The seas are calling. And they call to a girl named Moana.

    Nonsense, you say? Well, her father, Chief Tu, would agree with you. His strictest rule forbids anyone—especially his daughter—from sailing beyond their island’s surrounding reef. The danger is just too great. Better to stay put on their peaceful, beautiful isle, he tells her, and prepare for the day when she will lay a stone on the sacred site—like her ancestors before her—to become the first female chief of their people.

    The problem is, the sea never goes away. Rules and duty don’t make a calling disappear. And that never-silent whisper repeats over and over, telling Moana that something awaits her on the waves. Something so very important. Something that involves, believe it or not, the legendary demigod Maui.

    Now, you may not know that tale, but Maui’s story is nothing new to young Moana. Her Gramma Tala has told it to her since she was just a tiny child. And it sings in her heart.

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    It’s the story of a shapeshifting demigod who uses an oversized magical hook to transform himself into all manner of birds or sea creatures. The story tells of him stealing the gem-like heart of Te Fiti, the Mother Island and creator of all things. And it recounts Maui’s battle with a huge, dangerous lava monster that attacks the mischievous demigod, sending both his hook and the heart of Te Fiti to the deepest depths of the ocean.

    Now, most folks on Moana’s island would likely insist that outsized tale is nothing more than a silly myth. Of course, they’d also claim that the steady deterioration spreading through their part of the Pacific is nothing either. The fish disappearing, the lush foliage turning brown, the coconuts rotting on the trees—all this has nothing to do with an island god’s missing heart, they would say.

    But Moana knows better.

    She also knows that her Gramma’s story ends with a hero’s prophecy: A brave soul will someday sail far into the ocean, find the hook and the gem-heart and force the scheming Maui to replace what he once stole away. That task will take someone with courage, someone with strength and fortitude. It will require a person who confronts the dangers of that quest and heeds the calls of the sea.

    And though Moana knows nothing of sailing, and nothing of standing up to great danger or of battling powerful foes, she does know one thing: She knows that she hears the call.

    And the ocean’s powerful song is one she cannot resist.

    Moana does indeed set out on her sea-going journey and meets the demigod Maui … who turns out to be something of a conceited jerk. But eventually he learns lessons of loyalty and sacrifice—qualities that define Moana’s character.

    Moana’s a focused and determined teen girl who is willing to face death in order to help her people and to right wrongs that have been perpetrated in the past. And the movie reinforces the important idea that striving to do what’s good and right will result in a better world.

    Even though Moana’s Gramma Tala wants her granddaughter to break out and follow the “voice inside,” she also encourages Moana to mind her father. For his part, Moana’s seemingly overprotective dad is adamant about his reef rules because he lost a childhood friend in that place, and he wants to keep anyone else from harm, if possible.

  • Venom is a bizarre and baffling mess

    The benefit of adapting any pre-existing intellectual property for the silver screen is that studios always know an audience is waiting. Whether the source material is a book, a video game, or even a line of toys, the logic is straightforward: if somebody liked a story in its original medium, they’ll probably be curious enough about the movie version to buy a ticket. That’s particularly true for comic books, where decades of readers’ emotional investment can help serve as a filmmaking shortcut. Screenwriters just need to bake a reference to a beloved storyline into their script or add a post-credits scene with a fan-favorite villain, and more often than not, people who love the original property will respond passionately to the adaptation.

    But for a big-budget movie to succeed, it also has to work for everyone else. And that’s where Ruben Fleischer’s Venom has real problems. It’s a train wreck of a movie, mixing and matching wildly dissonant tones, bizarre plot contrivances, and a truly unique lead performance. It’s full of odd slapstick moments and computer-generated effects that look like they were pulled straight from the 1990s. Hardcore fans may just be pleased that the titular character has his own movie. But for everyone else, Venom is a mess.

    Venom 2

    Tom Hardy plays Eddie Brock, an investigative journalist with his own TV show dedicated to taking down evil corporate powers. (The audience knows Eddie is good at his job because he always reads from a reporter’s notebook while on camera, and he is really earnest.) One day, Eddie is assigned to do a puff piece on the head of The Life Foundation, Dr. Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), a megalomaniacal tech tycoon who is basically just Elon Musk without a Twitter problem. But Eddie can’t respect boundaries, even in his own personal relationships. His fiancée Anne Weying (Michelle Williams) works at a law firm that represents Drake’s foundation, and he breaks into her computer to find incriminating evidence then pulls a gotcha at his interview with Drake.

    As a result, Eddie’s life falls apart: Anne leaves him, he loses his job, and six months later, he’s reduced to looking for dishwashing gigs. (That last one goes counter to everything we know about online publishing, but okay.) That’s when Dr. Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate) approaches him to explain that she works for Drake who’s been trying to mix humans with a number of alien life forms called “symbiotes.” Desperate, Eddie investigates and is infected by a symbiote that eventually introduces itself to him as Venom.

    Venom gives Eddie superhuman strength, healing powers, and conveniently takes over Eddie’s hands and legs to help him in fights. Other times, Venom just takes over completely, turning Eddie into a hulking, black-and-white monster with gnashing teeth and a penchant for eating people’s heads. Venom is also, unfortunately, eating Eddie from the inside out, like the parasite he is. With Drake’s henchman Roland Treece (Scott Haze) out to capture the symbiote, Eddie teams up with Anne and her new boyfriend to figure out what’s going on, learn whether he can separate himself from Venom, and try to stop Drake from setting off a plan that would permanently alter humanity.

    The most important thing about Venom is that Tom Hardy does an incredible job. His character doesn’t necessarily work or even make sense within the context of the film, but he undeniably gives a capital-P performance. Hardy’s Brock is composed of weird facial tics, squeaky vocal inflections, and hunched body language. He actually does a decent job of making Brock seem like a self-doubting nerd — except for the scenes where he’s shown as a daring on-camera reporter or when the camera lingers on his smoldering gaze. Hardy is always watchable, no matter the role, but there’s so much to take in here that it almost feels like he’s putting on a one-man show. He builds his character almost entirely out of idiosyncrasies, and if the audience isn’t entertained by Brock’s odd mannerisms in one scene, odds are they’ll find Hardy employing an entirely new set of tricks in the next.

    That kind of everything-and-the-kitchen-sink performance can actually work if a movie is disciplined enough to serve as a counterweight. (The first Pirates of the Caribbean film comes to mind, in the way it dialed in a very specific tone that allowed for Johnny Depp’s freeform performance as Jack Sparrow.) But in Venom, it seems like the entire movie is fighting against itself. The cinematography by Matthew Libatique (Black Swan) is moody and sinister, a beautiful foundation for the body horror that emerges once Eddie is infected. But rather than embracing that scarier aspect of Venom the character, the movie shies away from it.

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