Thursday, April 26, 2018


Brady Jandreau     Tim Jandreau     Lilly Jandreau     Cat Clifford     Lane Scott

     This remarkable production written and directed by Chloe Zhao and based on a true story, using the real people for actors, transports us into the world of men where keeping a stiff upper lip and rarely showing weakness or emotion is de rigueur, particularly among the rodeo crowd. I’m in awe of its being directed by a woman—and a Chinese woman at that—who was clearly able to grasp the essence of that culture and give it such authenticity.
     Despite our expectations, each of the main characters is drawn in multi-layers, showing the outer image of bravado and surface identity and some degree of scorn, but gradually getting to the underlying bravery, and deep, tender feelings they have about themselves and toward other people.  For example, Brady (B. Jandreau), called “stubborn as a mule” by his father, is determined almost to the end to overcome any frailty he has after a rodeo accident, remove bandages, and check himself out of the hospital, and then get right back up on a bucking bronco.  Yet, toward his sister Lilly (L. Jandreau) and his friend-hero Lane (Scott), he is optimally patient and thoughtful; and he finally allows himself to grieve for what he has lost, albeit not expressing such deep-seated feelings to anyone else.
     Zhao weaves an intricate story around a Lakota Indian family in South Dakota, where rodeo and horses are primary interests.  Brady has a promising career as a bucking bronco riding cowboy, aspiring to match the achievements of his friend and idol Lane, who was very seriously injured and is now in a rehabilitation facility.  The family is barely surviving, living in a house trailer, and the father has a weakness for alcohol and gambling. In addition to Brady, Tim has a younger daughter with Asperger’s Syndrome.  The mother has died.  When Brady himself is injured, major adjustments will have to be made by Brady, by his family, and by his friends.  This takes time, and the viewer is called upon to be patient and will, hopefully, be fascinated and rewarded by the characters’ gradual evolvement.
     To lighten the mood, humor and affection are liberally disbursed throughout. Lilly is entertaining in her spunkiness, slightly oddball comments, and her devotion to Brady.  After his accident, she is shown stroking his back and arm while cooing encouragement (a motif that is repeated later when Brady is lovingly training wild horses, using the same techniques to calm them.)  The guys josh and tease one another, and there are some scenes where a saddle is put on a “pony” in rehab, so that Brady can help train his friend Lane to use the muscles and movements again that he used to do without thinking.
     A pronounced influence in how you will view this film is in the cinematography by Joshua James Richards.  The film opens with artistic renderings of horses in a beautiful introduction of the film.  And then throughout, striking images capture the mood and action of the story, as when we see a moon trying to appear in the darkness where cowboys are sitting around a fire, the pastels of the western sky, and the stark portrait of a man walking away, a man standing, and a fallen horse after a heartbreaking scene.
     This is an art film incorporating the elements of a masterpiece in screenplay and story telling, cinematography, and depiction of age-old human struggles in meeting the challenges of life.

Perhaps the most elegant, empathic story about ordinary men and horses that you will ever see.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, April 25, 2018


Josh Brolin   Tom Holland   Chris Pratt   Chris Evans   Chris Hemsworth   Robert Downey, Jr.   Zoe Saldana
Tom Hiddleston   Benedict Cumberbatch   Chadwick Boseman   Letitia Wright   Danai Gurira
Mark Ruffalo   Peter Dinklage   Bradley Cooper   Vin Diesel   Don Cheadle

     Marvel Comics has gone all out in seeing to it that this rendition of the Avengers franchise thrills, chills, and awes. Surprising plot turns and awesome special effects while keeping the well-known players’ characters doing their thing, are sure to seize audience attention and keep it spellbound. It’s always best to be familiar with the comic book stories, but for those who have only a foggy notion about them and haven’t kept up, there is still much to entertain.
     The essential conflict in this story is Thanos’ (Brolin) attempt to collect all the Infinity Stones so he can rule the world.  He has an agenda; and it’s another case of someone thinking they know what’s best for all mankind.  Thanos has decided that there are too many people in the world relative to the number of resources, so his simple solution is to destroy half of them. That way, the world’s limited resources won’t be depleted.  Keep in mind that he is utterly convinced that this is the only solution.
     It’s rather fun to see all the Marvel superheroes uniting together in their commitment to save the universe from a seemingly invincible monster.  And Brolin plays Thanos with just the right mix of power-hungry deluded, admiration of strength and bravery, and slight vulnerability to love and affection.  He is an ideologue who has supreme confidence in his belief of what is good for all mankind.  One of the creative twists of the writers (Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely), is in showing his deep emotional attachment to Gamora (Saldana), his adoptive daughter, whom he rescued from poverty when he was destroying her world. His love for her and subsequent disillusionment is one of the few emotional pulls in the film, which is mainly concerned with the battles among super-heroes. 
     Disillusionment is shown once again when Thanos’ forces are attacking Wakanda, the pristine realm of Black Panther (Boseman).  At one point, the Panthers’ warrior in command, Okoye (Gurira),  states, “When we opened up Wakanda, this is not what I imagined”, to which Panther asks, “What did you imagine?”  Her reply: “The Olympics, maybe a Starbucks…” illustrating the movie’s subtle references to practical and more lofty ideals.
     This is a film for action movie aficionados, and it delivers all to be expected in that sense.  The story, special effects, and cinematography meet these expectations.  But for those who prefer a more subtle, nuanced plot and refreshing character development, it will come up short.  

Action?  Adventure?  Exciting fantasy? You got it with this film. There are other choices if action and extended battle scenes are not for you.

Grade:  B                                                 By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, April 19, 2018


Michelle Williams     Amy Schumer     Emily Ratajkowski     Aidy Bryant     Busy Phillips     
Rory Scovel     Lauren Hutton     Naomi Campbell     Tom Hopper

     Self-confidence becomes the primary thrust of the story, illustrating how it can over-ride reality in both a positive and negative sense.  Amy Schumer as Renee, plays her usual role of being a buxom young woman, convinced that she is disadvantaged because of her looks, and taking a jaded view of men who seem to her to favor pretty women.  She imagines that someone as beautiful and well proportioned as Mallory (Ratajkowski) has the world at her feet and can’t possibly be disappointed or hurt.  
     Writers/directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein use a literal bump on the head to show how a change in attitude can do wonders for a girl’s self-esteem. Magically, Renee gets up from the floor after a fall at her spinning class bursting with a self-confidence that defies reality; and, interestingly, people seem to overlook physical appearances and go along with her delusion.  She charms people, and utilizes traits of thoughtfulness, creativity, and leadership to gain their respect and make a better life for herself.
     Of course, everything will not go smoothly all the way, and Renee will learn some lessons about friendship and genuineness that will give her a better hold on life, herself, and those she cares about.  
     The premise as acted out in I Feel Pretty,in its emphasis on attitude and outlook influencing life events, is rather simplistic and concrete.  Although it’s billed as a comedy, the story is straightforward, and lacks creativity in making a true-to-life story be funny and profound at the same time.  It’s much too earnest and lacks subtlety to accomplish that. Better films in which to see the transformation of women as a result of changes in perception and experience, for instance, include Maudie, Megan Leavey,andPatti Cake$.
     Amy Schumer is gifted in portraying the loveable, spastic, good-hearted character she plays here, but I think she is capable of more than that, and would like to see her in more substantive roles.  I fear she will be like Melissa McCarthy, who continues along in the same role that made her famous, despite her talent.  Refreshingly, Michelle Williams has taken on a completely different, comedic role here.  Who would’ve thought?  This paragon of depth in character pulls off the role of a beautifully masked intelligent, powerful woman with a high-pitched “girly” voice.  She is the only really interesting, novel character, and I wish she had been given more screen time.
     Actors in the roles of Renee’s friends, Scovel (Ethan), Bryant (Vivian), and Jane (Phillips), give vibrant color to the film, and convey the genuineness that Renee needs to keep her grounded.  I especially appreciated Scovel’s character, who goes against male stereotypes.

Look beyond Amy Schumer’s role (not new—although very well done) to identify those that exemplify openness to the novel, tolerance for differences, and go against stereotype.

Grade:  C+                                                By Donna R. Copeland

Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Charlie Plummer     Travis Fimmel     Steve Buscemi     Chloe Sevigny     Steve Zahn     Alison Elliott

     At first in this story, Charley (Plummer) appears to be a hapless teenager whose mother has disappeared and whose father Ray (Fimmel) womanizes (“The best women have all been waitresses at some point.”), makes enemies, and hasn’t much of an idea about how to parent, although it is clear that he loves Charley.  Quietly appealing, Charley clearly has some sense of responsibility as he realizes money is tight in the family and looks for a job.  He happens upon the Portland horserace track and Del (Buscemi), a grumbling horse trainer and quarter horse owner who puts the few horses he has left onto the track, and who takes a chance on Charley.  He hires him for a day to see how well he can do, then takes him on for a little longer when he sees that Charley is different from “most teenagers nowadays” in that he’s an able and willing worker.
     Del is a colorful, cantankerous type who forbids people around him to talk very much—especially if they get into personal topics.  Yet, he manages to find out that Charley has not been taught much in the way of manners, doesn’t have a mother, and lives with his father.  That’s about all he wants to know, but it does make him at least slightly sympathetic toward the boy.
     Despite the jockey Bonnie’s (Sevigny) warning Charley not to think of the horses as pets, he does get attached to the horse “Lean on Pete”, a not very good racer who might eventually be sold to someone in Mexico for its meat.  Charley does his best to see that doesn’t happen in all the ways he can think of, but it looks like the inevitable is very near.  
    Charley has had major losses in his life, and when he experiences another one, he decides he can fulfill two purposes in saving Pete and in finding the woman Margie (Elliott) who was a mother-figure to him long before.  The last he heard, she lives in Wyoming, so he has a some distance to go to find her.  He sees no other way out for him and Pete.
     Most of the story is about that journey and the tremendous degree of determination and fortitude Charley brings to bear on his situation.  A fine balance is maintained between Charley’s appealing personality (a number of people along his way reach out to help him) and pure and simple bad luck, mean people, and the limitations of anyone this age. 
     The drama is well told by British Director Andrew Haigh (45 Years) with fully formed characters and keeping up the suspense with only a slight slow-down in the middle.      Plummer does an extraordinarily fine job of giving a realistic view of this unusual teen as he did as wealthy J. Paul Getty’s grandson in All the Money in the World. Critical roles played by Steve Buscemi, Chloe Sevigny, Steve Zahn, and Alison Elliott round out the cast to make this an independent film well worth going out of your way to see.

A boy growing up in life without a niche is determined to find one, one way or another.

Grade:  B+                                                By Donna R. Copeland

Saturday, April 14, 2018


Leslie Mann     John Cena     Ike Barinholtz     Kathryn Newton     Geraldine Viswanathan    Gideon Adlon    Graham Phillips

     Ah, parents!  Three of them in this farce turn out to be helicopter parents bent on redoing their own youth through their children.  Which, of course, turns out to be interference.  “The Kids are All Right” as the 2010 entitled movie showed, and they’re all right here too, making much more sense than their parents—well, most of them.  Three of the teens’ parents were all right too; it’s just the other three who need an intervention.
     The basic conflict is that snooping parents find out that their three daughters plan to lose their virginity on prom night.  They’re set off for different reasons, but Lisa (Mann), Mitchell (Cena), and ambivalent Hunter (Barinholtz) simply assume that they should not let that happen.  
     Director Kay Cannon uses a script from Brian and Jim Kehoe to create a spoof about parents having to let go of their maturing children and protest it by including themselves in the kids’ prom night, of all times!  Of course, they are convinced that their only interest is in protecting their daughters from unscrupulous boys and “ruining their lives.”  It makes for a lot of laughs, without too much damage done.  Along the way, though, these intentions get them into hot water and embarrassing moments when they ironically get caught by their kids. (Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?  That parents “catch” their kids doing something?
     Blockers hits the mark in a number of places where, for instance, Lisa describes fears for her daughter Julie (Newton) that are clearly a reflection of her own disappointed hopes at that age. Especially funny is father Hunter, who has been an AWOL dad, but more than the others has kept up with millennials, and knows something about their culture and can interpret emojis. This is not always helpful, but at least he has some sense of the need for parents to step back.  No one heeds him, so in a desperate (although late) attempt to stay involved, he goes along with Lisa and Mitchell in their attempts to “rescue” their daughters.
     Where I think Blockers goes over the top is in the assumption that the more shocking something is, the funnier it is. Filmmakers don’t always recognize that fine line between dialog that is life-funny and that which simply turns the viewer off.  Example:  An innocent but determined character telling her partner to put his penis in her vagina in just those words.  No human is likely to say that, so it’s just not funny.  On the other hand, seeing uptight parents happening upon a couple play-acting a sex drama will make you laugh.
     Another place I think the filmmakers missed an opportunity is in deemphasizing the conflict between the sensible parent (who is a doctor) and her husband Mitchell and the parents of Julie’s boyfriend Austin (Phillips), all advising the trio to stay out of their children’s lives.  Maybe this is because Blockers is meant to be comedy over drama.
     Leslie Mann, Ike Barinholtz, and John Cena are hilarious as the three interfering parents, all for different reasons, but consistent with their characters.  

A mostly funny account of parental meddling.

Grade:  C+                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Emily Blunt     John Krasinski     Noah Jupe     Millicent Simmonds     Cade Woodward

     This is a very quiet place, necessarily, because acutely hearing monsters might hear and attack wherever human sound is coming from.  It took a while for the audience to settle down, but before long, it was the quietest movie theater I’ve ever been in, which is a measure of just how much tension and apprehension the film elicits in the audience.  It’s clear from the beginning that there has been some kind of holocaust; there are few people around, stores have been wrecked, and the characters we see use sign language.
     The Abbott family (father, mother, daughter, and two sons) is appealing, and they’re able to communicate a great deal with sign language and visual cues. Evelyn (Blunt) is nurturing and fun with her family, doing household chores and home-schooling the kids. And one of your first questions is how she is going to keep a newborn quiet, because she is pregnant. Lee (Krasinski) is intelligent, and he and Emily seem to have thought of everything—well, almost everything—in preparing for eventualities and training their children about what to do. In addition, he spends much time in his workshop trying to get as much information as possible about the monsters and find their vital weakness.  The three children, daughter Regan (Simmonds), Marcus (Jupe), and Beau (Woodward) are typical in their propensity for play and unpredictability, as well as their desire to help.   Regan has a special burden to bear because of something that happens early on in the story.  They are all so appealing, it’s easy to care about what happens to them.
     Krasinski’s directing is something he will be proud of, in its story line (on which he collaborated with Bryan Woods and Scott Beck), the development and pace of the plot, and the selection of the cinematographer Charlotte Bruus and musician Marco Beltrami.   Much of the film is beautiful to watch, with the surreal experience of quietness as the family walks around barefoot, sometimes through the corn fields and woods in full color, punctuated by rushing waters, static in electrical and computer devices (and even in a hearing aid), and the alarming sound of monsters (gorgeously and ghoulishly designed by Industrial Light and Magic) as they groan, trying to find the source of a sound or swoosh in loudly for a kill.  
     Both Emily Blunt and her real-life husband John Krasinski show their talents in acting that conveys so much information nonverbally.  Millicent Simmonds (Wonderstruck) is admirably expressive, and in this role brilliantly shows Regan’s complexities in her hearing impairment (which is real for Simmonds), her unequivocal love for her brothers, her ambivalence toward her parents, and her feelings of guilt, suspicion, and rage toward her father.  
     All the different special effects and production design (Jeffrey Beecroft) in A Quiet Place are noteworthy, especially for a horror film, which knows to reveal the physical appearance of the monsters only gradually.  For much of the first part of the film, they’re only heard, not visible, which heightens the fear factor.  But then, when they’re fully seen, they are fascinating and disgusting at the same time.
     As one who is not an aficionado of horror movies, I found this one to be thoroughly engaging, parsing out the horror in believable—not too fantastic—premises and scenes.  I could have done without the ill-conceived pregnancy and birth of a baby (although this amazing couple even planned that out very carefully.)  

A Quiet Place is deceptive in its title, as an unspeakable horror where sounds can destroy you and your family.

Grade:  A-                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, April 12, 2018


Sam  Claflin     Paul Bettany     Asa Butterfield     Stephen Graham
Toby Jones     Tom Sturridge     Robert Glenister

     This is an unusual movie in depicting the fears of troops in war as much as the bravery—which makes sense to me.  It takes place in the spring of 1918, the fourth year of World War I, in northern France.  British Company C is informed that the Germans are about to make a major offensive on March 21. Then, a brigadier general orders an operation a few days before, in which two officers and their soldiers will storm the German forces 60 feet in front of them and capture a German, which would be a huge feather in the cap of the British Forces.
     Before this happens, we’re introduced to a few members of Company C.  Captain Stanhope (Claflin) is in charge, aided by his second, Osborne (Bettany).  Osborne (whom every calls “Uncle”) is a seasoned officer soon to retire, and he has the job of backing up, shoring up Stanhope, who has problems with bravery and leadership that are kept secret.  When a new recruit appears, it presents multiple problems. Raleigh (Butterfield) is the brother of Stanhope’s betrothed, and they were in school together.  Raleigh so admires Stanhope, he has volunteered and used connections to be assigned to his company.  But Stanhope, realizing that he has a drinking problem, fears what Raleigh might say to his sister about him.
     Stanhope is just neurotic enough to dread this intrusion/perceiver threat, and gives Raleigh mixed messages.  Raleigh is a gung-ho new recruit who always looks on the bright side, and he sees nothing about what Stanhope fears.  Then one of those coincidental moments occurs; the colonel orders an operation the night before the expected German raid, and pressures Stanhope to assign Osborne and Raleigh, two men with whom he has emotional connections—with a few other soldiers to the mission, which is to capture a German to gain intelligence.  Stanhope tries, but is unsuccessful in convincing the colonel to have him assign others to the operation.
     This film is not so much about these specific events in WWI as it is about the emotional and personal rigors that men go through during war.  It shows the unaccountable bravery of Captain Stanhope in talking his soldier down from imminent desertion in the face of fear, and then falling apart himself when he is with someone he trusts.  He is a sensitive, artistic type, who is clearly not made for war, but apparently fell into his position because of his intelligence—or something else; we’re not told how he got into military service. Anyway, he did well enough to be made a captain and pays a huge price for it in the trauma and losses he experiences.
     Director Saul Dibb graphically shows the personal, seldom told, experiences of war by men who have joined the military for a myriad of reasons, some with more conscious motivations than others who, in a way, simply find themselves there. All the drama takes place in dark, vulnerable trenches in northern France, which serves to highlight even more the dramas going on inside the soldiers.  It gives equal time to both the fears and the bravery of the men, and is unusually eloquent about the obliviousness of upper level brass in planning major operations and recommending the officers and men to carry them out. Like so many realms in our society, the movers and shakers fail to keep their ears to the ground and stay knowledgeable about fundamental elements, remaining instead in their ivory towers.
     The cast of Sam Claflin, Paul Bettany, Asa Butterfield, Stephen Graham, Toby Jones, and Tom Sturridge is well chosen, and each actor contributes significantly to the authentic feel of this story.  They give life and inspiration to the conception of R. C. Sherriff, the novelist who wrote the original screenplay on which this film is based.  

An unusual account of war, showing the doubts and fears of men, along with the bravery.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Rosamund Pike     Jon Hamm     Dean Norris     Shea Whigham     Harry Pine

     If you go to see Beirut, directed by Brad Anderson and written by Tony Gilroy, you would do well beforehand to acquaint yourself thoroughly with the actor-character pairs, because so many people are thrown at you at once, it’s hard to know who’s who.  This is after the opening scene of an energetic cocktail party gone bad.  No background information is given, either about the story or the characters. So there is a lot of figuring-out to do through most of the first half.  This, along with Mason Skiles’ (Hamm) continuous imbibing of hard liquor brings on a bit of wooziness.
     Skiles has gone into a deep funk and become an alcoholic after his diplomatic sojourn in Beirut where he loses all that is dear to him.  He returns to the States after an international reputation for negotiating, only to form a small two-man company that negotiates between small-town bosses and labor unions.  After his partner announces that he is joining another company, Skiles is suddenly presented with a puzzling offer from the CIA, which is to present a lecture at the American University in Beirut on negotiating.  Beirut is the last place he wants to go on earth, but the timeliness (and probably seductiveness of something more exciting than his boring life) of the charge, along with a first-class airplane ticket, cash, and passport, allows him to be “poured” (alcohol reference again) onto the plane.
     Once there, Skiles has a devil of a time trying to find out what he is expected to do, because he knows it is more than simply a lecture.  Sandy Crowley (Pike) is clearly tasked with squiring him around, but the agendas of three State Department officials is obscure—until it finally seeps out.  He is to negotiate the release of an American (a former friend when he was in Lebanon) who has been kidnapped by Palestinians.  The exchange is to be for one of the men involved in the 1972 Munich massacre.  This means he has to deal with Israel as well, as they are likely to have one of the perpetrators.
     There are additional complexities in the mix that make this film engaging; unfortunately, the viewer is presented with so many puzzles to figure out it simply becomes frustrating.  The filmmakers should have given us more background into characters like Skiles, Crowley, the State Department officials, young Karim (whom Skiles and his wife had sheltered and mentored), and the whole political situation at the time.  When I view a film, I want to be carried along by the story, not charged with figuring out who is who and what is going on throughout.
     The actors are the best part of this film, giving color and fascination to an intriguing subject.  I think we were let down by director Anderson and writer Gilroy, who failed to provide the essential elements to make this a captivating story—which it should have been.  It’s only towards the very end when Skiles is negotiating the exchange of prisoners that Beirut comes into its own.

Intrigues during the Lebanese civil war that should captivate us more than this film does.

Grade:  C                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, April 5, 2018


Helen Hunt     Tiera Skovbye     Erin Moriarty     Danika Yarosh     William Hurt     Nesta Cooper

      The story begins with the star of the high school girls volleyball team, Captain Caroline ‘Line’ Found (Yarosh), doing her thing, which is to take center stage in any gathering with a special talent for drawing everyone into her circle. She is charismatic and impulsive, and pulls love and adoration from all she meets.  With her hyper vibes and constant chatter, she is a bit irritating to Coach Kathy “Bres” Bresnahan (Hunt), and the coach has to counsel her about what leadership involves.  But somehow, all this works, and the team is pumped about going for their second state title in a row.
     But Caroline’s life is not as rosy as it appears; her mother is seriously ill and not expecting to live much longer, much to the sorrow of Caroline and her father, Ernie (Hurt).  She was actually a volleyball star in her day, and has given her daughter the shoes she wore.  The always-optimistic Caroline ignores her mother’s frankness and visualizes that they will be together forever.  Regrettably, this turns out to be an ironic statement, in that Caroline will go before her mother. 
     Based on a true story, Miracle Season is meant to inspire viewers by getting them into the spirit of the (volleyball) game, and see how a team pulls together in the face of adversity.  The adversity is grief that comes over them after their beloved captain is killed in an accident.  Caroline’s best friend, Kelly (Moriarty) is tapped to take her place as captain, but it’s clear that in their relationship Caroline was the leader, and Kelly’s self-image pales in contrast.
     This is the turning point in the story; whereas the first part is almost irritatingly sweet in its idolization of Caroline, the transition into grief and how the characters manage it becomes the meat of the film.  Director Sean McNamara focuses on the different ways people cope with loss, and highlights conversations that are healing and inspiring.  An example is Caroline’s father expressing his bitterness and guilt and then helping Kelly with hers.  He’s a strong force in moving her from hero- worship to valuing herself, and assuming her legitimate role as captain.
     Helen Hunt and William Hurt anchor the film as only well seasoned actors can, showing how a viewer can be transported beyond the entertainment value of a film to one of real substance.  Coach is ill at ease socially, but provides the toughness this group of girls (I think the filmmakers tilted them too far into stereotypical “girly” girls) need to overcome adversity.  Hurt is the gentle, fatherly support Kelly, in particular, needs to become her own person.  Erin Moriarty as Kelly, shows great potential for bringing life to a character and becoming a star in her own right.
     For its intentions, I think this film succeeds in its likely appeal to viewers wanting to be inspired and follow a sports team with all its thrills and chills. I’m wondering how it will appear to women who actually play volleyball and are on teams.  My impression is that it is overly dramatic in its depiction of the girls, and that for all its heavy focus on the grief, many will, unfortunately, be turned off.  I congratulate the film for being frank about the grief process.

An exciting sports story about an “impossible” comeback, but with dips into the reality of grief.

Grade:  C+                                    By Donna R. Copeland