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Review – Mother’s Day

With Jennifer Aniston, Kate Hudson, Julia Roberts, Jason Sudeikis, Timothy Olyphant. Written by Tom Hines, Lily Hollander. Anya Kochoff, Matthew Walker. Directed by Garry Marshall. Rated PG-13 for language and some suggestive material. 118 minutes.

After “Valentine’s Day” (2010) and “New Year’s Eve” (2011) one would think that Hollywood would never let director Garry Marshall make another movie associated with a holiday. He’s back with MOTHER’S DAY, and the good news is the scriptwriter of the previous two movies is not associated with it. Instead, four different writers have their fingerprints on it, and the result is a safe sitcom on the theme of motherhood. It’s not a blockbuster, but it’s certainly an appropriate movie to take your mother to in the week leading up to actual Mother’s Day (May 8).

There are four intertwined stories set in the suburbs of Atlanta. Sandy (Jennifer Aniston) is the divorced mom of two boys who has to deal with the fact that her ex (Timothy Olyphant) has remarried. Jesse (Kate Hudson) is estranged from her mother (Margo Martindale) who didn’t approve of her relationship with someone whose family is from India (Aasif Mandvi), and whom she has subsequently married. Bradley (Jason Sudeikis) is a widower with two girls whose wife died during deployment in Iraq and who is still mourning. Kristin (Britt Robertson) is a young single mother who lives with her boyfriend (Jack Whitehall) but is afraid to commit. Julia Roberts appears as a Home Shopping Network celebrity who connects with several of the stories.

You can probably already figure out where the stories are going–and wonder why it took four writers to get them there–but that’s not the point. As a director Marshall, who was one of the kings of ’70s TV sitcoms (“Happy Days,” “Mork & Mindy”), has never been a critical favorite. Yet films like “Beaches” and “Pretty Woman” hit the sweet spot for moviegoers looking for entertaining stories that would make them feel good. At 81, he’s not likely to compete with Clint Eastwood in tackling new challenges as a filmmaker, but with “Mother’s Day,” he lets the sitcom stories play out while focusing on the characters. The stories may not be believable but the emotions are.

The ensemble cast works well. As is typical with a film like this, the performers have done better work elsewhere, but they carry the goodwill they’ve built up into the movie so that we’re rooting for the happy endings no matter what it takes. Even Hector Elizondo–who has appeared in every one of Marshall’s films–takes it easy here, providing a variation of the comic dignificed presence he perfected in “Pretty Woman.”

Like the recent “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2,” “Mother’s Day” is a movie for a particular audience. You know who you are. If you’re gagging at the thought of it, don’t bother. If it sounds like the sort of movie you thought they didn’t make any more and miss, you’ll enjoy it.•••

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 Huntsman: Winter’s War

With Chris Hemsworth, Jessica Chastain, Charlize Theron, Emily Blunt, Nick Frost. Written by Evan Spiliotopoulos and Craig Mazin. Directed by Cedric Nicolas-Troyan. Rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality. 114 minutes.

With the film starring Chris Hemsworth and given the title THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER’S WAR, the casual moviegoer should be forgiven for thinking this is the latest entry in the Marvel Universe. In fact, it’s a prequel/sequel to”Snow White and the Huntsman” (2012). And due to various matters off-screen, it’s one in which Snow White–played by Kristin Stewart in the original film–is seen only briefly.

Instead, what we get is the origin of the Huntsman, Eric, played by Hemsworth. When the evil Ravenna (Charlize Theron) assumes the throne, her younger sister Freya (Emily Blunt) discovers she’s pregnant by a man pledged to another. Horrible tragedy ensues and Freya leaves her sister having developed her own supernatural powers to become the Ice Queen. She brutally rules over the Northern Realms, rounding up the local children to be trained as soldiers in her army. Young Eric is one of them. Sara (Jessica Chastain) is another. They fall in love, in violation of Freya’s rules.

That’s essentially the first act of the film, which then jumps ahead several years to the post-Snow White “present,” in which the enchanted mirror held by the late Ravenna has been stolen and Eric is employed to get it back before it falls into Freya’s hands. He’s accompanied by Nion (Nick Frost), one of the dwarves from the earlier film, and a new dwarf character Gryff (Rob Brydon), to provide some comic relief. If that’s not enough, two more dwarves, Mrs. Bromwyn (Sheridan Smith) and Doreena (Alexander Roach), provide some love interest as well. To reveal any more of the plot would be to give away the film’s surprises, so suffice to say there is romance and fairy tale adventures before the inevitable showdown over the evil mirror.

The movie has two things going for it. First is a strong cast, bringing some weight to characters who could easily be mobile mannequins. That three of the four principals are women and–in different ways–strong women, makes this an interesting standout against most of what’s in theaters. Theron, Blunt, and Chastain are all solid performers who bring some nuance to their characters. They make Hemsworth have to work at being more than a conventional hero, and he succeeds, seeming to channel a bit of Errol Flynn in his derring-do.

The other plus is the art direction. From the castles to the costumes to the special effects, this is a movie that looks magical without looking like everything we’ve seen already. The story may not be deep, but it remains visually arresting while it’s unfolding.

There probably wasn’t a crying need for a sequel to a “Snow White” movie, particularly one that doesn’t include Snow White, but considering how many superhero movies are in the pipeline for the months ahead, “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” gives as a fairy tale that’s fresh enough to be engaging.•••

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 – Elvis & Nixon

FILM REVIEWELVIS & NIXON. With Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks. Written by Joey Sagal & Hanala Sagal & Cary Elwes. Directed by Liza Johnson. Rated R for some language. 86 minutes.

If there wasn’t an actual photograph, you might not believe it. In fact, in December 1970, Elvis Presley was welcomed into the Oval Office to meet President Richard Nixon and that famous picture of one of the most unlikeliest meetings in history has become one of the most requested photographs of all-time from the National Archives. Now, through the historical record and a good bit of dramatic license, ELVIS & NIXON gives us a glimpse of how that meeting came about and what might have transpired.

By 1970, Elvis might have been “the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” but he was well past his prime, and the notion that he might still be a conduit to America’s youth showed just how out of touch White House aides like Egil Krogh (Colin Hanks) were. The true cluelessness, of course, was on the part of Elvis (Michael Shannon), who wanted the president to designate him a “special agent” so he could go “undercover” to investigate how drugs and subversion were permeating the music business.

He arrives in Washington, D. C. with trusted friend Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer), who’s a bit skeptical about the whole thing. When he’s rebuffed at the White House, he tries other means to get the special badge he wants. However, Krogh believes that a picture of Nixon (Kevin Spacey) with Elvis would be a tremendous publicity coup for the White House, and works to make it happen.

The meeting itself is a comedy of miscommunication, as Elvis does all the things he’s told not to do, and the socially awkward Nixon tries to run out the clock with small talk. Yet something interesting happens as the two stumble onto common ground and make a connection. Are they really hearing each other? It’s doubtful, but each gets something meaningful out of the experience–including an autograph for the President’s daughter Julie.

As Elvis, Shannon–who often plays uptight characters–gets to go in a different direction. His “late Elvis” is trying to find his place in a world very different from the one in which he came to fame, and seeks out Nixon not as a supplicant but as a peer. He’s respectful, at least as he comprehends it, but thinks that reaching out to the President of the United States is something in his purview. Spacey, who plays the devious Frank Underwood, the President on “House of Cards,” is a different sort of President as Nixon. He sketches in enough of Nixon’s mannerisms to seem real without turning into a caricature.Watching the two actors have their characters slowly come to terms with each other is one of the highlights of the movie.

If “Frost/Nixon” (2008) was about a dramatic encounter where the then former President was forced to confront his role in history, this is a small comic gem in which two twentieth-century icons get to confront each other and, possibly, learn something about themselves.•••

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.

Review – The Jungle Book


FILM REVIEWTHE JUNGLE BOOKWith Neel Sethi, and the voices of Bill Murray, Ben Kingsley, Christopher Walken, Idris Elba, Scarlett Johansson. Written by Justin Marks. Directed by Jon Favreau. Rated PG for some sequences of scary action and peril. 105 minutes.

jungle-book-cposter1Disney’s new series of live-action films based on their animatied classics, starting with last year’s “Cinderella,” is turning out better than expected. Where one might have assumed this was just a crass way of finding additional means to squeeze money out of past projects, the across-the-board success of the new version of THE JUNGLE BOOK is a reminder that it’s possible to be too cynical.

Directed by Jon Favreau (whose films include “Iron Man,” “Elf,” and “Chef”), this adaptation of the Rudyard Kipling book – by way of the 1967 animated Disney film – tells the story of Mowgli (Neel Sethi), the “man-cub” who has been raised by wolves in the jungles of India. The conceit of the story is that the animals and Mowgli can talk to one another, and so the claim of “live action” is a bit of a cheat. The animals are a mix of models and CGI effects, but everything is blended so seamlessly that your children – and you – will believe.

Mowgli has been adopted into the wolf pack by Akeela and Raksha (voices of Giancarlo Esposito and Lupita Nyong’o), and is additionally watched over by the benevolent panther Bagheera (Ben Kingsley). However the tiger Shere Khan (Idris Elba) was scarred by Mowgli’s father (before killing him) and now wants to claim Mowgli’s life as well.

This puts Mowgli on the run where he encounters additional characters including the seductive snake Kaa (Scarlett Johansson), King Louis (Christopher Walken) who wants Mowgli to give up the secret of fire to all apedom, and – most memorably – Baloo the bear (Bill Murray), who looks out for himself but comes to take a shine to the man-cub. For those who are wondering, the songs of the Disney cartoon do survive in this version although even with Mowgli and Baloo singing the Oscar-nominated song “The Bare Necessities,” one would be hard-pressed to call this a musical.

Favreau turns out to be the ideal director for this material as he’s used to dealing with special effects movies like the “Iron Man” series, while presenting the characters as something more that just tricks for the camera. Watch, for example, how the irresponsible Baloo and the focused Bagheera join forces to protect Mowgli. Credit must also be given to Neel Sethi who, not yet 13, gives a credible performance playing against characters whom he couldn’t see when he was shooting his scenes.

There are moments that may be a bit intense for very young or sensitive children, and parents may want to talk to their kids beforehand about how what they’re seeing isn’t “real.” For everyone else, this is is an imaginative and entertaining retelling of characters first presented by Rudyard Kipling in 1894. More than a century later, “The Jungle Book” can still engage us.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4.5 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 – Hardcore Henry

With Sharlto Copley, Danila Kozlovsky, Tim Roth, Haley Bennett . Written and directed by Ilya Naishuller. Rated R for non-stop bloody brutal violence and mayhem, language throughout, sexual content/nudity and drug use. 96 minutes.

Russian director Timur Bekmambetov (“Nightwatch,” “Daywatch”) may be Russia’s answer to French director/producer Luc Besson. On top of his own films (which includes the upcoming remake of “Ben-Hur”), he’s producing films by other filmmakers that feature relentless action and his over-the-top style.

With HARDCORE HENRY, he gives Ilya Naishuller his feature debut in what is a relentless chase film. The gimmick is that we never see the title character. The whole movie is shot from his perspective, with the camera showing what he sees. (This was previously done in the 1947 film “The Lady in the Lake,” a poster for which pops up here.)

Henry wakes up to discover that he’s been badly injured but his missing arm and leg have been replaced by robotic parts. He can’t remember anything but Estelle (Haley Bennett), who is installing the missing pieces, says she’s his wife, and even replaces his wedding ring. Just before his voice can be restored Akan (Danila Koslovsky) attacks. Akan, who is buidling a cyborg army, is soon in hot pursuit of Henry while holding Estelle hostage.

The entire movie consists of Henry chasing or being chased in and around Moscow. His only ally is Jimmy (Sharlto Copley) who appears in a number of guises and seems to be killed only to reappear. It’s not until late in the film that everything is explained and so we have no choice but to just go along for the ride. Like Henry, we don’t have all the information, but we know that Akan must be stopped and Estelle rescued.

What we get is non-stop action. People’s heads are blown off. Cars blow up. You’ll lose count of the shootings and stabbings. Akan has telekinetic powers that are never explained. And Henry just keeps moving, whether it’s evading his attacker or taking the initiative. There’s a video game aspect to it, however you’ll want to stick with it to see the mystery resolved.

Visually, it’s all very exciting, although most of the actors are either playing stick figures or, as in the case of Koslovsky and Bennett, two-dimentional characters. South African actor Sharlto Copley (best known for “District 9”) gets the most to do because Jimmy turns out to be a man of many identities and Copley has a field day running the gamut.

Hardcore Henry” gives Naishuller a canvas to give us unremitting and visceral action. For what it is, the movie is never a dull moment. It will be interesting to see what Naishuller can do when given the opportunity for a more complex story.•••

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 – Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice

With Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Jesse Eisenberg, Jeremy Irons. Written by Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer. Directed by Zack Snyder. Rated PG – 13 for intense sequences of violence and action throughout, and some sensuality. 153 minutes.

The first of what’s going to be a year of many superhero movies arrives with the awkwardly-titled BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, which makes it sound as if Batman is suing Superman. With it, DC Comics finally get an opportunity to compete with the Marvel Universe (as they’ve already begun to do on TV) with characters and storylines crossing over from one film to the next.

Although this owes something to the Christopher Nolan “Dark Knight” films with Christian Bale as Batman, this is really a sequel to “Man of Steel” (2013), the Superman reboot that opened to mixed reactions from fans and critics. The story begins sometime after the events of that film. Clark Kent/Superman (Henry Cavill) is romantically involved with Lois Lane (Amy Adams), and Metropolis has recovered to the point that Superman is deemed the hero who saved the city.

Meanwhile, across the bay in Gotham City (and who knew they were so close?), Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), is brooding because he doesn’t believe that the alien Superman can be trusted. Ironically, as Batman, he himself is a vigilante who has taken to branding some of the miscreants he’s turned over to the police. Ready to play off the tensions between the two heroic misanthropes is philanthropist Alexander “Lex” Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg), who is trying to get a hold of some radioactive material from Superman’s home world of Krypton in the belief it is the only thing that can stop him.

There’s more to the plot–indeed, at two-and-a-half hours the film takes a long time to get going–and most of the things critics were repeatedly warned not to reveal as “spoilers” are already out there in the film’s trailers. Here’s one that shouldn’t spoil anything: At a hearing led by Senator Finch (Holly Hunter) to examine if Superman answers to the people or believes himself exempt from the rule of law, one of the other committee members is played by real-life Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, a serious legislator who is a “Batman” fan and has appeared in several animated and live action films.

Although this is primarily a dark superhero film in the mode that has become a convention at least since “Batman Begins,” it does have some lighter moments, including Laurence Fishburne as Daily Planet editor Perry White, Jeremy Irons as a somewhat grizzled Alfred–not that Bruce Wayne seems to need a butler, and Gal Gadot as Diana Prince, whose real identity has already been given away in the trailers. Indeed, without saying where the story is going, it’s clear that the hope is to get to a big screen Justice League of America, DC’s counteragent to Marvel’s Avengers.

While Snyder keeps things moving, the climactic battle(s) go on a bit long, although Cavill has grown comfortable since “Man of Steel” and Affleck successfully takes over from Christian Bale. Considering how fans were expecting a trainwreck here, the winner in “Batman v. Superman” is, arguably, the audience.•••

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 – My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2

With Nia Vardalos, John Corbett, Michael Constantine, Lainie Kazan, Andrea Martin. Written by Nia Vardalos. Directed by Kirk Jones. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material. 94 minutes.

Fourteen years ago, Nia Vardalos wrote and starred in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” which became both a cultural phenomenon and the single highest-grossing independent film in history. It was an amiable sitcom about Toula (Vardalos) and her extended family dealing with her marrying Ian (John Corbett), a nice young man who didn’t happen to be Greek. It resonated with almost everyone who came from an ethnic group that emphasized strong family ties, and drew people to the movie theaters who hadn’t gone in years.

Is there a chance lightning could strike twice? Probably not, but MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 manages to bring the whole cast back together and play off of all the running jokes and character traits that audiences ate up the first time around. To Vardalos’s credit–she wrote the screenplay as well as stars in the movie–she doesn’t just make this a rerun of the first film.

There are three intertwining storylines set up in typical sitcom fashion. Her cantankerous father Gus (Michael Constantine), in searching for documentation that will prove he is a descendent of Alexander the Great, finds his marriage certificate and discovers that it was never signed by the priest. After fifty years, it seems he and Maria (Lainie Kazan) aren’t married. This leads to arguing over whether he has to propose and whether she missed out on a different life before leading to the celebration of the movie’s title.

Then there’s Toula and Ian’s marriage, which has lost its spark. They try to rekindle their romance in various ways, and if you don’t think it’s going to work out in the end you haven’t been paying attention. The third story has to do with their daughter Paris (Elena Kampouris) who, at 17, is yearning for some independence while Toula doesn’t want to let her go. (Don’t do the math. Movie time moves at a different speed.) When Gus keeps trying to fix her up with a “Greek boyfriend” it’s clear why she’s applying to out-of state colleges.

The veteran cast members know how to run with this material, including Andrea Martin as the strong-willed Aunt Voula and Bess Meisler as the ever-mourning grandmother. Vardalos and director Kirk Jones hit the right beats so that it never veers too far off into slapstick or sentimentality. Young Kampouris is a good addition as the teen coming to grips with her family, for better or worse.

As with the first film, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2” fills a niche at the movies by serving that segment of the audience that looks at the new releases and often feels like they’re being ignored by Hollywood. Consider it a visit to the old neighborhood and discovering that not only have things not changed, but you’re welcomed back with open arms and a piece of baklava.•••

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.


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