Thursday, February 17, 2022


 Tom Holland.    Mark Wahlberg    Tati Gabrielle     Sophia Ali     Antonio Banderas

        Uncharted, because most of the story is in uncharted water—and lands—in both a literal and figurative sense.  It involves an elaborate scavenger hunt, sometimes in elegant settings, sometimes in the tiniest and darkest of places.  It’s filled with formulaic twists and turns and contrived “appearances”, many of which are expected by the viewer if not the characters.  
There were five writers involved (Rafe Judkins, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Jon Hanley Rosenberg, Mark D. Walker), bringing to mind “too many cooks in the kitchen…  
I guess it’s supposed to be a joke when one character after another says, “Trust me” and “Don’t you have faith in me?”  When of course they are double-crossing one another time and again.  
The script starts out charmingly(?) when two brothers in an orphanage are attempting to steal a map on the wall when they are caught by a nun.  We’re supposed to be touched when the older one, before being taken away, says goodbye to his brother,  promises to be back, and escapes through a window.  
Next we see the younger brother Nate (Holland) grown up, a bartender, and a thief.  He hasn’t heard a word from his brother.  Now, we’re beginning to get the idea that this is a crime family, when Victor (Wahlberg) appears, catches Nate at his game, and enlists him in finding a treasure in one of Magellan’s ships sunken centuries ago.
Holland is good at playing the somewhat naive (like a fox) likeable young man who must have gained something from the nuns in his orphanage.  Wahlberg’s character is more mysterious, and we’re meant to wonder whether he is a good guy or a bad guy.  
Most of the action, though is with Nate and two women, Braddock (Gabrielle) and Chloe (Ali), both inserted to add glamour and expert fighting skills.  As part of the contrivances of this formulaic production, one woman is a proper sounding British woman with dark hair; the other is a mysterious avant-garde dressed black woman.  They and Nate perform impossible feats that become distracting simply by their implausibility.  
The settings and Chung-Hoon Chung’s cinematography are about the only aspects of Uncharted that I enjoyed.  His art puts the viewer in the scene in contrast with the dialog that pulls one back into reality with the plot holes and implausibilities.

They’ve set us up for a sequel to Uncharted, but I wonder who will want to see it.

Grade:  D By Donna R. Copeland


 Channing Tatum.    Kevin Nash.    Jane Adams

Army Ranger Briggs (Tatum) is messed up with head trauma and PTSD after his service in Afghanistan.  He’s begging to re-up, but can’t get permission from his supervisor.  He makes such a pest of himself, the captain sends him on a mission, and if he completes it successfully, Briggs will get what he wants.  How much the officer has insight into the value of his charge is unclear.  At any rate, Briggs is supposed to take the Army Ranger dog named Lulu that belonged to his fallen brother Riley to the man’s funeral down in Arizona, where the dog is to be honored for his exemplary service.

Before Briggs leaves for Arizona with dog in tow and during the trip, we get a picture of the man, as well as the dog.  He knows nothing about dogs or the power of persuasion, so he is in for a sometimes brutal trip, trying to use his bluster and macho personality to get the dog to behave and obey him.  Lulu can attack at any time with her sharp teeth and boxer-like paws.  She protests mightily to being left in the car and will run away the first chance she gets.

On  the road, Briggs decides he needs breaks and tries to use his usual means of entertainment—going to bars, carousing, and hitting up women with little more success than he has with Lulu.  He runs into a heap of trouble, but somehow along the way, he meets people who want to help him. 
And along the way, he begins to realize that he should listen to them, even if some are suspicious of him, practice Kundalini yoga, are psychic and downright kooky.  To his credit he can be personable and make friends easily.  Perhaps the most helpful is when he and Lulu are beginning to develop some rapport, and Briggs rewards her by driving by the house where Lulu’s brother lives.  The dogs recognize one another right away, and the caretaker of Lulu’s brother has many tips for Briggs.
Briggs encounters other obstacles—some really scary, some really comical—on his way and one wonders whether he will ever make it to Arizona and the funeral.  
The beauty of Dog is in witnessing Briggs’ gradual transformation of character and to see some of how Lulu and the helpful people they meet play a part.
Channing Tatum’s gifted acting draws the viewer into the drama, making it a real experience that is instructive as well as touching.  He knows exactly how to make the character he is playing charming, annoying, playful, contemplative, disgusting, and bright enough to get himself out of any scrape.  Strong support is provided by his fellow actors, Kevin Nash who plays a brute, his psychic wife played by Jane Adams, and others.
This is both Reid Carolin’s and Channing Tatum’s directing debuts, but it comes across as being directed by someone more experienced.  The soundtrack by Thomas Newman heightens this film’s value.

 And you thought a car trip with kids was trying!  Get a look at Lulu!  It’s amazing how she and the main character are able to make her therapeutic.

Grade:  B By Donna R. Copeland 

Thursday, February 10, 2022


 Grace Kaufman     Jason Segel     Cherry Jones     Pico Alexander     Havana Rose Liu

        Grief is one of those experiences that may take many twists and turns.  That’s the theme of The Sky is Everywhere.  Lennie (Kayfman) loses an idolized older sister who she assumed would be with her going to Julliard and beyond.  But that’s not what happens; her sister Bailey (Liu) undergoes an arrhythmia that takes her life.  Lennie had already lost her mother (to the same condition) and has been brought up by her grandmother (Jones) and Uncle Big (Segel), two quirky, entertaining characters who go against stereotypes.  Lennie and Bailey were extremely close—almost like twins—and the loss for Lennie is profound.

            There are a few hokey scenes, as when Lennie muses about her sister’s death and says that all she can think about is falling into somebody’s arms.  And then what follows are scenes of the teens at high school swooning over a trumpet player’s (Coliman) tunes.  Another is when creeping stems of roses wind around subjects in a seduction.  But in a surprising turn (and redemptive for the movie) is when Lennie discovers the trumpet player, Joe, has been admiring her musical talent, and as soon as he gets a chance begins to woo her.  

            The complexities of the relationships in this film are testament to its going beyond rom-com to a story that has something important to say.  First of all, is the portrayal of the different kinds of grief expressed by those connected to the lost one—the sister, the lover, the grandmother.  The film does a good job in showing how differently grief is manifest in figures left behind.  It deals with the typical complaint that the “wrong one” was taken, that it should have been “me.”  And it sustains suspense in how Lennie will resolve her dilemma.  The film is also very good in showing how crutches people often use to cope with grief are not necessarily helpful.

            This is a film that surprised me in its depth of portraying loss and in its going beyond the usual in showing ways of coping and how it takes family and friends to be of real support in getting through it.  Director Josephine Decker showed her insight into female roles in Shirley (2020) and accomplishes it again here in a professionally aspiring woman’s dilemmas when she is confronted with real-life situations.


An honest, enlightened portrait of grief, showing once again the pull between personal and professional goals.


Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland


 Jennifer Lopez     Owen Wilson     John Bradley     Sarah Silverman     Maluma

            Marry Me is the sweet kind of comedy many are drawn to.  Unlikely events transpire with a few worrisome moments, the main characters are likeable, and the plot gradually thickens to bring the show to an end.  Jennifer Lopez as Kat Valdez, a wildly popular singer plays the role beautifully and convincingly throughout.  It’s fun for the average viewer to get to go behind the scenes and get a peek at the life of a celebrity—the perks, as well as the insufferable publicity.  I imagine that the character Kat may be based on the actress herself, at least as she is currently regarded.  Earlier, she had a reputation for being a diva, but she may have been forced in that direction in order to achieve what she has as a Latina woman.

            The same might be said for Lopez’ costar, Owen Wilson, who is usually seen to be a laid-back guy with a somewhat wry bent to his personality and the characters he plays.  They’ve both acted in a number of rom-coms, so are experienced in the genre’s comic timing, mixture of sadness and goofiness, and pulling of the heartstrings.  I wouldn’t have expected there to be much “chemistry” in their attachment, but that does begin to surface as the characters get better acquainted.

            John Bradley does a great job in being Kat’s manager, showing expertise in negotiations, going with the flow, and riding out the abrupt changes in plans.  This character is always Johnny-on-the-spot, providing instant cash, reservations, or whatever practical items are needed.  Bradley is skillful in having his facial expression show exactly what he is feeling inside.

            Marry Me is successful in achieving what I presume was intended, an entertaining show with dashes of insight and soulfulness.  Directed by Kat Coiro, it holds the viewer’s interest and amusement.


When a celebrated pop singer is found to be betrayed right before her planned on-air wedding, she comes up with a spur-of-the moment solution to her problem.


Grade:  C                              By Donna R. Copeland

Tuesday, February 8, 2022


 Charlie Day     Jenny Slate     Scott Eastwood     Gina Rodriguez     

Manny Jacinto     Clark Backo     Luke David Blumm

            This is a smart comedy—laugh-out-loud funny in places—well written (Isaac Aptaker and Elizabeth Berger) and suspenseful because it’s unclear just how everything will be worked out.  In some ways, it’s a series of funny disasters, but it’s more than that in its touching on the difficulties in long-term relationships and the hazards of scheming to achieve an aim.

            Much of the credit for its spontaneity and set-ups goes to an excellent cast of actors experienced in the art of comedy.  Peter (Day) has a serious relationship with Anne (Rodriguez), and Noah (Eastwood) and Emma (Slate) have been together (happily from her point of view) long enough to consider taking the next step.  The two couples’ break-ups take Peter and Emma totally by surprise, and they feel the stings of being dumped.

            It turns out, they work in the same multi-story building, and when they meet unexpectedly in a stairway after individual meltdowns in meetings, they commiserate with one another, and decide to get together after work.  While trying to work through their grief by drinking and singing about their troubles at a karaoke bar, they come up with an ill-conceived plan to break up their former mates’ new relationships.

            This leads to sometimes hilarious situations in all kinds of settings with additional characters thrown in, the most touching of which is Emma coming across 12 year-old Trevor in her work as a “volunteer” for a middle-school drama, directed by Logan (Jacinto), Anne’s new love.  Trevor is filled with rage about his home situation, and Emma is able to do some amateur (but helpful) counseling to steer him onto a better track.

            Other funny scenes come up with paunchy Peter attempting to befriend Noah, a physical trainer.  Noah trains Peter in physical activities he never dreamed of doing, much less mastering.  In the process—exhausting as it is—Peter discovers a new side of himself.  

            Jason Orly directs I Want You Back admirably.  The timing of the scenes in telling a story and balancing out the comedic and “truthy” elements skillfully sustain interest and engagement of the viewer.


A comedy that will make you laugh out loud while making some insightful statements about people and relationships.


Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland

Thursday, February 3, 2022


Halle Berry     Patrick Wilson     John Bradley     Michael Pena

Donald Sutherland     Charlie Plummer 

            This movie is a disaster—but not in the way the filmmakers intended.  It’s the disaster.  The thinly drawn characters, the inane/stereotypical dialog and awkward dreamed-up situations make it hard to sit through.  Special effects are about the only aspect of Moonfall that have a chance to entertain.

            The story starts in such a hodge-podge, it’s difficult to discern the plot and sort out the characters.  People and technical information are thrown out rapid-fire in the first few minutes so that it takes some time to get oriented.  Finally, we begin to see that something major is happening with the moon that if not stopped will endanger the earth.  Institutions such as NASA and the military are portrayed as run by self-serving fools.  For instance, there is the military solution considered of nuking the moon, with no regard to fall-out danger to the earth.

            The main characters include Brian Harper (Wilson), a disgraced astronaut who is blamed for his friend-colleague’s death, his ex-wife Jo (Berry) who is now married to a general in the military and who is made the leader of NASA where she is employed by the current chief as he is running out the door, and hapless janitor KC Houseman (Bradley) impersonating a scientist-astronaut and claiming to understand a complexity in the universe that has stumped the real scientists.  In the movie, he is proven to be right.  The upshot is that these three are going to revisit the moon, discover what is wrong and make things all right on earth.

            In the process of the tale, discounted characters turn out to be heroes, government departments and authorities are portrayed as incompetent fools, and somehow miraculous things just happen in order to carry the story along or save the characters.  Tender parent-child scenes are thrown in liberally sometimes during the height of emergencies, and conflicts get resolved somehow, even between ex-spouses.

            Most of these shortcomings can be attributed to the director Roland Emmereich, whose past films have many of the same elements (e.g., Stargate, The Day after Tomorrow, The Patriot, and Independence Day) discussed above and for which he has been criticized.  What Roger Ebert said about Stargate could be said about Moonfall: “Stargate” is the kind of movie where a soldier can be transported to “the other side of the known universe” in a whirlpool of bizarre special effects, step into a temple on an alien planet, and say, “What a rush!”

            Cinematography (Robby Baumgartner) and special/visual effects are about the only aspects of Moonfall worth your time.  Not only are they entertaining, but the viewer can appreciate them as works of art and technology.  The scenes in space are breath-taking and convincingly take you to another world.


The telling of the story is hard to bear, but cinematography and special effects might be worth your time.


Grade:  D                              By Donna R. Copeland


Clifton Collins, Jr.     Molly Parker     Moises Arias 

            Jockey is less about horse racing—although the sport is seen through windows of the plot—as about human relationships and their uncertainties from different perspectives.  The first window we see about being a jockey is the toll it takes on the body.  Jackson (Collins) and his mates in something of a group therapy session recount all the ways they have been injured and almost killed.  But their love of the sport keeps them engaged in it—sometimes longer than is advised.

            Jackson is one of those so identified with being a jockey it’s clear he can’t imagine doing anything else.  He has achieved national fame as a jockey to the extent that everyone seems to know who he is, if not personally, by reputation.  But—like many of his cohorts—he’s had a number of spinal and other injuries, and now is beginning to notice some of the long-term effects.  Proving his mettle, he tries to compensate in every way he can, including denying the seriousness of what he sees and is told by the doctor.

            Jackson has a long-term relationship with Ruth (Parker) his trainer through all kinds of high and low points.  They’ve spent a long time together, going over daily chores and decisions so that they’ve come to know each other very well.  She senses something, and asks probing questions, but he is not forthcoming.  Their biggest interest they have now is in a young horse they’ve just acquired which has great promise.  Jackson is convinced Leo is a winner and fantasizes about his participation in that achievement.

            A tangent in Jackson’s story comes in the form of a young aspiring jockey new on the scene.  Gabriel (Arias) has gotten wind of him and approaches him in a diner intending to mentor a new recruit.  He gets more information about Gabriel than he expected, which takes him aback and causes him to pull away.  After giving it some thought, though, he softens and begins to develop a kind of ambivalent friendship with Gabriel.

            The strength of this movie co-written with Greg Kwedar and directed by Clint Bentley (both to be credited for their previous Transpecos) is its attention to individuals—their quirks, their resemblances to others and humankind in general, and all the different kinds of dramas they will encounter over the course of their lives.  We’re given enough information about Jackson, Ruth, and Gabriel to see them in their uniqueness so that their relationships with one another are entirely sensible, even if not always sympathetic.  

            My experience of the story is that it is slow in the beginning, to the point that I thought, “This is interesting, but not engrossing”—although I understand this part is all about the set-up. About 2/3 of the way through, however, the plot starts to become gripping and suspenseful as to how it will turn out.  And by the end, it becomes clear how much depth the film has in making statements about its characters and life in general.

            Collins and Parker are well known to us as accomplished actors, and although Arias is not as well known, all three are perfectly cast for roles that highlight their skills.  Collins (also featured in Transpecos) for his “true grit”, Parker for her warmth and support in a friendship, and Arias as a “newbie” who needs to explain himself.


Jockey is a film for those who love seeing characters come to life as real people.


Grade:  B                              By Donna R. Copeland