Jack and Jill (2011) – Film Review

After releasing a handful of lethargic comedies near the end of the 2000s, Adam Sandler and his production company, Happy Madison Productions, reached their lowest point in 2011 as Sandler was offered over £14 million to co-write and star in Jack and Jill. A rarely amusing, oddly boring and so gratingly sophomoric comedy that much of it plays with the same level of enjoyment as a high-pitched vocalist screeching into your ear. Packed with cringe-worthy jokes and overt product placement, in many ways, Jack and Jill feels like the result of Adam Sandler using an entire film to express just how cynical and contemptuous he has now become towards his famed comedy persona.

Plot Summary: Living his perfect life in Los Angeles with a beautiful wife and children, successful advertising executive, Jack Sadelstein, dreads only one thing each and every year; the Thanksgiving visit of his passive-aggressive twin sister, Jill. But as Jack eagerly awaits for his sister to depart, renowned actor, Al Pacino, whom Jack desperately needs to star in a project, takes a shine to Jill, forcing Jack to reluctantly extend his sister’s visit…

Co-written by Steve Koren and Adam Sandler, and directed by Dennis Dugan (Happy GilmoreBig DaddyI Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry). The screenplay for Jack and Jill is often so leaden and formulaic that nearly any audience member will be able to predict where the story goes next as the film follows the typical plot of a dysfunctional family coming together with a sprinkling of pop culture references and numerous offensive gags parodying Indians, Mexicans and Jews, for good measure. Going off the film’s title, it’s also understandable that many would assume Jack and Jill has some kind of relation to the 18th-century nursery rhyme of the same name, which focuses on a boy named, Jack, and a girl named, Jill, as they embark on a journey to collect a pale of water. But, in actuality, the film has no relation to the nursery rhyme beyond its protagonist’s names, which begs the question; why is the film even called Jack and Jill aside from the simple use of alliteration?

In regard to the cast, Adam Sandler portrays Jack Sadelstein similar to how he portrays many of his characters, being a hassled family man whose needy, obnoxious twin sister, Jill, has come to stay for Thanksgiving and subsequently ruin his peaceful existence, once again portrayed by Sandler in profoundly unhilarious drag. What makes this worse, however, is that Sandler is at his most irritating when portraying Jill, raising his voice to be annoying as possible and further fit with her incredibly unlikeable characterisation, being self-absorbed and idiotic to an unbelievable degree. She’s an entirely overbearing character completely oblivious to social cues and seemingly has unresolved incestuous feelings for her brother, which is frequently played for laughs yet is an exceptionally strange choice on behalf of the screenwriters. Then there is Katie Holmes as Jack’s wholesome, good-natured wife, whose performance is dull and generic much like her character. And lastly, there is, of course, Al Pacino, who gives a surprisingly committed performance, continually mocking himself and his lengthy career for the sake of a cheap gag.

Sadly, even legendary cinematographer, Dean Cundey, who has worked on many iconic films from Back to the Future to Jurassic Park and Apollo 13, among many others, isn’t at his best here as the camerawork throughout Jack and Jill is relentlessly uninteresting, being nothing but mid-shot after mid-shot. Moreover, poor editing choices and terrible CG effects (of which there are a startling amount) are very frequent, distracting from much of the ‘comedy’ on-screen.

Placing most of the auditory focus on well-known songs such as I Got You Babe, Vacation and I’m a Believer, it’s easy to predict that the original score for Jack and Jill by Rupert Gregson-Williams and Waddy Wachtel isn’t very memorable. In fact, the score is barely even noticeable in the majority of the scenes it’s featured in.

If all of this wasn’t enough, Jack and Jill was actually the first film in Razzie history to win in every category in a single year, this included: Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Actor, Worst Actress, Worst Supporting Actor, Worst Supporting Actress, Worst Screen Couple, Worst Screen Ensemble and even Worst Prequel, Remake, Rip-Off or Sequel as many believe that Jack and Jill is a rip-off of the exploitation-drama; Glen or Glenda from 1953. This record was previously held by the psychological horror, I Know Who Killed Me with eight awards, including Worst Picture of 2007.

In summary, Jack and Jill is a truly unbearable comedy. With the exception of a few humorous moments and the genuinely charming interviews with real-life twins that bookend the film, this modern comedy has so little to offer it’s frankly impossible to recommend on any level. Still, undoubtedly the most disappointing part of Jack and Jill is that only three years before its release, Adam Sandler headlined the delightful comedy-drama; Funny People, a film that actively poked fun at Sandler’s long list of appalling comedies. This lead many to believe that Sandler was finished with these slothful releases once and for all, but evidently, this was far from the case. Rating: 2/10.

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Zookeeper (2011) – Film Review

Another lacklustre comedy from the ill-famed Happy Madison Productions, ‘Zookeeper,’ released in 2011, serves as nothing more than a Adam Sandler-perpetrated ego project for Kevin James, as director Frank Coraci (The Wedding Singer, Click, Here Comes the Boom) adds little flair to a sodden screenplay riddled with clichés, overly long scenes and gags inappropriate for the young viewers that would be intrigued by its juvenile storyline. Essentially leaving ‘Zookeeper’ a film that feels as if it was made for no one, despite the film supposedly being a family-comedy.

Plot Summary: When kind-hearted: ‘Griffin Keyes,’ the head zookeeper at the Franklin Park Zoo, considers leaving his profession for a more glamorous career to impress his ex-girlfriend, the animals within the zoo begin to panic at the thought of their favourite zookeeper departing. So, to keep him from leaving, the animals decide to break their code of silence, revealing to ‘Griffin’ their ability to speak before offering to teach him the rules of courtship…

Shockingly, the screenplay for: ‘Zookeeper’ has five credited writers (Kevin James being one of them), and yet the story/dialogue is neither interesting nor memorable, stealing many of its ideas from other live-action animal flicks such as: ‘Dr. Dolittle’ and ‘Marmaduke.’ However, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue if ‘Zookeeper’ was amusing or heart-warming, but unfortunately, the film falls flat in both of these areas, as instead of exploring the life of an animal born in captivity for comedic and sentimental purposes alike, the film lazily relies on montages to establish a tone and suggest a friendship between ‘Griffin’ and the various zoo animals, when he isn’t taking a pounding with pratfalls and bicycle spills, of course, a.k.a. Kevin James’ usual form of comedy.

Speaking of Kevin James, James is truly one of the most notable ‘love him or hate him’ actors in film. Having been in a number of roles as the supposedly loveable all-American hero who relies just as much on his weight as he does his comedic timing to get a laugh out of his audience, its not difficult to see why many don’t enjoy his on-screen presence, myself included. But in ‘Zookeeper,’ James is surprisingly bearable, portraying ‘Griffin’ as a likeable guy who feels more comfortable around animals than people after being dumped by his girlfriend when he proposed to her five years prior, Rosario Dawson as ‘Kate,’ however, is given very little to work with as ‘Griffin’s work colleague and obvious love interest. The numerous animals within the zoo are also voiced by a star-studded yet ultimately squandered cast, with Nick Nolte, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Maya Rudolph, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Faizon Love and even Adam Sandler as ‘Donald’ the monkey (whose over-the-top voice is the vocal equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard), all being heard at one point or another.

Bland and uninspired all around, the cinematography by Michael Barrett rarely attempts anything beyond a simple close-up or mid-shot, with even the film’s wide-shots being few and far between almost as if the production couldn’t afford to feature any sizeable sets, or something of that description. The only visual aspect of the film that is in anyway beguiling is its colour palette, as all of the evening scenes within the zoo are displayed through dark blacks and blues, a dramatic shift in terms of colour from the bright yellows and oranges that represent midday.

Although composer Rupert Gregson-Williams at least strives to make the score for: ‘Zookeeper’ a little more unique through the use of tropical instruments like bongo drums and maracas, the original score is almost unnoticeable throughout most of the runtime. Alternatively, the film relies on well-known songs for the sake of humour, throwing in musical hits like ‘I’ll Supply the Love,’ ‘Low,’ ‘Easy’ and ‘More Than a Feeling’ in a desperate attempt to make the story feel more emotionally investing than it actually is.

Whilst the film’s CG effects have begun to show their age here and there, the majority of the film’s visual effects are serviceable, this is primarily due to the majority of the animals being real with just one or two CG enchantments including mouth movements or being digitally relocated, as opposed to be represented entirely through CGI. Needless to say, this approach still has its issues, as there are many, many shots of animals standing completely alone where were supposed to believe that ‘Griffin’ is standing just out of frame. But when it came to the film’s gorilla: ‘Bernie,’ the filmmakers actually decided to take an old-school approach, placing an actor inside of ape suit, which sadly doesn’t look very convincing, especially when the camera moves closer towards his face, placing full emphasis on the suit’s unnatural movements.

In summary, ‘Zookeeper’ isn’t offensive or convoluted, it’s quite the contrary, its immature and simplistic, far too simplistic, in fact, as while some children may enjoy the slapstick humour that Kevin James excels at, the film’s mass of adult-centric jokes and typical romantic-comedy structure are likely to turn children off. And although ‘Zookeeper’ is far from the worst Happy Madison-penned film, it’s still significantly less enjoyable than many of the other talking animal escapades you could be watching instead. Final Rating: 3/10.

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Rio (2011) – Film Review

From Blue Sky Studios, the production company behind many light-hearted family animations like ‘Robots,’ ‘Epic,’ ‘Ferdinand,’ ‘Spies in Disguise’ and most notably, the ‘Ice Age’ series. ‘Rio,’ released in 2011, is a vibrant animated adventure which despite its occasionally childish humour and relatively straight-forward story is sure to keep adults and children alike joyfully content without reinventing the animation wheel, compensating for its lack of originality though its charming voice cast and exuberant chase sequences.

Plot Summary: After being captured by smugglers and taken from Brazil when he was just a hatchling, a blue macaw named: ‘Blu,’ never learned to fly and now lives a happily domesticated life in Minnesota with his owner: ‘Linda.’ But when ornithologist: ‘Tulio’ arrives at their door and informs the pair that ‘Blu’ is the last male of his kind, the two decide to travel to Rio de Janeiro to meet ‘Jewel,’ the last female…

Taking inspiration from the true story of a Spix’s macaw named Elvis, whose owner agreed to let him join the captive breeding program to help preserve his species. ‘Rio’ may follow a very familiar formula for a family flick, yet what makes ‘Rio’ stand-out is exactly that, Rio de Janeiro itself. As director Carlos Saldanha (Ice Age, Robots, Ferdinand) is himself a resident of Rio, and first came-up with the concept in 1995, only at that point in time the story focused on a penguin washing-up on the beaches of the Brazilian city. However, when Saldanha learned two other penguin-related animated features were in production, these being: ‘Happy Feet’ and ‘Surf’s Up,’ he was forced to radically rewrite the film’s screenplay. Interestingly, this film is also cited as the reason as to why Pixar cancelled their film: ‘Newt,’ as it was said to have had a very similar plot.

Recording many of his lines while filming for: ‘The Social Network’ was still underway, Jesse Eisenberg agreed to provide his voice for: ‘Blu’ on weekends to compensate for lost time, admitting that it diverted him away from the mindset of his nearly joyless ‘Social Network’ character. And while Eisenberg doesn’t give an unconventional performance here, Eisenberg is, in my opinion, the perfect casting choice for this kind of character. As ‘Blu’s awkward and nervous personality shines perfectly through Eisenberg’s whiny vocal performance, which is only amplified after he encounters the feisty female: ‘Jewel’ portrayed by Anne Hathaway, as their shy romance gradually blossoms over the course of the runtime. Furthermore, the supporting cast of George Lopez, Jemaine Clement, Will.i.am, Jamie Foxx and Tracey Morgan all do a wonderful job, with nearly every member of the cast also stretching their vocal cords for many of the film’s lively songs.

When it comes to the film’s visuals, director Carlos Saldanha uses the exquisitely rendered backdrop of his home city to great advantage, as the film’s animated cinematography is constantly swooping, soaring and spinning high above the sunny beaches and multicoloured parasols of Rio de Janeiro as ‘Blu’ and ‘Jewel’ scamper through the city on trolleys, cable cars and in one of the film’s most uplifting scenes, atop the wings of a paraglider. In spite of its characters always being on the move, ‘Rio’ also manages to avoid the usual problem animated films tend to run into, as the film’s plot moves along at just the right pace to keep younger viewers entertained.

With ‘Rio’ being Blue Sky Studios’ first attempt at a musical, one or two of the film’s songs are catchy, but inevitably are nowhere near as memorable as many songs from Disney’s vast catalogue of animated classics. Yet I feel this may be due to Will.i.am’s potential influence, as many of the film’s songs such as: ‘Hot Wings’ and ‘Funky Monkey’ sound like nothing more than modern, age-appropriate pop songs forced into the film’s soundtrack. Contrarily, the original score by John Powell slightly elevates itself above your standard family film score through tracks like ‘Morning Routine,’ ‘Paradise Concern’ and ‘Birdnapped.’

Whilst the actual animation throughout ‘Rio’ is usually just as energetic and colourful as any other modern animation, its undoubtedly at its best when replicating Rio’s many iconic landmarks, with a large majority of them being almost picturesque. This accuracy is more than likely due to the crew’s research, as many of the film’s animators not only visited Rio de Janeiro in order to precisely replicate the city, but also consulted with a macaw expert at the Bronx Zoo for the design and movements of their avian characters.

Overall, although most audience members have always seen Blue Sky Studios as secondary to more well-known production companies like Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks and even Sony Pictures Animation in recent years. I’ve always enjoyed Blue Sky’s animated endeavours even if many of their stories do feel fairly unoriginal from time-to-time, which may have even been one of the reasons that Blue Sky Studios sadly closed its doors in early 2021 following Disney’s purchase of 20th Century Fox. Nevertheless, as proved by ‘Rio,’ this issue of unoriginality can be overshadowed with the right methods, as the titular setting and dazzling colour palette ensure the film’s place as a love letter to Brazil if nothing else. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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Arthur Christmas (2011) – Film Review

From Sony Pictures Animation and Aardman Animations, the latter being the iconic British company behind many beloved hand-crafted films such as: ‘Wallace & Gromit,’ ‘Chicken Run,’ ‘Morph’ and ‘Early Man.’ Comes a festive family adventure focusing on ‘Santa’s son: ‘Arthur’ as he races across the globe to deliver a present to an overlooked child, and although the film doesn’t feature the impeccable stop-motion animation the company is well-known for, it does make-up for its mostly generic CG visuals through its amusing moments, charming characters and inventive story.

Plot Summary: On the night of Christmas Eve, after ‘Santa’ and his enormous team of elves believe themselves to have succeeded in another year of present delivery for the children of the world. ‘Santa’s clumsy son: ‘Arthur’ and a skilled wrapping elf named: ‘Bryony,’ discover a young girl’s present has been misplaced, leaving her the only child in the world without a gift from ‘Santa.’ Fearing what the young girl will think when she awakens to find nothing under the tree Christmas morning, ‘Arthur’ sets out on a desperate mission with ‘Santa’s elderly father to deliver the forgotten gift…

Directed by Sarah Smith and Barry Cook, ‘Arthur Christmas’ is actually the first directorial effort from Cook since the Disney flick: ‘Mulan’ in 1998, with Smith having never directed a feature before in her career. Yet even with these fairly inexperienced directors, ‘Arthur Christmas’ never gets muddled within its own story, managing to balance its many characters, exciting sequences and themes of family and symbolism/icons immensely well, whilst the film also cleverly answers the question that has perplexed children around the world for years, that being: “How Does Santa Deliver Every Child’s Present in a Single Night?” The only major issue ‘Arthur Christmas’ suffers from as a film is its fast-pacing, which does remain very quick throughout the runtime and results in some scenes feeling very rushed.

James McAvoy portrays the film’s protagonist: ‘Arthur,’ who is likeable enough and easy to root for as a character in wanting to deliver the misplaced present, though I could see McAvoy’s performance irritating some viewers, as ‘Arthur’ is always very energetic, jumping from fearful to cheerful incredibly fast even if it is a nice change-of-pace for a protagonist to have nothing but love for the Christmas season. The rest of the cast of Bill Nighy, Hugh Laurie, Ashley Jensen, Jim Broadbent and Imelda Staunton are all exceptional in their roles as the ‘Claus’ family, adding up to a splendid family-dynamic which the story actually explores a fair amount of.

Just as lively as the film’s fast-pacing, the animated cinematography for: ‘Arthur Christmas’ is very innovative, constantly displaying a number of visually interesting and fairly unique shots, many of which capture the massive scale of the ‘S-1,’ the high-tech sleigh-replacement ‘Santa’ now utilises, as it soars across the sky. Additionally, with ‘Arthur’ and ‘Grandsanta’ being unfamiliar with the modern world due to them being mostly confined to the North Pole, much of their journey revolves around them accidentally arriving at various locations as they attempt to find the young girl’s home in Trelew, England. And each location manages to feel diverse and allows for many exhilarating set-pieces, from the sleigh being chased by the Spanish police force through Trelew, Argentina, to ‘Arthur’ and ‘Grandsanta’ almost being eaten alive by lions after finding themselves on the Savannah plains.

However, the original score by Harry Gregson-Williams is the complete opposite, as the film’s soundtrack is your standard animated score with little memorable or interesting about it. From tracks like ‘Trelew, Cornwall, England,’ ‘Operation Christmas’ and ‘Goodbye Evie,’ the original score is fairly disappointing when considering many of the film’s creative ideas in regards to its story. Still, with that said, the track: ‘One Missed Child’ does capture ‘Arthur’s true awe at the sight of the original sleigh perfectly, as short as the scene itself may be.

The animation itself isn’t extremely well detailed but does remain attractive throughout the story, despite my distaste of a few of the character’s designs that is, as I personally found many of the characters to appear far too cartoonish and even slightly unappealing, particularly when it comes to many of the elves’ designs. These design choices are actually intentional, however, as the animators decided to approach the character designs with the goal of making them feel authentically British and quirky, rather than air-brushed and immensely appealing.

On the whole, ‘Arthur Christmas’ has far more merits than it does faults, as the film serves as a refreshing take on the typical ‘Santa’ saves Christmas story. Interjecting a family dynamic and a large array of adult-centred humour into what is already an entertaining and surprisingly smart narrative for a family flick. So even in spite of its average-looking animation and overly-fast-pacing, ‘Arthur Christmas’ is truly a joyful film to watch with a heartfelt message at its core, and I feel is likely to become a modern Christmas classic in time. Final Rating: high 7/10.

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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 middle-aged husband: ‘Cal Weaver,’ discovers that his wife has had an 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 screenplay 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 everyone 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 film’s screenplay.

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’ (a.k.a. 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 utilised, making his inclusion in the story feel quite pointless.

The cinematography by Andrew Dunn never displays anything that will leave the viewer 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 Bros. Pictures, resulting in many fans of the film having to create their own playlists on Spotify/Apple Music etc. To bring together 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. So 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. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Super 8 (2011) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rango (2011) – Film Review

From the director of: ‘The Ring’ and the first three entries in ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ series, Gore Verbinski, comes ‘Rango,’ an animated western featuring a bizarre cast of comedically grotesque animals. And even though that strange concept may not sound as if it couldn’t possibly work, ‘Rango’ is without a doubt one of my favourite animated films in recent memory, as the film’s entertaining story and classic western visuals make the film an incredibly fun watch, regardless of your age.

Plot Summary: When ‘Rango,’ an ordinary pet chameleon accidentally winds-up in the small town of: ‘Dirt’ following a car accident, he begins to realise the dry, lawless outpost is in desperate need of a new sheriff. Being the talented actor that he is, ‘Rango’ poses as the answer to their problems…

Whilst ‘Rango’ is front and foremost a family flick, ‘Rango’ also serves a pretty successful throwback to classic westerns, balancing plenty of hilarious moments with more serious scenes and even some exciting action sequences throughout its story. The film even features a reference to the icon of the western era himself, that being Clint Eastwood as ‘The Spirit of the West,’ which I really appreciated as a fan of the genre. However, the character himself isn’t actually portrayed by Clint Eastwood, which I did feel slightly took away from the scene he appears in despite its short length.

Although all the supporting cast of Isa Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Alfred Molina, and Ned Beatty are all fantastic as the residents of the small town of: ‘Dirt.’ Each having a western accent which sometimes even makes their voice unrecognisable in Isla Fisher’s case. Johnny Depp as the protagonist: ‘Rango’ is truly some flawless casting, as Depp always portrays ‘Rango’ as likeable and funny, yet cowardly, with plenty of humourous lines throughout the runtime. The film’s antagonist: ‘Rattlesnake Jake’ is also worth mentioning, as Bill Nighy lends his voice to this gigantic menacing gunslinger, actually mirroring the two actor’s characters within ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ series, whether intentional or not.

‘Rango’ is also one of the rare animated films which actually has some pretty stunning cinematography, as all of the film’s animated cinematography is very reminiscent of classic westerns. From extreme close-ups of character’s faces during stand-offs, to wide-shots of the barren desert, to even close-ups of broken bottles hanging above a door-frame, every-shot really adds to the narrative, whilst also displaying the film’s large variety of distinct locations. Truly utilising the limitless potential of animated cinematography. Legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins, who worked on iconic films like ‘The Shawshank Redemption,’ ‘No Country for Old Men,’ and ‘Skyfall’ in the past, was even consulted when it came to the film’s cinematography.

Iconic composer Hanz Zimmer returns to the work once again with director Gore Verbinski, and once again with another magnificent original score. This time replicating classic western scores without taking-away from the film’s adventurous tone. Making fantastic use of both electric and acoustic guitars, tracks such as: ‘Rango and Beans’ and ‘Rango Returns’ feel as if they were ripped straight-out of the golden age of film. The soundtrack even includes a unique western-esque version of the orchestral classic: ‘Ride of the Valkyries,’ which backs-up what is already a very memorable action sequence.

The animation itself is wonderful throughout the film, as ‘Rango’ takes a more daring and unique route when it comes to its animation. As rather than being overly colourful and cartoonishly attractive similar to films like ‘Toy Story,’ ‘Frozen,’ or ‘Despicable Me,’ ‘Rango’ focuses far more on being rather realistic and dirty, with each location always feeling very old and rustic. The character designs themselves also reflect this, as every piece of clothing and every object is coaked in scratches and dirt, giving the film an unpleasant yet not necessarily unattractive look. This animation style also continues to the film’s colour palette, as the pale beiges and browns give the film a true western feel. Due to ‘Rango’s reliance on this highly detailed kind of animation, however, there is the occasional shot where the animation looks slightly dated by today’s standards.

Packed with plenty of great comedic moments, attractive visuals, a great original score and, of course, its marvellous cast. ‘Rango’ stands as one of the best modern animated films to date, as this western adventure truly does anything it can to make itself stand-out. As despite the film’s few fourth-wall-breaking moments (which come across as slightly cheesy) and the film’s sometimes overly fast-pacing, ‘Rango’ still remains an enthralling ride. Although this animated flick may seem pretty unusual when compared to many other films the family can enjoy together, this true oddball of a film is sure to please those who decide to give it a chance. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Contagion (2011) – Film Review

Strikingly similar to current events in the world, ‘Contagion’ explores a scenario in which nearly every country is rapidly infected from a freak virus, eventually leading to a large number of deaths. Utilising some decent performances and unique story structure alongside its effective original score by Cliff Martinez, the film is both very bleak and realistic through its unnerving portrayal of a worldwide pandemic.

Plot Summary: After her return home from a business trip to Hong Kong, ‘Beth Emhoff’ dies from what is believed to be flu or some other type of infection, soon leading to an enormous outbreak across the world. For doctors and administrators at the U.S. Centre for Disease Control, several days pass before anyone realises the true extent of this new infection. Leaving most of the world in the midst of a pandemic as the C.D.C. works desperately to find a cure…

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Side Effects, Unsane), ‘Contagion’ is truly dripping with the Soderbergh’s usual style as a director, as the film is constantly tense and unnerving throughout its tight runtime, with the film even having an element of uncertainty during many scenes, as any of the various characters we cut between within the story could be infected without even knowing it. And, of course, the film has many similarities to the current COVID-19 pandemic, such as the key to growing the virus being a fetal bat cell line from Geelong, Geelong referring to the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, a high-security laboratory for exotic animal diseases located in Geelong, Victoria, Australia.

Despite the film jumping from character to character during its story, the all-star cast of Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Gwyneth Paltrow are all great in their portrayals of various characters thrown into this chaotic event. As our perspective changes throughout the narrative, from the eyes of an average family isolated within their home, through to high-up government officials scrambling to devise a plan. However, due to the film being structured like this, the film also displays plenty of wasted potential, as Bryan Cranston actually appears in the film as ‘RADM Lyle Haggerty.’ Who is only given a few short scenes and is hardly utilised within the story, making the brilliant actor feel incredibly wasted. There is also a similar issue with the internet blogger: ‘Alan Krumwiede’ portrayed by Jude Law, as this character actually adds very little to the overall story and barely interacts with any of the other characters, resulting in most of his screen-time feeling like more of a distraction than anything else.

The cinematography within ‘Contagion’ is surprisingly by Steven Soderbergh himself, under the fictional name of: ‘Peter Andrews,’ and whilst nothing incredible overall, it is fairly effective throughout the film. Having said that, I couldn’t help but feel whilst watching that the film could’ve made much better use of close-ups during many scenes. As due to the film’s focus on a spreading virus, I really feel these shots would’ve further added to the building of dread and uncomfortable nature of skin contact the film puts an emphasis on at many points.

Cliff Martinez’s original score does help to add to the drama and tension throughout the film, however, as the score usually appears during key moments to add more impact to the film’s montages of footage. This is most effective during a scene set in the early days of the initial outbreak, or when the film finally reveals where the virus originally came from, and although the soundtrack itself may not be incredibly memorable, I do still feel it suits the film’s tone very well. In particular, the film’s opening track: ‘They’re Calling My Flight,’ which starts the film off strong by jumping straight into the narrative.

My main issues with ‘Contagion’ are mostly related to the film’s structure, as the pacing nearing the ending of the film seems to slow down drastically in an attempt to wrap-up every aspect of the story, and although I feel cutting between multiple different characters is an interesting way to approach a story like this, I could see it being frustrating for some viewers if one character’s plot is more compelling than another. Yet this is somewhat redeemed by ‘Contagion’s realism. As the film has actually been proven to be very accurate when it comes to its science, even receiving praise from ‘New Scientist’ magazine when the film was initially released in 2011.

Whilst ‘Contagion’ doesn’t break any new ground when it comes it’s filmmaking, the film is still fairly entertaining and frightening throughout most of its runtime, while it definitely has its weak aspects, I would say ‘Contagion’ is certainly worth a watch. However, do bear in mind that I probably wouldn’t recommend this film if you are already in a panicked mindset over current events, as I feel this film could make those who are already concerned panic even further through its mostly realistic execution of a story like this. Final Rating: 7/10.

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Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) – Film Review

Many years after the original: ‘Planet of the Apes’ franchise ended, the series was rebooted in its entirety with a new ‘Planet of the Apes’ trilogy, with these films almost serving as prequels to the original films despite being set within their own timeline. ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ was the first of this new series, and surprised many people upon its initial release in 2011.

Plot Summary: When a substance designed to help the brain repair itself and cure Alzheimers gives advanced intelligence to a chimpanzee named: ‘Caesar,’ he soon begins to enhance other apes in order to lead an ape uprising through the city of San Francisco…

Although I was never an enormous fan of the original: ‘Planet of the Apes’ film from 1968 as I was always overly-familiar with the sci-fi classic purely through its iconic plot twist near the end of its narrative, I personally feel that director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist, The Gambler, Captive State) did a pretty great job revamping the science fiction series. As despite the film having plenty of sci-fi elements throughout its story, the film is mostly grounded in reality, focusing more on being a tense thriller with small elements of science fiction scattered throughout.

Andy Serkis takes on the difficult role of portraying the completely CG protagonist: ‘Caesar,’ and does a superb job of it. As he manages to capture the movements and mannerisms of an ape perfectly through motion-capture (which is even more impressive when considering that the film was one of the earliest to use a motion-capture set-up on location) all whilst ensuring the audience sympathises with ‘Caesar.’ In addition to Andy Serkis, the rest of the cast of James Franco, Freida Pinto, John Lithgow, and Brian Cox are all decent in their roles, despite the film having the occasional cliché line of dialogue for most characters.

The cinematography by Andrew Lesnie is visually pleasing for the most part, having a variety of attractive shots as well as having plenty of movement especially when following the apes sprinting or climbing. The way many of the shots are also framed further feeds into the theme of man controlling nature (which is present throughout the film). Many of the scenes set within the ape sanctuary also link back to this theme, including my personal favourite scene of the film: ‘Caesar Speaks,’ which is executed perfectly.

Despite the later films in the trilogy being composed by the fantastic Michael Giacchino, the original score by Patrick Doyle is decent throughout the film. As while it definitely doesn’t have a variety of memorable tracks, the soundtrack does back-up many of the action scenes and more emotional moments quite well. I also felt the sound design throughout the film helped add to the film’s realism, mostly through the enormous amount of ape roars, squeals and grunts whenever the animals interacted with humans or each other.

The CG effects throughout the film still hold-up surprisingly well, as although the visual effects have definitely aged since the film’s release in 2011, and the CG visuals are for sure the weakest when it comes to the entire trilogy. The visuals effects are still heavily detailed and feel very real when placed into their locations, which is lucky as if not, I do feel the weak CG effects could’ve possibly derailed some of the excellent performances from the cast. Aside from the flaws already mentioned with the visual effects, however, the action scenes throughout the film are handled pretty well, as many would probably know this film mostly for its huge action set-piece on San Francisco’s iconic Golden Gate Bridge.

In summary, ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ may not be the best film within the new trilogy, but it definitely is a very strong start. As although the visual effects may be lacking at points, the great cinematography, decent original score, and brilliant motion-capture all backing-up Andy Serkis’ outstanding performance, all leads this initial entry to have plenty of entertainment value throughout its runtime, and I’d be very surprised if this first film doesn’t make many viewers want to continue on with this sci-fi series. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Source Code (2011) – Film Review

Talented science fiction director Duncan Jones (Moon, Warcraft, Mute) brings us an original, engaging and fast-paced sci-fi thriller with: ‘Source Code.’ Combing futuristic technology, drama, and some short action scenes. All equalling to a pretty enjoyable experience, which I personally believe still holds-up today, aside from a few small issues here and there.

Plot Summary: When a soldier (Colter Stevens) awakens in someone else’s body, he soon discovers he’s part of an experimental government program. Created in order to find the bomber of the commuter train he is aboard. A mission he has only eight-minutes to complete…

Despite this time limit however, the film always manages to deliver its story very effectively, as this sci-fi flick builds-up a decent layer of mystery and tension as to who is responsible for the bombing throughout. Giving the film an almost mystery-type structure alongside its science fiction elements, using the story’s original ideas to their best extent as we follow our protagonist: ‘Colter Stevens’ as he searches for his target over the course of the film, encountering many different characters on-board the train along the way.

The supporting cast of Vera Farmiga, Michelle Monaghan and Jeffrey Wright all do a pretty great job throughout the film. However, Jake Gyllenhaal as ‘Colter Stevens’ is obviously the stand-out, proving that he can hold his own as a leading hero, regardless of whichever genre he finds himself in. Unfortunately however, the characters within the film definitely lack development, as aside from a few short scenes, the film never really seems interested in exploring it’s characters any further it needs to. Yet, with the film’s tight runtime, I definitely feel this was a missed opportunity.

The cinematography by Don Burgess is decent for the most part, never really experimenting with anything incredibly creative, but staying at a fairly decent level for the majority of the film. The original score by Chris Bacon is without a doubt the worst element of the film however, as I simply feel the score doesn’t suite this genre of film at all. Feeling more like a soundtrack from a generic action blockbuster, rather than a slick sci-fi such as this one. In addition to this, I feel the train set (where a large majority of the film takes place) could do with some improvement. As although this is only a small criticism, and won’t bother most, I personally found the set to look and feel a little too much like a set at points, with the green-screen view from the windows not helping towards this. But with most of the film being shot on a soundstage in Montréal, Canada, I suppose the film we received is the best result.

The film does manage to blend many of it’s more outlandish sci-fi aspects with the more grounded science fiction elements very well however. Cutting between the past and the present at various points throughout the film, always utilising the lighting as well as the different sets very effectively as a great visual indicator for the audience. I was also very surprised on my initial viewing to find that the film contains quite a few comedic moments throughout, as ‘Colter’ experiences the strange reality he now finds himself in through some of his funny interactions with the various people on-board the train. However, this did lead me to wonder if the film could’ve been improved should the story have fully embraced a more absurd tone, perhaps this then would’ve made the film extremely unbelievable, but I personally feel this way the film could’ve explored some of its interesting ideas further.

To conclude, ‘Source Code’ is an enjoyable ride, as while I personally find the film much more interesting for its story and ideas, as the cinematography and original score throughout the film can sometimes be a little bland and uninspired (in addition to the film’s lack of characterisation). Regardless, I still find the majority of the filmmaking pretty decent, and it results in a mostly entertaining sci-fi thriller, and a pretty easy watch on a Saturday night. Final Rating: 7/10.

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