Tom Hardy

Venom

09/10/18

First, the good news. Venom isn’t quite as terrible as everybody is saying.

The bad news? It still isn’t great.

Indeed, watching this unfold, I can’t help wondering what it was about the project that tempted top drawer actors like Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams and Riz Ahmed to hop aboard for the ride. It can’t just have been the size of the pay check. Can it? I mean, surely they must have thought the end result would be… well, better than this?

Events start (as they so often do in such stories) with a spaceship crashing in East Malaysia. Billionaire scientist Carlton Drake (Ahmed) has despatched it to a remote asteroid to collect some alien life forms. In the ensuing chaos, one of the captive creatures manages to escape after latching on to a human host. (Yes, I know. So far, so dreadfully familiar.) Drake manages to salvage the other ‘symbiotes,’ as he dubs them, and has them brought to his state-of-the-art laboratory in San Francisco, where he sets about experimenting on them by unleashing them into a succession of live hosts. At first he contents himself with cuddly bunny rabbits but, despite all of his top scientists advising against it, he quickly progresses to homeless people, whom he’s duped into helping him with his ‘research programme.’ Drake, as you’ll have gathered, is not a very nice man. He’s hoping that he’ll find a perfect match, creating a human-alien hybrid, but his first attempts are… messy, to say the very least.

Meanwhile, freewheeling investigative reporter, Eddie Brock (Hardy), tries to do a filmed exposé on Drake, but soon discovers that the man has enough power to get him unceremoniously fired from his job. The problem is, Eddie has ‘borrowed’ some information from the files of his fiancé, lawyer Anne Weying (Williams), which means that she also gets the push. She is angry enough to tell Eddie to stick his engagement ring where the sun don’t shine. Eddie is understandably miffed by all this but, when one of Drake’s employees, Dr Skirth (Jenny Slate), smuggles Eddie into the laboratory, things go spectacularly wrong. He is invaded by one of the alien creatures, endowing him with a range of formidable superpowers and some very unsavoury eating habits. Chaos ensues, as Eddie and ‘Venom’ learn to co-exist. While some of this is reasonably entertaining, the greater part of it suffers from a bad case of over-familiarity.

To give Hardy his due, he does his level best to make this unpromising material work, but the fact that he’s been asked to play things for laughs may not have been the wisest decision. His Eddie Brock is a likeable slacker, who has inadvertently been thrust into very difficult circumstances, and he handles that side of things well enough. But overlong motorbike chases and CGI tweaked punch-ups are not really Hardy’s forte. Likewise, Williams is too much of a trooper not to give this her best shot, but she really isn’t given an awful lot to do and, once again, if you have an actor of such undeniable skill, maybe give her something to convey other than bewilderment?

Like most Marvel films, this eventually heads into one of those extended animated monster-battles, which – while undoubtedly expensive – just become rather tedious to behold. Director Ruben Fleischer must have been confident that this project would fly, because the first post-credit sequence sets up a sequel featuring a very well known actor in a fright wig. I can’t help feeling this is an over-optimistic move. There aren’t  many bums on seats at the viewing I attend. If however, you do feel like hanging on through the interminable credits, it’s worth staying in your seats for a sneak peek at Spiderman: Into the Spider-Verse, an upcoming animation that, in just a few minutes, manages to knock spots off everything that’s gone before. Maybe Sony Pictures decided they needed to salvage something from the wreckage. Or maybe they’re just proud of their new baby.

Venom is ultimately one for the Marvel-heads – and only the most diehard amongst them, I think. It really didn’t rock my world. Oh, and – of course – there’s a Stan Lee cameo. There’s always a Stan Lee cameo. Don’t worry, it’s mercifully brief.

2.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Advertisements

Dunkirk

22/07/17

Christopher Nolan must be one of the most eclectic directors currently working. From The Dark Knight to Inception – from The Prestige to Interstellar, he seems to favour no particular genre, preferring to go wherever his fancy takes him. But I would never have predicted he’d direct a classic war movie like Dunkirk… but then, of course, this coming from the same man who made Memento means that it’s actually nothing like Leslie Norman’s 1958 film of the same name. This version employs experimental time frames to tell three interlinking stories. Powered along by Hans Zimmer’s urgent soundtrack and decidedly spare in its use of dialogue, the film grips like a vice from the opening shot to the closing frame.

The first strand concerns a young soldier, appropriately enough named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead) who is desperately making his way to Dunkirk beach in the hope of finding a boat to take him to safety. Along the way he meets up with the strangely taciturn Gibson (Damien Bonnard) and with Alex (Harry Styles – relax, it turns out he can act). The three men brave the dangers of ‘The Mole,’the perilous wooden jetty that leads out into deeper water where the larger ships can dock, but finding a safe berth is not easy and they are forced to seek alternative means of escape. The soldiers’ story plays out over one week.

Next up, we encounter Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance), a quietly spoken boat-owner who answers the desperate call for help and sets off for Dunkirk from his home port in Devon, with his son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and George (Barry Keoghan), a young lad desperate to prove himself to his parents. On the way they pick up ‘the shivering soldier’ (Cillian Murphy), a man so traumatised by his recent experiences that he can barely speak and who is clearly in no great hurry to return to France. This story is enacted over the course of one day.

And finally, in the deadly skies above Dunkirk, we meet Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden), two spitfire pilots charged with the thankless task of taking on the might of the Luftwaffe, buying time for the fleeing army to make its escape. In what at first appears to be a perverse move, Nolan keeps Hardy’s distinctive features mostly hidden behind goggles and an oxygen mask – but then you realise that he’s doing it for a reason – to emphasise the fact that the individual pilots who took part in this conflict remain largely unknown. Their tale, dictated by the amount of fuel that a Spitfire can carry, takes only an hour.

But of course, the three strands are interwoven like an expertly braided length of rope and it’s to Nolan’s credit that the ensuing events never become confusing, even when one particular character appears to be in two places almost simultaneously. What this film does splendidly is pull you into the heart of the hurricane and hold you there in almost unbearable tension.

This is after all not a film about bloodshed – in fact we see very little of that onscreen. It’s more about the brutal realities of survival, the mental toll on the participants and the quiet heroism of those who participate in the carnage. It’s the true life story of a military miracle, pulled off against all the odds. It may not be Nolan’s finest achievement – I’d hand that accolade to The Prestige – but it’s nonetheless a superbly affecting film that justifies all the rave reviews it’s been getting.

Where will Nolan go next, I wonder? Well, I suppose he’s yet to make a teen romance. But I won’t hold my breath.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Mad Max: Fury Road – the Black & Chrome Edition

31/04/17

Fury Road was easily my favourite movie of 2015. George Miller’s long awaited addition to the Mad Max series surpassed all my expectations – so much so, that I found myself going back for a second helping only a few days after the initial viewing (something I hardly ever do). For my money, this is the consummate action movie, a brilliant piece of world building with a visceral kinetic edge that had me on the edge of my seat, from its opening moments.

And now this: a black and white re-release! What the actual hey? But don’t jump to conclusions. What could at first seem like a mere act of vanity on Miller’s part quickly fades away when you discover that this is how he always intended the film to be shown. But his backers evidently didn’t see the wisdom in limiting its projected audience and insisted that he stick with colour. Now, after the original film’s well-deserved success, Miller finally gets to have his cake and eat it. And boy, what a glorious, delicious confection it is!

A quick resumé of the plot. Max (Tom Hardy) is captured by a war party belonging to disfigured despot, Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), and soon finds himself appropriated as a portable blood supply for young war-boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult). When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) decides to abscond with several of Joe’s captive wives, a furious chase ensues… which lasts for pretty much the entire film’s duration.

From the opening shot, it’s apparent that this is going to work – big time. The razor sharp monochrome landscapes lend the film a vintage epic feel, evoking memories of John Ford’s Western vistas, while the many close ups of faces in crowds put me in mind of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. Sequences that I really didn’t think would work at all in this format are actually lent an added dimension. And in black and white, you are even more aware of Miller’s incredible attention to detail, from the costuming of his characters to the welded-together interiors of Imortan Joe’s war jalopies.

If you enjoyed the original film (and if not, why not?) you’ll relish the opportunity to view it with a fresh set of eyes – and if you hated it, well, this isn’t going to change your opinion one jot. Will there be another film in the series? Given that Miller is now in his seventies, that might not be a likely prospect, but, if the sequence does stop here, I have to say, it’s a pretty formidable, adrenalin-fueled swan song.

To paraphrase Nux: “What a film! What a wonderful film!’

5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Revenant

UnknownUnknown-1

14/01/16

This time last year, Alejandro Gonzalez Inaritu dazzled the cinema-going public with his quirky comedy, Birdman. Now he dazzles us again, with something entirely different – a bleak, gruelling historical drama, based on a real life story, a film that pulses with bone-jarring violence offset by eerily beautiful location photography.  The Revenant looks set to dominate this year’s Oscars and it’s clearly a hard-won victory. At times, the actors look as though they’re going through as gruelling an experience as their screen counterparts. Here is the life of an 1820s fur trapper in all its grimy glory. It doesn’t look an appealing way to make a living.

The story concerns an expedition into the American wilderness in the depths of winter. Hugh Glass (Leonardo Di Caprio) is the team’s scout and he’s accompanied by his mixed-race son, Hawk (Forest Goodluck). Barely ten minutes into the action, the men are attacked by Arikara warriors and only a handful of them escape with their lives. Matters aren’t helped when, shortly afterwards, Glass is attacked by a grizzly bear (a prolonged scene of almost unwatchable savagery) and is left close to death. The team leader, Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleason) decides to strike out for their home base and leaves Glass in the care of seasoned trapper John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) and callow youth Jim Bridger (Will Poulter). Henry instructs Fitzgerald to give Glass a decent burial when ‘his time comes.’ But Fitzgerald is a survivalist. He murders Hawk and leaves Glass for dead, throwing him into a half dug grave and abandoning him to a slow and painful death. But Glass’s hunger for revenge somehow keeps him alive…

This is the second time the story has inspired a film. In 1971, Man In The Wilderness starring Richard Harris, used the basis of it but changed Glass’s name to Zachary Bass. Inaritu’s film actually sticks closer to the real tale and has the added advantage of Emmanuel Lubezski’s stunning cinematography, his fluid camerawork soaring and sweeping throughout the action to create an almost immersive experience. Often you’ll find yourself closer to the action than is strictly comfortable. In one scene, Glass’s breathing actually fogs the camera lens – in another, blood spatters the screen. And then there are sequences featuring Glass’s fever dreams, strange, hypnotic, almost hallucinatory. It all makes for grim but compelling viewing. Many will be repelled by the extreme violence and a scene where Glass takes refuge from the cold inside a freshly killed horse – yes, you read that right – isn’t going to sit well with any vegetarians in the audience. (Strangely, this isn’t as ridiculous as it might seem. It was an old buffalo hunter’s trick to keep warm inside the gutted carcass of a freshly killed bison. Like a fleshy electric blanket).

The Revenant is an extraordinary slice of cinema, an epic story of survival, of man against nature. If Di Caprio ends up lifting the best actor Oscar (despite speaking only a handful of lines in the entire film) I for one won’t begrudge it to him. I’d say he’s earned it, if only in the scene where he’s required to devour a live fish.

Unmissable.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Legend

MV5BMjE0MjkyODQ3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDM1OTk1NjE@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_Unknown

11/09/15

Brian Helgeland’s take on the Kray twins is a curate’s egg of a film; good in parts, but not good enough overall to deserve the welter of four star reviews it has received. Mind you, the Guardian’s two star appraisal was probably a bit harsh, though the publicity generated by the film’s publicists, who cunningly made it look like a four star on the poster surely deserves some kind of special award for chutzpah (see image). Unlike the previous attempt at filming this story (famously starring Gary and Martin Kemp) this version begins with the twins at the height of their powers in London’s East End and is narrated by Frances (Emily Browning) the troubled teenager who ends up as Reggie Kray’s long-suffering wife. Right from the beginning, this is a problem because Frances is actually a rather dull character and we really don’t learn enough about her to fully empathise with her plight, even when her misery turns to tragedy.

On the plus side, we get two Tom Hardys for the price of one. He is, of course, an extraordinary actor and he manages to portray the two very different brothers with swaggering conviction – but it has to be said that his characterisation of Ronnie Kray is largely comedic (brilliantly so in a scene where he attempts to dance to Strangers In The Night) but I felt distinctly uneasy to hear an audience laughing out loud at the utterances of an unabashed psychopath. Call me old fashioned, but that just felt wrong.

There’s a reasonable attempt here to recreate the 60s backdrop, replete with a vintage soundtrack, but the script fails to fully explore some important characters in the story. Christopher Eccleston as Nipper Read, the copper pledged with the difficult task of bringing the Krays to justice is (if you’ll forgive the pun) criminally underused and so is Tara Fitzgerald as Frances’s mother, a woman who famously wore black to her daughter’s wedding.

There are some extremely violent set pieces – a gang fight in a pub, where hammers are put to inappropriate use, and the famous murders of George Cornell and Jack ‘The Hat’ McVitie, but they are filmed with a kind of cartoonish zeal that somehow undermines their severity and inevitably, glamourises the ‘pay up or get duffed up’ world in which the Krays operated. Again, I felt conflicted by this. Surely villains should be scorned, not paraded as role models?

All-in-all then, this feels like a missed opportunity. After viewing the trailer, I’d expected to love this film, but I came away feeling that it should have (and easily could have) been so much better than it actually was.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney

London Road

Unknown-2Unknown-1

28/06/15

London Road is an extraordinary film. Although clearly indebted to its theatrical roots, this is a truly cinematic work – and quite unlike anything I have seen before.

Centred around the infamous Ipswich murders of 2006, when five prostitutes were killed over the course of a few months, London Road tells the stories of the local residents: their discomfort at their street becoming part of the red-light district; their horror at the murders; their reactions to the revelation that the killer was Steven Wright, a neighbour of theirs. Through verbatim accounts, drawn from interviews conducted with the real life residents of the street , we learn of a community torn apart – and then, ultimately, uniting to reclaim its heart.

And it’s a musical.

Actually, it’s not really a musical, as such, but it is mostly sung – and the effect is stunning. The dialogue is faithfully reproduced, with every ‘um’ and ‘ah’ included; every hesitation, interruption, exclamation rigorously documented in the lines. The language dictates the rhythms, and the score stretches and amplifies the natural cadences of speech, creating a kind of hyper-realism that is utterly compelling. Some lines are repeated to create a kind of chorus or refrain, thus reinforcing some of the more prevalent ideas (‘He could be one of us…’).

There’s no driving narrative here, no one character whose tale defines the story. It’s exactly what you might imagine a series of interviews to amount to: a collage of disparate accounts. And yet, this collage serves to create a very clear whole picture. There are conflicting emotions, as the prostitutes move away from the area to somewhere where they feel safer, and the residents begin to take a pride in where they live again. ‘I know it’s awful,’ says Julie (Olivia Colman), as she looks around the resurgent neighbourhood, ‘but I’d like to shake his hand.’ It’s an uncomfortable truth, made more so by the brooding presence of Vicky (Kate Fleetwood) walking through the street, untouched and unobserved, clutching a balloon like a hopeful child. No one can condone the murder of these troubled women, but none of us would like them working where we live.

There are some big names attached to this film: Tom Hardy makes a fleeting appearance as a taxi driver obsessed with serial killers. But it doesn’t feel right to single anyone out: this is an ensemble performance, with all parts contributing fully to the whole.

It’s a game-changer, I think.

Go see it.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Mad Max: Fury Road

imagesimages-1images-2

17/05/15

I have to declare from the start that this has been my most eagerly anticipated film of the year. I’ve been a devoted fan of the Mad Max franchise, from its humble B movie origins in 1979, through the awesome action tropes of The Road Warrior in 1981, and on to the inventive storytelling of Beyond Thunderdome in 1985. Through the intervening 35 years… can it really have been that long?… I, like many others have been keeping alive the hope that director George Miller would stop concentrating his talents on anodyne nonsense like Babe and Happy Feet and revisit his glorious, testosterone-fuelled past. And by jove, he’s finally done it – although this time out, he’s added a welcome dash of oestrogen too!

It’s a tough act to follow and a tough act for newbie Max, Tom Hardy, to step into Mel Gibson’s boots – so I’m delighted to report that this is a triumphant return to form and that Fury Road not only equals those earlier efforts but in many ways surpasses them. It’s a blitzkrieg of stunning vehicular chases, amazing stunt work and unforgettable dystopian visions, but it’s also backed up by a compelling central story. As ever in Miller-land, dialogue is kept to a minimum (Hardy doesn’t get to utter so much as a word for the first twenty minutes or so) but there’s so much going on up on the screen, you barely notice.

In a nightmarish, desert landscape, evil dictator Imortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) has founded an empire built on toil and the exploitation of the weak. (Max fans will remember Keays-Byrne as ‘Toecutter’ in the very first movie.) When one of Joe’s war parties brings in a bearded, half-conscious Max, the captive is summarily shaved, tattooed and branded, and is then assigned to ailing suicide-warrior, Nux (a barely recognisable Nicholas Hoult) as a living blood transfusion unit. However, when one of Joe’s most trusted lieutenants, Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) decides to abscond with Joe’s five young wives (or his breeding stock, as he so delicately refers to them) Nux is one of the team despatched to bring them back and Max duly finds himself strapped to the front of a truck and hurled headlong into a terrifying chase. We’re taken along for the ride.

And what an unforgettable ride it is! The film leaps effortlessly from one frantic chase to the next, as Miller’s welded-together juggernauts collide, accelerate, swerve and explode in jaw-dropping style. There’s barely a sign of CGI to be seen, everything’s done pretty much for real and it’s little wonder that the closing credits feature what looks like hundreds of stunt performers. But it’s more than just action. Miller’s futuristic world is fully thought-through and dazzlingly captured amidst the stunning Namibian landscapes (this is the first of the series not actually shot in Australia) and there’s so much here to delight and surprise the viewers. Key among them are the manic lead guitarist chained to the front of a truck and pumping out death metal and fire in equal amounts; Joe’s breast-milk pumping parlour, where pregnant women are er… pressed into service; and the tribe of aged motorbiking female warriors who turn up to prove that when it comes to a fight, they’re more than a match for the younger men.

I loved this to pieces. The Mad Max films, though, are cinematic Marmite. If you don’t like what Miller does, this is going to feel like putting your head in a tumble drier and pressing the on switch. If however you like action cinema at its most inventive, this one is for you. One thing. The film was actually shot in 2D and for the 3D version, the process has been retroactively applied, which never makes for a good transfer; but trust me. You won’t need 3D for this. It’s eye-popping enough without.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

03/06/15

Ahem! Time to eat a few slices of humble pie. After my suggestion that there was no need to see Mad Max; Fury Road in 3D as it hadn’t actually been shot that way, a couple of friends contacted me to say they’d seen it in 3D and it looked pretty damned good to them. So I broke the habit of a lifetime and went back to the cinema to check out their claims. I have to admit that my friends were absolutely spot on. Not only does this movie bear repeated viewing (it really is that good) it also looks eye-poppingly brilliant in 3D and effortlessly leaps into the ranks of my favourite films in that format – Gravity, Hugo, Avatar and er… Piranha 3D. In fact, if i see a better film this year than MMFR, I’ll be very surprised.