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Review – The Miseducation Of Cameron Post

FILM REVIEWTHE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST. With Chloë Grace Moretz, John Gallagher Jr., Sasha Lane, Forrest Goodluck, Jennifer Ehle. Written by Desiree Akhavan and Cecilia Frugiuele. Directed by Desiree Akhavan. Unrated, but contains profanity, drug use, and sexual situations. 91 minutes.

miseducation_of_cameron_post_ver2There’s a gentleness to writer-director Desiree Akhavan’s THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST that comes as something of a surprise given its subject matter. Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, this adaptation of Emily Danforth’s 2012 novel is set during the mid-1990s. But besides a few Breeders cassette tapes and Clinton-Gore bumper-stickers glimpsed in the background it could have taken place last weekend, especially considering our current Vice President’s fondness for the gay conversion camps depicted herein.

Chloë Grace Moretz stars as the title character, who gets busted making out with the prom queen and finds herself shipped off to God’s Promise, a rural getaway somewhere out in the middle of nowhere that runs on junk psychology, cherry-picked Bible quotes, and shame. Akhavan’s astutely assured 2015 debut “Appropriate Behavior” starred the filmmaker as a bisexual who keeps trying to come out to a traditional Iranian immigrant family exercising amusingly escalating feats of denial to pretend they don’t notice. But I guess it could’ve been worse, as they could have sent her away to be “cured” like Cameron.

It’s barbaric really, teaching children to hate themselves for their natural desires, and no wonder this sham conversion therapy so often leads to suicides by those tricked into taking it seriously. But “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” for the most part steers away from this inherent horror. Cam seems to have a pretty good head on her shoulders and immediately finds a fine support system in a pothead hippie chick actually named Jane Fonda (Sasha Lane of “American Honey”) and rebellious longhair Adam (Forrest Goodluck) who’s so deadpan he occasionally needs to assure people that this is his regular speaking voice.

The kids smoke weed, roll their eyes, and try to get through the daily humiliations inflicted by Jennifer Ehle’s Dr. Lydia Marsh, who became a star in the evangelical community after allegedly “de-gaying” her brother Rick, heartbreakingly played by John Gallagher Jr. with a bushy mustache and pleading eyes. Early scenes hint at Marsh possibly being positioned as a Nurse Ratched figure for our “Cuckoo’s Nest” kids, but Adam deflates her quickly with his description, “she’s like having your own Disney villain who won’t let you jerk off.”

Enduring bed-checks and “Blessercise” workout videos, Cam and the crew muddle their way through the days as it becomes increasingly obvious the grown-ups at God’s Promise haven’t a blessed idea what they’re doing. Moretz is a bit too calm and self-possessed to sell the screenplay’s occasional pangs of doubt. Indeed, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” works better as an aspirational depiction of kids resilient enough to look past the short-sighted hangups of the adults in their lives who are currently calling the shots. These are the kind of characters who are going to mean a lot to young people stuck in similar situations.

“Appropriate Behavior” announced Akhavan as a filmmaker who isn’t afraid of sex, and the trysts in “Cameron Post” pack a startlingly genuine heat. Yet there’s nothing sleazy about these scenes, which in their awkward, exploratory intimacy ring far truer than any portrayals of teenage sexuality I’ve seen in ages. They feel perfectly natural, despite what Dr. Marsh might say.

If anything, our protagonists may be a little too cool for the movie’s own good, at least in the dramatic department. It’s telling that a central trauma happens to a peripheral character and that the guy who has lingered most in my mind since Sundance is hapless Pastor Rick. Gallagher Jr. lays on the doofy charm, but there’s a pathetic desperation in his need to believe that he’s licked this whole homosexuality thing. I’m haunted by his final scene, obliviously slurping cereal with no clue how much he’s pitied by all around him. In “The Miseducation of Cameron Post” we see that the kids are gonna be alright, it’s the rest of us who need to get it together.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Over the past nineteen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, Time Out New York and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.


Review – Mile 22

FILM REVIEWMILE 22. With Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, John Malkovich, Sam Medina. Written by Lea Carpenter. Directed by Peter Berg. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout. 95 minutes.

mile_twenty_twoIf MILE 22 isn’t already a video game, it ought to be. With sketched-in characters and a by-the-numbers plot, it’s really an excuse for 90-or-so-minutes of relentless action, including shootings, explosions, knifings, and martial arts. It’s not unwatchable, but afterward, you’ll recall the fight scenes, not the several loose ends with which it leaves us.

Mark Wahlberg is reunited with director Peter Berg for the third time (after “Lone Survivor,” “Deepwater Horizon,” and “Patriots Day”) in what is clearly intended as a new franchise. Wahlberg plays James Silva, a brilliant but deeply troubled top-secret operative for the CIA. His unit is so secret that when they go on a mission they’re required to resign from government service so that their actions can be disavowed.

After a prologue in which they kill the inhabitants of a suburban home that was actually being used by the Russians as a safe house, the action shifts to a third world country (shot on location in Colombia) where Li Noor (Iko Uwais), a local police officer, has information about the location of stolen nuclear materials. He’s placed it on a device that will self-destruct in eight hours unless provided with the password, and he’ll only divulge that password if provided safe passage to the United States.

That’s the set-up. Silva has a limited amount of time to travel the 22 miles to the airstrip with his “package” and get the password. Along the way he is aided by a remote team led by “Mother” (John Malkovich) and a crew of largely anonymous people except for Alice Kerr (Lauren Cohan), whose sole identifying trait is that she’s a divorced mother who misses her little girl and gets angry at her ex (director Berg in a cameo). Trying to stop them is a local government official (Sam Medina) who seems two steps ahead of them for no discernible reason.

The bulk of the movie consists of Silva, Noor, and their dwindling crew being chased and engaging in a series of action scenes. The fights are brutal, the explosions are big, and the series of twists at the end are clearly an attempt to set up another movie. Not everyone makes it to the end, although we know Silva does because the action is intercut with scenes of him being debriefed after the fact.

In many ways, this is a smaller version of the current “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” with both films featuring super-secret operatives trying to recover stolen nuclear material. Both films feature heroes unable to maintain relationships, but where Tom Cruise’s character has the fierce loyalty of his team, Wahlberg’s character is so intense that he has scenes of berating the people working with him. Wahlberg has a number of outstanding performances in his film career, although none of them are from his working with director Berg, who uses him as a generic “hero” cipher.

“Mile 22” may well lead to sequels, but it’s unlike to do for Wahlberg what the “Mission: Impossible” films do for Tom Cruise or the “Bourne” films do for Matt Damon. Instead, it’s merely a serviceable late summer action film, likely to be forgotten by Labor Day.•••

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 – Crazy Rich Asians

FILM REVIEWCRAZY RICH ASIANSWith Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Ronny Chieng. Written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim. Directed by Jon M. Chu. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language. 121 minutes.

crazy_rich_asiansThe romantic comedy is a once-great genre that has fallen on hard times. Too many entries these days are lightweight fluff at best. That’s one of the reasons why CRAZY RICH ASIANS (based on Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name) is such a delightful surprise.

The setup is that Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an economics professor at NYU, is asked to go to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding). He’s been invited to a friend’s wedding there, and it will give Rachel a chance to meet Nick’s family. Little does she know what she’s getting into. Nick, as it turns out, comes from one of the wealthiest families in the country and his imperious mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is convinced that no American woman can possibly be good enough for him.

Like some of the classic screwball comedies of the 1930s, the setting is life among the fabulously rich. This is how Nick grew up but he hasn’t told Rachel about it, so she finds it overwhelming. She also has to deal with various family members, some of whom are hostile and others who are welcoming. A key subplot involves Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) who has married Michael (Pierre Png), an entrepreneur who is made insecure by his wife’s wealth. One of the themes running through the movie is how in this world the men may run the businesses – Nick’s father is away on business the entire time he’s there – but the women run the families. Even Eleanor fears the family matriarch (Lisa Lu), the seemingly doting grandmother.

The all-Asian cast has some familiar faces such as “The Daily Show’s” Ronny Chieng (as a status-obsessed banker), Ken Jeong (as the amusingly crass father of Rachel’s college friend), and Awkwafina (as the hilarious brassy college friend). Other cast members doing outstanding work may send fans to to find out where they’ve seen Yeoh or Chan before. (Yeoh, whose breakthrough for American audiences as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” was seen must recently on “Star Trek: Discovery” while Chan has a leading role on the cable series “Humans.”)

And that may get to what really makes the film special. It’s immensely entertaining and colorful, and it provides a great showcase for its large cast. It also provides some insight – albeit in a comically exaggerated way – into the ways of upper-class Chinese families while, at the same time, touches on things t0 which everyone can relate. When the large family sits around a table making dumplings, it is at once very Chinese and universal. You may not know how to make a dumpling, but when Eleanor says that if family traditions aren’t passed down they will be lost, it’s something we can all understand.

As noted in recent reviews here, August is a time for Hollywood to try out things or to release movies that they know will have a relatively short shelf life. However, there’s often an exception, with one movie surprising critics and moviegoers alike. “The Sixth Sense,” for example, was an August release. The late summer surprise this year is “Crazy Rich Asians,” a romantic comedy that breathes new life into the genre and should be playing well into the fall.•••

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 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 – The Meg

FILM REVIEWTHE MEGWith Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Bingbing Li, Ruby Rose, Cliff Curtis. Written by Dean Georgaris and Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber. Directed by Jon Turteltaub. Rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some language. 113 minutes.

megIt’s been more than forty years since “Jaws” (1975) set the standard for shark movies, and “The Meg” isn’t going to be replacing it. Yet as a late summer thriller, it ups the ante in entertaining ways, providing plenty of thrills even if none of the characters are likely to stick in your memory.

In a prologue we see Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) lead a daring underwater rescue of men trapped in a submarine. When the vessel comes under attack from what he claims is a gigantic creature, he abandons some of the rescuers and surfaces with the survivors. Now, five years later, he’s summoned back into action when an aquatic research station off the coast of China has lost contact with one of their exploratory subs, commanded by Jonas’s ex-wife (Jessica McNamee).

When he arrives, he meets a crew of stock characters who seem to have been hired to appeal to different demographics, including China whose Gravity Pictures is one of the film’s co-producers. Among them are the (of course) venal American billionaire financing the project (Rainn Wilson), and scientist Suyin (Bingbing Li) who inexplicably has her adorable daughter on board. One of the games with this kind of movie is guessing which characters will survive until the end of the film.

They soon discover that Jonas was right in recognizing that there was a huge predator beneath the waves. It is a Megalodon, a 70-foot shark that was thought to be extinct. Once it is identified (and it’s not a spoiler given the title of the movie) the bulk of the film has the crew engaging in repeated attempts to destroy it. Between encounters, we get some character moments involving Statham and Li (separately and together), and comic or dramatic relief from everyone else. The reason for that is that other than Taylor and Suyin, we know absolutely nothing about who these people are, except as part of the scientific crew.

The rhythm of attack-and-break, attack-and-break was something established in “Jaws,” and director Jon Turteltaub and the three writers credited with adapting Steve Alten’s novel of the same name have no reason to change it. It’s effective in ramping up the action and then giving the audience a chance to catch their collective breath. In the climactic showdown, the film provides numerous subplots – including a wedding aboard a boat and a crowded beach – which allows the inevitable shark attacks to be different from what came earlier. Given the two-dimensional nature of the characters, no one has to do much in the way of heavy lifting, although Statham deserves credit for showing a gentle side in his scenes with Shuya Sophia Cai who plays Li’s daughter.

“The Meg” is another of those typical “August movies,” holding our attention while you’re enjoying an air-conditioned theater but not likely to provoke discussions or sequels afterward.•••

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 – The Spy Who Dumped Me

FILM REVIEWTHE SPY WHO DUMPED ME. With Mila Kunis, Kate McKinnon, Justin Theroux, Hasan Minhaj, Sam Heughan. Written by Susanna Fogel & David Iserson. Directed by Susanna Fogel. Rated R for violence, language throughout, some crude sexual material and graphic nudity. 116 minutes.

spy_who_dumped_me_ver2The buddy action comedy has a long history, with last summer’s “The Hitman’s Bodyguard” being a recent example. Team-ups of two women occur less often, and 2013’s “The Heat” was a good reason why. Yet it ought to work – if the comic team has chemistry. Pairing up Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon (finally in a starring role in a movie) is why THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME works as well as it does.

Audrey (Kunis) and Morgan (McKinnon) are two single thirty-year-olds who are best friends. Audrey’s boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) has just broken up with her via text message, and she’s feeling blue. When Morgan suggests they burn the things Drew left in her apartment – and then sends him a text to that effect – he shows up to make amends. Unfortunately, he also has a hit team after him.

Soon Audrey and Morgan are off to Vienna to deliver something to a mysterious contact, and the movie turns into a variation of the current “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” with plenty of spies, chases, shootouts, and explosions. The difference is that the earlier film plays it straight while offering some comic relief, while this one goes for broad comedy and then provides what might be called “dramatic relief.” People die, our heroines are tortured (by a nasty Russian gymnast), and they go racing around Europe being chased by seemingly everyone.

Director Susanna Fogel (who co-wrote the script with David Iserson), keeps the focus on the two women who are in over their heads yet keep rolling with whatever is thrown at them. Along the way they meet up with a British spy (Sam Heughan) partnered with a CIA agent (Hasan Minhaj) who seem to be working at cross-purposes. As often happens in serious spy films, the key issue is who can be trusted.

However, it’s the dynamic between Kunis and McKinnon that makes this film different. They’re close friends and back each other up. It would have been easy to make Audrey more of a patsy given that Morgan’s brashness is her signifying character trait. Yet the one moment where they seem at odds is when Morgan insists that Audrey acknowledge how amazing she has been under the circumstances.

“The Spy Who Dumped Me” is a typical August release. With only a few weeks of the summer movie season left the studios are no longer looking for movies that will play for months, as they are in May or June. Instead, it provides its two young stars a chance to play at being superspies (although it’s unlikely they did their own stunts as Tom Cruise did for “Mission: Impossible) while getting some laughs. Fans of Kunis and McKinnon, and of the genre, should find it an enjoyable escape from the late summer heat.•••

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 – The Darkest Minds

With Amandla Stenberg, Mandy Moore, Harris Dickinson, Skylan Brooks, Patrick Gibson. Written by Chad Hodge. Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson. Rated PG-13 for violence including disturbing images, and thematic elements. 95 minutes. 

darkest_minds_ver2When this reviewer’s daughter was a teenager we discussed the “Hunger Games” trilogy of books, the first of what would become a sub-genre of YA dystopian novels. I asked her if it wasn’t really a metaphor for adolescence and how teenagers were under the thumb of adult authority. Looking at her father as if I had just declared “water is wet,” she replied, “Of course.”

Since the success of the movie versions, Hollywood has looked for the next big YA franchise. Some have succeeded (“Divergent,” “Maze Runner”) and others have fallen flat (“The Giver,” “City of Ember”). Whether THE DARKEST MINDS, an adaptation of Alexandra Bracken’s book series, will be a one-off or launch a new film franchise remains to be seen. If it scores, look for several more films covering the remaining two novels and three novellas.

The premise is that a mysterious disease has killed most of the world’s children, and the remaining 2% seem to have gained powers like super-intelligence or telekinesis. Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) has the power to enter the minds of others and control them. As such she is deemed especially dangerous and is marked for death by a government that locks these children up in prison camps. Here’s where the movie packs an emotional wallop beyond what the filmmakers may have intended. Seeing children marched into these camps by armed guards who will brutalize their charges seems less science fiction and more like the news stories we’ve seen over the last few months.

A sympathetic doctor (Mandy Moore) helps Ruby escape, acting on behalf of something called the “League of Children.” Are they good guys or not? Ruby gets conflicting messages and ends up running away, linking up with others of her kind including Liam (Harris Dickinson) and Chubs (Skylan Brooks). They’re looking for a hidden sanctuary run by someone known only as the “Slip Kid.” For Ruby, the question is who can she trust? Those viewers not familiar with the books may be disappointed that the story ends with the ultimate battle yet to unfold. Still, there’s enough imagination on hand to make “The Darkest Minds” an engaging film, in spite of the plot holes (like what’s happening to new children being born?).

Amandla Stenberg (who played the tragic Rue in “The Hunger Games”) is the anchor for the film, as Ruby tries to make sense of not only a world where children oppressed and killed, but of her own powers and what she might do with them. And so, as with other YA dystopian stories, it is a metaphor for adolescence in which the protagonist is negotiating a world in which she has little control and is subject to the authority of others.

Whether the film succeeds or not is less the province of adult film critics than of the teen viewers to whom this presumably speaks. “The Darkest Minds” may be the launch of a new franchise or not, but stories about teens struggling to make sense of the world they find themselves in will continue to find an audience.•••

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 – Mission: Impossible – Fallout

MOVIE REVIEWMISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUTWith Tom Cruise, Henry Cavill, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson. Written and directed by Christopher McQuarrie. Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of action, and for brief strong language. 147 minutes.

mission_impossible__fallout_ver3The late Albert “Cubby” Broccoli, producer of the James Bond movies, used to say that his rule in creating one of the most successful movie franchises of all time was to “put all the money up on the screen.” In other words, if the audience couldn’t see it, why were they spending money on it? The makers of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – FALLOUT – the sixth film in the series based on the ‘60s television show – have taken that advice to heart. It’s a mixture of suspense, adrenaline-pumping thrills, exotic locations, and just the right touch of humor, making this entry in the franchise the most entertaining one yet.

The movie’s convoluted plot takes a while to unfold. Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his IMF team (Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg) accept the mission of recovering some stolen plutonium. When things go wrong, the director of the CIA (Angela Bassett) forces the team to take on one of her agents, August Walker (Henry Cavill), over the objections of Hunt’s boss (Alec Baldwin). When Hunt goes to make a deal with a mysterious heiress known as the White Widow (Vanessa Kirby), he learns that British spy/past romantic interest Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson) is also involved, as is his old nemesis former spy-turned-terrorist Solomon Lane (Sean Harris).

Got all that? It gets even more complicated because several of the people mentioned are double agents or have secret agendas and characters may turn out to be someone else in disguise. Writer/director Christopher McQuarrie may be more interested in extended chases and suspense scenes – including no less than three last-second rescues intercut with each other – but he also gives the characters time to be more than stick figures running around and to show that they aren’t quite superheroes. A frequent response to how they’re going to handle a seemingly insurmountable problem is, “We’ll figure it out.”

As with the classic Bond films, money has been spent on extensive location shooting, with wild chase sequences in Paris and London. The Paris chase is a film in itself with several twists along the way. The London chase has Cruise – doing his own stuntwork – in hot pursuit while jumping from rooftop to rooftop. It was during this sequence that the actor, who just turned 56 this month, broke his ankle, necessitating a seven-week shutdown of the production. Given what he does on screen, he’s lucky that’s all he broke.

A talented cast, great action, stunning locations, and sure-footed control of the visuals – yes, “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” may not be a masterpiece of cinema, but it is smashing entertainment because all the money is up there on the screen.•••

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.