Secret Obsession (2019) – Film Review

Other than providing the viewer with plenty of unintentionally comedic moments to laugh at, ‘Secret Obsession’ fails to do much of anything as a thriller, a mystery, or even a drama. Being incredibly predictable and formulaic from start-to-finish, in addition to lacking in both interesting characters and a real sense of dread throughout. ‘Secret Obsession’ remains to this day Netflix’s attempt at an ominous thriller that was quickly swept under-the-rug shortly after its release, only being known now as a poorly-thought-out thriller that would seem more at home on the Lifetime Channel.

Plot Summary: After being brutally attacked by a mysterious stranger at a rest-stop one night, newlywed: ‘Jennifer Williams’ awakens in hospital healing from her injuries. Now unable to recall her past, her husband: ‘Russell Williams’ is simply thankful she’s alive and is eager to get her home. But as he reintroduces her to their secluded mountain estate, ‘Jennifer’ begins to realise she may not be as safe as she initially believed…

Even though ‘Secret Obsession’ received nearly universally-negative reviews upon its initial release, in just twenty-eight days, over forty million viewers watched the thriller, placing it in the top ten most viewed Netflix Original films in the history of the streaming service, (despite the film’s absence of anything truly unique). This is even more surprising considering the film wasn’t the only psychological thriller released on Netflix in 2019, as another entry in the genre titled: ‘Fractured’ appeared on viewer’s accounts months later, sharing many similarities in story and set-up to ‘Secret Obsession.’

Brenda Song and Mike Vogel are both fine within the film, delivering serviceable performances with the exception of the occasional corny line which can feel quite over-acted. Neither one of these performances improve the film much overall however, as ‘Secret Obsession’ is anything but subtle in terms of both its dialogue and its characterisation. A perfect example of this is the character: ‘Detective Frank Page’ portrayed by Dennis Haysbert, as not only is this character very cliché and only in the film to serve as a plot device later down the line. But ‘Detective Frank’ also has a character-arc which receives almost no development and makes little sense, in spite of Haysbert possibly giving the best performance of the film without being anything extraordinary.

The film’s cinematography by Eitan Almagor does manage to be at least somewhat visually interesting for majority of the runtime. However, with that said, much of the film’s visual style doesn’t fit with the actual narrative, as the film’s main setting of the Colorado Mountains feels like a far too beautiful and scenic location for a dark thriller such as this. This also goes for the film’s colour palette and lighting, which are both overly-bright, resulting in the film sharing a similar visual appeal to a modern comedy rather than a suspenseful thriller/mystery.

Just as bland as it is cheesy, the original score by Jim Dooley doesn’t fare much better either, usually landing-on either side of the scale: immensely generic or overly-loud and extravagant. Almost giving the impression it’s taken from the soundtrack of a live-action ‘Scooby-Doo’ flick at points with how aggressively its orchestral score alludes to danger. But considering this composer hasn’t worked on many well-known films throughout his career, I feel Dooly is still yet to create a beloved (or even memorable) original score for a film.

But the film’s main hook is, of course, it’s signature plot twist, as even hinted at by the ‘Secret’ part of it’s title. Yet in my opinion, the story’s ‘twist’ is revealed far too early-on within the runtime as a result of the film’s extremely blunt hints and clues, which leave little to the imagination. As while you could argue the film intends for the audience to know what’s going on so early in the narrative in order to build tension, the lack of any likable or engrossing characters makes this a mostly fruitless effort, and with the film never delving much into the details of its twist, it soon leaves the viewer pondering the believability of its story. Alongside the obvious fact that a continuous and overarching mystery always helps to make a story more compelling, with iconic thrillers such as: ‘Seven’ and ‘Shutter Island’ knowing this full-well.

In summary, ‘Secret Obsession’ is a film no one is likely to obsess over, with its unfitting location/colour palette, dull characters and constant illogical moments throughout its story, the film has little to offer for fans of psychological thrillers. Whilst some may see the film as a ‘so bad it’s good’ flick, similar to other comically awful films like ‘The Room,’ ‘Battlefield Earth’ and ‘Batman and Robin.’ I personally just find the film a very forgettable and occasionally irritating experience. So, unless you’re on the hunt for a thriller that soon evolves into an unintended comedy, definitely give this dreadful Netflix Original a miss. Final Rating: high 2/10.

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The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014) – Film Review

Overstuffed with plot-lines, characters and ideas alike, this sequel to the ‘Spider-Man’ reboot from 2012 lacks much of anything to truly get invested in. As this time around, returning director Marc Webb alongside the long list of Sony producers seem to be far more focused on setting-up future sequels and spin-offs for the franchise rather than the current story. Resulting in a superhero flick that’s just as muddled and inconsistent as it is forgettable, and while the film did receive fairly average reviews upon its initial release, I’ve personally always felt ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is anything but ‘Amazing.’

Plot Summary: Continuing the adventures of the wall-crawler, New York City’s hero is thrown into action once again as he faces his newest threat: ‘Electro,’ whilst also balancing his normal day-to-day life as ‘Peter Parker’ with that of being ‘Spider-Man.’

It’s easy to see that throughout its production, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ faced the problem of having far too many creative minds involved, as director Mark Webb fought against producers constantly as to what would be featured and explored within the superhero sequel. This is why the film eventually ended-up having three separate antagonists, in addition to also focusing on ‘Peter’s various relationships and the surrounding mystery of his parents, which when all combined, make the film feel completely directionless, as the audience is given very little time to become invested in any specific aspect of the story before quickly moving on.

Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone return to their roles of: ‘Peter Parker’ and ‘Gwen Stacey’ for the sequel, whos romantic chemistry is still one of the film’s best elements similar to the previous instalment. New to the cast this time however, is Jamie Foxx, Dane DeHaan and Paul Giamatti, who all take on various roles as villains from ‘Spider-Man’s iconic rogues’ gallery, with the three portraying: ‘Electro,’ ‘Green Goblin’ and ‘The Rhino’ respectively. Yet despite all these actors giving some fantastic performances in the past, most of the cast give extremely over-the-top and sometimes even strange performances here, which is only made worse as a result of the film’s large amount of cringy dialogue and absence of a consistent tone.

The film’s decent yet not overly-inventive cinematography by Dan Mindel is unfortunately also hurt by the erratic editing throughout the film, as whilst not always present, occasionally, the editing does result in quite rapid cuts, with some shots that utilise slow-motion even being cut to when the ones before/afterwards did not, stopping the film from ever obtaining a smooth flow. Of course, although its usually a no-brainer when it comes to modern superhero flicks, the film’s CG effects are one of its most impressive and visually-pleasing aspects, with many of: ‘Electro’s shocking abilities being visualised as if they were ripped straight from the original source material.

One of the most bizarre original scores in Zimmer’s catalogue of work, the original score by both him and Pharrell Williams gives the impression it’s made-up of a number of different tracks from other unrelated films. As aside from the signature track: ‘I’m Spider-Man,’ which does suitably feel like a heroic and upbeat theme for the beloved superhero. Many of the other tracks simply don’t mesh together well when they manage to stray away from being generic. However, its the infamous track: ‘I’m Electro’ which certainly feels the most out-of-place, as the track employs electronic dubstep with vocals underneath by Pharrell himself that give voice to ‘Electro’s compulsive thoughts.

‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’ is even surprisingly poor when it comes to its action, as whilst the film does attempt to be very ‘large-scale’ with its action set-pieces, having many of them take-place within the centre of New York City (where nearly all of the sequel was actually filmed). Much of the action also heavily relies on slow-motion, cheesy quips/jokes and CG visuals, all of which give the film’s action scenes an insufficiency of tension due to their over-extravagance.

Overall, after ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2’s release, it’s fair to say that Sony was put into a tough situation. As in spite of the film doing fairly well at the box-office, it was clear that fans had no further interest in seeing Sony’s many planned franchise instalments. Eventually leading them to strike a deal with Disney to bring ‘Spider-Man’ into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, now portrayed by the young actor Tom Holland. Although some may be saddened this version of the iconic web-head will more than likely never return to our screens, other than the comic-accurate suit and great chemistry between Garfield and Stone, I feel this sequel (and rebooted series in general) had very little to offer to begin with, and I’m thankful Marvel is now taking the character in a different direction rather than just regurgitating the same narrative we’ve seen many times before. Final Rating: low 3/10.

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The Open House (2018) – Film Review

Netflix has always enormously ranged in quality when it comes to their original films and the horror genre, as despite films such as: ‘The Ritual’ and ‘Gerald’s Game’ displaying some great promise for the streaming service, many horror duds like ‘Cam,’ ‘Eli,’ ‘The Silence’ and ‘Rattlesnake’ just to name a few, leave ‘The Open House’ feeling like just another bland and (sometimes even moronic) entry into this ongoing trend.

Plot Summary: Following a recent family tragedy, an athletic teenager (Logan) and his mother (Naomi) find themselves besieged by a threatening force when they temporarily move into a new house currently-up for sale…

By far the worst element of: ‘The Open House’ is its writing, as in addition to the film’s extremely dim-witted characters and bizarre misdirections. ‘The Open House’ almost feels as if it has a disconnect from reality at points, as the main antagonist of the film, ‘The Man in Black,’ lurks within the mother and son’s home unbeknown to them, usually hiding in their basement. Yet somehow, also manages to navigate through the house without ever being seen, even going-up and down the single staircase to the basement constantly. The closest ‘The Man in Black’ ever comes to being found is through the noises he makes at night, and although these moments do give ‘The Man in Black’ the perfect opportunity to depose of his victims, he never does for reasons that go unexplained.

Dylan Minnette and Piercey Dalton portray the main duo of the film: ‘Logan’ and ‘Naomi Wallace,’ a mother and son broken apart by the recent death of their father/husband, and although neither of the two actors give a truly bad performance throughout the film, none of the characters ever really feel that likeable or interesting, this even continues on to the supporting cast of Sharif Atkins, Patricia Bethune, Paul Rae and Aaron Abrams. Who all attempt to give each one of the small-town residents a distinct and out-of-touch personality, which usually fall quite flat. ‘Logan’ and ‘Naomi’ also suffer from one of the biggest issues for horror characters, that being their nonsensical decisions. As during many points within the story, the characters don’t react to situations how most people realistically would, sometimes even missing very obvious signs of danger.

Surprisingly, the cinematography by Filip Vandewal does allow for a number of attractive shots. Whilst still fairly dull overall, usually not really adding much to any of the film’s tension-filled moments (what little there are) through the film’s heavy overreliance on its static shot-reverse-shot formula during many scenes. ‘The Open House’ does at least attempt to use a variety of wide-shots and focus-pulls to make effective use of its isolated yet beautiful location in the snowy mountains of Ohio, despite the story itself barely utilising this location aside from a scene nearing the end of the film.

The original score by Joseph Shirley is pretty much exactly what you’d expect, being the usual generic and sometimes even overbearing strings score composed for the majority of horror flicks. From the opening scene to the end of the film’s credits, every track is very forgettable and is barley distinct from each other. So much so that it seems that the soundtrack is barley even findable online, as it actually took me quite a while to locate the score afterwards.

Another poorly-executed aspect of the film is its many misdirections as already mentioned, as despite hinting at numerous different paranormal events throughout its runtime, ‘The Open House’ is actually a mostly grounded modern horror. As whilst the film constantly alludes to supernatural occurrences, the film then always undermines itself by completely ignoring them. This also isn’t just limited to the paranormal aspects however, as the film also introduces a variety of loose-ends which the film never ties-up, and whilst some could see this as setting-up a layer of mystery, I personally feel its just lazy writing and bad red-herrings. This is most notable when it comes to the character of: ‘Martha’ portrayed by Patricia Bethune, who repeatedly refers to her dead husband throughout the film and always acts very unusual. Yet nothing ever comes of his, and by the end of the narrative, her character is almost completely forgotten about.

All in all, ‘The Open House’ is a truly dismal Netflix Original, with some weak performances, a forgettable original score, atrocious writing and an enormous amount of clichés. Aside from the occasional piece of decent cinematography, ‘The Open House’ simply feels like a ‘nothing’ experience, as for me, these kinds of low-effort and low-budget horrors are only dragging the genre down further than it already has been in recent years. Final Rating: 2/10.

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After Earth (2013) – Film Review

‘After Earth’ attempts to be a thrilling sci-fi adventure following a father and son as they crash on a hostile planet, surviving together, and bonding every step of the way, and with real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith as the main two cast members, the film should be a recipe for success. However, with some awful CG visuals along with plenty unexplored story ideas and even some surprisingly poor performances, ‘After Earth’ is far more of a comedy than it is the exciting science fiction flick it set-out to be.

Plot Summary: In the far future, a crash landing leaves ‘Kitai Raige’ and his father: ‘Cypher’ stranded on Earth, a millennium after catastrophic events forced humanity to abandon the planet, with ‘Cypher’ injured, ‘Kitai’ must embark on a perilous journey alone to signal for help. Little do they know, ‘Kitai’ is being hunted by a deadly creature every step of the way…

Directed by the once great M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs), ‘After Earth’ is just another one of the many duds Shyamalan has directed in recent memory. As while many scenes throughout ‘The Sixth Sense’ will always be iconic and beautifully crafted alongside some of his other work, many feel that this director has simply had his day. As aside from the semi-sequel to ‘Unbreakable,’ ‘Split’ back in 2016. Shyamalan has directed nothing but dreadful attempts at horrors and thrillers, before now turning his eye towards the sci-fi genre…

Unfortunately, the majority of the performances throughout ‘After Earth’ range from very bland to simply laughable, as although not quite as bad as some of the unintentionally hilarious performances in director M. Night Shyamalan’s other film: ‘The Happening,’ the film isn’t far off this standard, with one scene in particular where ‘Kitai’ is bitten by a poisonous insect coming-off as purely comedic. What makes this so surprising however, is that this acting duo have worked well together previously in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness.’ Yet this time around, the two seem to have very little chemistry with each other throughout most of the film’s runtime in addition to feeling very miscast in their respective roles. As Will Smith who is usually known for being incredibly charismatic and funny portrays: ‘Cypher Raige’ as a cold, emotionless warrior. Going completely against his best qualities as an actor.

Throughout ‘After Earth,’ the cinematography by Peter Suschitzky is simply just decent. As whilst the film doesn’t really contain many inventive or memorable shots, the cinematography does make great use of many of the film’s spectacular natural locations. As the large variety of wide-shots do effectively display the true scale of the newly-formed forests, waterfalls and mountains that now inhabit this new-era of Earth.

The original score by James Newton Howard is another dull aspect of the film, as the film’s score is barely recognisable from any other action or sci-fi film despite this composer actually crafting many wonderful soundtracks in the past, including the original score for: ‘The Sixth Sense.’ The film’s problems even extend into its narrative structure, as during the early stages of the film, ‘After Earth’ bombards the viewer with information regarding the story’s world, cutting rapidly between an enormous array of different clips, often leaving the viewer with far more questions than answers, as the film forces its exposition down the viewer’s throat through one overly-long scene.

The film’s CG effects sadly don’t show much improvement either, as the huge variety of creatures within the story ranging from tigers to birds, to savage monkeys, all look less than mediocre. However, to give the film credit, the film’s main antagonist known as the ‘Ursa,’ does have a pretty interesting design. As although the creature does share some weak CG visuals similar to many of the other creatures, the ‘Ursa’ simply has more of a presence within the film, and does feel somewhat intimidating and unique despite barley being utilised or developed. The film’s underdeveloped ideas are even more bizarre considering originally, the film wasn’t even supposed to be a sci-fi. As Will Smith’s first concept for the film focused on a farther and son on a camping trip in modern-day, which I personally think sounds far more interesting and enjoyable as opposed to viciously-morphing the project into a science fiction story.

Overall, ‘After Earth’ is a complete disaster of a science fiction blockbuster, as the film’s terrible performances alongside its abysmal CG effects and mostly bland filmmaking, all result in the film being extremely boring and even sometimes laughably bad. Another unfortunate flop for director M. Night Shyamalan, and definitely a huge dint in Jaden Smith’s acting career, as the young actor hasn’t appeared on-screen since. Despite some great ideas here and there, ‘After Earth’ is certainly a low-point in Will Smith’s film catalogue, Final Rating: high 2/10.

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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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A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) – Film Review

This modern remake of the classic Wes Craven horror flick: ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street,’ unfortunately lacks any of the charm or creativity of the original, as Samuel Bayer’s bland direction and Jackie Earle Haley’s eerie but not incredibly memorable portrayal of the beloved character leaves much to be desired.

Plot Summary: A group of suburban teenagers all share one common bond, they are all being stalked by ‘Freddy Krueger,’ a horribly disfigured killer who hunts them in their dreams. As long as they stay awake, they stay alive…

Whilst the film definitely isn’t the worst remake I’ve seen in recent years, it most certainly is one of the most forgettable. As the film never really does anything super interesting of note to give a reason for its existence (other the production company wanting to make a large profit of course). As everything from the cinematography, to the acting, to even some of the CG effects, all really just come off as something from your standard low-budget slasher.

As mentioned earlier Jackie Earle Haley’s version of the ‘Freddy Kruger’ character is most certainly one of the better elements of the film, as although it definitely isn’t as memorable as the original (as Robert Englund will always be the true nightmare in my opinion). Jackie does a decent job at giving his own take on the iconic character, making him more menacing and extremely creepy when on-screen, he still does have the occasional quip every so often however. The rest of the cast aren’t fantastic, as due to their limited direction and weak characterisation as well as the poor writing. Rooney Mara, Kyle Gallner and Katie Cassidy have very little to work with.

The cinematography throughout the film by Jeff Cutter is decent overall, as while not as impressive as his work on ’10 Cloverfield Lane’ for example, is it most certainly not terrible to look at through most of the runtime. One aspect of the film that is awful however, is the horrific colour palette the film goes for. As the film uses an over-saturated blue and orange colour palette very similar to a Michael Bay film, which not only doesn’t fit with the style of the film at all, but also simply gives the film a general ugly visual appeal.

Even the original score composed for the film by Steve Jablonsky, is a very bland horror soundtrack with nothing really interesting about it, even with the classic: ‘Elm Street Jingle’ in the background, the score really doesn’t add anything to the already boring atmosphere. The only element truly fresh to this remake, is the enormous amount of jump-scares throughout the narrative, which is pretty much to be expected from any modern horror nowadays.

As technology and filmmaking techniques have greatly evolved since the release of the original: ‘Elm Street’ film in 1984, I was really expecting the film to get extremely creative with the ways ‘Freddy Kruger’ can invade people’s dreams and kill them. Similar to the way they did within the sequels to the original film over the years, but sadly the film pretty much recreates many of the iconic scenes from the original film almost exactly, without much thought or creative effort put into it. I did personally enjoy the new look for: ‘Freddy’ though if I had to focus on a positive element of the film.

To conclude, I was very disappointed with this remake, even with going into it initially with very little expectations. As aside from a few interesting CG effects here and there, the film simply isn’t memorable in the slightest. Using the ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ name without understanding what actually made it such a popular and iconic franchise in the first place, leaving the film feeling like nothing more than a cash-grab. Final Rating: high 2/10.

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