In order to understand how low my expectations were for Venom: Let There Be Carnage, think about some of the movies that have come out this year that should have been entertaining, but absolutely crapped the bed. Without Remorse, Mortal Combat, F9, and Snake Eyes were terrible and that is coming right on the heels of the abomination that was Wonder Woman 1984. And I only expected one of those movies to be non-stupid. Then, think about the first Venom film. It was so unremarkable that I remember almost nothing about it, including that I said to only ask for half your money back. To be fair, that film came out in 2018, which was roughly three hundred years ago, so it’s mostly a vague memory at this point.
(Not a lot to SPOILER, but there is one thing in the movie worth keeping a secret.)
A friend of mine asked if they needed to watch Venom before watching Let There Be Carnage. Answer? No. Really no. It’s not like Sony had some grand plan for Venom. This is the same company that killed the Spider-Man franchise…twice. This is the same company that got into a pissing match with Marvel over how to split the money that Marvel made them after Marvel fixed Spider-Man. Venom was nothing more than Tom Hardy arguing with himself in two different, equally obnoxious voices, except when it was nothing more than two CGI blobs swirling around a clearly bored Michelle Williams.
The only thing we need to know is that Venom is an alien symbiote attached to reporter Eddie Brock (Hardy) that sometimes appears as a black tentacle with a face attached to Eddie’s back, sometimes engulfs Eddie’s body as a black, muscular, nightmare, acid-trip Spider-Man, and sometimes is nothing more than Hardy yelling lines at himself in his worst Batman voice. This kind of worked in Venom, at least enough to feel fresh, but it gets annoying fast in Let There Be Carnage. You’ll be glad to be distracted by chickens a few minutes into the film. That’s right, chickens.
What little plot exists in Let There Be Carnage is thin enough as to be invisible. Venom wants to eat the brains of criminals, but Eddie has him on a diet of chickens and chocolate. They bicker like an old married couple and a lot of things in Eddie’s apartment get broken. Then, they have a breakup of sorts. Worst romantic comedy ever.
Meanwhile, serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) is about to be executed and wants Eddie to tell Cletus’ story to the world. You know, for reasons. When Eddie gets too close to Cletus’ cage, Cletus bites Eddie and gets some Eddie-Venom blood in his mouth. We see the blood jiggling on its own and this is how Carnage comes to be. No, seriously. It is a known fact that if you bite a symbiote-infected human, it will birth a brand new symbiote and be red because…human blood is red. It’s better known in medical circles as the Reverse Zombie.
Obviously, Cletus escapes his execution now that he has Carnage to provide super powers. Now-free Cletus wants to rescue his past love interest, Shriek (Naomie Harris), from a secret lab/prison. He and Carnage agree that after they bust her out, they will exact revenge on Venom, Eddie, and the cop that captured Shriek so many years ago. Again, for reasons. In movie circles, this plot is better known as the Sony shit-take.
That’s it. That’s the whole movie. Like its predecessor, Let There Be Carnage is thin on plot, heavy on Tom Hardy trying to prove we’ve all overestimated his acting chops, more of Michelle Williams looking really confused as to how she ended up in a non-tear-jerking, non-Oscar-bait, non-drama, Woody Harrelson being directed to just go nuts man, and of course, more swirling CGI blobs fighting each other. And, it doesn’t even have the decency to be rated-R. To be fair, I knew going in that this would be what it was. I was mildly curious as to how Andy Serkis would do as director and the answer was what if Gollum had won? But, my curiosity ended there. The only saving graces of the movie were its short running time (97 minutes) and jaw-dropping mid-credits scene. Turns out, Sony might have just learned something in their fight with Marvel.
Rating: Ask for all your money back because it met my expectations.
It has been six long, long years since the last James Bond film (Spectre) graced us with its presence. In fact, those years were so long that I forgot that I created a review format for James Bond films. This is a pleasant surprise for me because I was struggling with how I was going to talk about the newest Bond flick, No Time to Die. I also forgot how Spectre had really fallen back into the very standard formula for Bond movies. You know, the one that Austin Powers (among others) makes fun of.
The trick is going to be avoiding spoilers because I think you should see No Time to Die and I really want to talk about it. A friend asked me what I thought of the movie and when I started to talk about my one real criticism, in very general terms mind you, he said all he wanted to know was if I thought it was good or not because he didn’t want the movie spoiled. While that is fair, that isn’t what he asked me and, maybe don’t ask a film critic their opinion of a movie if all you want to know is thumbs up or thumbs down. Plus, the things in a movie that cause my thumb to point in a certain direction are probably wildly different than most people. I mean, I hated John Wick for many of the reasons people liked it. In fact, you probably shouldn’t ask anything at all if you are worried about someone else’s opinion coloring your idea of the movie before you see it. In other words, run away from this review until you’ve seen the movie.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk No Time to Die, with just a dash of MILD SPOILERS. Leave now or forever hold your peace.
After the ghastly opening number of Spectre, Billie Eilish gives us “No Time to Die,” a haunting song in the vein of Adele’s “Skyfall” that foreshadows the general mood of the movie. Considering this is definitely, I promise, we swear this time, Daniel Craig’s last turn as James Bond, it’s a very good song for Craig’s, er, swan song.
The nanobots are back to monitor James’ vital signs, as well as of the new double-O agent we meet, Nomi (Lashana Lynch). Tell me again – why do we need to monitor their vital signs? It’s not like there is a medivac team hovering over the mission site, just in case one of them needs a de-fib. There isn’t a circling drone loaded with a pharmacy of poison antidotes that’s going to swoop in and fire syringes into their necks. Even from a movie perspective, it doesn’t add drama since we are literally watching Bond and Nomi fight their way through bad guys. Even Q (Ben Whishaw) isn’t paying attention to the vital signs since he is busy working other tech parts of the job during the big mission.
Bond also gets a new watch because his watch in Spectre was a bomb. This time, his watch can emit an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP), which can knock out electronics. The idea that a tiny little watch can emit an EMP is hilarious, but we’ll accept it in a James Bond film, as long as they stop talking after saying “the watch has an EMP.” No, seriously Q, stop talking. Stop telling us its range. No, don’t tell us it only works on hard-wired electronics. Oh, for fuck’s sake, now I’m going to notice how it contradicts exactly those things when Bond decides to use it. Also, why didn’t Nomi get a cool watch?
Unless you are very much a gearhead, there are only two cars that will stand out. The first is the Aston Martin DB5, a car we saw in Spectre and six other Bond flicks, including the first Bond movie, Goldfinger. And yes, it has all the silly gadgets from those films as well. Smoke, exploding spike balls, miniguns in the headlights, bulletproof glass, the ability to spin in a circle without going anywhere. It’s a pretty car, but I would have much preferred Nomi’s Aston Martin DBS Superleggera being the featured car.
Speaking of aesthetics, they also decided to dust off the hideous Aston Martin Vantage from 1977’s The Living Daylights (featuring Timothy Dalton) as the second featured Bond car. To me, muscle cars are ugly monstrosities that scream “I’m compensating for something.” The Vantage looks like a Mustang ate an Aston Martin because it ran out of Viagra. I don’t know how the Vantage found it’s way back into the franchise, but it should have stayed in the museum of misfit cars where it belongs.
Cars aren’t the only thing recycled in No Time to Die. The memory of Vesper Lynd makes a return and Bond’s new love (also returning from the previous film), Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), insists he makes his peace with Vesper’s death if he and Madeleine are to remain a couple. This being a Bond film, their relationship doesn’t make it out of the opening scene intact due to bullets flying, cars racing around, and Bond believing Madeleine betrayed him to Spectre.
The new Bond girl in this film is Paloma (Ana de Armas), a CIA agent working with Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright). Except, she turns out not to be a true Bond girl since she never gets naked with him. Her task is to escort Bond into a high-class party to find and secure a missing scientist (David Dencik). In what is the best scene in the film, the two of them are dressed to the nines, two criminally gorgeous people clearly at ease with each other. Paloma is practically giddy with excitement, as she is a newly minted agent, and clearly enjoying herself on the mission. Then, the action starts and the two perform in the best action sequence of the film. It’s a scene that stands out for the quality of its components while not ending in the cliched Bond conquest of other films, including the quick death of said female conquest. While we all debate and guess at who will play the next James Bond, I would love to see de Armas succeed Felix as the next CIA buddy.
Spectre brought back the head henchman cliche in Dave Bautista, but didn’t give him a gimmick. This time, we get the whole package in Primo (Dali Benssalah). He’s lethal, he barely speaks, and he has a bionic eye. The eye doesn’t appear to be useful to Primo in any way, but does appear to be useful to his master. On the plus side, it’s not a goofy razor hat, but on the negative side, it should have been a goofy bionic eye.
The new villain is my one real criticism of the movie. He is a very generic villain whose presence is almost an afterthought to the plot. The plot itself seems to be more about wrapping up any and all loose ends that may still be dangling, stretching back to Casino Royale, than whatever the new villain is up to. Why am I still referring to him as the new villain instead of by name? Because his name is never enunciated enough for me to understand it and I had to Google it to learn that it’s Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). Even the story of how his face became disfigured was lost upon me because it was so boring and doesn’t matter to the plot. But the main way you know Safin wasn’t a good villain is because Spectre’s villain, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), is featured in just one single scene and it completely overshadows all of Safin’s scenes combined. It’s a shame because I was really looking forward to seeing Malek give us a memorable villain.
The Death Ray
Nanobots. No, not the vital sign monitoring nanobots. These other nanobots are spread like the plague and target people based on pre-programmed DNA and also DNA that is similar, but not too similar. Don’t ask. And they can never be destroyed. In the wrong hands, it’s the end of the world, but that seems to be Safin’s objective only after his other objectives have run their course. It’s like he does it out of inertia rather than desire. And, the nanobots are originally created by MI6. What would a spy movie be without government secrets? At least it’s not an actual death ray.
Another deserted island housing an abandoned military installation, complete with missile silos and blast doors. The Safin family had converted it into their evil lair and Lyutsifer now runs it. The main features are a poison garden and pools filled with acid and dozens of peons stirring the acid while standing in the acid. I mean, I think it was acid. A bad guy melts in it when he falls in during the climax. But it has no purpose other than to be an obstacle, which means the acid is also just the Chompers.
If this movie hadn’t been slated for release pre-Covid pandemic, I’d say it was the idea of government scientists genetically modifying diseases in labs. Not that movies haven’t used this plot before in many various forms, be it diseases or technology or weapons, all in the name of protecting the country and/or the world. It’s pretty standard for political thrillers and spy movies. Hell, it’s the plot of Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. There is also the idea that science playing God will be the end of us all. We see this scare the shit out of easily frightened people every couple of years, whether it’s cloning, stem cells, artificial intelligence, condoms, evolution, gravity, vaccines, heliocentrism, and the wheel. This time it’s nanotechnology. Next time it’ll be voting machines.
If you have more questions than “good or bad,” the next question from people is where does No Time to Die rank against the other Daniel Craig films? The answer is below Casino Royale. I’ve enjoyed all five of Craig’s Bond films, but Casino Royale is easily the best. After that, throw a dart. The other four are all very entertaining and feature good components, as well as their flaws and cliches. No Time to Die isn’t particularly memorable compared to the rest, just like the rest aren’t particularly memorable. That in itself is a little disappointing since it would have been nice for Craig’s last Bond film to be as amazing as his first. I mean, thumbs up…mostly.
Rating: Ask for two dollars back because Bond villains should be worth the price of admission.
When I was a kid, I loved watching reruns of the old Addams Family TV show. They made me laugh and I liked the spooky factor. As an adult, I cannot watch reruns of that show. They are terrible. And not terrible in the way of watching them through a 2021 prism, but objectively bad. And that’s not just my own opinion. The show was cancelled after just two seasons (though they still managed an astounding 64 episodes) because pretty much everyone thought it was bad. Unfortunately, the schlock that people quickly grew tired of was carried into the film remakes in the 1990s, then again in the animated remakes of the last couple years. Watching this latest entry in the franchise with my wife and son reminded me that the jokes just are not funny and that even kids tire quickly of the nonsense. But don’t take my word for it, take my son’s word for it.
How much of the first Addams Family do you remember?
Uhhhhh…..naaaaaah….well, some? I remember that Wednesday started school. In junior high.
Is there anything from the first movie that you think you need to know for the sequel?
[Stares straight ahead] Naaaaaah.
What were you hoping to see in the sequel?
Creepier stuff. Like mystery. Like [sing the X-files theme]
After watching Addams Family 2, did it meet your expectations for creepy?
[Giggles. Shakes head]
How would you describe Addams Family 2, if not creepy and mysterious?
Well, it wasn’t like people screamed when they saw them. It seems like they screamed a lot when they saw the family…but only a few people actually screamed.
What was the main plot?
They go on a road trip and they’re trying to avoid having this lawyer trying to get Wednesday back to her original family.
Do you know what a subplot is?
Like a minor plot or other stories. Are there any other plots going on?
I don’t think so.
Are there any other Addams family members on the road trip with them?
I don’t know the name….like, the gramma. And she hosts parties for….two weeks? No, three weeks.
Okay so Gramma is not on the road trip, who IS on the road trip?
Who is everyone else?
Pugsley, Wednesday, Gomez Addams, Tish Addams, lurch, Wednesday…oh, I already said that. Wasn’t there one more?
[holds up 3 fingers]
There’s 3 more?! [facepalm] Oh! It was Uncle Fester! And then I don’t remember his name, the hairy guy.
One more?! Oh! Thing!
So where did the family go on the road trip?
Did they visit anywhere spooky?
Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, Sleepy Hollow.
What was your favorite part of the road trip?
Well, they went to that guy’s house in California. The guy that tried to steal Wednesday.
But what was your favorite part of the road trip?
When Pugsley blew up the Grand Canyon.
Why was that your favorite part?
Because I like explosions.
Would you say the movie was more funny than anything else?
What part of the road trip do you think was the most boring part?
Let me put it this way, which part did you like the least?
When they went to Sleepy Hollow.
Because they just talked about….oh! the lion is also there!….They just sat around, telling stories.
If you could take a part out of the movie, what part or thing would it be? That you didn’t think needed to be there?
I feel like they didn’t need to do the Texas – oh! They went to Texas! And saw those motorcycle guys and they were at a bar, and Lurch was there too with Wednesday.
If you could add something to the movie, what would you add?
A few more places that they went.
Name one. Like, where would you make them go?
They could see the Great Lakes.
How would that fit in with the Addams Family?
[snarky and sassy] They went to NIAGARA FALLS, dad.
Is there anything spooky about the Great Lakes?
They’re huge…and with fresh water.
Would you make something be IN the lakes, like something spooky?
[whispers] Uncle Fester.
Why would he be in the lakes?
Because he’s a weird uncle and tries to be funny and….[trails off]
Who is your favorite character?
Pugsley. …NO! No no non onononono LURCH! [sighs]
I can’t think of any more questions.
[Mom from the other side of the room] Because it was a boring-ass movie.
Would you watch it again?
Rating: If people go to the theater to see it, how much money should they ask for back?
I think they want back 2 dollars. I think the movie could have been a little better. Because there were no mysteries, no really spooky things. No [sings X-Files theme song]
Up until a month ago, my exposure to televangelism consisted of two experiences. The first, and recurring weekly, was sitting in the church parking lot after Sunday mass trying to get reception on the little TV in our family van while my parents were at some adult after-church socializing thing and my siblings were in Sunday School (my confirmation classes were during the week, in case you were wondering about me being a heathen in a van). Since this was the early 1990s, the over-the-air television reception (Google it, young-uns) limited me to fuzzy professional wrestling and clear televangelists preaching. Considering I had just sat through sixteen hours of a one-hour Catholic mass, there was no way in hell (yep) I was going to subject myself to more church. Suffice it to say, I read a lot of books, none of which featured Jesus or God’s wrath.
The second, and a much fonder memory, was the South Park episode “Starvin’ Marvin in Space.” If you have never seen that episode, or any South Park episode, I highly recommend you start with that one. One of the themes of the episode is Pat Robertson appearing on a show called “The 600 Club” on the Christian Broadcast Channel imploring viewers to donate money to buy spacecraft and weapons to capture an alien ship piloted by the titular character, or, to paraphrase Pat, to spread the love of Jesus. This was very much on my mind during several scenes of The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
More recently, and one of the reasons my interested piqued in this movie, I listened to an episode of a podcast called “You’re Wrong About” covering Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. As I was completely unfamiliar with the couple, the episode was fascinating, eye-opening, and horrifying all at the same time. The episode covers a lot of ground, including the alleged rape of Jessica Hahn by Jim Bakker and his associate John Wesley Fletcher, the most well-known piece of the Bakker story. After listening to it, I was looking forward to seeing how the film would cover the Bakkers and the light it would portray them in. Based on a 2000 documentary of the same name, the film The Eyes of Tammy Faye is told from the perspective of Tammy Faye, so a lot of the sordid story was glossed over in the film or outright ignored, including the alleged rape, which is barely mentioned as “that girl keeps calling.” This was quite disappointing from both a historical and dramatic perspective.
The major problem with this film is it that it stays at the one-hundred-thousand-foot level, except when it comes to Jessica Chastain’s actual portrayal of Tammy Faye, with a close second for Andrew Garfield’s portrayal of Jim Bakker. There is no commitment to any real narrative outside of Tammy’s personal quirks. Her eye make-up, her guzzling of Diet Coke, her Minnesota accent, her vanity. Every time the movie seems like it is about to focus on a hardship or obstacle, it blinks its eyes and we’re whisked some time into the future where that previous issue has been forgotten. Their car disappears while they are on the road and have no money? Random guy offers them a job working with Pat Robertson at Robertson’s TV network and we jump ahead three years when all is going great. Robertson takes credit for Jim’s “700 Club” show? The Bakkers decide to start their own TV network and we jump ahead five years when all is going great. For all intents and purposes, it’s a Cliff’s Notes version of Tammy Faye’s life from mid-childhood to the collapse of the Bakkers’ lives in 1987. Maybe life really did just hand things to Tammy and Jim on a silver platter, but if so, that’s really boring.
Because the film is mostly reciting basic facts for us, there are no real heroes or villains established for us to root for or against. Normally, we’d gravitate toward the film’s supposed protagonist (Tammy), but the film misses the forest for Tammy’s eyelashes. The most we can muster is a smidge of sympathy because Jim won’t have sex with her any more. Additionally, even a quick search of Jim reveals him to be a slimy con artist using the love of Jesus to wring millions of dollars from gullible believers and, if we are to believe Ms. Hahn (and I very much do), a rapist. Oh, and many of the millions went into the construction of a Christian theme park in South Carolina because nothing says devoted Christian more than water slides and funnel cakes. He even has a henchman. On paper, the guy is one handmaid’s tale away from being a super villain, yet this film portrays him as a meek, pleading, faux Mister Rogers who definitely didn’t rape anybody because did you see the scene implying he might be a teensy bit gay because he wrestles with his henchman on a TV stage for a few seconds? Again, maybe he really was that way in real life, but if so, that’s really boring.
In the end, I didn’t come out of this movie with any more of an impression of the Bakkers than I had going into the film. Most historical fictions and biopics make me want to learn more about the subject matter and fact-check the film, but The Eyes of Tammy Faye just made me want to close my own eyes and take a nap. To be fair, I was interested to know what happened to the theme park, Heritage USA (turns out it was the third most successful theme park in America at the time, after Disneys World and Land, until the scandals broke in 1987 and Hurricane Hugo mostly destroyed it in 1989, forcing it to close for good). And, as a society, we’ve also learned over the past few decades that televangelists in general are mostly just grifters and criminals perverting religion in order to separate people from their money (the list is long). But what I really learned is that I made the correct decision to read books way back in my childhood van and that South Park got it more right than The Eyes of Tammy Faye.
Rating: Ask for nine dollars back for the film and anything you gave to that guy in the really nice suit preaching on Sunday morning TV.
With the release of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, we can officially say the next phase of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has really begun. Yes, I know Loki and WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier have come out, but they are all television series and feel more like phase 3.5. And Black Widow filled in a gap in phase 3, if not a gap in Captain America: Civil War. But, I will concede that the three TV series feel a lot like the phase one movies. They all focus on specific characters and feel more like origin stories than continuations of their character arcs. There is also a mysterious figure, Valentina Allegra de Fontaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), showing up at the end of films and recruiting people (Yelena Belova and John Walker). And, you know how Marvel loves magic objects. Well, now we have ten, count them, ten magic rings.
(SPOILER ALERT – I’ll keep it to a minimum, but just know how hard it is not to talk to you about every little detail.)
Since Shang-Chi is still technically a Disney film, we get two standard Disney movie tropes. The first is opening narration telling us a bunch of stuff that does not matter. At all. It’s the backstory of Shang-Chi’s father, Wenwu (Tony Leung), who was a warlord for two thousand years, then met Shang-Chi’s future mother, Jiang Li (Fala Chen), and some other stuff I don’t remember. To be fair, it does matter for character building and motivations, but all of it will be reiterated later in the film, so what I’m really saying is it is redundant. And speaking of redundancy, Jiang Li dies well before this movie’s story takes place, and there we have the second trope. Did you really think a Disney film wasn’t going to include a dead parent? Why else do you think Disneyland is called the Happiest Place on Earth?
Once we get past the narration, the movie actually starts. Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) is living in San Francisco and working as a bellhop with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). One day, while Shang-Chi and Katy are riding the bus to work, a couple of thugs demand Shang-Chi hand over his necklace. Yes, I thought it was really random as well. So did Shang-Chi for that matter. When they try to take it from him, he goes full ninja on them. Yes, I was really surprised by this. So was Katy for that matter.
The refreshing thing about this scene is two-fold. One, since Shang-Chi is apparently already awesome, we don’t have to worry about getting a training montage before fully developing his skills. He’s already a trained assassin who, as it turns out, was hiding out in San Francisco from his father. What’s that? There is a training montage, but just later in the film where he has to learn different skills? And a second one showing him learning to fight as a kid? Um, I meant two-fold as in double the training montage. Moving on.
The second thing is the fight scene feels really unique. It’s not like we haven’t seen fights on trains or airplanes or buses before, but this one felt exceptionally closed-in, yet amazingly acrobatic and free-wheeling. Beyond that, it also thrusts us into the main story with no warning, establishes Shang-Chi’s skills, introduces us to head henchman Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu), and gives Katy plenty of room to shine as the plucky comic relief, even to the point of doing a quick Sandra Bullock from Speed homage.
From there, the movie barely slows down, taking us from one action sequence to another, while blending in some surprisingly deep character and plot development, even beyond what we’ve come to expect from a Marvel movie. I especially liked how the plot first seems to be protecting a second necklace and potentially recovering the first, with Shang-Chi and Katy racing to Macao to find Shang-Chi’s sister, Xialing (Meng-er Zhang), to warn her of the impending danger since she has the other necklace. Instead, they find Xialing to be every bit Shang-Chi’s equal in the martial arts department and they learn that the amulets on the necklaces are just a stepping stone to a much larger plot. But we don’t learn this until after a fight scene that puts the bus fight scene to shame. It’s a lot like in The Matrix when you see that opening scene with Trinity in the empty apartment and you’re in awe, then see the lobby shootout and practically melt in amazement.
All of this is a long way of saying that if you were worried there would be some sort of swoon in the MCU after Avengers: End Game, Shang-Chi will disabuse you of that notion. Shang-Chi is everything we’ve come to expect from MCU movies. It’s sharp, it’s witty, it’s exciting, it has memorable characters, and it makes you want to come back for the next film to see what happens next. And to top it all off, it ties in a bunch of little things from previous movies that will make you say “bravo, Marvel, bravo.” That is, if you aren’t geeking out too hard to speak.
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, but do ask when the next movie is. You’ll have no choice after seeing the end-credit scene.