John Wick (2014) & The Neon Demon (2016) Movie Reviews

With John Wick: Chapter 2 coming out, I figured I better review the first film (which I finally watched a few months ago). So I wrote the below review. After writing it, I then watched The Neon Demon. I must say that John Wick has gone up in my estimation since seeing The Neon Demon. Every movie EVER MADE has now gone up in my estimation since seeing The Neon F*%#ing Demon!!!!! Let’s talk about these, shall we…?

John Wick (2014)

Directed by Chad Stahelski & David Leitch

Starring: Keanu Reeves, Michael Nyqvist, Alfie Allen, Adrianne Palicki, Bridget Moynahan, Dean Winters, Ian McShane, John Leguizamo, Willem Dafoe

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
An ex-hitman comes out of retirement to track down the gangsters that took everything from him.

My Opinion:

I love Keanu Reeves. And, apparently, I’m not alone. I was very surprised when a list I did last year of My Top Ten Keanu Reeves Movies was one of my most viewed & most shared posts. Yay! Everyone loves Keanu! I honestly didn’t realize he was so popular.

So I made that list having not yet seen John Wick or The Neon Demon and figured I could update it once I’ve watched them. Well, I’ve now updated the list. I can tell you that The Neon Demon sure as SHIT doesn’t make the top ten (it’s atrocious). Unfortunately, John Wick doesn’t quite manage to break into my top ten either. It’s very close! I’ve put it at 12 but it’s probably hovering around the 10, 11 or 12 range depending on my mood… So there you go – I’m sure you were all dying to know my final official ranking of Keanu Reeves films! 😉

John Wick is a really fun action film. It was what I expected in being all style over substance so that didn’t bother me at all. We all need to turn off our brains sometimes & just watch a fun action flick! I think I was just disappointed that it wasn’t as much fun or as stylish as I’d been expecting in order for it to make up for that lack of substance. It’s an okay film but comes absolutely nowhere near Keanu’s best. This is no The Matrix or Speed and it’s especially no Point Break (Point Break rules!). Damn. But, man, I loved that puppy. Cutest puppy EVER! I’m giving this movie a slightly higher rating simply because of the puppy. A BEAGLE. A SNOOPY puppy!!!!!


Wook at that wittle face!

I do know how to enjoy a fun “popcorn” movie and, no, I wasn’t expecting Oscar-quality writing or acting in John Wick. However, I needed to know the character of John Wick a little better in order to care about him & his quest for vengeance. We get some flashbacks of his wife and, of course, we meet his adorable puppy. However, we didn’t get much of his backstory. I felt like I didn’t know a thing about him by the end other than that he was sad about his dead wife (not a spoiler – she’s already dead at the beginning of the movie). I mean, he’s a (former) killer. Right? How is he any better than the many, many (many) people he proceeds to kill throughout this film? Because a cute puppy licked his face & he loved his pretty wife?

Okayyyy – I fully admit to falling asleep in the middle of this like I often do during films at home so maybe I missed something (I’m a parent. I’m exhausted). 😉 Why did he retire? For love? Or because he developed a conscience? I hope that was the reason… The only way I can describe it is this: I sometimes watch a movie and feel like I’ve jumped right into the middle of it and missed a bunch of the beginning where they’ve set up the characters & the story. I felt that way 30 minutes into John Wick despite missing absolutely nothing from the start. I almost cared more about Willem Dafoe’s character (a great character, from the very little we get to know him – I’d love to know more about his previous relationship with Wick as well). Well, maybe we’ll find out more in the sequel? As fun as it is to watch some shoot-em-up non-stop action sometimes, I still want to know a little about the main character at the very least. If I care about him, I’ll get more enjoyment from his revenge. I do love a really good revenge movie! I liked John Wick well enough to watch the sequel but it’s a “wait for it to show up on Netflix” movie for me. (Although, initial reviews of the sequel are very good so maybe I can be talked into making a trip to the cinema for it. But the sequel puppy isn’t nearly as cute…!!!)

My Rating: 7/10

**SPOILERS. Kind of.**

The Neon Demon (2016)

Directed by Nicolas Winding Refn

Starring: Elle Fanning, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Bella Heathcote, Abbey Lee, Christina Hendricks, Keanu Reeves

Plot Synopsis: Guy succeeds in making a decent film called Drive, which then gives him the freedom to make the biggest pile of shit I’ve seen since similar success for another writer led to the creation of the atrocious Jennifer’s Body. The Neon Demon makes Jennifer’s Body look good. 

My Opinion:

I called a movie that I reviewed last week a “load of pretentious bullshit” (the movie Comet). I now apologize profusely to that movie. I’d rather be strapped to a chair “Clockwork Orange-style” & forced to watch Comet 100 times than to ever have to even THINK about The Neon Demon again. I want to wipe this movie from my memory “Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind-style“. I want to go back in time and, “Marty McFly-style”, tell myself it’s my destiny (density!) to NEVER watch The Neon Demon. I want to take a flame thrower to this movie “Ellen Ripley-style“. I want to get medieval on this movie’s ass “Marsellus Wallace- style“. I want to stick this movie’s head in a box “Gwyneth Paltrow-style“. I want to banish this movie to the cornfield “Twilight Zone-style“. I want this movie to eat itself, to puke itself up, to re-eat itself, to piss itself out, and to f*%k its own corpse “The Neon Demon-style“.

I can’t truly put into words just how much I hated The Neon Demon and its fake, derivative, shallow, pointless, pretentious aping of artistic masters such as Jodorowsky, Buñuel, Argento, von Trier, Cronenberg, Lynch, etc etc. Not everyone will be a fan of all of those I’ve named (I’m not even saying that I like them all myself) but, like their work or not, at least they did their own thing instead of making superficial & inferior copies of their influences.

I’ll give this movie an extra point for Elle Fanning, though, as I thought she did a decent job for her young age. Other than Fanning, everyone in this is now slightly ruined for me the next time I see them in other films (even Keanu, dammit). Still love him, though, so I’ll try to put this movie out of my mind. But I hope to never see Jena Malone in anything ever again so am very glad that I wasn’t a fan of hers in the first place. More than anything, I’m annoyed that this has tainted the movie Drive and especially that it has ruined Drive’s soundtrack for me, which I liked even more than the film. I’ve hated plenty of movies over the years but I don’t think there’s ever been one that I actually regretted seeing. The Neon Demon may very well be the first. In that regard, I suppose you at least have to give Nicolas Winding Refn credit for creating a film that generated some strong reactions from its’ viewers. I don’t mind movies with some shock value (of those I mentioned above, I do love a lot of Cronenberg’s work) but, to quote my husband, “The Neon Demon thinks it’s art when it’s merely just artifice”.

My Rating: 2/10

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2 (2015) Review

***SPOILER FREE REVIEW***

Directed by Francis Lawrence

Based on Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jeffrey Wright, Sam Claflin, Jena Malone, Stanley Tucci, Donald Sutherland

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
As the war of Panem escalates to the destruction of other districts by the Capitol, Katniss Everdeen, the reluctant leader of the rebellion, must bring together an army against President Snow, while all she holds dear hangs in the balance.

My Opinion:

Well, I was attempting to take a week off from blogging but I just watched the final Hunger Games film so figured I should say something about it before the weekend (I also watched Steve Jobs this week but a review for that can wait until next week). Hmmmmmmmm……. Mockingjay – Part 2………….. What can I say? I want to stay very spoiler-free, even for those who’ve read the books as I’m sure the readers will be very curious to know if certain things get changed. But I’m not going to tell you! I can say that I’ve read the books and was a very big fan (of the first two, at least. like most people). I also think the first two films are very good. These final two, though? Well… I’ll get to that more in a bit.

What’s interesting is that my husband, who hasn’t read the books, had quite a different reaction to this film than I did. He thought the first two were good but did NOT like these final two. He had a lot to say about it but I’m not going to go into any of that – I just find it interesting that he disliked these final two so much & wonder if others who haven’t read the books will have the same reaction that he did. I think they probably will. I think they’ll feel exactly the same way about the final two films as us book readers felt about the final book.

I think The Hunger Games book trilogy is fantastic. I know it’s “YA”, which puts some people off. But it’s nothing like things such as Twilight – Collins is a great writer and the first two books are two of my very favorites that I’ve read in the past decade or so. Yeah – the first two. Not the final book. I think most readers felt the same way about that one.

I don’t know how to go about reviewing this movie as, for me, it’s impossible to review it on its own & not compare it to the book. No, I didn’t like the final book. So… I was never going to love the final two movies (not helped by the fact that splitting one book into two movies pisses me the hell off). As a whole, though, these movies are quite faithful adaptations & that’s always very important to me. It’s been a long time since I read these but Mockingjay – Part 2 is very faithful from what I remember (without giving away to the books’ readers whether or not anything big was changed). So, I can’t fault the two Mockingjay films. They did what they could with them and remained pretty loyal to the source material. Which is great! It’s just unfortunate that the source material isn’t so great.

I haven’t reviewed the first film as I wasn’t blogging yet but I reviewed Catching Fire (HERE) and Mockingjay – Part 1 (HERE). Catching Fire was really good (I gave it 8/10) but Mockingjay – Part 1 felt pointless as there was no need to turn it into two films (I gave it 7/10). Part 2 is at least a bit better than Part 1 since you finally get a conclusion instead of being left hanging halfway through a story. I once again enjoyed re-visiting these characters & stand by my opinion that Jennifer Lawrence was the perfect choice to play Katniss (although the hubby thought she seemed bored in these last two films, which I don’t totally agree with but do admit that it did feel that way a little at times).

Elizabeth Banks & Woody Harrelson have very small roles in this final film, which is a shame as they’re two great characters. The character of Peeta is once again a bit of a bore (sorry if you like him! but his character is a bit bland). One big complaint I’ve had all along & still have is that I don’t think they developed the character of Primrose (sister of Katniss) enough. Well, the books were kind of guilty of this as well if I remember correctly but they should have given more screen time to the two sisters and slightly less to the somewhat annoying love triangle. I don’t think the films fully gave you the sense of love that Katniss has for her sister and also felt they didn’t fully explain some important plot points to a movie audience that hasn’t read the books. I think I’d have been slightly lost during the two Mockingjay films if I hadn’t read the books.

Summary:

I really want to hear from you guys what you all thought of this one & whether or not you’ve read the books. I’ve not yet read any other reviews so don’t know what kind of reaction this movie is getting but I’d guess that those who haven’t read the books will feel the way that my hubby did & won’t really like this film. As I said, I can’t really fault this movie as it’s a good adaptation and I think they’ve done a pretty great job in choosing the cast for this entire series (especially Lawrence). Mockingjay – Part 2 is a good film but I kind of lost interest in it in the same way I did with the final book. Obviously you’ll want to see it if you’ve watched all the others but don’t expect it to be much different than Part 1. However you felt about Part 1, you’ll probably feel the same about Part 2

Sorry for that rather uninformative review! It’s a very hard one to talk about without spoiling things so feel free to discuss it with me further in the comments. 🙂 Just try to put a spoiler warning at the start.

My Rating: 7/10

Into The Wild (2007) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Melissa of Snap Crackle Watch!. Thanks for the review, Melissa! 🙂 Now let’s see what she thought of Into The Wild, IMDB rank 161 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. Also, if you’d like to add a link to your IMDB review(s) on your own blogs, feel free to use any of the logos I’ve used at the top of any of these guest reviews.

Into the Wild (2007)

Directed by Sean Penn

Written by Sean Penn

Into the Wild (2007), written and directed by Sean Penn, adapted from the book by the same name by Jon Krakauer is a perspective into the life of Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch). The young man who went into the wilderness of Alaska in search of himself and to shed his city life and roots.

Many people who live privileged lives, ones that are untouched by grief, poverty, never know the reality of struggling day by day. I believe that what McCandless sought was that feeling and that experience of the unknown. When a young person grows up stressed and under pressure by daily life, they don’t know how they will make it another day. All they know is that they have to and one day there may be a better day for them. But growing up he never really had to face any of those moments.

It was only till he got older that he would see that his family was nothing near perfect and that the challenges he put on himself would prove to be a dangerous route. This is one of those stories that touches the viewer to the bone, it’s emotional, exciting and makes you wonder what kind of person what put themselves through this journey.

Abandoning a trust fund, his car, and any material possessions other than those he could carry on his back, McCandless sets out on a passage to reach the Stampede Trail in Alaska. He doesn’t contact his parents, Walt (William Hurt) and Billie MCandless (Marcia Gay Harden), nor does he even contact his sister Carine (Jena Malone) who he was close with growing up. We only see his family in flashbacks, as the movie hints at his past, we see that his parents did not live that idyllic life that maybe he thought existed, but instead had a lot of deep secrets that the family kept hidden.

Throughout his journey, McCandless meets various people on the road. They teach him lessons about life and about forging relationships. Through them he begins to see that there are so many different varied people out there in the world. With traveling hippies Jan (Catherine Keener) and Rainey (Brian H. Dierker) he learns about marriage and what it takes to keep that spirit alive. He works with Wayne (Vince Vaughn) for a while, who he observes as a friendly farmer who gives him a chance to work and earn some money.

Later on he meets Ron Franz (Hal Holbrook) the two enter into an endearing relationship, he teaches him how to do leatherwork and ends up giving him his old camping supplies. It was as if the older man could see himself maybe in McCandless or maybe he enjoyed hearing his idealistic visions about his upcoming adventure. Regardless, he touched everyone he met as much as he appreciated them.

Once McCandless enters into the wilderness, he finds an old school bus that he sets up camp in, it becomes his home in the end. We see his adventures take off, running through the woods and streams, and even killing a moose. It’s as if he envisioned himself as a romanticized version of Jack London himself, getting into adventures and journaling them as an idealistic writer. Everything changes for him in Alaska and his life is turned upside down. The choices he made carry them with him till the end and we see them play out in front of us.

Penn captures the essence of adventure and defeat in this film. It is obvious that he put his heart and soul into the film, as it took two years to make. The soundtrack by Eddie Veder goes perfectly with the sentiments of the film and makes you feel that foreboding loneliness with each scene.

Hirsch was amazing and deserved every accolade for his portrayal of McCandless. This definitely solidified him as a great actor; he carried the entire movie on his back.

I absolutely loved this movie, I enjoy movies that make me think about life and allow me to be introspective. McCandless isn’t shown as a martyr, which I think is important, instead he was simply a young man who wanted to have his own adventures and make something of his life on his own terms, nothing more than that. Overall great film, it is one I could re-watch and probably still garner some nugget of wisdom from each time.

}}Melissa

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) Review

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Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
Hauru no Ugoku Shiro
Japanese: ハウルの動く城

IMDB Top 250 Rank: 189 as of 01/01/2013

Directed by Hayao Miyazaki

Based on Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

Starring Voice Actors:
Chieko Baisho
Takuya Kimura
Akihiro Miwa

(English Dub Voice Cast: Emily Mortimer, Jean Simmons, Christian Bale, Lauren Bacall, Billy Crystal, Josh Hutcherson, Blythe Danner, Jena Malone)

Running time: 119 minutes

Plot Synopsis: (via IMDB)
When an unconfident young woman is cursed with an old body by a spiteful witch, her only chance of breaking the spell lies with a self-indulgent yet insecure young wizard and his companions in his legged, walking home.

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My Opinion:

Version Watched: In Japanese with English subtitles then the English dubbed version

This is yet another of several Studio Ghibli films in the IMDB Top 250. It’s jumped a massive 40 places from 189 to 149 since I started my IMDB Challenge on 01/01/2013.

For anyone who has never watched a Studio Ghibli movie, there are certain ones I wouldn’t necessarily recommend as an “introduction” to the Ghibli universe. Some may seem very “odd” to the Western world and, although I’m a big fan of the films now, they do take some getting used to. I started on one of the strangest ones (and most loved, it seems): Spirited Away. I found Howl’s Moving Castle the most similar to Spirited Away of the movies I’ve seen so far and, if you’re a fan of one, I think you’ll like the other one as well. I believe I ranked Howl’s Moving Castle above Spirited Away when I did my Top Ten Studio Ghibli Movies (HERE) but that may change when I re-do the list after seeing the rest of the films.

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Subtitled vs Dubbed:

First of all, I’d like to say that I will ALWAYS recommend watching the subtitled version for every Studio Ghibli film. These movies are so different from the animated films of our culture & hearing the original language really preserves the magic feeling of the Ghiblis. There are a few where I’ve only seen the dubbed version as I saw them on TV and, of course, for the ones aimed at kids where you actually do watch them with a young kid, you obviously have to go for the dubbed version. Howl’s is one of the “not for young kids” ones so I highly recommend the subtitles on this one as I hated the English dub. It wasn’t quite as bad as with Kiki’s Delivery Service (I hated the Americanized cat!) but the annoyingly whispery Christian Bale “Batman” voice was SO wrong for the mysterious Howl (plus I hate Bale!) and Billy Crystal was extremely distracting as possibly my favorite character from the film, Calcifer the feisty fire demon. Now, I absolutely ADORE Billy Crystal & think he can do no wrong but, seeing as I’m a huge fan of Monsters Inc, it was very very odd seeing this strange little character in a Ghibli film sounding exactly like Mike Wazowski. That’s not the fault of Crystal, though – I know they hire big names in order to try to sell the film outside of Japan.

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Anyway! Howl’s Moving Castle is a weird one. The story reminded me in a way of The Wizard Of Oz where a young girl (Sophie, who in this case happens to have been turned into an old woman by a witch) goes on a strange journey with an odd assortment of characters (it probably helps that there’s a scarecrow called Turnip Head). No, wait – it’s far more messed up than The Wizard Of Oz… It’s more like Return To Oz.

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With a lot of the Ghibli stuff, it’s the characters that make them interesting as the storylines can be hard to wrap your head around and that was certainly the case for me with Howl’s Moving Castle. I’ve already mentioned Calcifer & Turnip Head but there’s also a cute dog named Heen, a sweet young boy named Markl and the Witch of the Waste, a creepy old woman with a huge face who reminded me of the witch Yubaba in Spirited Away.

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Then we of course have Sophie, another strong young female character like we so often get in Ghibli films (although not the best one – I’d go probably go with Nausicaä), and the intriguing manchild wizard Howl. Howl was a bit David Bowie-like (which I’d certainly not complain about), especially as Jareth in Labyrinth. Howl is kind of a hard character to actually like, unfortunately, until you get to know a bit more about him. Overall, though, I think the true star of the film is probably the “moving castle” itself.

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Summary:

I struggled with this review. I watched this back in September and have already forgotten a lot of the plot. I do think the story in this one is a little too complicated. I know Laputa: Castle In The Sky had a pretty complex story as well but, for me, I liked that one much more & had a lot more fun watching it. Spirited Away is complicated as well but really has one main theme (growing up) that doesn’t get lost in a convoluted plot like I feel the themes in Howl’s Moving Castle do. This is why I like writing reviews – I’m able to think more about a movie as I write about it and sometimes my opinion changes by the end of a review. Although I certainly enjoyed all the colorful characters and once again being a part of that strange Studio Ghibli “world”, Howl’s Moving Castle hasn’t stayed with me the way other Ghibli movies have and I think I ranked it a little too highly in my Top Ten – I’d put it below Spirited Away now & possibly even Ponyo. Definitely worth a watch for Ghibli fans, especially those who like Spirited Away, but it’s not my personal favorite.

My Rating: 7/10

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Donnie Darko (2001) IMDB Top 250 Guest Review

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Today’s IMDB Top 250 Guest Review comes from Liam of Liam Does Film. Thanks for joining in, Liam! 🙂 Now let’s see what he has to say about Donnie Darko, IMDB rank 176 out of 250…

There are still some movies up for grabs if anyone wants to do a guest IMDB Top 250 review. You can find the list of remaining films HERE. See the full list & links to all the reviews that have already been done HERE. I’ve stopped receiving so many guest reviews now so if you send yours soon, it should post soon. I only have enough for the next month.

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Donnie Darko (2001)

Genre: Drama, Sci-Fi

Director: Richard Kelly

Writer: Richard Kelly

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonell, Holmes Osbourne

Rating: ★★★★★

Those who have said bad things about this film have just not understood it. Donnie Darko is that film where you’ll find yourself watching it over and over looking for the explanation; on the way you will then discover just how good this film is and why it’s rated as one of the best of all time, deservedly being on IMBD’s top 250, among many critics, including myself, personal favourites. It has an amazing cast; a young Jake Gyllenhaal plays the character of Donnie, after he will star in award winning films such as Brokeback Mountain and The Day After Tomorrow. Future Batman star Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jake’s actual sister, plays Elizabeth Darko whilst we also get to see the well-known Patrick Swayze alongside Drew Barrymore. However it isn’t just the cast, a well-written story which dives into the world of complexity and defines the phrase thought-provoking, makes Donnie Darko hard to forget, and for me it is simply brilliant in every aspect and sense of the word.

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), is a far from ordinary teenager, suffering from hallucinations Donnie starts to be visited by a demonic six foot rabbit named Frank, who manipulates him to commit a series of crimes, however Frank’s arrival into Donnie’s life is more important than first thought. At the dinner table his sister Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) tells his parents (Mary McDonell, Holmes Osbourne) that he hasn’t been taking his medication, however later that night due to these visions Donnie escapes death as a 747 Jet engine crashes and destroys his bedroom whilst he’s on a midnight trip with Frank. Frank tells him that the world is going to end in “28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds”, The mystery grows as the jet engine is unknown by the FBI creating the question of where exactly did it come from? All that is known is that Donnie’s escape from death and Frank’s appearance are two supernatural events that have crossed and are somehow linked, and as Donnie is enlightened to a whole new way of thinking, he then realises the truth behind Frank’s words.

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The story fuels from a “countdown” method, as each day passes we get closer to a predicted doomsday. However it is what the film gives us in those days that are great, not only are a string of relationships and subplots introduced but a series of clues in which just like Donnie, we have to piece together. As stories develop our characters all become very likable, something that Donnie Darko benefits from greatly, Donnie himself is loveable; lost, bold and witty, whilst the same aspects are all shared by his sister Elizabeth, newly found girlfriend Gretchen (Jena Malone) and his English teacher played by the seemingly ageless Drew Barrymore. The film keeps you on the edge, with a mixture of unexpected, dark plots balanced by strangely comedic moments. Richard Kelly for me deserves a huge amount of credit, as Donnie Darko holds such an amazing story.

Jake Gyllenhaal soon became one of my favourite actors after his role as Donnie; it is flawless, creating and portraying one of the most memorable teen characters for me since Ferris Bueller. There is something very likable but at the same time relatable with his character and Jake brings it to life superbly. The rest of the cast are great, Jena Malone portrays Gretchen well with it seeming very natural, whilst also providing one of the memorable quotes and scenes, “you’re weird … that was a compliment”. Drew Barrymore as Donnie’s English teacher is great, she provides a laughable aspect, whilst Patrick Swayze portrays the not so lovable Jim Cunningham well as you would expect of such talent, rounding off a truly remarkable ensemble; which even includes a hidden Seth Rogen.

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This film does well to provide everything from comedy moments to suspense, thrills and gasps fulfilling so many aspects with even the soundtrack becoming an iconic element. Maybe when watched a few times you seem to pick up on Kelly’s details, and the soundtrack is brilliant as each song and piece of score predicts what’s happening next or compliments the events on the screen. The songs of choice all seem very fitting too, with Mad World becoming nostalgic after time.

Donnie Darko should be known for a long time to come, and hopefully it will be as Richard Kelly’s first film shines in every way it could have. A brilliant story, portrayed by a great acting ensemble, whilst everything else fitting perfectly around the two makes Donnie Darko in my eyes flawless, and my favourite film of all time. Entertaining, thrilling and funny, complex and thought-provoking are some of the things this film can be described as, but overall it is a master-piece which will be sure to be your favourite, or your new obsessive guilty pleasure, deservedly being rated as one of the all-time greats.

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