All posts by Daniel M. Kimmel

About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

Review – Bombshell


FILM REVIEWBOMBSHELLWith Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman, Margot Robbie, John Lithgow, Kate McKinnon. Written by Charles Randolph. Directed by Jay Roach. Rated R for sexual material and language throughout. 108 minutes.

bombshellBOMBSHELL is the story of how news anchors/personalities Gretchen Carlson (Nicole Kidman) and Megan Kelly (Charlize Theron), took down the reigning creator of FOX News, Roger Ailes (John Lithgow). Unfortunately, the movie reduces Ailes to the status of a cartoon villain, though some outstanding performances overcome a script that misses the mark.

The story traces the trajectories of three women at FOX. Carlson was treated like the cheesecake adjunct to her male co-hosts on “FOX and Friends,” the cable news channel’s morning show, and is demoted to a low-rated afternoon slot. Kelly was one of the questioners at a 2016 Republican presidential debate who dared to question then-candidate Donald Trump about how he speaks of women. And Kayla Pospisil (Margot Robbie), is a young producer who wants to get in front of the camera and finds that Ailes demands a show of her “loyalty.” One problem with Kayla – she’s a work of fiction. Or, rather, she’s a “composite” of several women the news chief victimized, so details of her life, such as a fling with a co-worker played by Kate McKinnon, may have happened to someone… or not.

It all builds to the lawsuit filed by Carlson against Ailes after she was fired, as the stories of his predatory ways threaten to go public after investigators find other women ready to tell their stories. It’s a precursor to the #MeToo movement, and a story worth telling, but the film treats the sexual harassment in a bubble, and largely unconnected to who Ailes was and what he created. It doesn’t help that Ailes is played by John Lithgow, a superb actor who is overwhelmed by the “fat suit” and other makeup effects with which he’s saddled. Russell Crowe did a much better job as Ailes in “The Loudest Voice,” a miniseries that ran last summer.

The movie tends to focus on Kelly, and Theron fully inhabits the role. Robbie and Kidman have both been better elsewhere but do their best with sketched-in supporting roles. Those in small roles get their moments, including Malcolm McDowell as FOX owner Rupert Murdoch, Allison Janney as lawyer and Democratic operative Susan Estrich, Connie Britton as Ailes’ stoic wife, and Alanna Ubach gleefully chewing the scenery as the larger-than-life Judge Jeanine Pirro.

While it is unquestionable that sexual harassment is not the sole province of any one political party or faction, to pretend that Ailes didn’t have a specific agenda with FOX News and that his exertion of power and entitlement was a large part of that is to miss the forest for the trees. “Bombshell” is far from a dud, but by limiting its vision, it falls short of the explosive fireworks it might have provided.•••

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 – Richard Jewell


FILM REVIEWRICHARD JEWELLWith Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm, Kathy Bates. Written by Billy Ray. Directed by Clint Eastwood. Rated R for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images. 129 minutes.

richard_jewellIn his biography of actor/director Clint Eastwood, Richard Schickel points to “Unforgiven” (1992) as a turning point for many critics. It was for this one. Never a fan of the actor or his forays into directing, that film showed a command of the medium and a new depth to his characters that, in retrospect, seems like one of the most amazing transformations in Hollywood.

Now, at 89 – a time when others might have retired or penned their memoirs – Eastwood is back with his seventh film of the decade. RICHARD JEWELL might seem like the politically conservative filmmaker timed it deliberately, with the FBI and the media playing the heavies, but that would be misreading it. This is a true story in which the government and the press did get it wrong, and a tenacious lawyer has to fight for what’s right.

During the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, a bomb went off, and Richard Jewell (Paul Walter Hauser of “I, Tonya”), a local security guard, is credited with discovering it and saving lives by helping to clear the area before it exploded. In the subsequent investigation, however, Jewell finds himself treated not as a hero, but as the chief suspect. Ultimately exonerated, he went through a period where he was publicly identified as a “person of interest” after FBI investigators leaked it to the press.

As depicted here, Jewell seems to be on the autism spectrum, pursuing a career in law enforcement although not always acting or thinking clearly. The theory was that he was a “lone bomber” who set up a situation where he could be the hero. Being a suspect would be harrowing to anyone, but to Jewell it becomes a situation for him to see those trying to pin the crime on him as fellow law enforcement people, voluntarily providing them with further “proof” of his supposed guilt.

The bad guys here – other than the actual bomber who was convicted several years later – are the FBI, led by Tom Shaw (Jon Hamm), and the media, represented by reporter Kathy Scruggs (Olivia Wilde), who will do whatever it takes for a juicy story. Their sins are being so focused on proving Jewell’s guilt that they filter out everything else. Jewell and his mother (Kathy Bates) undergo humiliation upon humiliation, including intrusive searches of their home, and a media circus outside of their apartment building. The good guy is Watson Bryan (Sam Rockwell), presented as a cantankerous attorney who sets up his own practice because he doesn’t want to deal with partners who might restrict his action. Jewell had crossed paths with him in an earlier job, and Bryan sees that Jewell is being railroaded without the ability to act in his own best interests.

In telling the story, Eastwood and screenwriter Billy Ray want us to sympathize with someone who performed a heroic act but wasn’t a conventional looking or sounding hero. Far from being political, this is a story of one person (and his mother and attorney) going up against the system and prevailing. It’s an important reminder of one our most fundamental rights: that a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Fanatic

FILM REVIEWTHE FANATICWith John Travolta, Devon Sawa, Ana Golja, Jacob Grodnik, James Paxton. Written by Dave Bekerman, Fred Durst. Directed by Fred Durst. Rated R for some strong violence, and language throughout. 89 minutes.

Producer/teacher/sometimes-actor John Houseman used to tell those starting out on their dramatic careers that there are two paths they could follow: taking every role that came along or picking and choosing parts that would challenge them. The catch, he’d note, was that looking back over such careers, each offered about the same number of standout roles mixed in with the misfires.

Thus we get to John Travolta. If his career was an amusement park ride it would be a roller coaster. Over the last forty years he’s had landmark roles in movies like “Saturday Night Fever” and “Pulp Fiction,” outrageous turkeys like “Battlefield Earth” and “Gotti,” and seemingly everything in between. His latest, THE FANATIC, is somewhere in between.

In it he plays Moose, a mentally challenged man who is obsessed with action star Hunter Dunbar (Devon Sawa). His sole means of support seems to be as a street performer – a very odd turn as a British bobby – with his only friend a paparazzi (Ana Golja) who at least makes her celebrity obsession pay off. When Moose has an unpleasant encounter with Dunbar, she tells him about a phone app that tells where the stars live. He decides to go to Dunbar’s home. Their confrontations become increasingly nasty as the actor tries to chase away Moose, leading to a violent confrontation with unexpected results.

The movie was directed and co-written by Fred Durst, who was frontman for the rock group Limp Bizkit, apparently inspired by his own confrontation with an intrusive fan. Durst tries to take us inside Moose’s delusions and the affirmation he expects to get from his idol, but there’s no question that Moose lacks basic interpersonal skills. Moose is so sure of the purity of his motives that he greatly resents any suggestion that he’s a “stalker.”

Travolta’s performance is a daring one for a leading man, and will not work for everyone, but it’s clear this is an actor still willing to take chances. With a Three Stooges “Moe” haircut and a scraggly beard, he’s almost unrecognizable at first. It is a role where his character is debased and humiliated in pursuit of his obsession. Travolta may not always make the best choices, but his career is far from over. As when it was revived by “Pulp Fiction,” he needs another such project to come along, perhaps a better one showcasing his segue into character roles.•••

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 – Knives Out

FILM REVIEWKNIVES OUTWith Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Ana de Armas, Jamie Lee Curtis, Christopher Plummer. Written and directed by Rian Johnson. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material. 130 minutes.

In a season of blockbusters and Oscar bait KNIVES OUT, is a neat bit of counter-programming. It’s a comedy-mystery with a strong ensemble cast that has no pretentions beyond wanting to entertain. Like this past summer’s “Ready or Not” – without the horror elements – it has an outsider trying to figure out the complicated secrets of a decidedly insular family.

Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) is mystery writer whose immense success has subsidized the lives of his several children and grandchildren, all of whom have gathered at his ornate mansion which, as one notes, evokes the board game “Clue.” When he’s discovered dead, everyone is a suspect and, somewhat unusually, a private detective (Daniel Craig) is already on site.

There’s daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis) whose husband (Don Johnson) is cheating on her, and Harlan knows. Does that provide a motive for murder? Her sister Toni (Toni Collette) has been able to send her daughter to private school thanks to Harlan, who is now ready to cut her off. Their brother Walt (Michael Shannon) is about to lose control of his father’s business interests, while Linda’s wastrel son Ransom (Chris Evans) was heard arguing with Harlan before his death. Trying to navigate this is not only the detective, but Harlan’s nurse Marta (Ana de Armas), who is told she’s considered family but has a few secrets of her own.

The comedy comes not only from the eccentric characters but their lack of loyalty to each other. With Harlan’s estate at stake, and family matters which they want to keep hidden, there’s every reason to find a scapegoat for the murder so the rest can get on with their lives. Through it all the detective – who isn’t even sure who hired him – asks questions and follows leads before arriving at the film’s unexpected and satisfying conclusion. Shot in Massachusetts, the movie makes good use of locations including the Thrombey mansion which becomes yet another quirky character in the film, decorated with a variety of props and mementos from the mystery writer’s career.

“Knives Out” isn’t the sort of movie that garners awards or year-end notices. It simply wants to be a modern-day twist on an Agatha Christie mystery, with some satiric jabs mixed in with the broader humor and red herrings. The cast looks like they were having a great time making it. Viewers should have similar fun watching it.•••

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 – A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

FILM REVIEWA BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOODWith Tom Hanks, Matthew Rhys, Chris Cooper, Susan Kelechi Watson, Maryann Plunkett. Written by Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Noah Harpster. Directed by Marielle Heller. Rated PG for some strong thematic material, a brief fight, and some mild language. 108 minutes.

Fred Rogers was a very special person. In A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD, Rogers (portrayed by Tom Hanks) is referred to as a “living saint,” a phrase that makes his wife Joanne (Maryann Plunkett) bristle because she knows him as a real person, not someone beyond human experience. What made him special was on display in last year’s superb documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” It was an inherent decency, and how he treated everyone he met as a fellow human being, worthy of his attention and respect. (This reviewer experienced that himself when he interviewed Rogers on two occasions, the first time consisting of several minutes of Rogers asking him questions.)

Hanks perfectly captures that in this dramatization based on a real-life situation where Rogers befriended a troubled reporter who had come to do a magazine profile of him. In an imaginary scene from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” the gentle host addresses us in the audience about some of his friends, leading to him showing a photo of a battered Lloyd Vogel (Matthew Rhys). Vogel has issues with his father Jerry (Chris Cooper), and gets into a fight with him at his sister’s wedding. Married to Andrea (Susan Kelechi Watson) and a new father himself, he is clearly troubled.

For a movie ostensibly about Rogers we spend an awful lot of time on Vogel’s story, and it’s not until well into the film when Vogel arrives in Pittsburgh where Rogers shoots his show. (The studio scenes in the film were shot at Rogers’ actual studio at WQED in Pittsburgh.) It quickly becomes clear that to be in Fred Rogers’ orbit requires readjustment. The recording of the show is well behind schedule because Rogers is engaging with a troubled little boy who is visiting the studio with his parents.

The arc of the movie is how gently and non-judgementally Rogers gets Vogel to deal with the things in his life he’s been avoiding, including forgiving the father who had abandoned the family when his mother fell ill. It’s not easy, and the movie touches on how Rogers has dealt with the troubles and frustrations in his own life, but the drama is in Vogel’s story. If not a saint, Rogers remains the same throughout, getting satisfaction from easing the burden of his new friend.

Audiences expecting a story exploring Rogers’ life will be disappointed, but it won’t be because of the performance by Hanks. In a career that has ranged from broad comedy to serious drama, his turn as Rogers enters the pantheon of his greatest roles. One can see why Rogers’ widow has endorsed the movie, because it captures what made him special while keeping him grounded in the real world. Rhys and Cooper and Watson have the responsibility of carrying the story forward, with Rhys being the audience stand-in who can’t quite get Rogers… until he finally does. It is that journey that allows his character to face his father and the anger he’s been carrying.

What “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” leaves us with is an appreciation of Tom Hanks, who is almost certain to get yet another Oscar nomination for his performance, and more particularly, an appreciation for Fred Rogers, and how much we could use someone of his temperament today.•••                                                             

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 – Charlie’s Angels


FILM REVIEWCHARLIE’S ANGELSWith Kristen Stewart, Naomi Scott, Ella Balinska, Elizabeth Banks, Patrick Stewart. Written and directed by Elizabeth Banks. Rated PG-13 for action/violence, language and some suggestive material. 118 minutes.

charlies_angelsWhile one would like to think that the notion that Hollywood has run out of ideas is just a joke, this new CHARLIE’S ANGELS could be exhibit A for the argument that that’s no joke at all. It’s the classic case of a remake/reboot/sequel that was made not because anyone had a story they were inspired to tell, but simply because the rights to do so were at hand.

For those unfamiliar with it, “Charlie’s Angels” was an exceedingly silly, if popular, TV show that ran 1976-81. The idea was that the unseen Charlie ran a detective agency and through his onscreen assistant Bosley would send three beautiful women on various cases. There was action and chases, but the key thing was that there was “jiggle.” Although some talented actresses appeared on the show, the focus was on their bodies, not their minds.

In 2000, the first movie appeared. The women were still beautiful, but the emphasis was now on action. The move was a hit and led to a single sequel. Times they were a-changin’, though, and when the show itself was revived on TV in 2011, it was cancelled after only eight episodes. Clearly this was a concept that had exceeded its sell-by date.

Actress/writer/director Elizabeth Banks tries to deepen the “mythology” of the series with many women employed, being run by a number of “Bosleys.” Indeed, she plays one, as does Patrick Stewart and Djimon Hounsou. The plot – if the script can be credited to having one – involves a new technology which holds great promise but also great danger, especially if it falls in the wrong hands. Elena Houghlin (Naomi Scott) is trying to bring news of the danger to the company’s head but is thwarted by an executive with a different agenda. Instead, she finds herself working with Sabina Wilson (Kristen Stewart) and Jane Kano (Ella Balinska) in trying to steal the technology before it can be weaponized.

The movie jumps around various locations with outbursts of action and occasionally pausing for some labored attempts at humor. There’s even an attempt at mystery when it’s discovered that there may be a traitor in Charlie’s organization. It’s all to no avail. The problem begins with a script that is not only unpolished, but features characters who have to be substantially rewritten simply to rise to the level of cardboard.

For all the emphasis on female empowerment, there may no longer be much “jiggle” but there’s also not much depth. None of the women are given more than one note to play, whether it’s Scott being naïve, Balinska being glamorous, or Stewart being snarky. They all can fight and use weapons (with Scott’s inexperience supposedly being a source of humor), but there’s nothing to make the viewer care about what’s going on at all. The cast is pleasant enough – except for the bad guys who are cartoonishly evil – but there’s no attempt to let us see them as any more than game pieces.

It would be all too easy to dismiss “Charlie’s Angels” as having the depth of a video game, but that would be unfair… to video games. Perhaps it’s time to lay this ‘70s relic to rest and look elsewhere for a vehicle for female action heroes?•••

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 Good Liar


FILM REVIEWTHE GOOD LIARWith Helen Mirren, Ian McKellen, Bill Carter, Russell Tovey, Mark Lewis Jones. Written by Jeffrey Hatcher. Directed by Bill Condon. Rated R for some strong violence, and for language and brief nudity. 109 minutes.

good_liarThere are two reasons to see THE GOOD LIAR. First is the plot about which, going in, you should know as little about as possible. This is one of those movies in which if you do know at least some of the twists going in – and there are several of them – then it will significantly diminish your enjoyment. Even if you anticipate what will happen, it’s the not-knowing that provides the pleasure, along with some plot turns that you’re unlikely to anticipate.

The story is about two widowers who meet on a computer dating site in England. Roy Courtnay (Ian McKellen) is a con artist – we know this right from the start – whose designs on Betty McLeish (Helen Mirren) makes it clear his goal is a financial score. She’s a stunning older woman (in costumes designed by potential Oscar nominee Keith Madden) who has a large bank account and whose only son has pre-deceased her. Her grandson (Russell Tovey) is suspicious of this interloper into their family but can’t immediately prove anything.

The plot is very clever but it’s likely to only work once. What that means is that the film is entertaining but probably won’t stand up to a second viewing. That’s not a flaw, but it does mean that what the film offers are immediate pleasures and not something likely to stand the test of time (or at least the kind of repeat theatrical viewings that can mean the difference between a movie being a modest hit and a considerable one).

What may lift the movie beyond that is the casting of McKellen and Mirren as the two leads. At 80 and 74 respectively, it’s unusual to see seniors in leading roles outside of movies about “old” people. Both are tremendous talents, which means that even if you anticipate one or more of the film’s surprises it doesn’t really matter since there’s great entertainment value in watching these two veterans show how it’s done. Both have had much greater and serious roles, but they do not condescend to their roles here. They take their parts as seriously as is required.

Director Bill Condon has done serious films and helmed projects where the focus was primarily on entertainment. “The Good Liar” is more the latter than the former yet doesn’t want to insult the intelligence of the audience. If you come in looking to enjoy the surprises without worrying if it is a film for the ages, then you will find a satisfying diversion even if you can’t remember whether you saw it months from now.•••           

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.