Venom (2018) – Movie Review

venom

For those movie-goers who believe there is no need for another comic book movie, you now have People’s Exhibit A. This is the 5th Marvel film of 2018 (yep, that’s a new one every other month!), and it’s the first one proving challenging to say much of anything that is positive or complimentary. The packed house at the screening had very few reactions during the movie, and seemed deflated afterwards.

It should be noted that this is not a Superhero movie, but rather a film based on the Marvel Comic characters and stories of Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie. Four writers are credited with the screenplay, and it seems they either needed more or fewer. Director Ruben Fleisher (ZOMBIELAND, 2009) apparently worked with what he was given, hoping the stellar cast or the CGI could salvage the project.

The always terrific Tom Hardy (Bane in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES) stars as Eddie Brock, a renowned investigative reporter popular for breaking stories of corruption and fraud. Unfortunately, he has a significant lapse in ethics – an unusually forthright comment from Hollywood on today’s media. This lapse costs Brock his job, his girlfriend (4 time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams), and any semblance of normalcy. While investigating the unimaginable human-alien experiments of megalomaniac Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Brock takes on the powers of the symbiote (Venom) and spends the rest of the movie either trying to control these powers, sitting back and letting the powers take over, or exchanging frat boy dialogue with the possessive being who picked up all nuances of the English language pretty darn quickly.

Venom was last seen in the lackluster SPIDER-MAN 3 and was played by Topher Grace. This time out, Venom is the focus and Spidey is nowhere to be found or mentioned … at least not until post credits (a terrific animated sequence). The CGI is at times very impressive – reminiscent of something John Carpenter might have ordered. Two sides of the Transamerica Pyramid provide a nice visual, however, the effects are not at all consistent. Far too often … especially the battle between Venom and Riot …it’s just plain messy (like letting a group of toddlers play with black and gray slime).

The film’s saving grace could have been the interactions between Mr. Hardy and Ms. Williams, both stellar actors, but the dialogue and situations are so ridiculous that even those scenes don’t click. The moments that draw laughter from the audience may or may not have been by design, but there are far too many ‘forced comedic moments’ that just fall flat.

Composer Ludwig Goransson (CREED, BLACK PANTHER) delivers some nice moments with the score, but the Eminem song over the closing credits sounds amateurish. The film is very loud, and not so much lacking direction as it is burdened with too many directions and misfires. A comic book movie’s first priority is to be fun, and this one just isn’t much of that. Surprisingly, the film is rated PG-13 rather than R, so the excessive violence (and there is plenty) never actually spills a drop of blood. Perhaps the goal was to make a Marvel movie so uninspiring that BLACK PANTHER’s Oscar chances would be enhanced. Otherwise, there’s no excuse.

 

4 out of 10 stars

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Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) – Movie Review

mad max

After a few deceptively fluffy and kid-friendly outings, George Miller returns to the Mad Max universe, 30 years after Mel Gibson turned in the keys to the tune of Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero”. The question on everyone’s mind before the first trailer unleashed an internet frenzy was, in this age of needless reboots, has Miller sold out or has he used this opportunity to finally realize his full vision for the famous saga?

By now you will know that the latter is true, but you might not appreciate to what extent, and how little this implies that you are guaranteed to actually like the result. Miller hasn’t just provided an update of Mad Max, or even a reboot. In fact this plays like just another episode in the wild life of his antihero, relegating back- story or origins to one or two short opening lines and brief flashes of past violence. It’s also much more than a modernized take: it is early 21st century filmmaking taken to its furthest possible extreme.

Since most blockbusters today are at least partially bathed in Michael Bay’s patented orange/teal palette, Fury Road pushes that beyond its aesthetic limits, to quasi-fluorescent territory, creating the impression of a very violent Tex Avery cartoon, or at least one viewed while doing some serious drugs. Plot-wise, it doesn’t get any more streamlined than this, or economical, and what you’re left with is a hellish landscape populated by astonishingly inventive grotesques, conflicted heroes (our protagonist Max is arguably not THE hero of his own film) and a sustained action sequence.

If this sounds like something you wouldn’t enjoy, don’t waste your time. If the trailer had you hyperventilating though, what awaits is pure nirvana. The action – most of it the result of practical effects and stunts – sets an unprecedented standard, as does the level of perverse originality in the baddies’ physical and moral decrepitude: even in the hallowed company of other Mad Max entries, these are some weird freaks. Finally, the lead duo is pitch-perfect. Most of the attention has fallen on Charlize Theron’s fearless Furiosa, but special mention should go to a very subdued Hardy, who beautifully anchors the film and gives it an almost calm, simmering center. Whether grumbling at sights of his stolen gear or fighting for his life in one of the meanest brawls in cinematic history, he makes us believe in this twisted universe, and feel the pain.

This is a journey through hell, Dante’s inferno without the sanctimoniousness: distilled to its essence and spiked with cocaine. A wilder ride you will not find this year, perhaps even this decade.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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The Drop (2014) – Movie Review

Dirty money, armed robbery and a long-standing murder mystery are just some of the more typical ingredients of this edgy crime drama that begins in a deceptively deliberate style and gradually builds to a shocking conclusion. More untypically, however, “The Drop” also features a badly abused dog and a focus on its characters that adds enormously to the richness and authenticity of Denis Lehane’s fine screenplay which is based on his 2009 short story “Animal Rescue”.

In a working-class neighbourhood of Brooklyn, “Cousin Marv’s” is a seedy bar that’s occasionally used as a “drop” for the proceeds of the vicinity’s criminal and gambling activities. Substantial amounts of cash are deposited by a variety of individuals and then held for later collection by a member of the Chechen mob that rules the area. The bar’s run by Marv (James Gandolfini) and his cousin Bob (Tom Hardy) who’s the regular bartender.

One night, Marv becomes irritated when some of the bar’s customers raise a toast to a local guy called Richie Whelan who was murdered 10 years earlier and later, on his way home, Bob sees a bleeding and very distressed-looking pit-bull puppy in a bin outside the house of one of his neighbours. Nadia (Noomi Rapace) is surprised and suspicious at first to find Bob looking into her bin but later helps him to nurse the dog back to health.

Bob, whose relationship with Nadia develops slowly and quietly, is unassuming, hard-working and seems perfectly content to take his orders from the more forceful Marv who used to own the bar until the Chechens took it over some years ago. Bob’s rather routine lifestyle suddenly changes when the bar’s robbed one night by a couple of masked men who threaten Bob and Marv at gunpoint and make off with $5,000. The Chechens hold Bob and Marv responsible for retrieving the money and are very threatening about what will happen if they don’t succeed. To make matters worse, Bob also gets stalked by a menacing and mentally unstable man called Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) who claims to be the pit-bull’s owner and a local detective who starts asking questions about the Richie Whelan murder. Bob copes stoically with everything that happens and the way in which his story reaches its denouement is both fascinating and shocking.

The most striking thing about this movie is Tom Hardy’s wonderfully measured performance which conveys so perfectly the strength, intensity and loneliness of Bob who’s consistently underestimated because of his passive nature. The late James Gandolfini (in his last big-screen appearance), also excels as Marv who’s become bitter and resentful due to the loss of his bar, his status and the financial stability that he once enjoyed. Among the strong supporting cast, Mattias Schoenaerts stands out as the vicious psychopath Eric Deeds, who’s Nadia’s ex-boyfriend and in the opinion of most people, Richie Whelan’s killer.

“The Drop” has a moody atmosphere that’s enhanced by most of the action taking place in low-light or night-time situations and the subtle build-up of the tension that becomes such a strong feature of the film is brilliantly paced and highly effective. With its modest budget and lack of hype, it would be easy for those who haven’t seen this movie to have low expectations of it but those who have seen it will know that underestimating Bob or “The Drop” would be a big mistake.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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