All posts by Daniel M. Kimmel

About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

Review – Bad Boys for Life


FILM REVIEWBAD BOYS FOR LIFEWith Will Smith, Martin Lawrence, Joe Pantoliano, Jacob Scipio, Vanessa Hudgens. Written by Chris Bremner and Peter Craig and Joe Carnahan. Directed by Adil El Arbi, Bilall Fallah. Rated R for strong bloody violence, language throughout, sexual references, and brief drug use. 123 minutes.

bad_boys_for_life_ver2Was there really this huge demand for another “Bad Boys” movie? Consider that a 25-year-old who went to see the original hit film in 1995 is now at or near 50. Its stars – Will Smith and Martin Lawrence – are 25 years older as well. Indeed, Lawrence’s character of Marcus Burnett seems to have morphed into the Danny Glover character from the “Lethal Weapon” movies as he becomes a grandfather and wants to retire.

In BAD BOYS FOR LIFE, it’s been 17 years since “Bad Boys II,” which means that Lawrence and Smith are following the path of action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger in trying to revitalize careers by playing action roles that they long should have outgrown. Smith, at 51, and Lawrence, 54, aren’t exactly senior citizens, but they both seem past their sell-by date for this kind of movie. It says something that the movie is being dumped in January (the last film was a summer release).

The story involves Armando (Jacob Scipio) who has been sent to Miami from Mexico by his mother Isabel (Kate del Castillo) to avenge the death of his father. He’s been killing those responsible for the drug kingpin’s demise, but Mike Lowery (Smith) survives. Thus, much of the film consists of action set pieces, car chases, and Mike deciding that there’s no reason that a police detective has to abide by any sort of rules in seeking out the perpetrators.

The film is an uneasy mix of violent action, comedy, and maudlin drama. The film veers from goofiness to people being shot or otherwise violently killed to Mike or Marcus having an emotional moment. There’s a twist in the story – not revealed here – that comes across as contrived, even if it serves to set us up for yet another sequel. Whether that film ever happens will likely depend on the box office returns of this one.

In jumping between Miami and Mexico City, the film offers some colorful locations but fails to engage us in the concerns of either of its lead characters. That’s fatal since its success depends on us actually caring about where it ends up. The death of one of the supporting characters does resonate – briefly – but only because the actor gives the movie’s most engaging performance.

To be fair, after a lot of action scenes that are the cinematic equivalent of fast food, the set piece in the climax involving a showdown in an abandoned multistory hotel is impressive. It’s the moment where the filmmakers light up the screen figuratively and literally. It’s not enough to save the film, but it is an exciting sequence on its own.

Those who are invested in the series will no doubt want to see it, but if you haven’t even thought about these characters since 2003, watching “Bad Boys For Life” will feel like going to a high school reunion and running into people whose names and faces are, at best, dim memories.•••

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

Review – 1917


FILM REVIEW1917With Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay, Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch. Written by Sam Mendes & Krysty Wilson-Cairns. Directed by Sam Mendes. Rated R for violence, some disturbing images, and language. 119 minutes.

1917 is impressive and engrossing for two reasons, one cinematic and the other thematic. And once you get over the impressive look of the film, you’re still caught up in the story of how war looks to someone actually fighting it. It’s a story that couldn’t be more timely.

Set during World War I, the plot is deceptively simple. The Germans have retreated and Colonel Mackenzie (Benedict Cumberbatch) is prepared to lead British troops in to take advantage of that. However, General Erin More (Colin Firth) has received intelligence that it’s a trap and needs to get word to MacKenzie. Since it involves going on foot through potentially enemy territory, the task falls to Blake and Schofield (Dean-Charles Chapman, George MacKay), two lance corporals. The movie then follows the two as they attempt to get the message through.

The key word is “follows.” Through some cinematic sleight-of-hand by director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins, the movie is presented as if it was shot in a single take. It wasn’t, but you won’t be able to see the seams. This technique has been used in several films whether for long sequences, as in the opening of Orson Welles’ “Touch of Evil” (1958), or entire films, like Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rope” (1948) and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s more recent “Birdman” (2014).

The effect is to make viewers feel as if they are experiencing the story in real time, with no editing out of the down times where nothing much seems to be happening. Since it’s wartime, there’s no guarantee that a moment of quiet might not be shattered in the next moment by the sound of gunfire giving us a taste of the tension and uncertainty of the lives of people in combat. There are also no guarantees for the success for the mission or whether the two soldiers will even survive it.

While the acting is solid, it’s not the point of the film. Cumberbatch and Firth appear briefly, and it is Chapman and MacKay who get the most screentime. Everyone seems to realize that, beyond wanting to live to see another day, these characters have no “arcs.” This is not about Blake and Schofield coming of age or realizing the futility of war. While treated respectfully, the filmmakers use them much as their commanding officers do, as a means to an end. It’s about what they go through, not about how who they are. We find ourselves racing through trenches and bombed out villages, avoiding sniper fire, and encountering the local non-combatant victims of war. The locations are as much a character as any of the people, demonstrating how even the land pays a price.

Barely released at the end of 2019 (for awards consideration), “1917” becomes the first must-see movie of 2020.•••

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

Review – Just Mercy


FILM REVIEWJUST MERCYWith Michael B. Jordan, Jamie Foxx , Brie Larson, Rafe Spall, Tim Blake Nelson. Written by Destin Daniel Cretton & Andrew Lanham. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Rated PG-13 for thematic content including some racial epithets. 136 minutes.

JUST MERCY has everything going for it. Based on a true story, it is about how lawyer Bryan Stevenson (Michael B. Jordan) takes on the case of Walter “Johnny D.” McMillan (Jamie Foxx) who sits on death row in Alabama, awaiting execution for a crime he did not commit. This cuts right to the heart of the debate over capital punishment: can we accept the state executing some people who may be innocent in order to protect the public? Why, then, is the film such a disappointment?

It’s not the cast. Jordan follows in the footsteps of Sidney Poitier (in “In the Heat of the Night”), as an African-American man from the North navigating a racist system in Alabama. He gathers evidence that shows that McMillan’s trial was flawed in not calling witnesses who would have testified he was nowhere near where the murder took place. He finds a a witness (Tim Blake Nelson) who did testify subsequently recants and admits he was coerced into lying under oath. However, neither the prosecutor nor the courts seem interested in doing justice. Jordan is tightly coiled as he suffers indignities and setbacks but remains committed to his cause.

Likewise, Foxx plays McMillan as a man caught up in a system where he knows the deck is stacked against him, and yet finds common ground with the young attorney wanting to fight on his behalf. He gets emotional moments – such as getting to see his family after a court appearance – without going over the top. When he does lose it at one point it’s not only justified but seems to a release of all the anger that he’s kept pent up. Brie Larson has less to do as Eva Ansley, McMillan’s partner in what became the Equal Justice Initiative. She’s there as a sounding board, helper, and moral support, but we don’t get to know her as we do with Stevenson and McMillan.

The problem is that director Destin Daniel Cretton – who adapted the script with Andrew Lanham from Stevenson’s book – has absolutely no sense of how to make this story interesting. The movie proceeds at a leaden pace draining the drama from much of narrative. It’s almost as if he’s internalized the attitude of many of the film’s characters to stoically endure the racism and injustice in hopes of a better outcome. When McMillan’s son explodes in anger against a judge who ignores the evidence in the case it’s a rare instance where we can see that it’s blood and not ice water flowing through the veins of these characters.

Although Cretton attracted some attention for his first feature, “Short Term 12” (2013) – which also starred Larson – his next film – “The Glass Castle” (2017) had the same problems “Just Mercy” has: too long, a meandering narrative, and a talented cast left to their own devices. The story of McMillan (who died in 2013) and Stevenson deserved much better than what they get here.•••

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

Dan’s 10 Best Films of 2019

10 BEST FILMS OF 2019

by Daniel M. Kimmel

If you look at the ratings at Rotten Tomatoes, which includes the reviews here, it is near impossible for even the most popular film to score 100% and even the worst reviewed to get 0%. There are almost always minority views that are just as valid because these are opinions, not pronouncements. 2019 was a middling year at the movies and so my 10 Best are the ones that stayed in the memory at year’s end.

YESTERDAY – Richard Curtis, who wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Love Actually,” came up with this endlessly inventive comedy of an aspiring musician who emerges from a coma to discover he’s in a world that has never known the Beatles. Instead of taking the easy way out (“It’s all a dream!”), the movie follows that premise in surprising ways.


MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN – Edward Norton, wrote and directed, took film noir into 1950s New York as a detective with Tourette’s Syndrome trying to solve the murder of his boss. Harking back to movies like “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential,” it delves into the sins that created the modern city all the while evoking the era with stunning visuals and an evocative score by Daniel Pemberton.


THE IRISHMAN – Martin Scorsese presided over this gangster film reunion with Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Al Pacino, with the actors doing some of their best work in years. This is a genre piece by people who helped define that genre over the past few decades and is as impressive in its way as what Clint Eastwood’s “Unforgiven” did for the western.


LITTLE WOMEN – Did we really need yet another version of Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel? Writer/director Greta Gerwig showed that we did in this beautifully mounted and acted adaptation. Amidst the bombast of other holiday season offerings, this film quietly showed itself to be the class of the field.


JOJO RABBIT – Filmmaker Taika Waititi brings a unique comic sensibility to this story of a young German boy trying to make sense of Nazi Germany while his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish woman. It’s a delicate balancing act that won’t work for everyone but manages to evoke both laughter and horror in the right places, with the director playing the boy’s imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler.


KNIVES OUT – The late film critic John Simon acerbically noted that movies ought to be art or else great entertainment. This comedy/mystery is very much in the latter category with a great ensemble cast involved in solving the murder of a wealthy writer (Christopher Plummer) tired of supporting his adult children. Oh, and Daniel Craig sings.

THE ART OF SELF DEFENSE – One of the year’s quirkiest films came and went quickly and isripe for discovery. Jesse Eisenberg plays a meek man who is viciously mugged and resolves to learn how to defend himself, falling under the sway of a charismatic martial arts teacher. As he progresses, he learns that not everything is as it seems. Like “JoJo Rabbit,” it’s not for every taste.


TOY STORY 4 – Pixar Animation has had some misfires, but they’re still in the forefront of American animation. After the perfection of the third film in the series, there was no reason to return to these characters, and yet they cleverly pulled it off with wit and the occasional tear along with Forky, easily the most unexpected animated hero of the year.


MIDSOMMAR – I was not taken by writer/director Ari Aster’s 2018 “Hereditary,” but his latest offering – while overlong and owing much to “The Wicker Man” – slowly draws the viewer into a world that is increasingly nightmarish, demonstrating that horror can take place in broad daylight. The cinematography by Pawel Pogorzelski is dreamlike, beautiful to look at even while things spin out of control.


AVENGERS: ENDGAME – All right, there are too many superhero movies. There’s no gainsaying the achievement of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, however, in building its storyline over 16 years and multiple films, before finally bringing everything and everyone together in an exciting and satisfying conclusion. Not every entry was a success, but this one – featuring a final cameo by the late comic book legend Stan Lee – was a fitting capstone.


Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His new latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Little Women


FILM REVIEWLITTLE WOMENWith Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Timothée Chalamet, Chris Cooper, Meryl Streep. Written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Rated PG for thematic elements and brief smoking. 134 minutes.

little_women_ver10LITTLE WOMEN, Louisa May Alcott’s novel about the four March sisters coming of age in mid-19th century New England, is a classic of popular literature and one that has inspired numerous adaptations for film and TV. Greta Gerwig’s new version is an impressive response to the question whether we really needed another one.

For those coming in fresh, the story centers on Jo March (Saoirse Ronan), Meg (Emma Watson), Amy (Florence Pugh), and Beth (Eliza Scanlen) and their mother Marmee (Laura Dern), who are trying to keep the home fires buring while their father (Bob Odenkirk) is off at war. Each has their own story, with Jo wanting to be a writer, Meg falling in love, Amy wanting to paint, and Meg wanting to play the piano. Gerwig gives us insight into the characters by not presenting the narrative in a linear fashion but letting us see how the women they are becoming were formed in their childhood.

Money is tight in the March household, but Marmee teaches the girls that there are people far worse off than they and ought to help those less fortunate. In turn we see some of the wealthier people in their lives helping them, from the benevolent neighbor Mr. Laurence (Chris Cooper) to the sharp-tongued Aunt March (Meryl Streep), a wealthy widow who seems to determined to help one of the sisters… after a fashion.

While the film is gorgeous to look at, from the simple March household to some of the grander homes and locations, it is the finely-etched characters brought to life by a strong ensemble cast that ensures the film’s success. The four young actresses bring to life the four sisters in ways where each stands out in her own way and yet also provides able support for the others. Two of them (Ronan and Pugh) may find themselves on Oscar ballots, as will several of the veteran cast members. Streep, of course, is nearly always a delight to watch, but Dern and Cooper deliver performances that, coincidentally, are stark contrasts to their turns in other current films. Dern, playing the moral anchor to the March family, is also the ruthless divorce lawyer in “Marriage Story” while Cooper’s genial presence here is the mirror image of his father who abandoned his family in “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”

Perhaps the reason “Little Women” has remained popular as a book and on screen, is that it presents a variety of role models of women making their way in the world in both traditional and non-traditional roles who do so without compromising their own values. Whether it’s the best version or not can be debated by others. What’s certain, though, is that this is simply the latest one and, most assuredly, not the last.

The Boston Society of Film Critics has named this the best film of 2019.•••

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 including Jar Jar Binks Must Die. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Dan’s Take)


FILM REVIEWSTAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKERWith Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, Ian McDiarmid, Oscar Isaac, Billy Dee Williams. Written by Chris Terrio & J.J. Abrams. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action. 141 minutes.

star_wars_the_rise_of_skywalker_ver2The release of the original “Star Wars” in May 1977 was a game-changer for moviegoers and for Hollywood. The release of STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, the final chapter of the nine-film “Skywalker Saga” entertains and will satisfy many fans, but will not linger in the memory. After the climax of Marvel’s “Avengers: Endgame,” the stakes here seem a bit of a letdown. It’s unlikely that this is what was intended when George Lucas launched the enterprise more than 42 years ago.

During the opening crawl, we’re told that Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) appears to be alive and is pulling the strings to crush the rebel Resistance. General Leia (the late Carrie Fisher in repurposed outtakes from the two previous films) has been training Rey (Daisy Ridley), who is soon out on a crucial mission with Poe (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega) along with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels). It’s a bit of a shaggy dog story as they move from planet to planet, with only two plot points that matter.

First, Rey has to confront and resolve the psychic bond she has with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is in charge of the First Order, the successor to Darth Vader and the evil Empire in the earlier films. It takes up a lot of the film’s running time and makes little sense, even in terms of the fantasy world of the series. Second, we have to get to the final end of the war that has driven the series featuring both an epic space battle and a showdown with Palpatine.

None of the newer cast members have the panache of Fisher, Mark Hamill, or Harrison Ford from the original Trilogy, although Billy Dee Williams – reprising his role as Lando Calrissian from “The Empire Strikes Back” (1980) – gives it a go. Ridley and Driver get to pout and brood and strike poses, but never fully engage us. A number of veterans of the series make appearances on screen or, in one scene, on the soundtrack. However, it is the use of Carrie Fisher here that proves to be a major flaw. Leia is a key figure in the series and Fisher was, arguably, irreplaceable, but the use of archival footage, CGI, and body doubles is awkward and obvious. In scenes where Leia is supposed to be speaking with other characters, we are reminded of her absence more than her presence.

Of course fans will want to see it, whether to embrace it or criticize it, but it’s not likely to lead to demands to continue the story of the surviving characters. More likely if “Star Wars” continues, it will be in one-off spinoffs like “Rogue One” (2016) or the current streaming series “The Mandalorian.” “The Rise of Skywalker” may not be the worst of the series, but there is this: with all the shout-outs to the previous films, at least there’s no sign of Jar Jar Binks.•••

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 including Jar Jar Binks Must Die. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Cats


FILM REVIEWCATSWith Francesca Hayward, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Judi Dench, Robbie Fairchild. Written by Lee Hall, Tom Hooper. Directed by Tom Hooper. Rated PG for some rude and suggestive humor. 110 minutes.

cats_ver2If you turned off the soundtrack and only had to watch for a few minutes, then CATS might be hailed as a surreal, visually stunning movie. However, that’s not how things work. Based on the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical (itself based on a series of poems by T. S. Eliot), “Cats” is a film that frequently makes you wonder “How did they do that?” – especially when you see the long list of special effects people credited at the end – and yet will only work for those willing to buy in to its rather odd premise.

The story, if it can be called that, involves Victoria (Francesca Hayward) – a cat abandoned by a seemingly cruel human – finding herself among a group of strays who call themselves the Jellicle cats. She meets a number of the other felines, including Jennyanydots (Rebel Wilson), Mr. Mistoffelees (Laurie Davidson), and Munkustrap (Robbie Fairchild). She learns that Old Deuteronomy (Judi Dench) is to make the annual pick of who will ascend to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn. The evil and magical Macavity (Idris Elba) wants it to be him and does what he can to take out the opposition.

While the makeup, costuming, sets, and special effects are quite imaginative, the “cats” are a peculiar mix of human and effects, with fur, and feline ears and tails, and yet human faces and hands. This leads to moments where you either suspend your disbelief or you laugh at the absurdity of the proceedings. When Ian McKellan shows up as Gus “the theater cat,” one is left wondering why the actor was convinced this was a role he wanted to tackle.

The casting is ambitious and impressive. Among those already mentioned, James Corden pops up as a fat cat named Bustopher Jones, providing an amusing vignette, while Jennifer Hudson – as a bedraggled alley cat named Grizabella – offers a heartfelt rendition of the show’s one notable song, “Memory,” while forced to play it with a runny nose. For Taylor Swift fans, there’s also her appearance as Bombalurina, which includes her singing a song written for the movie (“Beautiful Ghosts”) by her and Webber.

Director Tom Hooper has some interesting films in his credits, including “The King’s Speech,” but he is also responsible for one of the worst movie musical adaptations of recent years, 2012’s “Les Misérables.” It’s hard to say if the blame for this movie falls on him or on the stage musical, which ran for 18 years on Broadway. Fans of the show may well be willing to embrace this cinematic expansion. However, it’s unlikely to expand the potential audience for it, and this critic is both a lover of musicals and our feline friends.

“Cats” may not be the worst film of 2019, but it’s going to earn a spot on many 10 worst lists, and deservedly so.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1.5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.