Spree (2020) – Film Review

The world of social-media influencers vying for clicks, likes, views and retweets all to achieve viral fandom is a twisted one, and ‘Spree’ is far from the first film to delve into this subject matter with a satirical lens. What makes the film different is its secondary inspiration, being based on the true story of an Uber driver who went on a killing spree in 2016, ‘Spree’ has plenty of comically-violent scenes to accompany its social-media commentary. Yet even in spite of Joe Keery’s magnetic screen-presence, ‘Spree’ is a film that always feels as if its on the verge of being something exceptional, but it’s reach far exceeds its grasp.

Plot Summary: Desperate for an online following, twenty-three-year-old wannabe influencer and rideshare driver: ‘Kurt Kunkle’ devises a malicious scheme to go viral, installing a series of cameras inside his rideshare car in order to film his unsuspecting victims as they meet a gruesome end…

Co-written/directed by Eugene Kotlyarenko (A Wonderful Cloud, Wobble Palace, We Are), ‘Spree’ was initially envisioned as a claustrophobic horror based-around the story of the previously mentioned serial killing Uber driver who claimed a “Devil Figure” inside of the rideshare app was controlling his actions. And although this terrifying true story would have certainly provided enough inspiration for an indie horror, Kotlyarenko and co-writer Gene McHugh soon began to swerve more into dark comedy after giving the killer an intense craving for attention. This eventually evolved into the film’s central theme of social-media obsession, which while often used to great effect to mock online influencers, does frequently feel underdeveloped and retracts from the film’s tension, pushing ‘Kurt’s killing spree into the background in exchange for awkward character moments, which will inevitably disappoint those hoping to see plenty of grisly kills.

Joe Keery portrays the film’s psychotic protagonist: ‘Kurt Kunkle,’ who is suitably just as upbeat and inappropriate as many real-world influencers. This realism is most likely a result of Eugene Kotlyarenko and Joe Keery’s research, as the pair watched many cringe compilations of people online without a big following to help create the character, and this comes across through Keery’s body-movements and relentless optimism, making for an occasionally irritating yet charismatic protagonist as ‘Kurt’ always remains hopeful his night of murder will increase his follower-count after trying (and failing) for the past decade. Its just unfortunate that ‘Kurt’ doesn’t receive much development over the course of the runtime aside from one or two scenes, with ‘Kurt’s life outside of the internet intentionally being left a mystery.

The cinematography by Jeff Leeds Cohn is obviously in the style of found-footage, but rather than simply having ‘Kurt’ film his every move similar to most found-footage flicks, the camera itself takes on numerous forms as the story is seemingly spliced-together through iPhone cameras/screens, dash-cams, body-cams and even CCTV footage. Yet despite this ever-changing camerawork ensuring ‘Spree’s visuals stay varied, there does come a point when it begins to feel as if the film is simply piling on footage, even sometimes having three shots displayed at once through a spilt-screen effect which does become slightly overwhelming, especially when combined with the film’s rapid-editing.

Whilst there a few found-footage films that have successfully integrated an original score without taking-away the sense of realism the subgenre provides, ‘Spree’ is most definitely not one of those films. As although the pulsing-electronic score composed by James Ferraro does help to build excitement, the film’s soundtrack often plays-over scenes with no clear source, which does greatly dampen the illusion of the film being found-footage. 

Of course, with ‘Spree’ having a heavy focus around all things social-media, it would be crucial that the film stays truthful to what the internet is actually like (even through its cynical view). And while the film does have many scenarios that feel as though they lack realism, whether that’s due to incredibly forced dialogue or ‘Kurt’s beyond-moronic actions when trying to avoid the Los Angeles police force, anytime the film displays a phone-screen there is a certainty that every app/website will be a real brand and will be overflowing with detail. For example, ‘Kurt’s constant living-streaming never shies away from reality, meaning his stream’s comments are always rapidly unfurling with insults, jokes and questions all from distinct usernames.

In short, Joe Keery’s entertaining performance can’t distract from ‘Spree’s shallow critique of social-media. As whilst some may argue the story’s lack of depth is precisely the point, for me the film feels as if its unsure as to what to do with its concept, which is greatly disappointing. As I personally think a dark comedy revolving around the obsessive culture of social-media is ingenious, and films like ‘Ingrid Goes West’ prove this idea can be executed well. ‘Spree’ however, fails to deliver on this or its even promise of a violent and comedic thrill-ride. So, while I do still believe the film will have a niche appeal, ‘Spree’s apparent flaws are likely to stop most from hitting the subscribe button. Final Rating: high 4/10.

hJUA4wfvw0A6l3niOfxourqpERA

The Shallows (2016) – Film Review

Ever since the release of the original blockbuster: ‘Jaws’ in 1975, shark films have never quite managed to reach the same heights, with flops such as: ‘Deep Blue Sea,’ ‘Bait,’ ’47 Meters Down’ and ‘Shark Night’ feeling quite distant from reality as they present the animals as nothing but blood-thirsty monsters that devour brain-dead characters. And while ‘The Shallows’ does feel like a slight improvement over many of these other flicks (mostly in regards to its protagonist), the film still falters at many turns.

Plot Summary: After losing her mother in an accident, medical student: ‘Nancy’ dumps her responsibilities in Galveston and travels to Mexico, hitchhiking a ride to a hidden beach that her mother loved when she was young. But following her discovery of a whale carcass whilst surfing, ‘Nancy’ is attacked by a great white shark, leaving her bleeding and stranded on a small rock, with no sign of rescue.

Releasing in 2016 to great success, ‘The Shallows’ was one of the first major shark films released into cinemas in quite some-time, but as well as being a creature-feature, the film also serves as a survival thriller, along the same lines of: ‘127 Hours Later’. As ‘Nancy’ has to face not only the shark, but also hunger, thirst, weather, and of course, the severe leg injury she receives when she first encounters the apex-predator. Yet despite this focus making for a far more engaging experience, the narrative simultaneously tries its hand at character development, with ‘Nancy’ receiving plenty of charactersation in the film’s first act, which is sadly made less interesting as its delivered through some immensely corny dialogue.

Blake Lively, who is by no means a renowned actress, with only two films throughout her career featuring her in the top-billed cast, carries the film solo, and her commitment to this role is certainly admirable, as Lively gives a very intense performance as a result of: ‘Nancy’ being in agonising pain for most of the runtime. Additionally, Lively did most of her own stunts for the film aside from her character’s surfing. In fact, in one particular scene, where ‘Nancy’ crushes a crab and then proceeds to eat it raw, Lively is actually eating a real crab that the production crew found dead on a nearby beach, so her reactions of disgust are genuine even though the crab initially getting crushed was achieved through CGI. This is all made even more impressive by the fact that Lively was pregnant with her second child at the time of filming. 

Flavio Martínez Labiano’s cinematography does provide a handful of attractive and memorable shots when not focusing on the characters, these usually being when the shots revolve more around the shark lurking beneath the water, or when the camerawork effectively uses framing to display how far ‘Nancy’ is from safety. And of course, with the film being shot off the Gold Coast of Australia (excluding a few scenes which were shot in a large water-tank), the film’s signature beach and crystal-clear waves are always an alluring sight, which is a superb visual-clash with the horror that lies within.

The original score by Marco Beltrami serves the story well enough, as the film’s soundtrack drifts from beautiful calming tracks like ‘Paddle In’ and ‘Nancy and Dad Facetime,’ to much more tense tracks such as: ‘Main Title’ and ‘Towards the Dead Whale.’ However, its when the story shifts into full on threat that the score begins to feel extremely generic, most notably, the track: ‘Underwater Attack,’ which is barley distinguishable from any other thriller soundtrack as it doesn’t encapsulate either the beauty or isolation of the ocean as many of the other tracks do.

Unlike ‘Jaws’ or even ‘Deep Blue Sea’ during a few moments, ‘The Shallows’ exclusively uses CGI to bring its shark to-life, which is unfortunate. As while there was clearly a huge level of detail put-into the shark, as director Jaume Collet Serra (Orphan, Unknown, Non-Stop) worked closely with the art department to ensure a sense of realism in the shark’s design, having the team do thousands of hours of research. This all sadly goes to waste due to the demands of the film’s script, as the shark in ‘The Shallows’ rarely acts like a real animal, often feeling like just a hulking murderous monster whose CG effects drastically vary depending on the shot.

To conclude, ‘The Shallows’ is a step-up from a number of other shark flicks, but even with its above-average filmmaking and solid performance from Blake Lively. The film still falls into many of the common issues shark films do, as the story favours the idea of using its shark as a monster of the ocean and that alone, and this on-top of the film’s occasionally strange stylistic choices, shoddy CG effects and cheesy dialogue, result in the film becoming just another poor attempt at revitalising the great white shark as a cinematically enthralling antagonist. Final Rating: high 4/10.

shallows_xxlg

The Purge: Anarchy (2014) – Film Review

This sequel to the original: ‘Purge’ film released just a year earlier is a slight improvement over the first, yet still doesn’t fare much better overall. As while ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ does deliver more on what its initial film set-up, now focusing-on a small group of characters attempting to survive the night of chaos and murder out on the desolate streets of Los Angeles. ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ doesn’t do enough with this new perspective, and it soon becomes quite evident that it isn’t going to be enough to save the film from its return to weak filmmaking and storytelling.

Plot Summary: As another year’s ‘Purge Night’ commences, two groups of survivors unintentionally intertwine after being rescued by a mysterious stranger out on a mission. Now stranded and in desperate need of a vehicle, the group agree to stick together in order to survive against the many ‘Purgers’ out for blood.

Once again directed by James DeMonaco, it’s clear from the larger-scale that ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ is aiming for that the film is trying to please the audience members that were dissatisfied with the first entry in the franchise, ditching the small-scale home-invasion story in favour of becoming more of an action-focused thriller that further explores its disturbing world. Yet even with the many themes of: ‘The Purge’ series still present, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ manages to feel like a bigger waste of potential than the first film. As in spite of the fact we get to see how many different Americans spend their murderous night, the film still feels quite restrained, never delving enough into each baleful group of: ‘Purgers’ or their violent deeds.

Frank Grillo leads the cast this time around as a character only known as ‘The Sergeant,’ who has easily become the most beloved character in the series since ‘The Purge: Anarchy’s initial release, soon becoming the only character to return in a later ‘Purge’ film. However, whilst I understand why most viewers resonate with his character, I did feel much of his characterisation was lost as a result of a large amount of his dialogue (including his backstory) being cut during post-production. The sequel’s cast also includes Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul who both give decent performances, as well as the other two cast members of Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez, who are both about as irritating and dim-witted as horror characters come, having nothing but scene-after-scene of the two making moronic decisions following their many sessions of obnoxiously loud panicking.

Unfortunately, returning cinematographer Jacques Jouffret doesn’t innovate much on his style of cinematography from the first film, relying very heavily on hand-held camerawork now just with slightly better lighting due to the many street lights above the character’s heads. Although there are still a few interesting shots, the only real aspect of the film that manages to stand-out stylistically is the film’s end credit sequence, which combines footage from both of the ‘Purge’ films released at the time in addition to shots of fire, bullets, blood, weapons and the American flag, all key visuals of the series.

Nathan Whitehead’s original score is similar to that of the first film, only this time being much shorter in length, mostly consisting of a series of tracks that lack anything overly-distinctive about them, being utilised within the film exclusively to help build tension. That is with the exception of the track: ‘Commencement’ however, without a doubt the best track of the entire score, as this impactful and brooding track plays when ‘The Purge’ first begins, making for one of the film’s most memorable scenes.

Whilst this was also an issue in the original: ‘Purge’ film, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ carries-over the same problem, suffering repeatedly throughout the runtime as a result of its many awful CG effects. Most notably, the heavy overreliance on CG blood, which looks dreadful in nearly every shot it’s featured in. That being said, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ does also take on one of the previous film’s best elements, that being the many frightening (and occasionally also iconic) masks. From skulls, to blood-stained hockey masks to even a simple white bag, nearly all of the masks seen during ‘The Purge’ franchise manage to add a little personality and character to each film’s signature psychopaths.

Sadly, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ is another lacklustre entry within ‘The Purge’ series, even though I do feel a similar plot to this one could be executed-well, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ somehow manages to feel more disappointing as it tries to be more ambitious. Whilst the film is perhaps the best entry in the current series (which isn’t really a compliment), mostly due to Frank Grillo’s entertaining performance and the film’s continuous feeling of rush helping to propel the film forward as the group attempt to live through this yearly night of violence. ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ still relies far too heavily on its central concept to carry it through its narrative. Final Rating: 4/10.

the-purge-anarchy-one-sheet

Lucy (2014) – Film Review

Luc Besson, the iconic director behind: ‘Léon: The Professional,’ ‘The Fifth Element’ and ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ returns to the sci-fi genre with ‘Lucy,’ a very strange and original science fiction thriller focusing on a young woman whose intellect begins to evolve after being kidnapped, eventually transforming her into something more than human. Although this interesting plot does feel like a departure from what we usually expect within this genre, I personally feel this doesn’t always work within the film’s favour.

Plot Summary: After a young woman (Lucy) gets accidentally caught in a drug deal, she is captured and taken to the feet of a powerful drug lord. Before long, she finds herself a victim of illegal drug trafficking, in which an experimental synthetic drug is implanted inside her lower abdomen to transport it into Europe. But when the blue chemical leaks into her bloodstream, she turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless creature that has evolved beyond human logic.

Even though the narrative of: ‘Lucy’ is definitely a unique one, I personally feel the film doesn’t explore its various ideas and concepts as effectively as it could, as ‘Lucy’ introduces a number of interesting elements when it comes to human evolution, usually without ever fully releasing them. The film does still manage to contain plenty of astonishing/colourful visuals as well as a few memorable scenes throughout its runtime, yet it simply isn’t enough to save the film from the issues that litter its story, despite the film’s screenplay being in development for over nine-years.

The film’s protagonist: ‘Lucy’ is portrayed fairly-well by Scarlett Johansson, as she gives a very robotic and cold performance throughout the film the more intelligent her character becomes. However, the character of: ‘Lucy’ is actually one of the film’s biggest missteps, as throughout the narrative, ‘Lucy’ always feels incredibly underdeveloped, as we barely spend any-time with her before she begins to evolve after being contaminated with the chemical. Meaning she quickly turns into a calculating killing machine without emotion. As a result of this, it’s extremely difficult to connect with her, or even like her, as we are given very little characterisation before her change. The supporting cast of Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked and Pilou Asbæk are all decent overall, with the exception of Min-sik Choi as the film’s antagonist: ‘Mr. Jang,’ who actually gives the brutal drug lord an intimidating presence despite his limited screen-time.

Thierry Arbogast’s cinematography unfortunately, doesn’t really reflect the film’s many creative CG effects, as although the film does contain the occasional pleasing shot, they are simply too few and far between, with a bit of an overreliance on shot-reverse-shot during many scenes. ‘Lucy’ also contains some fairly unusual editing, as the film constantly cuts-away to symbolic images of animals, nature, populated cities and cells materializing etc. And although this does give the film some style, it also makes some scenes come-off unintentionally comedic.

The original score by Eric Serra, plays very well into the film’s story, as this fitting techno score alters throughout the course of the film, with tracks such as: ‘First Cells’ and ‘Taipei Airport’ feeling very unique, not too different from the film’s story itself. My personal favourite track has to be ‘Flickering Through Time’ however, as this beautiful yet haunting piece plays over one of the film’s most memorable and effective scenes as ‘Lucy’ soars through time.

Although the CG effects do range in quality over the course of the film, ‘Lucy’ does get very inventive with its visuals when it comes to its CGI, as the film features an array of colourful and trippy CG visuals the further ‘Lucy’ evolves, which does help redeem ‘Lucy’s overall lack of scientific accuracy (which the film has actually been heavily criticised for since its release). As whilst I personally don’t feel being less-accurate to real-world science is a problem when it comes to science fiction. ‘Lucy’ rests a large amount of its story on the idea that humans only use 10% of their brains, which has actually been debunked by neurological scientists many times over, as humans typically use about 10%-12% of their brains at a time.

Whilst I’m sure ‘Lucy’ had the potential to be an eccentric and original sci-fi flick at one point-in-time, the film’s cons simply out-way its pros in my opinion. From its cheesy dialogue through to its poor editing choices and flawed story, ‘Lucy’ feels almost as if it gets bogged-down by itself, almost becoming a little too pretentious for its own good. While I do appreciate the film’s more out-there story and great original score, I’d recommend you stick to ‘The Fifth Element’ for your fill of a Luc Besson sci-fi. Final Rating: 4/10.

lucy_xxlg

Unicorn Store (2019) – Film Review

Both starring and directed by Oscar-winner Brie Larson, ‘Unicorn Store’ is a light-hearted comedy/drama which attempts to delve into those childhood dreams many people have, but seems to fall very short in more aspects than one. As aside from a pretty great original score by Alex Greenwald, the film is mostly very bland and forgettable, usually flopping most of the emotional moments and attempts at humour within its fantastical story.

Plot Summary: When ‘Kit’ is forced to move back in with her parents after being kicked-out of art school, she takes on a boring office job in an attempt to finally grow-up. But when a mysterious stranger sends her an invitation, she is welcomed into a magical store with the promise of owning her own pet unicorn, her greatest desire as a child.

Personally, I do feel this is one of those films where the lack of experience from the director is a big part in what makes it fail overall, as although the writing throughout the film is fairly decent. The film’s visuals as well as the weak performances from the cast, leave the film feeling almost as if it’s presentation doesn’t match with the story itself, and whilst I’m definitely not this film’s main target audience, I don’t imagine even young girls could get much out of this less-than-imaginative experience.

Although Brie Larson has given a variety of excellent performances throughout her career, with ‘Room’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. the World’ being the first two that come to mind. Her performance is extremely mixed throughout ‘Unicorn Store,’ as in some scenes she fairly decent, whilst in others, she is quite bland. This could also be due to her character however, as ‘Kit’ is very irritating throughout the majority of the film. Portraying the character as childish and loud in all the wrong ways, the supporting cast of Mamoudou Athie, Samuel L. Jackson, Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack are also serviceable however, yet do have their weak moments similar to Brie Larson.

Aside from the bright colour palette which does somewhat help to improve the film’s visuals despite not being as overly colourful as I initially expected. The overall cinematography by Brett Pawlak is mostly very dull, as the film is overflowing with a variety of boring shots, all displayed through soft hand-held camera techniques, which I actually found quite distracting throughout. This is also the case when it comes to the lighting, as aside from one visually pleasing scene with the unicorn itself nearing the end of the runtime, every scene is usually very white and pale (which is essentially the complete opposite of the story’s themes).

Alex Greenwald handles the original score for the film as already mentioned, and although not an incredible soundtrack by any means, the score is probably the best element of the film for me. As the original score succeeds where the film’s visuals fail, as the soundtrack embraces the more magical childlike tone of the film, utilising what almost sounds like wind chimes and harps to fit effectively alongside the film’s narrative.

Despite the story not quite reaching the heights it could in terms of humour and emotion, I do really like many of the film’s ideas. As the film’s themes of letting-go of your childhood and growing-up are interesting, and have been explored well before in a variety of Pixar and DreamWorks animated classics. However, ‘Unicorn Store’ seems to not place much emphasis on these ideas aside from a few lines of dialogue from ‘Kit’ herself. Initially, ‘Unicorn Store’ was supposed to be directed by Miguel Arteta, best known for his romantic drama: ‘The Good Girl’ from 2002, and although I don’t think this director would’ve done an exceptional job with the film. I do feel he could’ve explored these themes better, and possibly even made the film more engaging when it comes to its characters, as this was always one of the stronger aspects of his previous works.

In the end, ‘Unicorn Store’ was pretty much what I expected it to be, whilst I could be a little biased due to my distaste of Brie Larson (mostly as a person rather than as an actress). The film simply isn’t that entertaining throughout, with its bland cinematography and lighting, in addition to some of its irritating characters and mediocre story. ‘Unicorn Store’ just isn’t worth it’s time when there’s plenty of other fantastic films currently available to watch on Netflix. Final Rating: low 4/10.

unicorn_store_xxlg

Goosebumps (2015) – Film Review

Based on the iconic children’s book series by R. L. Stine, the film adaptation of: ‘Goosebumps’ actually takes a very different approach to its source material. By this time actually having the book series itself play a part in the story, allowing for multiple different monsters from the classic series to appear, alongside Jack Black’s extreme portrayal of: ‘Goosebumps’ original author R. L. Stine of course. This all leading to a somewhat fun but overall flawed adventure.

Plot Summary: When an angsty teenager (Zach) moves in next door to the children’s horror author R.L. Stine and his teenage daughter, as he soon finds himself in a strange scenario. As the writer’s own monsters are brought-to-life from their own stories to inflict chaos onto their small town.

Rob Letterman (Shark Tale, Monsters vs. Aliens, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu) directs the film with a fun Halloween-like atmosphere, bringing together many different monsters and creatures ripped straight from their own books, with most of the designs of the monsters being recreated perfectly based on their original designs, despite many of them only getting a few seconds of screen-time, with the haunted dummy: ‘Slappy,’ being the leader of the monsters, and the main focus of the narrative, portrayed as an almost more sinister side of R.L. Stine himself. But as I’ve always been a huge fan of the original: ‘Goosebumps’ show on Cartoon Network, the film’s lack of scares is quite frustrating. As sadly, ‘Goosebumps’ chooses to focus far more on comedy than light-horror to appeal to a new generation of kids, which I personally think is a huge mistake.

Most of the cast here give decent performances for a family flick, as Dylan Minnette and Odeya Rush portray a couple of teenagers thrown into this mad adventure fairly. Alongside their friend: ‘Champ’ portrayed by Ryan Lee, who I found extremely grating after a while. All lead by Jack Black’s portrayal of R. L. Stine as previously mentioned, in addition to his portrayal of the film’s antagonist: ‘Slappy the Living Dummy.’ Who as both characters, gives a performance a little too over-the-top for me.

The cinematography by Javier Aguirresarobe is overall nothing amazing, coming-off as mostly bland and generic throughout, but it does it’s job regardless. Danny Elfman also takes on the original score for the film, and again whilst not being anything super memorable, the score is a decent mixture between a spooky horror score alongside a more traditional family film soundtrack. The CG effects however, are actually one of the better aspects of the film for me, as while not outstanding they do succeed in bringing the various creatures to life, alongside many of the make-up effects and costumes, which I personally thought added to many of the action scenes throughout the runtime.

Although there are a few funny lines throughout the film, the writing here is one of the film’s biggest issues. As the somewhat original story is dragged down by some awful jokes and very cringy moments, which again falls back on why I would’ve preferred for the film to go for more of a creepy tone over a completely comedic one. The colourful end title sequence of the film is also a great throwback for classic ‘Goosebumps’ fans (despite not adding much to the film as a whole).

Overall, ‘Goosebumps’ was disappointing for me, as I was really expecting something more along the lines of: ‘Coraline’ or ‘Monster House’ on my initial viewing. A creepy family flick with plenty of eerie atmosphere, a few original ideas and plenty of throwbacks to the classic books. While I’m not completely against the idea of comedy within the story, the film simply comes down to nothing more than your standard family adventure with an over-reliance on goofy jokes, with the only difference being the slapped-on ‘Goosebumps’ name. Of course, I’m also not the film’s target audience, and I could definitely see some families enjoying this spooky adventure for what it is. Final Rating: 4/10.

goosebumps_ver2_xxlg

Man of Steel (2013) – Film Review

Being one of the most iconic and beloved superheroes of all-time, it was inventible that ‘Superman’ would come to life on the silver screen once again. This time from director Zach Synder (300, Watchmen, Sucker Punch), a director I’m not particularly fond of due to his weak focus on storytelling and overreliance on action and attractive visuals. And unfortunately, ‘Man of Steel’ is no exception to this.

Plot Summary: ‘Clark Kent,’ an alien who as a child was evacuated from his dying world of: ‘Krypton’ and soon arrived on Earth, where he began living as a normal human under his newly found parents. But when survivors of his alien home-world invade the planet, he must reveal himself to the world.

The main issue that I have with this film is that the filmmakers seem to not understand the character of: ‘Superman’ very well, as the entire film is extremely bleak, dull and even somewhat dark. In addition to this, ‘Superman’ himself actually does very little heroic acts throughout the film’s runtime. Almost the complete opposite of the original: ‘Superman’ from 1978. This is even seen in the colour palette, as the film mostly uses a dark blue and grey colour palette. But when your superhero protagonist is supposed to be a symbol of hope and heroism, this is definitely not the way to go.

Henry Cavill, Amy Adams and Russel Crowe all give decent performances throughout the film, but sadly they never really elevate to anything above acceptable. Henry Cavill is likeable enough as the protagonist but I always found Michael Shannon‘s villainous incarnation of: ‘Zod’ far more interesting. As he does a great job giving his character a motivation despite how sinister it may seem, as well as making him extremely menacing, very similar to his character in ‘The Shape of Water’ in many ways.

Amir Mokri‘s cinematography throughout the film is mostly very generic cinematography for a blockbuster action film, having far too much hand-held camera at points as well as shaking around constantly and utilising many quick cuts during the action scenes, making them even more difficult to follow. The film also uses many artificial zooms when ‘Superman’ is soaring through the sky, which I personally think looks terrible. 

The original score by Hanz Zimmer is easily my personal favourite element of the film, while being nothing new for this composer. Hanz Zimmer really brings his ‘A’ game here, and creates an exciting and uplifting score which sometimes really makes-up for the lack of heroism and use of bright colours in the film. I would say this soundtrack is up there as one of my favourite scores by Hanz Zimmer for sure, even playing over my favourite scene in the film when ‘Clark Kent’ learns to fly as ‘Superman’ for the first time.

However, many of the film’s action scenes don’t help the film, as the action within the film ranges from extremely entertaining, as the superpowered characters battle brutally for the fate of the planet. To sometimes being incredibly overwhelming, with constant explosions going off and CG buildings being destroyed left and right. Many of these action scenes don’t even feel very real due to the enormous barrage of CG effects we get within them, or as ‘real’ as they can be anyway.

‘Man of Steel’ is a bit of a mess for a superhero film, it almost feels more like a ‘Batman’ flick for most of its runtime. Relying very heavily on a dark colour palette and a bleak more ‘realistic’ feel. Alongside the generic cinematography and bland acting. The original score, a few actions set-pieces and the occasional attractive visual is really all the film has to offer to superhero fans. Hopefully, this iconic superhero will have his chance to grace the skies with another outstanding instalment soon, as for: ‘Man of Steel?’ It’s a disappointing superhero flick. Final Rating: low 4/10.

man-of-steel-2013-16

Chappie (2015) – Film Review

Neil Blomkamp has always been a director I’ve admired, famous mostly for his smash-hit: ‘District 9’ in 2012, shortly then followed by his second film: ‘Elysium’ which split many sci-fi fans down the middle. He’s always managed to impress me through his incredible use of CGI and explosive action set-pieces. However, I’ve always found his narratives to be kind of lacklustre, and this is definitely where the main issue lies with his third film: ‘Chappie.’

Plot Summary: In the near future, crime in the city of Johannesburg is patrolled by a mechanized police force created by the company: ‘Tetravaal.’ But when one police droid: ‘Chappie’ is stolen and given new programming, he becomes the first machine ever with the ability to think and feel for himself. Leading ‘Chappie’ to eventually realise the chaotic world he has now become a part of.

I find the initial idea very interesting, coming-off almost as a mixture between: ‘RoboCop’ and ‘Short Circuit’ and I think the film could’ve been very entertaining if they would’ve chosen to explore these ideas of synthetic life vs. actual living consciousness. Strangely however, this is not the direction the film actually goes, as we see ‘Chappie’ enter the world of crime alongside a criminal gang, making the film less of an interesting sci-fi with themes of artificial intelligence and more along the lines of a straight crime thriller, now with a less-likeable protagonist.

Sharlto Coply, Deon Wilson, Hugh Jackman and Sigourney Weaver all give decent performances in the film, and while I would’ve preferred Sigourney Weaver to have a bigger role in the overall narrative. I feel Sharlto Coply as ‘Chappie’ and Hugh Jackman as the antagonist of the film: ‘Vincent Moore’ were both great in their respective roles. However, in easily one of the worst decisions in the film. The band: Die Antwoord portray some of the main protagonists (with their real names for some reason) and ignoring from their mostly poor performances, they also come off as very unlikeable characters throughout. Ensuring the audience roots for the criminal gang even less than before.

Trent Opaloch handles the cinematography in the film, which is pretty great for the most part, however as similar to the rest of Blomkamp’s films, there is far too much use of hand-held camera techniques. Although this is fine when it comes to the action scenes, when the pacing slows-down and the story focuses on more dialogue-heavy scenes or crucial character moments, I find it very distracting. The CG effects however, are gorgeous throughout the film, as every visual effect has enormous weight to it, truly feeling as if it is part of the scene, this is especially clear with the CG effects on ‘Chappie’ himself, as the character interacts with every location, prop and character flawlessly.

The original score by Hanz Zimmer is phenomenal as per-usual, combing a typical sci-fi soundtrack alongside a more gritty crime score. Fitting the film perfectly, and really adding tension to many of the scenes throughout the runtime. I was also very impressed with the sound design throughout ‘Chappie,’ as although most sci-fi flicks usually have decent sound design, I felt ‘Chappie’ really used its sound design effectively to add to the film’s gritty feel.

More than likely just a personal issue, but I also feel the song choices within the film were very poor. As a large number of songs from the indie band: ‘Die Antwoord’ are used throughout the film, all of which just don’t fit with the pacing or tone of the film at all. In addition to this, the fact that their characters share the real-life names as the actors portraying them as already mentioned, just makes the entire thing very confusing.

To conclude, I’m still not entirely sure what I think of: ‘Chappie.’ As whilst it definitely has many flaws and is easily Blomkamp’s weakest film in my opinion. The film still has certain elements I really enjoy, as some of the cinematography, action scenes and CG effects still impress me to this day, and all display that this director still has a keen eye for visuals. But his storytelling really does need to show improvement in the future. Regardless of this, I hope Blomkamp gets another shot at directing again. Final Rating: 4/10.

chappie_ver4_xxlg

Serenity (2019) – Film Review

A film I only heard about very recently, ‘Serenity’ is a sci-fi/mystery written and directed by Steven Knight, best known for his work on the smash-hit show: ‘Peaky Blinders.’ Although I thought the film looked interesting initially, it has received a lot of bad reviews since it’s release from both critics and audiences alike, so I decided I’d give it a watch and decide for myself.

Plot Summary: When ‘Baker Dill,’ a lone fisherman who escaped from his past to a remote island, meets with his ex-girlfriend: ‘Karen.’ She begs ‘Dill’ to save her and their young son from her new, violent husband by taking him out to sea on a fishing excursion, only to throw him to the sharks and leave him for dead…

The story and setting of the film definitely feel very fresh for this genre, mostly due to the film seeming like more of a straight drama at first before changing drastically later down the line. ‘Serenity’ also delivers its narrative in a very unusual fashion, editing between scenes at a very quick-pace. Keeping the story always in constant motion and placing small seeds which lead into bigger reveals later into the runtime. Some of which only get small appearances for viewers paying close attention. Sadly for viewers paying close-attention, the CGI on display here isn’t the most impressive.

Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Jason Clarke all give decent performances here, at points however they do feel a little ‘off.’ Whilst I’m sure this is intentional, as it fits with the film’s atmosphere, it can sometimes be distracting from the story itself. Jason Clarke’s performance as ‘Frank Zariakas’ I really enjoyed in particular, as here he plays a completely different character to how we are used to seeing him.

The cinematography by Jess Hall is most certainly one of the highlights of the film for me, resulting in many beautiful and interesting shots. The film also uses the panoramic pivot point camera movement technique (spinning the camera around the actor) for many shots, similar to how the ‘Saw’ franchise does. Personally, though I’m not a huge fan of this technique as it makes the film feel a little cheap. The cinematography also helps with many of the more emotional or tension-filled moments throughout the narrative of the film.

The original score by Benjamin Wallfisch really lends itself to the strange atmosphere of the film for the most part, aside from when the tension rises in a few scenes, as then I felt the soundtrack begin to feel a little generic and action-heavy. However, when you consider the twist at the end of the film, I feel the score could’ve taken some ideas from it into account, which would’ve perhaps made it a little more memorable.

When it comes to the editing, it can definitely vary. Although in some scenes the editing can be a little messy or overly quick, for the most part, the editing is decent and the transitions between scenes are very effective. Even with the quick editing however, the runtime is still overly long and could easily be cut down to at least an hour and a half. In addition to this, when the editing is combined with some of the unintentionally funny writing it can lead some oddly comedic moments.

To conclude, ‘Serenity’ is a very different kind of film, it begins as almost a character drama before completely spiralling into its science fiction mystery elements. I can see that if you weren’t prepared for the change in direction, it may come off as very sudden and out-of-place. Soon becoming a film not intended for everyone, but with some great cinematography and some occasional impressive editing alongside the incredibly strange atmosphere. I personally found some entertainment value in this film. So maybe give it a watch if your film taste stretches into more ‘weird’ territory now and then. Final Rating: 4/10.

serenity_xxlg