Venom

Venom

By: Kevin Jordan

Where have all the villains gone?

According to IGN, Venom is the twenty-second greatest comic book villain of all-time.  I have no idea what that really means because I do not read comic books.  I would be very hard-pressed to name twenty-three comic book villains at all (unless we are just naming X-Men bad guys), let alone the top twenty-one, but that same IGN list is out of the top one hundred.  Not total one hundred, but the top one hundred.  Does that mean there are hundreds, if not thousands, of comic book villains?  Does that top one hundred include henchmen?  Villains’ accountants?  Spiteful ex-wives?  Again, I do not read comic books.  I did look up a little bit about Venom to find out how bad he really is and it turns out he is also well-known as an anti-hero.  Comic book fans sound confused.

(SPOILERS AHEAD – There are too many villains in this film and none are good.)

I went into Venom thinking Venom was an actual villain.  I saw Spider-Man 3.  Venom is an evil tar monster thingy that makes people do bad sidewalk struts.  The way the move starts makes you think that Venom is going to be the villain of the film.  A spaceship crashes, and the cleanup crew notes that one of the four swirly tar things they found in space is missing from the wreckage.  Some mayhem regarding the missing fourth ensues and you immediately think Venom is already up to no good.

Cut to Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy), an in-your-face investigative journalist with his own show.  He’s dating Anne (Michelle Williams), a high-brow attorney representing a shady CEO named Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed).  When Eddie is assigned a puff-piece to interview Drake, Eddie takes an illicit peek into Anne’s files on Drake, then ambushes Drake with the ill-gotten information during the interview.  Eddie is quickly fired and discovers that Anne was fired as well.  Anne dumps Eddie because love does not trump all.  Cut to six months later and – wait, six months?

If you are hoping to see this in the film, get comfortable because it’s going to be awhile.

If this movie was going to have any flow to it, this fast forward stomped all of it.  When we left the mayhem of the crash site, the fourth tar ball has possessed a person and jumped to a couple of other people as it sought a proper host.  You see, the alien tar swirlies are parasites (or symbiotes) that require a human host to survive.  Just don’t ask how they were able to survive for so long riding a comet in space with nary a human to be found.

The film then drags itself along as Drake starts locking homeless people in rooms with the three symbiotes, each time ending with one less hobo.  One of his scientists, Dr. Skirth (Jenny Slate), wants to blow the whistle on the murders so she tracks down and contacts a nearly-homeless Eddie.  She does not call the police or employed journalists.  She must have Eddie, despite Eddie clearly being a terrible solution for this particular problem.

This looks like if Jackson Pollock directed a fight scene.

Dr. Skirth helps Eddie break into Drake’s research lab to gather evidence and proves, once again, that fictional research labs have the worst security ever (side note: why does every movie featuring a secret lab go out of its way to make it seem like its proprietor wants its secrets stolen?  I am looking at you The Shape of Water).  Anyway, while she is looking out for guards or something, Eddie sees a friend of his and breaks the glass of the highly-secure room with the super dangerous alien in it using only a fire extinguisher.  A symbiote jumps into Eddie’s body, but Eddie manages to escape back to his apartment.  After what seems like hours, the film finally gets to the Venom part when Eddie fights off a tactical assault team trying to recover the symbiote for Drake.

If you fell asleep for the first half or so of the film, you did not miss anything worth watching.  The film finally becomes entertaining during the apartment fight scene as we get a first look at Venom talking to Eddie (in Eddie’s head) and using Eddie to fight off the soldiers.  Hardy was clearly having fun with this concept, so I ended up having fun.  While the banter and exchanges between Eddie and Venom were cringe-worthy at times, they worked more often than not.  If you are not entertained by Tom Hardy arguing with himself while people looked at him like he was insane, you are not having enough fun in life.  Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying this movie should be regarded positively, just that it was entertaining despite itself.

*Laughter* This movie is so stupid and I don’t even care! *More laughter*

I kind of want to give the film credit for changing up the formula that usually comes along with a movie like this, but they changed it like Trump changed NAFTA, which is to say they doodled in the margins and did not actually make any real improvement.  The typical film would have had Eddie and Venom connected at the original spaceship crash or during Eddie and Drake’s interview and Drake later achieving a breakthrough and melding himself with another symbiote.  The film ends up there anyway, but the route it takes is no better.

Drake is a boring villain constantly delivering trite motivational speeches to his employees that sound like epiphanies learned from a Snapple cap.  Drake’s motivation for the homeless people experiments is that he wants to live in space because humans are destroying the planet.  Instead of a breakthrough in the lab, the original missing symbiote shows up at the research lab and Drake just happens to be a good match.  I hated this aspect of the film because it rendered nearly everything before that scene pointless.  Then again, it was all pointless anyway because the film does not bother trying to build a sense of progress in the experiments.  It just shows us puddles of goo and dead people and Drake delivering another shitty speech.

Synergy. Optimize. Agile. Holistic. Other bullshit words I can spout that are the opposite of inspiring.

I was also disappointed that Venom ends up being kind of a hero instead of straight-up evil.  He is even made to be an underdog when he inexplicably tells Eddie that their symbiotic foe has better weapons than him.  This makes zero sense because the symbiotes make blade weapons from their goo.  Does Venom not know who to make a scythe?  Dumb things like that were almost enough to turn me completely against this film and you all know how much I enjoy turning against films.

Despite this movie being objectively bad, my friend and I enjoyed ourselves because we had seen the early Rotten Tomatoes scores landing in the mid-twenties.  This allowed us to reset our expectations down to sub-basement levels and enjoy the movie the way that one enjoys a bad B-movie.  Granted, the stilted performance from Michelle Williams was a bit of a surprise; Williams seemingly unaware of what kind of movie she was in.  This probably had more to do with the writing and directing, but she did not look like she wanted to be there.  Even then, I still had a good time at this film.  Hopefully, the next villain in the franchise (don’t look so shocked) will be an actual villain or one that doesn’t suck.

Rating: Ask for half of your money back or wait until you can Red Box it.  It is not that entertaining.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

By: Kevin Jordan (Number9)

You are not eight.

TMNT Poster Art

My original intention for this review was to revisit my rules for when it’s okay to remake a movie.  But then I actually watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and realized it was far worse than I was expecting.  I know what you’re thinking – “it’s a movie for kids, of course you weren’t going to like it.”  First of all, that’s not fair.  I like lots of movies that were intended for kids and I’m not just talking about the obviously good ones like Toy Story or Shrek.  Second, just because a movie was made for kids doesn’t mean it has to be dumb by default.  Kids are capable of recognizing crap too (I should know – my 2-year old tells me about his crap every time).  Third, I’m in the generation that grew up loving the Ninja Turtles, especially the animated series.  Remaking this movie was just as much for my generation as it is for a new generation.  Finally, Turtles is rated PG-13, so it wasn’t aimed just at kids; it was aimed at everyone and makes it fair game for what you’re going to read in the rest of this review.  But, just so you don’t think I’m being unfair and am misunderstanding the concept of kids’ movies, here you go – if you are eight years old or younger, you will love this movie.  The kids in the audience sure did.  But, since you aren’t eight (I know this because if your parents are letting you read this, they are terrible parents) you should know that this movie is fucking embarrassing.

Just because I’m curious, let’s take a look at my remake rules again and decide if this movie should have been made at all.  For a movie to qualify for a remake, the original has to meet these specifications:

  1. It didn’t win any Oscars.  – Haha.  Be serious.
  2. It is at least 20 years old.  – Check.  Released in 1990 (and the sequels were released in ’91 and ’93).
  3. It wasn’t great.  – It was rated PG because it really was made for kids.  It was also produced by an independent film company for just $13.5 million.  Roger Ebert said “this movie is nowhere near as bad as it might have been, and probably is the best possible Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie.”   It supplies, in other words, more or less what Turtle fans will expect.
  4. It wasn’t terrible.  – See number 3.
  5. The new version is really a new version.  – There are a ton of similarities, but there are major differences in main plot elements, so we’ll go ahead and say check.
  6. It doesn’t feature the flavor-of-the-month actor/actress/US Weekly headliner.  – Megan Fox might just be the exact opposite of that sentiment and the rest are people you always forget are still actors.
  7. It didn’t make a ton of money.  – Whoops.  The original was the ninth highest grossing film of 1990, pulling in a world-wide gross just under $202 million on that tiny budget of $13.5 million.  Of course, $202 million is less than an opening weekend for blockbusters these days, so this isn’t an egregious faux-pas.

Verdict:  I’ll allow it.

Having said all that, I don’t think anybody asked for a remake, especially not one from Michael Bay, who managed to alternate doing great service to Transformers, then following that up by dropping a steaming deuce on that service.  I didn’t think he’d be able to make a worse movie than Transformers: Age of Distinction, but I clearly underestimated the man’s abilities.  To be fair, Bay only helped produce the movie, so maybe I’m being a little harsh.  The real blame for this abomination lies with the director (Jonathan Liebesman) and three (THREE!?!) writers (Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec, Evan Daugherty).

On the surface, the movie is essentially what you expect.  Ninja Turtles, April O’Neil (Megan Fox), fighting, car chases, the Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), explosions, some sort of ooze responsible for mutating the turtles and their master, Splinter (Tony Shaloub – voice; Danny Woodburn – motion capture), the foot clan, evil plot to take over the city/world.  Under the surface, the movie is lazy, poorly written, and miscast in ways both obvious and not so obvious.

(Here come the SPOILERS, but that shouldn’t be a problem since you’re not eight.)

The film begins with April trying to investigate thefts by the foot clan in an effort to prove that she is a real journalist.  After two different run-ins with the foot clan and their battles with vigilantes (the Turtles), she has evidence of the vigilantes and extensive information about the foot clan that would make for a great story.  But does her editor (the absurdly out of place, Whoopi Goldberg) believe her?  Of course not.  Does April whip out her pictures of the Turtles that are on her phone?  Of course not.  Does she have interviews or statements from any of the hostages from her last incident who also definitely saw the Turtles?  Of course not.  That would have given her credibility as a journalist, but nobody wants that – she’s Megan Fox.  Bring on the damn Turtles.

Shortly thereafter, we get the obligatory fight scene where the foot clan has orders to capture the Turtles to get the Mutagen (the ooze) and the following dumb shit happens:

  • When the clan and Shredder show up, Shredder gets into a one-on-one fight with Splinter, eventually defeating him.  Yet, it never dawns on Shredder that Splinter would also have Mutagen in him and Shredder just leaves him there for dead.
  • During the one-on-one, Splinter keeps telling the Turtles to save themselves and even closes a gate on them to keep them from helping them.  Two things here.  One, why does Splinter think five-on-one and winning is worse than one-on-one and losing?  Two, it takes three of the Turtles all of their strength to barely lift a metal gate even though earlier in the film they are flinging shipping containers around like they are nothing and later in the film will hold up the spire of a skyscraper.

After the capture of three of the Turtles, we quickly move to the next big action scene in Sacks’ laboratory where he is draining the Turtles’ blood to extract Mutagen.  The only dumb thing here is minor and not worth mentioning, but the ensuing car chase scene down the side of an Everest-ian mountain sure is.  Not only is this scene extremely difficult to watch (due to the insipid 3-D and spastic camera and animation work), but it’s supposedly occurring in a mountain range with sewer entrances that lead into Sacks’ building in Times Square.  I dare you to think of a lazier, fucktastic plot point than that.

At this point, the movie culminates in the final battle scene in which the Turtles will predictably prevail by using a crane-kick-esque movie to defeat the Transformer/Predator that is Shredder.  Just to digress for moment, the Shredder’s armor was definitely concocted by Bay.  There are scenes in which you will believe the Turtles and Splinter are fighting Megatron.  Anyway, this final sequence brings us one of the most comically bad performances in the history of film in the form of Fichtner firing a handgun.  Not only is he waving it around like a high school kid would do in a play, but the gun has no visible muzzle flash.  He might as well be yelling “bang, bang” at that point because it wouldn’t be any more absurd than the delivery of his ridiculous final diatribe.  In fact, one gunshot doesn’t even sync with his arm motion when he moves it in a firing motion.  I’m fairly certain this film had no editor.

Before I get to the final atrocities seen in the film, we need to focus a bit on the terrible casting choices and putrid dialogue.  The casting was just plain bizarre.  Megan Fox can’t act her way out of a box, but it’s not surprising to see her in a movie like this.  But what the fuck were Will Arnett and Whoopi Goldberg doing in this movie?  Goldberg has spent far too much time as a yapping hen on The View to remember what acting actual entails and Arnett is asked to make sexual advances towards Fox as often as possible, which is pretty much the opposite of what anyone wants in this movie (not to mention they ask the same thing of one of the Turtles, which is also not funny; just gross).  Even stranger is that they chose to cast voices for Splinter and one of the Turtles, but not the other three.  Every time I try to think of a logical reason for that, my brain farts.

On the dialogue front, not only do we get a steady stream of bad deliveries and tired clichés, we get treated to Shredder switching from Japanese to English back to Japanese – because that was the one thing missing from this movie, forced usage of the old catch phrases that don’t resonate even a little bit, and the following lines from Sacks – “Time to take a bite out of the Big Apple,” “I guess April came early this year,” and his motivation “I’m going to be stupid rich.”  Dude, you live in a castle and drive a helicopter; you’re just stupid.

It’s time to wrap this thing up, so here are the last three things that inspire jaw-dropping in the name of stupidity.

  • In order to save Splinter, they need to get their hands on the Mutagen taken from their blood.  Except, Splinter already has the same shit in his blood.  I guess Shredder isn’t the only moron in this film.
  • The Turtles thank April for not telling the world about them, even though she told her editor in the hopes of telling the rest of the world in the form of a news sotry, told Sacks about them (causing the entire last sixty minutes of the film to happen), and showed themselves to the entire world by standing in the middle of Times Square after falling from a skyscraper in front of hundreds of people.
  • In what is the worst and most unnecessary product placement ever, the final scene shows two of the Turtles hiding on a giant Victoria’s Secret billboard by grabbing onto the depicted breasts of model Behati Prinsloo.  I’m pretty sure eight-year olds aren’t going to get that joke and if they do, there are some parents who need to be arrested.

Rating: If you spent money to see this movie and aren’t accompanying your small children, you deserve to have your wallet stolen.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

By: Kevin Jordan (Number9)

transformers

Optimus Prime rides a dinosaur.

This is what I wrote at the end of my review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon – “It also appears to have concluded the story, though I’m sure they could find some way to keep it going.”  Well, they found a way; a really, really stupid way.

Age of Extinction begins the same way the stupendously asinine Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen begins – by showing transformers screwing with Earth in the distant past.  This time around, a fleet of ships is dropping bombs and killing all of the dinosaurs and most of the life on Earth.  See what they did there?  Yay for pseudo-history.  This is supposed to provide us with information needed to explain what’s going to happen later in the movie, but I promise you will only be more confused later on.  In present times, a hot blonde chick shows up at an arctic mining site where a dinosaur made of metal has been unearthed.  Since we know from the previews that Optimus Prime will ride a Dinobot (if you aren’t familiar with Transformers toys or the animated television show, they are exactly what you think) into combat at some point, you would think maybe this is that Dinobot but you’d be wrong.

Cut to Texas, U.S.A. (the movie actually prints “Texas, U.S.A.” on the screen to make sure we don’t confuse it with, say, Texas, Russia), where struggling inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) buys a wrecked semi-truck from a dilapidated movie theater.  Yes, that scene is as ridiculous as it sounds and yes, the character’s name actually is Cade.  Yeager.  At this point in the movie, if you aren’t drinking already, you should start.

Anyway, Cade’s character is given the standard character treatment for any character you’re not really supposed to give a shit about – he’s broke, widowed, super-smart, and has a ridiculously hot seventeen year-old daughter who “takes care of him” (incidentally, this is one my wife’s biggest hatreds when it comes to character tropes – kids who are smarter or more practical than their parents).  On that note, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) is constantly on his case that they are broke, is hoping to get a scholarship to go to college, and is secretly dating a rally-car racer even though her father has forbidden her from dating.  Does this matter at all?  God, no.  Her only job in this film is to be hot (usually wearing what can only be described as denim underwear with long pockets), scream, and run.  Cade’s job is to “fix…ahem” Optimus Prime (that old truck he bought) and run around firing a sword/gun thingy (this happens much later) while cracking jokes in the form of embarrassingly unfunny one-liners.

Meanwhile, transformers – Autobots and Decepticons alike – have been deemed illegal aliens (because, of course they have!) and are being hunted and killed by the CIA, and sold off to a defense contractor for research and materials.  Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) heads up the operations, declaring that “the age of transformers is at an end.”  Okay, what the fuck is going on?  Not only have we already gone through blaming the Autobots for everything in Revenge of the Fallen and they have saved the Earth and the human race three times, but “age of the transformers?!”  Were we ever told it started?  And, at this point, could you blame the Autobots if they teamed up with any remaining Decepticons and just slaughtered the entire human race?  Could you?

Anyway, Attinger has secretly made a deal with a transformer called Lockdown – who can transform his face into a cannon and is some kind of intergalactic assassin/bounty hunter – because, apparently, Boba Fett was busy.  Seriously, we don’t know anything about Lockdown other than he wants to capture Optimus Prime on orders from “the creators” and because “the balance of the universe must be restored.”  If you want to know who the creators are or what is out of balance, you’re shit out of luck because this movie wasn’t about to waste a couple of minutes (out of 165; yeah, that’s two hours and forty-five minutes) explaining itself when there are things to blow up.

In exchange for capturing Optimus, Lockdown will give Attinger a seed, which when detonated, will turn organic matter into Transformium – programmable metal that the transformers are made from (these are the bombs that destroyed the dinosaurs).  You see, Attinger also has a deal with the CEO of that defense contractor, Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), to build their own transformers and they need the seed to create more material because they are running out of transformers to kill and the arctic-metal-dinosaur supply is also exhausted.  What does all this have to do with the Yeager family?  Take a drink.

The Yeagers exist solely because director Michael Bay and writer Ehrun Kruger insist that audiences give a fuck about humans in a movie about giant transforming alien robots fighting an intergalactic war.  Newsflash: we don’t.  Considering how pointless they are to the, er…plot, Bay and Kruger don’t either.  If we gave a shit about the human story, we’d be watching The Fault in Our Stars.

Since we’re on the topic of plot, this movie didn’t have one.  Is the movie about a perceived fight for the Earth between humans and transformers?  Is it about the poor plight of a genius who thought the best place to build a robotics company was in the scientifically-retarded Texas wilderness?  Is it about some unknown galactic creators who built knights, including Optimus, that did something somewhere and they were mad enough to send cannon-face after them?  Is it about dinosaurs?  Illegal immigration?  EVERYTHING IS BLOWING UP AND NOBODY WILL TELL US ANYTHING AND THIS MOVIE IS REALLY REALLY LONG AND REALLY REALLY LOUD!!!!

I know movies like this are not best-described as cerebral, but it would have been nice if anything had made any sense.  This is the fourth movie in the franchise; plenty of time to have developed a coherent narrative spanning the four films.  Instead, we’ve had a hodgepodge of nonsense piled on top of the very good original film so Bay could try to one-up himself each time around with bigger, louder, and more inventive transformers and effects.

On the bright side, Age of Extinction isn’t the worst movie in the franchise, but it is the second worse.  Like the rest of the films, the special effects are top notch and the film provides more action, explosions, and car chases than you can imagine possible in a single movie.  Tucci and Grammar appear to be having fun, but they are the only humans given roles that ask them to actually act (also a nod to T.J. Miller who plays Cade’s assistant and provides the only comic relief in the entire film).  On the flip side, John Goodman and Ken Watanabe must have needed money or been really bored, providing voices for two of the Autobots and delivering dialogue that must have been written by the same brain-damaged monkeys that wrote Revenge of the Fallen.  They also made the same mistake Revenge of the Fallen made by stylizing transformers with beards, samurai garb, trenchcoats, and pot bellies, even though that makes no sense at all (even in this ridiculous fantasy world).  Even the transforming got incredibly lazy, as the human built transformers’ transformations were depicted as a flying snake of squares looping through the air.  Yes, it was just as stupid as you imagine.

And, what about those Dinobots?  Aside from only appearing in the last fifteen minutes of the film, they are just as unexplained as Lockdown.  After freeing them from Lockdown’s ship, Optimus fights with the Tyrannosaurus, keeps referring to all of them as great warriors, then rides the Tyrannosaurus into battle after defeating him in combat (yes, that is as funny in the film as it is in the previews).  Why were they prisoners in the first place?  Why do they transform into dinosaurs?  Why is Optimus able to grant them freedom?  Ah shit, I’m thinking again.  Sorry.

As much as I’d like to say Age of Extinction isn’t a bad movie, it’s not a whole lot better than The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which was awful.  Being a story guy, I am obliged to say Age of Extinction’s story is a big pile of bullshit that would have been far better off just leaving the humans completely out of it and running with whatever caused Lockdown to hunt for Optimus.  Instead, we get two hours and forty-five minutes of 3-D, IMAX action porn.  If that’s your thing, you’ll love this movie.

Rating: Ask for all but two dollars back.  The unintentional comedy of Optimus Prime riding a robot dinosaur, even though he can fly, is worth a couple bucks.