Cats (2019) – Film Review

Despite ‘Cats’ being well-known as one of the longest-running stage shows in West End/Broadway history, it is also widely acknowledged that the musical is empty spectacle and not much else. This along with many other reasons, may explain why the adaptation of the musical we received in late 2019 has since gone on to be regarded as one of the worst musicals ever put to film, as director Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech, Les Misérables, The Danish Girl) utterly-squanders an enormous budget and a talented cast in exchange for a paper-thin plot, a constant bombardment of irritating songs and some truly horrendous CG effects that will leave most viewers begging to be put out of their misery.

Plot Summary: A tribe of cats known as the ‘Jellicles’ yearly meet for a ‘Jellicle Ball’ to decide which of their group will ascend to the ‘Heaviside Layer’ and return to a new life. But the mysterious napoleon of crime ‘Macavity,’ has other, more sinister plans…

Ever since it was first announced that Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper would be adapting the iconic feline-focused musical, the film has become such joke-fodder that it’s hard to see past the countless number of memes mocking the film’s dreadful visuals or comedic moments, which is a shame. Not because the film we received is even remotely entertaining of course, but because the adaptation we almost received could’ve been fantastic. As originally, Amblimation planned to adapt the musical into an animated film before the project was shelved following the company’s closure. This idea of translating ‘Cats’ into a traditionally animated film remained all the way to Hooper coming on-board to direct, and in my opinion, also makes considerably more sense considering the original musical is based on the 1939 poetry collection: ‘Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats’ by T. S. Elliot, a book brimming with whimsical sketches of various cats.

Newcomer Francesca Hayward, stands-out as one of the film’s few redeeming aspects, as her character: ‘Victoria’ serves as an audience surrogate, her empathy occasionally shining through as she is rapidly introduced to character-after-character until we uncover which ‘Jellicle’ cat will be chosen to ascend. The rest of the film’s prominent cast however, including Jennifer Hudson, Taylor Swift, James Cordon, Jason Derulo, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Rebel Wilson, Ian McKellen and many more, range from subpar to extraordinarily cringy at best, although their performances are further hindered by the story’s lack of characterisation and dramatic moments.

Whilst the film’s cinematography by Christopher Ross does a successful job of upgrading the beige setting of the stage show into a vibrant, neon-lit approximation of old London, allowing for an assortment of visually-pleasing shots, its impossible for: ‘Cats’ to claw itself away from the rest of its distracting visuals. That not only includes the obvious, but also much of the film’s set-design, as several of the large-scale sets the cats enter are supposed to appear overly-large in order to display each cast member as cat-sized, yet there is usually no consistency with this scale between shots.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, creator of the original musical, handles the film’s original score/songs in addition to writing a couple of songs exclusively for the film. And while classic songs like ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats,’ ‘The Old Gumbie Cat,’ ‘The Rum Tum Tugger’ and ‘Skimbleshanks: The Railway Cat’ may be beloved among fanatics of the stage show, in the film these songs come across as infuriating as they are so repetitive, barely slowing-down for anything aside from one or two atrocious cat puns.

Lastly, there is the appearance of the cats themselves, by far the most discussed/mocked element of the entire film, and for good reason. As the uncanny part-human, part-CG appearances of the furred cats appear extremely unnatural and very under-polished, so much so, that a mere two-days after the film’s initial release, Universal Pictures announced that they would be releasing an updated version of: ‘Cats’ with enhanced CGI. Whilst this is partly a result of Tom Hooper’s broad direction, an article published the following year by The Daily Beast featured multiple visual effects artists who worked on the film, each claiming they had little-to-no time to finish the film’s huge array of effects, with some artists even having to sleep under their desks to get the film completed on time, at least, if said article is truthful.

In short, although I’m personally not a fan of Tom Hooper’s filmography, Hooper is not a wholly-incompetent director, but ‘Cats’ is undeniably, an absolute catastrophe of a fantasy-musical from beginning-to-end. Quickly being placed amongst the one-hundred worst films of all-time on IMDb, and forcing the plans for its sequel (and spinoff TV series) to be immediately scrapped, ‘Cats’ is possibly one of the biggest cinematic failures of the past decade, as its copious amount of flaws massively overshadow what few, if any, redeeming factors the film had left, resulting in an insufferable and often embarrassing experience. Final Rating: high 1/10.

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The Bye Bye Man (2017) – Film Review

Simply from the laughably-atrocious title of the film alone, I’m sure many can guess why 2017’s ‘The Bye Bye Man’ fails so miserably as a horror flick. Coming-off more as a student film project rather than a feature that actually made its way into cinemas (mostly due to its amateurish acting and filmmaking alike), ‘The Bye Bye Man’ is an incredibly lacklustre and mindless horror down to even its last few minutes of screen-time.

Plot Summary: When three college students move into an old house just off-campus, they unwittingly unleash a supernatural entity known as ‘The Bye Bye Man,’ a dark creature that preys upon any victim that discovers its name. Now withholding this knowledge, the group attempt to keep the existence of: ‘The Bye Bye Man’ a secret whilst also trying to save themselves…

Despite the film’s title implying otherwise, the actual antagonist of the film hardly appears in-full throughout the runtime. In fact, the story on which the film is based: ‘The Bridge to Body Island,’ actually has a much more complex mythology for the creature than the film itself. Originally being born albino in New Orleans in 1912, who eventually ran-away from home and began murdering people and cutting-out their eyes and tongues, which he would then sew together and bring-to-life using voodoo. The original story of: ‘The Bye Bye Man’ is far more interesting and disturbing than what appears in the film, which is nothing short of undeveloped and even fairly boring in terms of both his design and his abilities.

Relatively new actors Douglas Smith, Cressida Bonas and Lucien Laviscount unfortunately, all lead the film with quite poor performances. As while the cringy and often moronic writing certainly doesn’t help, their performances are lacking in both urgency and charisma, so it becomes quite difficult to care about them once the supernatural occurrences begin. Surprisingly though, the actor behind: ‘The Bye Bye Man’ himself is Doug Jones, known for his fantastic creature/character performances such as: ‘Abe Sapien’ in the ‘Hellboy’ series, and ‘The Amphibian Man’ in ‘The Shape of Water.’ Yet even though Jones may seem like too much of an accomplished actor to be in such a minimal role as this, with talented actress Carrie-Anne Moss also making an appearance, its possible that at one point in time the script for this film may have actually contained some creative ideas.

James Kniest’s cinematography is another area in which the film lacks, as the bland camerawork only allows for a couple of visually interesting shots throughout, usually resulting in the film having a very flat and occasionally cheap look. However, one shot the filmmakers must have been pleased with is the shot of a large industrial train traveling at night, as this shot is continuously reused at multiple points. But what’s confusing here is that this shot’s inclusion is never explained, nor does it having any bearing on the plot whatsoever, only appearing at random within the protagonist’s dreams and once in the real-world nearing the end of the film.

The film’s original score by the Newton Brothers isn’t memorable in the slightest, simply being a standard piano/strings-focused horror score with the exception of the track: ‘The Bye Bye Man,’ which feels very out-of-place when compared to the rest of the film’s soundtrack. As the creature’s main theme sounds like something ripped straight from an episode of: ‘Goosebumps.’ Also worth a quick mention is the film’s corny use of the recognisable 50s song: ‘Bye Bye Love,’ which is just far too on-the-nose for me.

From its constant jump-scares to its many typical horror clichés (e.g. a group of college teens, creepy scribbled drawings, an old foreboding house, the protagonist looking-up the creature’s origins in a library), the film is teeming with much of the usual problematic writing that floods many modern horror screenplays. Only this time, the film has simply nothing else to set itself apart from others within the genre. The only aspect of the film that could’ve been remarkable would’ve been ‘The Bye Bye Man’ himself and his ‘Seeing-Eye Hound,’ made from pieces of his victims. But as already mentioned, the film does nothing with its antagonist or his hound, only utilising the dog-creature to stand alongside ‘The Bye Bye Man’ through some truly abysmal CG effects.

In conclusion, ‘The Bye Bye Man’ is one of the last films I’d recommend to any horror fanatic. Completely absent of any likeable characters, an intriguing/threatening antagonist or any sense of an eerie atmosphere, its hard to believe that the film has any positive reviews at all. And yet somehow, it does. All we can do is hope horrors such as this fade into obscurity and never receive a sequel, prequel or anything else of the sort. As this genre has already suffered enough in recent years with the likes of: ‘Truth or Dare,’ ‘Chernobyl Dairies’ and ‘The Gallows’ just to name a few. Final Rating: 1/10.

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Wish Upon (2017) – Film Review

A hilariously awful attempt at horror, ‘Wish Upon’ comes to us from director John R. Leonetti. Mostly known for his cinematography on the first two ‘Insidious’ films as well as the first entry in ‘The Conjuring’ series. With him now recently delving his hand into directing, working on films such as: ‘Annabelle,’ ‘The Silence’ and obviously ‘Wish Upon.’ However, after watching all of these films, I think I would really rather he just stick to cinematography from now on.

Plot Summary: When a teenage girl (Clare Shannon) discovers an old music box that carries strange abilities and can grant her any wish she desires, she believes all her dreams have come true. That is until, she realises that there is a deadly price for each one…

Although the film’s plot does take inspiration from W.W. Jacobs’ iconic short story: ‘The Monkey Paw,’ ‘Wish Upon’ itself rarely feels like an actual horror film. Of course, the fact that the film has little-to-no atmosphere as well as an enormous amount of weak jump-scares throughout, it’s very clear that this film was clearly meant to pander towards horror-loving teenagers. ‘Wish Upon’ is truly one of the least tense horrors I’ve watched in a very long time, even being unintentionally hilarious at various points.

This is also one of the few films where I can safely say that every character in the film is not only poorly portrayed, but also incredibly stupid. As the entire cast of Ki Hong Lee, Sydney Park, Shannon Purser and of course Joey King as the protagonist: ‘Clare Shannon.’ All make ridiculous decisions throughout the entire runtime, in addition to never really acting very intensely to anything, no matter what it may be. The writing also doesn’t help however, as none of the characters in the film talk like actual teenagers, and the script is full of incredibly cringy, cliché and cheesy lines.

All of the cinematography throughout the film by Michael Galbraith is very bland and uninspired. Normally using just simple shots without any attempt to integrate any creepy elements into them. The lighting also doesn’t help however, as most of the film looks like a cheaply made for TV film due to being very bright and clear throughout.

The original score by ‘tomandandy’ is your usual horror affair, with nothing really interesting or particularly memorable of note about it. However, the choice of songs throughout the film is memorable however, for all the wrong reasons. As the film chooses to use terrible pop-music at various points during the film, which comes completely out of nowhere and ruins whatever little tension or atmosphere the film had up to that point, making the film feel almost like more of a teen comedy than a horror. Simply due to how distracting it is, this was easily the worst element of the film for me.

Only a very small detail, but I feel the only aspect of the film I actually enjoyed is the music box itself, having a very creepy and unique ancient Chinese design. It’s clear the filmmakers were trying hard to make the item iconic in its own right. Whilst obviously not truly successful with this, I still like its design, and the eerie tune that it plays as a horrific event unfolds, the film also has a very surreal and entertaining end title sequence, but this obviously adds very little to the film overall.

‘Wish Upon’ is a true mess of a horror film, everything from the writing, to the cinematography, to the original score is either very poorly done or simply extremely dull and generic. Coming-off as an unintentionally hilarious experience sometimes and lacking in any eerie atmosphere and terrifying scenes, I really couldn’t dislike this film more personally. But at least the film does have plenty of memorable moments if you decided to watch it with some friends for a laugh. Final Rating: 1/10.

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Truth or Dare (2018) – Film Review

Blumhouse Pictures is a well-known production company, they mainly focus-on producing cheap generic horror flicks that appeal to younger audiences, and although there is the occasional gem in their collection such as: ‘Sinister’ or ‘Get Out.’ It’s definitely few and far between, with ‘Truth or Dare’ being one of their most recent entries, and easily one of their worst to date.

Plot Summary: After a group of young friends play a harmless game of truth or dare during their trip to Mexico, they soon discover their game has turned deadly when someone (or something) begins to punish those who tell a lie or refuse to do the dare they are given.

This now dull concept has been seen a thousand times before, as the idea of a group of teenagers playing an evil game is nothing new, as films such as: ‘Oujia’ prove. As the story plays out almost exactly as you would expect, making it extremely predictable throughout its runtime. The film is also one of Blumhouse’s least scary entries to date, focusing entirely on jump-scares without any attempt to build tension or create an eerie atmosphere. The film also chooses to use a ‘terrifying’ CG smile effect on the character’s faces to replicate them being possessed, and due to the low-budget of the film, this effect looks laughably awful.

Unfortunately, the characters and cast that portray them are no better than the cliché narrative, as the entire cast of Tyler Posey, Violett Beane and Sophia Taylor Ali are extremely bland. As all the performances throughout the film feel like nothing more than attractive models attempting to be afraid, with Lucy Hale as ‘Olivia’ being the obvious standout here, purely by elimination, which is more than likely why she was cast as the main protagonist to begin with.

When it comes to the filmmaking, sadly there’s no improvements here either. As each shot from cinematographer Jacques Jouffret is boring and uninspired, with the editing also being very quick choppy at points. All alongside the original score by Matthew Margeson, which is easily the most disappointing element of the film for me, as the soundtrack amounts to nothing more than your usual horror score, with the film’s composer having worked on many great films in the past such as: ‘Kingsman: ‘The Secret Service’ and ‘Eddie the Eagle.’

Of course, it probably goes without saying that the majority of the writing within the film is dreadful, with the script being overflown with cheesy dialogue, over-the-top scenes and stupid character decisions. One character in particular I hated was: ‘Brad’ portrayed by Hayden Szeto, as I disliked this character purely due to the way he was represented, as ‘Brad’s characterisation is purely built entirely around his homosexuality. Without giving him any further development beyond this, which could not only be seen as pandering to some, but also just simply bad writing.

Another issue I have with the film is the extreme lack of violence due to the film’s low age rating, as the film constantly shines away from graphic violence, always cutting to another shot to avoid showing barely any blood or gore. This is a huge mistake for a horror film like this in my opinion, as although implying violence can sometimes be more effective. In a film about a group of unlikeable teenagers getting killed-off, having some creative deaths is at least a great way to satisfy your audience.

In conclusion, ‘Truth or Dare’ is one of the worst films of 2018 for me, this overdone plot with annoying characters has little charm or entertainment to offer. As it’s bland execution and overall lack of anything interesting feels as if the film is truly nothing more than a complete cash-grab for Blumhouse Pictures. Overall, I’d definitely recommend you give ‘Truth or Dare’ a miss, as I honestly believe any viewer would find paint-drying a more enjoyable experience than this one. Final Rating: 1/10.

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