Tag Archives: Naomie Harris

Double Trouble

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

by Hope Madden

An unusual note about comic book movies is that the sequel is often, perhaps usually, superior to the original. Why? Because the original can be so burdened by telling an origin story – usually one we already know.

Venom: Let There Be Carnage is one such film, superior to the original not because we already knew the symbiote antihero’s origin tale, though. Rather, director Ruben Fleischer’s much-maligned 2018 blockbuster suffered from a choppy first act and uninspired direction.

With director Andy Serkis (this guy knows how to motion capture) at the helm and a streamlined writing team (Kelly Marcel is the only writer from the original film to return, this time sharing the pen with star Tom Hardy), Let There Be Carnage determines its tone and pace from the opening scene and, for better or worse, rides that through to its concluding, post-credit moments.

The tone runs far closer to horror-comedy than the original, a theme that suits the story of frenemies, one trying to keep the other from eating human brains.

Hardy returns as Eddie Brock, a one-time superstar San Francisco reporter who ran afoul of his fiancé (Michelle Williams), his news outlet and the law last go-round, but found a life partner in the flesh-hungry extra-terrestrial parasite, Venom (also voice by Hardy). They have inadvertently infected cannibal serial killer Cletus Kassidy (Woody Harrelson) with symbiote blood, and now he, too, has a little voice and big alien inside of him.

Harrelson and his slightly digitally modified eyeballs offer villainous fun — though, to be honest, Riz Ahmed’s evil genius in the previous film was not only underappreciated but superior to Harrelson’s lunatic menace.

Still, Hardy is the reason to see the film. His Eddie is put upon and weary while his Venom is boisterous and often very funny. Through the two performances, Hardy delivers the type of lived-in animosity needed to sell any odd-couple story.

Though the CGI was sharper last time, the overall aesthetic Serkis creates is far campier and Goth, which feeds the film’s spooky season vibe. Williams, in a smaller role, finds her stride, though Naomie Harris’s underwritten character is a shame.

The result is a mish-mash of messy, frenetic fun with a higher body count than you might expect. Plus a post-credits stinger worth sticking around to see.

Too Superficial to Satisfy

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom

by Hope Madden

In offering the world a glimpse of the phenomenal life of Nelson Mandela, director Justin Chadwick wisely relied on the words of the man himself, adapting Mandela’s autobiography for his film. Chadwick’s vision is grand, the performances strong, and the story not only compelling, but tragically timely. So why does Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom feel unsatisfying?

The fault is certainly not with the film’s leads. Idris Elba’s performance is alive with exploration. You can see his temperament adapt and change along with Mandela’s experiences. Elba finds a depth of character not provided on the page of William Nicholson’s screenplay, and his maturing characterization allows the film, which suffers from Cliffs Note-idis, a bit of depth it would otherwise lack.

Likewise, Naomie Harris deftly handles the far more radical change in character demanded from a depiction of Winnie Mandela. From idealist to radical, Harris nails the metamorphosis, but because of the way we simply check in with Winnie every few years, the role lacks much opportunity for nuance.

The film simply covers too much ground. It does so with sumptuous set design, a convincing ensemble, and a directorial hand that respects the source material enough to uncover flaws as well as triumph. But what Chadwick needed to do was narrow his vision.

Long Walk to Freedom offers perhaps the most compelling depiction of the relationship between Nelson and Winnie Mandela yet brought to the screen, aided by performances that ache with tenderness. Elba commands the screen with a smoldering charisma worthy of a portrait of Mandela, while Harris treats Winnie Mandela with respect and compassion without sugar coating her behavior.

Had Chadwick and Nicholson plumbed this rich relationship a bit more, or simply chosen any smaller slice of Mandela’s life to examine more fully, their film – with the gifts it has to offer – could have become a magnificent memorial for mourners and a fascinating introduction for those only drawn to the story of the leader because of his recent passing.

Instead, the filmmakers settled for a superficial treatment, hitting all the high points without examining the depth or complexity of anything. It’s an unfortunate compromise, both because all the needed ingredients were in place for a truly grand biopic, and because Mandela deserved a more memorable send off.