Venom (2018)

Venom

The plot of Venom is more slippery than infectious.

It isn’t that Venom is a terrible movie, but it most certainly is a disappointing one, especially when you have a great talent like Tom Hardy in the lead role. He himself is really the only thing worth seeing in this film (and, admittedly, some unexpected laughs I was not expecting).

Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, a reporter who one day is in over his head as he tries to uncover the mystery behind a suspicious company of scientists (or something like that) run by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). He blows the assignment, is fired by his boss (Ron Chephas Jones from This is Us), and is dumped by his fiancée Anne Weying (the always reliable Michelle Williams). He is given a second chance when one of the doctors (Jenny Slate) sneaks Brock into the facility, where the mysterious goo (the symbiote) meshes with Eddie and makes him become the title character.

Eddie is clearly down on his luck but I am not sure if I would call him a total loser. He does try to do the right thing, even if he fails at it, such as being there for the local store clerk Mrs. Chen (Peggy Lu) after she is being harassed by a gang member. Still, despite the very good performance by Hardy, I can’t help but wonder how much better this Venom would have been if he were the villain of the MCU (where his enemy Spider-Man now resides).

Speaking of villains, anyone will tell you how a comic book movie baddie needs to be great if the film can have some success, and that is easily the biggest flaw of the film. Riz Ahmed (who is a good actor I am sure) approaches his character with no charm or menace, two of the most important things a cinema comic book character needs.

Another problem I had was with some of the special effects. When Venom does appear, it is (for the most part) convincing, yet the action sequences are so fast paced that we don’t get much time to revel at them. I am referring to a specific car chase scene. I truly would hate to fault director Ruben Fleischer, mainly since he made 2009’s highly underrated Zombieland. There is a fight scene, however, in Brock’s apartment that is rather fun to watch.

Parents, while the movie could have easily been given an R rating (Venom’s appetite has nearly no limits), the PG-13 rating is mainly for horrific images (for kids) and swearing (some S words, plus one F bomb). Nothing sexual (though some kissing), so I would say middle school and up. Maybe younger.

I can say without a doubt that Venom is not the worst comic book movie ever (I would take Tom Hardy over Topher Grace in 2007’s Spider-Man 3 any day of the week), but I just can’t recommend it. I only wish the studios would get along so we could get all the characters in one universe, but that is wishful thinking.

No surprise that the film does have a post credit scene, suggesting that there will be a sequel (Hardy has apparently signed on for two more films). While I am not sure it will happen, I do totally support the actor they have as the next villain. Especially if they moved this to the MCU.

 

Again, just wishful thinking.

 

Overall: Two Stars **

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Mildred (Frances McDormand), the maker of the Three Billboards

Just when you think you have seen enough movies to know what the film makers are going to give you, you get a film like Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri, a film full of drama, wit, comedy, surprises, heart, and clarity.

The story takes place just seven months after the rape/murder of a teenage girl in the town of Ebbing, Missouri. Despite work from the local police, the culprit has not been found, and the case is at a stand still. This does not sit well with the girl’s mother, Mildred (Frances McDormand), who rents out three billboards on the road to the town (one that hardly anyone uses). They read,

“Raped while dying”

“And still no arrests?”

“How come, Chief Willoughby?”

Willoughby (played perfectly by Woody Harrelson) is no slouch at his job. Even as he is fighting cancer (which Mildred knows before she sets up the billboards), he is still a good, decent family man. The real slouch at the job is Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who seems just a step or two up the ladder from Chief Wiggum of The Simpsons.

The movie is not about necessarily finding the murderer. No, the film is far too smart for that. It is about much more. It is about the life in a small town in the south. Mildred still takes her son Robbie (Lucas Hedges, who, along with this year’s Lady Bird, is having a great year after his Oscar nominated role in 2016’s Manchester by the Sea) to school, has a visit or two from her ex Charlie (John Hawkes) and his 19-year-old girlfriend, and still pester the law enforcement community about letting her dead daughter get justice.

Martin McDonagh directs and writes the film in a precise way that he did for 2008’s In Bruges. There is drama, but it is so well seasoned with huge comic moments it is impossible to ignore. Apparently, McDonagh wrote the role of Mildred with McDormand in mind. It is not hard to see why. If anyone else played the role, you would find yourself saying “Too bad Frances McDormand is not playing this role”. In a nutshell, it is pretty much her best performance since Fargo‘s Marge Gunderson.

All the other actors are superior as well, but the other who may finally get his share at awards season is Sam Rockwell. He has been a great actor in many supporting roles of the past, but here he gets a chance to show transformation like I have never seen in him before. It is stellar work, and deserving of Best Supporting Actor consideration.

Parents, in no way shape or form is this film for kids. The movie deserves the R rating, which is mainly for swearing (as well as some violence). Mature High Schoolers and above.

When you think of it, even the title is genius. As I entered the theater, I thought the title was going to be too long, and off-putting. The fact that it is so simplistic a title is the uncanny mastery behind it. I haven’t even mentioned how I found myself saying “good” when the movie ended, hoping it would not outstay its welcome, or the mere fact that the film even stars the highly talanted Peter Dinklage.

Clearly, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of the best of 2017.

 

Overall: Four and a Half Stars **** 1/2

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

war for the planet of the apes

Caesar (Andy Serkis) won’t let a gun to the head stop the “War for the Planet of the Apes”

Next to the original Lord of the Rings and Dark Knight Trilogy, I would argue that the Planet of the Apes trilogy is also as solid a movie trilogy as they come. I still, sadly, have yet to see the original with Charlton Heston, but I consider it proof that the reinvented Apes trilogy (which, thankfully, has nothing to do with the remake Tim Burton tried in 2001) is for fans of the original as well as those who have not seen it, and War for the Planet of the Apes is a startling conclusion.

It has been quite a journey for Caesar (Andy Serkis, proving his is not just a great motion capture actor, but a great actor in general). He has protected his apes through it all, but now learns from his son that there is another place beyond the trees where the apes can be in peace.

Sadly, there is The Colonel (Woody Harrelson) who knows the apes as nothing but a pest. Caesar tries to head after The Colonel after he unravels tragedy upon Caesar. Along the way, Caesar’s buddy Maurice (Karin Konoval) meets a mute child named Nova (newcomer Amiah Miller).

The special effects are really remarkable here. At no point in this movie did I really have the feeling I was looking at a special effect. It also clearly helps that the filmmakers (lead by director Matt Reeves) have given so much depth and humanity to the apes that it is not too hard to root against the humans.

Parents, if your kids have seen the previous ones, they will be fine here. There is violence and action, but no sexual stuff of any kind (I honestly don’t even remember hearing any swearing.) Basically, middle school and above.

There are some things I admit I was confused on (how can a horse hold a big ape? Why is Caesar one of only a few who can speak?). Nevertheless, War for the Planet of the Apes is a cinematic win for the trilogy as well as the 2017 summer.

 

Overall: Four Stars ****

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

the-edge-of-seventeen

Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) is venting, to say the least…

A year or so ago, I remember reading that Academy Award Nominee Hailee Steinfeld (from the remake of True Grit) was not going to focus much on acting anymore and more on singing. While I have not heard any of her songs, I would hate to see her leave acting, because once you witness her in The Edge of Seventeen, you know you are watching a sure professional at the top of her game.

Steinfeld plays Nadine, a High School Junior who has very little in life that makes her happy. She feels overshadowed by her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner), and does not get too well along with her single mom Mona (Kyra Sedgwick). Her one ray of hope is her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). They are peas in a pod, the type of friends who will hold back the other’s hair while they are throwing up in the toilet. This all changes when Krista hooks up with Darian.

The movie’s first time director, Kelly Fremon Craig, also wrote the screenplay. It is full of dialogue with wit and charm we all love to take out of a coming of age movie, including Nadine and her new friend Erwin (Hayden Szeto). Still, the best scenes are when Nadine has her conversations with her history teacher, Mr. Bruner (a sensational Woody Harrelson). Not many teachers will respond to a student’s over the top decision to commit suicide by reciting his own suicide note. Harrelson and Steinfeld are magical.

Parents, the movie is Rated R for good reason, but it does not mean High Schoolers should not see it (that is, the mature ones). There is a lot of swearing and sexual dialogue (mainly when Nadine is talking about her crush Nick, played by Alexander Calvert). There is also a scene in a car that does go on for a bit, but nothing is shown. Basically, I would say Juniors and up are fine.

The movie did take some turns I did not entirely appreciate (it reminded me a little of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, a movie I was not a fan of). Still, in the coming of age movie genre, The Edge of Seventeen does place a staple along others. The late John Hughes would tip his hat to this film.

Overall: Four Stars ****