Thursday, May 28, 2015


Dwayne Johnson   Carla Gugino   Alexandra Daddario   Paul Giamatti   Hugo Johnstone-Burt

It’s not a matter of if; it’s when…In reality, seismologists have expressed that in reference to the San Andreas fault and a big earthquake in California for some time now, and San Andreas the movie brings home this point most chillingly.  Actually, I came out of the film with teeth sore from clenching my jaw for pretty much the whole two hours. 
     It’s not all about special effects.  The film does a good job in weaving back and forth between the small dramas of normal everyday life and disaster scenes.  It gives us enough information about the main characters to make us care about them.  Right from the start is a hair-raising scene in which Ray (Johnson) of the LA Fire Department’s search and rescue squad is in a helicopter being challenged to rescue a driver whose car went off the road over a steep cliff and lodged in a vertical position between boulders.  Then we learn a bit about Ray’s personal life; he’s looking forward to spending the weekend with his daughter Blake (Daddario) before she goes back to school.  However, those plans are interrupted by an earthquake in Nevada, where he is called to for rescue work, and at the same time, receives disappointing news from his estranged wife Emma (Gugino). 
      Ray, Emma, and Blake are all going their separate ways, and how they get back together when disaster hits is some fine story telling.  Along her way, Blake picks up two brothers from London who add interest and acts of bravery, which is then contrasted with the wimping out of someone else.
      Another story line related to the earthquakes involves Cal Tech seismologists who are excited to learn that their research is heightening their ability to predict earthquakes in advance.  Lawrence (Giamatti) and his team are just on the verge of warning the citizens of Nevada about an impending quake, when it actually starts occurring.  When he narrowly escapes, makes it back to his lab, and begins looking at the data, Lawrence begins to figure out that the Nevada quake is related to the San Andreas fault, and will be spreading to California; and this time he has a chance to warn everyone.
      Special effects in San Andreas seem to me to be exceptionally good—spectacular and authentic-looking at the same time (although I hear we can't always trust the science it imparts).  Traumatic crises are practically non-stop, but they don’t seem gratuitous, as is often characteristic of special effects films.  Director Brad Peyton, Cinematographer Steve Yedlin, the actors, and the other filmmakers should be very proud of how well crafted and emotionally satisfying their work is here. 
      In some ways, it feels good to be given a preview of an event that could very well occur.  You’ll feel almost as if you’ve actually been through an earthquake after leaving the theater.  The characters bring home how important practical knowledge (CPR, wound care), problem-solving (innovation and ingenuity in adapting materials at hand), and reasoning through stumbling blocks while remaining calm could very well mean the difference between life and death.  
      Dwayne Johnson is a perfect star for a film like this; you just look at him and feel confidence.  (And he likewise performs just as well in emotional-laden conversations.)  Yes, the movie is a little heavy in depicting his superman qualities.  It was very clever to show how much his character had taught his daughter (i.e., not a son) in responding to emergencies.  When Blake is with her two new companions, each has the opportunity to be smart and helpful in getting through tough situations.  Likewise, Emma (wife and mother) is given the opportunity to be smart and heroic.  Giamatti is always a wondrous actor, and here he restores our faith in scientists to care as well as be smart. 
      The bottom line of all this is that disasters pull for collaboration and trust among those involved, although not everyone responds optimally.  For those who do, it is truly a rewarding human experience.

A must for everyone up to the tension.

Grade:  A-                                   By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, May 21, 2015


--> Sam Rockwell     Rosemarie DeWitt     Jared Harris


            Scary?  Yes.  Tension producing?  Yes.  Mysterious?  A little.  Poltergeist is even funny at times.  I’m not a big fan of the genre, and did not see the four previous versions (and since this is the fifth, I seriously doubt there is much in it that is original), but taken on its own merits and disregarding the others, I found it to be a pretty decent rendition of a horror film. 
            It starts out in a rather glum tone because the father, Eric Bowen (Rockwell) has just been laid off his executive level job, so the family must settle on a lower grade house in a new community.  Parents Eric and Amy (DeWitt) are putting a good face on it for their kids, Kendra, Griffin and Madison, but it’s clear that adjustments will have to be made with some effort.  Maddy starts to feel right at home almost from the get-go, and even seems to be making friends.  That is, she is talking to someone, but only Griffin notices, and he dismisses it as her simply being imaginative, and says she needs to get a better grip on reality.
            Griffin is known to be “sensitive”, so he starts complaining right away about bumps in the night, a weird clown left behind by the previous tenants in his closet, and the skylight on the roof of his bedroom showing trees swaying menacingly even when it isn’t stormy, and when it does become stormy…oh my!  Others in the family start to notice a few things, like static electricity on the stair banister, lights coming on in the middle of the night, strange noises, etc.  But things really get hairy when the parents go out to dinner (in hopes of new job prospects for Erik) and leave Kendra to babysit.  During the evening, her treasured possession, cell phone, starts doing wonky things, which prompts her to start filming with it, and she ends up witnessing the floor starting to crack as if there were an earthquake, and horrible black gunk arising out of it.
            The parents are so horrified to learn about this when they come home, they consult paranormal experts (Erik worries that if they call the police, they’ll be seen as psychotic and their kids taken away), who do indeed grasp what is happening, and when they realize how serious things are, call in the nationally known expert, Carrigan Burke (Harris).  He not only has the academic credentials, but he has scars to prove his entanglements with spirits.  By this time, Maddy is missing, and the family is distraught.  Will he be able to bring Maddy back?  And if he does, at what cost?
            I jumped and held onto my seat during the course of Poltergeist, and apparently most of the audience did too, from what I could hear.  It seems to me that Director Gil Kenan, screenwriters David Lindsay-Abaire and Steven Spielberg, and cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe have delivered on their aims of making an interesting, exciting, scary production.  Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt are two of my favorite actors, and they easily step into their roles here.  Most impressive is Jared Harris, whose performance in a myriad of different roles, attests to his ability to provide gravitas and mysteriousness in his role here as “the fixer.”
            But I have to ask, “Why was this film made?”  Is it to appeal to those who are interested in this genre and love seeing the same film over and over again (thus being a money making project)?  What did Spielberg think he could add in making another poltergeist film?  We don’t need to do away with the past; let the viewers watch the older films—that are probably just as good—and make room for creative films that will advance the industry.

Scary—but apparently not new.

Grade:  C                        By Donna R. Copeland


--> Ethan Hawke     Bruce Greenwood     January Jones     Zoe Kravitz     Jake Abel     Peter Coyote

Gaming can be so very exciting until…Tom Egan (Hawke) is an ace pilot who has been “promoted” to drone service where he goes into an air conditioned cubicle in Las Vegas and wages war in Afghanistan or wherever.  Writer/director for this film, Andrew Niccol, wants us to learn about the downside of “armchair” warfare.  Egan has already been missing the touch/feel/thrill of a physical plane beneath him when orders come from above that his unit would now be under the control and direction of the CIA rather than the army.  This constitutes a change in strike orders from one based on assuring that the target is a bad guy before striking to one that is based on a “pattern of behavior.”  That is, the kill target would be based on analysis at a higher level of abstraction with less concern for collateral damage.
Egan lives in Las Vegas in a sterile neighborhood (no vegetation to be seen) with a beautiful wife (Jones) and lovely children.  Yes, he can serve his country in his cubicle and go home to his family afterwards just like in a regular job.  But there are two problems—one is that his job is less experiential and more mechanical, and the other is the moral dilemma presented by the CIA’s practice of accepting collateral damage as no big deal. 
Hawke the actor fits the role well as a brooding, taciturn, creative guy with principles, and one who is comfortable with authority (Greenwood as his immediate superior) until it (the CIA) offends his basic sense of justice and right.  Presented in direct contrast is fellow drone operator Zimmer (Abel), who is happy not thinking much about what he is doing from a moral standpoint and rather enjoys the aggression of it and going home to his “vanilla” environment at night.  Caught between Egan, the CIA, and Zimmer, Jack (Greenwood) toes the middle ground as best he can while retaining his job.  He is tested in this role as much as Egan is in his.  Jones as a housewife and Kravitz as a drone co-operator effectively portray women in these situations who generally play a minor role in relation to the men, but here, each clearly exemplifies the female point of view.
Andrew Niccol, with significant writing/directing experience behind him (Lord of War, The Truman Show, Gattaca), again has an important contemporary social issue he wants us to think about.  The use of drones is controversial, with the pros seeing it as much more precise—although not perfect—in taking out the leaders of groups bearing murderous ill will toward the U.S.  The cons regard it as one of the reasons people in other parts of the world hate us so much.  I would be interested in knowing how much comparative collateral damage is done by drone attacks versus bombing from an airplane.  Neither is free from that downside.  Certainly, Niccol’s point is well made about the apparent unthinking, uncaring manner in which the CIA in this story ordered the drone attacks.
Musician Christophe Beck and cinematographer Amir Mokri both render their crafts well in enhancing the visual and auditory aspects of Good Kill.

The Conundrum of “Good Kill”

Grade:  B                                                                                   By Donna R. Copeland


--> Guillaume Canet     Catherine Deneuve     Adele Haenel


In the Name of my Daughter is based on the story of a young woman’s disappearance in France, as written by her mother and brother in a memoir about ten years after she had gone missing.  André Téchiné, the French director (and co-writer of the screenplay with Cedric Anger, and the brother, Jean-Charles Le Roux) reports that he wanted the film to adhere as closely as possible to the memoir, but with more emphasis on the relationships between the three protagonists:  the mother, Renée LeRoux (Deneuve), her daughter Agnés (Haenel), and Agnés’ lover, Maurice Agnelet (Canet). 
Early on, it is clear that the mother daughter relationship is strained, complicated by Maurice, who is initially the mother’s attorney for the casino business she owns; but he begins to side with the daughter who is trying to get her mother to release her inheritance from her father.  Maurice is already suspicious because he seems to be working a scheme not in Renée’s best interest; and when she elects not to hire him to manage the casino, he turns his attention to Agnés.  He is charming and attractive, and even though she has been duly warned about him—including by himself—she willingly enters into an intimate relationship with him, probably, in part, to spite her mother.
In gradual stages, the lives of all three take a tragic turn.  There are two trials that take place years apart, and we get postscripts about the final outcome.
I kept thinking this film should be more engrossing than I was experiencing.  After thinking about it and seeing the conclusion, I decided that most of the story is too predictable.  Based on the dialog and the behavior of the characters, what is about to transpire will not be surprising.  We’re given a clue early on when Agnés makes a remark about Maurice’s name (Agnelet, meaning ‘lamb’), and the viewer immediately thinks about a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The plot actually becomes more interesting in the last half hour during the court proceedings, which Téchiné elected to skip over in favor of the emotional/relational details.  But it is the court proceedings that are so much more suspenseful, and I would have liked to hear more about the juries’ deliberations and get a better sense of why they ruled the way they did.
Deneuve brings her considerable talent and experience to the character of Rénée—slightly cool with others, unskilled in persuasion, and much more comfortable giving instructions.  Haenel plays the role well of a daughter still rather immature, overly needy for warmth and affection, and burning inside about her mother’s authority over her.  They have had control struggles dating back even before the time her mother insisted she take ballet and perform for guests when she clearly didn’t want to.  Enter a devious, insecure man without scruples who is vindictive when he is slighted.  Canet is masterful in playing a handsome Maurice who has no compunction about lying and manipulating to get what he wants.  He can be as genteel as it takes so long as things are going his way, but if he encounters obstruction or constraint, he has no problem being abusive.
In the Name of my Daughter is beautifully filmed and shows the south of France at its best.  The problem is in the script that gives away too much too soon.  In addition, it needed to show more about the trials toward the end.  It’s too bad that a story that holds so much promise turns out to be something of a disappointment.

Not exactly a potboiler.

Grade:  C-                             By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, May 19, 2015


George Clooney     Britt Robertson     Raffey Cassidy     Hugh Laurie     Thomas Robinson

Hold onto your hats.  Tomorrowland is a wild ride across space and time and with some of the fanciest futuristic gadgets you could imagine.  It’s a modern-day fairy tale.  Special effects abound, coming from Director Brad Bird’s playful imagination, and, with co-writers Damon Lindelof and Jeff Jensen, an exciting and meaningful script.  It’s a bit slow to get started with scientist Frank Walker (Clooney) trying to introduce it and sidekick Casey (Robertson) continually interrupting.  He does manage to get across that the film will be addressing a future that can be scary at times…ah…Tomorrowland. 
Next, there is an interlude that seems not to fit, but will make sense later.  It’s about a young boy named Frank (Robinson) trekking to the 1964 World’s Fair lugging a jet pack he has invented in a canvas bag.  He plops it down in front of a man at a conference table, Nix (Laurie), who is skeptical and probes Frank with questions about it,  eventually discouraging the boy and sending him away.  A young girl appears about this time and befriends Frank, giving him a special pin that will give him some pretty fantastic adventures.  The viewer just doesn’t know what all this means yet.
The main part of the story begins with Casey as a precocious teenager whose father is an engineer at NASA and is just about to be laid off because the space program is getting cut back.  (It occurred to me that the movie is, perhaps, a pitch for the resumption of a more comprehensive U.S. space program.)  Casey tries to help her father by doing a little sabotage at the NASA demolition site in order to postpone as long as possible its demise and prolong her father’s job.  This brings her to the attention of a mysterious robot-girl, Athena, (Raffey Cassidy), who “recruits” her into a major effort to save the planet by planting in her belongings a mysterious pin that looks exactly like the one given to Frank.
When Casey touches the pin, she is transported instantly to another place.  This is exciting, but puzzling as well, of course; then she finds that people (really, robots) are pursuing her, some to do harm, but one, Athena, swears she is trying to help her.  It’s difficult for Athena to get Casey to follow her, partly because of Casey’s incessant questioning.  Finally, Athena dumps her off at Walker’s house; however, Walker wants nothing to do with her and slams the door in her face.  But Casey has gleaned enough information to arouse her curiosity, and she does everything she can to get inside the house and get Frank to show her whatever Athena was telling her about.
When she does manage it, exasperating Frank, she finds his house is truly a wonder to behold with all kinds of monitors, cameras, scientific equipment, and booby traps (traps for relentless pursuers).  From this time forward, we’re treated to major space travel to another dimension, hair-raising brushes with robots in pursuit, and meeting up with a villain.  I especially like the manner in which the film respects children, showing their natural affinity for electronics, and the importance of adults listening to their dreams.  It’s also an exhortation to go toward the light and hope rather than lapsing into darkness and despair.
All this is not just in fun; the film has a serious message about the trouble our planet is in, and the critical need for all of us to do whatever we can to save it.  Will it foster motivation in that direction?  I hope so!  I think it will go over the heads of very young kids—not only in terms of this message, but also in figuring out what’s going on in the story.  A child (sounding like age three or four, kept asking his mother, “What happened?”  “What was that?”  So I recommend Tomorrowland only for children from seven to nine up.

A fantastical journey across time and space.

Grade:  A-                          By Donna R. Copeland

Monday, May 18, 2015


--> Gaspard Ulliel     Helmut Berger     Jeremie Renier     Lea Leydoux


Yves Saint Laurent was both saint and a little devil, according to this biopic by co-writer/director Bertrand Bonello (written with Thomas Bidegain).  In his early life, he seemed to be rather sweet and had a loving, playful relationship with his mother.  He began designing clothes for dolls at a young age, and clearly showed a taste for art and the finer things in life.  In young adulthood, his mother observed to him what a charmed life he had; yet he didn’t seem to value it.  All those qualities perhaps made him vulnerable to enticements that would eventually be his undoing.  However, he was hospitalized for emotional difficulties during brief military service, and given large quantities of medicine and electroshock therapy.  He seemed to think that was the root of his later problems with alcohol and drugs.
           Saint Laurent was imminently successful in designing clothes for women, and advanced the profession in offering tuxedos for women and ready-to-wear apparel.  He revered Dior, who became his mentor, and eventually named him as his successor at the House of Dior, which he ascended to at age 21 because of Dior’s early death.  With his astute business partner and lover, Pierre Bergé (Remier), Yves eventually saved that business from financial ruin.  Yves went on to become one of the most famous fashion designers in the world, and the YSL brand (perfume and household items as well as Haute Couture) that he and Pierre created is still very popular today.
           The film is a no-holds-barred look at Saint Laurent’s life—his passion for the art of design; his loves, flirtations, and friendships; his generosity and graciousness; and his sorrows and personality quirks.  Most of it is fascinating, yet it is overly long (2½ hours), and at times lacks focus.  Scenes are included that seem to have no explanation, such as one in which a naked woman and one who is clothed are in the street and a man seems to be filming them and their conversation, but we don’t know who the women are or who is filming them. Director Bonello should have maintained better focus and cut enough scenes to shorten the film by ½ hour to 45 minutes.
           Cinematographer Josee Deshaies was nominated for a Cesar for this film, but I found his work to be frustrating; designer clothes whip by so fast one can’t really see them, and there are many scenes that begin with showing only the feet and legs of characters; other times the camera switches among scenes of models’ heads, their lower body parts, and what they’re wearing.  I’ve actually noticed these techniques in several films recently—along with the use of split scenes with up to 10 or 12 images—and wonder why they’re so popular.  Perhaps it’s a fad that will hopefully go away before long. 
A strong point is the acting of Gaspard Ulliel (Saint Laurent during his designer years), who captures so artfully the many moods and adventures of the designer, and that of Lea Leydoux, who plays a constant female companion and emotional support during the same period.
           Another strong point is showing how Yve’s business manager, Pierre Bergé played such a crucial role in managing the designer’s affairs, even after he felt betrayed.  The film takes a very neutral position between the two men around the affair.  It could be that Bergé saved Saint Laurent, or was actually the cause of inconsolable grief that was damaging.

The life of a successful designer—ooo la la.

Grade:  C+                                                        By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, May 14, 2015


Anna Kendrick   Rebel Wilson   Hailee Steinfeld   Brittany Snow   Elizabeth Banks

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Pitch Perfect 2 is “pitch perfect”, but the quality of the music and the catchy tunes make it entertaining and fun.  Certainly, the hundreds of spirited young girls in the audience tonight were highly approving judging by their frequent laughter and grooving with the songs.  It is a little too sweet and girly in places for my taste—almost embarrassingly so—but that didn’t keep me from enjoying it. 
      If you saw the first Pitch Perfect, this will be familiar to you in that an all-female a cappella singing group keeps winning prizes for their performances despite all the doubts of others.  The message is that if you have talent—despite public mistakes, have faith in yourself enough to flaunt it.  This “2” is a bit like The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is to the first one—more of the same, but still entertaining.
      The writers (Kay Cannon, screenplay; Mickey Rapkin, novel) and Director Elizabeth Banks make sincere attempts to address current issues and controversies about race, gender, and sexual orientation by making jokes about them, but they are more often misses than hits.  Their most successful ones are spoken by Flo (Chrissie Fit), a Latina who humorously points out tragedies and close calls in her life that were so much worse than the situations other characters are dithering about at the time.   When someone says, “Is anybody scared?”, her reply with perfect timing is, “Not me; I’ve already lived longer than I ever expected.”  Where the joke falls flat is a time when someone starts to say, “I was…” and the other person says, “Oh, I thought you were going to say you were gay.”
That brings me to another off-putting aspect of the script, which is that some characters (John, played by John Michael Higgins; and Keegan-Michael Key, Beca’s boss) are overly snarky and cruel, rather than funny and clever as I assume they were intended to be.  Both snarky and cruel can be funny, but not in this script.  John makes some shockingly sexist comments about the Bellas that are so stereotypical—but since they are still adhered to by some in our society, are no longer funny.  Beca’s boss humiliates an intern continuously, which is supposed to be funny, I guess, but isn’t.
      I also thought the initial “disaster” for which the Bellas are going to be severely chastised is over the top.  It’s a little creepy to play up the event—such as it is—as a sexual no-no and then linking it to the historical Marilyn Monroe birthday song for President Kennedy.  Poor taste, I think.
     To me, the best part of this production is listening to the a cappella groups sing, along with Anna Kendrick’s singing and performing.  Another of the funny parts of the script is her trying to be snarky, which never comes off as biting; it just sounds dorky because Beca has so little hostility.  I also greatly enjoyed the Snoop Dogg segments; Beca’s mashing up his song without his apparently noticing was priceless.

Many will find this pitch perfect.

Grade:  C+                                                By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


Tom Hardy     Charlize Theron     Nicholas Hoult     Hugh Keays-Byrne

In a post apocalyptic world, Max (Hardy)—the silent type—guiltily broods about not having saved his loved ones.  He is so “haunted by the living and the dead”, he doesn’t know whether he is mad or everyone else is.  The hallucinations plague him so much they distract him at critical times, causing him to slip up and allow someone else to take advantage of him.  As he’s a loner, these images are his most constant companions amidst repeated life-threatening attacks by war parties cruising the land, intent on bringing everyone under the power of Immortan Joe (Keays-Byrne).  Not only does Joe hog almost all the available water for himself and dole it out to the public in the scantiest way he can think of, he keeps a number of wives who are “breed cows” making children that will resemble him. 
           After Max manages to escape from being an attachment at the front of a fierce warrior’s vehicle, his path crosses that of Furioso (Theron) and they each grab their weapons and guardedly become acquainted, but it will be some time before a modicum of trust is built up.  She is driving a wondrous junk heap of a truck that spews and sputters, but is equipped with all kinds of tools and weapons for defense.  Secretly, she is driving five of Joe’s wives to the “green place” where there will be hope for them to establish satisfying lives.  All the women are heroically skillful in adapting tools and fighting their way out of a jam.  In fact, a strong point of the film for me is that there is little difference between the male and female roles when the women get a chance to fend for themselves and go beyond simple breeding.  Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron are perfectly cast, with alarming tugs of war, then oh-so-gradual softening and respect for one another.
           Much of the film is this small motley group fleeing Joe, with his war parties nipping at their heels—or their back bumper.  There is one kind of loud violence after another, with pyrotechnics bursting in the air, sloshing mud underneath them, gunfire going in all directions, and hair-raising deaths.  Yet, George Miller, the director and co-writer with Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris, manage to weave an allegory about finding/creating one’s authentic self in the desert through much suffering and effort, so characters develop and change across time (shout-out to Nicholas Hoult).  Unlike with many action films, I wasn't waiting just for it all to be over.
           In fact, this is one of the most unusual action films I’ve seen.  Not only is there an interesting, suspenseful story, there are creative special effects that allow for elaborate stunt work (Guy Norris et al.) and contraptions to use as props, breathtaking scenery that shows a natural but ruined world, spectacular camera work (John Seale), and a soaring musical score (Junkie XL) with a red-suited, screaming electric guitarist stuck in the middle and playing for all he’s worth.

More than your usual action movie.

Grade:  A By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, May 7, 2015


Reese Witherspoon     Sofia Vergara

Reese Witherspoon playing a bumbling cop in Hot Pursuit is a role that should be beneath her after stunning performances in Wild and Gone Girl; yet she is not only the co-star, but one of the producers of this film.  Moreover, the director is a woman!  That writers (David Feeney and John Quaintaine) are still playing into the trite stereotype of women as poor drivers, hysterical, and bumbling just amazes me.  This is supposed to be a comedy—and does have some good lines here and there—but that picture of women is not funny any more.  Absurdity can be fun, but there is a point beyond which it is just ludicrous.
           Cooper (Witherspoon) is a young police officer who is sent to accompany a male officer in putting a couple in witness protection.  The woman will be under Cooper’s watch, and it will be tricky because Daniella (Vergara) and her husband are going to testify against a major drug cartel leader who has just been arrested, so their lives are in danger.  The first problem is that Daniella does not want to testify, so periodically tries to run away.  We won’t say what happens to the husband, but  Cooper and Daniella undergo a series of catastrophes and near-misses on their way to the police station, all the while arguing with each other incessantly.  To make matters worse, Cooper has been betrayed, and the media is reporting her as a rogue cop who needs to be apprehended. So there are fliers with their pictures and media broadcasts telling the public to turn them in.
           The two women do make a good team despite the bickering and minor betrayals, but they also rescue one another just in the nick of time.  Probably one of the funniest motifs of the film is high-heeled Daniella hauling a white(!) suitcase filled with shoes across all kinds of terrain, into her own swanky convertible, in pick-ups, in horse trailers, and through roadside stores with Cooper at her heels yelling at her to hurry.  Hilarious too is Cooper coming to a swanky party disguised as a young boy (following Daniella’s many barbs about her not being girly enough).  So the two stars do have comedic energy and talent; it’s just that the script often goes for ridiculous slapstick rather than clever humor.

A few good laughs, but too many cringing episodes.

Grade:  D                                    By Donna R. Copeland


--> Helen Hunt     Brenton Thwaites     Luke Wilson     David Zayas     Richard Kind


Ride (written and directed by Helen Hunt) becomes a much more complex “ride” than is suggested in the first ten minutes.  A New York “helicopter mom” (Jackie, played by Hunt) is shown dogging her son Angelo (Thwaites) at every turn, yet is frustratingly silent when he asks her directly for help.  She is a writer/editor who is persnickety about English and grammar, and clearly hopes her son will follow in her footsteps with little variation.  When the story begins, she is sending him off to college—a local one where she can keep an eye on him.
Before the semester starts, Angelo wants to visit his father in California; and after arriving, is immediately drawn to surfing, so much so, he makes plans to extend his visit.  Jackie is none too pleased, and eventually follows him to Los Angeles in hopes of bringing him back for school.  What she encounters there will be a total surprise to her—and to her son.
I was immediately struck by Hunt’s decision to draw a distinct contrast between New York and Los Angeles.  The woman in New York is driven, seems to eschew sports, and thinks nothing about correcting others’ grammar.  Her son—who calls her ‘Jackie’—makes comments about her not wanting to get her hair wet and never taking off her shoes.  She tries to hold onto that life, but California seduces her just as it does Angelo.  I see that Hunt was born in California and lives there now, but has spent enough time in New York to have an opinion about it.  Some of the funnier parts of Ride are when she seems to be spoofing New Yorkers and their lifestyle. 
Hunt has won and been nominated for numerous awards—including an Oscar—during her career as an actress.  Ride is her second movie to write, direct, and star in, although she has also directed episodes on television.  One of her strengths does seem to be that she can mix comedy with insightful portrayals of mostly believable characters; although here, I think she is a bit heavy-handed in emotional scenes, where subtlety and suggestion might be a better way to go.  She accomplishes that in her contrast between the two cities and in a significant revelation toward the end of the film, but emotional interchanges between characters punches a bit too hard. 
Hunt deserves all the awards and nominations she has received through the years, and is just as effective when she directs herself.  Thwaites and Wilson (who plays love interest and surfing coach Ian) step up to the plate in matches with her.  Mother-son interactions are filled with tension—which the viewer will experience as well—but the latter part of the film provides some humor and lightness, especially when Jackie and Ian begin their friendship.

 A comedy with emotional punches.                   

Grade:  C+        By Donna R. Copeland


--> Carey Mullligan     Matthias Schoenaerts     Michael Sheen     Tom Sturridge     Jessica Barden     Juno Temple


            “It’s my intention to astonish you all”, announces the heroine in Far from the Madding Crowd to her newly hired farm hands.  And Bathsheba (Mulligan) does just that in the rest of the film based on Thomas Hardy’s classic novel.  In the artful hands of Director Thomas Vinterberg, and screenwriter David Nicholls, the movie lives up to standards of the dogme95 manifesto in which Vinterberg and Lars von Trier stood up for artistry by reacting to the big studios’ emphasis on action films with overloaded special effects and other technological advances.  Now, it is ironic that Vinterberg’s film is being released almost simultaneously as The Avengers:  Age of Ultron, and, sadly, the masses are flocking to the action film.
            Gratifying to many of us wanting to see more comprehensive—and realistic—portrayals of women in films, Bathsheba appears to us as one who values her independence, wants to compete with men on their own terms, and is sensible in wanting to know as much about her business as possible.  Despite this, she is a woman of her time (turn of the century), and a complex mixture of intelligence, assertiveness, and naïveté.  Her teasing and the variability of her affections make her even more alluring to the men around her.
            Three men rush to woo her and make her his own, promising her devotion and caring for the rest of her life.  First is Gabriel, the level headed neighbor farmer who ends up being in her employ; second is the well-to-do neighbor farmer, Boldwood (Sheen); and then Sergeant Troy (Sturridge), a handsome man and a master of swordsmanship, who sweeps her off her feet despite warnings about him from Gabriel.  High drama ensues with all the characters, and Bathsheba will undergo many trials.  These episodes have tinges of both drama and comedy, and we appreciate once again Hardy’s understanding of human nature.
            It’s wonderful to see Carey Mulligan ace this complex role with glittering, sometimes contradictory, facets to her personality.  Matthias Schoenaerts is a perfect contrast/counterpart for her, and the electricity between them really zings at times until she highhandedly puts him in his place.  He never wavers, however, in his loyalty to her.  Michael Sheen is a standout particularly in one scene where Boldwood confides to Gabriel his complete adoration and love for Bathsheba, and at the same time acknowledges her lack of passion for him, along with the astute observation of Gabriel’s and Bathsheba’s hidden attraction.  Tom Sturridge is dashing as a military officer, and easily slips into the posturing of a weak man using foolish means to underscore his masculinity.
            Thomas Vinterberg has once again directed a stellar cast in an absorbing and thoughtful story about thoroughly human characters with traits familiar to all of us. 

A refreshing visit into classical literature.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland


--> Kit Lambert   Christopher Stamp   Pete Townshend   Roger Daltry   Keith Moon   John Entwhistle   Terrence Stamp


Kit Lambert and Christopher Stamp became managers of The Who when they were named The High Numbers, and most of this documentary is about them—their relationship, how they got started in the business, and the ups and downs of the group, which ultimately rejected them, although the two had pretty much disengaged from each other and the group by that time.  Nevertheless, in film interviews, Lambert and Stamp receive high praise from Townshend, Daltry, and Moon, who recognized their leadership at the time when the band was just getting started and needed it. 
This film will probably be more of interest to hard-core rock-pop-mod fans than to fans of The Who, because it doesn’t have much of their music in the foreground.  Instead, it is an account of how they got started and how their managers, Lambert and Stamp, furthered their popularity and brought them to the world stage.  From a human-interest standpoint, it is most interesting, because the two men did not have a clear idea all of the time of what they were doing.  Both frustrated filmmakers, they wanted to film a rock band, and had the idea that if they managed one, this would be the best way to accomplish it.  Ironically, a film did eventually get made years later, but neither Lambert nor Stamp were involved in it.
Such is the history of contemporary music groups in our ever-changing world.  Shifting loyalties, interests, and behaviors make it an unstable endeavor, and that’s what makes this story interesting.  Two unlikely partners managed to pull together a motley group of musicians and steer them toward ultimate success.  At the time of making the film, several of The Who players were deceased, but James D. Cooper, the director and cinematographer, managed to weave together a coherent history of one of the most well known rock bands of our time, and one known for technological innovations, and the development of rock opera.  To his credit, Cooper doesn’t gloss over the bad stuff—this is a picture of the band over the years, warts and all.
Cooper, a cinematographer for most of his career so far, filmed much of the documentary using old photographs and videos and working closely with Chris Stamp, thus giving it a “Your are there” experience for the viewer.

The Who’s bumpy ride to fame.

Grade:  A- By Donna R. Copeland