Tuesday, June 30, 2015


Mark Ruffalo     Zoe Saldana     Imogene Wolodarsky

Funny and tenderly sad, Infinitely Polar Bear gives us a taste of what it’s like living with bipolar disorder as a person and as a family member.  Writer/director Maya Forbes apparently knows of what she speaks because every bit of the film rings true, from the mental disorder, to the kids’ behavior, to the challenges one parent takes on in pursuing an education and the other taking on household responsibilities with little prior experience.  It’s also remarkable in showing the amount of patience, love, and commitment it takes for each person to muddle through.  Finally, it’s refreshing to see a film about a family in which the communication is out front, including allowing the children to speak their minds freely.
           The story begins on a rather pessimistic note with Cam (Ruffalo) getting fired from his job and entering a manic episode.  He is admitted to the hospital where he looks like a zombie at first, but gradually becomes well enough to go to a halfway house.  His wife Maggie (Saldana) plugs away at a job far beneath her qualifications, and their girls Amelia (Wolodarsky) and Faith (Ashley Aufderheide) have to transfer to a substandard school. 
           Then good problem solving gets them on a better—although not ideal—track.  Maggie is accepted by Columbia University to work on an MBA, the downside of which is that she must be away from home during the week for 18 months.  At first, Cam is taken aback and overwhelmed, but Maggie expresses her confidence in him to take care of the girls.  As expected, it’s rocky along the way, what with lapses on Cam’s part, car breakdowns, and the endless demands of keeping up with the dishes and the laundry.  But the young girls admirably step up to the plate and take on more responsibility, which is good for them.  It’s also rewarding to see how handy Cam is in fixing whatever is broken and creatively constructing all kinds of solutions to meet their needs.
           The story ends on a hopeful note, although not with everything tied up neatly with a bow.  But I can say that in the end, we are confident that “the kids will be all right.”
           My hat is off to Mark Ruffalo for being willing to take on a househusband role and be impaired to boot!  And he does a magnificent job!  I hope he receives nominations for such a challenging project.  He and Zoe Saldana work together beautifully and convincingly in portraying heroic parents in reality-based troubling situations.  It is gratifying to hear that young Wolodarsky—without any prior acting experience—nails her role.  It’s in her blood literally, I suppose, in that she is the daughter of Forbes and one of the producers, Wallace Solodarsky. 
           Ah, the music in this film!  Whenever a scene needs it, award-winning Theodore Shapiro  (Hope Springs, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Marley and Me, The Devil Wears Prada) comes up with exactly the right songs and orchestral interludes to enhance the effects of the drama.

An infinitely rewarding film.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Channing Tatum   Joe Manganiello   Matt Bomer   Adam Rodriguez   Gabriel Iglesias 


“We’re male entertainers now; not strippers” say the boys in Kings of Tampa, getting ready for their last blow-out performance at the Strippers Convention on Myrtle Beach in South Carolina.  Magic Mike (Tatum) had left the group to fulfill his dream of making furniture, but when he gets a message out of the blue that causes him great concern, he hooks up with them and is easily persuaded to rejoin them on this last excursion.  It takes them a while to get there with some mishaps along the way, but various women from their past—Rome (Jada Pinkett-Smith), Zoe (Amber Heard), and Paris (Elizabeth Banks)—give them a generous hand, and they make it to their destination with a new show and emcee.
           The aims of this sexy romp of a movie are clearly to entertain—as is claimed.  The men in the Kings of Tampa, as well as those in Rome’s establishment where they stopped along the way, deliver amazing performances in song and dance that even women in the theater screening audience could squeal for heartily.  But the writer (Reid Carolin) and director (Gregory Jacobs) add a little more substance to the brew in empathic looks at male bonding and women’s need for a listening ear and romance. 
           In males, there seems to be a bottom line of trust—although it is repeatedly tested—along with the competition and territorial struggles.  In this group, there is a bit of difficulty reintegrating Mike into the group after three years and a certain amount of resentment about his finding his niche, while most of the others are in some kind of limbo.  But no matter what the conflict, how much hurt is dished out, or how much they argue, the bottom line of love and respect always brings them back together.
           I must confess I have never been in a male strip club and did not see the original Magic Mike; but I was impressed in seeing the performances in Magic Mike XXL show understanding for the things many women are missing in their relationships with men.  Obviously, the focus is on the men and their prowess, but the women they are attending to, however briefly, are not just passive props.  First of all, they ask the women directly what they want.  Then they include them in their act in such a way the two become a unit; it’s not always easy to tell—if you didn’t already know—who is doing what.  (We’ll ignore for the moment that these performances are primarily to show off the men’s acrobatics and gymnastics.)  But there is the illusion of shared control.
           Steven Soderbergh, the director of the previous Magic Mike film, takes the role of cinematographer this time, which is an interesting transition, and he is very good.  He and the director of XXL, Gregory Jacobs, have collaborated on many productions, so the change is seamless.  Reid Carolin, the writer for both productions inserted new plot turns and the choreography was turned up for XXL.  In an interview, Joe Manganiello credits two of the actors, Alison Faulk and Teresa Espinosa, who were in both productions, with dance move assistance.  
           It’s expected that Magic Mike XXL will be just as popular as its predecessor, so there is lots of excitement around the opening of this film.

Woo woo!

Grade:  C+                        By Donna R. Copeland


Arnold Schwarzenegger     Jason Clarke     Jai Courtney     Emilia Clarke     J. K. Simmons

Thrills, spills, guns, fistfights, explosions, crashes—Terminator Ginisys has it all—but in addition, it has mind games where the identities of the main characters move back and forth in time and even morph into someone else.  Although of the latter, we’re not always sure; maybe their true identity was disguised all along.  And then there is The Terminator (Schwarzenegger) who is challenged by a younger version of himself.
The plot is relatively straightforward; an evil force named Skynet has almost been successful in doing away with humans altogether and replacing them with machines.  And amazing contraptions these are in their abilities to reconstitute themselves after injuries or at will—sometimes into moving metal beings, sometimes into humans, and they can even make their hands grow into very long swords that are able to cut through steel doors.  But there is a small group of humans and one Terminator who will risk their lives to save humankind.
           The story begins with a rebel group of humans led by John Connor (J. Clarke) whose plan is to destroy the heart of Skynet, a machine built to go back in time and kill Connor’s mother so that he will not be born.  So Connor has a brilliant plan to turn their scheme against them; that is, to send his most loyal follower, Kyle Reese (Courtney), back through time to his mother Sarah (E. Clarke), who could foresee the future and told John all about it.  Kyle is to rescue her and destroy the death machine so that Skynet and “Judgment Day” (i.e., doomsday) will never come to pass. 
           Kyle successfully goes back in time, but the situation he encounters is completely different from what he has expected.  But as expected, it is very dangerous, and Kyle will be lucky to escape with his life.
           The conception of this film by screenwriters Laeta Kalogridis (Shutter Island) and Patrick Lussier (three Dracula movies) is complex, and they use comic relief from time to time to counter the tension and constant battles and explosions.  For instance, J. K. Simmons has a cameo role as a somewhat bumbling police detective who knows exactly what Kyle and his cohorts are up to; however, no one listens to him.  And The Terminator makes comments about being old but not obsolete, which always brought up a chuckle in the screening.
           Director Alan Taylor, probably best known and awarded for co-directing prime-time television series such as “Mad Men” and “Game of Thrones”, seems well up to the task here in a major feature.  Excitement abounds, and the production design (Neil Spisak) and special effects are noteworthy, especially the morphing actions on all the terminators—unless, of course, you’ve seen earlier versions.
           Schwarzenegger is in his usual fine form, and he, Emilia Clarke, and Courtney fit together mostly, although I would have liked to see less bickering, which was probably supposed to be funny, but I found it grating.  I’ve been a fan of Jason Clarke for a number of years, especially his work in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.  His performance here is just as good.
           This is a film primarily for those who have not seen the previous Terminator versions (1984, 1991, 2003, 2009) or love them so much they never tire of repeat viewings.  This is the fifth film in the series, and whereas the first two were hits, the last three seem to be stuck in time—which is highly ironic.

The Terminator returns…again!

Grade:  C                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Ian McKellen     Laura Linney     Milo Parker

What a wonderful portrayal Mr. Holmes is of a life in its senescence, with all its joys, delights, regrets, and longing.  All this without being depressing in the least.  My hats off to the writers (Jeffrey Hatcher, Mitch Cullin) and director Bill Condon in being able to so creatively build on the Sherlock Holmes stories and visualize what his life might have been when the stories ended.  With the inimitable McKellen in the role of Holmes, talented Linney as his frumpy housekeeper Mrs. Munro, and bright-eyed Parker as Roger, we’re completely sold on this version of Mr. Hatcher’s vision in his novel.
           Holmes has become an apiary while he desperately tries to remember details of his last case, which he does recall as the reason he left the profession.  But he is having trouble remembering the details.  He is becoming senile, and his doctor insists that he get a housekeeper to look after him.  She has a son who looks like he is about 10 or 11, and Holmes is grumpy with him until he finds the boy is bright, interested in Holmes’ stories, and above all a budding detective who ends up helping Holmes with some of his memories, as well as with the bees. 
           This not-quite-happy household may be about to break up because Mrs. Munro is considering taking a job at a hotel in another city where she will earn more.  Moreover, she has concerns about the growing closeness that is developing between the old man and the boy; she knows Holmes is not long for this world and she wants to protect Roger from grief.  A part of it, though, is that she is becoming the third wheel and is having problems sharing control and her son’s affection.
           This is an intelligent film in so many ways.  First of all, it is difficult to go so much in depth into old age, senility, and loss without the story becoming depressing.  But here is a chance to see the “one door closes and another opens” phenomenon.  Secondly, Mr. Holmes and Roger get such delight in their work together and have so much fun it offsets the more heavy considerations.  Thirdly, in addition to the writing, the directing, cinematography (Tobias Schliesser) and music (Carter Burwell) all work together so well it’s a bit like a perfect match.  And finally the story is reminiscent of the other Sherlock Holmes works in that we’re party again to the thrill of the sleuth, trying to solve a puzzle.

If you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan at all, this is a must-see.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Thomas Hayden Church     Josh Wiggins     Luke Kleintank     Robbie Amell

The dog Max is truly the main star in this film meant to honor the more than 3,000 dogs that have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.  They are amazing in their ability to search for and detect weapons and explosives.  Incidentally, about as many handlers as dogs (just under 30) have been killed during service in this time period.  The filmmakers used five different dogs for the movie, according to animal coordinator Mark Forbes, but one named Carlos stood out in his personality, charisma, and acting abilities, so he was used most of the time.
           The story involves Max and his handler Kyle (Amell) searching for weapons and explosives in Afghanistan, when a bomb explodes killing Kyle, and although Max survived, he was left with PTSD.  Kyle’s family is devastated, and when the opportunity arises for them to bring Max into to their home, they do.  Max is very skittish and obviously disturbed, but he recognizes familiarity in Justin (Wiggins), Kyle’s younger brother.  One of Justin’s friends knows quite a bit about dogs, so she gives Justin pointers, and soon Max is literally eating out of Justin’s hand.  His mother recognizes that this will be good for Justin, a sometimes sullen and self-preoccupied teen who plays videogames every chance he gets, and has a little business going on the side illegally downloading and selling them.
           But Max will have to prove himself, especially to Justin’s cantankerous father Ray (Church).  Soon, the whole situation becomes much more complicated when Kyle’s friend from childhood and buddy in the war, Tyler (Kleintank) comes back to his hometown and asks to work for Ray.  At that point, the story becomes more of a thriller with guns and criminals involved. 
           Max the film, written (with Sheldon Lettich) and directed by Boaz Yakin ends up being rather macho, with the males—most of whom are rather obnoxious—jockeying for dominance and thinking nothing about drawing their guns at the slightest provocation.  Even the teenage girl who is good with dogs is quick with the retorts and shoving her cousin down, much like many boys that age do.  Although I prefer this to a pink and lace effect, I would rather her other skills—knowledge, logic, empathy—had been more prominent in the film and the insults dispensed with.  None of the characters are very appealing, at least in the beginning.  The Justin character is the most sympathetic—although he is entirely obnoxious in the beginning—and the film is good at showing the dawning of what is really going on occurs to him.  Perhaps the point is to show that he is capable of learning and changing as a result of his experience.
           This film is good at whipping up passions—for the dog, for justice to be served and the truth to come out—(also, the harrowing bike rides at break-neck speeds through the forest are especially thrilling)—but there are missed opportunities, for instance, to address Justin’s illegal game activity, and the film becomes completely implausible in the last scenes.

The dog Max’s acting chops and heroics are the best parts of Max.

Grade:  C                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, June 24, 2015


Thomas Mann     RJ Cyler     Olivia Cooke     Nick Offerman     Connie Britton     Molly Shannon

Put teenagers in a cancer setting, and their adapting to a changed life will be interesting, instructive, and even entertaining, just as we see in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.  The author of the book and screenplay, Jesse Andrews, must have had personal experience of that situation, since the characterization of it in this film is uncannily realistic.  (I worked in the pediatric unit of a cancer center for 24 years, and found the adolescents and their friends to be as fascinating and admirable as the young people in this film.)
           We meet Greg (Mann) first as a disengaged high school student who is self-deprecating to a fault, actively shuns every opportunity for attachment, and has a tendency to blurt out wrong and hurtful observations, after which he is mortified.  The only one he lets in at all is Earl (Cyler), and still regards him as a “coworker” instead of a friend.  Their “work” is making short movies that are playful, cynical, artsy, and clever.  But of course, Greg disparages them to others.
           Greg’s parents (Offerman and Britton) confront him after school one day and tell him about his classmate Rachel (Cooke) who has been diagnosed with a kind of leukemia that is difficult to treat.  His mother then insists that he call Rachel and visit her.  He is horrified, even writhing on the floor in horror.  But his mother insists, and although Rachel does not really want him to come see her either, he pleads for her to agree; otherwise his mother will make his life a living hell.
           Thus begins their reluctant attachment, but sure enough before long he is making her smile, then laugh at his kooky sense of humor.  He brings Earl along with him sometimes, and he and Rachel hit it off as well.   After hearing about the amateur movies, one of Rachel’s friends proposes to Greg that they make a film especially for Rachel, and that project becomes a central point for the rest of the story.  Of course, Greg is terrified that the film won’t be perfect, so it’s a long time in the making.
           Greg is devoted to Rachel throughout her treatment, and they become fast friends.  She is mature for her age and a keen observer who is able to give Greg encouragement and helpful feedback about himself.  Chemotherapy makes her tired and causes her hair to fall out but Greg and her other friends stick by her, something so essential in coping with the arduous treatments.  Also to be expected in times of stress, there are disagreements and quarrels that are eventually resolved.
           There is so much to like in the film in addition to the above.  Entertaining artwork, cartoons, and videos are sprinkled throughout, but also demonstrate the value of creative projects in coping with the stresses of severe illness and high school.  Some of the adults make significant contributions to the success of the film, such as Greg’s dad who is home a lot and always eating some kind of strange food.  The history teacher allows Greg and Earl to eat lunch in his office and imparts wise counsel to them from time to time.
           Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, the director has really done a remarkable job in making a film that mixes tragedy, comedy, and artistic creations in a tender and loving way.  I’m sure Jesse Andrews’ writing deserves the praise in some measure as well, along with the three young actors who enliven the story and make it seem like we’re right alongside them in navigating the shoals of cancer.  A planned encounter at the end is left unresolved, but nevertheless, the film well deserves the prizes (Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award) it received during the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.

You will laugh; you will cry; but you will be entertained throughout.

Grade:  A-                                                          By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Josh Hutcherson     Benecio Del Toro     Claudia Traisac     Brady Corbet

The “Paradise Lost” in Escobar:  Paradise Lost is paradise lost times two.  Pablo Escobar was living in a mansion surrounded by family (which he adored), and with enough power to make or destroy anyone in the vicinity.   When this story takes place, he is head of the Medellin Cartel in Colombia and incredibly wealthy; but eventually, he is forced to make a deal for his life and be incarcerated.  So his paradise is lost to him (some religions might say for his sin of selling an addictive substance all over the world). 
           This story centers as much around young Nick (Hutcherson) meeting a native woman named Maria (Traisac) as it does Escobar.  Maria is standoffish at first, complaining about northerners coming to Colombia and thinking it is paradise where they simply want to come and have fun without investing in the people or the culture.  Nick and his brother Dylan (Corbet) are Canadians who have come to set up a shack on the beach to sell snacks and for Nick to give surfing lessons.  Maria soon gives in to Nick’s charm, and they become a couple.  It turns out she is Escobar’s niece, and before he knows it Nick is employed at their hacienda and welcomed like a member of the family.  Pablo is thrilled and tells Nick he is like a son to him. 
           Well, one of the morals of this story is never to get involved with criminals, and Dylan strongly advises his younger brother not to get drawn in.  But Nick is naïve and Pablo and the family so warm and welcoming, he doesn’t heed the advice.  Little does he know that his own paradise may be snatched away.
           Andrea Di Stefano, the director making his debut with this film, has been an actor for years, and clearly shows he has directorial talent.  With co-writer Francesca Marciano, he has brought an absorbing, riveting drama to the screen, based at least partly on the real story of Pablo Escobar’s life.  (I presume the part about Nick and Dylan was created for the film.)  The film is greatly enhanced by Max Richter’s music.  He is well known for the music in The Lunchbox, Wadjda, and the recent Testament of Youth. 
           The gifted Del Toro, with a long string of credits to his name, is in his element playing Escobar, showing his devotion to family, his status as hero of the common people (donating everything from soccer stadia to hospitals and clinics for the poor), contrasting with his cold ruthlessness when he orders a death.  Josh Hutcherson of Hunger Games fame, gives one of his best performances, especially when his life is endangered and he is on the run.  He and Claudia Traisac (Maria), who is optimally expressive, have good chemistry and look like a “real” couple together. 
           In my opinion the insertion of a romantic/thriller drama within a dramatized version of the Pablo Escobar story is remarkably successful.

A riveting dramatization within a brief look at the real Pablo Escobar’s life.

Grade:  B                                                                       By Donna R. Copeland


Alicia Vikander     Kit Harington     Taron Egerton     Dominic West     Emily Watson

This film is truly a testament of youth and an eloquent and moving argument against war.  It is based on Vera Brittain’s autobiography in which a young woman is passionate about being accepted into Oxford, but when her brother and their friends get caught up in the spirit of serving their country at the onset of WWI, she feels compelled to join them by taking a leave from her studies and becoming a nurse in the war zones.
The work of James Kent, the director, has primarily been in television productions (e.g., “The White Queen”), but here he demonstrates that he is well prepared for making full-length drama films, as proven by his being recognized this year with a nomination for Breakthrough British Filmmaker by the London Critics Circle Film Awards.  Testament of Youth is indeed well directed and beautifully filmed (Rob Hardy, cinematographer), with an evocative musical score (Max Richter)—all of which, along with the acting, elevates the production. 
           We recently had the pleasure of seeing Vikander in Ex Machina, Anna Karenina, and A Royal Affair, and her considerable talent and skills are in evidence here once more as a cheeky young British woman, Vera, willing to buck all kinds of obstacles in achieving her goals.  In addition to jumping the major hurdle of being accepted into Oxford as a female, she skillfully manages to get her fiancé to open up to her when he returns from his first stint in the service traumatized by the death of one of his men, and later badgers a commanding officer for the true story of what happened to someone very dear to her.
           Also noteworthy in the realization of their roles are Harington as Roland, Vera’s love interest, and Egerton as her brother Edward.  It’s refreshing to see these male characters supporting Vera’s aspirations and being sensitive to women’s issues, particularly in that day and age.  We know Harington best from “Game of Thrones” where he has been a hit and heart throb.  Here, he is more an artist type like Vera, and the poems of both of them grace the film very nicely.  Vera’s and Edward’s parents (West and Watson) are veteran actors who can always be relied upon to give fine performances. 
           This is a period film of beauty, but with much heartache as the horrors of war are graphically displayed.  It’s plain to see why Vera Brittain, the author of the memoir, devoted her adult life to advocating against war.

Beautiful, moving, and heartbreaking—but oh so real.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, June 18, 2015


--> Shameik Moore     Kiersey Clemons     Tony Revolori     Rakim Mayers     Zoe Kravitz

Up-and-coming filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa’s Dope is a clever, well written, and directed picture with a fine cast and a plot that is complex and engaging enough to keep the audience pulled right in.  Television and film (Joyful Noise) star Shameik Moore as Malcolm nails his character, a young black high school nerd with a high crew cut (I suppose that’s what it’s called) and a big enough brain to impress/puzzle anyone standing near.  This is all done seemingly unselfconsciously; the words just roll right off his tongue.  He has two perfectly loyal (and entertaining) sidekicks almost as bright as he is.  Diggy (Clemons) is a Lesbian who everyone thinks is a boy.  Jib (Revolori) is Hispanic, but with 14% African-American blood, he identifies as black so, as brought up in the film, he has permission to use the n word.
           Malcolm lives in “The Bottoms” with his single mom in Inglewood, CA, in a poor projects neighborhood, and goes to a school where getting your shoes stolen by the leader of a gang is an everyday occurrence.  Drug dealer Dom (Mayers) stops him on the street one day and instructs him to ask a young woman (Zoe Kravitz as Nakia) to come and talk to him.  Malcolm being respectful of his elders does so and serves as their messenger back and forth, but in the process becomes totally smitten by her.  She’s a tease, and when Dom invites her to his birthday party, she tells Malcolm she’ll go if he does.  Malcolm is leery, but his friends push him to go, and they do, although they have to sneak in since they’re underage. 
           The party turns into a fiasco with the cops raiding the place, and the three students barely getting out, and then the next day Malcolm finds some important objects have been put in his backpack, which Dom has shoved at him before Dom is arrested and put in jail.  Getting the contents to where they’re supposed to go involves more planning and maneuvering than anyone would have dreamed of, but it all comes from Famuyiwa’s creative mind. 
           A good part of the film is its going against black stereotypes, such as the three friends desperately wanting to go to college (Malcolm to Harvard) and willing to make any sacrifice to avoid anything standing in their way.  At the same time, it also delves into the reality of what African-Americans are up against today.  Case in point is an advisor at school point blank telling Malcolm to forget about Harvard—that he’ll never get in given where he has come from and the high school he has attended.
           Shameik Moore surely will have a future in film with his eye-catching looks and delivery, dancing ability, and music talent (he is on several songs in the film which were recorded with Pharrel Williams, and his own new album will be released soon).  He will appear in the second season of Baz Luhrmann's Netflix series “The Get Down”, set to air in 2016.  In Dope, the interactions among the three friends is always entertaining apart from all the intrigue going on around them.

A smart film that young people will love.  Caution:  R-rated.

Grade:  A                                             By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, June 16, 2015


Voices of:  Amy Poehler   Phyllis Smith   Mindy Kaling   Lewis Black   Bill Hader   Richard Kind   Kaitlyn Dias

From the clever title to the animation, the script, and the actors, Inside Out is a positive tale about how to deal with emotions.  The primary thought coming through is that negative emotions like sadness, anger, and fear are healthy and need to be expressed in order to get the “bad” that’s inside neutralized or to use one (such as anger) to accomplish a task.  At one point, Anger (Black) blows fire out his head to break a window in order to rescue Joy and Sadness who have just been hurled splat against it from the outside.)  Joy (Poehler), the leader of the group instinctively learns how to deal with Sadness (Smith), which I recognized as what a therapist will do with someone who is depressed (e.g., unfailing encouragement, patience, and positive reinforcement for every successive approximation toward self-confidence and effectiveness).  Joy also discovers the value of sympathy in comforting someone who has experienced a loss, as when Sadness listens empathically to Bing Bong’s (Kind) woes and he begins to feel much better.  Upshot:  Joy is not always the answer to an emotional problem.
           I am impressed that Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen, directors, came up with the basic idea of having actors voice the emotions that a little girl goes through from the time of her birth.  Like an ego with executive functions, “central station” (the embodied emotions) does what it can to orchestrate the goings-on inside Riley’s (Dias) head, modifying Riley’s reactions and experience to maintain balance.  An important memory bank is kept to pull out those that might be helpful in a specific situation, and more complex “personality islands”—like “Family” are also available.
           This is a high tension film, and I was a bit weary by the end with all the close calls and constant urgency to rescue Riley, who has been traumatized by a move from the home she had always known to one that is so different and strange.  Her parents (Diane Lane, Kyla McLachlan) are understanding, but overlook the fact that she is having a difficult time adjusting.  Understandable, in that the father’s business is high stress, and the mother has to accommodate to a much smaller house (Minnesota to San Francisco) and different ethos altogether, like broccoli pizza! 
           I am curious about how much of the principles of this film get through to children and how much they are simply reacting to the colorful characters and animation.  There was applause at the end of the screening I attended, but there was also a lot of restlessness, noise, and babies crying while the film was running.  Presumably, it will appeal more to those older than seven or eight; I would guess that children younger than that will lose interest because so much of the film rests on the dialog, which is more about abstract concepts.

A fascinating trip inside the brain of a child.

Grade:  A                    By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Chris Pratt     Bryce Dallas Howard     Vincent D’Onofrio     Irrfan Khan

Anticipation has been keen for Jurassic World, especially for those with memories of previous versions, and I expect this one will not disappoint them.  Special effects are stunningly real enough to elicit gasps and screams from the audience, and the main dinosaurs somehow have enough personality to give you the impression you’re acquainted with them. 
I think the weakest aspects of the film are in the dialog and the characters portrayed.  It’s never been clear to me why millions of dollars are spent on special effects in films and so little attention paid to dialog and character development.  Most of the characters in Jurassic World are obnoxious:  self-serving know-it-alls who ignore experts (lots of these), a hoity-toity director of the park who also won’t listen and weigh advice given to her, a rat of an older brother, and a younger brother who is mostly appealing except when his ADHD propels him through the park at breakneck speed.
           The dialog could have been made much more interesting if there had been a genuine philosophical argument about using animals like drones in warfare.  All we get here is one man wanting to do it, and the animal trainer giving reasons why not to, but it’s only a brief argument in passing. 
           We meet the two boys, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), as they are saying goodbye to their parents and getting on a plane to spend a week with their Aunt Claire (Howard) at her dinosaur theme park.  Of course, she is a very busy woman and not exactly kid-friendly, so pawns them off to her assistant for the day.  (The assistant is not kid-friendly either, so we get an inkling of how the day is going to go.) 
           Claire has her hands full trying to balance the demands of the owner of the park (Khan), shareholders, and staff; in particular, the animal trainer Owen (Pratt).  This would make her sympathetic, but she is all business, figures, and academic terminology, let alone mile-high control needs.  Owen is about the only sympathetic, admirable character among all of them, but most turn deaf ears to his recommendations.  He has developed the ability to bond with four young raptors with astounding results, and of course, there are those just waiting in the wings to exploit them.
           To add to the intrigue, there is a lab on site that has been experimenting with a cocktail of genetic traits to develop a super dinosaur, which is being held in captivity.  The business people know/“think?” they need to bring out a new thrill at the park every few years to keep the public interested.  This creature will be their ace in the hole very soon.  But if only they realized how much they have been playing with fire, naively mixing genes and keeping an animal in captivity without socialization or training.
          Pratt is a fine hero who is a knowledgeable Johnny-on-the-spot in times of crisis, although I think the character needs a little more forceful strength than Pratt conveys.  Howard is a good actress, but her role as written (a bundle of female stereotypes) is unbelievable, the epitome of which is her running in high heels all over acres of jungle-like parkland.  Both Khan and D’Onofrio do well in their roles as misguided leaders with a little power.
           I loved Colin Trevorrow’s work as director of Safety not Guaranteed, and his direction is spot on here—although the script, to which he contributed does not measure up to his work as director.  A very strong asset of Jurassic World is the music by Michael Giacchino, soaring at times, dissonant at others, and lyrical during tender moments—although I must say Christmas music in the beginning was a bit too much to take.

If you like to be thrilled and terrified by dinosaurs… 

Grade:  B-                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Jennifer Connelly     Cillian Murphy     Melanie Laurent

Aloft, written and directed by Peruvian filmmaker Claudia Lhosa, is a bit of a mess for the first part of the film because we get no back-story and see characters behaving incomprehensibly.  About half- to two-thirds of the way in when we have more history, the characters and their behavior make more sense.  I’ll give you some of that background—without spoilers—because I think the movie is at fault for leaving the viewer mystified for so long. 
Nana (Connelly), the main character is a healer who has had some success, but finds it important to keep her identity as such a secret from the public, partly because otherwise she would be deluged but partly because she doesn’t really want to take credit.  She has two sons, Ivan (Murphy) and Gully (Winta McGrath) who has been diagnosed with a life-threatening tumor.  Ivan is a falconer like his grandfather, and finds it important to take the bird with him wherever he goes.  Because of tragic events in his life, Ivan as a grown man is eccentric and hot-tempered, is married with a child, and falconry is his profession.  The film jumps back and forth in time, which creates more disorientation. 
           Another confusing aspect of the film is that the actor in the role of Ivan’s wife looks so much like Connelly, so it’s not always clear who the characters are.  Sometimes scenes are included that appear to be extraneous, such as Nana’s affair and a falcon getting shot.  Perhaps they have symbolic meanings, but if so, I missed it.
           At any rate, in his adult life, Ivan is approached by reporter Jannia (Laurent), working on a documentary on falcons and requests an interview with him.  When she begins to ask him questions, however, he realizes she has another agenda and he bolts from the room in anger.  As is typical of him, he has second thoughts, and gets back in touch with her, does interviews about falcons, and they make a short journey together.
           All the action takes place in the Arctic and in Canada where the picture was filmed (Manitoba), and cinematographer Nicolas Bolduc (Enemy) takes full advantage of high winds, blanketed snow, and ice-covered lakes for dramatic effect in underscoring the emotional scenes and experiences of the characters.  Panoramas of the landscape are chillingly beautiful.
           Especially in the last half of the story, Connelly (many awards for performance in A Beautiful Mind) shows again that she knows her craft and she and Murphy (a frequently nominated Irish actor) reflect very well their mother/son conflicts.  Laurent (Inglourious Basterds), a French actress likewise popular on the award circuit, provides refreshing relief from the other two characters’ neuroses and dilemmas. 
           Aloft is a quiet, thoughtful film that will not appeal to everyone; the viewer needs to enjoy and feel comfortable thinking about the dialog and understanding the characters.  It does bring up the issue of healing practices outside the medical profession as well as emotional healing, which I found interesting, along with parenting in a family with a life-threatening illness.  The picture it shows of families with a seriously ill child, the desperation they feel and the tendency to ignore the siblings, is entirely realistic.  Something rather disconcerting, perhaps, is that this mother leaves her young children alone far more often than we Americans do, especially those of today.

Quiet and thoughtful in exploring the issue of healing.

Grade:  C                                      By Donna R. Copeland