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Lucid Streaming: Watching through Apple TV’s sometimes-sterile lens

Edwanike Harbour sees if the tech giant measures up to the competition by taking a look at three new titles exclusive to their streaming platform.

The average person has watched copious amounts of streaming TV and film for the past 12 months. If nothing else, streaming services have stepped up their game as the populace bided their time and holed up in their bunkers. While Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, and Hulu have dominated the market, AppleTV+ is an oft-overlooked service whose catalogue deserves some attention (if only for a trial period). In this installment of Lucid Streaming, I’ll look at three new titles exclusive to this platform.

The pre-pandemic epic Cherry (2021) fluctuates between intense character study and drug PSA melodrama. Initially, though, the ad campaign for this film was confusing—the release of the poster in December 2020 was so obscure that the title wasn’t even readable. This was chalked up to a funny glitch with Google Chrome, and the poster was then re-released in minimally legible form. Clocking in at 142 minutes, it may be best not to watch the Russo Brothers’ Cherry after Zack Snyder’s Justice League, for example, unless you are committed for the long haul, a weekend of streaming.

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Across Cherry’s five parts and a somewhat drawn-out epilogue, the titular character (Tom Holland) starts out as a wayward kid from a working-class neighborhood hanging out with a few ne’er-do-well friends. Cherry manages to get into college, where he meets the love of his life, Emily (Ciara Bravo), even though he has a long-distance, off-and-on girlfriend who goes to school in New York. While Cherry and Emily seem to be getting along, Emily says she wants to transfer schools out of the blue. In an equally rash decision, Cherry enlists in the Army. He is interested in being a medic, but is clearly in over his head while completing a two-year tour of duty in Iraq. Basic training is savage and mind-numbing, and Cherry immediately regrets his decision. The guts and viscera prove to be too much, as it would be for anyone. In order to cope with his PTSD, he turns to crime to support his drug habit.

Tom Holland’s confident performance makes Cherry work despite its uneven pacing. Holland actually appeals to viewers’ sense of empathy, even while he is robbing banks and making one bad decision after another. While there’s nothing too revelatory contained in the story itself, which is based on a 2018 novel by Nico Walker, it does take an in-depth look at the PTSD that many veterans face and what can happen if it goes untreated. Cherry earns further credibility when considering how the military vet Walker drew from stories in his own life, actually writing the story from prison after serving time for robbing banks to support his drug habit. It’ll be interesting to see if Holland is considered for any award nominations based on this performance.

Next is Palmer (2021), another film centering on a titular character, which stars Justin Timberlake. Directed by Fisher Stevens, the film takes the viewer through a myriad of emotions but manages to stick the landing for viewers looking for a feel-good story. Palmer is also extremely timely in handling subject matter on gender that has not been previously explored in many narrative features.

Eddie Palmer (Timberlake) has been recently released from prison after a 12-year sentence. The reason is not initially disclosed, but he is sent to live with his strict grandmother (June Squibb), who also happens to be caring for the neighbor’s son, Sam (a beaming Ryder Allen). Sam’s own mother (Juno Temple) goes missing frequently for days at a time, and Palmer’s grandmother is kind enough to watch him.

The reason is not made explicitly clear at first, but Sam is the target of bullying by his peers at church and school. Sam is a gender non-conforming child in a small Louisiana town, with dysfunctional addicts as parents, and Palmer’s grandmother’s house is the most stable thing in his life. Palmer is a bit thrown by Sam’s personality and appearance but develops a strong bond with him over time, serving as a practical father-figure. Naturally, a slew of challenges present themselves along the way as other citizens in this small-minded, insular place are not at all tolerant. At the same time, Palmer is trying to avoid some of his old demons, which are virtually impossible to escape in a town that already has its mind made up about him.

What’s most striking in the film is Sam’s resilience and response to bullying and naysayers. Nothing can truly dampen his spirits no matter how dim things are around him. Director Stevens refrains from taking the story to darker places and chooses to elevate a message of hope and compassion that is glaringly absent in our society.

Saving the most distinctive for last, Sofia Coppola’s family dramedy On The Rocks (2020) actually eked into my pantheon of perfect films, at least on a superficial level, which is no easy feat. But it’s also one that sparked an uneasy epiphany as I began to sit down to write this review. Upon first glance, everything about this film hits the right notes. After taking some time to marinate in its afterglow, I began to see what I perceived as strengths to be insidious flaws.

Rashida Jones stars as Laura, a successful author who is currently struggling with writer’s block while raising two young daughters. She is married to Dean (Marlon Wayans), an executive for an agency whose work requires him to travel internationally and frequently to boot. Laura’s father, Felix (a pouty Bill Murray), has solidified his reputation as a womanizer, cheating on Laura’s mother throughout their marriage. It has taken Laura a long time to come to terms with this, but she is slowly trying to build a relationship with him.

After talking with Laura, Felix suggests that there may be something going on with Dean when he is away from home working in the company of beautiful younger coworkers and clients. At first Laura refuses to believe that Dean would ever jeopardize their marriage in such fashion. However, after much cajoling from Felix, she is pressured into following Dean around as her dad leads the investigation into Dean’s nocturnal whereabouts. But, even as this spying may be a minor thrill for her, Laura is soon forced to reckon with her father’s trainwreck of an attitude towards women and relationships.

In terms of my epiphany, as soon as I saw A24’s flashing logo wash across my screen, my heart skipped a beat. I was prepared to fall in love with this movie. While this is distributed by A24, and I love anything they produce, it occurred to me some of what I found so neat and perfect is related to its distribution by Apple. Of course, that means everything has a clean aesthetic— from the massive New York apartments, the outwardly perfect marriage (multiple interracial relationships exist in the film with nary an acknowledgement), Laura’s job as author with a publishing deal despite not being able to write anything, an insanely rich father jetting about town and schmoozing his way into anything he wants, to a grandmother’s palatial estate. I could go on. Who wouldn’t want to sit at the table where Bogart proposed to Bacall or have drinks at Bemelmans Bar in The Carlyle Hotel?

Nothing in On The Rocks is messy or defined by any of the other human trials and tribulations that inevitably go wrong in the natural turbulence of our lives. It’s almost as if the film is one big ad campaign for Apple. It has a certain kind of tone-deafness that I began to digest only after watching the film. While things can go awry in the perfect Apple universe, the inhabitants of said universe will definitely not have to worry about any lack of accouterments. This is what left me feeling almost hollow after viewing. I still recommend watching for its hilarious moments and performances, but the film serves as a good cinematic reminder to pay attention to which aesthetics you react to and why.

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