Tag Archives: Apple TV

Cherry

Apparently the man’s name is Cherry. Let’s just deal with that and move on.

Cherry (Tom Holland) is a bit of a drifter. Too heartbroken for college, he joins the army instead, and predictably hates it pretty thoroughly. As a medic, he sees all the worst stuff, so even when he returns home to true love/new wife Emily (Ciaro Bravo), life isn’t exactly perfect. Riddled with PTSD, life unravels, and pretty soon both Cherry and Emily are coping with heroine. As you may be aware, nothing good has ever happened on heroine. Nothing. Best case scenario, you end up robbing banks to support your habit. Which, coincidentally, is exactly what happens to Cherry.

One bad decision after the next, it’s hard to watch Cherry spiral down a hole you know he won’t come out of. Worse, he takes Emily down with him.

Cherry is a great showcase for Tom Holland, who gets to stretch and show range as a once bright and promising kid who gets swallowed up by the convergence of two of the 21st Century’s greatest epidemics. Unfortunately, it’s a less impressive effort from Holland’s frequent MCU directors, Joe and Anthony Russo. Is Cherry over-directed? It may be the case; it definitely feels a bit style over substance. The cinematography is great and movie lovers will have no problem picking out references to other movies, but the truth is, Cherry doesn’t offer a lot that’s new. Sean felt he was watching Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, minus the humour. I felt like they were aiming for something more intimate, but after years of success in the Marvel universe, the Russos are perhaps a little rusty at delivering a more character-centric film. They drive the film with constant momentum but never pause long enough to drum up pathos or empathy. It’s at least 3 different movies stuffed into the bloated corpse of just one, with a run time to prove it.

This movie has some merit, but not enough to justify itself.

Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry

Whether or not you’re a fan of Billie Eilish, you should probably watch her documentary. The music industry has a habit of chewing up and then spitting out female artists and Eilish’s meteoric rise to fame at such a young and tender age would normally be an immediate red flag. Couple that with her seemingly dark personality and you might be tempted to put her on your worry list, but Eilish surrounds herself with a tight-knit family who don’t just care for her – they care for each other.

RJ Cutler’s Billie Eilish documentary has a tremendous amount of access. We get to see her from the young woman first tasting success on SoundCloud to, almost instantly, a global superstar weighted down with Grammy awards. The film follows her while she writes her first album, whether she’s on the road, or at home, or even up on stage, performing to hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of people. And yet Billie, still a kid, doesn’t seem to love the attention, or being looked at, or being treated like an idol. She struggles to write songs, she struggles with quality vs. quantity when touring non-stop takes a toll on her body and she’s unable to deliver the top-notch performance that only she expects of herself. For such a young kid, her work ethic is remarkable, but even more so is her ability to stay grounded. Clearly mom Maggie, dad Patrick, and big brother Finneas have a lot to do with this. Mom will be helping Billie do the blocking for her next music video in the backyard while dad obliviously picks up dog poop. Finneas delivers sitcom-quality pep talks, psyching up his sister as only he can, and only he understands she needs. The two are clearly close, he her writer and producer, as much responsible for her success as she is. They are a team, often together, never seen squabbling, delighting in each other’s success.

Maybe because this documentary is being shot so early in her career, Eilish in her family seem totally authentic and filter-free, not that they have anything to hide. They’re a surprisingly wholesome family, Billie’s biggest complaint that Maggie drives a minivan, an unappealing thought for a teenager about to get her first driver’s license, and her parents’ main concern seems to have been a tweenage obsession with Justin Bieber that’ll really come full circle by the documentary’s end.

Eilish is a massively talented woman with a solid lime green head on her shoulders and her Nikes firmly on the ground. She is a different kind of pop star, not divorced from her image, but not co-opting it either. She’s protective of herself without being jaded. You will hope, while watching this, that she can continue down this path, continue to make healthy choices, and to blaze a path for a new kind of entertainer – the kind that doesn’t have to sell her soul to get what she wants and deserves.

Palmer

Fresh out of prison after serving only 12 years of his sentence, Palmer (Justin Timberlake) rolls up at his grandma’s house with nowhere else to go. Grandma Vivian (June Squibb) is the one who raised him after his mom split and his dad died and she’s there for him again when he needs her.

He’s not the only one she pinch-hits for. Shelly (Juno Temple) next door is often… indisposed. By drugs and an abusive boyfriend. Which is already a pity, but Shelly’s also got a young son named Sam, who comes to stay with Vivian whenever his mother disappears, which is often. Life at Vivian’s is the only real stability Sam (Ryder Allen) has ever known. He eats regularly and sleeps in a real bed and gets to class on time. And now Palmer is a bonus father figure, something Sam has been craving.

Palmer is a convicted felon who’s lucky to find work as a janitor and Sam is a little boy who likes to play princesses. You wouldn’t have guessed that they were each exactly what the other needed but they do form a friendship, one that empowers Sam and gives Palmer’s life meaning.

Is Palmer cute and kind of sentimental? Yes it is. You’ll feel you’ve seen this kind of thing before because you have. Such is the redemption drama. And yet admittedly the performances are compelling, and the kid is charming as hell. Justin Timberlake shows some surprising range leading a strong ensemble cast. Palmer sees himself in this young abandoned boy, and his charity toward him is an opportunity to absolve some of his past sins. Together they are building a life, and yes it’s trite but it’s also very watchable.

The Banker

Bernard Garrett (Anthony Mackie) grew up overhearing white people’s business schemes as he shined their shoes, so he knows he’s just as smart and just as capable. In Texas in the 1960s, however, the world is designed to limit his ambition and rob him of power. But still, he dreams, and he follows those dreams to Los Angeles, where he meets Joe Morris (Samuel L. Jackson), a potential partner with as much audacity as he.

Joe is already a successful businessman; he owns several properties. Bernard, however, wants to get in on the real profit. He wants to own buildings in white neighbourhoods. Even in L.A. there are many barriers to this happening, so they convince their handyman Matt (Nicholas Hoult) to become the white face of the company. They teach him algebra and golf, the white man’s business necessities, and he basically becomes their puppet, the representative who shakes all the hands and signs all the contracts while his mysterious business partners remain names on a ledger, though both remain hidden in plain sight – as a chauffeur, and a janitor. This strategy is incredibly fruitful for them, but Bernard won’t really feel successful until he can do the same in Texas, so eventually they go back, and they buy a bank. A bank! A bank that will be the first in its area to give loans to Black clients, business owners and first time home owners. They have to do this work incredibly surreptitiously of course, because it’s still Texas, but this endeavour really has the power to transform the entire community, which of course has never had this kind of opportunity for upward mobility, which is to say, the same kind that white folks take for granted. Which is why some 1960s Karen feels the need to intervene. In 1960s Texas, Black audacity is just about the biggest crime there is, so they don’t just get a police response, but the FBI as well. Of the three men involved, can you guess which two are arrested and charged? Yes, go ahead and assume this will be based solely on the colour of their skin.

The Banker is a safe movie that leaves all the risks to its bold lead characters. Director George Nolfi is content with a pretty standard biopic, which in this case is fine, as the revolutionary entrepreneurs depicted are so vivaciously brought to life by both Mackie and Jackson. Proper credit goes to Nia Long also, who portrays Garrett’s wife, Eunice. Happily Long is given actual work to do, the wife not just content to stay in the home, but very much involved in the family business. Eunice was always the first to recognize her husband’s genius and her support must have meant the world, but that would have been a very big deal, to risk her family’s stability in order to indulge his ambition. Eunice was a trailblazer herself, and Nia Long makes the most of it.

Based on a true story, the pursuit not just of the American dream, but of equal access to said American dream, is a story worth telling every time. The magnetic banter between Mackie and Jackson is just surplus on the ledger.

Beastie Boys Story

Mike Diamond and Adam Horovitz stopped performing as Beastie Boys when friend and bandmate Adam Yauch died in 2012 after a 3 year battle with cancer. Actually, their last performance was in 2009, though none of them knew that it would be then.

This is an untraditional documentary; Diamond and Horovitz have mounted a stage show about the band’s history, its improbable beginnings, the ups and downs of fame, success, and friendship, all filmed by director Spike Jonze in front of a live audience. With behind the scenes photos, intimate stories, and little-known details, Diamond and Horovitz paint an intimate portrait of the Beastie Boys origin story, the turning points, the slumps, the resurrections, the regrets, the compromises, the hardships, and the insane parties.

Of course, at the heart of it all is a 40 year friendship between 3 guys who never grew bored of creating together. It’s clear that Diamond and Horovitz relish the opportunity to remember and honour their fallen friend, but are still emotional doing so. I felt it too, not because of his absence but because he actually felt quite present, so well remembered, so vibrant in memory and legacy. If you’re any kind of fan, you’ll enjoy taking a trip back to their earliest days, and then riding that crazy wave all the way to their most recent success. With so many hits in their catalogue, it’s definitely an enjoyable trip.

Boys State

Every year, the American Legion hosts a thousand 17-year-old boys from Texas and has them build a representative government from the ground up.  Every state but Hawaii does the same or similar, but this particular documentary is hanging around Austin, Texas, to witness their particular experience. High schools nominate which students will be sent, ostensibly some from all different political backgrounds, dividing them up into ‘cities’ which will then elect mock municipal officials, and representatives of state legislature, even state officials all the way up to governor. It sounds rather noble, definitely educational, like a mock-UN for local politics. But in practice, it’s actually pretty ugly. The kids aren’t learning to be civic-minded good citizens, they’re learning to lie, cheat – and worse.

Obviously politics is a dirty game, but I think it might be nice to at least teach kids the right way, the better way, the idealistic way before we give up on them entirely in adulthood and actually let them vote…or run! But no, these kids are petty and ruthless. They’ve come to win at any cost, and there’s no pretense in running clean campaigns. While organizing political parties, their fundamentals are decided upon by what tracks well, not by anyone’s actual beliefs. They’ve already learned about identity politics, and they’ll comb each other’s social media, looking for any weakness they can leak and exploit. They make empty promises, pass harmful bills, and shamelessly pander for votes.

It’s clear that as far as American politics goes, the corruption is baked right in. It’s being taught and endorsed by the American Legion! While I of course abhor the Boys State program for what it’s allowing, I applaud the documentary for exposing it for what it is. It’s important to understand just how ingrained these dirty politics have become. By the age of 17, it is clear to these kids that a life and career in politics is not about values or beliefs or doing what’s right or helping people or serving one’s country. It’s about winning, at any cost, and being willing to make any compromise in order to cross that finish line in front of one’s opponent. If adult politicians are varying degrees of good at concealing that naked fact, these kids are not. Some of us (by which I mean myself) often make the mistake of believing that things will be better when the old guard dies out, but this film makes it clear that this is a dangerous expectation – not only have the bad habits already been passed down, these kids are honing them. Soon there will be no pretense at all in the game, simply undisguised greed and self-interest.

Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special

[Note: not so much a review as a full-on recap and discussion…I’d say *spoilers ahead* except you already know she’s going to sing…right? So let’s get into what she wore and to whom she was bitchy.]

Some might say that a “premise” isn’t really necessary for a Mariah Carey Christmas Special. She’s practically Christmas royalty – hand her a microphone and we’re set. But nobody ever accused Mariah of not being extra, and so we have this:

Tiffany Haddish opens up a book and begins reading a Christmas tale about the year 2020 and how it was very difficult for people, resulting in a general lack of Christmas cheer. We check in with Billy the Elf (Billy Eisner) at the North Pole, who confirms the numbers are dangerously low. He greets Millie Bobby Brown, Bette Midler, and Heidi Klum, who concur (a random consortium, but I’ll take it). Billy surmises that there’s really only one thing to be done:

Cut to: Mariah Carey in a body-con holiday onesie the envy of ski bunnies everywhere, trimming the tree with her beautiful twins, Monroe and Moroccan, and a third child who’s basically just there to do the acting on their behalf. Unfortunately, no such stand-in is available for Mariah, who gives the most wooden Mariah Carey performance of her life (in fairness, she is probably physically incapable of moving her face). Mariah’s secret Santa phone is ringing, and she is summoned to the North Pole to save Christmas the way only Mariah Carey can. To the Batcave! Or the secret Christmas cave behind the fireplace anyway, where a self-propelled sleigh is awaiting to to whisk her away to the North Pole.

Anyway, she arrives to the North Pole like she is its Queen, and she kind of basically is. As “Santa’s Great Friend,” her arrival merits a parade thrown in her honour, rolled out so quickly they must keep it on standby and rehearse it periodically, like funerals for all the members of the royal family.

Or, I suppose I should say the “North Pole” – we’ve really taken increasing artistic license with the North Pole over the years. The geographic North Pole is found in the Arctic Ocean, on constantly shifting pieces of sea ice. It’s mostly just the sea ice, icebergs, and glaciers up there (no, those aren’t synonyms), with plant life mostly limited to grasses, mosses and lichens, not the oodles of evergreens Christmas Special set decorators are prone to overuse.

Mariah consents, from the bottom of her generous bosom heart to give a concert that will bring cheer to all who hear it. In her first costume change (out of 6.5), she appears in a glittering gold gown and stands beside a red lacquered piano to belt out the first of many Christmas carols.

In a third outfit, a short red and black dress with an impressively unnecessary train, she greets Snoop Dogg and Jermaine Dupri for a song, Snoop Dogg looking like he’s blissed out on some sort of special elf blend in a big red Santa suit he’s not remotely self-conscious about. And then Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson join her on stage, and by join her I mean quite visibly play back up singer to Mariah Carey’s lead singer. Wearing green dresses (Ariana in a cute velvet number and Jennifer looking like an absolute vision in sequins) and standing slightly behind and to the sides of Ms. Diva Carey, flanking her like they’re definitely not the stars of this special. When Mariah hits those high whistle notes of hers with a finger in her ear (an affectation when you’re lip-syncing, sure, but Mariah Carey is like 117% affectation), you might almost believe she’s doing it to block out Ms. Grande who’s joining her up in that upper register, but no, Mariah Carey has marked her territory and no one could mistake this as anything but her show. Not even Misty Copeland, ballerina extraordinaire, who’s up next.

Then there’s the silver dress which Mariah wears standing out in the “forest.” Let’s take a moment to shout out the formidable wardrobe department who help Mariah’s considerable assets defy gravity with a minimum of straps or structural support. This, above all, is the magic in Mariah Carey’s Magical Christmas Special. Her wig department is no less overworked but a little less technically proficient. The silver dress segment has her sporting a windblown look that stays windblown even without her dedicated wind machines, of which there are many.

Next we have the great big white dress that takes up nearly the entire stage. If you saw a woman wearing it down the aisle you’d wonder who the hell she think she is (Celine Dion?). She could be hiding several Billy Eichners under there. But then, for the next song, it seems the voluminous skirt is removed to reveal a fitted mermaid dress underneath, with sheer cutouts, no sleeves, and plenty of cleave. This is the portion of our evening in which Mariah will now heal the world, and she does it with two things: candle light, and extensive humming. If you’re thinking about watching this special, BYOC (bring your own candle). Millie, Heidi, and Bette all seem to have been cured. Billy Eichner confirms up: cheer is alive and well! Mariah has indeed saved the day, as we all knew she would.

Tiffany Haddish closes the book on Mariah’s Christmas miracle, but have no fear, we’re all heading back to the North Pole for one last number, and Mariah will be joined onstage by her children, who are pretty enthusiastic little dancers. Her encore deserves one last costume change, into a military/nutcracker inspired red sequined number that is worthy of the song that inspired the special, All I Want For Christmas Is You. Mariah Carey could be cryogenically frozen the other 11 months of the year and just rolled out for Christmas, and to add another billion to her bank account for a song she co-wrote and co-produced with Walter Afanasieff. That song gains in popularity every damn year, it’s a modern Christmas classic and it keeps her busy all December long, belting it out at every tree lighting ceremony across the country. It even broke the record for the longest trip to the number one position, reaching the spot 25 years after the song’s original release. It’s her bread and butter and has the coveted last spot in her Christmas Special (though it’s teased earlier). It’s exactly the kind of special you need around the holidays, and it couldn’t contain any more Mariah per square inch without exploding.

Greyhound

When the Americans were finally self-interested enough to join WW2, they needed a lot of boots on the ground, and some in the air, and a few if by sea.

Captain Krause (Tom Hanks) is in command of an escort force protecting an Atlantic convoy consisting of 37 Allied ships on their way to Liverpool. They’re passing through the Mid-Atlantic gap, so called because no antisubmarine aircraft are able to reach them. They’re on their own. Still three days out of range from protective air cover, they intercept German transmissions. It is likely U-boats are near. This is merely the start of 13 back to back covers (or 52 hours) on the Greyhound’s bridge as Krause fights to save his ship, protect those in his convoy, and rescue those who succumb.

As a war movie, director Aaron Schneider makes very effective use of his 90 minute runtime, keeping the focus on a very intense combat. It’s basically a race against time, a fight for survival until they reach precious, essential air cover once again.

But the reason Greyhound really shines, as did its source material, The Good Shepherd by C. S. Forester, is in its fascinating and intricate character study of the man behind the wheel. Captain Krause has been a career Navy officer for many years. His seniority is unquestionable, but in truth, this is his first wartime mission. The other captains are younger and junior to him in rank, but they’ve been at war for two years already. Although we see him act in competent and level-headed ways, we are also privy to his self-doubt. The combat is relentless as the minutes and hours tick by, Krause unwilling to leave his post, and only the kindness of a mess attendant (Rob Morgan) ensures he doesn’t go hungry.

Hanks adapted the material himself, and though we never see the guy make an acting misstep, he is clearly suited to this character, slipping on the captain’s skin as if it were a comfortable, monogrammed slipper. You feel his fatigue, and inklings of inferiority, but with the weight and fate of an entire fleet on his shoulders, he never gives less than his best. The constant danger is exhausting, the many snap judgments that must be made while in command are overwhelming, and above all, we see Krause struggle with his conscience – muttered prayers for the souls on board, but also a refusal to celebrate enemy kills, a necessary part of war perhaps, but one with which Krause is not entirely comfortable. It’s a facet rarely explored in war movies and Hanks is up for its portrayal, but cleverly, the points are merely plotted, the lines themselves drawn by the audience.

I expect nothing less that complete satisfaction from the material Hanks is choosing, and he’s so unvaryingly good it’d be almost tedious if it wasn’t so wonderful. And this, too, is wonderful, and not even annoyingly so. Hanks truly is a master and Forester’s carefully observed novel cannot be over-rated.

TIFF20 Wolfwalkers

In a version of 1650 Ireland probably not too different from the one our history reports, Robyn (voiced by Honor Kneafsey) and her widowed father Bill Goodfellowe (Sean Bean) are sent by colonizer extraordinaire, the Lord Protector (Simon McBurney), to a remote outpost of a town that’s growing past its own humble borders into the woods beyond it. The town has suffered wolf attacks as it creeps into their territory and Bill, a wolf hunter, is tasked with their destruction. Young daughter Robyn wants nothing more than to be just like her father, and to hunt by his side, but Lord Protector has a narrower, more traditional belief about a woman’s place. To prove her worth and bravery, Robyn takes on the woods alone and almost becomes prey herself when a pack of wolves circles around her, but she is saved at the last minute by Mebh (Eva Whittaker).

The legends are true: Mebh is a wolfwalker, a girl who has an independent life as a wolf while her human self sleeps. Luckily she also has healing powers, relieving Robyn of the nasty bite on her arm, but not before it transforms Robyn into a wolfwalker too. Robyn loves to run with her new friends at night, wild and free unlike any other female in 17th century Ireland, but she has now become the very thing her father must exterminate, the very embodiment of the village’s superstitions, both the colonizer and the colonized.

The movie’s style begs you to notice it is lovingly hand-drawn; while some images are deliberately rustic, there are so many saturated colours and levels of detail the overall effect is simply gorgeous, like looking at stained glass. It has myth in its heart and magic running through its veins. The script is good but the animation itself is enough to communicate the disparate worlds of human and beast. The lush and vibrant art is alone worth the watch, but the ethereal nature of the woods’ inhabitants makes for a captivating story reminiscent of the kind of lyrical folk and fairy tales that just don’t get told much anymore. Wolfwalkers is certainly among the best animated films of the year and I’m confident that we will see its name on the Oscar ballot this year.

Wolfwalkers is in select theatres now and will be available to stream on Apple TV December 11 2020.

On The Rocks

Laura (Rashida Jones) has what looks like a perfect life: beautiful New York apartment, sweet little girls, a room of her own in which to write, a handsome and successful husband…and yet. And yet, something’s a little lacking. The early days of their marriage were of course full of passion and excitement but things have cooled off, perhaps in part due to kids, Laura’s waning self-confidence, and Dean’s (Marlon Wayans) busy work schedule and frequent travel. In fact, some recent events have Laura wondering whether Dean is perhaps seeing someone else. Luckily Laura’s got another thing going for her: a father with a sense of adventure and a propensity for romantic advice he has no real qualification to dispense.

Felix (Bill Murray) was a philanderer himself while married to Laura’s mom, so maybe he does have some valuable insight here. But he’s also just so happy to be spending time with his daughter, not to mention helping her out. They zip around the city in a cherry red convertible, playing spy, snacking on caviar, bonding and reminiscing, trying not to have too much fun over the extinction of Laura’s marriage.

Rashida Jones and Bill Murray are the father-daughter duo of our dreams, a pairing that will prove nearly impossible to beat. Jones is a natural sparkler, glowing and effervescent in everything she does, and yet she ably gives up some of her spotlight to the man playing her larger than life, playboy father. Felix is at the stage in his life where he’s indulging in his every whim, and it doesn’t exactly sound like he was ever a man who denied himself much. Murray, it seems, is getting better with age, so effortlessly charming, so completely endearing even while blemished with a hint of selfishness, tinged with a tendency toward flippancy.

Writer-director Sofia Coppola sets the stage with a gorgeous setting and a warm relationship, and then peppers On The Rocks with some profoundly entertaining navel-gazing. Felix is a fount of wisdom, not all of it equal in worth or sincerity, but every third or fourth quip, offered with Felix’s trademark insouciance, will disarm you with its bare naked authenticity. The premise seems to be about catching Dean’s infidelity red-handed, but it’s actually about an older man whose contemporaries are dying and he’s finding himself increasingly alone. After hurting her mother and leaving his family, Felix’s relationship with Laura is as much on the rocks as Dean’s is, and if he needs an excuse to spend quality time with her, he’s not afraid to use the end of her marriage to do it. Coppola’s script expertly stays away from saccharine expressions and simply allows us (and Laura) to see a love and deep affection sheepishly, self-consciously offered but genuinely felt.