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Author Archives: Daniel M. Kimmel

Review – Free Fire


FILM REVIEW
FREE FIRE
With Sharlto Copley, Brie Larson, Armie Hammer, Cillian Murphy, Michael Smiley. Written by Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley. Directed by Ben Wheatley. Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, sexual references and drug use. 90 minutes.

free_fire_ver12In 1927, Laurel and Hardy released one of their most famous silent comedy shorts, “The Battle of the Century.” It’s famous because it contains the pie fight to end all pie fights. It starts with one pie being thrown, and then another in response, and then another, and then another… By the end, an entire city block of people are throwing pies at each other. Reportedly, the film used up the entire day’s output of a single bakery.

The reason for this history lesson is that FREE FIRE is, in effect, a remake of that comedy film, substituting bullets for pies. It starts slowly. A group of shady, comic figures are waiting for a meet-up at a warehouse. They are there to purchase guns. They are met by Ord (Armie Hammer), who has apparently arranged the deal. The dealers are led by Vernon (Sharlto Copley), who has deliberately brought the wrong rifles and is very concerned about keeping his suit clean.

Things get complicated when it turns out one of the underlings for the buyers was beaten up by one of the underlings for the sellers the night before, and the bad blood between them has not been resolved. This leads to one taking a shot at the other, and then the pies… er, bullets… start to fly. The remainder of the film consists of the two sides shooting at each other within the confines of the warehouse, sometimes hitting the wrong person.

As it escalates, neither side is willing to put a stop to it because once one of either gang gets hit, they now need to get back at the other side. It’s all very violent and since there wouldn’t be much of a movie if they all killed each other right off, it’s mostly flesh wounds until late in the film. Instead we get absurdities like Chris (Cillian Murphy) asking Justine (Brie Larson), his business partner on the deal, if she’d like to go out afterwards, or Ord making fun of Frank (Michael Smiley) for being old. There’s no great character development here, but since this is the action film version of slapstick farce, we shouldn’t be expecting any.

Instead, we watch not only the variations on a theme, but the plot details like the driver of one of the vans liking John Denver music, or one of the characters we thought had been killed suddenly opening fire on the others. This is an action film for people who are tired of getting bogged down with story, characters, dialogue or, indeed, the things we expect from most movies. It is visceral action all the way, with just enough cartoonish information so we can tell one character from the other even if don’t have much reason to take sides.

Like that Laurel and Hardy short, “Free Fall” doesn’t have much of a story to tell, but simply wants to keep escalating its slapstick premise far beyond what you thought possible. If you get the joke and are willing to play along, it’s a hilarious critique of action movies. If not, it’s just an hour-and-a-half of generally unpleasant people shooting at each other.•••

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 Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Unforgettable


FILM REVIEW
UNFORGETTABLE
With Rosario Dawson, Katherine Heigl, Geoff Stults, Cheryl Ladd, Marissa D’Onofrio. Written by Christina Hodson, David Johnson. Directed by Denise Di Novi. Rated R for sexual content, violence, some language, and brief partial nudity. 96 minutes.

unforgettableOkay, here’s the premise: there’s a divorced couple with a child. One of them remarries. The one who doesn’t is jealous of the new spouse. Question: is this a comedy or a drama?

Interestingly enough, it seems to depend on which spouse remarries. If it’s the mother, then it’s a comedy, as in “Daddy’s Home,” where bumbling Will Ferrell tries to win over his stepchildren but has to compete with father and ex-husband Mark Wahlberg. If it’s the husband who remarries, on the other hand, it’s a melodramatic thriller, as with “The Girl on the Train” and now, UNFORGETTABLE.

David and Julia (Geoff Stults, Rosario Dawson) are happily married, and Julia makes room for not only his little girl from his first marriage to Tessa (Katherine Heigl), but tries to have a good relationship with the ex as well. Tessa, at first seemingly all sweetness and understanding, believes Julia is the usurper, who has taken her place and must be removed and destroyed.

Complicating things are Julia’s own troubled past which she is trying to put behind her. Yet the increasingly threatening situation with Tessa is not only putting her at risk, but dredging up things she had hoped to leave behind.

The first-time director is veteran producer Denise Di Novi who has crafted a slick and polished film, but which offers up the same old story of the woman scorned. Indeed, the “surprise” ending–not to be spoiled here–suggests that women are incapable of acting any other way. Those arguing for more opportunities for women to direct present their case as the chance to see things from another perspective. A movie about a woman stalking another woman out of irrational jealousy seems more like a step backward.

Heigl plays for the audience’s sympathy for a while, but as Tessa ratchets up her campaign against Julia it becomes increasingly difficult not to see her as just another in long line of crazy, vengeful women. Dawson has the easier time playing the victim, but neither actress can escape the cliched roles they’re been handed. It’s a double standard that these kinds of rivalries are played out in a dark manner if its between women and comically if it’s men. Could Hollywood make a movie where first husband Mark Wahlberg tries to get rid of stepdad Will Ferrell as a straight thriller? To realize the impossibility of such a film is to recognize what the problem is here.

In the end, audiences are likely to find “Unforgettable” to be all too forgettable, or at least blurred together with several other similarly-themed movies. Heigl and Dawson–and DiNovi–deserve better. So 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 Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Assignment


FILM REVIEW
THE ASSIGNMENT
With Michelle Rodriguez, Sigourney Weaver, Caitlin Gerard, Tony Shalhoub, Anthony LaPaglia. Written by Denis Hamill and Walter Hill. Directed by Walter Hill. Rated R for graphic nudity, violence, sexuality, language and drug use. 95 minutes.

assignmentA few years ago, former Boston-based film critic Nat Segaloff wrote a book called Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors. In it, he looked at the final works of filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, Billy Wilder, and many others. What he found was that some had great works at the ends of their careers, others had films best left forgotten, and still others had curios that hearkened back to some of their earlier career.

Walter Hill, the director and co-writer of THE ASSIGNMENT–which is newly-released on Video-on-Demand and select theaters–caught a lot of attention with his third film, “The Warriors” and then had a huge hit with “48 Hrs.” Now 75, he’s been busier as one of the producers on the “Alien” film series, including the upcoming “Alien: Covenant.” As director, his last outing was the Sylvester Stallone flop “Bullet to the Head” four years ago. So this may not be his last film, but it would seem his days as a hot director are long behind him.

However, that’s not at all the same thing as saying his films aren’t worth seeing. “The Assignment” is a real curiosity and is probably destined for cult status, much like “The Warriors.” We first meet Frank Kitchen checking into a seedy hotel, and being approached by “Honest John” Hartunian (Anthony LaPaglia) to perform a hit job. A short while later, Hartunian says Frank is no longer needed, and has him knocked out. When he comes to, he is no longer a he. Frank has been turned into a woman (Michelle Rodriguez) by a mysterious surgeon known as the Doctor (Sigourney Weaver).

In the present, the Doctor is a straitjacketed prisoner at a mental hospital, being questioned by Dr. Galen (Tony Shalhoub) to see if she’s sane enough to stand trial. As she relates her story in flashback, it turns out that there are a lot of dead bodies, but no evidence that Frank Kitchen ever existed. The various mysteries are worked out, but we follow the two tracks separately, going back and forth in time.

In some ways this a conventional revenge thriller, stripped down to its bare essentials. The kicker is the forced sex change. Althought Rodriguez plays Frank before and after the change (with a not-very-convincing beard), there is sufficient nudity involving either special effects or a body double to get the point across that Frank has been altered. It is noted that the Doctor’s actions are is not intended as a commentary on real life transsexuals, because–in this case–it was done against his will. Now, hiding out with a nurse and part-time hooker named Johnnie (Caitlin Gerard), this is the sort of spare action film that Hill was doing at the start of his career in movies like “Hard Times” and “The Driver.”

With an economy of style and a surprisingly strong cast for this kind of material, Hill delivers a taut 95 minutes of suspense and vengeance, as Frank tracks down the people responsible for his/her predicament, while the Doctor plays mind games with Galen for reasons that don’t become clear until the very end of the movie. Obviously “The Assignment” is not going to be for every taste, but if this is Hill’s final film as director, it’s of a piece with his body of work.•••

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 Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Going in Style


FILM REVIEW
GOING IN STYLE
With Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman, Ann-Margret, Christopher Lloyd. Written by Theodore Melfi. Directed by Zach Braff. Rated PG-13 for drug content, language and some suggestive material. 96 minutes.

16121708103110_lIf you’ve seen the 1979 film GOING IN STYLE, you’ll remember the casting of Art Carney, George Burns, and Lee Strasberg as three old-timers who decide to rob a bank. It was a bittersweet comedy, and while watchable because of the stars, it was not the best showcase for any of them. Thus, a remake nearly 40 years later isn’t so shocking, especially when the three leads are Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, and Morgan Freeman. Individually, they can make a dull film worth watching. Together, we just sit there and consider ourselves lucky that we can still enjoy their work.

The premise remains contrived. Three retirees who are barely making ends meet discover that their former employer has been sold and their pension fund looted. They decide to rob the bank that is making the deal possible. Director Zach Braff (who is also an actor but doesn’t appear here) and screenwriter Theodore Melfi (coming off the triumph of “Hidden Figures”) saw what the flaw was in the original movie. Given our sympathies for the characters, we’re not looking for irony, we’re looking for satisfaction. The original ending was a downer which might have been realistic but was also the only note of realism in the film. It was out of place.

Here we get an ending that leaves us smiling, with not one but several twists along the way. A lot of it has to do with simply getting out of the way and letting three professionals do their stuff. Alan Arkin plays the cantankerous Albert, who is skeptical about being able to pull off the robbery and is equally skeptical of the attentions of Annie (a still stunning Ann-Margret), yet allows himself to be convinced on both counts. Morgan Freeman is Willie, who would love to see his daughter and granddaughter more than once a year and is also facing his mortality in the absence of a kidney transplant. And then there’s Joe played by Michael Caine, an actor who has transitioned from the leading man of his youth to an irresistable character player today. Joe is devoted to his granddaughter (Joey King), and is facing he prospect of losing the house where she and her mother live with him.

The lead-up to the heist is played for laughs, particularly in a practice “robbery” at the local supermarket. When it finally takes place it goes like clockwork, with even the unexpected events working out. In the end, the script is a bit too clever and neat, but by then you’ll be so charmed by the three principals that it won’t matter. Also along for the ride is Christopher Lloyd, as the head of the local senior center, whose character seems liked an aged version of Jim Ignatowski, his dazed cab driver from “Taxi.” Matt Dillon is the FBI agent trying to solve the case and he works hard at making his character as unsympathetic as possible.

“Going in Style” is no more destined to be a classic than the original was. Instead, it’s a film where we get to enjoy three of our finest elder actors showing just how easy they can make it all look.•••

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 Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Boss Baby

FILM REVIEWTHE BOSS BABYWith the voices of Alec Baldwin, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow, Miles Bakshi. Written by Michael McCullers. Directed by Tom McGrath. Rated PG for some mild rude humor. 97 minutes.

the-boss-babyLike last year’s sub-par “Storks,” THE BOSS BABY takes us to the imaginary place where babies come from for an adventure that is intended to amuse those young enough not to know any better. Fortunately, there’s a bit more wit here, so that parents who may have to endure it may find themselves being actually amused.

The movie is narrated by the adult Tim (voice of Tobey Maguire) who recounts what happened when, at age 7, he (voiced by Miles Bakshi) got a very peculiar baby brother. The Boss Baby (Alec Baldwin), shows up in a suit and tie and takes over the house, so that Tim is no longer the center of attention. However, this isn’t simply about sibling rivalry. The Boss Baby is on a mission.

Wherever babies come from in this universe, it is run like a huge corporation. Boss Baby is up for a promotion if he can uncover and foil a plot by a rival concern that might do away with babies forever. The first part of the film is Boss Baby and his infant allies in the neighborhood making life difficult for Tim. Eventually, the truth comes out, and the two join forces against the seemingly benevolent Francis Francis (Steve Buscemi), who runs the pet supply company that employs Tim’s Mom (Lisa Kudrow) and Dad (Jimmy Kimmel).

It’s all very silly with the occassional bodily function joke thrown in, since nothing suggests cutting edge humor to a four-year-old like a poop joke. However, there is some genuine cleverness in the big reveal of Francis Francis’s plot, as well as some character development as Tim and Boss Baby have to figure out a way to work together.

Based on a book by Marla Frazee, it’s a movie that doesn’t break any new ground in animation or storytelling, but fortunately, isn’t a step backwards either. The animation in on par with the more cartoonish computer animated offerings these days, and children will enjoy the involved bit about the sorting operation which prepares the newborns for their new lives. There’s also some amusing gags on how much babies get away with on the basis of their being cute.

However, where animated films like “Inside Out,” “Zootopia,” “Kubo and the Two Strings,” and “The Batman LEGO Movie” have become destinations not only for kids but for adults as well, “The Boss Baby” falls short. It should engage the youngsters but will leave more sophisticated viewers–say, those older than eight or nine–wanting something with more substance, or at least more jokes. Adults hoping that Baldwin will turn into the other boss baby he’s been playing on “Saturday Night Live” will find none of that here. This is a kid’s cartoon, pure and simple, and they’re welcome to it.•••

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 new novel, Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel, will be released this month. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Life


FILM REVIEWLIFEWith Jake Gyllenhaal, Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare. Written by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick. Directed by Daniel Espinosa. Rated R for language throughout, some sci-fi violence and terror. 103 minutes.

9dbe17716ef6fbc4439de15d628d3a75There have been some outstanding science fiction films in recent years, movies that appeal to our sense of wonder yet also make us think: “Gravity,” “Interstellar,” “Arrival.” And then there are movies like LIFE, where the filmmakers imagine they’re competing at that level but have merely dressed up old material in new clothes. It’s not terrible. It’s just terribly unoriginal.

Six astronauts are working on the International Space Station and their latest mission is to capture a Mars probe that has suffered damage on its return trip. It’s not a spoiler to say they succeed. It’s the premise that sets the story in motion. The six characters are barely sketched in, notable more for their nationalities than their personalities. Hugh (Ariyon Bakare) is the African biologist who is greatly excited when he discovers a single-celled creature among the Martian samples. He manages to revive it and the cells start multiplying, forming a more complex creature dubbed “Calvin.”

Over the course of the rest of the film, Calvin does two things: get bigger and starting picking off the crew one by one. Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s the plot of “Alien,” and the serial numbers have barely been scratched off. It’s more like a third- or fourth-generation photocopy, with neither the characters nor the creature are as engaging as in Ridley Scott’s 1979 film.

At that point, its simply a matter of seeing the evolving creature (nowhere near as inventive or frightening as the H.R. Giger’s memorable creatures from “Alien”) and guessing who the next victim will be. Will it be the Russian Commander (Olga Dihovichnaya) or the Japanese Engineer (Hiroyuki Sanada) who just became a father? The gung-ho pilot (Ryan Reynolds) or the Thoughful Medical Officer (Rebecca Ferguson)? It’s a safe bet it won’t be the top-billed Handsome Hero (Jake Gyllenhaal), whose character is developed the most. He’s been on the station for more than a year, setting a record, because he’s sick of the war and violence back on Earth.

Like “Alien,” this is essentially a haunted house movie with virtually the entire story taking place within the confines of the station. Perhaps the best thing about the film is the set design, and the acknowledgement that in the absence of a strong gravitational pull “up” and “down” have little meaning. Characters glide through the station, taking turns at odd angles, having to anchor themselves in place if they don’t want to float off. In a nice touch we’re told the biologist is wheelchairbound on Earth, but gets around the station as easily as everyone else.

In the end, “Life” is curiously lifeless. Where it should be grabbing us by the throat, it instead leaves us idly wondering if anyone will survive and what the final payoff will be. When it finally happens, you may no longer care.•••

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 Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Beauty and the Beast


FILM REVIEWBEAUTY AND THE BEASTWith Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad. Written by Stephen Chbosky and Evan Spiliotopoulos. Directed by Bill Condon. Rated PG for some action violence, peril and frightening images. 129 minutes.

29cffbbcf6075926f4e76dba17f94d3cSeveral years ago, the suits at Disney all but admitted they had run out of ideas and started turning to the rides at theme parks for inspiration. While “Pirates of the Caribbean” was a hit, other attempts like “The Country Bears” and “The Haunted Mansion” were quickly forgotten. So they turned to their library of animated classics and announced they would be doing live action versions of them. Why? Because they could.

The arrivals of “Cinderella” and “The Jungle Book” were greeted with skepticism… until they were actually seen. While one can debate the necessity of such remakes, there was no doubt these were well-mounted productions, and not at all cheap knock-offs. Which brings us to the much-anticipated remake of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. The 1991 animated film was actually nominated for a Oscar for Best Picture (leading to the creation of a separate category for animated features).

The good news is that they got it right. There’s a new song or two, some little changes here and there (most notably in the character of LeFou, played by Josh Gad), but director Bill Condon and his team have harnessed what was so magical about the earlier film and made it work here. A veteran director who knows his way around musicals having made “Dreamgirls” and written the screeplay adaptation for “Chicago,” he shows how it ought to be done.

Watch Belle (a radiant Emma Watson) singing about the “provincial life” in her village as the various townspeople move around her, and the contrived traffic jam that opened “La La Land” seems artificial and clumsy. In terms of production numbers the acid test here was going to be “Be Our Guest” as Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) leads an entire kitchen’s worth of food, china, and cutlery in welcoming Belle to dinner. It shows how far CGI effects have come that such a thing can be done, flawlessly mixing actors, computer animation, and physical sets into a seamless whole.

For those coming in late, the story remains intact. Belle and her father (Kevin Kline) are the eccentrics in the village, where the obnoxious Gaston (Luke Evans) believes Belle is the woman to be his wife. Meanwhile the Beast (Dan Stevens) is under a curse that can only be broken by someone loving him. His castleful of servants have been transformed into animate objects like Lumiere, who is a candelabra, Cogsworth (Ian McKellan), a clock, and the teapot Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson). Belle sacrifices herself to free her father, who has been taken by the Beast, but over time comes to see the human beneath the monstrous exterior, even as it becomes obvious that the real beast is the horrible Gaston. (One of the changes in the film is that Gaston’s sidekick LeFou is allowed to redeem himself.)

The story hits all the expected beats, but because Disney didn’t treat it like one of their home video “sequels” but brought in top talent to bring it to life, it is pure magic. The reinterpretations of the non-human characters is inventive while Watson is perfect as Belle, alternately dreamy and strong-willed, just the character to break through the Beast’s tough hide and find the human heart beating inside. For fans, it will be a subject of endless debate as to which version is “better,” but that’s strictly a matter of personal taste and preference.

“Beauty and the Beast” is the best movie musical in years, and one that deserves to be seen on the big screen.•••

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 Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.