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Review – Creed

FILM REVIEWCREED. With Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew. Written by Ryan Coogler & Aaron Covington. Directed by Ryan Coogler. Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some sensuality. 132 minutes.

In CREED, the latest film in the “Rocky” series (at nearly forty years old only a decade behind the James Bond series) Rocky (Sylvester Stallone) finally acts his age. He’s not looking for a final bout as in 2006’s “Rocky Balboa.” Instead he’s running a restaurant and letting people bask in the fading glow of his glory days. Enter Adonis Johnson (Michael B. Jordan).

Adonis is actually the son of Apollo Creed, played by Carl Weathers early in the series. Young Adonis, whose late mother was someone with whom Apollo had a fling, is in and out of foster homes and juvenile halls. When we meet him, he’s being adopted by Apollo’s widow (Phylicia Rashad). Years pass and the now adult Adonis chucks a white collar career–where he was just promoted–to pursue his passion… (wait for it) …. boxing.

When he leaves Los Angeles for Philadelphia and asks Rocky to train him, you can pretty much guess where the rest of the story is going. It’s hokey, it’s predictable–especially if you’ve seen the other “Rocky” films–and, if you’re a fan, it’s surprisingly engaging. Part of it is because Michael B. Jordan puts a fresh spin on the young-boxer-looking-for-a-break story, especially in a romance with a singer (Tessa Thompson) that throws some sparks.

A big reason is that Stallone–often an underrated actor whose good performances are sometimes overlooked–underplays the role. He’s been Rocky Balboa through six films and, unlike his Rambo, Rocky remains, at heart, a simple guy who never thought he would get so far. Here, as the aging ex-boxer, he’s kept his distance from the gym where he once trained and the sport he once defined. He’s also charmingly out-of-touch with the modern world in some ways, as in a scene where Adonis uses his smartphone to take a picture of Rocky’s instructions.

Naturally, he gets his share of melodramatic plot twists, not to be spoiled here except to note that it does not involve him boxing for the title. That’s left to an absurd opportunity where Adonis, having been revealed to be Creed’s son, is offered a championship bout against ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Tony Bellew), the British champion who is looking for a big payday before going off to prison. It’s totally unbelievable, or would be if this wasn’t a “Rocky” film where such make-or-break matches happen with regularity.

Fortunately, the three principal actors are engaging (as is Rashad, who is under-utilized), and there are plenty of nods to the earlier films that range from the poignant (Rocky having to exert himself to climb that iconic staircase at the Philadelphia Museum of Art) to nudge-in-the-ribs humor (Adonis moving into Paulie’s old room and finding his stash of porn magazines).

One might think this is the end of the series, but we hear about Rocky’s son who’s now living in Canada and there’s no telling what they’ll do if the movie is a hit. Fans of the latest James Bond film or the upcoming “Star Wars” sequel are allowed their fannish enjoyment. There’s no reason that fans of the “Rocky” series can’t have their time at the movies as well. This one’s for you.•••

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 most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Book Review – Luke Skywalker Can’t Read

. Written by Ryan Britt. Published by Penguin Random House. 224 pages.

I am too old for LUKE SKYWALKER CAN’T READ, the latest essay compilation from Ryan Britt. He most certainly can read and regurgitates, as modern geeks do, all the things he discovered on the Internet. He hasn’t the patience for being a sensitive artist, but he has the mind of a Mentat.

Yes, of course, he can swing vine to vine. He is quick-witted, and clear with prose—I was eighty pages into it before I came up for air. Eighty pages essentially wondering how to talk to him (or anyone who will listen) about this book that fills me with marvel. And with longing, for the character of Mr. Ryan Britt has no gravitas.

Hollow brilliance, yes. Luke Skywalker didn’t grow up with a droid bookmobile. The galaxy far, far away has holocrons but no .pdf files. And it’s not what we need right now, no matter how wonderful, no matter how annotated. We need poetic, emotive monologues of the soul. We need saving from the decreasing box of the sophisticated chat room. We need risk. (Not Roman numerals on Kamchatka, life lived, with Britt’s more-than-capable mind to tell us how and why. Mr. Britt may dissent without prejudice.)

I have no interest trolling the man’s narrative. He got off on a bad foot in his set-up, ridiculing his proto-scifi Dad’s interest in “Barbarella” for that traditional Big Weenie Nerd Y-Chrome element. He was embarrassed of his old man’s sex drive. And this lead to pages of biographic neurosis buttressed by weak-chinned boy feminism and a desire to validate himself by clarifying his preening years. Not nearly a Douglas Coupland or essayist for “The Baffler.” He was an apologist for the Kirks who do not need at all anything.

At seventy-seven pages in, I felt strange like the time I ate carrots for three days, read my Psychology text, and took the final. How can someone author a chapter on scifi movie scores and not mention exposition, fugue, harmony, voicing, or scherzo, or anything involving colors and emotion, or even the remotest bit of theater to place a person inside those scores if only for a moment? If I worked in IT and had nothing but big Doritos bags to munch while data got mirrored to the staging server, I would write chapter and verse just like this, with my pud firmly in one hand and my other hand on my smartphone typing with one thumb.

Have at. He will take you places and tell you things. He’s a strong talent leading a boy’s life. “Luke Skywalker Can’t Read” is easy, breezy reading of Britt’s travails as the nerd who was. Would that it does it for you.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Mark Volpe is a playwright and musician living in the historic fishing village of Gloucester, Mass.

Review – The Good Dinosaur

. With the voices of Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand, Raymond Ochoa, Steve Zahn, Sam Elliott. Written by Meg LeFauve. Directed by Peter Sohn. Rated PG for peril, action and thematic elements. 100 minutes.

After the triumphant return of Pixar with this summer’s “Inside Out,” the question was whether they could it do twice in one year. Alas, while THE GOOD DINOSAUR may satisfy those looking for family entertainment, it’s a decidedly mixed bag.

We’re in some sort of alternate universe where the dinosaurs have not only not been wiped out, but have begun farming and cattle-herding. Two things are immediately obvious. First, in terms of technique, Pixar has just upped the game in computer animation again. If you remove the cartoonish characters, the realism of the landscape they have created is absolutely breathtaking. From the leaves and flowers to the flowing water, to the rocks on the ground, it all looks real.

That the characters are cartoonish is not necessarily a bad choice. What is a bad choice is not having a coherent story to tell. Stories and characters have always been the backbone of the best Pixar films, and here it’s obvious that this was a script done by committee. Literally. While Meg LeFauve gets sole credit for the screenplay, she shares the story credit with four other writers.

The result is a movie that is all over the place. After an opening in which Poppa (Jeffrey Wright) and Momma (Frances McDormand) oversee the hatching of three eggs, we meet Arlo, the runt of the litter. He grows up (voiced by Raymond Ochoa) and is spooked by chickens, his brother, bugs… almost everything. Then in classic Disney fashion Poppa dies and Arlo is subsequently swept far from home in a flood.

At this point he is joined by a feral boy (Jack Bright), whom eventually he dubs “Spot.” The storyline becomes one of how Arlo and Spot have adventures together, rescue each other, bond, and find their way home. However the individual scenes change tone so often that it gets dizzying. There’s a scene where they eat some fermented fruit which causes what seems to be psychedelic visions. There’s a scene with a philosophical creature who seems even more afraid of everything than Arlo. There’s an encounter with a group of pterodactyls led by Thunderclap (Steve Zahn) who want to eat Spot. Later there’s a group of tyrannosauruses who are fighting rustlers who have stolen their cattle. These dino-cowboys are led by Butch (Sam Elliot), the rustlers sound like a bunch of hillbillies, and the background during the cattle drive suddenly turns into a John Ford western.

Youngsters may also find the “eat or be eaten” world of the film upsetting. Spot rips a bug’s head off to try to convince the herbivore Arlo to try it. Thunderclap devours a cute animal Arlo has rescued. And Poppa’s being swept away in a sudden deluge may rival the death of Bambi’s mother in shocking the little ones.

If it all held together, “The Good Dinosaur” would be a much better film. Instead, it’s the usual “lost ones finding their way home” story tarted up with a grab bag of plot points. Perhaps Pixar’s next movie should be called “The Golden Goose.” You know, the story of how greed for too much can end up costing you the source of your wealth?•••

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 most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


Review – The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2

FILM REVIEWTHE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 2. With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Donald Sutherland, Julianne Moore. Written by Peter Craig and Danny Strong. Directed by Francis Lawrence. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, and for some thematic material. 137 minutes.

Two points need to be made about THE HUNGER GAMES: MOCKINGJAY, PART 2. First, it is a solid conclusion to the film adaptation of the book series. Second, the third book in the series never should have been split into two films. People unfamiliar with the books who wondered why “Part 1” didn’t seem to go anywhere can now see the payoff to all those set-ups.

Without any sort of recap, the film picks right up where the last one left off. President Coin (Julianne Moore) is the leader of the rebel forces against the cruel and effete President Snow (a deliciously evil Donald Sutherland). Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) is recovering from the raid that rescued Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), who has been brainwashed into hating her. Their relationship–a triangle, really, with Gale (Liam Hemsworth) as a rival for Katniss’s affections–is a key subplot.

The main story is the revolt, and what role Katniss will play. Coin wants to hold her back making propaganda videos, but she’s hellbent on taking out Snow herself. Much of the film is her journey through the battle for Capital City, where Snow has laid booby trapped “pods” almost everywhere they turn. Ironically, Katniss– as the “Mockingjay”–has become the symbol of the revolution for both sides.

Although the dystopian YA novel (and movie adaptation) has become a cliché, “The Hunger Games” has an unexpected payoff which the film preserves. Suffice to say the overall story is about a young woman being used and abused by the adults in authority who finally comes into her own, taking control of her life. In a sense, the series can be taken as a metaphor for making the transition from being a teenager to being a grown-up.

Lawrence, who has become a star on the basis of these films, has shown herself to be a talented young actress able to handle a wide range of roles. Her performance as Katniss across the four movies is a standout among films based on YA books. She began headstrong but not always sure of herself, and finally comes into her own. Moore and Sutherland only appear together near the film’s end, but their portraits of the effects of power make it clear what’s at stake. There’s nice support from Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Mahershala Ali, Stanley Tucci, and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in roles they introduced earlier in the series. The weakest links are the love interests with both of them stuck in passive roles. Hutcherson at least has the excuse that Peeta is struggling against the drugging and torture he had undergone.

In spite of the unnecessary padding that led to “Mockingjay” being split in half, the series ends on a strong note and should amply satisfy fans. Indeed, for those who haven’t read the book, the ending should leave you with something to think about as well.•••

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 most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Secret In Their Eyes


FILM REVIEWSECRET IN THEIR EYES. With Chiwetel Ejiofor, Nicole Kidman, Julia Roberts, Alfred Molina, Michael Kelly. Written and directed by Billy Ray. Rated PG-13 for thematic material involving disturbing violent content, language and some sexual references. 111 minutes.

A remake of a Spanish thriller, SECRET IN THEIR EYES manages to rises above its pulpy plot with the help of its three leading performers. They make us take it much more seriously than we might otherwise. Plot details, of necessity, will be sketchy.

In the present, Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor), is a former FBI agent who now works for the New York Mets in some capacity. However, thirteen years earlier he was detached to work with the Los Angeles Police Department as part of their counter-terrorism unit. A murder of a young woman occurs connected to someone in the department and for reasons that slowly unfold over the course of the film, the perpetrator was not prosecuted, but was allowed to get away. He then disappeared.

Ray has spent the years since trying to track him down and now believes he has. He returns to L.A. where he encounters Claire (Nicole Kidman), once a homicide detective but now the district attorney, and Jess (Julia Roberts), who has become a top investigator for the department. Ray’s relationship with both women is somewhat complex, and part of the motivation for his obsession with the case.

The story is told in a non-linear fashion, so we really have to pay attention. A snide detective (Michael Kelly) is bald in the present but has a full head of hair in the flashbacks. Jess is somewhat perky for a cop–although that’s not a reflection on her competence–and now looks, as one character puts it, like she’s a million years old. Claire, on the other hand, seems to have grown in confidence. As we move back and forth in time there are a number of mysteries to be resolved. Like a page-turner, it’s a movie that keeps you wanting to know what happens next. Eventually everything falls into place.

It’s not a very deep story, and this is where the cast comes in. All three of the leads bring their A-game, making the material seem more important than it is. Ejiofor is obsessed, and not only for justice. Kidman seems cool and superficial but is slowly shown to have hidden depths, including in a devastating interrogation scene where we’re stunned at where her character goes. As for Roberts, her first appearance in the present day story is a bit of a shock as she appears without makeup (or, seemingly so), and looks as if the years have not been kind. The three of them make this a much better film than it might have been with lesser performers.

Writer/director Billy Ray keeps our attention in the shifting back and forth in time which makes us feel the disorientation of the characters. It’s not that the story is difficult to follow. This isn’t a cinematic puzzle like “Memento.” Yet as we have to keep up with the characters and their changing motivations on two time tracks, it’s a juggling act nonetheless.

“Secret In Their Eyes” isn’t one of the season’s Oscar bait movies. Instead, it’s the movie you go out to during Thanksgiving week when you’ve just got to get out of the house. Sometimes, a bit of diversion is more than enough.•••

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 most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The 33


THE 33
. With Antonio Banderas, Rodrigo Santoro, Juliette Binoche James Brolin, Lou Diamond Phillips. Written by Mikko Alanne and Craig Borten and Michael Thomas. Directed by Patricia Riggen. Rated PG-13 for a disaster sequence and some language. 127 minutes.

It sounds strange, but THE 33 is the feel-good mining disaster of the movie of the year. Based on the true story of the Chilean miners who–amazingly–were trapped in a cave-in for 69 days and lived to tell the tale, this is an uplifting story of the triumph of the human spirit. As such, some viewers will embrace it while the more cynical types will dismiss it out of hand.

In fact, it’s a compelling story given that most of the action takes place within the mine and up on top, where family members demand action, and officials and engineers try to figure out if there’s anything they can do. It’s not an easy story to make interesting, taking three credited writers, but somehow it works.

Our focus after the cave-in is on just a few of the thirty-three, notably Mario Sepúlveda (Antonio Banderas) and Don Lucho (Lou Diamond Phillips). The latter is the foreman of the crew, which puts him in an awkward position as they come to realize just how poorly the mining company has prepared for this situation. Indeed, above ground, the company representative is ready to write them all off as beyond rescue. Mario is just one of the crew but is a natural leader and becomes the person who tries to hold things together, whether it’s enforcing the rationing of their meager food supplies to preventing the despondent from taking their own lives.

Meanwhile the families have gathered at the gates (which the mining company has barred), led by María Segovia (Juliette Binoche), whose brother is one of the miners. They get nowhere until the arrival of Laurence Golborne (Rodrigo Santoro), an aide to the president of Chile who convinces his boss that to do nothing and let the miners die would be devastating for the country.

Even though we know how it turns out (and get to see the real miners at the very end of the film), there is a surprising amount of suspense along the way. As various methods are tried to locate the miners–with most of the exploratory drills missing the chamber they are in deep within the mountain–it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. Director Patricia Riggen brings the same emotional honesty she brought to “Under The Same Moon” but is now working on a much larger scale than a young boy searching for his mother. She deftly juggles the above- and below-ground stories, as well as the character vignettes, such as one miner who is being mourned by both his wife and his mistress.

“The 33” is a powerful story about not giving up. It may not have the high profile of some of the other “serious” films that are out now or will be coming out in the next several weeks for awards season, but it serves as a reminder that there are happy endings possible in real-life.•••

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 most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Spectre

With Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci. Written by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth. Directed by Sam Mendes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language. 148 minutes.

Daniel Craig is back for his fourth outing as James Bond in SPECTRE, and it’s a solid entry in the long-running series. Indeed, the first film, “Dr. No,” premiered in 1962, six years before Craig was born. This is an interesting movie for Bond fans because it marks the return of the villainous global conspiracy known as S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (“Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion”), which figured in some of the early Bond films and then vanished due to legal complications in the real world.

The story opens with a colorful and fantastic set piece during the “Day of the Dead” celebrations in Mexico City featuring an explosion, a frenetic chase, and a fight aboard a helicopter. The larger-than-life action scenes set against locales around the world is one of the hallmarks of the series. Locations also include Italy, England, Austria and Morocco.

What’s interesting about this one is that while it has all the things one expects from a Bond film, it also has an original plot not tied to any of the Ian Fleming stories. Without giving too much away, Bond is on an unauthorized mission against a shadowy someone named Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the leader of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. They are a ruthless group engaging in terrorism, slavery, drugs, and the like. When we see someone’s eyes gouged out during a board meeting, we know they’re serious.

Why Bond is after him is a mystery that unravels slowly. Meanwhile the new M (Ralph Fiennes) is dealing with his new boss C (Andrew Scott), who wants to shut down the Double-0 program of which Bond, as Agent 007, is a part. It’s a plot that’s similar to the recent “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation,” but takes it in a very different direction. Naturally, there are the beautiful women–it’s not really P.C. to call them “Bond Girls” any longer–include a stunning 50-year-old Monica Bellucci as a widow Bond seduces and Léa Seydoux as Madeline Swann, the daughter of one of his adversaries who he now has to protect.

The four (!) writers credited with the script have managed to use “Spectre” to tie together all the previous Craig efforts, with a nod to earlier Bonds with the appearance of not one but two Aston Martins, a car associated with the series since “Goldfinger.” And it works. Where introducing backstory for Bond in “Skyfall” seemed just a big forced, here it’s done simply, building to a climax that features not one but two clocks counting down to entirely separate dooms.

One doesn’t go to these movies for the acting, but this is a very solid cast who know how to get the job done. Director Sam Mendes, back for his third Bond film, deftly handles both the character moments and the big action set pieces, so that we remain fully engaged. Indeed, perhaps the best indication of how well the film works is that at nearly two-and-a-half hours, it just speeds by. They’re still following the philosophy for the series established by the late producer Albert R. Broccoli: all the money spent for the film is up on the screen.

“Spectre” will more than satisfy Bond fans and may win over some new ones.•••

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 most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


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