Review: ‘Young Woman and the Sea,’ starring Daisy Ridley, Tilda Cobham-Hervey, Stephen Graham, Kim Bodnia, Christopher Eccleston and Glenn Fleshler

May 31, 2024

by Carla Hay

Daisy Ridley in “Young Woman and the Sea” (Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

“Young Woman and the Sea”

Directed by Joachim Rønning

Culture Representation: Taking place in the United States and Europe from 1914 to 1926, the dramatic film “Young Woman and the Sea” (based on true events) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one black person) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Champion swimmer Trudy Ederle, who becomes the first woman to swim across the English Channel, defies expectations and sexism in her quest for greatness. 

Culture Audience: “Young Woman and the Sea” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of “against all odds” stories about underestimated athletes or women in patriarchal societies.

Ethan Rouse, Kim Bodnia, Jeanette Hain, Daisy Ridley and Tilda Cobham-Hervey in “Young Woman and the Sea” (Photo by Elena Nenkova/Disney Enterprises, Inc.)

“Young Woman and the Sea” is a traditionally made sports drama that might seem old-fashioned to some viewers. However, this biopic about champion swimmer Trudy Ederle has solid acting and themes that don’t get outdated, such as triumphing over obstacles. People who like stories about iconic achievers who are determined but modest about their accomplishments will find plenty to like about how Ederle is portrayed in this inspirational film.

Directed by Joachim Rønning, “Young Woman and the Sea” is based on Glenn Stout’s 2009 non-fiction book “Young Woman and the Sea: How Trudy Ederle Conquered the English Channel.” The movie’s adapted screenplay was written by Jeff Nathanson. Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle (who was born in 1905 and died in 2003) is considered one of the best competitive female swimmers of all time, not just because of the records she broke but also because of the barriers she broke for other female swimmers. There’s nothing complicated about this movie, which is told in mostly chronological order. For the purposes of this review, the real Trudy Ederle will be called Ederle, while the Trudy Ederle character in the movie will be called Trudy.

“Young Woman and the Sea” begins in the mid-1920s, by showing Trudy in her early 20s (played by Daisy Ridley) about to dive into a large body of water to train for her historic swim across the English Channel. She is covered in an unnamed lubricant (it looks like Vaseline), which is what long-distance swimmers use to help deal with cold-water temperatures. Trudy is singing what the movie later reveals to be her favorite song: the 1920 foxtrot tune “Ain’t We Got Fun,” written by Richard A. Whiting, Raymond B. Egan and Gus Kahn.

The movie then shows an extensive flashback to Trudy’s childhood in 1914, when she was 9 years old. Trudy (played Olive Abercrombie) has made a near-miraculous recovery from measles that left her bedridden and her family worried that she might die. However, the measles would lead to Trudy having hearing loss that got worse when she was in her 30s and eventually became legally deaf.

Trudy lives in New York City with her German immigrant parents; her older sister Margaret “Meg” Ederle; and her younger brother Henry Ederle Jr. (“Young Woman and the Sea” was actually filmed in Bulgaria.) Meg is about two or three years older than Trudy. Henry is about five or six years younger than Trudy. Tilda Cobham-Hervey has the role of young-adult Meg. Lilly Aspell has the role of adolescent Meg. Raphael J. Bishop has the role of pre-teen Henry. Ethan Rouse has the role of teenage Henry.

Henry Ederle Sr. (played by Kim Bodnia) is a butcher who believes in a strict, patriarchal way of living, where men are supposed to be thought of and treated as superior to women. Gertrude Ederle (played by Jeanette Hain) is strong-willed and thinks that women and girls should not have restrictions placed on them because of gender. In other words, Gertrude is a feminist before the word “feminist” was invented.

Getrude’s belief in gender equality plays a crucial role in giving Trudy the motivation and opportunities to become a champion swimmer. Early on in the movie, when Ederle kids are all underage, Meg and Trudy can see from their home that ship has gone up in flames at a nearby port. Gertrude tells them the tragic news that many people (mostly women) on the ship drowned because they didn’t know how to swim, and they stayed on the burning boat rather than risk trying to swim to shore nearby.

Henry Sr. says that Henry Jr. will definitely learn how to swim, but Meg doesn’t need to learn. Gertrude strongly disagrees and says that Meg and Trudy have a right to learn how to swim, just like anyone else does. Gertrude believes that knowing how to swim is a life-saving skill that shouldn’t be deprived or bestowed upon people based on gender. Henry Sr. also believes that it isn’t ladylike for girls or women to be in swimming competitions.

In the meantime, Trudy is determined to learn how to swim, even though her father disapproves. Trudy’s doctor has also warned that Trudy shouldn’t get too much water in her ears, or it could cause more hearing loss for Trudy. After much persistence from Trudy, her father agrees to teach Trudy how to swim at Coney Island’s beach. Due to her recent illness, Trudy cannot use a public swimming pool.

Trudy is a natural talent and soon becomes obsessed with swimming. When Trudy and Meg are teenagers, Henry Sr. is still adamant that they can’t become competitive swimmers. So what does Getrude do? She enrolls Trudy and Meg in an all-female swimming team, led by a tough-but-caring coach named Charlotte “Eppy” Epstein (played by Sian Clifford), who gives the two sisters the training to become more disciplined swimmers.

It isn’t long before Trudy outshines Meg as a swimmer in competitons. Meg seems to have some envy about Trudy’s superior swimming skills, but Meg’s envy doesn’t fester into full-blown jealousy, mainly because Meg is not as passionate about swimming as Trudy is. Trudy puts swimming above everything else in her life. In the movie, Trudy is never shown having any friends or dating anyone. Meg is Trudy’s closest confidante.

Meg starts to rebel a little against her father. One night, Meg comes home late and smelling like liquor. Meg admits to her disapproving father that she’s been on a date with a guy named Chip Anderson (played by Hyoie O’Grady), who has been courting Meg and will soon ask Meg to marry him. Henry Sr. flies into a rage because he thinks his daughters should marry men of German heritage. (The movie takes a short detour into Meg’s love life, which doesn’t go according to what Meg really wants.)

Meanwhile, a montage shows that Trudy wins several swimming competitions on a local, state, and then national level, often breaking swimming records along the way. It’s inevitable that Trudy trains for the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. And then, in 1926, Trudy decides to take on her biggest challenge of all: swimming across the English Channel, which is a feat that had never been accomplished by a woman at the time.

“Young Woman and the Sea” has the expected scenes of men trying to block or discourage Trudy’s ambitions, simply because of her female gender. Trudy’s father is one of the chief culprits of this sexism. And for a long time, he refuses to celebrate Trudy’s accomplishments. Trudy’s mother Gertrude is always supportive of her, but Trudy wants her father’s approval too.

For her Olympic training, Trudy gets a wealthy sponsor named James Sullivan (played by Glenn Fleshler), a pompous blowhard who wants Trudy to be among the six American female swimmers whom he’s sponsoring for the Olympics. James insists that Trudy and the other women swimmers have a male coach. Jabez Wolffe (played by Christopher Eccleston), a Scottish has-been professional swimmer, becomes Trudy’s coach. It becomes obvious early on that Jabez is very jealous that Trudy is more talented than he could ever be.

Not all of the men in Trudy’s life are sexist and condescending. Trudy meets a rebellious sailor named Bill Burgess (played by Stephen Graham), who’s got a similar spirit of non-conformity as Trudy has. The first time that Trudy sees Bill, he’s at the Coney Island beach being arrested for swimming naked. Bill ends up becoming Trudy’s sailor navigator during her English Channel swimming marathon. Trudy also develops a friendly acquaintance with another swimmer named Benji Zammit (played by Alexander Karim), who also wants to swim across the English Channel.

Even if viewers have never heard of Trudy Ederle before seeing this movie, “Young Woman Sea” has no real surprises because it checks all the usual plot boxes and follows the same formula as many other sports movies. A noticeable flaw of the movie is that it doesn’t accurately depict the type of hearing loss that the real Ederle had during this time in her life. There’s a brief mention of her hearing loss but then Trudy’s hearing loss is never really mentioned or shown again.

The acting performances fit the tone of the movie very well. Ridley is quite good but not outstanding in “Young Woman and the Sea,” which unrealistically makes Trudy look like she has no personality flaws. The swimming scenes are thrilling though, with Oscar Faura’s cinematography making viewers feel immersed in the water along with Trudy, even in some of the scenes that are obviously not in a real ocean. Unlike the treacherous waters that Trudy swims in, “Young Woman and the Sea” offers nothing edgy or unpredictable. The movie is a perfectly fine option for anyone who wants to see a story that can appeal to many generations of people.

Walt Disney Pictures released “Young Woman and the Sea” in select U.S. cinemas on May 31, 2024.

Review: ‘Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical,’ starring Alisha Weir, Lashana Lynch, Stephen Graham, Andrea Riseborough and Emma Thompson

January 8, 2023

by Carla Hay

Emma Thompson and Alisha Weir as Matilda in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” (Photo by Dan Smith/Netflix)

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” 

Directed by Matthew Warchus

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed city in England, this movie version of the Olivier-winning musical “Matilda the Musical” (which is based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 “Matilda” children’s book) features a predominantly white group of characters (with some black people and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A highly intelligent, book-loving 5-year-old girl with neglectful parents is sent to a private school, where a caring English teacher becomes her mentor, and the school’s cruel headmistress becomes the girl’s enemy.

Culture Audience: In addition to appealing to the obvious target audience of fans of Dahl and previous “Matilda” adaptations, “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching a family-friendly musical with themes of good versus evil and taking a stand against bullying.

Lashana Lynch and Alisha Weir in in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” takes the best aspects of the stage production and gives them a vibrant, cinematic version that delivers drama and comedy veering on the cartoonish. It’s a mixture of 1980s gaudiness and traditional British theater that mostly works well, but some viewers will be put off by some of the shrill aspects of this musical. Lashana Lynch’s performance is a delightful standout, for her portrayal of compassionate schoolteacher Miss Honey, one of the movie’s few characters with any real complexity and depth.

“Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” is directed by Matthew Warchus, who won an Olivier Award in 2012, for the West End musical production of “Matilda,” which is based on Roald Dahl’s 1988 book of the same name. Warchus also received a Tony nomination for directing the Broadway musical version of “Matilda.” The first movie version of “Matilda” is a 1996 American (non-musical) comedy, directed by Danny DeVito (who also co-starred in the movie) and starring Mara Wilson in the title role. The songs from the “Matilda” stage musical (with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin) are also in “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical.”

The world of “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” is set in the 1980s, and it’s filmed like a garish 1980s sitcom, when viewers are first introduced to the selfish low-lifes who will become Matilda’s parents. The movie’s opening scene takes place at a hospital maternity ward in an unnamed city in England. (The song “Miracle” is performed in this scene.)

Mr. Wormwood (played by Stephen Graham) is a ruffian who works as a used-car salesman and welder involved in shady business practices. Mrs. Wormwood (played by Andrea Riseborough) is an egomaniacal makeup artist whose only real passions are ballroom dancing and spending money on herself. Both spouses are not equipped to be good parents. But here they are in the maternity ward, as Mrs. Wormwood is giving birth to what these sleazy spouses hope will be a son.

When Matilda is born, Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood’s negative attitude about being parents gets even worse because this child is a girl, not the boy they wanted. Throughout Matilda’s young life, her parents refer to her using male pronouns, as if they can’t accept Matilda’s gender. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood are neglectful parents who give Matilda the basics (food and shelter) but not love or proper guidance.

At 5 years old, Matilda (played by Alisha Weir) has learned to be self-sufficient. Matilda also has a mischievous side to her, such as a scene where she puts super glue in her father’s hat, which gets stuck to his head. She has become a voracious reader with the type of intelligence that makes her child prodigy in any subject and could easily put her on the level of genius. Influenced by many of the novels she has read, Matilda has a vivid imagination and can make up elaborate stories.

Matilda escapes from her unhappy home life by regularly spending time with Mrs. Phelps (played by Shindhu Vee), a librarian who owns and operates a bookmobile. In this movie, Mrs. Phelps is unfortunately a very underdeveloped character. Viewers will find out very little about Mrs. Phelps. The main purpose for Mrs. Phelps is for her to become fascinated when Matilda tells her a story (in stops and starts) about an escapologist (played by Carl Spencer) and an acrobat (played by Lauren Alexandra), who work at a circus, fall in love with each other, and experience a tragedy. This story comes to life in various scenes in the movie.

One day, Miss Honey and a school official colleague, who both work at the prestigious Crunchem Hall school, visit the Wormwood household because there is concern for Matilda’s welfare. Matilda has been homeschooled up until this point. Miss Honey tactfully asks Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood if Matilda can go to a traditional school so that she can be around other children. Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood say yes, not because it will benefit Matilda, but because they will no longer have to be responsible for educating her, and she will be spending less time at home.

Matilda quickly makes a friend at the school named Lavender (played by Rei Yamauchi Fulker), one of the schoolkid characters in this movie that could have used better character development. Other students who are featured in prominent speaking roles (but very little is revealed about them) are cheeky Eric (played by Andrei Shen), nervous Nigel (played by Ashton Robertson) and eager-to-please Bruce Bogtrotter (played Charlie Hodson-Prior), who gets a big moment in a famously uncomfortable scene involving chocolate cake. Matilda becomes the target of a student bully named Hortensia (played by Meesha Garbett), who is a stereotypical “mean girl.”

But the biggest bully at the school is headmistress Agatha Trunchbull (played by Emma Thompson, wearing hag-like makeup), who is very abusive (physically and verbally), and despises children so much, she often calls them “maggots.” The sign in front of Agatha’s office even says, “Maggots May Not Enter.” Everyone at the school is afraid of Agatha, except for Matilda. As Bruce comments soon after Matilda arrives at Crunchem Hall: “This isn’t a school. It’s a prison.”

Matilda soon stands out for having more academic knowledge than the teachers. Miss Honey is so impressed with Matilda, she tells Agatha that Matilda should be given the curriculum of someone who’s at least 11 years old. A jealous Agatha nixes the idea because she says that Matilda doesn’t deserve special treatment. Matilda soon becomes the focus of Agatha’s rage when Matilda shows that she’s not easily intimidated by this nasty school leader. Agatha is also prejudiced against Matilda because Agatha thinks Matilda’s parents are “gangsters, not intellectuals.”

The rest of the movie plays out exactly like you think it will, even for people who don’t know anything the the “Matilda” story. Thompson’s depiction of Agatha is a very campy, non-stop performance of “fire and brimstone” malevolence. The hairstyling, makeup and costume design are top-notch in in creating this character, and Thompson is certainly very talented, but it’s an entirely one-note portrayal that would have been more interesting if the filmmakers made Agatha’s personality a little less predictable and more nuanced.

The real heart of the story (and the best part of the movie) is the beautiful friendship that develops between Matilda and Miss Honey. Even though Matilda is wise beyond her years, she is still a child who needs positive and helpful adult guidance. Matilda and Miss Honey are kindred spirits who share an avid appreciation of books and a strong sense of personal ethics that includes standing up for people who are being treated unfairly.

In the role of Matilda, Weir makes an impressive feature-film debut as the feisty and resilient Matilda, who manages to charm, even when she’s being a pouty brat. Some of the pacing of “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” tends to drag in the middle of the movie. However, the last third of the film is by far the best section and makes up for any of the movie’s flaws. Lynch gives an emotionally stunning version of “My Home,” while Weir’s standout musical solo moment is with “Quiet.” And the “Revolting Children” song-and-dance sequence is an absolute, show-stopping high point.

Unfortunately, other than Matilda and Miss Honey, the characters in this movie are rather two-dimensional. The filmmakers of “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” missed an opportunity to create meaningful backstories and more compelling personalities for some of these other characters. The villains in the movie are complete caricatures and therefore entirely formulaic.

The movie also could have taken more time to explore the interpersonal relationships that Matilda has with her fellow students, because what is shown in the movie all looks very rushed and superficial. However, this is a musical that succeeds in most areas and stays true to the overall spirit of the “Matilda” book. “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” is not a masterpiece, but it’s entertaining enough to appeal to many generations and cultures.

Netflix released “Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical” in select U.S. cinemas on December 9, 2022. The movie premiered on Netflix on December 25, 2022.

Review: ‘Venom: Let There Be Carnage,’ starring Tom Hardy and Woody Harrelson

September 30, 2021

by Carla Hay

Tom Hardy and Venom in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage”

Directed by Andy Serkis

Culture Representation: Taking place in San Francisco, the superhero action film “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few black people and Asians) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Venom, the demonic alien anti-hero that inhabits the body of journalist Eddie Brock, does battle against a similar creature called Carnage, which inhabits the body of convicted serial killer Cletus Kasady. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of comic book movie fans, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” will appeal primarily to fans of star Tom Hardy and people who like silly, over-the-top and predictable action movies.

Carnage (pictured at left) in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures)

The good news is that “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” isn’t as wildly uneven as its predecessor, 2018’s “Venom.” The bad news is that it’s consistently stupid in its campiness and appalling lack of originality. It’s very obvious that the filmmakers of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” have a “go for broke” attitude about leaning into the unintentional comedy that “Venom” got a lot of criticism for by fans and critics

The prevailing attitude in “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (directed by Andy Serkis and written by Kelly Marcel) seems to be: “You laughed at ‘Venom.’ Now, we’re going to be in on the joke and tell the joke so you can laugh with us, not at us.” And there’s nothing wrong with turning this Marvel Comics movie franchise into a quasi-superhero satire or parody. The problem is that “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” doesn’t have an interesting or imaginative story.

Marcel and “Venom” movie franchise star Tom Hardy are credited with coming up with the “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” story that serves as the basis for the movie’s screenplay. Marcel was a co-writer of the 2018 “Venom” movie, which was directed by Ruben Fleischer, who failed to have a consistent tone for the film. In “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” Marcel is the only credited screenwriter. She also wrote the 2015 movie “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which means that she has a track record for churning out terrible movies that are ripe for parody.

Every single thing that happens in “Venom” is tiresome and predictable. And the “jokes” are very stale and unimaginative. The visual effects are bombastic and sometimes cheap-looking. And the movie is so enamored with its own bad taste that it keeps going back to the same gags over and over. There’s a recurring joke about chickens that gets tiresome very quickly. Another joke involving a clerk at a convenience store is over-used to the point of boredom.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is also a uselessly blaring action movie that wants to pretend that being unnecessarily noisy in certain scenes means that it’s somehow proving its worth as an action movie. Loud action scenes are expected in a movie like this one, but there’s too much shouting by people in the non-action scenes. And there’s a character who literally causes tornado-like damage when she shrieks like a banshee.

In “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” which takes place in San Francisco, investigative journalist Eddie Brock (played by Hardy) is still struggling with the knowledge that he has a human-eating demonic alien living inside of him called Venom. Eddie can usually control Venom by deciding when Venom can appear outside Eddie body. However, when Venom gets too hungry or too angry (which happens a lot), Venom can act of his own free will, which usually involves the destruction of things or people.

Just like in the first “Venom” movie, expect to see Eddie having numerous arguments with Venom. Because people can’t see Venom when Venom is inside Eddie’s body, it often looks like Eddie is talking to himself when he’s really talking to Venom. In the real world, this unhinged persona would have serious consequences on his career as a journalist, since people would question Eddie’s mental health and the ability to do his job well. But since this is a comic book movie, viewers are expected to go along with this unrealistic aspect of the story.

Venom constantly craves human flesh, and Eddie will only allow Venom to eat criminals. Eddie hasn’t encountered any criminals lately, so he’s been feeding a steady diet of live chickens to Venom. In the movie, Venom constantly complains about being tired of eating chickens. “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” keeps going back to this questionable well of jokes until it runs dry and becomes cracked to the point of irritation.

Every superhero movie has a villain. In “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” the chief villain is Cletus Kasady (played by Woody Harrelson), a convicted serial killer who is awaiting his sentencing while he’s in prison. Law enforcement officials think that Cletus has killed more people than has been proven in court, and they want Cletus to tell them where the bodies are before he gets sentenced. In the media and in the public, people have been speculating if Cletus will get the death penalty or not.

Eddie is doing a story on Cletus, so he goes to the prison to interview him multiple times. Cletus doesn’t give Eddie any useful information, but he does get angry during one of the interviews and bites Eddie hard enough to draw blood. Cletus immediately notices that Eddie’s blood doesn’t taste completely human.

And you know what that means: Cletus has been infected with the same DNA that Venom has. And so, red-haired Cletus finds out that he has a red demonic alien inside of him. That creature is called Carnage. You can do a countdown to the inevitable battle scene between Venom and Carnage toward the end of the film.

In the meantime, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” has some filler scenes involving Eddie’s love life. In “Venom” (mild spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the movie), Eddie was engaged to district attorney Anne Weying (played by Michelle Williams), but she broke up with him at the end of the movie. Anne became so disillusioned with law enforcement after her experiences with Eddie/Venom, she left the district attorney’s office and began working in the non-profit sector.

In “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” Eddie is still nursing a broken heart about Anne, who wants to be on friendly terms with Eddie. They meet for dinner, where she tells him that she’s now engaged to be married to another man. His name is Dr. Dan Lewis (played by Reid Scott), who’s somewhat wimpy and gets nervous easily. He’s exactly the type of person you know is going to get stuck in some battle scenes later in the movie.

Cletus has his own lovelorn woes. In the 1996 flashback scene in the beginning of the movie, it’s shown that teenage Cletus (played by Jack Bandeira), who was a problem child from an abusive home, was sent to live at the co-ed St. Estes Reform School. At the reform school, Cletus met and fell in love with another student named Frances Barrison (played by Olumide Olorunfemi), who is nicknamed Shriek because whenever she gets upset, she shrieks loud enough to cause unnatural destruction. During their romance, Cletus gives Frances a ring and calls her “my angel.”

However, the destruction that Frances has caused is enough to get her sent away to a psychiatric institution for criminals. Cletus is distraught over this separation. Before Frances leaves, he tells her, “They can’t take you away from me! You’re my one bright light!”

In the police van that is transporting Frances to the psychiatric institution, she is being guarded by a young cop with the name tag P. Mulligan (played by Sean Delaney), who foolishly doesn’t have a partner with him as backup. It wouldn’t matter much anyway, because Frances does her shrieking with such force that it causes the the van to crash, and she escapes.

This movie is so sloppily written that it’s mentioned later in the story that most people who knew Frances believe that she is dead, even though her body was never found. It would make more sense to have her described as a missing person. But then again, if Cletus thought she was missing and not dead, he wouldn’t be so heartbroken.

Frances is really alive, of course. As an adult (played by Naomie Harris), she’s being secretly held captive by the government for experiments. Frances is deliberately mute while in captivity, but there comes a point in the movie where she finally does talk. Not that it makes much of a difference, because the dialogue she’s given is absolutely idiotic and forgettable.

Eddie lives near a convenience store. And for some weird reason, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” wants to make the convenience store’s owner/sales clerk Mrs. Chen (played by Peggy Lu), who had a cameo in the first “Venom” movie, into some kind of wisecracking foil to Eddie/Venom, similar to Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow character in “The Hangover” movies. However, the “jokes” that Mrs. Chen utters just aren’t very good. Everything about the “comedy” in this movie is extremely simple-minded, like something you might see in a children’s cartoon, not a live-action superhero movie where adults are the majority of the audience.

The rest of “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” plays out exactly like you’d expect it to play out, because it does exactly what many other mediocre-to-bad supermovies have already done in the story arc and battle scenes. “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” is like the 2018 “Venom” movie on meth: It’s filled with the loud scatter-brained nonsense, gibberish dialogue and repetitive hyperactivity—resulting in one giant, annoying headache. The pace of the “Venom: There Will be Carnage” doesn’t drag like “Venom” did, but there’s no real suspense either.

Except for Harrelson, none of the actors seems to have any enthusiasm or genuine emotional connection to their roles. Maybe because it’s too hard to get excited when you have to say such moronic lines of dialogue. British actor Hardy (who’s a producer of the movie) looks like he’s going through the motions to collect his financial payout.

And even though Eddie is supposed to be American, Hardy’s natural British accent can occasionally be heard in the dialogue. Hardy has mastered American accents in several of his other movies where he portrayed an American. The fact that he has flaws in his American accent in this movie is an indication that he’s not artistically committed to the Eddie Brock/Venom role, and this “Venom” franchise is probably more about the money for him. Hardy and Williams still have no believable on-screen chemistry together, either as a couple, a former couple, or as friends.

The cop who was with Frances when she made her 1996 escape has now been promoted to detective. (His first name is not mentioned in the film.) Detective Mulligan (played by Stephen Graham) is as generic as generic can be. Detective Mulligan plays a fairly prominent role in the movie, which is so badly written that Detective Mulligan puts himself in many dangerous situations without having a cop partner as a backup. Keep in mind, this isn’t a small-town police force. This is supposed to be the San Francisco Police Department.

“Venom: Let There Be Carnage” does not have an end-credits scene, but there’s a mid-credits scene that suggests there will be a movie where Venom will eventually interact with Spider-Man, who is Venom’s nemesis in the Marvel comic books. It would be the first time that Venom and Spider-Man will be seen on screen together in a live-action movie. However, the tone of the “Spider-Man” movies (high-quality action) and the tone of “Venom” movies (low-quality schlock) are so vastly different from each other, it will be a challenge to bring Venom and Spider-Man together in live-action movies without sacrificing some credibility in trying to merge these two very different worlds.

It’s why the “Venom” movie franchise does a disservice to other Marvel Comics-based movies where there’s potential for Venom to cross over into these other Marvel movie franchises. The way that the filmmakers and film studios treat any Venom crossovers into other Marvel movies will be have to be treated just like chefs who have to prepare a meal with incompatible ingredients. Using that meal analogy, for people who want superhero movies that deliver an interesting and creative story, “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” just leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Columbia Pictures will release “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” in U.S. cinemas on October 1, 2021.

Review: ‘Greyhound,’ starring Tom Hanks

July 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Tom Hanks in “Greyhound” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

“Greyhound”

Directed by Aaron Schneider

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the northern Atlantic Ocean in 1942, the World War II drama “Greyhound” has a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos in very small speaking roles) portraying military men fighting at sea.

Culture Clash: A U.S. Navy veteran must command a ship called Greyhound that is protecting 37 other ships carrying much-needed supplies through a treacherous area of the Atlantic Ocean called the Black Pit, where Nazi German U-boats are known to attack.

Culture Audience: “Greyhound” will appeal primarily to World War II enthusiasts, while everyone else might be easily bored by the generic way that this story is told.

Tom Hanks in “Greyhound” (Photo courtesy of Apple TV+)

There have been so many movies made about World War II, that any new movie about this subject matter needs to bring something interesting and compelling in order for the story to have a memorable impact. Unfortunately for “Greyhound,” a World War II drama written by and starring Tom Hanks, this movie ends up being a formulaic and predictable vanity project for Hanks.

Sony Pictures was originally going to release “Greyhound” in cinemas. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, Sony shifted the movie’s release exclusively to Apple TV+, perhaps because Sony executives came to the correct conclusion that “Greyhound” (directed by Aaron Schneider) really looks like a TV-movie instead of a full cinematic experience.

In “Greyhound,” Hanks portrays the fictional Captain Ernie Krause of the U.S. Navy in such a generically stoic manner that by the end of the film, people wouldn’t be able to tell you much about his personality at all. That’s not a good sign when Captain Krause is supposed to be at the center of the story.

The way that Captain Krause is written, he’s the American hero who’s able to save everyone else because of his quick thinking and fortitude. All the other characters in the movie are written as backdrops to Captain Krause. These supporting characters are so forgettable and written in such a vague way that people watching “Greyhound” wouldn’t be able to remember the names of five characters who aren’t Captain Krause in this movie. The names of the ships in this movie are more memorable than the names of the people.

“Greyhound,” whose main action take place over five days in February 1942, is about the newly appointed Captain Krause leading his first team of ships during the war. Captain Krause’s three ships that he’s commanding are escorting a convoy of 37 Allied ships carrying soldier supplies across the Atlantic Ocean to Liverpool, England. To get there, the ships have to pass through a dangerous area called the Black Pit, where Nazi German U-boats have been known to lurk. The Black Pit is also in an area of the Atlantic Ocean that’s beyond the range of protection from aircraft that usually escorts these ships.

Krause’s ship is named Greyhound. Some of the other ships that are part of the story include two British destroyer ships named Harry and Eagle; a Canadian corvette named Dicky; a U.S. rescue ship named Cadena; and a Greek merchant ship called Despotiko. This is a very U.S.-oriented story, since the non-American characters are not actually seen on camera. Only their voices are heard, such as when Captain Krause communicates with them by the ship’s radio transmitters.

Before the Greyhound ship embarks on its journey, the movie shows a little of bit of Captain Krause’s “tough but merciful” leadership style. Two subordinates named Flusser (played by Matthew Zuk) and Shannon (played by Jeff Burkes), who’ve obviously been in a fist fight with each other, are brought to Captain Krause to be disciplined.

“I will tolerate no more fisticuffs on my ship,” Captain Krause tells them in a stern manner, like a father lecturing his sons. Captain Krause tells the two men to resolve their differences. Flusser and Shannon say that they regret the incident. And then Captain Krause utters this pretentious line as a warning to the two men: “Repetition will bring hell from down high.”

During the mission, there a lot of shouting and repeating of Captain Krause’s commands. Captain Krause’s subordinates don’t get enough screen time to make a lasting impression during the mission, except for Charlie Cole (played by Stephen Graham) and Lieutenant Nystrom (played by Matt Helm), who don’t really do much but wait for Captain Krause to give them orders.

Charlie is the one whom Krause trusts and confides in the most, but his character is written as a shell of a man who just kind of stands around as an echo chamber for Krause. These supporting characters on the Greyhound ship were not written to have distinctive personalities from each other.

And since Hanks wrote the screenplay (which is adapted from C.S. Forester’s 1955 novel “The Good Shepherd”), it seems as if Hanks didn’t want to write any other characters in a way that they could possibly stand out and steal scenes from him. That’s why “Greyhound” looks like such a vanity project.

And when the inevitable happens—attacks from Nazi German U-boats—the movie’s suspense gets a lot better. But the action scenes overall are very formulaic and hold no surprises. We all know how this movie is going to end anyway.

The visual effects in “Greyhound” won’t win any awards. Some of the visuals are believable, while some are not. For example, there’s a scene where a ship gets blown up in the water. And although blood is shown in the water after the explosion, there’s no ship debris that’s shown in the bloodied water right after the explosion—as if the exploded ship just vanished into thin air. It’s an example of some of the unrealistic visuals that cheapen this movie.

Elisabeth Shue and Rob Morgan are listed as co-stars of “Greyhound,” but they really have cameos in the film that last less than 10 minutes each. Shue (the only woman with a speaking role in “Greyhound”) plays Captain Krause’s girlfriend Evelyn, nicknamed Evie. She has a brief flashback scene early in the film when Captain Krause and Evie exchange Christmas gifts in December 1941 when they meet up in a San Francisco hotel lobby.

Krause has even bought Evie a ticket to be with him in the Caribbean, where he’ll be training for his next mission. Krause tells Evie, “Come with me, so I can ask you to marry me on a tropical beach.” Evie politely declines, knowing that Krause is going into war combat, and tells him: “Let’s wait until we can be together.”

Morgan also has a thankless background role as a character name Cleveland, one of the African American subordinates on Greyhound who dress in formal waiter uniforms and serve food to Captain Krause. The only purpose these waiter characters have in the story is to fret about how Captain Krause hasn’t been eating the food that they serve him. It’s also mentioned multiple times in the film that Krause is such a brave and diligent captain during this mission that not only has he been too preoccupied to eat, he also hasn’t been sleeping either.

“Greyhound” is not a bad movie. But compared to gritty and classic World War II films such as “Saving Private Ryan” and “Dunkirk,” it’s just a very disappointing and trite film, where the action and character development are far inferior to other World War II movies. “Greyhound” wastes the talent of actors such as Shue and Morgan, and it elevates Hanks’ Captain Krause character to such a lofty and squeaky-clean level that it scrubs all of the personality out of him.

Apple TV+ premiered “Greyhound” on July 10, 2020.

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