Film Review: Venom (2018)

Also known as: Antidote (fake working title)
Release Date: October 1st, 2018 (Regency Village Theatre premiere)
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel
Based on: Venom by David Michelinie, Todd McFarlane
Music by: Ludwig Göransson
Cast: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Michelle Lee, Woody Harrelson (cameo), Ron Cephas Jones, Emilio Rivera

Columbia Pictures, Marvel Entertainment, Tencent Pictures, Arad Productions, Matt Tolmach Productions, Pascal Pictures, Sony Pictures, 112 Minutes

Review:

“Eyes! Lungs! Pancreas! So many snacks, so little time!” – Venom

If I’m being completely honest, my hopes for this film weren’t too high. However, my minimal expectations were exceeded in a lot of ways.

I guess the acting prowess of Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed can go a log way as all three were pretty damn good in this. Hardy really takes the cake though and even if his Eddie Brock differs a lot from the comic book version, I still liked this interpretation of the character. I kind off miss the blonde boxy buzz cut but that’d probably look silly in 2018… or just too f’n badass!

Anyway, this film had to create its own story, as they didn’t have Spider-Man at their disposal to tell the story the right way. Plus, even though this is put out by the same studio that owns the Spider-Man film rights, it’s not really clear if this even exists in the same universe. There are no signs to the larger Marvel Cinematic Universe; none that I saw, anyway.

I liked this film’s plot though and the way that Venom comes to be, worked for me. I wasn’t too keen on Riot being the big bad of the movie but there wasn’t a whole lot they could do being that this was a self-contained movie that doesn’t seem to bleed over into the larger Spider-Man world. Plus, this takes place in San Francisco, as opposed to New York City, which could also have been a way to distance it from Spidey (and his friends and allies), at least for now. There are other symbiotes in this that aren’t just Riot, however. But he’s the only one that actually matters to the larger story.

My one big complaint about the film is the pacing. The first half hour moves at a crawl but once things get going, it really gets going. But then it moves almost too fast. From what I understand, there was a lot of footage cut from this movie. It was initially being made to have an R rating but very late in production, they decided to go with a PG-13 rating. There are moments where it seems as if something violent was lobbed off and it created some bad, choppy edits. Also, it feels as if some key narrative moments were worked out of the plot, after the film was fully shot. Like I said, it starts at a slower pace and then speeds up very quickly and it just feels like there are some time jumps and key things missing. Maybe this can be rectified with an R rated cut or an extended edition once this hits the streaming market.

I thought that the action sequences were a mixed bag. The first big one, which sees Brock on a motorcycle trying to evade big SUVs through the late night streets of San Francisco was superbly done, even if it threw a tiny bit of cheese at you. The final battle between Venom and Riot on the launching pad wasn’t so good. I mean, I’ve seen much worse in comic book movie finales but it was just a CGI shit festival and hard to differentiate between the two aliens. Couldn’t Riot have been a different color than dark grey? In the comic books, symbiotes have lots of color variations. Also, it would have helped if Venom had his iconic emblem on his chest and back.

One thing that stood out for me was the score. Often times it was subtle and atmospheric and then in big action scenes it would become a nice punctuation to the over the top adrenaline rush. The score during the motorcycle chase was stellar and it reminded me of the blockbuster scores of the ’80s to mid-’90s.

Venom is far from perfect but it’s got a lot more going for it than against it. Most importantly, it has my favorite mid-credits scene out of any of these comic book movies. It was chilling, generated the right kind of emotion in me and it made me want the follow up now, as opposed to three years down the road. If you’ve read the earliest Venom stories back when they were new, you’ll probably feel the same sense of awe when you get to this moment at the end of the film.

While this might not be as good as most of the movies in the MCU, it is more fun than most of them and to me, that’s really important.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the harder edged Marvel movies as of late: Logan, the Deadpool films and I’m assuming the upcoming New Mutants movie.

Film Review: Nightcrawler (2014)

Release Date: September 5th, 2014 (TIFF)
Directed by: Dan Gilroy
Written by: Dan Gilroy
Music by: James Newton Howard
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Riz Ahmed, Bill Paxton

Bold Films, Open Road Films, 117 Minutes

Review:

“What if my problem wasn’t that I don’t understand people but that I don’t like them? What if I was the kind of person who was obliged to hurt you for this? I mean physically. I think you’d have to believe afterward, if you could, that agreeing to participate and then backing out at the critical moment was a mistake. Because that’s what I’m telling you, as clearly as I can.” – Lou Bloom

Nightcrawler was a film that the critics loved. It was on several top ten lists at the end of 2014 and it even won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. I went into it with a lot of enthusiasm because it was a modern noir-esque picture that had high praise and accolades and starred Jake Gyllwnhall, an actor, who when he is on his A-game, is one of the best working today.

Sadly, I was severely underwhelmed by the movie. It wasn’t due to bad performances, bad direction or lackluster cinematography; all that stuff was good. I just couldn’t connect with the film in the one aspect that was the most highly regarded: the story.

There is no one in Nightcrawler that I care about. Even the Riz Ahmed character sells his soul despite his moral compass and his reservations about his job and how truly evil his boss is. Rene Russo started out strong and was somewhat admirable but ultimately, she sells her soul too. Everyone sells there soul. And the puppet master pulling all the strings is Gyllenhaal’s Louis Bloom.

The thing that makes the narrative hard to digest or connect with is that you just see Bloom on the surface. He’s a selfish, despicable, greedy madman that doesn’t care what horrible actions he has to take, as long as he is the best at what he does and he makes a lot of money. I can deal with a character like this but there needs to be some sort of context, something beneath what’s immediately apparent by his actions. He’s a reptilian human being and this film exists as a sort of satirical commentary on the media and nightcrawlers in general but it is missing a soul and some meaning.

Maybe this works for the Hollywood types living in L.A., as they witness these nightcrawler vultures taking over the streets at night, in an effort to be nightly news paparazzi, capturing violent crimes and carnage in an effort to generate ratings and revenue. To someone that doesn’t live in a big city, a little more narrative meat is needed. Maybe people in L.A. are just okay assuming that the people who do this job are blood thirsty jackals and that’s all the context they need for this story to work. Still, it’s rather one-dimensional.

To me, this is a film that fails to capture any sort of real emotional connection. Sure, you feel the tension in the heat of the moment when some big action sequence is going down or when you’re sitting in the bushes with Bloom, waiting for something bad to pop off. It’s just that everything between these moments doesn’t establish anything worthwhile.

Gyllenhaal played the part as best as he could but I feel like the script, despite winning the biggest of all film awards, wasn’t worthy of the performance. Gyllenhaal deserved more and he should have had the narrative to tell us more. He conveys what is on paper well but its like he doesn’t have all the material he needs to make the character truly live.

The film is still incredibly well acted, especially the scenes between Gyllenhaal and Russo, as well as Gyllenhaal and Ahmed. It also has some incredibly cinematography thanks to the eye and style of Robert Elswit, who also worked on There Will Be BloodMagnolia and dozens of other pictures.

I can’t completely trash the film due to its great technical execution and the talent of its cast. I just don’t feel like it is something I would ever want to watch again.

Rating: 6.25/10

Film Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

Release Date: December 10th, 2016 (Pantages Theatre Premiere)
Directed by: Gareth Edwards
Written by: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, Gary Whitta
Based on: characters created by George Lucas
Music by: Michael Giacchino
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker

Lucasfilm Ltd., Walt Disney, 133 Minutes

rogue-oneReview:

“I have a bad feeling about th…” – K-2SO

I would never say something like this carelessly; I may have a new favorite Star Wars film. Time will tell if it holds up for me but it is the closest thing to the Original Trilogy that we have seen since it ended in 1983. Also, Rogue One really just magnifies how flawed last year’s The Force Awakens is.

Rogue One is its own film. It is not a rehash of anything you’ve seen before in the Star Wars cinematic universe. It is also darker and a lot more realistic. It is the grittiest Star Wars film but it is also full of optimism, more than any of the previous pictures.

When it comes to the art of filmmaking, I would have to say that Rogue One takes the cake out of all the movies in the franchise. It’s the most beautiful Star Wars film ever made. It is also the best written and the best acted. The cinematography is beyond majestic. The score, even though it isn’t done by John Williams, is pretty fantastic. While Empire Strikes Back will probably still reign as champion, as far as the majority’s favorite movie, Rogue One is a better film. And to be completely honest, I didn’t think that was possible.

Sure, this film isn’t perfection. It has some flaws. But it has less flaws than any Star Wars film before it. And compared to The Force Awakens, this picture has some really big balls. It isn’t built with the blueprints to an old house. Also, it isn’t afraid to draw from the Prequel Trilogy, as it brings in some characters and vehicles from those films. It was actually really cool to see Disney acknowledge the prequels, as I thought they were trying to ignore them.

I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t seen Rogue One yet but there are several familiar faces that pop in and out of this movie. Great characters from the Original Trilogy and the Prequel Trilogy. Some of these are very iconic characters.

Before this movie, the world probably assumed that a Star Wars movie devoid of Jedi would be a boring ride. Rogue One proves that to be completely false. While the Force is mentioned heavily, there is only one actual Force user in the movie but he doesn’t even do anything until the end and it happens very quickly.

The big final battle in Rogue One is breathtaking. It reminds me a lot of some of the great battles you could have in the old Rogue Squadron games. They feature classic Rebel Alliance and Galactic Empire warships, X-wings and TIE Fighters. There are even some cool new vehicles mixed in. The planet is a pretty sight with its pristine beaches and the AT-ACT is a really cool alternate version of the iconic AT-AT from the Battle of Hoth in Empire Strikes Back.

When I wrote my review of The Force Awakens, last year, it was really long because there was so much to pick apart. I just can’t find anything to really criticize this film for. Everything about it just felt right. It gave me the experience I have craved since being disappointed with The Phantom Menace in 1999. And being that it is the best looking movie in the franchise, it gets extra kudos for that.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope