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,’ ‘Rattlesnake’ and ‘The Silence’ 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 strong over-reliance 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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The Christmas Chronicles (2018) – Film Review

From director Clay Kaytis (The Angry Birds Movie) and producer Chris Columbus comes another Christmas family adventure with ‘The Christmas Chronicles,’ and while the film may be nowhere near as memorable as many other festive classics. I can still see the film being a mostly entertaining ride for families and younger viewers alike.

Plot Summary: When brother and sister: ‘Teddy’ and ‘Kate Pierce,’ are left alone on Christmas Eve, they devise a plan to catch ‘Santa Claus’ on camera, which soon turns into an unexpected journey that most children could only dream of. As they manage to hop aboard ‘Santa’s sleigh and join him on his task of delivering presents all over the world…

Although the two films do differ from each other in many ways, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between this film and ‘The Santa Clause’ from 1994. As both Christmas flicks focus on characters going on a magical adventure with ‘Santa Clause,’ with them usually having strong themes of family and belief throughout. However, ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ also seems to focus more on exciting action set-pieces.

Whilst Judah Lewis and Darby Camp portray the siblings decently well throughout the film (aside from the occasional line of dialogue) Kurt Russell is without a doubt the stand-out of the cast, as he brings his usual charisma and talent to create a fresh and memorable portrayal of Saint Nick himself. This is dragged down by the film’s characterisation however, as both of the siblings are pretty bland and dull from start-to-finish. As a pleasant little detail, ‘Santa’s list even includes several of Kurt Russell’s real-life grandchildren.

The cinematography by Don Burgess is also mostly generic throughout the film, usually serving its purpose without drawing the audience’s attention away from the action on-screen. Speaking of which, the action scenes throughout the film are handled surprisingly well. From the fast car chase through the streets of Chicago, to ‘Santa’s sleigh soaring through the night sky. The weak CGI throughout the film can detract from some these scenes however, with ‘Santa’s elves in particular having some very distracting CG effects at points.

The original score by Christophe Beck is decent overall, as while not incredibly memorable, and many could see it as slightly weaker when compared to many of his other soundtracks such as: ‘The Muppets,’ ‘Frozen’ or ‘Ant-Man,’ the score does have a festive and pretty up-beat tone throughout the film’s runtime. ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ even gives us a new spin on the classic song: ‘Santa Clause is Coming to Town,’ as ‘Santa’ shows off some of his style as he sings: ‘Santa Claus is Back in Town’ in an attempt to add some cheer to those around him.

My main issue with the film is the story’s general cheesiness, as although the film does avoid the occasional Christmas film cliché. The film is still brimming with cheesy lines and scenes throughout the film’s narrative. However, I found this to be a problem mostly around ‘Santa’s elves, as not only did these characters have an awful new redesign, but they seemed to be purely used for the sake of being cute. I also couldn’t help but think the film could’ve been improved if directed by Chris Columbus, as although director Clay Kaytis doesn’t do a terrible job by any means, I feel the director of: ‘Home Alone’ (a true classic for many) could’ve definitely made the film better for what it was.

Overall, ‘The Christmas Chronicles’ is a mostly fun adventure for a film night on Christmas Eve, as while the story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before. Kurt Russell’s memorable performance mixed with some entertaining action scenes and a very festive atmosphere all result in the film being a decent watch. So maybe check this one out one year if you’re in the need for a festive fantasy adventure, just don’t have your expectations too high. Final Rating: 6/10.

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Mom and Dad (2018) – Film Review

I was very disappointed upon my initial watch of: ‘Mom and Dad,’ as I originally went into this one anticipating an extremely funny, gory and over-the-top dark comedy. Featuring an equally over-the-top performance by the infamous Nicolas Cage. However, I soon found out this wasn’t the case at all, as the film didn’t deliver enough on most of the elements I was expecting, resulting in an extremely weird film for all the wrong reasons.

Plot Summary: When a teenage daughter returns home after a day at school, she and her younger brother must try to survive a twenty-four-hour period in which a mass hysteria of unknown origins causes parents to violently kill their own children…

Although it’s never fully explored, I personally feel this strange yet unique idea for a narrative is one of the best elements of the film. But with a plot sounding this insane, and of course featuring Nicolas Cage (a man known for his crazy and very memorable performances) I expected something truly special for the comedy-horror genre. But I was very underwhelmed. As the film didn’t really deliver on any of it’s best aspects for me, with the story is very simple and barely getting any development beyond the initial idea, with the same sadly being said for the characters.

The film also gives nowhere near enough screen-time to Nicholas Cage, as although he does have a few memorable moments throughout the story. It’s his co-star Selma Blair who takes up the majority of the scenes, and considering his name is all over the marketing, and his over-the-top style of acting would suit a film like this perfectly, it’s not unfair to have expected more from him. The children in the film portrayed by Anne Winters and Zackary Arthur are both decent but very forgettable.

In regards to the actual filmmaking, the film is nothing too impressive. As film contains mostly bland cinematography by Daniel Pearl, relying on large amounts of shaky-cam for the majority of the runtime. The editing in the film is also very distracting, as aside from the opening title sequence of the film which is framed very similar to the opening of a family sitcom, which I found quite amusing. Unfortunately, everything after this intro I did not. As the film’s editing comes off as very messy and out-of-time at points, as it feels to me like director Bryan Taylor was trying to capture a similar tone to his ‘Crank’ series of films. With the film feels very energetic and fast-paced, but it simply comes off as unusual to me.

One of the element of the film I did sum-what enjoy however is the original score composed by ‘Mr. Bill.’ As the film’s soundtrack does help to build tension during many of the chase scenes. However, although I do like this score for its’s originality, it doesn’t always fit within the film or it’s pacing. Alongside this, the film also seems to shy away from more violent scenes, as we only see a few actual deaths on-screen. The remainder of the violence is usually off-screen, only showing small bits of blood to the audience now and then, for a fun comedy-horror like this, I believe that’s a huge mistake. As I feel the film should have gone all-in on the gore/fun factor.

Overall, I wasn’t very impressed with ‘Mom and Dad,’ I feel a film like this would’ve been extremely entertaining if done correctly. But the film really falls short of being the fun gore-fest it set out to be. If the film was more along the lines of something like: ‘Shaun of the Dead’ or ‘Tucker and Dale vs. Evil’ I think it could’ve been something really enjoyable. As I do believe director Bryan Taylor is somewhat talented, being both the director and writer of this film, I could see him directing another strange comedy like this in the future, but hopefully one that’s a little better. Final Rating: high 2/10.

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Halloween (2018) – Film Review

Confusingly titled: ‘Halloween’ despite not being a remake, this direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 classic ignores all the other entries in the franchise in favour of telling a completely new story set forty years later, with Jamie Lee Curtis even returning to her iconic character of: ‘Laurie Strode,’ now much older and much wiser. Yet while definitely a decent attempt at continuing the ‘Halloween’ series, the film is still far from perfect.

Plot Summary: ‘Laurie Strode’ confronts her long-time foe: ‘Michael Myers’ once again, as the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago, now begins a new massacre after his recent prison escape…

Although the film’s narrative does have some interesting ideas, the film always felt a little too familiar to me, as I usually found myself correctly predicting what was around the next corner, leaving little to be surprised by. Under the direction of David Gordon Green, best known for his drama: ‘Stronger’ from 2017. The film does pay plenty of respect to the original film, as can always tell whilst watching that Green does have a passion for this horror franchise (as he clearly understands what made the original work so well). I still feel a better director could’ve been chosen. As at points, the story does seem to be slightly lacking in direction, and with his previous work in mind, it’s clear that he doesn’t specialise in horror.

It is great, however, to see Jamie Lee Curtis back as her classic character once again, as she really excels in showing how ‘Laurie Strode’ has been affected by those horrific events many years ago. Alongside the rest of the great cast of Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton and especially Haluk Bilginer as ‘Dr. Sartain,’ who I was initially concerned would be nothing more than another ‘Dr. Loomis’ type character, but did actually end-up going in a very different direction.

The cinematography by Michael Simmonds is nothing outstanding for the majority of the film, yet is still attractive when combined with the dark lighting throughout, particularly anytime ‘Michael’ is on-screen. Another strong element of the film is the wonderful original score by John Carpenter, his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies, as although the soundtrack does slightly rely on tracks from the original film, there is plenty of new score here as well. Proving John Carpenter is brilliant at his craft once again, with the tracks: ‘The Shape Hunts Allyson’ and ‘The Shape Burns’ being some of Carpenter’s best work in a long time, in my opinion, that is.

One of the strongest elements of the film for me are definitely the kills, as it’s clear the filmmakers got very creative with the ways ‘Michael Myers’ disposes of his victims, usually creating very memorable scenes with some fantastic practical gore effects included. I also felt the film represented the iconic slasher very well, as ‘Michael Myers’ is always intimidating through his movements, ‘Michael’ even manages to steal the film for me by being the main focus of my personal favourite scene of the film, as ‘The Shape’ stalks his way through Haddonfield’ with murderous intent, all completed within a single take.

Being produced by Blumhouse Pictures, ‘Halloween’ also unfortunately features the company’s usual pandering to younger audiences you’d come to expect by now, as the film is littered with jump-scares throughout the runtime, with little attempt to create an eerie atmosphere or build large amounts of tension. In addition to this, the writing throughout the film is decent when it comes to the characters, but usually is very lacking when the film attempts comedy, resulting in plenty of cringey lines of dialogue and out-of-place jokes.

In conclusion, 2018’s ‘Halloween’ is mostly enjoyable, but with a lack of originality, some cheesy lines and forced comedy (not to mention it’s over-reliance on jump-scares) the film doesn’t even come close to replicating the classic horror’s best qualities. I do hold the original film in high regard, of course, it being one of my personal favourite horrors, but with plenty of entertaining moments throughout, this latest entry in the ‘Halloween’ series is definitely on the higher end of classic horror sequels. Final Rating: low 7/10.

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Ready Player One (2018) – Film Review

A triumphant return back to the silver screen for legendary director Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Raiders of the Lost Ark), this time taking on an adaptation of a beloved science fiction novel by Ernest Cline. 2018’s ‘Ready Player One’ not only manages to capture that classic Spielberg whimsy all these years later, along with having plenty of breathtaking visuals and thrilling action sequences to-boot. But through its many, many references and appearances to/from iconic properties and characters from all types of media, ‘Ready Player One’ soon becomes a sweetly nostalgic adventure for any age.

Plot Summary: In the dystopian future of 2045, humanity spends their days inside ‘The OASIS,’ a virtual world where the only limits are your own imagination. Until on his death bed, the original creator of: ‘The OASIS’ makes a posthumous challenge, promising his entire fortune as well as complete control over his virtual world to the lucky ‘OASIS’ user that finds his ‘Golden Easter Egg.’

As its story may imply, ‘Ready Player One’ follows its novel counter-part closely by structuring its narrative half in the real-world, and half within ‘The OASIS.’ Having all of the scenes set within the virtual world be comprised entirely of CGI, whilst reality is presented through live-action. While many viewers may initially be quite cautious of this (myself included), fearing a barrage of phoney-looking CG set-pieces, Spielberg actually pulls this idea off very well, as the film never feels as if its CG visuals are being overused despite them taking-up most of the runtime. Interestingly, Spielberg teamed-up with effects company Industrial Light & Magic for most of: ‘Ready Player One’s imagery, the company that previously worked with him for the first ‘Jurassic Park,’ so the Tyrannosaurus Rex that appears in the film is recreated using the same base-model made for the original film.

Best known as ‘Cyclops’ in the new incarnation of the ‘X-Men’ series, Tye Sheridan does a decent job at portraying the film’s likeable protagonist: ‘Wade Watts.’ Alongside Sheridan, Olivia Cooke as ‘Wade’s love interest: ‘Samantha,’ as well as Mark Rylance as ‘Halliday’ and Ben Mendelsohn and T.J. Miller as the film’s antagonists are all fine throughout the film. Yet whilst every member of the cast is trying here, the performances in ‘Ready Player One’ are made more impressive considering the film’s extremely weak characters. As unfortunately, nearly every character we meet within the story is mostly one-note, being nothing more than your traditional hero, companion or villain etc.

Although an enormous amount of the cinematography by Janusz Kaminski is visually striking, having a large number of moving shots where the camera soars through the limitless world of: ‘The OASIS.’ It’s difficult to judge it in its entirety, as a good majority of the camerawork is obviously CG due to half of the film’s story being set within a virtual world, and whenever we cut back to reality, the cinematography usually feels quite bland. However, I do appreciate the gloomy colour palette that’s utilised when the film returns to the real-world, as it contrasts well against the incredibly colourful visuals of: ‘The OASIS.’

Even though the film’s original score by Alan Silvestri is a serviceable and uplifting score in its own right, sounding subtlety like a Steven Spielberg classic. The film’s score was originally going to be composed by longtime Spielberg collaborator John Williams, but as a result of a scheduling conflict with another Spielberg film, Williams left the project to Alan Silvestri. Making ‘Ready Player One’ only the third film where Spielberg didn’t collaborate with Williams.

Many of the main problems I find hard to ignore with ‘Ready Player One’ mostly revolve around its weak writing, as although not continually noticeable, the film has a number of cheesy moments/clichés scattered throughout its story, in addition to many moments of humour which fall completely flat. Some viewers have also taken issue with the enormous amount of characters from other media appearing in the film, seeing it as pandering and meaningless. I don’t agree with this criticism, however, as the original novel is full of many of its own (unique) references. Personally, I also feel many of the film’s flaws are made-up for by its brilliant action scenes, from the opening race to the explosive final battle, to even a scene where the characters travel into the classic horror film: ‘The Shining,’ every set-piece is both creative, and enjoyable to watch.

Overall, ‘Ready Player One’ definitely has its faults, in particular, when it comes to its screenplay. But even with its problematic writing in mind, I’d still say the film is a great addition to Spielberg’s huge line-up of family flicks. As while it may not be on the same level of classics like ‘E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ or ‘Hook’ for example, ‘Ready Player One’ overcomes its weak characterisation and occasional corny dialogue to become an exciting sci-fi/fantasy odyssey, and a film I’d recommend a trip into ‘The OASIS’ for. Final Rating: high 7/10.

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Bird Box (2018) – Film Review

‘Bird Box’ is based on the novel of the same name by Josh Malerman, which mostly aims to be a dark horror/thriller with an original and twisted story as well as a few other interesting aspects in regards to its filmmaking. Unfortunately however, the film soon falls into a pit of disappointment which it really struggles to escape from, resulting in ‘Bird Box’ becoming nothing more than another generic Netflix fright-fest.

Plot Summary: In the wake of an unknown global terror, a mother must find the strength to flee with her two children down a treacherous river in search of safety. Yet due to the unseen deadly forces pursing them, the perilous journey must be made blind-folded…

As the film jumps back-and-forth between the two different time-periods, the film’s structure can become very frustrating at points. As I personally found the initial chaotic event far more entertaining than the other time-period the film provides, yet this was always cut short as the film continuously cuts between the two at unusual points. The film also chooses to wrap the majority of its story in mystery, never really exploring what the monsters actually are, or how their abilities work. The film even chooses to never actually show the creatures on-screen at all throughout the runtime, and although I agree that not everything has to be explained within a story, the way ‘Bird Box’ presents it makes it noting but frustrating, as the film introduces questions without answers.

Sandra Bullock portrays a struggling mother alongside Danielle Macdonald, Trevante Rhodes and John Malkovich who all portray people attempting to survive in a brutal world, and they do their best considering the weak characters they had to work with. The majority of the supporting cast are also decent, with Sarah Paulson even having a short appearance within the film. However, I actually found she was incredibly wasted in the small (and mostly pointless) role she had within the narrative.

In spite of the film’s many wilderness scenes being shot near the beautiful Smith River in the far north of California. Nearly the entire visual presentation of: ‘Bird Box,’ is extremely dull, as the cinematography by Salvatore Totino and editing Ben Lester never really excel beyond ‘okay.’ Usually having scenes consist of many boring shots which never really add much to the tension or atmosphere aside from the occasional moment, this of course also alongside the extremely bland grey colour palette.

This is also the case when it comes to the original score by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, coming off as nothing more than your standard score for any modern horror/thriller with a slight technological twist, which is very surprising, considering these composers did excellent work on the soundtrack for: ‘The Social Network’ back in 2010.

Although the novel obviously came out before last year’s ‘A Quiet Place,’ I also couldn’t help but notice many similarities between the two films. Such as the lack of a certain sense, the apocalyptic setting, a theme of family and the eerie atmosphere/tone (despite the idea of the monsters making you kill yourself being very original). I also couldn’t help but feel the film never made enough use of its concept of simply witnessing the creatures drives characters to suicide, as this is a terrifying idea, and could’ve provided some very gory and truly shocking moments.

In short, ‘Bird Box’ is one of those few films that gets a large amount of attention for reasons I’m not entirely sure of, as personally, I thought the film was nothing but bland and forgettable in many aspects. Aside from perhaps the main performance by Sandra Bullock and the original idea of its story. There wasn’t much I enjoyed about this adaptation, perhaps give it a watch if you’re really interested, but, in my opinion, there are many similar films which explore these same ideas just with a much better execution. Final Rating: 3/10.

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Ghost Stories (2018) – Film Review

Based on the West End play of the same name written by Jeremy Dyson. ‘Ghost Stories’ is a British horror directed by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman, featuring many tension-filled scenes and plenty of clever story elements throughout, it’s not quite the cliché horror you might expect. As the film definitely takes a unique approach with its storytelling and ideas, and I would say I enjoyed the film quite a bit due to this, although I feel this may not be the same for every viewer.

Plot Summary: Sceptical professor: ‘Phillip Goodman’ embarks on a trip into the terrifying world of the paranormal, after he is given a file with details of three unexplained cases of apparitions to investigate…

Whilst nothing incredibly original for a horror narrative, this story does allow the film to have almost an anthology-like structure in a way, with the three separate case files all being their own contained story. The film also takes a very interesting direction for the majority of its runtime, mostly focusing on the paranoia and imagination of the human mind, and how certain tragic events throughout life can lead the mind to wander. Whilst I personally think this is a very creative way to explore paranormal encounters and the horror genre in general, I can definitely say not every horror fan would enjoy this element, as I can see many hating this film mainly due to its exploration of these ideas. This concept even plays-into title of the film, which was misspelled as ‘Ghost Storeis’ in much of the pre-release media. This was done to accord with the film’s tagline: ‘The Brain Sees What it Wants to See.’

Andy Nyman portrays the main protagonist of the film (Phillip Goodman), and I’d say he does a pretty great job with the arrogant character he is given, especially being a mostly unknown actor. Then, of course, we also have Phil Whitehouse, Alex Lawther and Martin Freeman as the various victims of the cases, who I also quite enjoyed watching. All the performances here are also backed-up by the writing in the film, as I feel the writing is pretty on point here. Having many elements of dark comedy along with giving some development to the various characters and having some little pieces of information hidden within dialogue for later in the narrative.

The cinematography by Ole Bratt Birkeland is pretty impressive throughout, only having a few shots throughout the runtime which I thought were a little bland. ‘Ghost Stories’ also utilises many wide-shots throughout the film which really lend themselves to the eerie atmosphere, alongside the hauntingly beautiful original score which also lends itself to the film. This time being handled by Haim Frank Ilfman, a composer who I actually hadn’t heard of before this film. But I do hope to see his name in credits more following on from this, as the soundtrack works perfectly throughout the film. Changing from emotional to tense, to chaotic, without ever feeling rushed.

My main criticism of the film is the usual issue I have with modern horrors, as while I do feel this film builds-up a lot more of an eerie atmosphere than many other horrors. The film is still littered with jump-scares, and while I do believe jump-scares can work if used to a minimal extent, here I felt many of them were just thrown in a points without much reason, the film does have plenty of visual horror however which I appreciate. Another small issue I have is the design of one of the creatures we see in the film, as to me it’s design felt very out-of-place when compared to the other paranormal entities we see within the story, but again this is only a small issue.

In conclusion, ‘Ghost Stories’ is a very distinct horror film, as while I don’t think the film is perfect, I did find it pretty entertaining for the majority of my watch. Having an original story and great direction as well as many attractive shots along with some great writing and a terrific original score, I’d say the film is a definite watch for someone seeking something a little different from the horror genre. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018) – Film Review

The western genre used to be extremely popular back in the golden age of Hollywood, but in recent years the western genre has mostly died off, as aside from a few honourable mentions such as: ‘True Grit,’ ‘The Sisters Brothers,’ and ‘Django Unchained.’ The western genre as a whole has run mostly dry, until now that is. As iconic directors Joel Coen and Ethan Coen (The Big Lebowski, Fargo, No Country for Old Men) return to the silver screen for this brilliant western anthology.

Plot Summary: Consisting of six different stories of life and violence in the old west, including the tales of a singing gunslinger, a bank robber, a travelling impresario, an elderly prospector, a wagon train and a perverse pair of bounty hunters…

This diverse set of stories and characters really keep the film engaging from start-to-finish, as the film constantly jumps between characters and locations all whilst ensuring that it keeps its decent pacing and usual Coen brother’s dark sense of humour intact. Resulting in the film feeling extremely refreshing, as superhero blockbusters and jump-scare filled horrors have really taken over the film industry in recent years. So, revisiting an old yet classic genre (especially with this modern spin and the Coen brother’s brilliant direction) is truly a breath of fresh air.

The performances by every member of the enormous cast are pretty excellent all around. As Tim Blake Nelson, James Franco, Liam Neeson, Thomas Waits, Zoe Kazan, Jonjo O’Neill and Brendan Gleeson (just to name a few) are all brilliant when portraying their varied and interesting characters, with Tim Blake Nelson definitely being the clear stand-out for me with his extremely funny and charming portrayal of the title character: ‘Buster Scruggs.’

Throughout the runtime, the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is almost flawless, as the film utilises a variety of beautiful shots which perfectly capture the visual appeal of classic westerns. The original score by Carter Burwell is also great, as the soundtrack uses slow guitar stings and an enormous list of classic country songs to build-up atmosphere, with the best of these definitely being: ‘When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings.’

One aspect of the film I absolutely adore is the Coen’s usual style of writing, as every character throughout the film is given plenty of comedic moments and memorable lines, which really helped make many of the characters with slightly-less development more likeable. Another element that also really drew my attention during my first viewing was the incredible sets and costumes the film had on full-display, as considering the locations/costumes are some of the main factors of engaging the audience into the story and it’s time-period. It was clear they were pulling-out all the stops. As every location always felt very real and lived in, with the character’s clothes being no different.

My personal favourite narrative of the six would most likely be the opening story, sharing the same name as the title of the film: ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.’ This opening was just such as joy to watch, balancing dark humour with a classic western set-up brilliantly, in addition to the fantastic performance from Tim Blake Nelson as already mentioned. However, this is also where my biggest criticism of the film comes in, as although they definitely aren’t awful, the last two stories are easily the weakest of the film. As although we do get some great character moments and fun scenes within these stories, I couldn’t help but feel they simply weren’t as memorable or as charming as the others leading-up to them. Perhaps if these two stories we’re placed earlier in the film it wouldn’t be such an issue, but it simply leaves the viewer with a bad taste in their mouth afterwards.

In conclusion, ‘The Ballad of Buster Scruggs’ proves once again that westerns are far from gone when it comes to film, as the Coen brothers once again take the audience for a trip into the wild west with complete success. As this anthology is just as hilarious as it is visually-impressive and well-acted, regardless of whether or not the stories are quite on the same level. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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Bumblebee (2018) – Film Review

Serving as both a prequel to Michael Bay’s iconic ‘Transformers’ franchise as well as a kind of soft-reboot for the film series as a whole, ‘Bumblebee’ is a fresh take on the sci-fi/action film series. But going-off the back of its outstanding reviews and director Travis Scott’s other film: ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ on my initial watch, I was expecting a little more.

Plot Summary: On the run from his alien home-world of: ‘Cybertron’ in 1987, ‘Bumblebee’ manages to find refuge through a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Where ‘Charlie,’ on the edge of turning eighteen and trying to find her place in the world, discovers him, battle-scarred and broken.

Whilst the film is definitely an improvement over Michael Bay’s other various attempts at the shape-shifting machines, ‘Bumblebee’ isn’t overall anything outstanding. Mostly been a very comedic sci-fi action-adventure with a few emotional moments thrown in. This version almost seems to be leaning more towards the iconic cartoon series from 1984 to 1987, as many of the ‘Transformer’s designs are ripped straight from the beloved TV show, even featuring a few cameos from classic characters.

Hailee Steinfeld and Jorge Lendeborg Jr. both portray young characters who attempt to help ‘Bumblebee’ finish his mission throughout the film, and while their characters: ‘Charlie’ and ‘Memo’ only really get a basic amount of development. They are likeable and serve their purpose within the story. A member of the cast I wasn’t aware of at first however, was the infamous John Cena. Who actually portrays one of the main antagonists of the film, aside from the ‘Decepticons’ themselves, and despite his mostly decent performance throughout the film, I simply just couldn’t take seriously. Mostly due to his ‘meme’ status and internet reputation.

Luckily the colourful visuals throughout the film definitely add to the cinematography by Enrique Chediak, as although the cinematography isn’t bad by any means, the cinematography is mostly generic for an action flick like this. But due to the great lighting and colour palette, ‘Bumblebee’ is easily the most visually appealing entry in the blockbuster franchise, ditching the ugly Michael Bay blue and orange colour palette in exchange for more of a summer-like feel for nearly the entirety of its runtime.

The original score by Dario Marianelli is your generic score for an action flick, with some heroic tones alongside it. The soundtrack isn’t really anything memorable, and despite also not being anything amazing, I think I still prefer the original score for the 2007 ‘Transformers’ film by Steve Jablonsky, which has since gone down in film as the main theme for the ‘Transformers.’

The action throughout the film is fun for the most part, not simply being another constant barrage of explosions and actually trying to utilize the various ‘Transformers’ abilities in different ways. However, it still doesn’t quite reach the level of fun the original cartoon series had, always feeling a little toned down. One compliment I can give the film however, is the comedy. As again whilst not landing every joke, the film does have it’s fair share of funny moments, which did give me a short chuckle at times, and not simply just a sigh or a cringe as many of Michael Bay’s extremely poor attempts at humour did.

It’s definitely a pleasant surprise to have an entry in the ‘Transformers’ franchise that isn’t just explosions and loud noises from start-to-finish, with a great visual appeal and plenty of humour throughout, I could see most having a lot of fun with this film, especially families. However, it might be that I simply don’t have a huge love for these characters, but I although I found it enjoyable whilst watching, it wasn’t super memorable for me personally. Final Rating: 6/10.

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