Venom review

VENOM

Director : Ruben Fleischer
Cast : Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Scott Haze
Genre : Comics/Action/Sci-fi
Run Time : 112 mins
Opens : 4 October 2018
Rating : PG13

Tom Hardy is his own worst enemy and maybe also his own best friend in this Marvel Comics adaptation. Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a journalist engaged to successful lawyer Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). Brock has trained his sights on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), an industrialist and inventor who has privately funded space exploration missions. As the head of the Life Foundation, Drake portrays himself as a benevolent force for good, but Brock suspects that Drake is secretly conducting unethical, illegal activities which have resulted in civilian deaths.

A Life Foundation spacecraft crashes on earth, and its cargo, an alien life form, escapes. This is a symbiote, which needs to bond to a host to survive. When Dr Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), a scientist working for the Life Foundation, approaches Brock as a whistle-blower, Brock investigates and another symbiote bonds to him. This is the entity known as Venom, which manifests as a voice in Brock’s head and takes over his body, giving him enhanced strength and healing and causes him to emanate tendrils. Brock must make sense of this new unwelcome guest while uncovering the extent of Drake’s misdeeds, eventually learning to coexist with Venom and use his newfound abilities to his advantage.

There have been multiple attempts at a Venom movie, including one in the late 90s that was reportedly slated to star Dolph Lundgren, and another attempt that would have taken place within the continuity of the Amazing Spider-Man movies. Then of course there was the iteration played by Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3, which left many fans unsatisfied.

Venom was created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie, and is arguably Spider-Man’s best-known, most visually striking nemesis. The character’s origin directly involves Spider-Man – in the comics, the symbiote is a discarded alien suit worn by the web-slinging hero. As such, a Venom movie that is completely removed from Spider-Man feels like a tricky prospect. This reviewer had to remind himself that at least the symbiote’s host is still called “Eddie Brock”, unlike the Catwoman movie which starred a character named Patience Phillips, who was nothing like the Catwoman of the comics, Selina Kyle.

Venom-symbiote-Tom-Hardy-1

The film’s somewhat tormented production process has led to an odd beast. Venom is tonally weird. One would be forgiven for expecting a dark, disturbing movie – after all, the title character is a slimy alien parasite with pointy teeth and a long, icky tongue. However, what Venom most resembles is a buddy comedy. The symbiote seems characterised as the friend who’s a bad influence, pushing Eddie to do things he would rather not do. The symbiote is an obvious metaphor for the darkness deep within a person being brought to the surface, so it is somewhat baffling that the film does practically nothing with this concept.

The action sequences are moderately entertaining but not especially memorable. There’s a motorcycle chase and a sequence in which Venom takes on an entire SWAT team in a smoke-filled apartment building lobby, but any time the full-on creature takes over the action, things feel distinctly synthetic. The climactic fight is a battle between one thing made of CGI and another thing made of CGI, set against a mostly CGI backdrop.

Then, there is the PG-13 rating. A movie doesn’t have to be R-rated to be good, it doesn’t even have to be R-rated to be effectively disturbing. However, this is a movie in which the title character bites people’s heads off and impales his enemies through the torso. It’s a bit difficult to sell the viciousness when it must happen off-screen or obscured while something else is going on. That said, this movie could’ve been R-rated and still turned out limp.

Hardy is perfectly watchable in the role and tries to make something interesting out of the material. He ends up performing quite a bit of physical comedy, which seems out of place, but which he commits to. There is the sense that Hardy could have brought so much more to the table had the script allowed him to dig into the inherently unsettling nature of the bond between the Venom symbiote and its human host, but it seems the film is more interested in back-and-forth banter.

Michelle Williams is wasted as a character who isn’t too much more than the designated girlfriend, even though there is a nice nod to her character in the comics. Riz Ahmed plays a ruthless Elon Musk-type, who is at once a cartoony villain while also bland and barely menacing. Jenny Slate’s mousey scientist who might just be the one to bring the villain down seems like she might be interesting, but similarly gets little to do. While some comic book movies suffer from far too many characters, there are almost too few interesting characters at all in Venom.

The casual viewer might find Venom a passable diversion, but anyone who is particularly attached to the comics will be sorely dissatisfied. The film attempts to translate the character’s sarcasm to the screen, but lacks the acid-drenched wickedness which must accompany said sarcasm. The result is a relatively safe movie about a character who should always feel at least a little dangerous. Director Ruben Fleischer’s best film remains Zombieland, so perhaps comedy is where he should focus his efforts. There is a goofiness to Venom that is strongly reminiscent of comic book movies made when the filmmakers making them hadn’t fully figured things out yet: a bit of Spawn here, a bit of the 2002 Hulk movie there.

Stick around for a mid-credits tag which hints as sequel – as mediocre as this outing is, we’d be darned if we didn’t want to see a sequel make good on what this scene promises. There’s also a sneak peek at a forthcoming movie at the very end of the credits.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

Dunkirk

For F*** Magazine

DUNKIRK 

Director : Christopher Nolan
Cast : Fionn Whitehead, Tom Glynn-Carney, Jack Lowden, Harry Styles, Aneurin Barnard, James D’Arcy, Barry Keoghan, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy
Genre : Action/War
Run Time : 1h 47m
Opens : 20 July 2017
Rating : PG13 (Some Coarse Language)

There have been plenty of films set during the Second World War, and plenty of excellent ones at that, but you’ve never seen a war movie quite like Dunkirk. It is May 1940, and 400 000 Allied soldiers from Britain, Belgium, Canada and France have been trapped on the beaches of Dunkirk, France, by German forces. With the waters surrounding the beach too shallow for naval vessels, hundreds of small personal craft are called into service to evacuate the soldiers from Dunkirk. British Army private Tommy (Whitehead) is just trying to get home, while Commander Bolton (Branagh) and Colonel Winnat (D’Arcy) oversee the evacuation on the ground. Making his way to Dunkirk in his boat is Mr. Dawson (Rylance), accompanied by his son Peter (Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s best friend George (Keoghan). On the way to Dunkirk, they pick up the Shivering Soldier (Murphy), a shell-shocked survivor of a German U-Boat attack. In the skies overhead flies Farrier (Hardy), a Royal Air Force Spitfire pilot warding off attacks from German fighters. As time runs out for the soldiers stranded at Dunkirk, all they need to be victorious is to survive.

The very notion of Christopher Nolan writing and directing a WWII movie sent expectations for Dunkirk sky-rocketing. The film has lived up to, and maybe even surpassed, those expectations. Cutting through the stodginess that can sometimes plague period pieces, Nolan delivers something revelatory. There’s no glamour, no romance, no treacly sentimentality, no pomp, no circumstance – from the opening moments, viewers are plunged into the thick of unspooling chaos, trapped alongside the film’s characters in a variety of panic-inducing circumstances.

Taut and running a lean 107 minutes, unusual for a movie of this type, Dunkirk unfolds with searing immediacy. Dunkirk is not about the strength and sheer might of its heroes – Winston Churchill characterised the events that led to the stranding of the 400 000 Allied soldiers at Dunkirk as a “colossal military disaster”. Dunkirk is not a chest-thumping ode to a bygone age of ‘true heroism’, nor is it a withering, cynical proclamation that ‘war is hell’. It’s not making any grand statements, it’s transporting the audience into situations so hopeless and so desperate that they’ll be gasping for air.

Putting the film together was a staggering logistical undertaking, and Nolan waited to accrue experience making large-scale blockbusters before tackling this film, which he has wanted to make since he was a student. Nolan makes the massive scope of the film digestible for audiences by dividing Dunkirk into three perspectives: the land, the sea and the air. The Germans are a faceless enemy, making their presence felt through the ordnance they bombard the beach with. With each cluster of protagonists having clear objectives to complete, Dunkirk is easy to follow, and doesn’t contain unwieldy stretches of exposition.

Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography provides both the breathless immersion of being stuck below decks in a sinking ship and the soaring majesty of Spitfires tearing across the sky, an expanse of ocean beneath the planes. Hans Zimmer’s frantic score contains no lush, sweeping melodies, incorporating interesting textural elements including the ticking sound of Nolan’s own pocket watch.

Another thing that sets Dunkirk apart from its prestige drama ilk is that there are no showy performances finely tuned for maximum Academy appeal. Make no mistake, the acting is excellent, it’s just that it doesn’t call attention to itself and character back-stories and motivations are deliberately scarce, so we can focus on the moment. It’s unusual that a thespian of Branagh’s calibre is given relatively little to do, but it works. Newcomer Whitehead aptly captures the wide-eyed innocence and desperation of a young soldier swept up in a colossal conflict, while Harry Styles, to his credit, is barely distracting.

 

Murphy’s turn as the PTSD-stricken Shivering Soldier, who is otherwise unnamed, is probably the closest thing Dunkirk has to a virtuoso turn, and even then, it isn’t overplayed. Rylance showcases the masterful restraint he’s become known for, his character embodying the quiet, everyday heroism displayed by the mariners who came to the soldiers’ rescue. While Hardy is at his best when playing antiheroes, roguish types or straight-up villains, but he’s easy to root for as the pilot who tries to save the day.

Stripping away the stylistic trappings often associated with WWII epics, Nolan shapes Dunkirk into a film that’s visceral and affecting, but is also spectacular and deserves to be seen on as large a screen as one can find. While it’s not the easiest film to watch, Nolan skilfully refrains from gratuitous blood and gore – it’s horrifying without being unnecessarily so. Because of its heavy subject matter and the tension with which it is brought to life, Dunkirk does feel longer than its running time and is not necessarily a film that begs to be re-watched immediately, but it is an effectively harrowing masterpiece all the same.

Summary: A war film that evokes helplessness and desperation like few before it, Dunkirk will thrill, shock and shake audiences to their core.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Revenant

For F*** Magazine

THE REVENANT 

Director : Alejandro González Iñárritu
Cast : Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, Domhnall Gleeson, Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck
Genre : Adventure/Thriller
Run Time : 2 hrs 36 mins
Opens : 4 February 2016
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scene and Violence)

The untamed wilderness has never been wilder and more untamed than in this survival epic. It is 1823 in the uncharted Louisiana Purchase and a party of fur trappers led by Andrew Henry (Gleeson) is hunting for pelts. The group is ambushed by the Arikara Native Americans and many of their number are killed. Hugh Glass (DiCaprio), a hunter familiar with the terrain of the area, recommends a path through the forest for the survivors to take. John Fitzgerald (Hardy) is antagonistic towards Glass and his half-Pawnee Native American son Hawk (Goodluck). Angry about having to abandon the valuable pelts, Fitzgerald betrays Glass and leaves him for dead after Glass is severely mauled by a bear. Fitzgerald tricks the young trapper Jim Bridger (Poulter), who has volunteered to stay behind and tend to Glass, into going along with his plan. Glass claws his way out of a shallow grave, navigating the harsh landscape in search of shelter and vengeance against Fitzgerald.

            The Revenant is based on Michael Punke’s 2002 historical novel of the same name, which in turn drew on the true story of Hugh Glass. The Revenant will go down in film history has having one of the most arduous shoots ever, with the crew deeming the production process a “living hell”. They had to contend with below-freezing temperatures, director Iñárritu’s preference for shooting the film in chronological order and cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki’s insistence on only using natural light, be it from the sun or a campfire. In addition, the lack of snow in the Canadian locations resulted in the whole crew picking up sticks and relocating to Argentina. The shoot went over schedule and Hardy had to drop out of Suicide Squad because of it. Defending his decisions and saying he “has nothing to hide,” Iñárritu told the Hollywood Reporter “If we ended up in greenscreen with coffee and everybody having a good time, everybody will be happy, but most likely the film would be a piece of s***.”

            So, was all of that worth it? Short answer: yes. The Revenant is not a story with particularly inventive twists and turns, but even though most audiences would have a general idea of how the story will progress even without prior knowledge of Hugh Glass, it’s very easy to get invested in this yarn. Iñárritu reels the audience in and doesn’t let go, one can almost feel the film’s grip tighten. Wide panoramas of mountain ridges and roaring rivers are contrasted with extreme tight close-ups of bloodied and bruised characters gritting their teeth. Lubezki serves ups beauty without a hint of artificial polish, uncompromising, raw and majestic. Much has been made of the brutal scenarios depicted in the film, but Iñárritu uses the violence such that the audience doesn’t get too comfortable in their plush multiplex seats, and he never gleefully revels in the gore the way Tarantino does. The wince-inducing moments are numerous, as impactful as they are bracing.

            DiCaprio has yet to win an Oscar. That’s the meme that has been run deep into the ground. With all that he’s put himself through to play Glass, The Revenant might finally be his shot at that coveted golden statuette. He calls it the “hardest performance of his career”, and it’s easy to see why: the vegetarian actor had to devour a slab of raw bison liver, learn to fire a musket and build a fire and study the Native American languages of Pawnee and Arikara. We’ve seen heroes who cling to bitter determination against all odds before, but DiCaprio does hammer home the extent of Glass’ ordeal.

Hardy is just as good, even stealing the show from DiCaprio on occasion, as Fitzgerald. This reviewer is of the opinion that Hardy is at his best when playing aggressive, villainous characters and his portrayal of the avaricious Fitzgerald is thoroughly authentic. Gleeson is just the right pitch of noble and Poulter looks appropriately out of his element as the greenhorn Bridger. Goodluck and DiCaprio share just enough of a father-son bond, though the relationship isn’t as believable as it should be. Arthur RedCloud delivers a truly moving performance as a good Samaritan Pawnee man named Hikuc who aids Glass.

            In order to compete with the ready availability of films to watch in various formats at home, movie theatres truck out gimmicks such as 3D, IMAX, Dolby Atmos sound and D-Box motion seats, promising “immersion”. While this reviewer is often a sucker for such gimmicks, few cinematic experiences come close to offering the immersion that The Revenant does. The film certainly has its shortcomings: at 156 minutes, it is too long, though not egregiously so. It is also ultimately more gruelling than rewarding to sit through and doesn’t say anything particularly poignant about the dynamic between Native Americans and the frontiersman who came to mine North America for its natural resources. Taken as a harrowing survival odyssey, The Revenant is quite the achievement.



Summary: A primal, riveting tale of nigh-superhuman perseverance, you’ll be rooting for Leonardo DiCaprio and against Tom Hardy while taking in the splendour of the untamed wilderness and wincing at the effectively gory moments.

RATING: 4out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong 

Legend

For F*** Magazine

LEGEND

Director : Brian Helgeland
Cast : Tom Hardy, Emily Browning, Christopher Eccleston, Taron Egerton, Paul Bettany, David Thewlis, Chazz Palminteri
Genre : Drama/Crime
Run Time : 132 mins
Opens : 12 November 2015
Rating : M18 (Violence and Coarse Language)
After going Mad earlier this year, Tom Hardy’s going Kray-zy in this gangster biopic. Hardy plays both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, identical twins who ruled the London criminal underworld in the 60s. Reggie is the savvy businessman while institutionalized Ronnie is the unhinged, unpredictable loose cannon. After threatening a psychiatrist into declaring Ronnie sane, the pair rise through the ranks, running protection rackets and buying up nightclubs. Reggie falls in love with Frances Shea (Browning) who eventually marries him, much to the disapproval of her mother (Tara Fitzgerald). In the meantime, Ronnie openly pursues a relationship with Teddy (Egerton). The twins become business associates of Philadelphia crime family don Angelo Bruno (Palminteri) and are pursued by Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Leonard “Nipper” Read (Eccleston), intent on putting an end to their reign of terror. 
Legend is based on John Pearson’s biography The Profession of Violence: The Rise and Fall of the Kray Twins. The twins were the subject of the 1990 biopic The Krays as well as the straight-to-DVD 2015 film The Rise of the Krays, the latter apparently made to ride the coattails of this film. Writer-director Brian Helgeland earned his crime movie bona fides with 1997’s Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential and the Kray twins’ colourful history and trail of violence makes them attractive true crime biopic subjects. While Legend is a superb showcase for its star, it falls short in almost all other departments. Like many period gangster movies, Legend all too frequently invokes the classics of the genre while feeling like a mere echo. Its portrayal of 60s London is at once stylish and slightly artificial, Helgeland never achieving the authenticity he strives for. 
The film falls into a pattern of Ronnie doing something despicable and outrageous with Reggie cleaning up after him, the twins often coming into conflict with each other and those around them. It’s odd: even though the film spends a lot of time with its central characters, it doesn’t dig very deep into the psychology of the twins and by its conclusion, we only actually understand very little about them. It is eventful, but sometimes difficult to follow, everything tied together with a voiceover by Browning’s Frances. The voiceover is often heavy-handed and there are some clumsy attempts at breaking the fourth wall. In the end, it feels like the main purpose this voiceover serves is to give Frances some semblance of agency, since for most of the film, she is just there, just “the wife”.
Hardy has emerged as an A-lister who can headline big-budget blockbusters and prestige dramas with equal ease, and his dual role here is plenty impressive. Of course it’s gimmicky, but it’s a gimmick that works. With the help of body double Jacob Tomuri (who was Hardy’s stunt double in Mad Max: Fury Road and the upcoming The Revenant) and some clever visual effects trickery, two distinct versions of the actor co-exist and after a while, the sleight of hand becomes truly seamless. When Ronnie and Reggie come to blows during an especially heated argument, the fight is spectacularly convincing. Affecting an East End dialect, Hardy is able to play both twins as distinct characters, the end result far less stilted than when Armie Hammer’s head was duplicated and pasted onto Josh Pence’s body to play the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network. Reggie is the tortured antihero and Ronnie is the wild-eyed, mal-adjusted psychopath. In very loose terms, Reggie is the “good” twin, though that is of course relative. 
The afore-mentioned Browning looks gorgeous, appropriately retro-chic in a selection of 60s ensembles, but is given little to do beyond fretting over her husband’s illegal activities. Christopher Eccleston huffs and puffs as the cop on the Krays’ case, but Helgeland doesn’t seem too interest in the cat-and-mouse cops vs. criminals aspect of the story. Egerton, having made a splash in Kingsman: The Secret Service earlier this year, is also underused as Ron’s boy toy. Paul Bettany pops up very briefly as rival gangster Charlie Richardson. The British character actors who make up the Krays’ criminal posse come off as sufficiently tough and unsavoury, with Palminteri adding a touch of American mob movie cred. 
Given how Legend has been positioned as an awards contender, the film ends up surprisingly superficial. Even more so than other gangster films, it revolves around relationships, given its main characters are twins, but few of those relationships are satisfyingly developed and explored. Slick but formulaic and often unfocused, Legend offers very little real insight into the lives of the fascinating Kray twins. 
Summary: Tom Hardy’s dual role is dynamite stuff, but Legend is hampered by its heightened glossiness and is ultimately too shallow to pass as a gripping biopic. 

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars 
Jedd Jong 

Mad Max: Fury Road

For F*** Magazine

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD

Director : George Miller
Cast : Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult, Hugh Keays-Byrne, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Zoë Kravitz, Riley Keough
Genre : Action/Thriller
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 14 May 2015
Rating : NC16 (Violence)

It’s been 30 long years, but with the fourth instalment of the Mad Maxfranchise finally seeing the light of day, it’s time for road warriors to do battle again. Taking over from Mel Gibson in the iconic titular role is Tom Hardy. Max Rockatansky is captured and tortured by scavengers and in the midst of escaping, teams up with “war boy” Nux (Hoult). Their paths cross with that of the Imperator Furiosa (Theron), a warrior woman who drives the “war rig” oil tanker truck. Furiosa plans to liberate the “breeders”, five young women enslaved by the tyrannical Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne) for the sole purpose of bearing his children. As Max and Furiosa begin to rely on each other’s skills as they cross the inhospitable desert, their various pursuers get ever closer.


            Director George Miller, who helmed the first three Mad Max movies and whose bizarrely diverse filmography also includes Babeand Happy Feet, is back in the driver’s seat for Fury Road. This is a “soft reboot” that stands fine on its own if one hasn’t seen the other movies. The film spent a tumultuous 25 years in development hell, with Gibson initially attached but dropping out and Miller turning his attention to an animated Mad Max movie instead. For long-time hard-core fans, Fury Road is worth the wait. Unlike, say, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, this belated fourth movie is still very much in the spirit of the originals. A noticeable change – an improvement really – is that the pace is a lot quicker here. The original Mad Max trilogy did have its lulls, but things keep moving in this one. It’s also increased in scope and scale, but not to a bloated extent. The editing is also a lot faster too, but thankfully stops short of being whiplash inducing.  


            It’s telling that co-writer Brendan McCarthy was also the lead storyboard artist and concept designer on the film. It’s very much style over substance and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The unique “post-apo-car-lyptic” aesthetic developed by Miller for the first movie has often been imitated and it’s great to see that style on the big screen again in such grand fashion. If we could list every single crew member involved in the creation of the vehicles, we would, because each one is a modern masterpiece of twisted metal. Cinematographer John Seale delivers gorgeous vistas of desolation; one wouldn’t expect scenes in a crazy post-apocalyptic action movie to be described as “poetic”, but many of the shots really are. Seeing as the setting is all desert, there’s the challenge in making sure it doesn’t look dull, a challenge Seale overcomes.

            While some fans are still unable to get over the recasting of Max Rockatansky, Hardy is the ideal replacement for Gibson, Miller citing a similar animalistic quality in the two actors as one of the reasons for this casting. Though he has been sometimes disparagingly classified as a “pretty boy”, Hardy is convincingly tough and does look like he’s been an inhabitant of this wasteland all his life. There’s also that haunted quality to his eyes, bringing life to the precious little back-story we get to glimpse. This is definitely not a subtle movie – the opening voiceover might as well go “hey, I’m the antihero. I have emotional baggage. Let’s go crash into stuff” but Hardy does bring some subtlety to bear. As his sidekick of sorts, Nicholas Hoult plays against type as a wild-eyed crazy kid whom Max grows to see as a kindred spirit. It’s a transformative performance that is entertaining when it could’ve been just plain annoying. Fans will also be pleased to see Hugh Keays-Byrne a.k.a. the Toecutter from the first film return as new villain Immortan Joe.


            Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa definitely has the potential to become an iconic heroine. Sporting a shorn head and a bionic arm, Theron goes the full Sigourney. It makes one realise that even though we’ve got the likes of Katniss Everdeen and Black Widow these days, we do badly need more old-school kickass women in movies. With all its pulpy 80s-ness, Fury Road could have very easily become blithely exploitative, but instead there is an admirable plot thread in which the young women cruelly forced to bear children for the villain fight for their freedom and Max eventually joins their cause. Sure, there are times when some of the women (played by models/actors Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Riley Keough, Zoë Kravitz, Abbey Lee and Courtney Eaton) seem to blend together and they’re all clad in wispy bandages, but their rousing refusal to be victimised is as invigorating as the big action beats. There are also “badass grandmas” in the form of actresses Jennifer Hagan, Melissa Jaffer, Gillian Jones and Antoinette Kellerman.

            Mad Max: Fury Roadis definitely an acquired taste. There will be audiences who, upon seeing the exaggerated vehicle designs, over the top costumes and scary makeup, will dismiss this outright and we see where they’re coming from. This being as heightened as it is, it might be difficult to find an emotional foothold and since this is essentially one big long chase, fatigue might set in. However, for those who grew up with the series, this will be a particularly awesome dose of nostalgia. Action movie junkies who are tired of blockbusters that lean too heavily on CGI effects will get a kick out of the authentic metal-on-metal tactility seen here.

Summary:While it might be difficult for those without a personal connection to the series to get into gear, Fury Roadoffers long-time Mad Max fanatics a heaping serving of exhilarating vehicular carnage and an excellent replacement for Mel Gibson in the form of Tom Hardy.

RATING: 3.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong