Category Archives: ON DEMAND

Review – Terminal


FILM REVIEW – TERMINALWith Margot Robbie, Mike Myers, Simon Pegg, Max Irons, Dexter Fletcher. Written and directed by Vaughn Stein. Unrated. 90 minutes.

terminal_xlgThere are some movies that come along that fairly scream “cult film.” These are movies that leave most viewers disappointed or baffled or indifferent yet create a fervent response among some people who will want to watch it again and again. TERMINAL is ripe for such discovery.

In an unnamed city (although shot in Budapest, Hungary), Annie (Margot Robbie) is engaged in a complex game where she is going to turn competing assassins against each other in order to gain control over them. Robbie, who has proved she is as talented as she is stunning, plays a variety of roles here as she manipulates the various men in the story to get what she wants, including waitress, stripper, penitent, and nurse.

The men believe they are on top of the situation, but they are fools. There’s a dying teacher (Simon Pegg), two killers for hire (Max Irons, Dexter Fletcher), and a seemingly innocuous janitor (Mike Myers). All will be revealed to have onion-like layers to their personalities, proving that their surface identities barely scratch the surface of who they really are, and Annie plays each in turn for reasons that slowly become clear over the course of the film.

Vaughn Stein, who has served as assistant director on several movies, makes his feature directorial debut here – having also written the script – and he offers style to spare. Drawing on fashions and décor from numerous eras, he creates an atmospheric locus for his story that is at once familiar and utterly bizarre. Is this a noirish past or a dystopian future? It’s never really explained.

This is where he’s going to lose a lot of viewers. It’s not so much that the story is hard to follow but that it proceeds at its own pace and will leave many scratching their heads. What is going on here? Yet by the end, when all the various plot threads have paid off, it’s clear he was not throwing things out at random but had an end goal in mind from the start.

If the film works, it is due to a combination of his visual stylizations and his ability to attract a strong and unusual cast. Robbie, who was one of the film’s producers, gets to play a variety of roles, and constantly upends our expectations as to where things are going. She may have gotten an Oscar nomination for “I, Tonya,” but this is a film that really showcases her range.

Simon Pegg is similarly complex (although not in as many permutations) as the schoolteacher with a terminal illness who is not exactly what he seems. In addition, the film also offers up Mike Myers, in his first live-action feature film role in nine years, playing a janitor who is as multi-layered as everyone else we meet. Indeed, when his character first appears you may be inclined to dismiss him without realizing who it is. This is a movie where viewers ignore things at their peril.

And that’s why “Terminal” is likely destined for cult film status. It demands much of the viewer, and even the most attentive movie watcher may not feel the payoff is worth it. For those willing to go along for the ride, it not only has a must see turn by Robbie but may be the debut of a director who will be dazzling us 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 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 – Half Magic


FILM REVIEWHALF MAGICWith Heather Graham, Stephanie Beatriz, Angela Kinsey, Chris D’Elia, Molly Shannon. Written and directed by Heather Graham. Rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, language and drug use. 94 minutes.

half_magicActress Heather Graham makes her writing and directing debut with HALF MAGIC, available on VOD and select theaters. It is a timely comedy about three women dealing with sexism. The good news for men is that not all the men in the movie are louts, although she has fun skewering those that are, and the real point is that women can support each other in looking to be treated with the love and respect they deserve.

The comedy is not subtle and, particularly with Graham’s character of Honey, seems to be settling some scores or, at the very least, speaking from personal experience. She’s an aspiring screenwriter who is a protégé of Peter Brock (Chris D’Elia), an action star who believes all movies should appeal to his target audience of teenage boys. Thus, all women are “sluts,” and Honey’s ideas for positive movies about women are dismissed out-of-hand. Indeed, he even claims to have an app for his phone that detects worthless movie ideas.

Honey goes to a program about female empowerment (featuring a cameo by Molly Shannon) where the participants are invited to celebrate their breasts and “pussies,” in effect taking their body parts back from male objectification. It is here that she meets Eva (Angela Kinsey) and Candy (Stephanie Beatriz), with the latter claiming that the candles at the store where she works have magical powers. Her (male) boss dismisses the idea as nonsense, but the three women light candles and hope to make improvements in their lives.

The film then follows the three of them as they navigate the good and the bad of relationships. Eva is still hung up on her ex-husband (Thomas Lennon), a self-absorbed artist who used her for inspiration and support without giving either in return. Candy (Stephanie Beatriz) is so lacking in self-esteem that even as her supposed boyfriend is seeing other women, she’s doing his laundry. And Honey, finally asserting herself, ends her sexual relationship with Peter only for him to announce that he’s broken up with her first, so she can’t be dumping him.

The movie focuses on the idea that you must be willing to claim – or regain – your self-respect before you can start dealing with others on equal terms. All three women have absorbed the negative attitudes projected onto them by their male partners. Each will learn that once they see themselves in a different light, they are ready to assert themselves, entering into new relationships where they will be on an equal footing. This male critic is guessing the film will probably resonate more with women, but that doesn’t mean men can’t learn something and be entertained by it. The #MeToo movement has been eye-opening for many men as we’ve learned what kind of treatment women have come to expect in their everyday lives. Graham satirizes it in a way that shouldn’t draw blood from those men who already get it.

While the film is getting a limited theatrical break, it’s much more typical of the films that go directly to VOD and streaming. It’s a movie that will play much better with the lower expectations of VOD releases which works to its advantage. “Half Magic” leaves one with the hope that Graham has more to say.•••

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 – Almost Friends


FILM REVIEW
ALMOST FRIENDS
With Freddie Highmore, Odeya Rush, Christopher Meloni, Marg Helgenberger, Haley Joel Osment. Written and directed by Jake Goldberger. Rated PG-13 for violence and thematic elements. 101 minutes.

ALMOST FRIENDS is an amiable romantic comedy focusing on Charlie (Freddie Highmore), a young twenty-something whose life has stalled, and Amber (Odeya Rush), a high school senior he falls in love with in spite of the fact that she already has a boyfriend. We’ve seen this story: he’s a lovable misfit with a quirky sense of humor, she’s stunning-but-smart and seems to be taken for granted by the boyfriend. You can see where this is going from a mile away.

What makes it a pleasant film to watch (and it’s out now “On Demand”) are the leads. Highmore has been making the transition from children’s parts (most notably in the 2005 remake of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”), and has been helped by television work on “Bates Motel” (as Norman Bates) and the current “The Good Doctor.” He manages to play Charlie’s earnestness as well as his self-doubts, the reasons for which are conveniently revealed late in the film.

Rush may be less known, but is smoothly working her way through teen roles in “Goosebumps” and “The Giver” to play the high school senior beginning to face some of the problems of the adult world. (As a footnote, it’s interesting that the British Highmore and Israeli Rush fit so smoothly into American roles.) When the film focuses on the two of them it is both funny and poignant as they have to deal with their undeniable attraction in spite of the fact that she’s in a long-term relationship. One has to be much older to put that into perspective, and the film falls short in providing Highmore and Rush the support they need.

Marg Helgenberger is sufficient as Hightower’s mom, but she and Chris Meloni are saddled with a story as to why their marriage failed and now has him improbably moving into their house – she’s since remarried – while he’s lining up a new job. The longer and more involved this subplot gets, the more annoying it is. Equally of little help is former child star Haley Joel Osment (“Sixth Sense”) who seems to be channeling Gary Busey as Charlie’s slovenly friend on his way to law school.

What keeps our attention is the young couple becoming friends in spite of themselves, and realizing that their friendship is generating the sort of feelings they’re entitled to, not something to be avoided. Although we’re fairly certain where the story has to end up, writer/director Jake Goldberger refuses to give us the big dramatic payoff a more conventional film might have offered up. The ending is happy and hopeful, but as with most young lives, there are no guarantees of what the future might bring.

The movie menu between now and the end of the year consists of blockbusters, family movies, and Oscar bait. “Almost Friends” isn’t any of those and so viewers in their teens and twenties (or who remember what that was like) may find this a pleasant change of pace.•••

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 Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille

FILM REVIEWTHE LOST CITY OF CECIL B. DEMILLE. Written and directed by Peter Brosnan. Unrated. 88 minutes.

There are three different stories going on in THE LOST CITY OF CECIL B. DEMILLE, a documentary making its debut on Video-on-Demand. Anyone interested in movies, archaeology, or the issues involved in preserving historical artifacts deemed “pop culture” will find this a fascinating story. Others may find themselves sucked into the mystery as well.

Cecil B. DeMille was a major filmmaker from the founding of Hollywood to his final movie, the 1956 epic “The Ten Commandments.” Other than historians and film buffs, though, most of his other films – which date back to the silent era – tend to have been forgotten, or perhaps noted in the film histories but rarely watched today. One such film was his 1923 version of “The Ten Commandments.”

To create ancient Egypt, DeMille had a “City of the Pharaoh” constructed in Santa Barbara County in California. It was a massive set that included 20 sphinxes and four statues of Ramses, each weighing several tons. The sets were to be destroyed or removed when filming was done, but Peter Brosnan came across a reference in DeMille’s memoirs indicating that, in fact, they had been buried in the sand dunes where the filming had taken place.

Thus begins the second story where Brosnan and associates begin looking for evidence that these massive artifacts may still exist beneath the ground. He began his search in 1982 when there are still people in the town of Guadalupe who remembered working on the film sixty years earlier. They find some evidence that there is material buried in the sand and begin the work of getting financing and permission to do the excavations.

Which brings us to the third story as Brosnan’s on-again/off-again project takes more than thirty years to come to fruition, as financing appears or evaporates, government bureaucrats throw up roadblocks, people die, and ownership of the land changes hands. One person involved became so fed up with the delays and obstacles that he walked away from the project and refuses to talk about it. Support arrives from surprising quarters, though, leading to some impressive discoveries. From a historical point of view we see how easily our past can get lost, and the efforts that must be taken to preserve it. When you watch the archaeological dig around the movie site, it’s not all that different from the work that goes on in the Middle East or other homes to ancient civilizations.

Why were the sets buried in the first place? Part of the reason may be because it was cheaper than carting it away. Another reason, suggested by Jesse Lasky, Jr. – a writer who worked with DeMille and whose father was one of the original Hollywood moguls – was that if the set had been left standing, other filmmakers might have tried to make use of it for their own, cheaper productions.

Along the way, we get DeMille’s story as well as the story of the thirty-year quest for the remnants of the set, as well as Brosnan’s’ own story. What began as a bit of a lark became a lifelong obsession – or close enough – to warrant its own film. At 88 minutes, “The Lost City of Cecil B. DeMille” isn’t epic length, but it’s long enough to make its case for the preservation of historical artifacts, and perhaps makes you want to take a fresh look at DeMille’s own body of work.•••

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 – Brimstone


FILM REVIEWBRIMSTONEWith Dakota Fanning, Kit Harington, Guy Pearce, Carice van Houten, Emilia Jones. Written and directed by Martin Koolhoven. Rated R for brutal bloody violence, strong sexual content including disturbing behavior, graphic nudity, and language. 148 minutes.

2926-11930-brimstonBRIMSTONE, which is being released on demand and other digital services, is an epic gothic western that boasts several strong performances but may be too violent and dark for some viewers. Dutch director Martin Koolhoven guides an English-speaking cast in this four-chapter story told out of order so that the full back story of the two principal characters isn’t revealed until just before the climactic section.

Dakota Fanning, the one-time child star who easily upstaged actors like Sean Penn, Robert De Niro, and Denzel Washington, has been working her way into adult roles. Now 23, she appeared in this and the equally disturbing “American Pastoral” last year. She uses her haunting looks to good effect, able to project layers of feelings beneath a seemingly placid surface.

Here she’s Liz, a mute woman on the frontier who works as a midwife and is married to Samuel (Kit Harrington), a farmer who already had a young son. Things go bad with the arrival of the Reverend (a chilling Guy Pearce), whose faith is a strict and cruel interpretation of Christianity. For reasons that will not be revealed until late in the film, Liz is afraid of the Reverend, and with good reason. He is targeting her and her family.

However, this is not the story of Liz’s victimhood. It’s about this deceptively quiet young woman who is determined not only to survive in a world where she’s considered little more than property, but to protect the little girl that she and Samuel have brought into the world. The second chapter shows Liz’s arrival at a “cathouse,” where the proprietor’s brother is the town’s sheriff. Punishment for women who object to their abuse is swift and brutal. It’s a bit disconcerting until one realizes that the reason Liz can now speak is that this is taking place earlier (the chapter titles, taken from Biblical books, are a strong hint).

Fanning plays Liz not as an avenging angel but as a woman constantly improvising to survive her horrific circumstances. While the gore is kept to a minium, there are multiple shootings and other deaths that make it seem that the Reverend’s descriptions of hell are already on Earth. Pierce’s depiction of the Reverend’s false piety may be the most unsettling element of the film given the crimes he justifies with it. By the time we get the “genesis” of his relationship with Liz, we’re ready for a climactic showdown, but things may not end up the way you expect.

“Brimstone” played the festival circuit where some hailed it and some found it too harsh, with a result that it’s getting a very limited theatrical release and going right to digital services. It’s often hard to tell in the absence of reviews and word of mouth what you’re getting with these little-seen movies. In this case, you’re getting a dark and engaging story of two people who won’t give up, one for his evil ends, the other for her chance of survival.•••

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.