On DVD & Blu-Ray: December 18, 2018

There's always been this desire by a certain generation of Spider-Man fans to see the web-slinger's villain, Venom, portrayed on the big screen in the effortlessly cool yet terrifyingly fun way he was presented in both the comics and the nineties animated series that devoted an entire stretch of episodes to the Stan Lee and Avi Arad-created story titled "The Venom Saga". Venom's popularity has always been about little more than how "cool" the character looks as there is little else of actual depth to the character beyond the fact it's a sludge from space that requires a host to bond with for its survival. In the comics, Venom became most notable as one of Spider-Man's archenemies after Peter Parker realized the insidious nature of what was referred to as the "symbiote" and trashed the suit only for the symbiote to then join with a second host: Eddie Brock. In the animated series Brock was a well-meaning guy looking for his big break who just so happened to view Parker as a rival reporter. Needless to say, in joining with the symbiote and becoming Venom Brock inherited the alien's enhanced abilities and felt a power for the first time in his life he wasn't going to readily give up. So, one can see how-despite the rather artificial intrigues of the symbiote in and of itself that-once this liquid-like form joins with a human host who has their own personality and problems things might become more complicated and therefore more dramatically interesting, right? Well, consider that and then consider the fact director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, Gangster Squad) and screenwriters Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg, and Kelly Marcel only have about half of those source material ideas to work with in order to create a full-length feature around the character. This is what 2018's Venom was tasked with and thus why it turns out to be a mostly forgettable B-monster movie made in the vein of Sam Raimi's original live-action Spider-Man, but with none of the fun or genuine thrills that movie packed in. It's a re-purposed Spider-Man origin story, but with a symbiote instead of a radioactive arachnid where the individual blessed and/or cursed with these powers has to figure out how to control them and then decide how to use them for good. Seriously-Venom, the symbiote, likes to bites heads off, but Tom Hardy's Eddie Brock is an out-and-out good guy with no shades of moral conflict leaving the film itself not to be the interesting anti-hero tale it billed itself to be, but instead feels like a recycled Spider-Man movie from an alternate universe where the symbiote was brought to a world where Peter Parker doesn't exist (at least for the time being) and the titular character becomes by default the hero of the story. In other unfortunate words, Venom adds nothing to these tropes audiences have seen countless times over the last two decades, but is all the worse for it due to the promise of being a real scoundrel's story. Full review here. D

I was born in 1987 or the same year the original Predator was released. One might think this means something more or that it's led to some long-standing connection I feel with that John McTiernan movie, but it doesn't and hasn't. I say this more to point out I was too far behind to now have any nostalgic or appropriated affection for that movie. In fact, I've only seen Predator once before in preparation for the 2010 re-boot, Predators, and while the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick certainly makes for an enjoyable enough action movie it certainly didn't hit me the same way in 2010 as it likely did those who were in their late-teens to early-twenties in 1987. For me, it was fine, goofy fun and very much a product of the time in which it was made. And while 2018's The Predator will rank miles below that original for those who adore it and place it on this pedestal of action perfection, which I admittedly can't dispute given the credentials of my birth, The Predator is also perfectly okay. There is a lot going on and it wants to do more than its hour and forty-seven minute runtime dares to contain, but at the heart of the issues with the film is the fact the movie itself doesn't seem to know what its heart really wants. Does this mean there is nothing beating within the core of this movie? Does it mean there's no pulse? Not necessarily. There is so much going on that it kind of creates the illusion of this pounding sense of energy and tension, but energy doesn't always equal an understanding or coherence. There are numerous players playing different games, following several different arcs, but none of them thread together to form a satisfying whole despite countless efforts to present a facade that it does in fact do so. The Predator puts on that it knows what it is, but taking in the execution presented it seems the movie only has ideas of what it wants to be. Writer/director Shane Black knows he wants to make a bloody, irreverent, and fun action movie but for one reason or another everything Black throws at the audience feels like both disparate and sometimes desperate attempts to play to what the masses want never landing a single of the many things as well as he's proven he could have. Full review here. C

Eli Roth’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls, despite being a straight-up kids movie with a release date in the dead of September, was one of my most anticipated films of the fall if not of the entire year. Despite the obvious warning signs though, I think it’s actually pretty easy to see why this was the case. First, there is Jack Black who has done well to understand the current phase of his career; with last year's Jumanji sequel as well as Goosebumps he is slowly establishing himself as the guy that will be fondly remembered by the tweens and younger teens of the current generation as that funny guy who was in all of their favorite movies. Better even, when those same kids get older they can go back and discover more of Black's rather impressive collection of work. Another encouraging factor going in was the fact this was a kids movie with Cate freakin' Blanchett in it. Now, Blanchett has been doing more work in more commercially viable popcorn flicks as of late with the last Thor film and Ocean's 8, but it seemed it would take a really great script or great character to really entice an actor of her caliber to join a children's film. Blanchett certainly seems to be having a great time exploring the genre, but unfortunately she doesn’t have nearly as much to do as one would expect sans the excellent bickering back and forth between her and Black. This cast, this genre, this time of year...what more could there be that might help propel this project to the heights it seemed so obviously destined to reach? I say this somewhat ironically as it seems most critics and audiences didn't expect much from another kid-centric Black film-especially one based on a children's book from the seventies and especially not one directed by the guy who made 2018's Death Wish, but alas...here we are. As someone who has always adored Black's range and versatility there was this sense of optimism and support, but the point of concern was always Roth. Roth is a director raised on the Amblin films that are very clearly an inspiration for his The House with a Clock in Its Walls, but unfortunately Roth's homage to spooky if not exactly scary kids fare doesn't pass that test of being a magical film about magical people. The finished product can certainly be endearing for long stretches, but the big picture never gels and is more a hodge-podge of several different "chosen one" archetypes than it is a single, focused, satisfying narrative. And though The House with a Clock in Its Walls proved to be more disappointing than hoped it’s not impossible to see how the film might become more appealing over time-especially to the generation that will grow up on it. Full review here. C-

A full-on modern noir thriller and dark comedy with an outlandishly stylish Blake Lively. In short, really fun.

The story is fine if not one we've seen variations on before, but it is the level of style through which it is conveyed and the personal stamps director Paul Feig integrates into A Simple Favor that truly enhances the experience. A movie all about pageantry and dressing up the twists and turns of the genre that nails it more often than it doesn't.

Massively entertaining for the majority sans the steam it loses in the final act, but the film is so assured in what it is and the audience so aware of this assuredness that it's near impossible to jump ship even if you aren't completely sold on the resolution.

While Lively is the highlight and her character so well-defined it is Anna Kendrick who anchors the movie. It is Kendrick's ability to transition her character believably from one scene to the next and from one dynamic to another that allows for the mesh of genres to sync so smoothly into a single tone. B-

Within the first fifteen minutes or so I thought I was really going to hate this movie. The falseness of it all felt so glaring. It was trying to be something it didn't naturally know how to pull off in the worst way. Once we get past the rather scrutinizing character introductions though, the movie levels up and becomes what it is without that aspect of attempting to be something it's not.

Assassination Nation is an extreme satire, but it's a rather effective one. It's a film that will either grow better or worse with age, but my guess is this might be a pretty trippy to experience in ten to fifteen years. Yeah, this super-stylized take on the coming-of-age tale through the lens of our presently overexposed culture would have probably worked better as a limited series or something given the movie already feels like the core characters essentially walk through a handful of different vignettes which in turn means the movie begins to feel like it's dragging in that latter half, but it goes out with such a bang it's hard to argue one didn't have a blast.

Side note: How does Pretty Little Liar's little Mike Montgomery now look like Zac Efron?!?! C

Michael Moore's latest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, sees the filmmaker attempting to examine the current state of American politics, particularly the Donald Trump presidency and gun violence, while highlighting the power of grassroots democratic movements. Didn't catch it during its theatrical run, but am certainly interested.

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