FlixChatter Review: VENOM (2018)

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Review by: Vitali Gueron

The next Marvel Comics superhero action movie released by Sony Pictures in 2018 is Venom. The movie is the first film in Sony’s Marvel Universe, which is auxiliary to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. (Think The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spider-Man: Homecoming, etc.) This means that the studio intended to start a new shared universe of Marvel characters featuring those which Sony possesses film rights to and they also intend for the film to share the world of Spider-Man: Homecoming. The film is directed by Ruben Fleischer and stars Tom Hardy as Eddie Brock/Venom, alongside Michelle Williams as Anne Weying, and Riz Ahmed as Carlton Drake/Riot.

Venom basically centers on the story of Eddie Brock (Hardy), an investigative journalist who is dating Anne Weying (Williams), a District Attorney in San Francisco. Brock scores an interview with Carlton Drake (Ahmed) who is the CEO of The Life Foundation, and their research facility in San Francisco has been hit a lawsuit regarding Drake’s use of human trials to conduct research. When The Life Foundation discovers a comet covered in symbiotic lifeforms, they bring four samples back to Earth, but one escapes and causes the ship to crash. They recover three symbiots and transport them to their research facility, but the fourth escapes and takes human hosts as it makes it way to San Francisco. Brock is approached by Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), one of Drake’s scientists who wants to help Brock expose him because she disagrees with his use of human trails. Skirth helps Brock break into the research facility to search for evidence, but a symbiote escapes from the body of woman used for human trials and transfers itself into Brock’s body. When Drake discovers Skirth’s betrayal, he kills her and sends a team to retrieve the symbiote from Brock. The symbiote takes over Brock’s body and transforms him into a monstrous creature that fights off the attackers.

The symbiote makes contact with Brock, and tells him that it is called Venom. It explains that the comet that The Life Foundation discovered is actually an invasion force that is searching for new worlds where the symbiotes can possess and devour their inhabitants. Venom offers to spare Brock if Brock helps the symbiotes achieve their goal, and he gets to possess the superhuman attributes that the symbiote gives him. Brock soon learns that the symbiote has two weaknesses: high-pitched noises and fire. Weying dumps Brock after she gets fired for helping Brock sneak into The Life Foundation but later she helps Brock when he struggles to cope with Venom’s strengths and weaknesses. Although Venom claims the Brock’s organ damage is a fixable part of their symbiosis, Weying uses an MRI machine to weaken the symbiote long enough for Brock to separate from it. Brock is then captured by Drake’s men. As the fourth symbiote Riot makes its way to San Francisco, it overpowers Drake and makes him take Riot in a Life Foundation space vessel to collect the rest of the symbiotes and bring them to Earth.

Weying reluctantly lets Venom take over her body so that they can free Brock from Drake’s capture. When Venom regains control of Brock’s body, it tells Brock that it has been convinced to help protect the Earth from other symbiotes through his understanding/connection with Brock and the human race, and they attempt to stop Riot (in Drake’s body) with Weying’s help. SPOILERS (highlight to read): Venom damages Riot’s space vessel as it takes off, causing it to explode and kill Riot (and Drake’s body). Weying also believes that Venom died in the explosion and that Brock is no longer taken over by Venom after this. However, Venom did not die and it secretly remains inside Brock and they set out to protect the city from dangerous criminals.

At the end, Brock goes back to investigative journalism and a future plot point is discussed in a mid-credit scene, featuring serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson). This is probably the most interesting part of the movie, as the other parts seem like they’ve been used before in Iron Man, Thor or Captain America. I am intrigued to what Woody Harrelson’s character will bring in future installments of this comic universe. Sadly, Venom was not a very strong movie in my opinion. What made it watchable was Tom Hardy, and the crazy voice he used as Venom.

Overall, this was a fun and intriguing movie with a very long and scattered plot line. While Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams tried to make their characters seem interesting and warm, they were not very successful in doing so. Hardy should take a page out of Deadpool and write some of him own lines for Venom 2, just as Ryan Reynolds did for Deadpool 2. Perhaps Hardy’s humor could benefit him more when he is in charge of what he says. Here’s to hoping the inevitable sequel is better than the first Venom.


Have you seen ‘VENOM’? Well, what did you think? 

Guest Review: GIFTED (2017)

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Directed By: Marc Webb
Written By: Chris Evans, Mckenna Grace, Octavia Spencer, Jenny Slate, Lindsay Duncan
Runtime: 1 hr 41 minutes

I walked out of Gifted loudly bemoaning Chris Evans’ lack of acting skills when I heard a man behind me say something even more controversial: that Gifted suffers from a “simple plot”.

No, sweet idiot, it did not have a simple plot.

I mean, if you fell asleep for part of the movie, you could be forgiven for thinking such a thing. But if you were paying even a moderate amount of attention, you should know better. Superficially, Gifted is about a young man who is the sole custodian of his sister’s daughter until it becomes apparent that the little girl might be a genius and his mother sues for custody. That’s just the logline, though. The meat of the story is in the grandmother’s zeal for her daughter’s success and then her granddaughter’s promise. The story is partly a painful parable about living vicariously through one’s children and partly a nod to the long-lived, ever-changing battle women have fought for their place in STEM fields.

That said, I might be giving Tom Flynn too much credit. He makes a few stereotypically male slip ups in his storytelling: calling a strong female character “bossy”, making off-color comments about mistresses, and taking a mildly unsavory stance on consent. He also does everything that he can to make a story that is very obviously about two women and a girl instead about the one man they all share.
Of course, that one male character is a doozy. Frank Adler, played oh so stoically by Chris Evans, is hard-working, funny, intelligent, empathetic, and possesses an enviable moral compass. His character should have been left there, as the perfect single-father, but it is Chris Evans, so he’s also suave, gorgeous, and handily achieves a Love Interest. This was presumably to give the movie its PG-13 rating, which is one of the largest mistake that the movie makes.

I know it’s cute when kids swear and I get that Hollywood thinks that attractive people making out will always make them more money, but the consequential PG-13 rating was a poor trade off. Parents who probably would have otherwise brought their children to see the movie, which is an inspirational story featuring Mary Adler (Mckenna Grace) a relatable little girl who is the full package: she’s a genius, a hero, and obsessed with her cat. Why the studios didn’t fight for a PG rating is completely beyond me. Kids would love her.

Chris Evans was really the only weak member of the cast: he is a beautiful human, but he struggles to emote, and a lot of his dialogue felt wooden and unnatural. Luckily, he is always acting opposite incredibly gifted performers. Mckenna Grace can cry like nobody’s business, Jenny Slate (you might recognize her as “Mona Lisa” from Parks and Rec) is surprisingly good as the first grade teacher all of us wanted, Octavia Spencer is unsurprisingly flawless, and Lindsay Duncan wrangles a supporting role so handily that she makes the entire movie about her. In a good way.

There are some weird racial undertones throughout the film. The Adler’s neighbor Roberta Taylor (Octavia Spencer) is yet another iteration of the mammy trope, which needs to be retired. Taylor criticizes Adler for hiring a black lawyer, a comment that is jarring, super racist, and was a very successful laugh line in the theater where I saw the film. Out of any other character’s mouth it would have been unacceptable, but because no one had to think about how white the screenwriter was when Spencer spoke, the joke worked. I’m disappointed, but not entirely surprised, that the line made it past a first draft. Ditto to people laughing at it.

Despite having many flaws, I still think that Gifted is worth seeing. The cinematography is beautiful, if sometimes a little self-indulgent. One scene, in which Mary climbs her uncle’s body and peppers him with questions about God, is told completely in silhouette, set against an orange sunset. It’s a beautiful film, with a magnificent cast, and a mostly empowering storyline.

And it’s not simple if you’re paying attention.


hollyHolly P. is a twenty-something millennial who enjoys shouting at people on the internet, riding her bicycle, and overbooking her schedule. She prefers storytelling that has a point and comedy that isn’t mean. Her favorite movies are Aladdin, the Watchmen (even though the book was way better), and Hot Fuzz.  She’s seen every Lord of the Rings movie at least a dozen times.  You can follow her @tertiaryhep on twitter or @hollyhollyoxenfreee on Instagram. She’s also on Tinder, but if you find her there she’ll probably ghost on you because wtf is dating in the 21st century.


Have you seen ‘Gifted’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: The Secret Life of Pets (2016)

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The moment I saw the trailer for this months ago I was immediately sold. Anyone who’s ever owned a pet would likely be drawn to this as well, and given the popularity of cat (and dog) videos on social media, this is no doubt a winning concept for an animated movie. The movie started off well enough on the premise of pets shenanigans whilst the owner is away, seen from the life of the movie’s protagonist, a terrier dog named Max (Louis C.K.). The opening scene, set to Taylor Swift’s Welcome to New York, with Max propped on a bike as his owner Katie strolls through Central Park with the city’s metropolitan backdrop is fun and vibrant. Life seems perfect for Max, that is until Katie arrives one day with a huge, hairy dog from the pound. Max takes an instant dislike to Duke (Eric Stonestreet), and it’s easy to see why.

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At first the story seems to revolve around the households of Max as well as his NYC neighbors. There’s the obese gray cat Chloe (Lake Bell), bulldog Mel (Bobby Moynihan), dachshund Buddy (Hannibal Buress), parakeet Sweet Pea (Tara Strong) and a white Pomeranian Gidget (Jenny Slate) who has a crush on Max. I enjoy the intro to each of these fun characters, some of which has been revealed in the trailer. I still laughed when we see Chloe resisting temptation of eating all the food on the fridge and fail miserably, and when Buddy enjoying a delightful massage courtesy of an electric mixer. But the plot then takes us into more of a riotous adventure involving pets being taken in by Animal Control, and ends up being kind of a rescue and ‘great escape’ type of plot that is neither inventive or original. I feel like I’ve seen this type of plot before in other animal movies, most recently Shaun the Sheep.


The whole bit in the sewer with an anti-human gang Flushed Pets, led by a militant white bunny Snowball (the petite firecracker Kevin Hart) has some hilarious moments, but it feels too mean-spirited for a kids movie. Unlike the far superior talking-animal animated feature Zootopia, there’s not much emotional resonance nor depth in The Secret Life of Pets, which is a bummer as I think the concept has so much potential. The moment Duke finds out about what happens to his owner provides one of the very few emotional moments in the movie, but for the most part we get one slapstick gag after another. It also includes a rather silly musical number involving dancing sausages that seems rather pointless.

The movie is directed by Chris Renaud & Yarrow Chenney who have worked on previous Illumination animated movies in the past. I quite like the score too, which I realize from the credits is by Oscar winner Alexandre Desplat. The funniest bits to me are in the simpler moments. There’s one when Max is trying to channel his inner wolf instinct but then concludes that perhaps the ‘myth’ comes from a dog mistaking its parent saying ‘woof’ with ‘wolf.’ You have to watch it to get the full impact of the joke. I also find the aloof & sarcastic Chloe hilarious, she’s what you’d imagine a cat would be and the moment she gets her head in a tube is absolutely hysterical. I wish there were more moments like this, that is the simple shenanigans these pets get into in a normal day, instead of the grandiose escape-from-peril plan that is too busy for its own good. The simple day-to-day stuff is more of what I expect from a movie titled ‘the secret life of pets.’

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That said, I think the fun personality of the pets, thanks to a talented ensemble of voice cast, makes this movie enjoyable despite the flaws. Louis C.K. is perfect as Max, a good ol’ loyal dog who’s self-deprecating and cynical. The standout for me is Lake Bell‘s Chloe, Albert Brooks‘ hawk Tiberius and of course Hart’s hysterically-psychotic white bunny. I find the massively popular comedian hilarious in real life, his high-pitched voice, ultra-confident persona and antics are a hoot. But I can see how he might irritate some people, as comedy is so subjective. Jenny Slate‘s raspy voice as Gidget is funny too, though her Pomeranian’s character transformation is just downright preposterous. I get it that we can’t complain about things being nonsensical about a cartoon of talking animals, but I feel that the plot could’ve been much more engaging. Comparing this to other works by Illumination Entertainment, this is more akin to Minions than Despicable Me in terms of substance. There are touches of Toy Story as well, though it obviously doesn’t hold a candle to the Pixar masterpiece trilogy.

If you’re on the fence though, I think this is still well worth a watch. I don’t think it’s worth the 3D price however and I think it’d be ok to just wait for rental. I saw one reviewer say this is more humor than heart and I guess that is perfectly adequate for a kids movie. As an adult though, I kind of expect more given what Pixar, Disney and even Dreamworks have delivered lately.

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What do you think of ‘The Secret Life of Pets’?

FlixChatter Review: Zootopia (2016)

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Ever since Pixar’s been making movies, I always thought that their stories are superior compared to Disney in that they appeal to adults as well as children. Well, Disney’s clearly been improving year after year. Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, Frozen, they all have pretty mature, thought-provoking themes with teachable moments for people of all ages. This time with Zootopia, its themes of overcoming prejudices feels as timely as ever, whilst still being an enjoyable ride from start to finish.

It starts out typical enough for a Disney movie. A smart and ambitious rabbit named Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) dreams of becoming a police officer despite the fact that no bunnies ever did. Even her own parents didn’t initially believe she’s got what it takes and encourage her to follow her family tradition and be a carrot farmer in rural Bunnyburrow. Thankfully, Judy’s resolute enough to defy them and against all odds she does become a police officer. She’s an instantly likable character and right away I was invested in her journey.

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The story pretty much begins on the first day Judy’s as an officer in Zootopia, a city filled with anthropomorphic animals. Though she’s relegated to parking duty by Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), somehow she ends up solving a crime. That leads to yet another mission to rescue a missing the husband of a female otter who’s been pleading with the police force to help her. Judy’s not only defied the odds that a rabbit can be a competent officer, but she’s proven to be a valuable asset to the force with her resourcefulness.

I love that Zootopia is NOT an animated musical that occasionally burst into songs. It even takes a little zing at Disney itself when Chief Bogo said to Judy ‘Life isn’t some cartoon musical where you sing a little song and all your insipid dreams magically come true. So let it go.’ Ha! The plot is more of an action mystery thriller that is as clever and quick-witted as the movie’s protagonist. The team of writers (at least seven of them credited on IMDb!) keep playing with my expectations throughout, cleverly weaving the themes of widely-held stereotypes and discrimination without taking away the fun of an animated adventure. Just when I thought the story is going one way, it turns out to be another. I love being surprised when watching movies, and this movie does that time and again, and I was left in awe every time.

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The strength of Zootopia also lies in the chemistry of the two leads, Judy and the sly fox Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Disney’s no stranger to putting together unlikely pairings and this latest one is as delightful as ever. They end up finding similarities in regards to defying stereotypes of their kind, and the developing bond between them is fun to watch. Some of the funny scenes in the trailer, i.e. the one with the Sloth, is still hilarious in the movie, but I think there are even more memorable scenes than that one.

There are interesting characters we meet throughout their journey, I especially love the scene with Mr. Big (Maurice LaMarche) and his introduction is a hoot! Elba’s voice is always a highlight in any movie and he’s memorable here too as Chief Bogo. Jenny Slate‘s Bellwether and Alan Tudyk‘s Duke Weaselton round up the excellent voice cast. Despite not having a big musical number, it does have a fun song Try Everything featuring Shakira, who also has a cameo as popstar Gazelle.

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Just what I expect from Disney with its $150mil budget, the cinematography is absolutely spectacular. The five boroughs of Zootopia are beautifully rendered, and each has a fitting name that describes its own unique characteristics: Savanna Central, Sahara Square, Tundratown, Little Rodentia and Rainforest District. The chase through all the different boroughs are a ton of fun that made me wish I had seen it on the big screen!

Kudos to the trio of directors: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, and Jared Bush for creating such a fun, enjoyable ride of a movie that’s also smart AND has a big heart. This is another winner from Disney that I don’t mind watching again and again.

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Have you seen ‘Zootopia’? Well, what did you think?
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