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VENOM: A Complete Tonal Misfire With No Sense Of Fun

Opening tonight at a multiplex near everyone:

VENOM (Dir. Ruben Fleischer, 2018)



T
o get this straight, this isn’t a Marvel movie – it’s an “In Association With Marvel” movie. That means that it’s not part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe; it’s the beginning of Sony’s Marvel Universe because Sony owns Spider-man, and Venom started out as a character in the Spidey-verse.

Or something like that. Anyway, I only knew Venom from SPIDER-MAN 3, in which he was played by Topher Grace, as I’m pretty comics illiterate, so I had no real expectations for this origin story. I was just hoping for a fun sci-fi action picture, but what I got was this terrible, tortured slog – an ugly, sticky, tangled mess, much like its title character.

Tom Hardy, with a strained American accent, plays Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist with a TV show (think Anderson Cooper as played by Jeremy Renner), who loses his job after going after evil genius billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). This also ends Eddie’s engagement to his love, Anne (Michelle Williams with long straight blonde hair that doesn’t move), who immediately leaves him.

Meanwhile, there’s been these alien symbiote things that have been taking over people’s bodies wrecking havoc and Ahmed’s Drake is trying to control them in his Life Foundation lab which is built into a mountain side across the bay from San Francisco as we see in countless establishing exterior shots. Jenny Slate (SNL, OBVIOUS CHILD) plays one of Drake’s scientist assistants who decides to be a whistle blower and expose her boss’s deadly experiments with the help of Eddie, who she brings to the lab.

You know what happens then – Brock gets this thing “up his ass” (his words), and becomes embedded with powers which makes him a sweaty, always hungry, spastic, obnoxiously over-the-top jerk, who take out leagues of attackers with black, shiny shard like arms thrusting from his body. It’s not pretty.

Eddie also hears the symbiote, who hates being called a “parasite,” talk through him in a garbled, jarring voice (Hardy’s voice modified) that goads him on, puts him down (calls him “pussy” when he takes an elevator instead of jumping out a window of a high rise), and throws out one-liners, many of which fall flat.

The rest of the narrative is un-engaging, and poorly paced as it goes through the motions of a motorcycle chase through the streets, battles with a bunch of standard issue black-clad thugs, a count-down to a launch that must be thwarted, and tons of empty spectacle made up of unimpressive CGI.

VENOM is a complete tonal misfire which can be largely blamed on its dreadful, witless screenplay by Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel which even tries to make “Have a nice life” be a burn more than once. Even at its most watchable, the whole movie just feels off. Hardy does his damnest, but just doesn’t gel with the character – either character of Eddie or Venom, and at times his hyper acting made me cringe with embarrassment for him. However, I blame the material because I’ve seen him do way better before.

Despite it being a dud, fanboys will just have to see it because you know completism, and there’s, of course, a few stingers – a mid-credits scene that has an intriguing cameo, and an extended post credits teaser for the animated SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE movie coming out this December.

Those tagged on bits are actually fun, but that so calls attention to how all the VENOM nonsense that preceded them so wasn’t.


More later…

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR: The Best And Worst Of Marvel Movie Motifs All In One Place

Now playing at every multiplex in the MCU:

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR

(Dirs. Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, 2018) 
This highly anticipated superhero epic begins with the familiar montage of imagery of iconic characters quickly blending into the logo for Marvel Studios. The “I” and “O” in the capital letters though are highlighted this time as a “10,” which seems to shout “10 years of kicking every other franchise’s ass!”

And it’s true, since IRON MAN came out in 2008, the studio, under the wing of Disney, has put out an interlocking series of nearly 20 blockbusters that have formed a business model that very other movie series, from DC to STAR WARS and beyond, has been trying to emulate. I.e. everybody wants to have a Cinematic Universe just like Marvel’s.

AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR has been teased throughout Marvel’s movies mostly in after credits stingers which have featured a big bad ass villain named Thanos (a CGI-ed Josh Brolin, who wonderfully chews through CGI setpiece after CGI setpiece), and the ongoing MacGuffin of the infinity stones – six powerful highly sought after different colored gems that can be used to destroy planets and conquer the universe.

So the Avengers join forces with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Dr. Strange, and Black Panther, among others, to stop Thanos from getting the Infinity Stones through another round of over-the-top battles that really wore me out in its crammed packed last third.

But large chunks of the movie are a lot of fun. Robert Downey Jr., whose ninth time this is in the role of Tony Stark/Iron Man, is again an enjoyably funny presence as he continues his mentorship to Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland), and snarkily sparring off with Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr. Strange, and an equally amusing Chris Pratt as Peter Quill/Starlord.

The Guardians of the Galaxy, who hit the screen to the Spinner’s “Rubberband Man” (an obvious nod to their ‘70s mixtape soundtrack trope), are granted with a lot of screen-time as Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is Thano’s daughter, something that I guess was revealed in a previous movie but I didn’t remember it, and Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and a now teengage Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) split with the others including Mantis (Pom Klementieff), and Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) to accompany Thor (Chris Hemsworth) to some other realm to get some weapon to take Thanos down with.

The audience I was in cheered when the movie cut to the lavish, and, of course, fictional African nation of Wakanda, ruled by T’Challa/Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), obviously because his film, BLACK PANTHER, which just came out a few months ago was one of the biggest hits of the MCU (and of all-time), and considered a game changer for the franchise. Boseman’s T’Challa brings the goods, but his part despite that Thano’s army of crazy four-armed alien creatures invades Wakanda, is essentially a glorified cameo.

Same goes for Chris Evans returning as Steve Rogers, the retired Captain America, which is maybe because his last movie was basically an AVENGERS entry that he was the star of. Also on the side is Rogers’ buddy Bucky Barnes (Sebastian Stan), along with Paul Bettany as Vision, and Elizabeth Olsen as Wanda Maximoff /Scarlet Witch, who figure in because Vision has one of the Infinity Stones embedded in his head, but, as committed as Bettany and Vision are in their parts, the characters have never really resonated for me.

What also didn’t do much for me was a lot of strained quasi-Shakespearean exposition between or during action sequences that came off like with the actors over emoting about gods, the cosmos, the universe and everything in order to elevate the proceedings (even Peter Dinklage, in his appearance as Eitri the Dwarf King, lays it on a bit thick). Like everything else in the last 45 minutes or so, this was a bit much.

I preferred the comical elements such as Mark Ruffalo’s exasperating and failing struggle to Hulk out throughout the film, the multitude of one-liners like Quill telling Stark, “Let’s talk about this plan of yours – I think it’s good, except it sucks, so let me do the plan, and that way, it might be really good,” and, no surprise here, the Stan Lee cameo.

So AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is the best and worst of all of the Marvel movie motifs all in one place. It’s overstuffed, overlong, and at times overwrought, but a lot of it is immensely entertaining, and often hilarious. Most fans will love it – or most of it – while non fans will dismiss it as a bunch of nonsensical bombast. You know, like every other Marvel movie.

James Cameron, who has multiple AVATAR sequels in the works, was recently quoted as saying that he hopes “we’ll start getting AVENGER fatigue here pretty soon.” Well, fatigue has set in before in the franchise (see IRON MAN 2, the first two THORs, DR. STRANGE, etc.) and did indeed set in towards the end of this, but its satisfyingly dark cliffhanger of a conclusion made my second (or third?) wind kick in. That helped to get me through the thousands of names of SFX Technicians, and Digital Artists to get to the post credits scene, which is something you’ll want to wait for too.


More later…

Summing Up The Cinematic Summer Of 2017


Reportedly this summer was the lowest grossing at the box office in many years. The low turnout can be blamed on franchise fatigue (more ALIENS, APES, CARS, TRANSFORMERS, and PIRATES, anybody?), the abundance of big budget bombs (THE MUMMY, KING ARTHUR: THE LEGEND OF THE SWORD, DARK TOWER, VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS), and all the good TV shows like The Handmaid’s Tale, Twin Peaks: The Return, Game of Thrones, and Glow competing for people’s attention. But whatever the case, despite several gems, it’s been an abysmal season crowded with bland blockbuster wannabes.

It started off promising last May with James Gunn’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, a solid sequel to the big Marvel hit from three summers ago. GOTGV2 had a juicy role for Kurt Russell as the father of Chris Pratt’s character, Peter Quill (or Star Lord, if you prefer), a bunch of amusing action sequences and gags, and a stellar soundtrack going for it, and audiences responded by making it the third top grossing movie of the year. Read my review.


The next few sequels that followed – Ridley Scott’s ALIEN: COVENANT, David Bower’s DIARY OF A WIMPY KID: THE LONG HAUL, and Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg’s PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES came and went quickly, with only PIRATES turning a profit despite bad reviews (it’s at 30% on the Rottentomatometer). I only saw PIRATES of these three, and I’m pretty tired of Johnny Depp’s Captain Jack schtick so I didn’t care for it (read my review: PIRATES 5: DEAD MEN TELL NO NEW TALES), but at least I enjoyed the Paul McCartney cameo.


I wanted to see the latest ALIEN sequel on the big screen, but didn’t get around to it. I’ll probably catch it someday on Blu ray or streaming, but I’m not really dying to.

Early June, the summer was shaken up by the major success of Patty Jenkins’ WONDER WOMAN, the first actually good movie of the new DC Extended Universe. 


The gorgeous Gal Gadot portrays the iconic superheroine in the WWI era adventure, and with the help of Chris Pine, and a supporting cast including Robin Wright, Danny Huston, and David Thewlis, she lassoed up a satisfying piece of entertainment (read my review). Now, I’m just waiting for Zack Snyder to get the franchise back off track with JUSTICE LEAGUE (also featuring Gadot) this November. 


Another superhero favorite, Spider-Man, returned the next month, and restored the character to his former glory after Marc Webb’s forgettable THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN movies with Andrew Garfield. Featuring a likable kid in the form of Tom Holland, who was introduced in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR, the extremely fun (and funny) experience of John Watts
 SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING was embraced by moviegoers to the tune of over $300 million, and critics to the tune of a 92 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes. Read my review.

Another sequel that did well at the box office was Kyle Balda, Pierre Coffin, and Eric Guillon
’s DESPICABLE ME 3 (though not great critically – 61% on Rotten Tomatoes), but not being a fan of the series or the whole Minions thing for that matter, I opted out.

Of the other summer sequels, I took a hard pass on CARS 3 as the CARS series is my least favorite Pixar franchise, but I took in Matt Reeves THE WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, and found it to be a good not great entry in the rebooted series. It contains some powerful visuals, the enjoyable comic relief of Steve Zahn voicing one of the few talking apes who calls himself “Bad Ape,” and Woody Harrelson as the villain, a sinister Colonel who wants to kill off Andy Serkis’ ape leader Caesar and his army, but it’s never been one of my favorite franchises, and I’m not really itching to see more APES movies after it. 


As for the fifth TRANSFORMERS movie, which made over $600 million yet is still considered to be an underperformer – I have never seen one of the TRANSFORMERS movies all the way through, and Im not considering changing that.

One of the worst, if not the worst, movies of the summer was Alex Kurtzman’s THE MUMMY, which was primed to kick off Universal’s Dark Universe series, but its commercial and critical failure (here
s my pan) may cause the powers that be to reconsider things. Tom Cruise is bound to do much better in the Doug Liman
’s upcoming AMERICAN MADE, which is getting some early buzz, so don’t worry about him – he’ll be just fine.

The comedy genre fared horribly during the summer months with flops such as Lucia Aniellos ROUGH NIGHT (saw it – lame waste of a talented cast headed by Scarlett Johansson and Kate McKinnon), Jonathan Levines SNATCHED (didn’t see it, but it looked lame – sorry, Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn), Seth Gordons BAYWATCH (another I skipped for what should be an obvious reason), and Andrew Jay Cohens THE HOUSE (also didn’t see despite being a fan of both Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) which was savaged by critics and ignored by audiences.
However, in the world of independent film, there was a comedy this summer, a rom com no less, that did great business, and got critical acclaim to boot: Michael Showalters THE BIG SICK. The film, starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan is the story of how Nanjiani met his later wife, and stuck with her while she was in a coma, while dealing with her worried parents played by Ray Romano and Holly Hunter. It’s a real witty charmer that has now played for over eight weeks at the Rialto Theater in Raleigh where I work part time. I haven’t seen a movie connect with audiences at our local indie arthouse like it has in a long time. My review.

A few other indies that didn’t connect as well: Trey Edward Shults’ IT CAME AT NIGHT and David Lowery’s A GHOST STORY. Of these, the former, starring Joel Edgerton as a man whose family is holed up in a house in the country while a plague ravages the land, had its edgy moments but was far from fully fleshed out, while the later, featuring Casey Affleck as a ghost – in a white sheet with eye holes, mind you – was just plain weird as I wrote in my review.

In the non franchise department, there’s Edgar Wright’s BABY DRIVER, a crackling crime thriller, with a great cast including Ansel Elgort, Kevin Spacey, Lily James, Jon Hamm, and Jamie Foxx, and an even better soundtrack. It wowed crowds and critics, including me as I declared in my review that it was the best film of the summer.


Another non sequel that I enjoyed was David Leitch’s ATOMIC BLONDE, starring Charlize Theron as a kick ass MI6 field agent on a mission in West Berlin during the waning days of the cold war. It’s a bit uneven and wonky at times, but has some excellent set pieces including a stunning fight in a stairwell, a sharp lead performance by Theron, and a well chosen ‘80s soundtrack. Hmm, that’s three films this summer with great soundtracks – not bad.

Up there with BABY DRIVER in quality is Christopher Nolan’s DUNKIRK, an immersive war epic that I’m glad I saw in 70 mm. I had a few issues with its structure, which I discussed in my post, Notes on DUNKIRK, but was overall impressed by Nolan’s work, his best since INCEPTION. I bet we’re going to hear a lot more about it come Oscar season.

Lastly, I hate to say I was disappointed in Steven Soderbergh’s late summer entry, LOGAN LUCKY, which many critics have praised.


I loved its premise – a hillbilly heist centered around robbing the Charlotte Motor Speedway in my homestate of N.C. – and its cast including Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and especially a bleach blond Daniel Craig – but the job is pulled off with very little conflict, the stakes don’t feel very high as folks can be broken out of and back into jail for the caper with ease, and none of these people are believably related to each other – Driver and Tatum sure don’t look or act like brothers, nor do Craig and the two hayseeds (Brian Gleeson and Jack Quaid) who are supposed to be his kin. Still, there were some amusing moments, and I appreciate the effort by Soderbergh to do a variation on his OCEAN’S ELEVEN movies, even if I’m not a fan of those either.

So that’s the summer of 2017 at the movies. One could argue that a season that boasts the likes of BABY DRIVER, DUNKIRK, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2, SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING, WONDER WOMAN, and THE BIG SICK can’t be completely written off, but that’s only six films out of over 40, so sadly they weren’t enough to save the summer from sucking. The fall, where historically the films get better, can’t come soon enough.


More later…