Venom Movie Review

A comic book origin story that often masquerades as an otherworldly buddy comedy, Venom will likely be remembered for the weirdly inspired performance of Tom Hardy and not much else. We’ve seen the title character before with Topher Grace in SpiderMan 3. The alien creature made of black goo played as a superfluous extra villain in that picture. Now Venom is ready for his closeup.

Hardy is Eddie Brock, a San Francisco investigative reporter with a lovely DA fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams) and a penchant for asking one too many questions. He does just that with gazillionaire inventor Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), who’s a beloved mogul in the community. He’s also, unbeknownst to the masses, experimenting on poor people with a mysterious alien life form that his company the Life Foundation discovered in outer space. Eddie’s inquires into these practices lead to his firing as a journalist and the dissolution of his romance.

A few months later as Eddie is down on his luck, one of Drake’s scientists spills the beans to him about further tomfoolery at the Foundation. This leads to a break-in at their research facility and one of those nasty and gooey extraterrestrials attaching themselves to Eddie. It turns out these visitors intend to destroy Planet Earth.

Yet we also find out that Eddie’s new inhabitant of his vessel has a sense of humor. And Hardy’s performance filled with strange noises, facial tics, and general bizareness makes for an often memorable duo. Venom himself is inside Eddie’s head constantly with what sounds like Christian Bale’s basement octave range from The Dark Knight series. I’m really not sure if Hardy’s work here is what you’d call good, but it’s definitely not forgettable. He seems committed to whatever the heck he’s decided Brock/Venom is and that itself is fun.

Unfortunately there’s lots of other forgettable aspects to the movie itself. This would include lots of the dialogue, the action sequences, Williams as the love interest, and Ahmed as the bad guy. Important stuff generally. It’s also amusing how crystal clear it is that director Ruben Fleischer (who’s done better with Zombieland) and the screenwriters so want this to be rated R. I assume Sony said otherwise, but the script has to reach the absolute highest level of profanity and heads being bitten off without achieving the restricted tag. I will give the writers a thumbs up for setting this in San Francisco and avoiding the umpteenth climactic battle at the Golden Gate Bridge.

I can’t deny that Hardy’s bewildering and bewitching and sometimes annoying acting nearly make this worth of the price of admission. There’s just a bit too much muck attached to it.

**1/2 (out of four)

Best Actress: A Look Back

Back at it again with my look back at major Oscar races from 1990 to the present! We’ve arrived at Best Actress. If you missed my previous posts covering the Supporting performers, you can find them here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/25/best-supporting-actor-a-look-back/

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/10/20/best-supporting-actress-a-look-back/

As I did with those posts, I’m selecting my top 3 least surprising winners and top 3 upsets. I’m also giving you my personal pick for strongest and weakest fields from the past 28 years.

For starters, here’s the list of winners from 1990 to now:

1990 – Kathy Bates, Misery

1991 – Jodie Foster, The Silence of the Lambs

1992 – Emma Thompson, Howards End

1993 – Holly Hunter, The Piano

1994 – Jessica Lange, Blue Sky

1995 – Susan Sarandon, Dead Man Walking

1996 – Frances McDormand, Fargo

1997 – Helen Hunt, As Good As It Gets

1998 – Gwyneth Paltrow, Shakespeare in Love

1999 – Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry

2000 – Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

2001 – Halle Berry, Monster’s Ball

2002 – Nicole Kidman, The Hours

2003 – Charlize Theron, Monster

2004 – Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

2005 – Reese Witherspoon, Walk the Line

2006 – Helen Mirren, The Queen

2007 – Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

2008 – Kate Winslet, The Reader

2009 – Sandra Bullock, The Blind Side

2010 – Natalie Portman, Black Swan

2011 – Meryl Streep, The Iron Lady

2012 – Jennifer Lawrence, Silver Linings Playbook

2013 – Cate Blanchett, Blue Jasmine

2014 – Julianne Moore, Still Alice

2015 – Brie Larson, Room

2016 – Emma Stone, La La Land

2017 – Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

When it comes to Best Actress, I must say it’s probably the race with the least amount of genuine upsets. Nearly every year, there’s a pretty strong front-runner and they win – even more so than in Actor and the Supporting players. Of many non-surprises, here’s my top ones:

3. Holly Hunter, The Piano

Hunter’s work as a mute piano player in Jane Campion’s period piece was the clear favorite over significant competition that included Angela Bassett in What’s Love Got to Do With It? and the previous year’s winner Emma Thompson in The Remains of the Day. 

2. Julia Roberts, Erin Brockovich

One of Hollywood’s biggest stars had already received nods for Steel Magnolias and Pretty Woman and there was little question that Brockovich would earn Roberts her first and only (so far) trip to the Oscar stage.

1. Charlize Theron, Monster

Theron’s metamorphosis into serial killer Aileen Wuornos swept all precursors. The rest of the field was also fairly weak that year, making her the obvious victor.

And now the “upsets”…

3. Kate Winslet, The Reader

While not a surprise when she won Oscar night, the multi-nominated Winslet was expected for much of the year to get a nod for Revolutionary Road instead. Yet it was this Stephen Daldry drama that was selected instead.

2. Marion Cotillard, La Vie en Rose

This was a two-way contest between Cotillard and veteran Julie Christie for Away from Her, with many believing the latter had the edge. It didn’t turn out that way.

1. Hilary Swank, Boys Don’t Cry and Hilary Swank, Million Dollar Baby

This #1 comes with a caveat. It wasn’t much of an upset by the time Swank won her double Oscars. What’s interesting here is that she single-handedly denied two prime opportunities for the winless Annette Bening to get a statue for American Beauty and Being Julia. 

We move to the fields. For weakest field, I’m selecting 1994 when Jessica Lange won for the little-seen Blue Sky. Other nominees were Jodie Foster in Nell, Miranda Richardson in Tom&Viv, Winona Ryder for Little Women, and Susan Sarandon in The Client. 

Strongest group in my opinion goes to 2010 with Natalie Portman’s victorious role in Black Swan. The rest of that impressive field is Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right), Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole), Jennifer Lawrence’s first nomination in Winter’s Bone, and Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine).

Best Actor is next, folks! Stay tuned…

Venom Box Office Prediction

Sony Pictures hopes to kick off a franchise and set an October opening record next weekend when Venom debuts. The picture’s namesake is an anti-hero spawned from the Spider-Man comics. Moviegoers first saw him in the form of Topher Grace in SpiderMan 3. That rendering of the character didn’t sit too well with comic book aficionados.

The studio hopes this version changes that. Ruben Fleischer, best known for Zombieland, serves behind the camera. Playing Venom and his alter ego Eddie Brock is Tom Hardy. Costars include Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, and Woody Harrelson.

Sequels and spin-offs are hoped for and the marketing campaign has been pervasive. The reaction to trailers has been mostly positive, but word is that reviews won’t be published until the day before release. That’s not always a good sign. Similar buzz greeted Suicide Squad (among others) and it managed to meet expectations and gross $133 million in its first weekend. That stands as the largest August debut ever.

The correlation is that Venom could do the same in October, but estimates aren’t as high here. This is expected to gross between $60-$70 million. Even if it reached the low-end of that spectrum, this would top October record holder Gravity at $55 million. I’ll note that Halloween (out October 19) also stands a solid shot at exceeding that.

My feeling is this will meet projections, but on the lower end of the spectrum. How it performs in subsequent weekends will be dependent on buzz and that may be the biggest indicator on whether Sony gets its longed for cinematic universe.

Venom opening weekend prediction: $62.5 million

For my A Star Is Born prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/09/25/a-star-is-born-box-office-prediction/

The Greatest Showman Movie Review

Michael Gracey’s The Greatest Showman doesn’t burden itself with much historical accuracy or being a full-fledged look at its title subject. Its pleasures are of the surface level variety. At one point, a stuffy critic begrudgingly tells P.T. Barnum that his show has succeeded in bringing joy to people. So does this musical in many moments.

Hugh Jackman is Barnum, an endless promoter who grew up poor and never forgot how he was treated by New York’s elite. He marries his childhood sweetheart Charity (Michelle Williams), who came up with wreath and privilege. After some career misfortune in the 19th century era Big Apple, Barnum develops his greatest idea: a stage experience featuring society’s freaks. This includes a bearded lady (Keala Settle) with a beautifully booming voice and a dwarf (Sam Humphrey) who dresses as a general. He teams up with playwright Phillip Carlyle (Zac Efron), who also hails from the aristocracy but feels more at home among these outcasts. Phillip also finds love of the forbidden kind with the show’s trapeze artist (Zendaya).

While Barnum finally finds the financial success he’s longed for, it doesn’t buy him respect and that’s a consistent through line in the screenplay. Both the wealthy class and hecklers who lurk around the theater believe the freak show atmosphere is a disgrace. Barnum tries to combat this by touring with famed European opera star Jenny Lind (Rebecca Ferguson). Both his family and circus employees feel the neglect.

The brisk 105 minute running time features 11 song and dance numbers that move the plot along, often in montage fashion. Even a cursory Wiki read of Barnum’s grand life reveals that Jenny Bicks and Bill Condon’s script aren’t making a biopic. Like the man it’s about, this picture is style over substance. The message of inclusion and acceptance is unmistakable and frequently touching. Most importantly, the musical numbers (from the team behind La La Land) produce plentiful happy feels.

With his theater background, Jackman is more than well suited to play the man in the top hat. He’s the focal point in many of the song and dance interludes. Yet it’s “Rewrite the Stars”, a gorgeously choreographed sequence with Efron and Zendaya, that proved most memorable for me.

A stuffy critic could gripe that a rewrite should have explored more of Barnum’s real existence. However, the joyous vibe while I was watching is enough to justify admission here.

*** (out of four)

I Feel Pretty Movie Review

I Feel Pretty offers an often amusing, if certainly not profound, twist on the mistaken identity comedy with a star who fully commits to her performance. That performer is Amy Schumer, who had a breakout role in 2015’s often inspired Trainwreck. She followed that up with the totally unimpressive mother/daughter pic Snatched. Considering those titles, I was a bit and often pleasantly surprised by its lack of reliance on the raunchy factor.

Schumer plays Renee, who works on the website for a high-end NYC based cosmetics company. Her works places her in a basement and she dreams of working at the headquarters on Fifth Avenue. Renee doesn’t even care if that means being the receptionist and taking less pay. In her mind, her inability to get that position is due to her non-model looks. However, when she bumps her noggin at a SoulCycle session, she wakes up thinking she looks exactly like those beauties.

What follows is a mistaken identity movie where only the lead is mistaken about her identity. Her confidence (as she perceives from her outward appearance) gets her moving up the corporate  ladder and developing a rapport with boss Avery (Michelle Williams, trying a rare hand at comedy with a Kardashian-esque high voice). Renee also begins dating the sweet Ethan (Rory Scovel), who’s attracted to her self-assurance.

Renee’s newfound outlook on life puts her in bikini contests, but it also negatively affects her dynamic with her two besties (Busy Philips and Aidy Bryant). Emily Ratajkowski turns up as Renee’s definition of the perfect girl. Surprise… we find out stunning women have issues too.

The blurred lines of our protagonist’s perception leads to some rather obvious developments in a screenplay from Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, who also direct. Schumer does her darndest to elevate the material by giving it her all. Watching her false reactions to those around her provides a number of chuckles, though the script struggles to keep it fresh after a while. It’s no Trainwreck or the near train wreck that Snatched was, but I feel it reminded me of the qualities of its lead.

**1/2 (out of four)

I Feel Pretty Box Office Prediction

Nearly three years ago, comedian Amy Schumer broke through on the big screen in a major way with Trainwreck. Last summer, she hit a bit of a sophomore slump with Snatched. Will the third time be a charm or a disappointment with next weekend’s I Feel Pretty?

Schumer stars as an ordinary gal who hits her head and wakes up thinking she’s attained supermodel looks. The pic comes from directors Abby Kohn and Mark Silverstein, making their directorial debut after writing features including Never Been Kissed, The Vow, and How to Be Single. Costars include Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski, Rory Scovel, Aidy Bryant, Busy Philips, and real supermodels Naomi Campbell and Lauren Hutton.

As mentioned, Schumer’s Trainwreck debuted in the summer of 2015 to $30 million and an eventual $110 million domestic gross. Two years later, her collaboration with Goldie Hawn, Snatched, grabbed a lesser $19 million out of the gate and then petered out with just $45 million overall.

I Feel Pretty was originally scheduled to open in June of this year before being pushed up to April 27. It was recently moved up a week due to The Avengers staking claim on that release date. Reviews are not out yet and that could both help or hinder its prospects. For instance, Blockers managed to premiere to over $20 million just last weekend and the positive word-of-mouth helped. Snatched, on the other hand, probably wasn’t assisted by its mediocre reaction.

I’ll say Pretty doesn’t reach the $20 million mark and its prospects are more likely in the mid to high teens teens range.

I Feel Pretty opening weekend prediction: $16.2 million

For my Super Troopers 2 prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/04/13/super-troopers-2-box-office-prediction/

For my Traffik prediction, click here:

https://toddmthatcher.com/2018/04/14/traffik-box-office-prediction/

All the Money in the World Movie Review

Ridley Scott’s All the Money in the World is made with all the competence in the world you would imagine from this filmmaker retelling one of the most famous kidnappings in modern history. It’s a story built for a cinematic rendering that’s moderately successful in its execution. The screenplay from David Scarpa takes liberties with what really happened on occasion, but sticks to many of the bizarre facts surrounding the taking of John Paul Getty III.

In 1973, 16-year-old Getty (Charlie Plummer) was living a carefree life in Rome when he was abducted.  The demands for ransom were based on good cause. Getty’s grandfather is J. Paul Getty (Christopher Plummer, no relation to the actor playing his grandson). Not only is the elder Getty currently the wealthiest man on Earth, the oil tycoon is the wealthiest man to ever walk it. There’s one significant issue: he’s also notoriously stingy and his potential heirs are not enjoying his riches.

That means young Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams) must ask her former father-in-law for the $17 million demanded for his safe return. Paul’s father (Andrew Buchan) is essentially out of the picture both literally and figuratively – off somewhere in a drug induced haze. Mr. Getty has no interest in paying. Some of his reasons seem valid as he figures it will be open season on all his grandkids if he acquieses. Most of his actions re-enforce his reputation as a persnickety cheapskate.

Mr. Getty does direct one of his advisers, former CIA man Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to investigate. He believes at first that Paul may have set up the snatching himself for a generous payday. When that wrongheaded theory proves false, a lengthy negotiation develops between Gail, Mr. Getty, and a rather large group of crime figures involved in Paul’s capture.

All the Money in the World, of course, has its own notable backstory as Kevin Spacey filmed the entire role portraying Mr. Getty. When numerous sordid allegations came forth about him, director Scott made the unheard of decision to recast the role with Plummer just weeks before its release. You wouldn’t know of the behind the scenes drama upon viewership. The 88-year-old gives a strong performance as the unlikable billionaire who never seems to recognize normal human emotion or find a dollar he doesn’t attempt to stretch as far as humanly possible. Similar acclaim goes to Williams as the mother desperately trying to come up with solutions when everyone else assumes she can just snap her fingers and cash magically appears. Another solid performance worthy of mention is Romain Duris as Cinquanta, one of the kidnappers who develops a bond with Paul and is far more sympathetic to the situation than his grandpa is. The weak spot is Wahlberg. He’s an actor capable of fine work, but I never managed to fully buy him here as the hardened CIA man.

Some of the events depicted here are accentuated for dramatic effect, including an ending for Mr. Getty that didn’t follow until years later. Most of the time, the picture glides by on Scott’s sturdy direction and its inherently compelling tale of inheritors with a bad benefactor.