Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Sinister 2 (2015) (Review)

The horror landscape has been rather barren this year - it appears we're going through a drought in what was once a lucrative genre, whilst they were in abundance in previous years. Realistically, you can count the number of horror releases on one hand this year, which is why my expectations for Sinister 2, the follow up to the original in 2012, was so strong. Matched with the mainframe that a follow up - one that's been three years in the making -  must be good, I hoped for better than what the sequel actually offered.

Courtney (Shannyn Sossomon) and her two sons, Dylan (Robert Daniel Sloan) and Zach (Dartanian Sloan) appear to be on the run, finding shelter in an abandoned rural home, later revealed to be the home of a recent brutal murder that wiped out all but one child in the family. With the children tormented by nightmares, visions and ghosts, their mother finds comfort with Ex-Deputy So & So (James Ransone), who continues to investigate these gruesome murders and how they are linked. With Ransone the only one reprising his role, albeit as a more central character, it left the field open to explore the child-snatching villain Bughuul. It could have worked, but instead degraded the once sinister and frightening enigma to be used for nothing more than cheap jump scare tactics.

Ciaran Foy's turn in the directing chair offers some visually striking cinematography, with some impressive camera angels and levels, created to differentiate reality from the boy's fears and nightmares. But any chance of building tension is shattered from an overly loud and conspicuous soundtrack score, which almost weakens the overall impact of these scenes to something of a disappointment. The snuff films created increase from the last film in terms of innovation and graphicness but at the same time, increase in terms of being scarcely credible. Did a child really manage to create a trap in which to dangle his entire family over a crocodile infested pool? That said, there's no denying the impact they had - especially the psychopathic 'Kitchen Remodel' and Church tapes.

The generally uninspired plot is held up to the best of Shannyn Sossamon's ability, who proves to be an attribute to the otherwise weaker sequel. Robert Daniel Sloan portrayal as Dylan, the underdog as such, also proves to be a decent addition to the cast, immediately provoking sympathy and partiality in comparison to his brother's devil of a character. When it comes to the other kids, however, I've seen more convincing acting at GCSE drama level. One of the kids said something resembling the emotion of 'threatening' and I burst out laughing. James Ransone did well enough, but sloppy writing made the character seem dubious when it comes to believability of his actions and investigation. I'm unsure whether he was the right character to lead the sequel on review but his presence offered a reminder as to the events of the last film, which would otherwise feel detached without any returning characters keeping the narrative driven and focused.

Inferior to Sinister, the second instalment doesn't quite manage to maintain the tightness we saw last time, nor does it manage to truly scare you, cheap jump tactics aside. But in a year that is lacking in horror outputs, it tides us over for a while and I still hold out that a decent franchise can be built from this, in a similar light to Blumhouse's Purge, Insidious and Paranormal Activity franchises and brands. Despite projections of a lower box office total, this relatively cheap budget outing will hopefully spur stronger sequels in the near future.

Summary: Sinister 2 isn't a complete failure, but the decision to put the villain's background and history front and centre ruined the impact and mystery of the character that allowed for the intensity of the original film.

Highlight: Brief mumble in the cinema when the kid dropped the F-bomb. A massive gasp when he dropped the C-bomb seconds after. Also, that's what happened on the fishing trip.


Sunday, 23 August 2015

Paper Towns (2015) (Review)

I jumped on the Cara Delevingne bandwagon very early. Her charm, wit and sarcasm immediately grabbed my attention and support in a similar way Jennifer Lawrence did back in 2012. Revitalising British humour in a way that may be lost to our American companions, in an all too infamous interview that went viral earlier this month, made her even more likeable and engaging. In fact, if it wasn't for this exposure, I probably wouldn't have found myself on a Sunday morning watching her first proper acting debut outing - Paper Towns.

'The Fault In Our Stars' author John Green translates his own source material to the big screen for the second time, with an arguably smaller following and lesser exposed cast, but produces a film that is similarly sized in heart and emotion. After growing up together and then drifting apart, Margo Roth Spiegelman (Delevingne) breaks into Quentin 'Q' Jacobsen's (Nat Wolff) bedroom as they approach their final days of high school and encourages him to live free and join her on a revenge-fuelled night of mischief and havoc. Reigniting a spark that faded as they grew up on very different paths, despite their geographic closeness, Q believes his future with Margo will finally be a good one. But when she disappears without warning, Q takes his friends on a journey of rediscovering her and learning a lot about himself on the way.

And that's where the problem lies. Delevingne is the film's cream of the crop, bringing to life an efficacious and enigmatic character with a cogent performance that could have very easily slipped into being melodramatic.  Her ability to walk the fine line, yet create a compelling and captivating performance in what I consider her first major debut, is done with poise and understanding to become the film's biggest asset. So when she disappears after this film's first third, I find myself constantly waiting for her reappearance to enlighten other conceited supporting characters who aren't really that likeable. A brief appearance in the middle of the film ties me over until the film's climax, but I do not need the extra padding of teenager's constantly talking about sex, love and prom, when I am so entangled in the story of Margo and Q - the lost and the found.

Let me take this time to compliment Nat Wolff's portrayal of the central male character. Whilst he may be overshadowed when he shares the screen with Miss Delevingne - who have created a chemistry that must be applauded - he is given plenty of opportunities to showcase his talent elsewhere, playing what could have resulted in a one-dimensional, love-struck and obsessive teenager well. The supporting cast do handle what I consider to be only tolerable character throughout the film's 107 minute run, but seldom offer anything more than support to the ongoing narrative, occasionally getting in the way, actually. Q's friend Ben (Austin Adams) is often called on to offer humorous interludes, but it's very 50-50 on whether you actually laugh. I'll put that down to the writing, opposed to the acting. Or maybe it's British people not understand American humour.

'Paper Towns' offers an emotionally abundant story of finding oneself as you mature and progress, with the themes of endings and beginnings laced into the structure of the film from the very beginning, all the way to the end. The likeable leads bounce off each other well - even if one outshines the other - and even when the story loses its way and meaning in the middle, a poignant ending left me with a smile and need for another future viewing. Whilst I do not fit the female-orientated demographic for the film, I can appreciate what they have attempted to do with the film and congratulate its heart and balance for achieving as such, the majority of the time.

Summary: Emotionally-driven and featuring a breakout performance from Cara Delevingne, Paper Towns is successful in reaching its demographic in terms of reliability and resonance, but a victim to its uneven source material and plot.

Highlight: Cara Delevingne. Have I not said that enough? The ending's wonderful and poignant too and John Green should be commended on offering something a little different from the usual 'happy ever after'. I also discover that I love a good montage/flashback, set slightly in slow-motion, to emphasise the point I'm needing to be emotional.


Saturday, 8 August 2015

Inside Out (2015) (Review)

The most outstanding thing about Disney Pixar is its ability to create and make a seemingly child-targeted film appreciated by the masses; my early morning trip to the cinema to see the studio's latest offering - a studio who was perceived as declining in popularity, acclaim and innovation, I might add - was nothing more than a success, with equally as many children and adults enjoying the sublime delights of 2015's superior animation, Inside Out.

In Riley's conscious mind manifests five of her most prevalent emotions - Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger and Disgust - who influence her memories, expression and actions, associating the emotions to specific events and situations in her life. 'Core' memories are curated which form the principal personalities that encompass Riley's being. Joy is Riley's foremost emotion with the goal in mind that Riley always feels happy and joyous, but fails to comprehend the importance of Sadness, dismissing the need for her in a caring, yet controllable manner. A detailed concept that just manages to be understood by all ages through the impeccable storytelling and narrative created by writer and producer Pete Docter.

A stellar voice cast featuring Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, Mean Girls), Phyllis Smith (The Office, Bad Teacher) and Richard Kind is just the first in the building blocks that create one of Pixar's most creative and fresh ideas to date, with the voice works reflecting the emotions and characteristic perfectly. Poehler in particular brings so much to what could easily be a monotonous role through voice alone and is a real asset and talent in this film. Exciting visuals and exhilarating landscapes that burst with colour in every image help further and support the film's narrative, which later sees Joy and Sadness, after a destructive move, desperately attempt to return to the emotion console as Riley slips further into an apathetic state. These two stories, in two very different worlds, create a contrast which is only reinforced by the film's ending and ideology - the importance of joy and sadness in creating an emotionally complex and driven life.

Despite my own fears of using an overused cliche, the film is an emotional rollercoaster from start to end - but that's exactly what it is, and what it intended to be from the start. This is a film with a very clear identity and I applaud it because of that. The journey of these characters in the 102 minute Pixar masterclass reflects that of any human being, becoming the film's most important aspect and why it works so well; the adults watching with their children, or in my case, with a parent, recognise exactly the situation they have faced in their own lives, recalling the journey alongside the characters every step of the way. Emotionally dazzling and poignant, I cannot applaud Pixar enough of creating such a human story with such an abstract idea - emotions having emotions. Outstanding.

And whilst this has been one of the most enjoyable films of the year for me - and my new favourite animation film of all time, I want it to remain just that. One perfect film exploring the most human progression and development story of all. Whilst previous Pixar stories arguably warrant a sequel or franchise, this needs to stay as a standalone gem that Pixar should be absolutely thrilled and enamoured with, much like the audience and critics that have turned out and deservedly raved about such a spectacular and significant animation.

Summary: Poignant, heartfelt and sincere, Disney Pixar offer a masterclass in animation and storytelling in this visually delightful return to form with one of the most human and recognised stories every told - childhood.

Look out for: "Take her to the moon for me" - who knew you could get so emotional over an animated character. And who knew it could rain inside either. On my face. Anna Kendrick summed it up pretty well.