Tag Archives: Tom Holland

War Torn

Cherry

by Hope Madden

Ohio is trying to kill Tom Holland.

Last year we lured this sweety pie to Knockemstiff with the sole purpose of, well, knocking him stiff in Antonio Campos’s big screen adaptation of Donald Pollack’s novel The Devil All the Time.

And now Cleveland.

Filmmakers and brothers Joe and Anthony Russo—both fans of The Land, having filmed many of their Marvel films there—bring Nico Walker’s Cleveland-based semi-autobiographical novel to the screen. Cherry sees a young man, nameless through most of the film, make a bad decision and then pay for it dearly for the rest of his life.

That young man is played with as much humanity and tenderness as you’ve come to expect from Holland. You cannot root against this kid.

Walker himself, whose novel was adapted for the screen by Angela Russo-Otstot and Jessica Goldberg, apparently wrote what he knew. The Russos take his tale and, in their best moments, inject a cynical visual commentary to offset Holland’s earnest good nature.

The star draws support from some impressive ensemble work. Forrest Goodluck (The Revenant) and Jack Raynor (Midsommar) deliver an excellent mix of tragedy and comedy, while Ciara Bravo gives love interest Emily a believably bruised soul.

The combination, when it works, generates a knowing story about a screwup who paid too high a price for one mistake but never lost his humanity.

It doesn’t always work, though.

Cherry clocks in at a hefty 2:20 and it feels for all the world like the Russos and their writers simply didn’t know how or where to cut Walker’s story down. The movie lacks focus.

And while there are clever stylistic choices made—the names of the banks as written on walls and other nods toward a subversive side commentary—the structure is far, far too standard. This should feel like no other movie you’ve ever seen because Walker’s story is really unusual.

Instead, Cherry seems too much like a string of broken person meets terrible consequences before facing personal demons thrillers.

Save a Prayer

The Devil All the Time

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

“Lord knows where a person who ain’t saved might end up.”

Indeed. The constant fight to overcome the worst in ourselves lies at the heart of The Devil All the Time, director Antonio Campos’s darkly riveting realization of Donald Ray Pollock’s best-selling novel.

Bookended by the close of World War II and the escalation in Vietnam, the film connects the fates of various characters living in the small rural towns of Southern Ohio and West Virginia.

Arvin (Tom Holland), the son of a disturbed WWII vet (Bill Skarsgård), fights to protect his sister (Eliza Scanlen) while he ponders his future. Husband and wife serial killers (Jason Clarke and Riley Keough) look for hitchhikers to degrade, photograph and murder. A new small town preacher (Robert Pattinson) displays a special interest in the young girls of his congregation.

It’s a star studded affair—Mia Wasikowska, Haley Bennett and Sebastian Stan joining as well—but every actor blends into the woodsy atmosphere with a sense of unease that permeates the air. No stars here, all character actors in service of the film’s unsettling calling.

Pollock’s prose created a dizzyingly bleak landscape where Flannery O’Connor and Cormac McCarthy might meet to quietly ponder man’s inhumanity to man. Campos unlocks that world courtesy of Pollock himself, who narrates the film’s depravity with a backwoods folksiness that makes it all the more chilling.

As rays of light are constantly snuffed out by darkness, Campos (who also co-wrote the screenplay) uses Pollock’s voice and contrasting soundtrack song choices to create a perverse air of comfort.

Redemption is a slippery aim in and around Knockemstiff, Ohio, and grace is even harder to come by. With a heavier hand, this film would have been a savage beating or a backwoods horror of the most grotesque kind. Campos and his formidable ensemble deliver Pollock’s tale with enough understatement and integrity to cut deeply, unnerving your soul and leaving a well-earned scar.

Magic the Birthday Gathering

Onward

by Hope Madden

Dan Scanlon’s been kicking around Pixar for a while. He’s been part of the “Senior Creative Team” for some of the greatest animated films of the last decade: Toy Story 4, Coco, Inside Out.

He also wrote and directed Monsters University—his only w/d credits with the animation giant—and that movie is one of Pixar’s rare missteps. Can he right his footing with a fraternal quest, a hero’s journey, a nerdy road trip?

Not quite.

Onward, Scanlon’s first directing effort since that monstrous 2013 Revenge of the Nerds riff, opens where many a hero’s journey begins: a birthday. Shy elf Ian Lightfoot (Tom Holland) is turning 16. He’s a little awkward, and maybe even slightly embarrassed by his magic and folklore obsessed older brother, Barley (Chris Pratt).

Ian never met his dad, but his mom’s been saving a gift for just this occasion. It will set a series of actions in motion that will show the town how cool (and destructive) magic can be. But will it turn meek Ian into a hero?

Scanlon sets up a funny if slight near-satire of the mythical hero’s quest, and the most enjoyable sight gags in the film come from his eye for other (better) films in this vein: all things Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones. There’s even a bit of Guardians of the Galaxy (which feels a little too on-the-nose) and maybe just a touch of Weekend at Bernie’s.

Plus feral unicorns.

I will be honest, he had me at feral unicorns. And it is these little flourishes that Onward gets right, but that’s just not enough to carry the film.

Pratt and especially Holland – who continues a run of solid voice work (even if no one saw Dolittle or Spies in Disguise) – both find a rapport that feels honest enough to give the emotional climax a little punch.

But there’s just nothing particularly magical about this movie. The core story is paint by numbers obvious and the nods to other epic adventures become so frequent and so brazen that it’s hard to find a single inspired or original thought in the entire film.

It’s nice. It garners an amused chuckle or too, maybe even a sniffle, but you’ll be hard pressed to remember anything about it besides those unicorns, and there was no real point to those.

Dolittle Jones

Dolittle

by George Wolf

Man, when I was a kid I wanted a Pushmi-Pullyu so bad.

I would try to get all the way through “If I Could Talk to the Animals” without messing up a lyric, and imagine how fun it would be to get one of those mythical Pushmis delivered in a crate, just like Rex Harrison in 1967’s original Dr. Dolittle.

Over thirty years later, Eddie Murphy ditched the tunes for a more straightforward comedic approach in two franchise updates, and now Robert Downey, Jr. steps in to move the doctor a little closer to Indiana.

Jones, that is.

But’s it’s Indy by way of Victorian-era Britain, as Young Lady Rose (Carmel Laniado) calls on the famous animal-taking doctor with a dispatch from Buckingham Palace and an urgent plea to help the deathly ill Queen Victoria herself (Jessie Buckley).

As suspicions arise about Royal Dr. Mudfly (Michael Sheen) and the true nature of the Queen’s ills, Dolittle and friends (some human, most not) set sail on a grand adventure to acquire the cure from King Rassouli (Antonio Banderas), who just happens to be the father of Dolittle’s dear departed Lily (Kasia Smutniak).

Plus, there’s a big dragon.

Director/co-writer Stephen Gaghan (Syriana) re-sets the backstory with an animated fairy tale, then ups the ante on action while letting Downey, Jr. and a menagerie of star voices try to squeeze out all the fun they can.

From Emma Thompson to John Cena, Octavia Spencer to Rami Malek, Tom Holland, Ralph Fiennes and Kumail Nanjiani to Selena Gomez and more, the CGI zoo juggles personalities, while Downey curiously chooses a whispered, husky delivery that sometimes makes his Do a little hard to understand.

But, of course, he still manages to craft an engaging character, even centering the Dr. with a grief just authentic enough for adults without bringing down the childlike wonder.

This is a Dr. Dolittle set on family adventure mode, with plenty of talking animal fun for the little ones and a few clever winks and nudges for the parents. But as the start of a possible franchise, it’s more of a handshake than a high-five. It may not leave you with belly laughs or tunes stuck in your head, but it’s eager to please manner doesn’t hurt a bit.

Pigeon: Impossible

Spies in Disguise

by Hope Madden

The Christmastime animated feature Spies in Disguise (based on a short called Pigeon: Impossible, which is an altogether superior title) is a mash note to science, weirdos and peace. I can get behind that.

Will Smith is the voice of Lance Sterling, America’s top spy. Lance is cool. He’s daring. He’s unstoppable. And he flies solo.  

But when an evil nemesis (the always welcome Ben Mendelsohn) outwits him, he turns reluctantly to nerdy gadget officer Walter (Tom Holland) for help.

Walter turns him into a pigeon. Naturally.

The ensuing fish out of water (pigeon out of air?) comedy is clever enough to keep your attention. It’s equal parts fun, good natured and funny without becoming overly sentimental.

Besides Smith, Holland and Mendelsohn, Spies boasts impressive and interesting vocal talent choices: Reba McEntire as the head of the agency, Rashida Jones as the lead investigator and Karen Gillan as another techy in the agency named Eyes.

The movie looks good. In fact, in certain scenes—particularly those in Venice—the film looks great. It also carries with it a healthy message, one that writers Brad Copeland and Lloyd Taylor articulate without preaching.

The film is more charming than outright funny, relying on its leads’ natural charisma and fun chemistry, but it does offer more than a handful of chuckles. The wee ones at our screening laughed a good deal, while the slightly older tots laughed on occasion but seemed entertained throughout.

It’s also a film that won’t make parents want to wait in the lobby.

Teen Titan

Spider-Man: Far From Home

by Hope Madden and George Wolf

Spider-Man: Far From Home has more than a webshooter up its sleeve.

One part reflection on the state of MCU, one part statement on our cartoonishly ridiculous world today, one part charming coming-of-age tale, the latest Spidey episode almost takes on more than it can carry. But return writers Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers embrace franchise strengths while betting director Jon Watts, also back from Homecoming, can maneuver slick surprises.

The wager pays off, and Far From Home winds up being a film that feels a bit campy for a while, but in retrospect succeeds precisely because of those early over-the-top moments.

Peter Parker (the immeasurably charming Tom Holland), having returned from oblivion (Infinity War), then universal salvation and personal loss (Endgame), would like a vacation. The poor kid just wants to take a trip abroad with his class and get a little closer to his crush MJ (Zendaya).

But that is not to be, is it?

Not with Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) following him across the globe, or the surprise appearance of Quentin Beck aka Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), a new monster-slayer from another Earthly dimension.

“You mean there really is a multi-verse?”

That’s a nice nod to the stellar animated Spidey adventure from last year, and a big clue about how self-aware this chapter is determined to be. The front and center ponderings about what Peter (and by extension, Marvel) is going to do now threaten to collapse the film from self-absorption.

To the rescue: a jarring and unexpected pivot, and that wonderfully youthful vibe that now has one eye on growing up.

Interestingly, Tony Stark fills in for the guilt-inducing father figure that’s always been missing from this iteration of Peter Parker’s tale. Without Uncle Ben, Stark becomes that hallowed hero whose shadow threatens to obliterate the fledgling Avenger.

Peter’s still a teenager, after all, and Homecoming soared from embracing that fact, and from Holland’s ability to sell it in all its wide-eyed and awkward glory.

He still does, but now our hero’s naiveté is shaken by some mighty timely lessons. Number one: “It’s easy to fool people when they’re already fooling themselves.”

Not exactly subtle, but fitting for the world of a distracted teen. And for kids of all ages, there’s no denying how cathartic it is to see world leaders, their media lapdogs and widespread buffoonery on blast and blasted across the largest screens, where good will inevitably conquer.

As fun and funny as this keep-you-guessing Eurotrip is, its core is driven by a simple search for truth. And don’t leave early, because that search doesn’t stop until Far From Home plays its second post-credits hand, and you walk out re-thinking everything you just saw.

Tangled webs, indeed.

Jennifer Titus Accompanies Premiere to Nightmares Film Festival

Actress Jennifer Titus has never been to a horror film festival. Hell, she’s never been to Columbus, but she’s all set to accompany her new film and enjoy Nightmares Film Festival this weekend.

Titus stars as Ashley, a serial killer’s neighbor with the skills to take care of herself in Tom Holland’s newest Rock, Paper, Dead. The film, which has garnered several festival nominations, will make its world premiere at Nightmares.

A longtime horror fan, Titus was thrilled to be offered a role in the film penned by Friday the 13th creator Victor Miller.

“My very first horror film was Friday the 13th,” she says. “Honestly, I was so honored to be reading this. And it was a page-turner. When I met Victor Miller, he was such a real, down to earth guy and such a calm, beautiful soul. And I thought, I would be honored to do this.”

Acting was not exactly her first career choice.

“When I was about 6 or 7, my grandfather asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up,” she remembers. “I said I wanted to be a professional figure skater, a doctor and a movie star. He told me, ‘Well I have no doubt you will do all three.’”

He was right.

A figure skater throughout her childhood, Titus turned professional at 18, touring the country and the world with ice shows. Eventually, she returned to school, earning a degree from UC San Diego in science and theater, then moving on to medical school.

“Toward my last year I really missed acting,” she says. “I just wasn’t getting that creative fulfillment in medical school, so when I graduated I got right back into acting.”

But her medical degree came in handy.

“I got into a situation where I was acting and they needed a doctor for an emergency,” she says. “We were actually in the jungle and there was a guy who had a bamboo stake driven into his leg underneath his muscle. I jumped right in and did field medicine surgery on the guy and I ended up saving his leg – bamboo is very toxic. When I visited him about three days later, about 30 people there to meet me and thank me. It was so rewarding I just thought to myself, I need to go back, get licensed.”

Titus returned to medicine, completed her residency, passed the board exam, got licensed and returned to acting.

“I always knew I wanted to do these things,” she laughs. “It’s not like I was confused and I was career jumping. I was just knocking them off the list.”

Titus sees a connection among the professions.

“When I was little, I was always interested in blood and guts,” she says. “Honestly, that’s one of the things I always loved about medicine. It never was scary to me or gross to me, it always fascinated me.”

Titus says her character in Rock, Paper, Dead—a black belt in karate—was the ideal role for her.

“My best friend and I, every Saturday night, would go down to the video store and rent one to two horror films. We’d get under the covers, cover our faces with pillows and squeal. That went on for years.”

“I specifically remember Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master,” she says. “The main character was a girl that took on all the powers of her friends who were killed off by Freddy Krueger. She became just a ninja master by the end. And I thought, oh my gosh, that is just the coolest character I have ever seen in all these horror films. I thought, what a great example, finally, of a strong female who can take this guy on. And when I got this script for Rock, Paper, Dead, I thought, oh my gosh, it’s the dream master. I have to do it. It’s so cool.”

Nighmares Film Festival runs from Thursday, October 19 through Sunday, October 22.

Rock, Paper, Dead, which makes its world premiere this Saturday, October 21 at 8pm, is nominated in the categories of Best Thriller Feature and Best Screenplay Feature.

For tickets and showtimes visit gatewayfilmcenter.org





Teenage Dream

Spider-Man: Homecoming

by Hope Madden and George Wolf 

With brief but wildly enjoyable screen time, the newest Spider-Man (Tom Holland) introduced himself to us in last year’s Captain America: Civil War. His presence was energetic, light-hearted and fun – childlike. Appropriate for a high school freshman.

It’s exactly that bottled exuberance that makes Spider-Man: Homecoming so enjoyable.

The events of Cap and Iron Man’s battle for control of the Avengers only months behind them, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr. – like you didn’t know) takes arachnid-bitten science nerd Peter Parker under his wing.

Pete’s not ready for the big time yet, though. Mr. Stark would prefer his protégé focus on being a friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man instead of pestering for an invite to be the next Avenger.

There are several things director Jon Watts (Clown, Cop Car) and his enormous team of writers get right.

Firstly, they know we’re hip to Pete’s origin story, so the bite, Uncle Ben and all that needless angst are mercifully missing.

Next, they keep the story tight and low to the ground. It’s a training-wheels villain – somebody too big for you or me to contend with, but no intergalactic menace or god waiting to annihilate global humanity.

It also helps that said villain, the “Vulture,” is played by the reliably nutty and likeable Michael Keaton, who brings the perfect mix of psychosis and humanity to a role that could have easily been pushed over the top.

But mainly, Watts hits a bullseye with the film’s joyously entertaining tone.

As solid as the Marvel universe has been, it’s not hard to find moments (especially in Civil War) when the push for a hip chuckle undercuts the action. The humor in Homecoming hits early and often, but only to reinforce that the film’s worldview is sprung from a teenage boy. In this way, it feels more true to its comic origins than most in the entire film genre.

Holland, who just turned twenty-one, has no trouble passing for fifteen in a wonderfully wide-eyed performance. Paired with a nicely diverse group of classmates, Holland finds the perfect sweet spot to contrast the social minefields of high school with the learning curve of his new Stark Industries super suit.

Best of all, Holland re-sets the character to a place where its growth seems both unburdened and unpredictable. That’s exciting, and not just for Pete.

Same goes for the film. Watts and his writing team fill Homecoming with the thrills, wit and humanity (plus a plot twist that’s subtle genius) to give the entire superhero film genre a freshness that’s plenty welcome.

Throw in a letter-perfect final scene, and we’re already tingling about what Spidey might be up to next.

Verdict-4-0-Stars





Stark and the Captain Make it Happen

Captain America: Civil War

by Hope Madden

 

Cap (Chris Evans) and his besties battle their own in a fight to save the Avengers. In-fighting is rarely this entertaining.

Who would have guessed that the best stand-alone Avengers series would be Captain America’s? He lacks the edge of Iron Man or the SciFi sex appeal of Thor. Still – whether it’s because the series remains true to the nature of the character, or because Christopher Marcus and Stephen McFeely know how to pen a compelling superhero flick – Steve Rogers shoulders the most reliable Avengers franchise.

Civil War even manages to succeed where most superhero sequels fail by squeezing in a fully ridiculous number of characters without over-burdening the narrative. Minimizing the number and presence of villains helps, because, while there is a baddie in Civil War, the majority of combat comes courtesy of Hero V Hero.

The film begs comparison to the much maligned DC superhero standoff Batman V Superman for obvious reasons. Our heroes are mad at each other; collateral damage and the need for oversight are to blame; mommy issues run deep. Certainly, Civil War handles the material better, but part of that is because of the film’s affection for established characters.

McFeely and Marcus’s humorous screenplay allows the natural chemistry among the players to shine brighter than their individual star power.

Directors Anthony and Joe Russo – following up their success with the Winter Soldier – lens many of the action sequences with great movement and punch, but the climactic battle between the biggies should feel bigger. The camera captures individual pairings to make the most of character expression, one-liners, and fun, but the brothers behind the camera never step back far enough to give us a look at at the larger-than-life battle taking place.

Are there other flaws? Sure. I mean, you and I know that it’s pointless to disbelieve or distrust Captain America. Of course he’s right – he’s the conscience of the Marvel universe. So why doesn’t Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) know it? Also, Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Vision (Paul Bettany) never find a groove as characters, but the new Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman) and a wildly enjoyable Spider-Man (Tom Holland) more than make up for that. Plus, Ant Man (Paul Rudd) is a hoot, regardless of the fact that he clearly has no idea why he’s fighting against other good guys.

Civil War stands out as certainly the biggest of the stand alones, and among the best because of what it has in common with the better films in the Marvel universe: the conflict is deeply human, told humorously, and best enjoyed if you don’t overthink it.

Verdict-3-5-Stars