All posts by Daniel M. Kimmel

About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

Review – Angel Has Fallen


FILM REVIEWANGEL HAS FALLENWith Gerard Butler, Morgan Freeman, Jada Pinkett Smith, Danny Huston, Nick Nolte. Written by Robert Mark Kamen and Matt Cook & Ric Roman Waugh. Directed by Ric Roman Waugh. Rated R for violence and language throughout. 120 minutes.

angel_has_fallen_xlgIn “Olympus Has Fallen” (2013) and “London Has Fallen” (2016) Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) had to save the President of the United States from terrorist attacks. Now, in ANGEL HAS FALLEN, Banning and his wife (Piper Perabo) have a young child, and he’s been taking painkillers to deal with all the abuse his body has taken in his work. Near the film’s start, the current U.S. President (Morgan Freeman), tells Banning that he plans to make him director of the Secret Service.

Then the attack begins. As in the previous films it’s massive, audacious, and coordinated. The President ends up in a coma and, as the only other survivor of the attack, Banning becomes the chief suspect. No fair guessing how it turns out. Indeed, even before the big reveals it’s pretty obvious who the film’s real villains will turn out to be.

What the series offers is some top-flight actors fleshing out their melodramatic roles, including Jada Pinkett Smith as a relentless FBI agent, Danny Huston as an old friend of Banning who has set up a counter-terrorism camp, Nick Nolte as a recluse with ties to the agent, and Tim Blake Nelson as the Vice President. Nolte, looking like a bedraggled hermit, seems like he’s having a lot of fun as his character becomes enmeshed in the plot. (Make sure to stick around for the scene with Butler and Nolte in the closing credits.)

What’s really the point of the series is that it provides visceral and violent action, delivering plenty of jolts mixed in with a dash of humor. The body count is high with most of those shot or blown up as anonymous as characters in a video game. We can be fairly certain that Banning will live to fight another day but, be warned, not all of the principals make it to the end of the film.

Stuntman turned writer/director Ric Roman Waugh and his collaborators have constructed the film around several action set pieces, leading to a climactic showdown at the hospital where the weakened but now revived President chooses to trust Banning to protect him. We’ve seen such scenes in other films, but they kick it up a notch with some twists that keep it from being predictable. It does, however, keep with preposterous premise that drove the other films – that Banning alone can take on an entire army almost single-handedly.

Perhaps that explains the series’ success. Butler turns 50 this November so his on-screen derring-do may serve middle-aged wish fulfillment, but it also comes with a touch of realism in that his heroism has a cost on mind and body. “Angel Has Fallen” works as an action film but also as an opportunity for older viewers (like this reviewer) to pretend – at least for its two-hour running time – that “I could do that too.”•••

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 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.

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Review – Ready Or Not


FILM REVIEWREADY OR NOTWith Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell. Written by Guy Busick, Ryan Murphy. Directed by Matt Bettinelli-Olpin, Tyler Gillett. Rated R for violence, bloody images, language throughout, and some drug use. 95 minutes.

ready_or_not_xlgREADY OR NOT is that annual movie tradition: the late summer surprise. There’s usually some film that comes out of nowhere in late August that stands out after months of sequels, remakes, and tentpole movies. It’s an original, providing plenty of bloody thrills for the horror fans and some dark satire for those wanting something more.

It’s the wedding day of Grace (Samara Weaving) and Alex (Mark O’Brien). Alex has been estranged from his family, but now is welcomed back by at least some members of the LeDomas clan who have built a fortune on their gaming empire or, as Alex calls it, their “dominion.” Not everyone is happy to see Grace, but Alex’s mother (Andie MacDowell) thanks her for bringing her son home.

That evening Grace is introduced to a family tradition: the new addition has to play a game selected at random from a special box. It’s not a spoiler – indeed, it’s the basis for all the advertising for the film – to note that Grace discovers she is to be the prey in a deadly game of hide and seek. Once set in motion, the bulk of the story is Grace trying to stay alive while Alex’s father (Henry Czerny) reminds the family that they must get her by dawn or succumb to a lethal bargain made by an ancestor.

The filmmakers have several things going for them. As a horror film the details freshen up an old plot of the innocent young woman fending off violent attacks. Here we get the wealthy LeDomas family, still formally dressed, stalking Grace with rifles, a crossbow, and even a battle-ax. While they are deadly serious, they’re also not especially adept and accidents happen. It’s not for the squeamish.

Then there’s the satiric element which can hardly be called “subtext.” Anyone who has ever married into a family and tried to fit in will relate to Grace’s problem, from those members who consider her an interloper to those couples where the one who married into the family is more invested in tradition than the person there by birth. Likewise, Alex is torn between love for his bride and loyalty to his family. In some ways, this is covering the same ground – albeit in a horror context – as last year’s “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Finally, there’s Samara Weaving. Bearing a striking resemblance to another Australian actress, Margot Robbie, Weaving bears the weight of the film. If we’re not rooting for her, the film doesn’t work. She successfully conveys fear, growing strength in fighting back, and continuing incredulity at not only the family’s insanity, but that her groom did nothing to warn her in advance.

The film’s payoff is unexpected, a capstone to what’s come before, and leads to a perfect final moment. “Ready Or Not” will not win over a non-horror fans, but for those who can enjoy the genre, it’s a welcome addition to this summer’s movie 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 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 – Good Boys


FILM REVIEWGOOD BOYSWith Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, Brady Noon, Molly Gordon, Midori Francis. Written by Lee Eisenberg & Gene Stupnitsky. Directed by Gene Stupnitsky. Rated R for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout – all involving tweens. 89 minutes.

good_boysRemember “Sausage Party” (2016)? It was a late summer animated film which earned many favorable reviews which made a point of saying: NOT FOR KIDS! Well, GOOD BOYS is a live action film about the misadventures of three sixth graders navigating that “tween” stage between childhood and adolescence and it is NOT FOR KIDS! (And it probably isn’t for the parents of kids that age either.)

Mixing raunchy humor with an undeniable sweetness, it follows the adventures of three friends since kindergarten who find themselves in a new world. Max (Jacob Tremblay) has discovered girls, more particularly one girl (Millie Davis) whom he declares to be his future wife. When he is invited by the cool kids to a “kissing party” he’s nervous because he has never actually kissed a girl. With his friends Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon), he sets out to get the information he needs.

Going online leads to kinky internet port that horrifies the boys. Instead they decide to spy on a high school girl and her boyfriend, using a drone belonging to Max’s dad (and which he was specifically forbidden to use). This sets in motion a series of events involving drugs, sex toys (of which they are oblivious to their use), playing hooky, and testing the limits of their friendship.

There are a lot of laughs, often coming from what the boys think they know proving to be wrong, or what they consider daring or adult. The poignancy comes from them slowly discovering what it really means to mature. Lucas is dealing with the announcement that his parents are getting divorced and the loss of stability in his life. Thor lets others define him so that while he loves to sing, he decides not to try out for the school musical. All three have to decide if the bond between them – they dub themselves the “Beanbag Boys” – will survive the transition to middle school.

While there have been numerous such movies about teenagers, such as “Superbad” and the recent “Booksmart,” this is new territory. Indeed, it is believed to be the first time a movie got an R rating for sex, drugs, and language “all involving tweens.” This is no “Afterschool Special.” The young boys are believable in their innocence and in how they cope with it, whether it’s Lucas constantly confessing or Thor bragging how he can drink four sips of beer. The playing out of Max’s romantic yearnings will remind viewers of just how raw those emotions can be when experienced for the first time.

“Good Boys” will strike a note for those who can remember what it’s like to be that age, while the R-rated material will make sure kids who actually are that age will just have to wait until they’re older.•••

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 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 – Where’d You Go, Bernadette


FILM REVIEWWHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTEWith Cate Blanchett, Judy Greer, Kristen Wiig, Billy Crudup, Laurence Fishburne. Written by Richard Linklater & Holly Gent & Vincent Palmo. Directed by Richard Linklater. Rated PG-13 for some strong language and drug material. 107 minutes.

whered_you_go_bernadette_ver2WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE is a “quirky” comedy about a woman who puts part of her life on hold until she can’t take it anymore, and the fact that the contrived plot works is due, in no small part, to star Cate Blanchett – she holds our interest as the story turns increasingly odd.

When we first meet Bernadette Fox (Blanchett), she is a wife and mother living in a massive
“fixer upper” that is very much a work-in-progress. In fact, her chaotic surroundings reflect her disconnection from her life. Other than her husband (Billy Crudup) and daughter (Emma Nelson), she is drifting through life, much to the consternation of her neighbors and other parents. We learn she was once a highly-regarded architect who walked away from her career.

Part of the film is discovering her backstory, helped by a cameo by Laurence Fishburne as her mentor. It reaches a point where something snaps, and she disappears. The audience knows where she’s heading even as the details are slowly revealed. It turns out that while her husband and daughter are in pursuit trying to figure it out, so is Bernadette. After years of holding herself in check, she’s now madly improvising, hoping that her instincts will serve her well.

While the film certainly works as a feminist story, with Bernadette deciding that it’s time to define herself rather than let others do so, there’s something else going on here, which may be what attracted director/co-writer Richard Linklater to the novel by Maria Semple. Linklater (“Dazed and Confused,” “Before Sunrise,” “Boyhood”) is a filmmaker who likes examining idiosyncratic characters even in his more mainstream films like “School of Rock” and “Bernie.” His characters are often people frustrated in reaching their goals and who have to reinvent themselves to find fulfillment.

For Bernadette, denying her creativity and skill set simply means that that energy will be pent up, ultimately having to emerge in some other form. Blanchett could have played Bernadette as someone who was simply self-absorbed with her own issues, but even as she’s short with others (like a snobbish neighbor played by Kristin Wiig), she does not neglect the people important to her. That is until the pressure becomes unbearable and she runs off.

Blanchett is one of the finest actresses working in film today, easily moving between comedy and drama, and who threads the needle here in handling both. As with other Linklater films, it’s a slightly askew look at life that may not be for every taste, but “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” knows where it’s going and it’s worth going along for the ride.•••

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 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 – Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark


FILM REVIEWSCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARKWith Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Zajur, Gil Bellows. Written by Dan Hageman & Kevin Hageman. Directed by André Øvredal. Rated PG-13 for terror/violence, disturbing images, thematic elements, language including racial epithets, and brief sexual references. 102 minutes.

Things that go harrumph in the night

scary_stories_to_tell_in_the_darkSCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK is best understood as an attempt to launch a new horror movie franchise. Based on a series of books geared to younger readers in the 1980s, they featured stories that were creepy without crossing over into “adult” material. Author Alvin Schwartz was the Stephen King or Clive Barker of the middle school set.

Now with Guillermo del Toro as one of the producers and Norwegian horror director André Øvredal at the helm, “Scary Stories” reaches the screen. Instead of doing it as a series of unrelated short stories, the movie creates an overarching plot involving a book of horrific stories that come true for the characters. With many more stories available and the fate of at least two of the characters unresolved at film’s end, the people involved are clearly planning on sequels, although that will be determined by how this one fares.

The story is set in 1968 in a small Pennsylvania town. Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) is a bit of a misfit at her high school, as a horror fan and aspiring writer. On Halloween she and her only friends, Augie (Gabriel Rush) and Chuck (Austin Zajur), plan one last time of trick-or-treating, more specifically to pull a nasty prank on the school bully (Austin Abrams). This eventually lands them at the town’s haunted house, where a girl locked up by her family is said to have killed herself many years earlier. Joined by Ramon (Michael Garza), a mysterious stranger passing through town, they explore the house and Stella finds a handwritten book of stories by the dead girl.

There’s not much new here for older horror fans, although the visual design – apparently inspired by the artwork by Stephen Gammell in the original books – is certainly imaginative. Without giving away who survives, the third act has two of the teens fighting off horrors from different stories. The 1968 setting allows for references to the 1968 election of Richard Nixon as President, which may be attempts to inject some political commentary about the current officeholder.

The young cast handles the material well, considering that their key moments involve running or screaming or running and screaming. Along for the ride are two veteran performers, Dean Norris as Stella’s dad and Gil Bellows as the town sheriff. Suffice to say you’re more likely to remember the creatures in the film rather than any of the performances.

Although the book series remains popular, the road is littered with would-be movie franchises that never got beyond the first episode, despite the relative success of the source material. The books come from an era that’s before the internet, before streaming, and just as VCRs were being brought into people’s homes. We’ll find out whether “Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark” is scary enough for today’s teens, or just another camper lost in the woods.•••

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 – The Art Of Racing In The Rain


FILM REVIEWTHE ART OF RACING IN THE RAINWith Milo Ventimiglia, Amanda Seyfried, voice of Kevin Costner, Martin Donovan, Kathy Baker. Written by Mark Bomback. Directed by Simon Curtis. Rated PG for thematic material. 109 minutes.

LeMans’ best friend

art_of_racing_in_the_rainTHE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN is the sort of movie that is unlikely to garner good reviews from cynical critics but will be embraced by those viewers who look at their dogs not as pets but as members of the family. For the latter it will be a funny and touching tale of love and loyalty. For everyone else it will seem cloying and obvious. You know which you are.

The story involves Denny Swift (Milo Ventimiglia), an up-and-coming race car driver who, at the film’s start, adopts a puppy he names Enzo. The human plot is a sudsy tale involving love, parenthood, illness, and an ugly custody battle. The cast makes this much more engaging than it has any right to be, as we’ve seen variations of this more times than one can count.

The trick here is that it takes another overused plot point: presenting the story from the view point of Enzo, using veteran actor Kevin Costner at his raspiest as the voice of the dog. Enzo is devoted to Denny, finds he loves racing, and gradually accepts Eve (Amanda Seyfried), whom Denny marries. Enzo’s thoughts range from the amusing to the philosophical, as he tries to make sense of what’s going on around him.

We know from the film’s opening scenes, where we see the old dog nearing the end of his life, that the movie is going to tear at the heartstrings. However, Enzo has his own theories as to the meaning of life (which he picks up from a television documentary about Mongolia), and while the end of the movie may leave you teary, the intent is to leave you smiling as well. This is not “Old Yeller.”

Costner hits the right notes as Enzo’s voice, at times wry and other times rueful. He strikes the tone we hope our own pets – um, non-human family members – have when they engage with us. It makes what might have turned into a mawkish ending satisfying. As Denny, Ventimiglia gets to interact with the actual dog (played by at least one puppy and two adult dogs) while carrying the burden of the saccharine plot. He seems to understand that even though he’s got the leading onscreen role, this is the dog’s movie, and plays it with a light touch.

Indeed, it is the underacting by the cast (as opposed to the “chew the scenery, shout at the balconies” school of emoting) that keeps things moving. Seyfried is delightful as the love interest whose arc determines much of the second half of the film, while Martin Donovan and Kathy Baker, as Eve’s well-to-do parents, are able to quickly sketch in the complexities of their characters without playing them as the plot devices they are.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” is niche filmmaking for a particular audience. The question is not whether this is a cinematic landmark. It isn’t. But it will engage those willing to speculate as to the intellectual and emotional lives of their pets and leave them feeling good, and that’s not bad.•••

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 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 – The Kitchen


FILM REVIEWTHE KITCHENWith Elisabeth Moss, Melissa McCarthy, Tiffany Haddish, Domhnall Gleeson, Common. Written and directed by Andrea Berloff. Rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual content. 102 minutes.

Female empow!-pow!-pow!erment

kitchenGenre movies can be the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. Some are outstanding works in themselves, but even a middling one can have its pleasures, among them being that you can ignore the conventional plot and see what variation the filmmakers and cast bring to the project. That’s the case with THE KITCHEN, part of the gangster sub-genre of women gangsters.

Although often merely serving as adjuncts to the male characters, films where women were equal partners or even led the gang go back to such movies as “Lady Scarface” (1941), “Bonnie and Clyde (1967), and “Bloody Mama” (1970). More recent examples include “Set It Off” (1996) and last year’s “Widows.” With “The Kitchen,” writer/director Andrea Berloff focuses on the arcs of the three main characters.

It’s the late ‘70s in Hell’s Kitchen, a rough part of New York City near Times Square which, at that time, was the base for the homegrown Irish mob. A robbery goes wrong and the husbands of the three principal women are all off to prison. For two of them it’s a relief. Claire (Elisabeth Moss) regularly faces physical abuse from her thuggish husband, while Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) is an African American woman who has married into the Irish American family that runs the local mob. While her husband is behind bars his even nastier brother takes over. Only Kathy (Melissa McCarthy) seems to actually care for her husband and the father of her two children.

When their payments from the mob prove woefully inadequate to pay the bills, they decide to go into business for themselves, taking over the local protection racket. It happens a little too quickly, but they soon find themselves with plenty of money as well as local businesses and workers happy to pay them for actually providing something in return. Naturally this doesn’t sit well with Ruby’s brother-in-law, nor with the Brooklyn-based Mafia boss.

As a crime film it’s a mild diversion, but nothing special. As a metaphor for women struggling to find a place in the world, it takes some surprising turns. When Gabriel (Domnall Gleeson), a hit man with previous ties to the local mob shows up and offers to work with the women, Ruby and Kathy get squeamish when he shows them how to carve up a body for disposal. It’s the mousy Claire who is fascinated and finds herself wanting to learn more. Each of the three has to overcome those wanting to keep them subservient, whether it’s Ruby’s mother-in-law (the formidable Margo Martindale) or Kathy coming not to care what her husband or father think of what she’s become.

That’s what raises “The Kitchen” above the level of a potboiler: within the context of its gangster genre roots, it examines the choices women make and the consequences of those decisions as they transform both their relationships and themselves. ***

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 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.