Tag: tom hardy

Venom


Venom (2018)
★★ / ★★★★

Early on in the picture, a woman carrying a Symbiote—an extraterrestrial parasite that hitchhiked on a space probe while its way back to Earth following a reconnaissance mission—ejects lethal barbs from her back, but when the camera pans around her, the clothing has no hole in it. This perfectly sums up the level of carelessness of “Venom,” directed by Ruben Fleischer, a seldom entertaining and often boring superhero film. It might have benefited from a couple more rounds of rewrites.

One of the titular Symbiotes eventually makes its way inside the body of Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist who gets fired for asking all the right questions involving a bio-engineering corporation led by the ambitious but unethical Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). It isn’t a coincidence that the probe that crashed in Malaysia is owned by Life Foundation; Drake plans to fuse these so-called Symbiotes with human bodies in order to save our mankind from certain extinction once Earth is no longer a viable place to live. Make no mistake: Moral quandaries regarding the use of science and technology in relation to the betterment of society is handled like sledgehammer to the face. There is no genuine or heartfelt human drama to be had here, just a series of empty action sequences.

At least a few of these pieces are handled with mid-level proficiency. Brock discovering his abilities when hired goons enter his apartment comes to mind. Another is a motorcycle chase across the hilly streets of San Francisco. Rain of bullets and car crashes are served like clockwork, but I enjoyed that there is humor embedded in them. Hardy finds a way to make Eddie the loser more palatable than the standard variety. It is easy to tell that he is up to task of playing with different types of comedy, so it most unfortunate that the screenplay does not possess the requisite creativity and intelligence to make a strange, darkly amusing, and convincing story. I felt as though the project was shaped so that studios can make the most money first and entertain the audience second. It shows.

The villain is generic from the moment we meet him until he is defeated. Ahmed, like Michelle Williams who plays Brock’s love interest, looks as though he is sleepwalking through the role. He is a performer with range, but he cannot be blamed in this scenario. The character is so unchallenging, imagine the CEO on mute and the effect would be negligible. It appears as though screenwriters Jeff Pinkner, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel, have forgotten that a superhero film is only as good as its villain(s). So why not strive to give Drake more personality, dimension?

Perhaps the only element I found to be marginally impressive in this parade of mediocrity is the CGI Symbiotes. They are creepy and curious when they are slithering about without defined shape, and they are quite threatening when they feel the need to defend themselves. But the material is so dull, especially when the human characters are supposed to be connecting emotionally, I wished I were watching “The X-Files”—specifically the black oil/alien virus episodes—since the film and the television show have similar ideas on how an entity assumes control of its host’s body, its sentience, its ability to communicate. The legendary television show is able to take the concept on another level while the film appears content in having flatlined.

Dunkirk


Dunkirk (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Those expecting character, or characters, to latch onto, to understand, to care for, are setting themselves up for disappointment because writer-director Christopher Nolan is more interested in the motion of chess pieces across the board than he is at psychoanalysis in “Dunkirk,” one of the most efficient and beautifully photographed war films in recent memory. Every minute serves a purpose with the ominous score looming above and between the horrific evacuation of four hundred thousand Allied soldiers from the titular beach where tides change every three interminable hours.

Tension builds in a consistent manner despite the viewer not knowing the names of soldiers and civilians the story follows. Survival is the central motivation of every person on screen and it is the only element required to create a sense of urgency. Precise with lingering shots of hollowed and pallid soldiers during heavy silences and agile camera work when action and barrage of noise move toward the spotlight, a mesmerizing rhythm is established as the project dives in deep to underline the disasters of this particular evacuation and goes up eventually for a breath of air, of hope, but only for a fleeting moment. Nolan’s laser focus in telling the story equals that of his unique vision for the material.

Perhaps the most impressive chunks of the picture are those that contain no standard dialogue. Pay close attention to the opening scene, for example, as hurried footsteps, rapid breathing, and bullets ricocheting do the talking. Meanwhile, the veteran writer-director ensures to capture the eyes of the target (Fionn Whitehead), who looks more like a boy than a man, as desperation turns to hope and back again. Clearly, with this particular story being told in such a specific way, making room for classic or expected character development would only impede the momentum of the material. Nolan is correct to strip it away for what he intends to deliver is a visceral experience.

Despite images detailing the horrors of war, they are not without astounding beauty. Aerial shots of endless lines and rows of men in dark uniform against the bright sand, ships tilted to the side and being swallowed up by cold water before our very eyes after being bombed, dogfights requiring incredible attention as threats can and do appear at every direction are only some of the examples of the film’s visual feasts. Despite these stunning images, however, we never forget about the bullet-ridden bodies, cold corpses buried in the sand, drowned individuals who were eager to get home just a few moments ago. Couple these images and impressions with carefully executed dialogue of old men sending young boys to fight the war that the former started. A tragic feeling pervades the material.

“Dunkirk” is a top-level war film without sentimentality. Those who require selfless heroism shot in a grandiose way as score crescendos, designed to render the viewers emotionally vulnerable, are certain to be letdown by this most capable and confident work. In my mind, there is no doubt that the film will endure the test of time.

The Revenant


The Revenant (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“The Revenant,” directed by Alejandro G. Iñárritu, is so headstrong in maintaining its high level of realism that at times it feels like we are watching a most captivating nature documentary about a man attempting to survive in the harshest wilderness. In many ways, it is a brave picture, too, because it is unrelenting when it comes to taking its time to follow a character getting from one point to another, how he relates to his environment, and how the thirst for revenge keeps him alive. And yet while the plot is driven by one man’s vengeance, it is not what the movie is about.

Following a most gruesome bear attack, Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio), a trapper, is unable to move, bloodied, verging on death. Although his team tries to take him home, carrying him creates limitations that prevent the group from moving forward. Convinced that there is no other option, the captain of their party (Domhnall Gleeson) asks three to volunteer and stay behind until Glass is dead. In addition, Glass must receive a proper burial. Two boys—Jim (Will Poulter) and Hawk (Forrest Goodluck), the latter Glass’ half-Native American son—and a man named John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) agree to take on the responsibility. However, a misunderstanding occurs which leads to Hawk’s murder and Glass being left for dead.

A scene that will be seared in my brain for a while is the aforementioned bear attack. Already impressive is it appears as though the scene is shot in one smooth take. On top of it is the actual bear used in the scene. Through the way it moves from the back of the frame to the front, we get a real impression of its size. The sound effects of distinct thuds give us an idea of its weight relative to its prey. I watched in complete horror as the protagonist is mauled, thrown around, and bit. The screams of the man, the deep angry growls of the animal, and the silence that settles in between the savage attacks create an unforgettable experience.

DiCaprio offers a strong performance. Because he does not have very many lines, most of the time he is required to communicate using only his body, face, and eyes. Even more impressive are moments when his entire body is covered and what can be seen is only his face. His character does not undergo an expected arc—and in a film of such high caliber as this, such a predictability is a hindrance.

I argue that more important is the fact that the performer almost takes on the spirit of the animal that tried to kill Glass. Notice the way he moves following the attack. He crawls, limps, grunts, and is consistently covered in grime. Look at his item of clothing, the way he eats raw fish, and the manner in which he is hunted by the Indians. DiCaprio captures the barbaric animalism that is required of his character to survive in the deep forest.

Based in part on Michael Punke’s novel and screenplay by Mark L. Smith and Alejandro G. Iñárritu, “The Revenant,” dreary and devoid of humor but not little ironies, may not appeal to the general public because it leans toward creating a realistic experience rather than easily digestible entertainment, but it is a piece of work that packs undeniable beauty and power. It is, however, for audiences who like to be challenged and to see the medium expand into a territory outside the traditional.

Mad Max: Fury Road


Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

Assigned to drive a massive truck to collect gasoline, Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has another plan: once there is a good distance between the vehicle and her starting point, she would veer off-track and return to her homeland—along with five wives of cult leader Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byryne). A hot pursuit erupts, with ailing Nux (Nicholas Hoult), chained to a prisoner named Max (Tom Hardy), hoping to impress Immortan Joe so he can be welcomed to Valhalla when he dies.

“Mad Max: Fury Road,” directed by George Miller, is an orgasmic visual exercise of yellow-orange sand, sweltering heat, vehicle acrobatics, dramatic explosions, and deformed, heavy makeup-wearing citizens of a collapsed world bound by no rules. Even without a deep story, it engages thoroughly because the images are so hyperbolic, there is not one film that is remotely like it in the past decade.

The action scenes are inspired and creative. The picture is composed of one long chase sequence but there is variety in the counters between heroes/heroines and villains. With each geographic change, we get an idea about the group of people who live within that area. Particularly memorable is the biker gang waiting atop a narrow canyon. A deal has been made between the gang and Furiosa. Based on how the scene is shot as our protagonists enter the canyon, we know immediately that something is about to go wrong.

Such is the film’s strength: it is shot with a sense of urgency. Although the narration in the beginning briefly describes the circumstances that led to humanity’s decay, we remain curious about its universe nonetheless because it does not spell out every detail. As the characters trek across dry terrains, we discover the journey with them. For instance, the challenge is not only avoiding or eliminating those who try to kill them. All characters must also be wary of and be prepared for the cruel environment that awaits.

At times the picture attempts to do too much. A romantic connection is introduced eventually which does not work at all. The problem is, we have a basic understanding about only half of the would-be couple. Character depth and development is not one of the film’s strengths and so such a desperate attempt to get us emotionally involved, through a romantic scope, comes across as forced and unnecessary. Sometimes less is more.

The two leads, Hardy and Theron, and two supporting actors, Hoult and Keays-Byrne, are a joy to watch because they are unafraid to exaggerate their emotions, to look unattractive physically, to embody their deranged characters completely. Each one commands a high level of creative energy and so he or she is front and center, there is a magnetism and charisma to the performance. We are inspired to learn more about each one of these characters and yet the material has a way of always keeping us at arm’s length. Perhaps we are not meant to get to know these people for their world is so different than ours, they might as well have been of a different species.

Written by George Miller, Brendan McCarthy, and Nick Lathouris, “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a visual spectacle but there is room for some improvement as mentioned previously. I see potential as a modern franchise—one that is not about superheroes or chosen ones destined to save a dystopian world, but one that is about a decaying world and the degenerates who are struggling to survive in it.

Locke


Locke (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Written and directed by Steven Knight, “Locke” strips away the glamour of modern storytelling—fancy twists designed to make the audience feel that what they are sitting through is “smart,” putting the camera in so-called creative positions to simulate realism, hyperactive, tough- and trash-talking dialogue in place of true insight or substance—and focuses on a performance: Tom Hardy playing a man who will come to lose just about everything he has ever valued in a span of less than an hour and a half.

To shoot the film at night is a masterstroke. Imagine if it had been shot during the day. Because the scope of the film is small in terms of space, almost the entirety of it taking place inside a car, it is only natural that our eyes tend to wander for more stimulation. In other words, there would have been more distraction. Here, though there are lights and other vehicles outside, our eyes focus on the driver and how he deals with increasingly difficult calls—calls from his family, co-workers, and acquaintances.

The source of the gravitational pull is Hardy’s allure. Here is an actor known to transform his body and uses it as an instrument to create a compelling character—sometimes someone who we may not necessarily want to know at first glance. This is one of the few roles in which Hardy looks like a “normal” person, someone we can see walking down the street or in line at the grocery store—and we are reminded how good he really is. There is a parallel: a film stripped to its bare essentials starring an actor with nothing to hide behind.

Like all great performers, Hardy appears to be aware of every muscle on his face—especially the eyes—and he knows how to extract the most minuscule emotions necessary to be convincing in whatever he wishes to convey. Take the conversation in which the other person on the other line (Ben Daniels) is yelling at the top of his lungs. Though Hardy chooses his character to speak back with a tone of calm, notice the tension in his posture and limbs. Look at the way his face tightens at just the right moments. What results is a believable character who is mentally checking himself. He knows that if he lost his temper as well, it would not help the predicament that he was in.

There are movies, when reviewed, that require the plot to be summarized. To take on the same approach to “Locke” is a mistake because it is, for the most part, about discovery—just as the character may know who is calling him through caller ID but he has no idea how the conversation might go. What makes the picture entertaining is not just Hardy’s memorable performance but also in the anticipation of how the voices on the other line (Ruth Wilson, Olivia Colman, Andrew Scott) might react. Locke can be demanding, direct to a fault at times, hurtful, but he can be quite soft, too. It is difficult to predict which trait will surface and dominate the conversation once the call is picked up.

Thus, the shades of suspense and the drama are subtle but surely there. In an age where just about everything that counts is placed right in front of us, it is refreshing that once in a while a material comes along and reminds us the value of the trifecta—the screenplay, the actor, and the director—is true and perennial.

The Dark Knight Rises


The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
★★★ / ★★★★

Eight years since the death of Harvey Dent, a former District Attorney and one of the leaders of the fight against war on crime, organized crime had been completely exorcised from Gotham City. Since Batman took the fall for the demise of the white knight and several police officers, Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) had been living as a recluse. This temporary peace in Gotham, however, was threatened by the arrival of Bane (Tom Hardy), a thewy mercenary who recently kidnapped an important scientist. But Bane was not a typical mercenary: he was a former member of the League of Shadows, the same group that trained Bruce before he created Batman, and personally exiled by its leader, Ra’s al Ghul. “The Dark Knight Rises,” directed by Christopher Nolan, delivered an absorbing exposition by allowing us to feel sympathy for the true hero that afforded Gotham citizens the kind of city they’ve always wanted. More than ever, Bale was allowed to shine in the way he meticulously but naturally portrayed a character who was no longer needed by his creators. There was drama not simply because Bruce felt lost and depressed, it was due to the fact that we knew that he deserved fulfillment, a life he could call his own, outside of the mask. No other person could understand the man behind the mask more than Alfred (Michael Cane), Bruce’s help, best friend, and father figure. The most emotionally moving sections of the film involved the two clashing in terms of what the city really needed versus how Bruce should go on with his life. Cane was so good with his line deliveries, I teared up a bit when Alfred mentioned his yearly vacation in Florence, Italy and what he hoped to see across from him while sitting in a restaurant. There was a much deserved complexity in Alfred and Bruce’s relationship which was more than I can say about Bane’s plot to so-called give the people exactly what they wanted. While the action scenes held an above average level of excitement, such as when the villain made his first public appearance, there were too many characters running all of the place–characters who were worth knowing more about. There was Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), conflicted in terms of whether he should reveal Dent’s true colors to the public; Officer Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an ardent young man willing to fight to preserve the good in his city; and Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar who wished to wipe her criminal past clean. And then there was Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard), Bruce’s romantic interest that came so far out of left field, I found it completely unconvincing. There was already little chemistry between Cotillard and Bale and the writing didn’t help them in building something the audience could get behind. Each of the supporting characters was given the spotlight one way or another but the screenplay didn’t have enough time to really drill into what made them more than pawns in the people’s liberation against Bane’s grasp. And so when the denouement arrived, some of the revelations, one of which I found predictable in a fun way, did not feel entirely rewarding. Based on the screenplay by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan, while “The Dark Knight Rises” was undeniably entertaining, it could be observed that perhaps it attempted to take on too much. It wasn’t a breezy bat-glide to the finish line.

This Means War


This Means War (2012)
★★ / ★★★★

After FDR (Chris Pine) and Tuck (Tom Hardy), best friends and partners at work, turned a supposed covert assignment into a public catastrophe, their boss in the CIA (Angela Bassett) relegated them away from field work. During their time off, Tuck thought it would be a great idea to join an online dating service and see women. Luckily for him, Trish (Chelsea Handler) clandestinely created a profile for Lauren (Reese Witherspoon) because she thought her friend could use a man in her life. Eventually, though, Lauren decided to see both FDR and Tuck because she was the kind of girl who liked having options before settling for a product. “This Means War,” directed by McG, had a ridiculous premise which almost worked because its early scenes were full of swagger. Unfortunately, as it went on, it couldn’t be denied that there wasn’t much to the story and Witherspoon as a blonde Barbie was not only unsympathetic, she was not funny. Pine and Hardy had wonderful chemistry and the screenplay by Timothy Dowling and Simon Kinberg capitalized on their characters’ opposite qualities. FDR’s softer facial features was a nice contrast against his blasé playboy lifestyle. He was so slick, he even had a swimming pool elegantly, mesmerizingly placed on his apartment ceiling. On the other hand, Tuck’s more angular features provided an interesting incongruity to his more sensitive side. Having a young son and a passive-aggressive ex-wife, it was very easy to root for Tuck to find some sort of happiness in his personal life. When FDR and Tuck were together, there was a natural bromance that oozed out of their verbal sparring, a very fun, funky energy that reminded me of how it was like to be with my best friend. Because the two were so charming in their own right, scenes that might have been creepy, like the two breaking into Lauren’s home to know more about her and use the knowledge they had acquired to gain an advantage in the dating scenarios, had a playfulness to them. Sadly, Lauren was as boring as a cardboard cutout. The writers injected neuroses in her in order to convince us that she had a semblance of a personality, but not only did her quirks not come off as amusing, it felt almost desperate. It seemed like in every point where she had to make a decision, she consulted Trish. Lauren had a fancy job in downtown L.A. but how come she couldn’t she think for herself? Trish had the funniest lines and Handler was more than capable of reaching a certain level of energy to deliver the punchlines. I wish the picture was more about her. In the middle of it, I began to wonder how the movie could have been more interesting if the two handsome bachelors tried to win Trish’ affections even if she was happily married most of the time. There was a subplot involving Heinrich (Til Schweiger), a person of interest in the eyes of the CIA, wanting revenge for the death of his brother but, like Lauren, it was just so banal. The action scenes were very uninspired, almost unnecessary. “This Means War” was an innocuous romp that desperately needed edge in order to keep its audience on their toes, to feel like we were active participants in the charade. Since pretty much everything was so safe, I noticed that there were times when my eyes began to gloss over out of the dreariness happening on screen.