Ep. 116 – Venom, A Star is Born

October 7, 2018 by  
Filed under Podcast

The CineSnob Podcast returns from its summer abroad, with reviews of “Venom” and “A Star is Born.” Cody also gives us a recap of Fantastic Fest, and we remind you to go download our friend Greg Sestero’s movie “Best F(r)iends: Vol. 1.”

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Venom

October 5, 2018 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, Riz Ahmed, Michelle Williams
Directed by: Ruben Fleisher (“Zombieland,” “Gangster Squad”)
Written by: Scott Rosenberg & Jeff Pinkner (“Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”) and Kelly Marcel (“Fifty Shades of Grey”) and Will Beall (“Gangster Squad”)

Do you remember the old days, post-Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man” and pre-Marvel Cinematic Universe, when comic book movies were these weird standalone things, and studios were pulling out all the stops to try and get them to stick? We got mediocre to terrible movies like “Hulk,” “Daredevil,” and “Ghost Rider” out of the deal that each had to build a world where the main character was humanity’s first superhero. It sucked.

Apparently Sony, with their Tom Holland Spider-Man on loan to the MCU, looked back fondly on this era and realized they had the rights to Spider-Man’s arch nemesis Venom and thought “fuck it, let’s just make a ‘Venom’ movie with no Spider-Man whatsoever – that should be fine.”

It isn’t. “Venom” is the opposite of fine.

Tom Hardy stars as Eddie Brock, a hotshot investigative journalist in San Francisco with a hit TV show who dresses like I imagine Tom Hardy dresses all the time. When he’s given the chance to interview rocket-obsessed tech billionaire Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) after his latest spacecraft crashes on re-entry, Brock instead sneaks into the email of his girlfriend Anne (Michelle Williams, paying for a new vacation house, I guess) and notices people are dying in some human trials Drake is conducting (because, you see, Anne is one of his lawyers).

Anyway, instead of asking Drake about the spaceship (that, oops, brought back violent alien “symbiotes” that take over people’s bodies), Brock grills him about the human testing and promptly gets thrown out on his ass from the interview, his job and his relationship. Six months later, a down-and-out Brock is approached by Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate), a whistleblower in the company who wants to put an end to Drake’s experiments. She sneaks him into the company headquarters (on property overlooking Horseshoe Bay that will apparently once become Starfleet HQ) where, in an effort to save a woman he knows from being experimented on, Brock becomes infected with a wise-cracking, head-eating symbiote known as Venom.

While “Venom” nakedly wants to be like “Deadpool,” the way it’s been clearly hacked into a PG-13 rating and the weird desire to turn the inky black monster into a do-gooder almost immediately blunts the whole thing from the start. Still, Hardy gives a wonderfully batshit if dimwitted performance at times, but alas that’s nowhere near enough to overcome the utter stupidity of Drake’s motivation or the unintentional comedy peppered throughout the film, be it an odd push in on a background scientist’s troubled reaction or making four-time Academy Award-nominee tenderly deliver the line “I’m sorry about Venom.”

No, Michelle, Sony is the one who should be sorry about Venom.

Dunkirk

July 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (“Inception”)

As one of the most highly regarded filmmakers of the modern era, director Christopher Nolan’s ambition is both his biggest strength and his greatest weakness. With his ambition, Nolan conceptualized “Inception,” which explored the world of dreams and consciousness, creating an entire universe filled with painstakingly detailed ideas and a dazzling visual landscape to match. His ambition has also occasionally stifled him, such as with “Interstellar,” a generally good movie that gets far too bogged down with a convoluted third act to make any lasting impact. With his latest film, “Dunkirk,” Nolan has taken historical subject matter and while staying ambitious in certain ways, created his most restrained film yet. The results, like most of Nolan’s work, are spectacular.

Telling the story of the largest retreat in military history from allied forces in World War II, the film unfolds with a trio of timelines, one taking place by land over a week span, one by sea over a day span, and one by air over an hour span. It is the most noticeable narrative quality, evoking Nolan’s non-linear storytelling from “Memento,” though not nearly as radical. The results of this narrative structure pay off immensely. Through this device, Nolan is not only able to shift in and out between different perspectives, but he is able to create an immense amount of tension. Nail-biting moments may begin over one timeline and the audience not see a resolution until the timelines intersect. It’s the type of higher level thinking that Nolan has made his signature and really allows him to put a new perspective on a war movie.

While none may stand out, every one of the timelines are solid in their own right and serve their purpose. The land segments, bolstered by unknown actor Fionn Whitehead as Tommy are really able to show the desperation of the soldiers trapped at Dunkirk. Even as he tries to sneak his way just to survive, the soldiers seem to be foiled at every turn as sitting ducks to the enemy. With the sea segments, Nolan is able to use fantastic actor Mark Rylance to display the courage of a regular citizen insisting on taking his own boat rather than having it be commandeered to rescue troops. Finally, with the air segments, Nolan utilizes the films most notable actor, Tom Hardy, to display the heroism from fighter pilots who were some of the only protection the soldiers had.

From a visual standpoint, Nolan has created another masterpiece. The air segments feature impressive aerial shots, especially from cameras mounted on planes that feature the vast oceans below. Even on regular screens (the film did not screen for critics on the much lauded 70mm IMAX), the scope of “Dunkirk” is massive. But beyond just visual marvels and beautiful constructed shots, the audio of “Dunkirk” is wildly immersive. Gunshots in the opening segment and the unexpected ones throughout the film are jolting, creating visceral intensity and tension. There is also an unsettlingly taut score from Hans Zimmer, doing his best work in years. Make no mistake, “Dunkirk” is loud, but with the chaos going on around, it feels like a necessity.

Perhaps as a result of the timeline jumps, leaving characters in one place and picking up with others, the only thing that “Dunkirk” truly feels like its missing is stronger emotional ties to its characters. Still, it can’t help but feel like a nitpick when the movie, despite having traditional heroes to really latch onto, still generates plenty of emotion. With “Dunkirk,” Nolan has created nothing less than a cinematic marvel. It’s visually breathtaking, ambitious and stirring. In other words, it’s exactly what we’ve come to expect from Christopher Nolan.

Mad Max: Fury Road

May 15, 2015 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, Charlize Theron, Nicholas Hoult
Directed by: George Miller (“Mad Max,” “Happy Feet”)
Written by: George Miller (“Babe: Pig in the City,”) and Brendan McCarthy (debut) and Nico Lathouris (debut)

I’m not going to lie and say that I can’t let spectacle wash over me from time to time in a movie theater, ignoring the flaws or lack of substance in a story, but when it comes to assessing the film after the fact, after the awe and excitement have worn off, the shortcomings are typically the first thing that come rushing to mind. Wait, why were those guys doing that thing? Who is this guy again? What’s the deal with the [insert elaborate mythological back story that’s not explained whatsoever]? Such is the case with “Mad Max: Fury Road,” an insane 2-hour post-apocalyptic car chase across the desert that doesn’t really amount to anything more than, well, an insane 2-hour post-apocalyptic car chase across the desert.

The paper-thin plotting kicks off with stoic, lizard-eating Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy, stepping into the role that put Mel Gibson on the map 30-plus years ago) being captured by “war boys” to be used as a “blood bag” for weaker warrior Nux (Nicholas Hoult). The war boys are loyal to Immorten Joe (Hugh Keyas-Byrne, who played villain Toecutter in previous Mad Max films), a warlord who controls his subjects through brutality and strictly rationing water. When Joe sends his most trusted Imperator, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) on a mission across the desert in a war rig to acquire gasoline and bullets, Furiosa instead leads the convoy on a mission to deliver Joe’s sex-slave wives to a the colony Furiosa grew up in, freeing the women from their captivity. Joe and the war boys give chase, with Max strapped to the front of Nux’s dune buggy like a living masthead. When a dust storm interrupts the pursuit, Max is able to escape Nux and form a reluctant alliance with Furiosa. The chase resumes, and doesn’t ever really stop for anything else, not even to explain what the hell is going on.

As other reviews for “Fury Road” reach critical mass, heralding the film as an amazing piece of filmmaking and one of the best films of the year, I’m left wondering why I’m missing out on the breathtaking excitement. Have I been spoiled by years of Marvel blockbusters, where the mythology is explained like it’s going to be on a final exam in theaters in 3 years’ time? Is my general lack of knowledge of a 36-year-old Australian action franchise somehow a hindrance to properly enjoying mega-budget action film in 2015? Maybe to both, but it really boils down to basics: the story just isn’t there for me to take the enjoyment to next level. I want to know more about this world, and director George Miller just seems intent to focus on the admittedly amazing mix of physical and CGI effects with little regard for anything else.

The Drop

September 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, James Gandolfini, Noomi Rapace
Directed by: Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead”)
Written by: Dennis Lehane (debut)

Adapted from his short story “Animal Rescue,” screenwriter/novelist Dennis Lehane is known for setting his crime dramas in the city of Boston. Two of his novels, “Gone Baby Gone” and “Mystic River,” were given the cinematic treatment a few years ago and made Boston brim with the kind of atmosphere you couldn’t generate in any other U.S. city. It’s doesn’t seem to be as important to Lehane in “The Drop.” Although his original story is set in Boston, filmmakers have transplanted the narrative in Brooklyn and have done so without upsetting their characters’ way of life. Maybe the studio changed locations because crime dramas in Boston have become overused in recent years (along with “Gone” and “River,” films like “The Town” and “The Departed” have taken full advantage of the city’s unique ambiance), but whatever the case, “The Drop” is still a smart, seething production led by a striking performance by actor Tom Hardy.

In “The Drop,” Hardy plays Bob Saginowski, a quiet, goodhearted bartender who does what he’s told and never lets the fact that his bar operates as a place where Brooklyn’s seediest criminals conduct money drops affect him. Along with his cousin Marv (James Gandolfini in his final film role and playing against type although it’s a mob movie), who owns the bar but still has to answer to the Chechen gangsters in charge, the two men seem content having a low-key profile and sticking to what they know best: serving beer to their neighborhood customers. When their bar, however, is robbed one evening by two masked thugs, Bob and Marv are thrown into a life-threatening situation they’d rather not be in.

Carried by a performance that shows what an incredible range Hardy has as an actor, the character of Bob Saginowski is a confident albeit understated one reminiscent of Sylvester Stallone’s Oscar nominated role in the original 1977 “Rocky.” You can tell Bob isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but there’s something about him that lets you know he’s in control of the situation. Aside from being on bad terms with the Russian mob for losing their money, Bob is also caught up in another incident that has him looking over his shoulder. After saving an abused and abandoned pit bull puppy from the street, with the help from a woman in the neighborhood (Noomie Rapace), Bob is confronted by the dog’s ruthless and irrational owner (an incredible Matthias Schoenaerts) who is a known murderer amongst the locals in the area.

In his English-language directorial debut, Oscar-nominated director Michael R. Roskam (“Bullhead”) is able to slowly build up the intensity of each scene effortlessly despite some of the storylines stretching themselves thin at times. While Rapace is a reasonable factor to include in the scenario, not much builds out of the relationship between her and Hardy to consider it significant. It’s the connection between Bob and Marv and the criminal underworld and how they’ve adapted to it over the years that feels the most authentic to what Lehane and Roskam want to say. It’s this part of the  narrative that keeps the Brooklyn-based plot involving all the way up to its twisty climax.

Locke

May 16, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom Hardy, Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson
Director: Steven Knight (“Redemption”)
Written by: Steven Knight (“Eastern Promises”)

If the only things you know actor Tom Hardy for are his growly role as Batman’s masked nemesis Bane in “The Dark Knight Rises” or when he slummed it in the painful-to-watch romantic comedy “This Means War,” then you might not think Hardy is one of the best actors of his generation working today. Simply put: he is. From his frightening and under-seen lead role in the 2008 crime drama “Bronson” to his emotionally-charged and underappreciated role in the 2011 sports drama “Warrior,” it’s no surprise Hardy’s stock is rising fast. Another highpoint in the burgeoning British actor’s career comes by way of a film practically set up as a one-man show – and what a show Hardy gives audiences.

In “Locke,” a film written and directed by Oscar-nominated screenwriter Steven Knight (“Dirty Pretty Things,” “Eastern Promises”), Hardy commands the screen single-handedly as Ivan Locke, a construction foreman who is facing a life-changing decision on the eve of the biggest day of his professional career. Only hours before what is considered one of the biggest cement pours in European history, Ivan gets into his car and drives away from the construction site and towards London where a woman he had an affair with is giving birth to his child. Ivan may be the only indispensable employee for this massive task his construction company about to undertake, but he’s decide he’s not going to be there. His decision kicks in to gear a series of phone calls that ultimately make up the whole of the movie and give Hardy an incredibly diverse scale of emotions to work from.

From making calls to his anxious co-worker who can’t believe what Ivan is doing to his phone confession to his distraught wife who is at home with their two sons watching a big soccer match on TV, Hardy takes on a collection of genuine personalities with each conversation. Some of the most compelling dialogue Hardy delivers is when he looks into his rearview mirror and speaks to his imaginary father, which gives audiences a sense of the deeper reasons Ivan has decided to abandon one responsibility for the other. It’s a tough choice and Knight sets up the conversational narrative effortlessly. While the 85-minute film takes place entirely in one car and in one position, the intense nature of the exchanges between Ivan and each person in his life feel like they are always surging forward. Not only is this real-time film experiment suspenseful, especially for a storyline that has its main actor sitting in the same spot for the duration, the more complex themes and metaphors Knight uses to explain how fragile life really is never feel overworked or superficial.

While there are a few spots where “Locke” may feel a bit tedious to some moviegoers (if you can sit through Robert Redford doing absolutely nothing in “All is Lost,” however, you can sit through this), Hardy’s wonderful portrayal of a logical man who is about to lose everything that is important to him is the reason stay for the entire car ride. It’s easily one of the best performances of his career.

The Dark Knight Rises

July 21, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Christian Bale, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy
Directed by: Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”)
Written by: Christopher Nolan (“The Dark Knight”) and Jonathan Nolan (“The Dark Knight”)

In full scope, “The Dark Knight Rises,” the third and final installment of director Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, feels epic. From its majestic production value to its incredible IMAX-worthy set pieces, Gotham City has never looked so grandiose. Look beyond the technical and artistic achievements of this inevitable summer blockbuster and there are flaws. Despite the narrative’s overall maturation over the last seven years, Nolan has lost sight of just how 2005’s “Batman Begins” and 2008’s “The Dark Knight” successfully redefined the comic-book movie through intelligent design. Here, the bloated 165-minute superhero marathon is frustrating, especially with a script embracing a diluted story about the current financial crisis instead of actually entertaining moviegoers.

Picking up eight years after the last film ended, billionaire Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) has gone into exile after the death of Harvey Dent. Wayne’s retirement, however, is only temporary and Batman reemerges when a hulky mercenary known as Bane (Tom Hardy) marches into Gotham with plans to sever the city’s economic lifeline, thus causing civil unrest. As Bane, Hardy joins the cast with big clown shoes to fill after Heath Ledger won an Oscar posthumously for his role as the rageful Joker. Sadly, Bane is better suited for a pro-wrestling ring than as a substantial villain with real purpose. New to the franchise are Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman, although the name never comes up), a saucy jewel thief who fights alongside the caped crusader, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt who plays rookie cop John Blake, the most interesting character of the DC Comics lot.

Where the Batman franchise goes post-Nolan remains to be seen, but whoever takes the reigns has a tough act to follow — even if this final chapter doesn’t necessarily reach its full potential.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

January 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”)
Written by: Bridget O’Connor (“Sixty Six”) and Peter Straughan (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”)

Say the words “British spy” and most moviegoers would probably picture any one of the James Bond incarnations over the last 50 years performing death-defying stunts far above the ground. Whether it’s Pierce Brosnan bungee jumping from a dam in “GoldenEye,” Roger Moore skiing off the side of the Alps in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” or Daniel Craig leaping from construction cranes in “Casino Royale,” Brit and secret agents usually go hand in hand with exaggerated entertainment.

As much as an author like Ian Fleming has engrossed fans of the spy genre with feats of flight in his Bond series, author John le Carré has captured the same interest in a more atmospheric approach with his novels centered on British intelligence officer George Smiley. Think of Smiley as the anti-Bond. In fact, the only real similarity between the two is that Smiley is about as dry as the martinis 007 frequently orders. His subtleness is evident in the most recent of le Carré’s adaptations, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” a complex and sometimes confusing Cold War thriller that might actually require a few viewings to puzzle together all of the narrative’s intricacies.

Still, if you’re familiar with any of le Carré’s work or their cinematic counterparts (search out “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” now), his slow-boiling and meticulous storytelling is what makes his voice in the genre so distinct. Considered by many as one of the greatest British writers of espionage fiction in the 20th century, le Carré’s novels demand attention and refuse to provide easy avenues to maneuver between aggravating plot points. The sentiment couldn’t be truer than with “Tinker Tailor.” Adapting le Carre’s 1974 book (the first of what is considered “The Karla Trilogy” and one of seven works featuring the character Smiley), screenwriters Bridget O’Connor (“Sixty Six”) and Peter Straughan (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”) attempt to simplify the story without sacrificing the elaborate details that make the mystery so intriguing to solve in the first place. To some extent they’re able to play their version of the spy game (noted here as a kind of metaphorical chess board) without knocking over too many pieces.

The featured rook of this game of high-stakes chess is actor Gary Oldman (“The Dark Knight”) who plays Smiley, a retired agent of the Secret Intelligence Service (also known as “The Circus”) who is asked to covertly return to duty to expose one of his former colleagues as a Russian-planted mole rooting around at the highest levels of the SIS. Possible double agents include Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), and Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds). Also in the already-crowded mix is Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), another SIS agent sent to retrieve the identity of the mole by the head of British intelligence (John Hurt), rogue agent and whistleblower Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), and Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley’s inside man delegated to sift through file cabinets when no one’s watching.

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”), “Tinker Tailor” is far from the sprawling BBC miniseries released back in 1979 starring Oscar winner Alec Guinness (“The Bridge on the River Kwai”). Clocked at a very reasonable 127 minutes, Alfredson’s version (his first English-language film) is most satisfying when we witness – through flashbacks – the evolution of a once powerful foreign intelligence agency into the equivalent of a whispery sewing circle. The contrast between old guard and new guard principles is a frightening look at how corruption is able to snake its way into even the most secured venues. The emotional aspects of these events do tend to have an impersonal bitterness to them, but it’s a fine complement to the bleak Cold War-inspired world Alfredson has set his players in. The emphasis on the grim atmosphere is made even more significant through the technical aspects of the film. Credit production designer Maria Djurkovic (“The Hours”) and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (“The Fighter”) for turning 1970s London into a place even the sleaziest spies wouldn’t want to wander.