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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The Snowman (2017) – Film Review

Despite being directed by Tomas Alfredson, head of some great films in the past such as: ‘Let the Right One In’ and ‘Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,’ ‘The Snowman’ is a complete mess of a thriller from start-to-finish. Mostly as a result of the variety of issues it faced during its production, from a rushed shooting schedule to plenty of scenes and story elements being left on the cutting-room floor. Although the film’s isolated location alongside the visually pleasing cinematography by Dion Beebe may be very effective at points, they simply aren’t enough to save the film from its weak writing and boring/confusing narrative, even with the film’s decent source material.

Plot Summary: As a rough detective (Harry Hole) investigates the disappearance of a woman whose scarf is found wrapped around an ominous-looking snowman, he begins to fear an elusive serial killer may be active again. So with the help of a brilliant recruit, ‘Harry’ must now connect decades-old cold cases in the hopes of outwitting this threat before the next snowfall…

‘The Snowman’ is based on the novel of the same name by Jo Nesbø, also known as: ‘Snømannen’ in Norwegian. However, although this is the first time audiences are seeing the character of: ‘Harry Hole’ portrayed on-screen, ‘The Snowman’ is actually the seventh entry in the character’s novel series. Making the narrative itself feel very underdeveloped and even a little out-of-place, almost as if the viewer hasn’t been informed of any of the film’s in-world events before the current story begins (this may also be why the film is brimming with overly-long flashbacks).

Michael Fassbender portrays the protagonist: ‘Harry Hole’ within the film, which is unfortunately one of his weakest performances to date, not only due to his poorly-written character (who is incredibly cliché as an uncaring alcoholic detective) but also as a result of his fairly bland line delivery. The rest of the cast featuring Rebecca Ferguson, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Jonas Karlsson and even a short appearance from J.K. Simmons, are all decent with what they are given, although they also suffer from similar poorly-written characters. Many of the characters throughout the film also never seem to react very realistically to situations, as characters usually just shrug-off horrific sights with ease. Never really delving into how traumatic these experiences would actually be for a person to witness.

The cinematography by Dion Beebe is undoubtedly the best aspect of the film however, as the beautiful yet isolated locations of the story really add to the film’s enormous array of wide-shots and uncomfortable close-ups. Needlessly to say, this doesn’t really help with the lack of tension within the film, as although the film makes more than a few attempts at crafting tension-filled moments when ‘Harry’ investigates various crime scenes, the film never quite manages it, usually failing to build-up much of an eerie atmosphere.

Marco Beltrami handles the original score for the film, and although this composer usually does terrific work, his score for: ‘The Snowman’ is mostly very dull. As with the exception of the tracks: ‘Main Titles’ and ‘Down the Harry Hole,’ the entire soundtrack feels as of it could’ve been taken from almost any other generic thriller, which is a huge shame, as I personally feel a more impactful score could’ve really helped with the film’s total lack of tension.

The film’s location probably intrigued a large number of viewers just on itself, clearly taking inspiration from films such as: ‘Deadfall’ and the dark comedy classic: ‘Fargo’ from 1996, the film’s snowy Norway setting really gives the film a distinct look, with the bright red blood from many of the killer’s victims standing-out immensely amongst the white snow. These visuals also help to distract from the film’s slow-pacing, as the film’s main mystery usually feels like quite a drag, with clues only being revealed very slowly over the course of the film.

In conclusion, ‘The Snowman’ definitely fails in more categories than one, as despite its interesting location and pretty fantastic cinematography, the film’s messy story and bland performances make the film pretty unappealing when considering it’s over two-hour runtime. Whilst I’m sure ‘The Snowman’ had the potential to be a great semi-Noir thriller at some-point in time, especially considering it was initially going to be directed by the legendary Martain Scorsese, who eventually left the film to pursue other projects. ‘The Snowman’ is still far from the chilling crime tale it attempted to be, and overall, is a complete disappointment. Final Rating: 3/10.

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The Nice Guys (2016) – Film Review

This 70s throwback to classic buddy-cop comedy films hits all the right marks, as the fantastic chemistry between Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling alongside the film’s great visuals and hilarious comedic moments. All make ‘The Nice Guys’ certainly worth a watch whether you are incredibly fond of action-comedies or not, as I feel this humorous flick definitely deserves more attention.

Plot Summary: In 1970s Los Angeles, bumbling private eye: ‘Holland March’ and muscle-for-hire: ‘Jackson Healy’ become unlikely partners when they find themselves both looking for a missing woman named: ‘Amelia’ following the death of a high-profile porn star. ‘Amelia’s ties to the deceased actress are unclear, but as other members of the porn industry turn-up dead, ‘March’ and ‘Healy’s investigation reveals a much bigger conspiracy than the duo could have ever anticipated…

Heavily inspired by action/comedy classics such as: ‘Lethal Weapon’ and ‘Rush Hour,’ ‘The Nice Guys’ is directed by Shane Black (Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, Iron Man 3, The Predator) who clearly brings all his love for this genre to the forefront. As despite the film doing quite poorly in cinemas upon its initial release, the film is clearly a true passion project for Shane Black, being filled with the director’s usual style and classic witty dialogue from start-to-finish.

Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling make an excellent paring as: ‘Jackson Healy’ and ‘Holland March’ throughout the film’s story. As both actors have an enormous amount of chemistry with each other and add plenty of humour into the plot through their interactions with their opposite, as well as ‘Holland’s daughter: ‘Holly March’ portrayed by Angourie Rice, who is very sarcastic and angsty towards many of the other characters (which can become a little irritating after a while). Matthew Bomer, Margaret Qualley, Yaya DaCosta and Keith David also have small roles within the film, and are all decent despite not being given much screen-time overall.

Philippe Rousselot handles the cinematography throughout ‘The Nice Guys,’ and although attractive throughout most of the runtime, the variety of shots is probably the weakest aspect of the film just down to elimination. Still, the cinematography does back-up the story very effectively, never taking the viewer’s attention away from the mystery unravelling throughout the narrative. I also feel the film’s colour palette could’ve really added to the film’s visual flair more, as the colour palette doesn’t really delve much into the 1970s style aside from the occasional vibrant shot. However, the film does integrate 70s style in its opening titles which I appreciated, as the Warner Brothers’ logo seen in the beginning of the film is the actual graphic Warner Bros. Pictures used during the 1970s for their films.

The original score by John Ottman and David Buckley fits the film’s style and time-period perfectly, as the soundtrack attempts to replicate the music of the time through its use of trumpets and a drumkit to add to many of the comedic moments and establishing shots, with the tracks: ‘Cars That Drive Themselves’ and ‘P.I. Life’ being my two personal favourites (in addition to the film’s main theme). Many of the film’s action scenes do slightly weaken the score however, as anytime the screen is filled with bullets and fistfights, the original score suddenly becomes a lot more generic.

The majority of the jokes throughout the film do land very successfully, in my opinion, as ‘The Nice Guys’ has a pretty wide-range of comedy throughout its runtime. From the hilarious and quippy dialogue between the two main protagonists to the parodying of classic action tropes and even a little bit of slapstick thrown-in for good measure. All of the comedy throughout the film is pretty inventive and ensures that the film is filled with humour for every-kind of viewer.

Despite the film’s main focus being its humour however, the action throughout the film is actually very well-executed, from a high-speed car chase through to chaotic shoot-outs and bare-fist scuffles. ‘The Nice Guys’ nails it’s action scenes just as well as it’s jokes, as each action set-piece is always exciting and brilliantly choreographed. My only real criticism of the film is probably it’s length, as I feel the film does go on for slightly too-long nearing end of its story.

On the whole, it’s a real shame many that audiences had no interest in ‘The Nice Guys,’ as although many would consider buddy-cop action flicks a dead genre similar to westerns. I personally feel we need more films like this, as bringing back these old kinds of stories really makes the film stand-out amongst the complete onslaught of modern superhero blockbusters and generic horror scare-fests. So although I feel a sequel to ‘The Nice Guys’ is very unlikely to ever be made, the mere mention of one as even a possibility still gets me excited to this day, as I would love to see these characters return to the silver screen. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Game Night (2018) – Film Review

Going in initially, I had very little expectations for: ‘Game Night,’ as although I mostly enjoyed ‘Horrible Bosses’ (which was written by this film’s directors). I’ve always found most modern comedies to be very hit-or-miss. However, as the runtime continued on, I soon realised ‘Game Night’ was far more than just your disposable comedy flick, as the great cinematography by Barry Peterson and the excellent original score by Cliff Martinez made the film just as stylish as it was entertaining.

Plot Summary: A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights soon find themselves entangled in a real-life mystery when the shady brother of one of them is kidnapped by a group of dangerous criminals…

Right from the opening titles, which are displayed through various falling board game pieces, through to the end credits, which entirely cover a pinboard with names of both the cast and crew (as well as an array of jokes). ‘Game Night’ is constantly brimming with style throughout its story, despite first appearing as nothing more than a straightforward comedy. As the film uses its terrific editing to add to the humour at many different points, giving the impression that no corners were cut by the filmmakers when it comes to the filmmaking itself.

Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler as well as the large supporting cast are all fantastic within their roles, with each member of the cast having decent chemistry with each other and plenty of great comedic moments between them (which is most likely a result of the cast actually taking-part in their own game night prior to filming). Jesse Plemons has without a doubt the film’s best character in my opinion, as he portrays the game night obsessed police officer: ‘Gary,’ who is just as creepy as he is hilarious every-time he is on-screen. Unlike most modern comedies, the characters throughout the film also get a surprising amount of characterisation. As there are plenty of scenes throughout the story in which the pacing slows-down to develop each one of the characters individually, which makes the film more engaging overall, and is a complete breath of fresh air after so many bland comedies with over-acted goofballs as their protagonists.

The cinematography by Barry Peterson is also very creative throughout the film, as in addition to a variety of visually-appealing shots, ‘Game Night’ also frames many of its locations as if they are pieces on a game board, almost as if every-time the characters arrive at a building, it’s as if they are arriving at a stop whilst playing: ‘The Game of Life,’ which is exceedingly inventive. As well as this, the film features a variety of interesting transitions between scenes and even a moment which is filmed entirely within a single-take, both of which I felt really added to the film’s overall visual presentation and enjoyable flow.

Although it doesn’t quite fit every scene, the original score by Cliff Martez is both unique and memorable, as the soundtrack uses a minimalist techno feel to mesh-well alongside the film’s stylistic editing and cinematography. Whether a light-hearted comedic scene or even one of the more tense moments nearing the end of the film, the score itself is brilliant. I’m too surprised by this however, as this composer has done some phenomenal scores in his past such as: ‘Drive,’ ‘Contagion’ and ‘The Neon Demon’ just to name a few. So, ‘Game Night’ is simply just another great soundtrack to add to his sublime catalogue of work.

The film really only has one major issue for me, which it’s the song choice. As although I understand the film is mostly light-hearted fun, the use of iconic songs such as: ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and ‘Quando, Quando, Quando’ don’t really fit with the film’s tone, and can make the film feel a little cheesy at points. Of course, as the film is a comedy, there is also plenty of jokes that don’t quite hit the mark, but I’d say there are definitely far more that do than don’t in this case, as the film avoids the lazily-written gross-out jokes and shock humour that infests a large number of modern comedies.

In short, it’s fair to say that ‘Game Night’ was definitely a pleasant surprise for me on my initial watch. As I never expected this comedy to be as memorable or as well-crafted as it actually is. As although it’s not perfect due to its unusual song choices and a couple of overly-long jokes, ‘Game Night’ is possibly one of the best comedies of the last few years, and while there are better displays of great filmmaking out there, I do feel this film should be higher on many cinephile’s watchlists. Final Rating: high 8/10.

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A Clockwork Orange (1972) – Film Review

Despite being very unusual and even somewhat disturbing throughout, legendary director Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket) brings to life one of the best films of his career. As ‘A Clockwork Orange’ explores an original story with some impressive cinematography and set-design, all leading the film to become very iconic and memorable within its own right. Even surpassing the novel it’s originally based on by Anthony Burgess, even with Kubrick crafting easily his most faithful adaptation to date when it comes to his filmography.

Plot Summary: In the near future, a young sadistic gang leader (Alex) is imprisoned after a violent event goes public, forcing him to serve time. But with the promise of an early release, ‘Alex’ is eventually lead to volunteer for a conduct-aversion experiment, which doesn’t go as he anticipated…

Although the narrative throughout ‘A Clockwork Orange’ never fails to be engaging, usually focusing heavily on dark themes of insanity, violence and morals. I do feel the film could definitely be seen as too intense for some viewers, as although the large amount of nudity and torture does serve the film’s story, it could also be seen as tasteless for some, regardless of the film’s overall lack of blood and gore during many of the violent scenes.

Ignoring the unbelievable performance from Malcolm McDowell as the psychotic protagonist: ‘Alex,’ Warren Clarke, Aubrey Morris, James Marcus, Michael Bates and Carl Duering are all excellent in their respective roles, despite their very limited screen-time and development, and although the over-the-top British accents many of the characters have may put some viewers off, I do feel it fits well within the interesting sci-fi world the film sets-up. However, we do get another appearance near the end of the film from a character known as: ‘Mr. Alexander,’ portrayed by the late Patrick Magee. Who despite being an important character within the plot, gives a performance a little too ridiculous in my opinion, as his facial expressions end-up coming off as more comedic than emotional during his dramatic scene nearing the end of the runtime.

The cinematography by the late John Alcott definitely adds another level to the film, as the enormous amount of movement and uncomfortable close-ups throughout the film really add to the story itself, including the now-iconic: ‘Kubrick Stare,’ which can be seen in many of his films. In addition to the fantastic cinematography however, is also the brilliant editing, which perfectly fits the film’s style, almost as if ‘Alex’ himself is taking the audience through the story within his erratic mind. This also links back to his narration, which is present throughout the film and is brimming with plenty of well-written and memorable dialogue.

The original score by Wendy Carlos is another element of the film I really enjoy, utilising an electronic soundtrack to further push the weird tone of the film, as the score recreates many of: ‘Alex’s favourite classic songs in an interesting way, resulting in a soundtrack that’s both memorable and unique. The film also uses a variety of iconic songs very effectively, perfectly capturing the insanity within the main group of misfits. One of the most memorable moments of the film even comes from this, as ‘Alex’ brutally beats a couple whilst singing the classic song: ‘Singin’ in the Rain.’

As previously mentioned, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is also one of the few films where the sets are incredibly iconic by themselves, as each location the characters visit is always colourful and visually appealing. From the ‘Korova Milk Bar’ through to the London apartment ‘Alex’ and his parents call home, every set has plenty of 1970s style mixed-in with some science fiction aspects (this also applies to the many wonderful costumes on display throughout the film). There were also a number of interesting scenes that were left on the cutting-room floor, including more scenes set within the ‘Korova Milk Bar’ among plenty of other scenes focusing on the characters committing more horrible acts.

In short, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is an extremely bizarre yet incredible experience, as the film is just as interesting to discuss as it is to watch among many film fans. Containing plenty of hidden messages and underlining themes alongside its phenomenal filmmaking and brilliant story, I feel the film is truly one of Kubrick’s best, despite not beating-out my personal favourite: ‘The Shining.’ So although ‘A Clockwork Orange isn’t without its flaws, I would still highly recommend this one for anyone seeking something a little more out-there, and of course, also due to its huge impact on pop-culture and the film industry alike. Final Rating: high 8/10.

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This Year in Film (2019) – Film List

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

Us

Beginning the year in quite a disappointing fashion, Jordan Peele’s follow-up to his 2017 smash-hit: ‘Get Out’ was a far-cry from excellent for me. As despite its brilliant reviews, I personally found the film’s story to be bloated with unexplained ideas and ridiculous scenes alike, equalling to a horror flick that places far more emphasis on it’s themes than it’s actual narrative, alongside being incredibly inconsistent with its tone.

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Joker

One of my favourite films from this year, ‘Joker’ directed by Todd Philips, is an interesting take on the comic book genre. Focusing more on being an engaging character piece with themes of untreated metal illness rather than your usual barrage of CG action and explosions, all shown through some beautiful cinematography and an eerie original score.

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Knives Out

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

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In the Tall Grass

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

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Marriage Story

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

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The Silence

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

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Haunt

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

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Le Mans ’66 (Ford v Ferrari)

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

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Toy Story 4

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

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I Am Mother

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

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It: Chapter 2

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

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Crawl

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

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Yesterday

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

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The Platform

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

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Aladdin

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

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The Hustle

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

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Velvet Buzzsaw

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

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Avengers: Endgame

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

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Dolemite Is My Name

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

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Jumanji: The Next Level

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

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters

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

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Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

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

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Terminator: Dark Fate

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

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John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

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

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Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

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

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Spider-Man: Far From Home

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

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The Lion King

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

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Little Monsters

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

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Serenity

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

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Fractured

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

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The Lighthouse

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

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Parasite

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

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Captain Marvel

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

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Zombieland: Double Tap

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

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The Irishman

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

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Hellboy

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

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1917

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

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Fighting with My Family

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

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Jojo Rabbit

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

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Missing Link

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

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Ready or Not

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

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Doctor Sleep

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

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Child’s Play

From the producers of the ‘It’ reimagining from 2017, this remake of the 1980s horror classic: ‘Child’s Play’ does have some great elements, such as some hilarious scenes of dark comedy, gory and creative death scenes and even a pretty memorable voice performance by Mark Hamill as the iconic killer doll: ‘Chucky,’ and yet, the film never quite manages to escape its remake roots and goofy original idea, usually feeling more unnecessary than anything else.

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Wounds

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

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Pet Sematary

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

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I Lost My Body

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

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Uncut Gems

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

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Midsommar

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

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Unicorn Store

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

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Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark

Whilst I definitely would’ve preferred an anthology-type structure when it comes to an adaptation of the ‘Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark’ book series, this Guillermo del Toro produced horror does still have some entertainment value, and I could see the film being very appealing to younger viewers desiring a gateway into the genre.

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The Kid Who Would Be King

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

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We’re the Millers (2013) – Film Review

Even with a mostly standard plot for a comedy flick, I ended-up enjoying ‘We’re the Millers’ more than I initially expected. As the entire cast (especially Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston) have excellent chemistry with each other, resulting in the majority of the humour throughout the story working quite well, despite the film having a few noticeable flaws throughout its runtime.

Plot Summary: When a middle-aged pot dealer is tasked with moving a huge shipment of weed into the United States from Mexico for a large pay packet, he puts together a fake family of various people he knows from his flat in an attempt to make it over the border…

Comedy as a genre has always been very opinionated, as everyone obviously has their own taste when it comes to what they find amusing. But for the most part, I would say enjoyed the humour throughout the film, as aside from a few moments where the joke was simply one character saying something disgusting or incredibly stupid out loud to another group of characters (as I personally find this kind of comedy a little lazy) I do think most of the jokes land. However, I also feel a few more jokes hidden within the background of shots would’ve also added to the film in more ways than one.

Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts and Will Poulter all portray random people thrown together in the hope of creating this false family, and I would say they work well together throughout the film. Always coming off as a very dysfunctional yet still likeable group, with all of the cast portraying very different personalities without losing any comedic timing. Interestingly, ‘We’re the Millers’ is actually the second film in which Jennifer Aniston plays a character who is recruited to create a fake family, the first being the comedy flick: ‘Just Go With It’ in 2011.

Whilst the film does have the occasional appealing shot, the cinematography by Barry Peterson isn’t anything spectacular, as the film has mostly generic cinematography for a comedy. However, the original score by Ludwig Göransson and Theodore Shapiro is definitely one of the better elements of the film, as the soundtrack fits the tone of the film perfectly, utilising an acoustic guitar which always manages to make the film feel interesting enough to be somewhat memorable. Considering the first composer has worked on films such as: ‘Creed’ and ‘Black Panther’ however, this shouldn’t be that much of a surprise.

My main criticism of the film is the overall lack of jokes or comedy set-pieces based around the idea of the characters being a fake family, as although there are a few jokes throughout the narrative based-around this idea, I never quite felt the film made full use of this concept, and usually just fell back onto your usual comedy writing. I also personally felt the film’s pacing is far too quick, as the film almost rushes through scenes within the story in order to quickly get to another gag, rather than having them happen alongside each other. In addition to this, I also felt more focus on some of the more emotional or serious scenes could’ve really helped build-up tension and make the story more engaging.

All in all, ‘We’re the Millers’ is a serviceable comedy, as while I don’t think the film is fantastic by any means. I enjoyed myself with this simple comedy for what it attempted to be, as although I still think the cinematography and some of the humour could be improved, I found the film to be a mostly entertaining ride and a pretty easy watch due to its fun story and brilliant cast. Final Rating: low 6/10.

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Nightcrawler (2014) – Film Review

Held-up by an incredible performance from Jake Gyllenhaal, ‘Nightcrawler’ is a visually beautiful and very tense thriller from director Dan Gilroy (Roman J. Israel Esq, Velvet Buzzsaw), focusing on the dangerous life of a freelance journalist who ends-up falling deeper and deeper into a world of greed and accomplishment. Gripping from start-to-finish (as well as being one of my personal all-time favourite films), ‘Nightcrawler’ truly ends-up being an amazing experience any film fan is sure to enjoy.

Plot Summary: When ‘Louis Bloom,’ a con-man desperate for work, muscles his way into the world of Los Angeles crime journalism, he blurs the line between observer and participant to become the star of his own story, determined to rise to the top regardless of competition, or even morals…

Being shot over the course of twenty-eight nights. The film does a brilliant job of blending a narrative of what the life for a freelance journalist is actually like, as well as focusing on the more personal story of: ‘Louis’ at the same time, with both of them fitting the dark tone of the film extremely well. This alongside the exploration of the city of Los Angeles gives the film a great personality, as the film explores every seedy corner of the city, always using real locations over any visual effects, unlike many other films nowadays.

Jake Gyllenhaal also gives one of the best performances of his career here, coming-off as a creepy, sly and selfish character who excels at his work, yet despite being mostly unlikable. He still manages to be an engaging protagonist mostly through his charisma and intelligence, even as he descends further and further down the line. Gyllenhaal even went to the extent of losing over twenty-pounds for the role, which was actually Gyllenhaal’s own idea, as he visualised ‘Lou’ as a hungry coyote. Riz Ahmed also appears in the film as ‘Rick,’, ‘Louis’ underpaid and underappreciated partner who serves as almost his complete opposite in many different ways. These two alongside the supporting cast of Rene Russolate and the late Bill Paxton are all brilliant throughout the film, never failing to impress within their respective roles.

The cinematography by Robert Elswit is some of the best cinematography I’ve seen in a film in a long-time, utilising an enormous amount of varied shots, including a large amount of wide and mid shots, which are always a joy to see, with the film always using its cinematography to increase the amount of tension or drama that’s on-screen. The film also makes great use of it’s dark blue and orange colour palette as well as large amounts of street lighting, which both definitely help give the film a distinct visual flair and make many of the bright colours stand-out amongst the darkness of Los Angeles at night.

This is also backed-up by the calming and yet also eerie original score by James Newton Howard, and while perhaps not incredibly memorable on itself, I do like this composer for much of his previous work (The Sixth Sense, King Kong, I Am Legend) and the soundtrack here does back-up the film pretty well for the majority of its runtime, aside from the occasional track which can come-off as slightly cliché.

Another element of the film I really enjoy is it’s grasp on realism, as although I’m no expert in regards to the world of crime journalism. The film never really seems to go beyond believability within its story, even when the story begins to enter more dangerous territory for its characters. One element of the film that didn’t really exceed my expectations however, was the film’s editing. As although the editing throughout the film is decent, I was never overly impressed by it, as I always felt it was one of the few areas of the film which could’ve been slightly improved.

In conclusion, ‘Nightcrawler’ still retains it’s spot on my list of favourites, with its outstanding cinematography in addition to the pretty fantastic original score and performances throughout. The film has a lot to offer, and I’m still thrilled the film came out as well as I did. As due to both its filmmaking and it’s appeal, I’d absolutely recommend anyone give ‘Nightcrawler’ a watch. Final Rating: 9/10.

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