Super 8 (2011) – Film Review

A few years before ‘Stranger Things’ hit our Netflix accounts, director J. J. Abrams (Mission Impossible III, Star Trek, Star Wars – Episode VII: The Force Awakens), tried his hand at creating an 80s sci-fi throwback with ‘Super 8.’ While the film did get mostly positive reviews from both critics and audiences alike upon its initial release, I’ve never been a huge fan of this science fiction flick, with many strange decisions at play in addition to its overreliance on borrowing story elements from classic films of the 1980s. ‘Super 8’ has always seemed more like simple pandering rather than an enjoyable and nostalgic throwback.

Plot Summary: During the summer of 1979, a group of young friends shooting a short zombie film with their Super-8 film camera are witnesses to a devastating train crash. Soon after, the group find themselves investigating the subsequent unexplained events throughout their small town…

Even with legendary director Steven Spielberg on-board as a producer, ‘Super 8’ mostly lacks the fun tone many of Spielberg’s classics usually overflow with, taking itself pretty seriously aside from a few short moments. Although ‘Super 8’ may not feature this aspect of Spielberg’s work however, the film does utilise many different ideas from his filmography. As while most throwbacks do usually contain a few story elements taken from the films they are inspired by, ‘Super 8’ begins to feel a little derivative at points, eventually developing a plot which feels almost identical to ‘E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ without much experimentation.

Although Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Gabriel Basso, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee and Zach Mills all do a great job at portraying their young characters, the writing throughout the film definitely has room for improvement, as many of the younger characters never quite manage to become incredibly amusing or likeable, with most of them receiving barely any development at all. Following this, as the film’s narrative becomes more tense and dangerous nearing its end, the group’s frustration and panic begins to surface, which although realistic, does result in them becoming rather irritating after a while due to their constant screaming and arguing. Kyle Chandler also makes an appearance within the film as ‘Jackson Lamb’ one of the group’s parents, who does give a decent performance as a strict yet caring father, even with his limited screen-time.

The cinematography by Larry Fong is visually-pleasing for the most part, creating many different and attractive shots throughout the film. Due to its colour palette and lighting however, the film’s visuals are dragged-down by simply how dark the film is, as a large majority of the story takes-place at night, ‘Super 8′ relies heavily on dim lighting and shadows (alongside Abrams’ continued obsession with lens-flares). The film’s CG effects are also serviceable, with many of the film’s more CGI-heavy moments taking-place at night, meaning any of the CG visuals which may be lacking are usually saved as a result of them being covered by darkness.

Michael Giacchino is a composer I usually adore, from his astonishing work on films such as: ‘The Incredibles,’ ‘Doctor Strange’ and ‘Jojo Rabbit.’ He normally succeeds far beyond expectations. However, in the case of: ‘Super 8,’ his score is simply just ‘okay,’ as although it does serve the film’s story decently well, the film’s soundtrack isn’t very unique or memorable. Being a traditional orchestral like many other modern blockbusters, I couldn’t help but feel a classic 80s synth score more along the lines of: ‘Stranger Things’ would’ve worked extremely well for this kind of film, even with the film’s narrative technically being set in the 1970s.

An aspect of: ‘Super 8’ I do truly enjoy is the film’s sound design, an aspect of filmmaking that I rarely mention, ‘Super 8’ actually does a fairly brilliant job of building tension or mystery through its eerie sci-fi noises. In particular, in the scene in which the young group of friends are attacked by an otherworldly creature whilst on-board military transport, as mostly in part to its sound design, this is, in my opinion, one of the most effective and memorable scenes of the film.

To conclude, ‘Super 8’ feels like a huge waste of potential, as whilst the film is far from awful and does have some interesting aspects scattered throughout its runtime. The film’s weak writing and forgettable original score make the film feel a little bland in areas. In addition to its lack of anything truly original (which is the film’s biggest flaw in my opinion). As unlike ‘Stranger Things’ where the show’s story at least introduces concepts like ‘The Upside-Down’ and ‘The Demogorgon’ which are somewhat creative, ‘Super 8′ lacks much of anything that hasn’t be explored in sci-fi before. While this film is still a perfect example of J. J. Abrams’ talent for visuals, ‘Super 8’ never really manages to elevate itself beyond being just a simple nostalgia-fest. Final Rating: high 5/10.

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Clash of the Titans (2010) – Film Review

In this modern remake of the 1981 classic, ‘Perseus’ takes on a variety of gods and monsters in this somewhat fun, yet still very generic and sometimes even over-the-top recreation of the original story. As this time around, director Louis Leterrier (The Transporter, The Incredible Hulk, Now You See Me) focuses more on action set-pieces and enormous CG spectacle than ever before.

Plot Summary: When ‘Perseus’ the demi-god son of: ‘Zeus’ finds himself caught in the middle of a war between gods and mortals, in which his mortal family are killed. He gathers a war band to help him conquer the mighty: ‘Kraken,’ ‘Medusa’ and ‘Hades,’ the sinister God of the underworld…

Going-off the negative reviews from both critics and audiences, I wasn’t expecting much from ‘Clash of the Titans’ on my initial watch. However, I was surprised to find the film is mostly entertaining, as although there isn’t much substance to this remake, I still find it to be a somewhat exciting action flick, having plenty of creatures and adventure throughout its runtime despite its various flaws. But this may also be due to my fondness for Greek mythology, as I’ve had an interest in this area of fantastical legends/history since I was very young.

Although there aren’t any particular stand-outs when it comes to the cast, Gemma Arterton, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Mads Mikkelsen and Jason Flemyng all do a decent job throughout the film. However, Sam Worthington who portrays the protagonist: ‘Perseus’ I personally found to be one of the weakest elements of the film, as despite him having a number of large roles in huge blockbusters such as: ‘Avatar’ and ‘Terminator: Salvation’ in the past, he has always seemed extremely bland to me, never really coming-off as anything other than a generic action hero with little charisma, and ‘Clash of the Titans’ is unfortunately, no exception to this. 

The cinematography by Peter Menzies Jr. is also quite bland, as although I do appreciate the lack of incredibly shaky hand-held shots during many of the action scenes. Many of the shots throughout the film are usually very standard, as the cinematography never really attempts to enhance the visuals or make use of the story’s impressive and unique locations (aside from the occasional wide shot).

One very bizarre element of the film is definitely the original score by Ramin Djawadi, as although some tracks sound perfect for a fantasy epic such as this one. Other tracks almost sound as if they’ve been performed by a rock band, making them feel incredibly out-of-place within the film’s time-period. Yet the film’s soundtrack actually does work quite well in my personal favourite scene of the film, as the scene set within ‘Medusa’s lair uses the score to build tension and atmosphere surprisingly well.

The CG effects throughout ‘Clash of the Titans’ are definitely one of the film’s better aspects, as regardless of whether it’s being used for creatures, Gods or locations, the visual effects always look great. However, this is also partially due to the designs of many of the creatures within the film, as the designs manage to perfectly blend the appearance of modern-day monsters mixed with classic Greek mythology. This also lends itself effectively to many of the various action scenes throughout the film (this obviously being the film’s main draw) as the action throughout the narrative is mostly pretty solid, making great use of the various different creatures abilities and always placing ‘Perseus’ in different dangerous scenarios.

To conclude, I personally found ‘Clash of the Titans’ fairly entertaining for what it was, which is essentially is nothing more than your usual action blockbuster with some Greek mythology thrown-in for good measure. As while the film is successful for what it sets out to do, the film does fall flat in many other areas, from Sam Worthington’s dull performance, to some of the weak writing and occasionally unusual original score, I feel only people truly interested in Greek mythology could get something out of this one. But with all that in mind, ‘Clash of the Titans’ still isn’t the worst remake I’ve ever seen. Final Rating: low 5/10.

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The Conjuring (2013) – Film Review

From director James Wan (Saw, Dead Silence, Insidious), comes another modern horror based on real-life events, this time focusing on one of the many cases of the Warrens set in the year of 1971, and while the film does succeed more so than many other modern horrors, soon leading the ‘The Conjuring’ to become an enormous horror franchise with the likes of it’s sequels, ‘Annabelle,’ ‘The Nun’ and more. The original film still does suffer from a variety of issues, which leads it to become more forgettable than anything else by the end of its runtime.

Plot Summary: In 1971, after ‘Carolyn’ and ‘Roger Perron’ move their family into a dilapidated Rhode Island farmhouse, they soon begin to suspect there may be a dark presence haunting them. So, as the abnormities begin to increase, ‘Carolyn’ contacts paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren for help, who together, begin delving into the disturbing history behind the family’s new home in an attempt to stop the evil…

Whilst more enjoyable than a large number of other modern horrors as already mentioned, I wasn’t overly invested in the film’s story. As although the film is effective in some areas, in others the film simply doesn’t stick the landing. Feeling mostly like your standard horror story without ever delving too deep into the characters or time-period. As despite a few thrilling scenes with the spirits themselves, I always felt a slightly more character-driven narrative would’ve benefitted the film overall.

The cast is definitely one of the film’s better aspects, as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga do have a decent amount of chemistry together as the married paranormal investigators the Warrens. Lili Taylor also does a decent job as the family’s concerned mother, especially further into the film as the story becomes more intense. Unfortunately however, Ronald Livingston who portrays the father of the family, is easily the weakest actor within the film, as he never really seems overly panicked or scared of these paranormal events, regardless of the scene (which becomes especially clear nearing the end of the film).

The cinematography by John R. Leonetti is definitely an improvement over his previous work on the ‘Insidious’ series, as the film does have a few appealing shots here and there despite never really being anything exceptional. The film does however, make excellent use of P.O.V. shots during many of the tense scenes at night within the farmhouse, placing the audience in the position of the characters themselves, which I personally found very effective. As according to director James Wan, much of the film’s visual design was actually inspired by classic 1970s horrors such as: ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Omen’ and ‘The Amityville Horror.’

Although not quite as distinctive as some other modern horror soundtracks, the original score by Joseph Bishara isn’t completely forgettable. As the score does help to build tension during quite a few scenes, as well as also back-up some of the emotional moments between characters (as short as they may be).

I was also surprised to learn that the film doesn’t entirely rely on jump-scares, as although they are present within the film, ‘The Conjuring’ does feel more focused on creating an eerie atmosphere and having many creepy visuals throughout. Rather than the usual bombardment of jump-scares, which was definitely a breath of fresh air. One element I thought was a little weaker than some of James Wan’s other films was the design of the ghosts themselves, as the design of the spirit haunting family’s farmhouse is one of the most generic and dull designs you could think of when it comes to creating a horror antagonist. Especially when compared to the many memorable designs of the spirits/demons within the ‘Insidious’ franchise.

To conclude, whilst ‘The Conjuring’ does have some great elements, and at least attempts to create something slightly different from your typical horror flick. I never really felt the film excelled in any particular area, as the majority of the film felt mostly very bland to me despite its decent cast and creepy atmosphere in some scenes. So, while there are definitely worse modern horrors, I feel there is also much better out there, perhaps even in this very same franchise. Final Rating: 5/10.

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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – Film Review

Only five years after the previous ‘Spider-Man’ franchise ended, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ attempts to be a fresh and slightly darker reboot of the superhero’s classic origin story, yet sadly falls pretty flat. Feeling too similar to the previous franchise as well as never really perfecting any of the interesting ideas the film introduces itself.

Plot Summary: When ‘Peter Parker’ is bitten by a genetically altered spider, he gains newfound spider-like powers and ventures-out to solve the mystery of his parent’s mysterious death. Meanwhile, a menacing new threat emerges in the dark streets of New York City…

Aside from the new focus on his lost parents, the story is far too similar to what we have seen before. Featuring all the classic scenes of: ‘Peter’ beating-up criminals, making his iconic costume (which now has an unpleasant redesign) and of course, witnessing his ‘Uncle Ben’s death. This can make the story feel very bland and predictable for the majority of its runtime, if the film was to come out many years after: ‘Spider-Man 3,’ then perhaps it wouldn’t have been as bad. But due to Sony wanting to keep the rights to the Marvel character, a new remake had to be rushed-out.

‘Peter Parker’ is this time portrayed by Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, Hacksaw Ridge), and overall I think he does a decent job here. As while this version of the character isn’t incredibly memorable, he does portray the character as a nervous and awkward yet still likeable teenager, despite looking a little too old for the character’s actual age. The rest of the cast of Emma Stone, Sally Field and Rhys Ifans also all do a decent job within the film, but are never really given anything interesting to do when it comes to the story.

The cinematography by John Schwartzman is nothing outstanding, as aside from the unique P.O.V. shots from ‘Spider-Man’s perspective, the cinematography mostly just stays at a decent level throughout the film. However, this is easily redeemed by one of the best elements of the film for me, the great chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. As Emma Stone portrays: ‘Gwen Stacey’ (Peter Parker’s first love interest) all of their scenes together are very funny and charming, reminding me very heavily of director Mark Webb’s first film: ‘500 Days of Summer.’

The original score by James Horner is once again nothing amazing, but it does fit the film’s style. Feeling like a classic superhero score, mixed with some more emotional elements, equalling to a pretty varied but not very memorable soundtrack. The majority of the film could be described in this way however, as many aspects of the film never seem to pass the level of ‘decent,’ which is a real shame, as I think this director and cast have some great potential. But this simply wasn’t the film for it.

The writing is definitely one of the weakest elements of the film for me, as the film is full of cheesy lines and cliché moments throughout the story. My main issue with the film however, is the film’s antagonist: ‘The Lizard.’ As his motivation, awful appearance and general lack of an intimidating presence really portray this classic comic book antagonist in a bad light.

The action scenes within the film are nothing really incredible of note, as although they are decently entertaining, none of them ever manage to become as memorable as anything from the original: ‘Spider-Man’ trilogy. My personal favourite most likely being the action scene set in ‘Peter’s high-school, as the scene utilises the location very well. It’s also here when we get a great look at the various different CG effects in bright lighting, and I feel overall they look decent.

Although I initially gave this film a lower rating, the actual filmmaking on display here isn’t terrible, and what the film does well such as great chemistry between the lead cast, ‘Spider-Man’s spectacular P.O.V. shots and the occasional entertaining action scene, I simply can’t ignore. Maybe check this one out if you’re a huge fan of the character, if not, you’re not missing-out on much. Final Rating: 5/10.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) – Film Review

Serving as a sequel to the 2014 American ‘Godzilla’ remake, as well as standing as another chapter in this new franchise of monster films by Legendary Pictures. ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ delivers more on of the exciting monster action and amazing visuals that the first film somewhat lacked. However, the film does cut down on many other aspects to make this possible.

Plot Summary: When the world is threatened with extinction, the crypto-zoological agency: ‘Monarch’ is forced to face-off against a roster of God-sized monsters, including the mighty: ‘Godzilla,’ who soon collides with the fearsome: ‘Mothra,’ ‘Rodan’ and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed: ‘King Ghidorah.’

As the runtime goes on, the narrative does go a little deeper, but I personally felt the plot gets a little absurd as it continues, becoming almost too layered at points for a simple monster flick. Of course, it can probably go without saying however, that every action scene featuring the creatures is phenomenal. As each monster is always given its own unique way to combat the others, and the film always finds time to give each creature at least one or two memorable scenes. The film also features a lot more action than the previous ‘Godzilla’ film, due to the film’s very quick-pacing and as it jumps from location to location constantly, always trying to increase the spectacle with each cut.

The three main members of the cast, that being Kyle M. Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown. All portray a broken family, forced apart by various responsibilities as well as the loss of one of their children in the past, and while their performances are decent throughout the film. I was disappointed by the lack of any further development for their characters, as I found the set-up for their story very interesting and wish the film went more in-depth with this idea rather than indulging in one more fight scene, this same issue unfortunately also applies to Charles Dance’s antagonist: ‘Alan Jonah’ within the story.

The cinematography by Lawrence Sher is decent overall, as while there are many beautiful and simply awesome shots with the monsters themselves, many of the shots with human characters are rather bland. As there is definitely an over-reliance on hand-held shots every-time ‘Godzilla’ (or one of his counterparts) isn’t on-screen, despite the film’s colour palette actually being very ranged and pretty visually appealing. The original score by Bear McCreary is very different however, as the composer crafts a score which captures the enormous scale of the monsters and their chaotic nature very well, with the soundtrack even going to the extent of giving each one of the creatures their own unique and intimidating theme.

The film’s best aspect in my opinion is definitely the creature designs, as each one is always very creatively designed, and is given many unique features to fit with its abilities and make it stand-out from the remainder of the monsters. Of course, the CG effects throughout the film also add to this, as although the film can sometimes be bombarded with far too many elements on-screen at once (becoming a little overwhelming at points). Despite this, everything visual effects we see is usually incredibly well detailed and doesn’t feel at all out-of-place.

One element I felt didn’t reach the level of the first film from 2014 was how the film captured the true scale of the creatures, as while director Michael Dougherty clearly puts his all into pleasing fans and creating a fun experience, even having the classic theme for: ‘Godzilla’ make a welcomed return. The film simply doesn’t capture the same feeling of being within the real world as these massive creatures roam quite like the first film and its director Gareth Edwards did.

To conclude, ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ is the definition of a mixed-bag for me, even with its explosive monster fights, some amazing visuals and a great original score. It’s over-the-top story displayed through it’s extremely fast-pacing and weak characterisation simply can’t be ignored, leaving the film a fun creature-feature with some serious flaws. Still, there is some enjoyment to be had with ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters,’ so maybe check this one out if you’re a big fan of the iconic monster. Final Rating: high 5/10.

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The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) – Film Review

‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ released in 2016 and based on the novel of the same name by M. R. Carey, is another zombie story, this time attempting to focus more on young children and how they would cope with an infection wiping out all of humanity. As well as leaning more towards the ‘fungus’ side of infections when it comes to some of the film’s visuals and ideas, and while I appreciate the attempt to turn this narrative into a film. I don’t think it was incredibly successful in the long-run.

Plot Summary: In a dystopian future where humanity has been ravaged by a mysterious fungal disease, humanity’s only hope is a small group of hybrid children who crave human flesh while still retaining the ability to think and feel. But when their base is later attacked, a teacher, a scientist and a group of soldiers must embark on a journey of survival with a special young girl named: ‘Melanie.’

Directed by Colm McCarthy, the idea of a group of characters going on a dangerous journey is a pretty standard outline for an apocalyptic story, sadly however, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ doesn’t manage to improve much on this structure. As many of the decisions throughout the film were pretty strange, to say the least, as the film flips back and forward between horror and drama rapidly within some scenes (sometimes even implementing comedy as well). As a result of this, the film’s tone is very inconsistent, and can really take the viewer out of the story at points. Even the name given to the zombie-like creatures within the film: ‘The Hungries,’ I personally found a little too-ridiculous.

Sennia Nanua portrays the main character of the film: ‘Melanie,’ a young girl with the abilities of: ‘The Hungries’ that still retains her human mind, and while I think her character is definitely interesting, I don’t feel her performance is up-to-par here. As she was only thirteen during filming, many of the emotional scenes with her feel very unbelievable. Alongside this, there are a variety of scenes with her character acting like a wild animal as her hunger continues to grow, most of which I found unintentionally hilarious. Perhaps if she was a little older when filming began this could’ve been avoided, although the weak writing also doesn’t help. The supporting cast do redeem this somewhat however, as Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine and Glenn Close are all fairly excellent within their roles.

The cinematography by Simon Dennis is easily my favourite element of the film, as there are many stunning shots throughout the runtime. As every shot really lends itself to many of the film’s more impactful or beautiful scenes, with the brilliant make-up effects and great set design also adding toward this, which is especially surprising considering the film’s budget, which was actually a lot smaller than many other zombie flicks. This does unfortunately affect the CG effects throughout the film however, as a variety of shots throughout the story have some very out-of-place looking CG visuals.

The wonderful original score by Cristobal Tapia de Veer is another element of the film I also really enjoyed, as the soundtrack is very atmospheric and really adds to many of the tense scenes throughout the film, very similar to the composer’s other scores, with Channel 4’s ‘Utopia’ and Netflix’s ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency’ being some great examples, with the tracks: ‘Gifted’ and ‘Pandora’ being my personal favourites purely for how unique they sound. 

In conclusion, ‘The Girl with All the Gifts’ isn’t the worst zombie film I’ve ever seen. As the story does have some interesting elements and the cinematography and original score are pretty on point throughout the film, but sadly, the poor writing and laughable main performance combined really drag the film down for me. Final Rating: high 5/10

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