All posts by Daniel M. Kimmel

About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

Review – Midsommar


FILM REVIEWMIDSOMMARWith Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter. Written and directed by Ari Aster. Rated R for disturbing ritualistic violence, grisly images. 140 minutes.

Give Ari Aster credit. The writer/director is carving out his own path as a horror filmmaker. While this reviewer was underwhelmed by the violent and incoherent “Hereditary” (2018), MIDSOMMAR is a disturbing film that holds it together despite its epic length of nearly two-and-a-half hours.

The character to watch is Dani (Florence Pugh). She’s somewhat needy and her current boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) seems to be on the verge of breaking up with her. At the start of the film she learns of the horrible deaths of her sister and parents and ends up inviting herself along on a trip to Sweden that Christian and several of his graduate student friends are planning. One of them, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), comes from a remote rural village which has a unique summer festival that they’re going there to see.

At first everything seems fine, if a bit strange. The visitors try to be respectful and open, not wanting to treat the village as a theme park. It’s all quaint and even a bit exciting, as the visitors ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms. The Americans are made to feel welcome guests. Then the first of the festival’s rituals play out in such a horrific fashion that Dani wants to leave.

Plausible explanations are offered, and both Christian and Josh (William Jackson Harper) are interested in studying the community for their theses. Yet as the festival progresses, things get stranger and stranger, Dani finds things disturbing but is growing distant from Christian and, despite her qualms allows herself to be drawn into the activities. It is her journey upon which the film hinges.

Aster simultaneously defies and draws upon genre traditions. On the one hand, most of the film’s horrors and weird twists take place in broad daylight. Indeed, this is the land of the “midnight sun.” On the other hand, he seems aware of previous movies in which outsiders are threatening by an insular community’s rituals, such as “Two Thousand Maniacs!” (1964) and “The Wicker Man” (1973, remade 2006). Things have to seem quaint and plausible, until the reality of it can no longer be denied.

The film’s R rating for “grisly images” is well deserved. As with “Hereditary,” there are things that – once seen – can not be unseen. While this is not a sadistic gorefest like the “Saw” movies, it’s not a movie for the squeamish or the faint-hearted. Yet at film’s end, it leaves us with the question of whether someone who has been shocked and appalled by the proceedings can come to accept them.

Ironically, while “Midsommar” comes at the beginning of the summer, for Hollywood we really are at the midpoint of the season, which began with “Avengers: Endgame” at the end of April. At a time where the studios play it safe with lot of pre-sold sequels, “Midsommar” takes a chance on something different.•••

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 – Yesterday


FILM REVIEWYESTERDAYWith Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry. Written by Richard Curtis. Directed by Danny Boyle. Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language. 106 minutes.

yesterdayIn a season of sequels, reboots, and remakes, along comes YESTERDAY, one of the most original movies you’re likely to see this year. The premise is deceptively simple. Jack Malik (British TV actor Himesh Patel) is a smalltime singer/songwriter, with his childhood friend Ellie (Lily James) acting as his manager/driver/confidante. One night, Jack is hit by a bus in during an unexplained worldwide power outage.

When he awakens in his hospital, bed he finds that he has slipped into an alternate universe where the Beatles never happened. John, Paul, George, and Ringo are unknown, as are all their songs. Jack remembers them (if not all the lyrics), and when he starts to perform them is hailed as the greatest music star of his generation. As the story unfolds, you have to wonder where it’s going to go and how it’s going to end. That won’t be revealed here. Suffice to say, they don’t take the easy way out.

The film’s success starts with a brilliant script by Richard Curtis, who wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and wrote and directed “Love Actually.” He loves his quirky characters and gets the laughs while hitting some emotional truths. Jack enjoys his success but feels increasingly guilty that he’s riding on the brilliance of others, even if no one else knows. Curtis has some surprises along the way, including Jack’s discovery of how else this alternate timeline is different from his own.

Director Danny Boyle (whose credits range from “Trainspotting” to “Slumdog Millionaire”), has a sure hand on the proceedings. He navigates Jack’s rise from small bars to massive concerts without losing his focus on the characters. Patel will be a discovery for American viewers, presenting Jack as someone both excited by and insecure about his newfound popularity. James is touching as someone who has long believed in him while waiting for him to wake up to the potential of more than a professional relationship. Real life singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran pops up as himself, providing a droll portrait as the person who “discovers” Jack, calling himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart.

Although it’s a supporting role, one of the delights of the movie is that finally someone has made good use of the incredibly talented Kate McKinnon, the SNL star who has been the standout in a number of mediocre movies. Here she’s Debra Hammer, the talent manager from hell. Her character’s self-absorption and bluntness makes her the perfect foil for the humane and somewhat naïve Jack.

Naturally, the soundtrack is filled with Beatles songs, making the film a tribute to how much their music has meant to us for more than fifty years. “Yesterday” is a tribute to the Beatles as well as a rich comedy that puts Jack on a journey where he has to decide what success really means. As with other movies scripted by Curtis, it may not please the cynical or cold-hearted, but for the rest of us, it’s one of the best movies you’re likely to see this year.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 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 – Annabelle Comes Home


FILM REVIEWANNABELLE COMES HOMEWith Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife. Written and directed by Gary Dauberman. Rated R for horror violence and terror. 106 minutes.

annabelle_comes_home_ver2The continued blurring of what was once a bright line between movies and television continues with ANNABELLE COMES HOME, the seventh film in “The Conjuring” universe series. It is the third to be released in less than year following “The Nun” (2018) and “The Curse of Llorona” (2019). They’re all related in some way to Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson), real-life investigators of the paranormal.

Spun off from well-received “The Conjuring” movies, with the third due out next year, the “Annabelle” movies are about an evil-looking doll which is a conduit for some demonic force. The Warrens keep the doll in a locked case, having ensured that the evil will be “contained.” (Don’t sweat the details. It’s summer and there’s no final exam.)

In this entry, the Warrens appear in a lengthy prologue and then disappear for much of the story. Instead, the focus is on their daughter Judy played by the very expressive McKenna Grace, who turns 13 this week. Everyone in town knows about the weird goings-on involving her parents, and that leaves her moody and unpopular at school. She’s close with her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) in whose care she has been left when the Warrens have to go out of town overnight. Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) stops by with a gift for Judy, which provides the opportunity for Daniela to go exploring the Warren’s locked room of cursed objects.

That’s the premise, and you know where it’s going: Daniela unlocks the case letting Annabelle loose, which ends up causing all sorts of horrific things including plans to consume Judy’s soul. Give writer/director Gary Dauberman credit. He provides his characters sufficient backstory and motivation that we’re not just watching cardboard cutouts battling special effects. Sarife’s Daniela is looking for trouble, but when we discover why she’s drawn to the forbidden powers the Warrens have locked up it actually makes her more sympathetic. There’s some comic relief as well, in the form of Bob (Michael Cimino), who has a crush on Mary Ellen that both are too shy to act upon.

Dauberman also knows how to tease the audience, sometimes setting things up for an expected scare that doesn’t happen. This is a much better effort than “Annabelle: Creation” (2017) in that it builds up its characters while keeping the horror plot fairly straightforward. There’s a touching scene at the end where Lorraine has a bonding moment with Daniela that may explain why audiences connect to these films more than some other shockfests. We actually come to care for the characters rather than simply see them as fodder for whatever the film’s horror turns out to be.

“Annabelle Comes Home” plays like a “special episode” of a TV series where the main characters step back and let the supporting players have the spotlight. If you’ve enjoyed the series, this will work, but beyond that it’s hard to see this entry winning new converts.•••

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 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 – Toy Story 4


FILM REVIEWTOY STORY 4With the voices of Tom Hanks, Tim Allen, Annie Potts, Tony Hale, Keanu Reeves. Written by Andrew Stanton & Stephany Folsom. Directed by Josh Cooley. Rated G. 100 minutes.

toy_story_four_ver8Nine years ago, I reviewed “Toy Story 3” by noting, “It is a fitting end to what now must be called the ‘Toy Story’ trilogy. The ending is so right it would be criminal to try to squeeze any more out of the series.”

Thus, there was some nervousness about the release of TOY STORY 4. Pixar has created some of the greatest animated movies of all time. Their Achilles heel, so to speak, has been with their sequels. Whatever one thinks of movies ranging from “Cars 2” to “Finding Dory” to “Monsters University,” they all fell short of their originals. The one exception were the “Toy Story” films. In between the laughs and thrills were issues about growing up and growing old. As the characterizations deepened, we saw how Woody’s sense of loyalty and Buzz’s bravery turned into both an asset and a burden.

So, after the brilliant and emotional conclusion to “Toy Story 3,” was there possibly anything left to be said? As it turns out, there was. In “Toy Story 4” Woody (voice of Tom Hanks) and Buzz (voice of Tim Allen) are starting to see changes in their lives. Bonnie, the girl whose toys they now are, is entering kindergarten and very nervous about it.

She makes the transition, with the help of an arts-and-craft doll she made called “Forky” (Tony Hale) for reasons that will be immediately apparent. On a road trip with her parents, Woody discovers Bo Peep (Annie Potts) at a curio shop, after her having become separated from the rest of them. What ensues are the plot points that move things along: meeting action doll Duke Caboom (Keanu Reeves) who turns out to be Canadian, encountering Gabby Gabby (Christina Hendricks) who covets Woody’s voice box and, of course a last-minute rescue.

Beyond the jokes and wonderfully surreal touches, from Forky to Gabby Gabby’s retinue of creepy-looking puppets, this is ultimately Woody’s story. He’s been fiercely loyal to whichever child he belonged to as well as to the other toys. In many ways he’s been the moral center of the “Toy Story” universe. Now he gets to ask if its time to be loyal to himself, with Bo Peep extolling the virtues of living freely. She’s not alone – she has her sheep – but she’s charting her own course while Woody only reacts to what’s going on around him.

If that sounds too deep for the youngsters who are the key demographic here, the movie is rated G, and has plenty of antics and thrills to entertain. However, for the adults, whether with kids or not, there’s food for thought as well. Those who have enjoyed the previous movies will appreciate just how hard it is for Woody to deal with choice he is faced with: continuing life as he’s always known it or taking a chance on the unknown.

“Toy Story 4” demonstrates that Pixar remembers what G rated movies were supposed to be: movies intended to appeal to everyone.•••

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

Review – Men In Black: International


FILM REVIEWMEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONALWith Tessa Thompson, Chris Hemsworth, Rebecca Ferguson, Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson. Written by Matt Holloway & Art Marcum. Directed by F. Gary Gray. Rated PG-13 for sci-fi action, some language and suggestive material. 114 minutes.

men_in_black_internationalThe original “Men in Black” (1997) was so much fun that we keep hoping the sequels and spinoffs will live up to it. After more than two decades of trying, you’d think we’d know better. Instead we get the quirky aliens, and the stoic agents who can wipe the memories of any civilians who see what they shouldn’t have seen, and yet another tired story that fails to engage.

The best thing about MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL is the arrival of Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth to the franchise. Thompson is Agent M, a civilian who encountered an alien as a child and has figured out how to contact the Men in Black, the organization that oversees alien visitors to Earth. She’s told they usually do the recruiting of new members but accept her as a probationary agent. Her boss, Agent O (Emma Thompson, no relation), sends her to London on assignment. There she is partnered with Agent H (Hemsworth), the superstar of the British office.

What was amusing in the first film – that the agents are known only by single letters – is less so here, as there are only 26 letters in the alphabet. Just how many agents share the same letter? The plot involves an alien weapon, a pair of alien assassins, and the threat of a mole in the British operation. None of it is especially interesting, and while the special effects are dazzling, they have the narrative depth of a fireworks display. At no time do we actually care what’s going to happen beyond the default “rooting for the good guys.”

The bulk of the film falls on Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth, and its shortcomings are not due to anything on their part. Thompson plays Agent M as a young woman getting the opportunity of a lifetime eager to prove herself. As with the recent “Dark Horizon,” the film notes that the number of women in the organization makes the “Men in Black” label as misleading as “X-Men,” but Thompson is allowed to be a character, not a symbol with which to bludgeon the audience.

If there’s a reason to see this, it may be to watch Hemsworth continue his emergence as more than beefcake, but a genuinely funny performer. As he showed in “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Avengers: Endgame,” he’s got the looks and build of a conventional action hero, but he can also be genuinely goofy. One of the best gags in the film is an allusion to his performances as Thor in the Marvel movies. The announcement that he’s to work on a forthcoming biopic as wrestler Hulk Hogan is definitely something to anticipate.

Unfortunately, “Men in Black: International” is a film that requires an undemanding audience that will be satisfied by simply repeating variations of what worked before. The two leads both deserve better, as do moviegoers.•••

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 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 – Shaft (Dan’s Take)


FILM REVIEWSHAFTWith Samuel L. Jackson, Jessie T. Usher, Richard Roundtree, Regina Hall, Alexandra Shipp. Written by Kenya Barris & Alex Barnow. Directed by Tim Story. Rated R for pervasive language, violence, sexual content, some drug material and brief nudity. 113 minutes.

shaftThe new SHAFT walks a tightrope in wanting to be both an action comedy and yet be respectful to the early ’70s series starring Richard Roundtree and the 2000 reboot with Samuel L. Jackson. It works, but it’s a movie where the action and the comedy are more important than the plot or any notion of strict continuity with the earlier films.

John Shaft, Jr. (Jessie T. Usher), is a data analyst with the FBI. When an old friend dies under mysterious circumstances, he reaches out to his father John Shaft (Jackson) who he has not seen since infancy. The father is an ex-cop turned private detective who likes to party, drive fast, and shoot things up, not necessarily in that order. Junior is much more strait-laced and yuppiefied, for which Senior blames his ex-wife (Regina Hall).

Part of the comedy is the “odd couple” nature of father and son, and part of it comes from when Junior – a college graduate who insists he doesn’t like guns – proves to have some unexpected talents. Things get ratcheted up in the third act with the arrival of the original Shaft (Roundtree), which turns the story into a family reunion. Apparently, the family that busts up drug lords together stays together.

The humor may occasionally be subtle (as in a reference to how Roundtree was identified as Jackson’s uncle in the 2000 film but is now his father, even as the two actors are only six years apart in age). However, that’s the exception to the rule. Much of it is raunchy or slapstick or both. When Junior first meets his father, he’s greeted by a half nude woman, and when dad shows up it’s pretty clear what was being interrupted.

What the original “Shaft” films represented were the emergence of a black action hero who called the shots and who was as virile and sexy as, say, James Bond. Jackson and Usher put their own spins on the character, but when we see the three of them together it’s clear that they respect what they’ve inherited even as they take it in new directions. It’s a lot of fun for those who understand the sex (mostly talked about) and violence (shown repeatedly) are taking place in movie fantasyland, and not to be taken literally. This is not for the easily offended or the overly squeamish.

“Shaft” may not relaunch a franchise, but this one takes its audience on a fast-paced 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 – Late Night


FILM REVIEWLATE NIGHTWith Emma Thompson, Mindy Kaling, John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Reid Scott. Written by Mindy Kaling. Directed by Nisha Ganatra. R for language throughout and some sexual references. 102 minutes.Late Night - Poster

In a season of sequels, reboots, and superheroes – which is to say, the summer movie season – someone in Hollywood usually figures out that a bit of counterprogramming will find a grateful audience. LATE NIGHT is just such a film, a finely tuned comedy/drama that tackles such issues as sexism and ageism while not forgetting to tell an entertaining story.

Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson), has carved out a niche for herself as the only female late night talk show host in otherwise all-male world. Once a ratings winner, the 50-something Newbury seems to have lost her connection with viewers and sees the network grooming a younger – and male – comedian to take her place. To kickstart her show, she hires Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) to be the only woman writer on her staff.

The two characters have parallel arcs. Newbury has to prove that she’s not past her shelf life and can adapt and remain relevant. Patel has to prove not only that she can write funny but can hold her own in the competitive atmosphere in the writer’s room. The two come to see that by helping each other, they are helping themselves.

The Cambridge, Massachusetts native Kaling also wrote the script, and undoubtedly drew on her memories as the only woman writer on the TV show “The Office.” In giving herself a plum role as Patel, she has also created a compelling character in Newbury, who has to justify herself to her boss at the network – ironically, another woman – as well as to younger viewers who might not be looking for laughs from someone they see as their mothers’ age.

While it might seem formulaic to some extent, the film works because the characters are complex and sharply defined. Thompson conveys Newbury’s caustic wit, which may work on stage but makes it difficult for her to get close to people, or people to get close to her. Patel’s optimism and earnest desire to succeed would seem to be the antithesis of this, but it’s just what Newbury needs. Likewise, Patel needs to stand up for herself and push back rather than allow herself to be shoved aside.

Director Nisha Ganatra, who has worked primarily in TV, keeps things moving – there are quiet moments but no dead spaces – successfully taking us behind the scenes into the world of a television talk show. Fans of the late-night comedians will get a sense of just how much effort goes into making it look easy in front of the camera.

“Late Night” may not make any end of the year ten best lists, but for those seeking something original and pitched to adults at the movies in this summer movie season will find it a welcome relief.•••

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 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.