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REVIEW: Cherry

by @holocronGeorge for @FilmCodex

Tom Holland and the Russo brothers team up once again, except this time the superheroes and visual effects are left behind in exchange for a harrowing and uniquely told tale about the effects of PTSD and substance abuse. Tom Holland stars as an unnamed man, whose life is looking up after falling in love with a woman named Emily, played by Ciara Bravo. The film tracks Holland’s character as he leaves this idyllic life behind to join the Army, where struggles with mental health soon follow as he plummets into a life as a bank robber. 

Cherry doesn’t offer much, if anything, particularly unique in terms of its story. We’ve seen tales of war and its deleterious effects on one’s well-being like The Hurt Locker and Born on the Fourth of July before. War, trauma, and addiction are extensively explored topics in cinema across decades. What Cherry does differently is not the story it tells, but how its story is told. The Russo brothers don’t hold back when it comes to delivering a film that is poignant in emotion and grand in style. Unusual editing, slow motion, text appearing on the screen, changes in color grading and aspect ratio, and on-the-nose names for characters and locations are abound. For some, this in-your-face style of directing may be a little off-putting, but I found it refreshing and gripping. Sure, at times it comes across as a little unnecessary or self-indulgent, but, for the most, Cherry excels when it ramps up it’s strangeness. This is a weird movie. The Russo brothers take a lot of chances stylistically and most of these choices land, while others admittedly fail (I don’t exactly understand the reasoning for including an interior shot of Tom Holland’s ass in the film). Regardless of your opinion on this style and its necessity, it’s at least gripping and sets Cherry apart from other, similar films we’ve seen in the past.

I’ll admit, when Tom Holland was first announced to play the lead role in a film about an Iraq War veteran turned drug-addicted, traumatized bank robber, I questioned this decision. Holland is terrific in the MCU films and has delivered fantastic turns in The Impossible and The Lost City of Z. But between Netlflix’s The Devil All the Time and Apple’s Cherry, Holland is asserting himself as one of the most compelling movie stars working today. Holland commands every moment he is on the screen, which is essentially every second. The film wouldn’t work unless an actor of Holland’s presence and versatility could play so many different iterations of such a difficult role as the character’s life over years is portrayed. Holland is brilliantly complemented by Ciara Bravo, who plays Holland’s character’s girlfriend in the film. Similar to Holland, Bravo expertly portrays different angles of her character as her journey unfolds in unexpected ways. 

Cherry is structured into chapters, which makes the film feel grander (probably grander than it really is). The film somewhat loses steam amidst the middle mark, but picks up steam as it goes along from there. At 141 minutes, Cherry does lean on the longer side with the pacing dragging just a tad in the latter chapters.

Cherry is likely to leave a lasting impression on many. Despite its rather formulaic premise and narrative, the Russo brothers infuse a wealth of uncanny stylistic choices that (for the most part) kept me interested and invested throughout. 

Verdict: 7.5/10

Anchored by stellar performances from Holland and Bravo, Cherry overcomes its formulaic story with a heightened and unexpected style by the Russo brothers.

Images courtesy of Apple

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Film Codex

Box Office Report: Weekend of 3/12 – Avatar Regains Top Spot; Raya Reigns Supreme Again

by @holocronJulie for @FilmCodex

Avatar once again claimed the top spot at the all time box office this weekend, earning $21.1 million from a China rerelease to push it to over $2.8 billion worldwide, above Avengers: Endgame. Endgame previously dethroned Avatar after a staggering box office showing in the summer of 2019, with the help of a rerelease.

Elsewhere, Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon earned $5.5 million domestically from 2,163 locations. Internationally, Raya earned $11.5 million to take its overall total to $52.6 million. The numbers for ‘Raya’ are a little undetermined given it’s hybrid model (in which viewers can watch the flick at home with a Disney+ subscription and a $30 premium fee), which has yet to be reported by the studio.

Tom & Jerry came in second place at the domestic box office this weekend, earning $4.1 million, taking its total gross to $28.2 million (like Raya, it’s hard to account for the money earned from viewers watching the film on HBO Max). Chaos Walking, Boogie, and Croods: A New Age took the next remaining spots, earning $2.25 million, $730k, and $520k respectively. 

There’s cause for optimism at the box office, given the vaccination rates increasing and positivity rates decreasing. This has seen the Los Angeles movie theaters gearing up for reopening next week, meaning that a significant market will be available again. We should start to see rising totals for movies soon. All eyes are in Black Widow and whether or not it can keep it’s May release, and the signs are positive right now.

Stay tuned next week for another box office update!

Image courtesy of Disney

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REVIEW: Coming 2 America

by @holocronJosh for @FilmCodex

Aptly titled Coming 2 America, Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall team up once again for a follow-up to the classic 1988 comedy that, despite moments of spark, is a largely dull and misguided exercise in nostalgia meeting modern pop culture. The film sees Murphy return as Prince Joffer, who once again journeys to America in an effort to find his long lost son and stop an impending war with Nexdoria.

The original Coming to America is an 80s classic and widely regarded as one of the best comedies of all time. The premise is superb, the jokes land perfectly, and there’s a surprising backbone of heart coursing through the entire film. It’s sad to say then that, after anticipating a sequel to the adventures of Joffer and Semmi for so long, Coming 2 America largely disappoints. Fundamentally, it is the premise where the film goes awry. Eddie Murphy’s Joffer is largely given a backseat role in favor of the less interesting Lavelle, portrayed well by the talented Jermaine Fowler given what little he has to work with.

Coming 2 America largely hits the same beats as its predecessor but falls short in almost every regard and fails to build upon or offer a different take on what made the first film so great. The film’s dance and music sequences are overly long and feel out of place. The film largely takes place on Zamunda, but the opportunity to explore this setting in richer detail is sadly missed emphasis on music. And the heart and soul of the first film, largely driven by a charismatic performance by Murphy, is absent. 

That being said, Coming 2 America is still a somewhat entertaining watch. The side cast of characters really excel, in particular Leslie Jones and Tracy Morgan as mother and uncle respectively of Lavelle. It’s also great to see James Earl Jones again and Wesley Snipes does a brilliant turn as an over-the-top villain (although he is sadly under-utilized as well). And, for the most part, the film is serviceable. The scenes are competently constructed, some of the gags are pulled off well, and it’s great to see the return of various returning characters, especially Mr. Clarence and the other barbershop goers. And the film concludes with a terrific concluding dance sequence.

It’s unfortunate that Coming 2 America never really finds its feet. Littered with ‘contemporary’ jokes and references that fall flat almost every time, the film at times feels tired and uninspired, a stark contrast to the raw originality of its predecessor. 

Verdict: 5/10

Comedy 2 America has all of the ingredients to be a fantastic sequel to a beloved comedy classic, but none of these ingredients really come together. Bogged down by a misguided premise and uninspired retreads of its predecessor, the film’s saving grace is its leanings into nostalgia and some stand-out side performances. All in all, however, we were hoping for more.

Images courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

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Box Office Report: Weekend of 3/5 – Raya and the Last Dragon Reigns Supreme With $8.6 Million Domestically

by @holocronJosh

Disney’s Raya and the Last Dragon topped the box office this weekend with $8.6 million from 2,045 theaters. While Disney has not released official numbers, that number is bound to be significantly higher when the Disney+ rentals for the film are added in (it costs $30 to rent ‘Raya’, along with a subscription for the streaming service, and Disney reportedly keeps 100% of these profits). Raya also debuted in 23 other territories this weekend, taking its total to $26.2 million. Raya is going up against some unfortunate circumstances upon release, as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps roughly half of domestic theaters closed. Many of the ones that are open are at a reduced capacity, usually in the 25-40% range.

Tom & Jerry, which made a whopping $14 million in its opening weekend 7 days ago, came second this weekend, adding another $6.6 million to take its tally to $22.95 million. Elsewhere, Chaos Walking took in $3.8 million from just under 2,000 theaters. Eddie Huang’s Boogie debuted this weekend, making $1.2 million overall. 

While these box office numbers aren’t where studios want them to be, the decrease in COVID-19 cases, along with the vaccinations ramping up, should provide hope that there will be more films exceeding expectations in the future, as Tom & Jerry did last weekend.

Image courtesy of Disney

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REVIEW: Raya and the Last Dragon

by @holocronGeorge

Disney animation has a storied history of producing heartfelt, classic tales of characters and their journeys and, thankfully, Raya and the Last Dragon continues in this tradition. Although it sticks closely to Disney’s established formula for animated films, Raya and the Last Dragon is an immense tale of sacrifice, collaboration, and representation bolstered by incredible voice work and stunning visuals.

The film stars Kelly Marie Tran (Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker) as the title character, alongside Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Dae Kim, and more. Tran plays Raya, a teenage girl who is tasked with reassembling the Dragon Gem, an artifact that holds the key to restoring and saving humanity. As the film explains, the Gem was previously broken into pieces, hence the need to put it back together again. Centuries beforehand, evil creatures threatened the safety of all, requiring dragons to sacrifice themselves in a selfless effort to save humanity. Years later, the creatures re-emerge and Raya is tasked with collaborating with the dragon and stopping the threat once and for all.This provides an interesting quest for Raya, and an epic challenge that leads her directly into the paths of a variety of different characters, including Sisu (Awkwafina), Tuk Tuk, and the villainous Namaari (Chan), who used to be the friend of Raya yet is intent on enacting her own, more sinister plans for the Gem.

Tran excels in this lead role, proving her acting talents once again. Tran adds so much humanity and emotion to Raya, making her even more relatable to audiences of all ages and genders. After her excellent work in The Last Jedi, it’s no surprise that Tran puts in such an amazing performance here. There’s been much unfair negativity from toxic sects of social media about Tran, yet she once again proves them wrong here. Awkwafina also stands out, adding humor and life to Sisu, a standout character in the film.

Raya and the Last Dragon works really well as an exciting adventure film, something that Disney is no stranger to. The world building here is also excellent, as the shattered land of Kumandra (Raya’s home) is explored in depth, as are the five tribes: Heart, Fang, Spine, Talon, and Tail. Raya also excels in representation, as Disney continues to make progress in delivering another interesting, relatable, and great female led film. Moreover, representation on screen and behind the scenes is worth praising as Raya and the Last Dragon is sure to have an impression on people of underrepresented groups, as well as those who have been privileged enough to see stories told from the lens of people that look like them for decades now.

Raya and the Last Dragon’s animation is outstanding too. Although we previewed this on Disney+, it’s certainly worth going to the theater once the pandemic subsides to see this movie in IMAX. Still, even on the smaller screen on Disney+, the work of the animators shines through as some of, if not the best Disney animation we’ve ever gotten.

Verdict: 9/10

Raya and the Last Dragon is a must see animated film for all ages. Not only does it make significant progress in Asian representation in large-scale films, Raya and the Last Dragon is a poignant story that largely sticks to the tried-and-true Disney formula, while diverting in interesting and unexpected ways.

Images courtesy of Disney

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REVIEW: Chaos Walking

by @holocronJosh

It’s been a long wait for Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking. The film, based on Patrick Ness’ novel “The Knife of Never Letting Go”, was originally set to release on March 1st, 2019, but was delayed after the film underwent reshoots. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the film was delayed once again, finally landing on the release date of March 5th, 2021, over two years after the original date. Because of this, many fans have asked the question: is it worth the wait?

Before we get to that, it’s important to give a brief, spoiler-free overview of the movie. The film follows Todd Hewitt (played by Tom Holland) a teenager from the planet New World. Hewitt suffers from a condition called Noise, in which his every thought is broadcast to those around him, and is one that all makes on this alien planet have. Todd attempts to control his condition, channeling these thoughts into mirages. However, only Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) has mastered this ability completely, and uses it to control Prentisstown, a place on New World.

Holland’s Hewitt eventually meets Daisy Ridley’s Viola, who crashes and lands on New World, and is a representative of sorts for the new round of settlers. Hewitt is inherently intrigued by Viola, given that he’s never met a woman before in his entire life. Hewitt feels drawn to Viola and decides to help her as she attempts to contact the others.

The simple answer as to whether or not this film is worth the wait is yes (for the most part). The Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley led project is a film that will, at the very least, entertain audiences. Moviegoers will certainly appreciate the excellent cast doing the best with the material at their disposal. Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, and Mads Mikkelsen all together for one movie is bound to be a director’s dream, and will sure to interest audiences. It’s no surprise that all three excel once again in this film. Holland and Ridley in particular are excellent in the rare but welcomed comedic moments in the movie, and these exchanges add to the characters chemistry significantly. These moments often come when Hewitt’s thoughts are displayed out in the open for Viola to see, and lighten the movie up in a necessary and fun way. Mikkelsen is also good once again in this movie (no surprise there), and displays his usual villainous nature in a way so convincing that very few others in Hollywood today can. Although we wish he played a bit more of a significant role in the film. Avoiding spoiler-territory, some of Miklelsen’s character’s motivations and goals are a bit muddled to say the least.

Despite these excellent actors leading the movie, there’s a certain sense that more can be done to fully utilize the stellar cast at hand. Holland and Ridley are incredible talents, as their roles in Marvel and Star Wars respectively highlight, yet their talent isn’t on full display here. Daisy Ridley in particular goes long stretches in the film with little dialogue. Audiences know what she and her counterpart can do, so it’s frustrating to see their full potential not realized in this movie. However, despite this, Holland and Ridley are still great once again in this movie given what they have at their disposal.

The premise of Chaos Walking is particularly gripping and sets the stage for an interesting film moving forward. It’s a shame that, at times, the film feels quite choppy and jarring. The film went through widely-covered reshoots after principal photography after it screened poorly with test audiences and some of this chopping and changing is evident on screen. Although Chaos Walking is always entertaining and captures your attention, its narrative seems to shift focus quite a lot through the duration of the movie, something we attribute to somewhat uneven pacing.

Verdict: 6.5/10

All things considered, Chaos Walking could have been – as the title suggests – chaos walking. And the film is certainly not that. The leads are charismatic and the premise is interesting enough to deliver an entertaining sci-fi thriller competently directed by Doug Liman, although it’s a shame the film doesn’t come together more cohesively and truly actualize the potential of it’s premise.

Images courtesy of Lionsgate