Thursday, July 28, 2016


Mila Kunis   Kathryn Hahn   Kristen Bell   Christina Applegate   Jada Pinkett Smith   Annie Mumolo
Cameos:  J. J. Watt, Wanda Sykes, Martha Stewart

          Observe a typical American mother’s day, as Bad Moms illustrates, and you will get dizzy.  That is, if the mom is conscientious, guilt-ridden, and feeling that she has never done enough.  Mila Kunis as Amy is such a woman, driving the kids to school and activities, helping with (doing) their science projects, attending their games, shopping, cooking, active in PTA, and a myriad of other tasks, all while holding down a job.  Her husband (David Walton) seems to have a cushy job and no other responsibilities at home, and has no clue about empathy.  However, when he transgresses beyond her tolerance—about the same time that she meets two women who will be bosom buddies, Carla (Hahn) and Kiki (Bell)—Amy begins to see the light and realize what her life has become. 
        The instant friendship that develops among the three women is not only beneficial to all, but their antics are often funny (except the over-drinking), and they are the embodiment of true friends.  Kunis as the lead actor holds her own and shows her considerable talent.  Hahn is bawdily hilarious as a street-smart, good-hearted but not-so-good mother, and she elicits most of the chuckles.  Kristen Bell, is perfect as the wide-eyed Kiki who has always been the epitome of good girl, good wife, etc., then draws applause for her assertiveness toward the end of the film.
        Of course, in a film like this, there has to be baddies, and the principal role for that is played by Gwendolyn (Applegate), the president of the PTA, who not only wields her power within that organization, but within the entire school.  Her two yes-women are Stacy (Smith) and Vicky (Mumolo).  Shows about women, sadly, seem to require a cat fight at some point, and this is included in Bad Moms in the form of Amy standing up against Gwendolyn’s demands (ridiculous requirements for a bake sale) and competing with her in an election. 
        There are some very good lines in Bad Moms, like, “Everything that comes out of your mouth is a cry for help” and “You’re not a slow learner; you’re just entitled.  Do you know what that means?”    And I enjoyed those, but much of the plot is like a canned sitcom going for easy laughs without much thought going into making the comedy meaningful and inspirational.
       The basic premise of this film is good—that American moms try to do too much, don’t expect enough from their kids, and have continuous self-doubts.  And I can imagine making a very successful comedy to get those points across.  The mistake writers/directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore make is duplicating their Hangover films; their good points are over-shadowed by bad behavior that is supposed to be funny (and, granted, it is to some people).  I’m often taken aback by what people do laugh out loud about in movies.  Inevitably, pratfalls, farts, and getting hit on the head will draw them out, but they might also laugh about over-drinking, driving recklessly, and even sad events.  This film shows, as do a number of movies recently (e.g., Absolutely Fabulous, Ghostbusters, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, The Neon Demon), women at their worst—sniping at one another, over-drinking, being hysterical—which are meant to be funny, and indeed many do laugh.  I don’t.

The female version of Hangover films—if you like that kind of humor.

Grade:  C-                        By Donna R. Copeland


Matt Damon   Tommy Lee Jones   Alicia Vikander   Vincent Cassel   Riz Ahmed   Julia Stiles

          Matt Damon is back again as the unstoppable, hunted and haunted Jason Bourne.  In this journey, he is still off the grid, earning a living in physical fights.  Tommy Lee Jones is the current Director of the CIA playing his usual double-dealings with his agents.  New on the scene is Agent Heather Lee (Vikander) as a computer whiz who can spot and track targets and assets all over the world.  The terrifying, ruthless CIA asset is played by Vincent Cassel who carries a grudge toward Bourne from way back and pursues him relentlessly, impervious to the scores of bodies he leaves behind as collateral damage.
       In addition to searching for Bourne, the CIA has proposed a secret surveillance program (Iron Hand) that it desperately wants Aaron Kalloor’s technology company to agree to.  The proposal is highly relevant today in light of the U.S. Government’s recent efforts to get Apple to allow it to look at terrorists’ e-mails and search for anti-government hackers who have invaded the government and U.S. companies’ websites. The CIA wants Kalloor’s social media platform, Deep Dream, to allow it to search its posts, but Kalloor is having the same response as Apple, saying that privacy is freedom and we need to protect that.
         Bourne learns about this from Nicky Parsons (Stiles), in addition to her finding out more about his history and about his father.  She and others have pulled an Edward Snowden maneuver and gained access to the CIA’s data set about black ops. She wants him to help them bring the CIA’s operations to light.  When the Director of the CIA learns of this, he goes after Bourne and Parsons with a vengeance, sure that they intend to expose his department.  He then sends out the asset to kill them by whatever means necessary, and when that is not entirely successful, his plan gets hopelessly convoluted.
        Damon puts his all into this role as in all the previous Bourne films, and pulls off superhuman feats in planning ahead and evading the pursuers with clever strategies and all kinds of vehicles; he’s always one step ahead, startling his adversaries with his acumen.  I must say, though, that I much prefer seeing him as the quirky botanist in The Martian. Jones can play a mean, double-crossing s.o.b. easily, giving the appearance of an all-knowing father.  There is probably no better actor to play the calculating, vindictive killer than Cassel. 
         It’s refreshing to see Alicia Vikander again take on a completely different role from those she has excelled in previously, and here she comes across as extremely intelligent and accomplished, but with feminine intuitions that serve her well.  She has read Bourne’s file and thinks she has such a keen sense about his psychology that she can “bring him in” again. 
          Riz Ahmed is an up and coming actor to watch; he is winning high marks for his roles in Nightcrawler and the current television drama, “The Night of.”
Paul Greengrass directed this production of Bourne and helped write the screenplay with Christopher Rouse.  They have succeeded in making the pace fast and furious, with nerve-wracking close calls and scenes of high suspense.  I only wish the car chase and hand-to-hand combat at the end had been shortened by half.  The camera is so jumpy, it’s hard to follow the action, and it ultimately becomes simply boring.

Another Jason Bourne thriller that hits the same high points.

Grade:  C                        By Donna R. Copeland


Chris Pine     Ben Foster     Jeff Bridges     Gil Birmingham

          All the filmmakers involved in making Hell or High Water deserve high accolades.  It’s a western taking place mostly in Texas, but takes a novel approach in its breadth of scale—its characterization of Texans, the depth and complexity of the characters and the actors playing them, the empathic focus on both the bank robbers and the Rangers pursuing them, social commentary, soulful tunes and soundtrack (Nick Cave, Warren Ellis), and cinematography (Giles Nuttgens) that captures the landscape as well as the intricacies of the plot.  Director David Mackenzie and screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, I commend you for your perceptiveness and creativity in making such an intelligent and entertaining film.
        Toby (Pine) and Tanner (Foster) fit the often typical dynamics of a broken home—one brother being the “good” one that stays devoted to his mother and the other a troublemaker with a prison record.  They are brought together after the mother’s death by Toby’s (the good guy) plan to re-coup funds that their mother lost to the bank for a quite legal reverse mortgage on the ranch and back taxes, which the bank paid.  Toby, who is resentful about being poor all his life, is way behind on his child support payments for his two boys, learns that unless the mortgage is paid off, he will lose the ranch.  There is a deadline for paying it off before the bank forecloses on it.
        Toby’s plan is to enlist his brother’s help (keep in mind his brother just got out of prison for bank robbery) in robbing banks and getting just enough cash to save the ranch. This plan is conceived by a very smart person, which is to get only small bills in small amounts (can’t be traced and FBI won’t be involved), only robbing small banks early in the day.
       Enter Texas Ranger Marcus (Bridges) and his sidekick Alberto (Birmingham).  Marcus is old and getting ready to retire, and Alberto goads him about this while Marcus makes cutting remarks about Alberto being a “half-breed” (Indian/Mexican).  It’s easy to see they’re both fond of one another in a manly way.  Marcus likes to play the fool, but there is calculation and perceptiveness behind all his apparent foolishness.  He knows people and reasons through what they’re likely to do next.  Bridges may get an Oscars nom for his outstanding performance.
        This is the art of Taylor Sheridan’s storytelling; he sets everything up, tells us who the characters are, and sprinkles in little surprises and wonderful humor along the way.  Example:  In the T-Bone Café, you’re asked about what you don’t want (vegetables), which leaves only a steak to order, and the crusty waitress knows exactly how to get you to order what will come to the table.  Touches of humor like this, extended moments of tender emotions, and quick splashes of violence punctuate the story.
       The film provides all the excitement you would want in resolving the outcome of the robberies and the pursuit of the perpetrators, all the while commenting on Texans’ infatuation with their guns, car chases (which are more realistically rendered than any current action movie), and the western movie genre.  Keep this in mind as you watch the film:  Marcus’ observation of “The things we do for our kids.”
      This must be one of the most thoughtful and clever endings in the history of film, completely pulled off by two gifted actors (I won’t tell you who they are).  Seeing and listening to their conversation gives us the full picture of the ethical/moral issues involved in the point of view of each.  One can easily imagine that ultimately they would agree with one another.  What a film!

A new connotation of “Best Western.”

Grade:  A                        By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Emma Roberts     Dave Franco     Miles Heizer     Juliette Lewis

          Reality games on television have spawned online gaming in the real world, where, as predictable, things can get out of control.  Vee’s (Roberts) best friend Sydney (Meade) nags and shames her into participating in the current craze, Nerve, a game in which “watchers” (i.e., voyeurs) devise dares for specific people.  Exasperated, Vee decides to give it a try, and it starts out mildly, where she is to kiss a stranger for five seconds.  With the support of her friend and fellow photographer Tommy (Heizer), she timidly approaches someone reading a book in a diner.  It’s Ian (Franco), who is so thrilled, he does a music-dance routine right in the diner, to warm applause. 
      But the way the game works, one “completion” brings on another dare—which the person can refuse, but when the chance to win big bucks is at stake, most gamers are sorely tempted, as is Vee, especially when Ian pleads with her.  The watchers have paired them up, so now all the dares are theirs to do together.  This leads on and on with higher and higher stakes and more and more dangerous dares. 
        To increase the complexity and heighten our interest (and nail biting), there are several behind-the-scenes intrigues involving Ian, a threatening figure named Ty (Machine Gun Kelly), and computer guru Tommy who is familiar with Darknet, so it becomes hard to know whom to trust.  It turns out that unseen forces are pulling the strings, making the marionettes dance to their tune.  This ends up in an ugly scene toward the end, with mob rule voting for the kill. 
        In the meantime, it seems a catfight is called for after Vee’s phone conversation with Ian about Sydney is overheard not only by Sydney, but also by everyone playing the game.  They have it out, and everyone wonders if their friendship will survive.  I could have done without this theme; it’s an unnecessary stereotype.
         Emma Roberts is developing into a fine actress, but still lacks the charisma she needs to be a major star.  Her performance just needs a little more spark to show more depth.  The same could be said about Dave Franco—although his song and dance routine was most impressive.  Again, he needs to have more roles that plumb his depth to make him a leading figure.  Supporting actors Miles Heizer and Emily Meade show talent that will serve them well.  Juliette Lewis’ cameo role as Vee’s mother is very well done.
        The book (Nerve by Jeanne Ryan) on which the movie is based makes a point about how online communication, being anonymous to some extent, is changing us.  Screenwriter Jessica Sharzer and directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have taken the book and adapted it to make a suspenseful thriller that is likely to appeal to young people.  And for older people, it can be interesting and thought provoking in that it plays into current fears about the internet and how much data is collected about us.  It’s chilling to learn that whoever is behind the game of Nerve has access to all internet records about the players—their Facebook, their medical records legal records, everything.  In short, this film is scarier because it’s plausible.

A film illustrating some of the realities of reality games.

Grade:  C+                        By Donna R. Copeland

Monday, July 25, 2016


Logan Lerman     Tracy Letts     Sarah Gadon     Linda Emond     Danny Burstein

          The noun ‘indignation’ captures well the most intense conflict in Philip Roth’s same entitled novel, adapted to the screen by writer/director James Schamus.  It refers to the bitter interchanges between the main character, Marcus (Lerman), and the Dean of Men, Caudwell (Letts), at his college in Ohio.  Marcus is of Jewish background and the college is predominantly Christian, with requirements for students to attend chapel services in order to graduate.  Marcus is indignant about that (he’s an atheist) and about the Dean’s intrusive questioning about his personal life.  Caudwell is indignant about an upstart young man who, although gifted, rebels against college rules and refuses to take the dean’s advice about working through his problems with people instead of simply walking away.  His lectures to Marcus are not effective because they go against the basic tenets of counseling.  Well-trained counselors know that one is unlikely to be convincing when advocating for changes in behavior in such a well-defended person who has had years and family influences to shape his behavior.  Thus, Marcus continues his rebellion with dire consequences to follow.
        The movie Indignation is very well presented by the lead actors.  Lerman is pitch perfect in portraying a naïve, young Jewish man who is brilliant at school, but has been over-protected by his pessimistic, nervous father.  Marcus has learned to excel in presenting his arguments in debate class, but that mode does not usually fit well in social interactions.  He comes across more as an attorney in his arguments than in gentle persuasion.  Letts is an accomplished actor whose Dean Caudwell serves as a good counterpoint to Lerman’s Marcus.  He renders the combination of an authoritarian stance mixed with difficulties in socialization smoothly and accurately (e.g., praising Marcus on the one hand and then on the other, lecturing him intrusively).  Romantic interludes are provided by Marcus and his one-date girlfriend Olivia (Gadon), who ensnares his reluctant, ambivalent wavering on that occasion and on subsequent visits.  Scenes with Marcus’ parents played by well-known stage actors Emond and Burstein add color and interest to the story.
        Writer-director Schamus adheres closely to the Roth novel, including some mystification in the narration in the beginning, and an explanation/surprise toward the end.  The time frame is in the ‘50’s during the Korean War, and Marcus is at college partly to avoid the draft.  Costume (Amy Roth) and production (Inbal Weinberg and Philippa Culpepper) designs are authentic for the period and beautiful to look at.  A nice touch is the theme of roses associated with the beautiful Olivia on three occasions.
          The main problem with Indignation is that the war scenes toward the beginning and end are so dark, the action is not visible.  I don’t know what the director and cinematographer (Christopher Blauvelt) had in mind, but these are crucial scenes for the viewer to see to understand the context of the film.  Even the other scenes that are supposed to be well lit are often a bit blurred and cloudy, not sharp at all.  Also, to open the film in a nursing home, with a character we’ve not met is disorienting, unless one has perhaps read the book.  In all fairness, however, my viewing of the film may have been a function of watching it on an internet link on my laptop.  Most likely audiences in theaters will be able to see the darker scenes with more clarity.

Cinematic rendition of Philip Roth’s novel about coming of age in the ‘50’s.

Grade:  B-                        By Donna R. Copeland

Saturday, July 23, 2016


Viggo Mortensen   George McKay   Samantha Isler   Annalise Basso   Nicholas Hamilton   Shree Crooks   Charlie Shotwell  
Kathryn Hahn   Steve Zahn   Frank Langella   Ann Dowd

            Get on board the bus.  This will probably be one of the more unusual rides you’ll make this year in the movies—along with Hunt for the Wilderpeople.  It’s basically about a father who wants to make everything right (perfect, perhaps) for his wife and children, so he takes them to live in the wilds of Washington State and carefully instructs them in survival skills such as:  Securing, growing, and preserving food; administering first aid; maintaining physical fitness; self-defense; education (and boy! do they learn philosophy, government, and politics!); and music.  I’m sure I left something out, but you get the point.  These are kids who would put the regular American student to shame.
            Everything is going well (although we don’t know the back-story until later), and then a tragedy occurs, which makes their world topsy-turvy.  In order to talk about the rest of the movie, I have to spoil what it is—the mother dies.  But she doesn’t die at home—that wouldn’t present any practical problems beyond heart-wrenching grief—she dies at a hospital near the home of her parents who are decidedly Christian and have no sympathy for the lifestyle she (who has become a Buddhist) and her husband have chosen.
            What follows is a resounding clash of cultures, which is used to comment about society today, at least in the U.S. and maybe in much of the western world.  The immediate dilemma for Ben is that the children desperately want to go to the funeral, which Leslie’s father has forbidden.  It’s also a dilemma because he has Leslie’s will which specifically states what is to happen after her death.
            For all Ben’s (Mortensen) sage planning and execution of the “ideal world”, he underestimates how much different the world he has created is from the real world.  We see the incredible training and education he and his wife have provided for their children, but perhaps it’s because of the absence of the feminine influence when his wife Leslie (Trin Miller) goes to the hospital for an extended stay, Ben begins taking more risks than he should, e.g., climbing steep mountains during a thunderstorm, and over-applying his socialist philosophy by teaching the kids how to rob a store.
            All of this comes to bear in the last part of the film, which entails a complex and near-disastrous resolution, but an excellent one, nevertheless.
            Having been a fan of TV’s “Silicon Valley”, I was shocked to see that one of the actors in that show wrote and directed this film, Matt Ross.  It’s especially humorous because the character he plays on TV is shallow, without many social/moral values.  Clearly, Ross does have social/moral values, and wants to caution us about our current society.  Do our children know what the Bill of Rights is?  Could our children survive in the wild?  Do we really have an appreciation and respect for nature?  This is basically what Captain Fantastic is about.
            I understand that when signing on to this project, Mortensen wanted to assure that the tone and message of the film was quality based, and there would be no "bad guys."  After his discussions with Ross, they made sure, for instance, that the child actors could actually slaughter a sheep for food and play musical instruments.  Mortensen himself maintains a garden at home.
            Important to acknowledge is the contribution of Alex Somers to the music of the film, which elevates and perfectly captures every scene. 

There are so many reasons to see Captain Fantastic.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Friday, July 22, 2016


Keaton Nigel Cooke   Tracy Letts   Julie Delpy   Greta Gerwig   Kieran Culkin   Danny DeVito   Ellen Burstyn

      It’s a dog’s life—at least Wiener-Dog’s life, which goes through five owners.  Throughout, the dog appears to be serene and offers great comfort and satisfaction to others, most of whose lives are miserable.  Remi (Cooke) treasures Wiener-Dog, and gives her that name.  Unfortunately, his parents (Letts and Delpy) are poor dog (or child) caretakers, don’t train their son in the basics of caring for an animal, and take it to the vet to be put down. 
          The vet’s assistant manages to rescue the anesthetized dog when the vet answers the phone, takes it home with her, and nurses it back to health.  Writer-director Todd Solondz slips bizarre bits of humor in his films, and here, he has included two characters from a previous movie, Welcome to the Dollhouse.  The nurse, played by Greta Gerwig, is named Dawn Wiener, the character in Dollhouse who was teased and called “Wiener Dog” at school.  Now she is grown up and chances to meet a fellow classmate from grade school, Brandon McCarthy (McCulkin), who calls out to her, “Wiener Dog!”  After chatting a bit, he asks if she wants to go to Ohio with him.  He doesn’t seem to care that much for her, but he likes the dog.
          In Ohio, they stay with his brother and his wife (both of whom seem to have Down’s Syndrome).  Dawn is so good-hearted, when the couple really takes to the dog, which she has named Doody, she leaves her with them in their stable suburban neighborhood.
          Somehow, though, the dog manages to get out and go exploring for many miles, and is picked up by Dave (DeVito), a severely depressed, angry screenwriter and teacher at a film school, where he is about to be fired because of his negative attitude.  He comes up with a plan that I won’t divulge, and the dog ends up going to another owner.
         Nana (Burstyn) is very old and mostly blind, so has a caretaker, but the dog sits by her constantly and seems to be about the only joy she has in life.  But the story doesn’t end there…
         Continuing his recurring themes about troubled people and families, death, and cruelty Solondz dishes those up again in this film, and although it’s labeled a “comedy” it is not likely to draw out much laughter.  I did find Danny DeVito funny at times, such as after giving a synopsis of his sordid screenplay, he moans, “I wanted it to be funny.”  I also chuckled when he puts a frilly dress on Wiener-Dog and takes her out walking, and when he continually instructs him film students that every screenplay starts with “What if…”. 
      The cast of actors is really fine, and James Lavino’s music and Edward Lachman’s cinematography all brighten up the screen in its telling some very dark tales.  The exception, of course, is the interminably long shot of dog diarrhea.

You’ll say, “Awwwww” to Wiener-Dog herself, but "Noooo" to the dark tale.

Grade:  D+                        By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Chris Pine   Zachary Quinto   Karl Urban   Simon Pegg   John Cho   Zoe Saldana   
Anton Yelchin   Idris Elba   Sofia Boutella   Lydia Wilson

          After three years in space, the crew of the USS Enterprise is getting a bit antsy.  Captain Kirk (Pine) applies for the job of vice admiral because he’s a bit bored, those with families are feeling the separation, and Chief Engineer Scottie (Pegg) is dithering about budget problems.  Suddenly, an escape pod appears, and its occupant, Kalara (Wilson) requests Captain Kirk’s help after an alien warlord attacked her ship and captured her crew.
In all good faith, the Enterprise heads to the crippled ship, only to find out it is a trap.  The remainder of the story entails taking on the warlord at great risk, suffering severe threats and requiring all the ingenuity, tactics, and memory the captain and his crew can muster simply to survive. 
          They do encounter an ally in Jaylah (Boutella) when she saves Scotty from soldiers about to capture him.  Her people were already captured and killed by the warlord Krall (Elba).  Much to Scotty’s surprise, she has come upon the Federation’s missing USS Franklin, making it her home, and ingeniously getting key equipment up and running.  Moreover, she has the ability to put a hologram around it to conceal it.
        Star Trek fans will be thrilled with the returning cast from previous films, like Pine, Quinto, Saldana, Pegg, Urban, Cho, and Yelchin (sadly, Yelchin died earlier this year in an accident).  Beloved Spock actor, Leonard Nimoy also passed away this year, and tributes are made to both in the film.  Two new key figures have been introduced, played by Elba (Krall) and Boutella (Jaylah).  
          All the actors kindle the human/bot dramas into a warm and glowing fire, but the film is almost completely overrun by warring spectacles—including, of course, the obligatory hand-to-hand combat.  (How I wish filmmakers of blockbuster movies would eliminate this completely unnecessary motif, particularly in the context of futuristic technology).  The special effects are impressive, but it’s too bad they overpower interesting stories.  This feature clearly marks the influence of Director Justin Lin, known for his The Fast and the Furious action films.  Many will prefer such a hyped up version, whereas the rest of us are more focused on human drama.

A fast and furious rendition of the Star Trek franchise.

Grade:  C                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Teresa Palmer   Gabriel Bateman   Maria Bello   Alicia Vela-Bailey   Alexander DiPersia   Billy Burke

          “Lights out” is what parents are known to say to their children at bedtime, but in this horror show, the ghost Diana (Vela-Bailey) is commanding everyone to darken the house so she can come out.  And if they don’t do it, she does it decisively, scarily.  The film is gripping and jump-worthy, with gruesome special effects, eliciting many groans and screams from the audience.
          The back-story is that Rebecca (Palmer) has left her mother’s house to get away from strange goings-on.  Sophie (Bello) has a history of psychiatric problems, so this doesn’t seem extraordinary.  But then, Rebecca is contacted by her brother’s (Bateman) school after Martin shows signs of something being wrong.   The child welfare authorities are involved, but Rebecca is reluctant to follow up on the choices they give her.  Not being very experienced in childcare, she attempts to take Martin under her wing (not a good time, given her ambivalent relationship with her boyfriend Brad) (DiPersia), and is a little lame at first until Martin lets her know he is seeing the same things she did that prompted her to leave home. 
         Now, of course, this is a horror show, so she doesn’t contact the police; she attempts to manage the situation on her own.  Brad wants to help, and at first she pushes him away, as she is wont to do, but eventually accepts his help.  The story continues with the name ‘Diane’ being carved on the wood floor, a drawing of the family (in which Diane has inserted herself) being snatched away mysteriously, and doors opening and closing on their own, usually with a bang.
       Lights Out is well done, with only a few of the characteristics that I inevitably feel are stupid, like going down into a dark cellar when there’s been a disturbance, not calling the authorities, not explaining to loved ones what’s going on, etc.  For the most part, writer/director David F. Sandberg and writer Eric Heisserer sustain the suspense while keeping the action reasonably plausible and intelligent, all nicely enhanced by composer Benjamin Wallfisch’s music. 
       The actors do a fine job, with Teresa Palmer ably taking on the starring role, showing emotional transitions, shock, and panic throughout her trials.  Child stars seem to have a naturalness that adults may or may not have, and Gabriel Bateman is a case example, showing a child who is logical, sensitive, and duly frightened by the occult.  I especially appreciated the character Brad, Rebecca’s long-suffering boyfriend, masterfully played by Alexander DiPersia.  Maria Bello is inevitably fine in her performances, and she underplays nicely a haunted woman whom everyone regards as crazy. 
        This is a film that genuinely horrifies without resorting to heavy-handed special effects, which, for me, is scarier in making it more plausible.  Although ghosts may not necessarily be plausible, enough people believe in them—and they have some validity in relation to emotional disturbances—that if they are well done, as here, they can serve as a metaphor for many kinds of human fears.
      For me, the most eloquent scene of Lights Out is toward the end:  “There’s no me without you.”

Go and be chilled to the bone.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Monday, July 18, 2016


Voices of:  Ray Romano   Queen Latifah   Keke Palmer   Adam Devine   John Leguizamo  

Denis Leary   Simon Pegg   Jennifer Lopez   Wanda Sykes   Neil DeGrasse Tyson

          This is the seventh in a series of Ice Age films, and is largely empty animation and special effects without much of a story.  My interest was piqued when I saw that Neil DeGrasse Tyson was going to be one of the voices in the film, in hopes that it would have some educational value; but alas, it is a hodge-podge of story lines with tired themes like broken hearts, forgetting an anniversary, and a father reluctant to let his daughter grow up and forge her own path.  There was only one scene that went against stereotype, and that was the father-daughter (it’s usually a son) competition on an ice hockey rink.  Manny (Romano) is certain he can best his daughter Peaches (Palmer) handily—and tries to make out like he actually did, but she is the clear winner.
        A bit of novelty is seen in the efforts to avert a killer meteor coming to destroy the animals’ home, and Tyson as Neil deBuck Weasel (I like the play on his name) explains in scientific terms how to use magnetic forces to throw it off course.  It’s too bad the filmmakers didn’t expand this sequence and make it the heart of the movie instead of silly love stories. 
       As in all the Ice Age films I have seen, the squirrel creature Scrat (Chris Wedge) appears in the beginning and reappears periodically hugging and chasing his acorn, swarming all around space to introduce and supplement the animation and special effects.  Next we hear about the mammoth family [Manny, Ellie (Queen Latifah), and Peaches] and get the update that Peaches is engaged to Julian (Devine), who is eager to join the family and impress the reluctant Manny.  They’re friends with lions Diego (Leary) and Shira (Lopez), who are wanting to be parents. 
      There is a digression to a yoga fitness community, Geotopia, where Shangri Lama (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) is in charge and where Granny (Sykes) is discovered to be enjoying yoga and massages. 
        But Sid (Leguizamo) as the local scientist is giving fair warning that a meteor that will obliterate them is coming.  After Neil deBuck Weasel instructs them about what they need to do, the animals band together to avert the strike.
        Not much of anything is new and fresh in this production, which should be a message to the writers (Michael J. Wilson, Michael Berg, Yoni Brenner), directors Galen T. Chu and Mike Thurmeier, and producer Lori Forte to hang up the franchise.

Uninspired 7th iteration of the Ice Age franchise.

Grade:  D-                                    By Donna R. Copeland