All posts by Daniel M. Kimmel

About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

Review – The Hunt


FILM REVIEWTHE HUNTWith Betty Gilpin, Hilary Swank, Ike Barinholtz, Wayne Duvall, Ethan Suplee. Written by Nick Cuse, Damon Lindelof. Directed by Craig Zobel. Rated R for strong bloody violence, and language throughout. 89 minutes.

hunt_ver2THE HUNT is a dark and violent satire that got pulled off the release schedule last year after two mass shootings (in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio). As with some films that got rescheduled after 9/11, it was the right thing to do. Now it can be seen in its own context, and it is an over-the-top take on political extremism of all stripes.

The set-up is that a bunch of people, dubbed “Deplorables” (after Hillary Clinton’s infamous characterization of supporters of Donald Trump), find themselves regaining consciousness in a field. In a variation of the famous short story “The Most Dangerous Game,” they are about to become the prey of a group of politically correct elitists. You may recognize several actors but don’t get too attached to any of them. As quickly becomes apparently, no one is safe.

Eventually we come to focus on Crystal (Betty Gilpin), a veteran with the smarts and fighting skills to survive. She learns not to trust anyone, even those who are supposedly other victims of this plot, as she works her way to Athena (Hilary Swank), a wealthy corporate executive who seems to be pulling the strings. Gilpin is great in the role, and her character is one who earns our respect.

As satire, no one should confuse this with “Dr. Strangelove” or “Wag The Dog.” This is more in keeping with “The Purge” movies which, not surprisingly, are also from Blumhouse Productions, a company which gets some top talent to do horror movies on a tight budget. Still, it has some sharp and funny insights as to the way both sides of our current political divide caricature each other. As with the best such material, it has something to offend the hypersensitive of every stripe.

Tightly written, the film clocks in at just under 90 minutes, while offering a knockdown, drag-out fight between the two female leads that’s bloodier and more acrobatic than anything seen in many recent action films. The story is complete, without the need for a sequel, but don’t be surprised – if the film is a big hit – that there’s at least one survivor at the end who could take things forward.

“The Hunt” is a pulpy B-movie that will primarily appeal to the action and horror fans for whom it was made. However, it will also work for those able to accept such trappings and appreciate the wit and cleverness that are invested in the otherwise lurid proceedings. Except for those snowflakes on the left and the right who can’t brook any criticism or incorrectness, it’s a satisfying, visceral send-up of our current politics.•••

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 – Onward


FILM REVIEWONWARDWith the voices of Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Octavia Spencer, Mel Rodriguez. Written by Dan Scanlon & Jason Headley & Keith Bunin. Directed by Dan Scanlon. Rated PG for action/peril and some mild thematic elements. 102 minutes.

Brothers in charms

onward_ver11When Pixar is at its best (“Up,” “Inside Out”), its animated movies can make us laugh one moment and tug at the heartstrings the next. ONWARD is similarly pedigreed and lives up to that high standard. It should appeal to viewers of all ages.

The story is set in a magical suburbia. The inhabitants are all fantasy figures like elves, unicorns, and centaurs, but we’re told that many have forsaken magic for the conveniences of the modern world. Ian Lightfoot (voice of Tom Holland) is turning 16 but is shy with few friends, and often overwhelmed by his older brother Barley (Chris Pratt). Their mother Laurel (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) presents Ian with a wizard’s staff and a message from his late father, whom Ian never knew. The message contains a spell that will allow their father to return for a single day.

So where are the laughs? Something goes wrong with the spell and one half of Dad comes back… the bottom half. Now Ian and Barley are off on a mission to get a replacement gem for the staff so they can complete the spell before it’s too late. This adventure will have many twists and turns, bringing the brothers closer together in the process.

The level of invention is impressive, including biker gang fairies and the Manticore (Octavia Spencer), who steals the film. In mythology, a manticore had a human head, a lion’s body, and a scorpion’s tail, and was a fearsome beast. Here her once-dreaded lair has been turned into a themed family restaurant. Barley, somewhat of a slacker, is obsessed with a role-playing game called “Days of Yore,” insisting he and his brother are off to prove themselves on a quest. The filmmakers even borrow (with permission) the “gelatinous cube” from the real-life RPG, “Dungeons & Dragons.”

It’s the filmmakers striking that balance between pathos and goofiness that makes the movie work. When Pixar goes too far in one direction (as in the sappy “The Good Dinosaur”) or the other (as in the frantic “Monsters University”) they lose their way. Here, while there are plenty of laughs, we care what happens as the brothers deal with their family issues in the course of their quest. The movie reaches a satisfying if somewhat unexpected conclusion as the story comes full circle.

As a result, while it may not break new ground in animation or storytelling, Pixar continues to move ever “Onward.”•••

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 – The Invisible Man


FILM REVIEWTHE INVISIBLE MANWith Elisabeth Moss, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Aldis Hodge, Storm Reid. Written and directed by Leigh Whannell. Rated R for some strong bloody violence, and language. 124 minutes.

Sleeping With The (Invisible) Enemy

invisible_manUniversal Pictures was once well-known for its monster movies in the 1930s and 40s, with Frankenstein, Dracula, the Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Invisible Man in their stable of staples. Some of these movies became classics while later entries seemed like phoned-in cash grabs. A few years ago, the studio announced they were going to reintroduce these characters to 21st century audiences in a shared concept dubbed “Dark Universe.” Then, after the 2014 disappointment “Dracula Untold” and the 2017 flop “The Mummy” came out, the powers that be decided that maybe that wasn’t what audiences wanted after all.

Which brings us to the new THE INVISIBLE MAN, a movie with only a tangential relation to the H. G. Wells novel or the 1933 movie. And that’s all to the good. Taking the concept of a man being able to turn himself invisible, writer-director (and “Saw” creator) Leigh Whannell then turns it on its head by making the story not about him, but about the woman he terrorizes. The only universe this film is in is signified by the hashtag #MeToo.

Cecilia Kass (Elisabeth Moss) is in an abusive relationship with wealthy scientist Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). At the film’s start she manages to escape with the help of her sister Emily (Harriet Dyer) and mutual friend James (Aldis Hodge) who works for the police. She’s in such bad shape that she goes into hiding, fearful that he will somehow find her and force her to return. Then she receives word that he has committed suicide and left her a substantial amount of money, contingent upon her keeping her sanity and not committing a crime.

It seems suspicious and, of course it is. As strange things start happening, she finds out he has faked his death and is now stalking her in a suit that renders him invisible. This not only puts her in fear of her life but makes those around her wonder about her mental stability. After all, no one can see the source of her peril.

The film has two things going for it. First are the special effects. It’s a mix of old school practical effects and modern CGI mesh to make us “see” the invisible Adrian. Just as important, if not more so, is Moss who carries the weight of the film as the story is really about her journey and struggle. What’s impressive is that she has scenes “with” Adrian where she’s really on screen all by herself.

“The Invisible Man” is rated R for “some strong bloody violence” and deservedly so. There are scenes where the squeamish may want to shut their eyes. The on-screen killings are key to the story but will be hard to take for some viewers.

It may be sound oxymoronic, however if you’re a horror/thriller fan, you will want to see this “Invisible Man.”•••

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 – Downhill


FILM REVIEWDOWNHILLWith Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto, Zoe Chao, Zach Woods. Written by Jesse Armstrong and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash. Directed by Nat Faxon, Jim Rash. Rated R for language and some sexual material. 86 minutes.

downhillDo you have a spouse or significant other you want to break up with but can’t figure out how to do it? Here’s a suggestion: go see DOWNHILL with them. The movie, opening on Valentine’s Day, is being billed as a comedy but is – in fact – a cringeworthy story of a married couple whose relationship is in a humiliating downward spiral. Running only 86 minutes, it seems to go on for hours.

Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Pete (Will Ferrell) have brought their two young boys to Austria for a skiing vacation. Pete is supposedly still getting over the death of his father and has booked them into a resort where there are no other children. They are greeted by Charlotte (Miranda Otto), a sexually liberated and totally inappropriate hotel employee. This sets the tone for the rest of the movie.

The key moment is when a “controlled avalanche” goes out of control and – for a few moments – seems to threaten the family having lunch on an outdoor deck. Billie is shaken by the experience and it’s made worse by Pete’s reaction. He runs off, seemingly leaving his family to their fate. The rest of the film makes us endure their increasingly hostile reactions to each other, including Billie forcing their sons to back up her version of the events in front of one of Pete’s business colleagues Zach (Zach Woods) and Zach’s girlfriend Rosie (Zoe Chao).

Based on the 2014 Swedish film “Force Majeure,” this version has absolutely nothing going for it unless you enjoy watching other people ski. We get moments that include Billie attempting to masturbate in a bathroom stall and Pete getting so drunk that he’s ready to pick a fight in a bar. By contrast, the couple in the recent “Marriage Story” – in the midst of a divorce – are lovebirds.

The two leads are dreadful. Ferrell offers little of the comedy we’ve come to expect, and Louis-Dreyfus is shrill and unpleasant, as in a scene where she attempts to file a complaint about the avalanche to Austrian officials who couldn’t care less. Giulio Berruti provides some distraction as a ski instructor who Charlotte pairs with Billie, but it’s a subplot that goes nowhere.

About the only thing of note – for those who pay attention to such things – is that the opening credits play the famous “Fox Fanfare” while proclaiming this a “Searchlight Film.” That’s because Disney has acquired the 20th Century Fox film studio and will no longer have the Fox name used for movies released through that arm. This is the first movie with the newly revised logo.

There are countless movies one can share on Valentine’s Day. “Downhill” isn’t one of them.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 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 – Birds of Prey


FILM REVIEWBIRDS OF PREY: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINNWith Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Ewan McGregor. Written by Christina Hodson. Directed by Cathy Yan. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout, and some sexual and drug material. 109 minutes.

birds_of_prey_ver6With the notable exception of the Christopher Nolan “Batman” movies with Christian Bale, the continued attempts to mine DC Comics characters for the big screen continues to fail. (Unlike, oddly enough, the various television efforts.) BIRDS OF PREY: AND THE FANTABULOUS EMANCIPATION OF ONE HARLEY QUINN is merely the latest disaster off the assembly line.

Clearly an attempt to launch a new franchise, the story takes Margot Robbie’s character Harley Quinn from “Suicide Squad” (2016) and have her lead an all-female group. Nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that the character arcs for all five are the same: they were wronged by some man. Quinn has been dumped by her (unseen) lover, the Joker, and is out on her own. She becomes protective of young Cassandra Cain (Ella Jay Basco), a tween pickpocket in an abusive home, who has stolen – and swallowed – a valuable diamond. Through some not-very-convincing plot churning, she is joined by Renee Montoya (Rosie Perez), a police detective who loses credit for her work to an unscrupulous male boss, The Huntress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is seeking revenge on the men who murdered her entire family, and Black Canary (Jurnee Smollett-Bell), who works for the paranoid and sadistic Roman Sionis (Ewan McGregor).

The problems begin with building the story around Quinn as narrator. The character was a colorful stand-out in the lackluster “Suicide Squad,” but as the center of attention here one is struck how shallow and selfish she is. The other characters are similarly flat, defined by both their victimhood and their willingness to do violence. There are numerous fight scenes that are well-staged and choreographed, although missing the opportunity for a middle finger joke during a funhouse sequence. They lack consequence because the only reason to root for the Birds of Prey (a name they don’t take until the end of the movie) is that Sionis is even worse.

How much worse? Even with the film’s “R” rating, his sadistic streak focuses on torture (as with captives getting their faces cut off) and humiliation (of a young woman in his nightclub) in ways that should make viewers squirm. It’s not the fact that he’s evil, but that these scenes make viewers his partner as he gleefully inflicts pain on others. Ironically, McGregor turns in the film’s best performance, seemingly the only one aware that he’s a character in a comic book movie.

As for Robbie, she has continued to impress as an actress – she’s up for an Oscar for “Bombshell” – but does herself no favors here. The character of Harley Quinn is an immature adolescent fantasy of a badass hottie who was a brilliant psychiatrist before being raped and tortured by the Joker, becoming his lover. Her character has no arc and simply hits the same notes over and over. Robbie can do, and deserves, better.

“Birds of Prey” may not turn out to be the worst film of the year, but it is the nadir thus far.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 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 Rhythm Section


FILM REVIEWTHE RHYTHM SECTIONWith Blake Lively, Jude Law, Sterling K. Brown, Raza Jaffrey, Amira Ghazalla. Written by Mark Burnell. Directed by Reed Morano. Rated R for violence, sexual content, language throughout, and some drug use. 109 minutes.

rhythm_sectionA good rule of thumb on movies based on books: they have to stand on their own. Any defense of a movie that begins with the notion that it would make more sense if one had read the book is an admission that the film doesn’t work. THE RHYTHM SECTION, based on the 1999 debut novel of Mark Burnell’s Stephanie Patrick series, doesn’t work.

After a murky prologue in which we see Patrick (Blake Lively) prepare to kill someone in Tangiers, we go back eight months earlier. It slowly becomes clear that Patrick’s family (her parents and siblings) have died in a terrorist bombing of a plane, and Patrick’s response was to drop out of university, take drugs, and become a prostitute. Enter Proctor (Raza Jaffrey), a journalist investigating the bombing, who wants to speak to Patrick.

How did he find her? The film doesn’t say. He then allows her to live in his apartment and leaves her alone there to rifle through his belongings and research. Why? If there’s any motivation other than that the plot requires it, the film is silent. One might say the writer was being clumsy in adapting the novel to the screen, but the script is credited to Burnell himself.

Patrick ends up at the remote outpost of “B,” an ex-British spy played by Jude Law. He begins to train her to be a killer for hire – another “why” that remains unanswered as he keeps pointing out how ill-equipped she is for the task – and she’s soon on the trail of not only the bomb maker, but those who were pulling the strings on the attack. The latter half of the film consists of Patrick getting information from an ex-CIA agent (Sterling K. Brown) and becoming more entangled in his affairs.

For this to work we have to believe that the drug-addled hooker we’ve seen earlier has learned how to be a killer, and that her contact with Alia Kaif (Amira Ghazalla) – whose son was the target on the doomed plane – provides her with the financing she needs for both weapons and international travel. This strains credulity to the breaking point, made worse by the fact that all of these characters are essentially ciphers.

Lively might have been hoping this was the launch of a franchise, but her opaque performance keeps us at a distance. Yes, her character is seeking revenge, but the transition from how she sank so low and then became an international assassin makes no sense, even if we see that it takes several attempts before she can kill easily. Law and Brown are similarly blank, with their characters’ motivations never made clear.

“The Rhythm Section” has some disconnected action scenes that perk things up for the moment, but mostly has characters we barely get to know carrying on in a fashion that sheds no light on their actions. Clearly the hope was that we’d want to see more of Patrick with further adaptations. Given the results here, that seems rather unlikely.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 1 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 Gentlemen


FILM REVIEWTHE GENTLEMENWith Matthew McConaughey, Charlie Hunnam, Michelle Dockery, Hugh Grant, Colin Farrell. Written and directed by Guy Ritchie. Rated R for violence, language throughout, sexual references and drug content. 113 minutes.

gentlemen_xlgGuy Ritchie first came to notice with dark crime comedies like “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” (1998) and “Snatch” (2000). His subsequent career has been all over the place in terms of content and audience appeal (e.g., his most recent film was last year’s live action “Aladdin”), but with THE GENTLEMEN, he returns to his roots. It’s fast, it’s funny, it’s violent, and has more twists than a plate of spaghetti.

Mickey Pearson (Matthew McConaughey) is an American who came to England on a Rhodes scholarship and stayed to become a marijuana kingpin. Now he’s looking to sell out. After a prologue that sets us up for the plot turns to come, we focus on Pearson’s right-hand-man Ray (Charlie Hunnam) who is visited by Fletcher (Hugh Grant), a sleazy reporter who offers to provide important information – and bury a story about Pearson – for a price. To reveal much more of the plot would rob the viewer of the pleasures of Ritchie’s script, which combines misdirection and the introduction of unexpected characters like a boxing coach played with droll understatement by Colin Farrell, before bringing it all home.

Much of the pleasure comes from the unexpected casting, particularly of Hugh Grant very much cast against type as the egotistical Fletcher who thinks he’s on top of everything, and Hunnam, who gets one of his best roles to date as Pearson’s fixer. McConaughey’s laconic turn as Pearson may be less of a stretch for the actor, until the moments when we discover the man he describes as someone with “blood on his hands.” As his wife, Michelle Dockery gets to play a character a far cry from “Downton Abbey’s” Lady Mary Cawley, complete with stiletto heels that leave you wondering how she stands on them. The cast has a field day with Ritchie’s dialogue – as clever and colorful as in a Quentin Tarentino film – and which remind us these characters are much smarter than they might initially appear.

Coupled with that is Ritchie’s witty direction, such as having the film itself illustrate Fletcher’s points about how he would depict the plot in movie form. More impressive is the way he shows a Hitchcock-like command of his camera, showing us what he wants us to see, and subsequently pulling the rug out from under the viewer. Hitchcock said, in reference to “Psycho,” that he played the audience like an organ. Ritchie does no less here.

This is a violent film and while some of it is played for laughs, it will not be for everyone. However, if you’re not put off by such doings on screen, the ironically titled “The Gentlemen” is hopeful sign that 2020 just might be a good year at the movies.•••

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.