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Review – Life of the Party


FILM REVIEW – LIFE OF THE PARTYWith Melissa McCarthy, Molly Gordon, Heidi Gardner, Stephen Root, Maya Rudolph. Written by Ben Falcone, Melissa McCarthy. Directed by Ben Falcone. Rated PG-13 for sexual material, drug content and partying. 96 minutes.

lifeoftheparty-poster-webLIFE OF THE PARTY is an uneven mess, but for a Melissa McCarthy vehicle it’s a vast improvement over most of her previous movies. She and director and co-writer Ben Falcone (to whom she is married) seem to have finally figured out that playing the bull in the china shop character was not doing her any favors. Instead, by making her character sympathetic, there are moments when one can’t help but be on her side, cheering her on.

As Deanna, we first see her as she and her husband (Matt Walsh) are dropping off their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) for her final year of college. No sooner have they done that when he announces he’s leaving Deanna for another woman. Devastated, Deanna decides to go back to college to finish the archeology degree she gave up for marriage. The notion of mother and daughter at the same college at the same time is a rich premise, and Falcone and McCarthy manage to hit the targets as many times as they miss.

Of course, the obvious story is the embarrassment Maddie feels, but her friends (Jessie Ennis, Adria Arjona, Gillian Jacobs) – who are all rather quirky themselves – think Deanna is cool, and eventually, Maddie is cool with her mother being one of the girls… except when they share a “walk of shame” the morning after a frat party. One of the jokes is that Jack (Luke Benward) has the hots for Deanna, and while she knows the age difference ought to put the kibosh on things, she keeps allowing herself to be swept away. Such is the cleverness of the script that there’s a delicious twist to their relationship, and such is its sloppiness that the storyline becomes an unfinished loose end. Similarly, we’re set up for a confrontation with two obnoxious “mean girls” (Debby Ryan, Yani Simone) that never really comes to a head.

That pretty much sums up the movie. There are moments that work wonderfully, such as her relationship with her reclusive roommate (Heidi Gardner), and moments that fall flat, like her trashing the wedding reception for her ex-husband. However, through it all McCarthy avoids her previous incarnation as the female Adam Sandler, constantly in everyone’s face, and instead gives us a woman who put her life on hold finally reclaiming control. In the film’s most sensitive nod to realism, it acknowledges both Deanna’s regrets about her marriage and her absolute devotion to the daughter it produced. Tapping into that motherliness may not always be the right choice for her, but here it allows her to be a mentor to the other young women while also accepting their advice in navigating the collegiate world decades after she left it.

As a critic who has detested much of her body of work (except for her amazing turn as former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer on “Saturday Night Live”), “Life of the Party” suggests that she (and perhaps her husband/collaborator Falcone) have given serious thought to her movie roles and what the future might hold. If it’s a flawed film, it also should be considered a big step in a new – and promising – direction.•••

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.

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Review – Terminal


FILM REVIEW – TERMINALWith Margot Robbie, Mike Myers, Simon Pegg, Max Irons, Dexter Fletcher. Written and directed by Vaughn Stein. Unrated. 90 minutes.

terminal_xlgThere are some movies that come along that fairly scream “cult film.” These are movies that leave most viewers disappointed or baffled or indifferent yet create a fervent response among some people who will want to watch it again and again. TERMINAL is ripe for such discovery.

In an unnamed city (although shot in Budapest, Hungary), Annie (Margot Robbie) is engaged in a complex game where she is going to turn competing assassins against each other in order to gain control over them. Robbie, who has proved she is as talented as she is stunning, plays a variety of roles here as she manipulates the various men in the story to get what she wants, including waitress, stripper, penitent, and nurse.

The men believe they are on top of the situation, but they are fools. There’s a dying teacher (Simon Pegg), two killers for hire (Max Irons, Dexter Fletcher), and a seemingly innocuous janitor (Mike Myers). All will be revealed to have onion-like layers to their personalities, proving that their surface identities barely scratch the surface of who they really are, and Annie plays each in turn for reasons that slowly become clear over the course of the film.

Vaughn Stein, who has served as assistant director on several movies, makes his feature directorial debut here – having also written the script – and he offers style to spare. Drawing on fashions and décor from numerous eras, he creates an atmospheric locus for his story that is at once familiar and utterly bizarre. Is this a noirish past or a dystopian future? It’s never really explained.

This is where he’s going to lose a lot of viewers. It’s not so much that the story is hard to follow but that it proceeds at its own pace and will leave many scratching their heads. What is going on here? Yet by the end, when all the various plot threads have paid off, it’s clear he was not throwing things out at random but had an end goal in mind from the start.

If the film works, it is due to a combination of his visual stylizations and his ability to attract a strong and unusual cast. Robbie, who was one of the film’s producers, gets to play a variety of roles, and constantly upends our expectations as to where things are going. She may have gotten an Oscar nomination for “I, Tonya,” but this is a film that really showcases her range.

Simon Pegg is similarly complex (although not in as many permutations) as the schoolteacher with a terminal illness who is not exactly what he seems. In addition, the film also offers up Mike Myers, in his first live-action feature film role in nine years, playing a janitor who is as multi-layered as everyone else we meet. Indeed, when his character first appears you may be inclined to dismiss him without realizing who it is. This is a movie where viewers ignore things at their peril.

And that’s why “Terminal” is likely destined for cult film status. It demands much of the viewer, and even the most attentive movie watcher may not feel the payoff is worth it. For those willing to go along for the ride, it not only has a must see turn by Robbie but may be the debut of a director who will be dazzling us 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 – Tully


FILM REVIEW – TULLYWith Charlize Theron, Mackenzie Davis, Mark Duplass, Ron Livingston, Michael Patrick Lane. Written by Diablo Cody. Directed by Jason Reitman. Rated R for language and some sexuality/nudity. 96 minutes.

tullyAlthough not yet a critic’s darling, Jason Reitman is quietly putting together an impressive body of work, including “Thank You for Smoking,” “Juno,” and “Up in the Air.” His latest film, TULLY, is his third collaboration with screenwriter Diablo Cody (after “Juno” and “Young Adult”). Where Reitman seems fascinated by people who think they have the world figured out only to discover that they don’t, Cody centers her stories on female characters learning that life doesn’t always turn out as they expected.

Marlo (Charlize Theron in her second outing with Reitman) is a mother at the end of her rope. She already has two children and is about to deliver her third. Her husband Drew (Ron Livingston) loves her and their children, but his job requires travel which means a lot of the burden of parenting is on her. Her post-partum depression is extending into her everyday life. That’s when her successful brother Craig (Mark Duplass) offers to hire a “night nanny” for her, someone who would come in each evening to take care of the baby and give Marlo some breathing space (in between breastfeedings).

Once the main story gets underway, the focus is on the relationship between Marlo and Tully (Mackenzie Davis), the night nanny. Tully is competent and on top of things and starts giving Marlo advice about everything from parenting to her sex life with Drew. She’s wise beyond her years, and Marlo isn’t sure if she should be happy about Tully’s involvement in her life or resentful that the younger woman seems more together than Marlo is.

The result is a film about motherhood that’s both comic and dramatic, which may play best with viewers old enough to be parents themselves. It goes where few films about parenthood go, acknowledging that you can love your kids and still feel that you’re in over your head and you might have been better off never having children in the first place. Drew even acknowledges these feelings to Marlo before adding that while he may have them he doesn’t act on them.

Meanwhile, Tully gets Marlo to explore not only her feelings and what her goals were when she was younger, but whether she wants to check out the road not taken. It’s all leading to a payoff that some may find contrived unless you get that the film isn’t to be taken literally. It’s a meditation on women in early midlife (or late youth) wondering if they’ve somehow done things wrong.

The film turns on the performances by Theron and Davis. Theron, after kicking ass in “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “The Fate of the Furious,” and “Atomic Blonde,” reminds us that she’s an actress and not merely an action star. Her Marlo is a good person who feels things spinning out of control and doesn’t know if she has what it takes to handle it. As Tully, Davis avoids being the annoying version of what her character might have been by not coming across as a know-it-all, even if Tully is exactly the person Marlo needs to get back on track.

“Tully” is a small film with a big message, one that seems appropriate to release now with Mother’s Day just a week away.•••

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 – Avengers: Infinity War


FILM REVIEW – AVENGERS: INFINITY WARWith Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth, Chadwick Boseman, Robert Downey, Jr., Zoe Saldana, many, many others. Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references. 149 minutes.

infinityIf you’re fully engaged in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is the movie you’ve been waiting for all along. Almost everyone is in it: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Dr, Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain America (Chris Evans), and the crew from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” And that’s barely scratching the surface.

This is also a movie that you’re going to want to see as soon as possible because there are so many surprises and twists that this review couldn’t contain all the potential spoilers if this reviewer was inclined to reveal them… which he is not. This move is the payoff for several years of releases in which characters appeared in each other’s films and hints were dropped about the big battle yet to come. Well, here it is.

The bad guy here is Thanos (an impressive CGI version of Josh Brolin), a supervillain who has been gathering the “Infinity Stones” each of which has a unique power. When he completes the set of six, he will be able to fulfill his ambition of galactic genocide: wiping out half of all life so that the other half may survive and thrive. The stones are scattered across the galaxy, although two are on Earth: one in possession of Dr. Strange and the other embedded in Vision (Paul Bettany). Much of the movie consists of various groups of heroes battling Thanos or his nigh-invincible minions.

While the effects are as stunning as the numerous SFX houses could make them, much of the fun comes from the juxtaposition of these various characters. Thor interacting with Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), who refers to the sentient raccoon as a squirrel, or Tony Stark/Iron Man trading insults with Dr. Strange, is one of the reasons the Marvel movies aren’t dark, leaden lumps like “Justice League” (and that’s painful to admit for this DC Comics fan).

It comes down to two climactic battles, one of them in Wakanda, where Black Panther presides. This movie may achieve a similar box office success to the year’s earlier Marvel release, but poor Wakanda really takes a beating. And then there’s the ending, which is daring and will lead to intense debates among the fans while making us anticipate the next film. It should go without saying that one does not leave a Marvel movie until the long, long credits sequence is fully complete.

It’s interesting to note that when George Lucas released “Star Wars” in late May 1977, industry observers questioned why what was obviously a summer movie was being released so early. Now we get these “tentpole” movies in late April. “Avengers: Infinity War” is as much a fantastic amusement park ride as a cinematic experience, with an engaging cast doing an incredible job of not getting lost in the proceedings and, in fact, making us actually care what happens next.

Yes, summer is here as far as Hollywood is concerned and, as this movie demonstrates, the Marvel juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down.•••

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 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 – Supercon


FILM REVIEW – SUPERCONWith Clancy Brown, Ryan Kwanten, Maggie Grace, John Malkovich, Mike Epps. Written by Zak Knutson, Andrew Sipes, Dana Snyder. Directed by Zak Knutson. Rated R for strong crude sexual content throughout, pervasive language, and drug use. 100 minutes.

superconSUPERCON is a broad comedy set at a ComicCon-like convention, where comic book artists, old TV stars, and has-beens make money meeting fans, signing autographs, and otherwise trying to cash in on their fleeting fame. For viewers familiar with this world, it should hit their sweet spot, providing plenty of knowing laughs about the “celebrities” who appear and the fervid fans who come out to see them.

For Adam King (Clancy Brown) it’s a chance to pull in some big money as the biggest of the fading stars to appear. He carries himself as if he’s still a big deal, and for the weekend, he is. For others, though, it’s a chance to make some fast money, although con promoter Gil Bartell (Mike Epps) is much more interested in lining his own pockets than in sharing the wealth. That sets in motion the film’s plot where a several of the lesser stars decide to rob the convention.

Keith Mahar (Russell Peters), for example, was sidekick as a child star, and now has trouble making ends meet. He’s told to wear a turban – as he did as “Hadji” – since otherwise, no one will recognize him. Ryan Kwanten, Maggie Grace, and Brooks Braselman, playing other faded stars, all have reason to resent King and Bartell, and plan an elaborate heist that’s part “Ocean’s Eleven” and part Road Runner cartoon. In fact, the proceedings are pretty cartoonish, which exactly fits the mood. They’re joined by Sid Newberry (a surprisingly cast John Malkovich), a comic book artist who has his own score to settle.

What makes the film fun is how it spoofs the whole world of fans eager to see the TV stars of their youth without making those fans the butt of the joke. Even those engaging in “cosplay” (i.e., dressing up as their favorite characters) are shown to be people having fun and wanting to rub shoulders, however briefly, with the actors who played their on-screen heroes. It’s the actors hustling for bucks who are the film’s target, particularly those like King who has nothing but contempt for his fans.

Indeed, while the ensemble cast is engaging, the one who steals the film is Clancy Brown. A hard-working character actor who often plays villains, he is usually taken for granted. Yet, as in the recent “Chappaquiddick,” where he plays one of the people advising Ted Kennedy, he is capable of much more than he’s usually asked to do. Here he gets to strut around like a pop diva, putting on his well-paying act for the public but occasionally letting the mask slip to reveal the small-hearted egotist underneath. It’s a great comic turn.

The formulation and execution of the heist are played with glee, as each of the players encounters problems and overcome them in surprising ways. The players not only have to make us see why their fans would like them (if they haven’t already forgotten them), but they have to make us like them so that we will want their plan to succeed. That they do, and if you’re familiar with the world the movie is satirizing, you feel like you’re among friends.

And perhaps that best explains why “Supercon” is a niche film that should score with its target audience.•••

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.

WIN A DVD/BRD OF “PHANTOM THREAD”!


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Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood, Lincoln) mesmerizes in his role as the obsessed but elegant couture designer and is joined by Academy Award® nominee Lesley Manville (Maleficent, Another Year) and Vicky Krieps (Hanna, The Colony) in this “ravishingly beautiful” (NY Times) film.
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Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson (There Will Be Blood, Boogie Nights), Phantom Thread is set in the glamour of 1950’s post-war London. Renowned couturier Reynolds Woodcock (Day-Lewis) and his sister Cyril (Manville) are at the center of British fashion, dressing royalty, movie stars, heiresses, socialites, and debutants with the distinct style of The House of Woodcock. Women come and go through Woodcock’s life, providing the confirmed bachelor with inspiration and comfort, until he comes across a young, strong-willed woman, Alma (Vicky Krieps), who soon becomes a fixture in his life as his muse and lover.
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HOW DO I WIN?

You can win a DVD/Blu-ray of Phantom Thread one of two ways:

1) Sign up for North Shore Movies’ email list (new subscribers only).

2) Email us at CapeAnnCinema@gmail.com with the subject “PHANTOM CONTEST” (current subscribers only).

Winners will be picked at random from all valid entries. One entry per person. Duplicate entries will be disqualified. The contest ends @ 11:59pm Thursday, May 3, 2018.

Review – I Feel Pretty


FILM REVIEW
I FEEL PRETTY
With Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski, Lauren Hutton, Naomi Campbell. Written by Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein. Directed by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some partial nudity, and language. 110 minutes.

i-feel-pretty-poster-45155There’s an entertaining comedy trying to emerge from I FEEL PRETTY. As is, its positive message of self-esteem and female empowerment risks being buried under too many subplots. Amy Schumer’s “everywoman” turn manages to hold it together, but just barely.

When we first meet Renee Bennett (Schumer), she works on the website for a high fashion house. However, instead of being at their plush Fifth Avenue offices, she and a frumpy co-worker (Adrian Martinez) are stashed in a windowless basement in Chinatown. She’s self-conscious about her looks but then a bump on the head makes her feel different. She’s convinced she’s now beautiful and irresistible and is full of self-confidence.

We’ve seen this kind of story many times before from “The Nutty Professor” to “Big,” the latter which is explicitly quoted in the movie. A character undergoes a life-altering change which seems exciting for a while but then spins out of control. The character then reverts to “normal,” but is changed for the better by the experience.

What makes this different is that the protagonist is a woman, and we’re set in the fashion industry, where her “common” touch is what they need as they launch a new line of less expensive cosmetics. She also gets a boyfriend (Rory Scovel) who is at first taken aback by her being so self-assured but is soon won over. She also impresses Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams), the granddaughter of the company head (Lauren Hutton), who has her own self-confidence issues.

Where the film goes awry is with too many subplots, including girlfriends who sign up for a group dating website, or one that literally goes nowhere where Avery’s hunky brother (Tom Hopper) hits on Renee. By the time Renee makes her big speech underscoring the film’s theme, much of the film’s energy has dissipated. A more focused script – by writer/director team Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein – would have stayed on Renee’s dilemma. They might also have cut the unnecessary bodily function “jokes” which are, thankfully, kept to a minimum.

For those looking for positive stories about women, and which notes that even people we imagine are living ideal lives have their failures and doubt, “I Feel Pretty” hits more than it misses. Schumer gives a winning performance with Scovel and Williams enjoyable as two of the people caught up in her whirlwind, and a delightful turn by 74-year-old Lauren Hutton in her first feature role in more than a decade. Perhaps the filmmakers got their own bumps on the head and imagined that the film’s problems were really assets. Whatever the reason, it prevented a fair film from becoming an outstanding one.•••

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.