4 Shots From 4 Bill Murray Films: Cradle Will Rock, Lost In Translation, The Lost City, Zombieland

4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking.

Happy Groundhog Day!

Today is the day when groundhogs across America will be asked whether or not they see their shadow and whether or not winter will be ending anytime soon.  Personally, I’m hoping for a lot more winter.  It still hasn’t snowed here in Texas and, if we don’t get any in February, we’ll probably have to wait until next December to get another opportunity!

Of course, the patron saint of Groundhog Day is Charlotte, the groundhog that was murdered by the mayor of New York a few years ago.  However, this is also a good day to give thanks for Bill Murray and his current place in the pop cultural universe.  So, in honor of Bill Murray, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Bill Murray Films

Cradle Will Rock (1999, dir by Tim Robbins)

Lost In Translation (2003, dir by Sofia Coppola)

The Lost City (2005, dir by Andy Garcia)

Zombieland (2009, dir by Ruben Fleischer)

Film Review: Venom (dir. by Ruben Fleischer)

VenomPosterAbout 20 years ago, a friend and I walked out of a movie theatre for some pizza. On the way to the Pizzeria, I raved about the movie we just watched.  The effects were awesome, and the main character was bad ass. My friend didn’t share the same sentiment, and over the dinner, he went on to explain everything that was wrong with the film. Bad CGI (for its time), 2 Dimensional Characters, and a pretty simplistic plot. By the end of my dinner, all of my joy was sucked away. I wanted to believe, deep down that I walked into a quality production, but there was so much room for improvement.

That film was Mark Dippe’s Spawn.

I mention this because after seeing Ruben Fleischer’s Venom, Spawn was the first film that came to mind. That makes sense, given that a lot of Venom’s genesis is from artist Todd McFarlane, who also created Spawn (and gave Spider-Man some of the best webbing I’ve ever known). There are parts of Venom I truly enjoyed, and I can say that there isn’t much of a problem with the acting on anyone’s side.  However, the levels of boredom in the film’s first hour will have you wanting to bring in a highly caffeinated drink to sip on, just to stay awake. The lady next to me yawned, which made me yawn and it just cycled through the audience. The good sequences are already visible in the trailers.

Here’s a clip of Venom from the Ultimate Spider-Man Video Game (easily recommended) to give you a rough idea of how he is.

From a plot standpoint, Venom does a good job in giving us a story for how Eddie Brock and his Symbiote meet without factoring in Spider-Man at all. Comic readers remember the Secret Wars, where Spider-Man lost his suit and picked up a symbiote replacement. When the Symbiote proved dangerous, Peter Parker got rid of it and it fell into the hands of his former Daily Bugle nemesis, Eddie Brock. Together, they formed Venom, a beast with all of Spider-Man’s powers and Brock’s hatred of Parker. Venom plagued Spider-Man, who was incredibly dangerous because he was one of the few villains that didn’t set of Parker’s Spidey Sense. He could sneak up on him at any time, assume the likenesses of other people, and Parker would never see him coming.

The Sony Spider-Man series changed this up in Spider-Man 3, replacing the Secret Wars with more of a Blob-like story. Symbiote crashes to Earth, finds Parker. Parker decides to rip it off and it finds Brock.  In this new version of Venom, symbiotes already exist in space, and a corporation lead by Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) are trying to bring them to Earth to intermingle with humans. When investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) stumbles on the corporation’s evil plans, he accidentally joins with a symbiote and finds himself with a near insatiable hunger for the living.

You have the best 2 in 1 team up since Leigh Wannell’s Upgrade. I would not be opposed to a sequel for this if they tightened up the writing. Maybe that’s my problem. Both Upgrade and Venom are similar, but only one had an interesting character that looked like Tom Hardy (sorry, but Logan Marshall-Green does bear a resemblance).

Ruben Fleischer’s (Zombieland, Gangster Squad) direction is okay here. With Cinematographer Matthew Libatique (Iron Man, Black Swan) at his side, Venom doesn’t have many problems there. With the exception of the final confrontation, the shots aren’t too blurry or hard to track when the action starts. Even though Venom is a visibly dark character, I couldn’t complain that scenes weren’t well-lit.

For me, the problem with Venom is that at an hour and 52 minutes, it feels like the first hour is just waiting for that symbiosis to occur. Eddie Brock doesn’t really become interesting until Venom appears (also voiced by Hardy), and that’s a rough thing to say, given the cast involved. We’ve both seen Hardy, Ahmed and Michelle Williams in better roles, but they really aren’t given any real meat here. The dialog is a little shaky in some places. Hardy pushes himself hard here, and you see how disjointed Brock gets as he adjusts to the changes. Brock as a character, however, doesn’t really have a lot going for him. Neither did Peter Parker or maybe even Steve Rogers, but there were elements about who they were that helped you to appreciate who they be became as superheroes.  Steve Rogers was a weakling with a good spirit, which made him a better Captain America. Peter Parker was a chemical whiz kid and came up with his own web-fluid. Brock just…well, reports. There’s a lot of boredom in that first hour. The best scenes are the interactions between Venom and Brock, full of cute banter. It’s like having an unwelcome guest wanting to meet your parents. It just took so long to get to that point. When it does, however, the movie improves. They do manage to get a lot right about what Venom can do.

The CGI in Venom is definitely good in some places. It stands as the best argument for another remake of The Blob. The symbiotes are creepy in their design and motion, slithering up walls and making their way through vents. Venom, in all it’s glory, is quite a sight to behold, towering over humans. It goes a little overboard over the last 3rd of the film. I can’t say I knew for sure what it was I was looking at, but that’s to be expected with some superhero films.

If you see the film, stay for the mid-credits scene, which teases a future character. Also stay for a near 5 minute sneak peek into Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.

Overall, if you feel you have to see it in a theatre, by all means, do so. If you can wait for it to come out on Digital, that may be the best route.

Teaser Trailer – Venom

You’ve heard of Venom, haven’t you?

Remember Spider-Man 3, and that weird character Topher Grace played? Or maybe you’ve read the comics over time, played the character in countless videogames? With the latest teaser trailer for Venom, Sony is betting that you already know the character so well that they don’t have to show him or his name. He’s just that popular, and you should already know. Unfortunately, the trailer isn’t that thrilling (not to me, anyway). It’s not a teaser unless you tease something, and all I’ve truly seen are tidbits that could be pulled from any other movie Hardy’s ever done. I feel like Venom pulled on purpose what the Deadpool 2 Teaser joked about, with the CGI not being ready. I sure hope that isn’t the case.

Of course, we’ll need to get a little more and hope that some of the basic questions are answered here. Former Daily Bugle worker Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) will don the suit made from an alien symbiote, but will Spider-Man be seen or mentioned? The worst mistake they could do here is to give Venom a story without at least touching or hinting on Spider-Man’s existence. Still, it’s just a teaser, and perhaps way too early to form any conclusion.

Venom, starring Tom Hardy and Michelle Williams will be released in theatres this October 5th.

Film Review: Gangster Squad (dir by Ruben Fleischer)

Gangster Squad

Do you remember Gangster Squad?

This film, which tells the story of hard-boiled cops and psychotic gangsters in 1940s Los Angeles, was originally meant to be released in September of 2012 but the release date was moved back because the film originally featured a gun battle in a movie theater.  After the real-life movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado, that scene was reshot and the release of Gangster Squad was delayed until January of this year.  The critics absolutely hated it, audiences stayed away, and Gangster Squad was the first high-profile flop of 2013.

I was among those who ignored the film when it was first playing at theaters.  After all, it was January and I was more interested in following the Oscar race than going to see a film that, by all accounts, was somewhat terrible.  However, now that Gangster Squad is showing up on a nearly nightly basis on Cinemax, I recently got a chance to see the movie and you know what?

The critics were wrong.

Gangster Squad tells a familiar story.  In fact, the film features not a single character or plot twist that hasn’t shown up in another movie.  The setting is Los Angeles in the 1940s.  Ruthless gangster Mickey Cohen (a totally over-the-top Sean Penn) is the king of the city’s underworld.  How crazy is Mickey Cohen?  He’s so crazy that, when we first see him, he’s watching as another gangster is literally ripped in half.  He’s so crazy that, in the middle of a gun battle, he yells, “Here comes Santy Claus!” as he fires his machine gun.  That’s how crazy Mickey Cohen is.

Sean Penn in Gangster Squad

Seriously crazy.

Fortunately, righteous police chief William H. Parker (Nick Nolte) refuses to allow a little thing like due process to keep him from pursuing Mickey.  Parker calls Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to his office and, after delivering a long and flowery monologue that verges on incoherence, he finally explains that O’Mara’s mission is to put together an elite squad of cops and to take Mickey out by any means necessary!  (Usually, I try to exercise some restraint when it comes to punctuation but Gangster Squad is one of those films that demands exclamation points.)

This is followed by a series of properly colorful scenes in which O’Mara recruits his gangster squad.

Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) is a cynical World War II veteran who is, at first, skeptical of O’Mara and his squad.  Wooters, however, changes his mind after a saintly shoeshine boy is gunned down in front of him.  Wooters is also having an affair with Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), who happens to also be Cohen’s girlfriend.

Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie) is a black cop who is good with a knife and who lost his cousin to the heroin distributed by Cohen’s mob.  Watching the friendly and playful interaction between Harris and all of the film’s white characters provides us with one of our first clues that Gangster Squad is not necessarily aiming to be a historically accurate portrait of America in the 1940s.

Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) is a wiretapper and a family man.  Keeler’s fate is pretty much sealed the minute that he tells O’Mara that he’s willing to risk death just to make the world a better place for his son.

Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) is a former old west gunslinger who now spends his time killing gangsters.  Max, we’re told, may be old but he’s also personally shot over a 100 gangsters.  Max also has a younger partner, an honest cop named Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena).


The Gangster Squad

As you can probably guess at this point, there’s not a single cliché that is not employed by Gangster Squad.  However, and this is what I think several critics missed, the film deliberately takes its clichés to such an extreme that they go from being flaws to being strengths.  By so enthusiastically going overboard in its embrace of the conventions of the gangster film genre and, at the same time, acknowledging the fact that the audience is also familiar with those clichés, Gangster Squad creates its own vibrant and compulsively watchable fantasy world.  The world of Gangster Squad has little to do with any sort of historical reality.  Instead, it’s a  world constructed solely out of other gangster movies.

Taking all of this (and the fact that the film is directed by Ruben Fleischer of Zomieland and 30 Minutes or Less fame) into consideration, it’s pretty obvious that Gangster Squad is not a film that’s meant to be taken seriously.  And yet, that’s what so many critics did when the film was first released in January.  Instead of appreciating the film for paying over-the-top homage to the gangster films of the past, critics attacked it for being an example of style over substance.

And, to give the critics their due, they were exactly right.  There is no substance to Gangster Squad.  Instead, the film is a total celebration of style.

And what style!  In Fleischer’s hands, 1940s Los Angeles is a colorful wonderland of pure excess, a vibrant landscape of dark alleys and swanky nightclubs that literally glow on-screen and are populated by tough men and sultry women in clothing that might not have been found hanging in every closet in the 40s but should have been.  (Seriously, when Emma Stone first appears on-screen, she’s wearing a red gown that is simply to die for.)

This Christmas, I want both Ryan Gosling and the dress.

This Christmas, I want both Ryan Gosling and the dress.

For the viewer who is willing to give themselves over to the film’s over-the-top aesthetic and are willing to appreciate it for what it is (as opposed to condemning it for what it isn’t), Gangster Squad is a watchable, entertaining, and fun movie.  And what’s so bad about that?

I’m glad that I finally got a chance to see Gangster Squad.  Is it one of the great gangster films?  No.  The great gangster films have both style and substance but, quite frankly, if I can only have one than I would prefer something stylish and fun like Gangster Squad to something like Killing Them Softly.

(Then again, I would prefer just about anything to sitting through Killing Them Softly for a second time.)

So, enjoy Gangster Squad.  Watch it for the style.  Have fun.  And most importantly, remember that critics are as often wrong as they are right.

Emma Stone in Gangster Squad