Category Archives: FILM REVIEW

Review – John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum

FILM REVIEWJOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUMWith Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Ian McShane, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos. Written by Derek Kolstad and Shay Hatten and Chris Collins & Marc Abrams. Directed by Chad Stahelski. Rated R for pervasive strong violence, and some language. 130 minutes.

john_wick_chapter_three_ver14It’s hard to believe that four writers are credited for the script for JOHN WICK: CHAPTER 3 – PARABELLUM in that so many scenes consist of “John gets into a fight.” Nonetheless, the original 2014 film has turned into a franchise, with a fourth film almost certainly in the cards. So what’s the appeal?

First and foremost are the multiple action scenes, featuring martial arts, gunfire, and swordplay. The fight choreography and stuntwork approaches the balletic, and there’s a nod to the more serene artform when John (Keanu Reeves) pays a call on the director of a Russian ballet company (a cameo by Anjelica Huston) to escape from New York. He has been declared “excommunicado” by the assassin’s guild he’s worked for and against, and there’s now a $14 million price on his head with everyone is forbidden to help him.

This gets to the second factor, which is that the series seems to be set in a parallel universe (one observer noted that it’s analogous to the “Harry Potter” movies) where these killers act with impunity, having their own hotels, coinage, and stock exchange. Wick has violated the strict rules of this world which is why he’s now on the run, and those who assisted him, including Winston (Ian McShane), operator of the Continental Hotel, and the Bowery King (Laurence Fishburne), who runs a network of street people, are those marked for punishment by the Adjudicator (Asia Kate Dillon). There’s a surreal element at work here, so that when Winston refuses to cooperate, he’s told his hotel will be “deconsecrated,” so it will no longer be deemed neutral territory.

What puts this above the level of a video game is that beyond the violent action and creative worldbuilding, there is a cast that takes the material seriously enough that we’re willing to play along. McShane’s wry hotelier is joined by Lance Reddick as his very proper chief of staff. Among the killers, Halle Berry pops up as an assassin who has been promoted to “management” in Morocco but who owes a debt to Wick, and Mark Dacascos is Zero, a sushi chef who leads a team of ninja-warriors against Wick. Such is the through the looking glass nature of the proceedings that between deadly battles, Zero expresses fannish admiration for Wick.

For the record, it should be noted that the film richly deserves its R rating for violence. It not only uses enough ammunition to supply a small war leading to an alarmingly high body count, it also features moments where even hardcore action fans may want to turn away from the screen. It’s not clear if Derek Kolstad, one of the screenwriters here who created the character and is credited with the story, has an end in sight to this saga, or they’ll just play it out until either Reeves or audiences get bored. Until then, no one is likely to be bored with “John Wick: Chapter 3.”•••

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 – The Hustle

FILM REVIEWTHE HUSTLEWith Anne Hathaway, Rebel Wilson, Alex Sharp, Ingrid Oliver, Casper Christensen. Written by Stanley Shapiro & Paul Henning and Dale Launer and Jac Schaeffer. Directed by Chris Addison. Rated PG-13 on appeal for crude sexual content and language. 94 minutes.

hustleTHE HUSTLE is the third film version of a movie that began as “Bedtime Story” (1964) with Marlon Brando and David Niven, and the better known “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” (1988) with Steve Martin and Michael Caine. The story of two con artists making a bet as to which will one will fleece their victim has revised the story to make the scammers women. That idea was apparently the last time anyone gave a thought to what they were doing.

Josephine Chesterfield (Anne Hathaway, sporting a variety of accents) lives a luxurious lifestyle on the French Riviera, financed by a series of gullible playboys. Glamorous, sophisticated, and dressed in a series of stunning outfits, she is everything that Penny Rust (Rebel Wilson) is not. Penny is brash and vulgar. Penny asks to be tutored by Josephine but eventually their rivalry comes to the fore, as they set their sights on a high-tech millionaire (Alex Sharp).

If the material seems familiar to fans of “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” there’s a reason. Of the four screenwriters credited, three of them are the authors of the earlier film (and two of them are dead). This may be one of the most unnecessary remakes since Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” There’s little attempt to put a fresh spin on the material beyond the casting.

It might have seemed smart on paper. Hathaway knows her way around comedy, and Wilson has moved up from supporting player after attracting attention in smaller roles. The problem is that there is no on-screen chemistry between the two stars. They often seem like they’re characters in different movies. Hathaway’s Josephine is a cousin to her Daphne in “Ocean’s Eight,” while Wilson’s Penny is more akin to her Fat Amy in the “Pitch Perfect” series.

While the lavish locations (with Spain filling in for the south of France) are attractive, there are only intermittent laughs in what ought to be a rollicking comedy. Unfortunately, Wilson pretending to be blind or Hathaway adopting a cartoonish German accent are what passes for humor here. The two leads not only are missing chemistry and a well-developed script, they also lack the star power that might have overcome some of the flm’s problems. Both are talented actresses who have handled challenging comic material (in movies like “Colossal” and the recent “Isn’t it Romantic?”), but neither is a “star” in the sense of being able to “open” a film (i.e., where their mere presence is enough to attract the interest of a large number of filmgoers).

The only ones being hustled by “The Hustle” are the studio executives who greenlit the project, and moviegoers led to believe that simply retrofitting old male roles for young actresses is a breakthrough for female empowerment in Hollywood.•••

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 – Long Shot

FILM REVIEWLONG SHOTWith Charlize Theron, Seth Rogen, Bob Odenkirk, Alexander Skarsgård, Andy Serkis. Written by Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah. Directed by Jonathan Levine. Rated R for strong sexual content, language throughout and some drug use. 125 minutes.

long_shot_ver3LONG SHOT must have been a very hard project to sell. The premise involves Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), who serves as Secretary of State but has decided to run for President. Is she supposed to be Hillary Clinton? Well, no, but she is a strong, independent, and very capable woman who has to deal with a President (Bob Odenkirk) who seems a bizarre cross between Donald Trump and Martin Sheen: his claim to fame before being elected is that he played the President on a popular TV show.

Meanwhile Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen), is a feisty and profane journalist who has just lost his job when his newspaper was bought by a right-wing media mogul (Andy Serkis). By chance he crosses paths with Charlotte with whom he has a history: she was – improbably – once his baby sitter upon whom he had a crush. Now she’s in need of a speech writer who can help energize her campaign. Over the objections of her advisors, she picks him.

At this point you may think you’ve had enough about politics given that we’re now in the midst of a presidential campaign that won’t culminate until the election of November 2020, but if so, you’d be missing the point. While there are some political jabs here and there, “Long Shot” is a romantic comedy, a genre Hollywood once handled with ease but which it has struggled with for the last several years.

Wait, a romantic comedy? With Charlize Theron and Seth Rogen?! It’s true. The notion of these two as a cinematic couple seems beyond bizarre and yet, somehow, it works. Amazingly, these two talented performers turn out to have an entirely unexpected on-screen chemistry. Give credit where it’s due not only to the actors but to the filmmakers, who don’t shy away from the notion that in a relationship between a national figure seeking the highest office in the land and an ink-stained wretch, it’s the former who will be the “alpha” in the relationship.

In the style of the classic romantic comedies, they each have something to learn from the other. She needs to be reminded that sometimes there are higher values than winning, while he needs the discipline and focus of a job where his juvenile behavior can have a devasting impact. As in his other roles, Rogen is funny and likeable even if his penchant for vulgar humor makes him someone you would not bring home to your mother. Unlike such actors as Adam Sandler and Melissa McCarthy, Rogen is able to demonstrate empathy for others. When his screw-ups adversely affect Charlotte’s campaign, he shows that it matters to him.

Theron has not had much chance to show her comedic skills on the big screen and proves to be a classy foil for Rogen’s earthiness. She shows how her character is so buttoned-down and controlled that she relishes the taste of freedom Rogen’s character offers. Yet she also has to demonstrate that her character has the gravitas necessary to seek the presidency.

“Long Shot” turns out to be a delightful surprise. At times it borders on the offensive (think “There’s Something About Mary”) yet it has a sweetness at its core that makes it all right. It’s almost enough to make one think the romantic comedy is not yet dead.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.

Review – Her Smell

FILM REVIEWHER SMELLWith Elisabeth Moss, Cara Delevingne, Virginia Madsen, Eric Stoltz, Amber Heard. Written and directed by Alex Ross Perry. Rated R for language throughout and some drug use. 134 minutes.

her_smellLike the recent Natalie Portman vehicle “Vox Lux,” the oddly-named HER SMELL is a portrait of female rock star who has enjoyed great success, let it go to her head and became a monster in the process, and making the attempt to find out if her life will have a second act. What makes it fascinating is a no-holds-barred performance by Elisabeth Moss, best known for her roles on the small screen in “Mad Men” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Moss is Becky, the leader of the punk rock band “Something She.” When we meet her, they’re still pulling in an audience but the signs for the future are not good. Her ex-husband (Dan Stevens) is raising their daughter, whom she barely sees. Her entourage includes a couple of charlatans engaging in pseudo-religious rituals. She’s abusive to everyone, from the co-founder of the band (Cara Delevigne) to the owner of her record label (Eric Stoltz) to her mother (Virginia Madsen).

Among the signifiers that she may have overstayed her time in the spotlight is that the best offer the band has is to go on tour with Zelda Zekiel (Amber Heard), a performer for which they were once the opening act. Becky sees this as a step backwards. Perhaps the cruelest sign is the arrival of three young women who idolized Becky and jump at the chance to perform with her, reminding her that she’s been around long enough that her fans have now become potential rivals.

Writer/director Alex Ross Perry mixes these scenes of Becky’s breakdown with footage of the band’s early days, so we can see how far she has come and how far she has fallen. One of life’s tragedies is achieving great success and then losing it especially when, as here, it’s the drinking and drug use and lack of responsibility that causes her to be her own worst enemy. We get much more than is needed to make the point (some 90 minutes of the 134-minute film), but it’s obvious where her life’s trajectory is leading. The third act is her way back, where it’s an open question whether she has the strength and the will to do it.

While the supporting cast is good – with Delevigne and Heard among the standouts – this really is a tour-de-force for Moss, playing a character who for much of the film is utterly unsympathetic. That she gains our sympathy, as in a scene where she’s at the piano with the young daughter who barely knows her, is a credit to the actress. On the page her potential redemption might have seemed formulaic, but Moss gives us a credible look at someone who’s hit the heights, and then rock bottom, and is willing to strive for that second chance.

As a narrative “Her Smell” leaves something to be desired, but as a showcase for a bravura performance by Moss, it becomes a film that her fans will want to see and may prove to be a marker for her own future career.•••

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 – Avengers: Endgame

FILM REVIEWAVENGERS: ENDGAMEWith Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Scarlett Johannson, Josh Brolin, 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. 181 minutes.

avengers_endgame_ver2_xlgAt the end of “Avengers: Infinity War” (2018), Thanos (Josh Brolin) had succeeded in gaining all six of the “Infinity Stones” and used their combined power to turn half of all life in the universe into dust. The closing scenes were devastating to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), as we watched a number of characters disintegrate, including Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), but not before he sent out a signal for help. A few months later came “Ant-Man & The Wasp,” in which the events of “Infinity War” seemed to have no impact, until a scene in the closing credits dusted a host of characters and left Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) trapped in quantum space.

We found out who Fury was summoning last month in “Captain Marvel,” introducing the character played by Brie Larson. And that so-called “Easter Egg” (because it was “hidden” in the closing credits after the movie ended) with Ant-Man introduced something else that will play out in the new AVENGERS: ENDGAME. Although the superhero genre is looked down upon – much as other genres now taken seriously were once dismissed as “oaters” or “tearjerkers” – the intricate plotting and characterization across nearly two dozen films made over the course of a decade is something that will both entertain and be studied for years to come.

As for “Endgame,” this reviewer is redacting most of the plot summary. Suffice to say, after some opening scenes which contain a few surprises, the story proper begins with the remainder of the Avengers drawn into a plan to reverse the calamity brought about by Thanos. While Captain America (Chris Evans), Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson), and Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) are ready to get to work, others – like Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) have, for better or worse, moved on.

What they decide to do, how they do it, and what obstacles they face are left for viewers to discover. There are just a few points to be made. First, many movies get touted as “epic” adventures, but this is that rare film that lives up to the hype. It’s three hours long, and yet doesn’t feel it. You get caught up in the story and with the choices facing the characters. There are moments of humor, many involving Hemsworth, who comes as close as anyone to stealing the film. There are also many touching moments, including some that may leave you teary-eyed.

Second, almost anyone who has had a significant role in the MCU movies turns up here, including some big names showing up to reprise parts in earlier films. While Downey, Hemsworth, Ruffalo, Evans, Johannson, and Jeremy Renner (as Hawkeye) get much screen time, other characters get their moments as well. It’s a combination family reunion and farewell party, so perhaps it’s fitting that the movie includes one final cameo from the late Stan Lee.

Finally, in terms of both big screen action and tying up loose ends, “Avengers: End Game” really brings it to an end, with no additional scenes in the closing credits to tease future installments. The climactic battle – and it’s not a spoiler to note that there is one – features a number of moments which are destined to become iconic. After a payoff like this, it’s fair to ask where the genre goes from here. “Avengers: Endgame” will be a very tough act – if not an impossible one – to follow.•••

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 – The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

FILM REVIEWTHE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE. With Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgard, Joana Ribeiro, Olga Kurylenko. Written by Terry Gilliam and Tony Grisoni. Directed by Terry Gilliam. Unrated, but contains violence, profanity and sexual situations. 132 minutes.

quixote“It is accomplished,” sighed Jesus on the Cross, and presumably so did Terry Gilliam at last summer’s Cannes Film Festival, when after 25 years of false starts and heartbreak, his THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE at long last saw the light of a projector. Notorious as the most cursed film of all time, this loosey-goosey modernization of Miguel de Cervantes’ 1605 novel has been begun by Gilliam some seven times over the past two-and-a-half decades, with one attempt going down in such spectacular flames they even made a movie about the movie that couldn’t get made (2002’s agonizing behind-the-scenes documentary, “Lost in La Mancha.”)

Arriving with a touching dedication to not one but two actors originally cast as Quixote who died before the project could see coampletion – Jean Rochefort and John Hurt – the film bears the heavy weight of its tumultuous production history, veiled references to which slyly pepper the screenplay for insider amusement. If you squint it is indeed possible to imagine a sleeker, better-funded version of this tale showing up shortly after “The Fisher King” in the ‘90s, continuing that hit film’s M.O. of yuppie scum redeemed through medieval fantasy.

Of course things didn’t quite work out that way, and now “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” arrives on the heels of Orson Welles’ “The Other Side of the Wind” and Aretha Franklin’s “Amazing Grace” in a sudden excavation of cinematic holy grails so swift and staggering I expect the missing reels from “The Magnificent Ambersons” and that Jerry Lewis Holocaust clown movie to be dropping on Netflix any day now. So, after a quarter-century of legendary disaster and feverish anticipation “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is finally here and it’s… okay, I guess.

Adam Driver stars as Toby, a sleazy, skirt-chasing commercial director shooting a Quixote-themed ad for a Russian vodka company on location somewhere in the Spanish countryside. He’s busy sneaking around with the sexed-up wife (Olga Kurylenko) of his dirtbag boss (Stellan Skarsgard) when a mysterious gypsy shows up with a DVD of Toby’s student film – an artsy, black-and-white adaptation of Don Quixote filmed a decade ago in the nearby peasant town of Sueños (the Spanish word for dreams. I see what you did there, Terry.)

Misty with nostalgia, Toby borrows a motorcycle and returns to Suenos, only to discover that his production ruined the lives of pretty much every villager involved. With shades of Dennis Hopper’s “The Last Movie,” we see that the gentle cobbler he once cast as Quixote (Jonathan Pryce) has spent the last ten years in character, believing himself to actually be the Knight of the Doleful Countenance and mistaking Toby for his faithful sidekick, Sancho Panza.

Even worse, the sweet virginal teen (Joana Ribero) our budding auteur coaxed in front of his camera ran off to make it in the movies and ended up as an escort – now an abused plaything for a billionaire Russian oligarch (Jordi Molla) who just so happens to own the vodka company Toby’s working for.

It’s easy to see where this is going, our knight errant getting Toby back in touch with the better angels of his nature by rescuing the damsel and titling at the windmills of late capitalist thuggery. What’s harder to grok is how it gets there – the movie lurches semi-coherently from one tonally conflicting set-piece to another, with story elements that erupt out of nowhere and are discarded just as quickly. (What was with that fire? And how about those dead cops?) The course of narrative in Terry Gilliam films never did run smooth but “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” is an especially erratic affair, one that deliberately avoids offering much delineation between the movie’s dream sequences and its highly permeable reality.

This approach leads to several scenes of startling beauty and a fair amount of perplexed annoyance. Driver heroically holds it all together with his exasperated reactions, flinging those long limbs around akimbo while finding continually inventive ways to fall down in the dirt. (He also frantically impersonates Eddie Cantor, for reasons that escape me.) There’s still no director as manic as Gilliam when it comes time for some chaotically cluttered, wide-angle obnoxiousness, and while “The Man Who Killed Don Quixote” might find his gifts somewhat diminished, they’re still very much in evidence.

And hey, the movie finally got made. That’s a miracle in and of itself.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2.5 out of 5.Over the past twenty years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in WBUR’s The ARTery, Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Village Voice, Nashville Scene and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

Review – The Curse of La Llorona

FILM REVIEWTHE CURSE OF LA LLORONAWith Linda Cardellini, Raymond Cruz, Marisol Ramirez, Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen. Written by Mikki Daughtry & Tobias Iaconis. Directed by Michael Chaves. Rated R for violence and terror. 93 minutes.

curse_of_la_llorona_ver2Was this really the right time for a horror movie about a Mexican demon who kills children attacking an American family? One dreads the thought of President Trump citing THE CURSE OF LA LLORONA as another reason to build his wall.

Politics aside, this horror entry is notable in light of what will be next week’s release of what will likely be one of the biggest films of the year, “Avengers: Endgame.” Much has been made of the success of the intertwined entries in the MCU – the Marvel Cinematic Universe – with the films playing off of each other so that fans feel the need to see each new release. With less fanfare there has been a similar collection of films coming off the 2013 movie “The Conjuring” which has, so far, led to one sequel and several spinoffs including “Annabelle” and “The Nun,” with more films on the way.

“The Curse of La Llorona” has a fleeting nod to “Annabelle,” in telling the story of how Anna (Linda Cardellini), a social worker, causes her family to be attacked by La Llorona, the spirit of a centuries old Mexican woman who murdered her children and then took her own life. Much of the scares are of the cheap, jump-out-at-you variety, with La Llorona (Marisol Ramirez) suddenly appearing to menace Anna’s children (Roman Christou, Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen).

It’s a spooky story to be sure, and the young actors playing the children are so effective one hopes that making the film didn’t leave them with nightmares and years of therapy ahead of them. Since this is part of a growing franchise, it’s not enough to ask whether it is a serviceable horror film – it is – without also asking where do the filmmakers go from here? Although the door is left open, at least by implication, for further tales of La Llorona, there’s a much more promising road ahead.

In the film’s third act Anna turns to Rafael Olvera (Raymond Cruz), a former priest who has left the church but has not lost his faith. Using unorthodox means, he has devoted himself to fighting demons and other manifestations of the world’s evils. His arrival in the story, after a brief appearance early on, kicks the film up to a new level. Cruz wryly underplays the role, generating some genuine laughs as opposed to the ones mocking the film’s contrivances. A veteran actor with credits reaching back to the 1980s, this should be a breakout role for him and one that should lead to a follow-up movie where his character will be front-and-center.

“The Curse of La Llorona” is a competently made horror film that probably wouldn’t have attracted much notice if it wasn’t billed as part of “The Conjuring” universe. If the franchise continues to grow, it may be well-remembered as the movie made Cruz and his character major players in the series.•••

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.