Thursday, May 31, 2018


Elle Fanning     Nicole Kidman     Alex Sharp     Ruth Wilson
Abraham Lewis     Ethan Lawrence     Allison Saxton     Tom Brooke

     Don’t let the title mislead you; this is not a “how-to” (except maybe as irony) lesson, but one of the weirdest movies you are likely to see.  It starts out with three punks careening on a single bike on the streets of London circa 1977, then it goes to a loud punk-rock concert and eventually evolves into an alien cult doing what looks like performance art, but is much more than that.  The three punkers take pride in their weirdness, and groove away at the concert.  When they aren’t invited to the after-party, they seek it out to crash it.  Mistaking it for the after-party, they come upon a truly weird group doing what looks like a performance art thing.  But the first clue is that they all belong to certain colonies that are fundamental to their society.
     The three punks are adept at crashing concerts and parties, and when a sexy woman answers the door, one of the punks, Victor (Lewis), uses his flirty charms to get her to escort them in.  They go their separate ways, seeking to score, and Victor begins following through with his line at the door to his greeter; his reaction to what happens after that is just one of the comedic elements of the film.  
     John (Lawrence) finds his place singing and dancing, but Enn (Sharp) connects with Zan (Fanning), who is extremely alluring and interesting.  He tells her about his band, “Virus” (attempting to infect everyone to fight fascism and conformity), and she is fascinated. Before he knows it, she has invited herself to his “punk colony”, using an odd phrase (“How do I further assess the punk?”), and saying something about having 48 hours to learn more.  By this time, nightlife has closed down, and Enn must take her home, where she meets his mother the next morning and visits his “tree temple” (tree house).  As time goes on, it becomes obvious that Zan is very different from Enn and his British mother, although they get along beautifully. (Enn’s mother thinks she is from California!)
     At first, I wasn’t sure I could sit through this film, but after it began to appear to have some meaning behind it, I got interested and was greatly entertained by the action, sets, costumes, and story.  But it has a message as well—about the importance of staying connected with one’s roots (family) and discussing parent-child relationships (Are you going to “eat” them, or allow them to go when they’re ready?).
     I think this movie is intriguing as well in the way it presents us with something shocking, then seduces us into appreciating and valuing differentness in culture and ways of being.  Nothing is static:  “Adapt or die” is its message, and shows that in the process of adapting, seemingly miraculous things can transpire.
     Elle Fanning is superb as some kind of being that is seeking out new experiences and answers to life’s questions, and Alex Sharp is a worthy co-star who shows his character being awed, but still willing to go with the flow.  I haven’t mentioned Nicole Kidman (Queen Boadicea), queen mother of the punk Dyschords, but she measures up to her Eyes Wide Shut performance, extended several octaves. 
     The ending of the film seems alien (pun intended) to the story we’ve just heard—that is, it’s pretty standard Hollywood-ish compared to the rather bizarre scenes that go before.  It is effective in bringing us back to reality after an out-of-this world surreal experience.

A taste of punk as it is being introduced in London in the 1970s.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Shailene Woodley     Sam Claflin

     Imagine yourself on a sailboat on stormy seas for over a month, when it’s often touch-and-go as to whether you’ll make your destination.  It will take all your skill and ingenuity to survive (if you do).  If these kinds of movies are thrilling and wondrous to you, you should go to Adrift.  
     I, on the other hand, get exhausted and feel inadequate as I watch the characters perform all kinds of brilliant jerryrigging with whatever they have to make do.  But actually, that is just one of the strong points of this film (setting aside my own hang-ups), particularly well executed by Shailene Woodley.  The actress is a wonder in being onscreen almost the entire time, and needing to show a huge range of all different kinds of emotions and physical feats.  She has clearly proven her mettle as an actress here, even as much or more as in her award-winning roles in The Descendants, The Spectacular Now, and Divergent.  
     Another issue I have with the film is a favored technique of directors nowadays—jumping back and forth in time—although by the end of the story I could see why it might have been useful in this particular case.  The opening scenes are jarring in that we don’t know what has happened—but clearly it’s something major.  Then we’re tossed back and forth through past and present events that are intended to tell the story of these two people, Tami (Woodley) and Richard (Claflin), falling in love.  Interspersing the love story into the unmitigated, harrowing boat scenes may be necessary for balance and to keep the audience engaged throughout.
     These two people are portrayed in a very appealing light—another plus in the film—both adventurous and slightly devil-may-care, gentle, respectful and admiring of each other, and just naturally drawn together.  It’s an easy coming together of two contemporary young adults who can goof around, but have good sense and substance when need be.
     In basing his film on the true story about a couple getting caught in a hurricane and stranded in the Pacific Ocean without communication or navigation tools, director Baltasar Kormakur (Everest, Reykjavik) and his crew including cinematographer Robert Richardson (JFK, The Aviator, Hugo, Django Unchained), composer Volker Bertelmann (Lion, “Patrick Melrose”), and production designer Heimir Sverrisson (The Oath, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) have created a beautifully rendered, stunning account of an unanticipated adventure.  

Bottom Line:  A thriller on the open seas, with the boat’s creaking sounds remaining with you long after.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Saoirse Ronan     Billy Howle     Emily Watson     Samuel West     Anne-Marie Duff     Adrian Scarborough

     It’s the 1960’s in England, and Florence (Ronan) and Edward (Howle) have just met in a love-at-first-sight moment.  They joke with each other, have fun, and talk about things that are important to them.  She’s a classical musician and he is a history expert, but has a wealth of knowledge about the world around him.  They seem to have a lot in common despite their different backgrounds—hers upper class, his working class.  His father is headmaster at a school and his mother an artist, so they are educated, but she had a brain injury that has resulted in odd behavior.  Florence’s family is rather snobbish, so it takes a while before they can accept Edward.  But things are coming along; Florence loves Ed’s family and they love her. 
     The day comes for them to be married.  This is a very long day, but director Dominic Cooke breaks it up by interspersing scenes from their childhood and the early days of their courtship, which helps to make sense of what happens on their wedding day.  Their honeymoon is in a fine hotel on Chesil Beach, known for its distinctive rocks, which serves as a metaphor for the rocky time their relationship will have.
     The book on which the film is based is by the acclaimed novelist, Ian McEwan, who wrote the script as well.  Many of his novels have been adapted to film, including Atonement, which won an Oscar.  His characters are well conceived, with psychological depth and a kind of realness that reminds us of people we know or can imagine.  That’s the strength of this film, along with the actors who play the main characters, Ronan and Howle.
     Although the director has done well in many respects, the film sags in its lingering on Florence’s obsessiveness and need to be in control and to be controlled in her every move (thanks to an overly critical father), making the audience squirm and look at their watches.  Another drawback is the loud rock and roll/rhythm and blues blasts that occur during opening scenes and periodically throughout.  It frequently drowns out the dialog, and makes it stand out in a bad way.
     But another strength of the film is its brilliant illustration of how important sex education is.  Although not unusual for the 60’s, these young people have not been taught the basics—either formally or informally—and your heart will go out to them in their pain and inability to express themselves or get any guidance.  A minister and a father offer their help, but the young people have been taught to suppress emotions and concerns, so can't discuss the issue.  
     Cinematographer Sean Bobbitt deserves praise for his camerawork, which captures the landscape contrasted with the emotional turmoil and shots that express so well the agitation and angst of the characters.  There has probably never been a wedding night scene quite like this one in film—although I have no doubt it has occurred too many times in real life.
     Saoirse Ronan is a consummate actress skilled in playing young, cheeky characters; and here she demonstrates her skill in portraying a woman truly afraid. Billy Howle is newer to film, but shows up extremely well here in a complex character who is trying to integrate his aggression, tenderness, and competitive feelings, and develop patience.  He made the picture of humiliation and regret come alive on the screen.

Even today, this film might be relevant for couples considering marriage.

Grade:  B+                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, May 24, 2018


Annette Bening     Saoirse Ronan     Billy Howle     Corey Stoll     Elisabeth Moss
Brian Dennehy     Mare Winningham     Jon Tenney     Glenn Fleshler

     Unrequited love and artistic aspirations take center stage in this production based on Anton Chekhov’s play written at the end of the 19thCentury and performed onstage in the U.S. numerous times—a demonstration of its popularity. Director Michael Mayer indicated in an interview that he wanted to do a film version of the play, because it would allow audiences to get into the “soul” of the characters more than they could when it is performed onstage.
     And what a mix of characters!  Annette Bening plays the role of Irina, a successful and still adored actress, who has come to rely on her success and popularity to the extent that she finds it difficult to empathize with troubles of those around her, even those of her son Konstantin (Howle).  He is an aspiring writer/producer of plays, struggling to make it in the world his mother has mastered.  To add insult to injury, she has bonded with Boris (Stoll), a successful writer who seems oblivious to what Konstantin is trying to achieve.  Konstantin finds himself consumed in jealousy, not knowing whether he can ever become as accomplished as either of them. 
     The action takes place at the summer home in the country owned by Irina’s brother (Dennehy), so the majority of the characters are local to that area. One of the locals is the daughter of a wealthy neighbor named Nina (Ronan), whom Konstantin adores.  But the daughter of the manager of his estate, Masha (Moss) is hopelessly in love with Konstantin. (She contributes much of the comedy in the film, snorting coke and gulping vodka while making statements like, [the reason I only wear black is that] “I’m in mourning for my life.”  [Actually, that may be another theme of the film:  mourning for one’s life as it has turned out.]  The one longing after Masha is a schoolteacher (Fleshler), who isn’t very smart, “but is a good man.”  When they meet at this vulnerable time, Nina becomes star-struck and smitten with Boris, Irina’s mate.
     You can see, this is all set up to be a farce of shifting romantic liaisons; but it has more depth than that in its examination of art (idols are not necessarily to be worshipped and the issue of how much one is supposed to sacrifice human relationships for art); the challenge of continuing to pursue dreams and cope after rejection; and how much to “settle for” to have an intimate relationship.
     The actors are the strength of The Seagull, with Bening securing her place as a star performer. Impressive as well is Saoirse Ronan, always right on, and especially in her delivery as an ingĂ©nue in the film’s play by Konstantin (If I didn’t know better, I would swear she had never acted before!).  Billy Howle plays the young tortured artist with skill and pathos.
     The weakness lies in the film’s not being able to wrest itself from a staged performance.  It’s usually difficult to make this transition, and, unfortunately, this—along with other movies before it—does not succeed.  Why does this matter?  I’ve thought about it many times, and have concluded that seeing real actors onstage is very different from seeing actors in a film.             The former is more realistic because the actors are “real” people; whereas in a film, the reality shifts to a much broader field, all of which must be incorporated into the “realness.”  Plus, it also seems that actors deliver their lines very differently in a play vs. in a movie. 
This is a film primarily for those who love classical theatre and plays.  

Romantic charades in a beautiful country home setting.

Grade:  C+                                    By Donna R Copeland


Alden Ehrenreich    Joonas Suotamo    Woody Harrelson    Emilia Clarke    Donald Glover
Thandie Newton     Paul Bettany     Jon Favreau     Linda Hunt

     The origin story of Han Solo of Star Wars fame zips along at a fast pace, with special effects galore, which becomes tiresome even though they are very striking.  But they dominate the picture so much they look like an advertisement for the companies producing them (i.e., Lucas Films, Walt Disney Pictures, and eight special effects makers).  At the same time, the screen is so dark—especially during dramatic scenes when special effects are minimal—it’s difficult to follow the story closely, the darkness perhaps the fault of he theater rather than the film itself.  Dramatic scenes are few anyway, and next to special effects, incessant gun battles and space chases dominate the story in a video-game-like manner.  
     There is a story, mostly of Han (Ehrenreich) trying to escape where he is and getting into trouble doing it—more than once. But he is a fast talker, and manages to argue his way into places, convincing the person in charge to allow him to do a job.  In the beginning, he is with his love Qi’ra (Clarke), but they get separated early on, and years go by before they will be reunited.  By then, much has changed, at least for her.  She is now a lieutenant for Dryden Vos (Bettany), a crime lord.  The two run into each other after Captain Beckett (Harrelson) becomes Han’s ambivalent mentor following after Han is kicked out of the military for insubordination.  Beckett and Vos are engaged in a major caper to steal a valuable mineral, and Beckett allows Han to be a part of it.  
     What follows is like a “Who’s on First” (Abbot and Costello) routine.  That is, who’s in charge and who has the cards shifts, including a surprise group of natives who charge white people with stealing their natural resource.  At times, it seems like Han is on top, but then, maybe it’s Vos, oh, but there’s Beckett, and then, maybe Lando Calrissian (Glover), and Qi’ra surfaces from time to time.  These change-offs provide some tension and thrill to the story, but since it’s basically predictable, you find that there are few surprises.  Most basic, of course, is that Han Solo will survive and journey on.
     If you are a hard-core Star Wars fan, this film might be thrilling for you.  For those somewhat removed, it is not likely to impress.  It would have been a much more powerful film if it had a deeper message and heightened dramatic power.

Special effects upon special effects, but with a thin story.

Grade:  C                                     By Donna R. Copeland


Jessie Buckley     Johnny Flynn     Geraldine James     Charley Palmer Rothwell     Trystan Graville

     Beast is a nifty thriller that sneaks up on you, leading you to think it’s about a maladjusted young adult woman who is rebellious because of how her family treats her.  Moll (Buckley) is clearly a misfit at home as she was earlier at school.  At school because of a murky incident in her past, at home because she has been labeled as “all bad” and her sister as “all good.”  Her sister is beautiful and living what seems to be a charmed life, which makes it easy for her to be charming.  On the other hand, Moll has more depth, is difficult to understand, and always looks as if she is hiding something—all of which combined makes her an easy target for others’ projections.
     For Moll’s birthday, her mother (James) has organized a big party, which Moll is enjoying, until her sister preempts it with the announcement that she and her husband are expecting twins.  The spotlight pivots in that direction (apparently something that has happened all too often in the family history), and Moll shrinks away.  She leaves the party, walks on the beach, and goes dancing at a bar until morning.  When she is walking toward home, she is waylaid by a man she was dancing with earlier, who pressures her to continue partying.  She is having trouble getting away from him when suddenly another man with a gun appears and chases him away.
     This is Pascal (Flynn), who immediately gives her the kind of attention she has craved all her life.  He seems to understand her without knowing much about her, boosts her self-esteem, and is funny and charming.  The problem is, he’s not in the same social class as Moll, and when he meets her family, her mother is disdainful.  But Moll and Pascal seem to have a special empathic connection with one another, perhaps because he is a current suspect in local murders, and Moll was once charged with threatening a fellow student.
     The beauty of this picture, written and directed by Michael Pearce, is the way in which this empathy between the two plays out over time.  The filmmakers keep the viewer in suspense until the very, very end of the story.  Buckley gives an artful performance in portraying a resentful, troubled woman, and Flynn is the embodiment of a male protector with the ability to sense whatever is needed and provide it with charm and sincerity, in an oily kind of way.  
Beast offers an entertaining, suspenseful ride that will keep you engaged while it touches on deeper psychological yearnings that make a person vulnerable to influences which may lead down a garden path…or may prompt surprising, decisive action.

Beast is a thriller with intelligence and creativity behind it.

Grade:  A-                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Diane Keaton     Jane Fonda     Candice Bergen     Mary Steenburgen
Andy Garcia     Craig T. Nelson     Don Johnson     Richard Dreyfuss

     This bit of froth proceeds just about as expected, given the cast and the topic. Older women do daring things and after ups and downs, (almost) everything turns out groovy in the end. The characters are rather stereotypical, except maybe for Vivian (Fonda), who chose career over marriage and has become a wealthy woman.  Sharon (Bergen) is a Federal judge who’s been divorced for 18 years.  Diane (Keaton) lost her husband a year ago, and has two daughters who are rushing her into the grave and overly parenting her, or trying to.  Carol (Steenburgen) is happily married to Bruce (Nelson), but he has shut down since his retirement.  Their relationship needs a shot or something in the you-know-where.  
     The four women have been friends for years, their connection currently centering on their book club.  Vivian decides to spice things up, and when it’s her turn to choose the book, she passes around E. L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey.  Her friends are horrified, but each one (guiltily) charges through it, and it seems to have a unique effect on each one, egged along by more frank discussions about how the women really see each other.  Basically they all need to get out more, out of their particular rut.  Sharon is prompted to go to an online dating site; Diane piques a fellow traveler’s interest by reading her book on the plane, after she has literally fallen into his lap getting into her seat; and Carol tries sexual come-ons in the book to arouse Bruce’s interest.  Vivian doesn’t “try” anything; she is convinced she has found the key to happiness.  Then an old school chum, Arthur (Johnson), surfaces and begins provoking her.
     Bill Holderman (director and co-writer with Erin Simms) has created a crowd pleaser (going by the reactions of the audience in the screening I attended) that contains sit-com humor, predictable complications, and a fanciful ending. Another idealistic treatment is reflected in the highly attractive appearances of most of the characters—certainly the women, and arguably for the men, as there was audible panting when Andy Garcia appeared.  
     There is little of substance in the story; the best dialog comes toward the end when the friends become more open and realin their conversations.  But for the most part, the story is more pie-in-the- sky than anything based on reality.  The best part of the movie is seeing the abundantly talented well-cast actresses doing what they do best—acing their roles as written for them.  If only the writers had opted to portray a more realistic picture of this stage in a woman’s life; I assure you, it would contain many more shadings and nuances, and likely be a much more interesting film.

A rather skewed, fanciful view of the lives of women past a certain age.

Grade:  C                                                By Donna R. Copeland


Josh Brolin     Ryan Reynolds     Morena Baccarin     Bill Skarsgard     T.J. Miller     Zazie Beetz     Julian Dennison
Eddie Marsan     Leslie Uggams     Brianna Hildebrand     Lewis Tan     Stefan Kapicic     Jack Kesy     Terry Crews  

     Deadpool is back, loaded with heroics, physically impossible altercations and gun battles, just as before in the first Deadpool, mixing in even more jokes and references to other movies.  He seems to be living a contented life with his beloved Vanessa (Baccarin), and they are discussing baby-making when his past re-emerges in a way that will make him do something that will plague him for all time to come.  
     Now, he is out for revenge, which lands him in jail (the “icebox” for mutant offenders), where he is paired with a mutant orphan (Russell, aka “Firefist”), who idolizes Deadpool and pleads for friendship, to no avail.  But after Deadpool has repeatedly rejected him, he learns more about him, and at Vanessa’s urging, decides to protect the orphan from two forces out to get him.  One is the abusive head of the reformatory where the child had been living; and the other, the formidable Cable (Brolin), a time-traveling super-hero from the future who is worried about what Firefist might do that could affect him in some way.  He serves as the new villain.
     To go after these foes, Deadpool realizes he needs to form a band of warriors, which he will name X-Force.  Many apply for the job, some of which are Zeitgeist (Skarsgard), Bedlam (Crews), and Domino (Beetz).  The interviews of these characters are fun to see, not the least of which is Peter (Rob Delaney), who has no special talent and just comes along for the ride. Seeing their special powers in action provides additional entertainment.
     The film, directed by David Leitch, a former stuntman who, as in Atomic Blonde, has created well choreographed fight scenes, does not really break new ground, and actually becomes tedious in its endless self-commentary staged battles, and endless references to other films. The fight I enjoyed most was on a hijacked urban train with Deadpool stopping Cable’s bullets with his twirling ninja swords.  Reynolds and Brolin are standouts in their respective roles of two distinctly different characters—one, a motor mouth who goes after bad guys, and the other a true villain without mercy.  The actor from New Zealand who plays Russell, Julian Dennison, first won international fame in Taika Waititi‘s Hunt for the Wilderpeople,  He is just as good here as in the previous film, and manages to steal your heart.
     Tyler Bates’ music is a good part of the entertainment, as is Jonathan Sela’s cinematography.  When X-Force parachutes down into a city, the scene set against a bright blue sky, is humorously reminiscent of Magritte’s painting, “Golconda.”

Deadpool 2—not dead in the water, but a sequel only diehard Marvel fans will appreciate.

Grade:  B                                By Donna R. Copeland


Will Arnett     Natasha Lyonne     Omar Chaparro     Andy Beckwith
Voices of:  Ludacris     Alan Cumming     Stanley Tucci     Jordin Sparks     Shaquille O’Neal     Gabriel Iglesias

     Show Dogs, directed by Raja Gosnell and written by Max Botkin and Marc Hyman, is one of the rare animated films that will appeal to children and adults equally.  There is a little pandering to adults in the romantic theme, and to children in a fart joke; but for the most part, the film models good messages about the importance of friends and family and respect for individual and cultural differences.  
     Max (voice of Ludacris) prides himself on being a police dog who is street-wise and disdainful of offers to be his back-up by his feathered admirers whose motto is, “Birds of a feather fight crime together.”  He takes pride in his abilities, and enjoys elite status in the New York Police Department. But he is suspicious when an FBI agent, Frank (Arnett) appears on the scene to solve an animal trafficking problem.  It seems that a baby panda has been taken from his mother, and Max makes a promise when he gets a glimpse of the child that HE will return him to his mother.  But when Max is ordered to partner up with the FBI agent to investigate the crime, still in the planning stages at a dog show, he continually tests Frank’s capabilities, giving him more than a few nips. Frank is just as unhappy as Max, and clearly knows nothing about dogs.
     When he seeks out an expert in Animal Control, Mattie (Lyonne), she realizes right away that Frank (who has lost Max) is clueless about dogs; but she is a patient and kind person, so tries to help him. 
What follows is a combination of a thriller (finding the perps), comedy about poor Max having to become an “undercover” show dog, and gratification for dog lovers who get to see all the breeds primping up for and competing for the prize of Best in Show.  
     Creativity abounds in this unusual pairing of a thriller within a dog show that is animated and also a comedy.  Beyond that, it is more than simply entertaining; it has truths about our world and current issues we’re grappling with. Heitor Pereira’s music enhances and offers further entertainment in its puns, and David Mackie’s cinematography meets every challenge with artistry and skill.  

An animated film like few others, offering thrills, chuckles, and truths to live by.

Grade:  A                                    By Donna R. Copeland


     Wim Wenders, writer with David Rosier and director of the documentary, shows from his speeches all over the world how Pope Francis is a man of his word. He is the only pope taking the name of Francis, inspired by St. Francis of Assisi who took a vow of poverty and spent his life working for the common good.  Pope Francis models his life after the saint, eschewing a luxurious apartment in the Vatican, using a modest car, living frugally, and consistently advocating for principles that most religions embrace, but appear to have forgotten.  
     The film is very well executed; Wenders made a wise choice in making most of the film showing the Pope, who is an inspiring speaker, addressing multitudes or talking only to a few.  Cinematographer Lisa Rinzler artistically frames the locations, captures the expressions of hundreds of faces, sometimes tucking pictures of St. Francis into a modern-day scene.    Laurent Petitgand’s music likewise incorporates a range of musical genres, with religious themes more prominent, of course.  Wenders’ narration from time to time is excellent and succinct in commenting on scenes and summarizing the Pope’s aims and values.  
     The sheer number of weighty subjects in the forefront of the Pope’s mind is impressive, and they clearly reflect his religious beliefs and close connection and communication with people from all levels of society.  We see him with world leaders (Presidents of the U.S. and other countries), but mostly with people who have come to see him and touch him when he travels around the world.  He may single out a nun whom he knew long ago in Argentina; he has children take the microphone and ask him questions about why he wanted to become Pope and why he doesn’t live in a luxurious apartment and drive a fancy car (his answers are beautifully instructive and respectful of the questioners); he listens most attentively to all who speak with him and unhesitatingly reaches out to them with his hand or with a pontifical kiss; he practices what he preaches in terms of listening and responding empathically.  
     Pope Francis is keenly aware of the world’s problems, and addresses them repeatedly in his speeches.  Foremost is what we are doing to Mother Nature, and our indifference to the amount of poverty and joblessness that surround us and to the hordes of immigrants who are seeking a better life.  Diversity is something good that helps us grow (even though we become anxious when faced with differences); we need to build bridges instead of walls.  He also feels strongly about arms control, making children a priority, and zero tolerance for pedophilia.  
     One of the most moving sequences is when Pope Francis addresses both houses of the U.S. Congress and more than one legislator can be seen brushing a tear away.  This is a perfect illustration of his power in the sense of inspiring, educating, and hopefully motivating his listeners toward sound principles of living.  Francis has been an activist pope in certain ways, such as taking an ecumenical view in respecting all religions, preaching for equality (between men and women, rich and poor, and everyone), and refraining from condemning homosexuality.  He firmly believes that God gave us freedom to make choices, the most valuable of gifts.

A finely executed picture of perhaps the most inspiring, noble, but humble, leader of today.

Grade:  A                                                By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, May 10, 2018


Voices of:  Christine Marie Cabanos     Michael Sinterniklaas    Stephanie Sheh    Brandon Engman

     This Japanese animated fantasy film from Masaaki Yuasa seems more oriented toward adults than children.  The story is about a community’s lore about and apprehension toward a group of “Merfolk” who live under the sea.  There are tales of how they have kidnapped people in Hinashi and are the cause of all sorts of mysterious events.  A grandfather strongly admonishes Kai Sinterniklaas), his grandson, to stay away from the sea and not play music nearby (the music causes the Merfolk to emerge).  The trouble is, Kai loves music, and has had an unusual experience of coming face to face with a mermaid, Lu (Cabanos), who will break into dancing anytime she hears music.  He is intrigued, and they soon become friends.
     Kai is a solitary, internalizing boy who says little and doesn’t seem to have any aspirations, although he does upload some of his songs on the internet.  But he has caught the eyes and ears of Yuko (Shah) and Kunio (Engman), his classmates, who need him for their band. Kai has a deep interest in the Merfolk, and although he is averse to joining their band, but when they tell him they practice on an isolated island near where the Merfolk are, that is the hook he needs to relent and join them.
     The band’s story is interwoven with community events, and they get caught up in a major controversy that resembles our current world with factions supporting and opposing acceptance of another culture.  This aspect is a strong part of the film, especially when it shows how increased fear on both sides escalates the turmoil…and it is the part more meaningful to adults than children.  The film is almost two hours long, which, once again, seems inappropriate for children, the primary audience for animations.  
     The animation itself is beautifully rendered by the Fuji Creative Corporation in Japan and Anime Limited in the UK.  Perhaps it is not up to the artistry of the famous Miyazaki and Ghibli Studio, but it’s eye-catching and pleasing throughout.  Masaaki Yuasa’s direction with his and his co-writers’ storytelling makes this production well worth seeing.  There is a wonderfully humorous and well-composed scene of three characters floating side by side in the water after one of them was sure he would drown.  This is something both children and adults will get.

Animation that delights and surprises in an entertaining story with substantive social issues.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Melissa McCarthy     Molly Gordon     Maya Rudolph     Christina Aguilera     Matt Walsh

     Life of the Party is pretty much in the same vein as other Ben Falcone/Melissa McCarthy creations, such as Tammy andThe Boss, and McCarthy’s films in general (i.e., This is 40, Identity Thief, and Bridesmaids).  In these, her character is buffoonish, destructive, and slapstick funny, with the emphasis on slapstick.  Here, I suspect that the husband-wife team (writers, with Falcone being the director) envisioned something different, in that McCarthy’s character has a few more redeeming characteristics (sympathetic, tolerant, with higher aspirations), and she isn’t quite as spastic (falling spectacularly again and again).  However, they couldn’t seem to resist inserting a couple of scenes where she does end up on the ground in one, and is completely destructive in another.
     The story opens with Deanna (McCarthy) and her husband Dan (Walsh) taking their daughter Maddie (Gordon) to college and dropping her off at her sorority house. Dan chooses this time to drop a bombshell, and Deanna is suddenly thrust upon her own devices.  As is typical for someone in this situation, she looks back over her life and decides to reverse a fateful decision she made earlier in life, to drop out of college in her senior year.  She will enroll and complete her studies to earn a degree.  
     There is one hitch in this—she’s returning to Decatur University where her daughter is. From here, Falcone and McCarthy weave a fanciful story that is not likely to happen here or on any planet in the universe.  That is, “Dee-Rock”, as she will now be called, becomes a hit on campus, with the total support of her daughter and her classmates and even the whole university! 
      If you can buy that, I’ve got a bridge…
     For years, I have been hoping that the talented McCarthy would reprise the career path that she started in Spy, which showed her talent as an actress in portraying an intelligent, strong woman who could be calculating and crafty.  When I interviewed Paul Feig, writer/director of Spy, he described her as “one of the funniest on the planet…She’s also like your best friend…not intimidating.”  His goal was to make Spy feel real, and McCarthy met his expectations.  She has not been in such a good movie since.
     Light comedy can be fun, and the kind of humor in Life of the Party certainly makes money, but I have a problem with its scenes written to draw laughs:  meanness of female college students, unwitting consumption of chocolates laced with marijuana resulting in destruction, college women not being able to do simple math, etc.  The whole premise that college students would be so accepting and supportive of the McCarthy character is far-fetched, let alone the idea that it’s a reasonable thing for a mother to be college friends with her daughter. Wha?....
     McCarthy is good at bringing this character to life; she is appealing, funny at times, heart-warming at times, and even sensible at times.  But how I wish she would move on to more substantive roles.  I would love to see her branch out into a strong dramatic character; she could do it!
     Supporting actors, such as best friend Christine (Rudolph) and daughter Maddie (Gordon) are great, but to me, the one who steals the show from others is Heidi Gardner as Deanna’s Goth roommate, totally neurotic, always deadpan, but with a soul.  She is so refreshing as a new kind of low-key character who whose demeanor and dialog makes you chuckle.

Melissa McCarthy in nothing new under the sun.

Grade:  D                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Gabrielle Union     Billy Burke     Richard Cabral     Ajiona Alexus     
Levi Meaden     Mark Furze     Jason George     Seth Karr

     Picture a large house out in the woods with acreage around it.  That’s where Shaun (Union) grew up, and now that her father has died (they have been estranged, so she hasn’t been home in years), she is responsible for selling it.  Neither she nor her two kids are happy about giving up a weekend at home, and when they arrive at the house, it’s a bit creepy with its electronic gadgets and high tech security system (alarms, cameras, lights—all connected to a monitoring station.  You would think they would get a feeling of safety—which was the idea of having it installed—but the house is a bit creaky, and son Glover’s (Karr) association to it is one of loneliness.  His sister Jasmine (Alexus) is relieved that she has cell phone service “way out here.”
     Shaun is trying to adjust to feelings brought up by her childhood home, and just wants to get everything settled and get back to husband and hearth.  
     Intruders weren’t on the agenda, of course, but soon after the family arrives, there they are.  The first one, Eddie (Burke) moves stealthily and comes upon the kids, then goes out to the patio looking for their mother.  What follows is a cats and mice game in and out of the house with harrowing twists and turns.  The rewarding part, of course, is the fact that the mother is not your stereotypical “mom”; Shaun is clearly up to the crime team in wits and daring.  And although the film publicity plays up the mom-doing-everything-to-protect-her-young, I think winning—along with morality—is built into her character.  She will do what she does primarily to protect her children, but it goes farther than that into assuring that justice will be done.
     Gabrielle Union is stunning in the role, including fitness that allows her to jump across fences, run into the woods with agility, and be a worthy opponent in a physical fight.  She is good as well in her role as mom and wife, but with a past that weighs her down from time to time.  This event is only one instance of that.
     I think the four “bad guys” roles are well cast with a leader (Meaden) trying to contain his crew, especially Duncan (Cabral), the most deranged, and Peter (Furze), the most bothered by limits that have been crossed.  Eddie (Burke), with a critical role in the operation, has been missing most of the time, thanks to an encounter in the woods with Shaun.
     Breaking In is well written by Ryan Engle and directed by James McTeigue.  Their characters are plausible and behave in ways that are within the realm of believability.  The scare factor is maintained pretty much throughout, in a what’s-going-to-happen-next mode.  I spotted just a few times when credulity was strained, i.e., when Shaun was talking to her daughter in loud whispers that the bad guys were sure to hear, and when she didn’t take the children and run when it looked like she could have. 
Otherwise, for a horror film, I was moved and carried along by the drama.

This film will thrill you and chill you in its play on electronically “safe” houses.

Grade:  B                                    By Donna R. Copeland


Rachel Weisz     Rachel McAdams     Alessandro Nivola

            Disobedience versus free will is the issue in this production of Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelio, following upon his hit last year, A Fantastic Woman(Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards).  Ronit Krushka (Weisz) is returning to Israel after the death of her father, but with a significant back-story.  We see her interactions with the hometown people rather awkward, beginning with her adoptive brother, David Kuperman (Nivola), who is in line to take the place of her father as the Rabbi.  She apparently left town abruptly years before, never to be heard from again, until she learns of her father’s death.  She seems to have had the reputation of a “wild child”, but the origin of this story is never explicated.
            Her visit creates consternation in the town, and it’s clear no one seems to know what to make of her.  They know she has made a life for herself in New York as a photographer, and all kinds of fantasies stem from that slight piece. We learn that she, David, and a woman named Esti (McAdams) were very close friends in their youth, and then she is surprised when she is told that David and Esti were married.
            As in A Fantastic Woman, director Sebastian Lilio is skillful in doling out little pieces of information along the way that help make sense of what is happening in the drama.  That is, we learn more about the relationships among the three main characters, the role the esteemed Rabbi Kuperman played, and the source of the ambivalence Ronit has for him.
            What plays out is a kind of feminine rebellion against patriarchy, and Lilio knows just how to notch up the tension in the viewer so that fundamental principles come to the fore.  And he throws in a little confusion for good measure. The esteemed rabbi went to great lengths to emphasize how humans are free to choose between angels and the desires of the beasts.  In that light, two characters have to weigh their options in leaving or staying.  Says one, “It’s easier to leave, isn’t it”, and the reply is, “No, it isn’t.”  
            The rewarding part in all this is that a main character develops understanding based on what he hears and observes and is able to alter behavior accordingly.  No easy job, considering the stakes.
            The actors are superb.  Rachel Weisz is able to conjure up all the mysteriousness of a character while keeping her genuine and real.  McAdams is a perfect foil in her limited but keen perception, and the ability to show her character’s increasing realizations. As the male in this drama, Alessandro Nivola exemplifies the male in such a conflict who is able to glean the truth and comport himself accordingly.
            Lilio’s account is very slow in building up to the essential elements and excitement of the story, and although the reward is well worth waiting for, perhaps too much time is spent on introducing the Ronit character and the explosive potential she embodies.

An intriguing kind of rebellion against the patriarchy in a traditional Jewish culture.

Grade:  B+                                    By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, May 3, 2018


Anna Faris     Eugenio Derbez     John Hannah     Eva Longoria     Mel Rodriguez

            This movie is overboard with bad jokes and fairy tale fantasies.  It starts out really irritating with Leonardo (Derbez) being the spoiled rich guy with no comprehension of how most people live.  He is hooping it up on his yacht with playmates and booze, and tries to boss around the maid with a vacuum, Kate (Faris), who is just cheeky enough not to take it, but with serious consequences for her, a mother with three children who is aspiring to become a nurse.
            She is furious and exasperated with him, and when he ends up in a compromised situation involving amnesia, her loyal friends Theresa (Longoria) and Bobby (Rodriguez) suggest an elaborate plan to get revenge and help herself in the process.  What follows is an extended charade involving the whole town where they live.  For those who remember, there was a 1987 film with the same name starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, but in this case, the spoiled one is a male rather than a female.
            This is another one of those senseless remakes of a movie that wasn’t very good in the first place, according to the lackluster reviews (in truth, I did not see it).  This version has the co-star over-acting in the beginning at a hectic pace.  He is much better later on when he tones down (and so is the story), and Anna Faris is good throughout, along with the supporting cast.  With the two main characters, Longoria and Rodriguez and the young actors playing the daughters form a perfect ensemble, with just the right balance of emotionality and plausibility, while still being funny at just the right times.
            Writer Leslie Dixon and writer-directors Bob Fisher and Rob Greenberg seem to have assumed that humor hasn’t changed much since the 1980’s.  And while there was laughter in the screening I viewed, it was slow in coming, and I seriously doubt it is representative of what a larger contemporary audience will appreciate.  It is predictable and retreads well-worn jokes about slipping on a banana peel (um…spaghetti sauce), fooling a narcissistic male, and a pansy having to work hard at physical labor.  Another retro aspect is the miraculous transformation (fairy tale) of one character, unadulterated happiness brought about by family and children, and the portrayal of a successful businesswoman as an overly ambitious, disloyal b----. 
            As I watched this film, I was stunned that such outmoded concepts could still be filmed for the mainstream.  It doesn’t match the cleverness of recent comedic films about redemption, like Baby Driverand The Dressmakerand, actually, a host of movies through the years.

You’re not likely to go overboard in your praise of Overboard.

Grade:  D                          By Donna R. Copeland


Charlize Theron     Mackenzie Davis     Mark Duplass     Ron Livingston

            Watching this movie is difficult first of all because we’re made to experience what a depressed mother goes through, but also, it’s so hard to see Charlize Theron’s gorgeous body gone to pot.  Her character Marlo is pregnant, but she is also huge, and sits slouched down with breasts hanging and feet splayed out in front of her.  I understand Theron gained 50 pounds to look like the character, but also felt she needed to eat poorly as well to get within the character’s mind.  Her intentions are entirely successful.
            Beyond simple depression, Marlo has developed cynicism and a defeated attitude that makes her feel and act incompetent. Her relationship with her husband Drew (Livingston) is indifferent, with not one spark of emotion.  Marlo has a testy relationship with her brother Craig (Duplass) and his wife who seem to have everything together, which only makes Marlo feel worse.  But her brother does care about her and offers to provide her with a “night nanny” after her baby is born.  She is negative about this, as she is in general, and vacillates back and forth before finally giving the woman a call.
            Tully (Davis) appears on the scene like Mary Poppins, getting the household organized (even though she only works in the evening) and functioning as it should ideally.  But she does much more than that; she’s almost like a live-in therapist, providing the mothering that Marlo clearly had missed as a child. She counters Marlo’s cynicism and self put-downs with positive statements about her abilities and accomplishments.  This has a profound effect on Marlo.  We see her gradually begin to enjoy life, relate to her family with warmth and ease, and give some attention to her health and appearance.
            What about these changes?  Will they last?  What happens when the nanny’s service is ended?  Director Jason Reitman and writer Diablo Cody give us some inkling, but major drama will take place in the meantime, with an unbelievable twist at the end.  The twist is the most implausible  aspect of the film, serving more as a gimmick than contributing to the quality of the film.
            Reitman seems to possess an unusually perceptive awareness of women, as shown by his previous films like Juno, Labor Day,and Young Adult, as well as this one.  He seems to have an understanding of their basic psychology and links that to how they confront problems and manage them.  This time, he demonstrates how invaluable an experience of being mothered is to being a good mother. Although I deeply appreciate that aspect of his work, this story bogs down in places, although, granted, the subject matter pulls it down too.  Rob Simonsen’s music counteracts this to a great extent, contributing significantly to the drama, and enlivening the emotionality of every scene.
            I admire Theron’s ability to transform herself into so many diverse characters, as in Mad Max:  Fury Road, Atomic Blonde, and Monster, and wonder if perhaps this role was more difficult for her to enact than the others, in that the character is more everyday and depressed, as opposed to a fiery femme fatale.  It certainly demonstrates with the others, the phenomenal range of her abilities.  Ron Livingston and Mackenzie Davis convincingly support the main character, each showing a significant transformation in the course of the story.  
            The import of Tullymay not be immediately obvious, or may seem mundane or banal.  But given further contemplation, it can be regarded as a film that highlights the dilemma of many American mothers who are completely unprepared for motherhood and its challenges in today’s world. 

Ask yourself how well you might handle the situations presented in this film.

Grade:  C+                                    By Donna R. Copeland