Stephanie Cooke

DisneyNature’s “Bears” shines

April 21st, 2014 at 3:28 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to see the official trailer for DisneyNature’s Bears.

Now showing in theaters across Hampton Roads.

Disneynature-Bears-PosterThe star of this DisneyNature film is supposed to be the bears, but so much of it is the landscape in which they live and trek through.  Oh, ok — the bears are pretty awesome, too.

In honor of Earth Day weekend, DisneyNature is back with the spectacular look at a year in the life of a momma bear (SKY) and her two new cubs (AMBER and SCOUT).  It starts with the birth and nursing through the winter — hibernating… buried beneath mounds of snow in the regal mountains of Alaska’s Katmai National Park. Soon enough the snow begins to melt and it’s time for Sky to make the move — the LONG LONG journey toward food… the salmon runs.

The trio faces treacherous terrain, even an avalanche along the way, but the search for food is what it’s all about.  When they arrive at the meadow at the dawn of Spring… grass is the first staple.  But a quick jaunt to the shore ahead of the salmon arrival means there’s other “fishing” to do.  There are lots of scenes of adorable cubs frolicking in the ocean waters and digging for clams in Alaska’s mud flats.

But, it’s not all fun.  Sky must defend her cubs against wolves and other hungry male bears… Magnus — the king of the meadow — and Chinook — the exiled, fringe king wanna be.  Both of them come for the bear cubs looking to fill their need for food.  Sky stands her ground. The fight for survival against wolves, bears, and ultimately hunger, is fascinating to watch.

Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey (known for work on “African Cats”) teamed up with co-writer Adam Chapman to bring Bears to life.  And actor John C. Reilly as the narrator was a great choice.  His happy-go-lucky approach to the narration and the imagined internal dialogue of the bears was an enjoyable fit.

DisneyNature’s BEARS is educational but also brings us an emotionally appealing story that makes the film easy to watch for all ages.   And for me as a producer, I absolutely LOVED the closing credits because we get to see how the filmmakers actually got the spectacular shots.  We see the camera people up to their chests in water to get underwater shots of salmon, and face-to-face with wolves and bears to get shots of some of the most tense scenes in the film.  And we see their camp, and equipment — especially the mounted camera on the helicopter that brings us the amazing aerial shots from mountain peaks to avalanches.  Simply fascinating to watch.


Rated G for all audiences.  A word of caution though for parents — there are a few scenes that could upset the littlest movie-goers… there are scenes involving abandonment and a drowning scare that are handled well, but could still be upsetting.  The movie ultimately is about SURVIVAL.


Draft Day scores a field goal

April 14th, 2014 at 2:43 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

A behind-the-scenes look at one of the NFL’s most important days of the year is the what makes up the new film Draft Day.

Draft Day stars Kevin Costner as Sonny — the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns — the team his recently deceased father coached.  It’s the dawn of Draft Day and a lot on the line in the National Football League.

Sonny is barely holding on with the owner and the head coach of the team as he appears to go rogue on the franchise with trades galore before the team is even on the clock at the draft.  The Coach (relatively new to the Browns after winning a SuperBowl ring with the Dallas Cowboys) is played by Dennis Leary.  He wants the team he wants, but Sonny wants him to coach the team he gives him.

As the clock rapidly approaches the time to make the first pick, the audience gets a taste of the behind-the-scenes maneuvers teams make ahead of the draft.   Once they are finally on the clock and ready to make a pick… the movie finally gets going.

Before this point — it was really bogged down with the story line of the relationship Sonny has been hiding from everyone — one with Ali (Jennifer Garner) –She’s the lawyer in charge of managing the teams salary caps. Apparently trying to prove that Sonny has a heart… the relationship is all fizzle and no fire.  And randomly added in was a new intern — why I don’t know, but he has a lot of lines that help us get nowhere.

The character of Sonny Weaver is in the capable hands of Kevin Costner here, but it’s not empassioned enough for me to really buy in.  Garner, also capable, is not really believeable for me in this role, and when we get the big kiss, I hardly feel the love.

Director Ivan Reitman, delivers a by-the-numbers film that falls short of the likes of Moneyball and Jerry Maguire.   It’s got some solid structure with some twists and turns that keep it interesting, and a touch of heart that makes it satisfying.  But something is missing…
I think Draft Day will score with football fans… but they will have to settle for the field goal, not the touchdown.


Rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references.

Noah takes on The Hobbit?

April 14th, 2014 at 2:39 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

The controversy surrounding the film Noah has been swirling, so let’s start there.  If you haven’t heard — The National Religious Broadcasters requested the film studio Paramount Pictures add a disclaimer to the film: which they did.  This is the disclaimer:
“The film is inspired by the story of Noah. While artistic license has been taken, we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide. The biblical story of Noah can be found in the book of Genesis.”
I only mention it because the story of Noah in the Old Testament has some missing parts, and the film fills them in.  Some have taken issue with that.

Nevertheless, in this film version of the story, Noah — a descendant of Adam and Eve’s son Seth — hides with his family on the fringe areas of humanity… The human population having turned to total wickedness.

Noah (Russell Crowe) has visions he believes sent by the Creator and determines that a Great Flood is coming to cleanse the earth.  So he gathers the family to tell them what they must do.  Noah’s task is to build an ark to save the innocent — the animals.

With a little help from The Watchers — which seem to come right out of The Hobbit — they build a massive ark, while the characters develop and Noah sees that there is both good and evil in EVERYONE — even his sons, and himself.  This realization creates an amazing conflict in Noah as the flood comes, his faith is tested and his loyalty to the creator and his family are at odds.

Crowe does a good job as Noah — managing to show the conflict within and the challenges he faces.  Jennifer Connolly as Noah’s wife Naameh does the same.  She really shines in one scene faced with the ultimate choice of life and death and the future of their family — it is a scene that is utterly wrenching.  Anthony Hopkins appears as the YODA-esque grandfather Methuselah and is a stand out.

The film itself really plays in the moment more like sci-fi than biblical epic, but I realized later that a lot of things in the Old Testament do seem very sci-fi.  The special effects are at times really cool — and the flood itself is on point.

While Writer/Director Darren Aronofsky (acclaimed for films like The Wrestler and Black Swan among others) does take some license, the essential elements of the story of Noah and the Great Flood are there… betrayal, obedience, faith, redemption.

Controversy aside, a thought-provoking film to say the least.

Disclaimer: Russell Crowe sings.  I have to say that for all the people — like myself — who shutter at the memory of him singing in Les Miserables.


Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images and brief suggestive content.

Check into The Grand Budapest Hotel

April 14th, 2014 at 2:32 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

The Grand Budapest Hotel features another jam packed cast! There are cameos galore.

It’s the story of the many adventures of Gustave (Ralph Fiennes) — an unforgettable concierge at a luxurious hotel and his best friend — Zero Moustafa (Tony Revolori), his lobby boy.

In a nutshell, a priceless renaissance painting goes missing and a wealthy countess/family matriarch dies.  The rest of the film has to do with all of that… and just who will get the family fortune.

The Grand Budapest Hotel is hilarity at it’s finest.  Wes Anderson has hit the nail on the head of sophisticated comedy.  From the script to the casting to the directing and cinematography… it’s practically perfect.  Speaking of casting: Bill Murray, Ed Norton, Tilda Swinton, Jude Law, Harvey Keitel, Tom Wilkinson,  and Jeff Goldblum are among them!


Rated R for language, some sexual content and violence.

Muppets Most Wanted brings the laughs we want

April 14th, 2014 at 2:21 pm by under THRS Movie Reviews

So this Muppets feature picks up where the last one left off.  Walter has become one of them and they are wrapping a movie!  But now what?  That’s just what they have to figure out.

Enter Dominic BadGUY or BadGEE — it’s french.  He’s played by Ricky Gervais.  Dominic is working with a hardened criminal — the world’s most wanted frog — Constantine, nearly an identical twin to our beloved Kermit — who has been locked up in a gulag in Siberia under the watchful eye of the warden there (Tina Fey).

Dominic and Constantine executed a master plan that breaks him out of the gulag and lands Kermit in the gulag, so that they can carry out their evil plan to steal the crown jewels — and no one is wise to the switch!  Not even Miss Piggy!

As you would expect there are hi-jinx and Muppet shows aplenty… not to mention CAMEO APPEARANCES!  Cameos including Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Christoph Waltz, Selma Hayek, Diddy, Celine Dion, Stanley Tucci, Usher, Zach Galifinakis, Josh Grobin… the list goes on!

I absolutely loved the cast — but especially Modern Family’s Ty Burrell as Jean Pierre Napolean — the Interpol inspector tasked to work with the CIA’s Eagle Muppet on this major case.  He is hilarious!

THREE AND A HALF COOKIES for me… Entertaining as all get out!  Some laugh out loud funnies!

Rated PG for some mild action.

Movie Review: Winter’s Tale

February 17th, 2014 at 5:05 pm by under The Hampton Roads Show, THRS Movie Reviews

For Valentine’s Day weekend you have to expect love stories to hit theaters… but this is nothing like what I expected!

First of all, I was an English major in college and Shakespeare was my “focal author”… and The Winter’s Tale was — IS — my favorite play by the bard… I just knew this was going to be a modern day telling of the great play.  But … no.

THIS Winter’s Tale is based on the 1983 best-selling novel by Mark Helprin.  It’s an attempt at a sort of grown up fairy tale by first-time director Akiva Goldsman.  We know Goldsman from his Oscar-winning screenwriting of A Beautiful Mind… And he recruited some of the stars from that film to flesh out this movie.  Russel Crowe is Pearly — a hard-nosed demon and former boss of Peter Lake (Colin Ferrel).

Peter Lake was an orphan in 1895 who had to fend for himself, eventually learning to steal like a pro.  Pearly takes him under his wing… his demonic wing at that.  Soon enough Peter decides to go his own way — that the dark side wasn’t for him.  That’s when he decides — against his better judgement and at the urging of a random flying white horse — to rob one more house and get out of new york…. but– he runs in to this lady…

Peter falls hard… He just wants to be with Beverly (Jessica Brown Findlay of Downton Abbey fame).  Her father (William Hurt) has his doubts, but soon puts his trust in him.  Peter and Beverly have one magical night and it’s over.  But the romance is VERY short-lived.

Pearly is still gunning for Peter.  Despite Pearly’s attempt to kill him, Peter apparently can’t die until he gives his miracle to someone.  What?  Pearly even appeals to LUCIFER himself for help — an unbilled Will Smith!  Will Smith playing the devil (and quite badly at that).

Soon enough Peter — back here in 2014 and still unaware of his history or even his name — (for a hundred years?) — finds a journalist (Jennifer Connolly) who helps him find himself again… and the purpose of his miracle.

I have no idea what just happened.  I have to believe the book, which I haven’t read, is beautifully written, and the movie can hold no comparison.  It was barely watchable.  The acting was mostly dreadful.  Crowe, Smith, Hurt, are all wobbly and unbelieveable at times.  Colin Ferrel does an okay job with the magical not understanding and I was even moved to tears in a couple of scenes that he clearly felt to his core as he acted them…  But the story!  I just felt like it was UNbelievable… in a ridiculous kind of way.  Disappointed from Les Miserable to this, I beg you… Russell Crowe… please be good in the upcoming NOAH.


Rated PG-13 for violence and some sensuality


The LEGO Movie: ‘Everything is Awesome!’

February 11th, 2014 at 1:57 pm by under The Hampton Roads Show, THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for The LEGO Movie.

Now playing in theaters across Hampton Roads.

the-lego-movie-prize-posterAnd then there’s THE LEGO MOVIE!  I took the boys — the 17-year old and the 9-year old — to see this, and I was prepared to take a nap.  But there was none to be had.

Chris Pratt (Parks and Rec) is the voice of Emmet — he’s the standard LEGO construction man who soon finds himself in the middle of a huge situation.  Apparently, he is special — the SPECIAL ONE, which he doesn’t believe.  There’s a group of misfits who think Emmet has come to save their world from the likes of President Business — aka Will Ferrell.  The cast of characters is just awesome!!  (As is ‘EVERYTHING‘ in this movie.)  You’ve got — Batman (Will Arnett), Superman (Channing Tatum), Abraham Lincoln (Will Forte), the love interest LEGO named Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks) and the Yoda-esque Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman).
Defeating the evil President Business is no small task — unless the gang can get Emmitt to believe in himself.  The crazy adventure that follows is fun, funny, and funtastic.  There are some really neat special effects at work here.  We get a mix between stop-motion animation and some really cool CG stuff that makes for the perfect blend for this story.
As for the story  — it twists and turns and not even the most grown up of grown ups would see the ending coming.  Couple that with some sarcastic, ironic, and compelling dialogue and you’ve got a real winner.
The LEGO Movie is written and directed by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and 2“).  The writing is punchy, and very funny!  But, it also has a simple feeling that appeals to every heart.

It was six thumbs up from the Cooke Clan… We’re going back.  We’re buying it when it comes out.  (And who does that anymore?)

Seriously — moms and dads, beg your kids to take you to see The LEGO Movie.



The Monuments Men

February 11th, 2014 at 1:36 pm by under The Hampton Roads Show, THRS Movie Reviews

CLICK HERE to watch the trailer for The Monuments Men.

Now playing in theaters across Hampton Roads.

monuments_menThe Monuments Men is based on the true story of a group of scholars and professionals pulled together during World War II to save precious works of art from falling to the Nazis.

George Clooney is stars as Frank Stokes — the head of a group tasked by President Franklin Roosevelt for a mission impossible scenario.  Stokes pulls together a group of museum directors, curators and art historians to literally go into the war zones to locate, identify, and rescue some of the most valuable pieces of art in Western civiliation – some call man’s greatest achievements.   They are an unlikely lot and their task seems a bit overwhelming – risking their lives for the sake of art…

Even as the war ends, they are not done.  When they learn that Hitler had ordered the destruction of all of the art should Germany fall.  Between fear of destruction and looting by Soviet thieves looking for reparations, the Monuments Men continue their work.

The film features an all-star cast — George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, John Goodman, Jean Dujardin, Bob Balaban, Hugh Bonneville, and Cate Blanchett.   All do an adequate job in a limited screenplay.  And speaking of the screenplay — Monument’s Men is written by George Clooney & Grant Heslov, which they based on the book by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter.

The Monuments Men appears to be a bit of an homage to films of the era, an attempt to tell the story of these men in a film that looks like it was done at the time of these men.  But it never quite does justice to the time.  It’s a bit herky jerky, jumping from one vignette to the other, rolling between drama and humor.
 The Monuments Men as a film is relatively entertaining, but nothing exceptional.  But it’s the story itslef that is worth seeing — the story of some truly brave men and their passion for art, two of whom even died for the love of it.


Movie Review: Ride Along

January 21st, 2014 at 4:49 pm by under The Hampton Roads Show, THRS Movie Reviews

RIDE ALONG_2    Every once in awhile I think to myself… things are not going to be as bad as I think they are… I thought that about this movie and gave it a chance.  The biggest reason I gave it a chance is because it’s Jay Pharoah’s first big film!  He’s a friend of the show, a Saturday Night Live star and Chesapeake native… Gotta support Jay, right?
Note to self: things ARE usually as bad as you think they are.  Sorry Jay.

RIDE ALONG is the latest film to feature the very funny and hugely popular comedian Kevin Hart (and there are a lot of them).
Hart plays Ben AKA the Black Hammer — he’s a security guard / video game afficianado who wants to be a police officer and needs to prove himself to his girlfriend’s brother.
The girlfriend’s brother is James — played by Ice Cube.  James is a real police officer who wants nothing to do with the black hammer.  But Ben is relentless.  James finally decides to teach him a lesson and take him on a ride along.  There are some very funny moments in this movie.  I’m not going to lie… I can’t deny that.  BUT!!!!
The plot and script are weak and the acting is weaker.  Even though I like Ice Cube and he can act — it was lost here.  John Leguizamo is a good actor.  His acting only rose as high as those he shared scenes with.  And that was unfortunate.
It was exciting to see Jay Pharoah on the big screen for the like 52.7 seconds-long scene he was in… and another friend of the show –comedian Gary Owen is also in the movie.  He had a bit more substantial scene and did a pretty okay job!
All that said — I’d rather turn to a Kevin Hart comedy special on TV than spend the money to go see Ride Along.
I heard someone say — and I’m not sure who said it, but it’s accurate… Hart is skating close to Rob Schneider territory in terms of having his name associated with it, means it’s inherently not good.
I have to agree — He’s making so many bad movies, they may stop giving him permission to make movies at all.
And we talked about it with the F-word in the wolf of wall street — it was in there more than 500 times!  Well in this movie there should have been a “JAMES” counter.  I love the name James — my dad’s name was James.  My boyfriend’s name is James.  BUT ENOUGH WITH THE JAMES, Kevin Hart!


Movie Review: Lone Survivor

January 21st, 2014 at 4:43 pm by under The Hampton Roads Show, THRS Movie Reviews

loneSurvivor_poster  Lone Survivor is the true story of some locally based NAVY SEALS and their covert mission in Afghanistan. It’s a true story based on the best-selling book by the Lone Survivor… Marcus Lutrell.
SEALS are a special breed as we know here in Hampton Roads… they are part of our community.  And this film seeks to show that, to remember that, while telling the story… the entire mission of Marcus’s book and now the movie, IS to tell the story of these men: Matt Axelson, Danny Dietz, Mike Murphy Erik Kristensen, Shane Patton and the others who did not live to tell the story.
The movie begins with a look at how a SEAL becomes a SEAL.  How many never make it through the training.  How much you have to be able to take mentally and physically in order to earn the right and honor of being a SEAL.  And then begins to develop the everyday lives of these men.
When they are dropped into the area for the mission they are normal, all-American guys, trying to maintain a sense of normalcy during their very not normal jobs.
Little did they know that things were about to get very real.  When the operation is compromised, it becomes an exercise in integrity for those involved.  But also a reminder that they are there to take care of each other.  It’s truly a brotherhood.  What follows — the engagement with Taliban forces is probably the most realistic, relentless, truth seen on the big screen as to what this kind of fighting looks like.
There are bullets flying, retreats, engagements, more retreats and some nasty falls, and of course 20 lives lost in service to our country.  How Marcus Lutrell survives is amazing and seemingly pre-destined.  And Marcus Wahlberg in the role does the real man and all he served with justice.
Peter Berg directs this and for every bit of it seems have taken on Lutrell’s mission to tell the true story of some real American heroes.  It’s a story told with passion and love.  When it comes to awards and nominations, the editing of this film has to be recognized and the sound design as well.  I was ducking bullets in the theater.
Lone Survivor is — in a word — overwhelming.  It reminds us that people are out there doing things day in and day out for us about which we will likely never know.  It made me think about the realities of those heroes, what they withstood, endured and shouldered and what they would never go back home to.  It’s hard to watch.  Impossible not to be moved by it — And more than anything — it made me walk out of the theater a more thankful American.