Sunday, November 22, 2015

Secret In Their Eyes has satisfying and creepy double twist at the end

Movie:    Secret in their Eyes

Rating:    PG-13, 1 hour 51 minutes

Grade:   B-

In a Nutshell:   The source material is an Argentine crime thriller that won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2009.  (“El Secreto De Sus Ojos”).  Despite its talented cast and Julia Roberts’ stellar performance, this remake isn't as good as the original and probably won’t win any awards.   Joining Roberts is Nicole Kidman, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dean Norris, and Alfred Molina.

It’s a disturbing movie that is dark, sad and depressing.  You leave the theater thinking “Ew” and “Oh” and “Ah” all at the same time.

Uplifting Theme:
·         Revenge doesn’t bring peace.
·         Does the end justify the means?
      Blood is thick.  A mother's love is thicker.
·         “Passions are like maps.  Passion always wins.” – Jess

Things I liked:
·         Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) tells Jess (Julia Roberts) that she looks like she’s a million years old.  She really does.  You can physically see the weight and pain she has worn for 13 years after her daughter was murdered.   Julia Roberts looks old, tired, and even...dare I say it... average.  Now, that’s good acting by a beautiful actress!
·         Julia’s heart-felt cries at her daughter’s crime scene were extremely believable and compelling.  I could hear soft whimpers and sobs in the audience during that entire emotional unraveling.
·         I love movie titles that make you think, although I think even more could have been done with this one.
·         Did you notice the piano outside the house with drinks on it?  What a fun idea for a night-time party….hard on the piano, though, unless you live in clear skies Los Angles, where the movie takes place.
·         There is some subtle humor that helps cut the tension every now and then.
·         I just taught my college students the word “predilection” the very day I saw this movie in the theater, so I was pleased to hear Jess use it in a sentence.  (Hint:  It means a preference or partiality for something.)
·         Cool camera views over Dodger Stadium. 
·         Good for Chiwetel Ejiofor for having two movies out in theaters at the same time!  (Hint:  The other one is The Martian.)
      SPOILER ALERT:  I love the double twist at the end.  Creepy though, yet satisfying.
      I don't know if it was intentional or not, but the movie poster looks like a woman's view from her burka. There is a Muslim element in the film with the crime scene taking place just outside a mosque and some discussion about the post-9/11 fear towards Islam.

Things I didn’t like:
·         Writer and director Billy Ray thought mixing up the original story would give it a sense of urgency.  Wrong.  The movie lunges from present day back to the past, sometimes making it confusing to keep the timeline straight.  It’s often difficult to find clues to help you quickly ascertain which of the two decades you are seeing, as the background and even clothing are the same.  The result is a messy mix with bad transitions that don’t flow and a confused audience.
·         It’s a bit slow-moving.

Funny lines:  
·         “They teach you some version of ‘Yes, Sir!’ at the Bureau, don’t they?”  - Martin Morales (Alfred Molina)
·         “You really are an idiot….medically.” – Jess
·         “Harvard law doesn’t date community college.  Stop hitting on my new hire.” – Martin Morales

Tips for Parents:
·         This is not a family entertainment film, especially for young children.  The theme is very dark.
·         Some profanity, death, unpleasant images, and violence.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 finally arrives!

Movie:   The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 2

Rating:  PG-13, 2 hours 16 minutes

Grade:   A-

In a Nutshell:    As Finnick (Sam Claflin) says, “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the 76th Hunger Games!”

After 4 years and almost 9 hours of movie viewing, the concluding film in this popular action series is finally here!   This is a very sad and serious movie, but fans will feel an overall satisfaction with this last installment.  Jennifer Lawrence is fantastic, shining as always.  As Haymitch says, “I’ll say this for you Katniss, you don’t disappoint.”  She doesn’t. 

One thing that does is the reminder that Phillip Seymour Hoffman died while filming this final movie.  I always thought he was an excellent actor.  He will be missed. The rest of the cast is great too, offering a fond farewell.  Three cheers for Suzanne Collins for bringing us a thrilling book series that makes us think.

Be sure to watch Mockingjay Part 1, because this film picks up exactly where the last one left off.  

Uplifting Theme: 
·         Peeta explains, “There was no real life, because we didn’t have a choice.”  Free will has always been an important theme in all of these Hunger Game movies.
·         Do what’s right.
·         Revenge, justice, war, freedom, politics, revolution, loyalty, love
·         Which is worse: a clever, calculating, ruthless dictator you know or one you thought you knew?

Things I liked:
·         I absolutely love the last line of the movie.
·         While the book doesn’t mention it, the movie provides a touching moment when Effie and Haymitch kiss.  Viewers will have to decide if it was meant to be a romantic kiss or one that sweetly demonstrates their close bond over the years.  In fact, it was one of the better kisses in the movie.  Some of the other ones lacked some serious chemistry.
·         ADORABLE little blonde boy at the end.
·         I thought the idea and execution of the “pods” was super cool.
·         That black death water stuff was awesome.
·         SPOILER ALERT: President Snow’s subtle smile was perfect when he found out that Katniss had survived an attempt on her life.  He relishes the game.  Donald Sutherland does a great job ‘til the very end.
·         Pollux’s backpack looks like one of those roly poly bugs.  He sure is a sweet, brave character and well played by Elden Henson
·         It’s always good to see Julianne Moore, who plays President Alma Coin.
·         SPOILER ALERT:  Peeta brings Katniss a Primrose flower. So sweet.
·         I liked the “real or not real” conversations Peeta and Katniss have.
*  Jennifer Lawrence's nephew plays her son at the end of the movie.  He's a huge X-Men fan, although he tells her she's not a "real" X-Man.

Things I didn’t like:
·         The third part of the book series was unnecessarily broken into 2 movies.   Of course it’s all about making money.  The result is that these last two movies have a lot of slow moments in order to stretch out the source material.
      There wasn't a big, epic battle scene, but instead, a few minor skirmishes.
·         Very little humor. Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) are much more subdued in this movie, whereas in former films, we could count on them for some comic relief.
·         I wish we could have seen more of Stanley Tucci as Caesar Flickerman.  Thankfully, they gave more screen time to Elizabeth Banks than was originally written for her in the book.
·         Weird Tigress character.  Then again, she represents the extravagance of the Capitol.

Interesting lines:
·         “What’s going on in your head? – Gale (the handsome Liam Hemsworth)
“I don’t know. – Katniss
“It’s like kissing someone who’s drunk…it doesn’t count.”  - Gale
·         “It’s war Katniss.  Sometimes killing isn’t personal.  I would have thought out of all people, you’d know that.” – Gale
“I know it’s always personal.” – Katniss
·         “What about you, Mockingjay?  Feeling safe?” – Johanna  (Jena Malone)
“Til I got shot.” -  Katniss
·         Are you still trying to protect me?  Real or not real?” – Peeta (Josh Hutcherson)
“Real.  Because that’s what you and I do: keep each other alive.” - Katniss

Tips for Parents:
·         Blood, LOTS of violence with a high body count, and a lot of fire and explosions.
·         SPOILER ALERT: Several good characters die, which is sad, but especially traumatic are the deaths of children in one particular scene.
·         SPOILER ALERT:  There is a scary scene when Katniss and her comrades go underground and these creepy creatures attack them.  They're kind of like mutant, white zombies with no eyes and razor sharp teeth.  Super creepy.  I kinda wanted a closer look at them, but they were moving really fast.

Monday, November 16, 2015

My All American hits football, faith, and family

Movie:     My All American

Rating:    PG, 1 hour 58 minutes

Grade:   B+

In a Nutshell:    This tale of gridiron glory is a true story that will inspire you and cause you to shed some tears, as long as you can get past some of the melodramatic  manipulation. 

Critics argue that the film is too squeaky clean in this predictable feel-good sports movie.  And that’s a problem because…?  Don’t we have enough cynicism and ugly in the world?  

Uplifting Theme:
·          “What makes a winner is knowing he can always try a little harder.” – Michael Steinmark (Michael Reilly Burke)
·         Persistence, tenacity, humility, hard work, brotherhood.
·         “Everything is bigger and better in Texas!” – Freddie
·         “We don’t care what people write about us.  We do not care what others say we can or cannot do.  Only those of us right here can tell that story.” – Coach Royal

Things I liked:
·         I always like watching Aaron Eckhart because he has the same eyes as one of my sons.  Coach Royal is impressively supportive.  He says to Freddie, “Whatever it is – you will meet the challenge and I will be here for you.”  Wouldn’t the world be different if we treated each other like that?
·         Finn Wittrock does a great job as Freddie Steinmark.
·         Sarah Bolger makes a cute blonde and a very sweet, devoted girlfriend to Freddie.  She says to him, “Whatever you are going through, I am going through.”  Did you know she was from Ireland?  You might recognize her from The Spiderwick Chronicles .
·         I love how they show the current Texas football players paying tribute to Freddie.  I especially love how you get to see pictures and film footage of the real people during the closing credits.  Hook 'em Longhorns!

·         Impressive hits and flips.
·         Good 60’s music that underscores the images and history of the era, including mentions of Vietnam, John F. Kennedy, and footage of Richard Nixon attending one of the games.
·         There is a LOT of football.  Even if you don’t understand the game, you’ll still appreciate the true story and inspiring message.
·         Touching moment of roommates in prayer.
·         Freddie's faith truly carries him through his challenges.  Religious people should support this film and celebrate the positivity.
      My sister taught for a year at the University of Arkansas and gave me one of those Razorback hats you see the fans wearing in the film.  Ha ha 

Things I didn’t like:
·         It's predictable and formulaic. 
      SPOILER ALERT:  The treatment of cancer is a Pollyanna one.
      There is a LOT of football.
      Some of the extras in the cast are pretty bad.

Funny lines:  
·          “You don’t have to like sports to like Freddie, just a pulse.” – Debbie  (Regan Goins)
·         “You run like you have a school of minnows in your pants.” – Coach Royal
·         “I fell in love faster than a hiccup.” – Coach Royal
·         “Yeah, I might be wrong, but I’m not confused.” – Coach Royal

Interesting lines:
·         “Gentlemen, football doesn’t build character.  It eliminates the weak.” – Coach Darrell Royal
·         “Freddie Steinmark was not an All-American.  No, he was MY All-American.” – Coach Darrell Royal
·         “The greatest disgrace is to quit or turn yeller.” – Lakewood Coach
·         “I hate to see you play at 90%.” – Bobby Mitchell (Rett Terrell)

Tips for Parents:
·         Some profanity, blood, and you see a guy in a jockstrap.
·         I love how supportive Freddie’s parents are.
·         Discussion of cancer and death.
·         Young children may get bored.

To learn more about the true Freddie Steinmark story:

Great football movies:

·         Remember the titans, blind side, Friday night lights

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Peanuts movie is like visiting an old friend

Movie:     The Peanuts Movie

Rating:    G, 1 hour 32 minutes

Grade:   B+

In a Nutshell:    How wonderful that a whole new generation is being introduced to the lovable Peanuts.    Hollywood did this one right: they kept the message clean and pure, just as Charles Schultz would have liked it.   

I suspect parents who grew up with the Peanuts will enjoy this more than their kids. This is a classic, simple love story and underdog tale.   While it doesn’t really offer anything new or fresh, it feels like a nostalgic visit with an old friend and plays like a “Best of Peanuts” film.

Uplifting Theme:
·         You’re as young as your imagination will allow you to be.
·         Be kind to others.  We are all fighting our own battles.
·         Never give up.

Things I liked:
·          Meagan Trainer’s cute song Better When I'm Dancin' is adorable and catchy.  You’ll leave the theater dancing.
·         Snoopy’s timeline is adorable.
·         Cute Charlie Brown balloons at the school assembly.  I’ll bet you can buy them on Amazon soon.
·          When I was in high school, I played the little red-haired girl.  Nope, no lines. I just sat there on the stage while Charlie Brown did all the work.  I pretended to pick my nose and eat  my boogers …and stole the scene.  Ha ha
·         Linus plays Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata , which my mother used to play on the piano while I was growing up.
·         Fans of Minions will get a kick out of the overly dramatic Snoopy and the sounds he makes.
·         Keep watching during the closing credits.

Things I didn’t like:
·          It’s so true to its source material that it feels unimaginative.  We’ve seen it before.
·         Paying extra for 3D is not necessary.
·         Some children who are used to sophisticated animation nowadays may think the simple animation design of the peanuts is too…simple.
·         It’s weird that so many of the Peanuts characters are balding as young children, right?
·         There aren’t very many really funny lines.

Funny lines:  
·          “Is there an emoji for good grief?” – Charlie Brown
·         “Can a brother and sister get a divorce?” – Sally (Charlie Brown’s sister).   She kind of reminds me of Lisa from the The Simpsons Movie .

Tips for Parents:
·          The language gets as bad as “Rats!” and “Good Grief!”   How refreshing.
        It's sweet and innocent.
Can't get enough of the Peanuts?  Check out these fun Peanuts products:

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Love the Coopers mixes a little bit of humor with a lot of family tension

Movie:    Love the Coopers

Rating:    PG-13

Grade:   B-

In a Nutshell:    Timed perfectly for the holidays, the talented cast gets slogged down with a sappy and predictable script that mixes a little bit of humor with a lot of family tension.  Even so, did it tug at my heart-strings and successfully elicit tears from my eyes.  Yup.

Uplifting Theme:
·          “You can be the hero of your own life.” – Ruby (the lovely Amanda Seyfried)
·         “Try and be the person you want to become.” - Narrator

Things I liked:
·         The cute Christmas/Santa montage at the beginning will quickly get you in the mood for the holidays.
·         While the movie focuses on Christmas, there are several  shout-outs to Hanukkah.
·         As a film critic, I appreciated the discussion that Ruby and Bucky had about an old Charlie Chaplin film and its inspiring ending.
·         The storybook narrator offers interesting insights.  SPOILER ALERT:  The voice is from our beloved Steve Martin!
·         Diane Keaton is timeless.  And she always looks great in a scarf.
·         One of the character’s names is Bo (played by Maxwell Simkins).  That’s my son’s name!
·         Sam (the loveable John Goodman) plays with words that always evoke laughter from the audience.  He lists the famous Christmas reindeer as “Donner and Blitzen and Rudolph and Nixon” and Santa’s brothers as “Panta, Janta, and Mylanta.”
·         The babies in the Maternity ward of the hospital are all dressed as Santa.  Adorable.

Things I didn’t like:
·          Everyone spends the majority of the film lying to each other, hiding things, and being disappointed in one another.  Funny and unpleasant.
·         The family sings Christmas carols together and it’s Diane Keaton who gets a solo….NOT the talented Amanda Seyfried.  What the heck?  Come on!
·         Madison, the little girl played by Blake Baumgartner, says “You are such a D—k” several times.  NOT adorable.
·         There are a couple of offensive Jesus jokes.  Seriously?  Especially at Christmas time?
·         Blatant product placement annoys me so much.  In this film… McCafe.
·         People often offer each other terrible advice.  For example, Bucky the grandpa tells Hank (Ed Helms) to “go out and get some.”
·         I’ve always thought Olivia Wilde was beautiful, but I really hated her arrogant, condescending, disrespectful, dishonest, slutty character, Eleanor.
·         Sloppy French kissing.  Funny, but gross.
·         Interesting title.  And I'm not even talking about the lack of proper punctuation. If the Coopers had just loved each other better, this film wouldn’t exist.  The Coopers spend the entire film “searching for comfort and a little more joy” this Christmas season.

Funny lines:  
·         “You’re way too cute to be a Republican.  Please tell me you’re not one of those Republicans who believes in Fox News, but not evolution.” – Eleanor (Olivia Wilde)
·         “All we’d have to figure out is how long we’ve been together and what’s your name?” – Eleanor
·         “I don’t think volunteering counts if you just talk about it.” – Joe (Jake Lacy)
·         “Calm down.  Man up and let’s lie to my parents.” – Eleanor
·         “That was the best dinner I’ve ever had in my entire mouth.” – Aunt (June Squibb)

Interesting lines:
·         About the holidays:  “Everyone panics, as if you can schedule happiness.” – Bucky (Alan Arkin)
·         “Perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect married couples to grow at the same rate for 40 years.” – Narrator
·         “You love everybody at arm’s length.  Keep it up and you’ll end up alone.” – Bucky  (Alan Arkin)
·         FOMO = “Fear Of Missing Out.”   Is that the new YOLO?
·         “Isn’t it interesting that we want to run from our families and impress them at the same time?” -  Eleanor
·         “Such a fuss when everything we want is right in front of us.” - Bucky

Tips for Parents:
·        The Coopers are definitely NOT role models for your kids:     Infidelity, flatulence, selfishness, lack of respect and kindness.   The good news is that they finally figure it out by the end of the movie.
·         Some profanity and crudeness.
GREAT Christmas movies:


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Spectre is nice addition to James Bond franchise

Movie:    Spectre

Rating:    PG-13, 2 hours 30 minutes

Grade:   B+

In a Nutshell:    When I first heard that actor Daniel Craig recently admitted he never wanted to play James Bond again, I have to admit I was shaken…..but not stirred.   Ha ha   With gorgeous landscapes in faraway lands, exciting action, and a light social commentary, this is a respectable addition to the 007 franchise.

Filled with lots of crashes, explosions, chase scenes, cool toys, beautiful women, and even a little humor to top it all off, this 24th installment isn’t as good as the most recent Skyfall , but gives a respectful nod to the classic Bond movie still and is still very entertaining.

Uplifting Theme:
·          “We always have a choice.” – Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux)
·          Information control vs. privacy

Things I liked:
·         The movie starts off at a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City, which makes for an intriguing backdrop.  While most Americans associate skeletons with creepy Halloween decorations, Mexicans are inspired by them to think of their honored ancestors.  With a title name of Spectre , it's the perfect opening for the film.  I liked how the ring introduced the Spectre image for the story and how there are many layers of meaning behind the word in this movie.
·         FANTASTIC camera views from interesting angles.
·         Love the stunts and action from the very beginning.
·         I really love watching Christoph Waltz work his craft.  I thought he was really great in Big Eyes  You can see my movie review of Big Eyes by clicking here.
·         ·         Cliché "lose the bad guy in a parade" scene suddenly becomes interesting with a helicopter.
·         I love all the international destinations Bond travels to.
·         Ah, Ralph Fiennes.  It’s always a pleasure to see him.
·         Those blue eyes, Daniel!
       Grammy champ Sam Smith's song is #1 in the UK now and getting Oscar buzz for "Writing's On The Wall".

Things I didn’t like:
·         I didn’t care for the naked body montage during the opening credits.  (Parents, you see skin, not naughty bits.)
·         SPOILER ALERT:  I thought it was extremely odd and inappropriate for James to sleep with a woman practically minutes after her dead husband’s funeral.  I want to admire the hero, not think he is a complete scoundrel.  I know, I know, he's an assassin.  Still.
·         Such beautiful cars destroyed!
·         It was hard to see what was going on in some of the dark scenes.
·         “What do we do now?”  Quick cut to make-out scene.  Lame.
·         It’s sort of silly that James survives all kinds of fights, crashes, and even torture without even getting a scratch.  I mean, even Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson gets scratched up sometimes.  Ha ha

Funny lines:  
·          “I believe I said to bring it back in one piece, not bring back one piece.” – Q laughing at Bond for destroying his last car and bringing back only the steering wheel.
·         “May I remind you that I answer directly to them.  Also, a mortgage, and 2 cats to feed.” – Q (played by Ben Whishaw)
“Oh, then I suggest you trust me…for the sake of the cats.” – Bond
·         “What do you do?” – Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci)
“Life insurance.” – Bond

Interesting lines:
·         “He obsessed about work.  He was never home.” – Lucia
“Then, he was a fool.” – James Bond
·         “I always knew death would wear a familiar face.  But not yours…” – Mr. White
·         “She was never going to let death get in the way of her job.” – James Bond
·         “You’re a kite, dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond.” – Lea’s father

Tips for Parents:
·        Lots of fighting, but mostly bloodless.  There is a yucky scene where a guy gouges out another guy’s eyes and you see dripping blood.  Ick.
      Pretty clean language, considering the violence and high body count!

Want to catch up on the latest James Bond movies?  You can start here: