For a review of “Venom,”
Superhero fatigue got you down? Tired of the same old bland Marvel Cinematic Universe offerings? A dose of “Venom” could be just the right antidote.
This dark, wacky MCU-associated outing combines one of the most interesting contemporary leading men with a daring director who has a hit-or-miss track record. Throw an outlandish alien organism into the mix, shake well with a healthy serving of irreverent humor and you’ve got “Venom.” It’s a mess, but wow, is it ever a fun, fascinating mess. Those are always so much more thrilling than any of the formulaic superhero movies that parade through multiplexes all year.
Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock, intrepid San Francisco investigative reporter and unwilling host body for alien Symbiote Venom. Although director Ruben Fleischer uses every tool in his cinematic arsenal, Hardy is firmly in charge here, steering this ship straight to Crazytown. He’s absolutely riveting, and hilarious.
The first half is a character study, juxtaposing the freewheeling but principled reporter Eddie with nemesis Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a shady bio-tech entrepreneur and Elon Musk type who would rather inhabit outer space than try to disrupt climate change and has a shocking disregard for human life. After receiving a tip from Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate), Eddie breaks into a lab hoping to collect evidence that Drake has been abusing and killing homeless people for Symbiote trials. Venom inhabits Eddie’s body and turns him into an unlikely killing machine, black tar tentacles propelling the bewildered human around the streets of San Francisco in a reluctant rampage reminiscent of this summer’s AI techno-horror thriller “Upgrade.”
By far the best part of “Venom” is the chemistry between Eddie and his parasite, Venom himself, who is cheeky and sardonic for an alien. They bicker like a married couple over when to eat, what to eat (there are rules about whose heads Venom is allowed to chomp) and how to approach Eddie’s ex-fiancée, Anne (Michelle Williams).
One flaw “Venom” shares with other superhero/comic book movies is big third act problems, clouded by muddy character motivations and even muddier CGI. Two Symbiotes fight for dominance, their shiny, slick, ’roided tar bodies clashing and melding in a disposable and disappointing battle. Hardy and Fleischer do manage to reel it back to that bizarre but charming tone they’ve created, and amazingly, for all of the wild weirdness and wackadoo mess, this character is, shockingly, one we’d be happy to spend more time with, thanks to Hardy.
“Venom,” a Frank Masi release, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language. Running time: 112 minutes. ★★½
“‘A Star Is Born”
Of all the movies about the Hollywood fame machine, “A Star is Born” may be the most enduring. The story of an aspiring nobody and an A-list celebrity who fall in love and gradually change places, “A Star is Born” has been made four times over 80-plus years. The details may change — sometimes it’s about actors, some- times singers — but “A Star Is Born” always remains the same: a Cinderella story in which the Prince does not get his happy-ever-after.
Bradley Cooper plays that prince, the alcoholic country-rocker Jackson Maine, and Lady Gaga is Ally, his undiscovered Cinderella, in the latest “Star.” Cooper and Gaga may be established names, but they have a lot riding on this project: It’s his directorial debut and her first leading film role. What’s more, they’re following in the footsteps of Fredric March and Janet Gaynor in 1937, James Mason and Judy Garland in 1954, and Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand in 1976 — all more or less Hollywood icons.
The good news is that Cooper and Gaga are flat-out terrific. Actors playing rock stars can be a dicey proposition, but Cooper is note-perfect as Maine, a sexy disaster poured into a pair of cowboy boots. Desperate for a drink one night, he slinks into a nightclub and sees Ally doing a cabaret rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” He’s smitten. Backstage, he removes her makeup (much as Mason did to Garland in 1954) and admires the face she says has kept her from pop stardom.
Gaga’s vulnerability is captivating, especially after so many years of music-video and stage personas. She’s best as pre-fame Ally: shy and self-effacing, but with an inner iron core. After Jackson drags her onto his stage for a duet — an electrifying moment that may be the movie’s high point — Ally becomes a viral sensation and soon finds herself singing power-ballads backed by dancers.
Like some of its predecessors, “A Star is Born” suffers from a meandering storyline (the script is by Eric Roth) and a slightly unclear theme: Is the movie about chasing dreams, selling out or sobering up? Still, Cooper and Gaga make beautiful music together (literally — they performed all songs live) and they virtually glow whenever they share the screen. Their “Star” makes a fine addition to a Hollywood legacy.
“A Star Is Born,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release, is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/ nudity and substance abuse. Running time: 135 minutes.