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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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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The Amazing Spider-Man (2012) – Film Review

Only five years after the previous ‘Spider-Man’ franchise ended, ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ attempts to be a fresh and slightly darker reboot of the superhero’s classic origin story, yet sadly falls pretty flat. Feeling too similar to the previous franchise as well as never really perfecting any of the interesting ideas the film introduces itself.

Plot Summary: When ‘Peter Parker’ is bitten by a genetically altered spider, he gains newfound spider-like powers and ventures-out to solve the mystery of his parent’s mysterious death. Meanwhile, a menacing new threat emerges in the dark streets of New York City…

Aside from the new focus on his lost parents, the story is far too similar to what we have seen before. Featuring all the classic scenes of: ‘Peter’ beating-up criminals, making his iconic costume (which now has an unpleasant redesign) and of course, witnessing his ‘Uncle Ben’s death. This can make the story feel very bland and predictable for the majority of its runtime, if the film was to come out many years after: ‘Spider-Man 3,’ then perhaps it wouldn’t have been as bad. But due to Sony wanting to keep the rights to the Marvel character, a new remake had to be rushed-out.

‘Peter Parker’ is this time portrayed by Andrew Garfield (The Social Network, Hacksaw Ridge), and overall I think he does a decent job here. As while this version of the character isn’t incredibly memorable, he does portray the character as a nervous and awkward yet still likeable teenager, despite looking a little too old for the character’s actual age. The rest of the cast of Emma Stone, Sally Field and Rhys Ifans also all do a decent job within the film, but are never really given anything interesting to do when it comes to the story.

The cinematography by John Schwartzman is nothing outstanding, as aside from the unique P.O.V. shots from ‘Spider-Man’s perspective, the cinematography mostly just stays at a decent level throughout the film. However, this is easily redeemed by one of the best elements of the film for me, the great chemistry between Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone. As Emma Stone portrays: ‘Gwen Stacey’ (Peter Parker’s first love interest) all of their scenes together are very funny and charming, reminding me very heavily of director Mark Webb’s first film: ‘500 Days of Summer.’

The original score by James Horner is once again nothing amazing, but it does fit the film’s style. Feeling like a classic superhero score, mixed with some more emotional elements, equalling to a pretty varied but not very memorable soundtrack. The majority of the film could be described in this way however, as many aspects of the film never seem to pass the level of ‘decent,’ which is a real shame, as I think this director and cast have some great potential. But this simply wasn’t the film for it.

The writing is definitely one of the weakest elements of the film for me, as the film is full of cheesy lines and cliché moments throughout the story. My main issue with the film however, is the film’s antagonist: ‘The Lizard.’ As his motivation, awful appearance and general lack of an intimidating presence really portray this classic comic book antagonist in a bad light.

The action scenes within the film are nothing really incredible of note, as although they are decently entertaining, none of them ever manage to become as memorable as anything from the original: ‘Spider-Man’ trilogy. My personal favourite most likely being the action scene set in ‘Peter’s high-school, as the scene utilises the location very well. It’s also here when we get a great look at the various different CG effects in bright lighting, and I feel overall they look decent.

Although I initially gave this film a lower rating, the actual filmmaking on display here isn’t terrible, and what the film does well such as great chemistry between the lead cast, ‘Spider-Man’s spectacular P.O.V. shots and the occasional entertaining action scene, I simply can’t ignore. Maybe check this one out if you’re a huge fan of the character, if not, you’re not missing-out on much. Final Rating: 5/10.

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The Woman in Black (2012) – Film Review

Fresh-off the success of the final ‘Harry Potter’ instalment, Daniel Radcliffe now takes on a paranormal horror story in this adaptation of the classic British gothic horror novel: ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill. Yet sadly, the film ends-up being a pretty lacklustre (and even somewhat boring) experience overall.

Plot Summary: In the early twentieth-century, a young solicitor travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorising the locals and stealing their children. But as he begins to investigate further, he soon uncovers a darker history than he initially thought possible…

Although this type of plot is nothing new for the horror genre, the film does attempt to experiment slightly to engage it’s audience more through mystery and tension. This is especially clear in the eerie opening stinger, which is probably my favourite scene within the film, but I still personally feel the film doesn’t have quite enough experimentation to stand-out that much. As I initially hoped due to its distinct British roots and story based on a successful novel, the film would be somewhat memorable. Unfortunately, the film is mostly quite bland, having a few eerie visuals, but nothing overly exceptional in terms of filmmaking.

Daniel Radcliffe portrays the protagonist of the story: ‘Arthur Kipps’ very similar to how he has portrayed many of his other characters in the past. Coming-off as a mostly likeable character with a little bit of development but nothing extremely major, this is an issue with the majority of the characters however, which leads me onto the fairly dreadful writing throughout the film, as the film always talks directly to the audience, usually leaving no-room for subtlety and coming as mostly cliché and cheesy throughout. Despite the rest of the cast of Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer and Liz White also doing a decent job with what little they are given.

The cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones is mostly fine throughout the film, having the occasional attractive shot, but never really anything overly interesting. Although I was actually impressed with a variety of the transitions throughout the films, as many of them really utilised the location they were set in very well. Interestingly, many of the music boxes and mechanical toys in the nursery scenes weren’t created for the film, but were genuine antique toys from the time-period, loaned to the production by a collector, which I feel really enhances the film’s set-design. The film’s original score by Marco Beltrami is sadly also very mediocre however, never really becoming very memorable or unique other than the occasional scene where the soundtrack is overly loud and extremely irritating.

Being a modern-day horror film, it’s also probably not much of a surprise that ‘The Women in Black’ is littered with jump-scares, with many of them even being false-scares, such as birds appearing out of nowhere, slamming doors and loud screams without a source. All of this adding to the mostly weak atmosphere and many slow scenes, leaving the film with not much to offer beyond its pretty average filmmaking.

One element of the film I did enjoy however is the production design, as despite the film definitely not delivering on an eerie atmosphere or well-developed characters. The film does truly feel like it is set in the twentieth-century, as every location/set, prop and costume all feel used/lived-in and are very accurate to the story’s time-period. Personally however, I’m not an enormous fan of the design of the title character herself‘The Woman in Black,’ as even although this may be more of an issue with the novel rather than the film, I find her design simply lacks in many aspects, as every-time she is on-screen she feels very generic and bland for what is attempting to be a tense paranormal horror story.

In conclusion, ‘The Woman in Black’ didn’t really impress me all that much, as while not completely awful, it felt very similar to ‘Winchester’ from 2018 to me. As the film does have some great elements, yet gets completely bogged-down by its overreliance on jump-scares rather than a creepy atmosphere, alongside a fairly uninteresting story and characters, and is by the end of its runtime, a true bit of wasted protentional for a classic British horror. Final Rating: high 3/10.

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Looper (2012) – Film Review

The first major-hit for director Rian Johnson (Brick, Star Wars – Episode VIII: The Last Jedi), ‘Looper’ is a unique time-travelling thriller blending some brilliant performances with exciting action and plenty of interesting ideas, and whilst I don’t think the film will become one of the most iconic sci-fi films ever made in the next few years, the film is certainly worth a watch or two.

Plot Summary: In 2074, when the mob wants to get rid of someone, the target is sent into the past where a hired gun awaits them. However, when the mob wants to ‘close the loop’ on the hired gun, they then send an older version of themselves back for assassination.

Any plot involving time travel always has the risk of a potentially messy story. However, Rian Johnson actually manages to avoid many of these issues by having time travel simply be the framework of the story, with the characters and their actions really being the main focus. Focusing mostly on the tense chase throughout the film, the film’s quick pace gives the audience an easy to digest thriller with plenty of substance still underneath its surface, although not completely free of small plot holes in regards to the time travel aspects, the film definitely makes use of some of the ways criminals could abuse the power it gives them.

The protagonist: ‘Joe’ portrayed by the very underrated Joseph Gordon-Levitt, gives a great performance as a man stuck in a life with little direction. As we see a standard day through his eyes before the story truly begins, giving us a clear understanding of how the future functions and his job as a hired gun within it. Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt also have large roles in the film, as Bruce Willis takes on the role of an older version of: ‘Joe,’ whilst Emily Blunt takes on the role of: ‘Sara,’ a farmer who soon becomes wrapped-up in ‘Joe’s business. Jeff Daniels also appears in the film as a surprisingly intimidating villain, this is also helped by the writing however, as we explore each character piece-by-piece alongside the film’s version of the future.

The decent cinematography by Steve Yedlin and great editing by Bob Ducsay both help give the film a great visual appeal, as many of the beautiful shots back-up the film’s memorable scenes very well. Rian Johnson’s brother Nathan Johnson, also lends to the great atmosphere of the film with his brilliant original score, combing your standard action flick soundtrack with a unique science fiction score, resulting overall in an original score that’s both memorable and also helps build tension and drama throughout the film.

Many of the action scenes throughout the film are also quite well done, as the film truly puts Bruce Willis’ action skills to the test in one particular scene set within a warehouse, which was an absolute joy to watch for me. However, this is actually where one of my criticisms of the film comes in, as sometimes in the film the balance between futuristic and modern-day can become a little unbalanced, especially in one action scene on ‘Sara’s farm. Another issue I have with the film is the element of telekinesis in the story, despite its small relevance near the end of the film’s runtime. I simply felt it doesn’t fit into the world being explored, and was definitely an element that could’ve been cut.

Overall, ‘Looper’ has always been a personal sci-fi favourite for me, as the film really is a brilliant time-travel story juggling a large number of genres that somehow manages not be cluttered. Giving the audience more of a simple narrative with interesting characters, all with a well-crafted sci-fi world backing it up. The attractive cinematography and editing alongside the fantastic score make the film a very pleasant watch. Final Rating: 8/10.

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