New on DVD: ‘Venom' underwhelms, 'LIfe Itself' thrives

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2 stars

The story would have worked better if the central casting wasn’t so far off the mark. Tom Hardy (“Mad Max: Fury Road”) has established himself as one of the most intense actors on the planet, but he never seems comfortable playing Eddie Brock, the man who merges with the alien to give life to Venom.

It’s not the superpowers that win over an audience, it’s the amount of sympathy that can be created for the hero. Hardy’s performance as Brock stumbles from an uncomfortable love interest to renegade reporter to a Jekyll and Hyde situation with Venom. There’s not a point in the movie where Brock’s plight is compelling enough to make him a relatable reluctant hero.

Director Brock Fleischer has shown an ability to present action with just the right touch of humor in the film “Zombieland” and the TV series “Santa Clarita Diet.” His efforts in “Venom” never blend smoothly, which leaves the comic moments coming across like they don’t belong. It is possible that what looks to be comedic moments are actually dramatic scenes that just didn’t work.

“The Predator”

2 stars

If this film was to be evaluated on action alone, it would get high marks, as there is little respite from the carnage the Predator brings. The explosions are big, the gun battles relentless and the alien technology out-of-this-world cool.

But, if you are looking for a shred of intelligence in the story, prepare to be disappointed. It’s sad that the overall script is so lacking because there are a few glimmers of brilliance. There’s both a nod to the original film with a classic line of dialogue and several connections to other Predator tales.

In the end, “The Predator” is a killer when it comes to action. But, when it comes to the script, it’s dead on arrival.

“Life Itself”

3 stars

Dan Fogelman has used the same approach as he has with his TV series “This Is Us” with this feature film that he both penned and directed. He’s taken the format of looking at a family through different periods in their lives, making sure to caress every major milestone. The film, just like Fogelman’s TV series, makes no excuses for its overly sentimental approach to life, leaving it up to the audience to either be pulled into the multigenerational tale or dismiss it as too cloying.

His skill is being able to create what appears to be three very different stories and weave them into one cohesive family album. In the final moments, all the diverse family themes combine to create a feeling of the movie coming full circle. There’s plenty of manipulation along the way, but no more than Fogelman’s used to make “This Is Us” one of the biggest surprises in network TV in a decade.


3 stars

Most of the elements of Lizzie Borden's life are in this tale of murder and mayhem (with less emphasis on the court proceedings). But the focus is more on the systematic development of relationships that served a purpose in Borden's life.

Central to what is either emotional manipulation or the first outward expression of love for Lizzie (Chloë Sevigny) comes through her interaction with Bridget Sullivan (Kristen Stewart), the Irish servant who moves into the Borden home. Bridget and Lizzie bond almost immediately as the house servant immediately is subjected to a brutality Lizzie either has known firsthand or seen in some variation.

"Lizzie" is a film based on an oft-told tale that comes across with enough originality to make it interesting.

"White Boy Rick"

Matthew McConaughey stars in this tale of the corrupt world of 1980s Detroit at the height of the war on drugs. In the feature film that's based on a true story, McConaughey plays Richard Wershe Sr., a blue-collar father whose 15-year-old son, Rick Wershe Jr. (played by newcomer Richie Merritt), becomes the youngest FBI informant in history.

Rick — who is given the nickname "White Boy Rick" — goes from helping the FBI to becoming a drug dealer. After Rick is abandoned by his FBI handlers, he ends up being sentenced to life in prison.

"White Boy Rick" was directed by Yann Demange ("'71"). It also stars Bel Powley ("Diary of a Teenage Girl"), Jennifer Jason Leigh ("The Hateful Eight"), Brian Tyree Henry ("Atlanta"), Rory Cochrane ("Black Mass"), RJ Cyler ("Me and Earl and the Dying Girl"), Jonathan Majors ("Hostiles"), Bruce Dern ("Nebraska") and Piper Laurie ("Twin Peaks").

The bonus features include six deleted scenes and three behind-the-scenes featurettes. In addition, there is an audio interview with the real-life Rick Wershe Jr. that was done in prison where he describes his story and shares personal photos and video from his trial.


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