Mad God (2021) – Film Review

Written, directed and produced (among many other credits) by Phil Tippett, the founder and namesake of Tippett Studio, whose varied career in visual effects has spanned more than thirty years and includes two Academy Award wins and six nominations. Mad God, released in 2021, is a rich visual treat for enthusiasts of horror and stop-motion animation alike, serving as a harrowing delve into a post-apocalyptic hellscape that is both unique and disturbing. Harbouring a cinematic allure that is equal parts unsettling and mesmerising, Mad God proves that even in the age of CGI, the art form of stop-motion remains strong, even if the story and characters it’s bringing to life are far from well-developed.

Plot Summary: Equipped with a gas mask and an ageing map, the Assassin, a lone iron-clad humanoid, descends into an underworld of tortured souls, ruined cities and wretched monstrosities on a covert mission to reach the heart of this nightmarish realm of suffering…

First starting work on the project in the late 1980s, shortly after creating effects for RoboCop 2, released in 1990. Mad God has been Tippett’s pet project for over thirty years, despite the filmmaker almost considering abandoning the project when Jurassic Park was released in 1993, as CG effects appeared to make stop-motion a thing of the past. After some urging from those around him, however, Tippett decided to create a Kickstarter campaign that allowed him to complete the project. In the following years, three parts of Mad God were released online, which made up around half of the full eighty-two-minute version that was eventually screened at various film festivals. And whilst this story behind the film’s creation is certainly intriguing, Mad God‘s biggest shortcoming is that it lacks a narrative itself, or at least a coherent one. Instead, the film relies on visual storytelling and world-building as the audience follows the Assassin on his lengthy journey, encountering many distinct creatures, locations and civilisations on a mission that is never disclosed. As such, watching Mad God requires a lot of concentration to get the most out of it, much like how the project was crafted, I suppose.

With no dialogue or characterisation to speak of, Mad God‘s characters hinge entirely on their design. Thankfully, every character/creature that appears throughout the runtime is visibly repulsive, unnerving and eccentric. At the core of Mad God‘s story is a character only known as the Assassin, a silent, gas mask-wearing humanoid who also receives no characterisation, instead functioning as an audience surrogate through Tippett’s fever dream of a post-apocalyptic world. As the film features no dialogue, the central cast, including Alex Cox, Niketa Roman and Satish Ratakonda, only appear in a handful of live-action sequences, which similar to the scenes of stop-motion, are grimy and discomforting whilst relying on visuals over direct storytelling. While these sequences are interesting and count towards what little plot there is, many of these moments also pull you out of the experience and are often plagued by the film’s need to implement oral sounds to ensure the human characters don’t appear mute, meaning noises like “Eh?” and “Hmmm” become rather repetitious.

The cinematography by Chris Morley and Phil Tippett allows for spectacular framing within every scene, lending to the atmosphere and intrigue of each setting, whether its an oxidised factory of greasy machinery or a society of helpless slaves ruled over by an electronic screen that speaks in child-like gibberish. Furthermore, each of the surroundings the Assassin treks across is distinguished by the film’s colour palette, which seamlessly jumps from cold blues to vile greens and blood reds, making the stop-motion appear incredibly cinematic. Interestingly, one scene, which features a mountain of dead soldiers, was actually accomplished by melting thousands of plastic army men together on a wire. This scene took six animators around three years to complete, demonstrating the substantial amount of dedication required to animate even a single scene of Mad God.

Through prolonged tracks like Long Way Down and ConveyanceMad God‘s original score by Dan Wool enhances many of the surreal visuals in a relatively nuanced fashion, making for a soundtrack that isn’t all that memorable, but avoids becoming overbearing as to let the visuals speak for themselves. However, the sound design is where the film’s audio truly shines as the countless animalistic growls of the mutated creatures that roam Mad God‘s mystifying world are ghastly and add audible depth to whichever location the Assassin finds himself.

As most would expect from Tippett Studio, the animation itself is smooth yet appropriately unearthly, providing every creature with its own jittery method of walking/crawling that feels remarkably natural. What’s even more impressive is that, according to Tippett, a considerable amount of the animation on Mad God was actually conducted by novice students who wanted to gain some filmmaking experience.

In summary, Mad God will likely be a very divisive film on account of its largely interpretive narrative and absence of well-defined characters. But, these annoyances ultimately don’t matter that much in the grand scheme, as Mad God thrives in what it’s trying to do. Presenting itself as a love letter to stop-motion that could only be realised by a legendary visual effects artist like Phil Tippett. And with stop-motion animation in such short supply nowadays, an outstanding piece of artsy like Mad God will always be a joy to behold, faults or not. Rating: 7/10.

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Mortal Engines (2018) – Film Review

Based on the novel of the same name by Philip Reeve, the first entry in a string of young-adult novels, 2018’s Mortal Engines seemed like a blockbuster destined for success and an ensuing franchise upon its initial release, but, evidently, that was not the case. Carrying over much of the same crew behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, Mortal Engines has no shortage of eye-catching visuals and large-scale action set pieces, but the film lacks the interesting characters and engrossing story required to fuel a post-apocalyptic blockbuster of epic proportions.

Plot Summary: Thousands of years after human civilisation was destroyed by a cataclysmic event, mankind has adapted, and a new way of life has evolved. Gigantic roaming cities now wander the Earth, ruthlessly preying upon smaller municipalities to feed their enormous engines. One of these cities; the great traction city of London, is home to Tom Natsworthy, an apprentice historian, who eventually finds himself stranded and fighting for survival in the barren Outlands after encountering the evasive fugitive, Hester Shaw…

Directed by Christian Rivers, a prior storyboard and visual effects artist for both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies. Mortal Engines shares more than a few similarities with co-writer/producer Peter Jackson’s adaptations of J.R.R Tolkien’s high-fantasy novels. For instance, much like the trilogies set within Middle-Earth, Mortal Engines places a heavy focus on world-building, continuously introducing new characters, lore and pieces of futuristic technology to flesh out its post-apocalyptic world. However, the diverse mix of locations throughout the narrative is by far the most fascinating aspect of the fictional world. From the roaming city of the former British capital to Airhaven; a metropolis floating amongst the clouds, to the nefarious Rustwater Marshes; an expansive section of swampland where countless unethical exchanges take place. Every location presented during the runtime is far more memorable than any of the characters that traverse through them. 

Speaking of the characters, whether they derive from one of the monumental roaming cities or the desolate Outlands, the characters of Mortal Engines are exceptionally bland. Harbouring generic traits and obligatory backstories, the characters merely exist to push the story forward. The main cast of Hera Hilmar, Robert Sheehan, Jihae Kim, Ronan Raftery, Leila George and Hugo Weaving, don’t elevate the screenplay either, as their exaggerated British accents and equally exaggerated deliveries of corny and exposition-heavy dialogue make it difficult to care for any of them. Furthermore, by the time the third act arrives, we’re told that Hester and Tom have developed feelings for each other, a plot point that seems extremely far-fetched considering that the pair share only a handful of conversations that aren’t directly related to the narrative.

Largely consisting of wide shots to establish the extensive amount of locations visited throughout the story, Simon Raby’s cinematography undoubtedly enriches the film by impressively capturing the scope of the world and the enormous cities that roam within it. Moreover, the steampunk aesthetic supplies a hefty dose of personality to the visualsparticularly whenever it comes to scenes set within the roaming city of London, as the rundown futuristic technology combined with British iconography, forms a striking visual meld. Contrarily, the post-apocalyptic landscape of the Outlands is devoid of life and colour, making the industrial levels of the motorised cities almost seem appealing in comparison. 

The original score by Tom Holkenborg, a.k.a. Junkie XL, is, for the most part, action-dominated, with tracks like The ChaseFirst Strike and No Going Back, all bleeding into one another due to their similarities. And whilst the soundtrack never really drags, the score does become rather repetitive as Holkenborg struggles to innovate on the action-orientated tracks. Meaning that all of the action sequences essentially contain the same selection of interchangeable tracks, each blaring out pounding percussions and string ostinatos.

Although many of the action sequences are relatively uninspired, the visual effects throughout Mortal Engines cannot be faulted. The most blatant example of how remarkable the visual effects are can be seen with the CG character, Shrike, a cyborg assassin, portrayed by Stephen Lang. While the film’s visual effects company, Weta Digital, is well-known for developing exceptional motion-capture characters, such as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings and Caesar in the most-recent Planet of the Apes trilogy. In Mortal Engines, Shrike was created using alternative techniques to Weta Digital’s usual approach, as visual effects artists disregarded modern motion-capture methods to instead employ traditional keyframe animation and accurately capture Lang’s subtle facial expressions. Nevertheless, much like many of the other characters within Mortal Engines, Shrike and his poignant relationship with protagonist, Hester Shaw, feels greatly under-realised, somewhat dampening the terrific CGI.

In summary, for a blockbuster that revolves around massive roaming cities, soaring airships and steampunk cyborgs, Mortal Engines is strangely forgettable. Whilst the film is visually creative, dynamic and propulsive, emotionally and thematically, it’s hollow and flat, barely giving a reseason for its audience to be engaged. And even though I understand that in the last few years, Peter Jackson seems to have turned his attention towards directing documentaries as opposed to blown-up blockbusters. I believe that Mortal Engines could’ve been improved should Jackson have helmed the project and given the screenplay a few more rewrites and lookovers, potentially capturing some of the magic that made his prior plunges into the mystical world of Middle-Earth so enthralling. Rating: high 4/10.

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Cargo (2017) – Film Review

Based on the short film of the same name, which went on to be an online sensation following its release in 2013, garnering over thirteen million views on YouTube alone. Cargo takes a refreshingly character-driven approach to the post-apocalyptic genre, differentiating itself from other films featuring flesh-devouring monstrosities through its secluded setting and Martin Freeman’s terrific lead performance. A combination that will surely satisfy most zombie fanatics, even if the genre’s more mainstream crowd could potentially be disappointed at the exclusion of decaying hordes of the undead, a true sense of dread and a lack of extravagant gore.

Plot Summary: After an epidemic spreads across Australia morphing humanity into flesh-eating monsters, Andy, along with his wife, Kay, and their infant daughter, Rosie, attempt to escape the Outback via the river, making their way to a presumably secure military base. But, when the trio stumble upon an abandoned yacht, Kay is bitten while searching the vessel for supplies, soon passing the virus onto her husband. With his time now running short, Andy has one mission: find a new home for his daughter…

Directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, Cargo is not only Howling and Ramke’s first feature-length film, but is also Australia’s first-ever production to be spotlighted as a Netflix Original, released globally on the streaming service in 2017. And although Netflix has ventured into the post-apocalyptic genre before with projects like Ravenous and Z Nation, both Howling and Ramke wanted Cargo to be more than just a straightforward story of survival. Subsequently, this led the pair to intertwine social commentary into their zombie-centric story, covering topics ranging from environmental fracking to the exploitation of Australia’s aboriginal peoples. But, in my opinion, the best element of Cargo is its central concept, as the idea of a father having only forty-eight hours to find a new life for his child is a plot enriched with dramatic potential. Moreover, the nocuous outbreak Andy finds himself within serves as the perfect backdrop to juxtapose the qualities one would look for in a capable (and devoted) guardian.

Speaking of the protagonist, Martin Freeman leads the cast brilliantly as Andy, portraying an affectionate father and husband who is determined to protect his family at all costs. An intention which, whilst honourable, often lands him and his loved ones in an even more treacherous spot as Andy refuses to accept when he is out of time. Freeman’s youthful co-star, Simone Landers, unfortunately, doesn’t fare quite as well, as her frail performance frequently results in poignant scenes feeling less sincere. However, Thoomi herself is still an intriguing character, with her subplot concentrating on the demise of her father and the survival of a nearby native tribe, providing a vastly different perspective on the epidemic when compared to Andy’s point of view.

Utilising the vegetation-splotched, sun-parched rural land of the Australian Outback flawlessly, the cinematography by Geoffrey Simpson is both varied and visually interesting. Even if, in reality, the Australian wilderness where Cargo was shot threw everything it had at the production crew with South Australia experiencing what was supposedly its worst weather in a century, with floods, power blackouts, torrential downpours, and even a miniature cyclone all occurring during the five weeks of production. Yet, miraculously, the crew didn’t lose even a single day’s worth of filming. This was extremely fortunate on behalf of the filmmakers, given that the remote setting of the narrative is a crucial player in the film’s identity, with its harsh and unforgiving nature hurling countless obstacles at our characters whilst, at the same time, offering them a means to survive.

Managed by four distinct composers, including Michael Hohnen, Daniel Rankine, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and Johnathon Mangarri Yunupingu. The original score for Cargo greatly strengthens each scene’s emotional significance, almost as if the score is applying a proverbial highlighter to certain moments, with sombre, tenuous tracks like The Grave and Goodbye flourishingly pulling at the audience’s heartstrings more times than one.

Taking an alternate route to avoid comparisons to zombie designs of the 1970s, seen in classic horror films like Rabid and Night of the Living DeadCargo strays away from many of the usual clichés associated with the undead, centring its zombie design around an orange pus-like substance that oozes from the infected’s facial orifices rather than the bleeding open wounds the living dead are commonly known for. This distinction is further emphasised through what we see of their behaviour, as the infected are presented as mindless animals more than they are man-eating monsters, requiring dark/damp areas to incubate during the daytime before feasting on whatever wildlife they can find once night falls. Quickly reminding the audience that what they are witnessing is a viral infection, hence why the infected are even nicknamed; “Virals.”

In summary, even if Cargo‘s story could’ve been executed better with a motley of improvements, I feel Cargo is still a creditable entry into the realm of post-apocalyptic storytelling. Standing as a zombie flick with soul and pathos, which, in turn, makes the living dead formidable once again, not because of jump-scares or excessive bloodshed, but because of the film’s biggest drawcard; its sheer humanity. Telling a story that largely revolves around the notion of human determination, seeing how far an individual will go to protect another, even in the bleakest of circumstances. Rating: 7/10.

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Dredd (2012) – Film Review

A considerably overlooked film when it comes to the sci-fi genre, Dredd, written by Alex Garland and directed by Pete Travis (Vantage PointEndgameCity of Tiny Lights), centres on said character. Whose comic strip in the science fiction anthology series, 2000 AD, was one of the longest-running in the magazine’s history, being featured since its second issue in 1977. Merging futurism with law enforcement, Dredd and his fellow Judges are empowered to arrest, sentence and even execute criminals on the spot, and this modern film adaptation, fuelled by much of the same bombastic violence and sci-fi imagery, does a remarkable job of capturing its source material’s gritty spirit.

Plot Summary: In a dystopian future on the American East Coast lies the overpopulated and crime-ridden metropolis known as Mega-City One, police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner. Within this city, one of these officers, the resolute; Judge Dredd, is assigned to assess rookie, Cassandra Anderson, as the two are ordered to reach the top of an apartment complex and stop Ma-Ma and her clan from manufacturing and distributing narcotics. But, when the pair enter the complex, they find themselves ensnared as Ma-Ma locks down the building, forcing Dredd and his newfangled partner to fight their way out, one level at a time…

Technically a reboot following the character’s first cinematic interpretation with 1995’s Judge Dredd, which featured Sylvester Stallone as the titular character. Dredd is a far more faithful adaption, as while Stallone may have looked the part, it was clear that the film itself thoroughly misunderstood the source material. Dredd, however, immediately thrusts its audience into a riveting and intense story, which considering how self-contained it is, also manages to fit a surprising amount of world-building in between. Hinting towards the many other districts of Mega-City One we could’ve seen should Dredd have been a box-office success rather than the commercial disappointment it sadly was, earning a little over £41 million on a budget of £45 million.

Speaking only when necessary and never giving even the slightest hint of emotion, Karl Urban portrays the film’s protagonist, Judge Dredd, with extreme accuracy. Illustrating Urban’s clear understanding of the role, just as he does in the original comic strips, Dredd never breaks temperament or goes through a moving character arc. Instead, Dredd is simply an incorruptible officer with no time for low-life criminals and Urban nails this portrayal, even with half his head obscured by a helmet for the entirety of the runtime. Dredd’s partner, Cassandra Anderson, portrayed by Olivia Thirlby, is also a compelling character, demonstrating a level of skill far below her superior yet possessing psychic abilities which make her too valuable to dismiss. Lastly, there is Ma-Ma, the film’s antagonist, who was originally written as an elderly woman before Lena Headey convinced Alex Garland to make her a middle-aged misandrist. And although there isn’t the same depth to her character as Dredd or his rookie partner, Ma-Ma is still a convincing felon, as Headey portrays a ruthless individual living in an equally ruthless world.

Playing into the idea of this post-apocalyptic world being in constant disarray, Dredd‘s grimy set design along with its murky brown colour palette presents the setting of Mega-City One (a.k.a. Johannesburg with a few CG enhancements) as a rundown metropolis with similarly rundown technology. Correspondingly, the filthy hallways of the apartment complex, Peach Trees, are always permeated with litter, aged sci-fi scrap and spray-painted walls. Moreover, the film is given a great sense of style through the energetic camerawork by Anthony Dod Mantle and the smooth integration of CG effects, which outside of a handful of scenes where the film fully indulges in graphic violence by having blood flung towards the camera, have aged admirably.

As you’d expect from a pessimistic sci-fi film, the original score by Paul Leonard-Morgan is both rousing and brooding, with tracks like Mega-City One and You Look Ready all perfectly accompanying what’s on-screen through their heady mix of guitar riffs and thumping electronic beats. Making for a score that, even with only twenty tracks, has no real filler, as every musical piece flawlessly correlates with the film’s fast-paced action.

Continuing to be true to the original comic strip, Dredd’s primary form of transportation: the Lawmaster Motorcycle is faithfully recreated for the film, as the production team created a series of functional bikes for filming. They achieved this by having the chassis of normal bikes extended and then adding custom fairings as well as fitting the bikes with larger tires so they could remain operable. In a similar sense, Dredd’s iconic outfit is also recreated, only being slightly modified to give the suit a sleeker, more modernised look.

In summary, though many may see this sci-fi action-thriller as pure style-over-substance and nothing else, Dredd is a film deeply committed to the genres it’s trying to represent. With thrilling action sequences, substantial world-building and impressive visual effects all rooted in deadpan humour, Dredd is a more than entertaining ride. And in a world full of compromised adaptations where self-indulgent directors and screenwriters make whatever changes they desire without much thought or consideration. Dredd is something of a triumph, as the film avoids the common misstep adaptations tend to take, where the final product ends up bearing little resemblance to its source material aside from the title. Rating: low 8/10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Snowpiercer (2014) – Film Review

One of my favourite sci-fi films from this past decade, 2014’s ‘Snowpiercer’ is constantly engaging, rousing and gritty throughout both its original plot and exploration of the interesting world its story takes-place within. As the film chooses to explore the worst of humanity through some gorgeous cinematography by Kyung-pyo Hong and some truly brilliant writing. Making ‘Snowpiercer’ overall, a superb science fiction thriller, all under the genius hand of director Bong Joon-Ho, who recently gained a large amount of traction through his Oscar-winning film: ‘Parasite.’

Plot Summary: In a future where a failed climate-change experiment has killed all life except for the lucky few who boarded the ‘Snowpiercer,’ a train that travels around the globe, a new class system begins to emerge on-board as ‘Curtis’ leads a revolution with the train’s lower-class citizens…

Despite director Bong Joon-Ho (Memories of Murder, The Host, Okja) usually sticking to this style, the very bleak tone of: ‘Snowpiercer’ may leave many audience members in a depressing mindset long after their initial viewing, as the film deals with a variety of themes such as poverty, social class and survivalism, all portrayed in a dark and negative fashion. However, in spite of this, the film never fails to still be very entertaining and thrilling, mostly as a result of its fairly quick-pacing and exhilarating action scenes. Although it may surprise many, ‘Snowpiercer’ also takes heavy inspiration from the French graphic novel: ‘Le Transperceneige’ by Jacques Lob, with the two stories sharing many similarities and many differences throughout their respective mediums.

Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Song Kang-ho, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt and Ed Harris are all fantastic throughout the film within their various roles, especially Tilda Swinton as the villainous and oppressive: ‘Manson’ (who completely nails many of the film’s most memorable lines). In addition to this, the film’s characters also get plenty of development throughout the narrative, to be specific, the film’s protagonist: ‘Curtis,’ as this character becomes far more tragic nearing the end of the film, eventually leading him to devolve from what we would usually expect to see from our main character.

The cinematography by Kyung-pyo Hong is pretty creative and visually impressive throughout the majority of the runtime, as the film’s cinematography backs-up it’s story and drama very effectively. The film’s colour palette also plays into this, as the dirty greys, greens and blacks of the train’s tail all further display the contrast between the wealth of the different people on-board. Of course, due to the film also being packed with a large number of action scenes, the cinematography does become slightly shakier during many of these moments, yet it is still clear what is happening throughout. One of these scenes in particular, known as: ‘The Tunnel,’ I found extremely inventive, as this entire scene takes place in total darkness, with night-vision being utilised exceptionally well. This scene was also filmed without any additional lighting according to director Bong Joon-Ho.

Although a little uninspired during some of the action scenes, the original score by Marco Beltrami does fit the story perfectly throughout most of the film. Especially when it comes to tracks such as: ‘This is the End’ or ‘Yona’s Theme,’ as the soundtrack matches the bleak tone of the film extremely well. The score also helps to add more impact to many of the more shocking moments within the story, as at multiple points during the narrative, the film reveals certain aspects of this twisted train society which really deepens film’s world.

As the film is set entirely within the futuristic train, the film does do a surprisingly excellent job of the keeping the film’s set-pieces unique through the sheer variety of sets on display, as the film takes the audience from the dirty tail of the train, through to a classroom, a nightclub, and eventually even a spar, further emphasising ‘Snowpiercer’s themes of social class. Another element of the film I adore is Joon-Ho’s focus on small details, as the film always alludes to smaller aspects of the story or characters which aren’t fully delved into, only hinted at. Despite all of this however, ‘Snowpiercer’ isn’t totally flawless, as the film does become a little cheesy at points, mostly due to the occasional editing choice or line of dialogue, but this is very rare.

Even though ‘Snowpiercer’ isn’t the best modern sci-fi to-date, I personally don’t think the film is far off, from its creative ideas through to its beautiful cinematography and great original score. The film easily overcomes its few cheesy moments and slightly dated CG effects here and there, with a few tiny changes, I honestly believe that this exciting sci-fi flick could be up there with the likes of: ‘Arrival,’ ‘Ex_Machina’ and ‘Moon’ when it comes to modern science fiction. Final Rating: high 8/10.

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Children of Men (2006) – Film Review

An intelligent, dark, and grounded sci-fi film, with ‘Children of Men’ director Alfonso Cuaron (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Gravity, Roma) crafts a truly memorable experience. As the film’s fresh take on the science fiction genre combines some great performances, alongside decent writing and some absolutely incredible cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki, all alongside many scenes throughout the film being done completely within one single take.

Plot Summary: In a world in which women have somehow become infertile, former activist: ‘Theo Faron,’ agrees to help transport a miraculously pregnant woman across a war-ridden country out to a sanctuary at sea in order to save the human race…

Based on the acclaimed novel: ‘The Children of Men’ by P. D. James, the film adaptation begins its narrative in a similar fashion to its source material, as the story kicks off with a quick peek into the grim world of the film, as our protagonist ‘Theo’ makes his way into a small café to grab a coffee. This soon leading onto a very shocking moment, which instantly establishes the tone of the film, and really helps give the audience a clear understanding of how these characters are coping with this reality. This soon leads onto the opening becoming very iconic in its own right (as well as my personal favourite scene of the film) and still feels very effective even today.

When it comes to the characters, all the performances throughout the film are pretty great, as every actor is really giving their all here regardless of the importance of their roles within the story. As Clive Owen, Clare-Hope Ashitey, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Caine are all terrific. Julianne Moore as ‘Julian’ in particular, was a stand-out for me, however, having some very memorable moments within only a short amount of screen-time. This is also one of the few films where I must really praise the extras, as many of the continuous takes are done using enormous amounts of extras, and from the foreground through to the background, there isn’t one out-of-place extra.

Every piece of the cinematography by Emmanuel Lubezki throughout the film is nothing short of phenomenal, using hand-held shots to the best of their advantage. Many scenes are filmed from the perspective of the characters, placing the audience in their own tense scenarios. The dark grey colour palette of the film also lends itself well to the war-ridden country setting, as every location always feels rustic, dirty, and lived-in. The original score by John Tavener is also effective, despite being used very sparingly throughout the film to further add to the bleak atmosphere.

My only real criticisms with the film are related to the lack of character depth and the film’s overall pacing, as the pacing throughout the film is extremely slow, leading to many scenes feeling a little drawn-out at points. Despite this slow-pace sometimes adding to the building of tension, it feels mostly unnecessary for most of the film’s runtime. The lack of characterisation throughout the film is also a problem, as although a few characters do get some development, it’s usually few and far between, as I found myself finding more information about the characters online than within the film itself, luckily, however, the decent writing does save this from being a huge issue.

To conclude, ‘Children of Men’ is an exceptional piece of the sci-fi genre. Coming off as a very different approach than what you’d usually expect from a film such as this one, the film almost feels like more of an apocalyptic drama at points. But with a thought-provoking narrative, some amazing cinematography, and a fantastic cast, ‘Children of Men’ truly is a very captivating (if not a very bleak) piece of entertainment, which never fails to impress me every-time I revisit it. Final Rating: 8/10.

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World War Z (2013) – Film Review

Very loosely based on the novel: ‘World War Z’ by Max Brooks, this film adaptation directed by Marc Forster attempts to tell an enormous globe-trotting story of a spreading zombie virus, and although it does have a few entertaining elements here and there, so much so that it was one of the highest-grossing films of 2013. I personally found the film to be extremely messy, and overall, pretty forgettable.

Plot Summary: After narrowly escaping an attack in Philadelphia, former United Nations employee: ‘Gerry Lane,’ traverses the world in a race against time to stop a zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, soon threatening the survival of humanity itself…

Even with a pretty standard plot for a zombie flick, the film unfortunately is still brimming with plenty of cliché moments and jump-scares throughout, in addition, of course, to the film’s overall lack of style. Making the entire experience really struggle to stand on its own amongst the many other films within its genre, which I do feel can be mostly put down to the director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, Christopher Robin).

Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos both do a decent job as ‘Gerry’ and ‘Karin Lane’ within the film, despite their characters having pretty much no characterisation outside of them being a loving family. Their children, however, portrayed by Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove. I found very irritating, as aside from their constant screaming and crying, their child performances weren’t very convincing to me at all. Strangely, Peter Capaldi also has a small role within the film, despite barley adding anything to the story.

Ben Seresin handles the cinematography throughout the film, and aside from a few scenes were hand-held camera techniques are used to reflect the chaos we see during many of the zombie attacks, many of the visuals are extremely flat. As the cinematography is very bland and uninspired, usually sticking to very standard shots and never really experimenting with anything incredibly interesting. The CG effects throughout the film’s runtime are also very inconsistent, as in some scenes the visual effects work perfectly fine. Whereas in others, they look truly awful, with many of the zombies bouncing around as if they were made out of rubber. I do appreciate the various aerial shots which are used during many of these scenes, however, as I feel these shots really incapsulate the enormous scale of the film’s devastating pandemic.

The film’s original score by Marco Beltrami is decent overall, it works within the film to increase what tension and drama there is on-screen. But outside of the film, it isn’t memorable in the slightest. Coming off as your standard blockbuster soundtrack with the occasional: ‘Inception’ noise thrown in for good measure, it is very possible the score was rushed. As for those who may not know, ‘World War Z’ actually went through a very troubled production process, as multiple different directors, writers and producers were brought-on and then dropped off constantly. This is mostly why the film sometimes feels very unconnected and messy (which also isn’t helped by its quick pacing). Taking this into account, the film definitely could’ve been far worse, but I still found it very noticeable.

Despite all of this, the film does still have some elements I enjoy, as it is simply fun to watch the madness ensue at various points during the film, as the hordes of zombies bring chaos to the streets of whatever city the film finds itself in. My favourite scene within the film is definitely near it’s ending, as the film takes a very different direction in choosing to focus on a small tension-filled scene, which I thought was pretty well-executed for the most part.

In conclusion, ‘World War Z’ isn’t the worst big-budget film you could spend your time watching, it definitely has a variety of problems. From the predictable and generic plot, to the boring characters and the mix of poor CG effects and writing. Which all ensured that I wasn’t such a huge fan, but if you enjoy a mindless zombie blockbuster every so often, then there may be some enjoyment in this for you. But for me personally, ‘World War Z’ simply felt like a hollow experience, and is nothing more than a generic zombie flick. Final Rating: 3/10.

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Bird Box (2018) – Film Review

‘Bird Box’ is based on the novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, which mostly aims to be a dark horror/thriller with an original and twisted story as well as a few other interesting aspects in regards to its filmmaking. Unfortunately however, the film soon falls into a pit of disappointment which it really struggles to escape from, resulting in ‘Bird Box’ becoming nothing more than another generic Netflix fright-fest.

Plot Summary: In the wake of an unknown global terror, a mother must find the strength to flee with her two children down a treacherous river in search of safety. Yet due to the unseen deadly forces pursing them, the perilous journey must be made blind-folded…

As the film jumps back-and-forth between the two different time-periods, the film’s structure can become very frustrating at points. As I personally found the initial chaotic event far more entertaining than the other time-period the film provides, yet this was always cut short as the film continuously cuts between the two at unusual points. The film also chooses to wrap the majority of its story in mystery, never really exploring what the monsters actually are, or how their abilities work. The film even chooses to never actually show the creatures on-screen at all throughout the runtime, and although I agree that not everything has to be explained within a story, the way ‘Bird Box’ presents it makes it noting but frustrating, as the film introduces questions without answers.

Sandra Bullock portrays a struggling mother alongside Danielle Macdonald, Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich who all portray people attempting to survive in a brutal world, and they do their best considering the weak characters they had to work with. The majority of the supporting cast are also decent, with Sarah Paulson even having a short appearance within the film. However, I actually found she was incredibly wasted in the small (and mostly pointless) role she had within the narrative.

In spite of the film’s many wilderness scenes being shot near the beautiful Smith River in the far north of California. Nearly the entire visual presentation of: ‘Bird Box,’ is extremely dull, as the cinematography by Salvatore Totino and editing Ben Lester never really excel beyond ‘okay.’ Usually having scenes consist of many boring shots which never really add much to the tension or atmosphere aside from the occasional moment, this of course also alongside the extremely bland grey colour palette.

This is also the case when it comes to the original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, coming off as nothing more than your standard score for any modern horror/thriller with a slight technological twist, which is very surprising, considering these composers did excellent work on the soundtrack for: ‘The Social Network’ back in 2010.

Although the novel obviously came out before last year’s ‘A Quiet Place,’ I also couldn’t help but notice many similarities between the two films. Such as the lack of a certain sense, the apocalyptic setting, a theme of family and the eerie atmosphere/tone (despite the idea of the monsters making you kill yourself being very original). I also couldn’t help but feel the film never made enough use of its concept of simply witnessing the creatures drives characters to suicide, as this is a terrifying idea, and could’ve provided some very gory and truly shocking moments.

In short, ‘Bird Box’ is one of those few films that gets a large amount of attention for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, as personally, I thought the film was nothing but bland and forgettable in many aspects. Aside from perhaps the main performance by Sandra Bullock and the original idea of its story. There wasn’t much I enjoyed about this adaptation, perhaps give it a watch if you’re really interested, but, in my opinion, there are many similar films which explore these same ideas just with a much better execution. Final Rating: 3/10.

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The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) – Film Review

‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ released in 2016 and based on the novel of the same name by M. R. Carey, is another zombie story, this time attempting to focus more on young children and how they would cope with an infection wiping out all of humanity. As well as leaning more towards the ‘fungus’ side of infections when it comes to some of the film’s visuals and ideas, and while I appreciate the attempt to turn this narrative into a film. I don’t think it was incredibly successful in the long-run.

Plot Summary: In a dystopian future where humanity has been ravaged by a mysterious fungal disease, humanity’s only hope is a small group of hybrid children who crave human flesh while still retaining the ability to think and feel. But when their base is later attacked, a teacher, a scientist and a group of soldiers must embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named: ‘Melanie.’

Directed by Colm McCarthy, the idea of a group of characters going on a dangerous journey is a pretty standard outline for an apocalyptic story, sadly however, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ doesn’t manage to improve much on this structure. As many of the decisions throughout the film were pretty strange, to say the least, as the film flips back and forward between horror and drama rapidly within some scenes (sometimes even implementing comedy as well). As a result of this, the film’s tone is very inconsistent, and can really take the viewer out of the story at points. Even the name given to the zombie-like creatures within the film: ‘The Hungries,’ I personally found a little too-ridiculous.

Sennia Nanua portrays the main character of the film: ‘Melanie,’ a young girl with the abilities of: ‘The Hungries’ that still retains her human mind, and while I think her character is definitely interesting, I don’t feel her performance is up-to-par here. As she was only thirteen during filming, many of the emotional scenes with her feel very unbelievable. Alongside this, there are a variety of scenes with her character acting like a wild animal as her hunger continues to grow, most of which I found unintentionally hilarious. Perhaps if she was a little older when filming began this could’ve been avoided, although the weak writing also doesn’t help. The supporting cast do redeem this somewhat however, as Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close are all fairly excellent within their roles.

The cinematography by Simon Dennis is easily my favourite element of the film, as there are many stunning shots throughout the runtime. As every shot really lends itself to many of the film’s more impactful or beautiful scenes, with the brilliant make-up effects and great set design also adding toward this, which is especially surprising considering the film’s budget, which was actually a lot smaller than many other zombie flicks. This does unfortunately affect the CG effects throughout the film however, as a variety of shots throughout the story have some very out-of-place looking CG visuals.

The wonderful original score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer is another element of the film I also really enjoyed, as the soundtrack is very atmospheric and really adds to many of the tense scenes throughout the film, very similar to the composer’s other scores, with Channel 4’s ‘Utopia’ and Netflix’s ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ being some great examples, with the tracks: ‘Gifted’ and ‘Pandora’ being my personal favourites purely for how unique they sound. 

In conclusion, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ isn’t the worst zombie film I’ve ever seen. As the story does have some interesting elements and the cinematography and original score are pretty on point throughout the film, but sadly, the poor writing and laughable main performance combined really drag the film down for me. Final Rating: high 5/10

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