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Category Archives: FILM REVIEW

Review – Mother!

FILM REVIEWMOTHER! With Jennifer Lawrence, Javier Bardem, Ed Harris, Michelle Pfeiffer, Brian Gleeson. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Rated R for strong disturbing violent content, some sexuality, nudity, and language. 121 minutes.

mother-300x450After a summer of superheroes and sequels, the fall movie season brings us back to the year’s other big trend: the metaphor movie. These are allegories where, if you take the story literally, you miss the point. Two of the best films of the spring were about something other than their supposed storylines. People who saw “Colossal” as a movie about a woman struggling with the fact that a giant monster is mimicking her in South Korea or “Get Out” about the problem of upper-class white families in the suburbs conducting medical experiments couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

Which brings us to MOTHER!. It is a film that is likely to divide audiences not the least of which because writer/director Darren Aronofsky not only doesn’t explain anything, but keeps misleading viewers. People who think they’ve walked into a conventional horror movie aren’t going to know what hit them.

It begins Jennifer Lawrence (all of the film’s characters are unnamed–check out the closing credits) waking up in bed in an old house that apparently is being rebuilt after a horrendous fire. She is married to a poet (Javier Bardem), who has had a very successful book but is now suffering writer’s block. He spends the days trying to write while she slowly repairs and decorates the house. One night, a mysterious man (Ed Harris) comes to their door, thinking it’s a bed and breakfast. Without consulting his wife, the poet invites him to spend the night. Strange things start happening, often just out of earshot of the woman. You begin to think we’re in “Gaslight” territory, as she is being manipulated for some reason.

The arrival of the stranger’s wife (Michelle Pfeiffer) adds more tension, as her actions and words are intrusive and inappropriate. What is going on? There’s more, much more, and nothing described so far can prepare you for it. Aronofsky has created a work that plays as if Guillermo del Toro was directing a play by Harold Pinter. The dialogue is about as much about what’s unsaid as what is, and characters arrive at the house as if they belong there. Indeed, Lawrence is made to feel the outsider, frequently being asked by these strangers, “Who are you?”

What is it a metaphor for? That would be telling and, in fact, it’s possible to read the film in a number of ways, whether for the life of a creator of art or the life of the Creator of everything. Is Lawrence suppose to represent the spouse of an artist, a skeptic among religious fanatics, or simply a woman trying to protect her home from the outside world? Critics and fans of the film will have plenty to argue about for years to come.

The principal actors succeed even though they are less playing characters than attitudes and negative forces. If you go see “Mother!” you should go in knowing you may be shocked, you may be angered, and you will certainly be left with more questions than answers. If you take the chance, you will be rewarded with one of the most challenging films all year.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 4 out of 5.Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.


Review – American Assassin

FILM REVIEWAMERICAN ASSASSINWith Dylan O’Brien, Michael Keaton, Sanaa Lathan, David Suchet, Taylor Kitsch. Written by Stephen Schiff and Michael Finch and Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz. Directed by Michael Cuesta. Rated R for strong violence throughout, some torture, language, and brief nudity. 111 minutes.

a19479cd-4383-49f6-a98e-a6d5ca17ff95AMERICAN ASSASSIN is one of those action thrillers that, if taken at face value, should be a “check-your-brain-at-the-door” movie. Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) loses the woman he loves in a brutal terrorist attack. Now he lives for only one thing: revenge. He single-handedly tracks down the people responsible, but before he can get his vengeance, the CIA intervenes.

They’re not protecting the terrorists. In fact, Irene Kennedy (Sanaa Lathan) is a top intelligence official who wants to recruit Rapp for an elite group within the CIA that answers only to her and to Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a veteran “black ops” guy who ruthlessly trains his team. Their new mission: track down 15 kilos of weapons-grade plutonium that they fear may fall into Iranian hands, even though this would violate their agreement to abandon their weapons program. Somehow involved in the transactions is a mysterious figure known as Ghost (Taylor Kitsch), who has some sort of history with Hurley.

And that’s it. Just sit back and enjoy the shootouts, fist fights, torture scenes and explosions. No one will be accused of acting here, but the cast inhabit their cardboard characters that engage you in the same way that you would enjoy a page-turner without taking it seriously. (The movie is, in fact, based on a popular series of books.)

The problem with taking this as a simple action movie is the not-so-subtle political message it wants you to swallow as well. It’s not so much that the villains are, mostly, Iranians and “radical Islamic terrorists” as what the film wants us to accept about America. It’s a world where assassinations are routine and the only bad thing would be getting caught.

The message of the movie is that obedience to authority and protocol is important, except when it’s not. Rapp keeps breaking the rules and disobeying orders, but it’s because he sets a higher goal on accomplishing the mission. Time and again, despite the carnage he leaves in his wake, he’s shown to be right. This is a spy thriller for the Trump Era, where rules that are inconvenient are simply brushed aside.

The fascinating thing about genre movies is how their formulas evolve to reflect the time in which they were made. “American Assassin” very much reflects the attitudes of at least part of the public and government. James Bond, a fictional spy born out of the Cold War, has continued to evolve over fifty years of movies. It remains to be seen if Mitch Rapp will transcend this era.•••

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 – Home Again

With Reese Witherspoon, Pico Alexander, Michael Sheen, Candice Bergen, Lake Bell. Written and directed by Hallie Meyers-Shyer. Rated PG-13 for some thematic and sexual material. 97 minutes.

125905Hallie Meyers-Shyer, daughter of director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated,” “The Intern”), makes her writing/directing debut with HOME AGAIN. It’s a smart comedy about a single mother finding herself, but one that avoids a lot of real-life issues by making her the daughter of a deceased film director who has left her a palatial Los Angeles home and, apparently, no concerns about money.

Alice (Reese Witherspoon) arrives in L.A. with her two little girls, having just separated from her music producer husband (Michael Sheen). Going out with some girlfriends for her 40th birthday, they run into three aspiring filmmakers led by Harry (Pico Alexander). After a night of drinking and dancing they end up at Alice’s house, with an awkward encounter between Alice and Harry, not the least of which because he’s only 27.

As it turns out, the three–out in L.A. to pitch their first film–need a place to stay. With a little goading from Alice’s mother (Candice Bergen, who adds a touch of class to every scene she’s in), Alice offers them her guest house. What ensues is that Harry, George (Jon Rudnitsky), and Teddy (Nat Wolff), all fall in love with Alice, but it’s Harry who she ends up taking to bed. All three become involved in her life and that of her girls, and so she has to decide what makes sense for her in moving forward.

The plotting is the film’s weak point, where things often happen because the writer needs them to, not because it makes sense. A fistfight comes out of left field, and a race to keep an appointment because George promised to be at the school where one of the daughters is performing a play she wrote is right out of SitComs 101. No one questions who has been maintaining Alice’s beautiful home while she’s been living in New York, which includes a storehouse of memorabilia from her late father.

Indeed, this is the sort of movie where we learn the young filmmakers want to make their movie in black and white as sign of how “serious” they are, a joke that goes back to at least Christopher Guest’s “The Big Picture” (1989). Myers-Shyer can be forgiven for not knowing that as she was only three years old at the time.

Yet in spite of the contrivances, the characters ring true. Witherspoon, at 41, perfectly balances the dilemma of the modern middle-aged woman who wants to have a full life but won’t accept the nonsense of life in one’s twenties. The May/September relationship between her and Alexander may seem odd until another character points out that the reverse is so common as to be unremarkable. Best of all, Myers-Shyer seems to like her characters. Except for a pointless subplot with Lake Bell as a self-absorbed socialite, there are no villains here. Instead, what we see are people who may not get everything they want, but remain open to new possibilities.

“Home Again” is a promising debut for Myers-Shyer, who might want to take on a collaborator for her next script, but has some warm and comic things to say about adults trying to make sense of their lives. If this film is any indication, she’ll be a talent to watch in the future.•••

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.

Review – It

FILM REVIEWITWith Bill Skarsgård, Jaeden Lieberher, Jeremy Ray Taylor, Sophia Lillis, Finn Wolfhard. Written by Chase Palmer & Cary Fukunaga and Gary Dauberman. Directed by Andy Muschietti. Rated R for violence/horror, bloody images, and for language. 135 minutes.

it-imax-2d-4644The basic problem with IT, based on Stephen King’s 1986 novel, is that it’s thirty years too late. Already turned into a television miniseries in 1990, the story of a group of misfit tweens who are terrorized by both sadistic bullies and a ghoulish clown who preys on their fears, has the disadvantage of having been told many times by now. Indeed, it plays like a cross between the “Nightmare on Elm Street” movies and “Stand By Me” (1986), itself based on a King short story.

Moving the action from the 1950s to the 1980s, the story begins when Bill Denbrough (Jaeden Lieberher) makes a paper boat for his beloved little brother Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott). The young boy tries to retrieve it when he goes down a storm drain only to encounter Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), a malicious clown who, improbably, lives in the sewer. George’s failure to return home psychologically scars his brother Bill.

The story moves to the following summer where there are enough plots for half a dozen movies (which may be why this project spent so many years in development hell). Bill and his friends are attacked by bullies led by the particularly sadistic Henry (Nicholas Hamilton). Each of the friends is a misfit in their own way. They are joined by three others, equally clichéd. Beverly (Sophia Lillis) has a “reputation” which is not only false but covers up her real secret. Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is the “new kid” who is overweight and shy. Mike (Chosen Jacobs) is the home schooled black kid in the otherwise lily white town of Derry, Maine. Calling themselves the “Loser’s Club” they will have to unite and overcome their fears in order to defeat abusive parents, bullies, and Pennywise. And this is only Chapter One. The novel has the friends reunited as adults 27 years later which will presumably be the plot of the follow-up movie.

In adapting King’s overwrought prose, the filmmakers have done what others before them have done: scaled it back and toned it down. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of horror on hand, including a key scene with blood spewing out of a bathroom sink, but–to the film’s credit –they didn’t feel the need to make a verbatim transition from page to screen. The result is a tighter, more coherent story, even if it’s overlong at two-and-a-quarter hours.

The film’s real strength is in its young and unknown cast. This is a movie pitched to teens and adults where the major characters are all 12 and 13. Lieberher, Lillis, and Taylor are standouts, forming an unlikely triangle that is both emotionally truthful and age appropriate. Most of the attention, of course, will be on Skarsgård’s Pennywise. Buried under makeup and prosthetics, he is a memorable “evil clown,” employing a voice that simultaneously entices and frightens.

The bottom line is that “It” is one of the better Stephen King film adaptations, but falls short of the pantheon of such films as “The Shining,” “Carrie,” “Stand By Me,” and “Misery.” Nonetheless, it should be more than enough to satisfy his fans, as well as anyone else willing to go along for the ride.•••

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.

Review – The Limehouse Golem

. With Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke, Eddie Marsan, Douglas Booth, Sam Reid. Written by Jane Goldman. Directed by Juan Carlos Medina. Not rated. 109 minutes.

the-limehouse-golem-new-posterPerhaps it’s a good thing to have different standards for movies seen on TV and those on the big screen. It might be the cost of seeing the movie or the effort required, but whatever the reason we tend to cut movies seen by way of the convenience of at-home PPV some slack. THE LIMEHOUSE GOLEM probably wouldn’t have packed them in, even at the local art house, but from the living room sofa, this murder mystery set in 19th century London is quite appealing. Although not rated, the violence and brief nudity puts this in R-rated territory.

John Kildare (Bill Nighy) of Scotland Yard is assigned the case of a series of gruesome murders in the seedy Limehouse district. There’s no apparent rhyme nor reason to the selection of the victims, but Kildare knows why he was chosen: he’s expected to fail and will provide his superiors a convenient scapegoat. At the same time Lizzie Cree (Olivia Cooke), a local actress, is on trial for the murder of her husband, journalist and failed playwright John Cree (Sam Reid).

Kildare discovers a clue which leads to a list of four men who were at the library on a key date, including Cree and none other than Karl Marx. As Kildare pursues the lead, he comes to believe that it is Cree who was the killer in which case he could have the means of sparing Lizzie the hangman’s noose. Based on a novel by Peter Ackroyd, the movie follows Kildare while daring the viewer to figure it out before him.

Even if you’re not trying to guess the solution, the movie gives us a sense of the low-class British music hall entertainment of the era. A constable assigned to work with Kildare is surprised the inspector knows nothing of stars like Dan Leno (Douglas Booth), whose act consists of dressing in drag. Leno becomes a key figure when he takes a shine to Lizzie and brings her into the act, with the approval of Uncle (Eddie Marsan), the benevolent owner of the theater who has a few dark secrets of his own.

Beyond a strong cast, particularly Nighy, whose trademark drollness takes on a tragic air, what the film offers is atmosphere. It’s not clear how director and Florida native Juan Carlos Medina, making his sophomore effort here, immersed himself in the world of 19th century London, but he revels in the details. We go through not only the streets and music halls, but the pubs, the court chambers, the apartments, and offices of the period. This is a fully-realized world where you feel you might bump into David Copperfield or Sherlock Holmes around the next corner.

So why is it getting a limited theatrical release and going primarily to On Demand (with a DVD release set for November)? Presumably because it lacks any major stars among the recognizable faces, and the murders–while grisly–aren’t quite grisly enough for the horror fans. In short, “The Limehouse Golem” is an atmospheric murder mystery that may not achieve blockbuster status yet it draws you into its world and its mystery, and keeps you guessing right to the end.•••

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.

Review – Goon: Last of the Enforcers

FILM REVIEWGOON: LAST OF THE ENFORCERS. With Seann William Scott, Wyatt Russell, Alison Pill. Callum Keith Rennie, Liev Schreiber. Written by Jay Baruchel and Jesse Chabot. Directed by Jay Baruchel. Rated R for pervasive language, crude sexual content and bloody sports violence. 101 minutes.

bb2af0d88cefbf66e09415dc31a6db3c-hd-movies-movie-filmBarely released to theaters in the spring of 2012, the scrappy, foul-mouthed hockey comedy “Goon” went on to become something of a sensation on home video––at least amongst sports fans and those of us who enjoy elaborate arias of profanity. Based on a memoir by Hanson, Massachusetts’s own Doug Smith about his un-illustrious career in the minor leagues (over 400 penalty minutes and zero goals), the movie’s grubby authenticity felt like a throwback to the naughty, bygone days of “Slap Shot” or “Semi-Tough” and an antidote to today’s blandly inspirational sports sagas. Cheerfully disreputable and endlessly quotable, “Goon” is the kind of movie guys like to put on when they come home drunk.

Like most comedy sequels, GOON: LAST OF THE ENFORCERS cranks everything about the original up a few notches thinking audiences won’t be satisfied unless they get a bigger, louder and more outrageous version of what they enjoyed last time. And like most comedy sequels, it’s pretty lousy. Sean William Scott returns as Doug Glatt, the lovably lunkheaded enforcer for the Halifax Highlanders. The whole joke with Doug is that he’s not much of a hockey player and can’t even skate very well, but he’s got a skull made out of rock and an almost supernatural ability to inflict grievous bodily harm upon his opponents. Our Number 69 is also a great big sweetheart, tenderly helping players off the ice after knocking their bloody teeth out.

But it’s Doug’s turn to get carried off in the opening moments of this sequel. He’s flattened and beaten within an inch of his life by Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell), semi-psychotic estranged son of the Highlanders’ new owner (Callum Keith Rennie). First-time director Jay Baruchel––who co-wrote the original and briefly reprises his role here as Doug’s annoying Masshole pal—stages the scuffle with geysers of blood better suited for a Tarantino movie. The previous picture’s casually escalating brutality already amped up to absurdity before the opening credits have even rolled, there’s nowhere for this movie to go except bigger, bloodier and more ridiculous. And believe me, it gets there.

His career seemingly ended by injuries, Doug tries working at a day job at an insurance company while not-so-secretly itching to get back on the ice despite doctor’s orders. His pregnant wife Eva (the returning Alison Pill) has a monologue in which she begs him not to turn her into the stereotypical shrew standing between her husband and his dreams, and for a moment it feels like they left the camera rolling while the actress was yelling at Baruchel and co-screenwriter Jesse Chabot because that’s exactly what has happened here.

“Goon: Last of the Enforcers” lurches its way around a long season of incoherently melodramatic developments, with the dastardly Anders Cain becoming the Highlanders’ captain between suspensions and then getting traded again whenever the plot requires additional conflict. Russell––a former professional goalie––has a few scenes here in which he’s genuinely scary, at odds with the oft-buffoonish comic tone but interesting enough to make you wish you were watching whatever movie he seems to think he’s in.

One of the things that made “Goon” so special was that the actors all took their ridiculous characters desperately seriously. Nobody acted like they were in a comedy and even Eugene Levy played it straight. Baruchel’s bigger-is-better M.O. leads to a lot more shouting and face-pulling. A direly unfunny blooper reel that runs under the closing credits reveals that the actors were encouraged to ad-lib to their hearts’ content, which would account for the erratic, over-scaled performances and random non-sequiturs that probably seemed funny on set.

Bless that Liev Schreiber though, who reprises his role here as Ross Rhea, a former bruiser for the Boston Bruins not going gently into that good night. Once again, Schreiber plays the part like he’s Daniel Day-Lewis in “Gangs of New York,” an elaborately mustachioed relic with an odd gentlemanly streak, still swinging away according to ancient codes of combat. There’s a brief, wonderfully affecting scene in which he simply sits alongside Doug, bloody and concussed while lighting yet another cigarette. It’s a tiny moment in which Schreiber allows us to catch a quick glimpse of this cartoon character’s pain and regret, and it belongs in a much better movie than this one.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.Over the past eighteen years, Sean Burns’ reviews, interviews, and essays have appeared in Philadelphia Weekly, The Improper Bostonian, Metro, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, The House Next Door, Time Out New York, EntertainmentTell, Philadelphia City Paper and He stashes them all at Spliced Personality.

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.