Left Behind (2014) – Film Review

Awkwardly combining religious proselytising with a number of well-worn tropes from the disaster genre. Left Behind, released in 2014, is an apocalyptic thriller with a fascinating idea at its core, depicting the events that would transpire if millions of people suddenly vanished off the face of the Earth. A brilliant concept that is utterly squandered due to its horrendous execution, with subpar production values, bewildering dialogue and appalling performances being just some of the many issues this overtly religious film suffers from. As such, Left Behind presents one of the most unintentionally hilarious depictions of the apocalypse ever committed to film, which more often than not, devolves into enunciated Christian propaganda.

Plot Summary: When millions of people suddenly disappear without a trace, throwing the world into disarray as unmanned vehicles crash, planes fall from the sky and mass riots break out. Airline pilot, Ray Steele, struggles to keep composure aboard his proceeding flight to London as he and his passengers try to comprehend the inexplicable scenario they find themselves within. Meanwhile, Ray’s daughter, Chloe Steele, braves the chaos of the city streets below in search of her mother and brother…

If the Left Behind title sounds familiar, that’s likely because the film is actually a reboot of a relatively well-known series, with Left Behind: The Movie, Left Behind II: Tribulation and Left Behind III: World at War being released prior in 2000, 2002 and 2005, respectively. All of them are based on the best-selling series of apocalyptic novels by Jerry B. Jenkins and Tim LaHaye; a series that is essentially a modern-day rendition of the biblical rapture, where all Christians are transported to Heaven as divine forces decimate the Earth. 2014’s Left Behind adapts a small portion of the first book in the series, setting the majority of the story aboard an airliner piloted by Ray Steele, which for an apocalyptic thriller, isn’t the most exciting location to view a large-scale catastrophe from.

Speaking of the protagonist, despite the uproarious actor, Nicolas Cage, portraying the central character of Ray Steele. Left Behind never manages to get an entertaining performance out of the actor as for most of the runtime, Cage, who in interviews has stated that he took the role at the urging of his pastor brother, seems practically sedated, even when his character is convinced that the plane is heading towards certain doom. Regrettably, none of the supporting cast are much better, with Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Nicky Whelan and Gary Grubbs (among others) all portraying one-dimensional characters continually reciting unnatural dialogue. From the Southern entrepreneur, Dennis Beese, to Cameron ‘Buck’ Williams, a renowned news reporter who inadvertently becomes Ray’s co-pilot, none of the characters throughout Left Behind are indelible or significantly developed outside of their lack of devotion to Christianity.

In regard to the visuals, Left Behind doesn’t exhibit much improvement over its dialogue and performances as the set pieces appear small and chintzy, the lighting is flat, Jack Green’s cinematography is largely styleless and the editing between the drama on-board Ray’s flight and the disorder on the ground below is a monotonous back-and-forth of plot points with no scene being given enough time to sink in. Moreover, the CG effects for the airliner itself are rather poor, particularly during one of the film’s final moments where Ray is forced to land the plane on a makeshift runway.

Likewise, the original score by Jack Lenz has no identity or anything even remotely unique about it, subsequently causing the soundtrack to dissolve into the background where the majority of audience members will forget it even exists. Quite surprising considering that Lenz has proven himself to be a capable composer in the past, penning many respectable scores, including the theme for the Goosebumps television series.

Yet even when overlooking all of Left Behind‘s shortcomings in terms of filmmaking, the film continues to stutter as there are plenty of moments within the film that can be mocked. But by far the easiest scene that illustrates just how uniquely awful Left Behind is would be the moment in which Irene Steele stares adoringly at a terribly photoshopped picture of her family. It is possible, however, that the film’s flawed execution could be a result of a lack of experience on the part of director Vic Armstrong (Joshua TreeA Sunday Horse), as Armstrong is best known for his work as a stunt coordinator/stunt performer rather than a director.

In summary, while Left Behind‘s narrative is undoubtedly an interesting one and could’ve made for a compelling apocalyptic thriller if placed in the hands of the right director and screenwriter. The version of Left Behind we did receive is far from compelling as its flaws are nearly endless, consequently leading the film to be panned by critics and perform poorly at the box office. Still, this wasn’t the end for Left Behind as not long after, the producers of the film decided to finance the sequel through an Indiegogo campaign simply titled: “Help Us Make Left Behind 2.” The campaign received £61,558 out of the half a million asked, with the last update on the project being on May 7th 2015. So, more than likely, the project was cancelled, which I’d say is for the best. Rating: 2/10.

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Paddington (2014) – Film Review

Inspired by a lone teddy bear author, Michael Bond, noticed on a store shelf near Paddington Station on Christmas Eve 1956. The literature debut of the loveable little bear known as Paddington came in the children’s book: A Bear Called Paddington in 1958. And has since been featured in more than twenty books written by Bond and illustrated by Peggy Fortnum, among other artists. In 2014, writer and director Paul King (Under One RoofBunny and the BullPaddington 2) brought the darling bear to the silver screen in a film that affectionately honours its source material while simultaneously delivering a family-friendly fable that is just as heart-warming and amusing as its marmalade-munching protagonist.

Plot Summary: After a devastating earthquake destroys his home in the Peruvian rainforest, a young bear with an affection for all things British travels to London in search of a new home. Finding himself lost and alone at Paddington Station, he begins to realise that city life is not all he had imagined it to be until he encounters the Brown family, who after reading the label around his neck, offer him a temporary haven. But just as things seem to be looking up for the Peruvian bear, he soon catches the eye of a fiendish museum taxidermist…

As it happens, the story of Paddington actually shares many similarities to the creation of the character; as the idea of a lonely bear sitting in Paddington Station can be linked back to old newsreels depicting child evacuees leaving London during World War II with labels around their necks and their possessions packed in small suitcases. Indicating that King understands the importance of this character in British pop culture, yet the film can’t be criticised for playing things too safe with this narrative as it does update the Peruvian bear where it can to stay relevant within modern times. Additionally, as a family comedy, Paddington hits all the right notes as the film’s gags range from laugh-out-loud observations regarding the transformative effects of fatherhood to slapstick bathroom antics, satisfying any audience member regardless of their age.

The voice of Paddington is provided by Ben Whishaw, who it turns out is the perfect voice for the beloved bear as his line delivery is naive yet charming, portraying Paddington as an innocent character who always sees the positive in any given situation. Moreover, the supporting cast of Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins and Nicole Kidman are all delightful and are given an unexpected amount of characterisation, with Henry Brown being an uptight, risk analyst who is reluctant to take Paddington in, whilst his kind, artistic wife, Mary Brown, treats Paddington almost as if he is their own child. But it’s Kidman who truly steals the show as the film’s antagonist, Millicent, riding the line between sinister and playfully over-the-top in her portrayal of a museum taxidermist who catches and stuffs exotic animals in her spare time.

Continuously imaginative and vibrant, the cinematography by Erik Wilson is ceaselessly innovative, assembling many visually pleasing shots with equally pleasant bursts of colour, especially when snow begins to fall over London during the final act. It also becomes apparent when examining the camerawork that Paddington is just as much a love letter to the city of London as it is an adaptation of a classic child-friendly character. So, of course, there’s the usual display of postcard locations, from the London Eye to Buckingham Palace, along with a stream of light-hearted wisecracks surrounding taxis, the underground and the mundanity of modern life in the British capital.

On a separate note, the original score for the film is by no means a work of art, but composer, Nick Urata, does manage to craft a score that remains both diverse and playful through tracks like Arrival in LondonThis Will Do Nicely, Millicent’s Lab and Theif Chase. While the more tender tracks such as Journey from Peru and The Letter Home, blend austere piano melodies with subtle strings, making for an altogether cheerful if slightly prosaic score.

When it comes to Paddington himself, the film brings the character to life via the use of CGI. And whilst this information may worry a few fans of the character, the CG effects used throughout the film are almost faultless, as Paddington expresses a range of emotions and seamlessly interacts with the environments/objects around him. Furthermore, Paddington’s outfit is an exact replica of what he wears in the book series, including his iconic blue duffel coat and red Peruvian hat. However, producer David Heyman dismissed his well-known red Wellington boots as they weren’t actually part of the character’s original design, but were added over the years by toy manufacturers to ensure that the real-life Paddington bears were able to stand on their feet.

In summary, even though Paddington follows a formula seen in numerous other family flicks, the film is understandably more concerned with making its audience laugh and cry than it is reinventing the genre (something it achieves with aplomb). And with a heart as big as its protagonist’s appetite for marmalade, I feel Paddington deserved the successful franchise it later received, with its superb humour, pitch-perfect performances and incidental details proudly cementing the film as an adaption that could go hand-to-hand with some of the finest adaptions of children’s literature. Rating: 8/10.

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Gone Girl (2014) – Film Review

An intricate and satisfying adaptation of the novel of the same name by Gillian Flynn, which went on to be a New York Times bestseller following its release in 2012, being hailed by many publications as a literary masterpiece. Gone Girl, released in 2014, flawlessly combines its maze-like plot with the distinct style of director David Fincher (SevenFight ClubThe Social Network) and a duet of astonishing performances from Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike. Promptly resulting in an unmissable mystery-thriller that represents an exceptional pairing of filmmaker and source material, fully expressing Fincher’s cynicism regarding the current age of televised media and the darkness lurking just beneath the surface of contemporary life.

Plot Summary: On the occasion of his 5th wedding anniversary, former New York-based writer, Nick Dunne, returns home to find that his wife, Amy, has vanished. After reporting her disappearance to the authorities, the couples’ public portrait of a blissful marriage soon begins to crumble as the cases’ ever-growing media attention places Nick as the prime suspect, ultimately leading everyone to ask the same question… did Nick Dunne murder his wife?

Making her screenwriting debut, Gillian Flynn does an extraordinarily efficient job of streamlining her four hundred and thirty-two-page novel, retaining its bifurcated structure and elaborate twists without significantly altering the story as a whole. Certainly not an easy task as the very nature of Gone Girl‘s story requires the film to be constantly jumping through time, depicting the entire timeline of Nick and Amy’s marriage from their first encounter through to the total collapse of their love life, giving the audience a clear understanding of their individual personalities and relationship. And through it all, Amy remains a consistent screen presence, continually popping up in flashbacks to her earlier, happier days living in New York City, where she led a life of luxury as a thriving children’s author. That is, until her relationship with Nick, a working-class Midwesterner, comes into focus, gradually draining Amy of her individuality, which is only worsened by the pairs’ eventual layoffs and relocation to Nick’s hometown. Quickly spawning whispers of spousal neglect, infidelity and domestic violence, all of which are condensed for the sake of the film’s runtime, yet never feel rushed.

Both Ben Affleck and Rosamund Pike are phenomenal throughout the film with not a single weak moment between them as Affleck, who has never been more ideally cast, delivers a captivating balancing act of a performance, fostering sympathy and the suspicion that his true self lies somewhere between shallow husband and heartless murderer. While Pike, who has actually had very few lead roles despite her extensive filmography, is continuously emphatic and commanding. What’s more, is that Gone Girl is a film that doesn’t aim to paint either of these two characters in a purely positive or negative light. Instead, Flynn frequently leaves it to the audience to decide which character (if any) they should be rooting for as the couple copes with the rapid decline of their marriage in dissimilar ways. The outstanding leads aside, Gone Girl also features a terrific supporting cast of Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Tyler Perry and Neil Patrick Harris, all of whom serve crucial roles within the story.

As ever, Fincher’s regular collaborators turn in work of an exceedingly high standard with Jeff Cronenweth’s cinematography being unerringly well-placed in nearly every scene, bringing a drab, underlit look to Nick and Amy’s home, the police station and other North Carthage locations. And although Gone Girl does admittedly have quite the over-reliance on mid-shots, Cronenweth’s intentionally controlled approach does lend itself well to creating many memorable shots, speaking less to visual flair and more to Fincher’s adroit style.

Along these same lines, the original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross is a gloomy composition, invoking feelings of anxiety in the audience with subtle electronic pulses. Allegedly, Fincher’s musical brief to Reznor and Ross was based on a visit he took to a spa in which the accompanying melody was supposed to be relaxing, yet Fincher perceived it as unsettling. And this undoubtedly comes across in Gone Girl‘s score, with tracks like What Have We Done to Each Other?With Suspicion and Technically, Missing perfectly capturing this idea of a supposedly comforting soundtrack which, in actuality, instils a sense of dread.

Similar to the novel, Gone Girl‘s story is also teeming with compelling themes and social commentary covering a range of topics. On a broader level, however, the story is really about public perception and how televised media builds fabulations that quickly get subsumed as truth, as the American populace is willing to swallow whatever narrative is sold to them without question, a thought-provoking theme that the film never forgets to explore and build upon.

In summary, Gone Girl is a shining example of an adaptation that stays faithful to the source material whilst simultaneously injecting the narrative with its own style, not once letting the story drag nor the suspense settle in its goal of transferring an acclaimed novel to the silver screen. Still, with a plethora of attractive visuals and tremendous performances, along with a handful of darkly comedic moments, I feel Gone Girl would’ve been a memorising film even in the absence of its engrossing central mystery. Rating: high 8/10.

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Into the Storm (2014) – Film Review

Clumsily written and populated with forgettable characters, ‘Into the Storm,’ released in 2014, has little to offer beyond its admittedly prodigious CG effects. Taking heavy inspiration from the exemplary tornado blockbuster: ‘Twister’ from 1996, ‘Into the Storm’ plays it fast and loose with its story, jumping from scene-to-scene without much thought as to how well everything connects or even functions, this is especially clear when looking at the film’s visuals, which rarely stick to the found-footage style its camerawork is trying to emulate.

Plot Summary: In the span of a single day, the small town of Silverton, Oklahoma is ravaged by an unprecedented onslaught of tornadoes, forcing residents to abandon their daily duties and seek shelter as fast as they possibly can. But as the entire town is at the mercy of the destructive cyclones, one group of storm-chasers ride directly into the storm, risking their lives to study the phenomenon and procure that perfect shot…

Directed by Steven Quale (Starfire, Final Destination 5, American Renegades), ‘Into the Storm’ not only takes (perhaps a little too much) inspiration from ‘Twister’ for its plot, but also many real-world events. Specifically, a catastrophe that occurred in Dallas County in 1986, where there were several reported occurrences of multiple tornadoes striking the same county over a roughly one hour time-period. And whilst the image of a tornado of fire may sound like a creation ripped straight out of a campy ’80s action flick, the cyclone of flames is, in reality, just one of the many seemingly absurd moments in the film that were actually based on real-life events, at least, according to screenwriter John Swetnam.

While disaster films have always valued spectacle over character, ‘Into the Storm’ is on another level, as the entire cast of Richard Armitage, Sarah Wayne Callies, Max Deacon, Nathan Kress, Arlen Escarpeta and Alycia Jasmin Debnam-Carey are all immensely dull to watch, not necessarily because of their performances, but because of the screenplay. As aside from the single-minded storm-chaser: ‘Pete’ portrayed by Matt Walsh, who has at least something resembling a personality, most of the characters feel as if they are made out of wood, exclaiming cringey jokes and unnatural lines of dialogue that come across as nothing but forced. It seems many of the actors even tried to make their characters more interesting where they could, as supposedly there was a fair amount of improvisation on set.

Despite ‘Into the Storm’ apparently also being a found-footage flick, it’s rare that the cinematography by Brian Pearson actually appears like one, from vast wide-shots to intimate close-ups, many shots are completely devoid of harsh movements and always retain flawless quality regardless of which character is filming or what device they are filming on. Moreover, with much of the film’s narrative relying on the idea of the film itself being a documentary, various interviews are featured near the beginning and end of the runtime, yet this potentially stimulating concept is soon spoilt as a result of the film’s structure, which is fairly disorganised. The only aspect of this found-footage approach that comes across effectivity is in the final scene, as the film utilises archive footage from news stations that covered a real EF5 tornado that hit Oklahoma in 2013.

Although the original score by Brian Tyler is expectedly quite bland, there are still a few tracks such as: ‘Into the Storm,’ ‘Fate’ and ‘We Stay Together’ that back-up many of the film’s exciting moments successfully. But the issue here isn’t within the score itself, it’s the fact that there is a score to begin with, as every second ‘Into the Storm’ attempts to be an intense and realistic disaster epic, its simultaneously sabotaging itself by bombarding the audience with a loud, non-diegetic soundtrack, often distracting from the destructive chaos on-screen with its whirling violins and blaring brass horns.

When it comes to realism, some film buffs have questioned whether certain events within the story could occur in real-life, such as whether a tornado could actually lift an aircraft off the ground as depicted in one scene. Nevertheless, there’s no denying that the CG effects during these scenes are certainly the finest element of: ‘Into the Storm,’ as along with its voluminous set-design, which perfectly displays the incredible force of nature that a tornado is with cars, trees, and billboards thrown in every direction, are magnificent in their sheer scale alone. Even if the film would’ve benefited from the use of a few more practical effects to even out its enormous use of CGI, harkening back in a way to the classic disaster films of the ’70s like ‘Airport’ and ‘Earthquake.’

All in all, ‘Into the Storm’ is essentially just a visual effects showreel lasting over ninety-minutes, as although the film boats some exhilarating yet feasible moments of peril as director Steven Quale crafts plenty of riveting set-pieces ranging from crashing trucks to golf ball-sized hailstorms. Due to the film’s lack of compelling characters, inconsistent filmmaking, and truly awful lines of dialogue, such thrills soon become monotonous, and by the end of its runtime, ‘Into the Storm’ winds-up as either an unimaginative disaster flick, or a near-remake of: ‘Twister’ depending on your perspective. Final Rating: 3/10.

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John Wick (2014) – Film Review

Proving he still has what it takes when it comes to more physically challenging films, fifty-year-old Keanu Reeves triumphantly returned to the action genre in late 2014 with ‘John Wick,’ an exceptional neo-noir action-thriller brimming with incredible stunts, thrilling action sequences, and an unexpectedly high number of attractive shots. And while few films within the action genre are known for their intricate stories or layered dialogue, this included, there’s no denying the dexterity that went into its filming, certifying ‘John Wick’ as a name that will be heard for years to come.

Plot Summary: After retiring from his career as a deadly hitman to marry the love of his life, legendary assassin: ‘John Wick’ finds himself alone once again when her sudden death leaves him in deep mourning. But when a gang of Russian mobsters led by the arrogant mob-prince: ‘Losef Tarasov,’ break into his house in order to steal his prized 1969 Mustang, killing his newly adopted puppy in the process, the last gift from his wife, ‘John’ decides to come out of retirement to track down those that wronged him…

Despite having a smaller-budget than many other action films, directors Chad Stahelski (a former stuntman from a kick-boxing background) and David Leitch, who actually goes uncredited due to DGA regulations only allowing for only one director to be credited, manage to do a lot with very little. Not only in terms of action, but also world-building, as ‘John Wick’ swiftly establishes a seedy criminal underbelly beneath New York City, complete with assassins, mobsters and a contract killer hotel known as ‘The Continental,’ without ever relying on large dumps of exposition from disposable side characters. This fluidity even continues into the film’s screenplay, as the film tells its simplistic yet entertaining story with total proficiency.

Quickly becoming one of his most iconic roles, Keanu Reeves truly shines as ‘John Wick,’ as despite Reeves having given his fair share of weak performances in the past, ‘John Wick’ is certainly not one of them, as Reeves’ preparation for the role included eight hours of weapons and martial arts training every day for over four-months, which he put to great use as Reeves performed over 90% of his own stunts. And although ‘John Wick’s characterisation is minimal, it’s enough to make his inclination for revenge understandable, as what remained of: ‘John’s peaceful life following his wife’s death is unjustly ruined. The rest of the cast, including the late Mikael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Willem Dafoe, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo and Ian McShane, all portray their characters well even if many of them simply feel like cogs in a machine, serving their purpose within the plot before then vanishing.

Bathing many of the film’s early scenes in greys and whites before then implementing more colourful visuals through expressive greens and blues as ‘John’ begins to reimmerse himself in the criminal underworld he’d escaped many years ago. The colour palette of: ‘John Wick’ may be grim, but the film never descends into unattractiveness, as the cinematography by Jonathan Sela in addition to the film’s dramatic lighting further enhance the many car chases, fistfights and shootouts ‘John’ finds himself within. Additionally, the film continues to play into its neo-noir style through its subtitles, with each line fading on-screen in a slick font with specific words even having their colours altered to increase their impact.

Moreover, Tyler Bates’ original score considerably helps build tension during many scenes throughout the film, as pulse-pounding tracks such as: ‘Assassins,’ ‘Shots Fired’ and ‘Warehouse Smackdown’ are endlessly energetic without ever distracting from the story, along with the titles themselves being a clear indication of the excitement that is to come. Aside from the more action-oriented tracks, the soundtrack also boasts the perfect theme for: ‘John Wick’ himself, as ‘On the Hunt’ captures the relentless nature of the character flawlessly.

Unlike the shaky camerawork and constant quick cutting that make action flicks like ‘Taken’ and ‘Alex Cross’ nearly unbearable at times, ‘John Wick’ thrives when it comes to its action, as every gunfight and fistfight is fast-paced and kinetic yet never bemusing. This is heavily due to the film’s fight choreography being just as comprehensible as it is exhilarating, with each reverting moment having a clear rhythm as ‘John’ never wastes a bullet nor performs an unnecessary move. Furthermore, ‘John Wick’ even features a good portion of humour within its action sequences, adding small visual gags which poke fun at ‘John’s brutal efficiency.

In short, ‘John Wick’ delivers on exactly what anyone would expect to see from a film like this, as the action is thrilling and the body-count is excessive, plus most of the filmmaking surprisingly is better than average for the action genre. And although it’s true that later films in the ‘John Wick’ franchise are much flashier, I find that the sequels often get bogged down by their continuous attempts to introduce as many new characters and locations as possible, as well as constantly pushing the limit of what ‘John’ can actually survive. So, in many ways, ‘John Wick’ is a film that proves there really is beauty in simplicity, as the admirably lean screenplay propels the film’s galvanising action forward with only the barest of narrative essentials. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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Fury (2014) – Film Review

Five years after Brad Pitt first entered the realm of fictional war stories with 2009’s ‘Inglorious Bastards,’ Pitt returned to the genre for: ‘Fury,’ a gritty action/drama following the valiant actions of a battle-hardened tank commander and his loyal men as they undertake a treacherous mission. And although the film frequently invites far too many comparisons to the military classic: ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ ‘Fury’ is still a tightly-knit story of brotherhood with some excellent performances and a suitably unflinching depiction of war to carry it through to the end of its two-hour runtime.

Plot Summary: April, 1945. As Allies make their final push towards the European Theatre, grizzled tank commander: ‘Don Collier’ commands a Sherman tank and his devoted five-man crew on a daring mission behind enemy lines. Outnumbered, outgunned, and with a rookie soldier thrust into their platoon, ‘Don’ and his men seemingly face overwhelming odds as they attempt to strike at the heart of Nazi Germany…

Rather than being based on a singular veracious story similar to most films set during the Second World War, ‘Fury’ is actually based on a collection of true stories from many real-life army veterans who spent most of their time during the war inside tanks. But primarily, the film’s storyline parallels the story of American tank commander Staff Sergeant Lafayette G. Pool, who personally destroyed over two-hundred and fifty-eight enemy vehicles before his tank was eventually destroyed in late 1944. According to writer and director David Ayer (End of Watch, Suicide Squad, Bright), it was his family’s heavy association with World War II that drove him to write and direct ‘Fury,’ wanting the film to be as true-to-life as possible to pay respect to his grandparents, who both served as officers during the historical war. Ayer also wanted the film’s characters to exhibit a level of exhaustion, as at that time, when the war was nearing its end in Europe, every remaining solider was left fighting with hardly any supplies.

Before production began, the entire cast of: ‘Fury’ underwent a rigorous month-long training course to further cement them as their respective characters, the final test of which included manning a real tank during a combat exercise. Brad Pitt, who was much older than the rest of the cast, ensured that he participated in all of the same physical training his fellow actors did. Pitt’s dedication to his role is also evident throughout the film, as ‘Don Collier,’ or ‘Wardaddy’ as he is nicknamed by his platoon, continuously remains a burley and resilient character without ever losing too much of Pitt’s natural charisma. However, the other members of: ‘Don’s crew portrayed by Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal, Michael Peña and Logan Lerman aren’t quite as noteworthy, though the film does attempt to integrate a number of scenes which humanise the soldiers, a few members of: ‘Don’s crew inevitably feel like less interesting recreations of battle-burned stereotypes.

The set-design, set-dressing, editing and especially cinematography by Roman Vasyanovn, all greatly amplify ‘Fury’s grim appeal. Having nearly every location the characters visit be represented through either scorched fields, shattered farmhouses or isolated German towns (which were actually built from scratch by the production crew). Furthermore, ‘Fury’ pulls no punches when it comes to displaying graphic violence, as arms, legs and heads are all repeatedly severed in pursuit of pushing the film’s primary theme, that being the overplayed yet still impactful: ‘War is Hell,’ which is only enhanced by the film’s dingy, trench-ridden colour palette.

Contrarily, the original score composed by Steven Price is slightly lighter in tone, as tracks such as: ‘Refugees,’ ‘The Apartment,’ ‘Crossroads’ and ‘Norman’ all create a contrast to the film’s distressing visuals, often riding the line between hope and tragedy as a result of the soundtrack’s electronic pulses and grand orchestra. Still, whilst the score does leave a strong impact on the film, there is a distinct lack of memorability throughout the original score, not too dissimilar to much of Price’s other work, e.g. ‘American Assassin’ and ‘The Aeronauts.’

In addition to filming on-location in Hertfordshire, England whenever possible, ‘Fury’ also strives for realism through its use of genuine tanks from the time-period. Most notably, the Tiger I tank, making it only the second time in history that an actual tank of that make has been used in a feature film production, with the tank itself being borrowed from the Bovington Tank Museum, which is coincidentally also located in the United Kingdom. Additionally, many of the costumes that appear in the film were acquired from real World War II clothing exhibits all over the world, keeping in line with David Ayer’s admirable fight for total accuracy of the time-period.

In summary, while ‘Fury’ may offer plenty of fantastic performances and visceral action set-pieces, the film’s overly long runtime and absence of any incredibly likeable or unique characters ensures that the film never manages to live-up to its larger ambitions, which in some ways could also be attributed to David Ayer’s lacklustre writing, as Ayer’s screenplays often leave something to be desired, in my opinion, anyway. Nevertheless, ‘Fury’ is unquestionably worth a watch, even though I’ll always stick with ‘Inglorious Bastards’ for my simultaneous fill of Brad Pitt and World War II insight. Final Rating: 7/10.

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The Voices (2014) – Film Review

This obscure horror-comedy released in late 2014 will certainly make for a divisive viewing, as while ‘The Voices’ does feature an inspired use of colour and set-design alongside a stand-out performance from Ryan Reynolds, the film is also far more disturbing than much of its marketing would lead you to believe, swerving from absurd moments of humour to visceral moments of gore in a heart beat. The resulting film essentially becoming a parody/throwback of/to classic horrors like ‘American Psycho,’ and is a far-cry from a realistic study of psychosis for better, and for worse.

Plot Summary: After working a nine-to-five job at his local bathtub factory, the mentally ill: ‘Jerry’ finds comfort in returning home to his beloved pets: ‘Bosco’ and ‘Mr. Whiskers.’ Until one day, with the help of his psychiatrist, ‘Jerry’ decides to pursue his office crush: ‘Fiona.’ But when their relationship takes a sudden, murderous turn leaving ‘Jerry’ with the corpse of his co-worker, he tries desperately to strive for normalcy, only to fall deeper into instability…

Early in the pre-production of: ‘The Voices,’ director Mark Romanek, best known for the 2002 drama/thriller: ‘One Hour Photo’ was attached as the film’s director, before Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis, Chicken with Plums, Radioactive) later took over as the head of the project. And whilst ‘The Voices’ does feel like quite a large shift from Satrapi’s usual work, its hard to know exactly which director would’ve excelled with a screenplay as original as this one is. As while ‘The Voices’ does share some similarities to other serial killer flicks, many of the film’s ideas are just brimming with personality, as everything from ‘Jerry’ showing symptoms of OCD when slicing-up the bodies of his victims, to ‘Jerry’ living above an abandoned bowling alley, the film just has such a unique appeal.

Ryan Reynolds really gets a chance to shine portraying the film’s mentally ill protagonist, as whilst ‘Jerry’ does commit many horrible acts over the course of the runtime, Reynolds manages to capture the idea of: ‘Jerry’ being a man forced down a road of violence. He is a distinct serial killer in the sense that he desires companionship and happiness, and doesn’t receive any pleasure from killing. So, when its eventually revealed what happened to him as a child, you can’t help but sympathise with him, evoking a level of emotion that many murderous characters struggle to achieve. But unfortunately, the film’s side characters portrayed by Gemma Arterton, Anna Kendrick, and Jacki Weaver, all feel quite thin as a result of them only being in the story to serve as ‘Jerry’s potential victims.

Maxime Alexandre handles the film’s cinematography well, as the camerawork throughout ‘The Voices’ remains fairly creative. The film’s visuals are most impressive most, however, when it comes to the film’s colour palette, set-design, and set-dressing, as with nearly the entirety of the story being seen through ‘Jerry’s perspective, the film displays the true extent of: ‘Jerry’s delusions through its use of colour/sets. For example, when not on his prescribed medication, ‘Jerry’ views his apartment as very clean and organised, giving the location a much more comfortable feel, whereas when ‘Jerry’ does take his medication, he sees the grim reality of his soiled home.

The original score by Olivier Bernet is similar, never reaching into full on horror, but being a mixture of cartoonish dreamlike tracks such as: ‘In the Woods’ and ‘Jesus Dad,’ before then moving onto more upbeat tracks like ‘Don’t Mess with Milton.’ A seemingly ironic track focused around the fictional woodland town of: ‘Milton’ where the story takes place, claiming the town to be nothing but a friendly and welcoming place.

The main aspect of: ‘The Voices’ that I feel could make or break the film for many is likely to be its comedy, as whilst it is revealed fairly early on that many of the film’s bizarre moments such as: ‘Jerry’s pets speaking to him or ‘Jesus’ appearing on a forklift are all taking place within his mind, much of this strange humour is very hit-or-miss. However, an interesting yet small detail regarding the talking pets is that Ryan Reynolds actually voices each one of the animals himself, with each pet having a different accent, furthering ‘Jerry’s delusions. In fact, Reynolds actually modelled the voice of: ‘Mr. Whiskers,’ a.k.a. ‘Jerry’s cat, after a Scottish friend he knew for over twenty years.

Overall, while ‘The Voices’ is overflowing with both charm and wit, it also has many issues. From its quickly altering tone and many jokes that fall flat, the film is far from a perfect horror-comedy. But it does redeem many of its faults through its great performances and eccentric style, all playing into the film’s quirky personality. And its due to all of this that the film feels as if its made for a very niche audience, yet for those ‘The Voices’ does appeal to, there is a fair amount to enjoy here. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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Non-Stop (2014) – Film Review

Although ‘Non-Stop’ has been heavily overshadowed by a number of other films within the thriller genre, being mostly forgotten amongst the strew of critically-acclaimed films that released in 2014. I personally feel this high-altitude thriller is one of the better stories set within the confines of an aircraft, utilising Liam Neeson’s action expertise to craft a compelling mystery with occasional moments of excitement, even if the film is noticeably lacking in both realism and memorability.

Plot Summary: While on a flight from New York to London, ‘Bill Marks,’ a worn and alcoholic air marshal, receives an anonymous text message, informing him that unless one hundred and fifty million dollars are transferred into an offshore account within the next twenty minutes, someone aboard the plane will die. Now finding himself in the middle of this deadly cat-and-mouse game, ‘Bill’ desperately searches for the suspect, unintentionally implicating himself into a hostage crisis unfolding at thirty-thousand feet…

‘Non-Stop’ is actually the second of four films directed by Jaume Collet-Serra that feature Liam Neeson, beginning with ‘Unknown’ in 2011, then ‘Run All Night’ in 2015, and lastly ‘The Commuter’ in 2018. And whilst Collet-Serra’s other films also contain a central mystery, ‘Non-Stop’ certainly has the most interesting location of the bunch, using its tight and claustrophobic setting of an aircraft to great effect as the film never cuts away from the plane itself, even when ‘Bill’s contacts his superiors we the audience remain inside the aircraft with the characters, adding to the suspense. The film also attempts to integrate themes of airline safety and security into its story, which are intriguing though they are never fully explored, nor is the terrorist’s motivation when its finally revealed.

Liam Neeson leads the cast as ‘Bill Marks,’ giving his standard action film performance as a mostly straight-faced action hero. But just as he is in the ‘Taken’ franchise and every other explosive blockbuster, Neeson is an easy protagonist to root for, and ‘Bill’ is given a fair amount of development for what is required. Julianne Moore also makes an appearance in the film as ‘Jen Summers,’ who similar to the rest of the supporting cast of Michelle Dockery, Scoot McNairy, Corey Stoll, Jason Butler Harner, Nate Parker, Omar Metwally, and Lupita Nyong’o, is given limited characterisation and is mostly in the film to serve as a potential suspect, but I suppose considering this is the basis for the story, it would’ve been an enormous challenge to development the huge array of passengers and crew aboard the flight.

The cinematography by Flavio Martínez Labiano is serviceable for the most part, as whilst the film features a few attractive shots and focus-pulls throughout its runtime, the majority of the film’s camerawork focuses on hand-held shots, which aside from lending themselves effectively to action sequences and scenes where the plane experiences turbulence, do become a little monotonous. ‘Non-Stop’ also features a couple of scenes that were filmed entirely within a single take, most notably, from the moment ‘Bill’ begins his announcement to the passengers about his phone inspection, through to the moment he duct-tapes a suspect’s hands together, there isn’t a single cut.

John Ottman’s original score does suit the film well, with tracks like ‘Non-Stop,’ ‘Welcome to Aqualantic,’ and ‘Reluctant Passenger/Blue Ribbon’ having a nice fusion of synth sounds, percussion, strings, and brass, adding-up to simplistic yet competent soundtrack. Constantly pushing or creating the tension in a simple and confined environment while simultaneously fitting with the modern set-design of the plane and ‘Bill’ as a reluctant hero forced into action.

But with 95% of the film taking-place within an aircraft, the set for the plane itself was certainly a crucial detail to get right. Luckily, ‘Non-Stop’ does succeed here, as despite the set having to be built slightly larger than a standard commercial airliner to accommodate for equipment and Liam Neeson’s 6’4′ height. The set does feel like a real plane, having both sleek business class and first class areas as well as lavatories and a crew rest compartment, all of which are very crampt and dimly lit, as the story takes place over the course of one night. This realism is even more impressive considering that the aircraft and airline are clearly fictional, as the aircraft type is never referred to yet its cabin interior and flight deck layout doesn’t match any real aircraft design.

In short, even though films like ‘Red Eye’ and ‘Flightplan’ have taken the enclosed setting of an airplane and made it work before, I still believe ‘Non-Stop’ has slightly more entertainment value. As whilst some viewers may find the story’s absence of realism quite frustrating at points, the film distracts from its over-the-top ideas and bland side characters through its tense and fast-paced narrative, making for a thrilling mystery for those that can suspend their disbelief for a few elements. And with Liam Neeson and the rest of the cast helping ‘Non-Stop’ to collect plenty of air-miles for enjoyability, I’d say the film is worth a watch. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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As Above, So Below (2014) – Film Review

Co-written and directed by John Erick Dowdle (The Poughkeepsie Tapes, Quarantine, Devil), ‘As Above, So Below’ is certainly an interesting found-footage flick, as while at a first mention the film may just sound like another a stereotypical horror, this claustrophobic delve into the caliginous Paris catacombs does actually have some depth hidden beneath its generic exterior. But unfortunately, even with the story’s intriguing religious imagery/influences, the film soon plummets into clichéd mediocrity, mostly as a result of its bland characters and weak scares.

Plot Summary: When a team of explorers venture into the miles of twisting catacombs that lie beneath the streets of Paris, all in search of the historical: ‘Philosopher’s Stone,’ they encounter far more than they bargained for when they realise they have entered into the first of the nine rings of Hell, where visions of their past sins begin to relentlessly torment them…

From a quick glance at the film’s visuals, its understandable why many would see ‘As Above, So Below’ as just another found-footage horror, only this time capitalising on the daunting real-world location of the Paris catacombs, which hold the remains of more than six million people in the small part of a tunnel network built to consolidate Paris’ ancient stone quarries. But the film’s setting does heavily relate to the story of: ‘Inferno,’ a short poem written by Italian poet Dante Alighieri in the fourteenth century, focusing on the tale of man who journeys through Hell guided by the Roman poet Virgil. Even the film’s title plays into this central idea, as the words: ‘As Above, So Below’ are derived from “On Earth as it is in Heaven,” which is a line from the ‘Christian Lord’s Prayer,’ which begins with “Our Father, Who Art in Heaven…”

Even though their characters are immensely mundane, Ben Feldman, Edwin Hodge, François Civil, Marion Lambert, and Ali Marhyar are all serviceable in their respective roles, delivering the usual screaming, ventilating and panicking performances that occur in most found-footage films. However, while the film’s protagonist: ‘Scarlett’ is portrayed well by Perdita Weeks, the character herself is noticeably very unlikeable, mostly due to her constant obsession with the ‘Philosopher’s Stone,’ which she places all of her friend’s lives at risk for without question, and its never made clear whether we should actually be rooting for her to survive or not.

The cinematography by Léo Hinstin is more of the usual for this subgenre, providing the viewer with plenty of shaky and out of focus shots as the characters make their way through the almost pitch-black burial ground. This doesn’t distract from what is easily the film’s most impressive (and most ambitious) filming tip-bit, however, which is that the film was actually shot in the Paris catacombs themselves, not in a soundstage. In fact, this was the first production ever to secure permission from the French government to film within the catacombs, which would have been quite a challenge as the series of narrow, winding tunnels with centuries-old skeletons arranged on the walls would’ve had little room for equipment and crew. Yet this does payoff as the film utilises it’s location extremely well, always placing its characters in tight areas to insight a feeling of claustrophobia in the audience.

While the film doesn’t feature a complete original score for obvious reasons, one of the strongest aspects of found-footage flicks, sound design, is actually an area where ‘As Above, So Below’ is lacking. As despite the film’s many attempts to feel impactful when the characters dive into water or are nearly crushed by a collapsing celling, a vast majority of the sound effects don’t sound as if they are coming from within the catacombs, usually sounding quite evident they have been added in post-production on account of the absence of echo or density.

With a large portion of the film’s narrative being based on Dante’s ‘Inferno,’ the film’s basic structure revolves around the characters heading further and further into Hell, with each character facing a vision of a personal sin from their past. These rings (or levels) in order are ‘Limbo,’ ‘Lust,’ ‘Gluttony,’ ‘Greed,’ ‘Anger,’ ‘Heresy,’ ‘Violence,’ ‘Fraud,’ and ‘Treachery.’ But outside of the film’s previously mentioned religious symbolism, after the characters leave the initial catacombs, each ring is represented purely through dark empty caverns, which become quite repetitive after a point.

Altogether, despite the Paris catacombs being a very compelling setting for a modern horror film, in addition to much of the film’s religious influences making for quite a unique story. I’d still suggest other claustrophobic horrors like ‘The Descent’ and ‘The Thing’ before ‘As Above, So Below,’ as not only does the film eventually devolve into the standard horror formula without much experimentation, but if you’re unaware of any of the religious context, then I could definitely see the film being fairly forgettable. In all honesty, I feel this film may have been better-off as non-found-footage, as I think this would’ve allowed the film to better explore its story and themes. Final Rating: 5/10.

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The Babadook (2014) – Film Review

Surreal, engrossing and truly terrifying during some scenes, ‘The Babadook’ is in my opinion, one of the best modern horrors released in quite some-time. Through its excellent filmmaking, astounding performances and horrifying yet also intriguing creature, ‘The Babadook’ attempts to do something different with its horror, going-about its story with far more depth than many other films within its genre, soon becoming an experience that’s just as immersive as it is disturbing for anyone who stumbles upon it.

Plot Summary: Following the sudden death of her husband in a car-crash, the now-widow: ‘Amelia’ struggles to cope as a single mother, as her son’s chaotic behaviour and constant paranoia of monsters makes her friends become distant and even her sanity begin to fade. Until one night, after the pair read a mysterious pop-up book titled: ‘Mister Babadook,’ they soon discover a malevolent creature has manifested itself into the dark corners of their home…

Directed by Jennifer Kent (The Nightingale), ‘The Babadook’ is a horror film that has much more to offer beneath its surface, with themes of family, grief and trauma throughout. Based on the short film: ‘Monster’ also directed by Jennifer Kent, ‘The Babadook’ actually takes much of its inspiration from one of Kent’s real-world friends, a single mother whose son was traumatised by a monstrous figure he thought he saw everywhere in the house. So Kent imagined a scenario in which this creature was real, eventually leading her to create her short film, before then wanting to expand on the idea further.

The main area ‘The Babadook’ excels where most modern horrors fail is the characters. Only featuring a main cast of two terrific actors, Essie Davis and Noah Wiseman, with Wiseman only being six-years-old at the time of filming. The mother and son of the film are both compelling characters for very different reasons, as the mother: ‘Amelia’ struggles to cope as a single parent. Alienating her friends/collogues and becoming more lonely and sexually-frustrated as time passes, mostly due to her son: ‘Samuel,’ who continuously struggles with anxiety and his absence of a real father, which makes it challenging for him to mix with other children. This all adding-up to making the film just as effective as a family drama as it is a supernatural horror.

Although Radek Ladczuk’s cinematography isn’t quite as impressive as the film’s magnificent editing, which allows for plenty of quick visual storytelling in addition to giving the film a level of style that I personally didn’t expect. ‘The Babadook’ does still feature a number of attractive shots, which are enormously enhanced by the film’s dread-inducing lighting. As not too dissimilar to the horror flick: ‘Lights Out’ from 2016, ‘The Babadook’ himself only appears within the shadows. So with nearly the entire runtime being set within a dark run-down house (usually also at night), the creature could be lurking within any shot, and occasionally, even is…

Slightly fairytale-esque in parts, the original score by Jed Kurzel may not be a stand-out horror score up-there with the likes of: ‘Halloween’ or the original: ‘Psycho.’ But the score is still a fair amount more creative than many other modern horror scores, with tracks such as: ‘Trippy Television’ and ‘It’s Only a Story’ giving the film a very dreamlike feel, sounding almost as if they were composed for a Tim Burton project at points. That is, before the soundtrack becomes a little more of the standard horror affair with tracks like ‘The Playground’ and ‘Re-Writing the Story,’ despite these tracks still helping to build tension throughout.

Immensely creepy throughout the film, ‘The Babadook’ himself is a very memorable and frightening presence in spite of his fairly goofy name. As every one of his appearances is always elevated by his bone-chilling sound design, which is very uncanny in a similar fashion to the original score. The only major issue I take with the film is the lack of encounters the characters actually have with the creature, as while many of his scenes are extremely well-executed, ‘Mister Babadook’ just doesn’t have quite enough screen-time for me. However, this problem also extends to nearly all of the film’s side characters, as ‘Claire,’ ‘Robbie’ and ‘Mrs. Roach’ all feel under-utilised within the narrative, even though the story’s main focus is very clearly the mother and son relationship.

To conclude, ‘The Babadook’ is a brilliantly-crafted horror, mostly as a result of its atmospheric cinematography/lighting and masterful editing, alongside its great performances and array of tension-filled moments. Whilst perhaps not for every horror-addict due to its sparse amount of jump-scares and very low body-count. Jennifer Kent’s directorial debut is certainty a horror flick I’d recommend to most, and considering Kent has stated that the film will never receive a sequel, its clear the film was a true passion project that won’t fall into the trap many successful horrors do of milking themselves into a over-blown franchise. Final Rating: 8/10.

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