Possessor (2020) – Film Review

Following his 2012 directorial debut with ‘Antiviral,’ Brandon Cronenberg, son of legendary sci-fi/horror director David Cronenberg, crafts a captivating sci-fi thriller with ‘Possessor,’ a film that deals with heavy themes of identity loss and sexual discomfort, all whilst displaying its story through some truly spectacular cinematography and lighting. And although Brandon’s second sci-fi outing doesn’t quite reach the high-bar set by his father’s work, ‘Possessor’ is still more than successful as a surreal and layered science fiction flick with outbursts of strong, bloody violence.

Plot Summary: After many years of working as a corporate agent utilising brain-implant technology to inhabit other people’s bodies and force them to commit assassinations for the benefit of the company. ‘Tasya Vos’ struggles to suppress her violent memories and urges, soon causing her to completely lose control when taking-over the mind of a new subject, whose identity now threatens to destroy her own…

Debuting at Sundance Film Festival in early 2020, ‘Possessor’ has quickly gone-down as one of the best low-budget releases of that year. Or at least this version of the film has, as according to writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, there was an alternate screenplay for: ‘Possessor’ which drastically differed from the version that was released. So much so, that Brandon stated it could possibly become a second film later down the line, encompassing all of the material that didn’t quite make it into the first, which was primarily inspired by two pieces of media, the first being the 1971 novel: ‘Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psycho-Civilised Society’ by José Delgado, and the second being the short film: ‘Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You,’ written and directed by David Cronenberg.

Andrea Riseborough gives a fantastically-cold performance throughout the film as ‘Tasya Vos,’ making it clear within only a few minutes that ‘Tasya’ is deeply suffering from the effects of her job. As each-time she steps into the life of a new subject, she remerges different, finding it harder and harder to untangle her true identity from the one she just inhabited. And it probably goes without saying that as a sci-fi focused-around entering other people’s bodies, the story does explore sexual desire/discomfort, never shying-away from scenes of: ‘Tasya’ being entranced with her new body after taking-over the mind of: ‘Colin Tate’ portrayed by Christopher Abbott. Who also gives a superb performance as the unfortunate host chosen to execute the company’s assassination, continuously switching between two personalities before eventually becoming devoid of all emotion as minds conflict.

‘Possessor’s cinematography by Karim Hussain also rarely ceases to impress, as nearly every shot is both attractive and memorable, with many shots leaning-into the narrative’s themes in addition to providing a closer-look at the heavily-detailed gore effects through an array of extreme close-ups. The innovative camerawork is also enhanced by the film’s terrific use of colour, as the lighting/colour palette swiftly alters from bright yellows to dark blues to eye-piercing reds. But this isn’t where ‘Possessor’s filmmaking peaks, as it can’t be denied that the film is at its best whenever it visualises ‘Tasya’ and ‘Colin’ mentally-battling for control of: ‘Colin’s body, as the film visually-displays this interesting concept of a psychic battle on the astral-plane through a range of editing techniques and creative yet strange practical effects. The scene in which ‘Tasya’ first enters ‘Colin’s mind is particularly astounding, as the film displays fake bodies of the two main cast members, which then melt entirely into liquid flesh.

Many of the film’s bizarre visuals are also elevated to a great extent by Jim Williams’ original score, as ‘Possessor’s synth-esque soundtrack keeps the film’s eerie atmosphere present throughout the runtime, capturing the story’s surreal tone and constantly building tension through its atmospheric feel until we arrive at the story’s thrilling climax. My two personal favourite tracks: ‘Reborn in the Mind of Another’ and ‘A False Reputation’ aren’t exactly distinctive, but both tracks do help tremendously in this regard.

The main issue ‘Possessor’ suffers from is its lack of world-building, as supposedly the film takes-place in an alternate version of the year 2008, but aside from one short scene where we see ‘Colin’s day-to-day job as a data miner (which does at least serve as a comment on the paranoia of corporate overlords and their nefarious activities), the world of: ‘Possessor’ receives very little development and can often feel inconsistent when it comes to its technological advances.

To conclude, ‘Possessor’ is the perfect hybrid of sci-fi, character study and body-horror. As whilst its lack of world-building and compelling side characters do stop the film from reaches its true potential, ‘Possessor’ (along with Brandon’s previous film), definitely prove that Cronenberg’s son has talent for telling harrowing and violent stories, all the while never forgetting to integrate intriguing concepts and ideas. And with Brandon pushing for most of: ‘Possessor’s effects to be completed in-camera rather than with CGI, the two directors may be even more alike than I first thought. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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Steve Jobs (2015) – Film Review

The third film to be based on the real-life story of tech-designer Steve Jobs following ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley’ in 1999 and ‘Jobs’ in 2013. ‘Steve Jobs’ is a gripping drama which interestingly chooses to take-place over the time-span of three iconic product-launches, focusing on much of the backstage drama of Jobs’ life as he attempts to revolutionise the world of technology and eventually become the CEO of Apple Inc. Making for the best cinematic-interpretation of Steve Jobs’ life story as of yet, despite the film lacking in memorability in a few areas.

Plot Summary: Steven Paul Jobs has always been known a major player in the digital-revolution of the 1980s and 1990s, his passion and ingenuity being the driving force behind the digital-age we currently inhabit. Yet whilst his commitment to revolutionise the technological-landscape was more than commendable, it was also sacrificial, as Jobs’ work often took a toll on his family life.

Directed by Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later, Slumdog Millionaire), ‘Steve Jobs’ was actually considered a box-office failure upon its initial release, with the film being pulled from over two-thousand cinemas after just two-weeks. And while I can’t say this is too surprising, as a biography focused around the story of a computer-designer does sound dull at a first mention. In execution, ‘Steve Jobs’ is anything but boring, as the film’s sharply-written screenplay makes for a very captivating watch, and draws many parallels to ‘The Social Network’ from 2010. Which is no coincidence, as both films were written by Aaron Sorkin. Furthermore, David Fincher was once attached to direct the film following his previous collaboration with Sorkin on ‘The Social Network,’ but Fincher was eventually dropped in favour of Danny Boyle after he demanded a higher-salary.

First and foremost, ‘Steve Jobs’ is definitely an actor’s film, as the performances outweigh nearly every other aspect of the film aside from perhaps the writing, with Kate Winslet, Seth Rogen, Michael Stuhlbarg and Jeff Daniels all giving tremendous portrayals of these real-life figures. With Michael Fassbender portraying the titular man himself, and although Fassbender is quite far physically from Jobs’ appearance (with Fassbender going the extra-mile to wear brown eye-contacts to achieve a closer look), Fassbender impresses as usual, presenting Steve Jobs as a brilliant success when it comes to his products, but a significant failure when he tries to communicate with the people in his life. And refreshingly, the film is never afraid to delve into Jobs’ many personality flaws.

With the film playing-out over the course of three different product-launches, beginning with the Macintosh in 1984 and ending with the unveiling of the iMac in 1998. The three time-periods are cleverly represented through the cinematography by Alwin H. Küchler, with each segment being shot on 16mm, 35mm, and digital to illustrate the advancement in Apple’s technology across the sixteen-years of Jobs’ depicted life. And with the camera constantly tracking the actors as they walk through ever-changing locations, the camerawork really helps to make the film more engaging. Director Danny Boyle even integrates some of his signature ‘Trainspotting’ style with the film’s editing, displaying flashbacks through snappy quick-cuts and projection-like images which appear stretched over the walls behind those in frame.

From ‘It’s Not Working’ to ‘Child (Father),’ ‘Russian Roulette’ and ‘1998. The New Mac.’ The original score by Daniel Pemberton is a perfect mixture of minimalist electronic and grand orchestral tracks, encapsulating both the technological achievements of Jobs’ career as well as the spectacle of each one of unveilings. Unfortunately, the one moment the film’s soundtrack falters is an important one, as the film’s very last scene is sadly spoilt by the use of the pop-song: ‘Grew Up at Midnight,’ which feels immensely out-of-place when compared to the remainder of the film’s score.

Whilst ‘Steve Jobs’ is well-written on all regards, with much of the film’s dialogue being continuously witty and humorous in addition to playing-into Jobs’ God-complex and smug nature. However, with that said, a large amount of the film’s writing also relies on tech-specific dialogue, with everything from circuit boards to graphical interfaces and binary code all being casually mentioned in conversations, which I imagine could be fairly confusing for some viewers depending on how familiar they may be with that terminology.

In conclusion, ‘Steve Jobs’ is certainly one of the better biographies in recent years. Although I’m sure many will still be disinterested in the film purely for its main focus, the film does have a lot to offer, and in my opinion not only excels past the previous films based on the story the late tech-designer, but also the novel: ‘Pirates of Silicon Valley’ which the screenplay actually takes heavy-inspiration from. And even in spite of several of Jobs’ associates claiming the film doesn’t represent the man they knew, just like Mark Zuckerberg in ‘The Social Network,’ this version of Jobs is very much a creation of its writer, and what a sensational creation it is. Final Rating: 8/10.

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The Invitation (2015) – Film Review

A fairly subdued but very effective thriller, ‘The Invitation’ released in 2015, builds-up an almost absurd amount of tension over the course of its ninety-nine-minute runtime, maintaining the intrigue within its plot whilst also constantly defying the viewer’s expectations. Although the film does eventually devolve into generic slasher-territory for its final act, this indie thriller utilises its confined location and fantastic performances so effectively that it soon overcomes the majority of its flaws.

Plot Summary: After ‘Will’ and his girlfriend: ‘Kira’ accept a formal invitation to a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills hosted by his ex-wife: ‘Eden’ and her new husband, ‘Will’ begins to feel unsettled as his ex-wife seems overly-eager to reunite with her previous lover and the friends she lost contact with over two years ago. But as the dinner party continues, ‘Will’ is presented with mounting evidence that their hosts have a more sinister agenda…

Directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer’s Body, Destroyer), ‘The Invitation’ is a low-budget film in the best possible way, as the director and writers had complete creative-control over the project due to it being produced without any involvement from major production companies. This is more than likely why the film lacks any unnecessary jump-scares or a forced cliffhanger ending to serve as sequel/prequel bait. Instead, the story has strong underlining themes of past trauma, as the protagonist: ‘Will’ along with his ex-wife: ‘Eden’ both share a dark past which looms over their present-day lives.

Logan Marshall-Green portrays: ‘Will’ very well, as the excellent character-writing combined with Marshall-Green’s performance make ‘Will’ feel like not only a realistic character, but also somewhat of a stand-in for the audience themselves. As upon ‘Will’s arrival at the party, he immediately suspects that something is wrong, as he analyses the small yet strange details of their hosts. But obviously its also understandable as to why the other guests question or even just deny his claims, as his traumatic background makes him appear almost jealous that his ex-wife has moved on from their past in search of happiness. The rest of the cast of Tammy Blanchard, Emayatzy Corinealdi, John Carroll Lynch and Toby Huss (just to name a few), are all also stellar in their respective roles.

Everything from the film’s colour palette to its lighting to its cinematography by Bobby Shore, all visually-display the contrast between the story’s cozy setting and the tension and discomfort that is building throughout the narrative. As the film’s visuals are intentionally quite dim and warm in order to relate to the idea of the lavish house being a safe environment, when in reality, something far more ominous is at work, which in a way is also visually-represented through the darkness of the night creeping its way into the house via the windows. Additionally, the film’s huge amount of variety when it comes to its camerawork helps to make ‘The Invitation’ a more engrossing experience, as with the film mostly relying on its structure of every combination of characters slinking away into the next room for a conversation, it manages to avoid becoming tiresome as a result of its cinematography and score.

Speaking of the soundtrack, the original score by Theodore Shapiro goes a long way to accentuate the feeling of foreboding that the story protrudes, as the soundtrack only utilises solitary stringed instruments. This minimalist approach works perfectly, as the subtlety is reflective of both the story itself and the dimmed-down visuals, really driving a knife through the viewer through the simple use of a violin. The two tracks: ‘Into the Canyon’ and ‘I’m Actually Early’ are brilliant examples of this, but in all honesty, the score features so many wonderful tracks that its difficult to pick favourites.

Spoilers ahead in this section for those who wish to go in blind. But when its finally revealed that the goal of the dinner party is to murder all the guests present for a malevolent cult, the film does lose much of its charm. As the short scene we see of the guests being shot one-by-one doesn’t feel like a truly rewarding payoff considering how long the build-up actually was. However, the film does still make an attempt to develop the cult, and it quickly becomes clear that the group share many similarities to real-world cults, with the two most obvious being: ‘Heaven’s Gate’ and of course, Charles Manson and ‘The Manson Family’.

To conclude, ‘The Invitation’ is quite the underappreciated gem, as the film makes great use of its thin budget to craft a slow-burning yet layered thriller. While there are a few minor plot threads left lingering, the film does give enough clues/hints for keen-eyed viewers to find, and aside from perhaps the lacklustre climax, I personally have very few gripes with ‘The Invitation,’ and I would recommend it to anyone in search of a tense and entrancing story with equally entrancing filmmaking. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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A Monster Calls (2016) – Film Review

Based on the novel of the same name by Patrick Ness and directed by J. A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), 2016’s ‘A Monster Calls’ is far from being the simplistic creature-feature it’s title may imply. Instead, this imaginative and soul-stirring drama balances it’s mature themes and fairytale-esque elements to deliver an engrossing and incredibly moving story, which despite its many positive reviews, has mostly gone unmentioned by many film fanatics since it’s initial release.

Plot Summary: After realising his mother is dying from terminal cancer, twelve-year-old: ‘Conor O’Malley’ struggles to accept that he soon may have to live in a world without his caring mum. Until, later that night, when ‘Conor’ is visited by a tree-like monster in what he believes to be a dream, ‘Conor’ sees an opportunity to save his mother as the creature tells the boy he will heal her after he listens to his three stories.

Focusing on heavy themes of family and loss, the film adaptation of: ‘A Monster Calls’ follows its source material very closely, with only a few small differences. One of these alterations being some additional scenes that were written exclusively for the film, including one scene that takes-place immediately after the ending of the novel. But with the original author Patrick Ness writing the film’s screenplay, this accuracy shouldn’t be too surprising. However, interestingly, it wasn’t Patrick Ness who originated the story, as the novel was actually started by Siobhan Dowd, who sadly left it unfinished after her death, leaving Ness to complete the novel in 2011, yet Dowd is still credited as the creator of the original idea during the film’s end credits.

While the film’s supporting cast of Felicity Jones, Sigourney Weaver, Toby Kebbell and Liam Neeson as the voice of: ‘The Monster’ are all superb in their various roles, its Lewis MacDougall who takes on the lead role as ‘Conor’, which is by no means an easy feat considering his age. As ‘Conor’ is a fairly complex character, being a young boy dealing with a very difficult situation he doesn’t fully understand, unwilling to accept that is mother is in constant pain, and more than likely, won’t be able to recover from her sickness. ‘Conor’s young age also makes his outbursts of rage/sorrow more understandable, as nearly every viewer can probably recall the difficulty of attempting to control their emotions when they themselves were a child. The now sought-after actor Tom Holland also has a small role in the film, as Holland actually served as the stand-in for: ‘The Monster’ on-set, following his previous collaboration with Bayona on ‘The Impossible’ in 2012.

The film’s cinematography by Oscar Faura not only manages to capture the true scale of: ‘The Monster’ at many points, but also allows for a large array of visually-appealing shots, effectively utilising everything from extreme close-ups to aerial wide-shots to increase the story’s overall spectacle. The film’s CG effects aren’t quite as impeccable however, as there are a noticeable amount of CGI-heavy moments which have suffered (if only slightly) from the film’s age.

Although the story of: ‘A Monster Calls’ is very powerful on-itself, there is no denying it is greatly elevated by Fernando Velázquez’s original score. As many of the film’s accompanying tracks such as: ‘Dad Arrives’, ‘Big Dreams’, ‘The Truth’ and certainly the film’s final track: ‘End Credits’, all massively help to invoke emotion in the viewer, inevitably adding-up to the film’s gut-wrenching conclusion. Any fans of Bayona’s early filmography are also sure to enjoy the film’s quick throwback to the director’s horror-roots, as the score becomes quite dread-inducing during the first scene with ‘The Monster,’ as ‘Conor’ remains unsure of the creature’s intentions.

But without a doubt the most impressive aspect of this adaptation has to be ‘The Monster’s stories, as every-time ‘The Monster’ tells ‘Conor’ these fantastical tales, the film takes a dramatic shift from live-action into animation, bringing its stories to-life through water-coloured drawings and sketches, which not only plays into ‘Conor’ and his mother’s flair for artistry, but these sequences are also when the film is at its most creative, having the camera fly through splurges of paint and water, engulfing the viewer in an array of magnificent colours and locations alike.

To conclude, ‘A Monster Calls’ is truly a touching and prodigious film. Whilst perhaps not completely flawless in its execution, mostly due to its unexplored side characters and occasional piece of hand-held camerawork, I feel most would find it impossible to not relate to the story in someway. As it’s sublime performances, enchanting visuals and beautiful original score all serve their purpose of complimenting the film’s narrative, which is just as captivating as it’s novel counterpart. And for me, ‘A Monster Calls’ still reigns as my personal favourite film from J. A. Bayona, and I’m hopeful the film will become a window of opportunity for Patrick Ness as a successful screenwriter. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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Jojo Rabbit (2019) – Film Review

From Taika Waititi, the now-esteemed comedy director behind: ‘What We Do in the Shadows,’ ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’ and ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ comes a beautifully-crafted war film with a strangely pleasant sense of humour. As ‘Jojo Rabbit’ really stands-out within the war genre for being one of the first films set during World War II to be an anti-hate satire, telling it’s heart-warming and optimistic story in an amusing yet respectful fashion, soon cementing itself as one of the most noteworthy releases of 2019.

Plot Summary: Nearing the end of the Second World War, a lonely German boy named: ‘Jojo’ aspires to be a Nazi, hoping to one day fight on the front-line. But ‘Jojo’ soon finds his world-view turned upside-down when he discovers his mother is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his idiotic imaginary friend: ‘Adolf Hitler,’ ‘Jojo’ must confront the girl, and in doing so, confront his blind nationalism.

Originally based on the novel: ‘Caging Skies’ by Christine Leunens, the screenplay for: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ was actually written back in 2011. Putting it in between ‘Boy’ released in 2010, and ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ released in 2014 in the chronology of Taika Waititi-penned films. And while ‘Jojo Rabbit’ is certainly one of Waititi’s finest films to date, it is also one of his most controversial. As whilst I personally feel the film goes about its comedy in a tasteful manner, never undercutting the story’s message and mostly just poking-fun at ridiculous Nazi protocols and beliefs. ‘Jojo Rabbit’ did receive plenty of flack from critics as soon as it was even announced the film would contain any-kind of humour, which I find quite unfair on behalf of the film.

The young and impressive Roman Griffin Davis leads the cast excellently as ‘Jojo,’ portraying the young boy as simply a regular kid who has a fascination with this ideology the Nazis are fighting for, even though he has little understanding of it nor its horrific consequences. Then there is Thomasin McKenzie, who portrays the opposite side of this, as her character: ‘Elsa’ is a resourceful and intelligent Jewish girl who attempts to open ‘Jojo’s eyes to the real-world, rather than the warped-reality his fellow Nazis have burned-into him. Scarlett Johansson is also fantastic in the film as ‘Jojo’s mother: ‘Rosie,’ having the most consistent German accent of the cast by far. But it’s the director himself, Taika Waititi, who takes the short-straw portraying the infamous Adolf Hitler, or at least ‘Jojo’s imaginary interpretation of him. As ‘Hitler’ is always presented in a very discriminating way, with Waititi portraying the dictator like a complete tool, only ever having as much information/maturity as ‘Jojo’ does, and occasionally, even less so.

Oppose to many other war films, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ features a very vibrant colour palette, as Waititi actually discovered through much of his research that Germany during World War II was both colourful and fashionable, and was interested in shying away from war films only ever displaying World War II as dark and dreary. So through this, as well as the fairly creative cinematography by Mihai Malaimare, ‘Jojo’s small town is presented as a seemingly celebratory place with stylishly-dressed citizens. Almost as if the town is attempting to ignore the impending threat, only semi-aware that the Third Reich is crumbling beneath them.

The film’s original score by Michael Giacchino is another wonderful effort from the composer, as the score features a number of memorable tracks, from ‘Jojo’s Theme’ to ‘A Butterfly’s Wings’ and ‘Rosie’s Nocturne.’ In many ways, the score for: ‘Jojo Rabbit’ almost sounds as if it’s a military march composed by a group of children, which works perfectly considering the film’s story is told through a child’s perspective. Furthermore, the original score also utilises German vocals to more accurately fit with the story’s setting.

Although the supporting cast of Archie Yates, Rebel Wilson, Stephen Merchant and Alfie Allen are all brilliant within the film, I really do wish their characters were featured more throughout the narrative. As aside from Sam Rockwell’s ‘Captain Klenzendorf,’ who receives a respectable amount of screen-time. Many of the story’s side characters are seemingly only in the film for the sake of a couple of humorous scenes, which is unfortunate, as every member of the cast portrays their Nazi characters as hilariously over-the-top as possible.

Altogether, ‘Jojo Rabbit’ isn’t only another extraordinary entry into Taika Waititi’s catalogue of comedy flicks. But I’d argue it’s his best project thus far, a daring and charming film that simultaneously explores the horrors of war, yet also the compassion in people. And while the film may not be for everyone, with many reviews clearly indicating how divisive the film is with its implementation of comedy, I feel the film juggles its humour and emotional moments immensely well, with its remarkable original score and bright colour palette only helping the film stand further out from the crowd. Final Rating: 8/10.

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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 and combinations 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. Final Rating: 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 never mentioned nor plays-into the film’s style.

Overall, ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ is deserving of all the praise it receives. As while the film’s uninspired cinematography does leave some room for improvement. For a directorial-debut, Stephen Chbosky really knocks it out of the park here, with brilliant performances and very underrated original score, the film is truly an adaptation to be admired. And 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. Final Rating: 8/10.

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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 sudden 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. Final Rating: 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,’ and ‘Independence Day’ in addition to the previously mentioned: ‘Groundhog Day.’ ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ may have initially had disappointing box-office returns when it released 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’ 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. Final Rating: 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 Pictures. Were initially so unhappy with the final film (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 under-appreciated.

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. So, although Jonze may not have an extensive catalogue of films as a director, the films he has made never cease to impress me, and ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ fits as just another piece of the puzzle. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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