Enola Holmes (2020) – Film Review

Based on the book series; The Enola Holmes Mysteries by Nancy Springer, a string of books centralising on Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes’ younger sister, Enola. 2020’s Enola Holmes serves as an alternate take on the Sherlock Holmes mythology, aiming itself towards preteens (specifically preteen girls) and injecting the world of the renowned detective with both colour and humour. Unfortunately, however, on account of the film’s poor pacing, overly long runtime and comedic sequences that frequently fall flat, Enola Holmes struggles to attain much appeal outside its preteen demographic. Even with a terrific performance from Millie Bobby Brown as the titular character.

Plot Summary: When Enola Holmes, Sherlock Holmes’ teenage sister, discovers that her mother has gone missing, she embarks on a daring mission to the city of London to find her. Swiftly becoming a proficient detective in her own right as she outwits her older brothers and unravels a treacherous conspiracy surrounding a young, runaway Lord…

Adapting the first entry of the book series into an origin story, of sorts. The plot of Enola Holmes revolves around a mystery, similar to many adaptations of Sherlock Holmes literature. However, unlike many other adaptations of the world’s greatest detective, Enola Holmes repeatedly breaks the fourth wall throughout its narrative. Having Enola turns towards the camera and speaks directly to the audience, delivering exposition and sharing her various thoughts on her current situation. Yet this isn’t too surprising as director Harry Bradbeer (As the Beast Sleeps, The Brides in the Bath, Perfect Day: The Millennium) is predominantly a television director, directing episodes on several well-known series, including Fleabag, which also features a number of fourth-wall-breaking moments. Furthermore, with a female protagonist at the centre of the story, Enola Holmes attempts to weave themes of feminism and the sexist nature of the 1800s into its narrative, which is an admirable goal, yet often comes across as preachy in its delivery as the female characters continuously outperform and belittle the male characters, including Sherlock Holmes himself.

Best known for her role as Eleven in the smash-hit television series; Stranger Things, Millie Bobby Brown portrays the youthful detective, Enola Holmes, with plenty of wit and confidence. And although the screenplay doesn’t give Enola much complexity beyond occasionally being too headstrong for her own good, she is a fine protagonist, especially for impressionable young girls. The supporting cast also does well in their respective roles, with Henry Cavill, in particular, portraying a remarkable iteration of Sherlock Holmes in a more traditional portrayal of the character following the rather wild and scattered portrayals from Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. Cavill is calm and collected as the stark image of his older brother, Mycroft Holmes, portrayed by Sam Claflin, who is far more rigid. Mycroft also makes an excellent foil to Enola as he demands she conforms to the standards of 18th-century women. Then there is Helena Bonham Carter, who doesn’t have much to do as the Holmes matriarch, Eudoria Holmes, but makes the most of her screentime through her monologues, bouncing from various tones with her eccentric behaviour and sage advice.

For added freedom and flexibility when it comes to camera movement, Enola Holmes was shot almost exclusively using a Steadicam system. This allowed cinematographer, Giles Nuttgens, to obtain many of the energetic shots seen throughout the film. Yet, despite this persistent sense of movement, many of the shots in Enola Holmes aren’t anything overly inventive, and instead, a large portion of the camerawork simply presents the detailed costumes and sets with pride. All of which feel period-accurate, if a little excessively vibrant.

Whist not as memorable or as distinct as many of his other scores, composer Daniel Pemberton does a passable job with the soundtrack for Enola Homes. Crafting an orchestra-led score brimming with bouncy rhythms and sassy melodies, all united by guitar. Effectively, it’s a modern score that makes no real attempt to convey the time period of the story. Instead, the original score concentrates on Enola as a protagonist, accentuating her personality through tracks like Gifts from MotherCracking the Chrysanthemums Cypher and The Game is Afoot.

According to the novel; A Study in Scarlet, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sherlock Holmes first met his assistant, Dr. Watson, in 1881. But, in Enola Holmes, which is set in 1884, Lestrade states that Sherlock always works alone, indicating that the pair have not yet met. As such, it’s a safe assumption that Enola Holmes is set outside of the series’ usual continuity, further playing into the idea that Enola Holmes is an entirely new interpretation of the series. This assumption is inadvertently also a pleasant distraction from the film’s countless cringe-worthy quips and one-liners.

In summary, Enola Holmes is the type of film that preteens will delight in; a charming, family-friendly adventure with an intriguing mystery at its core. For others, however, this family flick is unlikely to impress as a result of its notable flaws and restrictive appeal, not to mention its constant attempts to plant seeds for the inevitable sequels that will be coming to Netflix later down the line. Having said that, I feel Millie Bobby Brown will certainly advance her career with this project as she was actually one of the main reasons Enola Holmes was green-lit, approaching author, Nancy Springer, with the intention of starring in and producing an adaptation of her work. Rating: 5/10.

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Extraction (2020) – Film Review

Based on the graphic novel: Ciudad by Ande Parks, which in itself was based on an unproduced screenplay written by Joe Russo in 2014. 2020’s Extraction transfers the story it’s adapting from the Paraguayan city of Ciudad Del Este to Dhaka in Bangladesh whilst still indulging in all of the same barbaric violence and exciting action set pieces. Yet despite its spectacular stunt work, impressive long takes and electric performance from Chris Hemsworth, Extraction isn’t entirely saved from its generic complexion, as the film frequently falls back on many of the usual tropes we tend to see in modern action flicks.

Plot Summary: In an underworld of weapons dealers and traffickers, Ovi Mahajan, the son of a notorious drug lord, becomes the pawn in a war between two criminal syndicates. Now, held hostage by a group of kidnappers in one of the world’s most impenetrable cities, his rescue beckons the unparalleled skill of black-market mercenary, Tyler Rake, a broken man with nothing to lose, harbouring a death wish that makes an already dangerous mission near impossible…

Extraction marks the feature-length directorial debut of Avengers: Endgame stunt coordinator/second unit director, Sam Hargrave, who producers, Joe and Anthony Russo, hand-picked to helm the project following their collaboration on the superhero blockbuster. Meaning, of course, that Hargrave’s profession as a stunt coordinator (and stunt double) repeatedly comes into focus as each of the film’s action sequences are relentlessly thrilling and well-orchestrated. If truth be told, however, most of Extraction‘s faults come not from its directing, but rather its screenplay, as, in many ways, Extraction‘s screenplay is structured much like a video game, continuously introducing new ‘boss levels’ that Tyler must complete before advancing, such as a corrupt general who also happens to be the country’s best sniper. Quickly equalling to tiring formula, especially when the film introduces the odd interesting idea, such as a subplot focusing on a troubled teenager taking his first steps into the world of organised crime.

Although Chris Hemsworth gives an admirable performance as the film’s protagonist, Tyler Rake, a fearless mercenary and former SASR operator, discreetly mourning the loss of his son who died from lymphoma. The character’s promising (if a little cliché) set-up is soon spoilt by the complete lack of development from that point onwards as Tyler essentially goes nowhere after the groundwork for his character is laid, cementing him as a by-the-book action hero and nothing more. Surprising, considering that Extraction was effectively conceived as a star vehicle for Hemsworth, a remarkable actor who has struggled to obtain a signature role outside of Thor Odinson. On the flip of this, there is the school-age son of a Mumbai drug lord, Ovi Mahajan, portrayed by Rudhraksh Jaiswal, who serves his purpose as an innocent child caught in the crossfire between two gangs. It’s just unfortunate that the film tries to build a parental relationship between the two, merely reminding the audience how paper-thin its characters are.

When overlooking the murky, displeasing colour palette, a majority of the visuals throughout Extraction are spellbinding as the film uses its dynamic, hand-held cinematography by Newton Thomas Sigel to place the audience alongside the characters in the busy streets of Dhaka. Having Tyler grapple with corrupt police officers while tuk-tuks and scooters disorderly rush past, a feeling that is only amplified by the film’s multiple one-takes. One of said takes, which clocks in at around eleven minutes and twenty-nine seconds, is, in actuality, comprised of thirty-six stitched sequences, some of which took over twenty-five takes to line up correctly, according to director, Sam Hargrave.

Regrettably, the original score by Henry Jackman and Alex Belcher isn’t as innovative as the soundtrack almost solely consists of indistinguishable ostinato-driven action tracks such as Police Search and Checkpoint, all of which have a heavy emphasis on percussion, with only the occasional pause for breath. And whilst there is no standout theme, as such, Extraction does have an effective little motif that runs through some of the tracks to give the score a bit of personality.

Naturally, the action sequences of Extraction are what the majority of the film hinders. And luckily, they do deliver, being brutal, bloody and fast-paced as dissimilar to characters like John Wick, whose fighting style is inherently tactical and calculated, Tyler Rake engages in combat far more spontaneously, improvising weapons and thinking on his feet whenever he is thrown into a dangerous scenario. As previously mentioned, the film’s camerawork also amplifies many of these exhilarating moments, particularly one car chase sequence, during which, Sam Hargrave actually manned the camera himself whilst he was strapped to the hood of the vehicle pursuing Tyler and Ovi.

In summary, Extraction is slightly contrived and sporadically over-the-top, and there’s no question that the film’s characters are essentially just cardboard cutouts delivering line after line of uninspired dialogue. In fact, for most of its runtime, Extraction almost feels as if you’re watching someone play a video game, which as I’m sure any video game enthusiast will tell you, is only amusing for a short time. But purely in terms of action, Hargrave and the Russo Brothers bring the noise with a film fueled by the charisma and physicality of its star, suggesting that Hemsworth has found his genre once he retires his iconic superhero. Rating: high 6/10.

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Cargo (2017) – Film Review

Based on the short film of the same name, which went on to be an online sensation following its release in 2013, garnering over thirteen million views on YouTube alone. ‘Cargo’ takes a refreshingly character-driven approach to the post-apocalyptic genre, differentiating itself from other films featuring flesh-devouring monstrosities through its secluded setting and Martin Freeman’s terrific lead performance. A combination that will surely satisfy most zombie fanatics even if the genre’s more mainstream crowd could potentially be disappointed at the exclusion of decaying hordes of the undead, a true sense of dread and a lack of extravagant gore.

Plot Summary: After an epidemic spreads across Australia morphing humanity into flesh-eating monsters, ‘Andy,’ along with his wife: ‘Kay’ and infant daughter: ‘Rosie,’ attempt to escape the Outback via the river, making their way to a presumably secure military base. But when the trio stumbles upon an abandoned yacht, ‘Kay’ is bitten while searching for supplies, soon passing the virus onto her husband. Now, with his time running short, ‘Andy’ has one mission: find a new home for his daughter…

Directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, ‘Cargo’ is not only Howling and Ramke’s first feature-length film, but is also Australia’s first-ever production to be spotlighted as a Netflix Original, releasing globally on the streaming service in 2017. And although Netflix has ventured into the post-apocalyptic genre before with projects like ‘Ravenous’ and ‘Z Nation,’ both Howling and Ramke wanted ‘Cargo’ to be more than just a straight-forward story of survival, subsequently leading the pair to intertwine social commentary into the story relating to everything from environmental fracking to the exploitation of Australia’s aboriginal peoples. But, in my opinion, the best thing about ‘Cargo’ is its central concept, as the idea of a father having only forty-eight-hours to find a new life for his child is a plot enriched with dramatic potential, with a nocuous outbreak providing the perfect backdrop to juxtapose the qualities one would look for in a guardian during such a crisis.

Speaking of the protagonist, Martin Freeman leads the cast brilliantly as ‘Andy,’ portraying an affectionate father/husband who is determined to protect his family at all costs, an intention which, whilst honourable, often lands him and his loved ones in an even worse spot, as ‘Andy’ refuses to accept when he is out of time. Freeman’s young co-star, Simone Landers, unfortunately, doesn’t fare quite as well, as her frail performance frequently results in poignant scenes feeling less sincere. However, ‘Thoomi’ herself is still an intriguing character, with her subplot, focusing on the demise of her father and the survival of a nearby native tribe, providing a vastly different perspective on the epidemic when compared to ‘Andy’s point of view.

Utilising the vegetation-splotched, sun-parched rural land of the Australian Outback flawlessly, the cinematography by Geoffrey Simpson is both varied and visually interesting. Even if, in reality, the Australian wilderness where ‘Cargo’ was shot threw everything it had at the production crew, with South Australia experiencing what was supposedly its worst weather in a century, with floods, power blackouts, torrential downpours and even a miniature cyclone all occurring over the five weeks of production. Yet miraculously, the crew didn’t lose even a single day’s worth of filming, very fortunate considering that the remote setting is a crucial player in the film’s identity, with its harsh and unforgiving nature hurling countless obstacles at our characters, whilst at the same time, offering them a means to survive.

Managed by four different composers, including Michael Hohnen, Daniel Rankine, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu and Johnathon Mangarri Yunupingu. The original score for: ‘Cargo’ greatly strengthens each scene’s emotional significance, almost as if the score is applying a proverbial highlighter to certain moments, with sombre, tenuous tracks such as: ‘The Grave’ and ‘Goodbye’ flourishingly pulling at the audience’s heartstrings more times than one.

Taking an alternate route to avoid comparisons to zombie designs of the 1970s, seen in classic horror films like ‘Rabid’ and ‘Night of the Living Dead.’ ‘Cargo’ strays away from many of the usual clichés associated with the undead, centring its zombie design around an orange pus-like substance that oozes from the infected’s facial orifices, rather than the bleeding open wounds the living dead are commonly known for. This distinction is further emphasised through what we see of their behaviour, as the infected are presented as mindless animals more than they are man-eating monsters, requiring dark/damp areas to incubate during the daytime, before feasting on whatever wildlife they can find once night falls, reminding the audience that what they are witnessing is a viral infection, hence why the infected are even nicknamed: ‘Virals.’

On the whole, even if ‘Cargo’s story could’ve been executed in a more effective fashion with a motley of improvements, I feel ‘Cargo’ is still a creditable entry into the realm of post-apocalyptic storytelling. Being a zombie film with soul and pathos, which, in turn, makes the living dead formidable once again, not because of jump-scares or excessive bloodshed, but becuase of the film’s biggest drawcard; its sheer humanity. Telling a story that largely revolves around the notion of human determination, seeing how far an individual will go to protect another even in the bleakest of circumstances. Final Rating: 7/10.

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The Ritual (2017) – Film Review

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Adam Nevill, 2017’s ‘The Ritual’ is possibly one of my favourite horrors from Netflix’s extensive list of original films, as although its story revolves around a scenario that many horror enthusiasts will likely be familiar with, ‘The Ritual’ effectively uses its sound design and adept visual obfuscation to create an immensely unsettling atmosphere. All the while, developing its characters and exploring themes of grief and manhood in equal measure, turning what could’ve been a wearisome adaptation into an efficient and discomfiting low-budget British horror.

Plot Summary: Haunted by the death of his best friend who was killed during a liquor store robbery six months prior, ‘Luke’ and a group of his former university housemates reunite to mark his passing, hiking across the Scandinavian mountains as a tribute to their lamented friend. But when one of them sprains their ankle, the group are forced to take a short-cut through a nearby forest in order to arrive at their lodge before nightfall, a forest which undenounced to them, is actually the domain of an ancient evil…

Directed by David Bruckner (The Signal, Southbound – Segment: The Accident, The Night House) and executively produced by well-known motion-capture performer Andy Serkis, ‘The Ritual’ takes a large amount of inspiration for its story from classic 1970s horror films in addition to the obvious influences of: ‘The Blair Witch Project’ and ‘Deliverance.’ Yet ‘The Ritual’ helps itself stand-out amongst these other ‘lost in the woods’ films predominantly due to its implementation of Norse mythology, as the film continuously integrates many of the darker, more disturbing elements of Norse folklore into its plot, linking back to the film’s Scandinavian setting.

In a refreshing turn for a modern horror, the four central characters of: ‘The Ritual’ frequently act as if they have actually seen a horror film before, but the film doesn’t use this self-awareness to simply indulge in cheeky one-liners and pop-culture references. Instead, the characters use this perspective to make insightful decisions, almost immediately realising there is something trailing them. The group of friends, led by Rafe Spall as ‘Luke,’ are all in fine form when it comes to their performances, even if the other three members of the group portrayed by Robert James-Collier, Sam Troughton and Arsher Ali all receive less characterisation when compared to ‘Luke,’ which in a way also makes sense, as ‘Luke’ is the cause of the lingering tension among the quartet, with group seemingly believing if ‘Luke’ would’ve intervened as oppose to being frozen in fear, their friend would still be alive. And this resentment comes boiling to the surface over time, giving Spall the perfect opportunity to convey a real sense of frustration and guilt as the group begins to splinter.

The film’s forest setting is utilised incredibly well throughout the film, as the cinematography by Andrew Shulkind treats the vast wilderness as a formidable presence, crafting a sense of pervasive doom with each step the characters take. From extreme wide-shots to uncomfortable P.O.V. shots, the camerawork remains both inventive and visually appealing until the end of the runtime, almost luring the audience in with its breathtaking locations before putting them on edge through the abnormal emptiness. Additionally, more observant viewers may be able to spot many minor details hidden within the background of certain shots, some being far more frightening than others.

The original score by Ben Lovett expertly and artfully taps into the film’s arboreal vibe of Norse mythology, as aside from a handful of tracks which more on synthwave to add to the story’s various dream sequences, most of the soundtrack makes marvellous use of strings, horns and a small choir, giving the film an old-world feel in the same spirit of modern horrors like ‘The Witch.’ With tracks such as: ‘Four Tents,’ ‘The Ritual,’ ‘Through the Trees’ and ‘Fear God’ all reflecting the horror elements of the story as well as the fractured relationship between the characters.

As mentioned previously, ‘The Ritual’ heavily leans into many of the dourer aspects of Norse folklore when it comes to its story, as the film explores ritual sacrifices and ever lasting life following the reveal of the film’s antagonist, who is a towering elk-like creature known as ‘Jōtunn,’ one of the children of: ‘Loki,’ the God of mischief and mayhem. And whilst ‘Loki’ is famously known to have fathered a multitude of strange beings, including a giant wolf named: ‘Fenrir’ and the colossal sea serpent: ‘Jörmungandr,’ ‘Jōtunn’ is an ideal pick for the film. Being brought to life through some above-average CG effects and an exceptional design by renowned concept artist Keith Thompson, ‘Jōtunn’ is a fascinating and distinctive creature, even having many of its attributes further relate back to other stories within Norse mythology.

To conclude, ‘The Ritual’ is a solid entry into the horror genre for more reasons than one, as despite its story not being anything revolutionary and occasionally falling back into skilfully delivered horror tropes. ‘The Ritual’ still manages to construct a mature and slow-burning narrative, only elevated by its fantastic filmmaking, mythological influences and strong direction from David Bruckner, playing upon the Scandinavian tales of old to deliver something truly alluring. Final Rating: low 8/10.

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This Year in Film (2020) – Film List

Due to COVID-19, the film industry (much like the world itself) has deeply suffered this year, with many films be pushed-back or even put on-hold indefinitely. And while I obviously agree with all of the new precautions introduced for the safety of both the cast and crew for films currently in production, I’m also truly hoping that the film industry can recover by next year. Regardless, in no particular order, here’s my thoughts on what few films I did manage to see this year, which I will update in time as I get around to seeing any other films I may have missed.

Soul

A return to form for Pixar Animation, Pixar’s ‘Soul’ not only features the usual gorgeous animation the company is known for, but also delivers on an original and unique story with many fascinating ideas melded within. Although some of its concepts may be a little difficult for younger viewers to understand, ‘Soul’ is still a wonderful mixture of heart and creativity, and is such a breath of fresh air for both the animated genre and Pixar themselves.

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Mank

Capturing the look and feel of a 1940s film, the sharply written and brilliantly performed: ‘Mank,’ peers behind-the-scenes of one of the greatest films ever made, that being: ‘Citizen Kane,’ to tell an old Hollywood tale that is just as engaging as it is well crafted. And while I don’t believe the film will end-up becoming a classic in its own right, as I could see general audiences finding the film quite dull, cinephiles will surely get a kick out of this remarkable drama.

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Tenet

Thrilling and distinctive yet very flawed in terms of its writing, ‘Tenet’ is nowhere near as compelling as many of Christopher Nolan’s other blockbusters, suffering from an incredibly undeveloped protagonist and antagonist as well as a handful of moments that feel like spectacle-over-substance. But through its impressive CG effects and exciting action sequences, ‘Tenet’ does certainly have plenty of entertainment value even if it’s screenplay was in need of some refinement.

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Mulan

Another of Disney’s live-action reimaginings of their beloved classics, the new incarnation of: ‘Mulan’ is beyond lacklustre, with its unlikeable protagonist, dull filmmaking, and a more historically accurate yet uninteresting story all being far less enjoyable than the original animated adventure. And with this film flopping at the box-office due to its purchasable release on Disney+, we can only hope that ‘Mulan’ is one of the last remakes Disney decides to force upon its viewers, but after looking at their current release schedule, this does seem unlikely.

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Scoob!

Serving as what was intended to be the first film in an animated Hanna-Barbara cinematic universe, ‘Scoob!’ is an enormous missed opportunity for a reboot of: ‘Mystery Inc.’ As the film quickly becomes distracted by its singular goal of setting-up this interconnected universe and as a result, forgets to tell the entertaining and charming origin story its trailers promised, or even a classic spooky adventure more in line with the original animated show.

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Onward

An intriguing idea/story quickly spoiled by its overly fast-pacing and overstuffed world, before ‘Soul’ came along and redeemed their streak, ‘Onward’ simply felt like another disappointing film in the long list of underwhelming Pixar flicks released in recent years. Whilst the modern fantasy world the film takes place within does take its opportunities to be amusing or charming, it also isn’t very memorable in the long-run.

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The Hunt

While the political commentary throughout ‘The Hunt’ is quite easy to ignore if you only desire to see some dark comedy and intense violence. ‘The Hunt’ still somehow managed to be one of the most controversial yet also most neglected films of the year, eventually leading Blumhouse Pictures to use the film’s controversy to market the film, which really displays the company’s lack of faith in the film itself, which is nothing short of a slightly more comedic but just as bland ‘Purge’ flick.

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Possessor

From the son of David Cronenberg, Brandon Cronenberg. ‘Possessor’ may not be quite as groundbreaking as sci-fi-horror classics like ‘The Fly’ or ‘Scanners,’ but this original and intriguing narrative is only complimented by its compelling themes and exceptional filmmaking, and serves as a brilliant second outing for this iconic director’s son, who I personally can’t wait to see more from.

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Extraction

Although ‘Extraction’ is very loose on story and characterisation alike, the film’s exciting action set-pieces will be more than enough to satisfy action fanatics. As Chris Hemsworth fittingly places all of his training and gruff exterior to the forefront for the film’s many violent, exhilarating, and occasionally even over-the-top moments.

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His House

A low-budget British horror with some intriguing themes, ‘His House’ is a terrifying and eye-opening look at the specters of the refugee experience. Directed by first time filmmaker Remi Weekes, the film is certainly not for everyone, as it avoids many common horror clichés in favour of aggressively playing into its central concept, which usually works quite well aside from one or two moments where it can feel a little heavy-handed.

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Underwater

A fantastic throwback to 80s creature-features, ‘Underwater’ was undoubtedly one of the most overlooked entries into the sci-if genre this year. And although it’s story isn’t anything we haven’t seen before, this simplistic yet flashy flick will surely please any fans of cult horrors and science fiction stories, having heavy inspirations of both H.P. Lovecraft and even the 1979 classic: ‘Alien.’

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The Gentlemen

Going back to his ‘Snatch’ roots, ‘The Gentlemen’ directed by the brilliant Guy Richie is simultaneously stylish, well crafted, and hilarious. Whilst I personally feel ‘Snatch’ still has a slight edge over Richie’s latest feature, it’s still a very enjoyable ride, nevertheless, and is more than likely one of my favourite releases of the year.

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The Midnight Sky

Iconic actor George Clooney returned to the directing chair this year with the sci-fi Netflix Original: ‘The Midnight Sky,’ and even though it lacks the dramatic heft to match its narrative scale, its flaws are often balanced by its thoughtful themes and poignant performances from both Felicity Jones and Clooney himself.

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The Invisible Man

Another one of my personal favourites from this year, this remake of the classic 1930s monster flick: ‘The Invisible Man,’ is a refreshing and very well directed take on the iconic character. Remaining tense and entertaining throughout its mostly original storyline, all the while continuing to impress with its excellent performances, effective cinematography, and impactful original score.

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We Can Be Heroes

Attempting to capture both the imagination of younger viewers as well as the nostalgia of older audiences who grew-up with colourful family flicks like ‘SpyKids’ and ‘The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl,’ ‘We Can Be Heroes’ had an opportunity to interject some light-hearted fun into this challenging year. But with its predictable and overly marketed focus on superheroes, not to mention its clearly inexperienced young cast, abysmal CG effects, and costume design, ‘We Can Be Heroes’ winded-up being just as irritating as it was corny, lacking any of the charm those older films had for all their problems.

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Color Out of Space

A wonderful slice of cosmic-horror, ‘Color Out of Space’ explores this subgenre and its weirdly fascinating story remarkably well, as although I personally adore cosmic-horror, this subgenre has always received little attention in modern-day cinema. Yet this adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s novel of the same name is just as creative and disturbing as it’s source material, sometimes even more so despite a few moments of robotic dialogue and weak acting, resulting in a strange yet truly captivating experience.

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The New Mutants

Finally, after years and years of waiting, the horror-esque superhero flick: ‘The New Mutants’ was released in 2020. And it’s fair to say it made its way into cinemas with little applause, missing its train of anticipation by years at this point, and as a result, ‘The New Mutants’ seemed to have just gone unwatched by most, and for those who did see the film such as myself, simply experienced a dull, cheesy, and messy film which felt unsure of what it even wanted to be by the runtime’s end.

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Sonic the Hedgehog

Jim Carrey makes his long-awaited return to the silver screen in this adaptation of the iconic video-game character: ‘Sonic the Hedgehog,’ delivering an expectedly over-the-top performance as the film’s antagonist: ‘Dr. Robotnik.’ And while the film follows the usual formula many family films stick to, never really doing anything unexpected or overly impressive, it does remain enjoyable enough for children and fans of the video-game series alike throughout its simplistic story.

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The Devil All the Time

Gripping, tense, and dramatic, ‘The Devil All the Time’s descent into darkness may be harrowing to the point of unwatchability for some, and isn’t a film I’d recommend to general audiences. Having a devilish mix of neo-noir intrigue and gothic horror based on William Hjortsberg’s page-turning novel, the film is a compelling feature only elevated by the strong work from its all-star cast.

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The King of Staten Island

This comedy-drama from director Judd Apatow isn’t one of the director’s best films to-date, as ‘The King of Staten Island’s uncertain tone and indulgent length stop this coming-of-age dramedy’s ability to find itself, but Pete Davidson’s soulful performance and the director’s usual flair for comedy do manage to keep the film afloat.

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The Babysitter: Killer Queen

Whilst this sequel to 2017’s ‘The Babysitter’ does delve more into the supernatural aspects only hinted at in the first film, ‘The Babysitter: Killer Queen’ is worse than it’s predecessor when it comes to both its comedy and it’s pacing. Ending-up as a mostly straight-forward and drawn-out chase sequence similar to the original film, only this time without the amusing jokes or clever horror satire to hold it up.

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The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge on the Run

Aside from its attractive animation and extremely vibrant colour palette, the third major film focusing on the iconic cartoon character: ‘SpongeBob SquarePants,’ contains barley any story or hilarious moments. Instead, relying on bizarre celebrity cameos and strange dream sequences to fill it’s short runtime, which is sure to do nothing other than leave children bored, adults confused, and fans of the beloved animated show immensely disappointed.

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The Babysitter (2017) – Film Review

Originally filmed in 2015 with the intention of playing in cinemas, the horror-comedy: ‘The Babysitter’ wasn’t seen by any horror fanatics until it released late 2017 after Netflix acquired the rights to the film for streaming. And although ‘The Babysitter’ doesn’t exactly break any of the rules we’ve come to expect within the horror genre, this horror-comedy with splatterings of style must’ve been entertaining enough for those who decided to watch it, as the film would eventually spawn a Netflix-exclusive franchise with two later sequels.

Plot Summary: Riddled with anxiety, twelve-year-old: ‘Cole’ has always been bullied and picked on due to his constant panicking, only finding comfort around the one person who understands him, his attractive babysitter: ‘Bee.’ That is, until one night, after ‘Cole’ secretly stays up past his bedtime to discover she’s actually part of a satanic cult, forcing ‘Cole’ to spend the rest of his evening evading ‘Bee’s band of killers who will stop at nothing to prevent him from spilling their dark secret…

Directed by Joseph McGinty Nichol (Charlie’s Angels, Terminator: Salvation, This Means War) or ‘McG’ as he more commonly goes by, ‘The Babysitter’ is a film that has received a number of alterations (both big and small) since even the early stages of its pre-production. For example, in the original screenplay for the film, ‘Sonya’ was actually a cheerleader, ‘Allison’ was a journalist for her high-school newspaper, and ‘Max’ had dreadlocks, but eventually it was decided that ‘Bee’s cult followers should be reimagined to more closely reflect the stereotypical characters seen in classic slasher flicks, only in this film, they’re the antagonists. And this idea is one of the film’s best aspects in terms of its writing, as it gives the film a real sense of self-awareness in addition paying respect to what came before it. Most notably, the ‘Friday the 13th’ series, which ‘Max’ references directly at one point when he chants: “Ch-Ch-Ch-Ah-Ah-Ah” whilst chasing ‘Cole.’

Judah Lewis does manage to leave an impression in his first film role, portraying protagonist: ‘Cole’ as an innocent twelve-year-old with few friends aside from ‘Bee,’ even if a large portion of his anxious characterisation feels far too over-the-top. Then there is also Samara Weaving as the titular babysitter: ‘Bee,’ and her cult followers: ‘Max,’ ‘Allison,’ ‘Sonya’ and ‘John’ portrayed by Robbie Amell, Bella Thorne, Hana Mae Lee, and Andrew Bachelor. Who are all wonderfully devilish throughout the film, having plenty of dark comedic moments between them making their deaths quite unfortunate, as while I’m sure most could’ve guessed their characters do die at some point within the narrative, we don’t get to spend enough time with any of them to get a strong grasp on their exaggerated personalities or any understanding of their malevolent cult.

In spite of the usually dull cinematography by Shane Hurlbut, ‘The Babysitter’ still manages to be one of the more visually interesting Netflix Originals through its unique style, as the film continuously implements different text, graphics and colours to give it a distinct stylistic appeal, not too dissimilar from (although nowhere near impressive as) ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’ from 2010. Many of these editing decisions also help to redeem the film’s humour, which is extremely inconsistent, bouncing from hilarious cut-aways and meta horror jokes to embarrassing lines of dialogue which try far too hard.

Whilst composer Douglas Pipes has crafted some great scores in the past like ‘Monster House’ and ‘Trick ‘r Treat,’ ‘The Babysitter’ is certainly not one of them, as even with the film having many serviceable tracks. The soundtrack in general just lacks anything distinctive, and I believe that if it was ever compared to any other score from Pipes, or even just a handful of random horror scores, I doubt most would be able to tell it apart. The film also throws in the iconic Queen song: ‘We Are the Champions’ nearing the runtime’s end, which feels immensely out-of-place and comes out of nowhere.

For a large duration of its tight runtime (which the film breezes through as a result of its unrelentingly fast-pacing), ‘The Babysitter’s story is predominantly just one long chase sequence, and whilst occasionally tense, I couldn’t help but feel that the film’s screenplay could’ve taken better advantage of its evil babysitter concept or its few supernatural elements, despite the series second entry: ‘The Babysitter: Killer Queen’ delving much further into the latter. Yet the film doesn’t disappoint when it comes to its violence, having plenty of fantastically gruesome gore effects which are all successfully played for comedy.

Overall, I could see ‘The Babysitter’ being an enjoyable experience for some and possibly just a boring viewing for others. As when ignoring the film’s graphic gore and fun stylistic choices, the story leaves a lot to be desired, and can often feel derivative of horror classics even if this was the film’s intention to an extent with its focus on horror tropes/clichés. For me personally, although I do admire the film’s ridiculous tone and dark humour, the disappointing story can often feel sluggish, diminishing the film’s memorability and rewatchability. Final Rating: 5/10.

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Secret Obsession (2019) – Film Review

Other than providing the viewer with plenty of unintentionally comedic moments to laugh at, ‘Secret Obsession’ fails to do much of anything as a thriller, a mystery, or even a drama. Being incredibly predictable and formulaic from start-to-finish, in addition to lacking in both interesting characters and a real sense of dread throughout. ‘Secret Obsession’ remains to this day Netflix’s attempt at an ominous thriller that was quickly swept under-the-rug shortly after its release, only being known now as a poorly thought-out thriller that would seem more at home on the Lifetime Channel.

Plot Summary: After being brutally attacked by a mysterious stranger at a rest-stop one night, newlywed: ‘Jennifer Williams’ awakens in hospital healing from her injuries. Now unable to recall her past, her husband: ‘Russell Williams’ is simply thankful she’s alive and is eager to get her home. But as he reintroduces her to their secluded mountain estate, ‘Jennifer’ begins to realise she may not be as safe as she initially believed…

Even though ‘Secret Obsession’ received nearly universally-negative reviews upon its initial release, in just twenty-eight days, over forty million viewers watched the thriller, placing it in the top ten most viewed Netflix Original films in the history of the streaming service, (despite the film’s absence of anything truly unique). This is even more surprising considering the film wasn’t the only psychological thriller released on Netflix in 2019, as another entry in the genre titled: ‘Fractured’ appeared on viewer’s accounts months later, sharing many similarities in story and set-up to ‘Secret Obsession.’

Brenda Song and Mike Vogel are both fine within the film, delivering serviceable performances with the exception of the occasional corny line which can feel quite over-acted. Neither one of these performances improve the film much, however, as ‘Secret Obsession’ is anything but subtle in terms of both its dialogue and its characterisation. A perfect example of this is the character: ‘Detective Frank Page,’ portrayed by Dennis Haysbert, as not only is this character very cliché and only in the film to serve as a plot device later down the line. But ‘Detective Frank’ also has a character-arc which receives almost no development and makes little sense, in spite of Haysbert possibly giving the best performance of the film without being anything extraordinary.

The film’s cinematography by Eitan Almagor does manage to be at least somewhat visually interesting for majority of the runtime. With that said, much of the film’s visual style doesn’t fit with the actual narrative, as the film’s main setting of the Colorado Mountains feels like a far too beautiful and scenic location for a dark thriller such as this. This also goes for the film’s colour palette and lighting, which are both overly bright, resulting in the film sharing a similar visual appeal to a modern comedy rather than a suspenseful thriller/mystery.

Just as bland as it is cheesy, the original score by Jim Dooley doesn’t fare much better either, usually landing on either side of the scale: immensely generic or overly loud and extravagant. Almost giving the impression it’s taken from the soundtrack of a live-action ‘Scooby-Doo’ flick at points with how aggressively its orchestral score alludes to danger. But considering this composer hasn’t worked on many well-known films throughout his career, I feel Dooly is still yet to create a beloved (or even memorable) original score for a film.

But the film’s main hook is, of course, it’s signature plot twist, as even hinted at by the ‘Secret’ part of it’s title. Yet, in my opinion, the story’s ‘twist’ is revealed far too early on within the runtime as a result of the film’s extremely blunt hints and clues, which leave little to the imagination, as while you could argue the film intends for the audience to know what’s going on so early in the narrative in order to build tension, the lack of any likeable or engrossing characters makes this a mostly fruitless effort, and with the film never delving much into the details of its twist, it soon leaves the viewer pondering the believability of its story. Alongside the obvious fact that a continuous and overarching mystery always helps to make a story more compelling, with iconic thrillers such as: ‘Seven’ and ‘Shutter Island’ knowing this full well.

In summary, ‘Secret Obsession’ is a film no one is likely to obsess over, with its unfitting location and colour palette, dull characters and constant illogical moments throughout its story, the film has little to offer for fans of psychological thrillers. Whilst some may see the film as a ‘so bad it’s good’ flick, similar to other comically awful films like ‘The Room,’ ‘Battlefield Earth’ and ‘Batman and Robin.’ I personally just find the film a very forgettable and occasionally irritating experience. So, unless you’re on the hunt for a thriller that soon evolves into an unintended comedy, definitely give this dreadful Netflix Original a miss. Final Rating: high 2/10.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Open House (2018) – Film Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Unicorn Store (2019) – Film Review

Both starring and directed by Oscar-winner Brie Larson, ‘Unicorn Store’ is a light-hearted comedy-drama which attempts to delve into those childhood dreams many people have, but seems to fall very short in more aspects than one. As aside from a pretty great original score by Alex Greenwald, the film is mostly very bland and forgettable, usually flopping most of the emotional moments and attempts at humour within its fantastical story.

Plot Summary: When ‘Kit’ is forced to move back in with her parents after being kicked-out of art school, she takes on a boring office job in an attempt to finally grow-up. But when a mysterious stranger sends her an invitation, she is welcomed into a magical store with the promise of owning her own pet unicorn, her greatest desire as a child…

Personally, I do feel this is one of those films where the lack of experience from the director is a big part in what makes it fail overall, as although the writing throughout the film is fairly decent. The film’s visuals as well as the weak performances from the cast, leave the film feeling almost as if it’s presentation doesn’t match with the story itself, and whilst I’m definitely not this film’s main target audience, I don’t imagine even young girls could get much out of this less-than-imaginative experience.

Although Brie Larson has given a variety of excellent performances throughout her career, with ‘Room’ and ‘Scott Pilgrim vs. The World’ being the first two that come to mind. Her performance is extremely mixed throughout ‘Unicorn Store,’ as in some scenes she fairly decent, whilst in others, she is quite bland. This could also be due to her character however, as ‘Kit’ is very irritating throughout the majority of the film. Portraying the character as childish and loud in all the wrong ways, the supporting cast of Mamoudou Athie, Samuel L. Jackson, Bradley Whitford and Joan Cusack are also serviceable however, yet do have their weak moments similar to Brie Larson.

Aside from the bright colour palette which does somewhat help to improve the film’s visuals despite not being as overly-colourful as I initially expected. The overall cinematography by Brett Pawlak is mostly very dull, as the film is overflowing with a variety of boring shots, all displayed through soft hand-held camera techniques, which I actually found quite distracting throughout. This is also the case when it comes to the lighting, as aside from one visually-pleasing scene with the unicorn itself nearing the end of the runtime, every scene is usually very white and pale, which is essentially the complete opposite of the story’s underlining theme.

Alex Greenwald handles the original score for the film as already mentioned, and although not an incredible soundtrack by any means, the score is probably the best element of the film for me. As the original score succeeds where the film’s visuals fail, as the soundtrack embraces the more magical childlike tone of the film, utilising what almost sounds like wind chimes and harps to fit effectively alongside the film’s narrative.

Despite the story not quite reaching the heights it could in terms of humour and emotion, I do really like many of the film’s ideas. As the film’s themes of letting go of your childhood and growing-up are interesting, and have been explored well before in a variety of Pixar and DreamWorks animated classics. However, ‘Unicorn Store’ seems to not place much emphasis on these ideas aside from a few lines of dialogue from ‘Kit’ herself. Initially, ‘Unicorn Store’ was supposed to be directed by Miguel Arteta, best known for his romantic drama: ‘The Good Girl’ from 2002, and although I don’t think this director would’ve done an exceptional job with the film. I do feel he could’ve explored these themes better, and possibly even made the film more engaging when it comes to its characters, as this was always one of the stronger aspects of his previous works.

In summary, ‘Unicorn Store’ was pretty much what I expected it to be, whilst I could be a little biased due to my distaste of Brie Larson (mostly as a person rather than as an actress). The film simply isn’t that entertaining throughout, with its bland cinematography and lighting, in addition to some of its irritating characters and mediocre story. ‘Unicorn Store’ just isn’t worth it’s time when there’s plenty of other fantastic films currently available to watch on Netflix. Final Rating: low 4/10.

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