Venom


Viewed – 09 October 2018  Cinema

I’ll admit I had some anticipation leading up to the release of this Marvel comics adaptation.  Last time we got to see the character was in the ill-fated Spider-Man 3, of which I recall the Venom aspect being one of the better parts.  So with the casting of Tom Hardy, an actor who often takes to a challenging role with relish and (usually) delivers … this just couldn’t fail.

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Hardy plays TV reporter Eddie Brock who comes into contact with the alien substance after investigating a crooked business man who is doing shady experiments, and soon finds himself part man part alien when the substance uses Eddie as a way to break free from a top secret facility.  Nothing that original plot-wise and an underwhelming feeling doesn’t stop there despite some recognisable names amongst the cast and a cool shape-shifting character at it’s core.  Yet as it turns out neither the film makers nor the cast seem to know how to handle the material.  This is not helped by actors (especially Hardy) who come off as uncomfortable and uneasy with their own performance (along with a dodgy American accent) and even Michelle WIlliams, usually dependable (she’s great in The Greatest Showman) phones her role like she’s only eyeing up a pay cheque.  Villain Riz Ahmed, decent in other movies I’ve seen him is is woefully miscast here also.

The movie does have a couple of things going for it … when the action finally turns up it’s pretty fun with the way Venom / Hardy uses his powers to take on bad guys and scale buildings, and the effects work is generally decent.  Also once we get he banter going between Venom & Hardy, there’s some fun interplay between the two characters.  However as a movie it’s far too focused on a limp script and under-developed characters   I’m not sure what went wrong.  Studio interference?  Bad direction?  Whatever it was, the problems are all their, clear as day on the screen.  Disappointing.

Verdict: 2.5 /5

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Prisoners


Viewed – 29 September 2018  Netflix

I’d heard good things about this 2013 thriller but had not got around to watching until last night.  Starring two actors I always enjoy, Hugh Jackman and especially Jake Gyllenhaal … this looked like essential viewing from the very moment I’d heard about it.  Telling the story of two suburban families who’s young daughters go missing one day, this follows the ensuing investigation that doesn’t bring many leads, causing Jackman’s father to take the law into his own hands.  He decides to abduct the number one suspect and beat out some answers, whilst at the same time the detective in charge of the case, Gyllenhaal attempts to unravel and mystery.

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Directed by the acclaimed Denis Villeneuve (Sicario, Blade Runner 2049) this is a taught and hard-hitting with above average performances not only from the leads but also Maria Bello.  Unlike similar missing persons movies this raises questions of what’s right and wrong, although never did I not understand the desperation and pain experienced by the worried parents.  With echoes of movies like (the underrated) Death Sentence and Zodiac, the gradually complex investigation is delivered with no end of tension, twists and turns.  It kept this viewer guessing throughout and even if the final reveal is a little too neat, I was still left satisfied.

It’s a lengthy movie but never slow or stretched out and kept me gripped.  A few questions are left unanswered at the end, with a mystery considering a character’s obsession with mazes left up in the air.  But this was still solid entertainment with atmospheric direction and a stunning turn from Jackman making him one of the best working today.  And to think I came to this for Gyllenhaal who whilst very good is left overshadowed.

Verdict: 4 /5

Mary and the Witch’s Flower


Viewed – 09 September 2018  Blu-ray

When news reached me that beloved Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli were closing their doors, I was concerned that the type of movies seemingly unique to that studio, would never see the light of day again.  Thankfully that concerned was quashed on hearing about this release from new studio  ‘Studio Ponoc’ and directed by Ghibli stalwart Hiromasa Yonebayashi.  Based on the children’s book ‘The Little Broomstick’ by author Mary Stewart, we have Mary, a spirited young girl who stumbles upon an enchanted broomstick one day after wondering into a misty forest.  Soon she is transported to another world, a school for witchcraft not dissimilar to Hogwarts, where the colourful characters may be hiding a secret linked to a sacred flower.

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This is where the movie revealed an identity crisis, that lingered throughout.  Despite best intentions and a charming veneer of wonder and imagination with top-notch hand-drawn animation … echoes of the movie’s heritage and titles like Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service meant it all quickly began to feel overly familiar.  No bad thing but the characters whilst interesting to look at and with some typically bonkers design … lacked personality.  Apart from Mary herself, an endearing yet clichéd character for this type of movie … the villains and various side characters just came off as typical, with the villain’s scheme also not fully explored. 

Yet a twist towards the end was welcome and brought the story full circle in a particularly satisfying way and add some fun action and plenty of energy – I still found a lot to enjoy.  Ghibli-lite, but as (hopefully) the start of a new era for Japanese animation, this is a promising start.

Verdict:  3 /5

Burt Reynolds dies


Sad news.

A movie industry legend and a genuine hero of mine in the 80s with the Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run movies has died today. Burt Reynolds was set to star in Tarantino’s latest Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, due out next summer.

1936 – 2018

R.I.P. a true star.

Unsane


Viewed – 01 September 2018  online-rental

Didn’t Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Traffic) announce his retirements at one stage, or did I dream that?  Either way the man continues to deliver movies including this latest psychological thriller starring The Crown’s Clare Foy who plays Sawyer, a woman who has started a new job in a new city after running from a stalker.  However after an intended one night stand goes awry, she turns to a psychiatrist to tackle some of her demons.  Problem is she unwittingly signs herself into a psychiatric institute and is unable to leave for seven days.  Is she losing her mind and has her stalker returned?

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Soderberg’s movie has an immediately unsettling aesthetic.  Filmed believe it or not entirely on an iPhone, and with claustrophobic, unconventional filming techniques that makes everything seem dream-like … it was easy for me to go along with the paranoia and hopelessness of Sawyer’s plight.  Once the hospital becomes the main location, the way the movie questions what is real and what might be in Sawyer’s head is very well done.  Foy is brilliant, damaged and vulnerable making her one of those actors that really becomes the character.  Support from genre icon Amy Irving (Carrie) was welcome if under-used and along with a creepy stalker this ticked all my boxes. 

I’d have liked the ‘is she imagining it?’ element explored a little more than it was as it kind of turns into a typical thriller in the final act … but along with plenty of atmosphere and a few genuine shocks, I really enjoyed this.

Verdict:  4 /5