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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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

Ant-Man and The Wasp


Viewed – 08 August 2018  Cinema

I really enjoyed the first Ant Man movie and thought it was a fun concept with some excellent effects and comedy.  This follow up has Paul Rudd’s Ant Man under house arrest following his actions during Captain America: Civil War and when Michael Douglas’ scientist and his daughter discover a way to possibly retrieve Douglas’ wife from the Quantum Realm, they turn to Ant Man for assistance.

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Not the deepest of storylines and one of the failings of this sequel which is mostly surface level entertainment more interested in gags and some slick action than having anything new to say that wasn’t already covered by the last movie.  The house arrest subplot also seemed shoe-horned in to tie-up loose ends from other movies.  I’d also add the pointless appearance from Walton Goggins (in his unending quest to be forgettable in every movie he appears in), and that motor-mouthed friend who like last time balances awkwardly between funny and annoying … even if he still gets some of the movie’s best lines.

Thankfully then, this energetic romp is bolstered by plenty of memorable sequences and welcome support from Lawrence Fishburn who plays a rival to Douglas.  The relationship between Ant-Man and his little daughter is also really charming (if underdeveloped since last movie).  I should also mention the mysterious, bad-ass character of ‘Ghost’ – an assassin who can phase in and out of form, enabling them to walk through walls etc who nearly steals the movie.  For such a concept Ant Man never stayed in shrunken tiny perspective for long enough for my liking, preferring to jump in and out of sizes … but usually to great comedic effect (the school sequence).  So quibbles aside this was still a solid follow up, but hopefully for the inevitable Ant Man 3 we’ll get something with a little more ahem… scale.

Verdict:  3.5 /5

Tau


Viewed – 14 July 2018  Netflix

Another Netflix original movie that caught my eye.  This sci-fi thriller is about a girl named Julia, who goes about earning money by pick-pocketing and swiping goods off  people in night clubs then selling them to the local dodgy backstreet dealer for a small cash return.  However, one night she is kidnapped from her apartment, and wakes up strapped to a chair inside an elaborate high-tech house, run by a genius yet unhinged scientist and his advanced A.I.

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Mika Monroe is an actress with the typical Hollywood good looks but often brings a vulnerability to her performances, which worked well in movies like The Guest and especially It Follows.  Here she’s initially all attitude, but delivers a more complex character arc on realising the best way to deal with her situation is to befriend ‘Tau’ the house’s A.I. (voiced recognisably by Gary Oldman).  It’s this relationship that forms the heart of the movie and less the battle of wits between Julia and the scientist, mostly because it doesn’t bring much to the table and that troubled-genius-shtick was done far better in Ex Machina.

The movie has some hit and miss effects, with the robotic security guard pretty well done, but some A.I. drones that look a little naff.  Add to this some alarming jumps in narrative that come out of nowhere towards the end (hand surgery…) and an ending that leaves far too many questions.  Yet I was still impressed how affected I was with the character of Tau to the point of really feeling sorry for it, and yes the movie borrows heavily from better movies but still manages to create an enjoyable 90 minutes regardless.

Verdict:  3 /5

The Shape of Water


Viewed – 07 July 2018  Online rental

I’ve been really looking forward to this.  Having been a long time admirer of visionary director Guillermo Del Toro since his fantastically ingenious debut ‘Cronos‘, we come to this, the Oscar winning movie that finally after so many years, recognised Del Toro for the master that he is. Telling the story of Elise, a young mute woman working as a cleaner at a military base during Cold War era 60’s America … we discover that a new ‘asset’ has come to the base for further experimentation and investigation by a team of scientists headed by Michael Shannon’s unhinged Government Agent.  Said asset is a amphibious humanoid creature who Elise forms a unique bond with that gradually turns into love.

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A gothic romance, a dark fantasy … hallmarks of what Del Toro does best and this takes some of the most interesting aspects of his earlier work and weaves them together into probably the best thing he’s done since Hellboy 2.  The performances are first rate, with a scenery chewing Michael Shannon, although no stretch for an actor used to playing intense characters, on brilliant form.  Also the often underrated Doug Jones who has appeared in several of the director’s works always underneath a wealth of prosthetics is mesmerising as the creature.  Yet it’s the breakout turn from relative unknown stage actress Sally Hawkins that impresses most, bringing incredible depth and emotion to a character who can not speak.

The romance at the centre of the story did feel a little rushed however, with Elise too easily attracted to a creature-from-the-black-lagoon looking monster, although her urge to help it was more understandable.  Also how the movie doesn’t exactly treat the creature as anything all that unusual considering it’s like nothing anyone had ever seen up until that point, is puzzling.  Of course it would be remiss of me not to mention Del Toro’s direction and eye for darkly beautiful imagery; macabre and at times weirdly erotic.  A true master of his art whose movies always look stunning – this is no exception as the set design, the slightly exaggerated 60’s Americana and the often cartoonish characters all create a tone and atmosphere uniquely his own and it’s a real joy.  Del Toro has put together a movie that is both heart-breaking and touching yet thrilling, funny and magical.  Although not quite up to the standard of Pan’s Labyrinth for me due to an undeveloped villain who’s motives are unclear and a little too much mystery to the creature … this was still a captivating watch from beginning to end.

Verdict:  4 /5