Slender Man (2018) – Film Review

Releasing years after the internet icon had long since passed his popularity, the first mainstream film for the supernatural entity: ‘Slender Man,’ was released to little praise from critics and audiences alike in 2018, not only due to the film’s abysmal quality, but also as a result of the negative publicity surrounding the ‘Creepypasta’ creation following the attempted murder of a twelve-year-old Wisconsin girl in 2014, which was supposedly catalysed by the urban legend. The negative reception to the character got so severe that production companies Sony and Screen Gems were reportedly nervous about releasing the film, sequentially leading the companies to release the occult horror with hardly any promotion and no critic screenings. And yet, despite having all that backstory, the actual film is nothing but forgettable, as ‘Slender Man’ sands away virtually all of the mystery and subtlety that made the character so intriguing, to begin with.

Plot Summary: In a small town in Massachusetts, a group of teenage friends, fascinated by the internet lore of the ‘Slender Man,’ attempt to disprove his existence by summoning him with an online ritual. But, one week later, after a member of their group mysteriously disappears, the teens begin to realise that the urban legend of the ‘Slender Man’ is all too real…

Directed by Sylvain White (Stomp the Yard, The Losers, The Mark of the Angels – Miserere), ‘Slender Man’ himself first appeared on the ‘Something Awful’ forums in 2009, emerging in a series of photographs edited to depict a tall, humanoid entity unnoticed by others but almost always surrounded by, or near, children. Since then, many have speculated regarding the origins of the internet icon, the earliest reference to a similar creature being in ‘Der Großmann,’ a German folk tale written in 1702. But, of course, none of this captivating history was used for the film. Instead, ‘Slender Man’ simply just ignores all of the character’s rich history from the ‘Marble Hornets’ web series, the fan-made video-games, and the bottomless trove of fan-fiction, in favour of telling a formulaic and derivative story surrounding a group of teens watching an ‘ominous’ video online before then vanishing one-by-one.

Naturally, this issue could’ve been concealed with a strong cast, but while Julia Goldani Telles, Joey King, Jaz Sinclair, and Annalise Basso try to make their presence felt, especially King as ‘Wren,’ a soulful waif in a punk choker, and Sinclair as ‘Chloe,’ who beams with life until she watches in unflinching horror as ‘Slender Man’ records himself entering her house. The teens are so poorly defined that they’re practically interchangeable, so when ‘Slender Man’ starts abducting them, you may not even realise that any of them are gone. And even though the teens do try to protect each other, it’s obviously to no avail, and means nothing to the audience as they are entirely disposable protagonists.

The film’s cinematography by Luca Del Puppo, fortunately, fairs a little better, as the camerawork allows for a reasonable amount of attractive shots, particularly in the first act. Nevertheless, this is soon spoilt by the film’s atrocious colour palette, as there isn’t a single shot throughout the film not drenched in drab blues and greys. By that same token, even though I strongly subscribe to the idea that darkness perfectly lends itself to the horror genre, shots in ‘Slender Man’ are often layered with so many coats of black that it becomes almost impossible to tell what’s occurring in some scenes, which is only made worse by the film’s dreadful CG effects, repeatedly uninteresting set-pieces, and collection of deafening jump-scares.

Surprisingly composed by Brandon Campbell and Ramin Djawadi, the original score for: ‘Slender Man’ does manage to be far eerier than the visuals through its heavy use of string instruments, creating as daunting of an atmosphere as it can through tracks like ‘Him’ and ‘Library.’ The sound design also effectively adds to the film’s soundscape with thundering cicada buzzing and woodland ambience, both of which are efficacious even if repetitive.

Considering that ‘Slender Man’ is infamous for tragically invoking an attempted murder, in addition to being blamed for many suicides. It’s almost inconceivable that a high-risk film such as this could also be so inaccurate when it comes to the character it’s based upon, as the mythology for this incarnation of the character almost seems to be fabricated on the fly, as ‘Slender Man’ is given multiple abilities he was never known to have had previously, such as mind control, world manipulation, and more.

In summary, the inherent creepiness of: ‘Slender Man’ never comes across in this cinematic interpretation, which despite having a runtime of only ninety-one minutes, feels as if it lingers on for over three hours. With that said, it’s not as if more resources would’ve improved the film, as the main fault of: ‘Slender Man’ lies within its portrayal of the titular character, as the story ultimately loses sight of what made the internet icon so unnerving in the first place; the trepidation in what you don’t see him do. And, as a result, the film gives you plenty of reasons to put your hands over your eyes, but almost no incentive to peek through your fingers. Final Rating: high 2/10.

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Rampage (2018) – Film Review

There has been a debate amongst film buffs for many years now regarding whether it’s possible to make a great film based on a video-game, and whilst I’ve always strongly believed it is, I feel the reason we haven’t received a great film as of yet is that many of the video-games chosen for adaptations were simply not the right choices, nor did the films have talented writers or directors behind them. ‘Rampage,’ released in 2018, is the perfect example of this, as this moronic blockbuster is actually based on the arcade classic of the same name, a video-game which contained no characters and little-to-no story, and the film faces all of the repercussions as a result.

Plot Summary: Sharing a special bond with ‘George,’ an extraordinarily intelligent albino gorilla, ‘Davis Okoye,’ a retired U.S. Army soldier and now a San Diego Wildlife Preserve primatologist, sees his world turned upside-down when his primate companion is accidentally exposed to a gene-mutating pathogen. Morphing ‘George’ along with an unsuspecting wolf and crocodile into ravenous monsters as they grow to gargantuan proportions, thrusting ‘Davis’ and ‘Dr. Kate Caldwell’ into a race against time as they struggle to find an antidote….

Even when ignoring its video-game origins, ‘Rampage’ is merely a predictable and at times fairly dull creature-feature, as director Brad Peyton (Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore, Incarnate, San Andreas) never attempts to do anything to set the film apart from other action blockbusters. For instance, in the original 1986 arcade game, players controlled one of three giant monsters, playing as either: a wolf, a lizard, or a gorilla, as they are tasked with destroying cities before the military can shoot them down and transform them back into the humans they once were. This aspect of the creatures being mutated humans could’ve added a more emotional viewpoint to the film not present in many other action flicks, as the characters deal with the morality of their actions, yet the film just abandons this idea in exchange for oblivious animals simply having their growth and aggression altered, which is a far less engrossing concept.

Reteaming with Peyton after the pair worked together on 2015’s ‘San Andreas,’ Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson flashes the same effortless, self-deprecating appeal that’s always been the hallmark of his work. And although I’m personally rather weary of the ‘muscular action hero’ stereotype, there’s no denying Johnson has a natural charisma as ‘Davis Okoye’ beyond his constant smouldering. Naomi Woods, however, is nowhere near her best here, as her character: ‘Dr. Caldwell’ is nothing more than a sassy female scientist with little to offer aside from exposition dumps and an unnecessary romantic subplot with ‘Davis.’ Then there are the film’s antagonists portrayed by Malin Akerman and Jake Lacy, who fully embrace the absurdity of the film they are in, overacting in every scene alongside Jeffrey Dean Morgan, a government agent who saunters around the screen like a modern-day cowboy, speaking in painfully forced good-old-boy idioms.

Aside from one rip-roaring sequence where the trio of monsters rage through the streets of Chicago destroying everything in their path, which is supposed to appear as one singular take. The majority of the film’s cinematography by Jaron Presant is fairly standard for a modern blockbuster, primarily utilising mid-shots for conversations between characters, and wide-shots whenever possible to display the huge scale of the creatures, which luckily helps to distract from the film’s innumerable lines of cringy dialogue.

As the creatively named tracks: ‘Gorillas,’ ‘Kate,’ ‘Cornfield,’ ‘Chicago,’ and ‘George’ would imply, the original score by Andrew Lockington is a minimal-level effort from the composer at best, as the predominately orchestral score is instantly forgettable but does its job well enough during the film’s few tender moments. But with action dominating a large portion of: ‘Rampage’s runtime, the score mostly has to rely on aggressive string ostinatos and a collection of simplistic motifs, all of which simply enter one ear and fall out of the other.

While I can appreciate that there was a clear level of effort put into ‘Rampage’s visual effects, with a small crew from Weta Digital even traveling out to Chicago to examine the materials and architecture style of each building before creating a virtual model of the Chicago Loop that could be destroyed in the film’s climactic battle. Many of the CG effects throughout ‘Rampage’ range in quality all the same, specifically with the scene: ‘Plane Crash,’ which looks absolutely horrendous during a handful of shots as Johnson and Woods are digitally recreated as they fall out of the sky.

Overall, whilst ‘Rampage’ does feature some entertaining action sequences and the occasional piece of self-aware humour, I mostly just find the film to be an exasperating waste of potential considering the film is a video-game adaptation. As when there are so many video-games with riveting stories, worlds, and characters, with ‘Bioshock,’ ‘Portal,’ ‘Mirror’s Edge,’ ‘Gears of War,’ and ‘Red Dead Redemption’ being just a few considerable options, it’s insulting that production companies continue to adapt games with barely any plot or characters to speak of, and with so many of them ultimately ending-up as your run-of-the-mill summer blockbuster, is it even worth the effort? Final Rating: high 3/10.

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The Meg (2018) – Film Review

Following the endless string of horrendous, ultra-low-budget shark films produced for the Syfy Channel, some notable releases of which being: ‘Toxic Shark,’ ‘Ghost Shark,’ ‘Sand Sharks,’ ‘Shark Exorcist,’ ‘6-Headed Shark Attack,’ and ‘Mega-Shark vs. Giant Octopus.’ ‘The Meg,’ released in 2018, attempted to be an explosive and humorous action blockbuster inspired by these risible science fiction flicks, yet due to its less than mediocre writing, predictable story and often dreadful supporting cast, the film noticeably lacks the thrills or overt cheesiness that make cult sci-fi and horror films so enticing.

Plot Summary: Deemed insane for claiming that a failed submarine rescue was doomed due to an enormous creature lurking within the ocean depths, deep-sea rescue diver: ‘Jonas Taylor’ finds himself heading into the Mariana Trench, five years later, as a team of scientists working for an underwater research facility become trapped inside a crippled submersible after sharing a similar encounter. Soon discovering that the colossal creature corning them is one of the largest marine predators to ever exist… the megalodon.

Even though it’s incredibly rare nowadays to stumble upon a genuinely great shark film, I can appreciate what director Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping, National Treasure) and his crew set-out to do with this film. As it’s obvious quite early on that ‘The Meg’ doesn’t take itself that seriously, having numerous jokes and self-aware lines scattered throughout its runtime, a clear departure from the mostly straight-faced novel: ‘MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror’ by Steve Alten, which the film is partly an adaptation of. However, that isn’t to say that the humour within ‘The Meg’ is quality comedy, as a large majority of the film’s comedic lines feel either forced or childish, with any lines that aren’t intended for humour usually being clichéd pieces of dialogue along the lines of: “What Have We Done?” and “There’s Something Out There!”

While there is an argument to be made that all you really need for an enjoyable summer action flick is Jason Statham and something for Jason Statham to kill, I feel ‘The Meg’ is another film that further proves this method of casting for blockbusters isn’t always the right call. As whilst Statham’s actual talent for swimming is put to fantastic use in this film, Statham often just plays himself, rarely even making an effort to make ‘Jonas’ an actual character. The film’s supporting cast are unfortunately, even worse, as whilst Rainn Wilson seems to at least be having fun portraying ‘Jack Morris,’ the smug billionaire funding the underwater research facility, the rest of the cast e.g. Bingbing Li, Cliff Curtis, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, and Winston Chao, are all saddled with roles that can barely be described as archetypes.

The film’s cinematography by Tom Stern is creative when it wants to be, occasionally dragging the camera in and out of the water almost as if the camera operator is in the middle of the ocean just beside the characters, which is even more impressive as all of the film’s ocean sequences were filmed within two large water-tanks built in Kumeu, New Zealand, with one tank utilising a two-hundred-foot green-screen on one side for shots above the ocean’s surface. Yet where the film falters in terms of visuals is with the meg itself, as although the CGI that brings the gigantic apex-predator to-life is more than serviceable, the film’s camerawork rarely displays the creature’s size in full through wide-shots, which is an abysmal waste of potential considering the film’s megalodon is over seventy-five foot-long.

Furthermore, Harry Gregson-Williams’ original score for: ‘The Meg’ has its moments, but is often disappointing, as despite the film’s signature track: ‘Mana One’ being a coruscating way to introduce the underwater research facility. This track is sadly very underused, only making two more appearances from that point onwards, which is frustrating as the rest of the soundtrack, in particular, the tracks: ‘Prehistoric Species,’ ‘Tracker,’ ‘Shark Cage,’ and ‘Beach Attack’ merely sound like tracks taken from any generic action score.

When it comes to the film’s titular creature, many of the visual effects artists who worked on ‘The Meg’ did research into how sharks swim, breathe and hunt in real life in an attempt to understand how a creature of that scale could realistically be presented on-screen. Most of these supposed details are generally unavailing, however, as the film constantly plays fast and loose with the laws of deep-water biology similar to most shark films, in addition having nearly all of the meg’s kills be entirely devoid of blood.

All in all, whilst ‘The Meg’s goal of modernising a creature-feature storyline and then transferring it into an exciting summer blockbuster is certainly commendable. I’d rather stick to ‘Deep Blue Sea’ for my fill of a cheesy shark flick, as when ‘The Meg’ is lacking, it’s truly lacking, becoming nothing more than a trite and stereotypical mess that is often too formulaic for its own good. Still, the film’s flaws didn’t stop it from becoming a worldwide success, as ‘The Meg’ grossed over £383 million, meaning its very likely that we’ll be receiving a sequel (with many of the same problems no doubt) in the near future. Final Rating: low 4/10.

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Searching (2018) – Film Review

Although some may see ‘Searching’ as nothing more than a gimmick, as this hyper-modern found-footage thriller utilises (and in many ways refines) the same format as the low-budget 2015 horror: ‘Unfriended’ and it’s 2018 sequel: ‘Unfriended: Dark Web.’ ‘Searching’ has much more to offer than just having its narrative play-out over a computer screen, as first time co-writer and director Aneesh Chaganty constructs an engrossing story around this seldom concept, focusing on the disappearance of a teenage girl and the unfolding drama that follows.

Plot Summary: When ‘David Kim’s sixteen-year-old daughter: ‘Margot’ goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But after thirty-seven hours pass without a single lead, ‘David’ decides to search the one place he believes his daughter holds all her secrets, her laptop…

Shot in only thirteen days yet taking over two years to complete due to the large amount of prep, editing, and animation work. The fundamental idea of: ‘Searching’ may have already been attempted with the previously mentioned: ‘Unfriended’ franchise among some other horror flicks, but what makes the film stand-out is its story, as ‘Searching’ veers away from the usual paranormal scares of most found-footage films to focus on a missing persons case, which does better fit this style of filmmaking, in my opinion, a subgenre now commonly known as cyber-horror. Furthermore, the film’s protagonist being: ‘Margot’s father gives ‘Searching’ a strong emotional core, as nearly every parent can relate to the fear of their child going missing. On top of this, the film also manages to weave in an overarching theme about the dangers of social-media, giving the film quite an impactful message in spite of how many times its been covered in cinema.

Considering John Cho is best known for his comedic roles, it has to be said that Cho does a phenomenal job throughout the film as ‘David Kim.’ Portraying a realistic depiction of a panicked father’s online movements as he desperately tries to track down his daughter, and the film provides us with plenty of dramatic moments to really let us feel ‘David’s pain. This is an even greater achievement when taking into account that Cho spends the majority of his screen-time just sitting in front of a computer screen looking ever so slightly right of the camera. Unfortunately, ‘David’s daughter portrayed by Michelle La isn’t as impressive, but this may also be due to her dialogue, as many scenes involving ‘Margot’ seem to be quite trite in nature. And then, finally, there is Debra Messing as ‘Detective Vick,’ who is serviceable in her role as a firm detective investigating ‘Margot’s disappearance.

The cinematography of: ‘Searching’ is interesting-enough on itself even without the story’s central mystery, as the film’s camerawork was actually handled by three different cinematographers. The first being the film’s standard cinematographer Juan Sebastian Baron for whenever the film is shot through iPhones and GoPro cameras, and second being the film’s virtual cinematographers Nick Johnston and Will Merrick, who help give the film a more dynamic feel by controlling the movement of the camera whenever we are looking through a computer screen, drawing the eyes of the audiences to specific areas and details. But, of course, as the film is primarily on a screen or shot through a phone, beautiful shots are basically nonexistent. Its also not uncommon for the film’s editing to feel overly intense at points, appearing as if its trying far too hard to build tension.

In a surprising turn for a found-footage flick, ‘Searching’ does actually have an original score composed by Torin Borrowdale, the film’s soundtrack heavily leans into the story’s technological focus, being an electronic score with a strong emphasis on building tension or a creating a calming window of relief. And while the opening track: ‘New User’ is immensely corny, later tracks such as: ‘No Reception,’ ‘San Jose Missing Persons,’ and ‘Search by Image’ do greatly add to the impact of certain scenes.

Additionally, whilst all of the computer systems, programs, apps, and websites we see during the runtime aren’t the actual versions, but instead templates that were recreated from scratch and then animated. The sheer amount of detail and realism that goes into each second of screen-time we spend on the computer screen simply can’t be ignored, as ‘Searching’ never implements hilariously fake websites into its story like ‘iGram,’ ‘Search,’ and other dreadful knock-offs we’ve seen in similar films. Instead, both ‘David’ and ‘Margot’s laptops feel like real devices, having their message/Email inboxes overflowing and many real-world apps and websites like Google and YouTube open at one time.

In conclusion, ‘Searching’ may still be a gimmick film in a multitude of ways, but I feel for those who can look past the film’s occasionally cheesy moments and in all honestly, fairly bland characters beyond their basic motivations. ‘Searching’ is still an engaging thriller/mystery with enough propulsion and small clues to keep most viewers invested, further ironing-out the kinks in this obscure subgenre so when it all comes together, it’s with a most pleasurable snap. Final Rating: high 7/10.

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Hotel Artemis (2018) – Film Review

Easily one of the most overlooked and commercially underwhelming films of 2018, ‘Hotel Artemis’ is one of those rare releases that feels very unsuited to the genre its actually a part of. As whilst this enclosed story set within the walls of an illegal hospital is certainly interesting, ‘Hotel Artemis’ also bizarrely serves as a science fiction flick. Boasting plenty of futuristic technology alongside its snappy dialogue, charismatic performances, and gorgeously designed central location. Its just a shame the film doesn’t always know what to do with any of the above.

Plot Summary: In the riot-torn, near-future of Los Angeles, 2028. Disgruntled thieves and criminals make their way to ‘Hotel Artemis,’ a secret members-only hospital operated by ‘The Nurse,’ a no-nonsense doctor who tends to their injuries under the condition that anyone who enters the hotel sticks to the set rules. But after ‘The Nurse’ receives word the notorious crime lord: ‘The Wolf King’ is in bound with a gunshot wound, ‘The Nurse’ is forced to break her own rules as the hotel is thrown into violent chaos…

Written and directed by Drew Pearce, ‘Hotel Artemis’ is actually Pearce’s directorial debut, as before this film Pearce had exclusively worked as a screenwriter, writing blockbusters such as: ‘Iron Man 3’ and ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ as well as the ‘Fast and Furious’ spin-off: ‘Hobbs and Shaw’ later down the line. This might explain why ‘Hotel Artemis’ is as compellingly written as it is, as in spite of its quick-pacing and very limited number of locations, the film manages to squeeze a fair amount into its extremely tight runtime, exploring some of the world outside of the hotel in addition to developing many of the hotel’s criminal inhabitants, all the while, the film remains tense as a result of the interactions between the characters and the impending arrive of: ‘The Wolf King.’

Jodie Foster leads the cast as ‘The Nurse,’ her first acting role since the sci-fi film: ‘Elysium’ in 2013. And her all too rare screen presence is a pleasure to see again, as she gives a convincingly mournful performance, portraying ‘The Nurse’ as an elderly women refined to the sanctuary of her work following the tragic death of her son. Then there are also the criminals, assassins and thieves (and hotel security) portrayed by Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista, Charlie Day, Zachary Quinto, and Jeff Goldblum, who are all enjoyable to watch as the various scum of the futuristic Los Angles, and all receive a fair amount of development although many characters don’t receive a payoff.

The film’s greatest strength is without a doubt its setting, as the penthouse floor of: ‘The Artemis’ is rich with atmosphere as the hotel’s set-design and set-dressing is reminiscent of the Art Deco style of hotels of the 1930s, almost giving the impression its a building from day’s past. From the velvet cushions to the green slightly teared wallpaper, ‘Hotel Artemis’ is a very memorable location, its just unfortunate the film attempts to weave in sci-fi wires and screens etc. The cinematography by Chung-hoon Chung also greatly adds to the film’s visuals, as the film keeps its shots and colourful lighting as diverse as possible and avoids utilising too much hand-held camerawork.

Cliff Martinez’s original score is another superb element of the film, as the soundtrack features plenty of noteworthy tracks like ‘It Smells Like Somebody Died in Here,’ ‘Hands Off the Gooch,’ ‘I Only Kill Important People,’ and ‘Don’t Cross My Line,’ all of which elevate both the tension and style of the film. ‘Hotel Artemis’ also integrates a few songs from the 1970s such as: ‘California Dreamin’ and ‘Helpless,’ which whilst catchy, further adds to the idea of the film seeming out-of-place as a science fiction flick, but then I suppose without the link to that genre we wouldn’t have the rest of this fantastically computerised score.

As mentioned many times before, the biggest flaw of: ‘Hotel Artemis’ for me is its near-future setting, as due to many of the film’s characters feeling like modern-day criminals in their actions and personalities, it soon becomes clear that with just a few small alterations the entire narrative could really be switched to fit within a modern time-period, making the sci-fi aspects ultimately pointless. However, with the idea of a hotel for criminals already being explored with the ‘Continental Hotel’ in the ‘John Wick’ series, its possible that these characteristics were introduced as a way of avoiding too many similarities with that franchise.

So, whilst some characters may not quite get the resolution they deserve and a number of concepts do feel undercooked, ‘Hotel Artemis’ is still a tense and engaging story with many exciting moments of action in-between. Although I personally would only recommend the film to viewers who specifically enjoy intense sci-fi-thrillers, it is a pity that ‘Hotel Artemis’ mostly received lukewarm reviews and was an utter box-office failure, because there is clearly a level of effort put into the film, and I do feel its worth a watch should it seem appealing. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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The Grinch (2018) – Film Review

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as his pen-name: ‘Dr. Seuss,’ is recognised today as one of the best authors in children’s literature. Through his whimsical writing, memorable characters and surreal illustrations, many of Geisel’s stories have become truly timeless as a result of how original they were compared to other children’s books released around the same-period. So, of course, it would only be a matter of time till Geisel’s various characters began making their way to the silver screen, with one of his most villainous characters: ‘The Grinch,’ receiving many adaptations, the most recent of which possibly being the worst to-date.

Plot Summary: In the town of: ‘Whoville,’ the residents known as ‘Whos’ excitedly await the arrival of Christmas Day. But just north of: ‘Whoville,’ on the top of: ‘Mount Crumpit,’ the cantankerous and green-furred: ‘Grinch’ begins to hatch a plan with his pet-dog: ‘Max,’ crafting a scheme to steal Christmas from the ‘Whos’ in an attempt to silence their irritating holiday cheer once and for all…

This 2018 readaptation of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ is animated by Illumination Animation, the animation company behind modern family flicks like ‘Despicable Me,’ ‘Sing’ and ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ in addition to a previous ‘Dr. Seuss’ adaptation: ‘The Lorax’ in 2012. This isn’t surprising of course, as Illumination Animation have truly exploded in popularity since 2010, mostly due to their creation of: ‘The Minions.’ And whilst I personally don’t despise the company as a whole as I feel many of their films are entertaining-enough for younger viewers, its fair to say their film catalogue is spotty at best, with many of their films bosting extremely predicable humour and usually attractive yet repetitive-looking animation, and ‘The Grinch’ is unfortunately, no exception.

Benedict Cumberbatch portrays the title character, and although Cumberbatch is usually an actor I adore, having given an array of brilliant performances throughout his career. ‘The Grinch’ is without a doubt one of his weakest, as his performance somehow manages to feel both minimum effort and also far too cartoonish. Resulting in this version of the nefarious characters becoming instantly forgettable, especially when put in comparison with Jim Carrey’s beloved performance. Then there is also Cameron Seely and Rashida Jones who portray ‘Cindy-Lou Who’ and her mother: ‘Donna,’ who this time around have their own subplot mostly unrelated to ‘The Grinch’s scheme, which serves little purpose aside from one particular scene. And finally there is Pharrell Williams as the story’s narrator, which is some of the most bizarre casting I’ve ever seen, as his typical American accent doesn’t remotely fit the role of a traditional storyteller.

Similar to the rest of Illumination Animation’s films, ‘The Grinch’ is visually-impressive at a first glance, as the film’s animated cinematography and extremely vibrant colour palette is likely to catch any viewer’s eye. Yet also in-line with their other films, Illumination Animation’s style does feel very repetitive after so long, as each character/location does little to make itself stand-out. A perfect example of this is ‘The Grinch’ himself, as while ‘The Grinch’ is implied to have very poor hygiene similar to other adaptations of the story, neither ‘The Grinch’ nor his home within ‘Mount Crumpit’ are ever displayed as unpleasant, even though ‘The Grinch’s home being dark and filthy serves as an extension of his vile personality.

Aside from ‘Tyler the Creator’s abysmal new rendition of: ‘You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch,’ the original score by Danny Elfman is completely unremarkable. From ‘A Wonderful Awful Idea’ to ‘Stealing Christmas,’ all of the film’s tracks lack both memorability and charm, barley embracing the fantastical nature of: ‘Dr. Seuss’ stories or the festive season itself, with the rest of the film’s soundtrack just relying on other modern renditions of classic Christmas songs.

Undoubtedly the most disappointing aspect of this readaptation however, is the actual animation style. As one obvious benefit that this new adaptation has over the live-action adaptation of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas!’ is simply being animated, as this allows the film’s designs to greatly lean-into the wonderful illustrations of: ‘Dr. Seuss,’ as his sketches are incredibly difficult to recreate in real-life as result of their harsh curves and gravity-defying arictecture. But strangely, the film doesn’t take advantage of this, with many designs only having a slight ‘Seuss’ influence in spite of the clearly inspired rhyming dialogue.

Overall, ‘The Grinch’ is a worst-case scenario for a readaptation, as I feel this animated film falls flat in most areas, never reaching the emotional or comedic heights of: ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ from 2000, or even matching-up to the delightful hand-drawn animation seen in the original 1966 short. So, whilst its visuals may appear pleasant at first, it quickly becomes apparent something is missing. As this new adaptation gives the impression it was made by a team of producers rather than just one director, and as a result, fails to breathe new life into this age-old Christmas tale. Final Rating: 3/10.

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To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (2018) – Film Review

Based on the novel of the same name by Jenny Han and releasing around the same time-frame as many other Netflix teen rom-coms such as: ‘The Kissing Booth,’ ‘The Perfect Date,’ and ‘Sarah Burgess is a Loser.’ ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ may have a fairly formulaic structure in addition to feeling a little cliché at points as it closely follows its source material, but mostly through its charm and great cast, this light-hearted teenage romantic-comedy manages to retain some entertainment value for any admirers of the genre.

Plot Summary: Since she was young, ‘Lara Jean’ has always lacked the confidence to tell any of the boys she liked her true feelings, choosing instead to write them down within individual letters for her eyes only. Until one day, the letters meant for her alone are publicly released, throwing her life into chaos as her foregoing loves confront her one-by-one…

Although definitely not a must-see for Netflix subscribers, ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ does feel like a slight improvement over the other previously mentioned attempts Netflix has made within the realm of romantic flicks. As while the story is far from original, the film’s basic concept of a teenage girl locking away her thoughts and feelings only for them to eventually be released, is at the very least, a plot that entices some interest into how things will turn-out for her in the end, and interestingly, all of the letters seen throughout the film were physically written by Lana Condor herself whilst on-set, with the actress writing a total of seven copies for each letter, as ‘Lara’ later tears them-up.

This leads into the best aspect of the film for me, Lana Condor’s portrayal of the film’s protagonist: ‘Lara Jean,’ as much of the film’s overall charm is really owed to Condor’s lead performance, as the actress excellently balances ‘Lara’s timidity with her likability without much issue. Noah Centineo also shares quite a large role within the film as ‘Peter,’ one of: ‘Lara’s earliest loves, and while Centineo does give a decent performance throughout the film, he does ultimately play the same character he has portrayed countless times before in other rom-coms both before and after, the same also goes for Israel Broussard as another of the ‘Lara’s past love interests.

The cinematography by Michael Fimognari is serviceable, with the film’s thought-out editing usually making-up for the large number of bland shots through its clever cutting from past to present. The film also tries to implement a little style into its filmmaking by having text and emojis appear on-screen whenever ‘Lara’ is texting, which unfortunately, is executed sloppily. As whilst I understand what the filmmakers were going for, the final design they chose is quite odd, as rather than having ‘Lara’s phone screen appear beside her, or have text bubbles appear above her head, the text is simply displayed in the same font as the film’s opening titles, which I feel is both distracting and confusing. Bizarrely, the film also contains a few shots of Subway product-placement, which are very distracting even if they are fairly minimal.

Expectedly, the original score by Jon Wong is quite forgettable, but does still serve the film’s narrative well. Its the huge variety of modern pop songs that rule over most of the soundtrack, however, with next to nearly every scene featuring at least one or two different songs, and whilst some scenes do benefit from this, a large majority of the time it does feel as if there is an overabundance of songs thrown into a singular scene.

Yet the most obvious flaw the film suffers from is the way it utilises its supporting characters, as although the film does remain focused on the life of: ‘Lara Jean’ for the most part, the film also places emphasis on many of: ‘Lara’s friends and family, and even though the film tries its best to convince its audience otherwise, many of the supporting characters serve very little purpose to the story, and by the end of the film, are virtually forgotten as most are given no conclusive scene with ‘Lara.’ But its ‘Lara’s sister and father who I personally found the most obnoxious, as these two characters deliver a large portion of the film’s occasionally cheesy dialogue and cringy humour, as sadly the film does feature plenty of awkward comedic moments in-between its few successful jokes.

In short, while certainly not as diverting or as original as many other reviews may lead you to believe, ‘To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before’ does still have some value, as the film retains many of the novel’s faults as well as its merits, and in spite of many of its problems, I imagine most fans of upbeat romantic-comedies will be satisfied with the film by its end. If you don’t usually drift towards rom-coms, however, I’d probably suggest you check-out some of the other original films Netflix has to offer. Final Rating: high 5/10.

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Venom (2018) – Film Review

Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Gangster Squad, Zombieland: Double Tap), ‘Venom’ follows in the footsteps of many other mature superhero flicks before it such as: ‘Deadpool’ and ‘Kiss-Ass.’ Attempting to focus more on the story of an anti-hero than the usual heroically noble protagonist we expect from this genre, all alongside some dark comedy and plenty of action scenes for good measure. However, just from the first half an hour alone, it’s clear that ‘Venom’ bites-off far more than it can chew.

Plot Summary: When investigative journalist: ‘Eddie Brock’ attempts a comeback by investigating recent illegal experiments in San Francisco, he soon end-ups accidentally becoming the host of an alien symbiote that gives him a violent super alter-ego known as ‘Venom.’ But after a shadowy organisation begins looking for a symbiote of their own, ‘Eddie’ must use his newfound powers to protect his planet…

Although it may surprise many, ‘Venom’ has actually an age-rating of twelve in the United Kingdom, which is very bizarre as the film clearly tries to appeal to an older audience throughout its runtime, with ‘Venom’ constantly committing horrific acts like biting people’s heads off, yet of course, in a completely bloodless manor. As ‘Venom’ has always been one of: ‘Spider-Man’s most violent and sinister villains, the film feels incredibly inconsistent as a result of this rating, and could’ve been so much more if it indulged further into its dark central character.

Tom Hardy sadly gives one of his weakest performances to date here, as throughout nearly the entirety of the film, Tom Hardy’s portrayal of: ‘Eddie’ is very over-the-top, with his overly-nervous reactions becoming a little obnoxious after a while. This is also due in part to the large amount of improvising Tom Hardy did on-set, usually from items he noticed in various filming locations, including the now infamous: ‘Lobster Tank’ scene, in which, ‘Eddie’ publicly climbs into a restaurant’s lobster aquarium after claiming he’s burning-up from a fever. The cast also features Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed as the film’s antagonist, who also give fairly underwhelming performances. Unfortunately, the characterisation isn’t much of an improvement either, as every character is nothing more than a cardboard cut-out, with the antagonist: ‘Carlton Drake’ in particular, having a confusing and undeveloped motivation for his malevolent scheme.

The cinematography by Matthew Libatique is actually quite chaotic during a number of scenes, as the shots attempt to keep-up with ‘Venom’ as he tears his way through various buildings and enemies, yet when the film goes back to its more character-focused scenes, the cinematography is relatively bland, mostly relying on shot-reverse-shot for the majority of these moments. The writing throughout the narrative is also severely lacking, as aside from a couple of humorous conversations between ‘Eddie’ and ‘Venom,’ the film is truly dripping with line-after-line of cheesy dialogue, much of which has been heard time-and-again in other superhero flicks.

Although there are a number of forgettable superhero scores out-there, the original score by Ludwig Göransson is pretty dull overall. As aside from working decently during some of the more heroic moments within the story, the soundtrack is really nothing more than a straight-forward superhero affair with a few inclines horror thrown-in to fit more with the character of: ‘Venom.’ A few of these tracks do back-up the film’s action scenes well however, as ‘Venom’ does have its fair share of exciting moments despite its predictable story, many of which make great use of: ‘Venom’s unique symbiote abilities.

Without a doubt, the worst aspect of: ‘Venom’ is it’s CG effects, as throughout the film both ‘Venom’ and his symbiote antagonist: ‘Riot’ are far too shiny and continuously bounce around the screen as if they are animated cartoon characters, with nearly every visual effect feeling as if it has virtually no weight or density. Although it could probably go without saying, the lack of any kind appearance/reference from/to ‘Spider-Man’ himself is also quite distracting, as Sony didn’t actually obtain the rights to use the character within this film, nor have this film take-place within the Marvel Cinematic Universe alongside films such as: ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Guardians of the Galaxy,’ despite the Sony’s many attempts at tricking its viewers into believing it does.

While ‘Venom’ is nowhere near as awful as some other superhero blockbusters, with ‘Catwomen,’ ‘Fantastic Four’ and ‘Suicide Squad’ all being far worse in terms of filmmaking. ‘Venom’ is simply a decent idea ruined by its poor execution, as aside from the film’s accuracy to the comic books its based on as well as it’s memorable action set-pieces, the film feels like nothing more than a cliché superhero story we’ve seen many times before, and I personally don’t feel it deserves the huge amount of praise it’s received from most audiences. Unless you’re an enormous fan of this iconic anti-hero, I’d probably recommend you give this character’s first individual outing a miss. Final Rating: 3/10.

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The Open House (2018) – Film Review

Netflix has always enormously ranged in quality when it comes to their original films and the horror genre, as despite films such as: ‘The Ritual’ and ‘Gerald’s Game’ displaying some great promise for the streaming service, many horror duds like ‘Cam,’ ‘Eli,’ ‘The Silence’ and ‘Rattlesnake’ just to name a few, leave ‘The Open House’ feeling like just another bland and (sometimes even moronic) entry into this ongoing trend.

Plot Summary: Following a recent family tragedy, an athletic teenager (Logan) and his mother (Naomi) find themselves besieged by a threatening force when they temporarily move into a new house currently-up for sale…

By far the worst element of: ‘The Open House’ is its writing, as in addition to the film’s extremely dim-witted characters and bizarre misdirections. ‘The Open House’ almost feels as if it has a disconnect from reality at points, as the main antagonist of the film, ‘The Man in Black,’ lurks within the mother and son’s home unbeknown to them, usually hiding in their basement. Yet somehow, also manages to navigate through the house without ever being seen, even going-up and down the single staircase to the basement constantly. The closest ‘The Man in Black’ ever comes to being found is through the noises he makes at night, and although these moments do give ‘The Man in Black’ the perfect opportunity to depose of his victims, he never does for reasons that go unexplained.

Dylan Minnette and Piercey Dalton portray the main duo of the film: ‘Logan’ and ‘Naomi Wallace,’ a mother and son broken apart by the recent death of their father/husband, and although neither of the two actors give a truly bad performance throughout the film, none of the characters ever really feel that likeable or interesting, this even continues on to the supporting cast of Sharif Atkins, Patricia Bethune, Paul Rae and Aaron Abrams. Who all attempt to give each one of the small-town residents a distinct and out-of-touch personality, which usually fall quite flat. ‘Logan’ and ‘Naomi’ also suffer from one of the biggest issues for horror characters, that being their nonsensical decisions. As during many points within the story, the characters don’t react to situations how most people realistically would, sometimes even missing very obvious signs of danger.

Surprisingly, the cinematography by Filip Vandewal does allow for a number of attractive shots. Whilst still fairly dull overall, usually not really adding much to any of the film’s tension-filled moments (what little there are) through the film’s heavy overreliance on its static shot-reverse-shot formula during many scenes. ‘The Open House’ does at least attempt to use a variety of wide-shots and focus-pulls to make effective use of its isolated yet beautiful location in the snowy mountains of Ohio, despite the story itself barely utilising this location aside from a scene nearing the end of the film.

The original score by Joseph Shirley is pretty much exactly what you’d expect, being the usual generic and sometimes even overbearing strings score composed for the majority of horror flicks. From the opening scene to the end of the film’s credits, every track is very forgettable and is barley distinct from each other. So much so that it seems that the soundtrack is barley even findable online, as it actually took me quite a while to locate the score afterwards.

Another poorly-executed aspect of the film is its many misdirections as already mentioned, as despite hinting at numerous different paranormal events throughout its runtime, ‘The Open House’ is actually a mostly grounded modern horror. As whilst the film constantly alludes to supernatural occurrences, the film then always undermines itself by completely ignoring them. This also isn’t just limited to the paranormal aspects however, as the film also introduces a variety of loose-ends which the film never ties-up, and whilst some could see this as setting-up a layer of mystery, I personally feel its just lazy writing and bad red-herrings. This is most notable when it comes to the character of: ‘Martha’ portrayed by Patricia Bethune, who repeatedly refers to her dead husband throughout the film and always acts very unusual. Yet nothing ever comes of his, and by the end of the narrative, her character is almost completely forgotten about.

All in all, ‘The Open House’ is a truly dismal Netflix Original, with some weak performances, a forgettable original score, atrocious writing and an enormous amount of clichés. Aside from the occasional piece of decent cinematography, ‘The Open House’ simply feels like a ‘nothing’ experience, as for me, these kinds of low-effort and low-budget horrors are only dragging the genre down further than it already has been in recent years. Final Rating: 2/10.

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Game Night (2018) – Film Review

Going in initially, I had very little expectations for: ‘Game Night,’ as although I mostly enjoyed ‘Horrible Bosses’ (which was written by this film’s directors). I’ve always found most modern comedies to be very hit-or-miss. However, as the runtime continued on, I soon realised ‘Game Night’ was far more than just your disposable comedy flick, as the great cinematography by Barry Peterson and the excellent original score by Cliff Martinez made the film just as stylish as it was entertaining.

Plot Summary: A group of friends who meet regularly for game nights soon find themselves entangled in a real-life mystery when the shady brother of one of them is kidnapped by a group of dangerous criminals…

Right from the opening titles, which are displayed through various falling board game pieces, through to the end credits, which entirely cover a pinboard with names of both the cast and crew (as well as an array of jokes). ‘Game Night’ is constantly brimming with style throughout its story, despite first appearing as nothing more than a straightforward comedy. As the film uses its terrific editing to add to the humour at many different points, giving the impression that no corners were cut by the filmmakers when it comes to the filmmaking itself.

Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, Kyle Chandler as well as the large supporting cast are all fantastic within their roles, with each member of the cast having decent chemistry with each other and plenty of great comedic moments between them (which is most likely a result of the cast actually taking-part in their own game night prior to filming). Jesse Plemons has without a doubt the film’s best character in my opinion, as he portrays the game night obsessed police officer: ‘Gary,’ who is just as creepy as he is hilarious every-time he is on-screen. Unlike most modern comedies, the characters throughout the film also get a surprising amount of characterisation. As there are plenty of scenes throughout the story in which the pacing slows-down to develop each one of the characters individually, which makes the film more engaging overall, and is a complete breath of fresh air after so many bland comedies with over-acted goofballs as their protagonists.

The cinematography by Barry Peterson is also very creative throughout the film, as in addition to a variety of visually-appealing shots, ‘Game Night’ also frames many of its locations as if they are pieces on a game board, almost as if every-time the characters arrive at a building, it’s as if they are arriving at a stop whilst playing: ‘The Game of Life,’ which is exceedingly inventive. As well as this, the film features a variety of interesting transitions between scenes and even a moment which is filmed entirely within a single-take, both of which I felt really added to the film’s overall visual presentation and enjoyable flow.

Although it doesn’t quite fit every scene, the original score by Cliff Martez is both unique and memorable, as the soundtrack uses a minimalist techno feel to mesh-well alongside the film’s stylistic editing and cinematography. Whether a light-hearted comedic scene or even one of the more tense moments nearing the end of the film, the score itself is brilliant. I’m too surprised by this however, as this composer has done some phenomenal scores in his past such as: ‘Drive,’ ‘Contagion’ and ‘The Neon Demon’ just to name a few. So, ‘Game Night’ is simply just another great soundtrack to add to his sublime catalogue of work.

The film really only has one major issue for me, which it’s the song choice. As although I understand the film is mostly light-hearted fun, the use of iconic songs such as: ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ and ‘Quando, Quando, Quando’ don’t really fit with the film’s tone, and can make the film feel a little cheesy at points. Of course, as the film is a comedy, there is also plenty of jokes that don’t quite hit the mark, but I’d say there are definitely far more that do than don’t in this case, as the film avoids the lazily-written gross-out jokes and shock humour that infests a large number of modern comedies.

In short, it’s fair to say that ‘Game Night’ was definitely a pleasant surprise for me on my initial watch. As I never expected this comedy to be as memorable or as well-crafted as it actually is. As although it’s not perfect due to its unusual song choices and a couple of overly-long jokes, ‘Game Night’ is possibly one of the best comedies of the last few years, and while there are better displays of great filmmaking out there, I do feel this film should be higher on many cinephile’s watchlists. Final Rating: high 8/10.

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