Last Christmas (2019) – Film Review

While on paper, 2019’s ‘Last Christmas’ might have seemed like a recipe for success, with two charismatic leads in Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding alongside a soundtrack consisting of innumerable George Michael songs, all wrapped-up in a festive London setting under the watchful eye of proficient comedy director Paul Feig (Spy, Bridesmaids, A Simply Favor). In execution, ‘Last Christmas’ is never as humorous or affectionate as it thinks it is, with many scenes coming across as incredibly dull and derivative as the film lacks originality to such an extent that audiences will frequently be reminded of romantic-comedy classics like ‘Love Actually’ and ‘The Holiday’ as they sit through its poorly conceived story and underbaked subplots.

Plot Summary: While working at a year-round Christmas store and sofa-surfing instead of facing her overbearing mother, aspiring singer and frustrated Londoner: ‘Kate,’ meets ‘Tom,’ an alluring young man who charms her with his unusual observations, challenging ‘Kate’s cynical view of the world as a result of her dysfunctional relationships and continuously unsuccessful auditions…

Written by actress Emma Thompson, who also appears in the film as ‘Kate’s mother: ‘Petra.’ ‘Last Christmas’ evidently takes a lot of inspiration from well-known Christmas rom-coms such as the previously mentioned: ‘Love Actually.’ Only, in this case, it becomes difficult to tell the two apart after a while as ‘Last Christmas’ has very few distinctions in terms of both story and visuals, only being set apart by its pivotal plot twist, which some may find absurdly over-the-top and frustrating. Sadly, for a romantic-comedy, ‘Last Christmas’ also falls short when it comes to humour, with many of the film’s gags seeming either immature or foreseeable, as the film rapidly cuts between the characters trying to make it appear as if their quips are transpiring non-stop.

The characters themselves, however, are one of the better aspects of the film, with ‘Kate’s journey from being a self-hating, narcissistic borderline alcoholic, to a content woman savouring every second of her life is enjoyable to watch even in spite of its predictability. And Clarke portrays the character well, leaning more into her actual personality off-camera as a witty, self-effacing and expressive individual. Henry Golding also breaks away from his usual roles for his performance as ‘Tom,’ behaving like a handsome goofball as he and ‘Kate’ wander through the streets of London, never caring what those around him may think. With that said, the main issue with the characters is their absence of backstory, as whilst we are told many things about ‘Kate’ and her sombre past, including when she was severely unwell the previous Christmas, eventually leading her to have a heart transplant. We never see a flashback of this event or anything similar beyond a brief mention, which is a problem that also applies to ‘Kate’s desire to become a West End star as well as the many friends of hers she supposedly screwed over in the past while temporarily staying with them.

In terms of visuals, the cinematography by John Schwartzman conveys the narrative effectively enough, yet barely experiments outside of standard mid-shots or the occasional wide-shot/close-up. A tremendous missed opportunity considering the many brightly light and architecturally captivating streets the characters walk down, which are regularly littered with enchanting Christmas decorations and lights, even if they are primarily white or gold rather than multicoloured.

In addition to the music of George Michael and Wham!, which is, of course, weaved into the film in nearly every scene. The original score by Theodore Shapiro fills in the gaps in-between, with tracks like ‘Secret Garden,’ ‘Self-Pity Party’ and ‘Take Care’ serving as relaxing breaks from the film’s relentless use of beloved Christmas songs. Yet this score is worthy of praise in itself, having many tracks that are beautiful and melancholic pieces that encapsulate the festive setting without overdoing it through the use of jingling bells etc.

Peculiarly, ‘Last Christmas’ also features a subplot revolving around post-Brexit xenophobia, as ‘Kate’ and her family first came into the United Kingdom as refugees from former Yugoslavia. Now, her mother cowers in her home, watching news reports of right-wing demonstrations. A bizarre choice for a Christmas film to be sure, but even more bizarre considering this idea never goes anywhere and isn’t brought-up until the second act. Still, at least one good thing comes out of these moments, as we find out ‘Kate’s full name is ‘Katarina,’ yet she refuses to be called by it, spending much of the film reasserting her own Britishness. A compelling idea that once again, goes nowhere, and only feels as if it was put into the screenplay for the sake of relevance as opposed to emotional weight or social commentary.

In conclusion, even though the combination of iconic Christmas music, a cosy, festive aesthetic and picturesque London scenery should outweigh what flaws ‘Last Christmas’ has, they don’t quite achieve their goal by the runtime’s end. As the film’s constant use of clichés, exposition-heavy dialogue and feeble gags soon become far too overbearing, leaving ‘Last Christmas’ a digestible film at best and an irritating one at worst, even with its climactic plot twist being very much in line with the story’s wistful yuletide spirit. Final Rating: high 4/10.

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Skyline (2010) – Film Review

Spawning multiple direct-to-streaming sequels despite its discouraging box-office return, 2010’s ‘Skyline’ is, at best, a middling sci-fi-action blockbuster. Offering undeniable evidence that impressive visual effects alone can’t overcome a predictable storyline, cliché dialogue and vapid characters, with much of: ‘Skyline’s runtime being dedicated to tedious indoor melodrama rather than the potentially exhilarating extraterrestrial invasion occurring just outside, ultimately making for a science fiction flick with few original ideas and very limited scope.

Plot Summary: In the wake of an unexpected pregnancy, ‘Elaine’ and her boyfriend: ‘Jarrod’ travel to Los Angeles to convene with their old friend, now-successful entrepreneur: ‘Terry,’ for a party-filled weekend getaway. But the morning after their arrival, a cluster of strange lights begin to descend over the city, drawing residents outside like moths to a flame as an extraterrestrial force threatens to wipe the entire human population off the face of the planet…

Predominantly visual effects artists, directors Colin and Greg Strause (Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem) financed ‘Skyline’ almost entirely by themselves without the assistance of any major production company, with filming only costing around £372,000, while the visual effects cost an additional £742,000. However, whilst it is commendable what The Brothers Strause achieved on such a low-budget for a blockbuster-level film, ‘Skyline’ eschews a creditable screenplay in order to focus purely on boundless CG spectacle. That is when the film doesn’t just consist of the characters hiding away in ‘Terry’s penthouse, peeping through his conveniently installed telescope to observe the chaos transpiring on the streets below, which, while at first, may sound like an interesting way to experience an extraterrestrial incursion, in execution, is rather dull due to a severe lack of tension, an issue that the later sequels: ‘Beyond Skyline’ and ‘Skylines’ did somewhat rectify.

The film’s biggest downfall comes when we are introduced to the characters, as even when ignoring the apathetic performances from Eric Balfour, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel, Donald Faison and David Zayas alike, the main group of individuals are just no different to the characters of any other alien invasion story. Being given the absolute bare minimum of characterisation, every member of the group (including the two protagonists) feel incredibly underwritten and frequently come across as unlikeable, even if the film does attempt to keep its characters grounded in realism by representing them as genuine civilians, as the characters never contemplate sprinting outside and confronting the extraterrestrial force face-to-face. Instead, they simply hunker down and use what little knowledge they obtain to their advantage.

When it comes to visuals, Michael Watson’s cinematography fulfils its purpose in showcasing the scale of the invasion across the world, but beyond that, the camerawork doesn’t get any more imaginative, primarily relying on hand-held mid-shots and close-ups, never attempting the utilise the claustrophobic penthouse setting (which, in reality, was part of co-director Greg Stause’s condo building) to its full effect. Another element that spoils the handful of pleasant visuals ‘Skyline’ has its use of blue lighting, as although the abnormal blue lights seen throughout the film are a crucial plot component (being the source that draws civilians outside before they are abducted), their constant usage does result in the film having a hefty over-reliance on vexing lens flares, an issue that even extends to the captions/credits.

A mix of both electronic and orchestral tracks, the original score by Matthew Margeson, unfortunately, has quite the shortage of memorability, with simplistic tracks like ‘The Escape,’ ‘They’re Not Dead’ and ‘Arrival’ being nothing but unremarkable. With that said, credit has to be given that the computerised segments of the score do produce an eerie alien-like sound. And whilst on the topic of audio, the film’s sound design is serviceable though nothing spectacular, with the aliens having a daunting set of screeches and grunts.

Featuring over one thousand visual effects shots, ‘Skyline’s main selling point is unmistakably its CG effects and subsequent action sequences, which are actually few and far between due to a large majority of the narrative taking place within one location. Luckily, the rare moments of excitement we do receive don’t squander the extraterrestrial force, from the oily, cephalopod-like ‘Harvesters,’ who possess the ability to purloin and utilise the brains of different species to revitalise themselves, to the towering brutes known as ‘Tankers,’ who use their immense size and strength to tear through buildings, the film’s hyper-advanced extraterrestrials are given some much-needed variety between their designs. Most of the spaceships were even designed from the basis of low-altitude clouds ranging from Stratocumulus to Cumulus, and are all brought to life through some solid CGI, especially when they are seen swallowing masses of the population in one of the film’s most striking shots.

In short, whilst the broad premise of: ‘Skyline’ has promise, the resulting film is fairly predictable. Not only because of its numerous faults, but because the film was fighting a losing battle right from its inception, with nearly every possible idea relating to the concept of an extraterrestrial invasion already being seen. From the original: ‘War of the Worlds’ in 1953, all the way up to the patriotic all-American blockbuster: ‘Independence Day’ in 1996, it’s an onerous task to fabricate new ways of writing an alien intrusion, further proved by the countless other extraterrestrial occupation stories that have freshly emerged. Final Rating: 4/10.

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The Meg (2018) – Film Review

Following the endless string of horrendous, ultra-low-budget shark films produced for the Syfy Channel, some notable releases of which being: ‘Toxic Shark,’ ‘Ghost Shark,’ ‘Sand Sharks,’ ‘Shark Exorcist,’ ‘6-Headed Shark Attack’ and ‘Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus.’ ‘The Meg,’ released in 2018, attempted to be an explosive and humorous action blockbuster inspired by these risible science fiction flicks, yet due to its less than mediocre writing, predictable story and often dreadful supporting cast, the film noticeably lacks the thrills or overt cheesiness that make cult sci-fi and horror films so enticing.

Plot Summary: Deemed insane for claiming that a failed submarine rescue was doomed due to an enormous creature lurking within the ocean depths, deep-sea rescue diver: ‘Jonas Taylor’ finds himself heading into the Mariana Trench, five years later, as a team of scientists working for an underwater research facility become trapped inside a crippled submersible after sharing a similar encounter. Soon discovering that the colossal creature corning them is one of the largest marine predators to ever exist… the megalodon.

Even though it’s incredibly rare nowadays to stumble upon a genuinely great shark film, I can appreciate what director Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping, National Treasure) and his crew set-out to do with this film. As it’s obvious quite early on that ‘The Meg’ doesn’t take itself that seriously, having numerous jokes and self-aware lines scattered throughout its runtime, a clear departure from the mostly straight-faced novel: ‘MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror’ by Steve Alten, which the film is partly an adaptation of. However, that isn’t to say that the humour within ‘The Meg’ is quality comedy, as a large majority of the film’s comedic lines feel either forced or childish, with any lines that aren’t intended for humour usually being clichéd pieces of dialogue along the lines of: “What Have We Done?” and “There’s Something Out There!”

While there is an argument to be made that all you really need for an enjoyable summer action flick is Jason Statham and something for Jason Statham to kill, I feel ‘The Meg’ is another film that further proves this method of casting for blockbusters isn’t always the right call. As whilst Statham’s actual talent for swimming is put to fantastic use in this film, Statham often just plays himself, rarely even making an effort to make ‘Jonas’ an actual character. The film’s supporting cast are unfortunately, even worse, as whilst Rainn Wilson seems to at least be having fun portraying ‘Jack Morris,’ the smug billionaire funding the underwater research facility, the rest of the cast e.g. Bingbing Li, Cliff Curtis, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy and Winston Chao, are all saddled with roles that can barely be described as archetypes.

The film’s cinematography by Tom Stern is creative when it wants to be, occasionally dragging the camera in and out of the water almost as if the camera operator is in the middle of the ocean just beside the characters, which is even more impressive as all of the film’s ocean sequences were filmed within two large water-tanks built in Kumeu, New Zealand, with one tank utilising a two-hundred-foot green-screen on one side for shots above the ocean’s surface. Yet where the film falters in terms of visuals is with the meg itself, as although the CGI that brings the gigantic apex-predator to life is more than serviceable, the film’s camerawork rarely displays the creature’s size in full through wide-shots, which is an abysmal waste of potential considering the film’s megalodon is over seventy-five foot-long.

Furthermore, Harry Gregson-Williams’ original score for: ‘The Meg’ has its moments, but is often disappointing, as despite the film’s signature track: ‘Mana One’ being a coruscating way to introduce the underwater research facility. This track is sadly very underused, only making two more appearances from that point onwards, which is frustrating as the rest of the soundtrack, in particular, the tracks: ‘Prehistoric Species,’ ‘Tracker,’ ‘Shark Cage’ and ‘Beach Attack’ merely sound like tracks taken from any generic action score.

When it comes to the film’s titular creature, many of the visual effects artists who worked on ‘The Meg’ did research into how sharks swim, breathe and hunt in real-life in an attempt to understand how a creature of that scale could realistically be presented on-screen. Most of these supposed details are generally unavailing, however, as the film constantly plays fast and loose with the laws of deep-water biology similar to most shark films, in addition having nearly all of the meg’s kills be entirely devoid of blood.

All in all, whilst ‘The Meg’s goal of modernising a creature-feature storyline and then transferring it into an exciting summer blockbuster is certainly commendable. I’d rather stick to ‘Deep Blue Sea’ for my fill of a cheesy shark flick, as when ‘The Meg’ is lacking, it’s truly lacking, becoming nothing more than a trite and stereotypical mess that is often too formulaic for its own good. Still, the film’s flaws didn’t stop it from becoming a worldwide success, as ‘The Meg’ grossed over £383 million, meaning its very likely that we’ll be receiving a sequel (with many of the same problems no doubt) in the near future. Final Rating: low 4/10.

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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 early 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 it’s 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 and 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. It’s just unfortunate that ‘Kurt’ doesn’t receive much development over the course of the runtime aside from one or two scenes, with much of: ‘Kurt’s life outside of the internet 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 split-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 in-world 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 livestreaming never shies away from reality, meaning his stream’s comments are always rapidly unfurling with insults, jokes, and questions all from distinct usernames, which according to Eugene Kotlyarenko, took him over forty nights to type out.

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.

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The Shallows (2016) – Film Review

Ever since the release of the original blockbuster: ‘Jaws’ in the summer of 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 bloodthirsty 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 Shallows’ also serves as a survival-thriller along the same lines of: ‘127 Hours Later.’ As ‘Nancy’ has to face not only the great white shark stalking her, 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. Furthermore, 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 that morning, so her reactions of disgust are genuine, even though the crab initially being 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 film’s visual effects artists 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 though due to the demands of the film’s screenplay, 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.

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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, 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 characters’ 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, firearms 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 over-reliance 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 and 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 the central concept of: ‘The Purge.’ Final Rating: 4/10.

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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 and 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, with the exception of Min-sik Choi as the film’s antagonist: ‘Mr. Jang,’ who actually gives the brutal drug lord a very 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 an strong over-reliance 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, the environment, populated cities and cells materialising etc. And even though this does give the film some style, it also makes some scenes come across as unintentionally comedic.

The original score by Eric Serra, plays very well into the film’s story, as this fitting techno score alters over 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 throughout 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 effects the further ‘Lucy’ evolves, which does help redeem ‘Lucy’s 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.

In short, 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 outweigh 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.

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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 underlining theme.

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 summary, ‘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.

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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 over-reliance 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. 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.

To conclude, ‘Man of Steel’ is a mess of a superhero film, as it almost feels like a ‘Batman’ sequel more than a ‘Superman’ film 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.

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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 mechanised 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,’ I personally feel 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 of the film, members of the hip-hop band: ‘Die Antwoord’ portray the film’s 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 approach is fine when it comes to the action sequences, 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 ‘Die Antwoord’ are used throughout the film, all of which don’t fit with the pacing or tone of the film whatsoever. 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.

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