Screening Room

Shaun Alexander is a film student at UEL and blogs for Your Universe. All reviews are his own opinion.

A Star Is Born

When Bradley Cooper’s character, Jackson Maine, stumbles into a drag queen bar while on a post gig drinking binge, he surely didn’t expect to stumble on the woman who would change his life forever. For Ally (Lady Gaga), a usual Friday night gig turns out to be the beginning of a wild adventure of fame and stardom. The two singers come from different backgrounds and different styles, but the same love for music will lead them along the rocky road of stardom.

With this being Bradley Cooper’s directorial debut and the first major leading role for Lady Gaga on film, there were always question marks over whether this latest iteration could hold up against previous editions, which saw the likes of Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand nominated for Academy Awards in 1976 and 1954 respectively. However, any fears of this being a disappointment are quickly washed away as the performances and songs by Cooper and Gaga pull you into this electric story of two musicians.

The contrast between the two performers is one of its strongest points with Cooper’s Jackson Maine at the peak of his power, selling out stadiums and with nothing to hold him back. Comparatively, Ally is a struggling musician working in restaurants to pay the bills but with the dream of music and songwriting always on her mind. Seeing the two connect within the opening act of the movie is powerful and feels like a real relationship blossoming on screen. The chemistry is addictive and left me craving more.

With strong performances from the two leads, it’s however Sam Elliott playing Jackson Maine’s manager who stands out with some huge moving scenes. With very little screen time he commands his scenes and, with that iconic deep voice, he helps further paint the picture of who Jackson Maine is. Seeing a story of love, fame and addiction on screen with a modern spin makes this latest edition feel more relevant than ever.

Venom

With Disney’s Marvel Studios having three hugely successful releases this year (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Ant Man and The Wasp), Sony saw an opportunity to use the Spider-Man property and spin-off with their own universe. First stop for them: Venom. After being fired from his job as a reporter, Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is down on his luck. While investigating the lab of the man who got him fired, Brock becomes one with Venom, a symbiotic alien who latches onto him, giving him strength, power and the overwhelming desire to eat people’s faces.

While the trailers for this movie seem to be showing an action-orientated approach which sees Venom becoming the anti-hero that comic fans are used to seeing, the final product seems to have taken on an entirely different form instead. There is a greater focus on comedy - the relationship between Brock and Venom plays almost like one you would find in a buddy cop movie. With Hardy providing the voice for Venom, we are treated to a number of great sequences as the two argue between each other. This leads to some incredible odd couple situations as Hardy shouts at himself with the rest of the room oblivious to who his conversational partner is.

The performance from Hardy is as strong as we come to expect from him. With the dual personas of Brock and Venom we see an array of emotions and styles of performance from him which sadly are not matched with as much energy by the rest of the cast. Michelle Williams plays Anne Weying, a lawyer who is given little to do outside of plot moments in which Hardy uses her for his own personal gains. Riz Ahmed’s performance as Carlton Drake, the Elon Musk-like owner of the research facility that captured the symbiotes, provides a potentially interesting foil to Brock but is too underdeveloped to truly stand out. With so many talented actors in the cast it’s a shame that not all are given as much chance to shine in the script as Hardy, who will prove to be the main draw.

With the usual array of action set pieces, Venom will not disappoint the casual viewer as chase sequences and fights see Venom fight to get out of any sticky situation. Due to his liquid-like appearance, the later fight sequences can feel messy at times and - with a third act which feels like a storyline you have seen a hundred times before - it’s not reinventing any wheels here. But with so much focus put into developing the relationship between Brock and Venom, fans of Tom Hardy are still in for a treat.

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