The Purge (2013) – Film Review

The first instalment in the now-iconic horror franchise, the original entry in ‘The Purge’ series is a fantastic idea quickly ruined by its poor execution. As whilst the film’s main concept of one night a year where all crime is legalised is both a terrifying and intriguing notion, the entire series (in particular the first film) seem to explore the horrific world its story is set within in all the least-interesting ways.

In the near future, America celebrates ‘The Purge’ once a year, a national event in which all crime is legal for twelve hours. On this night of chaos and murder, a wealthy family soon find themselves hostages for harbouring the target of a murderous syndicate after he gains access into their fortified home.

Directed by James DeMonaco, this director has actually taken-on every instalment of: ‘The Purge’ series from the original film through to the latest entry: ‘The First Purge’ in 2018. According to DeMonaco, the idea for the film first came about during a moment of road-rage when he and his wife were cut-off in traffic by a drunk driver, resulting in DeMonaco wishing you could have one free murder a year after witnessing the driver’s complete lack of regret. While a creative and disturbing concept by itself, ‘The Purge’ series has also captivated many through its many themes. Although mostly focused-on in later films, the various themes of this horror franchise could be interpreted by viewers in a number of different ways, from political to psychological.

Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder and Adelaide Kane portray the main family of the film: ‘The Sandins’, who unfortunately, with the exception of Ethan Hawke as the father: ‘James Sandin’, all give relatively weak performances, portraying the family as excessively mundane throughout. However, this is also heavily due to their characters, as nearly every-character within the film is written as either very peculiar or very cliché, with the son: ‘Charlie Sandin’ having a medical problem which he takes medication for, in addition to having a strange character quirk for building and driving a remote control car attached to a disfigured baby doll, which ‘Charlie’ uses to navigate his way around the house. But due to how specific the latter is, he (and his sister) end-up seeming like nothing more than plot devices to put the rest of the family in further peril.

Aside from one or two shots, the cinematography by Jacques Jouffreet is unsurprisingly quite bland. Mostly unitising mid-shots and close-ups, ‘The Purge’ never really attempts to do anything overly inventive with its cinematography, usually relying on rough hand-held shots. Alongside this, the lighting throughout the film is immensely dark. As after the murderous syndicate cut the power to the family’s home, the remainder of the film’s runtime is spent in nearly-total darkness, which can become a little irritating after a point as the constant dark corridors make the characters even harder to follow than they already were, as the cinematography doesn’t allow the viewer any understanding of the house’s convoluted and confusing layout.

Even though many modern horrors lack an ingenious score, the original score by Nathan Whitehead is fairly uninspired. As in spite of the soundtrack helping to build-up a tense atmosphere during a few scenes, the original score simply isn’t memorable in the slightest and is barely distinguishable from any other generic horror/thriller soundtrack, despite the huge list of tracks the film has to offer.

The most obvious issue ‘The Purge’ has been criticised for is its focus on being more of a home-invasion thriller than what most would imagine (and desire) a ‘Purge’ film to be, as the original film is actually extremely contained, being set nearly entirely within the family’s home and relying on only a small group of characters. While director James DeMonaco has stated this was mostly due to the film’s small-budget and lack of shooting days, you can’t help but feel the film isn’t exploring its chaotic world as effectively as it could whilst watching. Of course, being a modern horror, ‘The Purge’ is also littered with jump-scares throughout, many of which are very predictable due to the build-up to each-one, eventually making them feel nothing but tedious.

Whilst I personally don’t feel ‘The Purge’ series improves much even throughout its future entries. There are still some aspects I enjoy within this modern horror, from its interesting ideas and themes to its decently entertaining performance from Ethan Hawke and array of menacing costumes/masks, ‘The Purge’ does have great potential, but I simply feel it was just never fully-realised. Overall, a high 3/10 for the original: ‘Purge’. While this horror series does have a devoted fan-base, I’ve never quite understood its appeal. As for me, ‘The Purge’ franchise will always have its intriguing ideas spoiled by its dull filmmaking.

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Prisoners (2013) – Film Review

Combining some incredible performances from Hugh Jackman and Jake Gyllenhaal with some phenomenal cinematography by the legendary Rodger Deakins alongside an effective original score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson. ‘Prisoners’ is truly a masterclass in both filmmaking and storytelling. Although some audience members may be turned-off by the film’s depressing subject matter and few graphic scenes, this story of two family’s lives being turned upside-down is nevertheless an enthralling thriller/drama throughout.

Shortly after their Thanksgiving dinner, ‘Keller Dover’s six-year-old daughter and her best friend go missing. After their families contact the authorities, the driven: ‘Detective Loki’ is assigned to lead the case. But as hours turn into days, knowing his daughter’s life is at stake, the frantic father: ‘Keller’ begins to take matters into his own hands.

Directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Arrival, Blade Runner: 2049). Villeneuve is in my opinion, one of the best filmmakers currently working. As every-one of his films is always engaging and visually breathtaking, with ‘Prisoners’ being no exception. As throughout the entirety of its lengthy runtime, ‘Prisoners’ manages to be a compelling, tense and emotional experience that will leave most viewers on the edge of their seats. Making the audience long for the truth just as much as the film’s characters do, with the film’s main theme of parenthood even exploring the idea of how far a parent would truly go to protect their child, most notably through ‘Keller’s questionable actions later within the story.

The film’s main pairing of Hugh Jackman as ‘Keller Dover’ and Jake Gyllenhaal as ‘Detective Loki’ is the perfect combination of two talented actors, as both give brilliant performances as their respective characters with Hugh Jackman in particular, giving one of the best performances of his entire career. Especially in the scene: ‘The Interrogation’. In which, ‘Keller’ repeatedly tortures the potential kidnapper of his daughter, resulting in the scene soon becoming one of the film’s best moments mostly through Hugh Jackman’s incredibly intense performance. In addition to the two leads, the supporting cast of Terrence Howard, Viola Davis, Maria Bello, Dylan Minnette, Paul Dano and Melissa Leo are all excellent, with each member of the main cast adding to the film’s realistic portrayal of two concerned families, going days without rest as their thoughts dwell purely on their missing children.

From the opening shot through to the very last, the cinematography by Roger Deakins is nothing short of phenomenal. As ‘Prisoners’ elevates its already gripping narrative through its many stunning shots, alongside the film’s absolutely superb lighting, which makes fantastic use of darkness and silhouettes wherever possible (a staple of Roger Deakins’ cinematography) which only backs-up the film’s grim tone and tense atmosphere further. Another element of the film that also adds to its visual aesthetic is its use of weather. Being set in a small town in Pennsylvania, ‘Prisoners’ makes great use of the state’s dreary weather for a number of scenes, meaning many shots are enhanced due to the constant barrage of rain and snow within them.

The late Jóhann Jóhannsson handles the original score for the film, most known for his work on: ‘The Theory of Everything’ along with plenty of other films from director Denis Villeneuve. The film’s score really adds to many of its dramatic moments, as the soundtrack mostly focuses on the story’s more emotional and tragic aspects, and while not overly memorable, the tracks: ‘I Can’t Find Them’ and ‘Through Falling Snow’ both fit the bleak tone of the film flawlessly. While the track: ‘The Keeper’ is also worth a quick mention simply due to its impactful feel.

Although it isn’t a major problem, my only real issue with the film is the lack of depth for some of its characters, as ‘Detective Loki’ and ‘Alex Jones’ both have many interesting traits, with ‘Detective Loki’ having a variety of tattoos, rings and facial ticks (many of which were actually Jake Gyllenhaal’s ideas). Whilst ‘Alex’ has the I.Q. of a ten-year-old due to his learning difficulties. Yet, even with these unique traits, I never felt like either of these two characters were explored enough, even with the film’s many attempts at subtle characterisation.

In short, ‘Prisoners’ is not only one of my favourite films from 2013, but one of all my all-time favourite thrillers in general. Through its spectacular cinematography, tense atmosphere and compelling plot among many, many other elements, ‘Prisoners’ is honestly unmissable. Being just another piece of the beyond-excellent filmography of director Denis Villeneuve, this thriller is certainly one I’d recommend to anyone in need of a memorizing mystery. A 9/10 overall. If you’ve never seen a film by Villeneuve, I’d say ‘Prisoners’ is a tremendous place to begin, despite the film not quite beating-out my personal favourite film of his, ‘Blade Runner: 2049’.

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After Earth (2013) – Film Review

‘After Earth’ attempts to be a thrilling sci-fi adventure following a father and son as they crash on a hostile planet, surviving together, and bonding every-step of the way, and with real-life father and son Will and Jaden Smith as the main two cast members, the film should be a recipe for success. However, with some awful CGI visuals along with plenty unexplored story ideas and even some surprisingly poor performances, ‘After Earth’ is far more of a comedy than it is the exciting science fiction flick it set-out to be.

In the far future, a crash landing leaves ‘Kitai Raige’ and his father: ‘Cypher’ stranded on Earth, a millennium after catastrophic events forced humanity to abandon the planet, with ‘Cypher’ injured, ‘Kitai’ must embark on a perilous journey alone to signal for help.

Directed by the once great M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Signs), ‘After Earth’ is just another one of the many duds Shyamalan has directed in recent memory. As while many scenes throughout ‘The Sixth Sense’ will always be iconic and beautifully crafted alongside some of his other work, many feel that this director has simply had his day. As aside from the semi-sequel to ‘Unbreakable’: ‘Split’ back in 2016. Shyamalan has directed nothing but dreadful attempts at horrors and thrillers, before now turning his eye towards the sci-fi genre.

Unfortunately, the majority of the performances throughout ‘After Earth’ range from very bland to simply laughable, as although not quite as bad as some of the unintentionally hilarious performances in director M. Night Shyamalan’s other film: ‘The Happening’, the film isn’t far off this standard, with one scene in particular where ‘Kitai’ is bitten by a poisonous insect coming-off as purely comedic. What makes this so surprising however, is that this acting duo have worked-well together previously in ‘The Pursuit of Happyness’. Yet this time around, the two seem to have very little chemistry with each other throughout most of the film’s runtime in addition to feeling very miscast in their respective roles. As Will Smith who is usually known for being incredibly charismatic and funny portrays: ‘Cypher Raige’ as a cold, emotionless warrior. Going completely against his best aspects as an actor.

Throughout ‘After Earth’, the cinematography by Peter Suschitzky is simply just decent. As whilst the film doesn’t really contain many inventive or memorable shots, the cinematography does make great use of many of the film’s spectacular natural locations. As the large variety of wide-shots do effectively display the true scale of the newly formed forests, waterfalls and mountains that now inhabit this new-era of Earth.

The original score by James Newton Howard is another dull aspect of the film, as the film’s score is barely recognizable from any other action or sci-fi film despite this composer actually crafting many wonderful soundtracks in the past, including the original score for: ‘The Sixth Sense’. The film’s problems even extend into its narrative structure, as during the early stages of the film, ‘After Earth’ bombards the audience with information on this sci-fi world, cutting rapidly between an enormous array of different clips, usually leaving a viewer with far more questions than answers as the film forces its exposition down the audience’s throat in one overly-long scene.

The film’s CGI effects sadly don’t show much improvement either, as the huge variety of creatures within the story ranging from tigers to birds, to savage monkeys, all look less than mediocre. However, to give the film credit, the film’s main antagonist known as the ‘Ursa’, does have a pretty interesting design. As although the creature does share some weak CGI visuals similar to many of the other creatures, the ‘Ursa’ simply has more of a presence within the film, and does feel somewhat intimidating and unique despite barley being utilized or developed. The film’s underdeveloped ideas are even more bizarre considering originally, the film wasn’t even supposed to be a sci-fi. As Will Smith’s first concept for the film focused on a farther and son on a camping-trip in modern-day, which I personally think sounds far more interesting and enjoyable as opposed to viciously-morphing the idea into a science fiction story.

Overall, ‘After Earth’ is a complete disaster of a science fiction blockbuster, as the film’s terrible performances alongside its dismal CGI effects and mostly bland filmmaking, all result in the film being extremely boring and even sometimes laughably bad. Another unfortunate flop for director M. Night Shyamalan, and definitely a huge dint in Jaden Smith’s acting career, as the young actor hasn’t appeared on-screen since. Despite some great ideas here and there, ‘After Earth’ is certainly a low-point in Will Smith’s film catalogue, and is a high 2/10 overall.

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We’re the Millers (2013) – Film Review

Even with a mostly standard plot for a comedy flick, I ended-up enjoying ‘We’re the Millers’ more than I initially expected. As the entire cast (especially Jason Sudeikis and Jennifer Aniston) have excellent chemistry with each other, resulting in the majority of the humour throughout the story working quite well, despite the film having a few noticeable flaws throughout its runtime.

When a middle-aged pot dealer is tasked with moving a huge shipment of weed into the United States from Mexico for a large pay packet, he puts together a fake family of various people he knows from his flat in an attempt to make it over the border.

Comedy as a genre has always been very opinionated, as everyone obviously has their own taste when it comes to what they find amusing. But for the most part, I would say enjoyed the humour throughout the film, as aside from a few moments where the joke was simply one character saying something disgusting or incredibly stupid out loud to another group of characters (as I personally find this kind of comedy a little lazy) I do think most of the jokes land. However, I also feel a few more jokes hidden within the background of shots would’ve also added to the film in more ways than one.

Jennifer Aniston, Jason Sudeikis, Emma Roberts and Will Poulter all portray random people thrown together in the hope of creating this false family, and I would say they work well together throughout the film. Always coming off as a very dysfunctional yet still likeable group, with all of the cast portraying very different personalities without losing any comedic timing.

Whilst the film does have the occasional appealing shot, the cinematography by Barry Peterson isn’t anything spectacular, as the film has mostly generic cinematography for a comedy. However, the original score by Ludwig Göransson and Theodore Shapiro is definitely one of the better elements of the film, as the soundtrack fits the tone of the film perfectly, utilizing an acoustic guitar which always manages to make the film feel interesting enough to be somewhat memorable. Considering the first composer has worked on films such as: ‘Creed’ and ‘Black Panther’ in the past however, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

My main criticism of the film is the overall lack of jokes or comedy set-pieces based around the idea of the characters being a fake family, as although there are a few jokes throughout the narrative based around this idea, I never quite felt the film made full use of this concept, and usually just fell back onto your usual comedy writing. I also personally felt the film’s pacing is far too quick, as the film almost rushes through scenes within the story in order to quickly get to another gag, rather than having them happen alongside each other. In addition to this, I also felt more focus on some of the more emotional or serious scenes could’ve really helped build-up tension and make the story more engaging.

In conclusion, ‘We’re the Millers’ is decent overall, as while I don’t think the film is fantastic by any means. I enjoyed myself with this simple comedy for what it attempted to be, as although I still think the cinematography and some of the humour could be improved, I found the film to be a mostly entertaining ride and a pretty easy watch due to its fun story and brilliant cast, and more than likely the film is probably a 6/10.

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The Conjuring (2013) – Film Review

From director James Wan (Saw, Dead Silence, Insidious) comes another modern-horror based on real-life events, this time focusing on one of the many cases of: ‘The Warrens’ set in the year of 1971, and while the film does succeed more so than many other modern-horrors, soon leading the ‘The Conjuring’ to become an enormous horror franchise. The original film still does suffer from a variety of issues, which leads it to become more forgettable than anything else by the end of its runtime.

The story focuses on paranormal investigators: ‘Ed’ and ‘Lorraine Warren’ as they attempt to help a family who are bring terrorized night after night by a dark presence within their farmhouse, but soon the abnormities begin to increase as: ‘The Warrens’ investigate the sinister history behind the family’s new home.

Whilst more enjoyable than a large number of other modern-horrors as already mentioned, I wasn’t overly invested in the film’s story. As although the film is effective in some areas, in others the film simply doesn’t stick the landing. Feeling mostly like your standard horror story without ever delving too deep into the characters or time-period. As despite a few thrilling scenes with the sprits themselves, I always felt a slightly more character-driven narrative would’ve benefitted the film overall.

The cast is definitely one of the film’s better aspects, as Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga do have a decent amount of chemistry together as the married paranormal investigators: ‘The Warrens’. Lili Taylor also does a decent job as the family’s concerned mother, especially further into the film as the story becomes more intense. Unfortunately however, Ronald Livingston who portrays the father of the family, is easily the weakest actor within the film, as he never really seems overly panicked or scared of these paranormal events, regardless of the scene (which becomes especially clear nearing the end of the film).

The cinematography by John R. Leonetti is definitely an improvement over his previous work on the ‘Insidious’ series, as the film does have a few appealing shots here and there despite never really being anything exceptional. The film does however, make excellent use of P.O.V. shots during many of the tense scenes at night within the farmhouse, placing the audience in the position of the characters themselves, which I personally found very effective.

Although not quite as memorable as some other modern-horror soundtracks, the original score by Joseph Bishara isn’t completely forgettable. As the score does help to build tension during quite a few scenes, as well as also back-up some of the emotional moments between characters (as short as they may be).

I was also surprised to learn that the film doesn’t entirely rely on jump-scares, as although they are present within the film, ‘The Conjuring’ does feel more focused on creating an eerie atmosphere and having many creepy visuals throughout. Rather than the usual bombardment of jump-scares, which was definitely a breath of fresh air. One element I thought was a little weaker than some of James Wan’s other films was the design of the ghosts themselves, as the design of the sprit haunting family’s farmhouse is one of the most generic and dull designs you could think of when it comes to creating a horror antagonist. Especially when compared to the very memorable designs of the ‘Insidious’ franchise.

Whilst ‘The Conjuring’ does have some great elements, and at least attempts to create something different from typical horror. I never really felt the film excelled in any particular area, as the majority of the film felt mostly very bland to me despite its decent cast and creepy atmosphere in some scenes. Overall, a 5/10 for ‘The Conjuring’, as while there are definitely worse modern-horrors, I feel there is also much better out there.

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World War Z (2013) – Film Review

Very loosely based on the novel: ‘World War Z’ by Max Brooks, this film adaptation directed by Marc Forster attempts to tell an enormous globe-trotting story of a spreading zombie virus, and although it does have a few entertaining elements here and there, I personally found the film to be extremely messy, and overall, pretty forgettable.

After only just escaping an attack in Philadelphia, former United Nations employee: ‘Gerry Lane’, traverses the world in a race against time to stop a zombie pandemic that is toppling armies and governments, soon threatening the survival of humanity itself.

Even with a pretty standard plot for a zombie flick, the film unfortunately is still brimming with plenty of cliché moments and jump-scares throughout, in addition of course to the film’s overall lack of style. Making the entire experience really struggle to stand on its own amongst the many other films within its genre, which I do feel can be mostly put down to the director Marc Forster (Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, Christopher Robin).

Brad Pitt, Mireille Enos both do a decent job as: ‘Gerry’ and ‘Karin Lane’ within the film, despite their characters having pretty much no characterisation outside of them being a loving family. Their children however, portrayed by Sterling Jerins and Abigail Hargrove. I found very irritating, as aside from their constant screaming and crying, their child performances weren’t very convincing to me at all. Strangely, Peter Capaldi also has a small role within the film, despite barley adding anything to the story.

Ben Seresin handles the cinematography throughout the film, and aside from a few scenes were hand-held camera techniques are used to reflect the chaos we see during many of the zombie attacks, many of the visuals are extremely flat. As the cinematography is very bland and uninspired, usually sticking to very standard shots and never really experimenting with anything incredibly interesting. The CGI effects throughout the film’s runtime are also very inconsistent, as in some scenes the visual effects work perfectly fine. In others however, they look truly awful, with many of the zombies bouncing around as if they were made out of rubber. I do appreciate the various aerial shots which are used during many of these scenes however, as I felt they captured the enormous scale of the pandemic very well.

The film’s original score by Marco Beltrami is decent overall, it works within the film to increase what tension and drama there is on-screen. But outside of the film, it isn’t memorable in the slightest. Coming-off as your standard blockbuster soundtrack with the occasional: ‘Inception’ noise thrown-in for good measure, it is very possible the score was rushed. As for those who may not know, ‘World War Z’ actually went through a very troubled production process, as multiple different directors, writers and producers were brought-on and then dropped-off constantly. This is mostly why the film sometimes feels very unconnected and messy (which also isn’t helped by its quick pacing). Taking this into account, the film definitely could’ve been far worse, but I still found it very noticeable.

Despite all of this however, the film does still have some elements I enjoy. As it is simply fun to watch the madness ensue at various points during the film, as the hordes of zombies bring chaos to the streets of whatever city the film finds itself in. My favourite scene within the film is definitely near it’s ending, as the film takes a very different direction in choosing to focus on a small tension-filled scene, which I thought was pretty well-executed for the most part.

In conclusion, ‘World War Z’ isn’t the worst big-budget film you could spend your time watching, it definitely has a variety of problems. From the predictable and generic plot, to the boring characters and the mix of poor visual effects and writing. Which all ensured that I wasn’t such a huge fan, but if you enjoy a mindless zombie blockbuster every so often, then there may be some enjoyment in this for you. But for me personally, ‘World War Z’ simply felt like a hollow experience, and is nothing more than a 3/10.

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Man of Steel (2013) – Film Review

Being one of the most iconic and beloved superheroes of all-time, it was inventible that ‘Superman’ would come to life on the silver screen once again. This time from director Zach Synder, a director I’m not particularly fond of due to his weak focus on storytelling and over-reliance of action and attractive visuals. Unfortunately, ‘Man of Steel’ is still no exception to this.

This retold origin story focuses on: ‘Clark Kent’ (Superman), an alien who as a child was evacuated from his dying world: ‘Krypton’ and soon arrived on Earth, where he began living as a normal human under his newly found parents. But when survivors of his alien homeworld invade the planet, he must reveal himself to the world.

The main issue that I have with this film is that the filmmakers seem to not understand the character of: ‘Superman’ very well, as the entire film is extremely bleak, dull and even somewhat dark. In addition to this, ‘Superman’ himself actually does very little heroic acts throughout the film’s runtime. Almost the complete opposite of the original: ‘Superman’ from 1978. This is even seen in the colour palette, as the film mostly uses a dark blue and grey colour palette. But when your superhero protagonist is supposed to be a symbol of hope and heroism, this is definitely not the way to go.

Henry Cavill, Amy Adams and Russel Crowe all give decent performances throughout the film, but sadly they never really elevate to anything above acceptable. Henry Cavill is likeable enough as the protagonist but I always found Michael Shannon‘s villainous incarnation of: ‘Zod’ far more interesting. As he does a great job giving his character a motivation despite how sinister it may seem, as well as making him extremely menacing, very similar to his character in: ‘The Shape of Water’ in many ways.

Amir Mokri‘s cinematography throughout the film is mostly very generic cinematography for a blockbuster action film, having far too much hand-held camera at points as well as shaking around constantly and utilizing many quick cuts during the action scenes, making them even more difficult to follow. The film also uses many artificial zooms when ‘Superman’ is soaring through the sky, which I personally think looks terrible. 

The original score by Hanz Zimmer is easily my personal favourite element of the film, while being nothing new for this composer. Hanz Zimmer really brings his ‘A’ game here, and creates an exciting and uplifting score which sometimes really makes-up for the lack of heroism and use of bright colours in the film. I would say this soundtrack is up there as one of my favourite scores by Hanz Zimmer for sure, even playing over my favourite scene in the film when ‘Clark Kent’ learns to fly as: ‘Superman’ for the first time.

However, many of the film’s action scenes don’t help the film, as the action within the film ranges from extremely entertaining, as the superpowered characters battle brutally for the fate of the planet. To sometimes being incredibly overwhelming, with constant explosions going off and CGI buildings being destroyed left and right. Many of these action scenes don’t even feel very real due to the enormous barrage of CGI visuals we get within them, or as ‘real’ as they can be anyway.

‘Man of Steel’ is a bit of a mess for a superhero film, it almost feels more like a ‘Batman’ flick for most of its runtime. Relying very heavily on a dark colour palette and a bleak more ‘realistic’ feel. Alongside the generic cinematography and bland acting. The original score, a few actions set pieces and the occasional attractive visual is really all the film has to offer to superhero fans. Hopefully, this iconic superhero will have his chance to grace the skies with another outstanding instalment soon, as for: ‘Man of Steel’? It’s a disappointing superhero flick and a low 4/10 overall.

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