Month: October 2018

REVIEW: “Venom” is moral ambiguity wrapped in a coarse, average film

Eddie Brock is a well-known and talented investigative reporter who has made a name for himself by being aggressive. There’s not a person he won’t interview, nor a question he won’t ask.

But that can get him into trouble occasionally, like when he’s told to conduct a softball interview with crooked CEO Carlton Drake, who heads a pharmaceutical company—the Life Foundation—that’s exploring outer space for cures. Brock believes the company is responsible for several unsolved deaths, and so he asks Drake about them. Drake cuts the interview short, and hours later, Brock gets fired.

Blackballed and embarrassed, Brock seems finished as a journalist until a Life Foundation scientist secretly contacts him. What she reveals is shocking even to Brock: The company has discovered alien life in the form of a symbiotic living “goo.” Drake wants to join the alien life with a human life, thus forming a new hybrid species that can live on another planet. Even worse: This freakish symbiotic goo exists in a Life Foundation laboratory—and it’s trying to escape and find a host.

The superhero movie Venom (PG-13) opens this weekend, starring Tom Hardy (Inception, The Dark Knight Rises) as Brock, Riz Ahmed (Rogue One) as Drake, and Michelle Williams (Manchester by the Sea) as Brock’s girlfriend, Anne Weying.

It is based on the Marvel character and is a spinoff from the Spider-Man franchise, which had a villain of the same name.

In Venom, Brock infiltrates Life Foundation at night but is accidentally attacked by a blob (called a “symbiote”), which enters his body. He then becomes Venom—an ugly lizard-looking creature that can hide within his skin and that has only two weaknesses: fire and high-pitched noises. Otherwise, it’s indestructible.

The movie – as you might have guessed from the poster or trailer – isn’t a typical superhero film. For starters, the character is amoral (at best) and isn’t a superhero. That part will have to wait for the sequel. (More on that below.) Secondly, the movie is more coarse than the average superhero flick, with about 50 profanities/obscenities and a ton of violent and disturbing content not seen in most “good guy” movies.

It’s not a great movie, although it is better than the trailer.    

Warning: spoilers!

(Scale key: none, minimal, moderate, extreme)

Violence/Disturbing

Extreme. Many children would have nightmares by simply watching Venom—a fanged, long-tongued creature that can’t be defeated. He bites heads off people. (It happens quick and we don’t see it in detail, but it’s discussed afterward. Also, it happens only to the bad guys.) He tosses the bodies of policeman as if they’re toothpicks. He crushes objects. He looks for people and animals to eat. He survives gunshots. And each time he enters or exits a person, it’s ultra-disturbing to watch, bringing to memory movies about demonic possession. Speaking of that, a young girl gets infiltrated by a symbiote, too. That spooked even me. We see people killed via spears. We see dead, lifeless bodies. In one of the film’s more violent scenes, we see a dead body pierced with a sharp object.   

Sexuality/Sensuality/Nudity

Minimal. Brock and his girlfriend live together, but there are no bedroom scenes. We see couples share brief kisses. We also see Venom, in a woman’s body, kiss a man. It looks as gross as it sounds.  

Coarse Language.

Extreme. Nearly 50 coarse words: S–t (20), h–l (9), a– (4), Misuse of “Jesus” (4), GD (3), misuse of “God” (3), OMG (2), p—y (1), d—k (1), f-word (1).

Other Stuff You Might Want To Know

Brock, as Venom, eats food out of the garbage and lobster out of an aquarium. He vomits in the toilet. Brock also drinks at a bar.

Life Lessons

The ethical boundaries of medical research (or lack thereof) are at the forefront of the movie’s lessons.

Drake’s goals are horrific, and his standards are, too. After his hybrid experiment works on a rabbit, he immediately jumps to human trials, despite opposition from his employees. He then recruits clueless poor individuals to become the guinea pigs. Each one dies. He even references the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac and calls the human subjects heroes for sacrificing their lives. (Although they didn’t know they were in danger.) Pointing to war and poverty in the world, he declares: “I would argue God has abandoned us.” He wants to turn all humans into hybrids and move them to outer space. “I will not abandon us,” he says.

Another lesson involves Brock, whose dishonesty – he steals a digital file – leads to him becoming Venom.      

Worldview

Typically, superheroes have a “good guy” appearance. They don’t look like Venom. And they definitely don’t act like Venom.  

During the movie, I kept asking myself, Who am I supposed to root for? The evil CEO or the creature who eats people?

But as the movie progresses—spoiler alert!—he becomes tamer, and by the end of the film, he’s learning the difference between good and evil. That’s great news, because we don’t need another Deadpool-type antihero in the superhero realm. The best superheroes remind us of things God desires: honesty and justice, for examples. Antiheroes too often reflect everything that’s bad about our world—selfishness and moral ambiguity, among them. 

The Eddie Brock/Venom tandem is a bit like the Bruce Banner/Hulk combo. Only in this instance, the out-of-control guy (Venom) can be tamed. At least, I think and hope that’s where the story’s headed.

What Works

I enjoyed the movie a bit more when Brock was investigating Life Foundation and a bit less after he became Venom. Perhaps that’s because I prefer movies with clear moral lines. The good news is that the movie’s final 10 minutes cleared things up.  

What Doesn’t

The movie’s coarseness. It’s as if the writers were trying to push the boundaries beyond the typical Marvel movie. It’s distracting and over the top. An immature fifth-grade boy could have written it.  

Discussion Questions

1. Is Venom a good guy or a bad guy? Who did you cheer for?

2. Should Brock have stolen the file? Would his life have been different?

3. What lessons can we learn about ethics in research from the film?

4. What impact, if any, does movie violence have on us?

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars. Family-friendly rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for language.

SBTC DR begins Hurricane Florence response, assessors evaluate flooded Tarrant County homes

GRAPEVINE  Southern Baptists of Texas Convention Disaster Relief volunteers deployed to the Carolinas Sept. 24 in the wake of Hurricane Florence. Following rains over the weekend of Sept. 21-22, SBTC DR assessors began evaluating 140 flooded homes in Tarrant County’s Forest Hill community in anticipation of sending mud-out teams to that area soon.

Five SBTC mud-out units and feeding volunteers set out for North and South Carolina on Sept. 24, SBTC DR announced on Twitter.

Clean-up and recovery teams and feeding volunteers began serving in Dillon, South Carolina, while shower and laundry units and teams traveled to assist the North Carolina communities of Laurinburg, Wallace and Wilmington. A chainsaw unit also deployed to North Carolina, Stice said

On Sept. 26, Stice issued a call-out for additional volunteers in recovery, feeding and chaplaincy for South Carolina and shower/laundry personnel for North Carolina. Deployments are expected to last 12 days, with eight working days sandwiched between travel days.

Anticipating the need for relief teams as early as the first week of October, Stice requested prayer for volunteers, victims and the spread of the gospel.

SBTC DR had a busy September, on and off the field.

A team from Borger returned after a two week deployment to the big island of Hawaii where they did mud-out work in response to Hurricane Lane. The team was based in Hilo near the Kilauea volcano which erupted from May to August, Stice noted.

While the Panhandle team worked in Hilo, Stice and crews resupplied SBTC DR trailers and units with materials left over from Hurricane Harvey, outfitting two new units based in Royce City and Melissa in the process.

Excess tools and supplies were shipped to Pennsylvania to refurbish DR units there. In addition, a trailer belonging to the Hawaii Pacific Baptist Convention was transported to Texas from Arizona by that state’s Baptist DR, then outfitted by the SBTC to be sent to Hawaii, Stice said.

SBTC DR also held its first unit director roundtable meeting at Latham Springs Baptist Camp Sept. 21-22. Thirty-four attended.

“We discussed policies, procedures and trouble-shooting, and got ideas from our unit directors,” Stice told the TEXAN, adding that the pilot weekend included fellowship, practical workshops and preaching from Terry Coy, former SBTC missions director.

Texans partner with New Orleans, Montana and Cuba

The 2,680 churches in the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention have new partnerships: in Montana and in Cuba, both of which started in 2017, and in New Orleans, which is new this year.

“We’ve chosen these partnerships because we can help with church planting, missions mobilization and revitalization,” said Doug Hixson, the SBTC director of missions and church planting. “We’re excited to see what God is going to do with and through these partnerships.” 

MONTANA

One of Montana’s 138 Southern Baptist churches utilizes Texas mission teams in a way that shows the similarities between the two states. Valley Community Church in Miles City, Mont., shares two-man teams from Texas with area ranchers, who get help from volunteers experienced in building and repairing fences. At the same time they learn of a love incomparably bigger than the blue Montana sky.

Though it’s the fourth-largest state in the nation by physical size, Montana has a bit more than 1 million people, according to the latest government statistics. Twelve counties have fewer than 2,000 residents each, and Billings, the largest city, has a population of just over 110,000.

“We have some very remote church locations and very small congregations,” Barrett Duke told the TEXAN. He is executive director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention. “But we have discovered a great thirst for God’s Word and fellowship in these remote parts of the state that we believe we should try to meet.”

Revitalization of churches and training student evangelism workers are other ministry elements of Texas’ partnership with Montana, SBTC Missions Director Doug Hixson said.

“The many similarities between Montana and Texas make our partnership for ministry a natural fit,” Duke said. “The churches and staff of the SBTC have vast resources of knowledge and missions experience to share with Montana churches and staff. We are benefiting already from our partnership, and we’re just getting started.”

CUBA

SBTC churches are working with the West Cuba Baptist Convention to plant 20 churches in the Havana area, which has 2.2 million residents (and more than 1 million tourists in 2017) in what is the capital, major port and leading commercial center of Cuba.

David Ortega, SBTC church planting strategist and catalyst in Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, took four pastors with him to Havana in early June.

“From that trip we have two churches that have partnered with the West Cuba Baptist Convention,” Ortega told the TEXAN. “This October, I will take another team of pastors to see the work and see about joining the partnership.

“Pastor Juan Carlos, the director of missions for the West Cuba Baptist Convention, said he and the convention are really appreciative of the partnership because it will help them to plant those 20 churches in the Havana area,” Ortega added.

Contact Ortega at dortega@sbtexas.com to participate in the next vision tour.

NEW ORLEANS

SBTC chose New Orleans as its SEND City partner this year, after concluding its five-year Seattle partnership, because of its proximity to Texas, SBTC Missions Director Doug Hixson said.

The million-plus residents of New Orleans are just a five-hour drive from Houston, seven-plus from Austin or Dallas.

“God has really blessed the work in New Orleans,” Hixson said. “They’re seeing churches planted in some very hard areas.” 

The city at the mouth of the Mississippi River has just one Southern Baptist church for every 7,252 people, SEND City Missionary George Ross told the TEXAN.

“Since Hurricane Katrina, more than 40 churches have been planted and hundreds have come to Christ, and there is still much work to do,” Ross said. “Churches plant churches and SEND New Orleans is here to serve your church in taking the next step of missional engagement. Thank you SBTC for believing we can do more together to advance the gospel, than alone.”