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‘Capone’ Review

For better or worse, a mumbling and incoherent Al Capone is the role that Tom Hardy was born to play.

“Capone” follows the notorious bootlegging gangster Al Capone in the final year of his life, now retired in Florida with his mind rotting from syphilis. Tom Hardy stars in the title role, alongside Linda Cardellini, Jack Lowden, Noel Fisher, Kyle MacLachlan, and Matt Dillon, while Josh Trank writes, edits, and directs.

In 2015, Josh Trank directed “Fantastic Four” and the results were notably poor. Not only was the film a critical dud and box office bomb, but even before the film’s release Trank (who had reportedly been difficult to deal with while filming) disowned the project and has since spoken out against the studio system. “Capone” is his first film since that (he was supposed to direct a “Star Wars” spin-off but left/was fired), and the passion behind it is clear. Trank must have been a fan of the famous gangster and wanted to give his own take on the genre beyond the classic “rise-and-fall” formula, and while the results are middling, that doesn’t mean the film is not worth checking out on a rainy afternoon.

Tom Hardy has had an interesting but successful career, starring in seemingly every Christopher Nolan film from “Dark Knight Rises” to “Dunkirk,” as well as an Oscar-nominated turn in “The Revenant,” mumbling and grunting his way through each role. Here, he plays Al Capone, a grown man with the mental capacity of a 12-year-old. Capone is physically and mentally falling apart due to disease, while his soul is being eaten alive by the guilt of his crimes. Hardy seems to be having a good time making nonsensical threats to gardeners and shooting confused glances at hallucinations, and even if this isn’t an attempt at an Oscar, the performance is a decent-enough look at a single year of an infamous man’s life.

The plot of the film is pretty straight-forward, and could be best described as “Bugsy” meets the final act of “The Irishman.” A once bigger-than-life criminal has retired to a quiet life but his past still haunts him, and his actions that made him who he is have left him alienated and alone. Josh Trank, to no fault of his own, is no Martin Scorsese (who is?) and he doesn’t have three-plus hours to have us grow with these characters, so the pondering thoughts and themes he tries to convey don’t hit as much as they do in “Irishman.” It is all surface-level, but much like Hardy’s performance it gets the job done just-enough to be worthy of praising the effort.

Shot in Louisiana on a $20 million budget the film looks pretty competent, and that is the word that best describes “Capone” as a whole: totally competent. There is nothing extraordinary about it, however nothing completely damning, either. Things just progress as you expect them to (save for a bonkers finale where you have no idea what is going on), and while I may not remember the film in a few months, I think that its desire to be a more personal take on a genre that all-too-often focuses on the flashy excess make it worth checking out for period piece fans like myself.

Critics Rating: 6/10

‘Venom’ is a Mess of a Disappointment

I don’t know what else I expected from a studio like Sony…

“Venom” is the second film to feature the titular antihero (following 2007’s “Spider-Man 3”), and follows Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) as he is exposed to the alien symbiote and gains superpowers. Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Scott Haze and Reid Scott also star as Ruben Fleischer directs.

A Venom film had been in the talks for years, both before and after his appearance in “Spider-Man 3,” and this rendition was finally confirmed in March 2017 as part of Sony’s new “Marvel Universe” (different than Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, but that is an entire different can of worms). It was promised to be rated R, sticking to the dark and violent nature of the character, but just a few weeks before its release Sony announced that it would be rated PG-13 in order to possibly accompany a cross-over with Spider-Man in future films (something Marvel and Disney have strongly implied they won’t allow). Combine this with the fact star Tom Hardy went on record (before backtracking) that his favorite 40 minutes of the film were cut and there were alarms going off all over the place. And where there is smoke there is fire, and it turns out to be of the dumpster variety.

I am a fan of Venom. I never read many of his comics but growing up I always liked it when he showed up in a Spider-Man show, and didn’t hate Topher Grace’s portrayal of Eddie Brock in “Spider-Man 3.” So when it was announced Hardy, fresh off an Oscar nomination for “The Revenant,” would play the character I got excited. And Hardy is (mostly) the only thing in the film that actually works.

His dynamic with the Venom character is often fun, as it is a voice in his head that only he can hear. Much like this summer’s “Upgrade” (one of the year’s better films, please seek it out!), Eddie is hesitant to hurt people so when Venom takes control of his body and begins to use humans as a baseball bat on others he is confused and outwardly apologizes to his victims. There are some laughs and some creative fight sequences, although you can tell some of the Venom kills (namely when he goes to bite off a character’s head) were cut and clipped to get that bloodless PG-13 rating. And the fact Sony made this PG-13 (especially after saying it would be R) is almost infuriating since it was done simply with the dollar sign in mind, yet we’ve seen the R-rated “Deadpool” films each make over $700 million.

Every other actor here is either wasted and/or trying their best, but the script is so clunky and reliant on exposition that they feel like cardboard cutouts. The evil head of a sketchy corporation? Check. The ex-girlfriend who comes back into the frame when her new boyfriend tries to help our main character? You know it. The member of the bad guy’s staff who has a sudden change of heart? Oh you know she’s in here. But none of the dialogue is engaging and the narrative just jumps from plot point to plot point with little flow (Venom doesn’t even appear for the first hour of this hour-42 minute film).

The special effects are mostly not all that special, with some of them actually looking straight-up like a PlayStation 3 cutscene. This was made on a “modest” $100 million budget (the average superhero film costs between $150-200 million nowadays) but this film really does look and play like it should have come out in 2007, before “The Dark Knight” and Marvel changed the superhero game.

“Venom” has occasional moments of intrigue or amusement, and Hardy and Venom’s dynamic and interactions are just good enough to make me want to see more of these “Marvel Universe” if they can get a script (and tone) that fits the character. But much like Tom Cruise’s “The Mummy” last year, a film that was supposed to kick off the “Dark Universe” for Universal, “Venom” just feels uninspired, bland and all-too-often is ugly to look at. The tagline for this film is “the world has enough superheroes” and after seeing this I think we have enough antiheros, too.

Critic’s Grade: C–


‘Fury Road’ Will Drive You Mad

Max_Mad_Fury_Road_Newest_PosterSome franchises are just better left untouched.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is the fourth film in writer-director George Miller’s Mad Max franchise, and the first since 1985. Tom Hardy takes over the titular role from Mel Gibson, and this time around must aid a rogue commander (Charlize Theron) as they are chased by a cult leader and his army across the future desert wasteland.

“Fury Road” suffers from the same problem that plagues much of Hollywood today, and that is that filmmakers and audiences alike put style over substance. From a technical standpoint, this latest Mad Max film is constructed brilliantly, with expert stunts and well-staged action sequences. However from a narrative perspective, it leaves much to be desired, and unfortunately the film turns out to be much more exhausting than it is entertaining.

I’m not saying action films need in-depth storytelling and a hefty plot, but all we get in “Fury Road” is that Max must lead a group of women away from a kingdom to a safe area known only as the “Green Place”. The film then acts in a series of repeating motions: they get into a fight, they outrun the bad guys, their truck breaks down, and they must fix the truck. Rinse, repeat. Like I said, the action sequences themselves are often breathtaking at first, but they drag on for so long and eventually just become nothing more than expendable bad guys getting thrown around, so you stop caring.

There is just no real weight or suspense in the film. In the first 10 minutes we are thrown out of the gate and just have characters shoved in our faces, without time to really learn about them or what makes them tick. We then are supposed to root for same characters simply because the movie tells us to. There are several points where two of the girls traveling with Max ask what will happen to them if the cult leader catches them, and I kept wondering the same thing. They never build up the stakes so there is no real reason to feel worried for anyone.

Individually, the two leads, Theron and Hardy, work. Theron digs down deep and conveys a woman who has been torn apart by war and tragedy while Hardy keeps his mouth shut most of the film and certainly could pass as a younger Mel Gibson. Together, however, their chemistry is lacking. Yes, the whole point of the film is that Max is a loner so he doesn’t want to communicate and bond with others, but most of the time it really just looks like two A-list actors simply spewing lines of dialogue at each other.

“Mad Max: Fury Road” is fun in small doses, and at times clever, but in my humble opinion (and isn’t that all a movie review is?), I’ve had more fun watching a Michael Bay film. I just spent way too much of the film either scratching my head at the bizarre imagery or trying to figure out certain character’s motivations.

If you loved the original Mad Max films then this is probably a grand trip down memory lane, and I’m sure that making this film was a labor of love for George Miller. But for me, sitting through it was just plain labor.

Critics Rating: 4/10