“Fifty Shades Freed” Movie Review

*Sighs* Why do I keep doing this to myself time and again? I feel like each time I subject myself, it gets just a little bit more painful. The third and final(!) installment of this trilogy of so-called “erotic romance dramas” was released in theaters around the world on February 9th, 2018. Yet again, it was essentially slaughtered by film critics everywhere, but now that seems to have finally had some sort of impact on its financial prospects. Over the totality of its theatrical run, the film grossed just about $371 million at the box office, officially becoming the lowest-grossing entry in the saga. People finally seem to be learning from previous mistakes. Once again directed by James Foley, the film, based upon the novel of the same by E.L. James- which, mind you, started out as Twilight fanfiction -was shot back-to-back with the second entry in the series. Foley, who also helmed the 1992 drama Glengarry Glen Ross, replaces Sam Taylor-Johnson after having a number of disagreements with the author. Also worth noting is that the final two films were written by James’ husband, Niall Leonard, virtually giving her more creative control over the final product. Picking up not too long after the seemingly inconsequential events of the second film Fifty Shades Darker, billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and his girlfriend Anastasia Steele have now gone full tilt in their “romance.” They marry and try to adapt to a newfound life together while still sharing all the luxury and BDSM type of love. But now they’re confronted by a number of shady people from their past who want to try and tear apart their relationship. You know, there was a very real (albeit small) part of me that actually held an inkling of hope that this franchise would get a decent conclusion of sorts. I had already been far too optimistic in the past with my expectations from the Fifty Shades films, but still. And yet, just as with the previous two, any shred of hope that I had was completely eviscerated just in the first few scenes of Fifty Shades Freed. I dare say that this one is the worst out of the three films, which is honestly really saying something. I legitimately can’t remember the last time I watched a movie that seemed so utterly indifferent to the cultural climate that it was being released in. Granted, Christian Grey was already a gross, creepy man way before the #MeToo movement. But the fact this movie, and the book upon which it was based, continues to shamelessly glamorize his toxic and abusive relationship with Anastasia after all the revealing stories from the entertainment industry came out isn’t only terrible timing; it’s potentially dangerous. There are (Unfortunately) many women out there who genuinely like these movies, and condoning Grey’s disgusting behavior in 2018 of all years is both terrifying and upsetting. At this point, it’s very clear that the stars Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson are both done with this saga like the rest of us. The two of them continue to be completely devoid of any chemistry as they attempt to chug through some truly atrocious lines and actions. Their characters are still completely incompatible with one another, despite all of the time they’ve spent together. As for any of the side characters… I can hardly remember any of their names because they’re basically all 100% useless. Even just from a technical point of view, Fifty Shades Freed is such a surprisingly incompetent picture. John Schwartzman does his best to make the film visually appealing with beautiful people and locations. However, despite all the sleek colors and luxurious settings, it isn’t very hard at all to make something really awful look decent. The film is also edited by Debra Neil-Fisher and Richard Frances-Bruce in such a way that makes any friction or heat totally dull. The scenes are never cut together in a satisfying manner, especially one laughable flashback sequence early on in the film. One has to imagine what that looked like in the screenplay. Despite being rated-R, I guarantee you that being cut into a PG-13 rating or even lower wouldn’t affect the movie in the slightest in terms of plot or character development. Sadly, even the music is tired and dumb. In the previous two installments, the soundtracks, at the bare minimum gave us some original songs that were somewhat catchy. Whether it was The Weekend’s Oscar-nominated “Earned It” in the first or Taylor Swift and Zayn Malik’s collaboration “I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” they at least tried to make the experience okay to the ears. Here, the best they can do is a lame ballad called “For You” by Rita Ora, who also has a role in the film. The best it does is diminish the sexiness (Re: creepiness) of the love scenes into softcore porn for girls; without them, there’d probably be an Unrated or NC-17 cut. But they’ve gotta try and get as many seats as possible filled in the theater, I guess, so whatever. I will be genuinely shocked if there is a worse film released this year. The more I think about it, the angrier I become at its success and mere existence. I really hope that all of the parties involved can bounce back in recovery as they find better projects to work from in the future. In the meantime, Fifty Shades Freed is nothing if not an obligatory conclusion to an affectless, toxic franchise. I can somewhat see how some see this series as a kinky fantasy, but there’s no way in hell any of its tone deaf elements work for me. But I’m just glad that it’s FINALLY OVER!!! All there is to do now is wait for the next obnoxious romance saga to hit screens soon.


“Halloween” Movie Review

Big budgets don’t always have to equal great horror movies; in fact, some are great because of their restraints. Consider this classic to be among the top of them. This horror slasher thriller was originally released on October 25th, 1978, almost 40 years to the date. Made for the extremely low budget of around $300,000, it became inredibly profitable by grossing over $70 million at the global box office. Critics managed to warm up to it and it managed to spawn a huge multimedia franchise and create several established tropes within the horror genre for years to come. Directed and co-written by John Carpenter, the project originated when a pair of independent producers came to Carpenter to write a slasher film, having been impressed by his previous effort Assault on Precinct 13. The screenplay was written with producer and then-girlfriend Debra Hill over the course of 10 days, after which it became very difficult to cast the roles with the limited budget. This also meant that almost all of the props and costumes used in the film were everyday or inexpensive items one could get for very little. The story follows Michael Myers, a mute serial killer with virtually no emotion or ulterior motive, and had been imprisoned for murdering his older sister as a young boy. After breaking out of a psychiatric ward on Halloween night in 1978, he then makes his way to the small town of Haddenfield, Illinois, to kill a group of teenage babysitters. One of those babysitters is Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, a bookworm who immediately notices Michael following her. She then attempts, for the next 91 minutes, to avoid his wrath while Michael’s former child psychiatrist Dr. Sam Loomis makes his way as fast as he can. Interestingly, the first time I actually watched this film was on Halloween night last year, which effectively made me no longer want to go trick-r-treating. I had always been a big fan of John Carpenter, with his 1982 film The Thing being my favorite horror movie of all time. And I mainly wanted to rewatch and review this classic because of the new soft reboot-sequel hybrid by David Gordon Green hitting theaters this weekend. So this has been something of a longtime coming for me, and now we’re in the appropriate season to be taking a critical look at it. And I must say, despite turning 40 years old later this month, the original Halloween still holds up as a remarkably frightening, effective thriller. What is it about Michael Myers that makes him so terrifying of a villain? Simple; he’s the ultimate manifestation of pure evil. He’s not Laurie’s long-lost brother or whatever any of the cheap sequels tried to opine later on. In fact, he’s just credited as “The Shape” in the original script, and it makes sense; he doesn’t really need a personality to become a viable threat. As Dr. Loomis puts it in a haunting monologue, “I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply evil.” In her feature film debut, Jamie Lee Curtis is actually pretty great as Laurie Strode, even she herself can’t watch her own performance. She’s pretty much the only one of her friends with much restraintNick Castle may be completely silent and unemotive as Michael Myers, but he is still an incredibly imposing figure to be scared of. The influence he had on other big screen villains is completely apparent with his stoic nature and practically unstoppable physique; he may as well be the Boogeyman. The best performer is former James Bond villain Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis, a man of reason stupefied beyond explanation by the evil of Michael. He’s able to deliver the dialogue with convincing concern and conviction, sure of his mission but terrified of the potential results. Meanwhile, the technical aspects of Halloween reveal this as a John Carpenter film through and through. Dean Cundey makes use of the then-newly invented Steadicam to great effect, establishing a strong and unsettling atmosphere. His use of widescreen also makes for great fare, creating a big canvas that practically has you searching for Michael in each frame’s corner. The film opens with a startling 3-minute tracking shot of The Shape’s first kill, establishing that anything can happen in the suburb. The editing by Charles Bornstein and Tommy Lee Wallace is superb in its focus on tension and atmosphere over explicit gore. The two elements come together in a particularly spooky scene when Michael pins a body to the wall, and he just tilts his head to observe it. What makes The Shape even more scary: His iconic mask was just a William Shatner mask that they spray-painted, but now it’s unmistakably his. Since the budget was so low, Carpenter couldn’t afford to hire a real composer, so he was left to write the score himself. Despite claims that he can’t read or write a single note of music, the main theme has became almost as iconic as the film itself. With a basic, repetitive piano melody serving as the backbone, the swelling of eerie strings and ambient background noises. Other tracks include sudden bursts of dissonant chords on the synth, which usually telegram when The Shape is about to strike. It also makes effective use of Laurie’s sobs and Michael’s Darth Vader-like breathing to create a sense of unease, one which will likely last long after the credits roll. No wonder he was able to finish recording the soundtrack in just 3 days time. My respect for this film increased quite a bit after I read that Carpenter made this for virtually no money. The fact that all of the parties involved committed to finishing it, AND that it launched a massive franchise is a testament to its lasting power along with other slashers of its era. But unlike most of its contemporaries, this film is truly deserving of its impact on the horror genre and pop culture in general. Halloween is beautiful and hauntingly powerful in its simplicity, with plenty of autumn chills to spare. Although not quite as good as The Thing, this film is indeed up to par with the best of John Carpenter’s storied career. Each time I watch it, it keeps me on the edge of my seat as Laurie, Michael, and Dr. Loomis face off on the spookiest night of the year. And it’s just one of many great traditions of that day.



“The Godfather Part II” Movie Review

Ladies and gentlemen, I now present to you the first great franchise of Hollywood. Well, at least it was for a little while, but that’s besides the point. This epic crime drama was released during Christmas time of 1974, a full two years after the original. Although it ultimately made less than its predecessor, with a box office intake of around $55 million against a budget of $13 million, it received virtually the same praise as last time. In fact, many critics consider it to be superior to the original, although others took a little while to come to their senses. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards, it won 6 and became the first sequel to win Best Picture, a feat only matched in 2003 by Return of the King. Once again written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, the story stemmed from his interest in the dichotomy in the two central arcs. A number of actors from the first film, such as Marlon Brando and Richard Castellano, chose not to return despite their parts being written. It took over half a year for filming to complete, and only 6 months after that to prepare in time for a holiday release for Paramount. This time around, it’s both a prequel AND a sequel. The first story takes place in 1958, and follows Michael Corleone who has assumed the role of family Don. As he attempts to expand his family business into major venues, an attempt on his life leaves him weary of even his closest associates. In the other one, we see his father Vito in his young years emigrate to the U.S. during the early 20th century. And we watch as his empire gradually grows in New York City as Michael’s begins to fall apart. As anyone who’s read my blog before should know, I absolutely adore the first Godfather movie. In spite of all the difficulties Coppola had making that film, I genuinely don’t have any problems with it in terms of either narrative, technicality, or acting. For the longest time, I had been somewhat scared to watch the sequel, as I felt there wasn’t any possible way it could live up to the original. In fact, I only finally watched The Godfather Part II for the first time very early this year. And while I’m not quite sure if it surpasses the original, it is absolutely a worthy follow-up deserving of the exact same gushing. It’s very curious to watch the dual yet somewhat opposite storylines play out. As young Vito’s list of allies and associates grows, Michael’s gradually wanes in the face of paranoia. How both of these men come about it is shown in a very slow, deliberate, but engaging manner. Despite the epic runtime of 3 hours and 22 minutes, including a brief intermission, not a single moment felt wasted developing their stories. In fact, I’d argue that a minute shorter would diminish its power and significance. The movie is less a continuous crime saga and more a melancholy parable on the consequences American Dream, as Vito emigrated to the United States and built everything he had from the ground up. It’s at turns inspiring, heartbreaking, and shocking. Returning to his most iconic role, Al Pacino is even better than last time as Michael. Through subtle gestures and some occasional outbursts, this man becomes increasingly less sympathetic as the film goes on, but you still can’t help but watch. This time around Fred Cazale and Diane Keaton are given more room and time to shine as his brother Fredo and wife Kay, respectively. Each one has a tragic element that they expertly add to their character, partly due to their mutual fear of who Michael has become. Meanwhile, Robert De Niro shines in his Oscar-winning breakout role as a young Vito Corleone. A role spoken almost entirely in the Italian language, he shows why he is a man not to mess with as he kills people from rival gangs to solidify his power as the mafia Don. But he still is able to show genuine care, looking after his wife and infant sons and giving back to less fortunate members of his community. Once again, The Godfather Part II is also a brilliant piece of technicality that was revolutionary for the time and still impressive today. Gordon Willis returns as cinematographer and gives a more muted look to the film. It was the last Hollywood picture to be made using the dye imbibition process with Technicolor until the 1990’s, and makes the most out of its set pieces. From the Dominican Republic to Sicily to a Senate committee, the production designers Angelo Graham, John Dapper, and Dean Tavoularis crafted many memorable locations across the epic story. Each one is edited by Peter Zinner, Barry Malkin, and Richard Marks with ease, moving between each timeline with cross dissolves or some hard cuts. And yet, it still works effortlessly. Nino Rota writes the original film score for the second go-around, this time with a little help from the director’s late father Carmine Coppola. While the primary theme is kept mostly intact, there is some new music worth listening to as well. There are a handful of more lighthearted tunes for Little Italy scenes, consisting of bouncy percussion and accordions. What’s particularly memorable is the song that plays when Vito first sees the Statue of Liberty, a haunting and beautiful piece that illustrates his newfound freedom. Starting with a solemn trumpet solo before blowing out with strings and woodwind trills, it works as well as any piece of film score I’ve ever listened to. It’s truly a soundtrack for New York City. Even after this rewatch, I do need a bit of time to decide if I like this film more than the original, like many cinephiles proclaim. It definitely feels more free of the usual constraints faced by sequels, as the story is never beholden to the events of the original film. In that, it’s just as strong a standalone feature as it is a continuation of the story Mario Puzo had originally envisioned. The Godfather Part II is a brilliant Shakespearean family tragedy clothed as an operatic gangster saga. Just as with last time, there is virtually nothing wrong with this movie in any department and only gets better with age. Epic but not overlong, dark but not cold. The real question: What the hell happened to Frances Ford Coppola? That man was on a roll. But hey, at least we have this duology, (Yes, you read that correctly) The Conversation, and Apocalypse Now, and frankly that’s all I need from him.


“The Predator” Movie Review

Perhaps letting more auteur-centric filmmakers take the reigns of major studio franchises isn’t always the best idea. At least, this is one of those cases. This sci-fi action horror movie premiered as part of the Midnight Madness section in this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. 20th Century Fox then released a week later on September 14th, 2018, where it did well it’s opening weekend against a budget of $88 million. However, the following weekend, its box office intake dropped by nearly 65% and is in doubt of whether or not it will break even by the end of its run. It also doesn’t help that the critical reviews for the film range from mixed to outright negative, which may contribute to poor word-of-mouth. Co-written and directed by Shane Black, the film is something of a full circle for the filmmaker as he had a very minor role in the original Predator movie from 1987. John Davis returned as producer, hoping to revitalize the franchise. The movie moved through multiple committed stars dropping the lead role, as well as the entire third act being reshot over the summer due to poor test screenings. The saddest part is that the press for the movie was somewhat overshadowed when it was revealed that the director’s former friend, a registered sex offender, was completely cut just a couple days before the film was completed. Boyd Holbrook stars as Quinn McKenna, an Army Ranger sniper who stumbles upon technology belonging to an alien species called “Predators.” When the military tries to cover it up, he is thrown onto a bus full of PTSD-ridden soldiers with their own issues. After McKenna’s own son becomes involved in the struggle, the soldiers, alongside a shady government agent and a disgruntled science teacher/evolutionary biologist, go on a rogue mission to prevent the oncoming invasion of the Predators. For the sake of full disclosure, this was my first movie in the Predator series that I have watched. A number of reviews I’ve read have said that this ruins the franchise or that it’s extremely inferior to the original or even its supposedly lackluster sequels. Since I haven’t seen any of the others, I feel that this would be an unfair assessment for me to make. I am a big fan of Shane Black, though, so seeing him tackle a major film like this- one, by the way, whose inaugural predecessor he acted in -was kind of exciting. That being said, The Predator is highly underwhelming. Weirdly enough, the film’s most entertaining moments are when the titular alien isn’t really there. As he proved in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, Black is able to use sharp, witty dialogue as a tool for hilarious results. He and co-writer Fred Dekker do as best they can to get some machismo one-liners, some not nearly as good as others. As mentioned above, the whole third act of the movie was reshot over the summer. While you can’t really tell that as obvious, it does make you wonder what could have been. Even so, there’s virtually nothing to distinguish this film’s plot from any other action film you’ve seen. I really like Boyd Holbrook as an actor, with roles in both Logan and Narcos proving his worth. While he looks and sounds natural as a wise-cracking soldier, there’s just something here that felt a bit off, but I can’t quite place it. Sterling K. Brown and Olivia Munn do good work against type as a government agent and biologist, respectively. Munn’s is one of her strongest characters to date, while Brown clearly has fun being a morally ambiguous bad guy. While the bus full of soldiers are fun to watch, it’s really only Keegan Michael-Key and Thomas Jane as deeply traumatized men with absolutely no social filter. Jacob Tremblay, meanwhile, is terrific as the main character’s autistic son, who becomes a key player in the fight. I’ve been waiting for yet another film since The Accountant in 2016 to showcase a person on the spectrum whose condition isn’t shown as demeaning, rather somewhat empowering. One person in the movie even mentions how autism is seen by some experts as the next step in human evolution. As far as the technical aspects for The Predator go, it’s still an incredibly mixed bag at best. The cinematography by modern franchise veteran Larry Fong is almost always positioned in shadows and the darkness, which makes some sense when considering how the titular alien is literally invisible in the jungle. The use of a sleek, steely color palette is curious as colors such as green and gray are practically emphasized. The editing by Harry B. Miller III and Billy Weber is really choppy. While not quite “cut-to-shit,” it’s still occasionally hard to tell what’s going on in a scene, especially since much of the action takes place late on Halloween night. The visual effects, meanwhile, are good at best, and noticeably bad at worst. While the Predator itself is often portrayed as a real actor in a big costume- and he is pretty menacing -it also uses some rather unconvincing CGI in bigger set pieces. The actual design for the extraterrestrial and his ship are pretty damn cool, it’s just a bit of a shame that they’re not perfectly realized. In hindsight, maybe Shane Black’s witty sensibilities weren’t really suited for a movie like this. They worked, for the most part, on Iron Man 3, so now it’s a game of who’s to blame. Although it’s not completely devoid of bright spots or redeeming qualities, The Predator is a disappointingly convoluted attempt at modernizing an action classic. Black’s efforts at bringing new tongue-in-cheek elements to a series filled with dripping testosterone are actually kind of admirable, and you can see what he and Fred Dekker were going for. But sadly, the end result isn’t up to par with my expectations. It’s just not worth your time.

“The Godfather” Movie Review

I know I’m pretty far behind on my New Year’s resolution plan, but so help me God I fully intend to fulfill it. And I figured this would be a great place to go next. This epic crime drama from director Frances Ford Coppola was released worldwide on March 24th, 1972, when it earned roughly $280 million broke numerous box office records around the globe. It was also released- in spite of industry skepticism -to universally positive reviews and numerous accolades. It has since been studied and revered as one of the greatest films of all time by cinephiles, academics, and many others. Interestingly, it also received praise from real-life gangsters for its extreme realism. Based on the sprawling novel of the same name by Mario Puzo, Paramount Pictures acquired the rights for the film right before it became popular, although their first several choices for director passed up. Coppola got in constant conflict over casting decisions, specifically his insistence that all of the main characters be played by real Italian or Sicilian-American actors and thespians. The studio’s faith in the project was reportedly so shaky that they had another director, Elia Kazan, on standby just in case things fell through. Beginning in post-war 1945, the story focuses on the Corleones, a tightly-knit but dysfunctional Sicilian-American crime family in New York City. Following the eventful wedding of his daughter, the powerful Don and patriarch of the family, Vito Corleone, is attacked by rival gang members, and both his right-hand man and two eldest sons are seemingly left humiliated. All of a sudden the youngest son Michael, an intelligent war hero who initially wants nothing to do with the family business, is forced to do dirty. While he seems intent on legitimizing his family’s reputation, we witness over 10 years as he plunges head first into the world of crime, corruption, and power. It’s weird having to write a review for a movie that virtually every other cinephile on the planet has already written about in one way or another. Especially when that film is as beloved of a classic as The Godfather, but such seems to be the pattern of my New Year’s Resolution. No, I have definitely seen the film a few times prior to this review, but I’d say on this one I was a little more enlightened. I already knew that Frances Ford Coppola had made a true masterpiece, but I had almost always underestimated its brilliance. This is quite possibly the best film of its decade and one of the all-time greats. What I find most fascinating of all is how incredibly neutral the film is on organized crime culture as a whole. Previously, a lot of films would often portray gangsters as these over-the-top bad guys with no remorse as they’d gun down civilians and cops with Tommy guns. But here, the filmmakers decide to give us an inside look at the mafia; they’re well-knit, highly resourceful, and almost always put family before anything else, including business. We come to really care about the Corleones as human beings, especially when they’re under attack from their rivals. But they also don’t skimp on the unglamorous parts of their position; quite a few people die, either directly by a member’s hand or at their behest. It neither glorifies nor condemns the lives of gangsters, but rather shows it as it is, in a nearly unsentimental fashion. I can’t thank Coppola enough for how hard he fought for there to be real Italian and Sicilian actors in the roles, because it’s so hard to imagine anyone else playing these characters. Where to begin? There’s Marlon Brando’s immortal performance as the Don Vito, which won him an Oscar. (And resulted in one of the weirdest acceptance speeches in history) Al Pacino proved to everyone his worth as a great actor playing Michael, a mostly quiet, internalized role. John Cazale, James Caan, and Talia Shire each revel in their roles as Michael’s siblings, each with their issues to work out. Robert Duvall’s Tom Hagen may be somewhat out of place as an Irish man in a Sicilian home, but he’s highly intelligent, dealing out one particularly gruesome job to ensure the future of his Don’s godson. No one in this iconic cast is bad in the slightest, everyone feels so natural in their roles. It’s also easy to see why The Godfather was an important film from the technical aspects alone. With then-new cinematographer Gordon Willis behind the camera, we get to see how patient the director is to reveal more of the world. There are many instances where the camera lingers on a subject as we anxiously await what might happen. The film opens with a still shot on a man begging for the Don’s help and it cleverly pulls out to reveal Vito. Thanks to the clever editing by William Reynolds and Peter Zinner, the contemporary New Hollywood techniques are matched with some of the Golden Ages sensibilities- a feat that is hard to achieve. Many scenes are closed or transitioned with cross-dissolve. Combined with the exquisite production design, we’re given a New York that feels authentic and lived-in. Frequent Federico Fellini collaborator Nino Rota composes the instrumental film score, which is one of the most iconic of the 20th century. The main theme “Speak Softly, Love” may have been reworked from a previous work of his, but it’s no less fitting for this one. It uses mellow instruments such as Oboes and strings to convey a certain feeling of Romanticism that just doesn’t seem allowed to exist in this world. It really becomes noticeable during the beginning and ending credits, establishing a strong tone and atmosphere. Other tracks create a feeling of ambiance and sadness that often feels unwelcome in the gangster genre. It’s also a little frustrating that Frances Ford Coppola made this film this early in his career, as he could never really reach these same heights again. While Apocalypse Now and The Godfather Part II were undoubtedly incredible films, for to come swinging out the gate with a movie this amazing is a rare feat. In that, it’s more understandable why his career went downhill after this. The Godfather marries an impeccable cast with a unique story, and is without a doubt a real cinematic classic. If, by some happenstance, you claim to be a cinephile and have yet to watch this film, please rectify that situation as soon as possible. It’s one of the rare “classics” that is 100% worth its immortality in the annals of history.


“Venom” Movie Review

I could have watched Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star is Born today. Instead, let’s take a look at a film that clearly has far more class and grandeur. And could have probably benefited from some subtitles. This horror-ish superhero film was released worldwide on October 5th, 2018, by Sony Pictures. It earned over $10 million from Thursday previews, breaking the record for highest in the month of October. Although it’s expected to debut with over $170 million at global box office, the nigh-endless wave of negative reviews for the film. Directed by Ruben Fleischer of Zombieland fame, there had been a desire to make a feature-length film centered on the Marvel comics character since his on-screen debut in Spider-Man 3. The project, which had gone through an enormous amount of drafts and directors, finally gained some new life after the Marvel Cinematic Universe acquired creative control of the web-slinging property. This is intended to be the first in a series of villain-focused films for Sony, with a crossover to the MCU foreseen down the road. Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, a down-on-his luck investigative journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. After being publicly disgraced for a failed interview, he decides to investigate the shady dealings of a space-based bioengineering corporation called the Life Foundation. There, he inadvertently becomes attached to an alien symbiotic lifeform that gives him a wide array of superpowers. Now he must contend with the Life Foundation’s CEO Carlton Drake and the voice of the symbiote urging him to give in to darker impulses. In all seriousness, I’m kind of amazed that this movie exists. There had been rumors for a long time that a Venom movie would get made, and Sony actually got the ball rolling quite quickly this last year. Plus, I’m a huge fan of Zombieland and Tom Hardy, and seeing the two come together seemed rather exciting, even if the trailers weren’t particularly compelling. But just because this movie is a miracle for merely existing doesn’t mean that it’s good; in fact, Venom is one of the year’s worst and most underwhelming films. A big chunk of that comes down to the simple fact that this character warranted an R-rating. By most accounts, the filmmakers had been making process to push for it, likely due to all of the violence that is common with the titular villain-turned antihero. But nope. According to Tom Hardy, nearly 40 minutes of the movie were left on the cutting room floor. While I can see the need for the studio wanting more commercial success, that shouldn’t be a deterrent. If Fox has proven anything with Logan and Deadpool, it’s that we’ll still show up in droves, regardless of how family-friendly it might be or not be. By far the best thing this movie has going for it is Tom Hardy’s dual role as Eddie Brock and Venom. The scenes when the two are bickering back and forth about ethical problems such as killing or eating people are undoubtedly the highlights, and could’ve used way more of it. It’s at turns funny and insightful, if particularly vocal. All the other supporting players, though, are either unconvincing or just plain worthless. Michelle Williams is a great actress, but her terrible wig and nonexistent chemistry make it hard to buy her as a top-dollar lawyer. How about Jenny Slate as a good-willed scientist? Nope. Riz Ahmed, meanwhile, feels totally cliched and wasted as the villain Carlton Drake. He’s the kind of evil genius who likes whispering his plans and philosophy and goes on many a monologue about how “disposable” human beings are. Even just technically speaking, Venom is a total, inconsistent mess. The cinematography by the talented Matthew Libatique is practically monochrome in style and color, as most shots consist of different shades of pale grey. The editing by Maryann Brandon and Alan Baumgarten is choppy and often impatient. The action sequences are attempted to be elevated by constantly moving around the scenario from cut to cut. It’s very exhausting and irritating. If anything, it provides further proof at a film once rated-R that was cut down at the last minute by the studio. The CGI for Venom himself and the action scenes ranges from plain decent to outright bad. While the overall design for Venom is actually kind of cool, nothing changes the fact that the final battle makes it hard to distinguish the hero from the villain visually. Record producer Ludwig Göransson, who previously wrote the excellent soundtrack for Black Panther earlier in the year, delivers his second superhero film score. In all honesty, there’s really no track from the score that stands out as memorable, even if it tries to mix up some instrumentation. The only real distinction is when the action scenes have a slightly more percussive element than other tracks, but it’s quite forgettable. There is an original song named after the titular character written and performed by the prolific rapper Eminem, which plays during the end credit sequence. It’s actually kind of catchy, combining minor references to the film itself with the rapper’s more gritty sensibilities in an interesting way. Odds are you’ll be uttering “Knock knock, let the devil in” for a little while afterward. Or not, depends on your tastes. The more I talk or think about this film, the more infuriated I get with how much potential was wasted by Sony and the other parties involved. The bromance between Eddie and Venom is the one saving grace, and hints at something else far more unrestrained. It never can decide if wants to be a wacky black horror comedy or an outright superhero extravaganza, and the confusion is only further enhanced by the painfully generic script. Venom is as cookie-cutter a superhero film as you’ve ever seen recently. The idea that Sony cut down to PG-13 for a crossover with the MCU in the far future is kind of insulting both to fans and the character himself. I would say that this is just another sad franchise-starter to add the (ENORMOUS) pile, but it’s something uniquely bad: A turd in the wind.

“Mission: Impossible- Fallout” Movie Review

Here are some facts everyone should be able to agree on: Tom Cruise is an absolute weirdo in real life. Also, he is still to kick all kinds of ass at an age most would retire at. This critically acclaimed action spy thriller was released worldwide on July 27th, 2018, grossing over $777 million at the box office in the U.S. and across international waters. Despite the apparent collapse of MoviePass, nothing seems to be stopping casual viewers from going out to see this, making it the highest-grossing entry in the franchise thus far. This is likely due to the outpouring of gushing critical praise it has received from all walks of film criticism, whether from major publications or smaller independent labels. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie, the film marks the first time a director has made a return to the series, having helmed the previous installment Rogue Nation. Although it initially hit a stumble due to a dispute over the star’s salary, McQuarrie promised he was returning because he wanted to do something very different than had been expected thus far from the franchise. Aside from overlapping with another actor’s schedule, which triggered an unwanted Internet sensation, it’s also worth noting that Cruise managed to break his ankle while filming- and kept on going anyway. Roughly two years after the events of Rogue Nation, Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, a highly trained operative for the super-secret organization IMF. After a group of anarchists called the Apostles steal a large amount of plutonium, intent on reshaping the “world order,” Hunt and his team are tasked with tracking down the stolen devices. Meanwhile, they’re being monitored by a deadly CIA agent named August Walker, played by Henry Cavill, in case their mission goes awry. But they all soon realize that multiple other parties are interested in acquiring the plutonium and it becomes a race against time. I have been a big fan of the Mission: Impossible series ever since the third entry in 2006, directed by J.J. Abrams. While it has been around since the mid-90’s, it was at that point I really became invested in the franchise, which only got better from that point onward. So my expectations were not exactly low for Mission: Impossible- Fallout, especially after the high of Rogue Nation in 2015. In fact, when the film first started, I was actually afraid that it wouldn’t live up to any of the massive hype that it had received. And yet, my hopes and/or fears were absolutely supplanted because this is by far the best one in the franchise. However, after watching it, I’m a little bit concerned. Not whether it will win over other new audience members, that much is already guaranteed. Rather, I’m concerned about how this franchise, should it decide to continue onwards, will be able to match or top itself in the next installment. Where are they going to go from here? Up into space? Deep beneath the sea? I honestly don’t know. Not since walking out of Mad Max: Fury Road for the first time has a major studio action movie left me so completely gob smacked. Tom Cruise can be a good actor when he wants to be, and Fallout is perhaps his best turn yet as Ethan Hunt. As per usual, he gives absolute physical commitment to the role, able to pull insane on-screen stunts while still delivering on the dramatic heft. This time, he’s given more depth and much more to lose as we dive further into his characters psyche. While the regular members- like Simon Pegg, Ving Rhames, and Rebecca Ferguson -return to their respective roles, it’s the new players that really standout. Angela Bassett and Vanessa Kirby deliver badass, powerful women as CIA Director Erica Sloane and the White Widow, respectively. They each have their own agency and ways of going about their business, elevating beyond what could’ve easily been Bomd Girl stereotypes. And then there’s Henry Cavill as August Walker, the shadow agent for the CIA. Charismatic and physically imposing to a fault, it’s unclear what his motivations are but nonetheless creates exciting conflict. And yes, the famous Moustache Controversy with Justice League was worth it, as he gives off an everyman vibe. As always with the series, Mission: Impossible- Fallout is a complete technical marvel. Rob Hardy chooses to primarily shoot with a 35 mm lens, as well as IMAX cameras, which allows for many action scenes to actually be caught on-camera. The incredibly steady, confident movement throughout the film creates a certain fluidity missing in most films in the genre. There are at least 3 incredible stunt-filled set pieces that showcase how much Cruise and McQuarrie are committed, especially a 3-minute HALO jump taking place in real time. Meanwhile, the editing job by Eddie Hamilton is exquisite, creating enough space between shots to keep tension. This is highlighted in a violent brawl in a prestige bathroom, where it moves between each subject effortlessly. Without music to accompany that scene, you can feel every punch and jab delivered. Speaking of music, Lorne Balfe composed and conducted the best score for the franchise thus far- and that’s REALLY saying something. The use of heavy brass and string staccatos help to punctuate the urgency of the team’s mission. It’s also extremely percussive, using instruments such as bongos, jaunty snare drums, and other tools to add to the momentum. In many ways, it reminded me of some of Hans Zimmer’s earlier works, particularly The Dark Knight trilogy, in the best ways possible. There’s obviously the iconic theme from the original show by Lalo Schrifin, which both opens and closes the film. But overall, Balfe is able to make it his own, and is definitely listening to multiple times through. I haven’t felt this much of a adrenaline rush from a movie in so long. In a world that continually files genres away into subcategories, it’s riveting to see a straight-up action movie that delivers on exactly what it wants. Mission: Impossible- Fallout is a fantastic balancing act between all the essential departments of filmmaking. Not only does Tom Cruise and his death-defying stunts draw audiences in, they stay for the gripping manner in which Christopher McQuarrie tells the rather simple story. This is the best Mission: Impossible film by far, and worthy enough to rank among the best action movies I’ve ever seen in theaters. Believe the hype.

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