About Cherry

They’re all a good catch until they’re caught

Movies concerning the adult film industry are often heartbreakingly bad, because the subject inherently requires the filmmakers to come down on one side or the other.  2003’s This Girl’s Life gave an exaggerated look at the horrors of getting into an industry that looks like all sorts of fun from the outside, and what it can quickly turn into.  2012’s About Cherry, written and helmed by first-time director Stephen Elliott (alongside screenwriter Lorelei Lee, who evidently has experience in the adult film industry), falls victim to the opposite issue: porn actresses, the film seems to say, are just professionals doing their jobs, and like any of us, can gain income, empowerment, and happiness from their careers.  What both films fail to state is that the porn industry is exploitative, sexist, and the most prime example of regulated prostitution we have.  As seen here, the industry even includes eighteen year-old girls, who are dismissively thrown into scenes with men and women twice their age.

My own feelings aside, the quality of the film itself doesn’t do much to make me absolve it of its message.  The story follows Angelina (Ashley Hinshaw), a teenager who decides to run away from her alcoholic mother (Lili Taylor) and her possibly-abusive father, which also requires her to essentially abandon her younger sister (Maya Raines).  Her best friend comes with her – this is Andrew (Dev Patel, star of the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire), from whom she seems to be inseparable.  They even share a bed and snuggle together, but it’s apparently nonsexual.  One’s first thought might be that Andrew is gay, which is supported by the fact that he hangs out at gay bars and dances with men, but apparently, he’s in love with Angelina (what a surprise!).  Angelina and Andrew make it to San Francisco using the money from a photoshoot that the former does reluctantly, which involves some spicy poses in revealing clothes.  She doesn’t seem to mind; in fact, the screenwriters do not allow her to have many feelings about it at all.  Once she reaches her destination, she gets a job as a waitress in a gentleman’s club.  Why?  Is this really the only job she could get?  Even so, it’s not as if these places outwardly advertise for help (do they?); it seems as though a person would have to be seriously drawn to a place like this, which would require her to be fine with its degrading entertainment and to actively seek it out.  We never get to know Angelina well enough to know why she would take this job; the film’s confusing jump-cuts kick us forward to scenes it deems important without allowing us to see how and why the characters got there.

At the club, Angelina meets Francis (James Franco, who appears in this film for reasons I cannot fathom), a wealthy lawyer who seeks her affections and seems to be an okay guy in spite of his tendency to frequent strip clubs.  He gets Angelina into cocaine, which in any other film would be a big deal, but apparently it’s a fictional type of cocaine that isn’t addictive and doesn’t harm you.  Why, then, is it included?

Through one thing and another, Angelina ends up seeking work in the San Francisco adult film industry.  In the interview, they ask her if she’s eighteen and if she enjoys sex.  She answers as though she’s twelve, absentmindedly giggling and maybe not quite understanding the questions.  The director in charge of her shoots, Margaret (Heather Graham, of Boogie Nights fame) puts Angelina in a solo scene, then girl-girl scenes, and finally, a “boy-girl” scene, which pays more (thankfully, we are spared from actually seeing these scenes).  Money seems to be Angelina’s only concern – when the people in her life ask her why she would want to have sex with a strange man twice her age on camera, she answers, “Well, it pays more.”  Hinshaw’s lines are delivered without any sense of irony, and really, without any sense of whether we are supposed to be on her side about it – until later, that is.  There are all sorts of apparent betrayals – a confusing scene with Francis hints that he might be a criminal, and he eventually tells Angelina, now his girlfriend, that her job repulses him.  Are we supposed to disagree?  Are we meant to think he’s being unfair about this?  In a scene with a similar tone (and the film’s best performances), she chastises and alienates Andrew, the film’s single sympathetic character, for watching one of her porn movies on the internet.  His logic: “Why does everyone get to see you naked but me?”  But really, he’s upset that she goes out all the time and no longer hangs out with him.  Again, this is completely understandable; why are we encouraged to agree with Angelina?  Is it so bad that her best friend is interested in her work, or at the very least, that he’d like a way to see her since she’s not around anymore?

There’s a side plot featuring Margaret, who is left by her girlfriend of eight years, again over an argument about the industry.  Her partner, Jillian (Diane Farr) sees a still shot from Angelina’s first shoot, and expresses distaste at the fact that someone so young is involved in porn.  “That girl is a child,” she says.  Margaret responds incredulously (and we’re supposed to be on her side), which results in the movie-magic scenario in which a character gathers their every belonging and vanishes while their romantic partner is asleep.  Eventually, Angelina scraps her living arrangement and ends up in a relationship with Margaret after the two share a drunken kiss and the film jump-cuts again.  To repeat the question that seems to be the theme of this review, why?  Furthermore, how?  There’s no prior indication that Angelina is even attracted to women.  No mention is given to the fact that Margaret is probably twice her age.  If not for the film’s other assorted flaws, this would have been a great opportunity to actually explore the characters, but it seems too wrapped up in its “porn is fair to women” hubris to allow us to care about anyone.

The vilification of the men also mixes the film’s message: porn is okay, but the people who enjoy it are selfish, deceitful perverts?  At least the ones watching the porn aren’t, y’know, faking it.

About Cherry (2012); written and directed by Stephen Elliott; starring Ashley Hinshaw, James Franco, Dev Patel, and Heather Graham.

Chronicle

The best Akira ripoff yet

chronicleJosh Trank’s Chronicle is a documentary-style sci-fi movie in which the audience witnesses the drama through “recovered footage” (in the vein of Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project), and retains the pretension of the genre, which is bolstered by the fact that the character holding the camera has the power to make the device float in the air for cinematic shots.

The story follows Andrew (Dane DeHaan), an anti-social highschooler with a dying mother and a drunk dad (Michael Kelly).  Andrew one day decides to “film everything,” including but not limited to his father’s drunken behavior, conversations with his friends, cheerleaders doing their routines (which they don’t much appreciate), and the lewd antics at local parties.  During one such party, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), a popular young blade running for class president, discovers a mysterious hole in the middle of the woods.  Steve invites Andrew and his only friend, cousin Matt (Alex Russell) to check it out with him.  Inside, the trio touch a magical MacGuffin that makes their noses bleed, and the next bit of footage we’re allowed to see features the trio practicing telekinesis (that is, moving objects with their minds).  They decide to become stronger while keeping their new-found powers secret from everyone (which, we must suspect, will not be a success).  Highlights are placed upon Andrew’s seemingly natural aptitude for his powers, while the Plato-quoting, zenlike, borderline hipster Matt struggles with his.  This would be an overt setup for a fight scene if there weren’t so many other plot threads to bite into.

The first thing the trio do with their powers, of course, is terrorize teenage girls and small children.  The film comes off as rather sexist at the outset, employing full use of the No Girls Allowed Clause until the introduction of Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), the love interest of Matt, and even then, she’s only used as a plot device to 1) score more convenient shots because she also carries a camera around, and 2) give Matt someone to protect.  As the story continues, Matt and Steve try to create a social life for Andrew, which backfires as his powers strengthen and the goofing around gives way to a darker narrative in which Andrew, through a series of tell-too-much-and-don’t-show-enough confessionals, decides that he is an “apex predator.”

The difference between Andrew and Tetsuo Shima, deuteragonist of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, who was similarly bullied and spat upon before obtaining telekinetic powers and taking revenge on the world that wronged him, is that Tetsuo eventually realized that what he was doing was wrong.  It was too late for him by that point, as his powers had gone out of control, but here, Andrew never seems to grasp such an idea.  By the end, he seems to have become rage incarnate, rather than the human character we started with.

The film is effective in what it sets out to do: deliver a moral-heavy story involving battles between teenagers who can fly.  Trank accomplishes this while painting a fairly realistic picture of teenage boys.  However, I grow increasingly wary of films that rely on stylistic delivery – take away the “recovered footage” angle, and what are we left with?  One of the most derivative and morally obvious stories since Harry Potter, that’s for sure.  Additionally, the spliced-together film technique sometimes comes off as an excuse for shoddy editing as opposed to a dramatic choice.  Luckily, the film is well-acted, and the decision to use mostly unknown actors is a good one.

All things considered, Chronicle is solid entertainment.  If you’re not bothered by the occasional sexism, formulaic storytelling, corny CG, and an ending with more holes in it than a showerhead, then settle in and let the telekinetically-charged sparks fly.

P.S. Can this be the official replacement for the Akira live-action movie?  I beg you to leave well enough alone.

Chronicle (2012); written by Max Landis; directed by Josh Trank; starring Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell, and Ashley Hinshaw.

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