Venom (2018)

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You know for a smart guy you really are a dumbass. TV investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is trying to take down Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), the notorious and brilliant founder of the Life Foundation who is constantly announcing new supposedly life-enhancing initiatives.  Eddie opens up confidential files belonging to his district attorney fiancée Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) which causes her to lose her job and leave him. He is fired by his TV station for his impropriety. While investigating one of Drake’s experiments in symbiotes (aliens merging with humans), Eddie’s body merges with the alien Venom – leaving him with superhuman strength and power. Twisted, dark and fuelled by rage, Venom tries to control the new and dangerous abilities that Eddie finds so puzzling and yet so intoxicating but Drake sends out his team to ensnare him… Do you ever feel like your life is one monumental screwup? How bad is this? Perhaps it should have been called Contempt if that misnomer wasn’t already the title of a classic of French cinema. Dreadful acting (Hardy is no movie star, just a terrific actor prone to insane levels of idiot savant mugging way too early here, tipping us off about the high comedy to come), terrible writing, stupid plotting and lazy presumptions. It takes about forty minutes or so for this film to finally find its feet as a satirical fantasy by which time I had found myself wondering how many more superhero movies can deal with silly sloppy seconds, bizarre virtue signalling in diversity casting (this year’s Elon Musk avatar is played by a Pakistani) and dumb allusive socio-cultural commentary including a leading lady dressing like Britney circa Baby One More Time. However once Eddie is hilariously taken over by The Host I was moved to think about the magnificently bad Saoirse Ronan movie of that name; the fourth level of jihad (‘feast upon the infidel as would a parasite upon a host’) which of course is all about the Islamic takeover of the white world; and the edicts of mindfulness (proto-neo-liberal zealotry extolled by Google’s Jolly Good Fellow along with all other Big Tech surveillance monsters); and it was then that I realised that this is in fact an expertly crafted warning about all sorts of contemporary ills:  mass immigration, uncontrolled technology, globalisation, narcissism, unsupervised pharmaceutical experiments and endless superhero movies. Obviously it’s set in Northern California, the boomer and millennial nightmare running the world. It’s dark and Blade Runner-y, as if we needed reminding that Philip K. Dick was telling us all about fifty shades of surveillance for at least forty years in the last millennium. This, then, is what happens to the universe when you’re busy buying Starbucks coffee and checking your iPhone and doping yourself with anti-depressants that persuade you that totalitarianism is okay while disinhibiting your urge to protest, and scarfing medical marijuana which is the real cure for your paranoia about the internet, and, you know, there’s nothing wrong with anything, it’s your attitude to it that needs to be corrected because you’re pathological and everything Mark Zuckerberg does may not be ethical but by crikey it’s legal! Be afraid, suckers. Make the new the primary focus of your life. Jeff Pinker & Scott Rosenberg and Kelly Marcel adapted the Marvel characters created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie and it was directed by Ruben Fleischer, responsible for an outing called Gangster Squad, a production that was so hypnotically awful I forgot what it was about while I was watching it (mission accomplished) to the point that I lost the plot and practically lost the will to live. Is it me? Even Jesus Christ himself would say, Enough. Get it over withCrucify me, guys. Instead we have expertly crafted lines like, God has abandoned us… I won’t. And the voice inside Eddie’s head that tells him, Your world is not so ugly after all.  And Anne finds that power is indeed a bit of a sneaky thrill: Oh  no! I just bit that guy’s head off!  Sheesh. Maybe this works after all, Spider-Man in reverse. Like civilisation, this is poisoned.

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Flash Gordon (1980)

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Pathetic earthlings. Hurling your bodies out into the void, without the slightest inkling of who or what is out here. If you had known anything about the true nature of the universe, anything at all, you would’ve hidden from it in terror. NASA scientists are claiming the unexpected eclipse and strange ‘hot hail’ are nothing to worry about, Dr. Hans Zarkov (Topol) knows better, and takes NY Jets quarterback star Flash Gordon (Sam Jones) and travel agent Dale Arden (Melody Anderson) on a flight into space with to rectify things. They land on planet Mongo, where the despotic Emperor Ming the Merciless (Max von Sydow) is attacking Earth out of pure boredom. With the help of a race of Hawkmen, Flash and the gang struggle to save their home planet while Ming fancies Dale as his betrothed and Princess Aura (Ornella Muti)  thinks a footballer is just what she needs despite the attentions of Prince Barin (Timothy Dalton). How can they outwit this psycho’s powers? ... Don’t empty my mind! Please, I beg you! My mind is all I have! I’ve spent my whole life trying to fill it! You might only know this from the Ted movies wherein Sam Jones (largely dubbed here) is something of an obsession for Mark Wahlberg and the eponymous bear but for those of us who grew up in the late 70s/early 80s and watched Buster Crabbe on summer mornings on BBC this was catnip at the cinema. Michael Allin adapted the characters from the original comic strip by Alex Raymond and Lorenzo Semple Jr. (responsible for developing the classic TV Batman) wrote his customarily caustic and amusing screenplay, reuniting with producer Dino De Laurentiis after King Kong. The pulchritude – male and female – is just jaw-dropping and I’m not referring to Prince Vultan’s (Brian Blessed) thighs. Was there ever a more beautiful woman than Muti as the sexpot daughter of Ming? What a saucy minx she is! Watch those orgasmic gyrations when Ming puts Arden under his spell!! Or a handsomer man than Dalton?! Good grief! The production design and costumes by Danilo Donati are simply staggering. And what a witty score provided by Queen, with supplemental orchestrations by Howard Blake. And just to prove it’s not all fun and games, when Zarkov has his mind read it’s a montage that includes Hitler, which draws the comment, Now he showed promise! Whoever cast Von Sydow as Ming the Merciless was truly inspired. Fast-moving, funny and as camp as a caravan site, this is how superhero movies should always be. Believe it or not this was originally meant to be made by Fellini. And George Lucas. And Nic Roeg! In the end it was directed by Mike Hodges who also made Get Carter, Pulp and Croupier. Give that man a BAFTA! With supporting roles played by Peter Wyngarde, John Osborne, Richard O’Brien, Suzanne Danielle and Robbie Coltrane, this veritable rock opera has cult written all over it these days. Shot by the great Gilbert Taylor.  I knew you were up to something, though I’ll confess I hadn’t thought of necrophilia?

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)

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If you two are finished comparing sizes… we need to figure a way to track down the lab.  Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) is grappling with the consequences of his choices as both a superhero and a father to Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) following his X-Men activities in X-Men:  Civil War, monitored constantly by the police. Approached by Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) and Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), he dons the Ant-Man suit again to fight alongside the Wasp (Evangeline Lilly) with assistance from Luis (Michael Peña) a former cellmate and member of the X-Con Security crew. The urgent mission leads to secret revelations from the past in the search for Pym’s wife and Hope’s mother Janet van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer) who is lost in the quantum realm since 1987, shrinking to sub-atomic levels.  The dynamic duo finds itself in an epic battle against a powerful new enemy Ava Starr/Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen) while low-level crim Sonny Burch (Walton Goggins) wants Pym’s technology for the black market….I still think about the night your mother and I had to leave youA whip smart, lean and fun outing that is anchored by the charming performance of Rudd, a consistently underrated actor, who contributes to the screenplay by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Andrew Barrer and Gabriel Ferrari. He is matched by Lilly as the other half of his double act and also by Douglas, whose flashback scene with Pfeiffer shows what special effects can achieve (an improvement on the real old thing!). Laurence Fishburne turns up as Pym’s estranged former colleague Bill Foster despite having played Perry White elsewhere in the (now 20-strong) Marvel series. The dual father-daughter stories root the narrative in something close to human emotion, while the Fantastic Voyage element works nicely and the overall tone is light and optimistic – proving that size always matters.  And how nice is it to see a female villain?! Stan Lee shows up when his car is shrunk. Directed by Peyton Reed. I’m gonna call you ANT-onio Banderas!

Deadpool 2 (2018)

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Every good family film starts with a vicious murder. After his beloved wife Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) is killed, wisecracking mercenary Wade Wilson aka Deadpool (Ryan Reynolds) meets Russell Collins/Firefist (Julian Dennison) an angry overweight teenage mutant who lives at an orphanage run by nasty Headmaster (Eddie Marsan). When Russell becomes the target of timetravelling Cable (Josh Brolin)- a genetically enhanced soldier from the future – Deadpool figures out that he’ll need some help saving the boy from such a superior enemy. He soon joins forces with Bedlam (Terry Crews), Shatterstar (Lewis Tan), Domino (Zazie Beetz) and other allegedly powerful mutants to protect young Russell from Cable and his advanced weaponry and discovers that he and Cable have more in common than he realised …. Pain teaches us who we are.  I wasn’t convinced by the first film – the postmodern concoction of parody and pastiche, vast self-referentiality and mickey-taking seemed (like all the bimonthly Marvel products nowadays) specifically mixed with added built-in foul-mouthed snark to prevent any criticism whatsoever. This gets it slicker and less obnoxiously together with a particularly funny scene-sequence assembling the superhero family – and exhibiting them getting theirs in the full flow of their delusional (non-)powers. With very funny jabs at Annie, Yentl and Say Anything, among others, this is actually a good lesson in how important it is to laugh at yourself. And everybody else. Offending people is good!! Adapted by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick (and star Reynolds) from the comic book, this is the 11th X-Men movie. Sheesh. Directed by David Leitch. You’re so dark – are you sure you’re not from the DC universe?

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

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Why does somebody always have to die in this serial? Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and the rest of the disbanded Avengers eventually reunite to battle their most powerful enemy yet, the evil Thanos (Josh Brolin), a despot of intergalactic infamy. On a mission to collect all six Infinity Stones, Thanos plans to use the artifacts to inflict his twisted will on reality. The fate of the planet and existence itself has never been more uncertain as everything the Avengers have fought for has led up to this moment… It’s like a pirate had a baby with an angel. The gang get back together, there are carefully constructed sequences built to establish good versus evil once again and the best moments come from the Guardians of the Galaxy crew. In other words, a bunch of weedy if talented actors take a truckload of cash to the bank. Who cares, other than the Marvel Studios and all of their agents? Enough already. Oh, Stan Lee plays the bus driver. Directed by the Russo brothers. I assure you brother, the sun will shine on us again

 

 

Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

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Do you know what good ol’ Jack Burton always says at a time like this?  Hard-boiled truck driver Jack Burton (Kurt Russell) gets caught in a bizarre conflict within and underneath San Francisco’s Chinatown. An ancient Chinese prince and Chinatown crime lord Lo Pan (James Hong) has kidnapped a beautiful green-eyed woman Miao Yin (Suzee Pai) engaged to marry Jack’s best friend Wang Chi (Denis Dun).  It happens right before their eyes at the airport just as she sets foot on American soil. Jack must help his friend rescue her before the evil Lo Pan uses her to break the ancient curse that keeps him a fleshless and immortal spirit but has to battle old Chinese gangs, a 900-year old sage, an ancient army, sorcery and a monster in a labyrinthOnly a dream can kill a dream. John Carpenter revels in macho self-mockery, dumb heroics and Chinese tropes (or clichés) in this kung fu comedy thriller with Russell gleefully playing hard as the wisecracking bozo trucker who just has to help out his friend especially if it means getting the other girl in the picture, Gracie Law (Kim Cattrall) who brings to mind Hawksian heroines. W. D. Richter adapted the original 1880s-set western written by Gary Goldman and David Z. Weinstein and turns it into a rambunctious modern genre-bending martial arts fantasy with tongue set firmly in cheek, much in the style of Raiders of the Lost Ark. This doesn’t let up until the final frame – and even that promises more action! Russell is ideally cast in a role which director Carpenter described as a sidekick who thinks he’s the leading man. Great, daft fun. Take what you want and leave the rest – just like a salad bar! 

Justice League (2017)

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I guess this means the band’s not getting back together. Fuelled by his restored faith in humanity, and inspired by Superman’s (Henry Cavill) selfless act, Bruce Wayne/Batman (Ben Affleck and his new face) enlists newfound ally Diana Prince/Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) to face an even greater threat from Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds) who’s wielding his terror on the island of Amazons led by Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen). Together, Batman and Wonder Woman work quickly to recruit a team of metahumans to stand against this newly-awakened enemy. Superman’s mom Martha (Diane Lane) confides in Lois Lane (Amy Adams) that the bank has foreclosed on the family farm. Despite the formation of an unprecedented league of gifted heroes including Aquaman aka Arthur Curry (Jason Momoa), Cyborg aka Victor Stone (Ray Fisher) and the Flash aka Barry Allen (Ezra Miller), it may be too late to save the planet from an assault of catastrophic proportions… You don’t want me to live. You don’t want me to die.  If I cared about this, I’d care about this, if you know what I mean. At the heart of it is Superman’s crisis – instead we are diverted full tilt boogie by a truly gobsmackingly dumb story about Steppenwolf and his three Mother Boxes (I ask you) screwing up those ladies who mothered Wonder Woman. The effects are horrible:  this is one visually awful film. The mentoring relationship between Batman and nerdy/autistic Barry/Flash has some moments of humour (especially with Affleck’s cosmetics denying his facial mobility, complementing his line delivery) and echoes the story’s underlying mentoring/parenting theme.  Lacking faith in the original story’s thrust we have to endure some foreign family’s suffering to, you know, pack in the contemporary emotion because the West and North of the planet are full of non-English speakers flooding onto our shores from the South and East, as if we all didn’t know.  Newsflash straight from Gotham! Crime is bad! People are awful! Vengeful gods are killer! A leaner, meaner narrative could have done wonders because – how ironic – it’s the action that lets this down. Oh! The metahumanity! The screenplay is credited to Chris Terrio & Joss Whedon from a story by Terrio & director Zack Snyder.