Category Archives: Half-assed

Venom

I did not want to expect too much of Venom, not after the debacle that was Spider-Man 3.  Thankfully, Tom Hardy is not Topher Grace, and because of him, Venom is not Spider-Man 3.  But Hardy can only do so much, so Venom is also no Spider-Man: Homecoming.  It falls somewhere in the middle, which is far more than I could have expected given Sony’s dismal Spider-Man output since 2004’s Spider-Man 2 (worth noting: the only credit I give Sony for Homecoming’s goodness is that they wisely let Marvel drive that bus).venom-4-700x350

Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a disgraced reporter who gets infected with an alien parasite (a “symbiote”) while investigating Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) and his evil Life Foundation.  As Brock learns how to use his new powers while linked to the symbiote, he has to work with his ex-fiancée (Michelle Williams) to save the human race from both the symbiote and Drake’s evil plan for world domination.

This film depicts the origin of Venom in a very peculiar way.  That is, Venom’s creation does not involve Peter Parker or Spider-Man in any way, which is completely opposite to the cVenom_0omic book roots of the character as a human and alien united by their hate of Spidey.

Do  I really care?  Only in that I missed the Spider-Man logo on Venom’s comic-book costume.  Otherwise, movie Venom, and especially movie Eddie Brock is far more interesting than his comic book counterpart (at least in his original form as I’m not going to get into discussing the other comic book versions of Venom, such as space-faring Flash Thompson who ended up a member of the Guardians of the Galaxy).  It’s a credit to Hardy and movie Venom’s clear inner conflict that this Venom can stand on his own as San Francisco’s vigilante protector rather than being a one-note Spider-Man wanna-be. He’s an interesting character trapped in a fairly generic comic-book movie.  Venom is a fun adventure because of the interplay between Hardy and the symbiote, and that elevates this film above Sony’s other recent Spider-Man efforts.

The problem Sony faces (again) is that they’ve planned a whole shared universe around a film before it came out (as they did with Amazing Spider-Man 2), and just like with ASM2, Venom isn’t a strong enough movie to support its own cinematic universe.  The silver lining this time is that since Tom Holland’s Spider-Man wasn’t involved in Venom, there’s no need to reboot his Spidey if Sony modifies their reported plans for a five-film series that (spoiler alert for a disappointing mid-credit scene) will include Woody Harrelson as Venom-offshoot Carnage.  All of which might be just as okay as Venom but shouldn’t I be more excited than just “okay” coming out of movie number one?

By the way, (another spoiler) even though the Carnage cameo is disappointing, it’s still worth sticking around to the very end as there’s a teaser for the upcoming animated Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and it looks fantastic.  Between that and 2019’s Spider-Man: Far From Home, Spider-Man fans are still doing quite well, even if Venom isn’t the franchise-starter Sony was hoping for.

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Five Nights in Maine

Sherwin is reeling with the sudden loss of his beloved wife, Fiona. Out of sorts and in excruciating pain, he somehow consents to visit his estranged mother-in-law in Maine. Lucinda is also grieving her daughter, but their estrangement layers loss with guilt – and suspicion.

MV5BMTA0NjI1NzI1MDFeQTJeQWpwZ15BbWU4MDc1NjY1NzYx._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,756_AL_Sherwin (David Oyelowo) and Lucinda (Dianne Wiest) knock about in her rural home with only her nurse Ann (Rosie Perez) between them. Lucinda is sick and in a lot of physical pain but she’s not too sick to still be kind of a bitch. The last time she saw her daughter they fought, as usual, and parted badly, both assuming for the last time, and of course it was, only it was daughter who died, and not the ailing mother.

Oyelowo and Wiest give great performances. Wiest is icily fantastic, full of venom and sharp edges. You kind of want to slap her across the face, even if she is a cancer-ridden old lady. But hiring a talented cast is about all this film gets right. I don’t mind some negative space but here the script is thin, the story plotless. It might have made an interesting character study if the dialogue wasn’t so sparse. We start out knowing very little but don’t attain a whole lot of clarity over the course of our Five Nights In Maine. I wish I had kinder words for a film that dares to tackle a dark subject, but this felt slow and sluggish and ultimately empty.

The Shack

Mack takes his 3 kids camping and only comes home with 2. While he was jumping into the lake to save his son from an overturned canoe, his youngest daughter disappears, presumably kidnapped and killed. The guilt and grief eat at him until a mysterious letter invites him back to the shack where her bloodstains and sundress were found. He goes out there alone, armed with a gun, and finds exactly what was promised but not what he expected. Are you ready to believe?

The Shack is a Christian movie. Sam Worthington plays Mack, the dad in mourning gallery-2who’d survived his own harrowing childhood and has his faith diluted along the way. Octavia Spencer plays ‘Papa’, the fond nickname Mack’s daughter had for God. Oooh, God is a black woman, how wonderfully liberal while still being completely conservative.

God’s son is there too (Avraham Aviv Alush), and also the “breath of wind” (Sumire Matsubara) and they’re all prepared to love him back to health and happiness. The question is whether you, potential viewer, are willing\able to swallow it.

I read the book because I read all the books. In it, Mack is described as “rather unremarkable,” “slightly overweight,” “a short white guy, balding, about to turn 56.” I bet Sam Worthington was over the moon when his agent sent him the script. It was a slightly uncomfortable read because its white author attempts ebonics, is kind of sexist despite the overt attempt to seem cool (but hello, black god is so 1997!), and constantly refers to “the trots” in the presence of god.

The shack is a literal place in the movie, but meant more as a metaphor for the house\prison you build out of your pain. As far as Christian movies go, well, this one doesn’t have Kirk Cameron, or, god forbid (ha! I made a funny) Nicolas Cage. It’s the kind of movie that, if you’re a believer, really makes you feel all warm and fuzzily validated, and if you’re not, well, you may smirk a few times, but it’s a fairly harmless work of fiction. I can see how people would find comfort in it. It’s humanizing, non-threatening, non-denominational, and embracing. But it’s not going to convert a single soul.

I don’t believe in god, and I take issue with religion, but my main problems with the film were ones like: how is god not a vegetarian? And how on earth do you let her do dishes? I can’t even let my Grandma do the dishes, and Mack’s allowing himself to be waited on BY GOD. And where did the holy spirit get those cute sandals?

Yes, some of the metaphors reach too far, and yes some of the sermonizing hits you over the head like a rubber mallet. But you know what? Octavia Spencer couldn’t be any better if she was a god. She’s sublime and note-perfect, in this and in everything. The Shack is still too heavy-handed for me to recommend it, but I will say that if you believe, and you struggle to reconcile belief with life’s tragedies, then maybe this film can shine a little light in your direction. I’m not especially fond of The Shack, but if you’re looking for some spiritual guidance, you could do worse.

 

 

Devil’s Bride

A new judge arrives in the small village of Åland, Finland to modernize it. The villagers are a superstitious people. They cast spells for love, search dreams for omens, use herbs to induce abortions when the priest rapes them, seek revenge through the evil eye, and ask the local beggar woman to “divine” the perpetrator of crimes. Judge Nils (Magnus Krepper) believes in higher things: judicial evidence, unbiased law, proper trials. But also, you know, witches. When his mother gets sick, someone must be blamed. And of maxresdefaultcourse his new and improved judicial system could use a steady stream of accused. Why not a good old-fashioned witch hunt (although to be fair, in 1600, it was simply just “the fashion”)?

Nils’ mother has a charming 16 year old chambermaid named Anna (Tuulia Eloranta) who’s in love with a married man. 16 year old girls who are in love for the first time are kind of jerks, but she’s at least kind and patient her charge. But she’s not oblivious when the mother’s stroke is blamed on the local healer, who is then banished as a result. Sure that’s kind of tragic, but Anna can see the benefits. After all, her lover does have a pesky wife, and it now seems that a few easy accusations do a pretty good job of getting rid of someone. And that is how a witch hunt starts.

Devil’s Bride is very atmospheric, playing up the tension and paranoia that ruled the day. Based on real historical events in Finland in the 1600s, the witch hunt snowballs as they always do, not just because of jealous young girls, but because of the church’s tacit encouragement. The film probably would have benefited from choosing either love triangle or witch drama. Instead if lets the two themes fight each other, and that weakens the overall effect. There’s not exactly a lot of new things to add to the witch hunt genre, but it’s fun enough to see Finnish pilgrim hats.

 

1 Night

Two couples, both alike in dignity. One is young, one is old. Or we’re supposed to think they’re old even though they’re only in their mid 30s.

The young woman (Isabelle Fuhrman, literally the orphan in Orphan) has just been broken up with at prom. The young man (Kyle Allen, looking a little like a young Heath Ledger) is there too, lusting after her, the girl next door who won’t give him the time of One Night, feature film set stillsday. But then a mysterious older guy gives him some advice, and a mysterious older woman gives her advice, and they spend the night together, pushing each other in pools and falling in love.

Meanwhile, the older couple appear to be falling out of love. Their current relationship is unclear though they’ve certainly been lovers at one point. But witnessing young love is messing with them, causing them to reminisce down a certain romantic path which can only be littered with truth bombs. He (Justin Chatwin, of Shameless) seems to be pushing for a reconciliation while she (Pitch Perfect’s Anna Camp) seems resistant.

First time writer/director Minhal Baig has a good idea here but it fails to develop. I think it’s supposed to be a treatise on what it takes to make love last but doesn’t have enough to say about it. It’s character-driven (a kind way of saying plotless) but doesn’t very clearly define said characters. It ends up feeling a little ‘millennials vs hipsters’ and I just couldn’t love it, even if it blossoms from a promising seed. Thank goodness for mercifully short runtimes.

Shimmer Lake

Shimmer Lake is a murder mystery told backwards. The story reverses day by day through a week as a small town sheriff investigates a bank heist gone wrong and the three local criminals he suspects. Innovative? Sure, maybe a little. Confusing? Maybe a lot. It’s just a lot of story to keep track of.  And often the first time we meet a new character, he or she is a dead body. Ten or fifteen minutes later for us is usually a day earlier for them, so the corpse reanimates and is suddenly a major player.

Now, telling the story backwards is a gimmick, and one that in my opinion, doesn’t really MV5BZGQ0OWFhNTgtYTJiOS00MDU1LTg2MTgtZTU5NzQ4Yjg0YzkxXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,999_AL_pay off. I suppose the story was too generic to get greenlit when played forward, but for future purposes, I’d appreciate it if Netflix could release movies in their natural order, and I’ll use my rewind button if I feel a particular need to bedevil my brains. Without proper introductions, I couldn’t even keep the character names straight. One of the film’s running jokes has its punchline right at the beginning but then we have to watch it get set up one morning at a time. It’s the kind of movie that might require some note-taking but it’s not good enough for me to be motivated to go rummage around in the drunk drawer for a pen.

With credits like Rainn Wilson Rob Corddry, Adam Pally, and John Michael Higgins, I expected them to put the comedy into black comedy. They don’t. Shimmer Lake seems to have some over-the-top elements but it never really embraces them. The script is safe and scrubbed of laughs. Oren Uziel, one of 5 writers credited for 22 Jump Street, writes and directs this one all by his lonesome. And while I appreciate that Netflix is trying to take some risks, this one doesn’t pay off. Or, it does, but only in the last seconds, which means you’ll spend the vast majority of this film not enjoying it very much at all. The ends do not justify the means.

 

Shut In

Mary (Naomi Watts) is a single mother caring for her severely disabled stepson, Stephen (Charlie Heaton), alone in their home ever since her husband passed. Her work as a child psychologist supports them but she’s finding it hard to keep up since Stephen is her whole life but is really only an empty shell.

Meanwhile, Mary is preoccupied with a young patient, Tom (Jacob Tremblay). He’s deaf and her work with him has gone slowly but just as she believes progress is being made, shut1his case worker is yanking him away to yet another group home. Tom has bounced around in the foster care system and Mary’s compassion is inflamed. Tom runs away one wintry night, and the fact that he seems to have run to her home briefly for refuge preys on her imagination. As the days go by and a powerful winter storm pummels them, townspeople give Tom up for dead but Mary becomes haunted by his ghost.

Virtually alone in an old house save for her vegetative stepson, Mary’s nightmares become our nightmares. Is this movie heart-pounding? It was for me. I don’t watch scary movies very often but was drawn to this for the cast, and Naomi Watts does not disappoint. But even a relative novice to the genre such as myself can feel what a retread this script is; there’s nothing new or original here, and the fear factor dips because of its obviousness.

Some beautiful cinematography helps establish a sense of isolation here, but it’s largely useless when the script goes for weak jump-scares and ignores what should have been lush with psychological horror instead. I kept thinking of this movie as “the one with Vera Farmiga” which it is not – but it is an awful lot like the one that is, and many others besides. If you have a hankering for white-lady-haunted-by-child-ghost, well, here it is. Again. But I bet you could do better.