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Review – Avengers: Infinity War


FILM REVIEW – AVENGERS: INFINITY WARWith Josh Brolin, Chris Hemsworth, Chadwick Boseman, Robert Downey, Jr., Zoe Saldana, many, many others. Written by Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely. Directed by Anthony Russo, Joe Russo. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action throughout, language and some crude references. 149 minutes.

infinityIf you’re fully engaged in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR is the movie you’ve been waiting for all along. Almost everyone is in it: Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), Black Panther (Chadwick Boseman), Dr, Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Captain America (Chris Evans), and the crew from “Guardians of the Galaxy.” And that’s barely scratching the surface.

This is also a movie that you’re going to want to see as soon as possible because there are so many surprises and twists that this review couldn’t contain all the potential spoilers if this reviewer was inclined to reveal them… which he is not. This move is the payoff for several years of releases in which characters appeared in each other’s films and hints were dropped about the big battle yet to come. Well, here it is.

The bad guy here is Thanos (an impressive CGI version of Josh Brolin), a supervillain who has been gathering the “Infinity Stones” each of which has a unique power. When he completes the set of six, he will be able to fulfill his ambition of galactic genocide: wiping out half of all life so that the other half may survive and thrive. The stones are scattered across the galaxy, although two are on Earth: one in possession of Dr. Strange and the other embedded in Vision (Paul Bettany). Much of the movie consists of various groups of heroes battling Thanos or his nigh-invincible minions.

While the effects are as stunning as the numerous SFX houses could make them, much of the fun comes from the juxtaposition of these various characters. Thor interacting with Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper), who refers to the sentient raccoon as a squirrel, or Tony Stark/Iron Man trading insults with Dr. Strange, is one of the reasons the Marvel movies aren’t dark, leaden lumps like “Justice League” (and that’s painful to admit for this DC Comics fan).

It comes down to two climactic battles, one of them in Wakanda, where Black Panther presides. This movie may achieve a similar box office success to the year’s earlier Marvel release, but poor Wakanda really takes a beating. And then there’s the ending, which is daring and will lead to intense debates among the fans while making us anticipate the next film. It should go without saying that one does not leave a Marvel movie until the long, long credits sequence is fully complete.

It’s interesting to note that when George Lucas released “Star Wars” in late May 1977, industry observers questioned why what was obviously a summer movie was being released so early. Now we get these “tentpole” movies in late April. “Avengers: Infinity War” is as much a fantastic amusement park ride as a cinematic experience, with an engaging cast doing an incredible job of not getting lost in the proceedings and, in fact, making us actually care what happens next.

Yes, summer is here as far as Hollywood is concerned and, as this movie demonstrates, the Marvel juggernaut shows no sign of slowing down.•••

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 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 – Supercon


FILM REVIEW – SUPERCONWith Clancy Brown, Ryan Kwanten, Maggie Grace, John Malkovich, Mike Epps. Written by Zak Knutson, Andrew Sipes, Dana Snyder. Directed by Zak Knutson. Rated R for strong crude sexual content throughout, pervasive language, and drug use. 100 minutes.

superconSUPERCON is a broad comedy set at a ComicCon-like convention, where comic book artists, old TV stars, and has-beens make money meeting fans, signing autographs, and otherwise trying to cash in on their fleeting fame. For viewers familiar with this world, it should hit their sweet spot, providing plenty of knowing laughs about the “celebrities” who appear and the fervid fans who come out to see them.

For Adam King (Clancy Brown) it’s a chance to pull in some big money as the biggest of the fading stars to appear. He carries himself as if he’s still a big deal, and for the weekend, he is. For others, though, it’s a chance to make some fast money, although con promoter Gil Bartell (Mike Epps) is much more interested in lining his own pockets than in sharing the wealth. That sets in motion the film’s plot where a several of the lesser stars decide to rob the convention.

Keith Mahar (Russell Peters), for example, was sidekick as a child star, and now has trouble making ends meet. He’s told to wear a turban – as he did as “Hadji” – since otherwise, no one will recognize him. Ryan Kwanten, Maggie Grace, and Brooks Braselman, playing other faded stars, all have reason to resent King and Bartell, and plan an elaborate heist that’s part “Ocean’s Eleven” and part Road Runner cartoon. In fact, the proceedings are pretty cartoonish, which exactly fits the mood. They’re joined by Sid Newberry (a surprisingly cast John Malkovich), a comic book artist who has his own score to settle.

What makes the film fun is how it spoofs the whole world of fans eager to see the TV stars of their youth without making those fans the butt of the joke. Even those engaging in “cosplay” (i.e., dressing up as their favorite characters) are shown to be people having fun and wanting to rub shoulders, however briefly, with the actors who played their on-screen heroes. It’s the actors hustling for bucks who are the film’s target, particularly those like King who has nothing but contempt for his fans.

Indeed, while the ensemble cast is engaging, the one who steals the film is Clancy Brown. A hard-working character actor who often plays villains, he is usually taken for granted. Yet, as in the recent “Chappaquiddick,” where he plays one of the people advising Ted Kennedy, he is capable of much more than he’s usually asked to do. Here he gets to strut around like a pop diva, putting on his well-paying act for the public but occasionally letting the mask slip to reveal the small-hearted egotist underneath. It’s a great comic turn.

The formulation and execution of the heist are played with glee, as each of the players encounters problems and overcome them in surprising ways. The players not only have to make us see why their fans would like them (if they haven’t already forgotten them), but they have to make us like them so that we will want their plan to succeed. That they do, and if you’re familiar with the world the movie is satirizing, you feel like you’re among friends.

And perhaps that best explains why “Supercon” is a niche film that should score with its target audience.•••

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 is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – I Feel Pretty


FILM REVIEW
I FEEL PRETTY
With Amy Schumer, Michelle Williams, Emily Ratajkowski, Lauren Hutton, Naomi Campbell. Written by Abby Kohn & Marc Silverstein. Directed by Abby Kohn, Marc Silverstein. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, some partial nudity, and language. 110 minutes.

i-feel-pretty-poster-45155There’s an entertaining comedy trying to emerge from I FEEL PRETTY. As is, its positive message of self-esteem and female empowerment risks being buried under too many subplots. Amy Schumer’s “everywoman” turn manages to hold it together, but just barely.

When we first meet Renee Bennett (Schumer), she works on the website for a high fashion house. However, instead of being at their plush Fifth Avenue offices, she and a frumpy co-worker (Adrian Martinez) are stashed in a windowless basement in Chinatown. She’s self-conscious about her looks but then a bump on the head makes her feel different. She’s convinced she’s now beautiful and irresistible and is full of self-confidence.

We’ve seen this kind of story many times before from “The Nutty Professor” to “Big,” the latter which is explicitly quoted in the movie. A character undergoes a life-altering change which seems exciting for a while but then spins out of control. The character then reverts to “normal,” but is changed for the better by the experience.

What makes this different is that the protagonist is a woman, and we’re set in the fashion industry, where her “common” touch is what they need as they launch a new line of less expensive cosmetics. She also gets a boyfriend (Rory Scovel) who is at first taken aback by her being so self-assured but is soon won over. She also impresses Avery LeClaire (Michelle Williams), the granddaughter of the company head (Lauren Hutton), who has her own self-confidence issues.

Where the film goes awry is with too many subplots, including girlfriends who sign up for a group dating website, or one that literally goes nowhere where Avery’s hunky brother (Tom Hopper) hits on Renee. By the time Renee makes her big speech underscoring the film’s theme, much of the film’s energy has dissipated. A more focused script – by writer/director team Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein – would have stayed on Renee’s dilemma. They might also have cut the unnecessary bodily function “jokes” which are, thankfully, kept to a minimum.

For those looking for positive stories about women, and which notes that even people we imagine are living ideal lives have their failures and doubt, “I Feel Pretty” hits more than it misses. Schumer gives a winning performance with Scovel and Williams enjoyable as two of the people caught up in her whirlwind, and a delightful turn by 74-year-old Lauren Hutton in her first feature role in more than a decade. Perhaps the filmmakers got their own bumps on the head and imagined that the film’s problems were really assets. Whatever the reason, it prevented a fair film from becoming an outstanding one.•••

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 is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Chappaquiddick


FILM REVIEW – CHAPPAQUIDDICK
With Jason Clarke, Kate Mara, Clancy Brown, Ed Helms, Bruce Dern. Written by Taylor Allen & Andrew Logan. Directed by John Curran. Rated PG-13 for thematic material, disturbing images, some strong language, and historical smoking. 101 minutes.

chappaquiddick_xlgIf Shakespeare had written CHAPPAQUIDDICK, it would have been called “The Tragedy of Edward Kennedy.” In telling the story of the fateful incident that took the life of a young woman and forever stained his reputation, it presents not an exposé but an examination of his character flaws as well as the enablers – and the public mood of the era – that granted Kennedy a second act, if not the Presidency.

In July 1969, the weekend when Neil Armstrong would be the first man to walk on the moon, Senator Kennedy (Jason Clarke), and some colleagues including cousin and trusted aide Joe Gargan (Ed Helms) and U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Paul Markham (Jim Gaffigan), have invited a group of young women who had worked on Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign – cut short by his assassination in June 1968 – to join them for a “reunion” just off Martha’s Vineyard.

The film tells the story in a straightforward manner. Mary Jo Kopechne (Kate Mara), identified as a “secretary” by Kennedy but actually an experienced political operative, is weighing whether she would want to work on a new Kennedy campaign. In the course of a long evening of drinking and partying, Kennedy and Kopechne go off together, although there is no hint of anything but a professional relationship between them. Kennedy is weighed down by the deaths of his brothers, and the pressure on him to pick up the mantle and run for President himself. Even his father Joseph (Bruce Dern), debilitated by a stroke, is on his back.

Heading back, Kennedy drove their car off an old bridge and it ended up submerged in a pond. Kennedy escaped, while Kopechne either drowned or was asphyxiated. What happened next is why Kennedy – who would later be revered as the “Lion of the Senate” who was able to work with Democrats and Republicans in forging legislation – was never entirely free of the stain of that night. He told conflicting stories as to what happened, didn’t report it to the authorities until the following morning, and then cooperated with a cover-up. With the help of heavy hitters like former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Clancy Brown), both the legal authorities and the media were massaged and manipulated. The end result was that the story became that of his own redemption from his inexplicable and inexcusable behavior.

Could this happen today? Not the way it’s depicted here. In an age of smartphones and cable news and social media, it’s a different world. Kennedy had a life of privilege which, to be fair, could also be a burden, and it allowed him to walk away from this admitting to leaving the scene of an accident and getting a short, suspended sentence.

The performances are solid and serious, with Clarke seemingly tortured by the Kennedy legacy before finally embracing it. Mara brings to life the woman largely remembered for her death. Helms and Dern are standouts as they appeal to Kennedy’s better and worse instincts.

“Chappaquiddick” is no hatchet job. Instead, it offers a serious meditation on the uses and abuses of power, a story that is timely in any era.•••

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 is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Rampage


FILM REVIEW
– RAMPAGE
With Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Malin Akerman, Joe Manganiello. Written by Ryan Engle and Carlton Cuse & Ryan J. Condal and Adam Sztykiel. Directed by Brad Peyton. Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures. 107 minutes. 

rampageRAMPAGE is a film we’ve seen before, yet it works thanks to top-notch special effects and the way Dwayne Johnson is able to engage us on screen. If you can put yourself in the mindset of a twelve-year-old cheering the good monsters versus the bad monsters, you’ll have a great time.

The premise is that an evil corporation has been conducting genetic experiments in space, and when things go wrong, the results end up back on Earth, causing animals exposed to a pathogen to turn into vicious, gigantic, and invulnerable monsters. One of them is George, an albino gorilla under the care of Davis (Johnson), who grows enormously and becomes increasingly aggressive.

The government is, naturally, concerned, especially when it learns that George is joined by a wolf and an alligator, and all of them are converging on Chicago. Davis has the help of Dr. Kate Caldwell (Naomie Harris), who had worked with the bad guys, and a mysterious government agent (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who may or may not have their best interests at heart. It comes down to a massive showdown in Chicago, with lots of destruction and a plot twist or two.

Much of the film is preposterous. David survives not one, but two crashes. The scientific breakthrough that sets the story in motion seems more of a plot device than something with the slightest connection to reality, especially when we learn that that among the DNA “editing” that has taken place is something that allows wolves to fly. The massive destruction that we see taking place in Chicago is something we’ve come to expect at the movies but would be catastrophic if it occurred in reality.

In spite of all that, if you’re able to just go with the flow, it’s an exciting adventure as the good guys search for the antidote for George and fight both the bad guys and the bad monsters. While the effects are impressive, a lot of the credit has to go to Johnson who has utterly transcended his background in professional wrestling and turned into a credible actor. No one will confuse him with Laurence Olivier or Meryl Streep, but within his range, he deftly handles both comic and dramatic roles, while successfully getting viewers on his side.

“Rampage” is what used to be called Saturday matinee material, as its target audience is clearly tweens and young teens. Whatever your age, if you have fun with movies where giant monsters are wreaking havoc, you’ll have a blast.•••

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 is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Isle of Dogs


FILM REVIEWISLE OF DOGS
With the voices of Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray. Written and directed by Wes Anderson. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images. 101 minutes.

wes2banderson2bisle2bof2bdogs2bmovie2bposterLong a favorite of certain critics and the arthouse crowd, Wes Anderson’s films have always left this reviewer cold. Thus, it is with surprise and delight that it can be reported his latest, ISLE OF DOGS finally puts his highly stylized (the less charitable would say “limited”) skills to work in service of an actual story. Although the screenplay is credited to Anderson alone, he shares the story credit with three other writers: Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Kunichi Nomura. This collaboration may have made all the difference.

Like the somewhat overrated “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (2009), the film is done in stop-motion animation. For reasons never made clear, it is set in a near-future Japan where strongman Mayor Kobayashi (voice of Kunichi Nomura) of Megasaki issues a decree banning all dogs and exiling them to “Trash Island.” Supposedly, this is to prevent the spread of disease, but when the cure for the disease is found it’s clear he simply hates dogs.

The conceit of the film is that the dogs speak to each other in English, but the Japanese humans speak in often untranslated Japanese. However, there’s enough translation or English-speaking that one can follow the action. On the island, the dogs have been abandoned and it seems to have devolved into, literally, a “dog-eat-dog” world. But then Atari (Koyu Rankin) arrives, in search of his missing dog. The boy is a ward of the mayor, further complicating matters.

The bulk of the story is how the dogs (voiced by, among others, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, and Scarlett Johansson) manage to liberate themselves with some help from Atari and an American exchange student (Greta Gerwig). It’s fanciful nonsense, but it’s played straight so that it seems like a fairy tale for grown-ups. Children might be bored by the relatively slow pace and lack of much in the way of physical humor, while very young children might find some of the proceedings disturbing. Parents are advised to proceed with caution.

What makes this standout from other Anderson films (besides having a plot) is that the characters – particularly the dogs – are much more well-rounded than the caricatures who you usually parade through his movies. We find ourselves rooting for these literal underdogs, as they fight back against all odds. For a change Anderson’s visuals are in service to his story, with Trash Island managing to be both bleak and visually fascinating, contrasting with the formal structures of Megasaki.

While the film boasts an extensive voice cast (also credited are Harvey Keitel, Yoko Ono, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, and Frances McDormand) few have distinctive enough voices that you’ll recognize many of them outside of the closing credits. The key exceptions are Goldblum (as Duke) and Courtney B. Vance (as the film’s narrator).
“Isle of Dogs” may or may not represent a turning point for Anderson; time will tell, Yet, for a change, there’s enough substance to his whimsy to make this an engaging fable about a society thinking it can wall off part of its community without consequences, making it as timely as it is entertaining.•••

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 is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – A Quiet Place


FILM REVIEWA QUIET PLACE
With Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, Noah Jupe, Millicent Simmonds. Written by Bryan Woods & Scott Beck and John Krasinski. Directed by John Krasinski. Rated PG-13 for terror and some bloody images. 90 minutes.

quiet_place_xlgA QUIET PLACE is a seriously-made horror film with a strong cast and smart direction. Why doesn’t it work? It should have been obvious before the cameras started rolling. It has a clever premise that the three writers (including director/actor John Krasinski) didn’t fully consider. As a result, one must stop thinking while watching or else it all falls apart.

It starts off promisingly on “Day 89.” We’re three months into a worldwide crisis that is never explained. We see the Abbott family rummaging through a drug store in an abandoned town, trying not to make a sound. As we learn, creatures of unknown origin are rampaging across the planet, and are attracted by sound. If they hear you, they will attack.

We then jump ahead a year or so later, and we see the Abbotts in their stronghold on their farm. Evelyn (Emily Blunt) is pregnant. Her husband Lee is trying to find other survivors while protecting his own. Their daughter Regan (Millicent Simmonds) is deaf, but Lee is trying to devise a hearing aid for her. Their young son Marcus (Noah Jupe) isn’t sure he’s old enough to start learning survival skills.

Now as the family dynamics proceed with the ever-present fear of the creatures, a number of questions arise. Evelyn is pregnant? Did they think babies could be ordered to be quiet on command? When they were raiding the drug store did they not think to pick up some condoms? Since they’re being so careful not to make a sound that they spread sand everywhere they walk, how could they do this?

Then there’s the question of what the world did prior to the start of the film. Once they figured out the creatures were attracted by sounds, why not set off sirens or loudspeakers, and then pick off the monsters once they arrive?  We see the characters using sound to distract the creatures, why didn’t they use it to go on the offensive?

Which leads to the big reveal – not given away here – of what might be effective against them. With scientists, governments and the militaries all over the world realizing the fate of humankind was at stake, did no one think of this? Perhaps providing a little more backstory would have been helpful.

Recent attempts at what might be called “smart horror,” like “Get Out” and “Colossal,” didn’t offer up documentary reality but they did have an internal logic for the world the films created. “A Quiet Place” fails this basic test. What it does have is solid performances by its four principals, particularly Simmonds as their daughter, and some suspenseful set pieces such as Evelyn going into labor while trying not to make noise.

“A Quiet Place” is more of an interesting failure than a total disaster. It’s worth a look if you like the genre. Just try not to think too much while you’re watching.•••

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 is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.