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IN DEFENCE OF #2: VENOM (2018): MOVIE REVIEW

IN DEFENCE OF #2: VENOM (2018): MOVIE REVIEW

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer

Produced by:  Avi Arad, Matt Tolmach, Amy Pascal, Marvel Entertainment

Written by: Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, Kelly Marcel

Starring: Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Reid Scott

Music by: Ludwig Goransson

Cinematography: Matthew Libatique

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As with the failed franchise blockbuster The Mummy (2017) I have once again been to the cinema and watched, not a great film or work of art, but rather a decent bit of popcorn entertainment that has seemingly been critically mauled, not necessarily unfairly, but out of context from the kind of film it is. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of Venom (2018) which doesn’t work and the film has a couple of serious plot holes, however, if you watch it as the darkly, comedic action film it is intended to be then it has a lot to offer.

I mean, superhero films, over the years, have got – Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Marvel’s generally witty one-liner littered scripts aside – very serious at times. Most recently, Black Panther (2018) was rooted in familial revenge and of course, Marvel’s Infinity War (2018), ended with an apocalyptic disaster for the Avengers and Earth. While there are serious themes in Venom, the director Ruben Fleischer has gone for more crazed humour rather than serious analysis of the psyche. As such for all its faults Venom actually felt more like an actual comic book or cartoon on screen. So, I get that people may not like the movie for being a bit lacking I think they need to lighten up. Thus, in my second instalment of my occasional series In Defence of:,  I’d like to say why I actually found it very watchable genre entertainment.

Standing alone, at the time of the action, from the Marvel ‘Universe’ and the recent Spiderman: Homecoming (2017) movie, Venom features the stupendously committed performance of Tom Hardy as crime reporter Eddie Brock. Eddie’s latest case is to delve deeper into uncovering the interplanetary research of Elon Musk-type uber-scientist and corporate mogul, Carlton Drake.  Of course, he goes too deep trying to uncover the deadly experimentation and finds himself infected with a space being that Drake has brought back. Drake, compared to the delirious character rendered by Hardy, is a bit flat and another long line of corporate bad guys which Marvel employs and he deserved some better dialogue to justify his megalomaniacal plans. But Riz Ahmed is a great actor and does his best with an under-written role.

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What works more though is the connection between Brock and his extra-terrestrial host. Perhaps, given this is a Jekyll and Hyde story it should have been a lot more intense. The psychological horror of being absorbed by another being is something David Cronenberg, would have knocked out of the park. Yet here it’s turned into something of a comedy double act; albeit with Venom biting the heads off bad guys in between the insane banter. Tom Hardy’s rat-a-tat spats with his ‘other-half’ are very funny and reminded of another recent film called Upgrade (2018), which combined even more bloody violence within a hosted protagonist narrative.

With the cool persona of Michelle Williams, an actor of high artistry, clearly enjoying playing for laughs within the straight romantic lead, there is at least some level-headedness to counter Hardy’s facials ticks and roars. Moreover, despite glaring holes in the narrative including: the very generic alien invasion plot; clichéd corporate mercenaries providing body fodder and a severe lack of legal consequences to Brock’s ‘Venomous’ attacks, the smart comedy, pacey action, the monster-effects of Venom itself and fighting scenes, keep entertainment stakes high.

Ultimately, while much more could have been done to explore the dark side of their symbiotic relationship it was unlikely with this director. Indeed, as Fleischer showed with Zombieland (2009) and direction of suburban zombie show Santa Clarita Diet (2017), he favours mixing dark matter with black humour. Lastly, with Tom Hardy as a more than willing ally Fleischer and his army of writers have delivered an admittedly flawed comic-book narrative that remains full of parasitic punch and energy.

Mark: 7.5 out of 11 

 

 

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2016 BFI – LFF – MANCHESTER BY-THE-SEA (2016) – REVIEW

2016 BFI LONDON FILM FESTIVAL – MANCHESTER BY-THE-SEA (2016)

SPOILER FREE REVIEW

TITLE: MANCHESTER BY-THE-SEA (2016)

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DIRECTOR: Kenneth Lonergan (You Can Count on Me (2000)

SCREENPLAY: Kenneth Lonergan (Analyze This (1999), Gangs of New York (2002)                

CAST: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges etc.

STORY: A distant and emotionally disconnected man must face family and friends following the death of his brother.

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REVIEW:             

Kenneth Lonergan, Casey Affleck and Michelle Williams should take a very long bow for their writing, directing and acting work in this moving and emotional, yet at the same time, humorous character drama.

Casey Affleck plays a seemingly unassuming handyman who buries anger and despair deep within his heart. Initially, he seems passive, yet during his interactions with one of his customers and during a bar brawl he reveals a volcanic tension simmering under the surface of his psyche. When his older brother passes away he returns to Manchester-by-the-Sea in Massachusetts and is forced to confront past tragedies plus take care of his brothers’ estate and teenage nephew.

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This is one of those films which moves at its’ own pace and in scenes of quiet drama, sporadic violence and subtle flashbacks, Lonergan builds a truly formidable narrative and character study. Moreover, Affleck portrays a lost soul with such exquisite pathos you could feel his characters’ pain jump out from the screen. His scenes with Michelle Williams genuinely made me want to cry because they were so sad.

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Ultimately, this is Affleck’s film as he haunts the screen with a truly award-winning performance. As well as the dark drama there are many witty lines and scenes too in what is one of the best films I have seen in 2016. If you prefer your films as real and raw as possible and are happy to experience a few hours without explosions or special effects, then watch this everyday story of humans trying to cope with their past, present and future existence.

 

 

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE – #1 RYAN GOSLING by PAUL LAIGHT

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE – #1 RYAN GOSLING  

**THIS CONTAINS MASSIVE SPOILERS, CLIPS and REFERENCE TO ADULT LOVE DOLLS**

To compliment my post last week which featured films with dark or extreme love, today I am hailing the romantic impact of movie heartthrob Ryan Gosling.

#1  – DRIVE (2011)

This is a very romantic film with great chemistry between Gosling and Mulligan. It is also uber-cool with Gosling doing his post-modern Steve McQueen thing really well while Mulligan does sweetness personified.  It’s very pure cinema with minimal dialogue and just a longing, passionate look here or there to drive the love story.  Winding Refn is known for his brutal and violent films and this one erupts at the end but The Driver’s motivation is not revenge but rather protection of loved ones; namely Mulligan’s single mum and son.  Is there anything more romantic on screen than killing to protect the one’s you love?

#2 – LARS & THE REAL GIRL (2007)

This is such an original, quirky and goddamn touching movie.  Gosling’s character – sporting a Pupkin style moustache – has had some kind of personality breakdown and in an attempt to comfort himself he purchases a ‘human’ doll online. So far so weird.  He then treats her as he would a real girlfriend.  What is amazing is that the townsfolk where he lives also join in the “make-believe” and slowly but surely Bianca (playing herself) becomes part of the community.  The writer/filmmakers could have gone down a road of smut and low-brow humour but instead deliver a really humble and slyly humorous portrayal of grief, mental breakdown and loneliness. Gosling is understated brilliance throughout but it’s the Doll which steals the acting honours.


#3 – BLUE VALENTINE (2010)

This is one of the most realistic portrayals of a relationship ever committed to the screen.  It features the beginning, middle and end of Gosling and Michelle Williams’ love for each other; although not necessarily in that order.  The chemistry between the two is electric and it is so painful to see a couple break apart as they do by the end, having witnessed such a beautiful coming together previously.  What I loved about the film was the humanity of the relationship showing both men and women as both negatives and positives in the story.  Both romantic and heart-breaking in equal measure this is definitely not a film to watch on your own on Valentine’s Day having just broken up with someone.


#4 – CRAZY, STUPID, LOVE (2011)

I really enjoyed this ensemble comedy from the writers of Bad Santa. A  sexy looking cast full of fine young and mature Hollywood talent was very much a surprising like for me.  There was pleasant chemistry between Carell’s downtrodden husband and his wife played by the ever-lovely Julianne Moore and fine cameos from Kevin Bacon and Marisa Tomei.   Gosling nicely satirises his Hollywood heartthrob good looks playing a gigolo who is able to conquer women with the merest flutter of his get-your-kit-off eyes. The scenes where he trains Carell’s romantic loser up as a womaniser are funny and a nice reversal of the usual Hollywood cliches which show an older man training up a young rookie.  Emma Stone is pretty hot too and can act as she showed in the films Easy A (2009), Zombieland (2010)  and The Help (2011). Her scenes with Gosling are very funny and I liked her feisty character as she actually steals his heart by initially refusing to give in to his ample charms.  


#5 – THE NOTEBOOK (2004)

I am a massive cynic and it takes a lot to melt my iceberg heart but this film attacks you with not one, but TWO heartfelt, tear-jerking stories interweaved simultaneously.   Based on super-schmaltzy literary work of Nicholas Sparks I’d kind of avoided watching it but am glad I succumbed as it is a lovely film. It’s the kind of movie you enjoy watching with the heating cranked up while the rain smashes down outside.  In the present an elderly couple attempt to reconnect despite her Alzheimer’s, while in the past a young chap from the wrong sides of the tracks tries to woo a Southern Belle despite her families protestations.  It’s a sensory overload of sloppy sentimentality and black-belt romance clichés but the film fully embraces these conventions, telling us in the process that love for another human is the main reason for living.  The cast are breath-taking including Gosling, Rachel McAdams, James Garner and Gena Rowlands and they really raise the material above the standard Mills and Boon plot. It’s easy to dismiss Nicholas Sparks’ writing but it is phenomenally successful so you have to admire his and the filmmakers’ ability to make such cheesy romance so highly entertaining.  This film embodies the definition of a guilty pleasure in my (note)book.