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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Mary Shelley (2018)

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“It’s Alive!” Yes, Dr Frankenstein, the story of how you and your creature came to be, comes almost alive in this Irish/British/Luxembourgian joint production captained by Haifaa al-Mansour.

Mary Godwin (Elle Fanning) has a writer for a father and works in a bookshop, so it’s no surprise that she loves to read and someday she hopes to be a writer. After a trip up to Scotland where she meets poet Percy Shelley (Douglas Booth), Mary becomes besotted with the man and he too returns those romantic affections. It isn’t long before fractures in their relationship show and these darker moments lead Mary to find her voice and write her story.

Alternatively titled ‘A Storm in the Stars’, this period drama seems to be lost in space at points. It’s a two hour run-time and a good portion of the film feels like a slow crawl. There’s no dazzling spark of a star in the story to be found, it’s almost like the movie is making her hectic late-teenage years feel more mundane than they clearly were. It definitely reached a point where I was internally begging Mary to write the damned story.

Emma Jensen has a good grasp on the poetic language and manages to weave in some nice moments between Mary and her sister Claire but amongst that are a lot of examples that come across with a pretentious tone, which I guess when you have a story featuring English Romantics is to be expected. The script itself isn’t helped further by the actors delivering their lines in a way that’s reminiscent of a stage play, as if they’re projecting their voices up into the rafters which isn’t necessary in cinema. It gives some scenes a distracting hammy quality.

Gladly, ‘Mary Shelley’ the film and the figure herself progress as we enter the stages of the second half. As a Geneva-set ghost story challenge swings into action and Mary’s keen, blossoming interest in science plays on her mind, the film gradually lifts itself out of the dragging mire and lights up a creative bulb within the title character. Haifaa al-Mansour’s previous works that feature strong women help her direct the learning curve of Mary; her troubling years with Percy gift her the experience to work on writing this bold material called ‘Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus’.

Elle Fanning is superb in this, she captures an essence of courage in a girl not quite confident to have her own distinctive voice. Yet, you believe that she’s an intelligent and brave woman and Fanning shows great emotion playing the part of a neglected soul. Douglas Booth utilises his acting chops in a genre he’s well used to by now, that dashing charm works in selling Percy as the sophisticated poet, but there’s an extra something there which he carries and ensures Mary’s beau isn’t a man that can fully be trusted. Joanne Froggatt basically becomes the Lady Tremaine of the act and performs in such a way that wouldn’t be amiss in pantomime. Tom Sturridge revels in his grandeur and mascara as Lord Byron. There’s no denying that the poet is flamboyant and smart but he’s almost a villainous chap too, the misogyny within him is fairly extreme and he has no cares for the feelings or intellect of women.

This film is by no means a terrible one, but the fantastic performance from Fanning isn’t enough to stop me thinking that the real Mary Shelley deserves better than what this story gives.

5/10

Truth or Dare (2018)

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Let’s pay a game to see how stupidly we can squeeze horrors out of anything shall we? Truth or Dare, the typical drinking excuse to unearth dirt and see friends make out, is taken by Blumhouse Productions and made with no real oomph to keep us scared senseless.

Whilst on a Spring Break trip in Mexico, a group of friends enter some ruins and begin playing truth or dare. Unfortunately for them, one of their group has involved them in a life or death version, wherein each player needs to tell their truth or finish their dare to stay alive. As the teenagers start dying, the remaining numbers hope to work out how to end the game.

It’s never a good sign when the trailer alone for a horror film, makes you shudder with sighs and groans and the movie itself does nothing to make that just feel like bad promotion. There are insanely high levels of expositional chatter and cringe dialogue amongst a plot that is impressively dumb and progressively boring. It baffles me that a story so lacklustre, with characters so paper thin were brought to life by 4, yes 4 screenwriters.

Once the cursed game takes hold, the films first half rattles through each person’s turn so quickly that any hope of tension is dialled to zero. Then the second half seems to take an age to get anywhere and finally wrap up this lame, evil motive of a freed demon, with the mentality of a sadistic freshman. I honestly yawned so much and someone was asleep behind me, this film feels like it goes on for way too long and ends on a resolution so pathetic and it staggers belief why they didn’t just do something similar from the offset.

This whole idea of people who gain creepily elongated smiles and killer eyes is laughably bad. One of the characters mentions that they look like they were Snapchat filters and they do, in such a way that deletes any sense of scariness and makes the visual rather cheap. It further proves my thinking that bad horrors are so, because they rely on some identifying visual over narrative and fall back on jump scares; which this movie definitely depends on for numerous occasions. I don’t get why they didn’t have the actors, you know, act. It would have been far more disturbing seeing them perform in a manner where they suddenly switch and become imposing smiley freaks instead of the hokey stretched mouths.

Lucy Hale plays the central part of Olivia Barron, who is barren of any charisma. The character is pretty much a wet drip and a pushover who makes stupid choices as final girls often do, but Sidney Prescott or Laurie Strode she ain’t. Hale tries hard to keep some injection of interest in her role but it doesn’t quite work. Generally the entire cast are devoid of engagement because they’re playing characters that are mostly jerks or two-dimensional that I couldn’t root for them even if I tried.

‘Truth or Dare’ is an unintentional comedy laden horror, that feels long, uninspired and cheap on every level.

3/10

Ruby Sparks (2012)

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Movies about writing always interest me, so maybe I’m biased in saying this is a wonderful, warm and greatly interesting romantic/drama/comedy, but I’ve said it anyway because it’s true. There’s a lovely dose of heart, charm and quirky comedy to satisfy audiences, even if romance isn’t usually your bag…like it isn’t mine.

Calvin (Paul Dano) wrote a hugely successful novel when he was younger but now he struggles to type anything, has no love-life and visits a therapist. An exercise gets him visualising his perfect female who he begins writing about, strangely one day, this girl Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) steps into his home and is real. Calvin now has an apparently perfect relationship but can his creation always be that way?

There’s such joy to be had during this film, I found myself smiling along frequently as I watched the odd yet sparkling pairing deal with their lives. The romance is never sickly sweet and it’s dealt with in a clever and wholly charming way, that’s of course helped by the genuine partnership between Paul and Zoe. From the moment the made up girl comes into the real world, the movie has fun playing with ideas of what this could to do him, her and the people around them.

Zoe Kazan writes such a fantastic screenplay that truly gets into the head space of a writer, that lonely frustrating world and their fixations on characters. So, knowing what we know about Calvin, seeing Ruby manifest makes for a weird yet creative idea that is handled very well. It’s not just comedy in seeing them have fun and watch him play God at times, in fact the darker side of how she’s even there gets used and is quite upsetting as we see the miserable side of the relationship.

A sequence at a typewriter and Ruby facing Calvin is one of the stronger moments, an exploration of power and utilises on the whole writing to life idea in an engaging if not touching manner that may threaten everything. On the weaker side, the pacing is sporadic at times and a brief detour to a hippy-esque commune home feels a bit detached but even the vaguely expected ending isn’t bad, in fact it’s left as we don’t know how things will go on from there so I liked that sweet ambiguity. Oh, and also major points just for the name Ruby Sparks which is a great name for a character.

Dano provides that neurotic sense of unease and lovable worry that we all come to know when watching writer types on screen now! He provides a devastating set of self-indulgence as he thinks about the relationship for him and not both of them, which is played well by the actor. Kazan plays the unknowing dream gal in a sunshine way, her big eyes and infectious smile ensuring she’s someone we love just as much as Calvin does. When Kazan then begins displaying other sadder and confused emotions, it’s mildly comedic but then brilliantly emotional. Chris Messina plays a good character too, the necessary middle man with a guide to help his brother but also play around with what can be done to Ruby.

This is a film I adore, a flirty and dream-like notion that is played cleverly and acted superbly. The line between happiness and heartbreak is never thinner but never better from the writing to the performances. Bliss sparks to life.

8/10

Bad Neighbours 2 (2016)

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After the surprisingly funny and very agreeable box office takings of ‘Bad Neighbours‘, it probably isn’t any shock that this movie came about. Though having said this it’s not like it was overly called for and upon seeing this sequel I have to say it feels deadly lacking of good laughs.

Now full time parents to little Stella, Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen & Rose Byrne) are moving on. They think they’ve sold their house but due to an escrow deal, they have 30 days to keep the buyers sweet to finish the agreement. Unluckily for them, the once empty frat house next door is being overtaken by a headstrong lass called Shelby (Chloe Grace Moretz) who starts her own partying sorority there and a new war begins.

Just looking at the writing team sparks trouble for this film, as there are five guys tackling this script making the finished product less than light and cohesive. It does make a difference truly as the 2014 movie only had two screenwriters. The saying of too many cooks spoiling the broth certainly rings true with most films I’ve seen with an over-abundance of writers. It’s like the quintet are teaming up for the bigger picture but want all their own touches involved too, amazingly the film doesn’t appear messy, it’s more hollow.

Nicholas Stoller is back to direct this feature and it certainly is a mad foray into the world of female partying and girl empowerment this time around. Though one negative is that this movie isn’t as over the top as last time, the interaction between the oldies and young blood isn’t anywhere near as cool, exciting and funnily tense and another negative is the whole gender scope the film runs with.

A lot of the time during the plot, it brings up issues of what girls can and cannot do, what Shelby believes a growing woman is entitled to and ultimately how the parents view it all considering their daughter. It’s a fine enough topic to shoot for but when scripted b 5 guys the whole thing feels forced and generally the film looks and sounds like it’s trying to be as funny as the first movie.

The soundtrack doesn’t live up to the hands in the air party vibe like the last time around. A blessed relief of Kanye West pumps up the cool and helps the film out but the songs aren’t as catchy or electric for this movie which doesn’t help the pacing a great deal. Also, I remember the first one being out there with sex, drugs and the like but this seems to go too far, a very open labour and foot scream of desperate clawing for OTT comedy…which no-one laughed at in my screening.

There are good moments though, there is still the same laughable chemistry between Byrne and Rogen, a frankly excellent confused spelling of sorority, the air bag idea is back with brilliant vengeance, the continuing void of parenting and dildo holding children is amusing and the little screen time of Dave Franco with Zac Efron is top notch. It’s a shame these positives feel mostly drowned out by a couple of needless gross out gags, a less exciting battle of the ages and emptiness of direction.

Seth Rogen is no good actor but his gurgled laugh and stoner like way he appears in every movie is what he does best and it’s no different here. He plays off the twin girls playing Stella very well and likewise with Rose Byrne he builds a believable bond. Chloe Grace Moretz doesn’t lift the film much at all sadly, she’s trying with a character of hoping to aspire to be a stronger girl but her breaking out against the ‘sexist’ world isn’t that compelling like Zac Efron who feels stitched on just to get the cast back together, him debating his life and choices is a dull part of the runtime. Rose Byrne has great comedic timing and shows she can be gross and less than perfect, though everyone provides a smile they don’t feel connected as with ‘Bad Neighbours’.

Sorority Rising feels more like it’s sinking as a small amount of laughs is gravely felt in all places, making us realise what is wrong with the film, music, direction, writing and the fact it’s trying to crackle in the surprise way the first did.

5.5/10

Adaptation (2002)

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Original, meta and heart-achingly funny, this Charlie Kaufman spiral into writing madness is pitched so brilliantly even I perhaps shouldn’t use the word pitched. It’s crazy at times, always smart and layered and pangs with an emotional current of regrets and thought processes.

Screenwriter Charlie Kaufman; yes the real wiz behind ‘Being John Malkovich’ is taken by a book titled ‘The Orchid Thief’. Kaufman (Nicholas Cage) wants to do something different and Susan Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) writing entrances him but also frustrates him as he struggles to structure a script. To make it worse his brother Donald (Nicholas Cage again) is following script bible measures and McKee rules to finish a script before Charlie. This isn’t even covering the story we see of Orlean spending time with real orchid thief John Laroche (Chris Cooper) to fill out her story.

As the above and probably poorly written plot summary above demonstrates, this movie is layered and flits between different stories yet every point and every character feels fleshed out and there’s comedy to be found at nearly every crossroads. The characters are fantastic and the whole split screen trick to get Cage in twice never looks hammy, in fact Cage makes Donald and Charlie seem alive that you forget it’s Cage both times. The whole flower angle is an interesting path in itself as Kaufman himself says; there’s never been a film about flowers! This movie is less about that though then the tough tangle of love and pain in writing and romance which is utterly believable and clever.

Charlie Kaufman, the real one this time, is brilliant and this film demonstrates that. After a madcap idea with stepping into Malkovich’s mind, he returned to conjure up a meta idea on writing processes and what the writer goes through, so much so that voice-overs even comment on him going back to write as he goes back to write. This film is scripted so well, even in the stranger more typical Hollywood moments like car crashes and swamp hideouts, there’s always an absurd Kaufman twang to goings on.

Spike Jonze returns to direct and because of this resuming of the pair, we get a couple of fun moments where we see Charlie on the set of ‘Being John Malkovich’ either being unrecognised or left to stare as John Cusack and Malkovich do their thing. This backstage inclusion adds another layer of intrigue and reality to this barmy feature as we begin out journey into connecting to Charlie and following his turmoil in not knowing how to write a draft for this flower/porn/drug book by Orlean. Jonze directs with a detail as if knowing how to best capture Kaufman’s surreal tone and along with the birth of time we get unique qualities to the film that hover on anger, love, laughs and experiments of writing itself.

Nicholas Cage, both times, is a treat to watch, his staring eyes or widened grin aren’t the typical prominence as he retreats for a more engaging duo performance. Charlie is sweaty and stressed, his eagerness to write tainted by the fear of doing something new and that his brother following rules is doing more than him. Donald is laid-back, goofy yet smooth and the delivery of his lines about what he’s including in his thriller idea are done so comically. Meryl Streep gives Streep for the beginning as we see Susan Orlean as a normal author but then in the perhaps messier third act, she becomes more funny and deranged as she teams up with John. Chris Cooper manages to make a toothless villain less than that, he has brains, a tangible back-story and a comic touch as he makes his way into Charlie’s story, a deserved Oscar win I must say.

Adaptation does survive in life and even for non-writers I’m sure the dizzying brilliance of the mad structure is more than enough to entertain. Performances and screenplay are both accomplished and different making this movie an unpredictable fun trip.

8/10

 

Trumbo (2016)

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By the books but still fascinating, this biographical drama tells us about a man that some may know but plenty won’t have. I like films…a lot but I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t heard of Dalton Trumbo and the prejudices he was put through. This is a good looking film with a proper good lead but it’s not always engaging.

Screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) is a well voiced member of the Communist Party of the USA along with 9 other writers. Though it being 1949 and Russia no longer an ally thanks to threats of Cold War, Trumbo is soon blacklisted and imprisoned for his stance though that won’t stop him writing some of the most loved movies of the classic Hollywood era.

John McNamara has a lot of history with television writing and producing and perhaps that’s why this feature feels or rather, sounds like a TV movie. It has all those elements as we follow Trumbo in the beginning, see his political views, watch him interact in jail and then flourish even when he should be waning thanks to his blacklisted status. It’s an interesting film to a point, mostly in learning about this incredible man but it’s never grand or romantic or captivating like ‘Spartacus’ or ‘Roman Holiday’ are. This work about Dalton Trumbo doesn’t ring like a cinematic gem, more a small screen network filler.

Jay Roach directs this drama well, the centre focus is of course on Trumbo and how he behaves which is at a point great because it connects us to him but even when they attempt to show his flaws, they’re never fully formed making him too pushed onto us. It’s not like they’re showing one side of the story as we all know about Communism but we don’t all know about that when located in the Hollywood industry. Sadly we never really see the truth of Trumbo’s defending of brutal ideals as everyone on his side is painted as innocent. Of course I never knew what he said or what other figures never said, e.g. the case of Edward G. Robinson, but I looked into the people of this movie because of how easily likable they made the Communist side which is a little too simple.

Roach does give this film a good twist of lightness even amongst the darkness of Trumbo’s forced secretive writings. There is a spectacle involved as we see him journey to typing Oscar winning movies and how that effects people on either side of the party he belongs to. But for me the strongest element of the movie isn’t the factual elements needed to be told but the charisma and heart located in the acting department.

Bryan Cranston embodies the hunched writer with moustached aptitude, he is the true decorative trophy on this film’s mantelpiece. Cranston does great things in making you look past the uneven tone of the film and the televisual atmosphere it presents because he has energy, a spark of wit and talent just like the real life Trumbo. Michael Stuhlbarg shines as Edward G. Robinson, looking the part and giving dramatical urgency in his call up to reveal damning (if inaccurate) truths about who he knows. Diane Lane is the sturdy rock of this film, always being there even when she fears the man she loves is turning. Lane deserves more credit because though she’s not always on screen she keeps the family image believable. Louis C.K is smart and funny as the light balance to Trumbo’s persona though weirdly he’s a fictional character which doesn’t help in making this film feel less terrestrial. Elle Fanning steps in as the grown up daughter in a moment that really stuns as to how someone so short and different to Fanning grew to become Fanning but that moment aside she is a bright face to this starry cast and she notably displays the same motivation and active behaviour of Trumbo. Helen Mirren wavers in her accent, sounding British from time to time but she never drops in being the bitchy headline writing queen and almost steals the show with her ever-changing hats.

So, where the poster quote from Deadline reads that this is “one of the year’s must-see pictures”, I’d say that it’s only recommendable for people that admire the cinema and behind the scenes talent that produced the sparkle of Hollywood of old, otherwise it’s a film with great acting but a pedestrian TV vibe.

6/10