Review – Force Of Nature

FILM REVIEWFORCE OF NATURE. With Emile Hirsch, Kate Bosworth, Mel Gibson, Stephanie Cayo, David Zayas. Written by Cory Miller. Directed by Michael Polish. Rated R for violence and pervasive language. 91 minutes.

Shitbird on a wireforce_of_nature_xlg

The other night we were flipping channels and my sister’s kids made me watch some of “Daddy’s Home 2,” which I’d avoided in theaters for myriad reasons and yet I must confess to finding myself fascinated by how this cloying Christmas comedy was constantly disrupted by the ugly energy of Mel Gibson being a seething, miserable fuck. (There’s a throwaway line in which he says he wishes Will Ferrell were dead and Mad Mel seems to really, really mean it. So happy holidays, I guess?) After all we’ve seen and know about Gibson it feels gross watching him yuk it up in a family film, yet in recent years that bristling, unpleasant aura and all his attendant baggage have been put to excellent use playing broken, violent men in recent low-budget thrillers like “Blood Father,” “Dragged Across Concrete” and the new FORCE OF NATURE.

While not up to the level of those other two (very good) pictures, this one’s fairly standard DTV fare—if that descriptor still has any meaning now that every movie goes direct to video. Emile Hirsch stars in what 30 years ago would have been the Gibson role, as a surly, booze-bloated cop hunted by a tragic backstory, even introduced to us in a Martin Riggs homage sitting at home alone with a gun in his mouth. Despite having recently relocated to Puerto Rico he stubbornly refuses to learn Spanish, making life even more difficult for his rookie partner (Stephanie Cayo) as they’re assigned to evacuate stragglers still hanging around in a San Juan apartment building as the city’s about to be rocked by a Category 5.

I’m not sure who thought it was a bright idea to make a trashy thriller set in Puerto Rico during a hurricane, and the abundance of Anglo characters suggests it was probably written for Florida in the first place. But in any event, there are a bunch of eccentrics left in this colorful complex refusing to budge, including a guy who keeps a tiger in his spare bedroom, an elderly German with a curiously sophisticated security system, and best of all—Gibson’s crotchety old retired cop, who much to the consternation of his doctor daughter (Kate Bosworth) intends to ride out the storm in his recliner. Boasting a Noo Yawk accent even more outsized than his prosthetic pot belly, Gibson’s emphysematic, pistol-packin’ Archie Bunker is by far the best thing about the film, which becomes increasingly more ridiculous as the building is swarmed by a tactical team of bland baddies packing military-grade weaponry, looking for paintings stolen by the Nazis during WWII.

Director Michael Polish—who with his brother Mark had some success during the early 2000s indie boom doing David Lynch knockoffs like “Twin Falls Idaho” and “Northfork”—keeps things moving along efficiently and anonymously enough, though one wishes the filmmaker had indulged more of his flair for the absurd, given the inherent silliness of the proceedings. Still, I’m a sucker for Hirsch’s off-brand Leonardo DiCaprio routine, and he’s got some good chemistry with Bosworth, whom I always figured would’ve had a bigger career. But it’s Gibson who’s really on the right wavelength here, coughing up blood and chunks of scenery while popping Oxys, cursing his colitis and trying to give a performance larger than the hurricane itself.

While you’re waiting for the jungle cat equivalent of Chekov’s gun to go off in the third act, just don’t ask too many questions about how all this priceless Nazi art wound up in a junky San Juan apartment, or for that matter how a Vermeer swiped from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 was apparently also stolen during WWII. And yet despite (or perhaps because of) these perplexities, “Force Of Nature” is a fairly watchable way to kill a rainy afternoon.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality

Review – My Spy

FILM REVIEWMY SPYWith Dave Bautista, Chloe Coleman, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Kristen Schaal,   Ken Jeong. Written by Erich Hoeber, Jon Hoeber. Directed by Peter Segal. Rated PG-13 for action/violence and language. 99 minutes. On Amazon Prime.

Baby, you’re the worstmy_spy_xlg

Who did the producers of MY SPY imagine their audience was? The premise of having an action star paired with youngsters is not original––see “Kindergarten Cop,” “Tooth Fairy,” “The Pacifier,” “Mr. Nanny”––but this awkward vehicle wastes “Guardians of the Galaxy” star Dave Bautista in a film that won’t satisfy action fans and is utterly inappropriate for kids.

Bautista stars as JJ, a CIA agent who, in the prologue, is involved in a violent shootout with international terrorists. Following up on the case, he has to tail the family of single mom Kate (Parisa Fitz-Henley), whose daughter Sophie (Chloe Coleman) is a bit of a misfit. Sophie figures out what’s going on and so JJ has to cooperate with the nine-year-old to uncover the plot.

While Bautistia and Coleman have a rapport, it’s not enough. The film, which is rated PG-13, is too violent for the kids it’s ostensibly pitched to and is too lame to appeal to those looking for a tough action film. It’s the sort of movie that will give children nightmares and leave adults yawning. Clearly the suits who greenlit this project are childless themselves.

To add to the problem, the casting is likely to turn off additional viewers. The film manages to cast not one but two of the most annoying actors out there in supporting roles. The singularly talentless Ken Jeong turns up like the proverbial bad penny as JJ’s boss. Fortunately, he’s only in a few scenes. Whiny comedian Kristen Schaal, alas, is cast as JJ’s sidekick and there’s no avoiding her throughout the film.

To pull off a movie like this requires some thought as to the intended audience. On the one hand, there’s something like “Leon: The Professional” (1994) with an assassin paired with a 12 year-old-girl. It was a tough, R-rated action film that made no pretense of playing to young viewers. On the other hand is something like “Spy Kids: 3D” (2003), which featured no less than Sylvester Stallone as the villain, but was a PG movie suitable for older children.

“My Spy” manages not to satisfy either extreme. It’s far too violent for youngsters and it’s far too tame for adult action fans. Bautista is a lot of fun in the “Guardians of the Galaxy” movies, but he has yet to develop the range of, say, Dwayne Johnson. Seeing him on a seesaw with a bunch of kids is a sight gag, not a character moment. He may be capable of more, but this movie does not provide him the opportunity to show it.

Like the recent “Artemis Fowl,” the result is a movie that may distract uncritical younger viewers, but is not very good. Given its violent content, parents will be well advised to take a look and see if they deem it appropriate viewing for their own children.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Beats

FILM REVIEWBEATS. With Cristian Ortega, Lorn MacDonald, Amy Manson, Rachel Jackson, Ross Mann. Written for the screen by Kieran Hurley and Brian Welsh. Directed by Brian Welsh. Unrated, but contains violence, drug use and constant profanity. 101 minutes.

Party on, blokes
beats_poster_2000x3000_150_final (1)

The 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill was a Tory-backed attempt to crack down on the U.K.’s rave scene, expressly forbidding musical gatherings “wholly or predominantly characterized by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” Director Brian Welsh’s wistful, roughhousing BEATS is a blast of rowdy nostalgia for those long gone Cool Britannia days, before the promise of Tony Blair and the end of conservative rule somehow was all squandered and became Brexit. It’s a raucous, exuberant coming-of-age picture following two teenage boys from a Scottish housing project having one last crazy weekend blowout before the rest of their lives begin. I suppose in synopsis these beats might sound familiar––repetitive even—but that’s because they are eternal.

Johnno (Cristian Ortega) is a meek little fella with heavy, Peter Gallagher eyebrows who works stocking identical shelves at a chain grocery. His mom’s new husband is a well-meaning local policeman embarrassed that his stepson keeps getting into trouble with Spanner (Lorn Macdonald)—the cockeyed kid brother to a local bad news dope dealer named Fido (a genuinely terrifying Neil Leiper). On a purely physical level, Johnno and Spanner look hilarious together, the clenched, dark-haired bundle of nerves reluctantly trailing behind his spastic, gangly pal who resembles a plucked chicken drawn entirely with right angles. The two teens share the sensitive, misfit bond of those who have nothing really in common except that they never had any other friends.

But the times, they are a-changin’. Johnno’s new stepdad is about to move the family out of council housing to a sunny suburb far away from Spanner and his ilk. “New school, new friends,” his mother drones, referring to her son’s best friend as “scum” and “a charity case” while Spanner pretends not to overhear. But our boys still have one last weekend together, which coincidentally overlaps with a massive, secret outdoor protest rave against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill, put together by a very funny, acid-head pirate radio D.J. (Ross Mann) who supplies the soundtrack and “ACAB” slogans to all these youngsters like a Marxist Wolfman Jack. The film’s been shot entirely in black and white, save for the tiny red pin-pricks of on-air lights emanating from the kids’ boom boxes and transistor radios. Music is the only color in their drab, gray world.

Johnno and Spanner score a ride to the rave with the latter’s older cousin and her sexy friends, financing the trip with an ill-advised plundering of Fido’s secret cash stash. Big brother will surely be coming to collect—the most harrowing scenes in “Beats” rub our noses in Fido’s casual domestic violence—but Monday morning is not a concern right now for our two little “wee men,” as they’re called by all the gals. In its swooniest moments, the movie conjures a breathless sense of heart-skipping hedonism, a first visit to the secret world of older girls and that feeling of the night opening up and stretching out forever with endless possibility.

Adapted from a one-man stage play by Kieran Hurley, who co-wrote the script with director Welsh, “Beats” boasts a gritty, lived-in specificity elevated to expressionistic grandeur. Cinematographer Benjamin Kracun’s high-contrast black-and-white photography emphasizes the squalor of these litter-strewn car parks and cramped council estates, while the widescreen framing pumps them up them to epic proportions. The visuals have the grand elasticity of memory, especially when a rave sequence daringly explodes into something like the climax of “2001 A Space Odyssey,” giving over to the characters’ kaleidoscopic revelry for ten minutes at a time.

Not all of Welsh’s big swings connect as well. A sequence in which young Johnno is forced to drive for the first time is a nice idea that falls flat in execution. (I know car shots are a pain-in-the-ass for low budget films, but for some reason the camera’s always in the wrong place.) The film’s volatile combination of grubby authenticity, impenetrable accents and glossy, crowd-pleasing kicks will draw obvious comparisons to “Trainspotting,” but to me the film felt more like if Ken Loach had directed “Superbad.” “Beats” is a great party movie suffused with a melancholy understanding that parties aren’t meant to last.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality

Review – Irresistible

FILM REVIEWIRRESISTIBLEWith Steve Carell, Rose Byrne, Chris Cooper, Mackenzie Davis, Topher Grace. Written and directed by Jon Stewart. Rated R for language including sexual references. 100 minutes.

Jon appétit


Jon Stewart returns to political comedy in his second movie as writer-director with IRRESISTIBLE, a witty and clever satire about big-time consultants getting involved in small-town politics. Ultimately, it’s less about the left/right divide than the urban/rural one, but it’s one that should appeal to viewers of all stripes and locales.

Steve Carell stars as Gary Zimmer, a Democratic consultant trying to figure out how to adapt to the Trump era. A video of Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper), a small-town farmer in the Midwest, goes viral. In it he’s seen calling out a move to cut benefits to non-citizens, noting that when flooding threatened the town, these neighbors were there filling sandbags and supporting the community. Zimmer sees this as an opportunity to field test a campaign geared toward people who seemingly have been lost by the Democratic Party.

He goes out there, the city slicker sticking out like a sore thumb, but manages to convince Hastings to challenge the incumbent mayor. The Republicans get wind of what’s going on and send in their own operative, Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), to lead the opposition. It turns out that Zimmer and Brewster have a history that goes beyond working on opposing campaigns.

The satire is delicious, from the ad campaigns to a sequence where Zimmer takes Hastings to New York to raise money from wealthy liberals who couldn’t find his home town on a map. Stewart is an equal opportunity satirist, making fun of both the out of touch urbanites and the clueless townies with glee. This leads to a climactic resolution that echoes a classic 1950s satire which–if identified–might give too much away. Viewers should go along for the ride and let the story unfold on its own terms.

Stewart gets a wonderful performance out of his old “Daily Show” colleague Carell, who is earnest and focused and occasionally smug but honestly believes he’s helping Hastings and his town with the campaign. Cooper, a veteran character actor who has been exceptionally (and deservedly) busy of late, has a plum role here as the veteran Marine/farmer who goes along with the consultant’s plans but turns out to be something more than a patsy for the big city operative. Byrne, who scored as Gloria Steinem in the recent Hulu/FX miniseries “Mrs. America,” makes the most of a supporting role, playing Mary Matalin to Carell’s James Carville.

There’s no question we are in divisive and surreal times, what with COVID19 (which hasn’t gone away), a crashed economy, and protests against systemic racism. “Irresistible”manages to skewer several sacred cows without going to the left or the right, but instead–in the best tradition of satire–holds up a mirror to ourselves, making us laugh and think.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Babyteeth

FILM REVIEWBABYTEETH. With Eliza Scanlen, Toby Wallace, Ben Mendelsohn, Essie Davis. Written by Rita Kalnejais. Directed by Shannon Murphy. Unrated, but contains profanity, drug use and sexual situations. 118 minutes.

Shine on, Aussie diamond

“What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?” began Erich Segal’s “Love Story,” and with it an entire genre of shameless tear-jerkers in which the slow deaths of beautiful young women teach our callow male protagonists important lessons about life. In films such as “Sweet November” and “A Walk to Remember” grieving becomes a character-building growth exercise for our hearty heroes, with the doomed gals granted about as much depth as a beloved pet that gets hit by a car. The grossest of them all was 2015’s Sundance sensation “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” in which the titular cancer patient spent her final breaths trying to get the film’s asshole protagonist into college. Movies like this mean always having to say you’re sorry.

What a surprise then to find BABYTEETH, a loose-limbed and sharp-edged Australian drama in which the sick girl is the main character for a change. In any sane world this wouldn’t be nearly as much of a novelty as it is, but centering the female protagonist instead of the guy whose life she’s enriching by dying makes a very old story feel (almost) new. Adapted by Rita Kalnejais from her own stage play and capably helmed by “Killing Eve” director Shannon Murphy, it’s got the kind of pastel color palette and twee title cards that veer perilously close to the Fox Searchlight-y “(500) Days of Juno” aesthetic, but remember the Aussie brand of whimsy has always been a lot spikier than its American counterpart. This is a much tougher movie than you’d guess from its slick surfaces.

Eliza Scanlen stars as Milla, a sickly sixteen-year-old outcast who one day finds herself smitten after a train platform meet-cute with Moses (Toby Wallace), a 23-year-old junkie with jailhouse tattoos who uses poodle shears to cut his own hair. He’s a shambles of a fella to whom Milla takes an instant, ornery liking––much to the consternation of her well-off, repressed parents, played by the perpetually-rumpled Ben Mendelsohn and “Babadook” mother-of-the-year, Essie Davis.

Mom’s a pill-addicted classical pianist who hasn’t played a note since her daughter fell ill, and Dad’s a psychiatrist who’s lately become a bit freer than he should be with his prescription pad. Their scenes together crackle with the energy you’d expect from a couple of old pros, these two caregivers understanding full well that their daughter’s first love is most likely going to be her last. But boy, she didn’t pick an easy one, did she?

Moses can be boyishly charming yet with an addict’s cunning. He isn’t only hanging around with Milla so he can help himself to her pain meds, but that’s certainly a selling point. There’s an unspoken arrangement to their relationship: she clearly loves him more than he loves her back, but he cares about her enough to try and make things comfortable for what little time they have left together. “Babyteeth”––which takes its cloying title from a too-literary conceit in which has Milla has not lost all hers yet––is a movie about finding accommodations and attempting to make the best of things. “This is the worst possible parenting I can imagine,” Davis sighs at one development. It’s also the best they could do in a sad situation.

The movie is erratically paced, prone to the repetition inherent in stories about addicts and the inevitably familiar cancer movie beats. But Scanlen holds it all together with a great watchfulness and understanding. I suppose she’s an old hand at this now after playing Beth in last year’s luminous “Little Women,” and I would like to see her in something where she makes it all the way to the end credits. It’s important that in “Babyteeth” she’s not playing an abstraction or an idea, nor the mere vehicle for a male character’s redemption. Milla’s a fully-rounded, mulishly stubborn person who has to leave us too soon. Turns out there’s a lot you can say about a sixteen-year-old girl who died.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality



Review – Mr. Jones

FILM REVIEWMR. JONES. With James Norton, Vanessa Kirby, Peter Sarsgaard, Joseph Mawle, Kenneth Cranham. Written by Andrea Chalupa. Directed by Agnieszka Holland. Not rated. 118 minutes. Released on Digital June 19th and on Demand July 3rd.

Nyet peeve

Director Agnieszka Holland is able to handle difficult material. She is the director of one of the finest films on the subject of the Holocaust, “Europa, Europa” (1990), and she is up to the task in MR. JONES, a tale dealing with the Stalinist ordered famine in Ukraine in the 1930s. However, she is saddled with a script that doesn’t trust the story enough to let it be––and it’s hard to say what they were trying to achieve.

The main plot involves Gareth Jones (James Norton), a one-time aide to former British prime minister David Lloyd George (Kenneth Cranham) turned freelance journalist. In 1934, having previously snagged an interview with Hitler, he now wants to speak with Stalin, the dictator who is bragging about the economic miracle of the Soviet Union. Jones gets permission to go to Moscow, but getting the facts proves difficult.

For one thing, there are stories that the Russians are seizing wheat in Ukraine––the region’s breadbasket––to underwrite the costs of the industrialization. For another, the Western world, in the throes of the Depression, isn’t paying much attention, instead relying on the reporting of Walter Duranty (Peter Sarsgaard) of the New York Times. Duranty, a Pulitzer Prize winner, is committed to painting a rosy picture of the Communist regime while enjoying his own decadent lifestyle. As depicted here, he is a powerful figure protected by the Soviet regime because his reports are propaganda about their supposed successes and taken at face value by his editors and readers.

With the help of Ada (Vanessa Kirby), a German reporter who works with Duranty, Jones goes to Ukraine and discovers the horrible truth. It’s a harrowing sequence with corpses in the street and the starving people driven to extremes. What he does with that information leads to the climactic third act of the film, where he has to decide whether to tell the truth or submit to the pleas of the depraved Duranty.

If that was the whole film this would be powerful drama, but for some inexplicable reasons, the movie then wants us to believe that Jones’ journey inspired another writer, George Orwell (Joseph Mawle), to write one of his classic works, Animal Farm. It may well be true, but as shown here it’s strained to the point of being a pointless distraction. It’s possible that this was further elaborated upon in the movie’s original 141-minute running time at festivals last year, but in its current 118-minute version, it makes no sense at all.

Norton is effective as the earnest and sincere Jones and Sarsgaard is chilling as the effete and self-absorbed Duranty, with a hint that he’s playing ball in order to protect his Russian-born son. When “Mr. Jones” focuses on one or both of them, it’s absorbing. When we have to figure out what anyone of this has to do with Orwell writing his book, it’s a puzzlement.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Truth: The Rape Of 2 Coreys

FILM REVIEWTRUTH: THE RAPE OF 2 COREYS. With Corey Feldman, Corey Haim, Judy Haim, Keith Coogan, and Charlie Sheen. Directed by Brian Herzlinger. 85 minutes. Not Rated, but contains adult language and descriptions of drug use and sexual abuse. 85 minutes.

Charlie’s angles

The numbers are frightening. 15% of all children in the U.S. will be sexually abused, meaning that in your kindergartener’s class of 20 five-year-olds, three of them won’t make it to age 18 without an assault or pattern of abuse altering their lives. Additionally, 90% of those children will know their abuser, and 10 million of those abused will not have access to essential recovery resources. Two recent documentaries tackle the subject of child sexual abuse head-on, and each takes us on a harrowing and unforgettable journey.

Anyone who grew up on the pop culture of the 1980s will probably know of Corey Feldman – the wide-eyed, smoky-timbred child actor – as the voice of Tod the dog from Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound” (1981), the mischievous Mouth from “The Goonies” (1985), and the teen vampire hunter Edgar Frog from “The Lost Boys” (1987). It was during production of  “The Lost Boys” that he became friends with co-star Corey Haim, the baby-faced Tiger Beat cover boy whose breakout as a teen idol came the previous year in “Lucas.” In that film, he starred as the titular, sensitive, and unusually bright 14-year-old who falls for Maggie, an older friend played by Kerri Green, and joins the football team in an effort to impress her. The film, which was not a hit until its release on home video, also starred a 14-year-old Winona Ryder as Mina, a girl with a crush on Lucas, and a 19-year-old Charlie Sheen as Cappie, a football player who serves as the diminutive and socially awkward Lucas’s guardian angel in school. “The Two Coreys” as they became known, lit up the screen together for a total of six more films together in the next decade. In 2007, Feldman and Haim appeared together for two seasons on the A&E reality series, “The Two Coreys,” chronicling their friendship and mounting interpersonal troubles. In 2010, after a bout of homelessness and over two decades of drug abuse, Corey Haim died, officially of complications from pneumonia. He was 38 years old.

In the decade since Haim’s passing, Feldman has carried the torch for his late friend, ramping up in recent years the accusations that Hollywood is rotten with predatory pedophiles and that he was going to name names. While irredeemable perverts flocking to any industry in which children dominate is old news, TRUTH: THE RAPE OF 2 COREYS delivers a pick-up-your-jaw-off-the-floor revelation not only when Feldman shares that Haim was raped on the set of “Lucas” in 1986—but also by whom. That incident triggered in Haim a lifelong battle with depression and substance abuse that ultimately ended his life (albeit accidentally).

The thing about the film that is the most surprising is how, well… entertaining it is. If you can get past the subject matter and the soul-crushing presentation of Haim’s mother’s 911 call early in the film, Feldman and his klatch of friends and former child stars (like “Fox and the Hound” co-star Keith Coogan) reminisce warmly on their fallen comrade. Feldman is unusually genteel here, and the years of keeping such secrets show in his face, as does the relief of no longer keeping them in. We cheer him not only for seeking justice for Haim and for surviving a career that claims far too many—including two actor friends who appear in recent interviews—but ultimately, for his dive into activism.

Is this Feldman’s story to tell? Should this story have ended with Haim’s death in 2010? Does Feldman have ulterior motives in publicizing this narrative? These are valid questions—and none are answered in the film—but in the interest of protecting countless children from the fate that Haim suffered (and worse), they are all moot, and “Truth” remains a brave and admirable clarion call-to-action.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Rob Newton is a veteran film critic, the captain of The Cape Ann Community Cinema, a novelty recording artist, and a maker of movies.

Review – You Should Have Left

FILM REVIEWYOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT. With Kevin Bacon, Amanda Seyfried, Avery Essex. Written for the screen and directed by David Koepp. Rated R for some violence, disturbing images, sexual content and language. 93 minutes.

Necro wavers

There’s an interestingly knotty psychodrama lurking underneath the generic haunted house nonsense of writer-director David Koepp’s YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT. Far better acted than a movie like this probably has any right to be, it is at times a portrait of an aging man undone by his own nagging fears of inadequacy while jealousy eats away at the foundation of a marriage like termites. Kevin Bacon stars as Theo Conroy, a ridiculously wealthy investment banker who was briefly a tabloid superstar ten years ago, when he was on trial for the murder of his wife. Acquitted and now remarried to a movie star half his age (Amanda Seyfried), Theo dotes on their six-year-old daughter and pretends it doesn’t bug him too much whenever strangers recognize him and start whispering behind his back.

The hook for the movie is the family’s ill-fated vacation in the Welsh countryside, where they’ve rented a massive mansion that has a few secrets of its own. A Kubrickian monolith of unvarnished wood and white brick walls, the house’s hallways stretch out for distances that should be physically impossible, with corners cocked at obtuse angles and a living room that measures much larger indoors than out. You don’t need to be a horror film scholar to guess that the house is soon going to hold Theo accountable for the sins of his past, but what’s unpredictable about the movie is a fully realized, adult dynamic between Bacon and Seyfried, set to a semi-abusive simmer that proves far more unsettling than when reflections in the mirror begin moving of their own accord.

One of those super-dependable utility guys who never quite crossed over to leading man status, the eternally underrated Bacon is especially good here, chafing at the knowledge that he’s too old for his wife and driving himself crazy trying not to read too much into her every wayward glance. The film’s best scene arrives early on, when Bacon attempts to visit Seyfried on a movie set but is stopped by an overzealous P.A. who refuses to believe that he’s her husband. Meanwhile, we can hear her shooting a sex scene and loudly faking an orgasm for multiple takes as a mini-operetta of enraged humiliation flickers across Bacon’s face. Whenever she teasingly calls him “Old Man,” she knows exactly what she’s doing, and cooping these two up in a remote house full of ghosts could have been the makings of a great Bergman movie.

Alas, David Koepp is not Ingmar Bergman. A blockbuster architect who provided screenplay blueprints for the likes of “Jurassic Park,” “Spider-Man,” and “Mission: Impossible,” Koepp has also carved out a side career behind the camera making nifty little low budget thrillers like “The Trigger Effect” and “Premium Rush.” (I’ve not seen his 2015 Johnny Depp career-killer “Mortdecai” and that was a deliberate choice on my part.) He previously paired with Bacon 21 years ago for “Stir Of Echoes,” which had the supreme misfortune of opening weeks after that other movie in which a little kid sees dead people. Koepp is perfectly serviceable behind the camera without ever threatening to be inspired. This eerily bright modernist mansion provides some novel visual opportunities, but eventually we wind up in the same old moldy, dripping cellar from a thousand other films.

The most effective moment for me had nothing to do with the horror plot but rather is an unexpectedly abrupt admission by Seyfried that rips the emotional rug right out from under the movie. Her delivery of one particular line felt like a sniper shot, making the film’s obligatory return to the boogeyman in the basement an annoying anti-climax compared to the devastation she’s already delivered. Bacon is listed as one of the film’s producers, and I’m assuming it’s him we have to thank for all the meaty dramatic monologues you don’t usually hear in haunted house movies. The 62-year-old star already played a 35-year-old high school student in “Footloose” the year before Seyfried was born, and this is the rare Hollywood movie to mine that kind of age gap for anxiety instead of just pretending it doesn’t exist.

A clever running bit finds Bacon’s character frequently listening to an audiobook full of passive-aggressive meditation lessons that sound like they’re mocking his angst. “You Should Have Left” really could have used a few more touches like that, especially considering how there aren’t exactly a lot of surprises in the plot department. The inevitable ending is visually cluttered, splashing all sorts of silly, unmotivated lights in between the edits when the resolution really called for something as lean and straightforward as these two unexpectedly excellent lead performances.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality

Review – 7500

FILM REVIEW7500With Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Omid Memar, Murathan Muslu, Aylin Tezel, Carlo Kitzlinger. Written by Patrick Vollrath, Senad Halilbasic. Directed by Patrick Vollrath. Rated R for violence/terror and language. 92 minutes. On Amazon Prime.

Aero smyth

Alfred Hitchcock was a veteran director by time he made “Lifeboat” (1944) and “Rear Window” (1954), both movies in which the audience’s point of view is largely limited to a single setting. For his feature debut, Patrick Vollrath attempts the same thing. The result is a taut thriller with a strong performance by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who spends a good portion of the running time alone on screen.

7500 is code for an airline hijacking. The film starts slowly–even dully–as we see passengers arriving and going through checkpoints to board a flight from Berlin to Paris. Tobias Ellis (Gordon-Levitt) is the co-pilot, and he engages in chitchat with the captain (Carlo Kitzlinger), and the crew, including Gökce (Aylin Tezel), his girlfriend with whom he has a young son. The plane takes off and, in an instant, everything changes, as a group of terrorists attempt to storm the cockpit.

Tobias manages to close the door on them, except one he has to knock out. However, he and the captain have both been stabbed by the terrorists who were armed with shards of glass in order to avoid detection. The ones stuck on the other side of the door attempt to break in and tell Tobias through the intercom that they will start killing passengers if he doesn’t unlock the door.

Almost the entire film takes place within the confines of the cockpit as Tobias has to deal with ever-threatening crises while trying make an emergency landing. The script, by Vollrath and Senad Halilbasic, focuses on Tobias struggling with keeping the passengers safe and the hijackers out while he’s trapped. Gordon-Levitt shows a man trying to hold it together as he becomes the only one who can prevent a disaster.

Late in the film, he finds himself held hostage by the youngest of the terrorists, Vedat (Omid Memar). This further tightens the screws as Tobias has to stay calm while trying to convince Vedat to allow him to land the plane in order to refuel. Now that may not make much sense, as the plane had only taken off a short time before, but that simply increases the tension. Whether it’s true or not, the pilot has to make Vedat believe it’s the only possible choice.

Told tightly and efficiently, “7500” is a harrowing ride premiering on Amazon Prime on June 19. If you want to see it, you’ll have to catch it there. It’s not likely to be turning up as an in-flight movie, even when things return to normal.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Shoot To Marry

FILM REVIEWSHOOT TO MARRY. Written and directed by Steve Markle. Not rated. 74 minutes. On iTunes, Amazon, and other VOD platforms.


Thirty-five years ago, filmmaker Ross McElwee released a documentary called “Sherman’s March,” in which he recorded his attempts to make a Civil War documentary but instead focused on his complicated love life. Now, Canadian filmmaker Steve Markle explores similar territory, but omitting the Civil War. Billed as a real-life romantic comedy, it’s a meandering and often amusing take on looking for love in the 21st century.

Markle introduces himself as a nerd, including showing some embarrassing home movies from his youth. Now 41, his love life is at a crossroads, having just ended a relationship with the woman to whom he proposed marriage and at a loss as to where to turn. As he sardonically notes, he should be divorced by now, looking for his second wife.

What he decides to do is use his camera to meet women in hopes of finding his true love. This ranges from tracking down the woman on whom he had a crush in grade school – she had no idea – and exploring everything from computer dating to a “sex club.” He also meets a variety interesting women and comes to realize he has to stop being so needy and start listening to them.

Some of the women he meet are as weird–if not weirder–than him, including one who designs her own artistic hats, and who gets him to go out in public with her wearing only underpants and body paint. Another, identified only as “Goddess,” is someone he hires simply to cuddle with him for an hour, while others are more out there in other directions, such as one woman who’s a lumberjack/lumberjill.

Through it all he wonders why life can’t be like the movies, or at least like his parents, married for many years. What he admires is not only their obvious love for each other, but their ability to be boring together. Along his journey he occasionally meets a potential partner, only to find out that his real project is figuring out who he is and what he needs to bring to a relationship to make it work.

There’s some funny and poignant twists late in the film–not to be revealed here–that brings it to a satisfying conclusion. True love, it turns out, can’t be planned or mapped out, but needs to happen when two people connect and are both committed to making it work. Romantic comedies (and this critic is both a fan and the author of a book on the subject) can be enjoyable but are unrealistic. In movies we know, if not from the casting than from the “meet cute” of the two leads, how things have to end up. That’s not the case in real life.

“Shoot to Marry” is a charming addition to a well-trod genre.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, including I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind the Scenes of Hollywood’s Great Romantic Comedies. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.