Joe Russo



Apple TV

The Russo Brothers – Anthony and Joe – are among the most successful filmmakers in history. Avengers: Endgame was, until recently, the most watched film ever (it was only a judicious re-release of Avatar that put that particular trophy back into James Cameron’s hands and that may be a temporary arrangement). It was always interesting to speculate about where the Russos would go next.

On the face of it, this Apple Original film seems a surprising move for them. Adapted from Nico Walker’s semi-autobiographical novel, it mostly concentrates on the life on just one man. Even though he’s played by Spider-Man’s Tom Holland, he’s a pretty ordinary Joe, not given to wandering about in brightly coloured spandex or indulging in extended punch-ups with supervillains. This is, ostensibly, an intimate story – and yet, the Russo’s bombastic style somehow gives it an epic scope, an almost operatic quality, which is enhanced by Henry Jackman’s stirring score.

When we first meet Cherry, he’s in the process of robbing a bank (not his first time) and is chatting amiably to the audience as he goes about it, a daring conceit that really pays off. He’s also about to make a decision that will change his life irrevocably.

It’s at this point that the film whisks us way back to his fresh-faced teenage years, where, in the first of a series of separate episodes, he encounters Emily (Ciara Bravo), the young woman who will become his significant other. A romance duly ensues but, after Emily announces she wants to move to Montreal, Cherry rashly enlists in the army, realising too late that his partner has changed her mind. and he cannot change his. Soon afterwards, he’s plunged headlong into military training and, subsequently, armed combat. The film’s initial brash, cheerful tone veers into darker waters and keeps on going, full speed ahead.

Once out of the armed forces, and suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, Cherry seeks solace in drugs. At first he’s merely overindulging in Xanax and OxyContin, but then he and Emily start the long descent into hardline heroin addiction, in a series of no-holds-barred sequences that make Trainspotting look like a nice day at the funfair. Yes, this is unremittingly bleak subject matter but the story never relaxes its stranglehold on my attention. I find myself compelled as much as I’m appalled and, occasionally, I’m dazzled by unexpected bursts of brilliance.

The director’s final tour de force is the unfolding of fourteen years of narrative in one mesmerising tracking shot, accompanied by Puccini’s Vissi D’Arte. It’s an audacious move and really shouldn’t work, but somehow it’s pulled off with a flourish. Hats off to Tom Holland, who manages to give his all to a role that sees him age from boy to man with absolute conviction.

This really won’t be for everyone – the film never hesitates to show the depths that can be plumbed when drug addiction holds sway. Others have accused the Russo’s of employing style over content, but I disagree. Cherry’s story must be an all too familiar one for so many young soldiers, put through the mincer of warfare and then left to make their own way back into everyday existence. With its epic feel, Cherry makes that story both heroic and tragic in equal measure.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney




Written by Joe Russo (one half of the world’s most successful filmmaking duo) and directed by former Avengers stunt coordinator, Sam Hargrave, Extraction is a brutal action flick that once might have found an audience amongst undemanding cinema-goers, but is now plying its muscular swagger on Netflix. Chris Hemsworth stars as hard-bitten mercenary, Tyler Rake – a name that sounds more like a useful instruction for a gardener than an actual person – and, when we first meet him, he’s already taking bullets on a bridge in Dhaka, whilst being haunted by blurred memories of a happier, earlier lifestyle.

When Ovi Maharjan (Rudhraksh Jaiswal), the teenage son of a powerful Indian drug lord, is kidnapped by a rival gangster, Rake is handed the unenviable task of rescuing him and bringing him back alive. At first the mission goes surprisingly smoothly but, of course, things quickly go awry when Rake finds himself double-crossed  by Ovi’s father. What first seems like a straightforward extraction becomes ever more complicated, as armed drug dealers and a corrupt police force team up to recapture Ovi.

This is based on a graphic novel, but for much of the time feels more like it’s trying to emulate a video game, as Rake guns down, stabs, and punches what appears to be an interminable number of adversaries. At one point, he even takes out a troublesome opponent with the very gardening implement from which his name derives. For the first ten minutes or so, the action set pieces are suitably thrilling, but since all the fight scenes seem to go on forever, they soon start to become tedious.

Ironically, the film works best during its (admittedly brief) quieter stretches, though Rake is such a monosyllabic character, I find myself longing for him to utter more than the occasional grunts he emits whenever his teenage ward asks him pertinent questions. On the plus side, it’s great to see a mainstream film that employs so many subtitles, and the settings are beautifully presented, even if Rake appears to be doing his level best to eradicate most of the local population.

This is an unabashedly amoral tale. Our ‘hero’ is a man who will do pretty much anything for the right amount of money, the other major players all equally repugnant. There’s also a cameo by David Harbour as Rake’s ‘oldest friend,’ another mercenary, ready to sell poor Ovi to the highest bidder. Of course, Ovi is the only character here we can really root for, but, since he spends the entire film running frantically for safety, he never gets the opportunity to connect as he might do – and it’s hard to understand exactly why a deep bond seems to flourish between him and Rake, when they’ve barely exchanged a dozen words.

This isn’t awful, but somebody should have told the writers that less is more, and that a couple of beautifully executed, brief action sequences would have connected a lot more effectively than the endlessly protracted mayhem that’s on offer here.

3 stars

Philip Caveney


Avengers: Endgame


It’s pointless to try and give this one a body swerve. It lumbers over the cinematic horizon like a behemoth, gobbling up viewers and crushing box office records beneath its massive feet. Resistance is futile.

As one of the few reviewers who was distinctly underwhelmed by Infinity Wars, I still need to see how the Russo Brothers are going to extricate themselves from the corner they’ve seemingly painted themselves into. Oh, right… like that. Well, I guess it was the only way possible…

By the way, those of you who like to cry ‘plot spoiler!’ every time a tiny detail is revealed may want to think twice about reading the following two paragraphs. Just saying.

Endgame opens briefly on events shortly after Thanos (Josh Brolin) has made the most calamitous finger-snap in history. It then moves on five years to show the remaining Avengers trying to come to terms with what has happened to the world. Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is now a ruthless swordsmen, carving up Japanese gangsters with relish, whilst sporting a disastrous new haircut that makes him look like a disgruntled cockapoo. Captain America (Chris Evans) is attending therapy classes, but is still impossibly clean and healthy. Thor (Chris Hemsworth), on the other hand, has really let himself go and now sports hippie dreadlocks and a fearsome beer belly. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) has learned to manage his anger issues and is permanently trapped in his green, oversized alter ego, Hulk. And… well, so on.

Then, up pops Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) recently returned from imprisonment in the quantum realm. He brings along an idea that might just undo the Infinity Curse and return the world to where it was five years ago. So the Avengers assemble for one more mission.

OK, so my main beef with this is the same as it was with Infinity Wars, only even more so. There are just too many superheroes for comfort. The way things stand here, they seem to outnumber ordinary people, which can’t be right, surely? And you know, I, for one, am happier with those movies (like Shazam!, for instance) that know they are essentially kids’ film’s and feel no shame about it. Endgame, however, is for the most part so serious it hurts – it’s a great lumbering leviathan, creaking beneath the weight of its own self-importance. Happily, the po-faced stuff is leavened every so often by some much-needed humour, most of it coming from Hemsworth’s corner. (I love the fact that Thor never has to apologise for losing that gym-ready look and Hemsworth always has a cheeky glint in his eye that suggests he knows how ridiculous it all is but couldn’t care less.)

To give the Russo Brothers their due, this doesn’t really feel like a bum-numbing three-hour marathon. It’s action packed enough to allow the time to zip by and, if the script occasionally feels ridiculously over-complicated, well that’s just par for the course when you have an audience that picks so avidly over every little detail. And pick they will. Reports are that people are going back to watch the film over and over again.

Of course, as ever, we are presented with a great big climactic battle, made even more of an endurance test by the fact that the scriptwriters feel duty bound to include every single lead character from the preceding twenty-one movies in the Marvel EU. That’s an awful lot of spandex to take in. And then of course, once the punch up’s done and the dust has settled, there’s the little matter of tying up all those loose ends…

Look, the cinema going public has made its mind up on this, and who am I to say that they’re wrong? I can only speak for myself when I repeat the old mantra ‘less is more.’ Give me one superhero and one villain, and I’m a relatively happy bunny.

Endgame is undoubtedly a big movie, but maybe not in the way it thinks it is.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney