Movie Review ~ Cherry

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The Facts
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Synopsis: An Army medic suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder becomes a serial bank robber after an addiction to drugs puts him in debt.

Stars: Tom Holland, Ciara Bravo, Jack Reynor, Michael Rispoli, Forrest Goodluck, Michael Gandolfini, Pooch Hall, Thomas Lennon, Kelli Berglund, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Nicole Forester, Jamie Brewer, Fionn O’Shea

Director: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo

Rated: R

Running Length: 140 minutes

TMMM Score: (2/10)

Review:  In some ways, I get it.  After spending the better part of the last decade doing nothing but living in the land of Marvel and working wonders within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, brothers/directors Anthony and Joe Russo were likely ready for something totally different.  They’d proven themselves originally with 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and their careful juggling of a number of celebrated stars in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War earned them the right to handle the reins for the final two films in the The Infinity Saga (2018’s Avengers: Infinity War and 2019’s Avengers: Endgame) and the results were nothing less than spectacular.

Of course they would want their next film to be something far afield of the superhero movies they’d been known for, so seeing Cherry come up on the release calendar was something to look forward to.  They even chose to bring Tom Holland, their Spider-Man/Peter Parker, along in the lead role, allowing the young actor a further opportunity to take on more mature work beyond the spidey suit.  Already proving himself at a young age with his staggering turn in 2013’s The Impossible (which he very nearly got an Oscar nomination for) as well as solid work in How I Live Now and last year’s The Devil All The Time, this true dramatic lead could be a prime showcase for Holland’s burgeoning career.

Unfortunately for everyone, Cherry is pretty rotten and while it’s not quite a bomb it’s fairly stinky and that includes Holland. Totally miscast as an aimless student turned solider that returns from the war and quickly becomes an addict and crook in no particular order, the whole kit and kaboodle is slicker than all get out but equates to absolutely nothing of substance.  It’s like the Russo’s took all of the good ideas and insights they learned from the last several years and applied none of those tricks to Cherry, starting with hiring an editor that would slice the movie down from its punishment of a run time.  Dedicated audiences will sit for two and a half hours if there are mini memorable moments along the way culminating in a payoff or two in the finale, but they won’t be happy to hit a final freeze frame and ask “That’s it?”

But wait, unlike Cherry, I’m moving too fast.

Based on the 2018 semi-autobiographical novel by Nico Walker who penned the tome while he was serving time in prison for robbery, Cherry centers on a man (Holland) who you’ll only realize is never named until you see the credits and note that screenwriters Jessica Goldberg and Russo sister Angela Russo-Otstot have gone ahead and given him the name…oh, heck, I won’t spoil that foolishness for you.  Anyway, where we start is not where the story really begins, only where we’ll join back up again in a few hours.  Until we return, we’ll see the man during his college years as he half-heartedly goes through school in a recreational drug haze and romances beautiful young co-ed Emily (Ciara Bravo) before she dumps him on her way to school in Canada.  Frustrated, he joins the army just as she decides she can’t live without him.  Oops.

His time in the army causes lasting PTSD and when he returns, he’s a changed man that for a while is able to self-cope with the horrors he saw overseas.  When he’s introduced to hard drugs, he becomes all-consumed with his habit, eventually dragging Emily into the addiction with him.  Now, with two dragons to chase, the couple become desperate for money and the man starts robbing banks for cash that goes right out the door to feed their habit.  It’s a vicious cycle that’s only interrupted by the occasional overdose and a melodramatic side story involving junkie friends that want to get in on the action.  Once Jack Reynor (Midsommar) enters the picture with an enthusiastic but misplaced energy as a popped collar post-yuppie early millennial that’s the mouthpiece for a dangerous drug dealer named Black, the film has officially tipped the scales to gaudy trash and we’re waiting for the ugliest stuff to happen.

Divided into six distinct chapters (I tell you this so you can count down), Cherry is such a mess from start to finish and one of those movies that become exhausting to watch by the time it crawls to the finish line.  The best part about it is picking up on the clever ways the production designers have altered signage in the background to better represent “truth in advertising”.  These are the rare moments of ingenuity that are sorely lacking in every other aspect of Cherry and that just shouldn’t have been missed in the first place.  I’m not sure if anyone really needed this story to be told or what made Walker’s novel such a hot commodity the Russo’s felt drawn to the material.  There’s nothing here (man goes to war, comes back with PTSD, becomes an addict, turns to crime, bad things are a result) that hasn’t been done before so if they don’t have anything more than flashy camera tricks and funny signs then what, really, is the point of it all?

It can’t be for the performances which are woefully out of joint, starting with Holland who is so wrong for the role even his hair wanted out of the picture by the end.  For whatever reason, Holland sports a wig so ludicrously fake that I almost thought it was going to be revealed to be a disguise of some sort – he shaved his head in the military and came back with it that same length.  Why have him with the long hair again (the awful wig) only to have him go short again several scenes later?  Also – though I could believe Holland as a college kid at the start of the movie, the more the years went by the less I was able to get on board with his aging…especially since the make-up department seemed to think putting a moustache on him was enough to add fifteen years to his face.  It doesn’t.

The age thing is a problem for everyone, really.  In addition to Holland feeling too young, Bravo especially comes off as hardly out of grade school and that makes intimate scenes between the two feel creepy to watch.  It’s not that Bravo doesn’t have it in her to pull off the part or that it’s anything about the work she’s doing, but I have trouble believing she’s the right person for this role right now.  You know how in high school when a barely 16-year-old freshman was cast as 70-year-old grandfather and drew lots of lines on his forehead to show how old and distinguished he was?  It’s the same effect.  Aside from Reynor who seems age-appropriate and Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant) as a reckless stoner friend of the couple, the extended cast aren’t anything to get fired up either way about.

A huge headache masquerading as a movie, Cherry is a gigantic error in judgement for everyone involved.  It does nothing to instill confidence that the Russo Brothers can handle anything outside the tropes of established franchise parameters and suggests that Holland might be more of a “stay in your own lane” actor than we originally thought.  It absolutely puts the nail in any other drug-dependency biopics that may be in the pipeline, which is a pity because not all of these could possibly be as one-note and gross as Cherry.

Movie Review ~ Monster Trucks

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The Facts
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Synopsis: Looking for any way to get away from the life and town he was born into, Tripp builds a Monster Truck from bits and pieces of scrapped cars. After an accident at a nearby oil-drilling site displaces a strange subterranean creature,Tripp may have just found the key to getting out of town and a most unlikely friend.

Stars: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Thomas Lennon, Amy Ryan, Holt McCallany, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Barry Pepper

Director: Chris Wedge

Rated: PG

Running Length: 100 minutes

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review:  It’s not always the case, but when a completed movie sits on the shelf watching numerous planned release dates come and go it’s a sign something isn’t quite right.  Filmed nearly three years ago and waiting for a release date ever since, the early notices for Monster Trucks weren’t great and this silly (okay, stupid) family fare became the scapegoat for its studio (Paramount) to lay some of their money problems on.  I’m not sure how that all came about but there’s little in doubt the movie isn’t anything someone would be proud to feature on their tax returns, resume, or digital library.

Creaky from frame one, Monster Trucks shows its battle scars of reedits and reshoots loud and proud with familiar faces being introduced and then vanishing (Oscar nominee Amy Ryan pops up at the beginning and then is MIA until the epilogue, same goes for a wheelchair bound Danny Glover) or actors sporting different hairstyles and/or obvious wigs from one scene to the next.  That leaves the movie with ideas that are hard to string together, let alone follow with any kind of interest.

Teen Tripp (blank faced Lucas Till, Kristy) wants to get out of his small town and into…well, I dunno and obviously neither does the movie because Tripp is painted as someone that doesn’t know what he wants, but it sure isn’t what’s standing right in front of him.  Pined after by a sweet classmate (Jane Levy, Don’t Breathe), he’s a loner grease monkey more at home in the junkyard where he works than in school or at home.  His mom has married the local sheriff (Barry Pepper, The Lone Ranger, sporting lips so purple as to suggest a serious lack of oxygen) and his loser dad (Frank Whaley, Ironweed) is out of the picture working for a local oil company.

It’s at the drill site for the oil company where three creatures escape when the evil CEO (Rob Lowe, Sex Tape, oilier than the crude his company peddles) ignores environmental warnings of digging too deep.  Two “monsters” are captured but the third finds his way into Tripp’s life and fixer-upper roadster.  Going over what happens next isn’t worth my time or yours, but know that Tripp’s new friend Creech somehow becomes part of the car and improves the life (and gas mileage) for its young owner.

Directed by Chris Wedge, Monster Trucks is a very lame attempt at catering to a specific audience who are already wise enough to know there are better options out there.  Whether it be from its long gestation or problematic production process, no one seems to be invested in the film and that goes double for the special effects team.  I’ve seen better effects in a Hot Wheels commercial and at least those are around 30 seconds.  At 100 minutes, Monster Trucks is the kind of roadkill material audiences of all ages are wise to avoid.

Movie Review ~ Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Larry spans the globe, uniting favorite and new characters while embarking on an epic quest to save the magic before it is gone forever.

Stars: Robin Williams, Ben Kingsley, Steve Coogan, Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Ricky Gervais, Rebel Wilson, Dan Stevens

Director: Shawn Levy

Rated: PG

Running Length: 97 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review:  I believe the statute of limitations has run out by now so I can say to you now that I snuck into the first Night at the Museum on Christmas Day 2006.  My family had caught the first showing of Dreamgirls and I stuck around to see another flick while my parents started making the rounds to all of our relatives.  That first film was a pleasant, if silly, fantasy that provided good opportunities for its cast to do their thing while interacting with the kind of special effects that aren’t summer blockbuster “wow” worthy but succeeded on their own merits.

The sequel, released as summer entertainment in 2009 was the very definition of a movie studio and cast cashing in and making a quick buck.  The jokes were stale, the actors checked out, the direction given over to the special effects teams, and a higher emphasis on potty humor and gross gags made it nearly an intolerable watch.

I didn’t even know a second sequel was in the works until I caught the teaser trailer for Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb in early 2014 and by the looks of it I gleaned we were in for more of the same tired quips and even more screen time for the wily capuchin that delights in urinating on anything that gets in its way.   Seeing a Christmas release date it wasn’t hard to put the equation together that another “just for the paycheck” experience awaited all those willing to plunk down their greenbacks at the box office.

The third (supposedly final) entry in the series winds up being better than its predecessor but still falls short of the wonder the original brought forth.  Yes, it’s a near retread of the other films with scenes filled with characters seemingly chosen via random lottery (or whoever was willing to work the cheapest) and star Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) couldn’t be less invested if he tried but a compact plot keeps the action moving and largely contained to a single night of adventure.

Making it past the awful first 20 minutes is key here.  As is the case with sequels, a heavily populated opening is an easy way to give audiences a view of their favorite returning characters before finding a way to justify their absence in the latter half of the film.  Here we have night security guard Larry (Stiller) traveling to London with, among others, Teddy Roosevelt (the late Robin Williams, Lee Daniels’ The Butler), a Neanderthal doppelgänger of Larry (also played by Stiller), Jedidiah (Owen Wilson, The Internship) and Octavius (Steve Coogan, Philomena) to discover why the magical Tablet of Ahkmenrah is corroding and causing mayhem.

It’s at London’s British Museum that Larry and company encounter a bumbling security guard (Rebel Wilson, Pitch Perfect, proving once again that a little of her goes a long way), Lancelot (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey), Ahkmenrah’s Pharoah Papa (Ben Kingsley, Iron Man 3), and a nasty serpent in their quest to save the tablet from destruction.

The film holds a few surprises, the best being a funny and finely timed cameo by an eternally game superstar known for his singing chops as well as his action hero status.  It’s nice to see the likes of Bill Cobbs (The Bodyguard), Mickey Rooney (who also passed away in 2014), and especially Dick Van Dyke as the old security guards from the first film.  The first time we see Van Dyke probably gave me one of the best laughs of 2014…in much the same way his appearance in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day did in October.  Though the main baddie is somewhat bland, there’s ample opportunity for moments of creativity that are too often stymied by pee jokes and the stubborn need to flesh out a coming of age story for Stiller’s son.  All are distractions (along with Stiller’s oddly changing haircut) from what could have been a nice holiday adventure.

For a moment, the film seems to be heading off into the sunset in fine form…until a total unnecessary epilogue ruins it all.  Director Shawn Levy (This Is Where I Leave You) either was under pressure from the studio to leave the franchise door slightly ajar or just couldn’t resist one more chance to let his special effects team run amok…either way it turned a warm send-off into a chilly finale that was most disappointing.

The Silver Bullet ~ Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb

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Synopsis: Larry leaves New York City for London on a quest to save the magic before it is gone forever.

Release Date: December 19, 2014

Thoughts: I usually keep decent tabs on movies but I must have been asleep when a second sequel to 2006’s Night at the Museum was announced…that or else the film was greenlit when no one was looking. While the original reminded me of the type of fun Disney may have rolled out in the early 70s, the sequel was a cash-grab from all involved…adding nothing but loud noises and special effects. Can’t say the third film looks to be anything different with star Ben Stiller (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) returning alongside director Shawn Levy (This Is Where I Leave You) and the rest of the crazy characters that come to life when the museum is closed. Looking at the positive, one can be hopeful that the film inspires the youngins to take a more active interest in history and their local museums.