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: ‘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 cutting-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, invoking 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 and set-design. 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 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 a ironic track focused around the fictional woodland town of: ‘Milton’ where the story is set, 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.

So 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/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…”

Although 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 unlikable, 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 sound-stage. 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/crew. Yet this does pay-off as the film utilises it’s location extremely well, always placing its characters in tight areas to insight 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 any echo or density.

As a large portion of the film’s narrative is 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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Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – Film Review

Exceeding expectations in more ways than one and combining the star-power of both Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is an explosive summer blockbuster which reimagines the comedy classic: ‘Groundhog Day’ into a thrilling sci-fi flick to fantastic results. Directed by Doug Liman (Swingers, The Bourne Identity, American Made) and based on the Japanese manga: ‘All You Need is Kill’ by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ or ‘Live Die Repeat’ as its now more commonly referred, manages to succeed in nearly every aspect an exciting science fiction film would need to.

Plot Summary: When an alien race invades Earth and releases an unrelenting assault unbeatable by any military unit in the world. ‘Major William Cage,’ an officer who has never seen a day of combat, is unceremoniously dropped into the front-line. Getting killed within minutes, ‘Cage’ now finds himself thrown into a time-loop forcing him to live-out the same battle over-and-over again. But with each reset, ‘Cage’ learns to defend himself with the help of Special Forces soldier: ‘Rita Vrataski,’ who together, hatch a plan to defeat the creatures, permanently.

Taking inspiration from sci-fi war epics such as: ‘Aliens,’ ‘Starship Troopers,’ and ‘Independence Day’ in addition to the previously mentioned: ‘Groundhog Day.’ ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ may have initially had disappointing box-office returns when it released in 2014, but mostly through word-of-mouth, the film has since continued on to become a modern science fiction classic, keeping itself distinct through its signature ‘resetting the day’ idea and couple of amusing moments in between its action-packed story.

For a large majority of the film, Tom Cruise actively plays against his usual type, as ‘Major William Cage’ is essentially the complete opposite of his character: ‘Ethan Hunt’ from the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, with most of the character’s screen-time being spent dying continuously in horrific (yet also somewhat comedic) ways, alongside his genuinely cowardly and untrained demeanour. Cruise also bounces-off his co-star Emily Blunt very well throughout the film, with Blunt portraying the complete opposite of Cruise’s character as ‘Rita Vrataski,’ a hard-as-nails solider who is a skilled as they come. And whilst a romantic subplot can sometimes derail a film’s story, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ manages to pull its off mostly due to the chemistry between its duo.

Although the cinematography by Dion Beebe does rely heavily on hand-held camerawork, this hand-held approach does remarkably add to many scenes within the film. Replicating the chaos of the constant war that surrounds ‘Cage’ as he tries different tactics in an attempt to survive on the battlefront, not to say that the cinematography doesn’t still allow for the occasional attractive shot however. Much of the film’s CG visuals are also up-to-par, excluding the ‘Exo-Suits’ of course, which are actually practical costumes for the most part. This was done so the suits would appear more real to the audience, which does stop the film from feeling too CGI-heavy during many of the film’s action sequences, even if the suits did weigh between eighty-five to ninety-pounds on-set.

The original score by Christophe Beck is certainly no where near as memorable as the film itself, being a mostly typical soundtrack for a action blockbuster with little charm or even a slight sci-fi twist to help the score stand-out. This unfortunately, even applies to the best track of the score: ‘Solo Flight,’ which does at least utilise what sounds like metal-clanging audio effects to add a little more impact wherever it can.

The film’s main issues mostly revolve around two particular areas, firstly, the designs of the alien creatures known as ‘Mimics.’ As whilst the CG effects that bring the creatures to life do look superb, the creatures feel a little too similar to video game enemies, as their different breeds are only distinct by colour, being either red or blue, with the remainder of their design being almost identical. While this is slightly redeemed by their unique sound design, it can become difficult to even tell the creatures apart when they are in large groups. My other complaint with the film is with its final act, as whilst the narrative throughout most of the runtime remains engaging and rousing. The film’s final portion ends-up becoming a little more generic after losing its signature time-looping concept.

Since even my first viewing of: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ I’ve always been impressed by this science fiction flick, as while the film isn’t flawless and does still suffer from its cloned creature designs and weak final act. ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ is still a far more enjoyable and enthralling sci-fi than many may initially think. Even though the film didn’t thrive at the box-office on its release, it seems with its recent change in marketing to ‘Live Die Repeat’ many more sci-fi fanatics have now stumbled across this underrated gem, and with a blockbuster as riveting and surprisingly clever as this one is, I feel it can always be praised further. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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The Purge: Anarchy (2014) – Film Review

This sequel to the original: ‘Purge’ film released just a year earlier is a slight improvement over the first, yet still doesn’t fare much better overall. As while ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ does deliver more on what its initial film set-up, now focusing-on a small group of characters attempting to survive the night of chaos and murder out on the desolate streets of Los Angeles. ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ doesn’t do enough with this new perspective, and it soon becomes quite evident that it isn’t going to be enough to save the film from its return to weak filmmaking and storytelling.

Plot Summary: As another year’s ‘Purge Night’ commences, two groups of survivors unintentionally intertwine after being rescued by a mysterious stranger out on a mission. Now stranded and in desperate need of a vehicle, the group agree to stick together in order to survive against the many ‘Purgers’ out for blood.

Once again directed by James DeMonaco, it’s clear from the larger-scale that ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ is aiming for that the film is trying to please the audience members that were dissatisfied with the first entry in the franchise, ditching the small-scale home-invasion story in favour of becoming more of an action-focused thriller that further explores its disturbing world. Yet even with the many themes of: ‘The Purge’ series still present, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ manages to feel like a bigger waste of potential than the first film. As in spite of the fact we get to see how many different Americans spend their murderous night, the film still feels quite restrained, never delving enough into each baleful group of: ‘Purgers’ or their violent deeds.

Frank Grillo leads the cast this time around as a character only known as ‘The Sergeant,’ who has easily become the most beloved character in the series since ‘The Purge: Anarchy’s initial release, soon becoming the only character to return in a later ‘Purge’ film. However, whilst I understand why most viewers resonate with his character, I did feel much of his characterisation was lost as a result of a large amount of his dialogue (including his backstory) being cut during post-production. The sequel’s cast also includes Carmen Ejogo and Zoë Soul who both give decent performances, as well as the other two cast members of Zach Gilford and Kiele Sanchez, who are both about as irritating and dim-witted as horror characters come, having nothing but scene-after-scene of the two making moronic decisions following their many sessions of obnoxiously loud panicking.

Unfortunately, returning cinematographer Jacques Jouffret doesn’t innovate much on his style of cinematography from the first film, relying very heavily on hand-held camerawork now just with slightly better lighting due to the many street lights above the character’s heads. Although there are still a few interesting shots, the only real aspect of the film that manages to stand-out stylistically is the film’s end credit sequence, which combines footage from both of the ‘Purge’ films released at the time in addition to shots of fire, bullets, blood, weapons and the American flag, all key visuals of the series.

Nathan Whitehead’s original score is similar to that of the first film, only this time being much shorter in length, mostly consisting of a series of tracks that lack anything overly-distinctive about them, being utilised within the film exclusively to help build tension. That is with the exception of the track: ‘Commencement’ however, without a doubt the best track of the entire score, as this impactful and brooding track plays when ‘The Purge’ first begins, making for one of the film’s most memorable scenes.

Whilst this was also an issue in the original: ‘Purge’ film, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ carries-over the same problem, suffering repeatedly throughout the runtime as a result of its many awful CG effects. Most notably, the heavy overreliance on CG blood, which looks dreadful in nearly every shot it’s featured in. That being said, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ does also take on one of the previous film’s best elements, that being the many frightening (and occasionally also iconic) masks. From skulls, to blood-stained hockey masks to even a simple white bag, nearly all of the masks seen during ‘The Purge’ franchise manage to add a little personality and character to each film’s signature psychopaths.

Sadly, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ is another lacklustre entry within ‘The Purge’ series, even though I do feel a similar plot to this one could be executed-well, ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ somehow manages to feel more disappointing as it tries to be more ambitious. Whilst the film is perhaps the best entry in the current series (which isn’t really a compliment), mostly due to Frank Grillo’s entertaining performance and the film’s continuous feeling of rush helping to propel the film forward as the group attempt to live through this yearly night of violence. ‘The Purge: Anarchy’ still relies far too heavily on its central concept to carry it through its narrative. Final Rating: 4/10.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014) – Film Review

The second outing of the revamped: ‘Planet of the Apes’ series and in my opinion, the best of the most-recent trilogy. ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ takes-place a decade after the previous film, now taking the story into an apocalyptic world where humans and intelligent apes co-exist. Featuring another spectacular performance from Andy Serkis as ‘Caesar’ as well as a much larger role for the vicious ape: ‘Koba’ this time around (now portrayed by Toby Kebbell), this thrilling and propulsive sci-fi blockbuster is sure to keep most viewers gripped to the screen.

Plot Summary: Many years after ‘Caesar’s escape from captivity and the outbreak of: ‘Simian Flu’ that followed, the clan of intelligent apes and chimps now resident within the Muir Woods just outside a derelict San Francisco. Living a peaceful existence amongst themselves until a group of human survivors journey into their territory in order to find a solution to their colony’s lack of power, soon leading both sides to consider the possibility of war.

Now giving directorial control over to Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, Let Me In), Reeves would write/direct both this film and the following entry in the series: ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’, allowing Reeves to really give a sense of continuity within the story and style (not to say the sequel doesn’t retain continuity from the first film). Yet what makes this sequel stand-out when placed against the first entry in the trilogy is its narrative focus, as ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ continuously builds tension throughout its runtime, with much of the film leaning on the two species as they balance on the brink of a war that could desolate both parties.

Andy Serkis leads the motion-capture cast of apes once again as ‘Caesar,‘ developing his character even further after the first film as ‘Caesar‘ now cares for the clan of apes alongside his newly-found family, and just like the first film, Serkis once again manages to make an animalistic ape a far more interesting and likeable character than would initially seem possible. Its the criminally underrated actor Toby Kebbell who shines most within the film however, as the sequel provides the war-mongering ape: ‘Koba’ with a much larger role, having the ape serve as the film’s main antagonist. In addition to the apes, the film also features a number of human characters portrayed by Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Gary Oldman, who are all great in spite of their limited screen-time.

Whilst ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ did feature plenty of attractive shots, Michael Seresin’s cinematography is actually an improvement over the previous entry, as the sequel manages to utilise its dim lighting and overgrown/dilapidated cityscape of San Francisco to fantastic results. The cinematography also helps add too much of the film’s action, as despite the film only containing two action set-pieces, both scenes manage to feel like an excellent pay-off to the large amount of build-up before them. Yet personally, I believe one of the most impressive aspects of the film has to be its practical sets, from the overcrowded ‘Human Colony’ to the decrepit streets of San Francisco, nearly all of the film’s sets are breathtaking in both size and detail, with the ‘Ape Village’ being the clearest example of this superb craftsmanship.

Capturing the bleak and ominous tone of the story flawlessly, the original score by Michael Giacchino is also continuously brilliant, and personally I think very underrated. As immediately from the stylish opening sequence which informs the audience of all of the events that have taken-place prior to this film, the backing-track titled: ‘Level Plaguing Field’ really elevates the scene’s overall emotional impact, with later tracks like ‘Past Their Primates,’ ‘Along Simian Lines’ and the 1968 country-rock song: ‘The Weight’ continuing this trend. 

Although it could go without saying, the visual effects throughout are the film are fantastic, while still perhaps not as pristine as ‘War for the Planet of the Apes’s effects, the CG visuals do still hold-up very well since 2014 and contain an immense amount of detail in areas. In fact, the company that created the apes, Weta Digital, were even brought-back to bring-to-life a variety of other animals for the film including: deers, horses and even a grizzly bear, each sharing the same high-level of detail.

To conclude, ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ is another remarkable instalment in this new series, upping the stakes and visuals from the previous film alongside continuing the story in a meaningful and entertaining fashion. This science fiction sequel is certainly worth a watch, and whilst I would recommend watching the entire trilogy in order to experience the full story of: ‘Caesar’ as a character, if you have limited time or perhaps don’t usually enjoy sci-fi, then I’d say the middle chapter of this trilogy is truly the most exciting and memorable of the three. Final Rating: high 8/10.

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Whiplash (2014) – Film Review

Written and directed by Damien Chazelle (La La Land, First Man), this indie drama appeared almost out of nowhere to incredible reviews from both critics and audiences alike in 2014, featuring some unbelievable performances from Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons alongside an engaging narrative and well-written script. ‘Whiplash’ truly raises the bar for quality when it comes to the independent film sector and small-budget filmmaking in general.

Plot Summary: A promising young drummer (Andrew) attending a prestigious music academy finds himself under the wing of the most respected professor the academy has to offer who has gained an infamous reputation over-time due to his constant abuse towards students who aren’t reaching their full potential.

Being shot in only nineteen days, ‘Whiplash’ feels a true passion project for director Damien Chazelle, with large portions of the film even being based on Chazelle’s own experiences of being part of a band during his high school days. Despite this promising inspiration, to even receive funding for: ‘Whiplash’ Chazelle actually had to turn a small portion of the script into a short film, which he then submitted to numerous different short film festivals. In which, J.K. Simmons played the same character whilst Miles Teller’s character was originally known as ‘Johnny Simmons’ before later being changed.

Miles Teller (who has actually played the drums since he was fifteen) portrays the film’s protagonist: ‘Andrew’ very well. Presenting ‘Andrew’ as a likeable and talented drummer who soon becomes incredibly self-righteous as he begins to dismantle his own life after becoming more and more obsessed with trying to perfect his musical talent. However, its the criminally underrated J.K. Simmons who truly steals the film. Portraying ‘Andrew’s tutor: ‘Fletcher’ as a strict and sometimes even intimidating presence, usually resulting in ‘Andrew’ (as well as his many other students) being eager to impress him despite his constant ridiculing of them, a large amount of which the writing actually manages to make quite humourous without taking-away from the film’s drama. Melissa Benoist also makes a short appearance within the film as ‘Nicole,’ a young girl who ‘Andrew’ has an affection for, yet despite her decent performance, ‘Nicole’ ends-up feeling very under-utilised due to her extremely short screen-time.

The cinematography by Sharone Meir is fairly solid throughout the film, while nothing overly extraordinary. The film’s various close-ups of the different drum kit pieces (as well as many other instruments) really gives the film an element of style, in addition to making for a number of memorable and visually pleasing shots. Alongside this is also the film’s colour palette, which mostly consists of dirty yellows and oranges, giving the film an almost rustic appeal, not too dissimilar to a drum kit cymbal itself.

Throughout the runtime, the original score by Justin Hurwitz is predominantly based around drums (obviously due to the story’s focus on-such) aside from a few tracks which utilize various trumpets and piano. Meaning all of the tracks feel very Jazz-like, which fits perfectly with the film as nearly every song that is performed by ‘Andrew’ and his fellow band members is always within this genre of music. My personal favourite from this long list of impressive work is more than likely the signature track: ‘Overture,’ simply due to the track’s enormous amount of range.

As previously mentioned, Miles Teller has played the drums since he was fifteen, and throughout the film, ‘Andrew’ receives numerous blisters on his hands due to his vigorous and unconventional style of jazz drumming. While most are aware of this, it may surprise some viewers to know that this style of drumming is Teller’s own. Meaning some of the blood that appears on his hands and drumsticks within the film’s more intense scenes is actually real. Despite this commitment however, ‘Whiplash’ still suffers from one major flaw, this being the film’s overly fast-pacing. As due to the film’s tight runtime, ‘Whiplash’ does sprint through its story without much hesitation. Although it doesn’t feel rushed per-say, the film’s fast-pacing does begin to make certain aspects of its story feel undeveloped as a result, e.g. ‘Andrew’s various relationships and his life outside of music.

‘Whiplash’ may be a low-budget indie flick, but through its marvellous performances, brilliant writing and attractive cinematography. Chazelle manages to craft a very entertaining film focused around music that isn’t simply an adaptation of a classic theatre performance. Whilst it may not feature the vibrant and varied colour palette of: ‘La La Land’ or the stunning CG visuals of: ‘First Man,’ Damien Chazelle’s directorial debut is certainty an astounding effort and a memorable musical experience to say the least. Final Rating: 8/10.

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Chef (2014) – Film Review

Even after working in blockbuster franchises such as: ‘Star Wars’ and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, director Jon Favreau (Zathura, Iron Man, The Lion King) crafts one of his best films to date with this clear passion project. Being obsessed with food and cooking in his spare-time, Favreau puts his kitchen knowledge to perfect use as his film ‘Chef’ focuses on the story of a middle-age man taking his wonderful tastes across America, and whilst fairly simplistic, this indie flick still manages to remain a pretty charming comedy/drama from beginning-to-end.

Plot Summary: ‘Carl Casper’ is an acclaimed chef with a family life that seems as decaying as his artistic freedom. But after being fired from his restaurant job due to an aggressive confrontation with a snarky food critic, ‘Carl’ decides to travel across America selling his own dishes in a second-hand taco truck.

Although not directly based on a true story per-say, ‘Chef’ does take inspiration from plenty of real-world figures in addition to Jon Favreau’s own history in cuisine. The main source of inspiration for the film however, was the professional food truck chef Roy Choi. Who actually agreed to give Favreau further chef training for the film under the exception he agreed to present a truly authentic portrayal of the life of a chef, and considering the film’s focus on ‘Carl’s struggling funds and the impact the cynical words of food critics can have, I feel the director certainly succeeded.

Jon Favreau portrays ‘Carl’ superbly throughout the film, giving the protagonist a decent amount of range despite him never receiving an enormous amount of characterisation. The rest of the cast of John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony and Sofía Vergara, as well as Scarlett Johansson and Dustin Hoffman for a short period, are all decent within their respective roles, with Robert Downey Jr. also making a short appearance in the film as ‘Marvin’, which interestingly he agreed to do for free as a favour to Favreau for the decision he made to cast him as ‘Tony Stark a.k.a. ‘Iron Man’ years earlier, which most now believe to be his most iconic role.

While ‘Chef’ does have a fairly bright colour palette, the cinematography by Kramer Morgenthau is ultimately nothing above-average. As while the film does have some interesting shots, they’re fairly infrequent throughout. However, this is with the exception of the many close-ups of the food itself, as ‘Chef’ does a superb job at making the viewer’s mouth-water through the delicious food it presents. As the film features a variety of both very creative and very tasty-looking dishes. The film even manages to contain a little stylistic flair with Twitter being represented by animated bluebirds which fly off into the sky whenever a character tweets, which actually plays into the story quite well.

The original score by Lyle Workman isn’t anything overly memorable, but the soundtrack’s Mexican feel does back-up the film’s story effectively and really fits with many of the locations the food truck stops-off at as ‘Carl’ travels across the states of America. ‘Chef’ also utilises a huge range of iconic songs throughout its runtime, most of which also stick to the film’s Mexican aesthetic. From ‘I Like It Like That’ to ‘Lucky Man’ and even ‘Sexual Healing,’ the film’s long list of songs really add to its mostly upbeat tone.

Unfortunately, ‘Chef’ is mostly dragged-down by its overall emotional depth, as although the film is usually entertaining and engaging throughout, the film sometimes lacks the real emotional weight a drama needs, as ‘Carl’s rough relationship with his ex-wife receives little-to-no development, with most of the narrative’s focus being placed on ‘Carl’ reconnecting with his son: ‘Percy,’ which mostly makes for amusing and somewhat relatable scenes rather than any real dramatic moments. Whilst it doesn’t hurt the film really, some characters throughout ‘Chef’ also seem to disappear without a trace, in particular, the character: ‘Jen’ portrayed by Amy Sedaris, who only appears in a single scene and has virtually no impact on the plot, which can come-off as a little odd.

Altogether, while there are definitely more memorable comedy/dramas out there, ‘Chef’ delivers-on exactly on what it sets-out to, featuring some likeable characters portrayed by its great cast, alongside its fantastic soundtrack and scrumptious-looking food, the film is truly a treat whether your an expert in the kitchen yourself or not. It is a shame the film’s more dramatic-side doesn’t fully deliver, as I do genuinely feel ‘Chef’ is a perfect example of Favreau’s filmmaking/acting talent outside any of franchise. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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Lucy (2014) – Film Review

Luc Besson, the iconic director behind: ‘Léon: The Professional,’ ‘The Fifth Element’ and ‘Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets’ returns to the sci-fi genre with ‘Lucy,’ a very strange and original science fiction thriller focusing on a young woman whose intellect begins to evolve after being kidnapped, eventually transforming her into something more than human. Although this interesting plot does feel like a departure from what we usually expect within this genre, I personally feel this doesn’t always work within the film’s favour.

Plot Summary: After a young woman (Lucy) gets accidentally caught in a drug deal, she is captured and taken to the feet of a powerful drug lord. Before long, she finds herself a victim of illegal drug trafficking, in which an experimental synthetic drug is implanted inside her lower abdomen to transport it into Europe. But when the blue chemical leaks into her bloodstream, she turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless creature that has evolved beyond human logic.

Even though the narrative of: ‘Lucy’ is definitely a unique one, I personally feel the film doesn’t explore its various ideas and concepts as effectively as it could, as ‘Lucy’ introduces a number of interesting elements when it comes to human evolution, usually without ever fully releasing them. The film does still manage to contain plenty of astonishing/colourful visuals as well as a few memorable scenes throughout its runtime, yet it simply isn’t enough to save the film from the issues that litter its story, despite the film’s screenplay being in development for over nine-years.

The film’s protagonist: ‘Lucy’ is portrayed fairly-well by Scarlett Johansson, as she gives a very robotic and cold performance throughout the film the more intelligent her character becomes. However, the character of: ‘Lucy’ is actually one of the film’s biggest missteps, as throughout the narrative, ‘Lucy’ always feels incredibly underdeveloped, as we barely spend any-time with her before she begins to evolve after being contaminated with the chemical. Meaning she quickly turns into a calculating killing machine without emotion. As a result of this, it’s extremely difficult to connect with her, or even like her, as we are given very little characterisation before her change. The supporting cast of Morgan Freeman, Amr Waked and Pilou Asbæk are all decent overall, with the exception of Min-sik Choi as the film’s antagonist: ‘Mr. Jang,’ who actually gives the brutal drug lord an intimidating presence despite his limited screen-time.

Thierry Arbogast’s cinematography unfortunately, doesn’t really reflect the film’s many creative CG effects, as although the film does contain the occasional pleasing shot, they are simply too few and far between, with a bit of an overreliance on shot-reverse-shot during many scenes. ‘Lucy’ also contains some fairly unusual editing, as the film constantly cuts-away to symbolic images of animals, nature, populated cities and cells materializing etc. And although this does give the film some style, it also makes some scenes come-off unintentionally comedic.

The original score by Eric Serra, plays very well into the film’s story, as this fitting techno score alters throughout the course of the film, with tracks such as: ‘First Cells’ and ‘Taipei Airport’ feeling very unique, not too different from the film’s story itself. My personal favourite track has to be ‘Flickering Through Time’ however, as this beautiful yet haunting piece plays over one of the film’s most memorable and effective scenes as ‘Lucy’ soars through time.

Although the CG effects do range in quality over the course of the film, ‘Lucy’ does get very inventive with its visuals when it comes to its CGI, as the film features an array of colourful and trippy CG visuals the further ‘Lucy’ evolves, which does help redeem ‘Lucy’s overall lack of scientific accuracy (which the film has actually been heavily criticised for since its release). As whilst I personally don’t feel being less-accurate to real-world science is a problem when it comes to science fiction. ‘Lucy’ rests a large amount of its story on the idea that humans only use 10% of their brains, which has actually been debunked by neurological scientists many times over, as humans typically use about 10%-12% of their brains at a time.

Whilst I’m sure ‘Lucy’ had the potential to be an eccentric and original sci-fi flick at one point-in-time, the film’s cons simply out-way its pros in my opinion. From its cheesy dialogue through to its poor editing choices and flawed story, ‘Lucy’ feels almost as if it gets bogged-down by itself, almost becoming a little too pretentious for its own good. While I do appreciate the film’s more out-there story and great original score, I’d recommend you stick to ‘The Fifth Element’ for your fill of a Luc Besson sci-fi. Final Rating: 4/10.

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