All posts by Daniel M. Kimmel

About Daniel M. Kimmel

Film critic, author, lecturer.

Review – Brian Banks


FILM REVIEWBRIAN BANKSWith Aldis Hodge, Greg Kinnear, Sherri Shepherd, Xosha Roquemore, Morgan Freeman. Written by Doug Atchison. Directed by Tom Shadyac. Rated PG-13 for thematic content and related images, and for language. 161 minutes.

The whole trial is out-of-order!

brian_banksCriminal justice reform is a topic that comes up in legal and political debates, but if you’re not employed by (or subject to) the system, its injustices are largely invisible. BRIAN BANKS personalizes those injustices in telling the true-life story of a young man, sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit, fighting to clear his name even after he’s been paroled.

Brian Banks (Aldis Hodge) was a high school football star with a scholarship for USC when he was arrested and charged with kidnapping and rape of a classmate. It never happened, but the system pressures him to take a plea deal rather than face trial. Contrary to what he was told, his “no contest” plea leads to a prison sentence.

Now out on parole, and required to register as a “sex offender,” his supposed freedom turns out to be severely limited. It’s difficult to find someone willing to employ him, and the conditions of his parole restrict him in ways big and small. He reaches out to Justin Brooks (Greg Kinnear), a lawyer who runs the California Innocence Project, devoted to helping the wrongly convicted. There’s all sorts of reasons Brooks shouldn’t take on the case, not the least of which is the almost negligible possibility that they will succeed, but he does so.

In this era of #metoo, it’s interesting to note that the real life case turned on getting the accuser to admit that she had lied. Instead of making Kennisha (Xosha Roquemore) the villain of the piece, she turns out to have been victimized by her own mother. The message seems to be that women should be believed, but accusations have to be supported by facts. In Banks’ case, even a cursory investigation would have revealed that her story wasn’t true.

Hodge plays Banks with such quiet strength that it conveys what it must have taken the real man to bear up under the circumstances. A turning point was a teacher at the prison who reached out to him, played by Morgan Freeman in a cameo role. Kinnear offers able support as Brooks, combining a sense of fun with a seriousness of purpose. Sherri Shepherd also gets a standout moment as Banks’ mother, speaking of the toll our broken justice system has taken on her as well.

“Brian Banks” is a thoughtful movie that celebrates those who persevere over injustice, but also allows us to see what’s being done in our name, as with the prosecutor speaking “for the people.” Those seeking a quieter and more grown-up movie – where the heroes don’t need special effects – will want to take a 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 Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

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Review: Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood


FILM REVIEWONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD. With Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Al Pacino. Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references. 161 minutes.

once_upon_a_time_in_hollywood_ver7When Quentin Tarantino is at the top of his game, his films are the embodiment of that mathematical paradox of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. When he’s not, the resulting movie is worth seeing but more for specific moments than as a work in itself. ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD falls into the latter category. Its disparate storylines do come together in the end, but the whole still plays more like a collection of scenes than a coherent work.

It’s 1960s Hollywood. More specifically, after a prologue showing western TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double and close friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) being interviewed on the set of Dalton’s show, it’s 1969. Dalton (seemingly inspired by but not directly based on Clint Eastwood) is reduced to guest appearances on other’s shows, and Booth has become his driver. A producer (Al Pacino) wants to kickstart Dalton’s career by  traveling to Italy and having him appear in the era’s “spaghetti westerns.”

Dalton lives next door to director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Since we know that in real life Tate was among the victims of Charles Manson and his followers, including her in the story does two things. First, it focuses on her life more than her death. Robbie isn’t given much to do but she does get a lovely sequence where she goes to a theater showing “The Wrecking Crew,” a Dean Martin spy thriller Tate appeared in, and quietly enjoying the audience’s reactions to her scenes.

Second, it allows Tarantino to indulge his bent for alternate history as in “Inglourious Basterds” and “Django Unchained,” here with an ending that comes after some two-plus hours which play like a stream of consciousness riff on the era rather than actual storytelling.

There are standout moments. DiCaprio and Pitt have an easy rapport as two friends who try to look out for each other. Rick arranges a job for Cliff on the show where he’s the guest villain, over the skepticism of the director (Kurt Russell), and Cliff ends up in a fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). Rick gets into a discussion on acting with an eight-year-old member of the cast. And then there are the moments which you either go with or else roll your eyes at Tarantino’s tics, as with his obsession with women’s feet.

For all his movie savvy, Tarantino’s take on Hollywood is broad but shallow. From early versions of “A Star Is Born” and the classic “Sunset Boulevard” to more recent films like “State and Main” and “Hail Caesar!” filmmakers have dealt with the hypocrisy, egos, and raw emotions involved in the movie business. “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” adds little to that discussion, either seriously or satirically, leaving the viewer adrift. It can be entertaining, but it falls short of the filmmaker at his best.•••

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 Haunting of Sharon Tate


FILM REVIEWTHE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATEWith Hilary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst, Pawel Szajda,   Ryan Cargill. Written and directed by Daniel Farrands. Rated R for strong bloody violence, terror, and some language. 94 minutes.

haunting_of_sharon_tateHorror films have always been transgressive. The fact that we now consider Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” a film classic shouldn’t make us forget what a shocker it was when it was released in 1960. Such films violate our social norms either by making icons of their bloody protagonists or by depicting violence or gore or by making us feel less safe in our surroundings. In that sense, THE HAUNTING OF SHARON TATE is very much in that tradition.

Tate, of course, was the young actress who was married to international filmmaker Roman Polanski and pregnant with their child when she and four other people were savagely murdered at the direct order of cult leader Charles Manson by four of his acolytes.

Writer/director Daniel Farrands, known primarily for documentaries on horror series such as “Friday The 13th,” “Nightmare On Elm Street,” and “Scream,” has crafted a slick and disturbing movie based the report that long before her death, Tate had a premonition about the murders. Over the course of 90-or-so minutes, Tate (played by one-time teen star Hilary Duff) experiences the home invasion by Manson (Ben Mellish) and his gang more than once. When the actual attack occurs, Farrands takes the story in an unexpected direction, providing an unconventional conclusion to a story where we already knew how it had to turn out.

Getting Duff for the lead is something of a minor casting coup. Known for her run as “Lizzie McGuire,” and later on “Younger,” this is her first foray into horror. She plays Tate as a considerate if someone shallow young actress, whose marriage to Polanski has raised her profile. She’s troubled by her visions and concerned about the forthcoming baby. It’s a credible performance.

Had this been a film about fictional characters, it might attract some notice among horror fans, as well as some curiosity seekers interested in Duff in an unexpected role. However, it’s not. It’s about the victims of one of the most sensational crimes of the 20th century. It’s not only in living memory but several family members – including Polanski and Tate’s sister – are still alive. Instead of being just a horror movie it becomes yet another wound, using the actress’s tragic death as fodder for cheap thrills.

Farrand knows the beats of the horror films he’s patterned this on, and it could be argued that his focus is on the victim rather than the perpetrator. Manson may be a monster, but the film isn’t about him the way, say, the “Nightmare On Elm Street” movies are about the fictional Freddy Krueger. Still, there are times when one must question whether a film goes too far, even in a genre noted for pushing the boundaries.

The result is that “The Haunting Of Sharon Tate” works as a conventional horror film with a twist, but some will find that by using a real life story rather than borrowing some elements for a fictional one, it leaves a bad taste. Farrand doesn’t seem concerned, though. His next movie, currently in post-production, is “The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson.”•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Lion King


FILM REVIEWTHE LION KINGWith Donald Glover, Beyoncé, Seth Rogen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, James Earl Jones. Written by Jeff Nathanson. Directed by Jon Favreau. Rated PG for sequences of violence and peril, and some thematic elements. 118 minutes.

lion_king_ver2THE LION KING is the third “live action” version of a Disney animated classic to be released this year, and some of the reactions indicate they might want to slow the pace, particularly with “Pinnochio,” “Mulan,” and “The Little Mermaid” remakes in the pipeline. Some of the complaints have been that this follows the original so closely that it’s unnecessary.

Well, yes, that has been the point of these “live action” remakes with some taking greater liberties than others. Here there is an unexpected shout out to another Disney classic, but otherwise it pretty much follows the original. For those who are so invested in the animated “Lion King” (1994) because of how old (or young) they were when they saw it, then no, there’s no reason to see this. Pull out your DVD (or VHS cassette) and watch it instead.

For the rest of us, this is another successful adaptation in that it brings a lot of talented people together committed to making an entertaining movie rather than a cheap knock-off. Jon Favreau was the right choice as director, having made the highly-praised 2016 adaptation of “The Jungle Book,” showing he could handle the ironic paradox here: this “live action” film is largely animated. It’s a mixture of live action and CGI (i.e., computer animation) with the intent of making it seem real.

The story remains the same: Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones, reprising his role from the original) proclaims the birth of his son Simba. His evil brother Scar (Chiwetel Ejiofor) murders Mustafa and causes Simba to run away. Simba is taken in by two slacker animals, the warthog Pumbaa (perfectly voiced by Seth Rogen) and the meerkat Timon (Billy Eichner), but as an adult is called back to battle Scar by lioness Nala (Beyoncé) and his former tutor, a hornbill named Zazu (John Oliver).

The reason these remakes continue to work is because Disney has attracted top talent who are there for more than the paycheck. Besides Favreau and the voice cast, the new film has veteran cinematographer Caleb Deschanel behind the camera and brought back Hans Zimmer to do the film’s score. (Elton John and Tim Rice’s songs are used as well.)  The notion that a 25-year-old film is so sacrosanct it should not be remade will come as a surprise to those who have made a hit of Julie Taymor’s creative stage adaptation.

“The Lion King” is not the landmark that the animated original was, but it is an entertaining film in its own right. It should please viewers who either unfamiliar with the original or didn’t see it so many times growing up that any other version borders on the blasphemous. We don’t complain when there’s a new film of, say, a Shakespeare play that has been filmed before and while the Disney canon may not be Shakespeare, they are also open to fresh stagings. However, three such remakes inside of four months may prove to be a bit much for audiences.•••

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 – Midsommar


FILM REVIEWMIDSOMMARWith Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Will Poulter. Written and directed by Ari Aster. Rated R for disturbing ritualistic violence, grisly images. 140 minutes.

Give Ari Aster credit. The writer/director is carving out his own path as a horror filmmaker. While this reviewer was underwhelmed by the violent and incoherent “Hereditary” (2018), MIDSOMMAR is a disturbing film that holds it together despite its epic length of nearly two-and-a-half hours.

The character to watch is Dani (Florence Pugh). She’s somewhat needy and her current boyfriend Christian (Jack Reynor) seems to be on the verge of breaking up with her. At the start of the film she learns of the horrible deaths of her sister and parents and ends up inviting herself along on a trip to Sweden that Christian and several of his graduate student friends are planning. One of them, Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), comes from a remote rural village which has a unique summer festival that they’re going there to see.

At first everything seems fine, if a bit strange. The visitors try to be respectful and open, not wanting to treat the village as a theme park. It’s all quaint and even a bit exciting, as the visitors ingest hallucinogenic mushrooms. The Americans are made to feel welcome guests. Then the first of the festival’s rituals play out in such a horrific fashion that Dani wants to leave.

Plausible explanations are offered, and both Christian and Josh (William Jackson Harper) are interested in studying the community for their theses. Yet as the festival progresses, things get stranger and stranger, Dani finds things disturbing but is growing distant from Christian and, despite her qualms allows herself to be drawn into the activities. It is her journey upon which the film hinges.

Aster simultaneously defies and draws upon genre traditions. On the one hand, most of the film’s horrors and weird twists take place in broad daylight. Indeed, this is the land of the “midnight sun.” On the other hand, he seems aware of previous movies in which outsiders are threatening by an insular community’s rituals, such as “Two Thousand Maniacs!” (1964) and “The Wicker Man” (1973, remade 2006). Things have to seem quaint and plausible, until the reality of it can no longer be denied.

The film’s R rating for “grisly images” is well deserved. As with “Hereditary,” there are things that – once seen – can not be unseen. While this is not a sadistic gorefest like the “Saw” movies, it’s not a movie for the squeamish or the faint-hearted. Yet at film’s end, it leaves us with the question of whether someone who has been shocked and appalled by the proceedings can come to accept them.

Ironically, while “Midsommar” comes at the beginning of the summer, for Hollywood we really are at the midpoint of the season, which began with “Avengers: Endgame” at the end of April. At a time where the studios play it safe with lot of pre-sold sequels, “Midsommar” takes a chance on something different.•••

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 – Yesterday


FILM REVIEWYESTERDAYWith Himesh Patel, Lily James, Ed Sheeran, Kate McKinnon, Joel Fry. Written by Richard Curtis. Directed by Danny Boyle. Rated PG-13 for suggestive content and language. 106 minutes.

yesterdayIn a season of sequels, reboots, and remakes, along comes YESTERDAY, one of the most original movies you’re likely to see this year. The premise is deceptively simple. Jack Malik (British TV actor Himesh Patel) is a smalltime singer/songwriter, with his childhood friend Ellie (Lily James) acting as his manager/driver/confidante. One night, Jack is hit by a bus in during an unexplained worldwide power outage.

When he awakens in his hospital, bed he finds that he has slipped into an alternate universe where the Beatles never happened. John, Paul, George, and Ringo are unknown, as are all their songs. Jack remembers them (if not all the lyrics), and when he starts to perform them is hailed as the greatest music star of his generation. As the story unfolds, you have to wonder where it’s going to go and how it’s going to end. That won’t be revealed here. Suffice to say, they don’t take the easy way out.

The film’s success starts with a brilliant script by Richard Curtis, who wrote “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and wrote and directed “Love Actually.” He loves his quirky characters and gets the laughs while hitting some emotional truths. Jack enjoys his success but feels increasingly guilty that he’s riding on the brilliance of others, even if no one else knows. Curtis has some surprises along the way, including Jack’s discovery of how else this alternate timeline is different from his own.

Director Danny Boyle (whose credits range from “Trainspotting” to “Slumdog Millionaire”), has a sure hand on the proceedings. He navigates Jack’s rise from small bars to massive concerts without losing his focus on the characters. Patel will be a discovery for American viewers, presenting Jack as someone both excited by and insecure about his newfound popularity. James is touching as someone who has long believed in him while waiting for him to wake up to the potential of more than a professional relationship. Real life singer/songwriter Ed Sheeran pops up as himself, providing a droll portrait as the person who “discovers” Jack, calling himself Salieri to Jack’s Mozart.

Although it’s a supporting role, one of the delights of the movie is that finally someone has made good use of the incredibly talented Kate McKinnon, the SNL star who has been the standout in a number of mediocre movies. Here she’s Debra Hammer, the talent manager from hell. Her character’s self-absorption and bluntness makes her the perfect foil for the humane and somewhat naïve Jack.

Naturally, the soundtrack is filled with Beatles songs, making the film a tribute to how much their music has meant to us for more than fifty years. “Yesterday” is a tribute to the Beatles as well as a rich comedy that puts Jack on a journey where he has to decide what success really means. As with other movies scripted by Curtis, it may not please the cynical or cold-hearted, but for the rest of us, it’s one of the best movies you’re likely to see this year.•••

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 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 – Annabelle Comes Home


FILM REVIEWANNABELLE COMES HOMEWith Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Mckenna Grace, Madison Iseman, Katie Sarife. Written and directed by Gary Dauberman. Rated R for horror violence and terror. 106 minutes.

annabelle_comes_home_ver2The continued blurring of what was once a bright line between movies and television continues with ANNABELLE COMES HOME, the seventh film in “The Conjuring” universe series. It is the third to be released in less than year following “The Nun” (2018) and “The Curse of Llorona” (2019). They’re all related in some way to Lorraine and Ed Warren (Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson), real-life investigators of the paranormal.

Spun off from well-received “The Conjuring” movies, with the third due out next year, the “Annabelle” movies are about an evil-looking doll which is a conduit for some demonic force. The Warrens keep the doll in a locked case, having ensured that the evil will be “contained.” (Don’t sweat the details. It’s summer and there’s no final exam.)

In this entry, the Warrens appear in a lengthy prologue and then disappear for much of the story. Instead, the focus is on their daughter Judy played by the very expressive McKenna Grace, who turns 13 this week. Everyone in town knows about the weird goings-on involving her parents, and that leaves her moody and unpopular at school. She’s close with her babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman) in whose care she has been left when the Warrens have to go out of town overnight. Mary Ellen’s friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) stops by with a gift for Judy, which provides the opportunity for Daniela to go exploring the Warren’s locked room of cursed objects.

That’s the premise, and you know where it’s going: Daniela unlocks the case letting Annabelle loose, which ends up causing all sorts of horrific things including plans to consume Judy’s soul. Give writer/director Gary Dauberman credit. He provides his characters sufficient backstory and motivation that we’re not just watching cardboard cutouts battling special effects. Sarife’s Daniela is looking for trouble, but when we discover why she’s drawn to the forbidden powers the Warrens have locked up it actually makes her more sympathetic. There’s some comic relief as well, in the form of Bob (Michael Cimino), who has a crush on Mary Ellen that both are too shy to act upon.

Dauberman also knows how to tease the audience, sometimes setting things up for an expected scare that doesn’t happen. This is a much better effort than “Annabelle: Creation” (2017) in that it builds up its characters while keeping the horror plot fairly straightforward. There’s a touching scene at the end where Lorraine has a bonding moment with Daniela that may explain why audiences connect to these films more than some other shockfests. We actually come to care for the characters rather than simply see them as fodder for whatever the film’s horror turns out to be.

“Annabelle Comes Home” plays like a “special episode” of a TV series where the main characters step back and let the supporting players have the spotlight. If you’ve enjoyed the series, this will work, but beyond that it’s hard to see this entry winning new converts.•••

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.