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Author Archives: Daniel M. Kimmel

Review – Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald


FILM REVIEWFANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALDWith Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Jude Law, Johnny Depp. Written by J. K. Rowling. Directed by David Yates. Rated PG for brief rude humor. 134 minutes.

fantastic_beasts_the_crimes_of_grindelwald_xlgIf you’re not invested in the Potterverse (i.e., the Harry Potter books and movies) and haven’t seen the first “Fantastic Beasts” movie, the FANTASTIC BEASTS: THE CRIMES OF GRINDELWALD is not the film with which to be introduced to the world of J.K. Rowling, who wrote the Potter books and is now writing the “Fantastic Beasts” movies. However, if you are among the initiated, this second chapter in a planned five-film series ratchets up the tensions introduced in this series.

The center of attention is Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne), who collects and tends the magical animals of the wizarding world and was a favorite of Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore (Jude Law). Although Scamander’s misadventures in the previous film has led the Ministry of Magic to forbid him foreign travel, Dumbledore sends him to Paris in an attempt to find Credence Barebone (Ezra Miller), a mysterious orphan who is also being sought by Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). Dumbledore and Grindelwald were close friends in their student days but are now on opposite sides of a fight in which Grindelwald looks for those with magic to rule over the non-magical “muggles.”

Newt is accompanied by his muggle friend Jacob (Dan Fogler), who has been brought to Europe by Queenie (Alison Sudol), who loves Jacob even though she is magical and he is not, a relationship forbidden in the wizarding world. Newt is in love with Queenie’s sister Tina (Katherine Waterston), who is seeking Credence on behalf of the Ministry of Magic. These characters are all running around Paris while Grindelwald gathers support, along with Newt’s brother Theseus (Callum Turner), also working for the Ministry and set to marry Lita Lestrange (Zoë Kravitz), with whom Newt has a history.

This is a movie in which little will be resolved by film’s end, because there’s so much more story to come. There are dazzling special effects and “fantastic beasts” galore, including Nagini (Claudia Kim), who is under a curse causing her to turn into a giant snake, a change that will eventually become permanent. Potter fans will recognize that she is doomed to become the pet of the evil Voldemort, villain of the Potter series, and if that doesn’t resonate for you, you might want to go back to the beginning. There are many such callouts to the early books/movies, such as an appearance by Nicolas Flamel (Brontis Jodorowsky) who is cited as the creator of the “philosopher’s stone” in the very first Potter adventure.

As a newcomer to the series, Jude Law cuts a nice figure as the young Dumbledore, although one suspects his character will be further developed in later movies. Depp, who was revealed as Grindelwald at the end of the last film, is an arch villain, coming across as perfectly reasonable when he reveals the horrors that the muggle world will cause in the future of World War II (the story is set in the 1920s), but then shows he’s capable of some horrors himself.

For Rowling’s loyal fans – who are legion – this is an exciting next chapter. For those who haven’t really paid much attention, “The Crimes of Grindelwald” may provide some fantastic moments but may seem otherwise impenetrable.•••

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 new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. 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 – Widows


FILM REVIEWWIDOWSWith Viola Davis, Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki, Collin Farrell, Liam Neeson. Written by Gillian Flynn & Steve McQueen. Directed by Steve McQueen. Rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual content/nudity. 129 minutes.

A good heist movie requires a solid set-up so that we care about the characters as they plan their crime. It should involve a complex operation where things might not go as expected, with a few twists along the way. WIDOWS has all this to spare, with a solid cast propelling us through to the end.

The film opens with Harry (Liam Neeson) and his partners pulling off a job that goes very wrong, ending in a fiery explosion. The robbery was of the campaign funds for Jamal Manning (Bryan Tyree Henry), running for Chicago alderman in a district long controlled by the family of Tom Mulligan (Robert Duvall), who is now trying to place his son Jack (Colin Farrell) in office. Jamal and his brother Jatemme (Daniel Kaluuya) are not above using violence to recover the money, with Harry’s widow Veronica (Viola Davis) being threatened if she doesn’t replace the missing funds.

Although well-heeled, Veronica can’t meet his demands so she contacts Linda (Michelle Rodiguez) – who has lost her clothing shop due to her late husband’s gambling debts – and Alice (Elizabeth Debicki), who has become a call girl to make ends meet. All desperate, the women get a hold of one of Harry’s future plans, which he recorded in a notebook, deciding to do it themselves. Belle (Cynthia Erivo) is later brought in to be the driver when their original plans have to change.

Director Steve McQueen (who adapted Lynda LaPlante’s novel with Gillian Flynn), has a lot of balls in the air here. The characters are working at cross purposes, often violently. Some of the plot lines might seem like distractions, but that’s the point. There are moments where things are set up that don’t pay off until much later, so we’re never quite sure what to focus on, with McQueen often catching us off-guard.

There are a lot of good performances here, none of which are likely to turn up at the Oscars or year-end awards, but with so much talent on hand there’s no wasted time. Davis, Rodriguez, and Debicki are standouts playing women forced to navigate in new worlds as they try to gain control of their lives. Farrell’s reluctant politician probably warrants a separate film, particularly in the glimpses we get of his life with his father. And Kaluuya, so effective as the victimized center of “Get Out,” is scary as his brother’s enforcer.

“Widows” is an entertaining thriller that grabs you from the start and puts you through the wringer. It may not be art, but it’s rattling good entertainment.•••

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 new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Grinch


FILM REVIEWTHE GRINCHWith the voices of Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Pharrell Williams. Written by Michael LeSieur and Tommy Swerdlow. Directed by Yarrow Cheney, Scott Mosier. Rated PG for brief rude humor. 90 minutes.

grinch_ver2Just how many Grinches do we need? Dr. Seuss wrote his beloved book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” in 1957. An equally beloved 1966 cartoon version was created for television by legendary animator Chuck Jones, memorably voiced by Boris Karloff. Perhaps less known is a 1992 video, voiced by Walter Matthau. This was followed by a problematical live action version in 2000 directed by Ron Howard and starring Jim Carrey. With all of these readily available, there will be a stage version in Boston this season, as well as this new movie, animated by the same company that gave us “Despicable Me.”

We start with the idea that there’s absolutely no need for yet another version. Nonetheless, here is THE GRINCH. You know the story. Everyone in the utterly Christian village of Whoville is happily anticipating the arrival of Christmas. (There is apparently no one there celebrating any other holiday.) High up on a nearby mountain lives the Grinch (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), who despises Christmas and the joyous fellowship shared by the residents. He comes up with a plan to steal Christmas by making off with all the decorations and presents on Christmas Eve, only to discover that the holiday is not about such trappings but about peace on Earth and goodwill towards Whos. This causes his tiny heart to grow, leading to a happy ending appropriate for the season.

So how is this new version? It’s certainly true to the spirit of the Dr. Seuss book. The Grinch may be bitter and cynical, but there are all sorts of hints about his ultimate redemption. His relationship with his devoted dog Max shows just how hungry he is for love and friendship. When he recruits a reindeer for his plot to steal Christmas disguised as Santa Claus, he releases the comical creature when its family shows up. His being touched by little Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely), whose Christmas wish is not for herself but for her overworked single mom (Rashida Jones), is the logical outcome of the story.

In terms of the production, the animation from Illumination Entertainment is top-notch, bringing the surreal and cartoonish images of Dr. Seuss to life. Children should enjoy the colorful and imaginative settings, from the Rube Goldberg-like mechanisms of the Grinch to the busy yet efficient businesses of Whoville. Likewise, the depictions of the characters, particularly the Grinch, and the voice cast, is solidly done.

The one flaw is the music. Danny Elfman’s score is up to snuff, but for some inexplicable reason they’ve decided to update the key song associated with the story since the 1966 cartoon. This film’s discordant rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” is so out of sync with the rest of the movie that it’s amazing that the project proceeded with it. They might have heeded the old adage, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

This “Grinch” is not the mess that the live action movie was, and should entertain family audiences. Skeptics will remain unconvinced that there was any need for a new version.•••

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 new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Outlaw King


FILM REVIEWOUTLAW KINGWith Chris Pine, Stephen Dillane, Rebecca Robin, Billy Howle, James Cosmo. Written by Bash Doran & David Mackenzie & James MacInnes. Directed by David Mackenzie. Rated R for sequences of brutal war violence, some sexuality, language and brief nudity. 121 minutes.

outlaw_king_ver2If you’re a fan of “Braveheart” or are otherwise fascinated by the medieval Scottish revolt against British rule, you’re the target audience for OUTLAW KING, in a limited theatrical run and otherwise available via Netflix. Chris Pine stars as Robert Bruce, who risks everything to get Scotland out from under the heel of King Edward I (Stephen Dillane) of England.

The film begins after the defeat of William Wallace (played by Mel Gibson in “Braveheart”), where the various Scottish nobles take an oath of loyalty to the British crown. However, the brutality and capriciousness of the English king soon becomes more than Bruce can bear. After killing his rival for the kingship of Scotland, he begins to amass the forces to fight back. He is hampered by the fact that not all the Scottish families are willing to join him and that the English have many more soldiers at their disposal. The particularly sadistic Prince of Wales (Billy Howle), gets permission to put the rules of chivalry aside. The rebels are to be shown no mercy.

While this is a film that fairly demands to be seen on a big screen, given the complex and brutal battle scenes, it was financed by Netflix and is getting only limited theatrical release. Chris Pine (perhaps best known as Captain Kirk in the rebooted “Star Trek”) is the biggest name in the cast and while he is engaging, he doesn’t have the star power to “open” a movie on the basis of his starring in it. As Robert the Bruce, he is easily the most complex character in the film, willing to murder a rival in cold blood, and yet showing tenderness not only to his new wife (an engaging Rebecca Robin), but to those willing to risk their lives by following him into battle.

Those battle scenes are the standout moments in the film, and they are brutal. It’s the 14th century, and the weapons are swords, spears, axes, and maces. The filmmakers convey Bruce’s tactical brilliance in the climactic battle, but once the two sides are engaged, it’s merciless. Even the victorious survivors are covered in blood and gore. Often you can’t be sure which side is winning, because what you’re seeing is the madness and chaos of war.

Some may argue that the film simplifies the historical figures, in that Bruce is portrayed as near saintly – except for that murder – while the Prince of Wales is a nasty and vicious thug, who betrays a promise made to his father on the latter’s deathbed. “Outlaw King” doesn’t pretend to be a documentary, telling its story while clearly favoring one side. The result is a historical melodrama that will engage the eyes and stir the blood.•••

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 new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Girl in the Spider’s Web


FILM REVIEWTHE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEBWith Claire Foy, Sylvia Hoeks, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakeith Stanfield, Claes Bang. Written by Jay Basu & Fede Alvarez and Steven Knight. Directed by Fede Alvarez. Rated R for violence, language and some sexual content/nudity. 117 minutes.

girl_in_the_spiders_web_ver6It’s hard to say what Swedish author Stieg Larsson would make of the success of the series of thrillers he started with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Intended as a ten-book series, he died after having written only three, all of which were published posthumously, becoming international bestsellers. The original trilogy led to an equally successful Swedish film series, and an American remake of the first one. With a huge audience primed for the further adventures of Lisbeth Salander and magazine editor Mikael Blomkvist, the Swedish publisher of the books commissioned writer David Lagercrantz to continue the series, with two additional books released thus far.

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’S WEB is an English language adaptation of Lagercrantz’s first book. It’s billed as a sequel or reboot of the 2011 American film, although with a different cast and director. It’s a convoluted story, with some twists that will ultimately shed some light on Lisbeth’s early years. This time she’s involved in an elaborate plot involving software linked to the world’s nuclear weapons. It’s being pursued by an American agent, Swedish authorities, and Camilla (Sylvia Hoeks), whose connection to Lisbeth is one of the film’s mysteries.

Director Fede Alvarez, who scored a hit with “Don’t Breathe,” paces the thriller with skill, whether it’s a car chase or a showdown in the villain’s lair. Where the film falls short is in making the viewer care beyond the simple rooting for Lisbeth and her muckraking ally Mikael. In the earlier films we see Lisbeth brutalized and then exacting vengeance. She was a hero for the modern age with her punked out look and her expertise in cyberspace. She was clearly not part of the mainstream. Claire Foy had big shoes to fill in a role defined by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish films and Rooney Mara in the American remake. She has the right intensity for the part, but the script itself only sketches in her motivation. She’s mostly on the run, when not beating or getting beaten.

The showy part here is that of Camilla, garbed in red, and set up as Lisbeth’s mortal enemy for reasons that slowly emerge. Much more thought seems to have been given to her motivation than to Lisbeth’s, throwing the story somewhat off-balance. It’s not that it needed less Camilla, but rather more Lisbeth. It’s not clear if this film will recharge the series after a seven-year hiatus on screen.

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is an entertaining thriller that falls short of the excitement and originality of the Swedish originals, or even the 2011 American version. It might be that future films rev up the energy again, or it could be that this film serves as an example of Ebert’s Law of Diminishing Box Office Returns.•••

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 new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Nutcracker and the Four Realms


FILM REVIEWTHE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMSWith Mackenzie Foy, Keira Knightley, Jayden Fowora-Knight, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren. Written by Ashleigh Powell. Directed by Lasse Hallström, Joe Johnston. Rated PG for some mild peril. 99 minutes.

nutcracker_and_the_four_realms_ver3Loosely inspired by the famous ballet and its underlying story, THE NUTCRACKER AND THE FOUR REALMS is an imaginative and charming movie for the upcoming holiday season. There are some dance sequences and there are some excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s well-known score, but this is not your traditional “Nutcracker.” Instead, it’s a fantasy adventure in which a young girl learns to trust her own abilities.

Clara (Mackenzie Foy) is scientifically minded, like her late mother, and has not handled her mother’s death very well. Taken to a Christmas party with her father and siblings, she seeks out the host, an apparently wealthy inventor named Drosselmeyer (Morgan Freeman), to get help unlocking a gift from her mother that requires a key. He provides the means to get the key, which involves her crossing over to the “Four Realms,” a fantasy kingdom that she discovers was ruled over by her mother.

The key is stolen by a mouse allied with Mother Ginger (Helen Mirren), who seems to have declared war on the three other realms, including one led by Sugar Plum (Keira Knightley), who takes the confused Clara under her wing. Obtaining the key, now in Mother Ginger’s possession, seems to be the means to setting things right. But things are not what they seem. Along the way she meets Philip (Jayden Fowora-Knight), the Nutcracker soldier, who becomes her protector when he realizes who she is.

There are twists in the story, but the ultimate conclusion should not be in doubt, given that this is a Disney film clearly intended for family viewing. There are some surreal touches, along the lines of Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” but director Lasse Hallström is not Burton, and though there is peril, there’s little of the darkness of the Burton film. In one of the film’s biggest in-jokes – for knowledgeable adults – there’s a shot that’s an echo of Disney’s legendary “Fantasia.”

Foy is a feisty Disney princess (as she becomes when she learns her mother was queen), who knows her way around machinery, and yet does not shy away from the gowns and glitter of her new position. The avuncular Freeman easily handles his role as Clara’s inventor-godfather, and Mirren and Knightley – often playing much more serious roles – seem to be enjoying themselves as their fantasy characters. Both women play parts which have hidden depths allowing them to be able to go along with the ride without missing a beat. Fowora-Knight, in his first significant movie role, plays the hero with aplomb, getting his dramatic moments even though Clara will be saving the day on her own.

The movies churned out for the holiday season are often a chore, either so heavy-handed or so lightweight that they’re instantly forgettable. “The Nutcracker and the Four Realms” manages to avoid both traps, making this a film that should be enjoyed by young viewers for years to come.•••

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 new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Bohemian Rhapsody


FILM REVIEWBOHEMIAN RHAPSODYWith Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Aidan Gillen, Aaron McCusker, Mike Myers. Written by Anthony McCarten. Directed by Bryan Singer. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, suggestive material, drug content and language. 134 minutes.

bohemian_rhapsody_ver2Biopics – which is to say, dramatic movies that purport to be based on the life of a real person – are a genre unto themselves. No matter who the person is or what the subject matter, one expects to see scenes before they were famous and how they were discovered or emerged, scenes where they enjoy their greatest successes, scenes where their personal lives threaten to derail them, and the moment of triumph that cements their place in history.

In that sense, BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY, which is the story of the rock group Queen and their lead singer Freddie Mercury, has surprising similarities to the recent “First Man,” which is about Neil Armstrong’s journey to the moon. Both films hit similar beats in charting the rise and fall and rise of their protagonists even though – obviously – their stories are completely different.

Mercury, played by Emmy winner Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”) in a star-making turn, was a baggage handler at the Heathrow Airport when local band Smile lost their lead singer. His joining the reconstituted group would set them on the road to success as one of the major rock acts of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The film leads up to their reunion – after Mercury went solo and discovered he had contracted AIDS – at the Live Aid concert in 1985.

As a story, the film offers some interesting insights into the rock music industry. They walk out on their record producer (played by an unrecognizable Mike Myers) when he dismisses the esoteric recording that gives the film its name. They bicker among themselves over which songs should be recorded. And they have to deal with various “outsiders” who influence the lives of the group, from managers to romantic partners.

For Mercury it was especially complicated, as Mary Austin (Lucy Boynton) was the love of his life whom he clearly intended to marry, but there was another side of him he could not ignore. When he confesses his bisexuality to her it dooms their relationship and yet they remained close friends even as they became involved with other partners. The film depicts both a negative and a positive relationship for Mercury, with Aaron McCusker portraying Jim Hutton, the man with whom he spent his final years.

If the movie reflects its troubled history with several actors, writers, and directors coming and going – including director Bryan Singer who was fired before the film’s completion – it scores on the basis of its performances, particular Malek as Mercury. He burns up the screen as Mercury whether dealing with intimate personal issues, ego-driven conflicts behind the scenes, or on stage in performance. This is a star-making turn and ought to put him on the short list for the Best Actor Oscar along with Ryan Gosling for “First Man” and Chadwick Boseman for “Black Panther.”

For rock fans, for Oscar handicappers, and for anyone who enjoys an outstanding performance, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is one of the must-sees of the season.•••

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 new novel, Father of the Bride of Frankenstein, will be released in January. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.