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Author Archives: Daniel M. Kimmel

Review – Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again


FILM REVIEWMAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAINWith Amanda Seyfried, Lily James, Cher, Christine Baranski, Pierce Brosnan. Written and directed by Ol Parker. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive material. 114 minutes.

mamma_mia_here_we_go_again_ver3Ten years ago “Mamma Mia!” was released. It was the movie version of the Broadway show inspired by the music of pop group ABBA… and it was a train wreck. Yet there were people who loved it and so now we get a sequel. MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN is – surprisingly – a much better film. Writer/director Ol Parker, who had nothing to do with the first movie, seems to have figured out what worked and what didn’t, and it shows.

The plot, of course, is fluff, constructed just so that there is an excuse to perform songs like “Dancing Queen,” “Fernando,” and “Waterloo.” We learn that Donna, the free-spirited character played by Meryl Streep in the first film has passed away. (No spoilers here but look at the ads for the new film.) Her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), has taken over the property on the Greek island where they lived and is ready to open it as a hotel.

Parker is credited with the script, but shares story credit with Catherine Johnson, who did the original play and movie, and – more significantly – Richard Curtis, whose credits include “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love, Actually.” This is a much smarter and wittier script that the last time around, and while it’s difficult to parse out who did what, Curtis’s contributions could only have helped.

Fortunately, the present-day story, which will bring characters back including Donna’s friends Tanya (Christine Baranski) and Rosie (Julie Walters), as well as the three men any one of whom may be Sophie’s actual father (Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård), does not carry the narrative or musical weight of the film. One of the problems with the first movie was that many in the cast – particular the male actors – couldn’t sing to save their lives.

This film solves that problem by having extended flashbacks to young Donna (a star-making turn by Lily James) meeting, in turn, young Harry (Hugh Skinner), young Bill (Josh Dylan), and young Sam (Jeremy Irvine). These young actors – who also include Jessica Keenan Wynn and Alexa Davies as younger versions of Tanya and Rosie – can sing and dance without grating on the ear. Skinner and James do a surreal version of “Waterloo” at a Parisian restaurant that is much more entertaining than anything in, say, “The Greatest Showman” or “La La Land,” two painfully overpraised recent movie musicals. Added to the mix is Cher, as Sophie’s flamboyant grandmother, and Andy Garcia as the hotel’s manager. Cher, as we know, can sing, and has a showstopper duet with Garcia.

The result is a colorful and energetic movie with lots of familiar pop tunes (some repeating from the last film), and which should not only please those already fans but win over some new ones as well. “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” is that rarest of sequels: it surpasses the original.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

 

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Review – The Equalizer 2


FILM REVIEWTHE EQUALIZER 2With Denzel Washington, Pedro Pascal, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo, Orson Bean. Written by Richard Wenk. Directed by Antoine Fuqua. Rated R for brutal violence throughout, language and some drug content. 121 minutes.

equalizer_twoWhen you see a film directed by Antoine Fuqua, you know that it’s going to have some hard-hitting and expertly-directed action sequences, but it may also be a bit fast and loose in terms of narrative. THE EQUALIZER 2 – his third pairing with Denzel Washington since the actor’s Oscar-winning turn in “Training Day” – shows Fuqua at his best and worst.

A sequel to the 2014 movie which was inspired by a 1980s TV series, it continues the story of Robert McCall (Washington), a retired special ops agent for the government who now is leading a quiet life as a Lyft driver, and occasionally wreaking vengeance on those who prey on the weak. He’s still connected to Susan Plummer (Melissa Leo), who can access information he needs, as well as her academic husband (Bill Pullman). A brutal murder in Brussels leads to other killings, and when someone close to McCall dies, he becomes involved.

Unfortunately, there are several other stories going on, and while they’re not hard to follow, you may wonder what they’re doing here. One story, involving a kidnapping, is essentially a prologue, but another one – involving abusive stockbrokers who seem to have drugged and raped an intern of theirs – seems dropped in simply to provide an action scene at that point. One can see why they might have thought one was needed.

There are three other plots threading their way through this. In one, an elderly Holocaust survivor McCall drives is trying to regain a painting of a sister whom he has not seen since the war. (The man is played by veteran actor Orson Bean, who turns 90 this Sunday.) In another, a young African-American man (Ashton Sanders) is torn between pursuing his studies as an artist and making quick money dealing drugs. Hanging over all of this is an impending hurricane which seems to take forever to get to Boston, where much of the film is set.

Holding it all together is Washington, who combines righteous anger and humor as McCall. When he reads the riot act to the would-be artist, it is a powerful and dramatic moment. If the movie had been about the relationship between the two men, it would be a standout. Instead, it’s a subplot that not-too-convincingly is shoehorned into the main story when the artist gets caught in the crossfire between the bad guys and McCall. The climactic set piece, in which four of McCall’s former colleagues are gunning for him in a deserted seacoast town while a hurricane is raging is Fuqua at his best, controlling both the action and our understanding of the space so that the suspense mounts even if we know (or suspect) how it will turn out.

Much is being made that this is the first time Washington has been in a sequel to one of his films, but it’s more likely what was appealing was a chance to team up with Fuqua again. “The Equalizer 2” won’t be considered a standout in the career of the director or the actor, but it’s not an embarrassment either. It’s a mid-level entry that may be what one or both men needed before tackling more ambitious projects.•••

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 – Skyscraper


FILM REVIEW
– SKYSCRAPER
With Dwayne Johnson, Neve Campbell, Pablo Schreiber, Roland Møller, Byron Mann. Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber. Rated PG-13 for sequences of gun violence and action, and for brief strong language. 102 minutes.

skyscraper_ver5In the late 1970s on the comedy series “SCTV,” John Candy and Joe Flaherty did a bit called “Farm Film Report” in which they reviewed the films of the day. Their highest praise was for movies that “blowed up real good.” They would have loved SKYSCRAPER.

Written and directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber, whose previous movies have been comedies like “Meet the Millers” and “Central Intelligence,” his new film puts the action front-and-center while allowing for some comic relief around the edges. In a prologue, we meet Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson), who loses a leg during a SWAT team operation. However, he ends up marrying Sarah (Neve Campbell), the surgeon who saves him.

Jump ahead to the present. The Sawyers – now with two kids – have moved to Hong Kong to the world’s tallest building, because Will has been hired by Zhao Long Ji (Chin Han), the designer and owner of the building, to troubleshoot its security. However, the building will soon be under attack by Kores Botha (Roland Møller), who is targeting Zhao to obtain information connected to the criminal underworld.

In other words, don’t sweat the details. Combining elements of “Die Hard” and “The Towering Inferno,” the bulk of the movie has Will trying to break into the tower to rescue his family while explosive flames spread, and Botha and his minions focus on Zhao and the information he has. Don’t worry if you can’t follow the details. There won’t be a quiz, and the good guys and bad guys are readily apparent

What Thurber has done is created an entertaining summer action film. There are hair-raising stunts, plot twists, and action set pieces. Some of it is so ludicrous that at one point Will, about to risk his life in a truly outlandish setup, says, “This is stupid.” It doesn’t matter. You just go with the flow.

The reason this works is Dwayne Johnson. Thurber surrounds him with good actors – like Campbell and Han, a star in China – but then lets him play to his strengths. Make no mistake, Johnson is no Olivier or De Niro, but he is able to deftly play comedy and drama with his everyman persona. The former pro wrestler may be built like a tank, but he’s not just spitting out one-liners between throwing punches. His scenes as a father show an emotional depth we don’t often get from our action stars.

With so many actors in these sorts of films getting up there (even Tom Cruise is in his mid-50s), Johnson – at 46 – has come along at precisely the right time, bringing humor, a multi-cultural background, and an engaging screen presence to a genre that desperately needs all three. “Skyscraper” is, in the end, something to enjoy while munching popcorn and little more. It is, without question, a fun summer action movie.•••

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 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 – Ant-Man And The Wasp (Dan’s Take)


FILM REVIEW
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP
. With Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Michael Douglas, Laurence Fishburne, Michael Pena. Written by Chris McKenna, Erik Sommers, Paul Rudd, Andrew Barrer, Gabriel Ferrari. Directed by Peyton Reed. Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence. 118 mins.

antman_and_the_wasp_ver10Yes, this year we’re being inundated with superhero movies, but not all of them are the same. “Avengers: Infinity War” is a key chapter in the “Marvel Cinematic Universe,” paying off storylines that have been set up in numerous films over several years. It’s an impressive achievement as narrative even if you’re not particularly invested in it. On the other hand, “Black Panther” was a film that should be seen even if you have no interest in superhero movies in general. In terms of character, plot, art direction, and performance, it is truly one of the best films of the year.

ANT-MAN AND THE WASP doesn’t fall into either of those categories, instead landing in another: it is the most fun to be had on screen so far this year. For a summer movie, having high entertainment value is a definite plus. With a top-notch cast and exceptionally witty script, this is pure fun.

A follow-up to the 2015 “Ant-Man,” it continues the story of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd), who has inherited the role of Ant-Man – wearing a suit that can shrink him to minuscule size – from Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas). Scott is near the end of two years of house arrest for violating rules governing superheroes, but now he has been removed by his old girlfriend Hope (Evangeline Lilly), who is both Hank’s daughter and “The Wasp.” It seems Scott has somehow come into contact with Janet Van Dyne (Michelle Pfeiffer), Hope’s mother, who was lost on a mission many years ago in a sub-atomic space. Hank and Hope believe that Scott is key to rescuing Janet, who they thought had died.

That’s all the plot you’re going to get because the screenplay – credited to five writers including Rudd – juggles a half-dozen stories as the characters work at overlapping and cross-purposes. These include Ava (Hannah John-Kamen), who is suffering from a bizarre condition and needs the technology that Hank has been developing to rescue his wife, Sonny (Walton Goggins) who has been supplying Hank with illegal tech and now wants a piece of the action, and Dr. Bill Foster (Laurence Fishburne) who is an old rival of Hank’s whose motives aren’t entirely clear. Adding to the confusion is Scott’s security agency, headed by Luis (Michael Peña), and the FBI agents supervising Scott and looking for Hank and Hope led by Jimmy Woo (Randall Park). It is to the credit of director Peyton Reed that the storytelling never gets confusing.

What makes the film work are three elements. First, this is a great cast. From major stars to character actors to up-and-comers, they have fun with their roles without condescending to them. Second, this is a film with heart. Several of the plots have to do with parent (or quasi-parent) relations with daughters, including Scott not wanting to mess up his situation and lose access to Cassie (the comically adorable Abby Ryder Fortson). Third, the special effects are impressive without overwhelming the story, even if – scientifically – they make no sense. When Hank shrinks an office building to the size of a suitcase, there’s no reason it should now weigh no more than a suitcase.  Like a Road Runner cartoon, the laws of physics have been suspended here.

“Ant-Man and the Wasp” is the most fun you’re likely to have at the movies this summer. And if you are committed to the Marvel Comics Universe, you’ll know not to leave until you’ve seen all of the closing credits.•••

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 – Who’s Watching Oliver


FILM REVIEW – WHO’S WATCHING OLIVERWith Russell Geoffrey Banks, Sara Malakul Lane, Margaret Roche, Cecilia Belletti, Champagne Nuttanun. Written by Russell Geoffrey Banks, Raimund Huber, Richie Moore. Directed by Richie Moore. Not Rated. 87 minutes.

art_work1There’s a wide range of horror films out there, and the small, barely-released independent films often go far beyond mainstream Hollywood fare. WHO’S WATCHING OLIVER, available on VOD, is bloody and deeply disturbing. It’s also a film that raises some serious questions instead of simply wallowing in sadism, as in the odious “Saw” series.

If you can imagine Woody Allen directing “Psycho,” you have a sense of what this movie is like. Oliver (Russell Geoffrey Banks, who also co-wrote the script), is living a solitary life in Bangkok, where the film was shot. He’s apparently British and somewhere on the Asperger’s scale. By day he follows a routine where he wanders around with his camera, ending up at an amusement park. By night he’s picking up women and taking them back to his place.

It’s at that point that the movie becomes the stuff of nightmares. Oliver offers his “date” some drugs. When she comes to she’s naked and bound to a table facing a laptop, where Oliver’s Mama (Margaret Roche) eggs her son on to rape and murder. She’s Mrs. Bates times ten. Yet even though Oliver is committing heinous crimes, we understand that the real figure of evil is Mama and that he’s being victimized as well.

Things take a turn toward redemption when he’s approached in the park by Sophia (Sara Malakul Lane), a lovely young woman who seems genuinely interested in the geeky Oliver, breaking the ice by telling him her dreams. The film plays out the situation in unexpected ways and some may object to its final scene, but the filmmakers succeed in crafting a story where you can never be sure where it’s going.

The three principal actors manage to carry out their very difficult roles. Banks takes on a character which we could easily find off-putting, yet finds ways to make him sympathetic, much as Anthony Perkins did with Norman Bates almost sixty years ago. Roche’s turn is a truly monstrous creation, swilling cocktails while being entertained by what she makes her son do. As for Lane, we wonder why this woman would be pursuing Oliver instead of ignoring him, and she slowly reveals aspects of her character that puts her behavior in context.

Richie Moore, a long-time camera operator on other films, makes his feature directing debut here. He is very much in command of his camera, showing what needs to be shown quickly and efficiently. There’s nothing gratuitous, even when shocking, He also has a handle on the pacing for this 87-minute movie, so that the horror scenes and the character moments flow effortlessly.

This is clearly not a movie for everyone, with the nudity, violence, and just plain insanity of the proceedings (using the legal definition of not knowing right from wrong) making it truly disturbing. Yet for those who like their horror films challenging and edgy, “Who’s Watching Oliver” is most definitely worth a look. It’s likely we’ll be hearing from these filmmakers 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 – Sicario: Day of the Soldado


FILM REVIEWSICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADOWith Benicio Del Toro, Josh Brolin, Isabela Moner, Catherine Keener, Matthew Modine. Written by Taylor Sheridan. Directed by Stefano Sollima. Rated R for strong violence, bloody images, and language. 122 minutes.

sicario_day_of_the_soldadoSICARIO: DAY OF THE SOLDADO, the sequel to 2015’s “Sicario,” is the perfect film for the Trump era. In its opening minutes, it stokes fears about Mexicans illegally crossing the border and Muslim suicide bombers. Then, to make sure all bases are covered, we watch Americans kill and torture Somali pirates in a subplot that quickly vanishes.

Matt Graver (Josh Brolin) is brought in by the Secretary of Defense (Matthew Modine) and an aide (Catherine Keener) to do something to disrupt this invented connection between Mexican drug cartels and Islamic terrorism. His solution is to foment a war among the cartels by kidnapping Isabel (Isabela Moner), the daughter of the biggest kingpin, and making it look like a rival gang did it. He brings in a bunch of mercenaries, including Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), a lawyer whose family Isabel’s father had murdered in the first film.

Italian director Stefano Sollima, making his American feature debut, stages exciting and violent action scenes accompanied by an eerie score by Hildur Guðnadóttir that is more suitable for a horror movie. It’s odious in a way that it feeds into the fear and hate being invoked by our current political leaders. There’s even a subplot about Miguel (Elijah Rodriguez), a teenage American citizen, who is recruited to work for a Mexican crime boss bringing people illegally into the country. See? We can’t even trust the children.

And then something happens in the second half of the film: it gets incoherent. The motivations of characters change for no reason other than the plot requires it, and plot twist upon plot strains our credulity. Without giving anything away, there are several points when viewers paying attention to the plot and not just getting off on the violence will find themselves looking on in disbelief, including the last scene of the movie, which makes no sense at all.

Brolin, who had memorable turns this year in “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Deadpool 2,” plays a much narrower range here. He doesn’t embarrass himself, but his ruthless character is straitjacketed by the screenplay. Del Toro fares slightly better, if only because he gets to show more emotion but he, too, is ultimately taken down by the script. Young actors Moner and Rodriguez will hopefully get other opportunities to show their talents. Poor Moner goes from tough-kid-who-knows-her-father-can-deal-with-anyone-who-gets-in-her-way, to hysterical little girl, to suddenly bonding with a man who –inexplicably – tells her he’s after her father. Even Meryl Streep would have a tough time making that believable.

Screenwriter Taylor Sheridan is no hack, as his scripts for “Hell or High Water” and “Wind River” demonstrated. On the other hand, he’s also responsible for the first “Sicario,” which was similarly a mess. Perhaps that’s the answer. “Sicario: Day of the Soldado” is not only something for audiences to avoid, this is a series that everyone else involved with should walk away from as well.•••

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

Review – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.