Zookeeper (2011) – Film Review

Another lacklustre comedy from the ill-famed Happy Madison Productions, ‘Zookeeper,’ released in 2011, serves as nothing more than a Adam Sandler-perpetrated ego project for Kevin James, as director Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer, Click, Here Comes the Boom) adds little flair to a sodden screenplay riddled with clichés, overly long scenes and gags inappropriate for the young viewers that would be intrigued by its juvenile storyline. Essentially leaving ‘Zookeeper’ a film that feels as if it was made for no one, despite the film supposedly being a family-comedy.

Plot Summary: When kind-hearted: ‘Griffin Keyes,’ the head zookeeper at the Franklin Park Zoo, considers leaving his profession for a more glamorous career to impress his ex-girlfriend, the animals within the zoo begin to panic at the thought of their favourite zookeeper departing. So, to keep him from leaving, the animals decide to break their code of silence, revealing to ‘Griffin’ their ability to speak and offer to teach him the rules of courtship…

Shockingly, the screenplay for: ‘Zookeeper’ has five credited writers (Kevin James being one of them), and yet the story/dialogue is neither interesting nor memorable, stealing many of its ideas from other live-action animal flicks such as: ‘Dr. Dolittle’ and ‘Marmaduke.’ However, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue if ‘Zookeeper’ was amusing or heart-warming, but unfortunately, the film falls flat in both of these areas, as instead of exploring the life of an animal born in captivity for comedic and sentimental purposes alike, the film lazily relies on montages to establish a tone and suggest a friendship between ‘Griffin’ and the various zoo animals, when he isn’t taking a pounding with pratfalls and bicycle spills, of course, a.k.a. Kevin James’ usual form of comedy.

Speaking of Kevin James, James is truly one of the most notable ‘love him or hate him’ actors in film. Having been in a number of roles as the supposedly loveable all-American hero who relies just as much on his weight as he does his comedic timing to get a laugh out of his audience, its not difficult to see why many don’t enjoy his on-screen presence, myself included. But in ‘Zookeeper,’ James is surprisingly bearable, portraying ‘Griffin’ as a likeable guy who feels more comfortable around animals than people after being dumped by his girlfriend when he proposed to her five-years prior, Rosario Dawson as ‘Kate,’ however, is given very little to work with as ‘Griffin’s work colleague and obvious love interest. The numerous animals within the zoo are also voiced by a star-studded yet ultimately squandered cast, with Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Maya Rudolph, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love and even Adam Sandler as ‘Donald’ the monkey (whose over-the-top voice is the vocal equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard), all being heard at one point or another.

Bland and uninspired all around, the film’s cinematography by Michael Barrett rarely attempts anything beyond a simple close-up or mid-shot, with even the film’s wide-shots being few and far between almost as if the production couldn’t afford to feature any sizeable sets, or something of that description. The only visual aspect of the film that is in anyway beguiling is its colour palette, as all of the evening scenes within the zoo are displayed through dark blacks and blues, a dramatic shift in terms of colour from the bright yellows and oranges that represent daytime.

Although composer Rupert Gregson-Williams at least strives to make the score for: ‘Zookeeper’ a little more unique through the use of tropical instruments like bongo drums and maracas, the original score is almost unnoticeable throughout most of the runtime. Alternatively, the film relies on well-known songs for the sake of humour, throwing-in musical hits like ‘I’ll Supply the Love,’ ‘Low,’ ‘Easy,’ and ‘More Than a Feeling’ in a desperate attempt to make the story feel more emotionally investing than it actually is.

Whilst the film’s CG effects have begun to show their age here and there, the majority of the film’s visual effects are serviceable, this is primarily due to the majority of the animals being real with just one or two CG enchantments including mouth movements or being digitally relocated, as opposed to be represented entirely through CGI. Needless to say, this approach still has its issues, as there are many, many shots of animals standing completely alone where were supposed to believe that ‘Griffin’ is standing just out of frame. But when it came to the film’s gorilla: ‘Bernie,’ the filmmakers actually decided to take an old-school approach, placing an actor inside of ape suit, which sadly doesn’t look very convincing, especially when the camera moves closer towards his face, placing full emphasis on the suit’s unnatural movements.

In summary, ‘Zookeeper’ isn’t offensive or convoluted, it’s quite the contrary, its immature and simplistic, far too simplistic, in fact, as while some children may enjoy the slapstick humour that Kevin James excels at, the film’s mass of adult-centric jokes and typical romantic-comedy structure are likely to turn children off. And although ‘Zookeeper’ is far from the worst Happy Madison-penned film, it’s still significantly less enjoyable than many of the other talking animal escapades you could be watching instead. Final Rating: 3/10.

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Slow West (2015) – Film Review

Musicians have long been drawn to the cinematic tales of the old west, whether that’s the singing cowboys of early sound cinema with big-screen Elvis vehicles such as: ‘Flaming Star’ and ‘Charro!’ or Glen Campbell’s first step into the scorching deserts of New Mexico for the 1969 classic: ‘True Grit,’ the western genre has always seemed like a second home for musicians regardless of their stature. So, its no surprise that in 2015, part-time musician and part-time music video director John Maclean brought his own vision to the genre with ‘Slow West,’ a subversive story of death and devotion brimming with natural beauty, unsettling violence and a distinctly Coen-esque flavour of bleak, deadpan humour.

Plot Summary: In 1870, a naive Scottish teenager travels to Colorado in pursuit of the woman he loves, whilst there, he attracts the attention of an outlaw who is willing to serve as his guide across the county. Little does he know, not only does his beloved have a sizeable bounty on her head, but his seemingly helpful guide is actually hiding his true motive…

Described as “An Unconventional Western” by most, ‘Slow West’ was developed and co-financed by Film4, along with receiving some additional funding from the British Film Institute, Fulcrum Media Finance, the New Zealand Film Commission, and production company A24. However, while all this financial support may leave you thinking that writer and director John Maclean has previously produced a number of incredible films, ‘Slow West’ is actually Maclean’s directorial debut, as first and foremost Maclean is a Scottish musician, which does help explain some of the film’s peculiarities. As according to John Maclean, the original idea for: ‘Slow West’ came from a desire to link the British costume drama of a Merchant Ivory film with that of the American western, which is certainly a very interesting concept, even if this approach doesn’t always result in the smoothest or most emotionally impactful story-beats.

Leading the cast, Michael Fassbender as bounty hunter: ‘Silas Selleck’ and Kodi Smit-McPhee as sixteen-year-old: ‘Jay Cavendish’ both do a phenomenal job of bouncing off each other, as ‘Silas’ is a grizzled recluse with little faith in humanity, believing the west is simply a land of murder and theft, a land where everyone will stab you in the back the moment you turn around, whereas ‘Jay’ is the complete opposite of this, an optimistic young lad from aristocratic family, woefully unprepared for the dangers that lie ahead yet trusts his enervating journey will be worthwhile just to see his beloved ‘Rose’ once again. And despite these characters being endlessly entertaining to watch, ‘Silas’ character-arc does feel a little rushed in the grand scheme of things, along with Caren Pistorius and Ben Mendelsohn barely getting a chance to shine due to their character’s limited screen-time.

Shot on digital when originally planned to be shot on 35mm, the cinematography of: ‘Slow West’ handled by Robbie Ryan breaks many of the conventions we associate with western visuals similar to how the narrative has a wizened grasp of when to embrace or reject a western cliché, as ‘Slow West’ ditches the usual western colour palette of beiges and browns for a much more vibrant look. Furthermore, as opposed to being shot in Colorado where the story takes place, the film was actually shot in the South Island of New Zealand, meaning the film has no shortage of stunning vistas, even if in reality, the film couldn’t have been shot further away from where the American west was located.

The original score by Jed Kurzel isn’t overly memorable or unique, but does suit the film’s many moments of dark comedy remarkably well, as the score utilises a wide array of different instruments to give the soundtrack a bygone western feel, ensuring the original score stays within its 1800s setting and the confines of slow and drawn-out tracks such as: ‘Jay’s Theme’ and ‘The Trading Post,’ which were very common during the golden age of Hollywood when westerns were at their peak.

Alongside a suitable original score, another crucial element to crafting a great western will always been production design, as any film that can make their audience feel as if they have actually travelled back to the story’s time-period has surely succeeded. And director John Maclean makes it clear early on that he understands this, as even in spite of the budget for: ‘Slow West’ being fairly minimal (especially for a western), the film’s production design is often superb, with Maclean taking influence from classic westerns like ‘Iron Horse’ for the period details of both the film’s costumes and architecture.

On the whole, ‘Slow West’ may pay the price now and then for being helmed by a less-than-experienced writer and director, but for the most part, Maclean triumphs with his first cinematic outing, as ‘Slow West’ reaps the rewards of taking the road less-travelled, relishing in the telling of the tale as much as the tale itself. And whilst perhaps not on the same level as a Coen brother’s western, ‘Slow West’ exudes such confidence with its casual weirdness and abundance of ripping performances, subsequently resulting in an unpredictable yet still wildly compelling modern western. Final Rating: 7/10.

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Easy A (2010) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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About Time (2013) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – Film Review

Dealing with heavy themes of loneliness, mental health and suicide, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ may not astonish when it comes to its visuals. But through its strong performances, heartfelt story and well-written screenplay (aside from one or two cliché lines), the film soon becomes a very sincere and captivating adaptation of the acclaimed coming-of-age novel many grew-up with when it released in 1999, now being seen as one of the best teenage dramas in recent years.

Plot Summary: Fifteen-year-old: ‘Charlie’ is a socially awkward teenager heading into his first year of high-school, used to watching life from the sidelines, ‘Charlie’ soon discovers the joys of friendship, love and music as the free-spirited: ‘Sam’ and her stepbrother: ‘Patrick,’ open his eyes to the real-world. But when his friends prepare to leave for college after graduating high-school, ‘Charlie’s inner-sadness threatens to shatter his newly-found confidence…

In a rare scenario, the film adaptation of: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is not only based on the novel of the same name by Steven Chbosky, but is actually written and directed by Chbosky himself. As originally, beloved writer-director John Hughes, the comic genius behind: ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Sixteen Candles’ amongst many other 80s teen flicks, was intended to direct the adaptation, initially wanting to make the film into more of a dark comedy with Shia LaBeouf set to play ‘Charlie,’ Kirsten Dunst as ‘Sam,’ and Patrick Fugit as ‘Patrick.’ But with Hughes sudden death in 2009 stalling the project, his screenplay was eventually scrapped as he’d not completed it before his passing, leaving Chbosky to take the reins.

Throughout the entirety of the film, the main trio of friends are portrayed wonderfully by Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson, in one of her first roles following the end of the ‘Harry Potter’ series, as each member of the young cast display plenty of range with their respective characters receiving an almost-absurd amount of characterisation alongside, resulting in all three of the central protagonists soon forming a real bond with the audience through their lovable yet realistic portrayals of high-school teenagers. Well-known comedy actor Paul Rudd also appears within the film as ‘Mr. Anderson,’ using his natural charisma to portray a genuinely kind-hearted teacher, guiding ‘Charlie’ to what he believes is his future career as a writer.

The film’s cinematography by Andrew Dunn is noticeably where the filmmaking dips in quality, as despite the camerawork occasionally allowing for some interesting framing, such as when ‘Charlie’ is framed alone with only bare walls surrounding him, visually-presenting him as an outcast due to his anxiety when interacting with others. Most of the film’s cinematography feels fairly mundane, with the colour palette in particular, seeming very confined, always utilising quite warm/calming colours regardless of what’s happening within the narrative. However, with that said, near the end of the runtime, the film does manage to impress with its editing as ‘Charlie’ begins to suffer from a panic-attack, represented through the film cutting rapidly between an array of previous scenes, ensuring a feeling of being overwhelmed within any viewer whilst watching. 

From iconic songs such as: ‘Heroes’ and ‘Come on Eileen,’ to the beautifully somber original score by Micheal Brook. The entire soundtrack for: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is both graceful and immensely under-appreciated, capturing the film’s many alternating tones, whether that’s its unrelenting isolation, or its upbeat bliss. But my personal two favourite tracks have to be ‘Charlie’s First Kiss’ and ‘Shard,’ a pair of tracks that are both truly touching pieces of music, evoking emotion in any listener in spite of their simplicity.

Another aspect of the film I adore is how it represents high-school, as while many coming-of-age flicks usually lean into the idea of high-school being an often chaotic but satisfying experience, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ never glorifies school, refusing to represent it as either a positive or negative place. This all backed-up of course, by the story’s interesting themes which the film handles with care, never overemphasising it’s concepts in a similar fashion to the source material. Also in-line with the original novel is the film’s apparent 1990s setting. Yet with the exception of the numerous mix-tapes the characters listen to, you’d be forgiven for being unaware that the film even takes-place within this time-period, as its never mentioned nor plays into the film’s style.

Overall, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is deserving of all the praise it receives. As while the film’s uninspired cinematography does leave some room for improvement, for a directorial-debut, Stephen Chbosky really knocks it out of the park here, with some brilliant performances and very underrated original score, the film is truly an adaptation to be admired. And regardless of whatever time-period its story is set within, many of its themes/messages are timeless, and I personally believe this is what any other films focusing on troubled teenage characters should strive to be. Final Rating: 8/10.

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) – Film Review

Based on the novel of the same name by Jenny Han and releasing around the same time-frame as many other Netflix teen rom-coms such as: ‘The Kissing Booth’ and ‘Sarah Burgess is a Loser.’ ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ may have a fairly formulaic structure in addition to feeling a little cliché at points as it closely follows its source material, but mostly through its charm and great cast, this light-hearted teenage romantic-comedy manages to retain some entertainment value for any admirers of the genre.

Plot Summary: Since she was young, ‘Lara Jean’ has always lacked the confidence to tell any of the boys she liked her true feelings, choosing instead to write them down within individual letters for her eyes only. Until one day, the letters meant for her alone are publicly released, throwing her life into chaos as her foregoing loves confront her one-by-one…

Although definitely not a must-see for Netflix subscribers, ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ does feel like a slight improvement over the other previously mentioned attempts Netflix has made within the realm of romantic flicks. As while the story is far from original, the film’s basic concept of a teenage girl locking away her thoughts and feelings only for them to eventually be released, is at the very least, a plot that entices some interest into how things will turn-out for her in the end, and interestingly, all of the letters seen throughout the film were physically written by Lana Condor herself whilst on-set, with the actress writing a total of seven copies for each letter, as ‘Lara’ later tears them-up.

This leads into the best aspect of the film for me, Lana Condor’s portrayal of the film’s protagonist: ‘Lara Jean,’ as much of the film’s overall charm is really owed to Condor’s lead performance, as the actress excellently balances ‘Lara’s timidity with her likability without much issue. Noah Centineo also shares quite a large role within the film as ‘Peter,’ one of: ‘Lara’s earliest loves, and while Centineo does give a decent performance throughout the film, he does ultimately play the same character he has portrayed countless times before in other rom-coms both before and after, the same also goes for Israel Broussard as another of the ‘Lara’s past love interests.

The cinematography by Michael Fimognari is serviceable, with the film’s thought-out editing usually making-up for the large number of bland shots through its clever cutting from past to present. The film also tries to implement a little style into its filmmaking by having text/emojis appear on-screen whenever ‘Lara’ is texting, which unfortunately, is executed a little sloppily. As whilst I understand what the filmmakers were going for, the final design they chose is quite odd, as rather than having ‘Lara’s phone screen appear beside her, or have text bubbles appear above her head, the text is simply displayed in the same font as the film’s opening titles, which I feel is both distracting and confusing. Bizarrely, the film also contains a few shots of Subway product-placement, which are very distracting even if they are fairly minimal.

Expectedly, the original score by Jon Wong is quite forgettable, but does still serve the film’s narrative well. Its the huge variety of modern pop-songs that rule over most of the soundtrack however, with next-to-nearly every scene featuring at least one or two different songs, and whilst some scenes do benefit from this, a large majority of the time it does feel as if there is an overabundance of songs thrown into a singular scene.

Yet the most obvious flaw the film suffers from is the way it utilises its supporting characters, as although the film does remain focused on the life of: ‘Lara Jean’ for the most part, the film also places emphasis on many of: ‘Lara’s friends and family, and even though the film tries its best to convince its audience otherwise, many of the supporting characters serve very little purpose to the story, and by the end of the film, are virtually forgotten as most are given no conclusive scene with ‘Lara.’ But its ‘Lara’s sister and father who I personally found the most obnoxious, as these two characters deliver a large portion of the film’s occasionally cheesy dialogue and cringy humour, as sadly the film does feature plenty of awkward comedic moments in-between its few successful jokes.

In short, while certainly not as diverting or as original as many other reviews may lead you to believe, ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ does still have some value, as the film retains many of the novel’s faults as well as its merits, and in spite of many of its problems, I imagine most fans of upbeat romantic-comedy/dramas will be satisfied with the film by its end. If you don’t usually drift towards rom-coms however, I’d probably suggest you check-out some of the other original films Netflix has to offer. Final Rating: high 5/10.

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Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) – Film Review

An unexpectedly memorable romantic-comedy from 2011, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ tells an engaging and touching story of a selection of good-hearted people finding love in their lives and experiencing the many hardships that come along with it, and although romance has always been one of the lesser-interesting genres of film for me personally, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ almost acknowledges what kind of film it is. Always taking a simple yet effective approach to its filmmaking and placing its well-written characters and narrative before anything else.

Plot Summary: When a middle-aged husband (Cal Weaver) discovers his wife has had a recent affair with one of her co-workers, his perfect life quickly begins to unravel. But after encountering the handsome womaniser: ‘Jacob’ in a bar, ‘Cal’ is soon taken on as his wingman and protégé as ‘Jacob’ opens his eyes to the many new opportunities that lie before him…

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris, Focus, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) and written by Dan Fogelman, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ actually has a fairly strong screenplay for a rom-com, and although this shouldn’t be too surprising considering Fogelman has written a number of superb animated Disney flicks in the past such as: ‘Bolt,’ ‘Cars’ and ‘Tangled,’ before later moving on to more adult-focused comedies with ‘Last Vegas’ and ‘The Guilt Trip.’ Crazy, Stupid, Love’ only features a handful of characters, with everyone of them receiving a decent amount of characterisation and becoming quite likeable over the course of the runtime. The film even manages to feature a couple of unexpected reveals later on within the story, which only further elevates the film’s screenplay.

The all-star cast of Ryan Gosling, Julianna Moore, Emma Stone and Marisa Tomei are all brilliant in their respective roles, but of course, with three Oscar-winners as well as two Oscar-nominees among them, this isn’t much of a shock. Its the film’s protagonist: ‘Cal’ portrayed by Steve Carell that is the obvious stand-out though, as ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ was actually one of the first films that Carell put aside his usual goofball schtick in exchange for a more grounded-character, as he portrays a miserable divorcee now with little direction in his life, before his eventual transformation into an ego-driven womaniser similar to ‘Jason’ himself. However, on the opposite side of this, Kevin Bacon as ‘David Lindhagen’ (a.k.a. The romantic rival) is the obvious weak link of the cast, as aside from only two shorts scenes, his character and the threat that he poses to ‘Cal’s ruptured marriage is barely utilised, making his inclusion in the story feel quite pointless.

The cinematography by Andrew Dunn never displays anything that will leave the viewer in awe, yet does still feel like a slight step-up from the usual bland camera work of many other romantic-comedies. The cinematography truly reaches its peak in the scene: ‘Great Dress’ however, in which, ‘Cal’ (now with his newly-found manhood) flirts with various different women on a number of different nights, all the while the camera gently glides through the bar displaying the passage of time through ‘Cal’s large wardrobe of stylish outfits.

Christophe Beck and Nick Urata take on the original score for the film, which for the most part, does suitably back-up the film’s story and displays a large amount of range in regards to instruments that are used, despite the score overall being far from astonishing. Yet bizarrely, the film’s soundtrack was never officially released by production company Warner Brothers Pictures. Resulting in many fans of the film having to create their own playlists on Spotify/Apple Music etc. To bring-together the film’s many recognisable songs once again.

Although ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ does primarily focus on its aspects of romance and comedy, the film also handles its drama fairly well. Never interrupting any of its more serious moments with scenes of over-the-top humour, most of which usually coming from the film’s main subplot which focuses on ‘Cal’s son: ‘Robbie’ as he lusts after his older babysitter. Occasionally, the film also indulges in a variety of more self-aware jokes, as the film references some of the many over-done clichés that infest films like ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Love Actually’ through its dialogue, e.g. an immediate rainstorm after a heartbreaking argument/break-up.

In my opinion, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ is more than successful in its attempt to craft an emotional and amusing story even in spite of the little innovation the film displays when it comes to its cinematography or original score. As the film’s upbeat approach to its tight plot leaves it an enjoyable flick that fully embraces what genre it’s only a small-piece of, serving as somewhat of a homage alongside remaining quite a leisurely watch itself. So whether you usually drift towards this genre or not, I feel most viewers would struggle to dislike ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’, as simply put, the film is just a delightful experience to sit through. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Film Review

Although it may not quite reach the heights of some of his other work, director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel) crafts another wonderful story with ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’ As throughout its tight runtime, the film is filled with plenty of heartfelt moments and mature humour all backed-up by an effective original score by Alexandre Desplat. Resulting in a very enjoyable comedy/drama, despite Anderson not utilising his style to its best extent.

Plot Summary: On a small island off the coast of New England in the 1960s, a young boy-scout and the eldest daughter of unhappy household fall in love after a few weeks of back and forward letters. Soon inspiring them to run away together, leading various factions of the island to mobilise in search of them…

The story itself is definitely one of the best aspects of: ‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ as although the film is brimming with plenty of the usual Wes Anderson style. The film’s story is always so enjoyable to watch, as the film’s two protagonists carry the narrative with great comedic charm and an almost child-like innocence. The dialogue throughout the film is also very well-written, as every character is usually extremely specific about everything they say, leading to many quirky moments.

Initially, the thought of a film lead by two very young actors did concern me, as there has been plenty of films throughout history that have been severely let-down when it comes to child actors in important roles. ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is certainly an exception to this however, as Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are both brilliant as the young couple: ‘Sam’ and ‘Suzy,’ As the two have excellent chemistry and perfectly fit the hilarious awkwardness of usual Wes Anderson stories. In addition to the two leads, the supporting cast of Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman are all fantastic within their various roles. Yet even with these brilliant performances, the film still does suffer from a mostly pointless adultery subplot, whilst this does provide some characterisation at points, it felt mostly meaningless to me by the time the film’s credits rolled.

The cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman is your standard affair for a Wes Anderson film, having the usual array of very appealing shots, most of which make great use of some of the beautiful natural locations the film’s story takes-place within. Also featuring a variety of panning shots and perfect symmetry wherever possible, the cinematography even manages to make an ordinary room look far more interesting purely through it’s framing and use of colour. In spite of this however, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ did actually have a smaller-budget than some of Anderson’s other flicks, which does result in the film feeling slightly held-back from taking its visuals all of the way.

Whilst fairly simplistic when compared to some of his other scores, the original score by Alexandre Desplat is somewhat unique and does suitably fit the tone of the film pretty well. As ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ attempts to add a more scout-troop feel to further add to the film’s narrative. In particular, with the track: ‘The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe Parts 4-6: Thunder, Lightning and Rain’ (what a mouthful). As this track uses trumpets and horns throughout, almost reflecting how the scouts are woken-up by their scout-master each morning.

One of the most striking elements of: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ certainly has to be it’s bright colour palette, as the film is constantly dripping with beautifully bright colours. From greens to yellows, to blues, the film is always incredibly vibrant and extremely visually-appealing to the eye, and of course, as the film’s tone is already fairly fun and light-hearted, the colour palette doesn’t feel even remotely out-of-place. However, I do feel the film could’ve indulged further into the 1960s time-period, as aside from the occasional mention of the date, or piece of technology, the film never really makes use of the 60s era its set within.

In my opinion, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is definitely an underappreciated gem in director Wes Anderson’s collection, as although the film does have phenomenal reviews from critics and audiences alike. I can’t help but the feel the film never gets talked about enough, as ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ has all the unique style of Anderson’s other films alongside a heartfelt story and plenty of memorable scenes/dialogue. Despite not being my personal favourite film from Wes Anderson, the film is undeniably worth a watch if you’re a fan of this talented director. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Corpse Bride (2005) – Film Review

Tim Burton’s twisted story of a man accidentally marrying a deceased bride could certainly be seen as too dark for an animated family adventure by some, but the film actually blends many of its dark scenes with plenty of heart and humour throughout. Making this stop-motion flick not quite one of the director’s best, but definitely a must-watch for fans of the unique director.

Plot Summary: When a shy groom (Victor Van Dort) practices his wedding vows in the inadvertent presence of a deceased young woman, she rises from her grave assuming he has married her. Before he knows it, ‘Victor’ soon finds himself in the land of the dead, and now must find a way to return to the land of the living before he loses his still-living wife forever…

Alongside the entertaining narrative, throughout the film there are various different musical sequences, which were surprisingly entertaining considering I’m usually not a huge fan of musical numbers in film. But I actually found many of the songs throughout the film actually added to the plot and gave the film another creative element which worked really well when combined with the brilliant original score by Danny Elfman.

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter portray: ‘Victor’ and his accidental ‘Corpse Bride,’ alongside the supporting cast of Emily Watson and Paul Whitehouse. Who are all pretty great, with the two leads in particular having pretty some great chemistry with each other, which really added to some of the romantic scenes throughout runtime (especially when it comes to an animated film). The cast also features Richard E. Grant, who portrays the villous: ‘Barkis Bittern’ perfectly, coming off as very sly, rude and intelligent from start-to-finish.

The cinematography by Pete Kozachik is pretty effective considering his previous work is usually far from the realm of stop-motion animation, as although there is definitely room for improvement, the cinematography is interesting enough to keep the viewer engaged throughout the film’s story.

Without a doubt, the original score by Danny Elfman is definitely one of the best elements of the film, as well as being one of my favourites for a Tim Burton flick. As while not quite on the level of the original: ‘Batman’ or ‘Edward Scissorhands’ for example, the entire soundtrack still perfectly captures the creepy tone of the film, as well as many of it’s more emotional moments, all adding to both an extremely memorable and beautiful score. Especially the tracks: ‘Main Titles’ and ‘End Credits Pt. 1,’ which are my two personal favourites from the film.

The stop-motion animation throughout the film is simply outstanding, as each character’s unique design influences their movements, with many of the characters having very interesting and over-the-top designs which perfectly fit within the world of a Tim Burton story. The film also has an unexpectedly ranged colour palette, as in addition to the usual dark Burton-esque colours. The film surprisingly also uses a large range of bright greens, purples and reds in a few scenes, which all really help the film stand-out, and give a little more light to many of the miniature sets and various characters.

Overall, while I didn’t expect to enjoy ‘Corpse Bride’ as much as I did, the film’s fantastic stop-motion animation, great humour and emotional scenes all topped with the unique Tim Burton style, I’d say the film is a pretty solid watch aside from the occasional cheesy joke or scene. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) – Film Review

Based on the romantic novels by E. L. James, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was the first instalment of the now-enormous franchise, as despite myself definitely not being the film’s target audience, the film itself is a near-complete disaster in regards to both it’s writing, acting and general filmmaking. As unless you’re looking for a weak romantic story with bland performances, uninteresting characters and one of Danny Elfman’s weakest original scores to date, this is not the film for you.

Plot Summary: When literature student: ‘Anastasia Steele’ goes to interview billionaire: ‘Christian Grey,’ she discovers an attractive yet troubled man, soon leading her to reveal more of herself, as she later desires to be with him, despite his stalker-like tendencies…

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is one of those few films that turned itself into a successful series purely though pulling in its specific type of audience. As the film doesn’t really have has nothing to offer besides the occasional sex scene or mundane romantic moment, which really left me pondering what many viewers actually got out of the overall experience, as take those elements away, and the film truly has very little left, and I can’t really say I feel compelled in any-way to continue on with the series after watching the first instalment.

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan portray the main couple of the film: ‘Anastasia Steele’ and ‘Christian Grey,’ with the supporting cast of Eloise Mumford, Jennifer Ehle and Victor Rasuk. All of which give very dull performances throughout, especially with the lack of characterisation between them other than ‘Christian’s (overly-dramatic) backstory. This is also where one of my biggest issues with the film comes into play, as Jamie Dornan as ‘Christian Grey’ could easily be seen as a dangerous psychopath throughout the film, as his performance genuinely gave me a feeling of unease whenever he is on-screen. Unfortunately however, I don’t feel this is what the filmmakers intended, and I couldn’t help but think of the huge shift in tone if ‘Christian Grey’ was older and less attractive.

Seamus McGarvey handles the cinematography throughout the film, which despite not being anything incredibly impressive, the film does have the occasional pleasing shot throughout its runtime, this also applies to the lighting throughout the film. However, this doesn’t improve the film much overall, as the writing within ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is without a doubt one of it’s worst aspects. Resulting in many scenes becoming unintentionally hilarious or extremely cheesy, especially when the film is attempting to catch the viewer off-guard with its dialogue. Interestingly, during the filming of the film’s various sex scenes, remote-controlled were utilised so that the set could be more private for the actors, which is actually quite a creative way around the problem of the cast feeling incredibly awkward due to the huge number of film crew watching nearby.

Despite being a composer I usually adore, the original score by Danny Elfman is also very bland, as the score throughout the film always feels out-of-place and isn’t memorable in the slightest. The film also uses a variety of songs throughout its story, many of which being remixes of modern pop-songs, which again, usually don’t fit the tone of the film even remotely. Yet this could also be due to the film’s minimal direction, as director Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy, Districted – Segment: Death Valley, A Million Little Pieces) hasn’t really directed anything extraordinary of note either before or since.

Although only a small element, one slightly redeeming aspect of the film I actually did enjoy is the film’s colour palette, as throughout the narrative a variety of locations are given grey walls and floors, with ‘Christen Grey’ also wearing grey clothes alongside some other grey-coloured furniture within his apartment. All of which plays into the theme of: ‘Christian Grey’ being in constant control of: ‘Anastasia’ whenever she is in his apartment. But going by the rest of the film, this was more than likely accidental.

In conclusion, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is a film that will only appeal to the audience that has most likely already seen the entire trilogy, as the direful performances, awful writing and forgettable original score all leave the film with very little to offer. As the constant sex scenes and sufficient cinematography/lighting simply aren’t enough to carry the story through, resulting in a film that soon doesn’t even understand what its purpose was to begin with. So I suggest you definitely give this one a miss, as this boring experience simply isn’t worth its your time. Final Rating: 2/10.

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