Edge of Tomorrow (2014) – Film Review

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

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

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

For a large majority of the film Tom Cruise plays against his usual type, as ‘Major William Cage’ is essentially the complete opposite of his character: ‘Ethan Hunt’ from the ‘Mission Impossible’ franchise, with most of the character’s screen-time being spent dying continuously in horrific (yet also somewhat comedic) ways, alongside his genuinely cowardly and untrained demeanour. Cruise also bounces-off his co-star Emily Blunt very well throughout the film, with Blunt portraying the complete opposite of Cruise’s character as ‘Rita Vrataski’, a hard-as-nails solider who is a skilled as they come.

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

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

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

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

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The Hunger Games (2012) – Film Review

While nowadays ‘The Hunger Games’ may be known as an iconic blockbuster franchise, there was a time when most were unfamiliar with ‘Katniss’ and the sovereign state of: ‘Panem’. That until the first adaptation of the novel series by Suzanne Collins was released in 2012, kicking-off a new film franchise which would receive bigger and bigger budgets with each entry. Yet even with all this success, this science fiction series has always had more issues than most care to admit, which is mostly why I’ve never found as much enjoyment in this franchise as many others.

In a dystopian future, ‘Katniss Everdeen’ voluntarilers to take her younger sister’s place in ‘The Hunger Games’, a televised competition in which two teenagers from each of the twelve districts are chosen at random to fight to the death in a forest arena. Now ‘Katniss’ and her male counterpart: ‘Peeta’, find themselves pitted against larger, more fearsome opponents, some of whom have been training their entire lives.

Alongside the ‘Harry Potter’ series, ‘The Hunger Games’ is one of the main films responsible for creating the rise of: ‘teen adaptations’ in recent years, such as: ‘Divergent’, ‘The Maze Runner’ and ‘Ender’s Game’ to name a few. However, similar to many of these other franchises, ‘The Hunger Games’ has always suffered in my opinion from attempting too much at one time. As whilst the world the story takes-place within is certainly intresting, many ideas and elements feel fairly undercooked or even completely unexplored due to a lack of time, in particular, the aspect of: ‘Districts’ within the story, or even the centric: ‘Hunger’ part of the film’s title, which along with the many intriguing side characters, is barely developed during the runtime.

Mostly known for her work-on indie films at the time, Jennifer Lawrence leads the cast as ‘Katniss Everdeen’, and while many of the performances she has given throughout her career do tend to filp-flop in quality. She is mostly solid in her role as the film’s protagonist, serving as a likeable character through her actions in addition to also being a strong female icon for young girls. The rest of the cast of Joshua Hutcherson, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks and Liam Hemsworth all give passable performances, despite not being given much to do in this first entry of the series.

The cinematography by Tom Stern is definitely the weakest element of the film, being almost chaotic at points, the cinematography relies nearly entirely on hand-held camerawork. Almost giving the impression the filmmakers had some-kind of a phobia of utilising tripods, as aside from the initial moment of: ‘Katniss’ entering ‘The Hunger Games’, I felt the hand-held approach was very necessary, and resulted in plenty of shots losing their alluring potential. Although not often, occasionally, the cinematography even slips in-and-out of focus mid-scene, which alongside the CG effects (which also range throughout the film) can be quite distracting.

Despite James Newton Howard’s original score not becoming as iconic or as beloved as many other signature scores from blockbuster franchises like ‘Star Wars’, ‘Jurassic Park’ or the previously mentioned: ‘Harry Potter’ series. Tracks such as: ‘The Hunger Games’, ‘Entering the Capital’ and ‘Rue’s Farewell’ do all serve the narrative well, adding to the drama and tension throughout the film even if they aren’t some of the most distinctive tracks this talented composer has to offer.

Although ‘The Hunger Games’ doesn’t develop its world as much as I would’ve have personally preferred, there is one detail I did admire within the world of the film. This being the visual contrast between the poverty-stricken and starving: ‘District 12’ and the wealthy and futuristic: ‘Capital’, even if this more futuristic setting allows for more outlandish sci-fi dangers like genetically engineered hornets and dogs. This alternate version of Earth even plays into the costume design within the film, as many of the wealthy citizens of: ‘The Captial’ wear colourful (and even slightly bizarre) suits and dresses, which excellently displays the difference between the two locations purely through clothing.

To conclude, ‘The Hunger Games’ does have its entertainment value here-and-there, but just like many other blockbuster franchises, I feel many hardcore fans of the novels and films alike do seem to overlook the flaws this adaptation and its sequels have. From its cheesy and predicable dialogue, to its unexplored story aspects and its absence of both realistic violence and innovative filmmaking. ‘The Hunger Games’ is certainly not the worst sci-fi adaptations has to offer, but is still far from the best. A high 5/10 overall. If you’re a passionate fan of the novels then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this new interpretation, but if your just looking an exciting science fiction flick, maybe look towards some older franchises or possibly even the Japanese thriller: ‘Battle Royale’, which shares many of the same ideas.

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Hot Tub Time Machine (2010) – Film Review

Taking heavy inspiration from the smash-hit comedy: ‘The Hangover’ released a year prior, this 2010 comedy revels in its absurdist tone and nonsensical plot right from its earliest scenes. As despite featuring some very dull cinematography and a completely forgettable original score to boot, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ does manage to escape some of its flaws due to the original story and amusing moments its ridiculous title would imply.

When a group of friends impulsively decide to take their low-life pal: ‘Lou’ back to the ‘Kodiak Valley Ski Resort’ after a potential suicide attempt, a place that was once their hotspot for thriving party-filled weekends. The group soon find themselves being sent back in time to 1986 after a drunken dip into their malfunctioning hot tub, allowing them to relive one of the best weekends of their entire lives.

Although comedy as a genre has always been quite divisive, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ is a film that values its comedy over anything else, as the film continuously throws-in as many jokes and references as it possibly can throughout its runtime. Most of which do come at the expense of messing with the film’s overall structure and pacing (regardless of how comical some of them actually are). As the film goes about its narrative mostly by jumping from comedic scene-to-comedic scene with most of the character’s different shenanigans having little impact on the others, resulting in the film feeling mostly like a collection of individual comedy skits.

At first mention, John Cusack seems like a slightly odd choice for a straight comedy in my opinion, as the actor while talented (and even quite amusing at points during the film) usually specialises more in dramas, thrillers and occasionally even romance over comedies. Whereas the rest of the cast of Rob Corddry, Graig Robinson, Clark Duke, Chevy Chase are all very experienced within the realm of comedy, which is most likely why many of the film’s funniest moments belong to their characters. The film even features a short appearance from a young Sebastian Stan as ‘Blaine’, many years before his breakout role as ‘The Winter Soldier’ in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Similar to many other modern comedies, ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ nearly always places far more of an emphasis on its comedic writing rather than its cinematography, usually resulting in a large majority of the film’s camerawork being fairly bland. In the case of: ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’s cinematography by Jack N. Green, this means having a variety of scenes shot through hand-held camera, in addition to a few moments where shots can make some of the rooms within the ski resort feel far more like sets than they should, usually leave a lot to be desired in terms of visuals.

The original score by Christophe Beck is immensely generic (even in spite of it barley being utilised throughout the film). Yet while the score’s lack of memorability is a missed opportunity, it certainly isn’t its biggest. As with the film being set within the 1980s, I felt it was a pretty obvious choice to have a synth/rock soundtrack which would meld perfectly with the long list of iconic 80s songs that also populate the film, the most notable of which definitely being: ‘Safety Dance’ when the gang first realise they have arrived in the past.

However, even if ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ doesn’t always make the most of its time-period, the film does at least have an interesting location on-itself, as the ‘Kodiak Valley Ski Resort’ temporary home of the music festival: ‘Winterfest 86’, allows for plenty of visually pleasing locations when covered in the snow and vibrant colours alike. Yet sadly, this still doesn’t manage to make-up for what is easily the film’s biggest misstep. As whilst I would say ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ lands more jokes than it misses, the film does overly-rely on gross-out humour for sure, having a number of scenes where simply having a character getting covered in urine/faeces (or something even worse) is the entirety of the joke, which obviously fails to do anything other than disgust its audience through its idea of ‘humour’.

Overall, a 5/10 for: ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’. Even though I personally feel the film is far more problematic than many other modern comedies, I appreciate the film’s effort to scale-up the preposterous nature of many other comedies, taking its ludicrous story idea and managing it make it work better then many would initially think. But just like many other films within this genre, the bland filmmaking on-display and simply unnecessary amounts of gross-out humour leave it a very mixed-bag for me, with that said however, I could still see the film being enjoyable for anyone in search of a raunchy comedy for a Saturday night with friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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. Meanwhile, 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 CG locations, and although most of the film’s CG 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 CG 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 CG 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 CG 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 CG 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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