“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Venom

VENOM is the red-headed step child of 2018 comic book movies. It’s in the off-brand world of Spider-man supporting characters still controlled by Sony but not allowed into the official Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s a character that was hugely popular with a certain type of dude twenty-some years ago, but not really in line with current tastes in super heroes, and arguably having lost some stature after being played by Topher Grace in the unpopular (though I liked it) SPIDER-MAN 3. And many have noted that the script – credited to the diverse trio of Jeff Pinkner (THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, THE DARK TOWER), Scott Rosenberg (DISTURBING BEHAVIOR, KANGAROO JACK) and Kelly Marcel (SAVING MR. BANKS, FIFTY SHADES OF GREY), based on the character by David Michelinie (made Tony Stark an alcoholic) and Todd McFarlane (SPAWN) – doesn’t seem that different from what it would’ve been if this was made in the late ’90s.

Let’s not get carried away though. The digital FX are like ten thousand times better than SPAWN’s, and you can’t call it a ’90s throwback if it’s not copping the style of THE CROW. This is filmed in normal locations and the end credit songs are by Eminem and Run the Jewels instead of, you know, Incubus or whoever it would’ve been.

And anyway the version they actually tried to make in ’97 was going to be from New Line Cinema, written by David S. Goyer and possibly starring Dolph Lundgren. Which I want to see, actually.

Personally, I was kinda excited for VENOM for reasons having nothing to do with the comic book alien parasite spider-man monster. Not that I have anything against the comic book alien parasite spider-man monster community – it’s just that I was more interested in this as a Tom Hardy vehicle. In that first trailer I believe he was narrating and he was doing yet another new mumbly accent like it was THE DROP or something, and that means I want to see it.

But I think everyone’s assumptions were mostly correct. Yes, it is pretty dumb and misguided and seems out of date but not in a cool retro way. And also Hardy is really funny and weird in it and clearly having a great time, and that helped me to somewhat enjoy a pretty bad movie.

Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a New Yorker living in San Francisco who works as some sort of VICE style hipster investigative reporter with a major TV show that he shoots partly with a small handheld camera like a Youtube show I guess? He’s down with the working man and doesn’t want to sell out so when he gets sent to do a puff piece on fancy pants tech guy Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed, NIGHTCRAWLER, JASON BOURNE, ROGUE ONE) he surprises him with questions about doing human experimentation on homeless people.

Trouble is the only source of his information is his fiancee Anne (Michelle Williams, SPECIES, HALLOWEEN: H20), because she’s a lawyer working on a case for Drake’s company The Life Foundation and he snuck into her email. So Eddie gets fired, Anne gets fired, Eddie gets dumped by Anne, and the movie gets dumped by us because you can have your hero make bad and immoral decisions but you can’t say he’s good at his job and then show him doing something this fucking stupid without any consideration for the obvious consequences.

A thing I did like about the script is that he’s not exactly able to get Anne back and instead spends the movie as a pain-in-the-ass ex getting help from her and her new, totally nice doctor boyfriend Dan Lewis (Reid Scott, Veep). There are still feelings there, but she’s probly happier with the new guy and made the right decision.

For a not exactly deep movie they sure do spend their time getting through all the perfunctory business about how a whistleblower (Jenny Slate, HOTEL ARTEMIS) sneaks Eddie into the lab to get evidence and he accidentally gets exposed to the shapeshifting parasitic blob they captured on a private space mission. We get it, Silicon Valley, Elon Musk, all that shit, but this is still the same exact corporate bad guy secretly evil science shit that has been in movies like this forever. When he finally became Venom I thought about how long it took to turn Liam Neeson into Darkman. This seems about twice as long. Always aim for DARKMAN, guys.

But once it happens things pick up – there’s kind of a werewolf aspect to it (he finds himself scarfing down entire bags of frozen tater tots, sitting in a lobster tank at a fancy restaurant to cool off, etc.), and also it’s like Hulk or Jekyll & Hyde or UPGRADE where he sort of negotiates with this other intelligence that’s taking control of his body. And Hardy hears an evil, modulated version of his own voice talking to him but no one else does so he’s talking to himself and acting like a total loon.

The other horror aspect is that Drake sends evil goons after them and his alter ego Venom likes to bite their heads off and stuff. So it gets him in some compromising positions. Also funny ones. Like, you know how it feels when you have an ex who you still have respect for and you run into them at a low point in your life and they can see it and it’s just humiliating? Eddie has his ex walk in on him when he’s a shiny naked nine-foot tall monster eating guys in the lobby of a building he’s been banned from. Just the banning would be embarrassing enough.

As usual, Hardy seems hyper-detailed in his characterization. I bet he has reasons for the ring he wears on his pointer finger and the bracelets he wears. I read that they had to rig the lobster tank to hold his weight after he saw it on set and said he wanted to climb into it. He wears a leather jacket and rides a motorcycle and you might assume he’d want to be a cool James Dean anti-hero. Instead he plays it like he wants to be that but is way too much of a dummy to pull it off. He means well, though. A lovable lug always fucking everything up.

I think at times the comedic rhythm is a little off, but there are some actual funny jokes and a couple parts that I’m not sure if they were meant as jokes but they were funny and that’s good too. My favorite of those, and favorite part in the movie, is when the Venom voice, which has spent the whole movie urging him to murder people and eat their spleens and stuff, suddenly tells him he should apologize to Anne because it might be his last chance. There are at least two points in the movie that seem to indicate that this drooling long-tongued slime beast has somehow learned the importance of apologizing to those we love when we wrong them.

Another one is at the end when Anne sympathetically says “I’m sorry about Venom.” If I interpreted it correctly, she thinks he misses him. It seems to imply that they had some sweet friendship like Elliott and E.T.

Williams was another curiosity factor for this, because she’s one of the last major actresses who seemed like they would could surprise us by being in a comic book movie. She’s spent so many years strictly on indie movies, getting her nominated for Oscars four times (for BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, BLUE VALENTINE, MY WEEK WITH MARILYN and MANCHESTER BY THE SEA). Her one and only big mainstream movie like this was OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL in 2013. I wondered if she knew something about this project that we didn’t, but no, she probly just wanted to work with Hardy. While I doubt it was as fulfilling as her usual work it at least isn’t the one note disappointed girlfriend character it could’ve been. She also gets some comedy and some heroism and (SPOILER) one fun scene where she gets to turn into Sexy Lady Venom.

Something I’ve noticed about all expensive special effects movies of today: the camera always has to zip and zoom around and whoosh and whip around the back and flip over and etc. I’m not saying it’s confusing or anything, but it’s unnecessary. I get it, I’m sure it’s because they do pre-vis and at that stage it would look boring to see a classically composed shot, and it would seem like they weren’t doing their job and they’d get fired. And also when they first invented these digital camera moves for the movie BLADE II it was cool to make the camera do things that we’d never seen a camera do before.

But now everything is fake and all camera moves are fake and I strongly believe that it would be more interesting to see these two shiny slippery veiny pulsating blob piles slap against each other with the camera just standing still like it was really happening and there were real cameras there. They couldn’t keep doing it every time, but if they did it this time it would be impressive.

Also I want to say that if there is going to be a point in cinematic history where a monster convincingly morphs back into a person who is wearing clothes, this is not that point.

You know, I saw this at the Cinerama, which is where I often end up seeing the highly anticipated blockbusters like the Star Warses and Marvels and Batmans. And I honestly kept thinking this movie felt out of place on that screen. It’s not gonna fulfill those type of expectations – the stuff you can get out of it is mostly in the margins of the spectacle. It’s obviously expensive, but it doesn’t seem like it’s playing with the big boys. Which makes me think it will probly go over a little better on video.

I guess maybe it’s time to put a fork in the idea of Ruben Fleischer being a director to put faith in. Sure, ZOMBIELAND was a surprise, but 30 MINUTES OR LESS I thought was pretty bad and maybe I need to see GANGSTER SQUAD to be sure but for now I trust the conventional wisdom on that one. I mean honestly he probly worked out better than some previously associated directors might have (they include Gary Ross, Josh Trank and Alex Kurtzman), but I can’t say he pulled this one off.

He’s got great people working with him, too. I enjoyed how bombastic the score was, and it made sense when I saw that it was by Ludwig Goransson, whose work I enjoyed on CREED and BLACK PANTHER.

The cinematographer is Matthew Libatique, though his work here didn’t impress me like some of his other work (PI, CHI-RAQ, mother!, etc.) Spiro Razatos (MANIAC COP, FAST FIVE, CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR) is the second unit director/stunt coordinator. And he gets to do some scenes with Michelle Lee (BLOOD AND BONE), Roger Yuan (BLACK DYNAMITE) and Sam Medina (KICKBOXER VENGEANCE/RETALIATION). Also you should know that one of the editors, Alan Baumgarten, cut KICKBOXER 2: THE ROAD HOME.

I don’t think we know yet which movies are in the IAWMCU (In Association With Marvel Cinematic Universe). Anne mentions The Daily Bugle, but we know this isn’t supposed to be in the regular MCU, so maybe it’s connected to the Andrew Garfield Spider-men. Or maybe Spider-man doesn’t exist in the IAWMCU, which would explain why nobody ever says “Hey, that’s weird how much monsters from space look like Spider-man’s costume.”

Anyway if they somehow still make VENOM 2: VENOMENAL I would like to see any of the three cinematic Punishers show up. Or all three. And Howard the Duck. And Matt Salinger Captain America. It’s probly beneath Blade but maybe Ryan Reynolds and Jessica Biel could stop by and shoot arrows or whatever. I’m forgiving. I’ll be there.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Friday, October 19th, 2018 at 4:00 pm and is filed under Comic strips/Super heroes, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

43 Responses to “Venom”

  1. I fucking HATE Tom Hardy. There’s an old episode of TWILIGHT ZONE where Burt Reynolds plays basically a parody of Marlon Brando circa A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE, and Tom Hardy feels (to me) like he’s built his whole career out of imitating Reynolds in that episode of TWILIGHT ZONE. He wasn’t the only reason I hated MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (yeah, I said it), but he was a big reason. If this movie starred Logan Marshall-Green (aka “we can’t afford Tom Hardy”) I’d consider watching it on Amazon. But as is, it’s a big ol’ Must To Avoid for me.

  2. Doubt that it’ll change such strongly held convictions, but if you’re willing to open your mind to the idea that Tom Hardy is a spectacularly talented actor: it took watching Bronson for me to really get what Tom Hardy’s all about, and now I fucking love the guy. To say he’s basing his entire career around one Burt Reynolds performance is a funny thing to say but it’s just not the case. Hardy’s mind is so clearly active before as well as during production. He thinks about what his choices in performance will add to the substance of the whole film. Back when The Revenant came out he did an interview with The AV Club about it, and what he has to say about his character adds layers of depth that (for me, at least) kick the movie itself up from impressive to fucking brilliant. I’ve still never read any takes on The Revenant that crack it as wide open as he does in that interview. Not a lot of movie stars I can say that about.

  3. I thought this movie was meh. I didn’t hate it, but it wasn’t good. The humor fell flat. The action scene on the motorcycle was good. The big, supposed-to-be awesome final action scene was a big, confusing blob. Maybe that would’ve been better in a better theater. I liked Michelle Williams and Hardy is always interesting.

    I think my biggest problem was the relationship between Venom and Eddie felt really unearned. I had no idea why they would give a shit about each other at all.

    Overall, it was really uneven. UPGRADE was the better guy-who-looks-like-Tom-Hardy-dealing-with-an-alien-presence-in-his-body-doing-awesome-punching-and-kicking-activities-while-maybe-being-evil movie.

    Plus, that last CGI effect of the half Venom/half Eddie was terrible.

  4. I’ve seen that Twilight Zone, but I still like Tom Hardy.

    I haven’t seen Venom, and probably won’t until it streams somewhere, so that’s really all I have to add.

    Well, that and the fact that maybe burningambulance should be closely monitored because he hated Fury Road and I don’t know, man. That’s a warning sign, like buying too much fertilizer or voting GOP.

  5. Another thin Spider-Man connection: one of the astronauts was John Jameson AKA: J. Jonah Jameson’s son AKA: the guy Kirsten Dunst almost got married to in Spider-Man 2 AKA: Man-Wolf.

  6. @ burningambulance

    I see someone’s already beaten me to it but Upgrade is for all intents and purposes a Venom movie with Logan Marshall-Green in it. People have unironically said they’ve really only during/after watching the trailer that it wasn’t one for Venom.

    Logan does a remarkable performance of a man who’s a passenger in his own body during the fight scenes especially and the voice in his head is IMO much creepier through not trying so hard in trying to be upfront weird in how it sounds like the actual Venom film – as in it seems rational enough but something’s not quite right.

  7. @ psychic_hits

    The funny thing I found about The Revenant was that the real-life story for me was much more interesting but I can see how it might have been a bit difficult to translate into something that worked on film. However reading it about it, it just seemed so bizarre as to how this remarkable tale of survival was coupled to such relatively mundane motivations on the surface at least as opposed to a much more standard revenge plot for the film (for starters, all those people who were the prime motivation for the plot of the film weren’t even real!).

  8. I thought this movie was pretty bad, but I’m happy it’s been successful because I’d love to see a Tom Hardy/Woody Harrelson face off in part 2!

    Vern, did you enjoy the post credits scene with Woody playing a comic booky Hannibal Lecter?

  9. Shan- yeah, I guess the historical accuracy (or lack of it) in the Revenant is not what I think makes it so good. Forgive me if this makes me sound like a pretentious asshole, but I think it is a really bold, ultimately pretty devastating takedown of white American privilege in disguise as an epic postmodern Western. That AV club interview might give a little more specific sense of what I’m talking about, it’s been awhile since I read it, but I don’t want to blather on about it in the comments for Venom.

    Anyway. Venom. Hardy in funny mode + the alleged presence of a (spoiler) ‘girl Venom’ don’t sound too bad, but there’s no rhyme or reason to the superhero movies I end up seeing, so who knows. As a kid I remember thinking the character looked cool the first couple times I noticed it — maybe in Nintendo Power? For a minute there the dude really was everywhere, he was the Noid of maneating alien skinsuits. Wondering what the story was with him was probably the closest I came to actual interest in ever reading hero comics, in fact. And then I learned he was just another blonde asshole in a costume and that was pretty much the end of that.

  10. A couple Venom lines I loved:

    The part where he’s describing the bad guy Riot to Eddie and he says:

    “This guy can do shit you’ve never even SEEN!”

    And moreso when he tells Eddie:

    “On my planet I’m sort of a loser”

  11. I actually liked this one a lot. It had that crazy 80’s HIDDEN vibe to it, and Tom Hardy’s great – as always.

  12. @ psychic_hits

    I just still find it amusing that in real life, the central protagonist of The Revenant not only survives such an incident and drags himself out of the wilderness in an amazing tale of survival and goes on a quest to … get his rifle back. He didn’t have a family and in fact in the end, nobody gets murdered or even died! In fact, if I remember correctly, the resolution was that he agreed not to kill the guy who left him for dead if … he got his rifle back. Which is apparently how it went down.

    (That plus $300 and a promise to still kill him if he left the army at any time in the future.)

  13. Whoa, really? That’s amazing. If they made a movie of that maybe it’d be a little like Payback, only in the Canadian frontier and with a bear.

  14. Man, THE REVENANT. I had a passing good time in the theater with the long takes and the violence and whatever the hell Tom Hardy was doing and laughing at DiCaprio’s ludicrously performative misery, but that movie’s a fucking giant gray ugly nothing on TV. I love how all of Super Duper Mega Artiste Who Transcends All Of Your Puny Mortal Genre Trappings Iñárritu’s contributions to the story was stuff that could have come straight out of a DTV action sequel starring a wrestler. He even included the second biggest action movie cliche line of them all (behind “We’re not so different, you and I”): “Killing me won’t bring your [LOVED ONE] back.” That’s this bold creative genius’s big revelation: the stock line from the average Scott Adkins vehicle. And fuck me, the overlit flashbacks to an ethereal dead wife are as DTV as they come. Just utterly secondhand imagery without even the journeyman’s sense of narrative efficiency or the pastiche artist’s self-awareness. This is what happens when you let a talented but ultimately kind of hollow craftsman drown in the shallows of his deepest thoughts.

    That movie is fucking terrible. Christ, anybody wanna give me five bucks for the Blu-ray? It’s only been watched once, I assure you. Even the goddamn special features are unbearably pretentious.

  15. THE REVENANT was if you took the tea bag that had already been steeped in the hot water of AGUIRRE out of the dustbin where it had been discarded for 43 years and used it to brew another movie.

    I heard that Hardy’s performance in this film was one of virtual mutiny against the director and screenplay? I don’t know how to find out stuff about film so I just ask you guys

  16. Vern, you absolutely do not need to see GANGSTER SQUAD. When your serious gangster movie is stealing plot points (and facial prosthetics) from DICK TRACY (a movie I enjoy muchly, mind you), then maybe you shouldn’t be making a serious gangster movie.

    Anyway, a co-worker described VENOM as ‘garbage, but fun garbage’ as I was on my way out to see it, and she was totally right. Hardy picked that movie up on his shoulders and carried it over the finish line all by himself. Also, the lone f-bomb was in exactly the right place, which seems to be a lost art in PG-13 movies these days. If I recall correctly, the last one to get it right was SUPER 8, of all movies.

  17. Yeah, I thought GANGSTER SQUAD was going to be ZOMBIELAND with old timey mobsters. You know, a colorful pop fantasia playing on our awareness of tropes. Instead it was like a pilot for a very expensive but very generic cable television drama that I would quit watching after two episodes. It was all very well appointed but does anybody actually give a shit about any of these people or what they’re trying to accomplish? Neither real enough to be believable or fake enough to be fun, it’s the kind of movie where it’s obvious that they spent more time on the costumes than the characters wearing them.

  18. I just realized that I don’t care for Ruben Fleischer’s work at all. Not his fault, I think. ZOMBIELAND was okay, but like most horror comedies that become a huge crossover hit, extremely overhyped by the audience who rarely watch horror. Haven’t seen so far any of his other movies. The one with the bomb rubbed me the wrong way because the real life incident was far from being funny, so I have no idea why they turned this into a comedy. And old timey gangster movies are my 3rd least favourite genre.

    The other thing I know from him is this music video from his pre-Hollywood days, and that one was disowned by the band, because there original idea was overruled by whoever has the power to overrule a band’s idea for their music video

  19. Venom has never had much appeal to me as a stand-alone character (I think he’s a great concept for a Spider-Man villain, but the tongue thing…no sir, I don’t like that at all), but I’m looking forward to catching this one on TV a rainy Saturday afternoon sometime next fall if only for Hardy’s performance.

  20. Carnage scared me so fucking much as a child. I want a hard-R CARNAGE film that starts as a credible 90s-style serial killer procedural and then goes FROM DUSK TIL DAWN haywire on you. You could have Venom be the protagonist, I guess.

  21. Michelle Williams really needed that paycheck right?

  22. @ psychic_hits

    Yes, that’s apparently the real-life story of The Revenant. The whole army business was that (I think) the person Tom Hardy played had joined the army (possibly at least in part to get away from Glass) and the army said “If you murder him, we will then kill you.”. Hence the compromise of that guy giving glass his rifle back and there was that money though I don’t know who was paying that and where it came from. Also explains that whole “If you ever leave the army, I will kill you then, then.”.

    The whole thing just reads as marvelously ridiculously surreal from start to finish.

  23. @ Jerome

    Oblivion and X-Men: First Class both used their lone f-bomb extremely well, I thought.

  24. I think “Nice fuckin’ model!” *honk*honk* in Beetlejuice takes the cake for best use of an F-Bomb in a PG-13 flick.

  25. Hasn’t anyone of you seen MAN IN THE WILDERNESS. The true story of Glass?

  26. Beetlejuice is actually PG, weirdly

  27. I would say the best PG-13 F-Bomb is the one in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS.

  28. FIRST CLASS and BEETLEJUICE are both first-class F-Bombs for sure, so to speak. Shan, I have not seen OBLIVION so I can’t comment on that one. But I think we’d all be talking about Sigourney Weaver’s F-Bomb in GALAXY QUEST if they’d just had the balls to leave it in. Such a shame, that one. I mean, you can read her lips for chrissake!

  29. On a side note, as it is Halloween time, I thoroughly recommend checking out Possession, the 1981 French-German psychological horror-drama film co-written and directed by Andrzej Żuławski. It’s got Sam Neill in it at his crazy Mouth of Madness best/worst and it is mega fucked up!!! Like nothing you have ever seen. Like, ever.

  30. Sam Neill, the actor who half time seems to be playing a man whose wife cheats on him, the devil, or in the case of Possession, a man whose wife cheats on him with the devil.

  31. I heard an early draft of JURASSIC PARK had the dinosaurs cheating on Dr Grant.

  32. This thread wouldn’t be complete without some a-hole coming in and saying that while VENOM wasn’t very good (it is particularly poor in its opening act) they enjoyed it more than INFINITY WAR and HOMECOMING and probably about half of the MCU films and are honestly probably more likely to rewatch this than any of them. Guys, that a-hole will be me

    I know, I know me and my kind are going to ruin this good thing we got going here, we just covered the horrors of of 98 and all that. But as another gritty, grizzled ans muscular cartoon superhero said I yam what I yam.

    Maybe it’s my Spider-Man perspective; I suspect I don’t quite get it. I grew up on the 90s cartoon and occasional comic book and related ephemera; I know that stuff is generally discredited now but I still can’t help but have a soft-spot for the college-set “10 year olds idea of edgy” style over the “aww shucks” high school stuff. I enjoyed the Webb/Garfield efforts more than most people too, and while this was worse in many ways, it was better in the crucial element of holding off on sequel/franchise teasing to the mid-credits. I like the first Rami film and in Caspering it last year I guess I get why the second is so beloved, but I found HOMECOMING pretty lacklustre. I am very excited for INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE though (despite some concerns based on the last trailer)

    While I can’t defend the script for this film for the most part, I would say that the bit where Venom convinces Eddie to apologise does (probably unintentionally) play into how manipulative he can be when viewed through the context of the final scene.

  33. Masjestyk, over the years it’s become clear to me that your taste in movies is pretty different than mine, especially when it comes to newer stuff. So it’s not a surprise to hear your thoughts on The Revenant. For what it’s worth, I despised 21 Grams and Babel, and avoided Inarritu’s movies after those. In a past review, Vern brought up the Del Toro/Inarritu/Cuaron alliance and said that Inarritu’s work makes him seem like the shit-talking killjoy of the trio, critical and bitter and joyless in his approach. Which is additional insult to the injury of making movies that let people congratulate themselves for spending 3 hours feeling bad with movie stars. I agree.

    But I wound up seeing The Revenant because I like going to the movies, and for awhile a single megaplex was my only option; everything was on the table except the Christian stuff. So I really wasn’t expecting much, and when it was over felt similarly to what you say above– it looked and sounded amazing (which is often all I need from a movie, at this point in my life) but felt empty otherwise. But then I read that Tom Hardy interview, got curious that I’d missed some pretty significant aspects of the movie, and some friends of mine were going to see it, so I went and saw it again. And that time it really blew me away how much subtext I’d missed the first time. Certainly there is more going on than a few corny lines of dialogue and Leonardo DiCaprio straining to chase the ghost of the Pussy Posse from the rearview mirror.

    I’ll spare you any more of an elaborate take on a movie you can’t stand, but I respect your opinions and your cinematic knowledge, and I don’t want to be dismissive– if you are interested, it’s probably enough for me to say, it’s a Western; it takes typical left-leaning-Western tropes and runs with them in a direction that would be incisive in anyone’s hands, but are particularly cutting in a misanthrope like Inarritu’s. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that The Revenant was Inarritu’s takedown of exactly the kind of Oscar-season-only, misery-bait-loving, self-on-the-back-patting moviegoer that you and he probably both love to hate. For that and a lot of other reasons, I think he made a legitimately great movie. I bet you’d agree with me that legitimately great movies don’t need to be perfect.

    It’s gotta be a pretty rough watch on a small screen, though (that’d be imperfection #1), so I’ll hang on to my $5.

  34. psychic: I’m glad you get a lot out of it, but man, to say I do not is an understatement. As a survivor of a dozen writing workshops where the rule is that the author has to shut the fuck up while his/her story is being discussed, I have little sympathy for the “But the cast and crew put a lot of thought into the subtext!” excuse. Every single movie has intelligent people putting a lot of thought and expertise into their roles, whether they’re behind the camera or in front of it. But if it takes those people sitting down and telling me what they were going for for me to notice or care, then that stuff’s not actually in the movie. That was their MOTIVATION, but not their RESULT. I know the difference. I got an BA and an MFA in the bullshit arts. I can sit here and come up with a thesis that can explain any goddamn thing and make it sound like a work of genius. It’s easy. I could do it with the back of a shampoo bottle. That doesn’t mean the shampoo bottle is a work of genius. It’s like Mr. S’s admirable but ultimately pointless defenses of the STAR WARS prequels. Most people are like, “Okay, sure, I can see where you’re going with this, and you make some good points, but have you noticed that the movies suck?” Subtext don’t mean shit when the text is bad. I find the text of THE REVENING to be a pretentious, lugubrious eye roll. I could give a shit what’s going on beneath the surface. I feel more for the average amateur slasher movie starlet than I do for Leo’s ostentatious yet opaque Great Symbol Of Mankind’s Whatever The Fuck, and it’s all because he’s trapped in this monotonous, navel-gazing wallow that’s so utterly impressed with itself from frame one that it never bothers to give me a reason to care. In the end, the film does not transcend its grab-bag of cliches. it just regurgitates them at half speed. To me, the film represents misery masquerading as meaning. I’m sure the filmmakers were interested in more than that, but it’s their job to translate that to the screen. If it doesn’t come across, that’s on them, not me.

  35. Psychic_hits heard some extratextual discussion of the movie that unlocked it for them. It shouldn’t matter whether it came from one of the creators, an insightful critic, an overheard conversation, etc. The question is whether a critical discussion can alter the way you respond to a film, and for psychic_hits the answer was yes in this case.

  36. Well, we share an educational background in that case, Mr M. I’ve endured (and been challenged and enlightened and improved by, as I’d expect you have too) many similar writing workshops that all had the rules you describe, and am a pretty strong supporter of the death of the author approach to analysis most if not all of the time. But I think your contention that if something in a text needs to be pointed out to you, that mean’s it’s not present in the text itself, is a really far reach. Is that really what you mean? It sounds to me like you’re more saying The Forever21nt’s aesthetic turned you off to the degree that you didn’t think it was worth the effort to look beyond it. That’s fair, but it doesn’t make it the gilded turd you’re discarding it as. If someone tells me a riddle and I can’t solve it, does that mean it’s automatically the riddle’s fault? Haven’t we all had the experience of dismissing a movie as bullshit, boring, etc at one point in our life, and then seeing it again down the line and being like, “jesus christ, I can’t believe I thought that was bad! how could I not have noticed what that was really about?” It’s different than projecting stuff onto it that’s not there. It’s just a question of how many different lenses you have on hand to look at its various elements through. You find The Revenant boring and over the top and think it’s the product of someone who’s in love with the smell of their own farts; I’m cool with that. But your low opinion of it doesn’t mean that it failed in its aims. All it means is that you didn’t notice them.

  37. psychic hits, that is the best autocorrect i’ve ever seen

  38. Psychic: Again, I’m glad you get all that out of the movie. It’s open-ended enough that it supports all kinds of interpretations if you’re so inclined. I’m not. You’re right that just because I can’t be bothered to pick up on subtext that doesn’t mean it’s not there, but I stand by my assertion that if I don’t pick up on it or don’t care, it means the filmmakers failed to communicate that stuff in a meaningful way. Obviously that reaction differs from person to person. Suffice it to say that the way THE REVENANT chooses to communicate is basically my dictionary definition of horseshit, so I’m not gonna feel too compelled to dig deeper. That’s the problem, really. It’s a movie’s job to compel you to think deeper and explore and wonder, and absolutely not one second of THE REVENANT made me want to do that. That’s why I consider it a failure, because it is working SO HARD to make me feel something, to get me thinking, to MEAN SOMETHING, yet I feel nothing except an aesthetic appreciation of technique. I think nothing. To me, it’s a hollow slog that says nothing at maximum volume.

  39. As my pops always said when it comes to matters of taste, “that’s why they make red, cuz not everybody likes blue.”

  40. haha well said Kurgan— and thanks for engaging with me on this, Majestyk. It’s interesting to consider whether a work of art that I never would have given a second chance without some external prodding could quite fairly be considered a failure on behalf of the artist, even if there’s substance present in there somewhere.

  41. To clarify, I’m not trying to say the movie is an OBJECTIVE failure. I’m not sure such a thing exists. You got something out of it, even if it requires external sources, and that’s not nothing. That’s real. I didn’t get anything out of it except a lecture from my friend about showing her such terrible, depressing movies, but that’s my personal experience. I’m not trying to say you’re wrong.

    It is interesting (read: frustrating) that it seems common nowadays for certain segments of the audience who pride themselves on their sophistication to believe that UNDERSTANDING a movie and ENJOYING it are one in the same. I recently shared what I thought were some reasonable thoughts elsewhere about why HEREDITARY just didn’t work for me because the drama felt too monotonous and wearying, to the point where I just didn’t care what happened anymore. I was met with several explanations of the movie’s themes, which I already understood. That’s great and all, but it doesn’t make the movie any more enjoyable. I’m not here for a lecture on generational abuse. I’m here to be entertained, and engaged, and intrigued, and moved, and if I happen to learn something along the way, all the better. I truly believe that it is the storyteller’s primary job to create a pleasing vehicle for difficult ideas. That’s the craft of narrative art. Just having ideas is not enough. Every asshole has ideas. Who cares? The presentation of those ideas is what’s important. I’m pretty sure all those eons ago when narrative art was invented, they didn’t ask the guy with the annoying voice who rambles about his own personal shit all the time and never gets to the point to be the medicine man telling stories around the campfire. I bet they got the guy who could hold the tribe’s attention after a long day of hunting and gathering. And I believe that is still the storyteller’s duty. Obviously, nobody thinks they’re being boring and self-indulgent, but I’ve noticed lately that the cart often gets put behind the horse. I’m expected to enjoy stories for what they say rather than how they say it. I think that’s backwards. For me, DAWN OF THE DEAD is the way to do it: some big, depressing ideas smuggled into a hugely entertaining format. That’s the kind of thing genre used to be good for. Now I feel the cat’s out of the bag about all the hidden meaning in lowly genre product and the current generation is trying to ruin it by turning subtext into text. No, man, that’s what straight dramas are for. We like our sugarcoating in the genres.

  42. *before the horse

  43. Definitely agree with you about Dawn of the Dead. Zack Snyder really brought his A game to that one, leaving attentive audiences with a poignant meditation on — nah, just fucking with you, I hate that movie. Strong, non-fucking-with-you agree that storytelling is a dying art in an era where pre-release marketability is the primary concern of what ‘indie’ movies make it into wide release, though. And of course OG DotD is an object lesson in perfect filmmaking, regardless of genre.

    For me, asking a question of a movie and being rewarded with an unexpected answer is a thing I enjoy about movies and art in general. Not the only thing, and not even my favorite thing, but one thing. I think a lot of us who populate this board pride ourselves on our particular tastes, but I don’t think many of us share our thoughts here to pat ourselves on the back. We come here in the hope that somebody else saw what we saw when we watched a thing. It’s about connection, or the hope for it, not hierarchy. And I think that’s true of the people who go to see movies like Hereditary and The Revenant a lot of the time, too. Not all of them, and not all of the time. But a lot.

    That said, I do I think the mainstream-critical hype around The Revenant (and Hereditary, since you mention it) completely missed the point of the movie. I wouldn’t say its ‘subtext is text’ by any means, but the subtext certainly is hidden in plain sight, that’s for sure. It’s funny that the critics didn’t notice and praised the movie anyway.

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