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Author Archives: Daniel M. Kimmel

Review – Kong: Skull Island


KONG: SKULL ISLAND
With Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Tian Jing. Written by Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language. 120 minutes.

1702250830297_lWhat do we want from a film about King Kong? Great special effects, of course. Lots of action scenes with the gigantic ape. Some human characters who are entertaining to follow. And a dash of intelligence about the mythology created for the film. We want to get a sense that the filmmakers put some thought into it beyond the CGI.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND has it all. It has an interesting setup that lets us meet Kong in the opening minutes of the film, and then provides reasons Skull Island has remained unexplored and why Bill Randa (John Goodman) wants to go there now. Set in 1973, as American troops are leaving Vietnam, it even provides the expedition with a military escort led by Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a gung-ho soldier more interested in winning than in what “winning” means. Add to the mix a “tracker” (Tom Hiddleston) and a self-described “anti-war photographer” (Brie Larson), along with various soldiers and scientists, and the stage has been set.

For the next two hours there will be monstrous creatures, a lost civilization, a soldier (John C. Reilly) forgotten by time, and Kong. A key thread of the story is trying to determine Kong’s role on the island. Many of the new arrivals do not survive their first encounter, and initial viewers may want to try and predict who makes it to the end of the film. Although rated PG-13, this is not a film for the squeamish.

Estimated to cost $190,000,000 to make, the film works for the same reason that they used to say about the James Bond movies: all of the money is up there on the screen. When the characters enter the enclave of a lost civilization, you feel you could spend a few hours (rather than a few minutes) just exploring the location. We encounter other creatures on the island, most–but not all–deadly to the humans. The characters are varied enough that the fact that many of them are two dimensional (bureaucrat, nerd, hard-bitten soldier, eccentric old coot, etc.) doesn’t matter. This is a cast that can put a little topspin on what they’ve been given, so that Corey Hawkins, as Goodman’s sidekick, uses his earnestness to play off of Goodman’s character’s hype.

Which brings us back to Kong. At first just an angry force of nature, he becomes a character in the film as we learn his purpose and motivations. There is a scene at the end of the very long credits sequence that suggests Kong will be back and he won’t be alone. So grab the popcorn and sit back like a kid at a Saturday matinee. “Kong: Skull Island” is the real deal.•••

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 – Brimstone


FILM REVIEWBRIMSTONEWith Dakota Fanning, Kit Harington, Guy Pearce, Carice van Houten, Emilia Jones. Written and directed by Martin Koolhoven. Rated R for brutal bloody violence, strong sexual content including disturbing behavior, graphic nudity, and language. 148 minutes.

2926-11930-brimstonBRIMSTONE, which is being released on demand and other digital services, is an epic gothic western that boasts several strong performances but may be too violent and dark for some viewers. Dutch director Martin Koolhoven guides an English-speaking cast in this four-chapter story told out of order so that the full back story of the two principal characters isn’t revealed until just before the climactic section.

Dakota Fanning, the one-time child star who easily upstaged actors like Sean Penn, Robert De Niro, and Denzel Washington, has been working her way into adult roles. Now 23, she appeared in this and the equally disturbing “American Pastoral” last year. She uses her haunting looks to good effect, able to project layers of feelings beneath a seemingly placid surface.

Here she’s Liz, a mute woman on the frontier who works as a midwife and is married to Samuel (Kit Harrington), a farmer who already had a young son. Things go bad with the arrival of the Reverend (a chilling Guy Pearce), whose faith is a strict and cruel interpretation of Christianity. For reasons that will not be revealed until late in the film, Liz is afraid of the Reverend, and with good reason. He is targeting her and her family.

However, this is not the story of Liz’s victimhood. It’s about this deceptively quiet young woman who is determined not only to survive in a world where she’s considered little more than property, but to protect the little girl that she and Samuel have brought into the world. The second chapter shows Liz’s arrival at a “cathouse,” where the proprietor’s brother is the town’s sheriff. Punishment for women who object to their abuse is swift and brutal. It’s a bit disconcerting until one realizes that the reason Liz can now speak is that this is taking place earlier (the chapter titles, taken from Biblical books, are a strong hint).

Fanning plays Liz not as an avenging angel but as a woman constantly improvising to survive her horrific circumstances. While the gore is kept to a minium, there are multiple shootings and other deaths that make it seem that the Reverend’s descriptions of hell are already on Earth. Pierce’s depiction of the Reverend’s false piety may be the most unsettling element of the film given the crimes he justifies with it. By the time we get the “genesis” of his relationship with Liz, we’re ready for a climactic showdown, but things may not end up the way you expect.

“Brimstone” played the festival circuit where some hailed it and some found it too harsh, with a result that it’s getting a very limited theatrical release and going right to digital services. It’s often hard to tell in the absence of reviews and word of mouth what you’re getting with these little-seen movies. In this case, you’re getting a dark and engaging story of two people who won’t give up, one for his evil ends, the other for her chance of survival.•••

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 – Logan


FILM REVIEWLOGAN
With Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Richard E. Grant, Eriq La Salle. Written by Scott Frank & James Mangold and Michael Green. Directed by James Mangold. Rated R for strong brutal violence and language throughout, and for brief nudity. 137 minutes.

In the world of Marvel’s “X-Men,” Wolverine has always been a standout, at least on the big screen. He’s been played by Hugh Jackman in seven previous movies (and a video game), including two solo flms. So now that Jackman playing the character for the last time, it’s fitting that it’s a story of Wolverine’s last stand, sometime in the future. The character may pop up again in future movies, but it won’t be quite the same.

LOGAN (Wolverine’s real name) is in hiding with Dr. Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who once trained and led the mutant X-Men. They’ve been decimated by the anti-mutant forces, and are now just trying to survive. This is when they learn of new government experiments looking to create mutants who can be controlled as weapons. They take on a young girl Laura (Dafne Keen), who the government wants to destroy as part of an earlier, failed experiment. Much of the film is them on the run, looking for a sanctuary which Wolverine doesn’t believe is real.

This is a lot grimmer than the other entries in the series, the best of which were powerful metaphors for finding one’s way in the world for people who were “different.” Here, those who would destroy the mutants are winning, with Dr. Rice (Richard E. Grant) eager to test out his new breed of mutant, which is essentially a killing machine.

One can see what might have attracted Jackman and Stewart (who is reportedly also exiting the series) to these stories in the first place, but after a while they seemed to be just spinning their wheels. There was no point to making them except, of course, that they scored at the box office. So we get an almost mournful tone here as Xavier sees his dream die and Wolverine, always the angriest misfit among the good guys, more bitter than ever.

Partway through they are taken in by a farm family led by Will (Eriq LaSalle), and they seem re-energized by both the kindness of strangers and Wolverine’s being able to return the favor when they come under attack. The sequence plays out unexpectedly, moving the film into even darker territory. This all leads up to the climactic showdown in which we get tragic heroism and a hint that the story is not yet over, although it will go on without Wolverine.

For fans of the “X-Men,” this is easily the best entry in the series in some time, a film that’s more interested in the characters than in the special effects. Jackman brought serious acting skills to a character who might easily have been reduced to a ball of rage who can produce blades from his hands. With “Logan,” he gets to see that character through to the end. Both the actor and the character are treated with the dignity they deserve.•••

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 – Before I Fall


FILM REVIEWBEFORE I FALLWith Zoey Deutch, Halston Sage, Cynthy Wu, Elena Kampouris, Logan Miller. Written by Maria Maggenti. Directed by Ry Russo-Young. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving drinking, sexuality, bullying, some violent images, and language-all involving teens.. 99 minutes.

BEFORE I FALL is a time loop story and hits all the expected beats. What’s a time loop story? Think “Groundhog Day” or “Edge of Tomorrow,” where a character repeats a period of time–usually a day–over and over again. The character trapped in the time loop goes from confusion to breaking all the rules to accumulating knowledge to setting things right.

This time out it’s Samantha (Zoey Deutch), a high school senior who is part of a group of girlfriends who are this film’s version of the Plastics from “Mean Girls.” They’re full of themselves and are cruel to everyone who’s not them. As we go through the day, Samantha is dismissive of her family and classmate Kent (Logan Miller), a childhood friend who is hosting a party that night. They make fun of oddball students like Juliet (Elena Kampouris), who is the particular target of Samantha’s friend Lindsay (Halston Sage), the leader of their clique. And she’s getting ready to lose her virginity to her hot boyfriend. Not everything works out as expected but she loses consciousness in a car accident on the way home from the party, waking up in her own bed and discovering she’s about to live the entire day over again.

Although the plot follows the time loop formula, it’s not about an adult romance or stopping an alien invasion. Instead, the movie is about Samantha’s moral education. Instead of blowing off her family, she starts making time for her young sister and actually expressing her love for her parents. We learn about her history with Kent and that he’s much better for her than the egotistical boyfriend her friends think is the perfect match because he’s “hot.” And she starts reaching out to the girls she’s been cruel to and–surprise–finds out they’re real people who don’t deserve the treatment they’ve had to endure.

For the teen and tween girls who are presumably the film’s target audience, that’s not a bad message, and Deutch is believable as the attractive girl who gets caught up in her popularity but starts to realize her priorities are wrong. As a high school movie, this isn’t up there with “Mean Girls” or “Perks of Being a Wallflower,” but it’s also not one of those movies that thinks it should be about sex, drugs, booze, and bodily fluids. The problem, as with another recent teen film, “The Space Between Us,” is that it doesn’t so much conclude as merely stop.

Without giving anything away, the movie gets us to a dramatic revelation that is a fitting payoff to Samantha’s learning about the ramifications of her actions, but then doesn’t tell us what happens next. Is she trapped in the loop forever? If so, her moral education is meaningless. Worse, while she accrues experience, for everyone else each day is a reset with no memory of previous iterations, so–for example–her skipping the party to have a heartwarming family dinner has no lasting impact on the rest of her family. And if it ends as the film seems to imply, then one is left with the unsettling answer as to what the penalty should be for being an obnoxious teenager. What was needed was some indication that she’s gotten out of the loop, but is now a better person for the experience. That’s the ending we don’t get.

“Before I Fall” is adequate entertainment for the current crop of teens and tweens, but it’s not one that their younger siblings will be wanting to see a few years from now.•••

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 – Get Out


FILM REVIEWGET OUTWith Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, LilRel Howery. Written and directed by Jordan Peele. Rated R for violence, bloody images, and language including sexual references. 103 minutes.

get-out-main-one-sheet-58753d5968ead-1A horror film by a first-time writer/director isn’t ordinarily the stuff of rave reviews. Indeed, these days it’s more likely to go directly to DVD and online streaming without ever making a stop at the local theater. GET OUT is something different. The feature directing debut of Jordan Peele (of the comedy team Key and Peele), it is a smart, scary–and, yes, funny–horror film that is coming along at exactly the right time.

After a creepy prologue which isn’t explained until much later in the film, we meet Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) a young black photographer who is about to meet his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) very upper-class and very white family. Dad (Bradley Whitford) is a neurosurgeon, while Mom (Catherine Keener) is a psychiatrist. They greet Chris with hugs and charm, laying it on a bit too thick, like the father pointing out he’d have voted for a third term for Obama.

At first the odd things are peripheral: the black servants who seem like automatons or the psychiatrist hypnotizing Chris to stop smoking. As time goes on, Chris discovers what’s really happening, and at that point it’s anyone’s guess where this will end up. It’s to Peele’s credit that he’s able to set up certain expectations and then pull the rug out from under us.

As the young couple, Kaluuya and Williams are attractive twenty-somethings wending their way through the increasing awkwardness of this weekend visit. Veterans Whitford and Keener add some heft to the role of the parents, and their familiar faces serve to send precisely the mixed signals for which Peele is aiming. Comedian LilRel Howery is another plus as Chris’s friend Rod, a TSA agent who fancies himself a detective and is convinced that this is a plot to turn Chris into a sex slave.

As a director, Peele demonstrates a steady hand on the camera, showing us enough in the third act for the full horror to emerge, but not wallowing in guts and gore. The whole film is a delicate balancing act between what we (and Chris) don’t know, the increasingly disturbing stuff that is revealed, and the genuinely comic as when Rod tries to report his suspicions to the police. A moment late in the film sets up one ending before revealing another. Like the great Alfred Hitchcock, Peele expertly plays his audience.

So get out of your house and see “Get Out,” This is a a horror film that truly deserves to be called an original.•••

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

 

Review – The Great Wall


REVIEWTHE GREAT WALLWith Matt Damon, Tian Jing, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau, Pedro Pascal. Written by Carlo Bernard & Doug Miro and Tony Gilroy. Directed by Yimou Zhang. Rated PG-13 for sequences of fantasy action violence. 103 minutes.

wallYimou Zhang is one of China’s premier directors, having made such notable arthouse staples as “Raise the Red Lantern,” “Hero,” and “House of Flying Daggers. With THE GREAT WALL, he makes his bid to do a Hollywood film–but on his own terms. Shot in China with a mostly Chinese cast, it features Matt Damon in the lead to give it some starpower in the U.S., along with Willem Dafoe and Pedro Pascal.

The resulting film is an action fantasy that will seem at once familiar and different. The plot will seem very familiar. William (Damon) is a mercenary who is in medieval China to obtain the explosive “black powder” which promises to change warfare. When he and his partner Tovar (Pascal) are captured at the Great Wall, they learn that the wall is to protect the emperor and the capital city from the hordes of the monstrous Tao Tai. These creatures attack every sixty years and even with the massive military might arrayed at this section of the 13,000-plus mile wall, it’s not looking good.

Had this been a conventional Hollywood film, William would be the great savior of the Chinese. Instead, while he offers crucial assistance, he also learns something of their ways, and the true hero of the story is Commander Lin Mae (Tian Jing), who leads the women’s forces in leaping off the wall to spear the Tao Tai. Add to this the director’s strong visual style, whether in character moments or shots that potray the vastness of the land and the opposing forces, and you get something that grabs the viewer earlier on and doesn’t let go.

Much of the Chinese cast is well-known at home, if lesser known (or not at all) to American viewers. Tian Jing is lovely yet manages to convey the toughness and dedication of someone who knows nothing but the military life. Andy Lau’s Wang, the strategist for the leaders, and Lu Han, as a soldier wrongly thought to be a coward, are among the standouts. Joining Damon and Pascal among the Westerners is Willem Dafoe as Ballard, who has spent 25 years in captivity and sees the new arrivals as providing a fresh opportunity for escape.

The joys of the film are both visceral and subtle. The fantasy action scenes are thrilling at the Saturday matinee level, particularly one weapon that consists of shears that emerge from the wall and cut the monsters in two. The subtlety is in the interplay between Chinese and Western expectations,both for the characters and for audiences. This is a Chinese/U.S. co-production, which meant it is has to please audiences coming for Matt Damon as well as those who are fans of Tian Jing or singer Lu Han. (By contrast, Ang Lee’s “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”was a hit in the U.S. and not as successful in China, where audiences found it tamer than homegrown fare.)

China has become an increasingly important market for Hollywood leading to Chinese investment in American movies becoming increasingly important. “The Great Wall” may be the next step in the cinematic collaboration of the two nations, which should be encouraged. Or, as one might say, make movies, not war.•••

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

Review – A Cure For Wellness


REVIEW
A CURE FOR WELLNESS
With Dane DeHaan, Jason Isaacs, Mia Goth, Celia Imrie, Carl Lumbly. Written by Justin Haythe. Directed by Gore Verbinski. Rated Rated R for disturbing violent content and images, sexual content including an assault, graphic nudity, and language. 146 minutes.

mv5bmtg5njg1mziwnl5bml5banbnxkftztgwndu1njczmdi-_v1_sx300A CURE FOR WELLNESS is a gonzo, over-the-top, thriller that slowly morphs into a horror film. Viewers able to buy into this waking nightmare will find themselves amply rewarded; there will be many who think the movie asks too much. Overlong at nearly two-and-a-half hours–and with plot holes you could drive a truck through–it nonetheless sucks you in by way of it’s impressive and surreal production design and a story that keeps revealing deeper and deeper layers of madness. One is hard-pressed to think of any American film of recent years that even comes close to this.

Lockhart (Dane DeHaan) is go-getter in financial services who got too cute with some recent transactions. The company principals are less upset at his ruthlessness than that he thought he could get away with it. They give him the opportunity to redeem himself by going to a spa in the Swiss Alps where Pembroke (Harry Groener), the head of the company, has gone for a rest cure and refuses to return. He’s needed to sign off on a merger.

The spa, under the direction of Volmer (Jason Isaacs), is impressive, although the local townies have a love/hate relationship with it. Lockhart is given the runaround and, after a car accident, finds himself stuck as a patient there himself. He locates Pembroke, who refuses to leave, and strikes up a friendship of sorts with Hannah (Mia Goth), an ethereal young woman in whom Volmer takes a special interest.

As the story progresses we learn more and more about the secrets of the spa, and why the wealthy individuals who come for “the cure” are never cured. To cite the most obvious problem with the narrative, even on crutches Lockhart seems to be able to explore secret levels of the facility with surprising ease, invariably being in the right–or wrong–place at the most opportune moment. That’s why this is more like a nightmare than a crisply-written thriller: there’s an internal logic going on that’s all the eerier because, at times, it doesn’t make sense.

DeHaan’s Lockhart is not a likable character, at least at first, more a smug yuppie who deserves a comeuppance. Yet as he becomes more victim than victimizer, he slowly wins us over, making us ever more suspicious of the smooth-talking and utterly practical Volmer. By the time we get to the film’s climax–after a scene where many might think the film is coming to its tragic ending but is really just getting warmed up–all bets are off. Even if you figure out, or think you figure out, where it’s going, you will not expect the operatic showdown which includes fire, water, perversion, and ballroom dancing. By comparison, “Fifty Shades Darker” is a cartoon.

Director Gore Verbinski (whose works include the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and the dreadful remake of “The Lone Ranger”) has created a film that recalls the British horror films of the 1950s and the Italian horror films of the ’60s, and yet is wholly original. (Verbinski developed the story with screenwriter Justin Haythe.) “A Cure for Wellness” could have used some tightening, but the result is unlike anything Hollywood is making these days. For many that will be a relief, so if you’re intrigued, see it sooner rather than later. This deserves to be seen on a big screen.•••

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