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Review – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

FILM REVIEW – JURASSIC PARK: FALLEN KINGDOMWith Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Toby Jones. Written by Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow. Directed by J.A. Bayona. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of science-fiction violence and peril. 128 minutes.

jurassic_world_fallen_kingdom_ver3Fair warning: this reviewer is someone who has never been a big fan of this franchise – impressive CGI special effects aside – which makes it surprising that JURASSIC PARK: FALLEN KINGDOM seems much more than an amusement park ride. It raises some interesting questions, all the while providing the requisite thrills from volcanoes, runaway dinosaurs, and duplicitous humans.

It’s several years after the events of “Jurassic World” (2015). The island where the theme park was located is now facing total destruction from a newly-active volcano. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is involved in efforts to save the lives of the dinosaurs who will perish. With the help of Eli Mills (Rafe Spall), who handles the financial affairs for Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), she is ready to provide her expertise to those sent to save them. Enlisting Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), she brings her team to the island to join up with mercenaries led by Ken Wheatley (Ted Levine).

The first part of the story is pretty much what you would expect with that set-up, with some great action sequences. Then they up the ante when the volcano erupts, letting the various twists play out against lots of prehistoric violence. At this point, it’s mostly a thrill ride but pay attention to the Senate hearing where Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum, from the original film) is testifying. He points out that just as the nuclear genie couldn’t be put back in the bottle, neither can the genetic experiments that are at the center of this series. In this film, we get to confront where that will lead.

There are numerous twists in the second half, and what makes it work – amidst all the CGI violence – is that the film doesn’t shy away from the ramifications of the technology the series has posited. If one could bring dinosaurs back to life from DNA preserved in amber, would the sole application really be in creating an amusement park?  When Mr. Eversol (Toby Jones) arrives as a businessman who dismisses millions of dollars as something he could make on a slow Tuesday, we enter a world where we discover the unthinkable has not only been thought but is about to become very profitable.

As a summer special effects movie, it is slickly done, with the actors, sets, and CGI creatures meshing seamlessly. Those not wanting to see bad guys chomped on by carnivorous reptiles should give this a pass, but for those less squeamish, there is only one sequence that seemed to this reviewer to cross the line, owing more to Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” than his original “Jurassic Park.”

In some ways “Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom” ought to have been the culmination of the series, but in Hollywood franchises never die, they merely set up sequels. This film is no different yet, as Ian Malcolm warns the Senate committee, they’ve entered a new world where dinosaurs are no longer mere entertainment: they may end up having the last laugh on humanity. No doubt another film is being planned. Where it will take us is a question that fans of the series will get to debate in the meantime.•••

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 Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


Review – Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

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FILM REVIEWWON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?A documentary directed by Morgan Neville. Featuring Fred Rogers, Joanne Rogers, Francois Scarborough Clemmons, Yo-Yo Ma, Eddie Murphy. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and language. 94 minutes.

wont_you_be_my_neighborEver since it screened at Sundance back in January there’s been a strange phenomenon surrounding WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR?, director Morgan Neville’s fine documentary about children’s television pioneer Fred Rogers. People can’t seem to stop crying. A lot of critics spend their entire reviews writing about how they sobbed their way through it, and a colleague sitting next to me during the film’s New England premiere at the Independent Film Festival Boston was so inconsolable afterwards he had to go take a walk around the block before he could even bring himself to talk about the movie.

This is a bit odd, because “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is not a sad film at all. It’s really kind of a boilerplate bio-doc about the placid Presbyterian minister who from 1968 to 2001 hosted a uniquely gentle and almost comically low-budget public television program that spoke directly to the fears and concerns of its preschool audience. Fred Rogers talked to children as if they were his peers – tackling scary subjects like war, divorce, and death with an unwaveringly steady voice and vast reservoirs of kindness in his eyes. He changed into his trademark cardigan and sneakers at the top of every episode while singing a happy song, a ritual that reassured young viewers we were amongst friends, or at least neighbors.

This is what knocks folks for such a loop during the movie. At our particular moment in history, we’re simply not prepared to receive Fred Rogers’s straightforward sincerity – so heartfelt and direct, devoid of any self-protecting irony. Every time I have turned on my television for the past three years I’ve been greeted by the putrid visage of a blathering orange yam preaching a toxic, semi-literate combination of bullying braggadocio and lachrymose self-pity while the faces of his followers contort with orgiastic abandon, braying a stream of unprintable epithets. The forthright decency of Mister Rogers feels as if it has been beamed in not from our recent past, from a distant planet altogether. If you cry during this film it’s because you’re realizing how much has been lost.

Neville won an Oscar for his wonderful music documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” a few years back, and he’s shrewdly assembled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” as a highlight reel of footage that will probably feel familiar to public television aficionados but still leaves you with a warm and fuzzy feeling all the same. I’ll never not fall apart watching Rogers’ 1981 interview with 10-year-old quadriplegic Jeff Erlanger, so matter-of-factly accepting disability as just another unfortunate fact of life and chatting with this child as a friend like any other. You simply didn’t see people like Jeff on television back then, and what a gift it was to get to know him.

The show confronted so many topics that were taboo on TV at the time. Rogers began his career talking to kids about Vietnam and Bobby Kennedy’s assassination and then wrapped it up returning to the air shortly after 9/11. “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” never sugarcoated the subjects tackled within these episodes – witness the close-ups on his dead goldfish during that traumatic half-hour – our host always made it plain that the world could often be a frightening and confusing place. But with his cheapo puppets and bargain-basement production values, Mister Rogers also let every viewer know that it was okay to be angry sometimes, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re feeling sad.

What struck me most about the film was the iron will Fred Rogers must have possessed, his borderline fanatical exercise regimens hinting at the discipline required to see his stubbornly uncommercial and altruistic vision through three decades on the air in a milieu that mainly exists to sell plastic crap to kids.

We revisit the brilliantly subversive moment when Rogers invited his African-American police officer pal Francois Clemmons to soak his feet alongside him in a kiddie pool on a hot day. During an era when riots were breaking out over colored restrooms this was a giant screw-you to Jim Crow, but at the same time, we learn that Rogers put the kibosh on closeted Clemmons hanging out in gay bars. Our host was pragmatic enough to know the show could never survive a sex scandal, and it was going to take the outside world a long time to catch up to the utopia he depicted every week onscreen. We’re still not there yet.

You can’t help but think about this strength of character when the movie gets into the bizarre 2008 campaign by Fox News and other conservative commentators to blame the “softness” of millennials on Mr. Rogers telling them that they were “special.” I’ll never understand how baby boomers – who grew up in an age of unparalleled economic prosperity and job security yet did nothing but trash the planet and leave their children screwed with off-the-charts income inequality and insurmountable debt – can in good conscience keep puffing out their chests and calling everybody pussies just because younger generations don’t like to behave as boorishly in public as they do.

To watch “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is to be reminded that kindness and grace are what will endure and leave a legacy. It’s easy to laugh at these threadbare sock puppets but impossible to dismiss the tough truths they imparted. Visiting Mister Rogers’ neighborhood every week made growing up a feel little less confusing and frightening for this little kid, and it was a pleasure to return for these ninety-odd minutes.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Over the past seventeen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper, and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – Incredibles 2

FILM REVIEW INCREDIBLES 2With the voices of Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Catherine Keener, Bob Odenkirk, Samuel L. Jackson. Written by and directed by Brad Bird. Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild language. 118 minutes.

incredibles_two_ver11There was a time when a Pixar film was a sure thing, with cutting-edge computer animation combined with great storytelling and memorable characters. They could make us laugh and they could make us cry, often in the same film. However, with the notable exception of “Toy Story,” there’s something they can’t seem to do, and that’s make great sequels to their past hits.

“Cars 2” may have been the worst film they ever released. “Monsters University” was a letdown from the brilliant “Monsters, Inc.” The “Finding Nemo” sequel, “Finding Dory,” was okay but wasn’t really necessary. The streak continues with INCREDIBLES 2, a movie that has its moments, but coming fourteen years after the original film, probably should have been put aside in favor of developing some new original content.

Part of the problem is that in the years since “The Incredibles” we’ve been inundated with superhero movies. In many ways, “Incredibles 2” looks like they rebooted a script from the Marvel or DC universes. It’s a film that feels like we’ve already seen it – several times.

The story focuses on Winston Deavor (voice of Bob Odenkirk) who has a plan to overturn the ban against superheroes. It involves putting Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) front-and-center, leaving Mr. Incredible (Craig T. Nelson) to stay at home with the kids. The evil villain is someone called the Screenslaver, but Elastigirl soon learns that everything is not as it seems.

Coming after this year’s “Black Panther” and “The Avengers: Infinity War,” it’s pretty mundane even with a twist that leads to the superheroes fighting each other. Since this is a sequel, it has to repeat what made the original memorable, and so there are scenes with superhero costume designer Edna Mode (voice of writer/director Brad Bird) even though she’s really irrelevant to the story.

The one element that raises the film above what used to be called a “Gentleman’s C,” is Jack-Jack (Eli Fucile), the family’s baby who starts to exhibit his abilities. The powers that be at Disney/Pixar seem to get that he’s the best part of the movie, as critics were sent a message specifically asking us not to reveal anything about this plot point. Suffice to say, when Jack-Jack is on screen, the film exhibits signs of life that is sorely lacking much of the rest of the time.

“Incredibles 2” is not unwatchable, and viewers with low expectations will likely find it entertaining if overlong. It is, however, the sort of “grind-them-out-like-sausage” movie that one had hoped Pixar would avoid, and makes one worry about their release for next summer. Given the dramatic brilliance of the ending of “Toy Story 3,” is there really a need for “Toy Story 4” except a chance to cash in?•••

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 Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Hotel Artemis

FILM REVIEW – HOTEL ARTEMISWith Jodie Foster, Sofia Boutella, Dave Bautista, Jeff Goldblum, Zachary Quinto. Written by and directed by Drew Pearce. Rated R for violence and language throughout, some sexual references, and brief drug use. 93 minutes.

hotel_artemisLike the recent “Upgrade,” HOTEL ARTEMIS is a real curio of a movie, combining a violent action film with a touch of science fiction. Writer Drew Pearce, making his debut as a feature director, pulls it all together with a strong cast, and a tight plot.

It’s 2028 as riots break out in Los Angeles over the privatization of the water supply. Jodie Foster, looking much older than her 55 years, is cast as “The Nurse,” who operates the titular hotel which has been converted into a hospital for the underworld. One almost expects Keanu Reeves’ John Wick to be showing up here, but instead, it’s a group of anonymous people identified only by the suites they are staying in.

Waikiki (Sterling K. Brown) has shown up with his severely wounded brother (Brian Tyree Henry) after a botched robbery. Nice (Sofia Boutella) is recovering from a bullet wound that we learn she inflicted on herself for reasons that will soon become clear. Acapulco (Charlie Day) is an obnoxious arms dealer trying to get out of there. The Wolf (Jeff Goldblum) – booked into the Niagara suite – is the crime kingpin of Los Angeles, and his son (Zachary Quinto) is threatening to spin out of control. The Nurse treats them, as well as a police officer (Jenny Slate) with whom she shares some history, with the help of Everest (Dave Bautista), her burly and loyal orderly who considers himself a healthcare professional.

For a taut 93 minutes, set almost entirely at the hotel/hospital, the characters interact in sometimes surprising ways. Holding it all together is Foster’s Nurse, who drinks and listens to classic rock to ease the pain of her past, but who employs all sorts of high tech medicine to treat people who have paid to become members of this exclusive private hospital. Highly competent and insistent that the facility’s rules be followed, she’s not above bending them herself. The place is not only her home and workplace, it is – for reasons that slowly emerge – her refuge.

Pearce has gathered a top-notch cast, which is what the film requires since it is much more character-driven than about its plot. We get some backstory for several of the characters – for example, Waikiki has felt his life limited because he’s had to protect his brother – but it primarily serves to provide motivation, not to get the story to a particular point. Fortunately, the film has style to spare, with the action taking place in the seedy but once luxurious hotel.

“Hotel Artemis” is not going to blow “Ocean’s 8” out of the water this weekend, but it may well be the movie that – in the long run – gets new fans as well as second viewings, long after the summer’s tentpoles are forgotten.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Ocean’s 8

FILM REVIEW – OCEAN’S 8With Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna. Written by Gary Ross & Olivia Milch. Directed by Gary Ross. Rated PG-13 for language, drug use, and some suggestive content. 110 minutes.

oceans_eightOCEAN’S 8 isn’t really a sequel to the George Clooney “Ocean’s 11” series, but it was made for much the same reason. It has become a franchise with a recognizable name and thus will be pre-sold to a large number of moviegoers (and foreign markets). It takes the formula – a bunch of glamorous stars playing characters involved in a complicated heist – and says, “What if we did it will all women instead?”

So, meet Debbie Ocean (Sandra Bullock), sister of the late Danny Ocean, who gets out of prison and meets up with Lou (Cate Blanchett) with plans to infiltrate a gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art where celebrity Daphne Kluger (Anne Hathaway) will be wearing a borrowed necklace worth $150 million dollars. This will involve them bringing in designer Rose Weil (Helena Bonham Carter) to make sure the necklace gets worn.

Soon the operation includes Amita (Mindy Kaling), Nine Ball (Rihanna), Penelope (Elle Fanning), Tammy (Sarah Paulson), and Constance (Awkwafina). Each will have a particular role to play in the heist, but likewise, each has a role to play in the marketing campaign for the movie, appealing to different demographics. Suffice to say they’re all beautiful and talented stars (just like most of the men in the earlier films), and under the direction of Gary Ross (who co-wrote the script), things move smoothly.

If that seems like it’s damning with faint praise, it is. The heist is entertainingly complex, several actors appear in featured cameos (including Elliot Gould from the Clooney movies), and there are some mildly amusing twists along the way. The problem is that it’s all on the surface and no one will be accused of acting. They’re playing personalities and are skilled enough that no one will accuse any of the cast of walking through their roles, but when Cate Blanchett – one of the finest actresses working today – is simply another pretty face playing at being a criminal, it seems a bit of a waste. It’s a matter of taste, but this doesn’t reach the level of the “Fast and Furious” movies, which does much the same thing with a collection of action stars. At least those films have some amazing chases.

That’s not to say “Ocean’s 8” is without its charms. Hathaway seems to be having fun playing a bit against type – she’s not the sweet young thing here. It’s also interesting that this is the second movie of the summer season featuring an all-star female cast, following the sex comedy “Book Club.” And perhaps that’s what makes the film noteworthy. It’s a serviceable comedy/heist movie, but that makes it an entry in a genre where women’s roles are few and far between, often relegated to the “love interest.” Here the women are front and center. It may not make “Ocean’s 8” a cinema classic, but if the film is a hit it may open the door for even more films with strong female characters in the future.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


Review – Hereditary

With Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff, Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd. Written by and directed by Ari Aster. Rated R for horror violence, disturbing images, language, drug use and brief graphic nudity. 127 minutes.

hereditary_ver2One of the current challenges at the movies is what might be called “the arthouse horror film.” On the one hand, we got the brilliant “Get Out,” which was scary and entertaining while presenting us with an unsettling take on our modern world. On the other hand, was the vastly overpraised “The Quiet Place,” where the superior craftsmanship could not overcome the gaping holes in the plot. Which brings us to HEREDITARY.

It was a favorite at the Sundance Film Festival which should be a big warning sign. They also swooned at “The Babadook” and “It Follows,” two other horror films that failed to satisfy. What the failures have in common is that they have an interesting concept which the filmmakers think is enough to compensate for a dull plot and weak characterizations. They might also have some clever technical pyrotechnics, and for some, that will be enough.

“Hereditary” is very much at peace with being one of these “arthouse horror movies.” It has its horrific moments, but, essentially, it’s an overlong movie about a dysfunctional family where one is hard-pressed to care about any of the characters. The movie opens at the funeral of the mother of Annie Graham (Toni Collette). The music tells us that things are creepy, especially as we see what looks like dollhouses but turns out to be Annie’s artwork.

Annie is married to Steve (Gabriel Byrne in yet another wooden performance), and they have two children. Their son, Peter (Alex Wolff), is a moody teenager while their daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), is a creepy 12-year-old who has a nut allergy and, possibly, mental problems. When Peter is off to a party without adult supervision – he lies to Annie about it – she insists that he take Charlie along. When he tells her to go have some cake while he goes off to a bedroom to get high with a girl he likes, we know that there’s trouble brewing.

This leads to a horrific death and lots of family guilt, with Annie being approached at a grief counseling session by a woman (Ann Dowd) who wants to introduce her to seances. As this point, none of the characters are sympathetic, although Collette gives her all in making Annie a woman struggling with her grief. By the time the film gets into the home stretch it goes totally off the rails, with decaying corpses, secret agendas, and an ancient ritual that will impact all the characters.

As with “The Quiet Place,” “Hereditary” is not a cheap knockoff but a movie where there has been a real effort to invest in film technique. The sound editing here is extraordinary, from the eerie music at the beginning, signaling the intent of the filmmaker long before anything horrific actually occurs, to the climactic scene where the audience seems to be surrounded by the characters. Alas, it’s not enough.

With a bloated script and unlikeable characters, “Hereditary” cannot be saved by technique. Although the film offers some shocks and images that will disturb, it fails to make us care, with a payoff that comes from out of left field. Maybe this sort of thing plays well at Sundance, but it’s not likely to impress mainstream audiences.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Book Club

FILM REVIEW – BOOK CLUBWith Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia. Written by Bill Holderman, Erin Simms. Directed by Bill Holderman. Rated PG-13 for sex-related material throughout, and for language. 97 minutes.

book_club_ver2With superhero movies, broad comedies, and the like flooding the theaters at the outset of the summer movie season, Hollywood usually has a film or two to release as counterprogramming. BOOK CLUB is a film that will resonate with older viewers who complain no one’s making movies for them. It’s also a reminder that there are filmmakers who remember how to make romantic comedies, but these days they need a gimmick to get it made.

The premise of “Book Club” is that four older women end up with “Fifty Shades of Grey” as their next book. Quite apart from the quality of the writing (or lack thereof), it’s the sexual frankness of the story that gets them all contemplating their own sex lives. Vivian (Jane Fonda), is a wealthy hotel owner who enjoys sex but not relationships. Her life is complicated when an old flame (Don Johnson) reappears in her life. Carol (Mary Steenburgen) is in a successful marriage but her husband (Craig T. Nelson) seems to have lost all interest in intimacy. Sharon (Candice Bergen) is a judge who has been alone since her divorce eighteen years earlier, but now enters the world of computer dating. Most interesting of all is Diane (Diane Keaton), a widow who meets someone new (Andy Garcia), but whose two daughters treat her like she’s an invalid.

The script by Bill Holderman (who makes his directorial debut here) and Erin Simms divides its time between the four friends discussing their lives and then following their differing stories. If the plots are a little too pat – you’ll anticipate the “surprise” in Carol’s story before it occurs – there’s a certain pleasure in watching four veteran actresses not only act their age but treat getting older as a new chapter rather the end of the line.

This is a movie told very much from the woman’s perspective, but there’s no lack of star quality among the men. In addition to Johnson, Nelson, and Garcia, Richard Dreyfuss and Wallace Shawn pop up as two of Sharon’s dates, and Ed Begley, Jr. appears as Sharon’s ex-husband, engaged to a woman young enough to be his daughter. However, unlike some films that have too many stars and too many stories, the four storylines here are deftly juggled so that they are clearly told, and we see the four friends interacting beyond the book club scenes.

There are a bit too many sex jokes that would be more appropriate in an Adam Sandler movie (such as Carol spiking her husband’s beer with Viagra), but that simply underscores the theme of the movie that these four women aren’t ready to give up love or sex just because they’re no longer in the bloom of youth. While there have been several films that focus on older men (“Last Vegas” being only one of them), it’s rare to have a take on older women like this.

“Book Club” may be lightweight, but it’s entertaining and raises some serious issues. Perhaps more important, it’s a movie for people who have no interest in superheroes.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.