Tarantula (1955) – Film Review

Before the horror genre truly began capitalising on the common phobia of creepy-crawlies with films like ‘Arachnophobia,’ ‘Itsy Bitsy,’ ‘Kingdom of the Spiders’ and ‘Eight Legged Freaks,’ the 1950s sci-fi/horror classic: ‘Tarantula’ terrified many viewers with its marvellous creature effects and continuously unnerving atmosphere. Ensuring the film would go on to be the exemplary for future monster flicks despite featuring many of the usual problems plaguing creature-features at the time.

Plot Summary: In a remote facility in the Arizona desert, ‘Professor Gerald Deemer’ is conducting a series of experiments in the hopes of finding a way to increase the world’s food supply, injecting growth hormones into various animals to greatly increase their size. But when a tarantula escapes from the isolated laboratory, still growing at a exponential rate due to the formula, the giant arachnid begins to wreak havoc on a nearby town…

Directed by the late Jack Arnold (With These Hands, Creature from the Black Lagoon, The Incredible Shrinking Man), ‘Tarantula’ was just one of the many science fiction flicks Arnold undertook throughout his career, and in a similar fashion to many of his other stories revolving around horrifying creatures, ‘Tarantula’ was part of the 1950s wave of sci-fi/horror films crafted around the newfound fear of nuclear radiation following World War II. Yet while we now know ‘Tarantula‘ did greatly help in creating the ‘giant animal’ subgenre, there is an argument to be made that if not for the release of: ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ just a year prior, ‘Tarantula’ may not even exist, as general audiences only gained interest in creature-features on account of that film’s success.

The late John Agar portrays the film’s square-jawed hero: ‘Dr. Matt Hastings,’ and just like a large majority of male protagonists in 50s sci-fi, ‘Dr. Hastings’ is charismatic-enough to carry the film in spite of the actual character receiving very little development over the course of the runtime. And as expected, ‘Tarantula’ also includes a romantic subplot between ‘Dr. Hastings’ and secondary-protagonist: ‘Stephanie Clayton’ portrayed by Mara Corday, which although made palatable by Agar and Corday, still feels pretty forced. However, one of the film’s biggest missed-opportunities is certainly ‘Professor Gerald Deemer’ portrayed by the late Leo G. Carrol, as whilst Carrol gives a decent performance here, the story sadly pushes his character into the background and nearly entirely ignores the suffering his character later endures after injecting himself with his formula, making his character’s inclusion seem quite superfluous.

Despite the many creature effects throughout ‘Tarantula’ clearly being the film’s main focus, the cinematography by the late George Robinson does have its share of attractive shots even with the film’s lack of colour/camera movement due to the technological restrictions of the time-period. As any wide-shots displaying the vast Arizona desert or the fictional town of: ‘Desert Rock’ are fairly appealing, and occasionally, even add to the film’s tense atmosphere as the uneven rocky landscape alongside the film’s dim lighting allows the giant arachnid to often lurk unseen.

The original score by the late Herman Stein and the late Henry Mancini is a thunderous and sometimes overly-dramatic score, feeling very much like a soundtrack taken from films of the 1950s for better, and for worse. And while both composers are often uncredited for their work on the film, ‘Tarantula’ is far from the first time Herman Stein has collaborated with director Jack Arnold, providing scores (and having much of his music reused) for a number of his films.

But of course, ‘Tarantula’ will always be best-known for its effects, which are in all fairness the film’s best attribute. As whilst many fondly-remembered science fiction and horror films of the 1950s relied on models, costumes and stop-motion to bring their strange creatures to-life, many of these filmmaking techniques can feel very dated and tacky by today’s standards for films brimming with CGI. This isn’t the case with ‘Tarantula’s effects however, as the way the film brings its signature creature to-life is quite innovative, as the filmmakers actually used a real tarantula shot separately from the rest of the film, before it was then enlarged and composited/projected onto the desert locations. This clever technique allows the spider to move naturally, and was not only state-of-the-art for the era, but is still quite impressive now, as the matte effect is usually impeccable aside from one or two shots where some of the tarantula’s legs seem to phase through the environment.

Overall, just like many other films released around the time of the 1950s/1960s, ‘Tarantula’ does have its entertainment-value, but is also much slower-paced and far more simplistic than many of the sci-fi blockbusters and epic creature-features we’d see released today. Yet whilst its characters are a little uninspired and the film is more about spectacle than anything else, ‘Tarantula’ definitely has its moments, and even if just for the effects alone, I think it deserves its place as a 50s classic, flaws and all. Final Rating: high 6/10.

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About Time (2013) – Film Review

Written and directed by Richard Curtis (Love Actually, Pirate Radio), ‘About Time’ would go on to be the final outing for Curtis as a director, as after this time-travelling drama’s release in 2013, Curtis would return to exclusively being a screenwriter, which I feel is probably for the best. As whilst ‘About Time’ does manage to keep itself afloat thanks to its captivating writing and wonderful performances, the film is often let-down by its fairly bland presentation and apparent disinterest in exploring its unique time-travelling concept, ensuring the film’s eventual confusion with many of the other romantic-dramas seen in recent years.

Plot Summary: At the age of twenty-one, the timid: ‘Tim Lake’ is informed by his father that men in their family have the unique ability to travel through time. Although this ability is restricted to the window of their own lives, it can be used to undo any past mistakes, so ‘Tim’ decides to use his newly-found ability to escape his current lonely existence, visiting all of his past loves to find the one who could be his future.

Due to Richard Curtis writing a number of iconic rom-coms from ‘Love Actually’ to ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ and ‘Bridget Jones’ Diary’ in the past, it comes as no surprise that ‘About Time’s screenplay is certainly its finest aspect. As in many scenes, the film chooses to push ‘Tim’s time-travelling ability aside in favour of delivering sincere character moments, playing into the story’s theme of life itself being the greatest experience. Yet while I do like both of these ideas, its a shame that the film barley touches upon the great deal of consequence time-travelling can have, as scenes focusing on time-paradoxes/the butterfly effect could’ve made for some of the film’s most impactful story-beats. Sadly, they are incredibly sparse and only appear when the story necessitates them.

The main couple of: ‘Tim’ and ‘Mary’ portrayed by Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams do share a good amount of chemistry and have plenty of charming moments together, as ‘Tim’ tries desperately to impress ‘Mary’ by recalling everything he remembers about her from his past encounters. The supporting cast of Lydia Wilson, Lindsay Duncan, Tom Hollander and Margot Robbie are all also great, as each member of the cast serve an important purpose within the narrative whether big or small. But its ‘Tim’s father portrayed by Bill Nighy who is the true emotional core of the film outside of: ‘Tim’s love-life, with Nighy doing a fantastic job as usual.

Despite visuals never being the main focus of rom-coms, the cinematography by John Guleserian is the film’s worst element. As any even somewhat-creative shots are rarely seen throughout the runtime, with the film usually just relying on mid-shots or close-ups to enhance the drama. The film’s colour palette doesn’t help in this regard either, as the pale colours almost present the film as if each scene is an extension of a photo framed in the family’s home, which is ingenious if that was the filmmakers’ attention, yet I’m not entirely sure it was. ‘Tim’s time-traveling ability however, is a little more visually-interesting in spite of its simplicity. As the film makes use of rapid-editing to cut between many different events during ‘Tim’s life, a straight-forward but understandable method of displaying how ‘Tim’ is flicking-through his memories.

Although ‘About Time’s cinematography is lacking, the original score by Nick Laird-Clowes is far more enthralling, as the film’s soundtrack utilises ticking clocks and heart-beating sound effects to relate to the story’s aspect of time-travel. And when focusing more on the story’s characters, the score switches things-up to be piano-focused, depicting a variety of experiences of life such as joy, heartbreak, reflection and confusion. ‘About Time’ also features a number of recognisable songs similar to much of Richard Curtis’ other work, which luckily, never distract from the story.

While ‘About Time’ does eventually continue on to cover a fair number of years throughout the character’s lives, much of the early portion of the film leans on ‘Tim’ trying to ignite the spark with ‘Mary,’ and with Rachel McAdams’ previously portraying the titular character in ‘The Time Traveler’s Wife’ from 2009, this should seem like familiar ground. However, unlike McAdams’ character in that sci-fi flick, ‘Mary’ is never made aware of: ‘Tim’s time-bending secret, which might make some viewers a little uncomfortable regarding the absence of honesty in their relationship.

To conclude, ‘About Time’ is enjoyable overall, it just doesn’t quite live-up to its interesting ideas or nearly two-hour runtime. As unfortunately, whilst the film’s many humorous and heartwarming moments do excel, the story’s huge missed opportunities are always ever-present, and the mostly dull cinematography/colour palette simply can’t be ignored. Although I would personally only recommend ‘About Time’ to those who have a sweet-tooth for light-hearted romantic-dramas, I can’t deny that the film is heartfelt, with a fragile sort of sincerity at its centre. Final Rating: 6/10.

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The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015) – Film Review

Both a stylish Guy Ritchie comedy as well as a reimagining of the classic 1960s espionage show of the same name, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ is a mostly-successful modern-take on the classic spy-caper. Capturing a familiar tone in spite of its unremarkable story, which the film tries to distract from through its charismatic cast and many exciting set-pieces. Equalling overall, to a decently entertaining 60s action/comedy even if it may be on the lower-side of Ritchie’s filmography, with ‘Snatch’ and ‘The Gentlemen’ still being far superior films in my opinion.

Plot Summary: In the early 1960s, CIA agent: ‘Napoleon Solo’ successfully helps ‘Gaby Teller’ escape East Berlin despite the intimidating opposition of KGB agent: ‘Illya Kuryakin.’ Later, all three unexpectedly find themselves working together on a globe-trotting mission to stop a private criminal organisation, which is working to proliferate nuclear weapons.

Being co-written/directed by Guy Ritchie (Snatch, Sherlock Holmes, The Gentlemen), ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ takes-in much of the director’s usual style/humour, having an abundance of witty and amusing dialogue (much of which is brimming with innuendos), in addition to plenty of editing flair. But ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ also serves as the first film interpretation of the 60s espionage show, which Warner Bros. Pictures had actually been trying to adapt for over a decade, director Steven Soderbergh was once even attached to the project with George Clooney, Channing Tatum and Emily Blunt all set to play the three main characters. The film’s story isn’t just a recreation of a specific episode from the show however, as Ritchie and his story-team actually decided to create an original narrative based-around the origin of: ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ a backstory that was only hinted at in the show.

Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer portray the film’s protagonist duo, and while neither of their characters are exactly memorable, they do both give great performances, sharing many comedic moments together and bouncing-off each other very well. The film even gives its characters a sufficient amount of development early-on in the story, though it is delivered through mission briefings and expositional dialogue. Yet its the third member of the cast where some issues begin to arise, as Alicia Vikander as ‘Gaby’ is supposed to be the emotional-centre of the story, as her father is being forced to make nuclear weapons. But the film makes it quite hard to resonate with her due to her lack of characterisation and inconsistent German accent, which seemingly disappears at random. Elizabeth Debicki also appears in the film as antagonist: ‘Victoria,’ but similar to Hugh Grant’s character: ‘Waverly,’ she has little impact on the viewer.

Aside from the occasional CGI-enhanced shot, the cinematography by John Mathieson is pretty creative throughout the film, having many unique shots alongside plenty of shots which feel like throwbacks to classic espionage flicks. The film also makes excellent use of Ritchie’s signature editing style, cutting between scenes in a variety of visually interesting ways as well as colourfully implementing the film’s Russian/German subtitles, all of which are displayed in a bright yellow text almost as if they are taken from a 1960s spy poster, not too dissimilar to the film’s opening and ending credits, which are reminiscent of the original show’s intro whilst also feeling fresh.

Daniel Pemberton’s original score is in keeping with the film’s tonal integrity, as Pemberton sought to capture a sound that combined the crispness and sophistication of today with a distinctly 1960s flavour. The first-step of which was the venue, as ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’s score was actually recorded in Studio 2 at Abbey Road, where even the most casual music fan likely knows that this is where ‘The Beatles’ recorded their iconic albums. Yet apart from the tracks: ‘His Name is Napoleon Solo’ and ‘Escape from East Berlin,’ the soundtrack feels well-crafted but still falls-short, becoming fairly forgettable in the long-run.

However, the world of: ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ isn’t as forgettable, as the film’s 1960s time-period mixes-together the elegant class of the era with more futuristic spy technology/gadgets. One of the reasons the film stayed in the 60s time-period was to allow the film to have its own reality, setting it apart from films like ‘The Bourne’ franchise and other recent spy thrillers, according to director Guy Ritchie. Obviously, this means that the film constantly revels in its period-accurate vehicles, set-design and costumes, a few pieces of which were actually vintage.

In conclusion, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ isn’t a film that will surpass expectations, as while the film delivers on what it sets-out to for the most part, displaying some fantastic action scenes and enjoyable gags. Its hard to ignore the film’s uninteresting story, which simultaneously feels drawn-out and dull, even branching into convoluted at points with the sheer amount of characters/locations mentioned. But for myself and any other classic espionage enthusiasts, ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’ will suffice, even though it could’ve done with some refinement in certain areas. Final Rating: 6/10.

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The Blair Witch Project (1999) – Film Review

Upon its initial release, the original: ‘Blair Witch Project’ blew many audiences away with its realistic depiction of found-footage horror, leading many viewers to believe that the events they were watching on-screen actually took-place, making for a truly petrifying experience. However, now, many years after its first appearance in cinemas, the film’s reputation has significantly altered with both critics and audiences alike, as ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is definitely a film that lies outside of the usual horror clichés.

Plot Summary: When three student filmmakers travel to Burkittsville, Maryland in attempt to produce a documentary based-around the local urban-legend: ‘The Blair Witch,’ they mysteriously disappear after traveling into the nearby Black Hills Forest, leaving only their footage behind to be discovered one year later…

Whilst ‘The Blair Witch Project’ wasn’t the original found-footage horror film, with the infamous exploitation flick: ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ first introducing the horror sub-genre in 1980. ‘The Blair Witch Project’ was the first film to popularise the found-footage concept, as this film was at one point in time in the ‘Guinness Book of World Records’ for the largest box-office ratio. As the low-budget film only had a budget of around £45,000 and made back over £189 million, quickly spawning an inconsistent horror franchise despite the film’s only partially-complete backstory for its creature and setting.

The three main cast members of Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael C. Williams (who all share their real-names with their characters), are all tremendous throughout the film. As while their character’s don’t receive nowhere near as much development as they should considering how much screen-time we spend with them, each one of the actors do give the impression they are becoming more tormented and frustrated the longer they remain in the Black Hills Forest. The main reason the film’s protagonists don’t receive much characterisation however, is actually due to the film’s production itself. As with the film not focusing very heavily on story, the actors were given no-more than a thirty-five page outline of plot-points rather than a full script, so as the shooting days continued, the cast just played-out various scenes. Only having little knowledge of the mythology behind: ‘The Blair Witch’ and improvising the vast majority of their lines.

Practically the entirety of the cinematography by Neal L. Fredericks is exactly what you’d expect from a found-footage horror, featuring an abundance of both shaky and out-of-focus shots, further adding to the idea that just behind the lens is a group of amateur student filmmakers (with some scenes even being shot by the cast themselves). In addition to the hand-held camerawork, the film’s visuals are also quite distinctive when it comes to its visual quality, as throughout the duration of the film, many shots remain incredibly grainy and occasionally even switch to a completely greyscale colour palette, which again, whilst adding to the realism of the film being a no-budget student documentary, does ensure the absence of any genuinely attractive shots.

Although its only heard during the film’s atmospheric end credits, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ does actually have an original score composed by Antonio Cora, but obviously being a found-footage horror, the film mostly aims to please with its sound design. As the sounds of crackling leaves and chirping birds are heard continuously, with many of the eerie branch-cracking sounds heard at night even being made by the director and his friends simply walking-up to the cast’s camp-perimeter and then tossing around twigs, rocks and branches in various directions.

The main aspect that many will either adore or despise about ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is its previously mentioned focus on realism and minimalist storytelling, as while the film does utilise its forest setting very effectively throughout the runtime, many who may be expecting a thrilling final act or possibly even a glimpse at ‘The Blair Witch’ herself will be greatly disappointed. As a result of the story’s constant emphasis on realism, the film never actually provides any evidence of the supernatural, with many of the film’s tense moments mostly relying on the darkness of the woods or the belligerent quarreling between the characters.

In conclusion, ‘The Blair Witch Project’ is certainly a fascinating horror film even if it isn’t always a successful one. As to this day, this found-footage indie flick is a very divisive film for horror fans, with a 86% score on Rotten Tomatoes, the film has the highest-rating of any film that was also nominated for a Razzie Award for Worst Picture. So even with the cast’s impactful performances and ‘The Blair Witch’ herself being an intriguing urban-legend, this is one horror that really depends on your personal taste. For myself, while I find the film far from perfect and considerably less-compelling than many other iconic horrors, I can appreciate what this experimental piece of filmmaking (and its marketing) was trying to accomplish, and for that, I feel its worth at least one viewing for any fan of the genre. Final Rating: 6/10.

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Midnight Special (2016) – Film Review

Written and directed by Jeff Nichols (Take Shelter, Mud, Loving), ‘Midnight Special’ may not be one of the most original or imaginative science fiction films to be released in recent years. But regardless of its many recycled story elements and unexplored ideas, this low-budget sci-fi drama/thriller still manages to retain a sufficient amount of entertaining scenes, impressive CG effects and terrific performances to-boot. All equalling to a fairly enjoyable experience, even if the film never quite reaches its full potential.

Plot Summary: ‘Alton Meyer’ is a boy unlike any other, a child with powerful abilities and strange weaknesses alike. But after ‘Alton’s abilities attract the attention of both an isolated cult and the U.S. government, ‘Alton’s father: ‘Roy,’ vows to protect his son as the two rival forces pursue the pair across the country.

Although ‘Midnight Special’ was Nichols’ first film made in-conjunction with a large production company, Nichols wanted to ensure he had full creative control over the project just as he had previously with his low-budget indie films. So despite Nichols originally considering making the film with an independent film studio rather than with Warner Bros Pictures. During his last meeting with the company, the producers actually agreed to all his demands, due to the small-budget needed for the film. Meaning Nichols got his complete-control, and the film was more successful at the box-office as a result of its wider release. This did however, mean many audience members were left a little dissatisfied with the film, as ‘Midnight Special’ doesn’t follow the usual sci-fi clichés many would expect.

Michael Shannon leads the film as the concerned father: ‘Roy Meyer,’ and as per-usual, excels in his role as this simple yet engaging character, wanting to protect his son at any cost, occasionally even at the expense of others. Playing into the age-old theme of doing anything to protect your child. Then there is also Jaeden Martell as ‘Alton’ himself, who considering his young age of twelve at the time of filming, gives a competent performance. As even though ‘Alton’ may look like a normal child, he acts in a very robotic and eccentric manner. Whilst this is completely intentional, this type of performance does sometimes make it quite difficult to resonate with ‘Alton’ as effectively as his father. The supporting cast of Joel Edgerton, Kristen Dunst and Adam Driver are all also great additions to the film, even though their characters don’t add much to the overall narrative.

Well shot throughout, Adam Stone’s cinematography for: ‘Midnight Special’ may not be some of the most astounding camerawork ever seen within the sci-fi genre, but due to the film mostly being set at night, the film does manage to enhance many of its already attractive shots through its dim lighting. In addition to the cinematography, the film also makes fantastic use of its many CG effects, with the majority of them being used quite sparsely to ensure they all appear as detailed as possible without going over-budget.

The original score by David Wingo also isn’t too memorable when compared to some other scores composed for science fiction flicks, but it still greatly adds to the film. Alternating from slow piano-focused tracks to more electronic pulse-pounding tracks when necessary, the entire soundtrack is both atmospheric and suitably sci-fi, with my two personal favourite tracks: ‘Doak and Levi’ and ‘New World’ being the perfect two examples of this change in tone when it comes to the score. The film also features a new rendition of the classic folk song: ‘Midnight Special’ during its end credits, which is actually where the film gets its title.

Yet in spite of its appealing cinematography and remarkable original score, the area where ‘Midnight Special’ falls flat is its story. As whilst many stories similar to this have been executed-well in film before, most notably the sci-fi classic: ‘Starman’ from 1984. ‘Midnight Special’ revels in not providing its audience with much information, keeping many aspects of: ‘Alton’s character, his abilities, and the world the story takes-place within a mystery. This is most evident when it comes to the (presumably) sinister cult known as ‘The Ranch,’ as while the cult does play a small role in the story, they remain mostly underdeveloped throughout the film, and as the runtime approaches its end, soon disappear entirely.

To conclude, ‘Midnight Special’ is a sci-fi film that will appeal to a more niche audience. As whilst a simple pitch of the plot may sound both familiar and interesting to many fans of the genre, its the way ‘Midnight Special’ goes about its story that will divide many viewers. If the film was to provide a little more backstory/exposition here-and-there, perhaps the story would’ve felt more fleshed-out and matched with the brilliant efforts of its filmmaking. But as it is, ‘Midnight Special’ feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity, as it remains a decent film that could’ve been so, so much more. Final Rating: high 6/10.

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Tron: Legacy (2010) – Film Review

Although Disney has had more than enough success when it comes to its animated filmography, the iconic production company has seemingly always struggled with its live-action endeavours. As aside from ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise, many of Disney’s attempts to kick-off a live-action film series such as: ‘John Carter,’ ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and ‘Tomorrowland: A World Beyond’ have all been relative flops (with the exception of their remakes of animated classics). ‘Tron: Legacy,’ the action-packed sequel to the ground-breaking cult sci-fi: ‘Tron’ from 1982, is a slight improvement in this area, yet still results in a film more focused-on style-over-substance.

Plot Summary: After the tech-savvy and rebellious: ‘Sam Flynn’ begins looking into his father’s disappearance, he soon finds himself pulled into the digital world of: ‘The Grid,’ where he discovers his father has been trapped for over twenty-years. All the while, his father’s malevolent program: ‘CLU,’ who rules ‘The Grid,’ plans to prevent the pair’s escape and take the real-world for himself.

Being set in a virtual world, nearly every scene within ‘Tron: Legacy’ takes place in fully CG locations, and although most of the film’s CG effects do hold-up well and are visually appealing. The digital world of: ‘The Grid’ does begin to feel quite unvaried after a point, as whilst it may look unique at first glance, the illuminated buildings and vehicles throughout the city of: ‘Tron’ feel fairly repetitive despite the film’s variety of different locations. In fact, its the film’s CG visuals that actually made ‘Tron: Legacy’ the most expensive film ever made by a first-time director at the time of its release, with the costume budget alone costing over £10 million.

Garrett Hudlund portrays the film’s protagonist: ‘Sam,’ alongside the supporting cast of Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde and also Michael Sheen in a small role. Who all give decent performances despite their dull characters, as ‘Tron: Legacy’s story and characters follow many of the same-beats as any-other sci-fi adventure. However, easily the worst element of the film when it comes to its characters is the film’s antagonist. Known only as ‘CLU,’ a corrupt program created by Jeff Bridges’ character: ‘Kevin Flynn’ as a digital copy of himself, this villain not only suffers from a barley-developed motivation but also due to him being a program which doesn’t age, the film utilises CGI to make Jeff Bridges appear a similar age to that of his in the original film, which is one of the few CG effects that really hasn’t aged-well, appearing almost laughably-bad at points.

Claudio Miranda handles the cinematography throughout ‘Tron: Legacy,’ and although the film definitely puts far more of an emphasis on its CG effects than its cinematography, there are still a fair amount of interesting shots including plenty of stunning wide-shots to display the true scale of the digital world. The cinematography also makes great use out of the film’s few sleek futuristic sets despite their very limited screen-time, most notably: ‘Flynn’s Safehouse,’ located on the edge of: ‘The Grid.’

The original score for the film is actually composed by the techno band: ‘Daft Punk,’ whose type of music does suitably fit the sci-fi genre, and whilst some tracks do feel a little too similar to an actual techno album in my opinion. For the most part, the soundtrack does back-up the film’s narrative and adventurous tone very effectively. ‘Daft Punk’ themselves even make a short cameo within the film as a pair of DJs in the ‘End of Line’ nightclub, wearing their iconic helmets as they play one of the film’s most memorable tracks which shares the same title as the club itself.

Another great aspect of: ‘Tron: Legacy’ is certainly its action set-pieces, as although many of the action scenes throughout the film aren’t anything incredibly inventive. The original: ‘Tron’ did introduce the creative concepts of: ‘Identity/Light Disks’ and ‘Light Cycles,’ both of which return in the sequel and result in plenty of thrilling and fast-paced action sequences as ‘Sam’ is thrown-into an array of gladiator-esque challenges near the beginning of the film. The various costumes worn by the characters who live within ‘The Grid’ are also worth a quick mention, as most of the characters wear a ‘Light Suit,’ which usually feature fluorescent-like glowing strips that illuminate each suit in a range of colours, which never fails to be visually-striking.

‘Tron: Legacy’ is by no means a terrible film, and when it comes to Disney’s other ventures into live-action, ‘Tron: Legacy’ could even be seen as a success by some. But with its fairly paint-by-numbers story, bland characters and onslaught of over-done clichés, this sci-fi sequel ends-up becoming more of a display for its impressive CG visuals and electronic original score rather than an exhilarating sci-fi odyssey. If you’re a fan of the original: ‘Tron’ I feel you will surely enjoy this follow-up, if not, maybe look elsewhere for your fill of original science fiction. Final Rating: low 6/10.

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The Christmas Chronicles (2018) – Film Review

From director Clay Kaytis (The Angry Birds Movie) and producer Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) comes another Christmas family adventure with ‘The Christmas Chronicles,’ and while the film may be nowhere near as memorable as many other festive classics. I can still see the film being a mostly entertaining ride for families and younger viewers alike.

Plot Summary: When brother and sister: ‘Teddy’ and ‘Kate Pierce,’ are left alone on Christmas Eve, they devise a plan to catch ‘Santa Claus’ on camera, which soon turns into an unexpected journey that most children could only dream of. As they manage to hop aboard ‘Santa’s sleigh and join him on his task of delivering presents all over the world.

Although the two films do differ from each other in many ways, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between this film and ‘The Santa Clause’ from 1994. As both Christmas flicks focus on characters going on a magical adventure with ‘Santa Clause,’ with them usually having strong themes of family and belief throughout. However, ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ also seems to focus more on exciting action set-pieces.

Whilst Judah Lewis and Darby Camp portray the siblings decently well throughout the film (aside from the occasional line of dialogue) Kurt Russell is without a doubt the stand-out of the cast, as he brings his usual charisma and talent to create a fresh and memorable portrayal of Saint Nick himself. This is dragged down by the film’s characterisation however, as both of the siblings are pretty bland and dull from start-to-finish. As a pleasant little detail, ‘Santa’s list even includes several of Kurt Russell’s real-life grandchildren.

The cinematography by Don Burgess is also mostly generic throughout the film, usually serving its purpose without drawing the audience’s attention away from the action on-screen. Speaking of which, the action scenes throughout the film are handled surprisingly well. From the fast car chase through the streets of Chicago, to ‘Santa’s sleigh soaring through the night sky. The weak CGI throughout the film can detract from some these scenes however, with ‘Santa’s elves in particular having some very distracting CG effects at points.

The original score by Christophe Beck is decent overall, as while not incredibly memorable, and many could see it as slightly weaker when compared to many of his other soundtracks such as: ‘The Muppets,’ ‘Frozen’ or ‘Ant-Man,’ the score does have a festive and pretty up-beat tone throughout the film’s runtime. ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ even gives us a new spin on the classic song: ‘Santa Clause is Coming to Town,’ as ‘Santa’ shows off some of his style as he sings: ‘Santa Claus is Back in Town’ in an attempt to add some cheer to those around him.

My main issue with the film is the film’s overall cheesiness, as although the film does avoid the occasional Christmas film cliché. The film is still brimming with cheesy lines and scenes throughout the film’s narrative. However, I found this to be a problem mostly around ‘Santa’s elves, as not only did these characters have an awful new redesign, but they seemed to be purely used for the sake of being cute. I also couldn’t help but think the film could’ve been improved if directed by Chris Columbus, as although director Clay Kaytis doesn’t do a terrible job by any means, I feel the director of: ‘Home Alone’ (a true classic for many) could’ve definitely made the film better for what it was.

Overall, ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ is a mostly fun adventure for a film night on Christmas Eve, as while the story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Kurt Russell’s memorable performance mixed with some entertaining action scenes and a very festive atmosphere all result in the film being a decent watch. So maybe check this one out one year if you’re in the need for a festive fantasy adventure, just don’t have your expectations too high. Final Rating: 6/10.

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We’re the Millers (2013) – Film Review

Even with a mostly standard plot for a comedy flick, I ended-up enjoying ‘We’re the Millers’ more than I initially expected. As the entire cast (especially Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston) have excellent chemistry with each other, resulting in the majority of the humour throughout the story working quite well, despite the film having a few noticeable flaws throughout its runtime.

Plot Summary: When a middle-aged pot dealer is tasked with moving a huge shipment of weed into the United States from Mexico for a large pay packet, he puts together a fake family of various people he knows from his flat in an attempt to make it over the border.

Comedy as a genre has always been very opinionated, as everyone obviously has their own taste when it comes to what they find amusing. But for the most part, I would say enjoyed the humour throughout the film, as aside from a few moments where the joke was simply one character saying something disgusting or incredibly stupid out loud to another group of characters (as I personally find this kind of comedy a little lazy) I do think most of the jokes land. However, I also feel a few more jokes hidden within the background of shots would’ve also added to the film in more ways than one.

Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts and Will Poulter all portray random people thrown together in the hope of creating this false family, and I would say they work well together throughout the film. Always coming off as a very dysfunctional yet still likeable group, with all of the cast portraying very different personalities without losing any comedic timing. Interestingly, ‘We’re the Millers’ is actually the second film in which Jennifer Aniston plays a character who is recruited to create a fake family, the first being the comedy flick: ‘Just Go With It’ in 2011.

Whilst the film does have the occasional appealing shot, the cinematography by Barry Peterson isn’t anything spectacular, as the film has mostly generic cinematography for a comedy. However, the original score by Ludwig Göransson and Theodore Shapiro is definitely one of the better elements of the film, as the soundtrack fits the tone of the film perfectly, utilising an acoustic guitar which always manages to make the film feel interesting enough to be somewhat memorable. Considering the first composer has worked on films such as: ‘Creed’ and ‘Black Panther’ in the past however, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

My main criticism of the film is the overall lack of jokes or comedy set-pieces based-around the idea of the characters being a fake family, as although there are a few jokes throughout the narrative based-around this idea, I never quite felt the film made full use of this concept, and usually just fell back onto your usual comedy writing. I also personally felt the film’s pacing is far too quick, as the film almost rushes through scenes within the story in order to quickly get to another gag, rather than having them happen alongside each other. In addition to this, I also felt more focus on some of the more emotional or serious scenes could’ve really helped build-up tension and make the story more engaging.

In conclusion, ‘We’re the Millers’ is decent overall, as while I don’t think the film is fantastic by any means. I enjoyed myself with this simple comedy for what it attempted to be, as although I still think the cinematography and some of the humour could be improved, I found the film to be a mostly entertaining ride and a pretty easy watch due to its fun story and brilliant cast. Final Rating: low 6/10.

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Bumblebee (2018) – Film Review

Serving as both a prequel to Michael Bay’s iconic ‘Transformers’ franchise as well as a kind of soft-reboot for the film series as a whole, ‘Bumblebee’ is a fresh take on the sci-fi/action film series. But going-off the back of its outstanding reviews and director Travis Scott’s other film: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ on my initial watch, I was expecting a little more.

Plot Summary: On the run from his alien home-world of: ‘Cybertron’ in 1987, ‘Bumblebee’ manages to find refuge through a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Where ‘Charlie,’ on the edge of turning eighteen and trying to find her place in the world, discovers him, battle-scarred and broken.

Whilst the film is definitely an improvement over Michael Bay’s other various attempts at the shape-shifting machines, ‘Bumblebee’ isn’t overall anything outstanding. Mostly been a very comedic sci-fi action-adventure with a few emotional moments thrown in. This version almost seems to be leaning more towards the iconic cartoon series from 1984 to 1987, as many of the ‘Transformer’s designs are ripped straight from the beloved TV show, even featuring a few cameos from classic characters.

Hailee Steinfeld and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. both portray young characters who attempt to help ‘Bumblebee’ finish his mission throughout the film, and while their characters: ‘Charlie’ and ‘Memo’ only really get a basic amount of development. They are likeable and serve their purpose within the story. A member of the cast I wasn’t aware of at first however, was the infamous John Cena. Who actually portrays one of the main antagonists of the film, aside from the ‘Decepticons’ themselves, and despite his mostly decent performance throughout the film, I simply just couldn’t take seriously. Mostly due to his ‘meme’ status and internet reputation.

Luckily the colourful visuals throughout the film definitely add to the cinematography by Enrique Chediak, as although the cinematography isn’t bad by any means, the cinematography is mostly generic for an action flick like this. But due to the great lighting and colour palette, ‘Bumblebee’ is easily the most visually appealing entry in the blockbuster franchise, ditching the ugly Michael Bay blue and orange colour palette in exchange for more of a summer-like feel for nearly the entirety of its runtime.

The original score by Dario Marianelli is your generic score for an action flick, with some heroic tones alongside it. The soundtrack isn’t really anything memorable, and despite also not being anything amazing, I think I still prefer the original score for the 2007 ‘Transformers’ film by Steve Jablonsky, which has since gone down in film as the main theme for the ‘Transformers.’

The action throughout the film is fun for the most part, not simply being another constant barrage of explosions and actually trying to utilize the various ‘Transformers’ abilities in different ways. However, it still doesn’t quite reach the level of fun the original cartoon series had, always feeling a little toned down. One compliment I can give the film however, is the comedy. As again whilst not landing every joke, the film does have it’s fair share of funny moments, which did give me a short chuckle at times, and not simply just a sigh or a cringe as many of Michael Bay’s extremely poor attempts at humour did.

It’s definitely a pleasant surprise to have an entry in the ‘Transformers’ franchise that isn’t just explosions and loud noises from start-to-finish, with a great visual appeal and plenty of humour throughout, I could see most having a lot of fun with this film, especially families. However, it might be that I simply don’t have a huge love for these characters, but I although I found it enjoyable whilst watching, it wasn’t super memorable for me personally. Final Rating: 6/10.

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Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) – Film Review

A weird, violent and very unpredictable film, Dan Gilroy director of one of my all-time favourite films: ‘Nightcrawler’, works all his charm and creativity into this horror/drama/mystery/dark comedy? It’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly what the genre of this film is. Alongside this, similar to some other films I’ve reviewed, I’d say this is definitely not a film for everyone. But for those who it will appeal to, you will surely enjoy yourself.

Plot Summary: Following the discovery of a series of foreboding paintings by an unknown artist, a supernatural force enacts revenge on those who have allowed their greed to get in the way of art…

The film is mostly built around the shocking deaths throughout the film, as various characters get killed off in different ways. Leaving the rest of the characters in a state of confusion and panic, this allows the film to delve into bits and pieces of characterisation (granted not a lot) in addition to exploring various ideas of what ‘art’ actually is and we criticise and commercialise it, and despite the film not going incredibly in-depth with these ideas, I did still find many of them and the themes of greed and ego interesting.

Jake Gyllenhaal is essentially the main protagonist of the film: ‘Morf Vandewalt’ a very eccentric and strange character who seems to be a parody of over-the-top art critics. Rene Russo, Zawe Ashton, Toni Collette, Natalia Dyer and John Malkovich also all lend their talents to the film. Along with the decent writing, their great performances really help give each character a distinct personality. Unexpectedly however, Zawe Ashton is a true standout of the film for me, only really knowing her from Channel 4’s ‘Fresh Meat,’ here she portrays a very different character than ones before.

The cinematography by Robert Elswit also gives the film a very clean look, utilising many different shots throughout. I still do think the film could’ve done more with the camera work though, especially when compared to Dan Gilroy’s previous films. The does also combine cinematography well with the beautiful sets and locations, giving the film a great visual appeal overall. The original score by Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders also lends it’s hand to the creepy atmosphere at multiple points throughout the film, yet can also change to more calming or light-hearted when it needs to. 

Although the tone can really vary throughout the film, it never comes-off as unbalanced. Comedy is used at points during the story but never to the point of ruining the eerie atmosphere or character moments. When the film does shift into full horror however, we get easily my favourite moments of the film, as it’s these moments we get some very cool CG effects and unique visuals. As well as a great build-up of intrigue and tension, with the eventual death at the end of the scene usually being very creative, despite not always being very gory.

My main two issues with the film resolve mostly around the pacing of the film, as the film can come off as very slow and can really drag the story down at points. As well as the use of John Malkovich’s character: ‘Piers,’ as this character appears in the very first scene of the film and then again later into the runtime. However, he doesn’t really have any impact on the overall narrative, and really felt to me like the film was just using his bland character to fill-up screen-time.

In conclusion, I couldn’t decide as to what I thought of: ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ upon my initial viewing of the film, and I’m still not entirely sure now. As whilst the film does suffer from a fair amount of problems and isn’t the incredibly entertaining piece of gory fun I was hoping it would be. But I still enjoyed myself through its weird atmosphere and interesting ideas, and it is a film I could maybe see myself returning too at some point. Final Rating: 6/10.

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