The Phoenix

Movie Review: The Good, The Bad, and The Gaga

Many new films opened on October 5th and I saw three of them

Venom 

Venom marks Sony’s third attempt at creating a cinematic universe with the Marvel comics characters they own the rights to. The most recent attempt was in 2012 with Marc Webb’s The Amazing Spider-Man. The universe promptly ended 2 years later after the horrible reception to The Amazing Spider-Man 2. The main issue was the film spent so much time hamfistedly setting up a universe and sequels instead of making a good movie. Venom is the building block for “Sony’s Universe of Marvel Characters” or the SUMC if you will. Sony’s plan is to create a universe full of Spider-Man villains, but the wall-crawler himself is nowhere to be found.

This idea backfires horribly.

Venom opens on a spacecraft crash landing on Earth; this craft belongs to the villain of the picture Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed). This craft was carrying symbiotes which are living goo monsters that need a bond to a host to survive on Earth. One of these alien slime monsters get loose and attaches itself to our goofy protagonist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy). Brock now has the powers of Venom and must go on the run when Drake attempts to take the symbiotes back by force.

The best part of Venom is the interaction between Venom and Eddie Brock. Venom talks to Eddie in his head and the two have a couple genuinely funny exchanges, but the rest are unfunny or unintentionally hilarious. Tom Hardy’s performance is balls to the wall insane. Venom will randomly take control of Brock’s actions and during these moments Hardy thinks he’s in a slapstick comedy; however his psychotic ragdoll sequences can’t save this dumpster fire.

The rest of the film is an uninteresting bore. The story is coherent and straightforward but nothing of interest happens. It’s sloppily conceived and executed with a third act so bad you leave the theater in a foul mood. The climactic fight is akin to a 6-year-old smashing two silly putties together for 5 minutes.

I found myself nodding off on multiple occasions in the theater. The characters that inhabit this universe are bland and don’t develop or grow whatsoever. None of the supporting cast is given anything to do; the extremely talented Michelle Willaims is absolutely wasted here and the normally good Riz Ahmed phones it in as the evil big businessman.

Venom himself summarizes his own movie in one line “Like a turd in the wind”

⭐️/ 5 stars

A Star Is Born 

The original A Star Is Born came out all the way back in 1937; Bradley Cooper’s 2018 remake marks the 4th attempt to tell this classic story. This rendition of the story follows Jackson Maine, a fading soft rock/country singer that struggles with alcoholism and addiction. Cooper stars as Maine as well as directs, and he gives a career-best performance. He looks the part perfectly, from his greasy long hair to his shaggy beard. He sounds the part too; his grizzled southern singing voice is better than expected.

After a concert and a long night of drinking Jackson finds himself listening to live music at a bar. This is where he meets Ally. Lady Gaga does an excellent job in her first major acting role. She is charismatic, captivating, and fits the character perfectly. Ally is extremely talented but lacks confidence because of her unconventional appearance, and Gaga embodies this lack of self-assurance perfectly. Jackson is immediately captivated by her and attempts to form a relationship with her.

Cooper and Gaga have incredible chemistry. Watching the two bounce song lyrics off one another at 2 in the morning is incredibly entertaining. After more drinking, singing, and loitering Jackson insists that Ally comes on stage and sing with him. This is another incredible aspect of A Star Is Born, the music.

All the music in this movie is phenomenal. Each original song is catchy, well written, and well performed with the highlight being ‘Shallow’. I have always seen Lady Gaga as talented, but I often don’t listen to her music. However, I have been listening to this soundtrack nonstop. Gaga steals the entire show every time she starts to sing, and Cooper does well too. Gaga’s vocal range is unbelievable and she packs so much emotion into each performance. All the singing is performed live after Gaga insisted, and it gives the film a sense of authenticity. The sound mixing makes the audience feel they are in the crowd listening to Lady Gaga sing on stage. The film is worth seeing on the big screen for the concert sequences alone.

After Ally sings on stage with Jackson, her fame and career skyrocket. She gets record deals, solo shows, and an overseas tour. The film begins to dissect how fame and the music industry can change a person. Ally’s hair changes, her attitude changes, and most importantly her music changes in a bad way. Ally’s career changes and Jackson’s worsening alcoholism put a strain on their relationship. The latter half of the film explores the ups and downs of their relationship in an honest and powerful way. While this half is bogged down with pacing issues it leads to an emotional gut punch ending.

A Star Is Born is a rousing crowdpleaser. You’ll cheer, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll continuously listen to the soundtrack.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5 stars

The Sisters Brothers 

The Sisters Brothers is the first English language film from French filmmaker Jacques Audiard. The film is based off Patrick deWitt’s 2011 novel of the same name. Both focus on Charlie and Eli Sisters, hired guns who are incredibly good at what they do.

The story begins in 1851 Oregon with the Gold Rush in full swing and prospector Hermann Kermit Warm (Riz Ahmed) has an experimental but more efficient way to search for gold. Legendary tracker John Morris (Jake Gyllenhaal) is hired to find and capture Warm so the Sisters Brothers can finish him off. However, Eli Sisters is questioning his actions and career which puts a strain on brother’s relationship.

Charlie Sisters is fabulously portrayed by Joaquin Phoenix. Charlie is a remorseless killer and a total drunk. His reckless behavior creates a lot of tension with his brother and partner Eli. John C Riley gives a fantastic performance as the levelheaded and mature older brother.

The two actors have terrific chemistry and are believable in their respective roles. Phoenix brings a lot of flair and passion to his exuberant character, while Riley brings a lot of unspoken depth and nuance. Their brotherly dynamic is a fascinating study of people who are better off going their separate ways but still need each other. The brother’s banter is perfectly written and full of uproarious dark humor.

When the film isn’t focused on the brothers, it hones in on the budding friendship between John and Hermann. John is well spoken, mild-mannered, and great at what he does. However, he feels alone. John and Hermann bond over their mutual loneliness and the actors do a terrific job in their roles. Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed worked together on Dan Gilroy’s 2014 masterpiece Nightcrawler and their chemistry from that film is present here. Their scenes are just as good as Phoenix’s and Riley’s, and it feels like the stars are colliding when all four men are brought together.

The world that this assorted cast of characters lives in is wonderfully realized with elaborate set design and costumes. Cinematographer Benoit Debie creates a gorgeous visual aesthetic; beautiful sweeping shots of the untamed western landscape are accompanied by Alexandre Desplat’s perfect score. The film is unpredictable, and the narrative goes in different directions I never expected. This film is surprisingly sincere and has a lot of emotional depth despite the foul language and violence.  The perfect technical components, Audiard direction, and the actor’s charming performances create a unique and highly entertaining western that I didn’t want to end. The Sisters Brothers is one of my favorite movies of the year.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️/5 stars

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