Tron: Legacy (2010) – Film Review

Although Disney has had more than enough success when it comes to its animated filmography, the iconic production company has seemingly always struggled with its live-action endeavours. As aside from ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise, many of Disney’s attempts to kick-off a live-action film series such as: ‘John Carter’, ‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ and ‘Tomorrowland’ have all been relative flops (with the exception of their remakes of animated classics). ‘Tron: Legacy’, the action-packed sequel to the ground-breaking cult sci-fi: ‘Tron’ from 1982, is a slight improvement in this area, yet still results in a film more focused on style-over-substance.

After the tech-savvy ‘Sam Flynn’ begins looking into his father’s disappearance. He soon finds himself pulled into a digital world where his father has been trapped for over twenty years. All while the malevolent program: ‘CLU’, who rules ‘The Grid’, plans to prevent the pair’s escape and take the real world for himself.

Being set in a virtual world, nearly every-scene within ‘Tron: Legacy’ takes place in fully CGI locations, and although most of the film’s CGI effects do hold-up well and are visually appealing. The digital world of: ‘The Grid’ does begin to feel quite unvaried after a point, as whilst it may look unique at first glance, the illuminated buildings and vehicles throughout the city of: ‘Tron’ feel fairly repetitive despite the film’s variety of different locations. In fact, its the film’s CGI visuals that actually made ‘Tron: Legacy’ the most expensive film ever made by a first-time director at the time of its release, with the costume budget alone costing over £10 million.

Garrett Hudlund portrays the film’s protagonist: ‘Sam’, alongside the supporting cast of Jeff Bridges, Olivia Wilde and also Michael Sheen in a small role. Who all give decent performances despite their dull characters, as ‘Tron: Legacy’s story and characters follow many of the same-beats as any-other sci-fi adventure. However, easily the worst element of the film when it comes to its characters is the film’s antagonist. Known only as ‘CLU’, a corrupt program created by Jeff Bridges’ character: ‘Kevin Flynn’ as a digital copy of himself, this villain not only suffers from a barley-developed motivation but also due to him being a program which doesn’t age, the film utilises CGI to make Jeff Bridges appear a similar age to that of his in the original film, which is one of the few CGI effects that really hasn’t aged-well, appearing almost laughably-bad at points.

Claudio Miranda handles the cinematography throughout ‘Tron: Legacy’, and although the film definitely puts far more of an emphasis on its CGI effects than its cinematography, there are still a fair amount of interesting shots including plenty of stunning wide-shots to display the true scale of the digital world. The cinematography also makes great use out of the film’s few sleek futuristic sets despite their very limited screen-time, most notably: ‘Flynn’s Safehouse’ located on the edge of: ‘The Grid’.

The original score for the film is actually composed by the techno band: ‘Daft Punk’, whose type of music does suitably fit the sci-fi genre, and whilst some tracks do feel a little too similar to an actual techno album in my opinion. For the most part, the soundtrack does back-up the film’s narrative and adventurous tone very effectively. ‘Daft Punk’ themselves even make a short cameo within the film as a pair of DJs in the ‘End of Line’ nightclub, wearing their iconic helmets as they play one of the film’s most memorable tracks.

Another great aspect of: ‘Tron: Legacy’ is certainly its action set-pieces, as although many of the action scenes throughout the film aren’t anything incredibly inventive. The original: ‘Tron’ did introduce the creative concepts of: ‘Identity/Light Disks’ and ‘Light Cycles’, both of which return in the sequel and result in plenty of thrilling and fast-paced action sequences as ‘Sam’ is thrown-into an array of gladiator-esque challenges near the beginning of the film. The various costumes worn by the characters who live within ‘The Grid’ are also worth a quick mention, as most of the characters wear a ‘Light Suit’, which usually feature fluorescent-like glowing strips that illuminate each suit in a range of colours, which never fails to be visually-striking.

‘Tron: Legacy’ overall is by no means a terrible film, when it comes to Disney’s other ventures into live-action, ‘Tron: Legacy’ could even be seen as a success for some. But with its fairly by-the-numbers story, bland characters and onslaught of over-done clichés, this sci-fi sequel ends-up becoming more of a display for its impressive CGI visuals and electronic original score rather than an exhilarating sci-fi odyssey. A low 6/10 from me. If you’re a fan of the original: ‘Tron’ I feel you will surely enjoy this follow-up, if not, maybe look elsewhere for your fill of original science fiction.

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Super 8 (2011) – Film Review

A few years before ‘Stranger Things’ hit our Netflix accounts, director J. J. Abrams (Mission Impossible III, Star Trek, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) tried his hand at creating an 80s sci-fi throwback with ‘Super 8’. While the film did get mostly positive reviews from both critics and audiences alike on its initial release, I’ve never been a huge fan of this science fiction flick, with many strange decisions at play in addition to its overreliance on borrowing story elements from classic films of the 1980s, ‘Super 8’ has always seemed more like pandering than an enjoyable and nostalgic throwback for me.

During the summer of 1979, a group of young friends shooting a short zombie film are witnesses to a devastating train crash. Soon after, the group find themselves investigating the subsequent unexplained events throughout their small town.

Even with legendary director Steven Spielberg on-board as a producer, ‘Super 8’ mostly lacks the fun tone many of Spielberg’s classics usually overflow with, taking itself pretty seriously aside from a few short moments. Although ‘Super 8’ may not feature this aspect of Spielberg’s work however, the film does utilize many different ideas from his filmography. As while most throwbacks do usually contain a few story elements taken from the films they are inspired by, ‘Super 8’ begins to feel a little derivative at points, eventually developing a plot which feels almost identical to ‘E. T. the Extra-Terrestrial’ and ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ without much experimentation.

Although Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Gabriel Basso, Riley Griffiths, Ryan Lee and Zach Mills all do a great job at portraying their young characters, the writing throughout the film definitely has room for improvement, as many of the younger characters never quite manage to become incredibly amusing or likeable, with most of them receiving barely any development at all. Following this, as the film’s narrative becomes more tense and dangerous nearing its end, the group’s frustration and panic begins to surface, which although realistic, does result in them becoming rather irritating after a while due to their constant screaming and arguing. Kyle Chandler also makes an appearance within the film as ‘Jackson Lamb’ one of the group’s parents, who does give a decent performance as a strict yet caring father even with his limited screen-time.

The cinematography by Larry Fong is visually pleasing for the most part, creating many different and attractive shots throughout the film. Due to its colour palette and lighting however, the film’s visuals are dragged-down by simply how dark the film is, as a large majority of the story takes place at night, ‘Super 8′ relies heavily on dim lighting and shadows (alongside Abrams’ continued obsession with lens-flares). The film’s CGI effects are also serviceable, with many of the film’s more CGI-heavy moments taking-place at night, meaning any of the CGI visuals which may be lacking are usually saved as a result of them being covered by darkness.

Michael Giacchino is a composer I usually adore, from his astonishing work on films such as: ‘The Incredibles’ and ‘Jojo Rabbit’. He normally succeeds far beyond expectations. However, in the case of: ‘Super 8’, his score is simply just ‘okay’, as although it does serve the film’s story decently well, the film’s soundtrack isn’t very unique or memorable. Being a traditional orchestral like many other modern blockbusters, I couldn’t help but feel a classic 80s synth score more along the lines of: ‘Stranger Things’ would’ve worked extremely well for this kind of film, even with the film’s narrative technically being set in the 1970s.

An aspect of: ‘Super 8’ I do truly enjoy is the film’s sound design, an aspect of filmmaking that I rarely mention, ‘Super 8’ actually does a fairly brilliant job of building tension or mystery through its eerie sci-fi noises. In particular, in the scene in which the young group of friends are attacked by an otherworldly creature whilst on-board military transport, as mostly in part to its sound design, this is in my opinion, one of the most effective and memorable scenes of the film.

‘Super 8’ overall feels like a huge waste of potential, as whilst the film is far from awful and does have some interesting aspects scattered throughout its runtime. The film’s weak writing and forgettable original score make the film feel a little bland in areas. In addition to its lack of anything truly original (which is the film’s biggest flaw in my opinion). As unlike ‘Stranger Things’ where the show’s story at least introduces concepts like ‘The Upside Down’ which are somewhat creative, ‘Super 8′ lacks much of anything that hasn’t be explored in sci-fi before. While this film is still a perfect example of J. J. Abrams’ talent for visuals, ‘Super 8’ never really manages to elevate itself beyond being just a simple nostalgia-fest. Altogether a 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.

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.

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 CGI 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, despite the company’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 films in regards to 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. Overall, a 3/10 for: ‘Venom’. 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.

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Lucy (2014) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Iron Man (2008) – Film Review

Before ‘The Avengers’ or the ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ hit the silver screen, director Jon Favreau began the Marvel Cinematic Universe with its first character: ‘Iron Man’. Blowing audiences away with some incredible visual effects, thrilling action scenes and a very charismatic lead performance by Robert Downey Jr. as the egotistical: ‘Tony Stark’. Considering the film was self-financed by Marvel and had a mostly improvised script, it’s incredibly impressive that ‘Iron Man’ is as entertaining and as exhilarating as it is by today’s standards.

After being held captive by terrorists in an Afghan cave for months, billionaire and weapons engineer: ‘Tony Stark’ builds a weaponized suit of armour to fight his way out after discovering his weapons are being used for a more sinister purpose. Yet even after safely returning home, ‘Tony’ soon uncovers a nefarious plot with global implications, forcing him to don his new suit once again and vow to protect the world as ‘Iron Man’.

Although most now know ‘Iron Man’ as a superhero icon, at the time in 2008, ‘Tony Stark’ was a relatively unknown character. Similar to ‘Thor’ and ‘Captain America’, many of Marvel’s ‘B’ characters truly owe their now enormous fan-bases and iconic statuses mostly to their first appearances in Marvel’s live-action film franchise, with the first ‘Iron Man’ in particular adapting his comic book origins fairly closely from the comics to a now-successful action-blockbuster.

The supporting cast of Gwyneth Paltrow, Jeff Bridges, Terrence Howard, Clark Gregg and Shaun Toub are great throughout the film despite only serving small roles within the story. However, it should go without saying that Robert Downey Jr. as ‘Iron Man’ himself absolutely nails it throughout the film, as he delivers every line of dialogue as an arrogant pretentious genius. ‘Tony Stark’ even gives the narrative an engaging thread with his character-arc throughout the film, becoming more likeable as the plot continues-on, and although done many times before, it still feels pretty satisfying by the end of the runtime. Unfortunately, the biggest problem with Iron Man’ is the same issue that most Marvel flicks suffer from, this being the film’s weak antagonist. As although Jeff Bridges does attempt to give his character: ‘Obadiah Stane’ as much depth as possible, his transformation from a greedy executive to murderous psychopath feels extremely rushed and undeveloped.

Matthew Libatique’s cinematography is fairly creative throughout the film however, from the various tracking shots of: ‘Tony’ soaring through the sky in his suit, through to shots of: ‘Iron Man’ taking down groups of terrorists. A large majority of the cinematography backs-up the quick-pacing of the film and utilises movement very effectively. Whilst the film isn’t ever overly-focused on its science fiction elements aside from the suit itself, the CGI effects throughout the film still hold-up very well to say that was it was released in 2008, aside from the occasional shot of: ‘Tony Stark’s head being placed on-top of the suit.

The original score by Ramin Djawadi is a soundtrack which perfectly fits alongside the character of: ‘Iron Man’, as the score makes excellent use of electric guitars and a drum kit to match ‘Tony’s young rock-star-like personality and taste in music, as there are multiple scenes of: ‘Tony Stark’ listening to rock songs such as: ‘Back in Black’ and ‘Institutionalized’ throughout the film. Not to mention ‘Black Sabbath’s now-iconic: ‘Iron Man’ played-over the end credits.

Even though all of the action scenes throughout the film are quite short, each action set-piece is always exciting from start-to-finish, as ‘Iron Man’ takes-down his enemies with style every-time, utilising an array of different weapons and gadgets the film manages to still represent ‘Tony Stark’s cocky personality through these suited-up action scenes. ‘Iron Man’ was also the first film that kicked-off Marvel’s typical style of humour, and while not as noticeable as some of Marvel’s other films, the film still contains plenty of scenes in which ‘Tony’ makes sarcastic comments or degrades those around him, and while many of these moments do make for some decent comic-relief, I could see many of these scenes becoming irritating for those who don’t enjoy this type of comedy.

Despite its few flaws, ‘Iron Man’ was one hell of an opener for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As without this film, we truly wouldn’t have what is now considered one of the most successful franchises in cinematic history, even with this ignored however, the film is still exceedingly fun and is filled with plenty of memorable moments on its own, all of this of course held-up by the brilliant performance from Robert Downey Jr. Overall, a solid 8/10. If you finally want to get around to watching this long-running film series, I’d say the original: ‘Iron Man’ will definitely prepare you for what’s to come.

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After Earth (2013) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Contagion (2011) – Film Review

Strikingly similar to current events in the world, ‘Contagion’ explores a scenario in which nearly every-country is rapidly infected from a freak virus, eventually leading to a large number of deaths. Utilising some decent performances and unique story structure alongside its effective original score by Cliff Martinez, the film is both very bleak and very realistic through its eerie portrayal of a worldwide pandemic.

After her return home from a business trip to Hong Kong, ‘Beth Emhoff’ dies from what is believed to be flu or some other type of infection, soon leading to an enormous outbreak across the world. For doctors and administrators at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, several days pass before anyone realizes the true extent of this new infection. Leaving most of the world in the midst of a pandemic as the CDC works to find a cure.

Directed by Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Side Effects, Unsane). ‘Contagion’ is truly dripping with the Soderbergh’s usual style as a director, as the film is constantly tense and unnerving throughout its tight runtime, with the film even having an element of uncertainty during many scenes, as any of the various characters we cut between within the story could be infected without even knowing it.

Despite the film jumping from character to character during its story, the all-star cast of Laurence Fishburne, Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard and Gwyneth Paltrow are all great in their portrayals of various characters thrown-into this chaotic event. As our perspective changes throughout the narrative, from the eyes of an average family isolated within their home, through to high-up government officials scrambling to devise a plan. However, due to the film being structured like this, the film also displays plenty of wasted potential, as Bryan Cranston actually appears in the film as ‘RADM Lyle Haggerty’. Who is only given a few short scenes and is hardly utilized within the story, making the brilliant actor feel incredibly wasted. There is also a similar issue with the internet blogger: ‘Alan Krumwiede’ portrayed by Jude Law, as this character actually adds very little to the overall story and barely interacts with any of the other characters, resulting in most of his screen-time feeling like more of a distraction than anything else.

The cinematography within ‘Contagion’ is surprisingly by Steven Soderbergh himself, under the fictional name of: ‘Peter Andrews’, and whilst nothing incredible overall, it is fairly effective throughout the film. Having said that, I couldn’t help but feel whilst watching that the film could’ve made much better use of close-ups during many scenes. As due to the film’s focus on a spreading virus, I really feel these shots would’ve further added to the building of dread and uncomfortable nature of skin contact the film puts an emphasis-on at many points.

Cliff Martinez’s original score does help to add to the drama and tension throughout the film however, as the score usually appears during key moments to add more impact to the film’s montages of footage. This is most effective during a scene set in the early days of the initial outbreak, or when the film finally reveals where the virus originally came from, and although the soundtrack itself may not be incredibly memorable, I do still feel it suits the film’s tone very well. In particular, the film’s opening track: ‘They’re Calling My Flight’, which starts the film off strong by jumping straight-into the narrative.

My main issues with ‘Contagion’ are mostly related to the film’s structure, as the pacing nearing the ending of the film seems to slow-down drastically in an attempt to wrap-up every-aspect of the story, and although I feel cutting between multiple different characters is an interesting way to approach a story like this, I could see it being frustrating for some viewers if one character’s plot is more compelling than another. Yet this is somewhat redeemed by ‘Contagion’s realism. As the film has actually been proven to be very accurate when it comes to its science, even receiving praise from ‘New Scientist’ magazine when the film was initially released in 2011.

Whilst ‘Contagion’ doesn’t break-any-new-ground when it comes to filmmaking, the film is still fairly entertaining and frightening throughout most of its runtime, while it definitely has its weak aspects, I would say ‘Contagion’ is certainly worth a watch, and is most likely a 7/10 overall. However, do bear in mind that I probably wouldn’t recommend this film if you are already in a panicked mindset over current events, as I feel this film could make those who are already concerned panic even further through its mostly realistic execution of a story like this.

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Snowpiercer (2014) – Film Review

One of my favourite sci-fi films from this past decade, ‘Snowpiercer’ is constantly gripping, exciting and very dark throughout its original plot and exploration of the interesting world its story takes place-in. As the film chooses to explore the worst of humanity through some gorgeous cinematography by Kyung-pyo Hong and some truly brilliant writing. Making ‘Snowpiercer’ overall, a superb science fiction thriller, all under the genius hand of director Bong Joon-Ho, who recently gained a large amount of traction through his Oscar-winning film: ‘Parasite’.

In a future where a failed climate-change experiment has killed all life except for the lucky few who boarded the ‘Snowpiercer’, a train that travels around the globe, a new class system begins to emerge on-board as ‘Curtis’ leads a revolution with the train’s lower-class citizens.

Despite director Bong Joon-Ho (Memories of Murder, The Host, Okja) usually sticking to this style, the very bleak tone of: ‘Snowpiercer’ may leave many audience members in a depressing mindset long after their initial viewing, as the film deals with a variety of themes such as: poverty, social class and survivalism, all portrayed in a dark and negative fashion. However, in spite of this, the film never fails to still be very entertaining and thrilling, mostly as a result of its fairly quick-pacing and exhilarating action scenes. Although it may surprise many, ‘Snowpiercer’ also takes heavy inspiration from the French graphic novel: ‘Le Transperceneige’ by Jacques Lob, with the two stories sharing many similarities and many differences throughout their respective mediums.

Chris Evans, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton, Song Kang-ho, Octavia Spencer, John Hurt and Ed Harris are all fantastic throughout the film within their various roles, especially Tilda Swinton as the villainous and oppressive: ‘Manson’ (who completely nails many of the film’s most memorable lines). In addition to this, the film’s characters also get plenty of development throughout the narrative, to be specific, the film’s protagonist: ‘Curtis’, as this character becomes far more tragic nearing the end of the film, eventually leading him to devolve from what we would usually expect to see from our main character.

The cinematography by Kyung-pyo Hong is pretty creative and visually impressive throughout the majority of the runtime, as the film’s cinematography backs-up it’s story and drama very effectively. The film’s colour palette also plays into this, as the dirty greys, greens and blacks of the train’s tail all further display the contrast between the wealth of the different people on-board. Of course, due to the film also being packed with a large number of action scenes, the cinematography does become slightly shakier during many of these moments, yet it is still clear what is happening throughout. One of these scenes in particular, known as: ‘The Tunnel’, I found extremely inventive, as this entire scene takes place in total darkness, with night-vision being utilized exceptionally-well. This scene was also filmed without any additional lighting according to director Bong Joon-Ho.

Although a little uninspired during some of the action scenes, the original score by Marco Beltrami does fit the story perfectly throughout most of the film. Especially when it comes to tracks such as: ‘This is the End’ or ‘Yona’s Theme’, as the soundtrack matches the bleak tone of the film extremely well. The score also helps to add more impact to many of the more shocking moments within the story, as at multiple points during the narrative, the film reveals certain aspects of this twisted train society which really deepens film’s world.

As the film is set entirely within the futuristic train, the film does do a surprisingly excellent job of the keeping the film’s set-pieces unique through the sheer variety of sets on display, as the film takes the audience from the dirty tail of the train, through to a classroom, a nightclub, and eventually even a spar, further emphasising ‘Snowpiercer’s themes of social class. Another element of the film I adore is Joon-Ho’s focus on small details, as the film always alludes to smaller aspects of the story or characters which aren’t fully delved-into, only hinted at. Despite all of this however, ‘Snowpiercer’ isn’t totally flawless, as the film does become a little cheesy at points, mostly due to the occasional editing choice or line of dialogue, but this is very rare.

Even though ‘Snowpiercer’ isn’t the best modern sci-fi to date, I personally don’t think the film is far off, from its creative ideas through to its beautiful cinematography and great original score. The film easily overcomes its few cheesy moments and slightly dated CGI here and there. Overall, a high 8/10, with a few tiny changes, I honestly believe that this exciting sci-fi flick could be up there with the likes of: ‘Arrival’, ‘Ex_Machina’ and ‘Moon’ when it comes to modern science fiction.

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A Clockwork Orange (1972) – Film Review

Despite being very unusual and even somewhat disturbing throughout, legendary director Stanley Kubrick (2001: A Space Odyssey, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket) brings to life one of the best films of his career. As ‘A Clockwork Orange’ explores an original story with some impressive cinematography and set-design, all leading the film to become very iconic and memorable within its own right. Even surpassing the novel it’s originally based on by Anthony Burgess, despite Kubrick crafting easily his most faithful adaptation to date when it comes to his filmography.

In the near future, a young sadistic gang leader (Alex) is imprisoned after a violent event goes public, forcing him to serve time. But with the promise of an early release, ‘Alex’ is eventually lead to volunteer for a conduct-aversion experiment, which doesn’t go as he anticipated.

Although the narrative throughout ‘A Clockwork Orange’ never fails to be engaging, usually focusing heavily on dark themes of insanity, violence and morals. I do feel the film could definitely be seen as too intense for some viewers, as although the large amount of nudity and torture does serve the film’s story, it could also be seen as tasteless for some, regardless of the film’s overall lack of blood and gore during many of the violent scenes.

Ignoring the unbelievable performance from Malcolm McDowell as the psychotic protagonist: ‘Alex’, Warren Clarke, Aubrey Morris, James Marcus, Michael Bates and Carl Duering are all excellent in their respective roles, despite their very limited screen-time and development, and although the over-the-top British accents many of the characters have may put some viewers off, I do feel it fits well within the interesting sci-fi world the film sets-up. However, we do get another appearance near the end of the film from a character known as: ‘Mr. Alexander’, portrayed by the late Patrick Magee. Who despite being an important character within the plot, gives a performance a little too-ridiculous in my opinion, as his facial expressions end-up coming off as more comedic than emotional during his dramatic scene nearing the end of the runtime.

The cinematography by the late John Alcott definitely adds another level to the film, as the enormous amount of movement and uncomfortable close-ups throughout the film really add to the story itself, including the now-iconic: ‘Kubrick Stare’, which can be seen in many of his films. In addition to the fantastic cinematography however, is also the brilliant editing, which perfectly fits the film’s style, almost as if ‘Alex’ himself is taking the audience through the story within his erratic mind. This also links back to his narration, which is present throughout the film and is brimming with plenty of well-written and memorable dialogue.

The original score by Wendy Carlos is another element of the film I really enjoy, utilizing an electronic soundtrack to further push the weird tone of the film, as the score recreates many of: ‘Alex’s favourite classic songs in an interesting way, resulting in a soundtrack that’s both memorable and unique. The film also uses a variety of iconic songs very effectively, perfectly capturing the insanity within the main group of misfits. One of the most memorable moments of the film even comes from this, as ‘Alex’ brutally beats a couple whilst singing the classic song: ‘Singin’ in the Rain’.

As previously mentioned, ‘A Clockwork Orange’ is also one of the few films where the sets are incredibly iconic by themselves, as each location the characters visit is always colourful and visually appealing. From the ‘Korova Milk Bar’ through to the apartment ‘Alex’ and his parents call home, every-set has plenty of 1970s style mixed-in with some science fiction aspects (this also applies to the many wonderful costumes on display throughout the film). There were also a number of interesting scenes that were left on the cutting-room floor, including more scenes set within the ‘Korova Milk Bar’ among plenty of other scenes focusing on the characters committing more horrible acts.

‘A Clockwork Orange’ overall is an extremely bizarre yet incredible experience, as the film is just as interesting to discuss as it is to watch among many film fans. Containing plenty of hidden messages and underlining themes alongside its phenomenal filmmaking and brilliant story. The film truly is one of Kubrick’s best, despite not beating-out my personal favourite: ‘The Shining’. A high 8/10 in total, while not flawless in my opinion, I would still highly recommend this one for anyone seeking something a little more out there, and of course also due to its huge impact on pop-culture and the film industry alike.

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