Wish Upon (2017) – Film Review

A hilariously awful attempt at horror, ‘Wish Upon’ comes to us from director John R. Leonetti. Mostly known for his cinematography on the first two ‘Insidious’ films as well as the first entry in ‘The Conjuring’ series. With him now recently delving his hand into directing, working on films such as: ‘Annabelle’, ‘The Silence’ and obviously ‘Wish Upon’. However, after watching all of these films, I think I would really rather he just stick to cinematography from now on.

When a teenage girl discovers an old music box that carries strange abilities and can grant her any wish she desires, she believes all her dreams have come true. That is until she realizes that there is a deadly price for using each one.

Although the plot is definitely original, it doesn’t really come off as a creepy narrative to me at first glance. Of course, the fact that the film has little-to-no atmosphere as well as an enormous amount of weak jump scares throughout, it’s very clear that this film was clearly meant to pander towards horror-loving teenagers. ‘Wish Upon’ is truly one of the least tense horrors I’ve watched in a very long time, even being unintentionally hilarious at various points.

This is also one of the few films where I can safely say that every character in the film is not only poorly portrayed, but also incredibly stupid. As the entire cast of Ki Hong Lee, Sydney Park, Shannon Purser and of course Joey King as the protagonist: ‘Clare Shannon’. All make ridiculous decisions throughout the entire run-time, in addition to never really acting very intensely to anything, no matter what it may be. The writing also doesn’t help however, as none of the characters in the film talk like actual teenagers, and the script is full of incredibly cringy, cliché and cheesy lines.

All of the cinematography throughout the film done by Michael Galbraith, is very bland and uninspired. Normally using just simple shots without any attempt to integrate any creepy elements into them. The lighting also doesn’t help however, as most of the film looks like a cheaply made for TV film due to being very bright and clear throughout.

The original score by tomandandy is your usual horror affair, with nothing really interesting or particularly memorable of note about it. However, the choice of songs throughout the film is memorable however, for all the wrong reasons. As the film chooses to use terrible pop music at various points during the film, which comes completely out of nowhere and ruins whatever little tension or atmosphere the film had up to that point, making the film feel almost like more of a teen comedy then a horror. Simply due to how distracting it is, this was easily the worst element of the film for me.

Only a very small detail, but I feel the only aspect of the film I actually enjoyed is the music box itself, having a very creepy and unique ancient Chinese design. It’s clear the filmmakers were trying hard to make the item iconic in it’s own right. While obviously not truly successful with this, I still like it’s design, and the eerie tune that it plays as a horrific event unfolds, the film also has a very surreal and entertaining end title sequence, but this obviously adds very little to the film overall.

‘Wish Upon’ is a true mess of a horror film, everything from the writing, to the cinematography, to the original score is either very poorly done or simply bland and very generic. Coming off as an unintentionally hilarious experience sometimes and lacking in any eerie atmosphere and terrifying scenes, I really couldn’t dislike this film more personally. But at least the film does have plenty of memorable moments if you decided to watch it with some friends for a laugh. A 1/10 for this one.

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Ghost Stories (2018) – Film Review

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

We follow skeptical professor: ‘Phillip Goodman’ as he embarks on a trip into the terrifying world of the paranormal, after being given a file with details of three unexplained cases of apparitions. While nothing incredibly original for a horror narrative, this story does allow the film to have almost an anthology-like structure in a way, with the three separate case files all being their own smaller story.

The film also takes a very interesting direction for the majority of it’s run-time, mostly focusing on the paranoia and imagination of the human mind, and how certain tragic events throughout life can lead the mind to wander. While I personally think this is a very creative way to explore paranormal encounters and the horror genre in general, I can definitely say not every horror fan would enjoy this element, as I can see many hating this film mainly due to it’s exploration of these ideas.

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

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

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

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

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Rise of the Guardians (2012) – Film Review

Truly a very underrated DreamWorks flick in my opinion, ‘Rise of the Guardians’ is a very comedic and action-packed animated adventure. Feeling almost like an ‘Avengers’ film aimed towards a younger audience at points, filled with plenty of heart and a wonderful score by Alexandre Desplat, the film is a hidden animated gem to me.

When the evil spirit ‘Pitch’ launches a dark assault on Earth, the ‘Immortal Guardians’ of various different holidays and imagination team up to protect the innocence of children all around the world.

Combing legends and iconic figures such as: ‘Jack Frost’, ‘Santa Clause’, ‘The Easter Bunny’, ‘The Tooth Fairy’ and ‘The Sandman’ alongside a dark sinister villain. The film takes a lot of inspiration from the book series: ‘The Guardians of Childhood’ by William Joyce. As the film has a lot of fun with it’s plot, playing into the over-the-top ideas of it’s story resulting in many interesting locations or various little jokes between the characters.

Chris Pine, Alec Baldwin, Hugh Jackman and Isla Fisher, are all fantastic as their various characters. Each giving their character a likable and amusing but not overly irritating personality, I particularly enjoyed Hugh Jackman and Alec Baldwin as ‘The Easter Bunny’ and ‘Santa Clause’, as I feel these characters were definitely given many of the best jokes and moments throughout the story, with the actors behind them clearly having a lot of fun of portraying them.

The animated cinematography throughout the film is decent, while by no means anything exceptional. The film does make use of many different moving shots, usually having the camera tracking or spinning around the characters/locations to make the film feel like a true ‘spectacle’. The original score by Alexandre Desplat is easily one of my favourite elements of the film however, as while this composer has worked on many other brilliant soundtracks in his past (The Imitation Game, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Shape of Water) to name a few. I feel this has to be one of his most underrated scores similar to the film itself, as the tone captures all the elements of wonder, amazement and excitement perfectly.

The animation within the film is stunning throughout, everything from the hairs on top of the characters heads, to the sand effects for ‘Sandman’s abilities along with ‘Jack Frost’s snow/ice effects all look phenomenal. The film is always very beautiful to look at and has a very diverse colour palette, ranging from light blues, to greens to blacks, making every shot look very different from the last.

My main issues with the film mostly revolves around it’s cheesiness, as while the film isn’t only aimed at children and does manage to reach an adult audience most of the time. The film never quite catches the older audience like a Pixar film would for example. There is also a small group of child characters in the film who play a role in the narrative helping the guardians, unfortunately I found these characters quite irritating, as I felt the film played into their ‘childlike nature’ a little too much, luckily though these characters don’t get too much screen-time.

Rise of the Guardians’ is one of those great family films that can entertain most children and a fair few adults, while by no means is it one of the best animated films. It’s certainly up there with some of DreamWorks’ other classics like: ‘Shrek’, ‘Kung Fu Panda’ and ‘How to Train Your Dragon’ for me. The film may not be winning best animated picture anytime soon, but it’s a great watch around Christmas, Easter, or maybe even just your average family weekend. Overall, a decent 7/10.

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The Belko Experiment (2016) – Film Review

An intense thriller with elements of dark comedy thrown in for good measure, ‘The Belko Experiment’ is written by: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ director James Gunn, and directed by: ‘Wolf Creek’ and ‘Rogue’ director Greg McLean. A strange combination which works surprisingly well in my opinion, as it results in a tense, unique and very fast-paced film.

As the story focuses on a twisted social experiment, where eighty American employees are locked in their high-rise corporate office building in Bogotá, Colombia, and are ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed. As you can probably tell from the plot, the film doesn’t hold back and throwing the audience straight into the gory chaos after only about ten to fifteen minutes of screen-time. From here, the film continues to build tension and a dreading atmosphere throughout the remainder of the film.

John Gallagher Jr and Adria Arjona are the main two protagonists of the film, as well as Tony Goldwyn and John C. McGinley as the antagonists. Who are all great in their varied roles, however due to there being an entire building worth of employees involved in the main narrative, there’s an enormous range of characters/cast, which of course means not a lot of characterisation for most of them aside from a few lines or scenes.

While the cinematography by Luis David Sansans isn’t any spectacular, it is decently effective, and does manage to show off many of the practical gore effects within the film to their best extent. However, the same can not be said for the CGI throughout the film. As despite not always being noticeable, there are many points it becomes extremely obvious due to the film’s smaller budget, and can take the audience out of the film for a moment.

The original score by Tyler Bates (while not really incredibly memorable or unique) does help to build tension throughout the film, as the soundtrack rises and changes over time to fit the more tense and chaotic feel. However, the score can feel a little out-of-place when some of the more comedic scenes come into play, but this issue is also notable when it comes to the quick changing tone of the film, despite many of the comedic moments working quite well.

One of the main elements of the film is obviously the gory deaths, as the story resolves pretty much completely around the deaths of characters, and while the film does have a few memorable moments and kills. I was a little dissatisfied with the variety, with many characters dying from simple gun shots. As personally, I feel the film should’ve made better use of the office location it’s set in, perhaps by having characters use office/everyday equipment and supplies as weapons.

As you may also expect with a violent set-up such as this, ‘The Belko Experiment’ also delivers on plenty of underlining messages. Focusing mostly on how we react as humans to traumatic events and give in to our most primal instincts and selfish desires, and while I do wish these ideas were developed a little further. They are present throughout the run-time regardless, and I did find the way the film explored the ideas of human survival pretty interesting. My favourite scene in the film (which takes place in the reception of the building) excels at expressing these ideas in brutal way.

If all your searching for on your Saturday off is a bit of gory, comedic excitement. Then ‘The Belko Experiment’ happily delivers, with a few underlining messages thrown in for good measure. The film is an enjoyable thrill-ride with some decent pacing and gore effects, regardless of some of it’s weak characters, CGI effects and relatively simple story, it may not appeal to all, but for me it’s a decent 7/10.

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019) – Film Review

Serving as a sequel to the 2014 American ‘Godzilla’ remake, as well as standing as another chapter in this new franchise of monster films by Legendary Pictures. ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ delivers more on of the exciting monster action and amazing visuals that the first film sometimes lacked. However, the film does cut down on many other aspects to make this possible.

The story focuses on the crypto-zoological agency: ‘Monarch’ as they face off against a roster of god-sized monsters, including the mighty: ‘Godzilla’, who collides with: ‘Mothra’, ‘Rodan’, and his ultimate nemesis, the three-headed: ‘King Ghidorah’. The narrative does go a little deeper as the film goes on, but I personally felt the plot gets a little absurd as it continues, becoming almost too layered at points for a simple monster flick.

Of course, it can probably go without saying, every action scene with the creatures in the film is phenomenal. As each monster is always given it’s own unique way to combat the others, and the film always finds time to give each creature at least one memorable scene. The film also features a lot more action than the previous one, due to the film’s very quick pace and as it jumps from location to location constantly, always trying to increase the spectacle each time.

The three main members of the cast, that being Kyle M. Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown. All portray a broken family, forced apart by various responsibilities as well as the loss of one of their children in the past, and while their performances are decent throughout the film. I was disappointed by the lack of any further development for their characters, as I found the set-up for their story very interesting and wish the film went more in depth with this idea rather than indulging in one more fight scene, this same issue unfortunately also applies to Charles Dance’s villain (Alan Jonah) within the film.

The cinematography by Lawrence Sher is decent overall, while their are many beautiful and simply awesome shots with the monsters, many of the shots with human characters are rather bland as there is definitely an over-reliance on standard hand-held shots everytime ‘Godzilla’ or one of his counterparts isn’t on screen, despite the lighting throughout the film being very effective. Bear McCreary is the composer for the film, creating an original score which captures the enormous size of the monsters and their chaotic nature very well, with the soundtrack even going to the extent of giving each creature their own unique theme.

One element of the film that is always constant is the creature designs, as each one is always creatively designed, and is given many unique features to fit with it’s abilities and make it stand out from the rest of the monsters. Of course, the CGI and visual effects throughout the film are also all fantastic, although the film can sometimes be barded with far too many things happening on the screen at once (becoming a little overwhelming at points), everything we see however is usually incredibly well detailed and doesn’t fell out-of-place.

One element I felt didn’t reach the level of the film from 2014, was how the film captured the true scale of the creatures. As while director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘t Treat, Krampus) clearly puts his all into pleasing fans and creating a fun experience (with even having the classic theme for ‘Godzilla’ make a welcomed return). The film simply doesn’t capture the same feeling of being in a world with this massive creatures quite like Gareth Edwards’ film did.

Overall, ‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’ is the definition of a mixed-bag for me, even with it’s explosive monster fights, some amazing visuals and a great original score. It’s over-the-top story and weak characterisation just can’t be ignored. Along with it’s extremely quick pacing, I’d say the film is a 5/10 overall. Even with some serious flaws, the film does have some elements of enjoyment to be had, check this one out if your a fan of the iconic monster.

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Toy Story 4: The Forgettable Epilogue – Film Dissection

So ‘Toy Story 4’ has finally hit cinemas, supposedly to be the ‘true’ conclusion to the animated saga. But does it live up to it?

From back in 2010 when I first watched ‘Toy Story 3’, I was blown away by the true greatness of this animated trilogy. Still to this day, I still honestly believe that the ‘Toy Story’ films are one of the best trilogies to ever be put to the sliver screen. Combing beautiful animation, with incredibly memorable and iconic characters, in addition to plenty of humour, excitement and surprisingly in-depth themes at points. The films felt like one big story, split into three parts purely for the audience’s easy enjoyment, and I (along with many others) was very happy with the way the third film ended, finishing the story in both a satisfying and emotional way. That is of course, until Pixar announced a fourth film to be released back in 2014.

So as I wasn’t really anticipating anymore sequels to the ‘Toy Story’ series (thinking this fourth entry was purely created to be a cash-grab) I wasn’t really looking forward to the film all that much. But after seeing all the fantastic reviews from both critics and audiences alike, I started to think that perhaps Pixar may have pulled off the impossible. So I went into the film with decent expectations, wanting to be pleased. Unfortunately however, although I don’t think the film is terrible by any means. The film is easily the weakest of the ‘Toy Story’ films for me, feeling almost like an additional adventure with the occasional memorable moment sprinkled in. Aside from the ending of the film of course, which seems to be the main element that is really winning people over.

Spoilers onwards: the film takes place a while after the third film, now focusing on the gang of toys living with their new owner: ‘Bonnie’. However, this is where my first issue with the film comes in, as although we don’t find out exactly how much time has passed. It seems to have been only a months going by ‘Bonnie’s age in film, yet during this time she has now grown out of ‘Woody’, now completely ignoring him in favour of all her other toys. While I understand children can grow out of their toys in time, this simply feels like too large of a shift to me, especially when compared to ‘Bonnie’s love for ‘Woody’ back in ‘Toy Story 3’. This also plays into the ending of the film that I already mentioned, as here we a difficult moment for ‘Woody’s previous owner: ‘Andy’ as he hands over his favourite toy intrusting it to ‘Bonnie’ with a promise, to which she now completely ignores when going onto the next film, making this beautiful moment now mostly pointless and making ‘Bonnie’ feel like a victim of some weak writing.

The main narrative continues on however, as ‘Woody’ follows ‘Bonnie’ as she nervously heads to her first day at kindergarten, where she creates her own toy out of pieces of rubbish which soon become a sentient toy. This eventually leads the entire gang on a road-trip with ‘Bonnie’s family as ‘Woody’ attempts to stop ‘Bonnie’s new creation: ‘Forky’ from throwing himself away, believing he is a piece of rubbish rather than a toy. This soon leads onto ‘Woody’ encountering his old flame: ‘Bo Peep’ as he finds her now a rouge toy living a free life. It’s around this point many more of my issues start to arise, as from this moment on, the becomes film entirely evolves around ‘Woody’ and his love interest. Ditching many of the classic ‘Toy Story’ characters such as: ‘Jessie’, ‘Rex’, ‘Ham’, and ‘Mr. Potato Head’ in favour of many new characters voiced by famous actors, and while many of these characters are mostly entertaining, it’s a shame none of the other characters get any kind of conclusion or even anytime to shine like in the previous film.

Even one of the main characters from the franchise: ‘Buzz Lightyear’ has a very reduced role in the film, making his relationship to ‘Woody’ barely even notable, despite it being a very heavy focus throughout the trilogy. It’s also due to this that the film’s conclusion lacks the emotional impact I feel it should have, as when ‘Woody’ eventually decides the leave the gang for good. He only shares a simple hug with many of his long-time friends, many of which he’s barley even shared any screen-time or even dialogue with throughout the film. Which I do believe there was time for, as many of the new characters took up a lot of the run-time with a few of them not even adding anything to the story, purely just there for comedic effect. Which is a true shame, as I feel if this scene was handled well, it could’ve been even more impactful than the ending of ‘Toy Story 3’.

My biggest issue with the film is also relevant to the ending, as personally I didn’t find ‘Woody’s decision to stay with ‘Bo’ within his character. While I have seen many people attempt to defend his decision, I simply don’t feel that fits in with the rest of the series. As the theme of sticking with your owner regardless of whether you get played with or not has always been at the centre of the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy and ‘Woody’s character overall. Obviously the film does attempt to give ‘Woody’ a character arc throughout the film, focusing on a toy’s need for more than just a owner, and the overall focus of self-worth. Which is interesting, but I simply feel with the film’s rushed pacing and very large character arc they are attempting to pull off, it just simply just doesn’t work. Perhaps if this was a single film I could believe it, but going off what we’ve seen before this, it’s just  too big of a jump to me that ‘Woody’ would abandon his owner and friends of years for freedom.

Now I do feel this story for ‘Woody’ could definitely work, and I do like the idea of the two best friends ‘Woody’ and ‘Buzz’ going their separate ways. But I just don’t feel this was the way to do, perhaps if this character arc was built up for ‘Woody’ in previous films it would’ve worked better. In regards to previous films, ‘Bo Peep’ returning again in this film was a smart move on the writers. As this character is far more developed than she was previously, and I can see her being used to convince ‘Woody’ down a different life-path over some random new toy introduced purely for that reason. Overall, it seems like there were trying to do something a little ‘different’ from previous films, and I think that’s great. But I feel this way mostly conflicts with what was set up previously in this series. It’s not that this film is ‘bad’ per-say, it’s just disappointing to me.

Of course, the film does have many merits. The animation is phenomenal (being almost photo-realistic at points) along with some great voice acting, an interesting/unique villain and a decent original score once again by Randy Newman. But personally, I find the story, characters and overall themes of ‘Toy Story 4’ a little messy. The film has been described by many as an ‘epilogue’ to the ‘Toy Story’ franchise, almost like a little additional bit of story after the main narrative. Giving ‘Woody’ a conclusion alongside his old owner: ‘Andy’. But for me personally, the film doesn’t quite land on it’s feet. Feeling more than an additional adventure with the iconic toy cowboy rather than anything truly impactful or conclusive of note, and for me, the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy will always be the true animated classic, with this film serving as a decent side-adventure. But clearly I’m in the minority on this, as it seems most people adore ‘Toy Story 4’, so it at least the franchise can still appease most.

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The Woman in Black (2012) – Film Review

Fresh off the success of the final ‘Harry Potter’ installment, Daniel Radcliffe now takes on a paranormal horror story in this adaption of the classic British gothic horror novel: ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill. Yet sadly, the film ends up being a pretty lackluster experience overall.

In the early 20th century, a young solicitor travels to a remote village where he discovers the vengeful ghost of a scorned woman is terrorizing the locals and stealing their children. Obviously this type of plot is nothing new for the horror genre, but the film does attempt to experiment a little to engage it’s audience more through mystery and tension. This is especially clear in the eerie opening stinger, which is probably my favourite scene in the film, but I still personally feel the film doesn’t have quite enough experimentation to stand-out that much.

Although I initially hoped the film would be something more than the usual modern-day horror, mostly due to it’s distinct British roots and original narrative based on a successful novel. The film is mostly bland, having an over-reliance on jump scares (many of them completely false scares, such as: birds, screams, doors slamming and so on) with a mostly weak atmosphere and many boring scenes with generic filmmaking. The film does have a few creepy visuals, but it simply isn’t enough to make the film that memorable.

Daniel Radcliffe portrays his character: ‘Arthur Kipps’, very similar to how he has portrayed many of his other characters in the past. Coming off as a mostly likeable protagonist with a little bit of development but nothing really major, this is also an issue with the majority of the characters however. Which leads me onto the mostly awful writing throughout the film, as the film always talks directly to the audience, usually  leaving no room for subtlety and coming as very cliché and cheesy throughout. The rest of the cast such as: Ciarán Hinds, Janet McTeer, Liz White also do a decent job, but again nothing amazing of note.

The cinematography by Tim Maurice-Jones is mostly fine throughout the film, having the occasional nice shot but never really anything overly interesting. Although I did like many of the transitions between shots, as many of them really utilized the environment they set in very well. The film’s original score by Marco Beltrami is sadly also very mediocre, never really becoming any super memorable other than the occasional scene where the music is overly loud and irritating.

One element of the film I did enjoy however is the production design, although the film definitely doesn’t deliver on a eerie atmosphere or interesting characters. The film does truly feel like it is set in the 20th century, every location/set, prop and costume all feel real and accurate to the time period. It’s honestly a shame the narrative around them couldn’t have been better. I’m also personally not an enormous fan of the actual design of the title character‘The Woman in Black’, as even though this may be more of an issue with the novel rather than the film, I find her design simply very boring and pretty standard for a paranormal story.

In conclusion, ‘The Woman in Black’ didn’t really impress me. While not completely awful, it felt very similar to ‘Winchester’ to me. As the film does have some successful elements, yet gets completely bogged down with a dull atmosphere alongside a bland narrative and characters (although this is more of an issue with the film’s source material). A true bit of wasted protentional for a classic British horror I feel, I’m gonna give this one a 3/10 overall.

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