“Look In My Eyes, Eddie. The Way I See It, We Can Do Whatever We Want. Do We Have A Deal…?”
With Topher Grace’s long-awaited big screen portrayal of Eddie Brock/Venom in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 3 opening to a rather mixed response from critics and fans alike, eleven years later, Marvel aficionados finally have the chance to witness a “true” depiction of a character renowned for allowing a more darkened approach to the notion of what makes a “superhero” with the simply named, Venom, which sees Tom Hardy (Dunkirk) take the leading role of the investigative journalist who quickly becomes infested with an alien parasite with a knack for murder and a constant hunger for human flesh. Helmed behind the camera by Zombieland director, Ruben Fleischer, Venom is the latest 15-rated Marvel release after the likes of Deadpool, its’ recent, and better, sequel, and the ever-impressive and staggeringly violent Logan, and whilst not strictly under the bracket of the Marvel Cinematic Universe due to Sony Pictures still reserving the rights to the Venom character amongst others not yet hooked into Kevin Feige’s land of visceral wonder, Fleischer’s movie has been touted as the kickstarter to a fresh new comic franchise or “shared universe” which reportedly has enough love and support from the MCU to be green-lighted in a day and age when, let’s face it, comic-based movies are more constant than time itself.
In a similar way to the Tom Cruise led The Mummy however, a film which seemingly rendered the so-called “Dark Universe” dead in its’ tracks, Venom is equally as messy, convoluted and downright disappointing, a move so wildly inconsistent in tone you wonder if the BBFC were bribed in order to make the film seem darker than it actually is by slapping a 15 rating on top of it, and with all the discussion regarding the dark-natured antithesis of a character such as Venom alongside the success of more “adult” themed comic movies in recent times, Venom is thoroughly and fundamentally frustrating due to a obvious sense of indecision from the filmmakers to head in one tonal direction or the other. Because of this, Venom as a film simply cannot handle the constant switch of tone, ranging from trashy horror to comedy whilst remembering the need for woefully dull CGI action set pieces because of its’ place in the superhero genre, and with underdeveloped, indistinguishable characters, the waste of brilliant talent including Riz Ahmed (Nightcrawler) and Michelle Williams (Manchester By The Sea) is filmic sacrilege of the highest order. With Hardy trying his best to inject some life into the character, it is the Brit’s performance which sort of makes parts of the movie worthwhile, with the constant bickering interchanges between himself and the growling voice of the infested symbiote sporadically entertaining, but upon leaving Venom, the previous hour and a half ultimately felt meaningless and forgettable, resulting in returning home to admire Netflix’s Daredevil, a comic adaptation with a much darker, much more complex and rewarding tone than anything within Venom, a movie with so much potential which has ended up just bland and cliched. Shame.
Overall Score: 4/10
“Let Me Give You Some Advice. Assume Everyone Will Betray You And You Will Never Be Disappointed…”
Within the space of just one blockbusting cinematic month, audiences across the globe have been joyously rewarded with big release after big release, with Infinity War and Deadpool 2 both hotly anticipated franchise follow ups which have seemingly succeeded to staggering degrees in terms of both their critical appeal and eye-watering box office figures, particular in regards to the former which has managed to cement its’ place quite rightly into the top five highest grossing films of all time. Another week therefore brings with it yet another Disney backed big budget extravaganza in the form of Solo: A Star Wars Story, the second spin-off in the ever expanding space opera franchise after 2016’s Rogue One and a movie which explores the early undertakings of Alden Ehrenreich’s (Hail, Caesar!) young, cocky and confident take on the titular space pilot. With high-profile production issues, including the firing of original director’s Phil Lord and Christopher Miller of 21 and 22 Jump Street fame after “creative differences” and mumbling’s regarding Ehrenreich’s on-set acting ability, a strange rumour if ever there was one considering his superb performance in Hail, Caesar!, Solo seemed doomed to fail from the outset, and with fan expectation an all-time low for a cinematic release with the Star Wars branding after mixed responses to its’ fundamental existence, does Solo manage to fend off its’ many steely-eyed critics?
Thankfully, and somewhat surprisingly, the film does exactly just that, swapping the melancholic and controversially bold tones of Rogue One and The Last Jedi respectively for a more conventional science fiction romp, one stuffed full of exhilarating action set pieces, interesting new characters and a youth-infused charm thanks to the steady handed nature of its’ well-formed cast who have gripped tightly the chance to step into the shoes of iconic franchise personas. With Ron Howard taking over directorial duties halfway through the filming process and capturing a reported seventy percent of the finished article on his own say, for a man whose back catalogue varies from greatness (Rush, Frost/Nixon) to outright blandness (Inferno, In The Heart of the Sea), the “steady handed” approach of Howard’s film-making abilities isn’t exactly the first name to spring to mind when attempting to rebuild a reportedly sunken ship, but credit of course should be handed when its’ due and whilst its’ hard to gauge perhaps Howard’s stamp on the final product, Solo is undeniably well made and makes up for its’ somewhat straightforward hero narrative by having the most fun possible with its’ strong points, akin to say the more low-key Marvel releases such as Ant-Man and Doctor Strange which play to a sense of familiarity but succeed due to the commitment showed by all involved.
With Ehrenreich easing into the inexperienced, swaggering nature of a hopeful Han Solo, the film begins by presenting the central relationship between Solo and Emilia Clarke’s (Game of Thrones) Qi’ra, a fellow low-born survivor who like Han himself, will do anything to survive the perilous world of slavers, gangsters and thieves which the film resides in. With Solo’s journey resulting in introductions to Woody Harrelson’s (Three Billboards) father figure, Tobias Beckett, Paul Bettany’s (Infinity War) scar-ridden criminal, Dryden Voss, and of course, Donald Glover’s (The Martian) charming interpretation of Lando Calrissian, the range of bright, fascinating characters allows the limited amount of time spent on deep, meaningful characterisation to be somewhat overlooked, with Howard at times more interested in a rapid, relentless editing pace which moves from one well designed planet to the the next without ever really having the chance to breathe. Whilst the relationship between Qi’ra and Solo is somewhat generic and functional, the real bromance of the piece is of course between Solo and Chewbacca, the furry, murderous Wookie who is as charming and fundamentally likeable as ever, and with the interactions between the cast effective and wickedly humorous, the Disney stamp which has made most of the entries in the MCU so great is vividly on show to see. With it meant to be the undisputed train wreck of the year, Solo: A Star Wars Story turns out to be anything but, a splendidly ludicrous popcorn fest which ties into the franchise’s space opera mantra with ease, a movie which will hopefully appease the fans left cold by The Last Jedi and one which proves that when in doubt, get the right guys in to get the job done.
Overall Score: 8/10
Oscars 2018: Best Supporting Actor
Another day, another Academy Awards category to look upon here at Black Ribbon, and whilst not as much as a full-on given, it may seem that joining Frances McDormand up on the Oscar winners stage this year will more than likely be fellow Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri star Sam Rockwell, whose performance as the despicable, hate-filled, racist bigot, Officer Dickson is one of awards touting success, even if the fundamentals of Rockwell’s character is utter torturous from beginning to end, and whilst Woody Harrelson also shines as the moral cornerstone of McDonagh’s movie as Sheriff Bill Willoughby, it seems Rockwell will indeed only continue the gongs that have been heading the Irish directors way. Elsewhere, Willem Dafoe earns his third Oscar nomination for Sean Baker’s The Florida Project whilst Christopher Plummer also receives a nod for his rapidly manufactured role as Jean Paul Getty in Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World after the much publicised erasure of Kevin Spacey in the same role. Concluding the nomination ticket is of course Richard Jenkins for his beautifully emotive role as Giles in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water after being completely overlooked for his equally impressive role in S. Craig Zahler’s little seen Western Bone Tomahawk back in 2016, and even though the likes of Will Poulter and yes, Bill Skarsgård would have seen recognition in my book for Detroit and the brilliant It respectively, the Best Supporting Actor race is once again yet another strong category to pick a winner from. Here are the main points…
Winner – Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Personal Favourite – Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri)
Nomination Snub – Will Poulter (Detroit)
“You Know, If You Hadn’t Stopped Coming To Church, You’d Have A Little More Understanding Of People’s Feelings…”
With the likes of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths on his curriculum vitae, Irish screenwrite Martin McDonagh has become renowned in the entertainment trade for snappy and subversive tales which blend the darker traits of the human spirit with rib-tickling comedic undertones, and his return this week with the hotly anticipated jet-black drama, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an interesting example of a movie which has both equal measures of excellence and fundamental, unforgivable sin. Primarily following Frances McDormand (Fargo, Hail, Caesar!) as the grieving, unpredictable and potty mouthed Mildred Hayes, who in her attempt to call out the workings of the local police force after her daughter’s violent death instinctively causes anguish within the community with the implementation of the titular billboards, McDonagh’s latest carries all the traits and features you would expect when glancing over the director’s previous endeavours on film, but with primary characters within the narrative which ease on the side of utmost vulgarity and gaping plot inconsistencies which become too jarring to ignore, Billboards is a movie which is the epitome of a picture where the whole is lesser than the sum of its’ parts. Whilst performances all around are seemingly note perfect, with obvious plaudits directed to McDormand’s fiery justice seeker and Sam Rockwell’s idiotic, racist and utterly despicable local law enforcer, Officer Dickson, the real heart and centre of the piece is undeniably Woody Harrelson’s Sheriff Bill Willoughby, whose key involvement in the direction of the narrative is the only true character where emotional investment and engagement is truly viable.
Whilst the character of Hayes has a self defined purpose due to the tragic loss of her daughter, her penchant for unwarranted violence and vulgar sensibility highlights the key flaw in a script which not only is tonally wild, but isn’t comedic or sharp enough to come across anything other than played with a straight face, and for a movie which tackles poorly a wide range of issues ranging from rape to institutionalised racism, McDonagh’s script is one of the most nihilistic portrayals of the human race presented on screen in recent memory. With the comedic elements completely absent therefore, the continued use of petulant swearing and offensive set pieces do ultimately lead to extensive nitpicking in terms of plot inconsistencies, with the most obvious being a complete lack of any realist sense of consequence for any of the major players within the piece, with people being violently attacked in front of gazing witnesses, children being assaulted and police stations being burnt to the ground, with the characters at fault then seemingly left without any sense of punishment, and for a movie whose primary basis is Hayes’ search for justice, the feel of the movie just seems terribly conflicted and contradicted. Finally, we get to the character of Rockwell’s Officer Dickson, whose revolting, old-fashioned sensibilities and racist, sexist and bigoted views are seemingly forgotten over the course of the movie’s runtime, with McDonagh handing the character over to the audience as a sort of redemptive figure of hope which I completely and utterly rejected, and whilst Rockwell’s performance is undeniably brilliant, his respective character isn’t and whilst Billboards is indeed brilliantly made and is helmed by a flashy pace which zips along nicely, the key message and feel of the movie ultimately left me with a nasty taste in my mouth, and for a film to successfully manage that, McDonagh’s latest is a film I can admire but ultimately cannot bring myself to like.
Overall Score: 6/10
“I Did Not Start This War. I Offered You Peace. I Showed You Mercy. But Now You’re Here. To Finish Us Off. For Good…”
Although the original Planet of the Apes movies are films in which I can apologetically state I have never, ever seen, with not even the woefully panned, Mark Wahlberg starring Tim Burton version being at the forefront of my mind in terms of movie catch-up, 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a thrillingly satisfactory reinvention of the famous franchise, using the motion performance mastery of Andy Serkis in creating arguably the most effective digital character of the 21st century in Caesar, (Yes, I know, Gollum is probably more iconic) resulting in a duo hit rate of success with both critics and audiences and ultimately leading to where we are today. After continuing the success of Rise with the Matt Reeves directed, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, an adventurous, if rather flawed blockbuster sequel, Reeves returns this week with War for the Planet of the Apes, a third instalment of the Apes franchise before setting out and directing that film about that geezer in a cape who likes bats. With spectacle in abundance and an emotional yet wholly bleak narrative at its’ core, War is the best of the 21st century Apes franchise so far, combining perfect and sometimes staggering motion capture with top-notch performances and an array of cinematic nods which result in Matt Reeves offering the most effective slice of blockbuster brilliance so far this year.
Following on from the events of Dawn in which the Human/Ape battle is entirely in full swing due to the actions of the treacherous Koba, War begins with a particularly spectacular opening set piece, one which sets the dark and violent tone for the narrative ahead and one which builds the foundations of Caesar’s decision making in his battle against the psychopath figure of Woody Harrelson’s The Colonel. Whilst the 12A rating will open the film up to an extended audience, including the possibility of kids, War is no means a completely joyous ride, with the narrative undeniably melancholic and sometimes masochistic in its’ portrayal of the conflict between the two opposing sides, whilst the death count on-screen rivals pretty much any top-end blockbuster release within recent years or so, yet with so much darkness and dread encompassing the story, the concluding act feels almost like a substantial reward for an audience who feels every inch of the pain our leading ape has to go through in order to save both his family and his race. With winking nods to films such as The Great Escape and Apocalypse Now, with the latter’s influence clearly stated halfway through the action, War is boosted by the quite brilliant digital effects, effects which completely have you believing in the fictional characters on-screen and effects which showcase once again Andy Serkis for the genius he undeniably is. Grimy, grungy and gargantuan in scale, War is an excellent example of a character-based blockbuster and a movie which is made with such care and intelligence, you leave the cinema only wanting more.
Overall Score: 8/10
“I Am An Old Soul. I Like Old Movies And Old Music. Even Old People…!”
I know the feeling. As one of the minorities who believe they were born in the completely wrong era, The Edge of Seventeen is one of those fantastical coming-of-age comedies in which relating with the leading lady is simple. A conflicted socially awkward teen who believes the current social strata is one of isolation and technological addiction could sum up Hailee Steinfield’s Nadine, a high-school junior who fails completely at fitting in with the modern crowd and unfortunately loses her best friend after she catches her sleeping with her brother. Ouch indeed. The Edge of Seventeen works on a wide range of levels, no more so than Steinfield herself, who after her star-making performance in the Coen’s remake of True Grit, embraces the film’s lead role in her stride and creates a character so effortlessly likeable, the fact that she appears in every shot of the movie makes it an enjoyable ride into the ambiguity of modern youthfulness once again.
Whilst the perilous teen conflicts at the heart of The Edge of Seventeen aren’t entirely organic, the rather understated nature of the narrative helps to inflict a sense of realism into the drama associated around Nadine, with her brother, played by Everybody Wants Some!! star Blake Jenner, seemingly at the heart of the main issues, a problem many siblings across the globe can relate to. Adding a level of droll humour to the proceedings, Woody Harrelson’s portrayal of Nadine’s teacher-comfort is a quaint addition, one which allows our heroine to find comfort in the heart of someone much older yet someone who understands her completely. Strangely enough, the 15 rating plastered on the movie will unfortunately dissuade most of the audience the movie is attempting to connect with, yet The Edge of Seventeen is indeed one of the more heartwarming additions to the big screen at the moment and when put up against the likes of Office Christmas Party, it’s Annie Hall. On its’ own however, The Edge of Seventeen isn’t exactly in that particular pedigree but it is still is a worthy addition to the genre.
Overall Score: 7/10
“We Are Going Out With A Show People Will Never Forget…”
Remember when the BBC had Hustle? Yeah, that’s right, that show about a gang of street-wise tricksters who would con rich bad guys out of a lot of dollar in order to give credence to their own illegal activities starring Marc Warren and that other guy who I haven’t seen since. Picture Hustle but made by Channel 5 and mixed in with a large percentage of post-2000 Scooby Doo and that is pretty much a solid summary of events that take place in Now You See Me 2, the sequel to the 2013 magic-come-crime drama which not one person wanted aside from the Hollywood machine who saw it as yet another chance to make a quick buck starring an unbelievable rafter of A-List stars such as Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson and a whole lot more who are more than willing to pick up the cheque and walk out of the door, leaving behind a script in which I can guarantee not one person thought would be the next Citizen Kane and instead is the pinnacle of CGI-fuelled vileness in which Hollywood decides to keeps on churning out year after year. Seem harsh? I haven’t even started yet.
Carrying straight on from the first film, Now You See Me 2 gives us another chance to witness our beloved thieves get up to no good whilst accomplishing feats of magic which look so out of this world and over the top you wouldn’t be surprised to find out that after all this time The Horseman are actually a band of Avenger-like vigilantes, each with their own special ability to enhance the ridiculousness of their acts. I mean come on, if the film wanted to embrace a sense of authenticity, then surely the unbelievable acts of so called magic in which CGI plays a major part of, should have been replaced for magic tricks that were kept in the realms of plausibility? Not only are the magic stunts ridiculous but so is the plot, with it one, not making any sense whatsoever (Just look at Morgan Freeman’s bipolar character swings), two, having the cheesiest of cheesy acting (Daniel Radcliffe, I’m looking at you) and three, taking home the award for most annoying screen character of the year in the form of Woody Harrelson’s twin baddie who is simply awful, awful, awful. Did I mention he was awful?
Adding to the elite awfulness of the movie is a sense of sanctimonious film-making, with the scriptwriters seemingly believing they are in fact the 21st century incarnations of Hitchcock himself, but when deciphering the movie’s twists and turns throughout the painfully long two hour plus running time, Now You See Me 2 really doesn’t make one bit of sense whatsoever. For example, if the world believes Daniel Radcliffe’s character is dead, how has no-one not seen him in his enormous, luxury ridden flat-pad in the middle of a thriving city? How does a key card that supposedly rips into the heart of every single computer system look so flimsy and easily mistaken for a fake? Why does Morgan Freeman’s character seemingly take a 180 degree turn towards the end of the movie? I surely can’t be alone in my criticism’s towards Now You See Me 2, a vacuous slum of a movie which will indeed test your patience from the first minute and leave you with a sense of injustice when you leave. The only magic trick accomplished in going to see Now You See Me 2 was when I paid money to see it but hey, at least it isn’t Gods of Egypt.
Overall Score: 3/10
“Turn Your Weapons To The Capitol! Turn Your Weapons To Snow…”
Looking back at my time growing up as a teenager, it is rather fair to say that in terms of cinematic experiences that was forged during my development from child-minded youngster to well, child-minded adult, that I, and many others of similar age, were well and truly spoiled. I mean come on, we had the reinvention of fantasy epics with The Lord of the Rings, the angsty teen family friendly years of Harry Potter, and the re-invention of both the Bond and the Batman films, with The Dark Knight still being a huge turning point in terms of my understanding of what makes a truly great cinematic memory. This complete spoilage of greatness during my own personal childhood has only received further gratitude in recent times when examining the recent implosion of child-targeted franchises hoping to fill the gaps that series’ such as Harry Potter vacated when they came to their concluding tales, most of which have seen that the teen-led dystopian universe is the right way to go. Although The Hunger Games series definitely is the leader of the pack when it comes to such, beating the Divergent and Maze Runner series’ hands down, its’ concluding tale in the form of Mockingjay – Part Two is an unfortunate mess, leaving the legacy of such a franchise ending with a whim, rather than a stage of defiance and strength in a vein similar to its’ titular character.
If you aren’t already well and truly versed in the plot-lines of the whole Hunger Games saga, there really is not much point attempting to try and explain almost seven hours worth of backstory right now except from the fact that the entire series is basically Battle Royale with cheese (yes, I loved that too Pulp Fiction fans) where aside from the rather important and intelligent notions of dystopian futures, uprisings and a fight against tyranny, something of which would give George Orwell a run for his money, The Hunger Games franchise has always seemed to be rather misplaced in my own personal point of view due to a variety of reasons that seem to come full circle in its’ concluding chapter. Firstly, aside from Jennifer Lawrence well and truly embracing the role of Katniss Everdeen, a character in which is meant to symbolise a role model for many fans of the series, there really isn’t one other character in which I can truly say I feel heavily invested in both emotionally and mentally. Because of this, the entirety of MJ Part One was rather a significant bore, with way too many scenes of exposition and explanation and much too less of actually getting to the point, highlighting the argument for why these concluding parts were not just made into one film rather than two.
Such a problem continues in MJ Part Two, where scenes of excruciatingly dull dialogue are played out far too long too often in comparison to scenes of vital importance which are sped through way too quickly, resulting in a sense of continuous questioning and a jump between states of sheer boredom and utter confusion. Thankfully, with Lawrence in the titular role as the Mockingjay, such scenes are saved from total extinction with her performance as the “girl on fire”, continuing her rather brilliant start to life as an actress, whilst the seedy, ice-like figure of the wonderful Donald Sutherland as the ruthless autocratic President Snow is also a trait in the film’s favour. Amid scenes of sheer tension, particularly one in which our heroes and heroines venture into the city’s sewers, is times in which the film’s fundamental dark subject matter come into force, particularly in one scene in which we witness a mass gathering of children being blown to pieces, and it is here where the age-old question of classification comes into account, with MJ Part Two, being definitely in the category of top-end 12A’s. In other words, do not take your seven year old child to see this. You may scar them for life.
Obviously as I am not a die-hard fan of the series, MJ Part Two was never going to fulfill all my expectations entirely, but the fact that the concluding chapter of this franchise is made in such a terrible fashion upsets me personally on behalf of its’ core fans. It’s messy, it’s overlong, it features the worse love-triangle since Twilight, MJ Part Two for me, was a severe let-down from my already mediocre expectations, ending on a sour note rather than a show of brilliance that the first two in the series brought with it. At the end of the day, it may be a suitable end to the Mockingjay series for some, but for me, Mockingjay – Part Two was a wholly mediocre affair, too hell bent on getting too much done too quickly whilst reeling on the lack of assured substance and depth that may have been accomplished if made into one film rather than two for the sake of the accountants. And boy, that ending was truly terrible.
Overall Score: 5/10
Now You See Me is the story of 4 street magicians who are brought together by an unknown source of power to rob banks like Robin Hood. With a large cast of well known actors, it was safe to say that a lot of money had been spent on the project. Yet it is safe to say that I was disappointed. The US received this movie just over a month before us here in the UK. A movie which I had to avoid all sort of news about it for a month and its safe to say that I was a little peeved on the exit.
The actual story is incredibly simple, with a few plot twists which aim too catch you out but are very easy to see through. I have to admit that there was one incident which I felt too be a good twist, but it doesn’t wow you. This is what I felt for the majority of the story, nothing got my blood pumping, nothing engaged me with the plot and the predictability of it made it tedious to watch.
As you may already know from my “This Is The End Review“, I do not like James Franco and I harbour much of the same dislikes for him as Dave making his character a spare wheel. As the story rolls on, he disappears for a portion of it and can be easily ignored with his predictable exit. I do have to give him credit for his fight scene between him and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk). His acting was fluid and fight scenes were done with precision and an element of style involved. Speaking of The Hulk, it turns out that he is our main character. We follow the action from his point and the process he goes through to investigate the bank robberies and the workings of the 4 Horseman’s magic. When looking back at Mark’s performance, its obvious that it isn’t his best work. For someone who played the Hulk, you would assume that he could show true anger or despair, yet his face can appear somewhat still throughout.
The actors I did get along with were, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and of course Mr Freeman! Harrelson was the most interesting of the characters. A man with the ability to hypnotise the public and get them to do as he chooses. His talent is quite interesting but its his humour that sets him apart from the rest, while Eisenberg is the brains of the group, he is the focal point in the group and seems like the leader of the four. So, with a huge cast, a few good scenes and general entertainment, I feel the movie deserves a 7/10. It’s lack of grip and the generic story can bore some and the way the story was wrapped up was very cheesy. I would have liked a lot more darkness to it with a bit more aggression to build the excitement.