Synopsis: A teenager discovers that the newcomer in his neighborhood is a vampire, so he turns to an actor in a television horror show for help dealing with the undead. Stars: Chris Sarandon, William Ragsdale, Roddy McDowall, Amanda Bearse, Jonathan Stark, Dorothy Fielding, Stephen Geoffreys, Art Evans Director: Tom Holland Rated: R Running Length: 106 minutes TMMM Score: (7/10) Review: Growing up, I think it’s safe to say that any kid with a taste for horror films visiting a video store who passed by the VHS for Fright Night stopped dead in their tracks. That fantastic poster art alone sold a significant number of tickets when the movie was released in August of 1985, and I’m sure it did the same for the home video release later down the road. I recall being fascinated by that fanged image hovering above a tiny home and counting the days until I was old enough to check out what terrors Fright Night held in store.
Before the release of Fright Night, its writer/director Tom Holland had established himself as a reputable screenwriter in Hollywood. Crafting well-received genre titles such as The Beast Within and Class of 1984, both released in 1982, he followed that up the next year with the successful continuation of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho. I’m a big fan of what Holland did with Psycho II, and it’s a sequel that plays like a Jaws 2, meaning that it couldn’t possibly hope to rise to the same bar as its predecessor but, taken on its own merits, is quite entertaining. The year before Fright Night, Holland was credited with the cult favorite Cloak & Dagger and the sleazy Scream for Help, but his mix of horror and comedy in this 1985 fanged feature firmly put him on the map.
High schooler Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale, Mannequin: On the Move) is your average all-American kid in small-town U.S.A. He has a virginal girlfriend, Amy (Amanda Bearse, Bros), and a wacky best friend (Stephen Geoffreys, 976-EVIL) dubbed “Evil Ed” by those that know him best. Living with his single mother, he often falls asleep watching his favorite program, Fright Night, a late-night horror show hosted by washed-up actor Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall, Dead of Winter), the star of many of the B-movie titles shown in the program. The relative peace of Charley’s life and quiet in the neighborhood is upended when Jerry Dandridge (Chris Sarandon, The Sentinel), his new next-door neighbor, moves in.
Staying up late one night, Charley watches Jerry and his live-in friend Billy (Jonathan Stark, Career Opportunities) move some alarming items in, including what appears to be a coffin. When several local girls start to turn up missing, one that Charley swears he saw going into Jerry’s house days before, he begins to suspect that there is more to his new neighbor than a tendency for only coming out in the evening. Screams in the night coming from next door and glowing eyes staring back at him from dark windows convince him Jerry might be…a vampire. Enlisting the help of his favorite vampire hunter/television host (who’s just been canned and needs cash), Charley and his friends start to poke around Jerry’s house, arousing his attention in the worst way possible. Now, with a vampire on his trail and no one believing him, Charley will face a real fright night as he faces an evil that threatens everyone he loves.
Holland has a good ear for dialogue, and while more than a little of Fright Night stayed planted firmly in 1985, the comedy has stayed fang-sharp, and the horror still has bite. It’s a treat to revisit every few years and pairs nicely with 1988’s Fright Night Part II which is hard to find but worth the hunt. I liked the 2011 remake starring Colin Farrell because it had generous nods to this original endeavor, but nothing is going to top what felt (and still more or less feels) fresh about Fright Night. It’s well made and targeted at a critical audience that ate it up at the time and then passed it down through two generations.
Synopsis: With Spider-Man’s identity now revealed, Peter asks Doctor Strange for help. When a spell goes wrong, dangerous foes from other worlds start to appear, forcing Peter to discover what it truly means to be Spider-Man.
Stars: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Benedict Cumberbatch, Jon Favreau, Jacob Batalon, Marisa Tomei, Alfred Molina, Jamie Foxx ,Willem Dafoe, Rhys Ifans, Thomas Haden Church, Tony Revolori, Angourie Rice, J.K. Simmons, Benedict Wong, Paula Newsome
Director: Jon Watts
Running Length: 148 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: At a recent gathering of friends, the talk turned to movies (I only keep the best company, naturally) and we got to discussing the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Aside from a heated debate comparing the movies made within the MCU with those that come from the realm of DC Comics, a few well-rounded film fans expressed a feeling of exhaustion when it came to these extravaganzas, and I can’t say I didn’t agree. Look, I’m plopping my tush into a theater seat as fast as the next person when the newest chapter in the seemingly endless series of interconnected superhero adventures is released but a feeling of sameness has seeped in for a while now. The bright spots are fewer and farther between, so when you look far ahead on the Marvel slate and see films scheduled out literally years in advance there’s less to get wowed about.
That was a discussion I had the Saturday night before I saw Spider-Man: No Way Home. Three nights later I was leaving the screening fighting the urge to skip a little bit back to my car because Sony and Marvel have jointly delivered one of the collective franchise highlights to date. It’s essentially an entertainment package aiming to please without coming off like it’s building a bridge to “what’s next”. Though it certainly is a gateway to…something…it wastes little time with one foot out the door or an eye on the exit sign. Instead, director Jon Watts and screenwriters Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers keep the focus on hyper-immediacy which makes this third film featuring Tom Holland (Cherry) as your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man the absolute best one yet.
While plot points are discussed below, rest assured there are no spoilers included (anywhere on this page) that have not been already revealed through marketing.
At the end of the previous film, for his final act of treachery Quentin Beck / Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) revealed to the world that Peter Parker was Spider-Man. Framed for Beck’s murder, Peter is hauled in with his family and friends by a shadow government agency before being released back to public scrutiny. Assimilating to daily life under the eye of a cruel society based on unfounded judgement is easier said than done, however. Hatching a plan to make the world forget they ever found out his truth, Peter calls on Doctor Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, The Mauritanian) for his assistance, but the spell he orders gets complicated and winds up opening the multiverse, bringing forth everyone that ever knew Peter Parker was Spider-Man. With the multiverse cracked, it allows villains from previous Spider-Man films not starring Holland to enter this realm…Big Baddies Spider-Man will have to track down and send back to where they came from.
It’s always odd when a different actor starts playing a role in an established franchise. The first Spider-Man reboot saw Andrew Garfield take over for Tobey Maguire and I remember thinking at the time how weird it would be to see another actor in the role. It was even more discombobulating when Holland stepped in so rapidly when the Garfield era came quickly to a close. To have elements from the Maguire and Garfield films cross over into this third Holland one was a big risk but it comes off so well, it’s got to have other studios wondering how it could work in their own franchise tentpoles.
What great possibilities this made into reality. Seeing Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina, The Water Man) from Spider-Man 2 appear to greet Holland is one of those movie moments you can really get excited for. I felt the same about O.G. villain Willem Dafoe (Zack Snyder’s Justice League) as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin acting the heck out of his role. Actually, it’s kind of incredible to see all of these legendary foes back together sharing the screen. Even if the two Garfield villains are sort of lame (sorry Jamie Foxx and Rhys Ifans, but thank goodness Paul Giamatti didn’t show up), it’s more than a little thrilling when they’re all standing in the same room.
Most notable in Spider-Man: No Way Home is a true devotion to hitting as many emotional beats as action-heavy ones. For as many spectacular scenes as there are, Watts and his team are willing to give Holland (who has never been better) and equally aces co-stars Zendaya (Malcom & Marie), Marisa Tomei (Frankie), Jon Favreau (The Wolf of Wall Street), and Jacob Batalon (Banana Split) the space they need to deal with some major events that happen during the extended run time. I don’t know if you’ll have a similar experience but darn it if I didn’t get a little misty on a least two separate occasions. Fans that have waited a while for this will be more than pleased with the developments that take place and movie-goers in general who have held back from entering a theater will be sufficiently satiated by the feature.
Synopsis: A troubled businessman’s life is upturned after the arrival of a mysterious female temp worker in his office.
Stars: Timothy Hutton, Lara Flynn Boyle, Dwight Schultz, Oliver Platt, Steven Weber, Colleen Flynn, Faye Dunaway, Scott Coffey, Dakin Matthews, Maura Tierney, Lin Shaye
Director: Tom Holland
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: Tell me if this sounds familiar to you (and if not, humor me). You’re at home, eaten a nice meal, and are ready for dessert. You go to the freezer, get out a batch of ice cream that already has a flavor profile…let’s say, Peanut Butter Cup. Tonight, though, Peanut Butter Cup alone isn’t good enough. You go to your cupboard and add some M&M’s, a few mini marshmallows, maybe some actual peanut butter cups to gild the lily, and then top it off with some chocolate syrup and whipped cream. By the time you’re done, there’s this strange creation in front of you that doesn’t resemble what you started with and when you bite into it…you wish you had just left it alone.
That’s sort of what I feel like when thinking about The Temp, the goofy thriller that came out on my birthday in 1993 and made back just a paltry 1/3 of it’s 15-million-dollar budget. With a strong director (Tom Holland of Thinner & Child’s Play), two Oscar winning actors (Timothy Hutton and Faye Dunaway) and a number of rising stars in its cast, not to mention it’s perfect for the early ‘90s pseudo-suspense set-up, The Temp should have been an easy score for Paramount Pictures. However, if you read up on the film and even just watching it through, you can tell that it’s been royally messed with on its way to release and either maneuvered into the half-hearted attempt it is, or torpedoed from something more sinister which it feels like it wanted to be.
Of all the offices to stage a murder mystery, a cookie company in Oregon would be the last thing I would think of but that’s exactly where screenwriters Kevin Falls and Tom Engleman post Peter Derns (Hutton, Ordinary People) as a divorced dad with anger management issues recently returned to work after suffering a bit of a breakdown. With his company about to be taken over by a larger corporation looking to trim the executive roster as a cost-saving measure, his paranoid nature is back on high alert almost instantly. To make matters even worse, his personal assistant (Scott Coffey, It Takes Three) just left for paternity leave, and he’s left scrambling to please his own boss (Faye Dunaway, Eyes of Laura Mars, wild-eyed and sweat-lipped from the downbeat) with little notice.
He’s not on his own for long, because he’s soon assigned a temporary assistant, the well-educated Kris (Lara Flynn Boyle, Poltergeist III) who time and time again proves to be Peter’s saving grace. There’s clearly some kind of electric connection between the two and whatever flirting goes on between them remains on the up and up. This is especially good considering that when his full-time assistant returns Kris has endeared herself enough to stick around and begins to rise up the ranks of the company rather quickly. So quickly, in fact, that it comes on the heels of a suspicious number of accidents, deaths, and exposed secrets about executives, suggesting that someone on the inside might be making it easy for Kris to have a path forward. Is it Kris herself or someone else with a vested interest in seeing the others around her fail?
In our current era of #MeToo and understanding more about gender politics in the office workplace, The Temp actually becomes an interesting watch through a more experienced lens. I’m sure the movie couldn’t have been written exactly as-is now…but could it remain just slightly altered and be more effective? Possibly. It’s a shame that it seemed to go through so many test screenings and alterations in post-production. The well-known tale is the entire final act was reshot, much to the anger of Dunaway who refused to film certain scenes and to the overall confusion of audiences. What’s there now seems incongruous with the rest of the movie, turning into a half-baked Hitchcock film when it never expressed any interest in being up until that point.
What it had shown some curiously in exploring were a few nasty deaths and Holland’s expertise in building tension as we waited for some bad things to happen to the employees and friends of Peter. (Look for Single White Female’s Steven Weber, Oliver Platt from Flatliners, and Beautiful Boy’s Maura Tierney in the cast as well.) One such incident is bloody memorable even today (two words: Paper Shredder) and if The Temp had been more adventurous in exploring those kinds of shocking moments, perhaps it would have been promoted more in theaters from a box office dud to minor success. It also might have helped Boyle break out more as a film star because while she had notoriety on TV and minor roles in films, leading lady status sadly evaded her. Hutton and especially Dunaway look embarrassed to be in this by the end, but Boyle stands by the movie throughout, which in a strange way works for her character as well.
Synopsis: Two unlikely companions embark on a perilous adventure through the badlands of an unexplored planet as they try to escape a dangerous and disorienting reality, where all inner thoughts are seen and heard by everyone.
Stars: Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, David Oyelowo, Kurt Sutter, Ray McKinnon
Director: Doug Liman
Running Length: 108 minutes
TMMM Score: (4.5/10)
Review: I don’t know, folks, there may be some trouble keeping Tom Holland on the A-List if these past few weeks at the movies have been any indication. It’s no wonder the hype machine on the third Spider-Man movie (titled Spider-Man: No Way Home, due later this year) surprisingly kicked into high gear right around the time the blistering review for Holland’s Apple TV+ film Cherry started popping up. Just two weeks later, Holland has a new project coming out and another reason for his team to be sweating. I can only imagine what bit of Spider-Man news will come out this weekend to direct attention away from the news that Chaos Walking is another dud from Holland, though this time it’s not entirely his fault.
This long in the works adaptation of the first book in a trilogy of YA novels by Patrick Ness published in 2008, it’s not shocking in the least why Chaos Walking struggled to get off the ground over the years. Arriving on the scene in the midst of a number of other popular series for teens being adapted into movies with more of an adult slant, a fair share of high-profile writers tried their hand at the script before it finally wound up back with Ness who gave it a final polish. At one point, Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis was circling the project and while that might have been an interesting route to take, I actually think the director Lionsgate wound up with, Doug Liman, is a solid choice. Responsible for admirable work like The Bourne Identity and Edge of Tomorrow, Liman is no stranger to complex narrative or impressive visuals so he wouldn’t have struggled with bringing to life a world that has unique characteristics while not getting too deep in the fantasy of it all.
Two hundred years in the future on another planet called, of course, New World, is the small settlement of Prentisstown, named after the malevolent mayor (Mads Mikkelsen, Casino Royale) who presides over the entirely male population. All of the females of the group were killed by the Spackle, native inhabitants to the planet that descended on the group one day not long after the settlers arrived on the planet, around the same time both genders discovered the planet gave them the ability to hear and sometimes even see the thoughts of other men. The women’s thoughts, however, were hidden. These thoughts on display came to be called “Noise”. While the book has the luxury of explaining this phenomenon in detail, the movie skirts the subject fairly quickly so we’re left with a “that’s that, move on” sort of attitude, not that we can ever hear the “Noise” that clearly thanks to the sound design being so muffled throughout.
Too young at the time of her death, Todd Hewitt (Holland, The Impossible) never knew his mother but is aware she trusted Ben (Demián Bichir, The Hateful Eight) and Cillian (Kurt Sutter, writer of Southpaw & creator of Sons of Anarchy) to care for him as his adoptive parents after she was taken. So he spends his days trying to suppress his Noise while helping on Ben and Cillian’s humble farm. He’s returning from the field one day when he sees something he’s never encountered before but only heard about…a girl. Crash landing on the planet as part of the Second Wave, Viola (Daisy Ridley, Murder on the Orient Express) is the only survivor from her crew and needs Todd’s help to find a communication device to contact her ship so they know she made it and won’t abandon their mission. However, Viola’s arrival uncovers a deadly secret from the history of Prentisstown that a number of people, including the town’s holy man (David Oyelowo, The Midnight Sky) would just as soon stay buried. Pursued by those he formerly trusted, Todd and his dog Manchee accompany Viola to the far ends of New World where they’ll discover more truths about Noise, New World, and each other.
To his credit, Ness has laid a groundwork for a series that has potential. So why is Chaos Walking so decidedly unexciting in its action and unmoving at its core? Much of that comes down to what I think are simple logistics; nothing in the movie ever works in harmony so you have, essentially, chaos throughout. The acting doesn’t seem to gel with the script, finding some of the cast exceling by tuning in their performances and taking the material for what it is and nothing more (like Ridley who got good at that working on the StarWars films) while others take it too far in the other direction, working so hard to uncover what’s not there that they wind up totally blank themselves (sorry, Mr. Holland). The simplistic, truncated script doesn’t seem to work with the style of movie Liman wants to make, either. Liman’s action sequences are the best parts of the movie without question but they’re few and far between and never turn the dial up far enough so that you feel like any stakes are raised.
Chaos Walking also has a very bad habit of letting the focus fall on the wrong people for too long and forgetting (sometimes entirely) about characters that were introduced as important. I won’t say who, but there’s one character played by an Oscar-nominated performer who never gets a final scene, so we have no idea what happened to them. The last time we saw them, they may have been in danger but Liman and Ness never make it clear which way the teeter was tottering. It’s unfair to leave people hanging like that. Also, the movie commits a cardinal sin that you simply donotdo if you want a compassionate audience to remain even the slightest bit on your side. Again, I don’t give out spoilers but if you’re paying attention to who goes with Viola on her journey you might be able to guess what said sin is. And it’s not pretty. It’s a cheap movie device that screenwriters should find a way out of using because it’s expected and, when it happens, only serves to show the inherent weakness in creative thought for how to motivate your hero/heroine.
Before I forget, we have to circle back to Ridley and Holland again. Though Ridley manages to come out slightly unscathed here, there’s still a bit of a wonder why she’s back in this neo-sci-fi work so close to the end of her tenure in Star Wars. If I were her agent, I’d be steering her away from these types of roles in favor of work that is completely different, so she isn’t pigeonholed. Ridley is a solid actress but there isn’t much for her to work with, but at least she’s able to fashion it into something not totally goofy. The same can’t be said for Holland who is reduced to muttering most of his lines (turn the subtitles on, you’ll thank me), many of which are descriptions rather than actual sentences, so he comes off like he’s just verbally pointing out things. “Yellow Hair” “Girl” “Pretty” “Bug” “Girl” “Pretty”. Could another actor have fixed this? Maybe not, but Holland seems more confused with what to do than anything… all the way up to flashing his bare bottom while fishing for his dinner. The scene feels there to wake up anyone that might have been about to doze off.
Though this is based on the first book in a trilogy I’d be amazed if Chaos Walking performs well enough to warrant a sequel and it seems as if the filmmakers knew that too. Thankfully, while the door is clearly open for a continuation, the ending can be interpreted in a number of different ways depending on how you’re approaching the film. As a fan of the novels, I’m sure you’ll see the possibilities of what’s to come. If you are new to the series and were entertained, could be that now you are invested and are crossing your fingers they can get Ridley and Holland back together again to finish the story. However, my camp is the one that gets to the end and is ready to walk on past any more installments. It doesn’t walk, nor run, nor jump, nor fly…Chaos Walking merely limps along, disappointingly so.
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
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 ifthere 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.
Synopsis: Two teenage elf brothers embark on an extraordinary quest in order to spend one last day with their father, who died when they were too young to remember him.
Stars: Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Ali Wong, John Ratzenberger, Lena Waithe, Mel Rodgriguez
Director: Dan Scanlon
Running Length: 103 minutes
TMMM Score: (9/10)
Review: By this point, I’ve gotten pretty good about preparing to see a Pixar film. I always make sure I bring Kleenex from home because when I inevitably cry, wiping my eyes/nose with the rough napkins from the movie theater always leaves them a bit red and raw. Also, it’s best to make sure you know where the exit is so you can make a quick dash out of the place if the theater is cruel and turns the lights on immediately when the movie is over, exposing all the tear-stained faces to the rest of the crowd. The best place to sit is near the entrance, on an aisle and definitely not near a family with small children because you don’t want to step on any kids as you try to avoid people seeing the after effects of your ugly cry.
I say this now looking back at my experience of watching Onward and recognizing that my mind was in a completely different place that day and I totally forgot all my pre-planning rules. Here I was, a guy that just celebrated a milestone birthday and about to mark the 12 year anniversary of the loss of my father and I had no tissues, was seated in the middle of a row with families all around me seeing a movie about sons using magic to spend one last day with their deceased father. Was I completely crazy?
The town of New Mushroomton isn’t quite the magical mecca it used to be as we see when the prologue for Onward begins. All sorts of magical creatures coexisted and used their gifts to get by, whether it was creating fire for light/heat or flying over vast oceans. Then, with the evolution of science the world began to find ways to accomplish magical tasks without magic (lightbulbs, airplanes) and the need for wizards, magic staffs, and important quests dissipated. On the eve of his 16th birthday, Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland, Spider-Man: Homecoming) is just wanting to feel a little more at home in his own skin. His mom (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Enough Said) encourages him to be more outgoing at school and his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World) thinks that life should be lived like its one big role-playing game. More than anything, though, Ian wishes he had met his dad who died before he was born. Barley barely remembers him but at least he has something…Ian doesn’t have anything. So when their mom presents a gift their dad had asked her to reveal when both were over 16, it sets them off on a journey to complete a spell that will bring him back for 24 hours.
The first attempt at the spell only brings back the bottom half of their dad so communication comes through the feet, and it will take finding another rare stone to complete the magic that will restore him fully. Forcing the vastly different brothers to work together, the search for the gem puts them into contact with a mythical Manticore (Octavia Spencer, Ma) who was once fearsome but is now toothless and through challenges straight out of an Indiana Jones adventure. As is typical with any Pixar film, there’s a host of wild supporting characters throughout with some appearing briefly (two words: feral unicorns) and others getting a bit more screen time (Queen & Slim screenwriter Lena Waithe is Pixar’s first confirmed lesbian character) but the main focus is on the brothers and how they come to appreciate one another through their time together.
The long and short of it is this: yes, I did cry in Pixar’s latest tear-factory fantasy movie but it was not the severe ugly cry I was afraid it would be. Instead, I was taken with how the studio has once again managed to take a sensitive subject and made it palatable for children and a good jumping off discussion point for adults to have with their kids if any questions come up after the movie. Death is always a hard topic to discuss but in several of their movies, Pixar has found a way into that conversation that isn’t as scary as it might have been years ago when there weren’t animated characters that are saying some of the same things children are also feeling. Writer/director Dan Scanlon also has a nice way of bringing a lot of plot points together into one theme as the film moves toward its conclusion – I wasn’t sure how he was going to do it but it gets there in a lovely way.
It’s always risky now in this Must Be Proven Franchise Material cinema world we live in to create original story but Onward is a striking bit of computer generated fun with pathos on top of it all. The animation is beautiful…so is the message.
Synopsis: Dr. John Dolittle lives in solitude behind the high walls of his lush manor in 19th-century England. His only companionship comes from an array of exotic animals that he speaks to on a daily basis. But when young Queen Victoria becomes gravely ill, the eccentric doctor and his furry friends embark on an epic adventure to a mythical island to find the cure.
Stars: Robert Downey Jr., Antonio Banderas, Michael Sheen, Emma Thompson, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes, Selena Gomez, Rami Malek, Octavia Spencer, Kumail Nanjiani, John Cena, Marion Cotillard, Craig Robinson, Frances de la Tour, Jessie Buckley, Harry Collett
Director: Stephen Gaghan
Running Length: 101 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: When someone is so closely associated with a role or a franchise, it’s always interesting to see what they will do when they venture out of that safe paycheck cocoon. Will it be something radically different or could it be another project similar in tone, which suggests the star enjoyed being in that comfortable space of little challenge but big reward? I mention this because as the release date of Dolittle (finally) approaches, I’m reminded that this is the first non-Iron Man role Robert Downey Jr. has played since 2014’s The Judge. That’s five movies in a row where he’s been the same superhero, albeit one that he’s had the chance to add some dimension to as the role progressed.
By the time we got to Avengers: Endgame, Downey Jr. had turned Tony Stark/Iron Man into more than just another world savior stock character, giving him the same character development (and, I’d say more) than other roles he played previously. Heck, there was even a concerted effort to get him an Oscar nomination for his efforts until he poo-poo-ed the idea, wishing to just let his involvement end on the high note and not have to make award season schmoozing part of the package deal. Besides, he knew he had Dolittle on the horizon and perhaps he wanted to ensure he had as little time in front of the press as possible.
If you pay attention at all to Hollywood buzz, you’ve likely heard about the tumultuous journey this film has had making it to theaters. A new adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s quirky character first created in the early 20th century (said to have been written in the trenches of The Great War), it finished filming in June of 2018 and after a poor test screening went through an unheard of 20+ days of reshoots in April of 2019. Languishing without a release date for some time, Universal eventually gave it the troubling roll out of January 2020…a notorious month known as a dumping ground for movies that are problematic. Suddenly, this 175 million movie directed by an Oscar winner with a blockbuster star in the leading role and a host of big names providing voices to CGI animals looked like it was confirmed to be the turkey everyone had thought it was.
Yet after seeing the film early on a Saturday morning with a theater full of children I’m sure had been up far longer than I had, I found Dolittle to be not as bad as I would have guessed and not as much of a write-off as many will expect. It’s far from a great film and certainly not the franchise starter I’m positive Universal wanted it to be (hence why it’s been unloaded hastily) but as a 101 minutes of family friendly entertainment, it more than fits the bill.
With narration provided by parrot Polly (Emma Thompson, Late Night), we are introduced to the world of Dr. John Dolittle through an animated prologue showing how he first learned how he could talk to animals. It’s here we also learn why he is so depressed at the beginning of the film, having long since shut himself away from the outside world, content to spend his days with just the company of his animals. He plays chess with gorilla Chee-Chee (Rami Malek, Bohemian Rhapsody) with mice as the pieces and is tended to by wise dog Jip (Tom Holland, Spider-Man: Homecoming) and resourceful duck Dap-Dap (Octavia Spencer, Luce). Years of solitude has left him looking like a wholly mammoth, his hermit-like attitude overtaking every facet of living.
Urged on by his mischievous friends and his own curiosity, local lad Tommy Stubbins (Harry Collett, Dunkirk) sneaks into the walled off grounds of the Dolittle estate on the very day Dolittle is called on by a representative from Queen Victoria’s court. It seems the young Queen (Jessie Buckley, Wild Rose) who took such a liking to Dolittle in his prime has been felled by a strange illness and needs his special expertise to find a cure. After catching Tommy on his property but finding a kindred spirit of sorts within the boy, Dolittle (after a good tidying up, including a haircut courtesy of the beaks and teeth of his animals…ew) brings him to the Queen’s palace where they soon embark on a dangerous mission into unknown territory in hunt of rare fruit from a fabled tree. Their travels will lead them to far off places where Dolittle will need to call on not just his talents but the special skills of his animal friends if they are to save the young royal from a sinister saboteur.
For a movie that has been delayed nearly nine months from its original release date, Dolittle feels like it has arrived at a relatively fortuitous time. There’s not a lot of other solid family options out there presently and perhaps the extra time and reshoots helped give the movie the structure, however lopsided, it manages to construct. Director and co-screenwriter Stephen Gaghan won an Oscar for writing 2000’s Traffic and directed George Clooney to a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 2005’s Syriana but I doubt there will be the same success for the writing or acting in Dolittle. The bad guys, Jim Broadbent (Paddington 2), Michael Sheen (Passengers), Antonio Banderas (Pain & Glory), are all etched in crayon that’s been pressed hard on the paper. They leave an impression but it’s never quite clear what they set out to create. Thankfully, Collett isn’t one of those effervescently precocious child stars that Hollywood produces by the sackful so he’s a good sidekick but the movie outright wastes Buckley, relegating her to bedrest for much of the movie. The voice talent don’t always feel like they match up well with their animal counterparts, like Selena Gomez (The Dead Don’t Die) lending voice to a lanky giraffe, though I did get a nice laugh out of Ralph Fiennes (Official Secrets) as a short-fused tiger harboring a love-hate relationship with the good doctor.
Credit to Downey Jr. (In Dreams) for not simply sailing through the film on his laurels. Yes, most of the movie he’s definitely flying on cruise control but it never requires more of him in the first place. What he does bring to the event is that ease of emotional access when the laughs stop and its time to get serious. He also never gives off the impression he’s above the material…I mean, at one point he’s shoulder deep in the business end of a stopped-up fire-breathing dragon so there’s little opportunity to maintain a sense of dignity in those situations.
Stick around for a few minutes into the credits, not just to see some colorful paintings of the cast set to a new song from singer/songwriter Sia but for a bit of closure the movie holds back until that point. Aside from that, I’m not sure what else could be done with this new Dolittle beyond what Gaghan has given. At one point my mind drifted to thinking if a sequel to this was possible and while it could definitely be created I’d question if it would benefit any of the characters (or sanity of the actors) to revisit the Dolittle estate and the animals within. I guess I should ask the animals what they’d think of it all…
Synopsis: After the events of Avengers: Endgame, Peter Parker and his friends go on summer vacation to Europe and there Peter finds himself trying to save his friends against a villain known as Mysterio.
Stars: Tom Holland, Jake Gyllenhaal, Zendaya, Marisa Tomei, Samuel L. Jackson, Cobie Smulders, Jacob Batalon, J.B. Smoove,
Director: Jon Watts
Running Length: 129 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: In some ways, Spider-Man: Far From Home was always bound to be disappointing. Being the follow-up to the biggest movie on the planet and arriving barely two months after it’s release is an unenviable position. Here’s the kicker, though. If you believe the trade papers then it seems Sony, which still owns the rights to Spider-Man and has loaned him out to Marvel Studios for his work in Captain America: Civil War,Avengers: Infinity War, and Avengers: Endgame, actually pushed to have this particular release date so close to the final Avengers film. It’s a strange strategy because everyone is bound to compare this to the juggernaut last chapter of Iron Man and his team which is still playing in many theaters and is even being re-released with new footage around the same time Spider-Man is swinging into cinemas.
Yet here we are, with another comic book superhero movie and, if you count the Oscar-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, our fourth big-screen appearance of Spider-Man in a year. Sony is playing chicken with audiences and betting they aren’t suffering from Spidey fatigue yet and based on the genial but oddly underwhelming Spider-Man: Far From Home I’m guessing they made the right call at express shipping this next chapter into theaters right in time for the July 4th holiday. Though flawed in the action department and failing to provide a showcase for an A-list actor trying his hand at playing an evil genius villain, the film succeeds best when it focuses on the people and not the effects.
As this site is spoiler-free as much as possible, a caveat that while the plot secrets of Spider-Man: Far From Home will remain hidden there are elements from Avengers: Endgame I’ll have to discuss.
So, if you don’t want the end of Avengers: Endgame spoiled for you then it’s best to turn back now.
Seriously. This is your last chance.
I’m going to spoil something, don’t be mad.
OK…here we go.
Picking up where Avengers: Endgame left off, Peter Parker (Tom Holland, The Impossible) is still mourning the deaths of Captain America, Black Widow, Vision, and his mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man. With the rest of the Avengers dispersed on their own missions around the world and in other galaxies, Peter is getting back to a routine in school and making the occasional appearance as Spider-Man to help raise funds with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei, The Paper) to support the population vaporized in The Snap that were returned in what came to be known as The Blip. As the school year winds to a close, Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon) prepare for their science trip abroad which will take them across Europe. Ned is looking forward to spending time with his friend as bachelors overseas while Peter is more interested in getting closer to MJ (Zendaya, The Greatest Showman).
The group has barely arrived in Venice when the floating city is attacked by one of four elementals, a creature made of water that goes about destroying everything in its path. Before Peter can jump into action and save the day, Quentin Beck (Jake Gyllenhaal, Prisoners) appears and helps vanquish the threat with some marginal assistance from your friendly traveling neighborhood Spider-Man. Recruited by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, Shaft), Beck teams up with Peter to take on the final elemental who is due to show up in Prague, where Fury reroutes Peter’s class trip (though what his school is doing in Europe is a mystery, it’s never clear why they’ve traveled overseas) so he can believably stay part of the action. Dubbed Mysterio by the press, Beck quickly (too quickly) becomes a new Stark-ish figure to Peter, establishing a trust that hides a darker agenda. When Beck’s true nature is revealed it’s up to Peter and his friends (including Jon Favreau, The Wolf of Wall Street, as Tony Stark’s former bodyguard) to eventually save London and its key landmarks from danger.
What may surprise viewers is how long director Jon Watts takes to get to the first round of action in the film. Aside from a very brief prologue there’s not another major action scene for nearly a half hour and, truthfully, I didn’t mind at all. The characters established so well in Spider-Man: Homecoming have been brought back fully realized and we’re dropped right back into their mix without much adjustment needed. When the action does start, in that first battle in Venice, the film gets less interesting almost immediately and it’s because we’re focused less on the people and more on the sturm und drang of it all. It doesn’t help the action sequences are curiously flat and rarely edge-of-your-seat exciting like previous Marvel (and Sony Spider-Man) films have been. Even the effects seem off and uneven, like the film wasn’t quite ready by time it had to go to theaters.
Another stumbling block is, surprisingly, Gyllenhaal as Beck/Mysterio. I had high hopes for the actor entering this universe and lending some of his trademark intensity to a character. Usually, Gyllenhaal has an interesting way into inhabiting whatever role he’s taking on but he was either stymied by the studio heads or just opted for the wrong approach because he’s dramatically inert here. Watch the movie and see if you can spot how many times Gyllenhaal moves throughout – you rarely seem him walking or making any kind of actionable movement, the majority of his performance he’s sitting or standing still. It’s like he was performing injured or filming his scenes in one soundstage over the course of two days. What should have been a nice match of actor and fan favorite villain was a whiff and a miss for me, extra disappointing because I am a big fan of the actor.
The movie is saved in no small part due to the performances given by Holland and Zendaya, both of whom were appealing in their first film paired together but now have honest to goodness chemistry that is entirely palpable. In Holland, we finally have a Spider-Man/Peter Parker that feels like he’s the right age and the actor plays him as more than an angsty teen longing to be more than the sum of his Spidey parts. He knows the great responsibility he has and understands why Tony chose him, but doesn’t want to continue to miss out on the life that doesn’t include inter-galactic wars and infinity stones. Zendaya isn’t your cookie-cutter MJ and mores the better. I like her awkwardness and affinity for the darker side of history. Like she did with Zac Efron in The Greatest Showman, she plays well off her costar and helps them to shine.
Based on the reactions of the audience at my screening, maybe I’m the one that’s fatigued at the present moment with these films. Perhaps my attraction to the pieces of Spider-Man: Far From Home that had nothing to do with action or effects say something about were my attention is at this point and time. I still don’t think Gyllenhaal is doing anywhere near his best work and the previous Spider-Man film was, in my opinion, more focused, unexpected, and heads and tails more entertaining from start to finish. We’re all trained by this point to stay through the credits but the mid-credit stinger and post-credit scene are absolutely essential. The final scene actually changes something about the movie entirely – don’t miss it or you’ve missed a huge piece of the story.
Synopsis: An obese attorney is cursed by a gypsy to rapidly and uncontrollably lose weight.
Stars: Robert John Burke, Joe Mantegna, Lucinda Jenney, Michael Constantine, Kari Wuhrer, Stephen King, Walter Bobbie
Director: Tom Holland
Running Length: 93 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: Starting with the release and huge success of Carrie in 1976, author Stephen King has enjoyed seeing the profits for numerous adaptations of his work come his way. Studios began scrambling to buy the rights to his work and bring his tales of terror to life which is how we’ve come to have solid titles like The Shining, Christine, Cujo, Firestarter, The Dead Zone, and Misery in our libraries. To talk about the good adaptions, you must also talk about the bad and King’s work has produced far more duds than hits…such is the case with Thinner from 1996.
Originally published under King’s pseudonym, Richard Bachman, Thinner hit bookshelves in 1984 and when it was discovered the King was Bachman isn’t wasn’t long before a studio attached themselves to the grim morality tale. Condensing the 300+ page novel to 90 minute movie, director and co-screenwriter Tom Holland (who also wrote Psycho II and directed Fright Night) removed the, uh, fat from King’s tome and produced a slick but slack horror thriller that is passable entertainment but feels like everything about it was second-hand.
When overweight attorney Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) accidentally runs over and kills an old gypsy woman and then gets off scott free, he incurs the wrath of a gypsy king (Michael Constantine, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2) who puts a curse and him and others that covered up the crime. Each person cursed has their own personal hell to endure and Billy’s is that no matter how much he eat,s he continues to lose weight at a rapid pace. At first, that’s good news for the man that has tried for years to shed pounds and his beleaguered wife (Lucinda Jenney, Matinee) who has kept him on a strict diet. When the weight loss begins to accelerate, and his friends start dying in horrible ways, Billy must track down the gypsy clan to get the curse reversed.
Arguably, there’s a nice concept at the heart of Thinner and had this been given a bit more money and prestige I’d imagine it could have been a sleeper hit. The problem is that Holland never quite figures out is how to make his characters (any of them) the least bit sympathetic so we have someone to be invested in. There’re literally no “good” people to be found, everyone has an ulterior motive to their actions or spits their lines out with such overstimulated venom you have a hard time feeling sorry when they are killed off.
It also doesn’t help the leading man is such a bore. Burke had infamously taken over for Peter Weller in RoboCop 3 and even under that heavy costume with his face obscured he managed to overact. He does the same thing here, saddled with a fat suit and unconvincing make-up at the beginning and eventually turning skeletal as he continues to lose fat and muscle. I’m not sure if the make-up did this to him but Burke has this smile/grimace on his face when he’s heavier that is truly unnerving…and not in the way Holland intended.
If I’ve forgotten to mention Joe Mantegna (House of Games) up until this point he should count himself lucky. As a tricky mobster client of Billy’s, Mantegna plays up the wise guy role to the point of parody and acts as a silly means to an end in helping Billy connect the dots to the origin of the gypsy curse. If there’s one actor I didn’t mind, it’s the always reliable Jenney who seems to know she’s in a turkey so opts for such a small performance that it has the effect of letting her scene partners look like they’re overacting.
Not surprisingly, this was a huge box office bomb but it didn’t stop the King adaptations from coming. It would be three years before The Green Mile would be released and in 2017 there was the one two punch of the remake of IT and the dandy Gerald’s Game for Netflix. It’s clear the best was behind the King work at that time and while Thinner wasn’t bad enough to make studios think twice about taking a dip in the King swamp it’s prospects of being much better are keenly felt two decades later.
Review: The ultimate villain of Avengers: Infinity War is going to be anyone that spoils what happens in this all-star extravaganza, the culmination of 19 films over 10 years that have made up the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As a true believer in the power of a spoiler-free experience, I’m reluctant to even talk too much about the movie here, lest I give away even a whiff of the game-changing developments worked up by screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely. However further you venture to read, know that Avengers: Infinity War may be the first toll of a bell signaling the end of an era but there’s still a few clangs yet to ring out.
With the action picking up two years after the events of Captain America: Civil War, the film wastes no time in diving into the action as big baddie Thanos (Josh Brolin, Inherent Vice) continues his quest to procure six Infinity Stones by any means necessary. With two stones in his possession by the time the title card is displayed, you get the distinct impression that Thanos isn’t going to be defeated easily no matter what brand of superhero gang sets about to stop him. Sending minions to Earth to gather stones protected by Vision (Paul Bettany, Transcendence) and Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, August: Osage County), Thanos searches for the remaining gems in truly out of this world locations.
If Thanos secures all six stones in his gauntlet he’ll have power over the entire universe and be able to wipe out half the population with the snap of his very large and in charge fingers. Never fear, though, because according to Marvel there are about 64 main characters featured and while not all of them get as much screen time as you’d think, there is often more than enough action to go around. Markus and McFeely concoct some believable ways to separate the various heroes as they unite to stop Thanos from achieving his goal. Even better, the combos of who is working with whom are surprising and often quite entertaining…but in an effort to maintain some suspense, you’ll have to see the movie to find out who teams up.
With the exception of two notable stars (again…not telling) the gang is all here, down to supporting players that haven’t been seen for a while. Even if A-listers like Gwyneth Paltrow (Thanks for Sharing) get limited screen time it’s nice to see these familiar faces along the way because their appearances act like mini Easter eggs, rewarding the actors as well as devoted audience members. Arriving a little over two months after Black Panther smashed all box office records, it would have been easy to do what Justice League did after the success of Wonder Woman and give a bit more attention to a breakout star like T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman, Get on Up) but the filmmakers wisely keep things level.
The main stars that anchor the action are Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr., The Judge), Thor (Chris Hemsworth, Vacation), and Quill (Chris Pratt, Jurassic World) with some nice supporting turns from Captain America (Chris Evans, The Iceman), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson, Under the Skin) and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo, Foxcatcher). In hindsight, it feels like the popular Guardians of the Galaxy are favored in the action ever so slightly more than a few of the veteran Avengers but watching the movie in the moment there is a greater feeling of equity. There’s little room for new characters to be introduced and when they are, like Peter Dinklage’s (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) painfully serious but ultimately silly turn, it feels like time is being taken away from the people we want to see.
Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have stuffed this prize package with an abundance of get-your-moneys-worth riches, from eye popping visual effects to spectacularly pitched action sequences. The finale is a showstopper, an all-out blitzkrieg assault that takes place in multiple places with numerous characters and still it’s never hard to follow what’s going on. It takes a special hand to guide these types of action set-pieces and their fourth film for Marvel has the Russo Brothers finding full scale power in their directing. That style in direction marries nicely with Trent Opaloch’s (Elysium) stunning cinematography that isn’t overrun by the dynamite visual effects. Alan Silvestri’s (The Croods) score is, as always, instantly recognizable and eternally heroic.
Do yourself a favor and get your bathroom breaks out before the film starts because at 156 minutes from start to finish it’s a commitment. You can’t afford to miss much, though, so even a well-timed pee break might set you back, especially in the last ten minutes. As with all Marvel movies, it goes without saying that you shouldn’t leave until the final credit has disappeared because there’s only one post-credit scene and it’s at the very end. Missing this one in particular would be a mistake.
The next Avengers movie is set for release in May 2019 and by that time two more Marvel films will have seen the light of day (Ant-Man and the Wasp in July and Captain Marvel in March 2019). Not every question is resolved by the end of Avengers: Infinity War and I’m more than interested to see what gets answered between now and next year…just do yourself a favor and see this one before anyone can spoil what happens. Don’t say I didn’t warn you…or that I let the cat out of the bag either.