How to Train Your Dragon (2010) – Film Review

One of the highest-regarded films from DreamWorks Animation, 2010’s ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is successful in nearly every regard as an animated feature, making many changes to its original source material (all of which for the better), to excel as a brilliant piece of family-focused storytelling. With plenty of memorable characters, exhilarating action sequences and an outstanding original score by John Powell, ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ would soon go on to become one of DreamWorks’ most recognisable and profitable franchises for good reason.

Plot Summary: On the island of: ‘Berk’, ‘Hiccup’, the frail son of the Viking Chief, aspires to hunt dragons and keep his home safe like the rest of his clan, earning the respect of his fellow Vikings. But after inuring a ‘Night Fury’, one of the rarest and most powerful dragons known to exist, ‘Hiccup’ forms an unlikely friendship with the creature, soon realising that dragons aren’t at all what Vikings believe them to be.

The first film to be directed by duo Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois since the Disney classic: ‘Lilo and Stitch’ in 2002. The film adaptation of: ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ makes many alterations to the story seen in the original children’s book. As firstly, ‘Hiccup’ does not have a love interest, and the now-iconic DreamWorks character: ‘Toothless’ is about the size of the ‘Terrible Terror’ dragon breed, his skin is also green and red, not black. Furthermore, ‘Toothless’ gets his name when ‘Hiccup’ first finds him with no teeth. But the film’s producers decided, with the approval of author Cressida Cowell, that it would be more cinematic to make ‘Toothless’ large enough to be ridden as a flying mount. As such, ‘Toothless’ was completely redesigned as a rare ‘Night Fury’, a highly intelligent breed of dragon evolved for speed and stealth with teeth that retract into their jaw when shooting a fiery-pulse.

Protagonist: ‘Hiccup’ is portrayed by Jay Baruchel, a fairly under-the-radar actor. But similar to his character in ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ from 2011, Baruuchel suits a nervous character like ‘Hiccup’ extremely well due to his naturally-anxious voice, making for a likeable yet never vexatious protagonist. Gerard Butler as ‘Hiccup’s father: ‘Stoick’ is another member of the cast who naturally fits his character, as Butler’s rough Scottish voice melds with the hefty Viking leader’s design perfectly. The film also features a great ensemble cast for the other young dragon recruits through America Ferrera, Jonah Hill, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, T.J. Miller and Kristen Wiig, who together provide many of the film’s comedic moments.

The animated cinematography throughout ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is superior to a number of other animated flicks when put in comparison, as the film continuously features beautiful visuals. The most obvious being within the scene: ‘First Flight’, in which, ‘Hiccup’ hops aboard ‘Toothless’ for the first-time as they soar across the stunning land of: ‘Berk’, breezing over acres of forest and past/through cliffs all while being tracked by the camera. Interestingly, many of these dragon-flying moments are also inspired by combat and aerobatic aircrafts, as ‘Toothless’ performs many aerobatic maneuvers such as a ‘Loop and Snap’.

Nominated for an Oscar at one point-in-time, the original score by John Powell is truly sensational, a majestic score that occasionally even utilises bag-pipes in order to further fit with the film’s Scottish setting (which is alluded to by the many Scottish accents). And while Powell has always been known for creating phenomenal scores for animated flicks, with ‘Ice Age’, ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and ‘Horton Hears a Who!’ being just some of his sublime work, the soundtrack for: ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ is by far some of his best, with the tracks: ‘This is Berk’ and ‘Forbidden Friendship’ becoming some of the most notable tracks in all animation.

The animation itself has begun to show its age in a handful of shots since the film’s initial release, but as a result of the film’s many wonderful designs, usually in relation to its dragons, which display different abilities, colours, horns and skin-tones for each breed, the film manages to redeem any shot that feels at all dated. These pleasant designs also help distract from the film’s overly-fast-pacing, as whilst I understand that younger viewers may have shorter attention-spans, the film can sometimes feel as if its rushing through one scene to quickly get to the next.

Although I share the quite controversial opinion of disliking the sequels to ‘How to Train Your Dragon’, as I personally find them much more generic and paint-by-numbers in terms of plot. The original film is still one of DreamWorks Animation’s best efforts, and I’d even argue is on the level of beating-out their previous fantasy franchise: ‘Shrek’ when it comes to its characters and world-building. So even if you don’t enjoy animated/family films, perhaps ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ will sway you into the genre just as it does with its wonderous story. Overall, a low 8/10.

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012) – Film Review

Dealing with heavy themes of loneliness, mental health and suicide, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ may not astonish when it comes to its visuals. But through its strong performances, heartfelt story and well-written script (aside from one or two cliché lines), the film soon becomes a very sincere and captivating adaptation of the acclaimed coming-of-age novel many grew-up with when it released in 1999, now being seen as one of the best teenage dramas in recent years.

Plot Summary: Fifteen-year-old: ‘Charlie’ is a socially-awkward teenager heading into his first year of high-school, used to watching life from the sidelines, ‘Charlie’ soon discovers the joys of friendship, love and music as the free-spirited: ‘Sam’ and her stepbrother: ‘Patrick’, open his eyes to the real-world. But when his friends prepare to leave for college after graduating high-school, ‘Charlie’s inner-sadness threatens to shatter his newly-found confidence.

In a rare scenario, the film adaptation of: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is not only based on the novel of the same name by Steven Chbosky, but is actually written and directed by Chbosky himself. As originally, beloved writer/director John Hughes, the comic genius behind: ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Sixteen Candles’ amongst many other 80s teen flicks, was intended to direct the adaptation, initially wanting to make the film into more of a dark comedy with Shia LaBeouf set to play ‘Charlie’, Kirsten Dunst as ‘Sam’, and Patrick Fugit as ‘Patrick’. But with Hughes sudden-death in 2009 stalling the project, his script was eventually scrapped as he’d not completed it before his passing, leaving Chbosky to take the reins.

Throughout the entirety of the film, the main trio of friends are portrayed wonderfully by Logan Lerman, Ezra Miller and Emma Watson, in one of her first roles following the end of the ‘Harry Potter’ series. As each member of the young cast display plenty of range with their respective characters receiving an almost-absurd amount of characterisation alongside, resulting in all three of the central protagonists soon forming a real bond with the audience through their lovable yet realistic portrayals of high-school teenagers. Well-known comedy actor Paul Rudd also appears within the film as ‘Mr. Anderson’, using his natural charisma to portray a genuinely kind-hearted teacher, guiding ‘Charlie’ to what he believes is his future career as a writer.

The film’s cinematography by Andrew Dunn is noticeably where the filmmaking dips in quality, as despite the camerawork occasionally allowing for some interesting framing, such as when ‘Charlie’ is framed alone with only bare walls surrounding him, visually presenting him as an outcast due to his anxiety when interacting with others. Most of the film’s cinematography feels fairly mundane, with the colour palette in particular, seeming very confined, always utilising quite warm/calming colours regardless of what’s happening within the narrative. However, with that said, near the end of the runtime, the film does manage to impress with its editing as ‘Charlie’ begins to suffer from a panic-attack, represented through the film cutting rapidly between an array of previous scenes, ensuring a feeling of being overwhelmed within any viewer whilst watching. 

From iconic songs such as: ‘Heroes’ and ‘Come on Eileen’, to the beautifully somber original score by Micheal Brook. The entire soundtrack for: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is both graceful and immensely under-appreciated, capturing the film’s many alternating tones, whether that’s its unrelenting isolation, or its upbeat bliss. But my personal two favourite tracks have to be ‘Charlie’s First Kiss’ and ‘Shard’, a pair of tracks that are both truly touching pieces of music, invoking emotion in any listener in spite of their simplicity.

Another aspect of the film I adore is how it represents high-school, as while many coming-of-age flicks usually lean into the idea of high-school being an often chaotic but satisfying experience. ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ never glorifies school, refusing to represent it as either a positive or negative place. This all backed-up of course, by the story’s interesting themes which the film handles with care, never overemphasising it’s concepts in a similar fashion to the source material. Also in-line with the original novel is the film’s apparent 1990s setting. Yet with the exception of the numerous mix-tapes the characters listen to, you’d be forgiven for being unaware that the film even takes-place within this time-period, as its neither mentioned nor plays-into the film’s style in any-way.

Overall, a well-deserved 8/10 for: ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’. While the film’s cinematography does leave room for improvement, for a directorial-debut, Stephen Chbosky really knocks-it out of the park here. Bolstered by its brilliant performances and very underrated original score, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is truly an adaptation to be admired, as regardless of whatever time-period its story is set within, many of its themes/messages are timeless, and I personally believe this is what any other films focusing on troubled teenage characters should strive to be.

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The Babadook (2014) – Film Review

Surreal, engrossing and truly terrifying during some scenes, ‘The Babadook’ is in my opinion, one of the best modern horrors released in quite some-time. Through its excellent filmmaking, astounding performances and horrifying yet also intriguing creature, ‘The Babadook’ attempts to do something different with its horror, going-about its story with far more depth than many other films within its genre, soon becoming an experience that’s just as immersive as it is disturbing for anyone who stumbles upon it.

Plot Summary: Following the death of her husband in a car-crash, the now-widow: ‘Amelia’ struggles to cope as a single mother, as her son’s chaotic behaviour and constant paranoia of monsters makes her friends become distant and even her sanity begin to fade. Until one night, after the pair read a mysterious pop-up book titled: ‘Mister Babadook’, they soon discover a malevolent creature has manifested itself into the dark corners of their home.

Directed by Jennifer Kent (The Nightingale), ‘The Babadook’ is a horror film that has much more to offer beneath its surface, with themes of family, grief and trauma throughout. Based-on the short film: ‘Monster’ also directed by Jennifer Kent, ‘The Babadook’ actually takes much of its inspiration from one of Kent’s real-world friends, a single mother whose son was traumatised by a monstrous figure he thought he saw everywhere in the house. So Kent imagined a scenario in which this creature was real, eventually leading her to create her short film, before then wanting to expand-on the idea further.

The main area ‘The Babadook’ excels where most modern horrors fail is the characters. Only featuring a main cast of two terrific actors, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, with Wiseman only being six-years-old at the time of filming. The mother and son of the film are both compelling characters for very different reasons, as the mother: ‘Amelia’ struggles to cope as a single parent. Alienating her friends/collogues and becoming more lonely and sexually-frustrated as time passes, mostly due to her son: ‘Samuel’. Who continuously struggles with anxiety and his absence of a real father, which makes it challenging for him to mix with other children. This all adding-up to making the film just as effective as a family drama as it is a supernatural horror.

Although Radek Ladczuk’s cinematography isn’t quite as impressive as the film’s magnificent editing, which allows for plenty of quick visual storytelling in addition to giving the film a level of style that I personally didn’t expect. ‘The Babadook’ does still feature a number of attractive shots, which are enormously enhanced by the film’s dread-inducing lighting. As not too dissimilar to the horror flick: ‘Lights Out’ from 2016, ‘The Babadook’ himself only appears within the shadows. So with nearly the entire runtime being set within a dark run-down house (usually also at night), the creature could be lurking within any shot, and occasionally, even is.

Slightly fairytale-esque in parts, the original score by Jed Kurzel may not be a stand-out horror score up-there with the likes of: ‘Halloween’ or the original: ‘Psycho’. But the score is still a fair amount more creative than many other modern horror scores, with tracks such as: ‘Trippy Television’ and ‘It’s Only a Story’ giving the film a very dreamlike feel, sounding almost as if they were composed for a Tim Burton project at points. That is, before the soundtrack becomes a little more of the standard horror affair with tracks like ‘The Playground’ and ‘Re-Writing the Story’, despite these tracks still helping to build tension throughout.

Immensely creepy throughout the film, ‘The Babadook’ himself is a very memorable and frightening presence in spite of his fairly goofy name. As every one of his appearances is always elevated by his bone-chilling sound design, which is very uncanny in a similar fashion to the original score. The only major issue I take with the film is the lack of encounters the characters actually have with the creature, as while many of his scenes are extremely well-executed, ‘Mister Babadook’ just doesn’t have quite enough screen-time for me. However, this problem also extends to nearly all of the film’s side characters, as ‘Claire’, ‘Robbie’ and ‘Mrs. Roach’ all feel under-utilised within the narrative, even though the story’s main focus is very clearly the mother and son relationship.

To conclude, ‘The Babadook’ is a brilliantly-crafted horror, mostly as a result of its atmospheric cinematography/lighting and masterful editing, alongside its great performances and array of tension-filled moments. Whilst perhaps not for every horror-addict due to its sparse amount of jump-scares and very low body-count. Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is certainty a horror flick I’d recommend to most, and considering Kent has stated that the film will never receive a sequel, its clear the film was a true passion project that won’t fall into the trap many successful horrors do of milking themselves into a over-blown franchise. Overall, an solid 8/10.

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Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – Film Review

Exceeding expectations in more ways than one and combining the star-power of both Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is an explosive summer blockbuster which reimagines the comedy classic: ‘Groundhog Day’ into a thrilling sci-fi flick to fantastic results. Directed by Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity, American Made) and based on the Japanese manga: ‘All You Need is Kill’ by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ or ‘Live Die Repeat’ as its now more commonly referred, manages to succeed in nearly every aspect an exciting science fiction film would need to.

Plot Summary: When an alien race invades Earth and releases an unrelenting assault unbeatable by any military unit in the world. ‘Major William Cage’, an officer who has never seen a day of combat, is unceremoniously dropped into the front-line. Getting killed within minutes, ‘Cage’ now finds himself thrown into a time-loop forcing him to live-out the same battle over-and-over again. But with each reset, ‘Cage’ learns to defend himself with the help of Special Forces soldier: ‘Rita Vrataski’, who together, hatch a plan to defeat the creatures, permanently.

Taking inspiration from sci-fi war epics such as: ‘Aliens’, ‘Starship Troopers’, ‘Independence Day’ in addition to the previously mentioned: ‘Groundhog Day’. ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ may have initially had disappointing returns when it released in cinemas in 2014, but mostly through word-of-mouth, the film has since continued on to become a modern science fiction classic, keeping itself distinct through its signature ‘resetting the day’ idea and couple of amusing moments in between its action-packed story.

For a large majority of the film, Tom Cruise actively plays against his usual type, as ‘Major William Cage’ is essentially the complete opposite of his character: ‘Ethan Hunt’ from the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, with most of the character’s screen-time being spent dying continuously in horrific (yet also somewhat comedic) ways, alongside his genuinely cowardly and untrained demeanour. Cruise also bounces-off his co-star Emily Blunt very well throughout the film, with Blunt portraying the complete opposite of Cruise’s character as ‘Rita Vrataski’, a hard-as-nails solider who is a skilled as they come. And whilst a romantic subplot can sometimes derail a film’s story, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ manages to pull its off mostly due to the chemistry between its duo.

Although the cinematography by Dion Beebe does rely heavily on hand-held camerawork, this hand-held approach does remarkably add to many scenes within the film. Replicating the chaos of the constant war that surrounds ‘Cage’ as he tries different tactics in an attempt to survive on the battlefront, not to say that the cinematography doesn’t still allow for the occasional attractive shot however. Much of the film’s CG visuals are also up-to-par, excluding the ‘Exo-Suits’ of course, which are actually practical costumes for the most part. This was done so the suits would appear more real to the audience, which does stop the film from feeling too CGI-heavy during many of the film’s action sequences, even if the suits did weigh between eighty-five to ninety-pounds on-set.

The original score by Christophe Beck is certainly no where near as memorable as the film itself, being a mostly typical soundtrack for a action blockbuster with little charm or even a slight sci-fi twist to help the score stand-out. This unfortunately, even applies to the best track of the score: ‘Solo Flight’, which does at least utilise what sounds like metal-clanging audio effects to add a little more impact wherever it can.

The film’s main issues mostly revolve around two particular areas, firstly, the designs of the alien creatures known as ‘Mimics’. As whilst the CG effects that bring the creatures to life do look superb, the creatures feel a little too similar to video game enemies, as their different breeds are only distinct by colour (being either red or blue), with the remainder of their design being almost identical. While this is slightly redeemed by their unique sound design, it can become difficult to even tell the creatures apart when they are in large groups. My other complaint with the film is with its final act, as whilst the narrative throughout most of the runtime remains engaging and rousing. The film’s final portion ends-up becoming a little more generic after losing its signature time-looping concept.

Since even my first viewing of: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ I’ve always been impressed by this science fiction flick, as while the film isn’t flawless and does still suffer from its cloned creature designs and weak final act. ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is still a far more enjoyable and enthralling sci-fi than many may initially think. Even though the film didn’t thrive at the box-office on its release, it seems with its recent change in marketing to ‘Live Die Repeat’ that many more sci-fi fanatics have now stumbled across this underrated gem, and with a blockbuster as riveting and surprisingly clever as this one is, I feel it can always be praised further. Overall, a low 8/10.

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Where the Wild Things Are (2009) – Film Review

Although its themes and ideas may go over many younger viewer’s heads, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ feels like a film that reflects what many felt whilst being a child themselves. As writer/director Spike Jonze (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Her) creates a moving, thoughtful and occasionally even woeful experience that dramatically elevates its original source material, with a charming soundtrack compiled by musician ‘Karen O’ and plenty of wonderful creature designs and locations. ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is truly a unique yet uncompromising film that sends its audience back to the innocent days of childhood.

Plot Summary: Following a fight with his mother and yearning for adventure, a young boy runs-away from home and sails to a mysterious island filled with creatures who take him in as their king after ‘Max’ makes a promise to solve all their problems.

As previously mentioned, the film adaptation of: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is a large step-up from the original children’s book it’s based on by Maurice Sendak. As while the classic story of a young boy visiting a land of fantastical creatures in order to escape reality has always been a staple of children’s literature, Jonze manages to deepen the overall narrative with his adaptation. Having themes of maturity, imagination and balancing ones own emotions (all of which are presented in a mature and subtle way). In fact, the film’s production company, Warner Brothers, were initially so unhappy with the final product (as it was far-less family-friendly than they imagined) that they wanted Jonze to reshoot the entire film, instead, the two agreed to satisfy both parties by giving the film more time in production.

Max Records leads the cast as the excitable and resentful: ‘Max’, who gives a genuinely brilliant performance considering the actor’s young age at the time of filming. Alongside him of course, is the group of creatures portrayed by the voice cast of Lauren Ambrose, Chris Cooper, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker and Paul Dano. Whose voices all match their respective characters flawlessly. Its the late James Gandolfini as ‘Carol’ who really shines within the film however, having the most memorable design of the all the creatures within the original book, ‘Carol’ serves as a reflection of: ‘Max’s childish attributes, from his tantrums to his jealously and sadness, all of which is given such life through Gandolfini’s performance.

While the film’s colour palette remains fairly vibrant throughout despite featuring a large amount of beiges and browns, the cinematography by Lance Acord is sadly the weakest aspect of the film. As ignoring the large array of stunning sunrise/sunset shots, ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ utilises hand-held camera for the majority of its runtime, which when combined with the film’s occasionally chaotic editing can make some scenes feel a little impetuous. Yet despite not having an overly large-budget, the film’s CG effects do still hold-up remarkably well, with all of the facial expressions of the creatures and extensions to many of the island’s locations not seeming even remotely out-of-place.

The film’s soundtrack complied by musician ‘Karen O’ really benefits to the film’s already calming and mature presentation. From the opening track: ‘Igloo’ through to the more upbeat tracks: ‘Rumpus’ and ‘Sailing Home’, to even the film’s more lyric-based tracks with ‘All is Love’ and ‘Hideaway’. The soundtrack for: ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ doesn’t feel like a traditional film score in the best possible sense, giving more of an impression of a slow-paced yet beautiful acoustic guitar album, which just like the film itself, is immensely underappreciated.

However, one of my personal favourite elements of the film and certainly the most visually-striking has to be the many different designs of the creatures who live on the island. As not only do the designs fit each character’s personality, but every design is also a perfect live-action recreation of the creature’s original appearances within the pages of the book, with all of the creatures being brought-to-life using enormous and heavily-detailed suits from the Jim Henson Company rather than just simply using CGI. The Jim Henson Company are known of course, for the creation of: ‘The Muppets’, whose familiar charm isn’t lost here.

‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is to me, an incredibly underrated modern classic. Despite its few flaws, the film surpasses its source material and then some, creating a genuinely gut-wrenching experience at points. Whilst the film has been criticised by some since its release mostly as a result of being seen as too mature and possibly even a little frighting for younger viewers. I believe the film gets across a number of important messages for children, and I appreciate the film’s more in-depth approach to crafting an imaginative family adventure. Overall, a low 8/10. Even though Spike Jonze may not have an extensive catalogue of films as a director, his work never ceases to impress me, and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ is just another piece of the puzzle.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – Film Review

The second outing of the revamped: ‘Planet of the Apes’ series and in my opinion, the best of the most-recent trilogy. ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ takes-place a decade after the previous film, now taking the story into an apocalyptic world where humans and intelligent apes co-exist. Featuring another spectacular performance from Andy Serkis as ‘Caesar’ as well as a much larger role for the vicious ape: ‘Koba’ this time around (now portrayed by Toby Kebbell), this thrilling and propulsive sci-fi blockbuster is sure to keep most viewers gripped to the screen.

Plot Summary: Many years after ‘Caesar’s escape from captivity and the outbreak of: ‘Simian Flu’ that followed, the clan of intelligent apes and chimps now resident within the Muir Woods just outside a derelict San Francisco. Living a peaceful existence amongst themselves until a group of human survivors journey into their territory in order to find a solution to their colony’s lack of power, soon leading both sides to consider the possibility of war.

Now giving directorial control over to Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), Reeves would write/direct both this film and the following entry in the series: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’, allowing Reeves to really give a sense of continuity within the story and style (not to say the sequel doesn’t retain continuity from the first film). Yet what makes this sequel stand-out when placed against the first entry in the trilogy is its narrative focus, as ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ continuously builds tension throughout its runtime, with much of the film leaning on the two species as they balance-on the brink of a war that could desolate both parties.

Andy Serkis leads the motion-capture cast of apes once again as ‘Caesar‘, developing his character even further after the first film as ‘Caesar‘ now cares for the clan of apes alongside his newly-found family, and just like the first film, Serkis once again manages to make an animalistic ape a far more interesting and likeable character than would initially seem possible. Its the criminally underrated actor Toby Kebbell who shines most within the film however, as the sequel provides the war-mongering ape: ‘Koba’ with a much larger role, having the ape serve as the film’s main antagonist. In addition to the apes, the film also features a number of human characters portrayed by Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman, who are all great in spite of their limited screen-time.

Whilst ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ did feature plenty of attractive shots, Michael Seresin’s cinematography is actually an improvement over the previous entry, as the sequel manages to utilise its dim lighting and overgrown/dilapidated cityscape of San Francisco to fantastic results. The cinematography also helps add too much of the film’s action, as despite the film only containing two action set-pieces, both scenes manage to feel like an excellent pay-off to the large amount of build-up before them. Yet personally, I believe one of the most impressive aspects of the film has to be its practical sets, from the overcrowded ‘Human Colony’ to the decrepit streets of San Francisco, nearly all of the film’s sets are breathtaking in both size and detail, with the ‘Ape Village’ being the clearest example of this superb craftsmanship.

Capturing the bleak and ominous tone of the story flawlessly, the original score by Michael Giacchino is also continuously brilliant, and personally I think very underrated. As immediately from the stylish opening sequence which informs the audience of all of the events that have taken-place prior to this film, the backing-track titled: ‘Level Plaguing Field’ really elevates the scene’s overall emotional impact, with later tracks like ‘Past Their Primates’ and ‘Along Simian Lines’ continuing this trend. 

Although it could go without saying, the visual effects throughout are the film are fantastic, while still perhaps not as pristine as ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’s effects, the CG visuals do still hold-up very well since 2014 and contain an immense amount of detail in areas. In fact, the company that created the apes, Weta Digital, were even brought-back to bring-to-life a variety of other animals for the film including: deers, horses and a grizzly bear, each sharing the same high-level of detail.

To conclude, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is another remarkable instalment in this new series, upping the stakes and visuals from the previous film alongside continuing the story in a meaningful and entertaining fashion. This science fiction sequel is certainly worth a high 8/10, and whilst I would recommend watching the entire trilogy in order to experience the full story of: ‘Caesar’ as a character, if you have limited time or perhaps don’t usually enjoy sci-fi, then I’d say the middle chapter of this trilogy is truly the most exciting/memorable of the three.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015) – Film Review

Matthew Vaughn, critically acclaimed director of: ‘Layer Cake’, ‘Kick-Ass’ and ‘X-Men: First Class’ tries his hand at another comic book adaptation with ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’. Based on the comic book series of the same name by Mark Millar, and serving as a throwback to (and often parody of) classic spy/espionage films such as the ‘James Bond’ series and ‘The Bourne Saga’, ‘Kingsman’ very quickly became a beloved franchise after just its first instalment, mostly as a result of its hilarious self-aware moments of humour and exhilarating action set-pieces.

Plot Summary: When the British spy organization: ‘Kingsman’ recruits an unrefined, but promising London street teen into the agency’s ultra-competitive training program. ‘Eggsy’ begins to follow in his father’s footsteps as he takes-part in the organization’s many dangerous training exercises. All the while, the twisted tech genius: ‘Valentine’, begins to execute a master plan which will put the entire world at risk.

Violent, thrilling and fun, the first ‘Kingsman’ film was actually made partly in conjunction with the comic book itself, as director Matthew Vaughn and comic book writer Mark Millar have been good friends for many years since they collaborated previously-on ‘Kick-Ass’ in 2010 to great success, prompting them to reunite for: ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’. Which aside from a few minor changes, is actually a mostly faithful adaptation of the first entry in the comic book series, alongside also being a superb gateway into the world for any non-fans of the comic series as the film establishes who the ‘Kingsman’ are and what they do, in little time.

Protagonist: ‘Gary Unwin’, usually going by his nickname: ‘Eggsy’, is portrayed by Taron Egerton in one of his earliest film roles, who does portray a reckless teenager very well, becoming an instantly likeable character within only a short amount of screen-time. Its Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson who both steal the film with their fantastic characters however, as both actors play completely against their usual type here, with Firth taking-on the deadly spy: ‘Harry Hart’ who rarely even smiles (creating quite a contrast from his usual romantic-comedies) and according to second unit director Bradley James Allan, even did 80% of his own stunts during filming. Whilst Jackson also gives one of his most memorable performances to date as the film’s antagonist: ‘Valentine’, who throughout the film retains an aggressive lisp and occasionally childish demeanour, a big leap from much of his previous work.

Although not as outrageously creative as it could’ve been in my opinion, the film’s cinematography by George Richmond does serve the story very effectively. As many of the film’s over-the-top and exciting action scenes are displayed proudly and clearly without too much use of hand-held camera or excessive editing. During a few scenes, the camera even begins to spin around the characters as they fight, giving the film a real sense of movement.

The original score by both Henry Jackman and Matthew Margeson has quickly become very beloved similar to the film itself, and it’s easy to see why. As the film utilises its trumpet-heavy orchestral score to create a soundtrack which would fit perfectly within a classic espionage series like ‘The Avengers’, ‘The Ipcress File’ or ‘The Man from U.N.C.L.E.’. From ‘Manners Maketh Man’ and ‘To Become a Kingsman’ to especially ‘Valentine’s theme (which is noticeably more electronic to fit with the tech-savvy character). Nearly every track featured in the original score is both memorable, and usually, also cut in sync with the film’s stylish editing to great effect. 

Needless to say, the aspect that ‘Kingsman’ is most known for is certainly its variety of impressive action sequences, which as already mentioned, do away with the usual overly-shaky and chaotic execution of most modern action flicks in favour of more fast-paced and exaggerated fight choreography with plenty of graphic violence to-boot. Resulting in many entertaining action scenes even if they aren’t completely flawless, as the majority of these scenes do unfortunately still suffer from their overly-heavy usage of CG effects (usually for blood and severed limbs) which I feel does somewhat take-away from many of these thrilling moments, even if they are still sure to impress most on their initial viewing.

Overall, while many spy films may be far more focused-on delivering more grounded and gritty missions for their audiences these days, ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service’ truly revels in its absurdity. As even in spite of the problems this stirring espionage film faces, it still manages to remain an amusing and exciting experience throughout its runtime. Combing its array of phenomenal action scenes with some outstanding stunts and a now-iconic original score, the first instalment in ‘The Kingsman’ series may have now launched a blockbuster franchise, but for many, I feel it will always remain their favourite part of this continuing story. A low 8/10 from me.

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Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) – Film Review

An unexpectedly memorable romantic-comedy from 2011, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ tells an engaging and touching story of a selection of good-hearted people finding love in their lives and experiencing the many hardships that come along with it, and although romance has always been one of the lesser-interesting genres of film for me personally, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ almost acknowledges what kind of film it is. Always taking a simple yet effective approach to its filmmaking and placing its well-written characters and narrative before anything else.

Plot Summary: When a middle-aged husband (Cal Weaver) discovers his wife has had a recent affair with one of her co-workers, his perfect life quickly begins to unravel. But after encountering the handsome womaniser: ‘Jacob’ in a bar, ‘Cal’ is soon taken-on as his wingman and protégé as ‘Jacob’ opens his eyes to the many new opportunities that lie before him.

Directed by Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (I Love You Phillip Morris, Focus, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot) and written by Dan Fogelman, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ actually has a fairly strong script for a rom-com, and although this shouldn’t be too surprising considering Fogelman has written a number of superb animated Disney flicks in the past such as: ‘Bolt’, ‘Cars’ and ‘Tangled’, before later moving-on to more adult-focused comedies with ‘Last Vegas’ and ‘The Guilt Trip’. ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ only features a handful of characters, with every-one of them receiving a decent amount of characterisation and becoming quite likeable over the course of the runtime. The film even manages to feature a couple of unexpected reveals later-on within the story, which only further elevates the script.

The all-star cast of Ryan Gosling, Julianna Moore, Emma Stone and Marisa Tomei are all brilliant in their respective roles, but of course, with three Oscar-winners as well as two Oscar-nominees among them, this isn’t much of a shock. Its the film’s protagonist: ‘Cal’ portrayed by Steve Carell that is the obvious stand-out though, as ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ was actually one of the first films that Carell put aside his usual goofball schtick in exchange for a more grounded-character, as he portrays a miserable divorcee now with little direction in his life, before his eventual transformation into an ego-driven womaniser similar to ‘Jason’ himself. However, on the opposite side of this, Kevin Bacon as ‘David Lindhagen’ (aka. the romantic rival) is the obvious weak link of the cast, as aside from only two shorts scenes, his character and the threat that he poses to ‘Cal’s ruptured marriage is barely explored, making him feel incredibly under-utilised.

The cinematography by Andrew Dunn never displays anything that will leave its audience in awe, yet does still feel like a slight step-up from the usual bland camera work of many other romantic-comedies. The cinematography truly reaches its peak in the scene: ‘Great Dress’ however, in which, ‘Cal’ (now with his newly-found manhood) flirts with various different women on a number of different nights, all the while the camera gently glides through the bar displaying the passage of time through ‘Cal’s large wardrobe of stylish outfits.

Christophe Beck and Nick Urata take-on the original score for the film, which for the most part, does suitably back-up the film’s story and displays a large amount of range in regards to instruments that are used, despite the score overall being far from astonishing. Yet bizarrely, the film’s soundtrack was never officially released by production company Warner Brothers, resulting in many fans of the film having to create their own playlists to combine the film’s many recognisable songs once again.

Although ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ does primarily focus-on its aspects of romance and comedy, the film also handles its drama fairly well. Never interrupting any of its more-serious moments with scenes of over-the-top humour, most of which usually coming from the film’s main subplot which focuses-on ‘Cal’s son: ‘Robbie’ as he lusts after his older babysitter. Occasionally, the film also indulges in a variety of more self-aware jokes, as the film references some of the many over-done clichés that infest films like ‘Notting Hill’ and ‘Love Actually’ through its dialogue, e.g. an immediate rainstorm after a heartbreaking argument/break-up.

In my opinion, ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’ is more than successful in its attempt to craft an emotional and amusing story even in spite of the little innovation the film displays when it comes to its cinematography or original score. As the film’s upbeat approach to its tight plot leaves it an enjoyable flick that fully embraces what genre it’s only a small-piece of, serving as somewhat of a homage alongside remaining quite a leisurely watch itself. A low 8/10 altogether. Whether you usually drift towards this genre or not, I feel most viewers would struggle to dislike ‘Crazy, Stupid, Love’, as simply put, the film is just a delightful experience to sit through.

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The Dark Crystal (1982) – Film Review

Despite the success of the recent prequel series: ‘The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ on Netflix, most audiences still seem relatively unaware of the original: ‘Dark Crystal’s existence, which unfortunately, received mostly lukewarm reviews and massively underperformed at the box-office upon its initial release. Yet regardless of its age, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is still in my opinion, an extraordinary family adventure. Creating an intriguing and developed fantasy world brimming with plenty of memorable characters, spectacular locations and terrifying creatures, all flawlessly brought-to-life by the film’s enormous array of brilliant practical effects and detailed puppets.

Plot Summary: Centuries-ago on the world of: ‘Thra’, the mysterious: ‘Dark Crystal’ was cracked and brought-forth two races. One, the villainous bird-like creatures known as the ‘Skeksis’, who now rule over the planet with an iron-fist, and the other, a peaceful race known as the ‘Mystics’. But after a young ‘Gelfling’s ‘Mystic’ master passes-on, ‘Jen’ is sent-on a quest to locate the missing shard of: ‘The Dark Crystal’ and save his homeworld.

Directed by legendary puppeteers Jim Henson and Frank Oz, most known for their creation of the beloved ‘Muppets’ franchise. ‘The Dark Crystal’ is known by many for being rather frighting for younger viewers, as the film always explores its fantasy world without ever shying away from any of its darker elements. Resulting in many who experienced the film at a young age only recalling it due to being ‘traumatised’ by the film’s menacing antagonists, the ‘Skeksis’. However, despite ‘The Dark Crystal’ giving this ghastly depth to the world it’s narrative takes-place within, the film still suffers from the occasional story cliché. As while I’m sure these ideas were less-familiar in the early 1980s, the concept of: ‘Jen’ being the last of his kind and having to undertake an epic journey does feel fairly overdone by today’s standards.

Stephen Garlick and Lisa Maxwell lend their voices well to the two protagonists of the film: ‘Jen’ and ‘Kira’, alongside the voice of Billie Whitelaw and the late Jim Henson and Frank Oz themselves as puppeteers, and while Jim Henson and Frank Oz both do a fantastic job as usual when it comes to their work with puppeteered-characters. It’s the late Barry Dennen as the most devious of the ‘Skeksis’, ‘The Chamberlain’, who is truly superb. As ‘The Chamberlain’ soon becomes a very memorable antagonist heavily in-part because of his obnoxious high-pitched voice and now-iconic whimper.

Whilst the cinematography by the late Oswald Morris does serve the film’s story effectively, many shots throughout ‘The Dark Crystal’ are a little restricted due to the focus primarily being placed-on the puppets themselves (especially when there is a large number of characters on-screen). That being said, the cinematography does still manage to provide plenty of beautiful wide-shots to establish the story’s various locations, the majority of which are elevated through some incredibly impressive matte paintings and miniature sculptures.

Although I do prefer the original score by Daniel Pemberton for the Netflix prequel series, the score for the original film by Trevor Jones is still terrific. Feeling like a mixture between a classic fantasy score along with some sinister undertones to help build tension. From the film’s signature track: ‘Overture’, through the track that plays-over one of the film’s final moments: ‘The Great Conjunction’, the film’s original score is still an enjoyable piece to hear even if it seems many viewers prefer the soundtrack of Henson’s other 80s fantasy flick: ‘Labyrinth’.

Of course, the main draw of: ‘The Dark Crystal’ is (and will always be) the puppets themselves, as while the idea of not a single human appearing within a live-action film may sound daunting to some, the film’s huge variety of practical effects from the different creatures that prowl the forests/swamps to each one of the detailed and intricate sets for: ‘The Castle of the Crystal’. Every single creative aspect of the film in regards to its designs constantly feels as if great talent and effort has been put-into each of them, with much of the film’s visuals actually being inspired by the illustrations of Brian Froud, who would eventually join the production as a conceptual designer.

To conclude, ‘The Dark Crystal’ is truly a film of its time, as despite the new prequel series helping the unique fantasy series reach a wider-audience, I’m not too surprised this ambitious film has been largely forgotten in modern pop-culture. As the film’s fascinating and fleshed-out world alongside its entertaining story and huge number of amazing practical effects sadly weren’t enough to save it from its eventual neglected fate. Still, an 8/10 for: ‘The Dark Crystal’. Even if this fantastical family adventure didn’t receive the praise it deserved when it was released in 1982, I feel it certainly can now from modern viewers, if just for its painstaking puppeteering work and great character designs alone.

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Inside Out (2015) – Film Review

From the iconic animation studio Pixar, who brought-us animated classics such as: ‘Toy Story’, ‘Monsters, Inc.’, ‘Finding Nemo’, ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Ratatouille’ among many others. Comes another emotional and beautifully animated adventure with some surprisingly deep concepts and ideas to-boot. As ‘Inside Out’ takes-place nearly entirely inside the mind of a young girl, focusing on how her various emotions handle new and unexpected changes within her life.

Plot Summary: After young ‘Riley’ is uprooted from her Midwest life and moved to San Francisco, her emotions: ‘Joy’, ‘Sadness’, ‘Fear’, ‘Anger’ and ‘Disgust’ all being to conflict-on how best to navigate a new city, house, and school. But after a freak accident causes ‘Joy’ and ‘Sadness’ to be flung from ‘Headquarters’ with ‘Riley’s ‘Core Memories’, the two have to find their way back before its too late.

Even though ‘Inside Out’ usually streamlines many of its story’s concepts and themes to make them more understandable for children, the animated flick also never fails to remain both very imaginative and very colourful throughout its runtime. As with the film’s story taking-place within the mind of an eleven-year-old girl, ‘Inside Out’ doesn’t hold-back from bringing-to-life the world within a child’s head, a world not confined by the barriers of logic and psychics. From ‘Imagination Land’ to ‘The Train of Thought’ and ‘Long Term Memory’, ‘Inside Out’ constantly explores plenty of amusing locations and is always building-on its enchanting ideas.

Despite some characters not receiving quite as much screen-time as others, ‘Riley’s various emotions are portrayed superbly by Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, and Mindy Kaling, with Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith as ‘Joy’ and ‘Sadness’ being the true stand-outs of the cast. As their two characters bounce extremely well of each other due to the polarity of their friendship, which also makes for plenty of humorous moments. Richard Kind also makes an appearance within the film as ‘Bing Bong’, ‘Riley’s imaginary friend from when she was younger, who in many ways is the true heart of the film. As alongside his variety of entertaining quirks (some of which do result in a few immature jokes). ‘Bing Bong’ also ends-up becoming a very likeable and charming character mostly as a result of the scene: ‘The Memory Dump’, easily one of: ‘Inside Out’s most impactful and heartbreaking moments.

Filled with plenty of inventive shots throughout, the animated cinematography does add to the film’s already incredibly vibrant colour palette and varied locations, with a constant array of attractive shots, the film’s visuals are always appealing to look at when inside ‘Riley’s mind. Yet when the viewer is thrown back into the real world, the colour palette is far more pale and tame, creating a clear visual contrast between the two.

Featuring a number of memorable tracks such as: ‘Bundle of Joy’, ‘Team Building’, ‘Rainbow Flyer’ and even the track that plays over the film’s ending credits: ‘The Joy of Credits’, the original score by Michael Giacchino is truly one of the best scores Pixar has to offer, even when taking into account their already impressive list of soundtracks. As nearly all of the film’s best moments whether comedic or emotional are elevated by the film’s wonderful score, with many of the tracks throughout ‘Inside Out’ displaying great variety and talent.

Similar to many of the other films from Pixar’s catalogue, the animation throughout ‘Inside Out’ is simply gorgeous. As not only do all of the designs of the different emotions differ drastically depending-on which emotion they representing, but the level of detail on every character and location throughout the film is astounding, with the individual particles that make-up each emotion even being visible during many of the film’s close-ups. Interestingly, when ‘Inside Out’ was in the very early stages of its development, many other emotions were also considered as characters (around twenty-seven in total). But after the writer’s decided to just settle-on the core five emotions to make the narrative less-complicated, many other potential characters had to be left-on the cutting-room floor, e.g. ‘Surprise’, ‘Pride’, and ‘Trust’.

Overall, ‘Inside Out’ is definitely worth an 8/10. Although this animated flick isn’t without its faults, ‘Inside Out’ still remains a delightful experience from start-to-finish, mostly due to its unique story, great voice performances and extraordinary visuals, the film really feels as if there isn’t the slightest ounce of laziness put-into crafting it. Whilst there has been plenty of other exceptional animated classics produced by Pixar in the past, their fifteenth animated feature is certainly one of their most experimental yet least discussed to date, which I think is a shame. As while ‘Inside Out’ may be aimed mostly towards children, I feel this film might speak an even deeper volume to adults.

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