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DVD review: Venom

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Tom Hardy jumps ship from DC to Marvel to take the eponymous role in Ruben Fleischer’s sci-fi drama Venom, which is set to kickstart Sony’s superhero universe. The plot follows investigative reporter Eddie Brock (Hardy) who attempts to expose the corruption within corporations. He sets his journalistic sights upon scientist Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) who is CEO of the Life Foundation research facility. Unfortunately, his daring methods cause a rift in his relationship with fiancée Anne (Michelle Williams) who works as an attorney for the bioengineering conglomerate. Whilst digging deeper into Drake’s controversial experiments, Brock becomes infected by an alien parasite that becomes his deadly alter-ego.

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DVD

DVD review: Dunkirk

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Visionary filmmaker Christopher Nolan has carved a career out of writing and directing imaginative movies, telling mind-bending tales in a way that only he can. His latest feature marks a departure of sorts as he turns his attention to World War II for action-drama Dunkirk, telling the story of the Operation Dynamo evacuation in 1940. As Allied soldiers including Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), Gibson (Aneurin Barnard) and Alex (Harry Styles) are trapped on the beach to await their fate from surrounding Nazi forces, fighter pilots Farrier (Tom Hardy) and Collins (Jack Lowden) provide cover from the skies. Meanwhile, mariner Mr Dawson (Mark Rylance) along with son Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and his friend George (Barry Keoghan) embark on a brave civilian rescue mission.

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DVD

DVD review: The Revenant

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  The visionary director Alejandro González Iñárritu has been an Academy favourite now for some time and after the huge success of his last film, he again presents an Oscar frontrunner in hunting drama ‘The Revenant’, loosely adapted from Michael Punke’s novel of the same name. Leonardo DiCaprio takes the leading role as frontiersman Hugh Glass, who embarks on a fur trading expedition alongside John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and their leader Captain Andrew Henry (Domhnall Gleeson). When events take a drastic turn for the worse for Glass, he uses survival instincts and will power to exact revenge on those who have wronged him.

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DVD

DVD review: Legend

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London gangsters Ronald and Reginald Kray and the notoriety associated with them became ingrained into British culture following their criminal activities in the nineteen-sixties, and up to now their most notable film incarnation was in 1990 when Spandau Ballet brothers Martin and Gary Kemp took on the roles of the vicious twins. Putting them on the big screen once again is award-winning screenwriter and director Brian Helgeland, with Tom Hardy starring as not just one, but both of the Kray twins in an incredible double performance. When Reggie finds love with sweet and innocent Frances (Emily Browning) just as Ronnie is released from prison, everything appears to be going their way. However, with a rival gang fronted by Charlie Richardson (Paul Bettany) up against them in a battle for power and Detective Nipper Reid (Christopher Eccleston) tracking their every move, how long can they stay on top?
  Telling a familiar, true story can be a challenging, restricting task and while Helgeland’s effort has style and swagger in abundance, it falls foul to a mediocre script and tonally imbalanced narrative. Choosing to miss out the brothers boxing background for the most part and barely touching upon their family dynamics, there is a clear lack of focus or angle in the storytelling, towing the line between relationship drama and a straight up mobster movie. It tries desperately to get the Guy Ritchie formula in combining brutal violence with dark humour, but falls short of its own high ambitions. Accomplished cinematographer Dick Pope works his magic in creating a glossy, nostalgic yet authentic atmosphere but many of the visually interesting scenes are let down by a paint-by-numbers soundtrack that wants to hold the viewers hand as we are led through the typical highs and lows of living dangerously.
  As two part acting performances go, Tom Hardy’s duel portrayal is as good as I’ve ever seen. After the first couple of scenes,  you’d be forgiven for forgetting altogether that he is both as he plays them so differently from each other. Admittedly, it appears there are personality embellishments and at times they appear caricature-like in their mannerisms, but his screen presence and sheer talent goes a long way to saving the film from complete disaster. Emily Browning impresses as well as Frances, given the fact that her character arc is less of an arc and more of a spike followed by a sharp decline. Her long-suffering wife voiceover is riddled with cliché, as if it was plucked out of a dodgy Martina Cole novel, but despite this she brings charm and glamour to the role. Stand outs among an underdeveloped supporting cast are rising stars Taron Egerton and Charley Palmer Rothwell who form Ronnie’s fearsome entourage. Their characters and the complicated friendship they had with their complex master could have been a fascinating avenue for the film to explore further but sadly this was overlooked, and Ronnie’s key responsibility in this retelling was to bring psychotic comedy to proceedings.
  For viewers who know little about the ‘legend’ of Ronnie and Reggie, this sophisticated retelling is both informative and entertaining but fails to delve into grittier ground, and in doing so glorifies the twins and makes allowances for their inexcusable actions. Helgeland’s piece is a celebration of their ill repute which would be fine if it wasn’t all true. As a genre film, it is slick yet stereotypical, but in its favour boasts two towering tour-de-force turns from Tom Hardy. ‘Legend’ offers a solid platform to showcase one of, if not the best, actor in the industry. Like Reggie’s trademark put down, his performance will lure you in with an inviting smile and a cigarette before knocking you for six.
3stars
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DVD

DVD review: Mad Max: Fury Road

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 After a two decade break in the series, madcap Australian director George Miller has revisited the post-apocalyptic world of Mad Max with new instalment ‘Fury Road’. Now with a bigger budget to throw at the project, his vision has the scope to reach new heights, and on this occasion Tom Hardy takes the titular role of Max Rockatansky, following in the footsteps of Mel Gibson. The story of survival takes place on desert wasteland in the aftermath of nuclear war, and ex-police officer Max is captured by a gang known as the War Boys, led by Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), and is used primarily as universal blood donor. When Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) rebels against the regime, driving her tanker truck off-route with five of Joe’s hand-picked wives, a chase ensues to retrieve them, and sick War Boy Nux (Nicholas Hoult) also heads out in hot pursuit of the escapees, taking Max along for the ride as his own personal human blood bag.
 Structurally, the plot of Fury Road is essentially one long chase sequence, and the pace is consistently exhilarating. The infrequent breaks in the tempo allow for the minimalistic script to come into play, with conversations dispersed sparingly across the intense desert drive. Because of the lack of dialogue, little to no time is taken to offer any sort of detailed context, apart from a brief spiel in the opening scene, so the viewer really has no option but to strap in and enjoy the film for what it is, and as an immersive cinematic experience, it is unparalleled in terms of the action and special effects. Hardy and Theron are equally sublime in what they do with their performances, both oozing screen presence and heroic prowess. Hoult is also impressive in an unrecognisable turn, his character arguably being one of the more complex in the film, with an ever swaying moral compass and but an immoveable aspiration to be taken to Valhalla.
  Not failing to live up to what the title suggests, ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ is as mad as road movies come, and Miller’s creativity and vivid imagination as a filmmaker comes to the forefront, exploding onto the big screen with vim, vigour and vibrancy. In keeping with the key themes and style of the previous versions in the late seventies and early eighties, this is not so much a reimagining of the franchise but a reawakening, and the Road Warrior is rejuvenated for the 21st century and giving Tom Hardy another string to his acting bow going stark raving Max as a modern-day action hero, albeit one that exists in a dystopian land.

4stars

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DVD

DVD review: Child 44

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Joseph Stalin-era Soviet Union was cold, callous and colourless at least according to Swedish filmmaker Daniel Espinosa who directs mystery thriller ‘Child 44’, based on Tom Rob Smith’s best-selling novel of the same name. Tom Hardy leads an impressive top-billed cast as disgraced military cop Leo Demidov, who independently heads up an enquiry into a series of vicious child murders that are ignored by a corrupt government. With his wife Raisa (Noomi Rapace) accused of espionage and colleague Vasili (Joel Kinnaman) proving a problem at every turn, he turns to an experienced General Nesterov (Gary Oldman) for assistance in his manhunt, resulting in an intense investigative film enhanced by strong acting and crisp cinematography.
  After a slow start that admittedly lectures more than it entertains in history-lesson fashion, the character-driven plot begins to take shape. Not following the standard three-act structure, the narrative sets itself up establishing a multitude of characters and then detours off on tangents, switching focus at points but maintaining a stronghold grip on the central performance that holds it together. Espinosa shows his capabilities as a director in sharply choreographed action sequences which benefit from tight, precise editing. Fight scenes both on a train and later in a puddle of mud are gruelling, and prove to be stand out moments amongst the slow but measured dialogue-laden sections that surround them.
  The thick Russian accents on show are what jump out from the performances at first glance as many of the main players are British, posing the frequently-asked-question over why locals aren’t used for historical pieces such as this. The answer is provided in Tom Hardy’s turn as he welcomes another challenging, complex leading role. His fierce character is flawed but fascinating, defying the odds against him to do what he believes is right. Once you see past the aforementioned accents which are often dodgier than a backstreet vendor pirozhki, there are others to admire within the supporting cast, helped by the rich characters adapted from the book. Kinnaman is really good as one of the many spiteful villains of the piece, and Rapace is nuanced but emotive in parts. In a packed out troupe, Gary Oldman, Vincent Cassel and Jason Clarke fall into the sorely underused category.
  ‘There is no murder in paradise’ is a line that is repeated a few times during conversations throughout Richard Price’s screenplay, referring to the apparent motto of the brainwashed regime at that time, avoiding to recognise foul play under their supreme leader. This biased depiction has sadly but unsurprisingly resulted in a less than friendly reception from Russia following the film’s release. In spite of the inaccuracies and uncertain sub-plotting, it is very well made and possesses the appeal of old fashioned inscrutability. ‘Child 44’ is anchored by another visceral and versatile performance from one of our biggest acting talents, who portrays a family man at heart with psychotic tendencies, but a moral compass just robust enough to make us support him.

4stars

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DVD review: The Drop

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  In a year that has pushed the envelope in terms of experimental filmmaking, is there still a demand for simplistic cinema? Or is it in fact more ambitious to do the stripped-back style well, with solid acting and an intelligent script, than convolute your story with gimmicks to stand out from the crowd? Belgian director Michaël R. Roskam brings together an excellent cast for neo-noir drama ‘The Drop’, which harks back to the classic gangster genre movies where nobody can be trusted and danger lurks around every corner. Tom Hardy stars as soft-spoken and unassuming bartender Bob Saginowski who looks after a drinking den alongside his Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini), which is regularly used as a ‘drop’ for the local lowlifes to launder their illegally gotten gains. When a robbery takes place after hours, Bob and Marv find themselves in a precarious predicament, forced to face the wrath of the mob.
  Brooklyn’s grimy underworld provides the backdrop for Dennis Lehane’s tightly woven script to unfold. Having previously worked on The Wire as well as collaborating with legendary crime film director Scorsese, his influences are clear as they bleed into the flawed but fascinating characters. Very much character driven rather than narrative driven, the study of the morals and masculinity of the protagonists is always interesting and an appealing subplot plays out naturally about the responsibilities involved in taking on a pit bull pup. While events never really veer too far out of the ordinary story-wise, Roskam puts on a masterclass in tension building, heightening to a satisfying final third.
   It is of course terribly sad that this film will mostly be remembered for featuring James Gandolfini’s final screen performance, but it is testament to how phenomenally gifted he was as an actor. Widely known for his long-running portrayal of New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, he was an expert in complex multi-faceted drama and playing cowardly Cousin Marv serves as a fitting swansong. Not to be outdone though is Tom Hardy, who matches Gandolfini blow for blow in a battle of acting prowess and again proves himself as one of the best of his generation. He gives a controlled and more subtle turn than we are used to seeing from him, nailing the accent and showing that sometimes less is more.
  ‘The Drop’ is an effective throwback genre picture, and what it lacks in narrative imagination, it makes up for with the powerful screen presence of the leads. The term ‘actor’s movie’ has never felt more apt. Roskam and screenwriter Lehane present a bleak Brooklyn exterior, an unappealing interpretation of the big apple which hides a black and bloody core of corruption. In this environment, it is equally dangerous whether you’re propping up the bar or serving beers with Bob and Marv from behind it, but where Hardy and Gandolfini are concerned, consider the metaphorical acting bar raised.
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