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Monthly Archives: May 2016

Movie of the Day: Things We Lost in the Fire (2007)

ThingsWeLostintheFire

What is a person to do when the single most important person in their life is suddenly gone? What is to be done with the cold, empty space in their lives that has suddenly been voided. That’s a question that lies just under the surface of Suzanne Biere’s Things We Lost in the Fire, a melodrama about a sudden death and those who are left behind to fumble in the darkness for an answer.

Most certainly the despair falls on Audrey (Halle Berry) a beautiful housewife who, as the movie opens, is arranging a funeral for her beloved husband Brian (David Duchovney). He was shot to death while trying to stop a man from beating his wife in a parking lot. Audrey and Bryan were married for 11 years and the marriage has produced two children. Now in her grief, her eyes, her jawline and her body language reveal the inner turmoil of a woman who can’t quite get a handle of the moment. She works frantically, with the help of her brother, to locate everyone that need to be notified about Brian’s death. It isn’t until the day of the funeral that she realizes that she forgot someone.

He is Jerry Sunborne (Benicio Del Toro), a former lawyer who is now a heroine addict. Jerry and Brian were buddies going back to the second grade. Audrey didn’t approve of Jerry and that is probably why she forgot to call him. She invites him anyway, Brian would have wanted it. Jerry, trying a program to get clean, is surprised when she is invited to live in their garage. It would be better and safer than the flophouse where he currently resides.

With that idea in place, I settled back and waited for a romance to kick in, but this movie is smarter than that. It is the story of how two people are affected by this tragedy and the baby steps they take to get back on their feet. This, of course, would be nothing without great performances in the leads, starting with Benicio Del Toro as Jerry. He creates the sad portrait of a smart, damaged man who wants to make strides to get his life be in order after the tornado of heroine addiction. He was loyal to Brian because this was a man who never gave up on him.

I knew Del Toro was a good actor, but this movie helps me understand why. He has a deeply-lined, tired face that can reveal hidden dimensions of unspoken regret. He looks lived-in, not polished like a Hollywood movie star. He knows when to push a scene over the top and when the keep it close to the chest. Here he manages to keep from going over the top even in scenes when he trashing about in detox. Jerry is not your standard movie drug addict, he is a smart man who tries, time and again, to get himself clean. He fails but it doesn’t discourage him. After Brian’s death, he has a purpose.

Halle Berry surprised me. I’ve been complaining that ever since her Oscar win for Monster’s Ball, she’s been throwing away her talents on big-budget junk – movies that focus more on her body than her talent. Here, I think she gives her best performance as a woman lost in agony and grief, trying to find some way of getting a handle on Brian’s death. Her performance is all in her eyes, which are deep and sad. There are moments in this movie when she quivers very lightly, until the end when the full grief hits her.

Things We Lost in the Fire was directed by Susanne Bier, a Danish director whose specialty is creating stories about family bonds. She directed Brothers and In a Better World, one of this year’s Oscar nominees for Best Foreign Language film. I love her characters, they don’t walk or talk in a standard way. Although, as brilliantly written as the characters are in Things We Lost in the Fire, I think the ending is a little too clean. Both Jerry and Audrey go where we would expect them to go but it seems to let their grief off the hook a little too soon. Still, this is a movie about the journey, not the destination.

 
 

New Movie of the Week: X-Men: Apocalypse

XmenApocalypse

I don’t know what I really expected from a guy named Apocalypse, but I can tell you that my imagination built up a much more imposing character than what his movie was able to deliver.  I mean, he’s alright as villains go. In his early scenes, he’s got the presence and the demeanor and the wardrobe of a Sith Lord, but somehow I figured that a guy named Apocalypse would be 20 feet tall and would speak with the baritone of a certain former stutterer from Mississippi.

According to the movie which bears his name, Apocalypse is an immortal though I’ll be damned if I could tell you what his actual powers are.  He’s the world’s first mutant, born thousands of years ago who stays alive by transferring his consciousness into a fresh, functional body when the old one wears out.  He’s a mutant with the ability to live on and on but, based on his outfit, I expected a hulking behemoth that could crush skyscrapers with his eyelashes.  Yet, when I see Apocalypse standing in the midst of the other characters in X-Men: Apocalypse, he looks like everybody else; he’s the same size, he has almost the same powers and he has an even-tempered voice, out of which he is persistently spewing biblical platitudes (the most ‘on the nose’ of which is “Come and See!”).  Casting is key here because if Apocalypse weren’t occupied by Hollywood’s current hunk du jour Oscar Isaacs then the character might have been a complete snore.

X-Men: Apocalypse is not a complete snore but it is a movie that probably works best if you don’t think about it.  It’s a spectacle, as all of these brobdingnagian superhero tent pole romper stompers tend to be, with world-ending special effects that are top drawer and a script that is bottom drawer.
When Apocalypse employs Magneto to recombobulate an entire city into a giant iron pyramid, it is pretty spectacular; but it’s at the service of a story that is shoddy and bloated and crippled by plot holes and inconsistencies.  Character motivations are started and then dropped; characters arrive at key locations completely by coincidence; and director Bryan Singer jumps between nine different subplots with such a breakneck speed that we can’t really ever get involved in any one thing.  It’s a script that offers a whole lot of very little.

The movie begins in ancient Egypt where Apocalypse (Isaacs) rules supreme, and is currently in the midst of transferring his mind into the body of some poor, unworthy slob (also Isaacs).  But his plan goes all wonky when some haters foil his plan and start a revolution that leaves him in a catatonic state until he is awakened, for some strange reason, in 1983.

Cut to ‘83, we catch up with the young Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Magneto (Michael Fassbender) in a long, boring series of catch-up scenes that go on and on and on.  They’re all are trying to get on with their lives in the wake of shaking up the Nixon administration in the previous movie.  Some have gone into hiding, others are aiding in the formation of Xavier’s School for gifted mutants, and much of the first hour of the movie is devoted to scouting new students like Cyclops (Tye Sheridan), Nightcrawler (Kodi Smit-McPhee) and Jean Grey (Sophie Turner).  The dialogue establishes plot points, updates us on characters and tells us things we already knew by the second movie in this series (this is the 10th if you count the recent Deadpool).  We’re introduced to young incarnations of Jean Grey, Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Angel and Havoc but since we already know their fate, the dialogue is more or less pointless.

In fact, a lot of this movie is pointless.  There are scenes that have nothing to do with anything.  For example, the movie goes out of its way to have three characters exit a movie theater after seeing Return of the Jedi.  Jean makes the point that “The third in a series is always the worst.”  That’s a sly dig at the much hated X-Men: Last Stand but since X-Men Apocalypse is really the third in a prequel trilogy, the joke is really on them.

The most jarring problem with X-Men: Apocalypse is that it suffers from a massive tone problem.  It moves from jokey scenes like the Jedi reference to moments of dead serious drama with such a jerk that the movie jangles your senses.  At one moment, Apocalypse is tearing the world apart, and the very next minute we get a scene with Quicksilver having fun with super speed.  The most uncomfortable moment takes place when Apocalypse launches all of the world’s nuclear payloads and, in this dark, heavy moment, Bryan Singer throws in a Stan Lee cameo.  The audience in my theater laughed nervously, unsure of how to react.  Um . . . excelsior?

The movie has a dozen headache-inducing moments like that.  Characters show up for no reason in places out of convenience of the plot so that developments can happen.  For example, at the beginning of the movie, Mystique shows up in a mutant wrestling match in Berlin where Angel and Nightcrawler are battling in a cage match.  But why was she there?  Was she scouting mutants for the school?  The movie never says.  She just seems to have been in the right place at the right time.

Also, characters seem to know things that they shouldn’t have known already.  Example: Quicksilver (Evan Peters) arrives at The Xavier School just at the moment of an explosion.  He’s never been there before but he knows the layout of the school well enough to rush in at lightning speed and save several people.  It’s a plot hole set up for convenience so we can get the same slo-mo effect that we got in Days of Future Past.  In that film, his superfast shenanigans were accompanied appropriatly by Gordon Lightfoot’s “Time in a Bottle,”  Here it’s The Eurythimics “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This” which has nothing to do with what’s going on.

The ending of the movie is one of those giant fight-to-the-finish endings in which the world is blowing up while heroes fight villains in a convoluted series of edited shots that simply wear you out.  For all the public screeching that followed Batman v Superman about it’s butchered narrative, I can say that Apocalypse doesn’t do much better.

That’s the ultimate problem with X-Men: Apocalypse.  It’s a large, loud, ultimately joyless spectacle that runs on for 153 minutes with apocalyptic resonance of the world being wiped clean by a god-like madman while the tension of our heroes is tempered by the fact that, since this is a prequel, we know they’ll survive.  Once you see the movie you might agree with me, or you might not.  It depends on how desperate you are to get what you paid for.  If you’re not a fan of this stuff, then this movie will likely make no sense you to.  If you are, then you really should demand better.

 
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Posted by on 05/30/2016 in Uncategorized

 

Movie of the Day: Source Code (2011)


SourceCode

Source Code is a wonderfully odd and intriguing science fiction thriller.  It is one of those movies that begins with no information and then builds a rotating mystery piece by piece.  It contains a lot of twists and turns, a lot of detail and we are with it every step of the way.The movie stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Colter Stevens, an Army Helicopter Pilot who has done his time in Iraq.  As the movie opens, he is on a crowded commuter train headed into Chicago, sitting across from a woman he doesn’t know.  Her name is Christina Warren (Michelle Monaghan), she apparently knows him very well and keeps calling him Sean.  Investigating his surroundings, he looks in a mirror and sees a different man staring back at him.  What is going on here?  Who is the man in the mirror?  That’s only the beginning of a long series of questions an unraveling mystery.

Here, I should tell you, I am going to have to give away some spoilers,so if you want to go into the movie cold, stop reading now.

The train that Stevens is riding on is rigged with bomb that will explode in 8 minutes.  The bomb does explode and Stevens wakes up inside a capsule at a government laboratory, in his own body, speaking to an Air Force Captain named Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) on a tiny screen.  It seems that he is part of an experiment, and his mission is to go back onto the train – in the mind and body of this man Sean – and discover the source of the bomb.  The time between his arrival and the detonation is only 8 minutes each time and each time he must start over from the same point in time.  He is the only passenger on the train who is aware of this.

The bomb keeps exploding at the end of eight minutes so over and over, Colter’s mind is sent back onto the doomed train to find the source.  Sometimes he finds a new piece of information, sometimes he uncovers a lead that turns to nothing.  What is amazing about the movie is that it keeps up the intrigue of Stevens’ mission and opens up to reveal more and more about the mystery of both the train and the experiment.  This is a very clever movie that is entertaining even when you’re not 100% sure you understand what is going on.  What is fun is seeing Gyllenhaal going back over and over again to that train with new information (even though for the rest of the people on the train it is still the same timeline) and trying piece by piece to stop the train from exploding.

There is a lot of technical talk in Source Code, a lot of conversation about the experiment that is being conducted.  I’m not sure I could pass a test on it.  It sounded somewhat logical and I’m sure on a second viewing I will understand it even more.  What works is that this clockwork plot is never dull or predictable.  It is a smart movie, cleverly written.

The movie was directed by Duncan Jones, who made the overlooked Moon three years ago with Sam Rockwell as a lonely man on a lunar base who discovers some disturbing facts about his mission.  Jones makes science fiction thrillers that are brainy, not padded with gunshots and noise.  His scripts are well thought out, even if a little preposterous. I’m not sure he has perfected writing his endings though.  In the case of both Moon and Source Code, they both seem to end on a note that’s a little less ironic then we might be comfortable with.  Still, this is a very good science fiction thriller.

 
 

Movie of the Day: The Pyramid (2014)

Pyramid

Right out of the gate, The Pyramid loses me.

This is a movie about an ancient pyramid that is discovered buried under the sands of Egypt that is unusual in that it has only three sides excluding the base.  That means it’s actually a tetrahedron.  I have the strangest feeling that no one involved with this film thought of that, nor did anyone observe that the decayed old mummy featured on the movie’s poster is nowhere to be found in this movie.  The fact that there isn’t a mummy in this movie was one of many sucker punches, and so is the fact that the movie ends on a note so arbitrary that it forced me to wonder if maybe the filmmakers ran out of money.  I was soon to discover that this is the least of this movie’s problems.

The Pyramid is a strange duck.  It was released in December of 2014 but only to limited markets and with a very limited ad campaign.  That means that half the country (the lucky half) didn’t get a chance to plunk down their money to see it in a theater.  Hardly anyone went to see it, it made around $2 million on a $20 million budget.  Not that it would have mattered; this is a movie that, anywhere it’s playing, is really just taking up space.

Basically it is Alien at an archeological dig siphoned through the shopworn gimmick of found footage.  You remember found footage?  It’s that hackneyed, overused, and annoying practice of having the whole movie filmed by one of the character and is suppose to give you the feeling that you’ve, well, found the footage?  It’s a gimmick that was introduced in The Blair Witch Project back in 1999 and which I grew weary of around the year 2000.  The good news is that only half of The Pyramid is filmed that way, the bad news is that the other half is still there.

But let’s get to the story.  The team at the dig site seems understandably excited about this historic find.  They include Dr. Miles Holden (Denis O’Hare) an old school archeologist who does things the old fashioned way; his nubile daughter Nora (Ashley Hinshaw) who does things the new-fashioned way.  There Sunni (Christa-Marie Nicola), a documentary filmmaker.  There’s Fitzie, the cameraman.  And there’s Michael, the tech-guy who has brought along an obscenely expensive rover nicknamed “Shorty.”  They aren’t hard to like but you know from experience that getting attached is a bad idea.

The plot has promise.  The team has come to Egypt to be part of the discovery of an ancient tetrahedron (I refused to call it a pyramid) that is buried 600 feet beneath the sand.  There is a political uprising in nearby Cairo so the team has to work fast because the army is ordering them out of the area.  When the pyramid tetrahedron is opened, it expels poison gas that kills one of the dig site workers.  The team is ordered to gather their things for an evacuation but they decide that they won’t be deterred from their shot at fortune and glory.  Out of the line of sight of the Egyptian army, Holden’s team send in Shorty to get a look, but they soon lose contact and decide to go in and retrieve it.

Entering the pyramid tetrahedron to retrieve the rover the team gets turned around with no way out.  They find themselves at the mercy of crumbling floors, smashing boulders and ominous hieroglyphics that inform them that this pyramid tetrahedron is home to something that is neither giving nor benign.  What that something is I cannot divulge or would I want to (it’s far too stupid to waste words here). What I can say is that it has an army of hairless, mutated, flesh-eating feral cats at its disposal.  Yes, Hairless, Mutated, Flesh Eating, Feral Cats.  It is a sight that must be seen to be believed.

Much of The Pyramid Tetrahedron you can guess for yourself.  The members of the team are picked off one by one in creative ways (and not just by the cats); the worst is one poor sap whose fate is met when the pyramid tetrahedron’s resident antagonist deems his soul unworthy and causes him to crumble to dust.  The others are picked off by silly, ancient movie traps that I haven’t seen put to good use since Abbott and Costello met The Mummy (you now, spikes in the wall, sand traps, plot holes – the usual)

This is a very boring movie.  With a running time of only 79 minutes, the movie quickly begins a pattern of repeating itself that grows tiresome.  Since the movie is found footage, that means that it takes place with cameras in dark places, meaning that for much of the time you can’t see anything.  When you can see something it hardly matters.  Not surprisingly, the better parts of the movie are the scenes not shot as found footage.  For those scenes, the director does manage to achieve a sense of claustrophobia and the feeling of being in tight spaces.  But, to be honest, I’d give that up for more scenes of the hairless, mutated, flesh-eating feral cats.  In a movie with nothing new and nothing surprising, that’s at least something that I can say I hadn’t seen before.  That’s . . . progress?

 
 

Movie of the Day: The World’s End (2013)

WorldsEnd

Filmmakers these days seem hell-bent on destroying the world.  Either the planet faces obliteration or the future is portrayed as a crummy place where half of humanity is dead and all functioning technology is trying to kill us.  Most of these films have come to nothing, so it is exciting to report that writers Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have taken this apocalyptic idea and made a movie that is entertaining, touching and very funny.

Their offering is “The World’s End,” which like their previous efforts “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz” begins as a good-natured pub comedy about a couple of blokes facing eminent disaster, but not letting it get in the way of having a pint at their favorite watering hole.  The previous films have been straight-forward comedies, but “The World’s End” is a little deeper.  The characters are better defined and their personal idiosyncrasies make them pathetic and somewhat lovable.

The story centers on Gary King (Pegg), an irresponsible beer-swilling jerk who fancies himself a party animal and a genuine prince among men.  Back in 1990, when he was 18, Gary and his best mates from school had the greatest night of their lives, pulling off something called “The Golden Mile,” a one-night pub-hopping excursion in which they attempted to have 12 pints of beer each in 12 legendary pubs in their hometown of Newton Haven.  Yet, they failed to reach the final pub, a grand old tavern known as The World’s End.  Nearly a quarter-of-a-century has passed since that glorious night.  The mates have moved on to marriage, kids and successful careers, but Gary maintains a permanent state of arrested development.

Now, Gary is an irresponsible albatross teetering on the edge of 40 who has refused to grow up.  He still drives the same car, wears the same clothes, listens to the same cassette tapes, and still holds on to the same foolish dreams that have always held him back.  If you could buy shares of immaturity on the stock exchange, Gary would be a billionaire.

Gary is determined to finish The Golden Mile by getting the boys back together.  They include Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), Oliver “O-Man” Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine), and Andy Knightley (Nick Frost).  Despite their repeated refusal to get involved, they eventually give in when a wave of nostalgia convinces them that it might be nice to see the old gang again.  They’re happy to see one another but they want nothing to do with Gary’s Golden Mile – especially Andy who hasn’t had a drink in 16 years (at the pub he orders tap water).

The rest of the story is difficult to discuss while remaining spoiler free, so if you’re inclined to see the film fresh, read no further.

What is amazing is that up until this point, the movie gives no indication of what is to come in the second half.  The plot kicks into gear when it takes a hard right turn and turns into an end-of-the-world special effects comedy on par with “Ghostbusters” or “Men in Black” (It’s that good).  What is amazing is that Nick Frost and Simon Pegg don’t set the movie up to be a special effects comedy.  The plot backs into the supernatural half of the story so it comes as a shock as much to us as it does to the characters.  What’s interesting is that as the group fight for their lives, they never lose their individuality.  The second half of the movie basically turns into an Invasion of the Body Snatchers plot if it were directed by John Carpenter.  To our surprise, the sci-fi plot never gets bored with itself, nor does it go on autopilot.  Nor does the screenplay get bored with the characters.  It is wise to set up these guys before the film’s left turn.  That way we care about what happens to them and we care about what they learn.

The movie does not go where we expect.  That’s refreshing at a time when most movies are dead-set on giving us our money’s worth and never taking chances.  Director Edgar Wright loves making movies and here he isn’t afraid to linger over long shots of the boy’s favorite drink being poured into a glass.  He isn’t afraid to let his film be quiet and thoughtful even in the middle of an action scene.  And he isn’t afraid to go for broke when it comes to throw-away lines.  How many movies like this take time out for a perfectly observed one-liner about a Crazy Straw?

 
 

Movie of the Day: Maggie (2015)

Maggie

It is possible that Maggie may be the best misfire I’ll see for a long while. It’s a thriller that doesn’t ultimately work, but you almost feel the need to applaud the effort. Odd to say, but that’s kind of refreshing. In a year that is offering us a vast minefield of movies in which no one even tried – Taken 3, Paul Blart 2, Unfriended, The Longest Ride – here is a genre film that works hard to give us something new. Ultimately, it doesn’t work, but you sense that there was a great effort to make something special.

Maggie is a zombie movie (I know, bear with me) that isn’t about stumbling corpses and trigger-happy military men, but is about something more personal. It yearns to be a contemplation on what would happen to a family during a world-sapping plague if one of their own was infected with something that they all knew would slowly, and inexorably rob her of that person of their very soul to the point that they had to consider doing the unthinkable.

The movie takes place in the midst of a worldwide plague that is infecting millions of people, not in an instant but through an agonizing six week gestation period in which the infected are forced to watch themselves rot from the inside. Our focus falls on Maggie Vogel (Abigail Breslin) a young teenager who went into the city, got herself bitten, and now finds herself on a one-way trek to Z-land. She is retrieved from this nightmare by her father Wade (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who refuses to send his daughter into the government-mandated quarantine. He brings her back home to the family farm so that he and Maggie’s stepmother Caroline (Joely Richardson) can care for her themselves.

Yes, that’s right, her father is played by Schwarzenegger, though it is not what you expect. In a movie of so many poor decisions, Arnold underplays his role and gives you the idea that he is really a better actor then we might have thought possible. This may be the best performance of his career. Arnold’s enormous success was built – very wisely, I might add – on parodying his unusual physique and his thick accent, but here he’s offering us something new. He’s playing a father who is slowly losing his daughter mind, body and soul, but doesn’t go over the top with melodrama despite being forced to chew on some hammy dialogue (“I pro-meesed you mudda I would always protect you.”)

Points also go to Abigail Breslin whose Maggie is forced to endure the deterioration of her own flesh while struggling to maintain what bits of withering humanity remain upstairs. As her flesh goes grey and her eyes go milky white, the virus makes it harder and harder for her to keep from giving in to the ravages of the virus. It’s a good physical performance.

This is not an action movie, it’s a character movie. There are long, slow passages that are meant to allow us to feel the family’s slow trek to the inevitable. The movie is shot is gray tones that feel like storm clouds are eternally overhead. This is a gorgeous movie to look at.

And yet again, Maggie is a misfire. The premise of the zombie infection is just plain silly – the movie would have been just as effective if Maggie were infected with an untreatable strain of an existing disease. There are very good ideas here and a noble effort here by first-time director Henry Hobson to make a great film about a family and the tragedy that slowly creeps into their lives. With just a twist in the story here and a tweak in the dialogue there, this could have been a great movie. Instead, it’s a seriously flawed movie with a few great things holding it together.

 
 

Movie of the Day: About Cherry (2012)

AboutCherry

Someday a movie is going to be made that will take us inside the adult film industry and show us the reality of what goes on there. That film will introduce us, in the cold light of day, to the machinations that make such an industry possible and the people who operation within it. When that film comes, let us hope that it answers the most basic fundamental questions that we the audience will have: How and why does someone get into that industry?  What is their home life like?  How does it effect their married life?  What about their children?  Are they worried about raising children while explaining what mommy or daddy does for a living?  Are they worried about AIDS?  How do you move into another profession while still carrying the stigma of being a “porn star”?  What happens when you reach the inevitable age when you are no longer sexy and photogenic?  What then?

That movie is still to be made because clearly About Cherry answers none of these questions. Here is an independent film that seems to send mixed signals from it’s plot synopsis and then from its trailer. Is it a sex film? Is it a cautionary tale? Is it a love story? Turns out, it tries to be several things but the comes off as just a hack job, a movie with a little nudity and a lot of wasted talent. It is suppose to be a portrait of one woman’s journey toward becoming an adult film star but comes off as slow, uninteresting and anti-climactic.  It doesn’t have any characters for us to care about nor any of the “good parts” that a lot of moviegoers will be hoping for.

The movie stars Ashley Hinsaw as Angelina, a twenty-something Long Beach teenagers who lives at home with her alcoholic mother (Lili Taylor) and her mom’s abusive boyfriend.  That situation is hardly explored at all.  We see the mother hugging the toilet and the boyfriend stomping about the house like an angry bear (we see him only in shadow).  We briefly meet Angelina’s little sister (Maya Raines) whom she cares about but who only appears around the very edges of the film. Their relationship is never really dealt with.

One day, cash-strapped Angelina gets a slight suggestion from her current boyfriend (Jonny Weston) that she try a nude photoshoot with a company that runs a porn site.  Why not?  It might be an easy way to make money. She meets a guy named Vaughn (Ernest Waddell), who is one of the nicest, most understanding pornographers that you are ever likely to meet. The photo shoot goes well, but the boyfriend gets upset and they break up. So, she decides – without telling her mother – to pull up stakes and use to money to move to San Francisco with her best friend Andrew (Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire). Their relationship is so chaste, it borders on surreal, especially when they move into an apartment and agree to share the same bed.

In The City by the Bay, she starts serving drinks at a stripclub and meets two very important people.  First is Francis (James Franco), a lawyer with cocaine addiction who quickly becomes her new boyfriend. The other is Margaret (Heather Graham), who directs fetish porn films and suggests that Angelina could make $800 a shoot.  She likes the idea and before long she finds herself embroiled in the business under the name Cherry.

What happens isn’t exactly a rollercoaster of dramatic tension.  Angelina gets involved in the adult film industry and starts making money.  As she does, all kinds of problem begin stirring up in her personal life, all of which we can predict before the movie starts.  It is a surprise that Francis has a problem with her profession?  Is it a surprise that mom comes to visit, finds out about her new career and abandons her?  Is it a surprise that questions arise about Angelina’s real age?  Is it a surprise that she catches Andrew having a good time with one of her movies?

The characters are half-written and don’t seem to have any life. Francis is laconic and sleepy. Margaret is a sleaze merchant that we are meant to believe has a heart of gold. And Andrew is treated like a puppy, brought in to be Angelina’s best friend. It is difficult to care because none of these people are the least bit interesting, especially in a badly written subplot involving Margaret’s relationship with Jillian, her lover of 8 years. Their relationship has no consistency. After nearly a decade, Jillian begins to have concerns about Margaret’s profession and it brings their relationship to a screeching halt. So, what happened in the previous 8 years? Their breakup scene, in which they have angry sex, is silly and awkward and disturbingly voyeuristic.

About Cherry comes from first-time director Stephen Elliott who co-wrote the screenplay with real-life porn star Lorelei Lee. Clearly, she knows the inside world of the adult film industry, but her screenplay is a mess.  She wants to comment on the scummy world of the porn business but Elliot employs a soundtrack that romanticizes it.  The movie off-sets a few fleeting sex scenes (very few) with dramatic moments that contain long passages of meaningless dialogue.   There are only a handful of scenes showing Angelina in front of the camera but they are all shot in a sleazy voyeuristic way that goes nowhere runs way too short to be of any interest.  Yes, there is some nudity and Miss Hinsaw is very attractive, but we get the sense that the director has gotten caught up in the moment and forgotten that he is suppose to be making a point.  The end of the film, when Angelina’s world has completely come apart is – much like the rest of the film – one of the most confounding conclusions you’ll ever experience.

American films that explore sex with even an ounce of maturity are so rare that it is heartbreaking when an attempt goes bad. Here was a movie that had the potential to ask a lot of questions and explore a subject that we might have found interesting, but blows the opportunity at every turn. Here is a badly constructed movie that wants to say something but clearly doesn’t know what that is.