Venom (2018)

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Well it’s fair to say this superhero flick has been scooping up a lot of negative attention as the months rolled closer to its release date; not getting the universe or Spider-Man cameo they wanted, early reviews comparing it to ‘Catwoman’ levels of bad and star Tom Hardy himself stating his favourite 40 minutes were cut, but is ‘Venom’ actually all that terrible?

Eddie Brock (Hardy) is an investigator/journalist happily engaged to attorney Anne (Michelle Williams), but when he’s sent on an assignment to interview Life Foundation owner Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), Brock asks hard-hitting questions about the rumoured dark side of Drake’s company, which is harbouring alien symbiotes that crash landed on Earth. It isn’t long until Brock comes one with this planet devouring thing and they unite as Venom.

In all honesty, I have no idea whether this film is a joke or not. The inconsistent style of t the writing is wildly skittish, jumping from silly humour to darker, dramatic tones which make for a seriously unbalanced movie. When you have three writers on board who have credits for past features like ‘High Fidelity’, ‘Jumanji’ and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ working on the screenplay it’s not that hard to see why it’s a plot that feels like a chaotic mix of comedy and anti-heroism.

The film has a horrendous amount of messy VFX, even Venom himself is nasty looking and not in a good way. A creature feature showdown is a massive garbage storm of excessive CGI and frantic editing which makes the entire event a damn dud, a total misfire of which there’s nothing to engage with because it just washes over you with loud noises and awful visuals.

It says a lot when the scene arriving after all the credits, is the better than what came before them. ‘Venom’ just feels like it is rushing around, never really developing any interesting ideas of the bond between man and alien. This head biting fan is meant to be a villain and anti-hero at times but he teams up with a guy who can handles his influence and tame him rather quickly, they replace grittiness with goofiness and it doesn’t really work.

Tom Hardy is utterly bizarre throughout this swift Sony Marvel death, his performance is as scruffy as Brock becomes, his hunched look and mannerisms are weird. Michelle Williams is also odd, she seems to have gone under some alarming possession making her turn in this one of the worst roles I’ve seen her do. Riz Ahmed starts of alright in the beginning with enough big business menace but when the wrath of the slick black symbiote takes over then he too falls under a curse of laughable actions which all come to a supremely quick conclusion.

In a peculiar way, I can see this movie turning into a silly cult film or a dumb guilty pleasure but for myself it’s neither dumb or silly enough to make me want to remember I’d seen this turd of a movie rolling in the wind.

4.5/10

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The Predator (2018)

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A lot of talk has been going on as of late with ‘The Predator’ and most of it isn’t about the movie itself, so with these dramatic revelations does Shane Black’s recent feature manage to pull through or is it not worth the time?

After a Predator ship crashes to Earth, sniper Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) makes first contact but is soon captured and dispatched to a rag-tag of veterans by Will Trager (Sterling K. Brown). As these lethal aliens come after their armour; McKenna, the vets and evolutionary expert Casey Bracket (Olivia Munn) team up to hunt the hunters.

I must admit that I have never seen any other film from the ‘Predator’ franchise so maybe that aided my amusement to watching this one. There is a great bundle of fun to be had though, if you can ignore some awful Rasta-dogs, plenty of guts, expletives and explosions fill the screen with such giddy abandon that makes this a sci-fi horror like the saga is known for but a crimson soaked comic thriller instead.

This almost non-stop action and comedy comes right out of the Shane Black book of movie-making. Sure, it isn’t set during Christmas but Black writes in plenty of witty dialogue that chips in and out of the impending danger. McKenna doesn’t just have one other person to riff with like other Black screenplays, i.e ‘The Nice Guys’ or ‘Lethal Weapon’, he has a whole bus full of characters to make this movie burst to the seams with laddish humour.

Comedy and ripped intestines don’t prevent the third act from feeling like a sore spot. The film descends into being overly ridiculous and more than a couple of times you can see really shameful uses of CGI. A sequence that is all about a blood sport of hunt and kill should have been way more exciting than it was. A big reason as to why this section doesn’t work comes down to the frantic editing and characters that just disappear or are culled which you can’t quite keep up with.

Aside from this weak final twenty minutes, the movie is a dumb joy to behold and a large feature of that joy boils down to the acting in the brotherhood which manifests between McKenna and a squad of men with extreme characteristics. Holbrook keeps up a near-constant grimace and aggression and Keegan-Michael Key is a big player in padding the film with plenty of laughter.

‘The Predator’ doesn’t really connect to the vets but there is enough wise-cracking involved that we know to root for them whereas on the flip side of the coin, which lands in Sterling K. Brown’s proficient palm, we face a charming yet despicable foe who chews up the scenery with Nicorette gum and pure craft. Olivia Munn, controversy aside, is great in softening the blows of constant larking about. She’s no boring damsel in distress biologist, she has enough smarts and skill to keep her cool around Predators and a team of men dripping in testosterone. Jacob Tremblay is a force of munchkin talent to be reckoned as per usual, his ‘superpower’ of autism may get heavy handed but he’s never irritating which other child actors can easily be.

Some may have issues with the plot development and yes the last stages aren’t so strong but watching antics of a newly formed squadron versus a beastly statuesque creature with dreads is an entertaining ride.

7/10

A Wrinkle in Time (2018)

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Universe travelling and diverse storytelling are on show in Ava DuVernay’s big budget Disney film, but the grand visual pleasantries to look at don’t override the ambitious scope and its ineffectual handling of the subtext.

Distracted and struggling student Meg Murry (Storm Reid) misses her father, after he randomly disappeared four years ago. Dr. Murry (Chris Pine) was a brilliant scientist and had possibly cracked the notion of teleportation and our existence. One day, three powerful travellers of the universe appear and take Meg, her brother and a school friend to Uriel in the hope of finding Dr. Murry.

I’ll begin with the positives because there’s a lot of negatives I wish to cover. Firstly, the visuals are splendidly colourful and some of the landscapes the characters visit, are lush and rife with stunning cinematography that looks great on the big screen. I liked or perhaps appreciate the bold ideas stemming from the 1962 novel; these themes of family, spreading love and ridding hate are nice enough and espicially with the state of things currently, I found those ideals hold up well but they did feel forced and/or twee. A sequence on a beach with Michael Pena was pretty good with the most tension I absorbed but, alas it was short-lived.

The main issue, I feel, is that the movie never seems sure of what it’s projecting and it heavily flits between moments of science mumbo jumbo that most children wouldn’t grasp and saccharine annoyance that adults will tire of. It’s as if the writers and director were trying to mix childhood fantasy with profound statements on life and love together, which never succeeds, sadly.

Attempts at humour fall massively flat and again feel forced, costume and make up on display from the three astral beings are impressive but they change without reason anytime they shift location, like the movie is shooting for an Oscar nod for Costume Design and Make Up and Hairstyling next year. Meg’s adoptive brother Charles Wallace is mega annoying plus the fact they can’t ever just say Charles becomes grating. CGI in places is less than inspired and wholly distracting in a cheap way, which is odd considering the nine figure budget behind this production.

Generally, I was never by hooked any of the film. Scenes that were obviously going for tension never felt like they were raising stakes. Even with the dramatic altering of the sibling relationship, I still felt bored with the story. I for sure lost my patience fairly early on with this movie which is a shame because there could have been something very special and triumphant about it all, instead of the restrained, sickly sweet and messy feature it turns out to be.

Reid is by and large another one of the only other positives I got from this film, she’s a powerful performer with an evident understanding of this hard subject material and how to portray Meg as a difficult, somewhat stubborn but loving and brave character. Oprah Winfrey delivers messages of hope, light and typical Disney fortune cookie tid-bits in a way that stirs quite nicely. Reese Witherspoon plays Mrs Whatsit, someone without much tact and still learning, she showcases that well but is another annoying factor, as is the performance from Deric McCabe as Charles. Just Charles. Mindy Kaling plays Mrs Who, but is all but pointless in a turn that mainly has her spouting quotes from scholars, playwrights and Chris Rock. Levi Miller is Meg’s friend Calvin who is extremely pointless and I never understood why he was there.

This is a Disney dud that I’ll try and forget in a hurry. There’s only tiny wrinkles in the run-time that kept me engaged but the majority is frustratingly bad.

4.5/10

Black Panther (2018)

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We’re into the second half of MCU’s Phase Three and what a way to enter it. The King of Wakanda doesn’t just step onto the big screen but pounces. This is a film rife with character and importantly; culture.

After ‘Civil War’ saw the death of T’Chaka, his son returns to his hugely advanced home of Wakanda, where he takes the path to become the new king and rightful Black Panther. T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) has the support of most around him but returning baddie Klaue (Andy Serkis) and some stolen vibranium doesn’t help. Moreover his crimes introduce T’Challa to Erik Stevens (Michael B. Jordan), a soldier hell-bent on taking over Wakanda.

Marvel and its cinematic world have done spectacularly well thus far in creating hype and fun escapism, but admittedly they quite often miss the mark with their characters and villains, gladly both work very well in this movie. The community of Wakandans feel real and a lot of the forefront officials are fleshed out with enough dialogue and/or screen-time to ensure that it isn’t solely the titular hero that nabs the focus. In regards to the villain; this film gives us two big ones, the first is the resurgence of OTT but deliciously snarly Klaue, the second is Stevens who works brilliantly because, as an audience member you can feel for him and buy into his cause, at least when he’s not taking these notions too far.

Ryan Coogler; in what is just his third film, directs a powerful film that feels right within the comic book world but also throws in such interesting dynamics of globe shattering consequences, self beliefs and the bigger picture of black people and personal struggles which of course is undeniably vital within this day and age and state of the world. There’s a gleeful fun within tie-ins and action sequences but better than this, director Coogler with Joe Robert Cole, as a fellow writer manage to gift this feature a drive and political motivated subtext.

Seeing it on the glorious IMAX screen of course makes the entire film a thing of beauty and massive spectacle but I just know that it would still have the same impact however it is seen. There is an unmistakable rich quality to the production value; the colours, fabrics and fashions, the settings, the music all come together and culminate with a force of life and soul. It’s a film that had my skin buzzing with excitement and the eye is taken by almost every scene and frame.

There’s a slight DC and yes, Marvel weakness of the CGI overload these films can so often swerve towards, which is what worries me about the sprawl of generated figures and Thanos in the ‘Infinity War’ trailer. No more can this be seen in a battle on some grassy fields and some CG rhinos that appear, which slightly lost me from the film, but that’s pretty much the only negative I had.

Boseman is an amazing hero and plays the demanding role of king and leader with gravitas. There’s great emotion behind his eyes that shows he can also see the problems with his place and people, which makes a superhero, human. Lupita Nyong’o plays the ex of T’Challa but she isn’t as one dimensional as that. The actor packs a punch and effortless spy magnitude to her role. Letitia Wright is Shuri; Black Panther’s sister. She scatters the movie with great humour and tech know-how that makes her like a more capable Q persona. Jordan almost rivals Boseman and Wright by stealing the majority of the show with a charismatic and deeply engaging turn as the hopeful throne taker. He too ensures to not just be panto villainy and adds remarkable layers to his character. I would be writing for a long time more if I commented on all the other terrific actors in this film, who all unite with a crackling sense of energy and seriousness that helps make this more than just a comic book movie.

Long live the King…and Coogler, let us hope he returns because he has masterfully given the MCU a breath of fresh air and stunning culture.

8.5/10

 

The Commuter (2018)

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A typical set up of mysterious question and the capable Irish action star come together on a plane…sorry train this time but in fact it’s not as bad as you’d think. Sure it has flaws and is something akin to what we’ve seen before but it’s a silly delight.

Serial commuter, Michael MacCauley (Liam Neeson) is used to familiar faces and the hustle and bustle of travelling back and forth through New York but this one day sees him approached by the mysterious Joanna (Vera Farmiga) who tells him there’s $25’000 hidden away, plus a further $75’000 if he works out who doesn’t belong on the train before it reaches the end of the line.

From the trailer alone; I guffawed at the typical Liam Neeson vehicle we’re now used to see him starring in. Gladly it surprised me and was a more enjoyable flick than the generic trashy kind of movie I was expecting to witness. That isn’t to say that’s a fantastically well made film that can blow your mind but it’s damn entertaining and comes with carriage loads of thrills to keep the film chugging along nicely.

Director of reasonable shark thriller ‘The Shallows’ and previous Neeson feature ‘Non-Stop’, Jaume Collet-Serra manages to keep the film from derailing for the majority of the thriller outing. There’s a neat set up in the repetitive routine of Michael’s morning and the character introductions are all well and good, nothing special but there’s enough going on to set up the oncoming mystery to be solved. It’s in the strained searching of an unnamed passenger that the film hits a nice stride, as we too attempt to uncover the missing puzzle piece.

There are some downright dumb moments, where actions taken feel forced or action set ups fill the CGI quota and big spectacle box is ticked but the unexpected pleasure is in the storytelling of what the heck is going on and who Michael is trying desperately to find. There are a few twists along the way and some are ones I didn’t see but one quite big reveal is quite an obvious one but it didn’t take away from the fun I had in watching this movie unfold.

A train full of passengers makes for a great cast of characters and it’s these many faces of possible suspects that create the best aspect of the film. Neeson himself is in a role well tailored to him by now and he has the gruff charisma that makes Michael a believable figure to lead the way. Farmiga is a fantastic actor and this possible sinister presence she carries suits her down to the zebra striped shoes she wears. Even the sound of her voice on the phone carries a mysterious air of calm and danger. Jonathan Banks, Roland Moller and Shazad Latif are interesting in their roles of possible players knowing more than they let on; in the sense they are thrust forward a lot more as people to keep an eye on. I won’t go on much more as I feel more cast chatter could spoil the reveals of the movie but it’s a ensemble that work together greatly, in a mostly single set narrative.

This shuttling train thriller has more intrigue and whodunnit suspense than last years ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. Who would have thought that Neeson on a Train would be more engaging and mysterious than an Agatha Christie classic!? Not me, but it truly is a fun and exciting popcorn movie.

7/10

Justice League (2017)

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They’re finally united after what feels like a well earned age…hang on a sec…nope…just over one year later. DC and it’s universe has the League team up big style and through some horrendous and expected barrage of CGI and more weak story I can surprisingly say it’s not a bad film. It’s not good…but not bad either.

With the world mourning the passing of Superman (Henry Cavill), Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) is trying to piece together a mystery. He hopes to bring a team together and with the help of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), they manage to create a league for justice with The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to try and stop the havoc of an alien army leader.

In comparison to ‘Dawn of Justice’; this movie is fantastic but then that’s not exactly saying much because 2016’s setting up of the League was incredibly dull and dire. One of the main issues in this DCEU outing is the dialogue. In some places the writing by Joss Whedon and Chris Terrio is clunky and overly on the nose. They try to mix in lighter moments and you can tell former Marvel hand Whedon is behind this, but with the odd balance of gruff moodiness in the DC films with the quips, it just doesn’t quite work.

It isn’t solely the dialogue aspect, it’s within the story itself where there are next to zero stakes raised. There’s no gripping factor of worry to be had watching these characters do battle. Everyone in the league becomes so right for the fight they’re partaking in, that at no point did I feel that anyone would ever lose. It just becomes painfully convenient how characters fare to tackle the obstacles. The plot shuffles along from one moment to another as is the case with Zack Snyder films and it doesn’t sink in to really let tensions rise. Threat levels are at an all time low even though apparently it warrants Bruce needing to call a super-powered team together, the dispensing of villains throughout always seemed on the cards and more than anything, every way out was achieved in an easy manner.

The scene on Themyscira was one of the stand out moments and a couple of cool sequences can be found seeing The Flash with his electrically charged bursts, they’re entertaining but not as neatly executed as Quicksilver’s similarly slowed down scenes. Wonder Woman is my MVP and even though Snyder’s direction and the different writers thin her out and set her up for more male gaze than her standalone feature, she carries a great charisma and believable care for justice in this movie.

Amongst some slight hits and clear misses, this film and the DC franchise as whole seems obsessed in CGI. That’s not always a problem if handled correctly but they always go overboard and this movie has an abundance of chaotic computer generated imagery taking precedence. It looks OK in places but on the whole it’s cheap looking and everywhere, including the less than believable wonky face of Steppenwolf. Also battles are back lit like a Michael Bay special with excessive explosions and slow motion.

Affleck is alright again in his turn as the bulkier and moodier caped crusader. Gadot as mentioned brings a needed charm and likeability to the action and her guitar riffing moments of bad-assery are as cool as ever. Cavill does show up, I’m not calling that a spoiler because obviously he’d be there and he’s less boring than usual and in fact is the most interesting part of the film behind Gadot. Miller is clearly set up by the writers as the comedic relief and he delivers the majority in a convincing and funny way but it doesn’t always hit the mark. Momoa seems shady but two dimensional as the protector of the seas even if the CGI water worlds looked awful, hopefully his feature will look visually stunning unlike here. Fisher as the enhancing Cyborg is the Ultron of the pack just handily updating when the script calls for it. J.K. Simmons is hardly involved which could be a blessing. Amy Adams is in it more than I expected and gladly brings a human touch to the events even if she takes a back seat as the continuously boring Lois Lane.

There a mass of flaws within the ‘Justice League’ but saying this, I actually think it’s an entertaining film and enjoyable in a number of places. I also like, perhaps their self retaliation against #MarthaGate by having Motherboxes, as if alluding to that atrocious moment before.

5/10

Doctor Strange (2016)

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A visual treat; this new instalment to the ever expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe looks absolutely fantastic, it’s just another expected formulaic tread in the well established world of comic book heroes and origin stories.

After a humongous car crash, top neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) hopes to find a cure to his nerve damaged hands. He travels to Kamar-Taj in Nepal seeking help from the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who helps Strange learn powers and manipulation of worlds. Strange must learn fast as former pupil Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) who wants to know more about the rituals of the Ancient One and bring a ruler of a dark dimension to Earth.

Scott Derrickson certainly stays in keeping with the rest of the Marvel features, in that they all feel warm and welcoming, that sense of knowing what to expect when you sit down for an MCU film is both good and slightly weakening. On the plus side he ensures there’s a fluid feel to this outing but perhaps doesn’t dare to present the non-CGI moments in a different manner, one we’d not expect from a Marvel movie.

The only big problem sitting with this film is the story and that typical formula that most of these comic-book pictures have. The hero is one that quips and more than ever feels like a Tony Stark re-do. There is a villain in this movie, kind of two to be honest but both are nowhere near fleshed out or seen enough to feel any trepidation about them or their devious planning. If DC has one good thing over Marvel it’s their baddies. Also, the love interest like Pepper and Jane, is sort of tepid, doing little to push themselves out of the mould that they’re there as the romantic figure.

It may be felt that the story is strong and clever because of the timey-wimey stuff, big words and grandeur of spiritual enlightenment but in fact it’s a simple plot to follow that basically boils down to Strange discovering his inner powers and helping save the world from three different sanctums. Again, like Marvel adores aliens coming from the sky, this movie features just that which is little more than purple-y special effects.

Crediting the film and the effects team though, this movie looks so damn good. The ‘Inception’-esque warping of the world as we know it is taken to overdrive and gloriously so. There are moments that feel like we’re zooming into a kaleidoscope and times when lands shift and buildings twist that certainly do enough to give this movie a mind-melting appearance. I loved every scene where the CGI came to full power and it’s not normal for me to say that so they did everything perfectly right when it came to highlighting the surreal powers of Strange’s journey.

Cumberbatch may have got the shaping of hand gestures right and tugged nicely with a magical cloak but he’s still delivering that usual Benedict routine just with an American accent. Swinton felt right for me in her part, I know there was controversy but she gives the character a balanced knowledge and hidden power in a calm and believable way. Chiwetel Ejiofor was a great addition, trying to stick to the mantra of what he knows and teaching the arrogant Stephen what he once was taught. Mads Mikkelsen looked the part with superb make-up and has that usual menacing posture and stare but it’s the writing that let him down, not his performance. Rachel McAdams too, is let down by a mildly dull character.

Though this doesn’t stray too far from the formula that Marvel seem scared of breaking, it’s entertaining nonetheless packed to the rafters with hair-raising spectacles of CGI and a neat air of fun that keeps everything ticking over as the MCU conjure up so well.

7/10