Venom (2018): A Misunderstood Romance For Our Turbulent Times

Hotly-anticipated and almost instantly critically panned, Sony’s Venom has spawned a cascade of memes and a throbbing pulsating slash fandom which has mystified those same professional movie-watchers who derided it as “fantastically boring”, “incoherent”, and riddled with bad CGI (I’ll give them that). Far more importantly, the social media hotbed of fannish discourse that is the microblogging site/hellhole Tumblr has adopted the central couple as its flagship… ship.

Venom, whose titular character has already been compared to someone drizzl[ing] Creme Egg filling onto a bin bag, is an absolute masterclass in how to balance horror (bodily and external), action (some whizzy fight scenes and a bathetic bike chase), comedy (…lobsters), and romance against each other, to pepper respectable action sequences from 1999 with clunky eggfart dialogue generated by a bot, inexplicable delivery without logical emphasis, a nonsensical plot – and produce a thoroughly entertaining movie on the strength of genuinely warmth of character decision-making rooted in kindness rather than ideology, and a cast who were determined to have fun – with no amount of embarrassing dialogue preventing them from serving up whatever performance they felt like giving.

Also, I think a lot of respectable critics haven’t really grasped a vital fact about Millennials – and even more so Gen Z – which is that they really, truly are extremely thirsty for big monsters. The bigger, slimier, more toothy and threatening the better. Google the word “kaijufucker” if you don’t believe me and enjoy having your afternoon ruined.

In the opinion of my afternoon’s companion, the movie opens with 20 minutes of completely unnecessary nonsense. I find it hard to disagree. The movie-watching public probably don’t need the majority of set-up that’s fed to us in action movies in particular, and while the opening crash-landing of the Life Foundation spacecraft and its subsequent goo refugee symbiotes gave some smaller part actors an opportunity to add to their showreels that I absolutely do not begrudge them, the attempt to build tension with this didn’t really work and was quite boring.

We’re all hear to see Tom Hardy get tongue-boxed in various orifices by a living sex toy while having an absolutely catastrophic case of the junkie sweats and gurning like his life depends on pulling a plausible Jim Carrey impression – so let’s skip the niceties.

Mr Hardy, playing himself as a vlogger who has accidentally got a job as A Real Journalist with absolutely no investigative skills (plausible, unfortunately), immediately shits up his job and gets fired for trying to publicly generate some sort of conscience in Riz Ahmed’s beautifully understated Elon Musk pastiche villain. He’s then promptly dumped by his long-suffering girlfriend, Michelle Williams, because of his complete failure to respect her boundaries, and completes the classic movie downward trajectory into a “loser apartment” and scenes of frantic job-hunting while haunting the local corner store and trying to avoid low-level gangsters. Although, as he has the wherewithal to live by himself in a whole apartment in San Francisco, one of the most housing-crisis-y cities in the US, we have to assume he’s not doing too badly.

Elon’t Muskn’t, the off-brand Pharma Pioneer at the not-at-all ominous Life Foundatain meanwhile continues to blithely murder his way through the large homeless population of said city in the pursuit of “saving humanity” with an untested injection of a recently-acquired alien lifeform that’s already detonated a couple of rabbits, which is… ethically problematic. The idea El-not Mus-off appears to be peddling is that what with ecological Armageddon looming, mankind – or at least the part of mankind that runs the Life Foundation – could escape to a life beyond the stars rather than stick around to fix its mess. Who could possibly… do… such a thing? Oh. Perhaps the problem with Venom isn’t that it’s far-fetched, but that in a time when every news report feels like a waking nightmare, it’s not really far-fetched enough for fantasy,

One of the scientists acting as a shepherd to shoddily-constructed tests and general murder finally develops a spine about her misgivings and for some reason takes her problem to Eddie Brock, a man who spectacularly crashed out of his career practically in front of her eyes. Eddie Brock, disaster journalist and haunter of cornerstones, loved by homeless women but loathed by his ex-girlfriend’s cat, goes through the inevitable dance of “I absolutely am not helping you” / “oh no I’m personally invested now” and accompanies his whistle blower in breaking into the worst-secured secret science facility on the face of the earth. Huge, wall-sized doors slide open at the touch of a palm. One solitary security guard is on patrol. The security at my local gym is better than that, and to the best of my knowledge we only have the usual range of deadly contaminants in the shower room.

A series of predictable disasters plays out now, replete with red flashing lights, gratuitous suffering vulnerable people, and one black alien goo impregnating our reluctant protagonist, and now the fun truly begins.

Two moist losers, against all the odds, have found each other and become one sweaty, unbalanced idiot eating last night’s chicken from the bin and muttering to itself. Then! Terrible Bad Men with small mouths come to split these two newly-weds asunder!

Every minute of Tom Hardy’s possession by interstellar parasite and self-avowed loser Venom is a romp. He saw the chance to flex a set of comedy muscles that rarely get the opportunity they deserve to put on a gun show, and he went for it – much to the gratitude of thirsty Tumblr fans and to the detriment of live lobsters.

As an aside, one of the reasons you will discover that Venom and Brock are absolutely the core couple of this movie is that ex-girlfriend Anne’s new boyfriend absolutely does nothing to conform to the jealous ineffectual stereotype that the Replacement Boyfriend normally does in an action movie. Instead, he behaves… like a doctor, treating a man in obvious distress, doing his best to care for his physical and mental safety, and not once throwing even the slightest bit of a shitfit about his girlfriend speaking to her ex. That is maturity!

The core of the several terrible movies baked into one moreish cakewreck of a movie is an odd couple romcom. Leaving aside the illustrative line about having “one of those things up your ass” (it could have been anywhere else in your body – probably was – but you had to make it like that, didn’t you?), leaving aside the keynote smooch which is, technically, an interspecies threesome – every moment of this film exists for the sole purpose of getting the two main character together in a beautiful, bickering unity, a meeting of like souls. If that’s not the definition of romance, I don’t know what is.

Admittedly, it’s perhaps a similar sort of romance to the kind Bryan Fuller made for NBC, but I don’t think that should disqualify this charming little globe of used lube from picking up some romance movie plaudits.

And besides, in the comics – it’s canon:

A comics page showing a discussion between Eddie Brock and the Symbiote, who is represented in the form of lights and shadows. Dialogue follows - Venom: I only do what you want, Eddie. What we want. / Eddie: And what DO we want? / Venom: We want to be TOGETHER, Eddie, FOREVER. / Eddie: Yes, love / Venom: We want to hurt people in the way, people IN BETWEEN. / Eddie: But NOBODY is. I'm just WORRIED that you're not okay. / Venom: There is ... Anger. HATE. Sometimes feel weak. Sometimes Strong. Even weak, will kill ANYONE who-- Eddie...

Venom #150, Writer: Mike Costa, Artist: Tradd Moore, Colorist: Felipe Sobreiro, Letterer: Clayton Cowles.

Image of a partial comics page showing an explosion from a helicopter caught in a giant spider web. Eddie Brock is piloting another helicopter. Speech, from Eddie Brock: So, it's true. The symbiote is here. MY symbiote. My darling.

I rest my case.


It’s the blogger’s birthday today! Why not swing by and shower me with money

Shameless Grubbing for Gifts

It’s my birthday on the 30th, and I can’t celebrate in style because a) I’m broke, b) it’s in the middle of the week and c) I have a job interview (Good, but limiting).

Why not buy me something to make up for it?

Vegan Mini Christmas Cake Bars

This is not Aesthetic Vegan Recipe Blogging. This is Vegan Recipe Blogging when you live in a one-bedroom flat above a shop that’s slowly disintegrating and you have a kitchen the size of a postage stamp, which I feel is a far more realistic representation of the true cooking experience for many of us.

Ingredients:

An image of a white breakfast bowl, empty, and three smaller bowls containing the ingredients below, followed by a banana. The bowls are lined up in a narrow strep between piles of groceries, and a hob top.
I don’t usually take mis-a-place photos because this is the amount of space I have to work with in my kitchen. Which I deep-cleaned for the purpose of this photo. Please feel honoured.

A post-it note with the ingredients listed on it.

Makes 3.

21g/3 tsp date syrup (if you don’t need this to be vegan feel free to replace with honey. Probably also works with golden syrup or molasses, but don’t use sugar, you need the viscous moisture).
1 medium banana
1 tsp of baking powder
1 tsp of pumpkin spice mix if you’re American and mixed spices (the kind you put in cakes) if you’re anywhere else.
53g (ish) / 2oz mixed dried fruit (which dried fruit is entirely at your discretion, I used Morrisons Luxury Mixed Fruit because it’s got glace cherries and lemon peel in it and I’m a child)
21g / 3 tsp pea protein isolate (you can also use soy protein isolate, or if you want a more protein-heavy, chewy bar, vital wheat gluten)
21g / 3 tsp unflavoured, unsweetened Huel. If you can’t get Huel, try another meal replacement powder, but make sure it’s unsweetened/unflavoured or the cake will be weird.

Method

Image of a small sieve with pea protein powder in it, over an empty white bowl

Image of baking powder in a small tub being tipped into a bowl Image of mixed ground spices in a small tub being tipped into a bowl

 

Image of a digital clock from the front of a cooker, showing the numbers "180C"
I did not, however, clean the readout on my cooker

First, mix the dry ingredients in the bowl (you can sieve them or not sieve them, I don’t think it makes a huge difference), and pre-heat your oven to 180C. I would say “180C fan-assisted”, but the fan in my oven is more of a hindrance than an assistance. I also have no idea which gas mark this is, but it’s 355 F.

Image of a bowl with slightly mashed banana chunks in it, sitting on top of dried cake ingredients

Image of a bowl full of dried cake ingredients and banana chunks with a small tub of date syrup being tipped into it.

Next, add the banana – chopped or torn up into chunks – and the date syrup, which will be reluctant to come out of the dish fully.

Then mix (I used a spoon, and I regret this, so if you’re in the position not to use a spoon, use a mixer).

A bowl full of cake mix, which is light brown and a little fluffy

It should end up looking like this.

Then get some mini loaf baking trays (or muffin cases or whatever, I’m not your boss), and give them a grease. I did mine the lazy way, with FryLight.

Image of three grey silicon mini loaf baking "tins"

An image of a hand holding up a bottle of Fry Light cooking spray

Slap your mixture in there and stuff it in the middle shelf of the oven for 10 minutes (or longer if you want a less soft, moist texture and more of a dry, cakey one)

Image of the cake mix divided into three cooking trays

Image of a timer screen from a phone, set to 10 minutes

Image of the three cakes in their trays, now cooked and darker/less moist
Let them cool a bit first. You’ll see why.

Time’s up! Extract your cakelettes!

Image of two small loaf-shaped cakes sitting on a chopping board. Half of a third sits beside them, the other half still in a baking tray.
Whoops.

Fortunately, they still taste delicious in pieces. Coming in at 156 calories each (if you care about that sort of thing) they’re a perfectly good snack, and thanks to the Huel, pretty replete with vitamins and minerals and all that stuff.


The blogger is bearing down on his 36th birthday like a tonne of bricks. If you’d like to help him celebrate, or just enjoyed this recipe, why not fling some coffee this way?

The Naming Of Mechanical Beasts

A long, long time ago, I used to be one of you people. Or rather, I wanted to be.

The kind of people who have lovely leather notebooks full of crisp, clean handwriting; who drink tea and coffee from pleasing, clean cups and do not immediately dump half their hot drink onto their chest; who wear cosy knitwear without transforming immediately into a sweat monster who’d make Tom Hardy’s admirably moist turn in Venom look positively understated; autumn people, in short.

Autumn people of the Instagram type, twee journallers with cats who’re able to take pleasure in the rain and who, for reasons of personality, have naming themes for their electronic devices.

I have several friends who fit this description, acquired over the years, and aside from discovering that leather notebooks make them nervous because they’re quite sure whatever they write in them won’t live up to the beauty of the exterior, and that everyone  pours tea on their tits at some point, I’ve learnt that they do indeed all name their electronics, and bicycles, and cars.

Apart from the first car I remember my family having (a red, old W-reg Citreon Dyanne with a manual choke and the approximate roadworthiness of a rotten egg), which was named primarily so my mother would have something to shout encouragingly at the electric-scooter-power engine as the red insect chugged desperately up a slight incline in second gear, I’ve not really been able to stick to the names given to my devices.

I tried, of course. There’s the option to give them names, so why wouldn’t you?

For a while I named my computers – the early, fifth-hand laptop that weighed more than a desktop; the room-sized desktop which ran MS-DOS and got upset if you tried to use Windows 3.11 more than once a day – after dead writers. The laptop, for example, was called Shakespeare. This seemed reasonable to my teenage self – I theoretically used them mostly for writing [and actually mostly for playing solitaire] , and I had Ambitions towards becoming a famous writer because I was 15 and had no sense of proportion whatsoever. If nominative determinism is real, however, it latched onto the “dead” part of the equation, and repeatedly bricked these creatures, leaving me clutching floppies full of half-finished novellas and very bad poetry.

I broke the pattern with the beige beast I acquired, brand-new, in 2003. I was tired, I was somewhat the worse for University excesses, and I was running low on imagination. The computer was christened “Big Jimmy Idiot”, to differentiate it from the laptop; later, it was demoted to “the box” (everything in my house by then – 2006 or so – was “the box”. There was the “cold box” [fridge], “noise box” [TV], “internet box” [the one internet-capable computer in the house], and “Jimmy box”).

I also named my MP3 players. “Jack the cube” contained about an album’s worth of music, no better than a CD player. He was followed by “Black Jimmy”, who could manage a full 1GB, and was eventually upgraded to a proper, chunky iPod, called “Aslan”, because the idea of having 80GB of music all at once, working in a data entry job, was fairly godly. “Aslan” was supercede by “the Empress” (even larger), and then, as Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series, I’m not a heathen) filled up my life and a tiny red netbook entered it, the next iPod was known as “Appa” (large enough to carry several things, you see), and the netbook Momo (small and theoretically quick).

More whimsical names began to accompany items in my home: a short-lived and extremely heavy folding bike was going to be called “Bucephalus” but was so awful that she was renamed “Yersinia” after the plague. A replacement iPod after I bricked one was titled “Sultan Mehmet II” for reasons that probably made sense at the time. The next, far less awful bicycle was called King George VII, after the Brough Superior that …. killed T E Lawrence. Never let it be said that I don’t have a realistic view of the dangers of cycling on London roads without a helmet.

All of this has been swallowed up by necessities: the tablet I’m typing this on has no name. My phone and the half-in-use-still predecessors have no name. The tiny, dented, aluminium-clad MP3 player that replaced the last of the great hulking iPod Classics that Apple refuses to manufacture any longer is nameless, too.

But as I was investigating the system requirements for the refurb desktop that houses all of my design work, trying to figure out how much more memory I can give it and which is compatible, I discovered the following: the desktop’s name is, apparently, “Large Idiot”.

Some things don’t change very much in the end.


The blogger turns 36 at the end of this month. If you’re enjoying the content or simply feeling generous, why not buy me a coffee?

A Righteous Knees-Up

I’ve been singing down a hole.

Before I went down a hole for a singalong, I was lucky enough to be offered a friend’s spare ticket to see Garbage Version 2.0 Twentieth Anniversary Tour at Brixton Academy. (In between those things I’ve been to Canterbury and Salisbury and even some places that don’t have cathedrals of such grandeur, but we’re not talking about that now). This was… kind of a very big deal.

It was a very big deal because like a lot of people of my increasingly ageing and absolutely failing to grow up generation, Garbage were a highly formative band for me and Version 2.0 was one of the first albums I ever bought and played obsessively and fell in love with. The decision to – with a couple of other songs for flavour (Cherry LipsNo More Horses, and some B-sides) – play 2.0 in its entirety was exactly the kind of decision to appeal to that obsessive 15-year-old with the poster of Shirley Manson on their dormitory wall.

It was also a very big deal because everyone else in the room seemed to have been a fan for about a minimum of 20 years as well. We were Of An Age. My cohort tolerated the support act (Dream Wife, inexplicably described by the Guardian as one of their bands to watch in 2018. Watch, perhaps. Listen to, no), and all lost our minds to Shirley playing the part of the pope of pop, resplendent in her 50s: commanding and enthusiastic and full of professionalism and joy in a way that makes it absolutely clear why people in these awful little islands traditionally followed red-headed women into glorious battle. I would absolutely have run out into the night in an army headed by Shirley Manson that night, and torched whichever Roman Garrison she wanted.

Shirley Manson in an white-trimmed red gown, bathed in white light, presses a microphone to her lips
Ms Manson, the new Boudicca

Part of the the joy of live music – part of the reason for going to stand for an hour while Swedish Gen Z children yelp onstage beforehand and you consume desperately overpriced cider from a plastic cup – is the audience. It’s part of the downfall of many a gig. I’ve encountered a lot of fucking awful audiences, and a lot of beautiful ones. As a young fan I made it my business to be in circle pits whenever they appeared; as a slightly older one with fewer kneecaps I found it more expedient to cram myself against the barrier, and now that I’m decrepit and in my mid-thirties and going steadily bald, I’m perfectly happy to stand somewhere in the middle and sing.

And that’s really why Shirley Manson playing a 20 year old album from start to finish to people who’ve been fans for two decades, with love and with glee and with a spectacular array of colours and a robe I wish I could replicate, was so beautiful. It became the same experience that Christmas carols, communion, a national anthem, a football chant is – strangers suddenly united in song, in some kind of praise of a shared quality, all working together as one rather wobbly and disparate voice.

And on Saturday night, I went down a hole to sing some somewhat less “cool” but equally enjoyable songs.

The hole in question was the Shaft at the Brunel Museum. I have to be careful in expressing my absolute affection for this charming and oft-overlooked treasure of an East London museum, because my terms of praise are often taken in a manner completely out of keeping with their intent. So I will say this: I am a rabid fan of tiny local museums. I absolutely live for small scale models of things, teatowels with typography that would make designers cry, and an air of genteel desolation. I especially like them when it is raining. My favourites – apart from the Brunel Museum which I absolutely love – are Bruce Castle Museum in Bruce Grove, Haringey, and the Queens Hunting Lodge in Epping Forest, which is a pain to get to on foot but worth it because it has things to try on and enormously outdated models and fake food and overlooks a Premier Inn. It couldn’t be more perfect.

The Brunel Museum hosts Midnight Apothecary in the winter and autumn, a cocktails and campfire affair in the beautiful herb garden on the roof of the Shaft. For entertainment this season – and this season last year, when I also attended – the cabaret performer and MC, ukulele songstress, lady dandy, leader of the All-Girl Swing Band, regular facilitator of soul-cleansing pub singalongs with tiny instruments and long-time friend of this blogger and I absolutely cannot understand why she’d lower herself to that but am very grateful for it, Ms Tricity Vogue hosts a rousing singalong inside the Shaft, preceded by cabaret or burlesque acts.

Firstly, the Shaft is a fascinating structure with incredible acoustics:

An image of the bottom of the Shaft, taken from above. It is set up for a show with a semi-circle of empty seats and the lyrics to It is also absolutely freezing but that’s why there are cocktails (many made or garnished with herbs from the roof garden) in the Shaft and hot toddy on the roof. Also, singing along definitely raises the body temperature.

An image of the bar in the Shaft, taken from one side. The bar is surrounded by fairy lights and greenery and flowers, with a large water dispenser balanced on it.
The bar dispenses many delicious cocktails, including the Sage Advice and the Monk’s Muse.

Our first act was Marlene Cheaptrick, a Weimar-themed extremely raunchy burlesque act who won us all over with squeakers hidden in her bra, a masterful comedic hula hoop routine (“Like Brexit, when I bought these hoops on Amazon I thought this was a wonderful idea and what could possibly go wrong! And now here we all are, ladies and gentlemen, careering towards the edge of a cliff, no one has a clue what we’re doing, and we’re all too stubborn to stop. Let’s see if I can still pull this off.”), and some impressive chair acrobatics using a game member of the audience who’d coincidentally come from Salisbury – the same place I’d just travelled back from!

“You can tell they have a good relationship,” said Marlene out-of-character, gesturing to the girlfriend of a man whose lap she had just writhed about in, “she has responded to this in the best possible way, ladies and gentlemen: she could not give a single shit. Because she’s secure!”

And then the first of many singalongs: a tune of Tricity’s own, a drinking song entirely right for breaking what ice hadn’t already been melted by Marlene.

After a break, in which we acquired more cocktails, we were startled into our seats by an air-raid siren, and Ms Fanny Gonightly (I *think*) came onto the stage in a state of disarray. Missing a stocking.

Ms Fanny, dressed in a glamorous 1940s dress and hair curlers, stands with her back to the audience while I draw her stocking onto the back of her leg with eyeliner.
The kind of stocking you draw on. Photo taken by @effienell, Instagram.

It is time for a confession. I am a horrible sucker for audience participation. I love audience participation. I can’t act like a serious Actor Actor – my level has always been panto, stand-up, and … well … cabaret. I will take any opportunity to make a fool of myself onstage, and frequently do. In evenings like this, when not everyone in the audience is warmed up yet and no one is answering the “I need a man – or someone who can pretend to be a man – just to hold my hand” cry, I don’t actually need a lot of prompting to come and play along.

So yes, that’s an image of the top of my head as I help Ms Fanny draw on her other stocking. There is, mercifully, no image of me accompanying Ms Fanny in a kazoo duet but rest assured, I looked an absolute fool and loved every minute of it.

Our singalong for this second act, after a saucy WW2 song about staying in the deepest shelter in town, was a classic: Victoria Wood’s Let’s Do It, and I can say the audience acquitted itself beautifully this time. Drunk, uproarous, and perfectly happy to at least attempt some of the more difficult lines: we raised the roof for the late, great, inimitable Victoria.

In this interval I finally made it up the stairs to where – experience had taught me – there were marshmallows, pointy sticks, and a blazing fire to enjoy in the garden. There were, however, also complete strangers greeting me by name to compliment my idiotic turn on the kazoo, so I melted some gelatinous sugar and ran away again as fast as I could! Bold on the stage, horrifically shy in person. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Our third act was nothing but rousing singsongs from start to finish – the finish being Summer Nights, as advertised above. By which time we were drunk enough to forget who was supposed to be a T-Bird and who was supposed to be a Pink Lady, which would have spoiled the effect were everyone not so absolutely delighted to be bellowing along to a banjolele, down the Shaft with a spectacular hostess.

Minight Apothecary Goes Down The Shaft with Tricity Vogue & Friends is on all the way up to Christmas, and you can buy tickets on DesignMyNight, which I very much recommend. If your curiosity is piqued by the Brunel Museum, which is just next to Rotherhithe Station, I thoroughly recommend it – adults pay £6 and children £4, and there is a tiny and adorable cafe as well.