All posts by Daniel M. Kimmel

About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

Review – Mary


FILM REVIEWMARY. With Gary Oldman, Emily Mortimer, Jennifer Esposito, Stefanie Scott, Chloe Perrin. Anthony Jaswinski. Written by Directed by Michael Goi. Rated R for some terror, violence, and language. 84 minutes.

maryMARY, despite its pedigree, is a conventional horror film crossed with a dysfunctional family drama of a kind we’ve seen many times. What makes it stand out are its cast including Oscar winner Gary Oldman, along with Emily Mortimer, and Jennifer Esposito. Why these actors chose this project is a discussion best left between them and their agents. Beyond the cast, what probably earned the green light for this movie was that director Michael Goi was nominated for primetime Emmys for his work on “American Horror Story” and “Glee,” plus a presumably tight budget given that the film consists primarily of two locations and was shot in and off the coast of Alabama.

The story begins with a detective (Esposito) questioning the survivor (Mortimer) of an explosion at sea. We the cut back-and-forth between extended flashbacks and the detective’s skepticism over her increasingly bizarre story. It seems that David (Oldman) has decided to set out on his own rather than work on someone else’s boat, having sunk the family’s money in a refurbished wreck he dubs Mary, after their younger daughter (Chloe Perrin). We get scenes between husband and wife about their marriage and his making the purchase without any discussion.

Soon, the family (including a teenage daughter played by Stefanie Scott) and crew are at sea, and strange things begin to happen. The film dutifully hits the expected beats and jump scares – mother finds Mary drawing a mysterious dark figure, one of the crew members (Owen Teague) turns unexpectedly violent, the family starts turning on each other as they discover that the ship is cursed – all of this leading to a “surprise” ending that should only surprise you if you’ve never seen a horror movie.

That’s the problem. The script, which is credited to Anthony Jaswinski (who wrote the tight shark tale “The Shallows”) is so formulaic that even with the story cutting between the police station and the flashbacks to the boat, it isn’t hard to connect the dots. That doesn’t make it a bad film, but it does make it a very basic horror entry. It’s the difference between having a fancy meal or generic fast food. This is very much the latter.•••

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.

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Review – Joker

FILM REVIEWJOKERWith Joaquin Phoenix, Robert De Niro, Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen. Written by Todd Phillips & Scott Silver. Directed by Todd Phillips. Rated R for strong bloody violence, disturbing behavior, language and brief sexual images. 121 minutes.

joker_ver3One of the most anticipated films of the year, JOKER is likely to divide moviegoers and critics alike. It may well develop a strong cult following, but for many it will come across as overwrought and disappointing. In spite of an intense performance by Joaquin Phoenix, the movie can’t overcome director/co-writer Todd Phillips’ character arc for him where the protagonist turning into a homicidal sociopath is what passes for a satisfying ending.

The movie is set in the “Batman” universe but focuses on Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) who works as a party clown for hire and aspires to be a comedian. The location is Gotham City and the time is unclear but from various cues seems to be sometime in the ‘70s or ‘80s. For three-quarters of the film’s two-hour running time we watch Fleck be abused and humiliated. Spinning a sign in front of a store, teens steal the sign, beat him with it, and then savagely attack him. The result is his boss telling him he must produce the sign, or it will be docked from his pay.

His mother (Frances Conroy), is a doddering old woman who keeps writing to businessman Thomas Wayne (Brett Cullen) asking for help. One of the few things brightening their bitter lives is Murray Franklin’s (Robert DeNiro) TV talk show. Fleck dreams of performing on Franklin’s show and gets his “break” in as cruel a manner as possible. Fleck also becomes attached to Sophie (Zazie Beetz), a single mom who lives down the hall. There are a number of twists in the story – none to be revealed here – that brings us to the final half hour where Fleck, having hit bottom, assumes the identity of the Joker.

The film has a number of problems. Its depiction of Gotham City is beyond bleak. Except for Sophie and the children we see (including future Batman Bruce Wayne played by Dante Pereira-Olson), everyone is evil or indifferent. There are two scenes where total strangers brutally attack Fleck, simply because they can. The city is in the midst of a garbage strike, so piles of refuse – and the rats it attracts – are the constant background. And Thomas Wayne, who is running for mayor, declares that those who do not help themselves are “clowns.”

As a psychological study of watching Fleck become so destroyed that it causes him to go mad, the film is of interest, but ultimately it makes Fleck the hero of the story by not providing any sympathetic viewpoint but his. It will be noted that the movie owes something to two DeNiro movies by director Martin Scorsese, “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy.” Phoenix’s Fleck is kin to the De Niro characters in both films, both the borderline psychotic Travis Bickle of the former and the obsessive aspiring comedian Rupert Pupkin of the latter.

Director Phillips, best known for the inane “Hangover” movies, wants to show he can be serious and profound, but has bitten off more than he can chew here. His “Joker” is slow and ponderous, with moments that will work for some but not enough win over the general audience. If the intent is to pit Phoenix’s Joker against a newly cast Batman, this may serve as an overlong prologue. On its own, though, “Joker” is a disappointing gag that falls flat.•••

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 – Downton Abbey


FILM REVIEWDOWNTON ABBEYWith Michelle Dockery, Matthew Goode, Tuppence Middleton, Maggie Smith, Imelda Staunton. Written by Julian Fellowes. Directed by Michael Engler. Rated PG for thematic elements, some suggestive material, and language. 122 minutes.

downton_abbey_ver5People going to see DOWNTON ABBEY in theaters will fall into one of two categories: those who are devotees of the British television series which ran from 2010 to 2015 and engaged American viewers on PBS, and those who are coming into the movie knowing nothing about this world. Some of the latter will be dragged along by their significant others or, like this reviewer, are there because it’s one of this week’s major releases.

So if you find yourself encountering the Crawley family (and their relatives and servants) for the first time, here’s the good news: you may not be moved to track down the 52 episodes of the series, but the movie is a pleasant and entertaining story in the “Upstairs, Downstairs” mold. It is not difficult to follow for those encountering these characters for the first time. Others will have to judge how it plays to the show’s fans, but indications are that it does, and quite well.

To make the movie self-contained, writer Julian Fellowes, creator of the series, has set up a story where the King and Queen (Simon Jones, Geraldine James) will be staying overnight at the storied estate. This sets up a number of situations, such as Violet (series regular Maggie Smith) having to confront her cousin Maud (Imelda Staunton), who is in the Queen’s service, over the latter’s plans to leave her own properties to her companion rather than keeping it in the family.

For the servants, there’s the realization that the royal staff plans on taking over the household and considers those at Downton Abbey to be impediments to be brushed aside. The family had asked Mr. Carson (Jim Carter), the retired head butler, to return to service for this auspicious occasion. Now Mr. Bakewell (David Haig), leading the royal team, makes it clear that Carson and the other servants are deemed unworthy of serving the King and Queen.

There are numerous storylines going on which are easy enough to follow, but may especially resonate for those with long ties to the characters. One can see how this would appeal to those viewers fascinated with the British class system, where everyone knew their place, and how someone could take pride in being a servant, as with Mr. Molesley (Kevin Doyle), who can’t quite control himself when he finds himself in the presence of the royals.

A major attraction is Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England, which serves as the fictional title estate. Living a life of privilege in such surroundings is an alluring fantasy, even for those of us who likely would not be polished enough to, well, be hired to polish the silverware. It’s not clear if this is a one-off or if future films are planned, but there is a scene near the end where Violet anoints one of the family as the person who will keep the family and its household going into the future, while acknowledging that times inevitably change.

“Downton Abbey” is more about servicing fans of the TV series than in creating a work that stands on its own, but if you find yourself in the audience for it, it is an engaging and amiable look back at a slice of British life from a century ago.•••

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 – Auggie


FILM REVIEWAUGGIEWith Richard Kind, Christen Harper, Susan Blackwell, Simone Policano, Larisa Oleynik. Written by Matt Kane, Marc Underhill. Directed by Matt Kane. Not rated. 81 minutes.

auggie_ver2_xlgFelix Greystone (Richard Kind) is a middle-aged architect with a wife (Susan Blackwell) and adult daughter (Simone Policano). At the start of AUGGIE, he is being pushed into retirement. As a going-away present he receives a special pair of glasses which augments his perception of the real world by providing him with a “companion” who is invisible to everyone but him. This The film plays like a “Twilight Zone” episode about having to deal with the notion that one is no longer necessary to anyone else.

At first, Felix is skeptical about the glasses, especially when he sees someone seemingly talking to herself. Eventually he tries them on and a beautiful young woman (Christen Harper) appears, who is friendly, supportive, and attuned to Felix’s emotional needs. The fact that she’s a computer construct drawn from his own thoughts and memories falls by the wayside as Felix finds that Auggie, as she is called, fills the hole in his life left after he’s lost his job, his wife is finding new fulfillment in her work, and his work as a parent is done.

There’s a narrative trope of troubled men meeting a lovable pixie of a woman who seem to fulfill their desires and salve their bruised egos. “Auggie” might seem to be going in that direction but what it’s really doing is examining why that notion is so powerful and why men are susceptible to it. Rather than being a sexist fantasy with the woman as a magical creature with no other role except to solve the male protagonist’s problems, the story is about why it has such a powerful allure for men who are broken in one way or another.

Actor/writer Matt Kane makes his feature directing debut here, and he was fortunate to get character actor Richard Kind to take the lead. With his doughy face and hangdog look, Kind, perhaps best known for his comic TV roles (and as the voice of “Bing Bong” in Pixar’s “Inside Out”), is the perfect Everyman. Felix finds himself falling for imaginary Auggie, even buying add-ons that will allow him to experience physical as well as emotional stimulation. He doesn’t mean to be unfaithful, but he finds himself lonely and hurting and this fantasy woman is ready to fulfill his every need. Kind shows us how Felix is drawn deeper and deeper into a “relationship” that really only exists in his own mind.

Christen Harper’s Auggie is the perfect complement to Kind, turning into the dream companion who seduces him while remaining an innocent ideal. It’s a contradiction in terms that, indeed, is the whole point of the story. Auggie can only be a fantasy, even if turns out that there’s a real-life counterpart to her.

Kane’s script (with Marc Underhill) leads to a payoff that may seem abrupt, but which is, on reflection, an honest conclusion to the story. “Auggie” answers the age-old plaint of “what do women want?” with the question “what do men want?” And then leaves that issue for the viewer to answer.•••

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 – Hustlers


FILM REVIEWHUSTLERSWith Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria. Rated R for pervasive sexual material, drug content, language and nudity. 109 minutes.

hustlers_xlgIn telling the story of a group of strippers who decide to exploit the businessmen and power brokers who have been exploiting them – inspired, as we’re told, a true story – writer/director Lorene Scafaria takes what could have been a tired and predictable tale and takes it in unexpected directions. Scafaria wrote one of the best teen comedies of the decade (“Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist”) and wrote and directed the underrated “Seeking A Friend For The End Of The World.”

HUSTLERS begins in the middle of the last decade when Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) takes Destiny (Constance Wu of “Crazy Rich Asians”) under her wing, teaching her both the moves and the scams that let them rake in big bucks from Wall Street types who have money to burn. Destiny, who is now supporting her grandmother, eagerly takes to the lessons and makes a lot of money, but mostly in small bills.

Then the stock market crashes, and it looks like the gravy train is over. Ramona, however, comes up with a new scam where instead of waiting to be approached by some man, they’re going to pursue the patsies whose bank accounts and credit cards they’re going to drain dry. Joined by Mercedes (Keke Palmer, who has grown up considerably since “Akeelah and the Bee”) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart of “Riverdale”), they cash in.

Scafaria mixes the laughs with serious characterizations, making Destiny the center of the story that she relates to a reporter (Julia Stiles) who wants to keep her talking about what happened as things went south. It turns out to be about female empowerment, as these women who are near or at the bottom of the social order decide to take control of their own lives. What they’re doing is unethical, immoral, and even criminal, but are their victims any better? Indeed, it’s when Destiny has second thoughts about one of their marks that the comedy starts to take a back seat.

Lopez is outstanding in a role different from much of her previous work. Ramona sees her ability to make money off of looking sexy is nearing an expiration date, and can be ruthless, yet she also shows compassion for her “sisters” heading in the same direction. It is her best performance in quite some time. Wu isn’t playing a total innocent – Destiny had worked at a prior club – but she’s ready to be Ramona’s apt pupil and, ultimately, her partner in crime. Palmer and Reinhart offer strong support, and those who only know Reinhart as the “good girl” Betty Cooper on “Riverdale” will see a different side of her as the stripper with a weak stomach.

Like Scafaria’s previous films, “Hustlers” takes you down a path that you think is familiar. By the time you realize it’s something different, you’ll already have been drawn in. Just keep your eyes on your wallet.•••

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 – It: Chapter Two


FILM REVIEW – IT: CHAPTER TWOWith Jessica Chastain, James McAvoy, Bill Hader, Isaiah Mustafa, Bill Skarsgård. Written by Gary Dauberman. Directed by Andy Muschietti. Rated R for disturbing violent content and bloody images throughout, pervasive language, and some crude sexual material. 169 minutes.

it_chapter_two_ver3Let’s start with the negatives. IT: CHAPTER TWO is the second half of the big screen adaptation of the Stephen King novel, the first half of which came out in 2017. It’s too damn long, it has scenes of gratuitous violence (as opposed to violence that’s necessary for the plot), and the plot mostly recapitulates the first film only now the characters are grown up. Yet for all that, it’s not dull, exploring both the bonds of friendship as well as how the horrors of childhood never really go away.

The movie picks up the story 27 years after the events of the first film, where the violent and malicious clown Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård) has returned to terrorize the innocents of Derry, Maine. Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), who has never left, reaches out to his old middle school friends in the “Losers’ Club,” who have not only not remained in touch but don’t really remember their battle with the horrific Pennywise.

So we spend much time find out what has become of these characters since they were on the verge of adolescence, and it’s not pretty. Beverly (Jessica Chastain), for example, has traded an abusive father for a violently abusive husband.

They reunite, and Mike informs them that he has learned how to battle Pennywise, and it begins with each of them seeking a personal “token” out of their past. Each of the characters then gets to play out a scene where they relive the horrors of the past and experience new horrors in the present. Some are more interesting others. Bill (James McAvoy), who has never gotten over the guilt for death of his younger brother by Pennywise, buys his old bicycle from a shopkeeper who looks suspiciously like a certain Maine-based author of horror.

This eventually leads to the third act where the “Losers” wage a climactic battle with Pennywise. Unfortunately, despite making certain changes from the novel, there seems to have been a decision to incorporate multiple subplots that could have been discarded in order to speed up the proceedings. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the story of Henry Bowers (Teach Grant), a former teen bully who escapes from a mental hospital and becomes a secondary antagonist to the “Losers.” While the purists among King’s fans would have been disappointed by his absence, the character and subplot could have been discarded.

If there’s too much story here, there’s enough to keep us engaged, and director Andy Muschietti (who helmed the previous film) makes the most of it, mixing the scares and the psychodrama with some welcome humor, much it coming from Bill Hader as Richie, who has left Derry for a career as a stand-up comic. Hader’s mix of sarcasm and wry observations is a crucial addition to the mix. In a particularly strong cast for this kind of film, Hader emerges as MVP. He may not carry the film, but he makes a difference.

“It: Chapter Two” is a flawed film, but it is not a boring one. If you’re motivated to see it, you may be inclined to forgive its shortfalls. If not, you probably don’t need to see it at all.•••

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.

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.