

Although ‘Seven Psychopaths’ cinematography is nowhere near as impressive as the camerawork throughout ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ for example. The cinematography by Ben Davis is serviceable, with the occasional pleasing shot in between many of the more average ones. However, this is where another one of my criticisms comes into play, this being the story’s setting. As whilst I understand the film’s protagonist is a screenplay writer so it links to the idea of building a career in Hollywood. McDonagh’s other films both manage to make exceptional use of their beautiful and distinct locations, which makes the city of Los Angeles where ‘Seven Psychopaths’ takes-place feel fairly dull in comparison.

The original score by Carter Burwell isn’t overly-memorable yet does suitably fit the film, adding tension to scenes where necessary in addition to feeling quite subtle when in contrast to the film’s outrageous self-aware humour, as according to composer Carter Burwell, his intent with the soundtrack revolved more around wanting to create an emphatic ambience for the film rather than just being your standard generic action score, this is most obvious in the tracks: ‘Zachariah’ and ‘Billy’s Diary’ (my personal two favourite tracks from the film).

Personally, although the story works fine without, I would have desired a little more style when it comes to the film’s visual presentation, in particular, in the editing and titles. As with the exception of the typewriter text that is utilised to inform the audience of each psychopath from one-through-to-seven, the filmmaking actually displays barley any style throughout. That being said, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ does still feature a number of dark comedic moments similar to the rest of McDonagh’s filmography, displaying a couple of dramatic scenes alongside plenty of extremely graphic deaths.

All in all, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ definitely isn’t the best director Martin McDonagh has to offer, with both ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ being far superior films, in my opinion. ‘Seven Psychopaths’ still delivers on a creative plot and some tremendous writing/performances even in spite of its lack of style and weak female characters. If you’re a fan of this director’s other films, I’d say ‘Seven Psychopaths’ is worth a watch, just don’t have your expectations too high when going-in for the first-time. Final Rating: 7/10.

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Prisoners (2013) – Film Review

Combining some incredible performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal with some phenomenal cinematography by the legendary Rodger Deakins alongside an effective original score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. ‘Prisoners’ is truly a masterclass in both filmmaking and storytelling. Although some audience members may be turned-off by the film’s depressing subject matter and few graphic scenes, this story of two family’s lives being turned upside-down is nevertheless an enthralling thriller/drama throughout.

Plot Summary: Shortly after their Thanksgiving dinner, parents: ‘Keller’ and ‘Grace Dover’ discover their six-year-old daughter and her best friend are missing. So after contacting the authorities, the driven: ‘Detective Loki’ is assigned to lead the case. But as hours turn into days, knowing his daughter’s life is at stake, frantic father: ‘Keller’ considers taking matters into his own hands…

Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner: 2049), Villeneuve further proves here that he is one of the best filmmakers currently working. As every one of his films are always engaging and visually-breathtaking, with ‘Prisoners’ being no exception. As throughout the entirety of its lengthy runtime, ‘Prisoners’ manages to be a compelling, tense and emotional experience that will leave most viewers on the edge of their seats. Making the viewer long for the truth just as much as the film’s characters do, with the film’s main theme of parenthood even exploring the idea of how far a parent would truly go to protect their child, most notably through ‘Keller’s questionable actions later within the story.

The film’s main pairing of Hugh Jackman as ‘Keller Dover’ and Jake Gyllenhaal as ‘Detective Loki’ is the perfect combination of two talented actors, as both give brilliant performances as their respective characters with Hugh Jackman in particular, giving one of the best performances of his entire career. Especially in the scene: ‘The Interrogation’. In which, ‘Keller’ repeatedly tortures the potential kidnapper of his daughter, resulting in the scene soon becoming one of the film’s best moments mostly through Jackman’s incredibly intense performance. In addition to the two leads, the supporting cast of Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Dylan Minnette, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo are all excellent, with each member of the main cast adding to the film’s realistic portrayal of two concerned families, going days without rest as their thoughts dwell purely on their missing children.

From the opening shot through to the very last, the cinematography by Roger Deakins is nothing short of phenomenal. As ‘Prisoners’ elevates its already gripping narrative through its many stunning shots, alongside the film’s absolutely superb lighting, which makes fantastic use of darkness and silhouettes wherever possible (a staple of Roger Deakins’ cinematography) which only backs-up the film’s grim tone and tense atmosphere further. Another element of the film that also adds to its visual aesthetic is its use of weather. Being set in a small town in Pennsylvania, ‘Prisoners’ makes great use of the state’s dreary weather for a number of scenes, meaning many shots are enhanced due to the constant barrage of rain and snow within them.

The late Jóhann Jóhannsson handles the original score for the film, most known for his work on ‘The Theory of Everything’ along with plenty of other films from director Denis Villeneuve. The film’s score really adds to many of its dramatic moments, as the soundtrack mostly focuses on the story’s more emotional and tragic aspects, and while not overly memorable, the tracks: ‘I Can’t Find Them’ and ‘Through Falling Snow’ both fit the bleak tone of the film flawlessly. While the track: ‘The Keeper’ is also worth a quick mention simply due to its impactful feel.

Although it isn’t a major problem, my only real issue with the film is the lack of depth for some of its characters, as ‘Detective Loki’ and ‘Alex Jones’ both have many interesting traits, with ‘Detective Loki’ having a variety of tattoos, rings and facial ticks (many of which were actually Jake Gyllenhaal’s ideas). Whilst ‘Alex’ has the I.Q. of a ten-year-old due to his learning difficulties. Yet even with these unique traits, I never felt like either of these two characters were explored enough, even with the film’s many attempts at subtle characterisation through visual storytelling.

In short, ‘Prisoners’ is not only one of my favourite films from 2013, but one of all my all-time favourite thrillers in general. Through its spectacular cinematography, tense atmosphere and compelling plot among many, many other elements, ‘Prisoners’ is honestly unmissable. Being just another piece of the beyond-excellent filmography of director Denis Villeneuve, this thriller is certainly one I’d recommend to anyone in need of a memorising mystery. If you’ve never seen a film by Villeneuve, I’d say ‘Prisoners’ is a tremendous place to begin, despite the film not quite beating-out my personal favourite film of his, that being: ‘Blade Runner: 2049.’ Final Rating: 9/10.

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Joker (2019) – Film Review

Since even the first day of its release, ‘Joker’ has seemingly split audiences straight down the middle, being hit with numerous reviews all with varied ratings. Everything from the film’s violence to its intricate themes to especially its Oscar-nominations, have all been brought-up in recent conversation, as this film’s character-driven narrative focuses on the origins of: ‘The Joker,’ arch-nemesis of the caped-crusader: ‘Batman.’ Yet ultimately, becomes far more of an affecting and compelling drama/thriller rather than your standard superhero affair.

Plot Summary: In ‘Gotham City’ during the 1980s, mentally troubled comedian: ‘Arthur Fleck,’ is disregarded and mistreated by society. Over-time, this leads him to embark on a downward spiral of revolution and bloody crime, eventually bringing him face-to-face with his chaotic alter-ego: ‘The Joker.’

Being directed by Todd Phillips (Old School, The Hangover, War Dogs), throughout ‘Joker’ you really get the sense that Phillips truly puts his all into it, pretty much leaving behind the realm of comedy flicks entirely to craft a film which puts more of an emphasis on character and filmmaking. As every aspect of the film from its performances to it’s writing, cinematography and even original score, all feel as if they’ve been thought-over profusely. ‘Joker’ also attempts to back-up its story with plenty of thought-provoking themes of mental health and the cruel nature of modern-day society, which I feel are represented very well throughout the film, giving Phillip’s version of this iconic character more depth beyond him being a mysterious and lawless antagonist.

From ‘Joker’s laugh to his broken mental state, Joaquin Phoenix gives a true powerhouse performance as the classic comic book villain. Making the character sadistic and dangerous yet also sympathetic wherever possible, as even though ‘Arthur’ commits many horrible acts as the runtime continues on. You can’t help but feel sorry for him, being beaten relentlessly by the world he lives within. In my opinion, Joaquin Phoenix’s portrayal of this iconic character truly elevates the film as a whole, and I’d even argue is up-there with Heath Ledger’s beloved performance in ‘The Dark Knight’ many years earlier. The supporting cast of Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy and Brett Cullen are all also great within the film, with Robert De Niro’s character: ‘Murray Franklin’ being an obvious throwback to his character from the classic Scorsese film: ‘The King of Comedy’ from 1982.

All of the cinematography by Lawrence Sher throughout the film is very impressive, which is actually quite surprising considering ‘Joker’ is shot by the same cinematographer as the rest of Phillip’s work (which all contain mostly bland shots due to their focus on comedic writing). Featuring a variety of both stunning and memorable shots throughout, ‘Joker’s cinematography does serve its narrative and dark tone very well, with the now-iconic scene: ‘Staircase Dance’ since becoming one of the most recognised and celebrated moments of 2019 pop-culture. Additionally, ‘Joker’ continues to steer-away from becoming an average superhero flick through its implementation of bloody violence, never shining away from displaying scenes of visceral murder.

Despite feeling a little unfitting during some scenes, the original score by Hildur Guðnadóttir is both very beautiful and also quite tragic. As the score really enhances the viewer’s journey into ‘Arthur’s depressing and broken state of mind. However, that being said, some of the tracks can begin to feel a little too similar over-time, with the signature track: ‘Bathroom Dance’ almost beginning to feel replicated later within the film, despite the soundtrack’s many attempts to do otherwise.

The main criticism ‘Joker’ has faced since its release has been its overreliance on borrowing elements from other films, most notably classic Martin Scorsese films such as: ‘Taxi Driver’ and the previously mentioned: ‘The King of Comedy.’ As ‘Joker’ utilises a style very reminiscent of: ‘Taxi Driver’ whilst also featuring a protagonist not too dissimilar to the protagonist from: ‘The King of Comedy,’ and while I definitely understand these complaints, I also feel many films throughout history have always borrowed elements from others, and in addition to having Martin Scorsese himself on-board as an executive producer, ‘Joker’ does include some aspects of its own making to help it stand-out.

In conclusion, ‘Joker’ isn’t perfect, but I do feel the film is successful enough, as while its occasional cheesy dialogue and derivative aspects may drag the film down, its stunning cinematography and haunting original score really lend themselves effectively to the already gripping story. Not to mention Joaquin Phoenix’s captivating performance, all of which leave ‘Joker’ an impactful and refreshing origin story for this cherished comic book character. So, if you’re a huge fan of this iconic antagonist or just have a fondness for character studies/intense dramas, I’d recommend you give ‘Joker’ a watch in spite of its mixed perception. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Lucy (2014) – Film Review

Luc Besson, the iconic director behind: ‘Léon: The Professional,’ ‘The Fifth Element’ and ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ returns to the sci-fi genre with ‘Lucy,’ a very strange and original science fiction thriller focusing on a young woman whose intellect begins to evolve after being kidnapped, eventually transforming her into something more than human. Although this interesting plot does feel like a departure from what we usually expect within this genre, I personally feel this doesn’t always work within the film’s favour.

Plot Summary: After a young woman (Lucy) gets accidentally caught in a drug deal, she is captured and taken to the feet of a powerful drug lord. Before long, she finds herself a victim of illegal drug trafficking, in which an experimental synthetic drug is implanted inside her lower abdomen to transport it into Europe. But when the blue chemical leaks into her bloodstream, she turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless creature that has evolved beyond human logic…

Even though the narrative of: ‘Lucy’ is definitely a unique one, I personally feel the film doesn’t explore its various ideas and concepts as effectively as it could, as ‘Lucy’ introduces a number of interesting elements when it comes to human evolution, usually without ever fully releasing them. The film does still manage to contain plenty of astonishing/colourful visuals as well as a few memorable scenes throughout its runtime, yet it simply isn’t enough to save the film from the issues that litter its story, despite the film’s screenplay being in development for over nine-years.

The film’s protagonist: ‘Lucy’ is portrayed fairly well by Scarlett Johansson, as she gives a very robotic and cold performance throughout the film the more intelligent her character becomes. However, the character of: ‘Lucy’ is actually one of the film’s biggest missteps, as throughout the narrative, ‘Lucy’ always feels incredibly underdeveloped, as we barely spend any-time with her before she begins to evolve after being contaminated with the chemical. Meaning she quickly turns into a calculating killing machine without emotion. As a result of this, it’s extremely difficult to connect with her, or even like her, as we are given very little characterisation before her change. The supporting cast of Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked and Pilou Asbæk are all decent overall, with the exception of Min-sik Choi as the film’s antagonist: ‘Mr. Jang,’ who actually gives the brutal drug lord an intimidating presence despite his limited screen-time.

Thierry Arbogast’s cinematography unfortunately, doesn’t really reflect the film’s many creative CG effects, as although the film does contain the occasional pleasing shot, they are simply too few and far between, with an strong overeliance on shot-reverse-shot during many scenes. ‘Lucy’ also contains some fairly unusual editing, as the film constantly cuts-away to symbolic images of animals, nature, populated cities and cells materialising etc. And although this does give the film some style, it also makes some scenes come-off unintentionally comedic.

The original score by Eric Serra, plays very well into the film’s story, as this fitting techno score alters throughout the course of the film, with tracks such as: ‘First Cells’ and ‘Taipei Airport’ feeling very unique, not too different from the film’s story itself. My personal favourite track has to be ‘Flickering Through Time’ however, as this beautiful yet haunting piece plays over one of the film’s most memorable and effective scenes as ‘Lucy’ soars through time.

Although the CG effects do range in quality over the course of the film, ‘Lucy’ does get very inventive with its visuals when it comes to its CGI, as the film features an array of colourful and trippy CG visuals the further ‘Lucy’ evolves, which does help redeem ‘Lucy’s overall lack of scientific accuracy (which the film has actually been heavily criticised for since its release). As whilst I personally don’t feel being less-accurate to real-world science is a problem when it comes to science fiction. ‘Lucy’ rests a large amount of its story on the idea that humans only use 10% of their brains, which has actually been debunked by neurological scientists many times over, as humans typically use about 10%-12% of their brains at a time.

In short, whilst I’m sure ‘Lucy’ had the potential to be an eccentric and original sci-fi flick at one point-in-time, the film’s cons simply out-way its pros in my opinion. From its cheesy dialogue through to its poor editing choices and flawed story, ‘Lucy’ feels almost as if it gets bogged-down by itself, almost becoming a little too pretentious for its own good. While I do appreciate the film’s more out-there story and great original score, I’d recommend you stick to ‘The Fifth Element’ for your fill of a Luc Besson sci-fi. Final Rating: 4/10.

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Nocturnal Animals (2016) – Film Review

Part thriller, part drama and part art-house film, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ may not appeal to every viewer, but those it will, it will certainly leave an impression. As this extremely underrated thriller lead by some sublime performances from Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal is incredibly dark and compelling from start-to-finish. Directed by former fashion-designer turned director Tom Ford (A Single Man) and based on the novel: ‘Tony and Susan’ by Austin Wright. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ may not be flawless in its execution, but it is definitely worth a watch.

Plot Summary: An unhappy and lamenting art-curator (Susan Morrow) begins to imagine herself within the pages of a novel manuscript sent to her by her former husband, whose negative associations of their relationship takes on a fictionalised violent direction in a symbolic tale of revenge.

Split between two different storylines, one set in the real-world and one set within the pages of the fictional novel. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ definitely has some changes in tone, as every scene with ‘Susan’ usually focuses on her broken marriage and current lifestyle, which feels very different when compared to the tense revenge story of the novel, and yet, neither of these stories ever feel dull, as they both are engaging for different reasons. Director Tom Ford also makes brilliant use of this structure, as for those more keen-eyed viewers, there are a variety of visual links between the two narratives, the most obvious of which being how ‘Susan’ imagines ex-husband: ‘Edward’ as the father character within the novel, meaning Jake Gyllenhaal takes on two separate roles.

The main cast of Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber and Armie Hammer are all brilliant throughout the film. As everyone one of the film’s characters gets plenty of development, usually all playing a crucial role within the film regardless of whichever storyline they are in. Although Jake Gyllenhaal does a pretty great job taking on two separate roles, the plot of the novel mostly takes-place within the Texas desert, meaning the father character: ‘Tony Hastings’ does have a Texas accent, and whilst not terrible, it is a little inconsistent. This is easily redeemed by the stand-out performance by Aaron Taylor-Johnson as ‘Ray Marcus’ however, as this usually bland actor gives an amazing performance as a redneck delinquent who is just as intimidating as he is erratic.

Although the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey is nothing extraordinary overall, there are still plenty of attractive shots throughout the runtime. As the film uses its cinematography fairly effectively to create a contrast between the two stories, as the film uses an array of wide-shots when focusing on the story within the novel adding too many of its tense moments. Whereas the majority of the scenes within the real-world mostly uses a large number of close-ups and mid-shots to add to the film’s drama.

Without a doubt however, my personal favourite aspect of the film is the original score by Abel Korzeniowski. Utilising an ensemble of violins, the score for: ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is very memorable and excellently builds tension throughout the film, as the soundtrack always remains very beautiful despite also feeling quite haunting. The original score even manages to capture the feeling of loneliness and sadness from ‘Susan’s storyline, with the tracks: ‘A Solitary Women’ and ‘City Lights’ fitting this idea perfectly, yet neither of these two tracks beat-out my personal favourite: ‘Revenge.’ Referred to by most as the film’s signature track.

Throughout either of the two plots, the film is also filled with plenty of themes and underlining messages, many of which relate to the idea of expression through art, which does help distract slightly from the main issue I have with ‘Nocturnal Animals,’ this being the editing. As although it may be intentional. At points, the editing throughout the film becomes very fast-paced, usually cutting between shots quite rapidly, sometimes even using jump-cuts during some of the more drawn-out shots. If this style of editing was present continuously throughout the film, then perhaps it wouldn’t have been as noticeable, but as it was only occasionally, I personally found it quite distracting.

In conclusion, while ‘Nocturnal Animals’ may not be a shining masterpiece, but I do believe this film is very overlooked when it comes to thrillers, as the outstanding performances from the cast mixed-in with the array of very tense moments and wonderful original score make for a genuinely gripping and interesting experience. So, whilst some audience members may not completely understand the themes and messages behind the story, I do feel this film will leave an impact-on those it does appeal to. Final Rating: 8/10.

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