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Category Archives: FILM REVIEW

Review – The Hitman’s Bodyguard

With Ryan Reynolds, Samuel L. Jackson, Gary Oldman, Salma Hayek, Elodie Yung. Written by Tom O’Connor. Directed by Patrick Hughes. Rated R for strong violence and language throughout. 118 minutes.

the2bhitman2527s2bbodyguardTHE HITMAN’S BODYGUARD takes its inspiration from several sources. It’s less an original movie than an original mash-up, featuring laughs, thrills, and enough bloody action for those craving an R-rated shoot-’em-up.

It takes a little time for the movie to get up to speed. We first meet Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds) who is a “triple-A-rated” bodyguard. He plans everything out, checks every last detail, and his motto is “boring is good.” But then things go wrong, and he no longer gets the prestige jobs.

Meanwhile, dictator Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman) is on trial at the World Court in the Hague, but he has made sure there that there is little in the way of hard evidence or living witnesses to be used against him. The one last hope of the prosecution is international hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), who has had some dealings with Dukhovich. Already imprisoned, he’s offered a deal: testify and they’ll release his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek), who is being held by Interpol.

That’s the setup, and it takes a massive shootout for Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung) to turn to her ex-boyfriend–Bryce–to get Kincaid to the Netherlands before the court’s deadline. Once Bryce and Kincaid get together, there’s no stopping the film. Not only do they have a history, but they are the Odd Couple of action heroes. Bryce is the neurotic, buttoned-down, play-it-by-the-book character, who still blames Amelia for the collapse of his career. Kincaid is the loose, improvisational killer who fell in love with Sonia when he saw her make a bloody mess of a roomful of assailants singlehandedly.

Now take this Odd Couple and put them in a Road Runner cartoon where they are being chased by Interpol, local police, and hired killers sent by Dukhovich and you’re in for a wild ride. After more than a hundred years of movies you would think that every possible gag has been worked into a chase scene, but setting one in Amsterdam involving streets, sidewalks, bridges, and the canals with the various parties working at cross-purposes proves to be a winning combination.

Ryan and Jackson have a potent if unexpected rapport, and the script by Tom O’Connor keeps it balanced so it’s not like Bryce is always Kincaid’s patsy. Indeed, part of the chemistry involves them grudgingly coming to respect each other, determined to complete the job they’ve set out to do. Oldman is perhaps a bit too dark as the film’s villain, but then the film isn’t kidding around about the violence. The bodies pile up and only rarely are we spared the interaction of weapon and victim. Director Patrick Hughes does seem to get those moments where that’s not entertainment, and pulls back from showing all.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” mixes the violence, the chases, and some quirky humor into a potent late summer cocktail. For those who like their action movies with a kick, this is a real adrenaline rush.•••

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 Lucky

FILM REVIEWLOGAN LUCKYWith Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes, Hilary Swank. Written by Rebecca Blunt. Directed by Steven Soderbergh. Rated PG-13 for language and some crude comments. 119 minutes.

logan_lucky_ver3Has Hollywood forgotten how to do a “sit-back-and-entertain-you” movie that doesn’t involve superheroes, sequels, or remakes? Director Steven Soderbergh, who has a few sequels strewn among a filmography that also includes some serious arthouse fare, hasn’t forgotten. With LOGAN LUCKY , he has made a movie that is a perfect bit of late-summer fun.

Channing Tatum is Jimmy Logan, a former high school football star who was to go on to a great sports career until an injury put an end to that dream. Now he drifts from job to job, wanting to be part of his young daughter’s life even though his ex-wife Bobbie Jo (Katie Holmes) has remarried to someone much more successful. Jimmy’s brother Clyde (Adam Driver) went off to fight in Iraq, and it’s suggested he went instead of his brother so as to allow him his football career. While Jimmy was sustaining sports injuries, Clyde lost his arm.

The Logans seem might unlucky, and Jimmy loses his latest job when he’s deemed uninsurable. And so he concocts a plan to rob a NASCAR racetrack, in a wildly improbable scheme involving the tunnels beneath the track that he had been constructing. To pull off the heist, they will need an expert safecracker by the name of Joe Bang (a surprisingly hilarious Daniel Craig). He’s up for the robbery but there’s a drawback: he’s currently behind bars. So they will have to bust him out–temporarily–to assist with the scheme, and then get him back before anyone’s the wiser. It couldn’t get more complicated if it involved a prison riot over access to HBO’s “Game of Thrones” series… which it does.

Indeed, like the “Ocean’s 11” films–all three of which Soderbergh directed–this is an entertainment, not a deep statement about the human condition. He knows precisely how the formula works: likable leads, eccentric supporting characters, a complicated plan, unexpected glitches, and a reason to sympathize with the robbers rather than the victims. He gives us all of that and more, with a strong cast ruled by Tatum. Jimmy’s loyalty to his brother and love and affection for his daughter make us want to cheer him on. By contrast, Craig’s Joe, while a definite plus to the movie, would not generate that sort of connection were he the lead character.

As the hapless Clyde, Driver has to occasionally darken the story–especially when his artificial arm goes missing–but does it in such a way that it doesn’t throw the movie off-kilter. It’s a bit of what might be called “dramatic relief” in an otherwise comic film. Credit must also be given to young Farrah Mackenzie who plays Jimmy’s daughter Sadie. Mackenzie and Tatum have a nice rapport, and she comes across as a little girl who adores her dad, not a professional child actress pulling the heartstrings on cue.

By the end of “Logan Lucky,” where a government investigator (Hillary Swank) tries to figure out what’s happened and finds her way unexpectedly blocked, Soderbergh provides a few final twists including a hint that a sequel’s in the offing. This movie doesn’t need a sequel, but it generates such goodwill and entertainment value that you won’t be disappointed if he decides to go ahead with one anyway.•••

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 – Annabelle: Creation

FILM REVIEWANNABELLE: CREATION. With Stephanie Sigman, Miranda Otto, Lulu Wilson, Anthony LaPaglia, Talitha Bateman. Written by Gary Dauberman. Directed by David F. Sandberg. Rated R for horror violence and terror. 109 minutes.

annabelle_creationAlthough the snippet after the closing credits of ANNABELLE: CREATION suggests yet another film in the series, it’s time to pull the plug. It’s a movie that could only be saved by the services of Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo of “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” sitting in the corner of the TV screen and make snarky remarks about the terrible cheesy movies they’re forced to watch.

“Annabelle” was originally a spin-off of “The Conjuring” (2013), one of the best horror movies of recent years. In that film, a couple who either debunk or fight supernatural infestations are shown to have a sinister looking doll from another case. This led to the prequel “Annabelle” (2014), where we got the story of this accursed devil doll. It wasn’t as good, but it was a serviceable horror movie.

The setup here is that now we’re going to learn the origin of the doll (the details won’t be given away here). Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman) arrives at the rural home of Sam Mullins (a surprisingly inert Anthony LaPaglia) with six girls from a shuttered orphanage. He and his bedridden wife (Miranda Otto) have agreed to take them in and give them the run of the house––except for one bedroom that’s off limits.

Before you can shout, “Little girl with the leg brace (Talitha Bateman), don’t go in there!”, she’s gone in, found a key for a locked closet, and discovered Annabelle. Now actually that’s not quite right. You have plenty of time to shout. You even have time to run to the concession stand, because this movie is so slow that it telegraphs every scare. When the dramatic music plays itself out to silence and we get a closeup of one or the other of the girls, we know something is about to jump up or pop out or otherwise go, “Boo!”

The attacks are mostly––but not entirely––directed at the two youngest orphans, Janice (Bateman) and Linda (Lulu Wilson), who are unrelated but hope to be adopted as sisters. The presence of four older girls, who giggle about boys when they’re not busy trying to frighten themselves, is another narrative dead end. This is not a variation of “The Beguiled.” The closest we get to the acknowledgement of adolescent hormones is when one of the girls pretends to be insulted by a scarecrow, a scene you just know will have repercussions later on.

And that’s the problem with “Annabelle: Creation.” It’s so slow and so predictable that people may start shouting out wisecracks to keep it moving along. We learn where the doll came from and why it’s possessed, and neither turns out to be terribly interesting. Worse, we see a picture of Sister Charlotte at a convent in Rumania where a mysterious figure joins her and three other nuns when the picture is held just so. Instead of trying to milk this series with increasingly diminishing returns, the people involved should take another look at “The Conjuring” or, for that matter this year’s “Get Out,” for an example of horror movies that work. And then they should try to come up with something original.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Glass Castle

With Brie Larson, Woody Harrelson, Naomi Watts, Ella Anderson, Chandler Head. Written by Destin Daniel Cretton & Andrew Lanham. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Rated PG-13 for mature thematic content involving family dysfunction, and for some language and smoking. 127 minutes.

glass_castle_ver2_xlgThe obvious question coming out of a screening of THE GLASS CASTLE is trying to guess the audience the filmmakers imagine will want to see this. Based on the memoir by Jeannette Wells, it is the story of a horribly dysfunctional family seen through the eyes of the second of four children, who grows up to become a writer. The “castle” of the title is the elaborate home that their father Rex (Woody Harrelson) is forever designing––with lots of windows––but, like his other plans, will never come to fruition.

We first meet Jeannette (Brie Larson) in 1989 when she is a gossip columnist for New York Magazine, and engaged to an investment banker (Max Greenfield). On her way home that night her cab passes two homeless people picking through garbage. They are her parents. Much of the 127-minute film is told in flashback so we see the horrific conditions the children grew up in. When young Jeannette (Chandler Head) complains she’s hungry, her mother Rose Mary (Naomi Watts) suggests the child boils some hot dogs since she’s busy with her painting. As a result, the little girl’s clothes catch fire and she ends up in the hospital, where Rex enlists her younger brother in a scam so they can get her out without paying.

Such is the life this family leads. Rex is not a stupid man, but he’s a drunk who can’t keep a job and keeps the family constantly moving ahead of bill collectors. He’s also a bully, who gets worse as the story goes on, at one point promising the family a “feast” when they are reduced to eating a concoction of butter and sugar, the only food in the house. He comes back hours later drunk, with no food, and their money spent.

So what is the point of the story? Part of it seems to be how the four children turn into responsible adults in spite of their parents by looking out for each other. At film’s end, after Rex’s death, they seem to have made their peace with the past, and remember the good times rather than the bad. And there are good times. It’s just not enough to compensate for the abuse and neglect that marked their growing up.

From a psychological viewpoint, it’s good––assuming it’s true to the real story––that the children survived and thrived, and are able to live normal lives instead of being forever marked by their upbringing. That they can ultimately forgive their parents is a sign of their own fortitude. But that’s different from the point of view of the audience. We have no reason to forgive them, and the ending leaves a bad taste.

As the parents, Harrelson and Watts have a difficult path, having to show their almost schizophrenic attitude towards parenting. We can see that, in their own minds, they love their children and sometimes do the right thing. Yet we also see a father defending his own mother who may be a child molester, and striking out in random acts of violence including against his own wife who can not bring herself to leave him. Larson has the impossible task of showing the adult first rejecting and then reconciling with her parents, and the strength of her performance is largely made possible by Head, who plays Jeannette as a child, and Ella Anderson, who plays her as a teenager.

Perhaps there are people who will find “The Glass Castle” cathartic, seeing abused children overcome a terrible upbringing and even finding the strength to forgive. For many, though, it will be an unpleasant two hours ending with an image of family unity that may be hard to believe, even if true.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – The Dark Tower

FILM REVIEWTHE DARK TOWERWith Idris Elba, Matthew McConaughey, Tom Taylor, Jackie Earle Haley, Dennis Haysbert. Written by Akiva Goldsman & Jeff Pinkner and Anders Thomas Jensen & Nikolaj Arcel. Directed by Nikolaj Arcel. Rated PG-13 for thematic material including sequences of gun violence and action. 95 minutes.

The-Dark-Tower-poster-4-largeSince the original film version of “Carrie” (1976), there have been so many movie and TV productions based on the works of Stephen King that they qualify as a genre unto themselves. One sign that the production may not satisfy his legion of fans (apart from nearly a decade of stops and starts) is when the author’s name does not feature prominently in the advertising for the film, which seems especially odd in this case. Stephen King is only the best-selling author in the history of Earth––you’d think that studio Warner Brothers would want to better capitalize on that.

The movie is a self-contained story that, fortunately, does not require the viewer to have read any of the series or related books or graphic novels. It is essentially a fable of good vs. evil in which a young boy named Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor) has special psychic talents which will determine the outcome of the battle. When we first meet him he is having dreams or visions of an alternate world where children are being used in attempts to destroy this mysterious dark tower. Who put it there or what’s inside is never explained, but it’s preventing horrible demons from taking over the known universe.

Matthew McConaughey is the devilish Walter, who sends his minions out to gather special children for the task. Jake can recognize the bad guys because they wear fake skin-like masks in order to look human. Eventually Jake hooks up with Roland (Idris Elba), the last of the “Gunslingers,” whose job it is to kill Walter. Much of the rest of the plot is window dreassing although, to be fair, they may simply be glosses on things gone into in great (or even interminable) detail in King’s books. As Roland and Jake bond, the stakes are raised since, as Walter notes, anyone who has been close to Roland, including his father (Dennis Haysbert), is eventually killed by Walter.

It’s a kind of serviceable fantasy/horror film that may work for the middle school set, but other than watching McConaughey and Elba underplay their iconic roles it’s waiting for each confrontation as a buildup to the climactic showdown. For some reason, the movie turns out to be the climax of the entire book series rather than a direct adaptation of any of them, and the tentative plan is for Elba to star in a spinoff television series exploring the origins of his character.

Late summer is a time when Hollywood gives up on the “tentpole” movies of big blockbusters and sequels, figuring that there’s a only few weeks left so they can afford to experiment. If a late summer film is a hit, great, otherwise it can get out of the way when the fall releases start rolling out a month from now. “The Dark Tower” is neither the best nor the worst of the King adaptations, but it seems a safe bet that it’s the box office and not psychic children which will be its ultimate downfall.•••

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 – Detroit

With John Boyega, Will Poulter, Anthony Mackie, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell. Written by Mark Boal. Directed by Kathryn Bigelow. Rated R for strong violence and pervasive language. 143 minutes.

detroit_ver2Do you find the slogan “Black Lives Matter” offensive because you think all lives matter? Do you think the acquittals of white cops who have shot and killed black men is simply a matter of the courts doing their jobs? Did you think President Trump was making a “joke” when he encouraged police officers to rough up suspects they had in custody?

If you answered yes to any of these, you are the person who needs to see DETROIT. Based on a true account of the murder of three black men by Detroit police at the Algiers Motel during the 1967 riots––and the beating of several other black men and two white women––this is a movie about not only our history, but also life today, fifty years later. The mistake we often make is assuming that movies about racism means it’s a “black film.” No, as a 62 year old white film critic, let me point out that there’s nothing here, other than perhaps some historical details, that black viewers don’t already know. It’s white moviegoers who need to see this instead of turning away.

Director Kathryn Bigelow (“The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty”), herself a white woman, wondered if she was the right person to tell this story. She was and is. While sensitive to getting the facts right she has said her purpose in making this film is contributing to the conversation this country needs to have about racial injustice and police brutuality. The film makes it clear that all police officers are not part of the problem. However, the problem are officers like Krauss (Will Poulter), who beats a black Vietnam veteran (Anthony Mackie), accuses him of lying about being a veteran, and outright accuses him of being a pimp for the two white girls at the motel, women he doesn’t even know.

If you’re like this critic, you grew up being told the police are your friends, and you should seek them out in an emergency. In “Detroit,” we see why in black families the conversation is different. Even the veteran, who refuses to back down, addresses the white cops as “sir” and insists that he doesn’t want to make any trouble. And when we see the trial of the rogue officers we see why––then and now––it’s easy to assume that the system will protect them and thus obedience to even the most outrageous and unlawful demands is the only rational response.

“Detroit” is, at times, a hard film to watch, intentionally so. Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal put us right in the middle of the action, and there’s no turning away. By focusing on this one notorious incident, it’s easy to see why Detroit and other cities were burning in 1967. Martin Luther King may have preached non-violence, but when you have nothing left to lose it’s hard to see Gandhi as a role model.

Those people who answered “yes” to one or more of the questions at the start of this review should do two things. First, they should ask themselves how they would feel and what they would do if the situation was reversed, and they were the ones being choked to death or shot in the back or beaten and given no treatment by black police officers who were then acquitted of all charges. And, second, they should see “Detroit” and then begin the conversation about what we are going to do about a national problem we have left festering for far too long.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 5 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Fun Mom Dinner

FILM REVIEW – FUN MOM DINNERWith Katie Aselton, Toni Collette, Bridget Everett, Molly Shannon, Adam Scott. Written by Julie Rudd. Directed by Alethea Jones. Rated R for language throughout, crude sexual material, and drug use. 88 minutes.

dfxjoibxoaezkruThere’s no question that we have different standards for movies we see in the theater and those we watch at home. Whether it’s a matter of cost or convenience, we expect more when we make the effort to go out. Thus the release of FUN MOM DINNER on demand (and “select theaters”) is a shrewd decision. As a “TV-movie,” it makes a nice showcase for its cast and first-time director Alethea Jones and writer Julie Rudd (though as a major summer release, it would quickly come and go).

This is a variation of the “women bonding” comedy. Instead of bridesmaids, they’re young moms who know each other through the pre-school their kids go to. Emily (Katie Aselton) married her first love Tom (Adam Scott), but their marriage has gotten stale and routine. Jamie (Molly Shannon) is divorced and not looking forward to dating as a single mom. Melanie (Bridget Everett) is the larger-than-life character who in a different movie, would be played by Melissa McCarthy as a boor. And Kate (Toni Collette) doesn’t really want to connect with this peer group.

In the course of the evening, the usual things happen for a movie like this. They drink too much. They get high (at a marijuana store co-owned by Paul Rudd, husband of screenwriter Julie Rudd). Emily will have a flirtation with a sexy bar owner (Adam Levine). Jamie will meet a sweet guy (Paul Rust). Tom and Andrew (Rob Heubel), another of the fathers, will learn that taking care of their own kids is not “babysitting” but “parenting,” and discuss improving their marriages.

In some ways it’s formulaic, but the cast plays it straight, letting the laughs come from the all-too-recognizable situations. One suspects that women of a certain age will identify with the characters sharing why “Sixteen Candles” is their favorite movie. There are some unexpected laughs as well, including a karaoke scene which makes this the second movie in two weeks (after the very different “Atomic Blonde”) to revive the ’80s pop hit “99 Red Balloons.” While the comedy is sometimes broad, it avoids the need to humiliate its main characters or those around them. Case in point is Everett’s character, who gets aggressive with a bartender, but only because one of their friends has disappeared. We’re encouraged to laugh with these characters, not at them.

“Fun Mom Dinner” is ideally targeted to the young mothers who probably wouldn’t get the time to see this in the theaters but can enjoy this short (88 minutes) movie after they get the kids to bed. Whether bonding with other mothers, or sharing a few laughs with their partners about their own lives, it’s an amiable, feel good comedy that won’t be disrupted if you have to pause it because Junior woke up.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 3 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.