Movie Review – Venom

Fan-favourite and Spidey rival Venom gets a solo venture, but despite its best efforts, this lethargic slog lacks the panache of its web-slinging cousin. 

 ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe 

Okay, let’s get the confusing stuff out of the way. Yes, Venom is a character closely tied to Spider-man comic-books. No, this movie doesn’t feature Spidey, Tom Holland or any other crossover with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. That’s where the issues start (and certainly not where they end), because when all is said and done, even though Venom has its redeeming qualities, this superhero spin-off is in dire need of the heart, humour, and polish that audiences have come to expect from Marvel.

The film centres around investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), who finds himself out of a job and separated from his lawyer fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams) after he leverages sensitive information from her work laptop for a story on shady billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). Down on his luck, Eddie delves a little deeper in Drake’s secretive business and lands himself a gnarly symbiote from outer space (don’t you just hate it when that happens). The gooey entity – which calls itself Venom – speaks to Eddie and bestows him with a number of special abilities, which Eddie puts to good use in combating Drake’s nefarious operation.

So, here’s the bottom line. Venom isn’t up there with cinematic abominations such as Catwoman or Green Lantern. It’s not even bad enough to be oddly entertaining, like 1997’s Batman and Robin. It just washes over you, neither entertaining nor horrifying enough to hold your attention. I found myself strangely bored by the mish-mash of ugly VFX, dark cinematography and uninspired design oozing from every frame.

There’s a lot of talent striving to excel, but the writing puts a swift end to that. Williams’ character is as bland as white bread and shares about as much chemistry with Hardy as two soggy logs. Ahmed’s villain is your standard scheming corporate cardboard cut-out. At least Hardy is having fun with it – his performance is filled with weird idiosyncrasies that range from inspired to downright bizarre.

There are some moments of schlocky horror. There are some moments of side-splitting humour. But in hedging its bets, Venom excels at nothing in particular. One could argue Venom would’ve been better had all involved stuck to their guns and served up something gory and aimed at adults (like Logan or Deadpool), but more violence wouldn’t fix its myriad other issues. At the end of the day, this film is just the latest effort from a studio trying to ape Marvel’s formula – and it doesn’t do a very good job.

Venom is available in Australian cinemas from October 4 2018. 

Also screening as part of  the RoofTop Movies Program 1 on Nov 29.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures 

 

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Movie Review – The Predator

Shane Black’s new Predator movie is entertaining and regularly funny. Other than that it’s quite the mess.

⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan 

Here, once again, is a Predator movie that is loud, bombastic and utterly preposterous. If you thought the plot to the 1987 film was too dumb by half, this one is about half of that. It involves a bunch of loony military veterans, a kid who another character calls retarded, and a hybrid alien that’s basically a metre taller and twice as ugly. It also has such bravado and ingenuity as to name itself THE Predator, even though more than one Predator shows up.

This is a movie built to exhibit aliens, guns and inappropriate jokes, not to solve complex maths equations. The plot, such as it is, concerns a Predator crashing its space pod in Mexico only to be hunted by a larger hybrid Predator for trying to deliver a secret weapon to the humans. Uh-huh. Never mind why or what the secret weapon is. You won’t believe it even when you see it.

The humans, as is customary in monster alien movies like this, are made up of thinly veiled characters who will either defeat the villainous creatures or get slaughtered by them. The hero is Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook), a sniper who sees the Predator at the beginning and is immediately sent by the government for psych evaluations. He is joined by a group of former soldiers, and an exobiologist (Olivia Munn) who looks like a Maxim cover girl and is amazingly proficient at physical combat.

That’s not all. The larger hybrid Predator has a pair of predator dogs, which I’m assuming are alien mutts, since they sport the same hairdo as their master, but for some reason they behave entirely like Earth dogs, scratching themselves and playing fetch.

Okay, I know what you’re saying. The Predator is directed by Shane Black, whose movies have always been a little tongue-in-cheek, a little cavalier. Perhaps it’s not wise to look too deeply into them. But shouldn’t this one at least make sense? At times it feels like a whole other movie was cut from it in the editing room.

Backstories are hinted at but never explored. Plot points are established early and then forgotten. Characters do bizarre things, like breaking the space/time continuum by teleporting hundreds of kilometres in the same scene. The larger hybrid Predator is completely underwhelming. And then, before you can blink, the climactic fight is over and something even more underwhelming happens: a sequel is teased.

The Predator is available in Australian cinemas from September 13 

Image courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox 

Movie Review – Mile 22

Peter Berg returns to fiction for the first time since Battleship… unfortunately, the result is only mildly better.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

A CIA black operations team, code named Overwatch and led by James Silva (Mark Wahlberg), locates and shuts down a terrorist operation shipping highly toxic caesium. Several months later, an Indonesian officer Li Noor (Iko Uwais) claims to hold information regarding the last caesium but is only willing to give it up in return for his safe passage out of the country. The Overwatch team is tasked with transporting him through a dangerous city to a safe airplane, before the information he has contained on a self-destructive disc is obliterated.

Peter Berg found his stride as a filmmaker with his last three films. As Lone Survivor, Deepwater Horizon and Patriot’s Day can attest to, he’s a director at his best when recreating true, high-octane events that forced their subjects into heroic behaviour (that subject, namely, played by Mark Wahlberg). Mile 22 keeps Wahlberg’s heroics, but ditches the grounding in reality, revealing that reality is the key to making a Peter Berg actioner click.

Mile 22 shows some promise throughout, particularly in its opening raid on an incendiary safe house, but the problems begin to show though when we get a proper introduction to our characters. Berg settles for OTT caricatures, all of whom seem to be defined by swearing aggressively.

Only The Raid’s Iko Uwais shines, clearly having put in an enormous effort to choreograph his martial arts sequences – even if they have wound up edited to death. And despite this frenetic editing, the hard, fast, bloodthirsty and very frequent action sequences are engaging. But the guerrilla cinematography does make it difficult to follow what is happening.

The less said about Mile 22’s confused plot the better. It’s practically nonsensical and is derailed entirely by a ridiculous twist ending that defies logic. Disregarding this, it just manages to work as a call-back to the Bourne-inspired gun blazers of yesteryear, with some lightning-paced entertainment value.

Mile 22 is available in Australian cinemas from August 30 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – The Meg

 All shark and no bite; Stath versus shark turns out to be a rather tame affair.

 ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

From the iconic (Jaws) to the downright idiotic (Sharknado), shark movies can be plotted along a wide spectrum of quality. The latest fish in the sea is John Turteltaub’s (National Treasure, Cool Runnings) The Meg, an American/Chinese coproduction that sees rough-and-tumble geezer Jason Statham pitted against a gigantic prehistoric predator – the megaladon (or megan, for short).

After awakening the ancient beast from its slumber, a diverse team of scientists and explorers – played by the likes of Cliff Curtis, Rainn Wilson, Bingbing Li, Ruby Rose and Jessica McNamee – must call upon Statham, a diving expert with a murky past, to destroy the titular giant shark, which is hungry for blood and headed for one of China’s most popular beach resorts.

Rather than a lean, fearsome apex predator, The Meg is a bloated, toothless affair that lacks bite. Paradoxically, it takes itself too seriously to be dumb fun and is too dumb to be taken seriously; failing to possess the taut thrills of recent efforts like The Shallows.

Its ensemble cast is too many in number for the audience to care about, and its action is too tame and bloodless to appease hungry genre fans. Slapped with a safe PG rating, this is a monster movie designed by s committee, with broad characters and simple dialogue that will survive the international dub process.

After a plot-heavy opening act that spends too long forging meaningless character connections, The Meg never really gets going. The occasional gag or jump scare teases something greater, but it’s practically criminal how boring this movie is. Visually, it’s not screaming out to be seen on a big screen. Skip the theatre and save it for a boozy Saturday afternoon when it eventually hits Netflix or wherever it washes ashore.

The Meg is available in Australian cinemas from August 16 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films

Movie Review – Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Tom Cruise once again risks life and limb for our entertainment, with death-defying stunts and crazy choreography.

 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Pascoe

In a world populated with increasingly lethargic spy franchises – we’re looking at you, Bourne – one series has risen above the rest. With each successive entry, the Mission: Impossible franchise consistently ups its game. Its sixth instalment Fallout entertains and astounds from beginning to end, with consummate professional Tom Cruise once again illustrating why he’s the best action movie star working today.

In Mission Impossible: Fallout, Ethan Hunt (Cruise) finds himself on the trail of some missing plutonium after an operation goes south. The retrieval mission sees him paired with burly CIA operative August Walker (Henry Cavill) and parachuting into Paris for a meet with the White Widow (The Crown’s Vanessa Kirby), a broker with her own agenda. It isn’t long before some familiar faces in the form of MI6 agent Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) and international terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris) crop up –with the former again proving a wonderful ally/nemesis for Hunt.

If the opening hour of Fallout feels like a convoluted slog weighed down by exposition, it’s only because returning writer/director Christopher McQuarrie is taking his time in moving all the chess pieces into place for the riveting final act. When Fallout gets going, boy does it let loose. From a breathless chase through tight Parisian streets to another dizzying dash across London rooftops, the action set pieces arrive one after the other, each more exciting than the last. A highlight is a bathroom brawl where each of Cruise and Cavill’s blows land with a sickening squelch. In a film characterised by vehicular mayhem, it’s this bruising salvo that proves especially satisfying and visceral.

McQuarrie, as devious with the knotted screenplay as he is inventive behind the camera, delights in highlighting Cruise’s commitment to his craft. Each stunt is framed in such a way that there is no denying that it’s Cruise holding the handlebars or dangling from the bottom of said helicopter. But it’s not showy or ostentatious. Complex shots, such as an elongated tracking shot that follows Cruise as he speeds around the Arc de Triomphe, are thrown into the mix casually, demonstrating the competence of the filmmakers at every turn.

Cruise and McQuarrie are a dynamic duo who revel in pushing one another to achieve higher heights with each passing collaboration. It takes a while to kick into gear, but once Fallout starts to roll it doesn’t let up for anything. Simply put, you won’t find a more exciting or daring blockbuster in cinemas this year, or possibly next year for that matter. At least until the next Mission: Impossible film opens. So, sit back, strap in and enjoy the ride.

Mission: Impossible – Fallout is available in Australian cinemas from August 2

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures 

Revelations Film Festival: You Were Never Really Here

Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here takes the foundations of an action thriller and uses them to build something altogether stranger.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe

An army veteran, a former FBI operative and a survivor of childhood abuses, Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a man for whom violence is akin to a second language. While others speak with words, Joe is a staggering, hooded goliath who communicates with his bunched fists and a ball peen hammer.

Living with his mother in their shabby New York home and working as an unlicensed private investigator with a penchant for rescue and retrieval of missing girls who have been sold into sex slavery, Joe is recruited by Senator Votto (Alex Mannette), whose daughter Nina (Ekaterina Samsonov) has disappeared. However, once he starts to pull at that thread, Joe uncovers a conspiracy that runs much deeper.

 At first glance, Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here sounds like umpteen other action thrillers that star a gruff macho man and a frail waif in need of rescue. That it reveals itself to be something vastly different is a testament to both Ramsay’s punchiness behind the camera and Phoenix’s mesmerizing performance. The latter lurches through each scene, veering from uncaring ferocity – that is rarely seen, with the camera lingering more on the crumpled bodies left in Joe’s wake – and crushing despair, with Joe’s work interspersed by vivid flashbacks of battlefield atrocities and dark formative years underscored by domestic violence.

Punchy editing hammers home this intensity, with each flash into the past crashing across the screen with blaring noise and arresting imagery. Phoenix, who is fighting with his own inner demons as much as he is the goons in his way, is a burning furnace of anger and sorrow. And while Ramsay’s film peels back the curtain to peer into the grim nature of Joe’s work, exposing the perpetrators is never the screenplay’s intention. There is no grand conspiracy to unearth.

Instead, this is a slow, inward character study that recounts the cyclical and inescapable nature of violence; that shows how moments of pain can echo throughout our lives. This pain the characters feel is relayed onto the audience; even in its final moments, You Were Never Really Here is a bruising, punishing film that is hard to understand and even harder to watch. At the same time, it’s one of the most intense and meticulous films of the year. Every aspect of this taut and meditative thriller has been expertly crafted to hit hard and resonate long after the credits have finished rolling.

 What it lacks in narrative coherence it more than makes up for in sheer artistry. This is an action thriller that has been removed of its rigid genre constraints, and now moves in stranger, eerier territory and is punctuated by moments of bone-shattering horror. Phoenix is unrecognizable while Ramsay’s cruel, poetic take on a vigilante noir lacks catharsis and defies convention. This is more Taxi Driver than Taken, and it operates on an unspoken ‘less is more’ modus operandi. Strap in for a feverish, dizzying experience.

You Were Never Really Here has one more screening on Sunday 15th July at Luna, Leederville. 8:50pm

To book your tickets go to http://www.revelationfilmfest.org/

Images courtesy of Revelation Perth International Film Festival 2018

 

Movie Review – Sicario: Day of the Soldado

Stefano Sollima’s Sicario: Day of the Soldado is a solid sequel that is sorely lacking in identity.

 

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Rhys Pascoe 

Sicario wasn’t a film that was crying out for sequel. Denis Villeneuve’s (Arrival, Blade Runner 2049) potent concoction of crime, war and cop procedural was a perfect storm of pulsating intensity and atmosphere that told a punchy, concise story. It was self-contained and exited stage left with an emotional, gut-punch of an ending. Done and dusted, mission accomplished.

With most of the creative talent that made its predecessor such a success now absent, Sicario: Day of the Soldado doesn’t have a lot going for it on paper. Along with Villeneuve, lead actress Emily Blunt is gone, as are cinematographer Roger Deakins and Icelandic composer Johan Johannsson, the latter of whom sadly passed away last year. All signs are pointed squarely at Day of the Soldado upholding the grand tradition of half-baked follow-ups that coast along on the residual goodwill of its forebear. Y’know, something like Speed 2: Cruise Control or Jurassic Park III.

And while Day of the Soldado is conclusively not as bad as either of those, it certainly begs the question – why? Why does this film exist? Why does every mildly successful film have to become a franchise?

The film centres around US operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin, in his third major role of the year) and Mexican hitman Alejandro Gillick (a brilliant Benicio del Toro), who are sent back across the border to stir up trouble between powerful Mexican drug cartels. The US Government wants the cartels fighting one another rather than smuggling terrorists into the States, and so the black ops duo are tasked with kidnapping Isabel Reyes (Isabela Moner), the daughter of a high-profile drug lord. When the mission goes awry, Graver and Gillick are forced to cover their tracks, even if it means betraying their country and one another.

A taut screenplay from returning scribe Taylor Sheridan (Hell or High Water, Wind River) is what puts Day of the Soldado over the line. Sheridan’s proclivity for creating compelling characters both big and small, from a high-school kid caught in a cycle of violence to a deaf goat farmer just trying to survive the harsh Mexican desert, is what immediately grabs you in Day of the Soldado.

It’s elsewhere that this sequel struggles. Sicario, the first one, was a suffocating experience for cinemagoers. It was draped in an unshakeable curtain of fear and tension; death or a fate worse than death lurked around every corner or behind every door in Villeneuve’s film. And the audience was along for the ride every step of the way, courtesy of a compelling surrogate in the form of the Blunt’s Kate Macer.

That gripping, stomach-churning atmosphere is noticeably absent in Day of the Soldado. As good and as talented as the filmmakers are, the finished product is simply lacking the polish and the depth of the first film. The cinematography is familiar but flatter. The score, save for a reprisal of Johannsson’s powerful hooks at the end, is imitating rather than innovating. If Sicario is an extravagant wedding cake with delectable icing, Day of the Soldado is one of those $5 Woolies mudcakes; still good, but not as special or as memorable.

Sicario: Day of the Soldado is available in Australian cinemas from 28 June 

Image courtesy of Roadshow Films 

Movie Review – Ant-Man and the Wasp

Peyton Reed’s follow-up to his successful Ant-Man is just as charming and funny, thanks in large part to his brilliant cast.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

After all the fuss over Marvel’s first major female villain in Thor: Ragnarok (2017), the racial intrigue of Black Panther and the tragedies that grappled Avengers: Infinity War, it is lovely to once again enjoy an action superhero comedy from which I can leave without having to ponder my life choices. Superhero movies used to be goofy, once upon a time. Now they’re taken more seriously than final exams. Ant-Man and the Wasp is a cheerful reminder that there’s more than enough room for both.

This is the follow-up to 2015’s Ant-Man and it carries along the same energy and charisma that made that film one of the more underrated instalments of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Paul Rudd is once again the titular hero, except this time he has to do his superhero business while under house arrest for his role in the events that destroyed a German airport.

Fighting alongside him is Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), the formidable daughter of Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), who has taken up the mantle of the Wasp in an attempt to rescue her mother from the Quantum Realm, a dimension so small the bacteria that live there are the size of hippos. Indeed, much of Ant-Man and the Wasp is about the Pyms’ tireless efforts to retrieve their missing beloved, and Lilly and Douglas create quite a dynamic family unit, one that is penetrated with lots of humour by Rudd.

What’s interesting about the screenplay, penned rather surprisingly by five writers, is the way it uses the Pyms’ mission as the foundation for a plot that could have been written by the Coen brothers, except instead of a rug or a briefcase filled with dirty money, all the characters are trying to get their hands on a laboratory that’s been shrunken to the size of a suitcase. Yes, that’s right – a tiny building on wheels.

One of the many joys about these Ant-Man movies is the kick the filmmakers get from turning small everyday objects into larger-than-life monstrosities, including Ant-Man himself. I won’t tell you if Janet (Michelle Pfeiffer), the Pym matriarch, is found, but I enjoyed the urgency with which the plot moves towards her. It all builds up to a hilarious scene in which Rudd and Douglas hold hands, and then a touching one that moved me more than it should have. Goofy and serious, all at the same time.

Ant-Man and the Wasp is available in Australian cinemas from July 5

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

 

 

Movie Review – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

There’s big volcano explosions, a new scary dinosaur and Jurassic Park’s version of Han Solo with Chris Pratt…. but does anybody care anymore?

⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic 

The Jurassic franchise might as well be extinct – it’s been travelling in a downward spiral ever since the first sequel came out roughly 20 years ago. I can only hope this newest instalment will serve as final proof that the Jurassic universe needs to be left in the past.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom follows a narrative that’s muddled with ridiculousness and built on poor foundations. My interest in its debate surrounding whether dinosaurs should be saved from extinction quickly diminished as the story became riddled with cliches and unintelligent ideas. It’s just as silly as The Fast and The Furious series, except here there are no excessive action sequences to offset the weak narrative and ensure the film is at least somewhat enjoyable.

Even putting all of that aside, Jurassic World still doesn’t manage to bring anything new to the table. Chris Pratt plays Chris Pratt, Jeff Goldblum’s monologue feels like a cash-grab cameo, and all the supporting characters are completely forgettable and lacking in depth.

The only redeeming quality here is the visual aesthetic of the film. While the screenplay is wishy-washy at best, the film is visually spectacular. The CGI dinosaurs look incredibly realistic, and with a production budget of over $150 million, I’d expect nothing less.

Although a lot of effort has been put into the production, I can’t recommend you go and see this film. There are too many eye-roll inducing moments, and it’s so lacking in logic that it becomes laughable. Go see it if you want to look at some amazing dinosaur creature effects, but if not, I’d suggest you skip this one.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is available in Australian cinemas from June 21 

Image (c) Universal Pictures 2018

Movie Review – Solo: A Star Wars Story

Solo: A Star Wars Story is great fun, but one must ask the question: why was it ever made?

⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Han Solo, the hero of Solo: A Star Wars Story, has been a mythic figure since 1977. He’s a charming, roguish hunk who plays by his own rules, scoffs at authority and occasionally obeys the commands of his heart. He’s also a character many students of Star Wars love dearly. But I suspect, after watching this new Star Wars adventure, many of those students will want to protest.

This is first and foremost a movie designed for fans of the beloved franchise. It doesn’t have the parts to satisfy the indifferent, except of course in scenes where spaceships swoop around maelstroms and blasters are fired left, right and centre. It’s a story that’s rooted in the history of the galaxy far, far away, and so every little detail matters. Or at least it should.

Solo tells the story of Han (Alden Ehrenreich), from his tortured existence on a tyrannical planet and blossoming courtship with fellow slave Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke), to his early success as a professional smuggler and ace pilot of the Millennium Falcon. It also answers such questions as the birth of his name, how he founded his eternal bromance with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo), and how he completed the famed ‘Kessel Run’ in 12 parsecs. I don’t recall ever asking these questions, or indeed wanting them shown to me in such unimaginative plainness, but there you have it. The myth has been stripped away from the man.

Doesn’t matter. Solo: A Star Wars Story is decent, honest fun. It doesn’t seem to have a care in the world, which is what any successful Star Wars movie should strive for. The plot is more basic than a vanilla sponge cake. The characters are scribbled in from bits and pieces of characters past. Its humour is nothing but second-hand gags. There is not a moment when you fear for anyone’s safety. There are weird planets, obligatory lounge acts and endless battles. It’s a movie programmed to keep you smiling from start to finish.

The battles, of course, are very well filmed and seem to occupy much of the movie’s runtime. Han, desperate to pilot a ship that will allow him to rescue his beloved from the clutches of bondage, teams up with a thief called Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson), who himself is working for criminal mastermind Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany).

Their quest leads them to Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover), an expert smuggler whose co-pilot is L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a radical droid that walks and talks with the sass for change. She crusades for droid equality, an idea that makes sense today but otherwise rubbed me the wrong way completely. No-one goes to a Star Wars movie for lessons in social politics. At least I don’t.

But perhaps I’m speaking too much like a Star Wars fanatic and not giving enough weight to the positives? Possibly. However, I see no other way to discuss a Star Wars movie, since I’ve spent most of my life with them. They feed into each other and can no longer be judged independently.

This one doesn’t measure up to its predecessors in terms of stakes and depth – and it might upset diehard Han Solo followers who feel they’ve been duped by midichlorians again – but in the hands of Ron Howard it just scrapes through. Am I itching to see it again? I’m afraid not. Not even a little.

Solo: A Star Wars Story is available in Australian cinemas from May 24

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures