Now You See Me (2013) – Film Review

Quite a unique film within the crime genre, ‘Now You See Me’ is seemingly a magician’s rendition of: ‘Ocean’s Eleven’, as director Louis Leterrier crafts an entertaining film following the story of a group of four illusionists, all with different skillsets, robbing establishments across the globe before then vanishing without a trace. And although some viewers may have to suspend their disbelief for a few elements regarding the film’s plot, the film still manages to remain a mostly enjoyable affair throughout its two-hour runtime.

Plot Summary: After four small-time magicians are anonymously invited to attend a meeting in a run-down apartment. They reappear one year later as ‘The Four Horsemen’, performing a live-show in Las Vegas in which they claim they are going to rob a bank in Paris from the stage and distribute the money to the audience. But after the French bank is found empty following the show, F.B.I. Agent: ‘Dylan Rhodes’ is assigned to the case with his partner: ‘Alma Day’, where the two begin to suspect that the heist was just a distraction for a bigger scheme…

Even though ‘Now You See Me’ prioritises its story over anything else, the film does still feature a couple of exciting action sequences including a car-chase and a fist-fight respectively. Both of which stick with the idea of the magicians performing magic-tricks, utilising many of the age-old illusions we know in creative ways, yet this shouldn’t be too surprising, considering director Louis Leterrier has worked on action flicks like ‘The Transporter’ in the past. However, ‘Now You See Me’ does miss a big opportunity to say anything interesting about the actual profession of magic, as with very few films focusing on characters with this skillset, it would make sense to delve further into figures with this expertise.

‘The Four Horseman’, portrayed by Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher and Dave Franco are all splendid in their roles as the signature group of magicians. As despite Dave Franco’s ‘Jack Wilder’ feeling a little neglected at points as the forth member of the group, all of the cast give very charismatic performances to where you could believe they perform live-shows most evenings. The group also spends most of the film being hunted by a F.B.I. detective duo portrayed by Mark Ruffalo and Mélanie Laurent, and although both actors are great within their roles, the film does attempt to build-up a romantic relationship between the two, which comes-off as nothing other than forced and underdeveloped.

Mitchell Amundsen and Larry Fong’s cinematography is competent overall, having an overeliance on mid-shots to focus on the actor’s performances front and foremost. But when taking-into account the film’s constant emphasis on eye-contact and slight of hand, I did feel the camerawork wasn’t used very effectively to display that trickery, which would’ve surely placed the film’s audience in the same position as ‘The Four Horseman’s live-audience. The cinematography does still allow for plenty of stunning wide-shots during each live-show however, as the camera glides over the huge crowd giving an impressive view of the massive audiences that attend each night.

The original score by Brian Tyler is a jazz-style soundtrack in the same-vein as other crime/heist films such as the previously mentioned: ‘Ocean’s Eleven’. In particular, the tracks: ‘Now You See Me’, ‘The Four Horseman’ and ‘Welcome to the Eye’ are all deeply-rooted in jazz, fitting a familiar tone to many real illusionist shows. So much so, that it soon becomes quite evident that Tyler has done his research as his score fully embraces its funky percussion and snappy brass motifs.

Throughout the film, there are also a number of magnificent effects, CG and practical alike. In fact, near the beginning of the film when ‘Daniel Atlas’ is performing an extraordinary card-trick, we see the hands of Dan or Dave Buck digitally composited with Jesse Eisenberg’s face. These twin brothers are actually acclaimed sleight of hand artists, as well as pioneers in the art of cardistry. Their skills have also been seen in the film: ‘Smokin’ Aces’ from 2006, performing tricks for Jeremy Piven. Cardistry is an open display of skill with cards, similar to juggling, and the sequence of moves performed in ‘Now You See Me’ is called a ‘Pandora’, which at the time of filming, was considered one of the hardest moves to perform in cardistry.

Taking all this into account, I feel ‘Now You See Me’ serves its purpose as a crime/mystery thriller, telling an engaging and mostly well-written story that doesn’t take-itself all too seriously. While the film does disguise many of obvious flaws through smoke and mirrors, I believe the vast majority of viewers will enjoy this film for what it is. Overall, a low 7/10. And if you have already seen this flick and relished it, then I’d strongly recommend you watch ‘The Prestige’, another magician-related film which I personally think surpasses ‘Now You See Me’ (and its uninspired sequel) in many ways.

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Wreck-It Ralph (2012) – Film Review

Equally entertaining for both children and parents who will catch the many references to classic arcade games, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ is a funny, colourful and exciting adventure from Walt Disney Animation Studios. Directed by Rich Moore, most known for his work on ‘The Simpsons’ in addition to some other recent Disney flicks. This eight-bit odyssey may not quite match-up to some of the other iconic films Disney has released in its many years of crafting animated stories, yet is still sure to please any game-enthusiasts in search of a new favourite.

Plot Summary: After many years of being the bad guy and being defeated in his own game day-after-day, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ longs to be as beloved as his game’s perfect protagonist: ‘Fix-It Felix’. So when a modern, first-person shooter arrives in his arcade, ‘Ralph’ sees his opportunity for heroism and happiness. But now, with his game at risk of being put out-of-order due to his disappearance, ‘Ralph’ must quickly return home before its game-over for everyone.

From the get-go, one of the best elements of: ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ has to be its initial concept, as the film portrays the idea of video game characters coming-to-life in a similar fashion to the ‘Toy Story’ series, but also adds a living virtual-world alongside. Interestingly, Disney first began developing an animated film based-around a world of video game characters in the 1980s. At that time, the project was titled: ‘High Score’, it was then changed to ‘Joe Jump’ in the 1990s. Until in the late 2000s, when the film was finally pushed forward, the first two months of story development focused on ‘Fix-It Felix Jr.’ as the protagonist, which eventually lead-on to the film we received in 2012.

John C. Riley and Sarah Silverman lead the cast as the titular characters: ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ and ‘Vanellope Von Schweetz’ superbly, as unlike most animated films, the main group of actors regularly recorded their sessions together in the same room, a situation which led to large amounts of improvising and gave the cast a real sense of chemistry. But regardless of how much of his dialogue was improvised, ‘Ralph’ still remains in my opinion, one of the most memorable and likeable characters Disney has created in their more modern animations, mostly due to his design and understandable motivation of wanting to be seen as a hero rather than a villain. Jack McBrayer, Jane Lynch and Alan Tudyk make-up the remainder of the cast, who are all also wonderful within their roles as ‘Fix-It Felix’, ‘Calhoun’ and ‘King Candy’ respectively, as each actor plays into whichever type of game they originate from, e.g. intense sci-fi solider with a dramatic backstory or a quirky/cartoonish kart-racer.

An area ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ is lacking however, its on the promise of exploring the many different game worlds its story implies. As while the film does explore its two signature worlds of: ‘Hero’s Duty’ and ‘Sugar Rush’ well, ensuring each location feels vastly different in terms of both its design, animated cinematography and colour palette. The film is limited in how many video games its characters actually explore, which is a shame when considering the many possible adventures its different arcade worlds could contain. Especially when taking into account the huge number of cameos from video game icons like ‘Pac-Man’, ‘Q’bert’ and ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’.

Although the original score by Henry Jackman is a slightly missed opportunity to have a classic eight-bit score to further fit with the video game narrative, the film’s soundtrack still features plenty of great tracks, which just like the film’s visuals, alter depending-on which video game world the characters are currently inside. As outside of the generally enjoyable tracks: ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ and ‘Messing with the Program’, the score occasionally gets quite creative, even having an original theme created for the kart-racing game: ‘Sugar Rush’ by J-pop band: ‘AKB48’, (as the fictional video game is supposedly manufactured in Japan).

Whilst the animation itself is visually stunning and brimming with small details as with nearly every animated Disney film, the main flaw ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ suffers from its without a doubt its story structure. As what may throw many viewers-off is that the film begins focused entirely on ‘Ralph’ and his journey, before then quickly and drastically changing direction to focus more on ‘Vanellope’ and her desire to become a playable ‘Sugar Rush’ racer, which can be a little jolting when recalling the film’s first act.

Overall, ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ may not always use its signature concept to its best extent, and can often go too far when it comes to some of its immature or video game-related humour. Yet the film’s delightful characters, gorgeous and distinctive locations and beautiful animation all manage to save the film from its faults. A 7/10 in total. Despite not going-down as successfully with audiences as films like ‘Frozen’ or ‘Zootropolis’ for example, I still feel ‘Wreck-It Ralph’ is worth grabbing a joystick for should you get the chance.

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The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016) – Film Review

A twisted and unique indie horror that is certainly not for the squeamish, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ utilises it’s simple concept and individual location to the best of its ability, immersing its audience into its grim setting almost as if they are performing the autopsy themselves alongside the film’s characters. Whilst the film may still suffer from a couple of the same issues that plague many other modern horrors, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ manages to overcome most of its faults to become a compelling slice of low-budget horror.

Plot Summary: While investigating the murder of a family, a small-town Sheriff and his team are puzzled with the discovery of a mysterious body buried underneath the crime scene. After bringing the corpse of the unnamed: ‘Jane Doe’ to family coroners: ‘Tommy’ and ‘Austin Tilden’ for a cause of death, the pair soon discover the corpse is harbouring a dark secret.

Directed by André Øvredal (Troll Hunter, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark), ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ may be slightly lacking in terms of budget, yet the film always manages to use this to its advantage by setting nearly the entirety of its story within the walls of the ‘Tilden Morgue and Crematorium’. Through which, the film constantly retains its eerie atmosphere and even a partial feeling of claustrophobia. In addition to also keeping its audience entranced within its narrative through its signature mystery, as the questions of who is ‘Jane Doe’? And how was she killed? Remains on every viewer’s mind after the opening scene.

The main father and son duo portrayed by Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch both do a great job throughout the film, with the writing also contributing to the film’s engagement as their characters receive a decent amount of characterisation. Easily the most challenging (and respectfully most impressive) performance of the film has to be the corpse herself: ‘Jane Doe’ however, as while there were some prosthetics used during production, it may surprise many to know this role was actually portrayed by actress Olwen Catherine Kelly for the majority of the film. As André Øvredal felt it was necessary to have an actress in the role to help connect to the audience on a human level, eventually leading Kelly to be cast due to her knowledge of yoga, which helped her minimalize her breathing.

The cinematography by Roman Osin is overall admirable, implementing a number of attractive shots during the runtime. However, the film’s cinematography is still best utilised when it comes to the many gruesome close-ups, as the film never shies away from the ‘Autopsy’ part of its title, displaying nearly every part of the autopsy from the initial exterior examination through to the interior examination, securing this film’s position as not one for the faint of heart when its comes to blood/gore (or nudity for that matter). The lighting throughout ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ also benefits its story, as the film’s array of tense moments are only enhanced as a result of the morgue being shrouded in shadows.

Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans handle the film’s original score, which in spite of its complete lack of memorability does help add to the film’s dark tone and blood-curdling atmosphere. As the score feels more like ominous ambience rather than a standard horror score, with the track: ‘Hair Cut’ being the clearest example of this. The film also places a heavy emphasis on the song: ‘Open Up Your Heart and Let the Sun Shine In’, a classic 50s song which repeatedly plays over the overly-static radio within the morgue, resulting in the song quickly becoming one of the film’s creepiest aspects.

Whilst ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ does avoid many of the usual horror clichés, the film unfortunately still suffers from the most common problem in horror, jump-scares. Despite relying far more-on its atmosphere and occasional chilling visuals to place its audience on-edge, the film still feels the need to spread a variety jump-scares throughout its tight runtime. In particular, within the film’s final act, which is when the film loses much of its originality in favour of becoming more generic and predictable.

In conclusion, ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ is a fairly underrated gem in the realm of modern horror, surpassing many other films that attempt many of the same ideas but usually end-up feeling quite tasteless. Although not perfect in its execution, the film still delivers on its set-up of a tense and engrossing tale that also manages to make time for its characters in the process, and even though I personally don’t find Øvredal’s filmography impeccable, I do believe this director has talent, and projects like ‘The Autopsy of Jane Doe’ prove he can be a worthy contributor to the horror genre. Altogether, a high 7/10.

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The Magnificent Seven (2016) – Film Review

After taking-on a number of exciting action flicks in recent years such as: ‘Training Day’, ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ and ‘The Equalizer’, director Antonie Fuqua brings this remake of the original 1960 ensemble western to the silver screen. Combining a superb cast with some explosive moments of action and plenty of highly-detailed costumes and sets, ‘The Magnificent Seven’ manages to remain an entertaining remake of the beloved classic despite its few faults.

Plot Summary: In 1897, seven gunmen from a variety of different backgrounds are brought together by a vengeful young widow in order to protect her hometown of: ‘Rose Creek’ from the private army of a destructive industrialist.

Other than a few changes to the names of its characters, the remake of: ‘The Magnificent Seven’ follows a very similar storyline to the original film, which was essentially just a retelling of the iconic Japenese film: ‘Seven Samurai’ but now set in the Wild West. As the remake avoids making-any definite changes to the narrative in favour of simply just updating the story for a more modern-audience, meaning the film has much faster-pacing and more of a focus-on creating thrilling action set-pieces than the original, which is both a good and a bad thing. As whilst the film does still pay homage to many classic westerns, the film occasionally also adopts many of the issues that plague plenty of modern blockbusters today, the most notable of which being the film’s overabundance of cheesy/predictable dialogue.

Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawk, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier all give splendid performances as the line-up of: ‘The Seven’, each portraying a different personality and skillset between them. But of course, similar to many other films lead by a group of characters rather than just a single protagonist. ‘The Magnificent Seven’ suffers from a lack of equal development for its cast as a result of Denzel Washington and Chris Pratt as ‘Chisolm’ and ‘Josh Faraday’ hogging most of the screen-time, with the film’s antagonist: ‘Bartholomew Bogue’ portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard, also having a deficient intimidating presence when on-screen due to this.

Whilst the film’s cinematography never falls into the category of being exceedingly bland, the cinematography by Mauro Fiore is only above-average overall. As although the film does feature an array of attractive close-ups and wide-shots alongside its many suitably barren locations, the film also has quite a heavy overreliance on shot-reverse-shot during many of the conversations between characters. However, a smaller detail that I felt added to the film’s visual appeal (and realism) is definitely its use of nature surrounding/within its various locations, as the film’s main setting of: ‘Rose Creek’ is littered with trees and tall grass rather than just continuous desert similar to many other westerns, with some areas of Baton Rouge, Louisiana (where filming took place) even having to be relandscaped to further resemble the Old West.

Being the last film Horner worked-on as a composer before he sadly passed away in 2015, the original score by him and Simon Franglen does suitably feel like the score of a traditional western for the majority of the film’s runtime. Although there are still a few tracks that feel fairly generic, the soundtrack redeems itself through the great tracks: ‘Rose Creek Oppression’ and ‘Seven Riders’, in addition to also bringing back the original film’s theme composed by the late Elmer Bernstein for its end credits.

As the remake of: ‘The Magnificent Seven’ focuses more-on action over anything else (with the entire final act of the film essentially being one long action sequence) a lot of pressure lies-on the film to live-up to this intent, which thankfully, it does. As all of the stirring moments throughout the film make fantastic use of their impressive stunt work and subtle CG effects. That being said, nearly-all of the action scenes are also distinctly missing an element of both grittiness and violence, which can be fairly distracting. As despite many of: ‘Bartholomew Bogue’s guns-for-hire being shot, stabbed and blown-up, blood is barely ever-seen, and whilst I understand classic westerns also didn’t really revel in violence, I’ve always seen that as more of a restriction of the time-period rather than just a skimp to lower the film’s age-rating.

In conclusion, while ‘The Magnificent Seven’ may not fully deliver-on the ‘Magnificent’ part of its title, the film is still is an enjoyable throwback to the westerns of old with plenty of exhilarating action set-pieces to-boot. As even when taking-into account all of the remake’s issues and general lack of memorability, I’d still say the film is on the better side of reimagined classics in recent memory and is worth a watch if you’re a true western enthusiast or perhaps just desire to see a remake that doesn’t attempt to simply recreate the original shot-for-shot. A 7/10 overall.

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Seven Psychopaths (2012) – Film Review

This slick self-aware crime/comedy from writer and director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri), may not appeal to everyone as a result of its over-the-top violence and occasionally absurdist tone. Yet for me, due to its great cast, fantastic writing and endless list of quotable lines, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ is certainly worth its runtime and then some. As the film always remains just as entertaining as it is unconventional, even if the film isn’t quite as pristinely crafted as the rest of McDonagh’s work.

Plot Summary: A struggling alcoholic screenwriter in the process of writing a screenplay based-around seven separate psychopaths soon becomes inadvertently entangled in the Los Angeles criminal underworld after his oddball friends accidently kidnap a psychopathic gangster’s beloved Shih Tzu.

Filled with plenty of sly, witty and memorable dialogue throughout, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ constantly uses its clever writing to create an array of stories within the main narrative. As the screenplay writing protagonist: ‘Marty’, reels-off many of his early ideas for different psychos to get his friend’s opinions on them before implementing them into his latest script. The film also uses this structure to engage in plenty of meta humour, as the characters continuously list-off various tropes and clichés of similar action and crime flicks, which the film itself actively avoids, resulting in a well-written film overall. In fact, the script for: ‘Seven Psychopaths’ was actually featured in a 2006 blacklist of the ‘most liked’ unmade scripts of that year, before it was obviously green-lit many years later.

One of the best elements of the film is undeniably its cast, as Colin Farrell, Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken as ‘Marty’, ‘Billy’ and ‘Hans’ never fail to be hilarious together. As all three of them share some excellent chemistry, portraying their characters as if they’ve been friends for many years before the current story begins. Woody Harrelson and musician Tom Waits both also make an appearance within the film as the mostly-intimidating criminal: ‘Charlie’, and ‘Zachariah’, one of the psychopaths that inspires ‘Marty’s script, who is constantly creepy and bizarre whenever he is on-screen. Yet despite the film’s admirable performances and writing, the female characters within the film are noticeably quite poor. As while the main cast do point this out through some sarcastic dialogue, the few female characters that do appear receive barley any development and feel mostly pointless in the long-run.

Although ‘Seven Psychopaths’ cinematography is nowhere near as impressive as the camerawork throughout ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ for example. The cinematography by Ben Davis is serviceable, with the occasional pleasing shot in between many of the more average ones. However, this is where another one of my criticisms comes into play, this being the story’s setting. As whilst I understand the film’s protagonist is a screenplay writer so it links to the idea of building a career in Hollywood. McDonagh’s other films both manage to make exceptional use of their beautiful and distinct locations, making the city of Los Angeles where ‘Seven Psychopaths’ takes-place feel fairly dull in comparison.

The original score by Carter Burwell isn’t overly-memorable yet does suitably fit the film, adding tension to scenes where necessary in addition to feeling quite subtle when in contrast to the film’s outrageous self-aware humour, as according to composer Carter Burwell, his intent with the soundtrack revolved more around wanting to create an emphatic ambience for the film rather than just being your standard generic action score, this is most obvious in the tracks: ‘Zachariah’ and ‘Billy’s Diary’ (my personal two favourite tracks from the film).

Personally, although the story works fine without, I would have desired a little more style when it comes to the film’s visual presentation, in particular, in the editing and titles. As with the exception of the typewriter text that is utilised to inform the audience of each psychopath from one-through-to-seven, the filmmaking actually displays barley any style throughout. That being said, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ does still feature a number of dark comedic moments similar to the rest of McDonagh’s filmography, displaying a couple of dramatic scenes alongside plenty of extremely graphic deaths.

Overall, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ definitely isn’t the best director Martin McDonagh has to offer, with both ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ being far superior films in my opinion. ‘Seven Psychopaths’ still delivers on a creative plot and some tremendous writing/performances even in spite of its lack of style and weak female characters. A suitable 7/10 in total. If you’re a fan of this director’s other films, I’d say ‘Seven Psychopaths’ is worth a watch, just don’t have your expectations too high when going-in for the first-time.

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Hidden Figures (2016) – Film Review

Based on the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, the film adaptation of: ‘Hidden Figures’ serves as compelling and entertaining delve into the past as it tells the true story of the mostly unknown women who helped push-forward the space program. Through its brilliant performances from Taraji P. Henson and Kevin Costner (among the rest of the cast) alongside its magnificent writing, the film manages to keep its audience constantly invested in spite of its occasionally bland filmmaking.

Plot Summary: Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three brilliant African-American women working at NASA in the 1960s cross all gender and race barriers within their workplace to follow their dreams and inspire generations, serving as the brain-force to help send astronaut John Glenn into Earth’s orbit.

Despite focusing-on three separate stories of three separate characters, ‘Hidden Figures’ never feels unfocused, as each of the three protagonists receive a decent amount of development as well as at least one or more memorable scenes between them. As the film displays its main theme of female and black empowerment proudly, without ever becoming overly cliché as it avoids many of the over-done tropes that other films built-around the racist barriers of the 60s can begin to rely-on. For example, the film’s opening scene in which the trio of women are confronted by a white police officer, as this moment could’ve easily felt like overly-familiar ground should it have been handled-poorly, yet aside from some inappropriate stereotyping at first, the scene actually results in the three of them heading to NASA without any horrific racial ridiculing.

The three protagonists portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe are all excellent throughout the film, as each of them remain determined and outgoing despite the world’s many attempts to drag them down, always fighting against the unfair judgement of them simply for the way they look, repeatedly with a lack of preachy dialogue. Alongside them, the supporting cast of Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons, Kristen Dunst and Mahershala Ali are all great even if some of their characters are a little under-utilised within the narrative. One of the reasons the performances within the film are as accurate as they are is due to some of the cast actually having the opportunity to meet with the story’s icons before production began. Most notably Taraji P. Henson, who met with the real Katherine Johnson (who was ninety-eight-years-old at the time) after she signed-on for the role.

The cinematography by Mandy Walker is serviceable overall, as while the film features a good number of attractive shots, they are dragged-down by its many mundane ones. However, ‘Hidden Figures’ does actually make effective yet subtle use of colour throughout its runtime. As the film’s colour palette constantly reflects the mood within each scene, with the many of the sets at NASA where calculations and preparations take-place utilising mostly sterile whites, greys, and silvers, which creates a sharp contrast to the warm/inviting colours of the ladies’ homes.

Hanz Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch handle the original score for the film, which is an incredibly mixed-bag overall. As whilst the film does have some decent tracks such as: ‘Katherine’, ‘Mission Control’ and ‘Hidden Figures’, the soundtrack also features a number of pop-songs by Pharrell Willaims, which don’t remotely fit the tone of the film or the story’s time-period. Usually resulting in it feeling very forced and sometimes even takes-away from the film’s dramatic moments. This is most likely a result of Pharrell Willaims overseeing all aspects of the film’s soundtrack, which I personally feel is a huge misstep as his style of music really isn’t suited for a drama.

In addition to portraying the female heroes of the real-life story as accurately as possible, the film also makes substantial use of its time-period. As to keep the viewer up-to-date with what knowledge that the American public had at the time, ‘Hidden Figures’ occasionally cuts-away to stock footage of rocket testings or president John F. Kennedy making public announcements, both which are surprisingly effective despite not being used continuously. Personally however, I still would’ve preferred a bigger presence of songs from the 1960s rather than the constant barrage of pop-songs the film contains, as mentioned previously.

In conclusion, I feel ‘Hidden Figures’ is an important film many should experience. As whilst there has been an array of films based around the misogynistic/racist nature of the 1950s/1960s, ‘Hidden Figures’ is for sure a stand-out through its engaging and thought-provoking narrative. Although films like ‘Do the Right Thing’ and ‘BlacKkKlansman’ may be slightly more powerful with their message(s), I feel ‘Hidden Figures’ is fairly underrated when it comes to historical dramas, as the film is simultaneously both informing and touching. Overall, a high 7/10.

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Maniac (2012) – Film Review

Shot nearly entirely through a first-person perspective and lead by a timid yet creepy performance from Elijah Wood. ‘Maniac’ is in my opinion, a pretty creative and unique slasher that has been enormously overlooked when it comes to modern horror. While the film does still have its issues, I feel most horror fans will get something out of this discomforting dive into the mind of a serial killer should they give it a watch.

Plot Summary: After working his day job at a mannequin restoration store, the mentally ill and isolated: ‘Frank’ takes to the dark streets of Los Angeles as a serial killer with a fetish for female scalps. But when a young artist asks him for help with her new exhibition, ‘Frank’s obsessions begin to consume him.

Although it takes a different approach to its story, ‘Maniac’ is actually a remake of the classic 1980 slasher of the same name. However, this is one of the rare occasions where I believe that the remake is possibly an improvement over the original film. As while the 80s flick does feature plenty of over-the-top gore, the film never manages to elevate itself from being just a fairly straight-forward slasher, and although it’s maybe not always successful. The remake does attempt to develop ‘Frank’ more as a character alongside exploring themes of mental health and loss of identity effectively throughout its runtime.

Elijah Wood, best known for his role as ‘Frodo’ in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ series, portrays the serial killer protagonist: ‘Frank’ as awkward and almost quite dry at points, making ‘Frank’ feel incredibly deranged when he interacts with other characters. Most notably, the artist and photographer: ‘Anna’ portrayed by Nora Arnezeder, who is a clear contrast to ‘Frank’ in the way she portrays her simplistic yet likeable and innocent character, completely unaware of: ‘Frank’s dark deeds as she grows closer and closer to him. The performances are slightly dragged-down by writing throughout the film however, as whilst the dialogue is decent for the most part, the film does still have the odd unusual line.

As previously mentioned, the remake of: ‘Maniac’ is also shot nearly entirely through P.O.V. shots, and its this cinematography by Maxime Alexandre that really makes the film stand-out from many other slashers. As whilst watching the film, you can’t help but feel the tension as ‘Frank’ goes on dates or has conversations with women who we know will soon meet a gruesome fate, as we as the audience are aware of his sinister intentions, the film almost makes you feel hostage to ‘Frank’s mind. That being said, the film does sometimes take you out of the experience when it leaves the P.O.V. format for a few seconds. While I understand why the film does this (as it’s usually at crucial points within the narrative). I personally feel keeping the audience restricted to looking through ‘Frank’s eyes would’ve made the film more compelling overall.

Serving as a great throwback to the classic 80s film its based-on in addition to adding too many of the film’s best moments. The original score by Robin Coudert or ‘Rob’ for short, is a synth soundtrack. Utilising electronic waves, this underrated score is certainly a high-point of the film, with my two favourite tracks: ‘Doll’ and ‘Haunted’ both being incredibly memorable in their own right, almost feeling as if they were ripped straight from any of the iconic horrors of the 1980s.

Extremely violent and disturbing throughout, ‘Maniac’ truly pulls-no-punches when delving into the mind of its serial killer, meaning many viewers may be put-off by the film’s extremely gory deaths and unnerving murder scenes. As ‘Frank’ disposes of his victims with little remorse, as dark memories of his mother during childhood fuel his violent actions. This is also where many of the film’s more bizarre moments come into play, as although it may surprise some viewers, ‘Maniac’ is partly an art-house film as well as a slasher, as the film’s themes as well as ‘Frank’s broken mind is usually displayed visually throughout the film in a variety of ways. This unfortunately does lead onto the film’s weakest aspect however, as during many of these anomalous scenes, the film’s editing can become quite erratic, sometimes even placing cuts mid-conversation.

In conclusion, I really do enjoy ‘Maniac’. While the film is still quite problematic in areas, mostly in regard to its editing choices and occasional lines of strange dialogue. ‘Maniac’s memorable original score, intense violence and of course, captivating cinematography through its use of P.O.V. The film stands as definitely one of the better horror remakes in recent memory. Overall, a high 7/10. Although I probably wouldn’t recommend ‘Maniac’ to everyone, if you’re preferred realm of the horror genre is gory slashers, then this indie flick is certainly not one-to-miss.

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It (2017) – Film Review

Finally, after many years of waiting, horror and literature fans alike got their wishes granted. As director Andy Muschietti (Mama) signed on to direct a new remake (or readaptation) of one of Steven King’s most iconic and beloved horror stories, this of course, being ‘It’, with some great cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung, and a very memorable portrayal of the demonic clown: ‘Pennywise’ from Bill Skarsgård. The film is one of the better King adaptations in recent years, even with the array issues the film still suffers from.

Plot Summary: In the summer of 1989, a group of unpopular kids band together in order to destroy a shape-shifting monster known only as ‘Pennywise’, a creature which can disguise itself as whatever it’s victim fears most.

Following the film’s incredibly successful release in 2017, ‘Pennywise’ has quickly become a modern horror icon despite only having about four minutes of dialogue in the entire film. But its easy to see why this is, as not only does ‘It’ share the familiar fun tone of classic films of the 1980s such as: ‘The Goonies’ and ‘The Monster Squad’, but ‘It’ also manages to adapt the novel’s antagonist: ‘Pennywise’ fairly closely from the original source material, resulting in a mostly entertaining novel-to-screen transition.

The main cast of: ‘The Losers Club’ features Jaeden Martell, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jack Dylan Grazer, Chosen Jacobs and Wyatt Oleff who all share pretty great chemistry with each other, as alongside the film’s terrific writing, the children truly feel like an actual group of kids, with the group constantly cursing and sharing in plenty of quippy banter with each other. In addition to the younger cast, ‘Pennywise’ is this time around portrayed by Bill Skarsgård, and while I have always loved Tim Curry’s cheesy yet menacing portrayal of the iconic clown. Bill Skarsgård is a stand-out aspect of the film for sure. Capturing the eerie qualities of the character as well as his unworldly nature perfectly, really embracing the idea that ‘Pennywise’ isn’t just a psychotic clown, but something far stranger…

The cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung is surprisingly brilliant for a modern horror, featuring a number of attractive shots which blend extremely-well with the film’s story. The film does have one recurring shot which is quite irritating however, as during many of the scenes where ‘Pennywise’ appears to his victims, the film utilises a shot in which the sinister clown approaches the camera straight-on, sprinting directly towards the screen, and while I understand what the filmmakers were trying to accomplish with this shot, I feel it only comes-off as fatuous and looks very out-of-place when compared to the rest of the film’s visual pleasing cinematography.

The original score for the film is admirable for the most part, being composed by Benjamin Wallfisch, the score ranges from being your typical horror soundtrack to eventually becoming more emotional for the more character-focused scenes. The only issue I have with the original score are some of the tracks which feature deep bass-like sounds, as I feel these tracks really don’t fit with the film’s time-period. Regardless, the tracks: ‘Paper Boat’ and ‘Derry’ do serve the film’s story delightfully well, with one of the film’s final tracks: ‘Blood Oath’, also being a beautiful send-off for these characters before their inevitable return.

From ‘Pennywise’s uncanny appearance to the abandoned house ‘It’ lives within on ‘Neibolt Street’, many of the film’s designs are also pretty memorable despite their limited screen-time. These fantastic designs are dragged down by the film’s poor CG effects however, as the film always seems to resort to CG visuals during many of its more tense moments, which can take away from their impact. This is also where ‘It’s most substantial problem comes into play, as ‘It’ has really split audiences down the middle when it comes to its focus on horror. As while the film does have a few eerie scenes and creepy visuals, this adaptation seems to be more focused on being the coming-of-age story the novel mostly is. Although many viewers may be disappointed by this, desiring a narrative based more around the story’s darker elements, I feel the film’s distracting CG effects and constant barrage of jump-scares are made-up for by its interesting delve into its themes of childhood fears and growing-up.

In my opinion, ‘It’ is a pretty solid Steven King adaptation, as while certainly let-down by its weak CG visuals, overreliance on jump-scares and occasionally inconsistent tone, the film still is a pretty enjoyable watch throughout its two-hour runtime, mostly due to the film’s great performances and general memorability, and with ‘It: Chapter Two’ turning-out to be an underwhelming experience for most. I’d say it further proves that this film is the direction to go when it comes to adapting King’s work, and is worth a 7/10 overall.

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Ted (2012) – Film Review

Written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, the creator of: ‘Family Guy’ and ‘American Dad’. ‘Ted’ is a modern comedy which takes the childhood desire many had of wishing their teddy bear was alive and gives it an adult comedy spin, and while the film does miss a large number of its jokes. ‘Ted’ is a mostly enjoyable watch through its fun story and entertaining cast, alongside being a pretty strong first outing for MacFarlane’s transition to live-action entertainment.

Plot Summary: When ‘John Bennett’ makes a Christmas miracle occur by bringing his stuffed teddy bear to life, the two grow-up together and form a life-long bond. But after ‘John’ moves-in with his girlfriend: ‘Lori’ a few years later, he’s forced to choose between them.

Although its story is very simple, ‘Ted’ actually balances its comedy and drama surprisingly well, as the film focuses heavily on the rift ‘Ted’ causes between ‘John’ and his girlfriend. Considering MacFarlane’s other work rarely takes itself seriously, the majority of the drama is actually quite effective, as the film does a decent job of keeping the viewer invested in its characters. Similar to most modern comedies, the jokes throughout the film do range however, with some scenes featuring plenty of humourous moments, whilst other scenes can come-off as if they are trying far too hard, sometimes even having lines of dialogue which could be seen as a little ‘risky’ (especially if you’re watching the unrated version). But this is pretty familiar ground for Seth MacFarlane.

Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis portray the main couple of the film, who do share some decent chemistry and funny moments together, with Mark Wahlberg also doing an excellent job interacting with ‘Ted’ throughout the film considering he is a fully CG character. As ‘Ted’ was brought to life through various teddy bears props on-set, in addition to Seth MacFarlane’s movements being mirrored through motion-capture. Joel McHale and Giovanni Ribisi also make appearances within the film as ‘Lori’s obnoxious and inappropriate boss: ‘Rex’, and the film’s antagonist: ‘Donny’, a shady father who intends to kidnap ‘Ted’ for his son. Both of these characters do have their moments for sure, yet they also both share the same issue of their characters completely disappearing after their purpose to the story is served, which does make the narrative feel a little inconsistent.

The cinematography by Michael Barrett is mostly bland throughout, with film’s focus being placed nearly entirely on its comedic dialogue. Although there is still the occasional appealing shot here and there, its nothing overly interesting. However, the CG effects used to create ‘Ted’ are solid for the most part, as despite the few shots where the film is beginning to show its age, the combination of the film’s visual effects and Seth Macfarlane’s very entertaining vocal performance do result in ‘Ted’ becoming a crude yet likeable character.

One of the biggest issues ‘Ted’ suffers from in my opinion is the film’s lack of personality, as a result of the film having little-to-no style, ‘Ted’ sometimes feels too-similar to MacFarlane’s other works. This is most noticeable in the original score by Walter Murphy, as the score feels almost identical to the score used throughout FOX’s ‘Family Guy’ series. Whilst this is most likely due to director Seth MacFarlane wanting to work with the same composer as his animated shows, the original score just doesn’t feel even remotely memorable or unique to the film it’s part of.

For me, some of: ‘Ted’s funniest moments come from its more absurdist humour, as although the film has plenty of obscure references to celebrities and present-day events similar to kind of humour that’s become rather standard in ‘Family Guy’. ‘Ted’ is truly at its best in scenes such as: ‘Ted’s Party’, in which Sam J. Jones, the actor who portrayed ‘Flash Gordon’ in the 1980 sci-fi classic, begins envisioning ‘Ted’s next-door neighbour as the super-villain: ‘Ming the Merciless’ whilst high on cocaine, or when ‘Ted’ engages in a fist-fight with a duck named after actor James Franco. As these moments are usually hilarious simply because of their outlandish nature.

Overall, I think ‘Ted’ is a decently fun comedy flick, as whilst there is definitely room for improvement, Seth Macfarlane does a pretty great job considering this was his directorial debut. While I could see many not enjoying ‘Ted’ mostly due to their preference when it comes to humour (or because of its admittedly average filmmaking). I personally feel that ‘Ted’ is Macfarlane’s best film to date, as ‘A Million Ways to Die in the West’ and even this film’s sequel: ‘Ted 2’, were both very disappointing for me. A 7/10 in total. Although it needs work, I’m sure most will find ‘Ted’ amusing over the course of its runtime.

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Bone Tomahawk (2015) – Film Review

Brutal, tense and compelling, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is one of those rare films that isn’t afraid to mass-up genres, as throughout the film we go from a violent horror to a classic western and back again, all without the film ever feeling as if it’s tone is unclear. Whilst I have always enjoyed classics such as: ‘True Grit’ or ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’, I don’t think this is just down to personal bias towards westerns however, as ‘Bone Tomahawk’ definitely excels in more aspects than one when it comes to this genre.

Plot Summary: In the dying days of the old west, an outlaw unknowingly leads a band of cannibals to the small town of: ‘Bright Hope’. Leaving the town’s elderly sheriff and his posse to set out on a mission to rescue the town’s residents from the tribe of savage cave dwellers.

Directed by S. Craig Zahler (Brawl in Cell Block 99, Dragged Across Concrete). This underrated director has always had a talent for gritty storytelling, this time crafting a narrative which is both very engaging and tense (despite being fairly straightforward and simplistic overall). In addition to this, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ manages to perfectly capture the tone of a classic western, and sometimes even elements of 1970s horror. As the film actually reminded me of: ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ at multiple points, although this may just be coincidental.

Kurt Russell leads the brilliant cast of Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, Richard Jenkins and Lili Simmons very well. As throughout the runtime all of the characters receive a decent amount of characterisation, with each member of the cast having at least one scene between them. My only issue when it comes to the characters is the lack of a flushed-out character-arc for Kurt Russell’s protagonist: ‘Sheriff Hunt’. As although his character is explored within the film’s story (usually subtlety through dialogue). I personally feel his character-arc was never developed quite as much as it could’ve been, despite the fact that this would’ve resulted in a more investing protagonist.

Although the film features a little too much hand-held camera in my opinion, the cinematography by Benji Bakshi is mostly solid throughout. As the film contains plenty of attractive shots, a few of which even feel like throwbacks to iconic shots from old westerns. The cinematography also makes great use of the film’s variety of remote locations, as the comfort of the small town feels completely distant when compared to the barren rocky landscapes where the cannibals thrive, usually resulting in a very tense atmosphere.

The original score by Jeff Herriott and S. Craig Zahler himself is very similar to the tone of the film, in the sense that it’s a perfect mixture between western and horror. As the soundtrack utilizes trumpets and acoustic guitars to perfectly fit with the western visuals, before then completely changing to tenser and more uncomfortable tracks, putting the viewer on-edge. However, the original score also manages to have a genuine feeling of tragedy within it, as the score uses intense violin strokes to envoke emotion wherever possible. Especially in the track: ‘Four Doomed Men Ride Out’, which fits this idea perfectly.

Of course, the scene that ‘Bone Tomahawk’ is most known for is without a doubt its infamously violent scene set within the cannibal’s cave, and whilst this scene may be extremely disturbing for a large majority of viewers, I do feel that is director S. Craig Zahler’s exact intention. As this moment perfectly displays the horrific nature of the cannibalistic tribe, truly playing into their merciless and barbaric ways of life (despite not actually being that heavily present throughout the story). This scene also displays a range of excellent practical gore effects, making this savage moment even more difficult to watch through its gruesome realism alongside the agonising screams of the cannibal’s victim(s).

For the most part, ‘Bone Tomahawk’ definitely achieves what it sets-out to accomplish, as although the film won’t appeal to everyone through its simplistic plot, slow-pacing and graphic violence, the film utilizes it’s great performances and isolated locations pretty effectively, resulting in a film that’s just as enjoyable as many other classic westerns despite being a little bland in a few areas. Overall, a decent 7/10 for me. I personally can’t wait to see more of S. Craig Zahler’s work in the future, as I feel this director has some real promise when it comes to telling dark yet gripping stories.

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