V/H/S (2012) – Film Review

Combining six found-footage horror stories from upcoming filmmakers of the time, 2012’s ‘V/H/S’ was a pretty ambitious indie horror upon its initial release. As while the film didn’t exactly reinvent the found-footage subgenre or avoid the usual problem anthologies tend to run into with its segments greatly ranging in quality, ‘V/H/S’ does manage to overcome some of its flaws through its eldritch stories and unique 1990s aesthetic, yet the film still pails in comparison to classic horror anthologies like ‘Creepshow’ and ‘Body Bags’ or its much improved sequel: ‘V/H/S/2.’

Plot Summary: When a group of misfits are hired by an unknown party to break into a desolate house and acquire a rare VHS tape, they are surprised to come across the owner’s decomposing body sat in front of a wall of video monitors and an endless supply of VHS tapes, each containing a piece of footage more disturbing than the last…

Although nowadays found-footage horror feels mostly played-out and even quite creatively limiting, ‘V/H/S’ does attempt to utilise its concept in the best way possible. Having its wraparound story titled: ‘Tape 56’ explain the other five, as every VHS tape a member of the group watches are the same stories we as the audience are seeing, its just a shame that this central narrative goes pretty much nowhere, only seeming to exist for the sake of the film’s anthology structure rather than to provide the film with a terrifying and memorable climax. But it does help that this segment takes-place in the same house as the ‘Marble Hornets’ web series, also known as the YouTube series that popularised the internet icon: ‘Slender Man.’

Due to the film featuring multiple stories, the huge cast of: ‘V/H/S’ ranges about as much as the segments themselves, as whilst no performance throughout the film is particularly bad, no performance is excellent either with the exception of Hannah Fierman as ‘Lily,’ who gives a very animalistic and continuously unnerving performance in the film’s first segment: ‘Amateur Night.’ Yet I don’t think this is entirely down to the cast, as ‘V/H/S’ does suffer from an overall lack of characterisation, which while hard to avoid in an anthology film where each story is given a limited time-frame, ‘V/H/S’ simply chooses to fit all of its characters into a certain stereotype and not development them at all beyond that.

The cinematography during every segment of: ‘V/H/S’ remains fairly consistent despite being handled by an array of cinematographers, and while the camerawork is very familiar for a grungy found-footage flick, the film’s assortment of glitch/static effects, grainy overlays, footage corruptions and occasionally chaotic editing all help to ground many of the segment’s supernatural elements in an almost documentary-like realism. And in spite of: ‘V/H/S’s lower-budget, all the film’s directors including Adam Wingard, David Bruckner, Ti West, Glenn McQuaid alongside Tyler Gillett, Justin Martinez, Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Chad Villella under the title of: ‘Radio Silence,’ each try their hardest to distinguish their segment from the others.

Being a found-footage film, ‘V/H/S’ doesn’t have an original score, but with the film’s visuals leaning heavily into glitch and static effects, the sound design backs-up these effects with a distorted soundscape, adding tension to a number of scenes. And although the film only features one licensed song, it does fit well over the film’s end credits.

But ‘V/H/S’ doesn’t escape the most common issue of anthologies, as there is certainly a noticeable shift in quality between its segments. As while I thoroughly enjoy the previously mentioned: ‘Amateur Night,’ the second and third story titled: ‘Second Honeymoon’ and ‘Tuesday the 17th’ respectively, are a drastic downgrade, with the first being an incredibly dull slow-burn thriller, and the second being nothing but a cringy retelling of a ‘Friday the 13th’ film as the title implies. Neither of which are very memorable or creative, and feel like a chore to get through. However, these lacklustre segments are redeemed by the last two stories, as both ‘The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger’ and ’10/31/98′ do implement some more inventive ideas even if they aren’t flawless in execution.

Altogether, ‘V/H/S’ has its strengths but also a great deal of weaknesses. Having many of it’s spectacular moments of horror spoilt by weak writing or the restrictions of it’s anthology structure, making for an occasionally enjoyable but very inconsistent experience. So while I personally think ‘V/H/S’ is worth at least one viewing for fans of horror anthologies, just bare in mind that the film never quite reaches the same heights as some others including its own sequel. And despite the third entry in the series: ‘V/H/S: Viral’ being an enormous disappointment for me, I’d still love to see the low-budget franchise continue. But with a prequel titled: ‘V/H/S 94’ being brought to the table by young filmmakers in 2019 only to then never be mentioned again, it seems the future of this series is unforeseeable, even if the first two films are surefire candidates for obtaining a cult status. Final Rating: low 6/10.

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Chronicle (2012) – Film Review

Despite its short runtime and novice director, ‘Chronicle’ is both a unique and refreshing take on the found-footage sub-genre. Diverting from the usual teen horror stories that have completely overtaken the found-footage style for a more sci-fi-esque narrative, which overcomes its gimmicky camerawork and occasionally dated CG effects through riveting moments of action, fast-paced direction and charismatic performances from its young cast.

Plot Summary: After three high-school friends venture into a mysterious hole which travels deep beneath the Earth, they reemerge with incredible telekinetic abilities, with introvert: ‘Andrew’ becoming the most powerful of the three. But as ‘Andrew’ struggles to cope with his mother’s terminal illness and his father’s alcoholic abuse towards him, his friends ‘Matt’ and ‘Steve’ soon realise ‘Andrew’s abilities are beginning to consume him.

Directed by the infamous Josh Trank (Fantastic Four, Calpone) and written by Max Landis, most known for his work on Netflix’s ‘Bright’ and ‘Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.’ ‘Chronicle’ takes a lot of inspiration from modern superhero blockbusters, which in a way is ironic, as cast members Dane DeHaan and Michael B. Jordan would later go on to star in big-budget superhero films, with DeHaan portraying ‘Harry Osborn/The Green Goblin’ in ‘The Amazing Spider-Man 2,’ and Jordan going on to portray ‘Johnny Storm’ in the ‘Fantastic Four’ remake as well as the antagonist: ‘Killmonger’ in 2018’s ‘Black Panther.’ So for DeHann and Jordan, ‘Chronicle’ essentially served as the jumping-off point for their future careers.

Before filming actually began on ‘Chronicle,’ director Josh Trank had actors Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan live in a house together for fifteen days, and its due to this (in addition to Landis’ teenage-accurate writing) that you do feel a genuine bond between the three. As the group of friends act like real teenagers, reckless and immature yet not totally unlikable, which was an important area to succeed in as a large majority of the story early on leans on their antics as they share banter and test how far their abilities can truly go. However, even with all three characters having quite diverse personalities, it’s ‘Andrew’ who really steals the film as a character. As his descent into hysteria serves as a compelling character-arc within the story, and is well-executed aside from one or two lines nearing the end of the runtime, which are reminiscent of a cheesy supervillain quote from an early 2000s blockbuster.

While the film’s cinematography by Matthew Jensen does begin as your standard affair for a found-footage flick, when it comes to the film’s final act it can be quite difficult to tell where (or what) the camera is actually supposed to be. As its during the final act the characters fully embrace their abilities, allowing them to fly, tear through buildings, make objects float with ease and even throw vehicles, with many of their impowered actions being seen through various CCTV footage or onlooker’s floating phones and tablets, resulting in a fairly chaotic conclusion in spite of its creativity.

Also as a result of its found-footage style, ‘Chronicle’ lacks an original score, yet the film still features many songs through sources within the world of the film itself like radios and phones. And while the film does have a more realistic feel because of this, the film’s constant overreliance on glitchy edits/transitions have the complete opposite effect, as the overuse of glitches soon becomes just as irritating as it is distracting considering ‘Andrew’ is often filming through a contemporary camera.

Sadly, in the years since it’s release, much of the CGI throughout ‘Chronicle’ hasn’t aged well. As while some of the CG effects still hold-up, there is such a huge number of effects seen within the film that it would’ve been difficult for all of them to remain unblemished. These dated CG visuals might also relate to the film’s budget of £8.9 million, which may seem like a large amount, but is actually quite thin when taking into account what is required of it. The film’s budget also played a part in where it was filmed, as ‘Chronicle’ was primarily shot in Cape Town, South Africa, with American-designed vehicles needing to be shipped-over for the production, even though the story takes-place in Seattle.

To conclude, whilst the film has its issues like many other found-footage flicks, ‘Chronicle’ is certainly an under-appreciated entry in the subgenre, excelling in many different ways. And since the film’s initial release, there have been plenty of rumours regarding a sequel, with Max Landis constantly being attached and then unattached as its writer. But I think it’s pretty evident now that we’ll probably never see a sequel to this underrated science fiction story, which I believe is a good thing. As although the film does have some concepts which could be further explored, I feel the story of: ‘Andrew’s psychotic downfall will always be the main focus of: ‘Chronicle,’ and without his character, it would seem incomplete. Final Rating: 7/10.

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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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Wreck-It Ralph (2012) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seven Psychopaths (2012) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maniac (2012) – Film Review

Shot nearly entirely through a first-person perspective and lead by a timid yet creepy performance from Elijah Wood. 2012’s ‘Maniac’ is in my opinion, a pretty creative and unique slasher that has been enormously overlooked when it comes to modern horror. While the film does still have its issues, I feel most horror fans will get something out of this discomforting dive into the mind of a serial killer should they give it a watch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ted (2012) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Moonrise Kingdom (2012) – Film Review

Although it may not quite reach the heights of some of his other work, director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel) crafts another wonderful story with ‘Moonrise Kingdom.’ As throughout its tight runtime, the film is filled with plenty of heartfelt moments and mature humour all backed-up by an effective original score by Alexandre Desplat. Resulting in a very enjoyable comedy/drama, despite Anderson not utilising his style to its best extent.

Plot Summary: On a small island off the coast of New England in the 1960s, a young boy-scout and the eldest daughter of unhappy household fall in love after a few weeks of back and forward letters. Soon inspiring them to run away together, leading various factions of the island to mobilise in search of them.

The story itself is definitely one of the best aspects of: ‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ as although the film is brimming with plenty of the usual Wes Anderson style. The film’s story is always so enjoyable to watch, as the film’s two protagonists carry the narrative with great comedic charm and an almost child-like innocence. The dialogue throughout the film is also very well-written, as every character is usually extremely specific about everything they say, leading to many quirky moments.

Initially, the thought of a film lead by two very young actors did concern me, as there has been plenty of films throughout history that have been severely let-down when it comes to child actors in important roles. ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is certainly an exception to this however, as Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are both brilliant as the young couple: ‘Sam’ and ‘Suzy,’ As the two have excellent chemistry and perfectly fit the hilarious awkwardness of usual Wes Anderson stories. In addition to the two leads, the supporting cast of Bruce Willis, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton and Jason Schwartzman are all fantastic within their various roles. Yet even with these brilliant performances, the film still does suffer from a mostly pointless adultery subplot, whilst this does provide some characterisation at points, it felt mostly meaningless to me by the time the film’s credits rolled.

The cinematography by Robert D. Yeoman is your standard affair for a Wes Anderson film, having the usual array of very appealing shots, most of which make great use of some of the beautiful natural locations the film’s story takes-place within. Also featuring a variety of panning shots and perfect symmetry wherever possible, the cinematography even manages to make an ordinary room look far more interesting purely through it’s framing and use of colour. In spite of this however, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ did actually have a smaller-budget than some of Anderson’s other flicks, which does result in the film feeling slightly held-back from taking its visuals all of the way.

Whilst fairly simplistic when compared to some of his other scores, the original score by Alexandre Desplat is somewhat unique and does suitably fit the tone of the film pretty well. As ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ attempts to add a more scout-troop feel to further add to the film’s narrative. In particular, with the track: ‘The Heroic Weather-Conditions of the Universe Parts 4-6: Thunder, Lightning and Rain’ (what a mouthful that is). As this track uses trumpets and horns throughout, almost reflecting how the scouts are woken-up by their scout-master each morning.

One of the most striking elements of: ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ certainly has to be it’s bright colour palette, as the film is constantly dripping with beautifully bright colours. From greens to yellows, to blues, the film is always incredibly vibrant and extremely visually appealing to the eye, and of course, as the film’s tone is already fairly fun and light-hearted, the colour palette doesn’t feel even remotely out-of-place. However, I do feel the film could’ve indulged further into the 1960s time-period, as aside from the occasional mention of the date, or piece of technology, the film never really makes use of the 60s era its set within.

In my opinion, ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ is definitely an underappreciated gem in director Wes Anderson’s collection, as although the film does have phenomenal reviews from critics and audiences alike. I can’t help but the feel the film never gets talked about enough, as ‘Moonrise Kingdom’ has all the unique style of Anderson’s other films alongside a heartfelt story and plenty of memorable scenes/dialogue. Despite not being my personal favourite film from Wes Anderson, the film is undeniably worth a watch if you’re a fan of this talented director. Final Rating: 8/10.

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ParaNorman (2012) – Film Review

From Lakia animation studios, the production company behind many beautifully animated stop-motion flicks such as: ‘Coraline,’ ‘The Boxtrolls’ and ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ to name a few, comes another mostly enjoyable creepy family adventure, thanks mostly to some fantastic stop-motion animation as well as it’s great cast. Even if the film may not be as entertaining as some other films from Lakia’s animated line-up.

Plot Summary: ‘Norman Babcock’ is a misunderstood boy who can speak to the dead, but when ‘Norman’s estranged uncle tells him of an important ritual he must perform in order to protect his home town: ‘Blithe Hollow’ from a centuries-old witch’s curse. He must take on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups in order to stop the curse from destroying everything he’s ever known.

The weakest element of the film for me is unfortunately the story, as although the idea of having a young boy who can see ghosts is a decent idea in itself, almost serving as: ‘The Sixth Sense’ for families in a way. The rest of the narrative never reaches the eerie tone of: ‘Coraline’ or the fun of: ‘Missing Link,’ with the film even attempting to have a few emotional scenes, but most of them fall a little flat, mostly due to never truly having the impact they need. The humour throughout the film is mostly decent however, as whilst not every joke lands, the majority of them do, and the film usually has a range of comedy for all ages, despite a few jokes going on for far too long.

Kodi Smit-McPhee gives a solid performance as ‘Norman Babcock,’ as well as Tucker Albrizzi, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and John Goodman. However, my personal favourites of the cast have to be Anna Kendrick and Casey Affleck as ‘Courtney’ and ‘Mitch’ without a doubt. As the two of them portray two weak-minded teenagers helping ‘Norman’ on his paranormal adventure, with ‘Courtney’ clearly having an interest in ‘Mitch’ which he is completely oblivious towards.

Tristan Oliver handles the cinematography throughout ‘ParaNorman,’ which is definitely a weaker element of the film, as the cinematography simply backs-up the animation rather than doing anything incredibly interesting with the shots, there still is the occasional pleasing shot however, and the cinematography does display many of the miniature sets very well.

The original score by Jon Brion is very reminiscent of classic 1980’s horror flicks, which is suitable considering the film’s opening scene has the protagonist: ‘Norman’ watching a classic zombie film, and while the soundtrack isn’t incredibly memorable on itself, it works well enough in the film to increase some of the comedy and atmosphere when it can, with the track: ‘Zombie Attack in the Eighties’ being my personal favourite for this exact reason.

Unsurprisingly, the stop-motion animation is phenomenal throughout the film. As every character and every miniature set looks incredible, having a creepy and exaggerated yet still appealing look. All with smooth-motions similar to any other animated film, whether animated through CGI or not. In the few short instances where CGI is used within the film however, it’s normally used to great effect, usually to simply improve the visuals rather than taking the emphasis away from the hand-crafted animation itself. And in order to generate the film’s 3D effects, the camera was cleverly mounted on a rig, which would take one shot, then slide to a slightly different viewpoint to take another, allowing for more less movement in the figures themselves.

So despite the film not quite managing to have an incredibly memorable story for the majority of its runtime, I would say I enjoyed myself. As although ‘ParaNorman’ still isn’t my favourite of Lakia’s film catalogue, as I personally feel there isn’t many areas the film overly succeeds in. The film is decently entertaining for the most part. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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Rise of the Guardians (2012) – Film Review

Truly a very underrated DreamWorks flick in my opinion, ‘Rise of the Guardians’ is a very comedic and action-packed animated adventure. Feeling almost like an ‘Avengers’ blockbuster aimed towards a younger audience at points, filled with plenty of heart, emotion and a wonderful original score by Alexandre Desplat, the film is a genuinely an animated hidden gem.

Plot Summary: When an evil spirit known as ‘Pitch’ lays-down the gauntlet to take over the world, the immortal ‘Guardians,’ a.k.a. ‘Santa Clause,’ ‘The Easter Bunny,’ ‘The Tooth Fairy,’ ‘Sandman’ and ‘Jack Frost’ must join forces for the first-time in millennia to protect the hopes, beliefs, and imagination of children all over the world.

‘Rise of the Guardians’ takes a lot of inspiration from the children’s book series: ‘The Guardians of Childhood’ by William Joyce. As the film has a lot of fun with its plot, playing-into the over-the-top ideas of its story resulting in many interesting/unique locations and plenty of little jokes between the characters.

The entire cast of Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman and Isla Fisher, are all fantastic as their various characters. Each giving their character a likeable and amusing but not overly irritating personality, I particularly enjoyed Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin as ‘The Easter Bunny’ and ‘Santa Clause,’ as I feel these characters were definitely given many of the best jokes and moments throughout the film’s runtime, with the actors behind their voices clearly having a lot of fun of portraying them.

Throughout the film, the animated cinematography is fairly decent, as while by no means anything exceptional. The film does make use of many different moving shots, usually having the camera tracking or spinning around the characters/locations to make the film feel like a true spectacle. The original score by Alexandre Desplat is easily one of my favourite elements of the film however, as while this composer has worked on many other brilliant soundtracks in his past, such as: ‘The Imitation Game,’ ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ (Part I and II) and ‘The Shape of Water’ just to name a few. I feel this has to be one of his most underrated scores similar to the film itself, as the tone captures all the elements of wonder, amazement and excitement perfectly.

The animation within the film is stunning throughout, everything from the hairs on-top of the character’s heads, to the many sand effects for: ‘Sandman’s abilities, alongside ‘Jack Frost’s snow/ice effects all look phenomenal. The film is always very beautiful to look at and has a very diverse colour palette, ranging from light blues, to pale greens and dark blacks, making every shot look very appealing and always different from the last.

My main issues with the film mostly revolves around its cheesiness, as while the film isn’t only aimed at children and does manage to reach an adult audience most of the time. The film never quite catches the older audience like a Pixar film would for example. There is also a small group of child characters in the film who play a role in the narrative helping the guardians, unfortunately I found these characters quite irritating, as I felt the film played into their ‘childlike nature’ a little too much, luckily, these characters don’t receive too much screen-time.

Rise of the Guardians’ is one of those great family films that can entertain most children and a fair few adults, while by no means is it one of the best animated films. It’s certainly up there with some of DreamWorks’ other classics such as: ‘Shrek,’ ‘Kung Fu Panda,’ ‘Megamind’ or ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ for me. As although the film may not be winning an Oscar for best-animated film anytime soon, I still feel it’s still a great watch around Christmas, Easter, or maybe just your standard family film night. Final Rating: 7/10.

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